Two weeks ago I stand facing my kitchen with arms crossed ready to do battle. My husband sits perched at our bar Americain watching cautiously, sipping his morning tea. I fling cabinets open and toss anything and everything with a wheat ingredient into the trash can. He says nothing. How can he? I’ve been reading aloud to him every night from Grain Brain and Wheat Belly (because I know he won’t read these on his own) and now, I’ve decided for the both of us, that the time has come to see if this whole gluten-free diet is fact or fiction.
I know it might appear that I’ve completely flipped my lid considering that only months ago I was making croissants from scratch and whipping up tarts à la minute, but since the body clock is ticking away and the nutritional supplements are piling up along with the pre-natal vitamins and the extraneous bottles of flax-seed oil, fish oil, and Bragg amino acids – why not just go whole hog?
“Not the Acme batard! You’re really going to toss that too?” My husband jumps up from his stool and digs the loaf out of the trash. I grab it back and shove it further down. He leaves the kitchen a little teary eyed and perhaps a little deflated. He’s a sandwich guy and this, no doubt, is sacrilege. It’s not that I like to throw away food – both of us hate that more than anything – but if the science in these two books is true then the wheat of today is unsafe for human consumption.
We are not celiac and we are not trying this purge for weight loss reasons although we both could stand to lose a little around the middle. But the fact remains that over this two-week self-imposed non-gluten diet and my crazy kitchen cleanse we have both lost 5 pounds by simply NOT eating anything made with wheat. The real bonus is: I feel great. I wake up feeling GREAT! I run farther and faster, I have more energy during the day, and my clothes are fitting again!
My husband will not echo my sentiments as forthright because he, unfortunately, feels hungry all the time and has trouble getting enough food at work. He is athletic and requires at least 1000 more calories than me. He complains that his snacks choices from the complex-carbo overloaded snack bar at his start-up company are now singled out to smoked almonds. No more cereal. No more chex mix. No more beloved sandwiches piled high with fresh deli cuts and oozing with condiments. And, perhaps the worst of it all, no more pizza and beer. But regardless, he’s on board, as long as some new book doesn’t come out with a steak smear campaign. (His co-workers are all on the Paleo diet anyways – Meat!Meat! Meat!)
Why cut out gluten? You should probably read the fore mentioned books and not take my second-hand wisdom but as I understand it, the evidence points out that wheat today is so genetically modified that it barely resembles the wheat from our mother’s and grandmother’s generations and it is higher in gluten than ever before which is more readily absorbed in our bodies and creates an addictive state where the body actually craves it (and other junk foods) even more. Yes, it’s true that in France and Italy it is still possible to get flour that Monsanto hasn’t altered to a frankenfood but how do we know, as consumers, specifically which type of wheat is in our daily bread?
Of course, there is more, much more, to condemn our modern wheat, but for the purposes of this post I will leave it there.
We have not cut out all complex carbs but we have cut down on them significantly. My husband is Persian and rice is never going to be eradicated from his diet or I’m afraid divorce papers will be en route. And I still like something sweet every once and awhile so refined sugar (another evil) will probably never fully disappear.
Sure enough, we aren’t the only late-comers to this gluten-free craze since all of the latest food rags and mags and blogs of January are touting the usual New Years Day detox cleanses along with creative recipes sweet & savory that are wheat free.
People, there’s got to be something to this! I’m willing to give it a try – are you? Any takers? Any personal experiences out there that uphold or trash this diet?
Although I don’t feel that cutting out gluten is an excuse to overload on everything else that is ‘bad’ for you, I still would like to leave you with something sweet. And after reading the latest Bon Appetit magazine and being sorely disappointed with their Gluten Free desserts – even their Polenta cake – I thought I’d leave you with my nutty brown butter lemon Polenta cake which is super moist and dense and has much more protein, flavor, and also a nicer crrrrunch!
- 3-4 Meyer lemons sliced thinly, macerated in a 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 stick sweet butter (1/2 cup)
- 2 cups almond flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup polenta (course ground NOT polenta flour)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup crème frâiche
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup walnuts chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Macerated Lemons: Pour 1/2 cup of sugar over thinly sliced lemons and gently toss in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature while preparing the cake.
Brown butter: on low heat melt the stick of butter in a small sauce pot. No need to stir but occasionally because the milk solids will caramelize on the bottom. This will take about 15 minutes. Once the butter is browned allow to cool to room temperature.
Prepare baking pan: I used a 6-inch ring mold buttered with a parchment circle on the bottom trimmed a little wider than the ring so the juices wouldn't run out. However, an 8-inch cake pan or square pan works fine too. This batter is not fussy. No matter what baking dish you use, make sure it is buttered and the bottom is lined with parchment. Butter the parchment as well.
Wet ingredients: In a small mixing bowl add the polenta. Heat 1 cup of milk in the microwave or stove top until hot but not boiling and pour it over the polenta to soften. Stir until the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Once cooled completely, add the crème fraîche, eggs, and vanilla extract and whisk to incorporate thoroughly.
Dry ingredients: in a large mixing bowl whisk the almond flour with the sugar, salt, and baking powder.
Putting it all together: layer the macerated lemons in a decorative circular fashion on buttered parchment. Reserve the lemon syrup left over for glazing the cake. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix to incorporate. Then whisk in the brown butter and the finely chopped walnuts. Pour batter into cake pan 3/4-full and bake until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes depending on height of cake.
To unmold cake: cut around edges of pan or ring mold with a thin knife. Place a plate over the pan and flip it. Once the cake is released and upright on the plate, peel off parchment. Pour remaining lemon syrup over!