Pom mindfulness

Because nothing says meditation like squirting red juice all over your face.

That sounds really sarcastic, but I am serious here. I am onto something! Unless anyone else has already presented the idea of using pomegranates as a meditative instrument, in which case, I am terribly sorry.

My husband works in the grocery department of a large retail store and since they’ve had pomegranates on sale, we’ve been buying them like crazy. Before this, the only pomegranates we’d ever had were in the form of juice or flavor agents in, say, bubblegum. So it’s been a big treat for us all.

The thing is, I was intimidated about getting the seeds out of the fruit. They’re the only part you can eat, and I had heard it was a complicated process of submerging the fruit in water, draining the water and getting the seeds out, etc. Then I read about a woman who says you can just cut it in quarters, peel it apart, and pick the seeds out—a tedious process, but not impossible.

The first time I did this, it took me an entire episode of Sesame Street. My daughter kept stealing them from the bowl—which was fine; best snack ever!—so my pile never looked as big as I thought it should, but I loved the juice on my fingers. I didn’t love getting the membrane stuck on me, though, and I washed my hands often through the process.

Now when I do it, it only takes me about 20 minutes overall, and I am in love with the process. I know I’m lucky to have 20 minutes to spare at all when many moms don’t, but if you do get the time, I highly recommend cutting a pomegranate and slowly flicking out the seeds with your fingernails if you ever get the chance. It’s a completely different sensory experience that gives you a yummy end result while also providing you with plenty of meditative time. You sit there and do the repetitive motions over again and again, feeling the juice on your fingers, occasionally nibbling on a seed, and before you know it, you are dead calm. It’s absolutely incredible.

Yesterday when I got angry after reading something political, I sat down to peel a pomegranate. Wouldn’t you know that afterward, my anger had completely dissipated and I felt calm—not to mention the fact that I had a big bowl of delicious seeds to eat! If you have a hard time meditating and making your mind still, I really think you ought to give this a try. If nothing else, you get a healthy snack from it.


Gluten Free Review: Ancient Harvest Supergrain Pasta

I don't know. It was OK, I guess.

I really hope I'm not the only person in the world who sees the word "quinoa" and can't help but mentally think "Quinn-oa." Even though I know it's pronounced "keen-wa," I can never seem to shake that initial impression.

So here we are with some keen-wa pasta. This was my first foray into gluten free pasta, and… I don't know. It was okay, I guess. As with so many gluten free things, a certain percentage of your enjoyment will be dictated by the toppings. 
If you are the sort of person who enjoys pasta as plain as possible, with just butter and garlic and maybe a dash of parsley, this may not be the product for you. But if you want to dump a bunch of red sauce on a bowl of spaghetti and call it Italian Night, then you have to realize that the pasta itself is basically just a carrier for the actual good stuff.
This particular gluten free pasta is made with quinoa mixed with corn flour. This creates a pasta with a very yellowish cast, and the packaging warns you that the boiling water may turn a bit yellow from the corn flour.

The package refers to the pasta as "delicious," which I'm not so sure about. It also says "you'll never go back to plain noodles again," which is true, but certainly not because Ancient Harvest noodles were all that delicious.
One thing that surprised me about these noodles is that they required more care than I am used to giving a pot of spaghetti. It seems like somehow over the last 10-20 years, you stopped really having to stir spaghetti noodles. I have usually found that if you give them a good stir once they soften into the water, you're safe to ignore them until the timer goes off.
Such is not the case with Ancient Harvest noodles. I cooked these with my usual inattention, and was justly punished for it. Half the noodles clumped up together at the bottom, forming an inedible mass that I had to excise with knife and fork. Lesson learned: stir these noodles!
Taste-wise, they were fairly bland. I cooked them al dente; next time I might try cooking them a little bit longer. (Also, stirring.) But you know, once I poured a whole mess of spaghetti sauce over the top, I would never have known the difference.
A warning to the budget-conscious shopper: this pasta comes in a package that looks like a regular one-pound box of pasta. However, it is only eight ounces. Calculate the price accordingly. 

Eggs are NOT as bad as smoking!

And CNN should be ashamed for saying otherwise.

