Bahamas Cruise!

We just took our first ever cruise.

And it was awesome!

I put 84 pictures up on the Flickr, which is a few too many to put in a blog post. But let it be said, I ate a lot of:

And we did a lot of:

And even partook of some:

And it was totally and completely:

I stayed gluten-free the entire time, and despite stuffing my face with all sorts of deliciousness (and ice cream after almost every meal), I gained less than half a pound. It was only a 4-day cruise, and here it is the next day and I still feel like the world is gently rolling. Hey, vertigo! Cut that crap out! At least while on the boat itself, I didn’t have any problems with motion sickness.

Here’s a link to the Flickr gallery — most pictures by me, but a few by Scott and some by my dad. (You’ll see him and my mom in a few shots, but my mom hates her picture, so I went easy on her.)

Even though our last day’s excursion to Norwegian’s private island was cancelled due to heavy wind and waves, we still had a great time. I read three books, and got some much-needed relaxation done. And now that we know we can handle cruising and we like it, we’ll be keeping our eye out for future voyages. We’re also thinking about JoCo Cruise Crazy in 2013.

Gluten-Free Low-Carb Pumpkin Cookies. And Muffins. And Bars.

That’s right, I’ve made this recipe three times, in three different formats. Each time just tweaking the spice mixture until it was to my satisfaction. Just different cooking times in different cooking vessels.

(Here’s the cookie version from today.)

1 15-oz can of pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, please — none of that “pie filling” stuff)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup sweetener*
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup almond flour

* Normally I use Splenda. This time I used about 3/4 xylitol and 1/4 Splenda. I’m moving over to xylitol for sweetening things, since it would appear that Splenda is even worse for you than originally thought. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, but less gastrointestinally upsetting than most.

My coconut flour and almond flour are both from Bob’s Red Mill. Love that stuff.

Mix everything together, then either make 20 2-inch cookies, 12 muffins (please use paper muffin cups), or put it in a parchment paper-lined loaf pan for a flat, cuttable loaf (not so much a bread as brownie-like bars).

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes (cookies), 30-35 minutes (muffins), or 60-70 minutes (loaf).

For the cookies, nutritionally:

(per cookie, batch of 20 cookies)
60 calories
4.5g fat
4.25g carbohydrate
– 2g dietary fiber
1.5g protein

This is a recipe that’s forgiving to overcooking — the pumpkin keeps everything moist even if you go a little too long in the oven. I like to put everything in the fridge when done; something about that pumpkin flavor feels like it should be served cold, to me. Plus, moist can be an understatement — even though they’re fully cooked, all of these can have an almost custardy, puddinglike consistency. Refrigeration firms them up a bit.

I also shoved some white chocolate chips into a few of the cookies. They add a nice contrast, but it’s upping the carb count.

Meatballs #3 and Review: Ancient Harvest Pasta

I have my meatballs totally dialed in. They’re not only delicious, but they’re also super tender. And gluten-free to boot!

Start with the non-meat ingredients:

1/2 cup potato flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup water (or beef stock)
3 Tbsp dry parsley
3 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp basil
2 eggs

Mix all that together so you get a spicy, gummy paste.

Then add 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground mild Italian sausage. You could go with the spicier sausage if you want, but I’m not that adventurous.

Smoosh it all together with your hands. I wear my always-useful powder-free disposable vinyl gloves for such things. Buying a big box of them was the best cooking/cleaning/hair-coloring move I ever made.

Roll into meatballs. Depending on size, you’ll get 30-45 of them. I like them about this big:

Where one can nest perfectly inside a tablespoon. That gets me around 40 meatballs. Again, I’m baking them on a wire rack above a foil-lined cookie sheet. I guess you don’t need the foil, if you don’t mind cleaning meat drips from your cookie sheet. Me, I’m a fan of easier cleanup. Since I still have to scrub the wire rack.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Middle-ish rack in the oven.

After they came out of the oven, I tossed a few into some defrosted and reheated meat sauce and let them bubble while I cooked up a single serving of noodles.

I found the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta on sale at the Whole Foods, at 2 boxes for $4. I used the ol’ food scale to measure out 2 ounces of dry pasta, which as always, doesn’t look like that much.

I then counted — turns out 2 ounces is just about 50 “garden pagodas”. Just like the De Boles “spaghetti style” pasta, I wonder if there’s some non-wheat reason why they can’t call this stuff radiatori. And it shows you how much wheaty pasta I used to eat, that I know the name of this shape.

