Oven frittata (6 servings) plus a personal update

Hi, friendly readers! This is my first post since March. That was MARCH, as in four months ago. For the last nine years, this blog has been a fun way to motivate myself to try new recipes and share the results. But over the past few months, food has become a touchy subject as I learned to deal with new digestive symptoms and a handful of new food intolerances. Cooking and eating became a lot less fun, so blogging seemed pointless for a time.

But before I get into symptoms and newly-discovered intolerances, I want to share a lovely frittata recipe I've made a couple of times lately. And if you found your way to this post because you've got your own food intolerances and are looking for some sympathy and advice, go ahead and continue reading after the recipe.

Think of this frittata as a versatile, protein-packed crustless quiche. It can be made on a lazy Sunday morning and reheated throughout the week for breakfast. It makes a fancy-yet-simple lunch or even dinner entrée. It can be eaten cold, as quiches sometimes are (although my preference is warm). It's an excellent (egg-cellent?) recipe for using up whatever grilled, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or canned veggies you have, and the results can be frozen and reheated on a later date. Really, there isn't much else I can say other than this is a recipe to keep on hand for all sorts of occasions! And LOOK at it! It's a culinary topographical wonder with its craggy protrusions and crispy, oven-scorched patches. Gorgeous!

You will need:

  • 8 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp half and half (You can use water if you'd prefer)
  • About a cup of chopped, cooked leftover veggies or prepared canned or jarred vegetables (I used sun-dried tomatoes, jarred grilled artichokes, and sliced Kalamata olives for the one shown here; I've since made a second one with grilled asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and sautéed mushrooms.)
  • A handful or two of salad greens, chopped roughly (I used a mixture of baby spinach and arugula for both iterations.)
  • A tablespoon or so of your favorite fresh herbs, or half a tablespoon of dried herbs
  • Half a cup of shredded or crumbled cheese (I used feta the first time and a pizza blend the second time.)
  • Salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. First, preheat the oven to 400° F. Spritz some non-stick spray on a deep pie dish or swipe a little cooking oil on the bottom and inside. Set pie dish aside.
  2. Next, crack the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the half and half. Use a whisk or fork to beat the eggs and incorporate the half and half. Fold in the vegetables, salad greens, herbs, cheese, and a dash of salt and pepper. (If you use a salty cheese like feta, you'll want a smaller amount of salt.
  3. Gently pour the egg mixture into the pie dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the eggs are set. You can test for done-ness by inserting a thin knife and making sure it comes out clean and by shaking the dish a bit to make sure the eggs aren't still liquid.
  4. Once the eggs are set, remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes. Cut the frittata into six slices. Serve immediately or once cooled.

You can also wrap individual slices with plastic wrap and stick the slices in a gallon freezer bag to freeze until later. I unwrap and defrost one slice for about 40 seconds in the microwave and then put it in the toaster oven at 350° for about ten minutes. By the time I've brewed and poured my morning coffee, I've got a healthy breakfast ready for me!


If you were here just for the recipe, go ahead and get on with your day!

From a very young age, I've had a variety of digestive troubles -- some painful and disruptive and some just confusing and bothersome -- that I put down to a mixture of genetics and bad luck. I've archived a shockingly extensive backlog of embarrassing tales, turned entertaining by time, involving crowded public places and desperate dashes to find a bathroom. (Everybody's got at least one of those stories, right?) I've missed school and work days and social functions and gone through days-long periods where all I could keep down were plain foods like applesauce and saltine crackers. Finally, in college, I was diagnosed with IBS and over the years, I've treated it with traditional prescriptions and alternative therapies (massage, peppermint pills, Reiki) alike. I kept extensive food diaries that finally helped me identify some triggers, which ranged from the predictable and scientifically-supported (artificial sweeteners, onions) to the bizarre and surprising (Iceberg and Romaine lettuce, tequila but no other liquors). Hot and humid weather made my symptoms worse; if I was already stressed, foods that wouldn't normally bother me suddenly became intolerable. Years of digestive distress made me hyper-aware of my body and my cycles, and I grew to think of my large intestine like a reclusive but crazy neighbor: I never actually saw him in person, but every once in a while, he'd do something impulsive and destructive in the darkness of the early morning to make me late for work (always on a day when my class was being observed or I had a parent meeting, of course).