I was surprised and dismayed to see an article headlining CNN today, "Is eating egg yolks as bad as smoking?" I was pretty worried, as you can imagine: three years ago I quit smoking after 20 years of a pack-a-day habit. Yet I eat at least an egg a day on average, because I have three pet chickens, and what else are you going to do.

But I was suspicious of this article right up front. First of all, I recently had my cholesterol levels tested, and all three of my numbers were literally perfect. As in, if they had been any lower, it would have been into the "cause for concern" category. 
Eggs were considered the enemy for a long time. But recent studies exonerated the egg. Cholesterol levels turn out to be much more about genetics than about what you eat. And eggs are high in Omega 3 fatty acids that are difficult to get otherwise. Eggs are a cheap, healthy form of protein.
(Why pick on eggs, anyway? In a world where the Baconator exists, surely we can find better targets of nutritional outrage.)

This CNN news story turns out to be an example of the horrible state of science reporting in America. It is sourced from a Daily Mail article (the Daily Mail is basically a tabloid) which itself cites a Canadian study that had poor controls, and which in no way proves that eggs are as bad as smoking. Not even a little bit.
But "Eggs are probably fine for you" is not a headline that grabs eyeballs. "Eggs are as bad as smoking" is catchy, the kind of thing that get's people's attention and sticks in their minds. If it isn't actually true - well, who cares. That seems to be the overall state of American science reporting in a nutshell.
In the original Canadian study, researchers used ultrasound to image the level of arterial plaque in patients who smoke. (Smoking is a well-known cause of arterial plaque build-up.) They then asked those people to report how many eggs they ate. And then they correlated the numbers: smokers who ate more eggs had more arterial plaque build-up.
A child could poke holes in this study's assertion. How do we know the patients were reporting the true number of eggs? Were they talking about plain hardboiled eggs, or Egg McMuffins? And who's to say if egg eating actually correlates better with fast food consumption than it does anything else. 
CNN, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Gluten Free Review: Gluten Free Bisquick

Gluten free baking is a tricky thing.

Even though I used to bake a lot, I never really made much use of Bisquick. For most things, it's just as easy (and a lot quicker) to mix your own flour plus baking soda and whatever. Bisquick is one of those mystifying substances, the appeal of which is somewhat lost on me. It costs five times as much as the regular ingredients; why would anyone bother?

But Gluten Free Bisquick, that is another matter entirely!
Gluten free baking is a tricky thing. The flours themselves (almond flour, rice flour, brown rice flour, etc) are shockingly expensive. And most sources advise you to stock up on xanthan gum, whatever that is, and wherever the heck you're supposed to buy it.
In this case, even though I'm sure Gluten Free Bisquick really is quite a bit more expensive than the raw ingredients, I welcome its ease of use. The gluten free version of Bisquick is a mixture of rice flour, sugar, leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), modified potato starch, salt, and xanthan gum. 

There are not many recipes for Gluten Free Bisquick at this point, but there are enough basics to get you started. The list includes gluten free waffles, pancakes, biscuits, coffee cake, and more. Gluten free food bloggers are also a great source of recipes - here's one for blueberry scones!
I started out by making the biscuits, since that was always my favorite thing to make with Bisquick. The recipe called for three eggs: studying the others, many of them call for eggs. Eggs provide the structure that usually would be provided by gluten, I guess. 
The results were… okay, I suppose. The biscuits were a cheddary orange, which was a little confusing. (I used eggs from my pet hens, which have brilliant orange yolks.) They were a little on the dry side, but that was just an excuse to slather on lots of butter. They had a slightly gritty texture, not unlike the grit you find in corn bread, (Puzzling, as there is no corn meal in these.)
I look forward to trying pancakes and scones. I have the feeling that being able to slather proper homemade pancakes in warm butter and maple syrup will make up for a lot of the shortcomings of Gluten Free Bisquick! And if it is expensive - well, so are many other gluten free products. Given how difficult gluten free baking can be, Gluten Free Bisquick is a great transitional product for people who are not really "into" baking, or for those who have only recently gone gluten free.

Gluten Free Review: Domino's Gluten Free Pizza Crust

It's pizza that you can eat without feeling like you're going to die!

