Cooking has been a bit challenging around here, once we add the sprout’s dairy and gluten intolerances to our other health requirements of no soy, shellfish, or animal fats. My 15 years of a vegetarian have left me with a habit of hardly ever eating pork, never cooking red meat at home, and not eating chicken and fish every day either. (This last issue has more to do with mercury and PCPs, though.) We do go out for burgers about once a week to keep the sprout’s iron boosted, but protein was becoming a bit of a challenge. Thank goodness for nuts! After slowly introducing almonds, walnuts, and coconut to the sprout with no reaction, we took the plunge and started letting him eat small amounts of peanut butter. It turns out that he isn’t sensitive to them at all, which opens up a whole new avenue of gluten-free eating, freeing us from the tyranny of rice. In addition to being more nutritious, it’s much easier to find organic nut products than it is to find organic gluten-free rice-based foods, so my discomfort in that area has been somewhat relieved.
Our big success has been Quinoa Peanut Butter Cookies. I make them without chocolate and with quick cooking oats, because that’s what we have on hand; they are a bit goopy/crumbly and I imagine the chocolate adds quite a bit more flavor. After taking a couple of days to warm up to them (while also getting over a cold), the sprout will now put away 4 or 5 for a snack and I have absolutely no qualms about him doing so. They sure beat crackers or toast which were his previous mainstays, and given that I stir maple syrup into his oatmeal every morning, I’m not concerned about the small amount of honey they contain.
These cookies have supplanted date bars as his favorite snack, even the spicy ginger ones I make at home. Speaking of the homemade date bars, they’re incredibly simple. Get about 1.2 pounds of pitted dates (that’s two pre-packed containers at our market) and about an equal weight of nuts (I use 2/3 almonds and 1/3 pecans). The trick to getting them to blend together well, I have discovered, is toasting the nuts: cook them over medium heat in a dry frying pan (not non-stick) until you can smell them, which is when you know they’re done (just like a pie). Grind them fairly finely in a food processor and then add the dates and process until they start to clump together; you might need to intermix them in a couple of batches until the dates compress. You can add spices with the dates or process in later: I use 3 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. ground cloves. Toasting the nuts makes them soft and brings out the oils, both of which help the bar stay together. If I’ve overdone the nuts, though, I cheat at the end and mix in some date syrup to help it all glom together. Press it into a ceramic baking dish, put it in the fridge until cool, then slice into bars and transfer to a tupperware container. They stay good for at least a week and keeping them in the fridge keeps them from getting too sticky, and they make tasty snacks for adults, too.
Next up on the gluten-free-baking-with-nuts train are the apple muffins (with coconut flour) that our friend makes and the sprout gobbles down and pumpkin spice cookies (made with almond meal) which should use up some of our autumn squash bounty. I can’t say I’m glad that so many people struggle with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten-intolerance, but I am definitely grateful for the tested recipes now available. I can only imagine the briquets we would (not) be eating if I had to come up with this food on my own!