Anyhoo, while the pasta is gluten-free (made from quinoa flour, corn flour, dried bell pepper and dried spinach [for the colors]), it’s certainly not a low-carb food. That 2-ounce serving packs 205 calories, 46 grams of carbohydrate, and only 4 grams of fiber. Still, eating it didn’t bloat me up afterward, and no next-day weight gain from water retention, so all is well. It boils for 6-9 minutes (I went the whole 9, after my De Boles experiments) with the strict warning DO NOT OVERCOOK. I wonder how gummy and/or gross these things get if you let them boil for too long. There’s also a warning that the water will turn yellow from the corn starches, which indeed it did.

At 9 minutes, the texture was just right. A very authentic pasta feel, with the slightest al dente bite. The plain white noodles really didn’t have a flavor of their own, which is a nice contrast from the distinctive rice flavor of the De Boles. The colorful noodles also tasted like standard red-pepper or spinach wheat noodles. Since it’s been a number of years, I’d clearly forgotten that I’m not the biggest fan of those pasta flavors. Next time I’d get this stuff, but in an all-plain variety. Looks like Ancient Harvest also makes spaghetti, linguine, elbows, shells, and rotelle (which they can say, but they can’t say radiatori?!) among others.

Delicious! I’m giving the plain noodles a 9 out of 10.

This plate is so full, by the way, because we got rid of most of our large (10″) plates and now almost exclusively use the Corelle luncheon plate (8-1/2″) for everything. You can get them at Wal*Mart for a couple of bucks apiece, if you don’t have a nearby Corning/Revere factory store. Which we don’t. Seriously, Orlando is the home of outlet malls, and there’s no Corningware to be had. Absurd! Anyhoo, we mixed-and-matched geometric patterns.

I packed away the rest of the meatballs, putting some in the fridge and some in the freezer. They microwave beautifully from both places.

Gluten-Free, Lowish-Carb Beefmeat Balls #2

Second attempt, with some recipe adjustments. I made the balls a little smaller, and put them up on a wire rack over a foil-lined cookie sheet so they wouldn’t be swimming in their own released fat. I also used less fatty beef, but that’s primarily because it’s what was on sale this week. And I added another egg.

2 lbs. ground beef (93/7)
1/2 cup potato flakes
1/3 cup water
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp chopped garlic
3 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp thyme

This time, I did things in a different order as well. First, I threw the potato flakes in my big bowl, and put the water on top to hydrate the potatoes. Mixed that up, then added everything else but the beef. I stirred it all together so it was one big sludgy mix of seasoning. Then I tossed the ground beef on top, and worked everything together with my hands. I think making the sludge (I really should write restaurant menu copy, right?) helped in letting me see when everything was fully combined.

Rolled out 40 of the little guys, roughly an inch and a half across.

Baked the same as last time: 400° F for 15 minutes.

This was a much improved batch. Still tender and juicy, but I didn’t have to dig them out of the pools of fat. The wire rack was easy as pie to clean off. But even though I increased all of the seasonings, we both still thought they could use MORE flavor. Even though I tossed in almost everything but the kitchen sink this time.

Maybe more salt. Certainly more garlic, in both varieties. Probably more chili powder and pepper. But these are totally edible. I portioned them out in sets of eight, and threw some in the fridge and some in the freezer. We’ll see how they re-heat.

Low-Carb Gluten-Free Quickie Barbecue Sauce

BBQ sauce is a tougie as far as low-carb goes. There used to be a sugar-free sauce put out by … I’m tempted to say K.C. Masterpiece, but I may be wrong. One of the big names, anyway. It was discontinued probably 2 years ago.

It looks like there are a couple of sugar-free BBQ sauces on the market, but I’ve never seen them in any store. Scott’s, Smokin’ Joe, and Nature’s Hollow all come up on a Google search for sugar-free sauce, but I’d have to send away for them via mail-order. Since I’m both lazy and cheap, I threw together a sauce from what I had on hand.

For the base, I used the Heinz reduced-sugar ketchup. Many recipes would have you start with tomato sauce or tomato paste, but I figured the ketchup already has a little flavoring zip and zazz in it. Plus, it’s easily found — both the SuperTarget and Publix grocery stores in my area carry it. Look for the blue label — that seems to be the agreed-upon color for lower sugar content. Be warned, this ketchup is sweetened with sucralose (aka Splenda) instead of sugar, so if you’re avoiding artificial sweeteners, you would want to go with regular tomato sauce/paste.

