Lessons Learned: Buckwheat Allergy

About a month ago, in my ongoing quest to eat naturally, I decided to try alternative grains. I don’t view wheat as a villain, but since I’m of African and Native American ancestry, some grains should be more compatible with my body than others. Since I’ve reduced my carbohydrates, what I get should be digestible and pleasant to taste. In that wheat is kind of so-so and neutral.

So I went to my favorite staple and bulk foods merchant, and got some buckwheat flour. A few days later, I made the most awesome smelling two loaves of bread I’ve made in my life with oat flour, buckwheat flour, and minimal wheat flour. I broke out the butter, and my family and I enjoyed it very much. I noticed though, that it tasted a bit peppery to me. I was warned that buckwheat has a “strong” taste, and I thought this was what they meant.

Four or five bites in though, my lips and throat were burning, and my esophagus began to spasm. After a very painful upchuck, I was still spasming, and I noticed that my skin was starting to itch. I went to the emergency room, and was told that I very likely have a buckwheat allergy.

Buckwheat allergy is not so common in the west, but is more common in Asia, where it is used more often.  Apparently, exposure to sobakowa from pillows and mats can “max out” a person’s tolerance if they have the allergy, and cause extreme reactions when they eat buckwheat, even if they don’t break out from touching hulls or fibers.  This is one reason it can be a surprise.  Someone who has used sobakowa pillows and tatami mats without a bad reaction would be caught unawares when eating buckwheat noodles.

So if you’re introducing new foods into your diet, make sure that you are prepared for the possibility of discovering new allergies.  Have a plan for getting emergency care quickly.

How to Make Druze Pita

I love bread. It’s one of those foods that makes civilization so worth it. The problem is that the body uses carbohydrates like sugar if they’re not properly prepared. So I set about to finding ways to get my bread fix, making it fully satisfying but healthier than the typical selections. Mind you, some of us of African and Native American descent also have a problem with too much bran from certain grains, so switching to whole wheat wasn’t a good option.

From reading sites about glycemic index, and how the body processes grains, I learned that they should be fermented before they’re eaten. This alters their chemistry so that their GI is lower, and the sugars break down slightly, and become more digestible. People in Africa and the Mediterranean, as well as Japan, have been doing things like this for aeons. One group with a very tasty fermented dough recipe I’ll reveal to you today are the Druze. You can read about their fascinating culture here.

They make a special “pita” that isn’t like the pita pocket bread most folks are used to seeing in the west. In fact, almost every ethnicity in the middle east has their own kind of pita, and some even have more than one.

Druze pita are similar to what Americans may think of as “wrap” bread. If you get the genuine thing, it’s about the circumference of a large pizza, and very very thin. It is even thinner than a tortilla. If you put them in a plastic bag right away, they’ll be soft, but if you leave them out, they become nicely crispy. As crips, in my opinion, they’re better than potato chips.

Before we get started, I’ll let you know that there is an art to it. You probably won’t get perfectly round, uniformly paper thin pitas until you’ve been practicing for some months, or weeks if you do it every morning (which you might). If you follow my instructions though, you and your family will enjoy the practice pitas very much.

First of all, you need to make sure you have the things you’ll need to prepare this special bread.

A wok or other convex shaped pan that can take heat on the inside. The reason for this is that you will be turning that over so that you have a dome on which to “throw” and cook your pita.

You should be using a gas burner. You can’t do this on an electric stove.

Your wok should be able to rest securely so that the fire is more or less under the center of it. Because of how heat is channelled through a wok, it’s not so important if it’s a bit off. Just make sure it sits there securely.

Wooden spatula. It’s the same wooden spatula you’d use if you were cooking things on the inside of the wok. You’ll need this to slide under and lift your pitas without burning your fingers.

A round (unused) seat cushion. That’s right, a seat cushion. This will help you to stretch the pitas out, and to throw them on the pan fully spread out. If you don’t have one, or you don’t think you can keep it out of the household circulation of seat cushions in the laundry or something, you can instead use a large plate covered with a lint free cloth. You’ll need to tie the cloth securely around the plate. It will not work as well, but it’ll do in a pinch as a stretching surface and “throwing” guide.

Now, the ingredients.

1 kg. wheat flour
1/2 cup corn or potato starch
2 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. cream of tartar
lukewarm water

Reserve about a cup or cup and a half of the flour for the kneading.

Sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.

Add enough lukewarm water, while squishing it together with your fingers, until you have a somewhat wet ball of dough. Once you have enough water in, continue to squish out any major lumps.

Spread some flour over the counter, and turn the dough out onto it. You may have to do some scraping off the bowl and your fingers.

Knead the dough, adding flour as you go, until you have a pretty firm ball of dough that is somewhat dry and “heavy”. If you need to add more flour than you reserved, do so.