But I learned to live with my symptoms. I could usually laugh off the lateness or sudden disappearances during meetings with a vague-yet-socially-acceptable excuse. ("Belly troubles again! Sorry!") But about a year ago, my symptoms started changing, and none of the treatments I'd used for years were working any longer. Planning meals became more difficult as my reactions became more unpredictable. I found my way to a holistic doctor who taught me, first of all, that there are no "normal" levels of symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Almost any time the body reacts with one of those symptoms, it's a sign that something is wrong. She also helped me understand that the IBS I was viewing as the cause was only a symptom of a deeper problem. The IBS had been triggered by food poisoning I had experienced as a child, causing the healthy levels of bacteria in my gut to get all out of whack. Without rebalancing those bacteria, she explained, my IBS symptoms would never go away. My real issue was SIBO, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. In effect, this meant that processes that were supposed to happen exclusively in the small intestine were also occurring in the large intestine, creating byproducts the large intestine wasn't equipped to eliminate, leading to a number of other digestive problems.

Thus began a months-long period of trial and error involving a weird assortment of herbal supplements, malodorous teas, electrical nerve stimulation, and a hell of a lot of bloodwork, all in an attempt to kick the disruptive, drunken guests out of the pool party and sneakily invite only the polite guests back in. And for a while, I was starting to feel better. An errant onion in a stir fry didn't leave me groaning on the floor for hours! I was bloated only two days each week instead of five!

But then, a few months into my crunchy granola-sprinkled journey down the holistic path, I suddenly felt worse -- more lethargic, bloated, discouraged and in more pain than I had felt in at least a decade. A blood test revealed hidden food intolerances that added to my growing mental list of Foods I Cannot Have. On one hand, I was grateful to know what had been bothering me, but at the same time, I was intimidated by starting a new elimination diet. My food intolerance blood test results fit into three columns: green for foods I could easily tolerate, yellow for things that might trigger me, and red for things I should never eat again. My three "reds" were sesame, buckwheat, and yeast. Here is a quick list of the things I've learned in dealing with my new intolerances:

  1. There are three types of yeast struggles: Yeast allergy, yeast overgrowth, and yeast intolerance. Thank goodness I don't have a true allergy. This isn't anything life-threatening that will lead to anaphylactic shock.
  2. I didn't have a chance to talk to my doctor about a diet plan right after learning about my yeast intolerance (long story) so at first, I had to figure out what to avoid on my own. Most of the resources I found online were about eating for a yeast overgrowth, which means avoiding anything that contains yeast OR feeds the yeast already living in the body. That meant nothing fermented (no alcohol, mushrooms, soy sauce, tempeh, seitan, vinegar or anything containing vinegar like pickles) and nothing with sugar (no dairy, desserts, no added sugars in store-bought products, and hardly any fruit or refined carbs) and no yeast of any type, of course. I followed this diet for a few weeks until I could meet with my doctor, only to learn I had been too strict and could add some things back in. I certainly was grateful!
  3. At first, my doctor advised I completely cut out all the "reds" plus my ten or so "yellows," which included dairy, soy, wheat, rice, oats, and a few easy-to-avoid foods like instant coffee. I made a list of my yellows and reds, plus the triggers I'd discovered from personal experience over the years and suddenly had a long and frustrating list of things to avoid. I choose to be vegetarian, which can be challenging enough in itself, but adding another long list of no-go's made shopping, cooking, going out, and socializing very stressful. Faced with that long list (and again, I was unknowingly operating under the too-strict yeast-free diet in the beginning), I had the first anxiety attack I'd had in several years. At that point, I decided I could focus only on the reds before I took on anything else.
  4. Even after I learned I'd been too strict, I found out yeast is a tough thing to avoid. It's used to make breads, baked goods like croissants, some pancakes and waffles, and some snacks and boxed cereals. Yeast extract is used as flavoring in a ton of products, from salad dressing to crackers. (Sometimes, much to my fiery frustration, "natural flavoring" contains yeast, but packages rarely disclose that information.) Nutritional yeast is a go-to ingredient in many vegan recipes. Brewer's yeast, as far as I can tell, is used to make all alcoholic products except tequila (which I can't have anyway), gin, and vodka. However, flavored versions of these products might contain yeast. Unfiltered vinegars contain yeast, and raspberries go bad quickly enough that they should be avoided if you've got a yeast intolerance.
  5. There is a LOT of confusing and conflicting information online in the few resources that address yeast intolerance. For example, some sources say nuts should be avoided, some say only certain types of nuts are safe, and some don't mention nuts at all. A medical professional can help you sift through what's really important.
  6. Yeast-free and vegetarian is a difficult combination, especially when it comes to protein replacements. Almost every soy chicken patty, grain sausage, or veggie burger in the grocery store has yeast extract in it for flavoring. In some restaurants, the only vegetarian option is a sandwich, but I can't have any bread (gluten-free or otherwise) or most wraps (unless I can scrutinize the package's ingredients).
  7. If you're learning to cope with a new food intolerance, keep a running list of photos of items that are safe for you. In some cases, only one variety of one product might be safe for you. In that case, it's helpful to have a visual collection you can easily refer to.
  8. It's also difficult to shop and cook around multiple food intolerances. A product that's safe for one intolerance might not work for another. For example, I've been eating one brand of crisp breads as a toast/bread substitute because they don't contain yeast. However, one flavor contains buckwheat and another contains sesame!
  9. Reading headlines on grocery checkout magazines made me believe that identifying and eliminating my hidden intolerances would lead to increased energy, glowing skin, and immediate weight loss. Apparently, some people's bodies do react this way. However, I'm apparently one of the people whose energy goes toward healing the internal damage that's been done for years. I've avoided my reds for about three months now and have yet to lose any weight.
  10. Dealing with a food intolerance can be lonely and frustrating. Especially when it's new, it feels overwhelming. For some people, food is just fuel, but cooking and eating are a deep aspect of my identity, and changing the way I viewed food was harder than I anticipated. I realized I took for granted being able to find something to eat at a catered work function or being able to grab a snack out of a vending machine. The only way to cope, especially in the beginning, is to plan the hell out of your day. You have to plan for every meal, snack, and beverage. Keeping a stash of safe snacks in your car, purse, or office is useful. Don't count on restaurant servers being able to identify the presence of something as granular as yeast in a finished dish. After enough time, you'll learn which cuisines are safest for you. (Chinese is tough with yeast intolerance; Indian is safer.) Travelling and visiting family gets trickier with new intolerances, especially if you're the type who hates putting people out and being the center of attention.
  11. If you've been feeling terrible for a long time, don't give up. If you're able, look into alternative therapies and doctors non-Western training. In some cases, a prescription pill is exactly what a person needs. But in other cases, that pill can either mask symptoms without actually solving the problem or cause new side effects. Holistic treatments can be weird (Ask me about my TENS unit sometime!) but my thinking, especially about the traditional herbal therapies, is that if there was NO utility in them, their use would have ended a long time ago. Don't be afraid to ask around and read new books and talk to a variety of professionals, all while keeping your health and a healthy sense of skepticism in the foreground, of course.

All in all, I'm grateful for the new knowledge and I'm mindful of the fact that things could be worse. This isn't a dangerous autoimmune disorder, and it's not a terminal disease. I'm not in constant invisible pain, and I'm not missing enough work that my job security is at risk. I'm lucky I have access to a holistic doctor and that I can afford to pay her fees out of pocket since our insurance doesn't cover her services. I'm thankful I live in an area with a ridiculous number of grocery stores so that when one is out of that single flavor of frozen waffles I can handle, I can check another store. I can't even imagine the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people worldwide who have food intolerances they'll never know about either because they don't have access to the medical professionals who can identify them or they can't get to the food they'll need. I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in, and I'm thankful things aren't worse. It's a new phase of my culinary life, but if it makes me feel better in the long run, it's a road I'm willing to continue down, slowly but surely.

Flu stew (variable servings)

If the flu were a person, she'd be that girl you spent some time with every few years during your childhood, mainly because she knew a lot of the people in your class. Maybe she visited you once or twice during college, but after that, you parted ways and didn't think much about each other. From time to time, you'd hear about her visiting somebody you knew, but you shrugged it off because you didn't remember much about her after all those years apart.