Side note: it used to be, in days gone by, the condiment aisle had both ketchup and catsup. These days, at least in central Florida, it’s 100% ketchup. Did everyone decide on a common spelling at some point? Or is the southeast all about ketchup the same way they call pop “soda” all the time? Maybe there’s still catsup in the northwest. Anyone?

Anyhoo, here’s what I mixed:

5 oz. Heinz reduced-sugar ketchup*
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 pk (4 tsp) Splenda

* I did the ketchup by weight, so I could just squirt it straight into the saucepan, and not dirty up a measuring cup. But if you don’t have a food scale, I’d say it was roughly a cup or so of ketchup, maybe a little less. Since the bottle of ketchup is 14 ounces, it’s a little over a third of a bottle.

Mix it up, and heat it in a saucepan. (You can see some of the scratches on this saucepan — I’ve had the set since college.) For the batch, you’re looking at somewhere around 12 grams of carbohydrate. We threw some gluten-free little smokies in there, and ended up with three servings, so 4 grams of carb for the sauce on each serving.

I’d made this before, but I didn’t write the recipe down, or measure anything. Foolish! This time I used actual measuring implements, so I could report to you fine people. In future batches, I think I’ll add even more liquid smoke, because it wasn’t quite smoky enough. It was good, but it could be better. I think I’ll also squirt in some brown mustard for additional tanginess. So I’ll probably go with 2 tsp liquid smoke, and 1 or 2 tsp brown mustard.

At any rate, the smokies were grand. I believe these were the Target house brand.

Gary Taubes on Dr. Oz

I recorded the Dr. Oz show for the first time ever the other day, because science journalist Gary Taubes was a guest. And despite the tittilating episode title “The Man Who Thinks Everything Dr. Oz Says Is Wrong”, I hoped there would at least be a fair and free exchange of ideas and information.

What a fool I was!

To be fair, Oz did say a couple of things that weren’t moronic. One was that he respects Taubes’ opinions, even though his own differ. The other was that he approves of the fact that Taubes is challenging conventional wisdom, since that causes doctors, researchers, and scientists to take a good, hard look and double-check all of the information they’re handing out.

Not that Oz double-checked anything, or decided to revise what he’s telling people.

Things I learned from Oz:

► You should cut out added sugar, but you should then eat lots of fruit (sugar) and “healthy whole grains” (sugar).

► After living on sugar all day every day, when you don’t eat sugar for a day, you feel grumpy.

► If you’d normally eat a slab of salmon, green veggies, a salad, and some brown rice, that meal just doesn’t translate to Taubes’ vision. Why just lose the brown rice, when you can replace it all with a huge steak?

► Oz is used to eating five or six times a day. Not a surprise, since his diet of sugars would require frequent replenishment due to blood-sugar spikes and valleys.

► Oz has no problem turning to his guest, basically telling them to shut up, and then monologuing at them nonstop. When the guest might potentially bring up a salient point, it’s time to shout them down.

► The rest of the show consisted of … game shows? I never thought I’d say this, but I have more respect for the integrity of The Doctors.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be watching Oz’s show ever again. I don’t understand what anyone sees in him — listening to his voice is like nails on a chalkboard (I compared it to a Jerry Lewis character), and he has a permanently smug expression on his face. I was surprised to see him eat meat in his “eat Taubes’ diet for 24 hours” joke of a segment, because looking at him, I would have guessed that he’s a vegetarian — he has the same scrawny, veiny look I’ve seen a lot.

Overall, I learned that those who blindly cling to conventional wisdom aren’t going to let go anytime soon. Despite the recent wave of articles, studies, and research supporting a low-carb, high-fat diet, it’s hard as hell to battle 50 years of misinformation and lies.

Gluten-Free Low-Carb Meatballs!

Before we get to the recipe, a couple of things. First off, Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, will be appearing on the Dr. Oz show today. It’s my understanding that Dr. Oz is a big proponent of vegetarian eating and “healthy whole grains”, so it should be a fascinating program.

Also, on one of the low-carb blogs I read, today someone posted a recipe without any pictures. I gasped and clutched my pearls. Unbelievable!

Onward! The other day, The Gluten-Free Homemaker posted a recipe for meatballs. I’ve tried meatballs before, but without the breadcrumbs, they get really dry really fast. This recipe tickled me because she used potato flakes as the filling/binding agent. I read that and thought to myself, “Self, didn’t you used to put actual grated potato in your meatballs, years ago?”

Why yes. Yes I did.

So I made a few changes to GFH’s recipe, adding in more of the Italian flavorings I crave.