Put the dough in a food safe plastic bag, and squeeze out as much air as you can. Don’t seal the bag right up against the dough though. Give it some room to rise a little.

Now for the fermentation: put the bag of dough in a bowl in a warm but not too warm place for an hour, or put it in the refrigerator overnight. On top of the refrigerator is usually perfect for the hour.

When you are ready to start making your pitas, have ready your surface, some flour, a small roller, and your covered plate or cushion. Then heat your upside-down wok. The heat needs to be high or as close as possible without being nuclear.

Take about a half cup or palm sized ball of dough from the bag, and roll it to make it somewhat spherical. Then mash it flatter between your hands, and even more flat between your fingers.

Slap it down onto your floured surface, and then turn it over and slap it down again. This will help spread out the flour, and get the dough “conditioned” for stretching.

Mash the dough down even flatter, using brisk striking motions or just pressing firmly but quickly. It depends how familiar you are with say, pizza making. If you are, you’ll know the right “touch”.

Using the small roller, roll from the center of the patty of dough outwards. Rotate it a little, and roll out from the center again. Rotate and roll, rotate and roll, and on and on until you have a fairly thin, tortilla like circle of dough.

Gently transfer this onto the plate or cushion. Most like to do this using the back of their hands to avoid tearing it.

Pick up the cushion, and gently, a little at a time, stretch the dough over it. You want a large disk of dough that is not quite as big as your overturned wok. If you make it too big, it will hang off the edges.

Now, take the cushion with your dough, and plop the dough onto the very hot wok.

Once it is bubbling, it is basically done, but if you’re new at this, there may be some wrinkles, or your edges might be a little thick. Slide the spatula under the pita to lift it, turn it over, and then flip down the edges so that they touch the pan. You might need to press here and there with the spatula.

The cooking barely takes a minute, so be watchful, or you’ll burn holes right through it.

When it’s done, slide the spatula under it, and lift it. Put it on a plate and eat it.

These are usually served with labane, zaatar, and other middle eastern foods and salads.

Now, here’s a video I found on Youtube of an expert at work.

Cooking Slim Month 1

Cooking for weight loss would be more accurately termed cooking for optimal nutrition. Once you get to a certain point in the process, you will achieve a weight that is perfect for your activity level and body type. The food will no longer be the problem in your weight loss or health maintenance goals.

It’s not about going on a diet. It’s about adjusting your diet. It is a lifestyle change that you will easily be able to adhere to. Popular dieting/weight loss theory is based on a calories in:calories out equation, but this is only a fraction of the story. If you put molasses in your car’s gas tank, your car will cease to run. If you put low quality gasoline in it, then it will run, but not very well. You’ll end up burning alot of gas to go less of a distance, and decreasing the life of your car.

The human body is also a kind of machine…a biomechanical wonder, built for survival. It needs the right fuel to perform at its best. So even if you’re a couch potato type, you should be treating your body as if you were surviving a long winter in your cave.

So this month, we’re going to start by making a small, very easy change. You’re going to get rid of all your fattening oils. See this guide at WAPF for the types of oils you should and shouldn’t use. I’ll go a step further by advising you to only use the good oils that are native to your ancestral regions and/or genetic ancestors within the past thousand years.

Nothing should be deep fried, since this is wasteful anyway. Try shaking and baking instead, if you like a crispy crust on things.

Bookmark this page, and at the end of your first month, come back, and post a comment. Tell us about your transition.

Big Industrially Refined Vegetable Oil

In one cup (about 154 grams) of sweet white corn, there is .9 grams of fat.  In order to eat a teaspoon of corn oil by natural means, you would have to eat more than five cups of corn.

In a normal serving of chips (french fries), there are between 25-30 grams, or five or six teaspoons of vegetable oil.  That’s 25-32 cans of corn, goodness knows how many engineered low acid rapeseeds, a huge bag of sunflowers, well…you get the point.

Humans were not built to digest and metabolize that much of various types of vegetable oils at once.  If you’ve been using canola, corn, or any other vegetable oil that comes from a plant from which the oil can’t be extracted by primitive means, get your liver checked and soon.  You might have a fatty liver.

Unsaturated fats taken in excess (and it doesn’t take much to be excess) are known to cause fatty liver and other problems in mammals.  Humans are not exempt.  What makes it worse is when oils are rancid, which also doesn’t take as long as people think.  Oils that are kept more than a couple of days should be refrigerated, but very few people do this.  They’ll use month or more old cooking oil, thinking that they’ll be able to smell if it’s rancid.  You can’t smell the rancidity when it first starts to turn.