But then one day in your adult years, she knocks on your door -- usually late at night -- cold and shivering and begging for a place to lie down. You let her in, figuring she'll be out of the way in the morning. But when she's still with you a few days later, you realize something is most definitely wrong. First of all, she's so irritating that she makes your blood boil but so clingy that she chills you to the bone. And god, she's boring. She says she wants to get caught up, but really, she just wants to force you to sit on the couch and watch movies for days in end. She's boring enough to make you ache all over. Even the most menial tasks, like doing laundry or washing your hair, become impossibly exhausting when she's around. And every time you think you're over her and ready to kick her out, she forces you to spend yet another boring day at home with her. And you can't even drink while she's around! Is there no end in sight??

Naturally, the only way to overcome both the flu and awkward social situations is soup. I don't know why, but soup seems to cure everything. And when you're not feeling well, the easiest way to prepare it is to throw stuff in a crockpot and then take a three-hour nap while it cooks. Trust me.

Now, I realize that people are of two schools of thought when it comes to flexible recipes: Some are excited by the challenge, and some are paralyzed with intimidation. I promise it's not scary. Basically, all you're doing here is gathering up whatever leftover and/or frozen veggies you can find, covering them with broth or ready-made soup, and tossing it all into a slow cooker. This really couldn't be easier, and when you're sick, you need things to be as easy as they can be.

You will need:

  • Several cups of fresh, canned, or frozen veggies, chopped into bite-sized pieces (I used broccoli florets, frozen corn and peas, sliced snow peas, chopped baby carrots, a diced tomato, and frozen butternut squash)
  • Some protein, such as chickpeas or granulated TVP (I used 1/2 cup TVP)
  • Whatever spices and herbs seem fitting (I used dried basil, dill, oregano, smoked paprika, pepper, and salt)
  • Several cups of store-bought soup and/or broth (I used a 32-oz carton of Imagine's Harvest Corn Soup and two cups of vegetable broth)

Steps:

  1. Place the veggies and protein in the bottom of the crockpot. Add enough liquid to cover the solid ingredients. Place lid on crockpot and turn to high for 3 hours.

Honestly, it could not be much easier. When deciding which ingredients and base to use, think about how you're feeling and what your body needs. If you have a sore throat or chest congestion, you probably want to stay away from dairy-based soups. If you're all stuffed up, you might want to focus on aromatic, Asian-style ingredients like ginger, garlic, and green onions. Most of all, you just want to make sure you're getting plenty of vegetables and protein. 

As far as the seasonings go, I'd suggest waiting until the end to add the salt. For the most part, it's hard to mess up something like this, but salt is tough to undo. (You can try adding another cup of water and then tasting it to see if the salinity is less harsh.) Just go with what feels good and enjoy it!

Japanese(ish) noodle soup (3-4 servings)

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Sometimes -- usually after consuming a lot of deliciously nutrient-poor things -- my body craves simple food. At the beginning of this past week, I was definitely at that point. After too many indulgences, I needed to get back to basics, and a flavorful vegetable soup seemed like the way to go.

I found this recipe at the Savvy Vegetarian, made a few changes of my own, and ended up with a filling, nutritious, satisfying Asian-style soup. I think this soup could be adapted to include a variety of vegetables, from snow peas to bell peppers to cabbage, but this time, I used only mushrooms, carrots, and bok choy. And because the broth is made from pantry ingredients, the recipe could be a great way to use up produce you have in the fridge, hence the "year-round" tag below.

You will need:

  • 32 oz vegetable broth (low-sodium if possible)
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because it's all I had)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 3 tsp grated ginger
  • 6-8 shitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 8 oz of your favorite Asian-style noodles (I used Thai rice sticks)
  • 3 scallions, sliced crosswise to the white part
  • 2 heads baby bok choy, sliced crosswise into 1-inch pieces and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and sliced into thin coins

Steps:

  1. Put the broth, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, and ginger in a large stockpot and heat over medium-high. Once it boils, add in the mushrooms and lower heat to a simmer; allow to simmer for 4 minutes.
  2. Add the noodles to the broth mixture (break them in half if they're long) and simmer them in the broth for the amount of time specified on the package. Add the scallions, bok choy, and carrot to the broth for the last 3 minutes of the noodles' cooking time. Test to make sure the noodles are tender, and then serve the soup immediately.