Gluten-Free, Low-Carb Beefmeat Balls

1-1/2 lbs. ground beef (I used 80/20 chuck)
1/3 cup potato flakes*
1/4 cup water (or milk, or stock, or broth — something to moisten those dried taters)
1 Tbsp parsley
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp chopped garlic (that’s right, double garlic)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 egg

* I figured the potato flakes would be way carbier than they actually are. For the 1/3 cup, it’s 17 grams of carb, with 1 gram of fiber. That means for this batch of 20 large-ish meatballs, it’s less then one gram of potato-based carbohydrate per meatball. Compare a dish of 6 big-ass homemade meatballs to one of those craptacular low-carb wheat tortillas for the same carb load, and this meal totally comes out on top in any battle.

I threw on some of my trusty rubber gloves and mashed it all together. You certainly could use a mixer with a paddle attachment, but for me half the fun is getting in there with my hands.

Roll them into balls and put them on a baking sheet or pan. I used my cake sheet pan, lined with non-stick foil, because I didn’t know how big a pool of fat would form at the bottom. I’m glad I did — with the 80/20 beef, it was a sizeable amount of beefy grease. It might have overwhelmed a cookie sheet.

Bake in the oven at 400° for 15 minutes.

Now in my house growing up, we’d pan-fry meatballs. Which can be kind of messy and splattery. I’d never done them in the oven, and now I can’t imagine doing them anywhere else. They browned up beautifully, got a little of that crust on the outside, and were done through.

I made enough so that I could freeeze half of them. We’ll see how they microwave back up. Here I scooted them all off to the side, so that the pool of grease could cruise over to the other end of the pan. I should probably keep that grease, but I don’t know what I’d do with it. Treat it like any other cooking fat? Pack it in a container and stick it in the fridge? Fry things in it? Hmmm.

Scott and I agreed that these were good, but they need even MORE spice next time. Maybe I’ll try adding some oregano or basil as well.

Daytona Beeyotch

We took a wee road trip today. Recently we finished off our ginormous bottle of Red Robin’s seasoned salt, so I proposed a lunch voyage to RR. Not only is it a source of seasoning, but it’s also a chance to have a tastes-like-home meal. Since Red Robin is from Seattle. I also feel homey in Costco. But strangely, I don’t head off to Nordstrom that frequently. Hmm.

There are now six Red Robin locations in Florida. But the closest one to Orlando is around 55 miles away, in Port Orange, which is on the east coast out by Daytona Beach. So off we went.

There’s a new restaurant going in just down the way from Red Robin. At least I’m guessing it’ll be a restaurant. Bottom line, I think “sauce box” is our new insult.

I had the regular old Red Robin classic cheeseburger, with cheddar. And wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of a bun. I don’t know what it is about Red Robin, but there’s a very distinctive flavor to their burgers. You know you’re eating an RR burger when you’re eating an RR burger.

The lettuce wasn’t so much wrapped around the burger, as it was on top and bottom like a bun. Each side was 4 or 5 leaves of iceberg, which was a bit much lettuce. I stripped a leaf or two off each side, which made it easier to bite through. The last quarter or so of the burger, it was so messy and falling apart that I had to go in with the knife and fork. I have to say, I think Fuddrucker’s may win for presentation by just putting the patty on a plate.

The steak fries were fantastic, as always.

After lunch, we headed over to Daytona Beach. We’d never seen it, and since we were right there, why not? We took the main exit off the freeway, which put us on International Speedway Drive. We got to pass by the ginormous racetrack, which was busy as heck because of the “Gatorade Duel”, whatever that is. Anyhoo, it was cool to hear the sounds of the cars as we passed by, and we got to see a few really bitchin’ mullets.

We drove down International Speedway Drive until it ended at the beach.

Daytona Beach is, apparently, the world’s most famous beach. Is it? According to whom? What about Waikiki? Or Malibu? The sign didn’t give a source for the claim.

It’s a really unique beach, in that it’s incredibly easy to walk on. You can see the high tide line, and from the water to that line, the sand is packed hard and flat. You can stroll all the way down to the surf and not get any sand in your sandals! Of course, we had to check out the water temperature. The verdict: flippin’ cold!

Lots of seagulls everywhere, primarily hanging out in packs down near the waterline.

Lots of dead jellyfish everywhere, with all of their (arms? tendrils? stinging-bits?) broken off.

And lots of love for Beap.