Domino's Pizza has been touting a lot of new products lately, from cheesy bread to its Artisan Pizzas. One new feature that it hasn't been promoting in ads (not that I have seen, anyway) is a new gluten free crust. 

Given the prevalence of Domino's locations across the country, this is nothing short of revolutionary for the gluten free crowd. I'm lucky enough to live in an area with an upscale grocery store where I can buy frozen gluten free pizzas. But I'm willing to bet that for at least half of every American going gluten free, Domino's is now their only option for pizza.
So how is it? Well let me answer that question with another question: do you really care? I mean, geez, it's pizza! That you can eat! Without feeling like you're going to die! Who's going to quibble over some details?

Currently, their gluten free pizza only comes in one size: small, which is about 10 inches across. It is a crispy style crust, and you can only get regular toppings on it (i.e. not one of the Artisan pizzas or the promotional pizza styles). I ordered one in pepperoni, and one with ham and pineapple.
The crispy crust is a little on the dry side, as crispy crusts tend to be. Next time, in order to compensate for the crust's shortcomings, I would order my pizzas with extra sauce, extra cheese, or both. (Related: cheese is delicious and I always wish I had more of it.)
Before I tucked into the pizza proper, I started by pulling off some chunks of crust to taste it plain without any toppings. The texture is great: it is smooth, not gritty as some gluten free baked products can be. The taste of the naked crust is a little odd. It almost tastes like sourdough bread. There is a faint chemical aftertaste that reminded me of baking powder. 
As such, I recommend balancing it out with stronger flavored toppings. I didn't notice anything amiss with the pepperoni pizza, for example. In the ham and pineapple pizza, the flavors were light enough that there were some detectable odd notes from the crust.
But again: who cares? I ate my pizza happily, I felt fine afterward, and I would gladly order it again without a second's hesitation.
A note: the crust itself is certified gluten free. However, Domino's is unable to certify their kitchens themselves as gluten free. Thus, they do not recommend this pizza for sufferers of celiac disease, due to the possibility of cross-contamination. It's a "buyer beware" situation.

Is caramel coloring gluten-free?

Short answer: Probably (in America); probably not (elsewhere).

In my quest to discover which things are and are not gluten free, caramel coloring often comes up in conversation. Is there gluten in caramel coloring? Well, it depends. The short answer is, if you are an American, caramel coloring is almost certainly gluten free. But unless the label specifically says "gluten free," then you cannot really be 100 percent sure.

Caramel coloring is in almost every food which is tan colored or darker. It can be found in products as diverse as ham, soda (75 percent of the caramel coloring on the market is found in soda), artificial vanilla extract, and brown sugar. Caramel color looks delicious, basically, so manufacturers use it a LOT.
There are a lot of potential sources for caramel coloring, including wheat and barley. Any kind of carbohydrate can be used to create caramel coloring, although some (like corn) work better than others (like potatoes). To make caramel coloring, the manufacturers simply heat the carbs until they scorch. It's the same way - and the same chemical reaction - that happens when you brown potatoes or toast bread at home.

Thus, the ingredients in caramel coloring come down to a matter of local economics. In America, corn is the clear choice. Between government subsidies and the sheer volume of corn which is grown here, combined with corn's natural suitability for being cooked into caramel color, there is no need to look farther than corn. 
However, there is no labeling requirement for caramel color. Thus, it really could be made of anything. This is apparently more common in smaller, oddball brands. Most of your major manufacturers will be using the standard stuff made of corn, so there is no need to worry about caramel coloring: in America, it is pretty much guaranteed to be gluten free.
In the rest of the world, the situation is different. In Europe in particular, most caramel color is made from wheat. Although the manufacturers say that the caramel color has been so highly processed that no gluten remains. Many gluten free people in Europe still make a habit of avoiding foods with caramel color, just to be on the safe side.
Then again, if you are going gluten free for nutritional reasons, you may want to avoid the caramel coloring regardless! Much like high fructose corn syrup, caramel color is one of those indicators that the food you're looking at is highly processed - and probably not very healthy for you in general, even if it IS gluten free.

Gluten-free review: Annie's Rice Pasta & Cheddar

I was desperate to fill the Kraft Mac & Cheese shaped hole in my meal planning.