The original recipe called for cubed firm tofu, but I'm not a fan of soft tofu pieces in soup. If you like it, I'm sure it would be a great addition, but I just wasn't up for it. Next time, I'll definitely use a low-sodium vegetable broth, as this batch of soup was pretty darn salty. It still tasted great, but my lips were a bit puckered afterwards! This recipe takes less than 30 minutes to make, even counting the vegetable prep time. It's a soothing, simple meal to counteract the food indulgences that are so prevalent during the summer months!

Mini pizzas (variable servings)

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Believe it or not, tonight's dinner was inspired by Seinfeld. But more about that later.

One of my favorite go-to recipes for using up leftover veggies is mini pizzas. They're so simple to make, and they don't take very long at all. Since the recipe (if you can even call it that) is so flexible, it's an easy way to use up whatever you have on hand. What follows is more of a method than a recipe.

You will need:

  • Pitas (If they're frozen, you don't even have to thaw them)
  • Pizza sauce (homemade or jarred)
  • Dried Italian herb blend
  • Shredded cheese (I use mozzarella and Parmesan)
  • Leftover veggies or other toppings

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 375 F. Cut the veggies into bite-sized pieces if you haven't done so already.
  2. Spoon the amount of pizza sauce you would like onto each pita and spread it around. Sprinkle each pizza with a few shakes of Italian herbs.
  3. Sprinkle a handful of cheese on each pizza. (I like to use mozzarella first and then dust a little Parmesan on top of the toppings!)
  4. Saute the veggies in a litte oil over medium-high heat until they get crisp around the edges, and then spread them on the pizzas. Or, as I discovered today, if you've sliced the veggie thin enough, you can put them on the pizzas raw, and they'll cook through in the oven.
  5. Bake the pizzas (preferably right on the oven rack) for 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is crisp. Slice up and serve.

Over lunch today, Bryan and I watched "The Slicer," and as dinnertime neared, I wasn't in the mood to make the involved meal I had planned. I knew I had leftover veggies in the fridge and was craving pizza, so I thought back to Seinfeld and wondered, "If I used my mandoline to slice the veggies super thin, could I put them on pizza?" It turns out the answer is yes! I used the 1.33 mm setting for portabellas, a red bell pepper, and zucchini. The zucchini was the easiest to slice, and the portabellas gave me some trouble at first, but it was easier once I scraped the gills off. I made a bit of a mess, but the end result was worth it. I made Bryan's with bell pepper and mushrooms and mine with mushroom and zucchini. Delicious.

Sweet and spicy veggie stir fry (~3 servings)

I adapted this recipe from Karri Ann Allrich's Cooking By the Seasons. I appreciate Allrich's recipes because they put the spotlight on the flavor of the vegetable ingredients without sacrificing creativity or heartiness. It is a Pagan cookbook, as I found out after purchasing it, but this actually works in the reader's favor, since the Earth's rhythms are a big part of Paganism; in other words, Allrich's recipes are naturally in tune with ingredients that are in season. Her prose is a bit wishy-washy for me (this particular recipe is said to feature a sweet/savory combination, which is "a favorite Goddess combination") but her recipes are delicious. I changed this one a bit to suit what I had on hand, and my changes are reflected below.

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp hot pepper paste or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced diagonally
  • 1 cup small broccoli florets
  • 1/2 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup snow peas, trimmed
  • handful of pea shoots, sliced in half
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Steps:

  1. Combine the juice, soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, ginger, pepper, and garlic in a measuring cup and mix well. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and broccoli and stir frequently for about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the bell peppers and snow peas, and stir-fry for another 4 minutes.
  4. Add in the pea shoots, and stir briefly; then mix in the sauce from the measuring cup and stir well. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Allrich's recipe called for a small onion, but my stupid stomach is so sensitive to onions that I just used some onion powder instead. You really could change up the vegetables in this recipe depending on what you have to use up or what's in season at that time. The sauce is pretty basic, so I'm sure it could be used on all different types of vegetables. I served this over jasmine rice. It isn't much to look at, but it certainly was delicious! Next time I'd make it more spicy and add some mushrooms to the mix.