So if you’re going to use vegetable oils, use them sparingly.  Try to stick to those like cold pressed olive oil, or at least oils that are based on naturally fatty nuts that don’t take much to extract, like sunflower seed oil, if you don’t have a nut allergy.  Either way, store them in the refrigerator, and for no longer than six months.  Your palate and your liver will thank you.

Masa Harina or Maseca Substitution

Nothing is quite like real masa de harina (dough flour) made from hominy or nixtamal, but in a pinch, some substitutions can be made.  This is also important for those who may be celiac or avoiding gluten for other reasons.  If you need to have “pure” dough flour, you may not be able to depend on your supermarket shelves.

What kind of masa you should mix depends on what you’ll be making with it.  So I’ll list recipes and instructions for two different purposes.

Tamales/wet wrapped corn dumplings

You will need:
1 cup yellow or white corn meal
1 cup rice meal or wheat semolina
boiling hot water
an airtight bowl


Mix your ingredients in the bowl, and then stir in just enough hot water to make a stiff but sticky dough.

Cover the bowl and let set for 15 minutes.

Uncover the bowl, and if needed, wait until the dough is cool enough to touch.

Gently handle the dough enough to make it spreadable, and then proceed to make your tamales or dumplings.

Crispy corn tortillas

You will need:
1 cup white or yellow corn meal
1 cup quick cooking rice meal or wheat semolina
1 heaping tablespoon of sticky rice, oat, barley, or wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder or 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice
boiling hot water
an airtight bowl
lard, schmaltz, or palm oil
wax paper or a steady fast hand


Mix everything except the water in the bowl.

Add just enough boiling water to make a stiff dough.

Cover the bowl, and let set for 15-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to about 145 Celsius.

Knead the dough as best as possible, until it is somewhat pliable, and prepare your baking sheet.

Grease your baking sheet with the lard or oil.

Roll your tortillas out as thin as possible without risking tearing, between two sheets of wax paper.  Remove the wax paper gently, and place them one at a time on the baking sheet.  You will need to use multiple sheets or do batches of four to six tortillas depending on how wide you make them.

Bake for about 10 minutes until just dry and done, but not crispy yet.  When you see them threatening to make a bubble or something, they’re done.

Take them out, and let them cool on the pan for a couple of minutes.  Then transfer them to a plate and start the next batch.

You can store them this way in the refrigerator, but when you want them crispy, just fry them.

Chicken Schmaltz

You will need:

A deep, preferably seasoned cast iron frying pan.
A wooden spoon or spatula.

2 kg. Chicken skin
2 large onions
1 teaspoon sea salt if you aren’t using kosher chicken skin
a large, clean glass or pyrex type bowl
a cheesecloth or a steady hand
a sterilized jar with a resealable lid

Rinse the chicken skin, and pull out any feathers or roots that might be still in it.

As best as you can, chop the chicken skin into small pieces, and chop your onions into somewhat coarse chunks.  If you’ll be using the schmaltz for baking sweets or something, omit the onions.

Heat your pan on high heat, and then put in your chopped chicken skin and onions.

Turn the heat down to low, until you have nothing left but crispy chicken skin and browned onions, swimming in their own grease.

Pour the grease through a cheesecloth into the glass bowl.

Let this settle until any solids that may be left, settle to the bottom.

Pour the grease, leaving behind the settled solids, into the sterilized jar.  Let it cool and then close the jar.

Schmaltz can keep unrefrigerated for a couple of weeks, but most people like to refrigerate it so it will keep longer.

The solid bits of chicken skin and onions that are left are called “gribenes”.  These can be used for many recipes, or eaten on bread or sprinkled on salads.  Try it mixed with cream cheese on toast or a bagel.

Real Tomato Sauce

There is no good reason to buy canned tomato or spaghetti sauce when you have fresh tomatoes available.  Here’s a quick and easy way to make your own real tomato sauce with no additives.

You will need:

fresh tomatoes
a pot
enough water to cover the tomatoes plus a couple of centimeters
a relatively large holed strainer
a dash or two of salt

Just rinse and put the tomatoes in the pot, and cover them with water.

Add a dash or two of salt to the water.

Place on high heat until boiling, and then turn the heat down enough to just let it simmer.

Let the tomatoes cook until the peels start to split and come off a bit.

Pour the tomatoes into a strainer.  Discard the water.

Place the strainer over the pot and using the bottom of a glass or bowl or a masher, press the tomatoes through the strainer.

The skins will be left behind, and in the pot you will have basic tomato sauce (pomodoro).

If you like, you can cook it longer, but try it at this phase and I think you’ll like it.

Add whatever seasonings you like to make spaghetti sauce or salsa.

This can be frozen ahead, so it’s a good way to save tomatoes that are almost at the end of their shelf life.