To say that I'm a fan of the original Kraft Mac & Cheese is a gross understatement. Until I went gluten free, boxes of the original Mac & Cheese were a staple in my pantry. I always cruised past it when I was at the grocery store, and if they were on sale, I would buy a bunch to stockpile.

I was skeptical of this Annie's pasta, because - even though people rave about Annie's pasta box meals - I was never a fan. I had tried one, years ago, and not liked it. In hindsight I think it was an oddball flavor; shaped pasta (any shape other than tubes has a bad texture) and an odd sauce like "white cheddar" or something.
But I was desperate to fill the Kraft Mac & Cheese shaped hole in my meal planning. (I can and often do make macaroni and cheese from scratch. But I have a busy schedule, and I like to have some boxed meals ready to slot in for those nights when I'm too busy or exhausted to cook properly.)

Annie's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar comes in a turquoise box, which is surely meant to be evocative of the Kraft box's canonical midnight blue shade. (It also shows off the yellow cheese nicely.) It is made with rice pasta, and certified organic. It also - let us be blunt - costs four times as much. 
That price differential should be enough to give anyone pause. I have seen elsewhere the recommendation that you buy a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and a box of gluten free macaroni noodles, throw away the noodles in the Kraft box and use the Kraft flavor packet over your own noodles. This seems wasteful, and I doubt it's much cheaper. But it is an option, since the Kraft packet contains no gluten (only the noodles have gluten).
The instructions on the Annie's box are similar, although they call for the pasta to be cooked for 10-12 minutes instead of the typical 8. This reflects the fact that rice pasta is not as tender as flour pasta. Although the flavor of the pasta was fine, you won't be tasting it anyway. The texture is not quite right - the rice noodles are not nearly as soft as the Kraft mix. But the flavor packet, I have to say, is very close.
I realize that "as good as the Kraft stuff" is probably not what Annie's was shooting for. But other Kraft Mac & Cheese enthusiasts will I think agree with me in that it is the highest praise you can bestow upon a boxed pasta mix.

Gluten-free breakfast

Eggs, Chex cereal and more great gluten-free ideas for breakfast

It seems like the typical American breakfast is the most carb-o-riffic meal of the day. Ask someone to start listing breakfast foods, and most (if not all) the things they list will have gluten. Muffins, pancakes, waffles, Egg McMuffins, breakfast cereal, oatmeal… the list can be daunting.

Side note: oats themselves do not contain gluten. However, because of the way oats are grown and processed, all oatmeal is assumed to be heavily cross-contaminated with wheat gluten unless the package specifically states otherwise.
When dealing with a gluten-free diet, it's always best to focus on the positive. Look at all the things you CAN eat for breakfast!

If you are in a hurry, a handful of raw unsalted almonds makes a great little portable breakfast. Tuck them into a small Ziplock bag and you're ready to go. No crumbs, no sticky messes. Almonds are high in minerals including magnesium (an element that most of us don't get enough of), high in protein, and high in the good kind of fat. 
Almonds are also surprisingly high in calories, which means it won't take very many of them to fill you up. It's five calories per almond, which means a big handful will be around 200 calories - a good target for breakfast.
Another quick breakfast for eating at your desk or in the car is apple slices with peanut butter. Most peanut butter brands should be gluten-free: Skippy, Jif, and Smucker's Natural peanut butters are all confirmed gluten-free. Apples are great for you nutritionally, and peanut butter gives it that extra bit of deliciousness, plus the protein that can help fill you up and fuel your day.
Eggs are a breakfast standard, and if you have a few minutes, they are easy to cook and quick to eat. Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years, but it's undeserved: eggs are high in good omega 3 fatty acids, and they do not have an effect on your cholesterol levels.
You can make an omelet or frittata with leftover bits and bobs from the fridge, or just fry up a quick pair of eggs while you get ready. Personally when I have the time, I love to have poached eggs over either sautéed greens or homemade home fries.
Desperate for a cereal fix? Choose Chex! Most Chex cereals are gluten-free, including Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Cinnamon Chex, and Chocolate Chex. (Better still, buy a box of each and mix them all together. That was my favorite cereal when I was a kid!)