Whole Foods, Gluten, Cat’s Eye

In order of importance, I’ll start with the cat. We took Commie to the vet yesterday, where both vets came in to visit us, because they were both completely flabbergasted that his eye is almost back to normal. Shocked, they were! His eye still has a little bit of a cloudy spot on it, which may be permanent damage from the month or so that it was completely hidden by swelling.

The vets have no idea what happened. Or why it fixed itself. I believe both of them used the phrase “miracle cat”. For the cloudy spot, we were given some steroid drops (which are so much easier than pills or oral liquids, so I’m very glad) and we’re going back in a week to see if it clears up. But he seems to be seeing out of both eyes. At least both eyes track us. Which is great.

The kids look a bit grumpy in this picture, but they’re just a bit tuckered. I found where I’d packed the laser pointer, so I made them do some laps around the living room.

Next up, gluten. Since January is now over, so is Gluten-Free January. I stayed the course the whole time, and discovered that I could eat other carbohydrate foods in moderation (potatoes, rice, corn) and still not gain weight. In fact, my maintenance zone had been 130-133 pounds for the last year, and for most of January, I stayed in the 129s.

But to complete the experiment, it meant having some gluten. So we headed out to Costco, because I love their cheap pizza. I mean, look at this monster slice!

Greasy, gooey, awesome. 700 or so calories of pizza magic. Although I didn’t eat the big puffy end crust. I wasn’t against it — I was just too full.

I didn’t get the stomach cramps or bloating that others have reported from adding gluten back after a long break. But I did find myself hungry all evening long, and nothing could stop the munchies. Haven’t felt that way in a long while. I didn’t gain any water weight, which is good, but I think I’m going to stick with mostly gluten-free from now on anyway. But I will continue experimenting with other carby foods, to see how far I can expand my choices.

On that note, I sallied forth to Whole Foods, where I knew they had some gluten-free beers. Just the other day on the Facebook, someone wrote that all of our local Whole Foods employees seem like they hate the world. And I have to say, they weren’t the friendliest bunch. I don’t know about hating the world, but nobody was full of good cheer, that’s for sure.

Spotted the following GF option:

Of course, the gluten-free rice noodles make it twice the price of other macaroni & cheese dinners. And since it’s fancybrand, that means it’s like six times the price of a box of Kraft dinner. Boy howdy, did I love Kraft dinner. Maybe I’ll buy a box sometime, just to get the powdery cheese packet. Although that’s probably loaded with gluten too. I wonder if I could put powdered Kraft cheese on some spaghetti squash?

I got one bottle of gluten-free beer (New Grist, which is both an awesome name and a terrible name) and a hard cider I haven’t tried yet. They had three or four gluten-free beer options, which is great. Surprisingly, our local Publix grocery store had a wider variety of ciders (although they didn’t have the brand that I got at WF). Much to sample!

Lastly, I got these chips from the vending machine at the courthouse, when I did my jury duty. What I want to know is, what’s the creamy part? The chips weren’t creamy, they were crispy. And I sure hope dill pickles aren’t creamy. Also, what do dill pickle potato chips have to do with DJing and turntables?

All that aside, the chips were delicious. I love a good dill pickle chip, creamy or not.

Bunless Burger: Five Guys

Previously, I had a bunless burger at Fuddrucker’s as part of our moving weekend feasting. And it was a delightful thing.

I’ve had bunless burgers at other places: Burger King puts everything into a little bowl, Red Robin wraps it in lettuce leaves, even the noisy and hideous T-Rex restaurant serves theirs on a plate with decent fixings.

So I decided to try going bunless at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. At least I can still have the fries, which are always fantastic. No gluten in those little fellas.

What a disappointment. Two foil-wrapped bundles, one with lettuce and pickles, the other with a cheese-covered patty. The patty was small and falling apart, and most of the cheese stuck to the foil. I had to scrape like mad. They also gave me little side cups with mayonnaise and onions. I ordered the burger with ketchup and mustard as well, but I didn’t get those. I guess because both can be found on the condiment rack next to the pop machine. (That’s right, Florida, I still won’t say soda. Suck it.)

I scraped my cheese, put it back on the burger, threw on mayo and ketchup, then cut off a piece. The cutting action immediately sliced through the tissue-thin foil and revealed the tabletop underneath. For the rest of the burger, I was very, very delicate with my knifework.

So overall, a great disappointment. I’d say they’re not used to doing burgers without buns, but “no bun” is a programmed option on their cash registers. I’ll just have to go elsewhere for a bunless burger, and only hit Five Guys if I’m either desperate for their fries (I loves them, I do) or if it’s February or beyond and I’m willing to risk the bloat and gas from eating the bun.