Skinny Philosophy: Fitness Principles

Here are principles that encourage me to keep fit, and have helped in losing the extra poundage.

1.  I accept my body, and love it as an important part of myself.

2.  What I look like is a very natural result of a combination of my genes, my environment and my behavior.

3.  Just as if I am ignorant about something I want to know, I get the information, study, and learn about it to the best of my intellectual ability; if there is something lacking in my health, I correct it to the best of my physical ability.

4.  I do not indulge in self pity, or accept pity from others.  I do forgive and have mercy on myself, and accept the forgiveness and mercy of others.

5.  I do not follow a plan or program just because it is popular.  I do understand that I am a human being, and mortal as any other, and that there are some who have travelled roads I have yet to walk.

6.  I can accept criticism about my looks without taking it as an insult.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I don’t have to agree with others or pretend to.  The opinions that mean the most are helpful feedback from people with experience and expertise in fitness, health, and sports.  The opinions of people who care about me and word things thoughtfully mean something to me only sentimentally if they’re not experts.  The opinions that mean nothing are the outbursts of strangers and enemies who say things to attempt to dent my confidence.

7.  My confidence is based only on things that will be important when I am dead.  While I live, my quest for physical fitness is just one part of my overall maintenance of psychological fitness.

What are your fitness principles?

Slimming with Schmaltz

The debate as to which is better, animal or vegetable based fats, is as yet ongoing.  It’s impossible for someone who isn’t a biologist to parse the information correctly, so for my own efforts, I looked into the past.

First off, deep fried foods were rare, as this was considered a waste of oil/fat.  Fat was considered, and actually is, an important part of a healthy diet.  The fat you eat, and excess calories that your body converts to fat are needed for your eyes, skin, and organs to function properly.

It seems however, that the difference between quality fat and junk fat is whether or not it is natural for the body to digest and metabolize it.  So any naturally rendered fat is going to be better than fats that require any machinery other than a press and a pot to get it.

Think about it: corn has almost no fat, yet there is corn oil.  Though paleo diet purists are against corn or other cultivated grains, nutritionally and ecologically you’re better off eating a corn pancake fried in a little bacon grease or grass fed cow butter than the same corn pancake fried with corn oil.  Cornbread made with the minimum amount of butter or lard to make it moist would be even better.

Now, for the anecdotal evidence from my own efforts.  I’ve begun to lose weight faster, and have more energy, since I rolled back to what I like to call the “Grandma diet”.  The fats I use for cooking are butter, lard, cold pressed olive oil, or yellow/orange palm oil when I can get it.  For spreading, it’s either butter or olive oil.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should go and make chips in lard or something.  Just, when you make your soup, use a little lard or chicken schmaltz to sweat your onions.  For the toasts to go with it, sprinkle on a little olive oil or a third to half pat of butter per slice of bread.  Bread isn’t supposed to be so good for you either, but the French eat it and still don’t drop like flies.  So in moderation, carbs are alright…same with fats.

What I haven’t done yet is had blood tests done to see what all this is doing for my organs.  If the outside is any indication though, I look and feel better, so I expect good news when I do.  I’ll scan my stats and post them when I do it because I’m curious to see if there’s improvement since last year.

Try the schmaltz thing though, and see if you like it.  I think you will.  It has certainly reduced my portion sizes and my frequency of hunger.  It seems to have also increased my energy.  I’m not a napper anymore, and I’m working more efficiently.

Back in the Routine

The winter holidays are over, and we’re all done eating the leftovers.  I still have lots of ingredients that I overbought, but I’m not worried.  They’ll get used eventually.  That’s the beauty of raw materials.  They can be used to make lots of things.

But since the last of the cooked turkey has been souped or sandwiched, and the last of the guacamole wiped, it was time to begin the family’s routine anew.  So today I cooked a big pot of plain white beans, and another pot of chickpeas.  Tonight, I made barbecue beans with some of the white beans, and some cornbread to go with it.

I sacrificed nothing in the taste, but there is a way to go about these things without going crazy.  First off, since I like a smokey flavor in my barbecue beans, I used sausage in them.  To get the maximum flavor with the minimum fat, I grated about a quarter cup of a very well aged, dry smoked flavored salami.  This, I sauteed for a few seconds in a bit of olive oil just before adding the onions to sweat.

Second, I made my own barbecue sauce from tomato paste, mustard, chili sauce, maple syrup, garlic crystals, pepper, and vinegar.  Just dump that on top of your frying onions, and let it boil, and then put in your beans.  It came out fabulous.

A reduced fat but full taste chili can be made similarly.  Just use chili powder and tomato paste instead of the barbecue sauce.

In a moment, I’m going to take a hand blender to a bowl of the chickpeas and make some home made hummus for tomorrow’s lunch.  Yummy 🙂