Raspberry ketones: Not a magic fat cure

Regardless of what Dr. Oz may claim

Dr. Oz has a lot of great things to say, but sometimes he just plain goes off the rails. And unfortunately he has built up so much social currency that the general public takes his word as gospel, no matter how wacky or "out of left field" it may be. Thus, the sudden surge in interest in raspberry ketones.

Dr. Oz's people claim to be taken aback by the huge amount of interest in this product. Well what did they expect? The man touted it as a "fat-burner in a bottle." And even better, it comes from raspberries. You know what a raspberry is! You like them! They are tasty and familiar. Unlike a lot of other oddball so-called miracle cures like goji berries or whatever.
So what is the truth about raspberry ketones? Well, there is some evidence that they may help burn fat. On the down side, all of that research - what little of it exists - was performed on cells in test tubes, and in laboratory mice. And unfortunately when it comes to complicated biological issues like fat storage, test tube and lab mice studies fail to pan out more often than not.

This is where I get really annoyed with Dr. Oz, because his website says "research has shown that raspberry ketone can help in your weight-loss efforts." Except that no, it doesn't. There is no research that shows that. No human trials of raspberry ketones have yet been performed.
There is research that shows that raspberry ketones can maybe help with the weight loss efforts of cells in a test tube, and of mice. It's not even very conclusive research, and there isn't very much of it. It certainly doesn't show that it can help in YOUR weight-loss efforts (unless you are cells in a test tube, or a mouse).
The good news, though, is that fresh raspberries continue to be really good for you. Aside from ketones, these richly-colored fruits are high in fiber, and a great source of nutrients including potassium, manganese, vitamin K, vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid, and more. They are also rich in phytochemicals including quercitin, catechins, and anthocyanins, all of which have been high profile lately in the nutrition world.
Like so many weight loss hype products, the primary effect of raspberry ketones is to lighten up your wallet. And it's just one more reason not to trust Dr. Oz's particular flavor of pseudo-science.

Gluten-free junk food

Get your junk on with these yummy picks

If you are on a gluten free diet, you know that after a while you start craving what you can't have. It's only human! Visions of delicious junk food may dance through your head, tormenting you with the life you led behind. But don't worry - there are a lot of great options available for gluten free junk food binges that won't leave you curled up on the floor with gluten related pain. These may not be entirely guilt free foods, but they are gluten free!

1. Salty Snacks
Many people are surprised to learn how many salty crunchy snacks actually do not contain gluten. Here is a list of the Lay's products which are gluten free. It's a pretty impressive list, right? Check out the amazing variety of Doritos, Lays, Cheetos, and Ruffles chips that are gluten free, or which contain no gluten ingredients. 
In fact, Lay's recently revised the recipe for Doritos to make them gluten free. All hail the salty crunchy snack masters at Lay's!

2. Sweet Snacks
To pick out some favorites: Butterfingers, 3 Musketeers, Hershey bars, Jolly Ranchers, York Peppermint Patties, and M&Ms (all flavors but NOT PRETZEL) are an easily available, gluten free candy. All Just Born candy is gluten free (this includes Peeps, Mike & Ikes, Dots, and more). All Jelly Belly jelly beans are gluten free, too.
McDonald's shakes are gluten free, but only when they come straight from the tap. Their McCafe frappes and McFlurry concoctions, although they contain no gluten ingredients, are subject to cross-contamination. (And many people report having had reactions after trying them.) Wendy's Frostys are gluten free, too.
Speaking of ice cream, as a general rule the ice cream is fine, but the stuff that gets mixed into it is not. Here's a great list of gluten free brands. Ben & Jerry's and Breyer ice cream are both good about clearly labeling any gluten-containing ingredients. Most (but not all) Dove ice cream bars varieties are gluten-free, too.
3. Fast Food
Gluten free eating gets hard when you're talking fast food. Domino's recently launched a gluten free pizza crust, although they cannot promise there is no cross-contamination happening in their kitchens. Wendy's tends to be the best fast food option for glutenistas, with many menu items available gluten free. 
Are McDonald's French fries gluten free? It depends. The oil contains wheat derivatives, although McDonald's says the fries themselves have no detectible gluten, many people have had gluten-like reactions after eating them. Use your best judgment, based on the severity of your syndrome, and how badly you really want them!