Family Visits: Gluten, Dairy, And Sugar-Free

My niece Ella and my crock pot-roasted chicken & red potatoes


It’s that time of year again – summer barbecues, family vacations, and my annual visit to my parents in rural Minnesota.  I grew up on a farm in a tiny little German town of about 800 people, surrounded by cornfields as far as the eye can see.  It’s very peaceful but I’m always a little apprehensive to go back there, and much of that has to do with worrying about what I’m going to eat. 


The way I ate growing up was very different than the way I eat now.  My family is big on meat (2 or 3 meals a day), potatoes, Crisco, white bread, and a big glass of milk with every meal.  My parents put sugar on everything – including peaches, strawberries and tomatoes (yes, tomatoes).  Aside from the fresh fruit & veggies, the remaining options for food we can now eat are somewhat lacking.  Luckily, my mother graciously asked me before I came what she could get me from the grocery store.  Since my parents live in a very small town miles from anywhere, I knew not to ask for anything too complicated.  I asked her to please get some rice milk or soymilk, some canola & olive oil, brown rice, a few lemons, and lots of fresh greens.  She did pretty well too, except I was a little dismayed to find the exact same bottle of olive oil on her shelf that I had bought her a year and a half ago (gasp), but since it was my only option, I just accepted it and tried not to think about oxidation.  I packed our own pancake mixes, hot cereals, granola, crackers, and gluten-free bread.  I crossed my fingers that airport security wouldn’t search my luggage (really officer, I swear it’s just flour in that plastic bag…) For the rest I would make do with what I could find in her garden. 


We arrived late the first night and my mother had planned a big breakfast the next morning: pancakes and bacon.  We mixed our batter separately, with some rice milk and the amaranth pancake mix I had packed.  Since the canola oil was Crisco brand and looked as if it had been on the shelf longer than our bottle of olive oil, we decided to fry ours in a bit of bacon fat.  They were very tasty.  We later had a turkey salad for lunch, and at that point I had had my fill of meat for the day.  However, my mother asked me to help her prepare a chicken for dinner that she had gotten from a local farm.


Crock Pot-Roasted Chicken


My mother usually fries or bakes her chicken with Shake-N-Bake, and she didn’t know a way to prepare it that my husband and I could eat.  I figured the best bet with what we had on hand would be to roast it in her crock pot with some red potatoes from the garden (potatoes are a daily staple) and some rosemary I had brought.  I placed the whole chicken in the crock pot, drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt, pepper and rosemary.  I added about a cup of water to the pot and threw in some potatoes, sliced onion, whole garlic cloves, and a few slices of lemon.  I turned the crock pot on high temperature for the first hour, until the water at the bottom began to boil, then turned it down to low to cook for another 5-6 hours.  It was perfectly tender, and the meat easily fell from the bones.  The remaining stock made a nice gravy, brought to a boil with a couple spoonfuls of cornstarch.  I guess I could handle another meal of meat.


Earlier in the day I had also raided my mother’s garden, to find some fresh vegetables to go in a cold quinoa salad (we brought the quinoa) for myself and my brother, who is a vegetarian.  I managed to find some crisp cucumbers, spring onion, and fresh dill that was growing wild.  Score!


Fresh dill, spring onion, tomato, and cucumber from my mother's garden


 Chilled Quinoa Salad With Cucumbers & Fresh Dill


First I rinsed the quinoa well and strained it.  Usually I like to cook my quinoa in chicken stock, but since I was making it vegetarian I boiled it with a few chopped cloves of garlic.  After chilling the cooked quinoa for an hour or so, I threw in some chopped cucumber, tomato, green onion (the tops from the spring onion), and fresh dill.  I seasoned it with salt & pepper and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  It was lovely.  



Quinoa salad with tomato, cucumber, green onion, and fresh dill


The next day there was a big barbecue planned for all the relatives and my grandmother’s and nephew’s birthdays.  The birthday cake was a “jello cake” made with a Betty Crocker white cake mix and, yes, jello (it was pink), and frosted with Cool Whip.  Luckily I had planned ahead and brought a bar of baking chocolate so I could make a flourless chocolate cake.  It was a big hit.  For the barbecue there were all sorts of brats and pork chops.  I found it interesting that even though we were in the land of pork producers, we had Johnsonville brats instead of locally-produced meat (as far as anyone knew).  They were still quite tasty (I love brats) but very salty.  There was a potato salad and a seven-layer salad, neither of which we could eat.  My aunt who made the seven-layer salad was kind enough to prepare us a separate salad of just fresh greens, radishes, and green peppers.  It was perfect and we loved it. 


Slow-Cooked White Beans


While our dietary needs were fairly well-known by now, not many people knew my brother was a vegetarian or were aware that a vegetarian can’t just eat vegetables, they need a source of protein.  My mother had a 2-lb. bag of white beans in her cabinet and I soaked them the night before the big barbecue.  I again took out her crock pot, which proved very useful on this visit, and covered the pre-soaked and drained beans with water and turned on the heat.  I added some chopped spring onion, minced garlic, and the rest of the dried rosemary I had with me.  I heated them to boiling on high and then turned down the heat to let it simmer on low for another 6 hours or so.  I added 2 tsp of salt in the last hour.  The beans went over well, even among meat eaters, and my brother enjoyed them with some brown rice.  We ate our picnic outside until the fruit flies got the best of us and then came inside to eat our respective cakes.


I ended up doing more cooking than I expected to while on vacation, though I was grateful to have that much control over what I could eat.  But it is good to be back in the bay area.  I went to the farmers’ market this morning and stocked up on all my favorite produce.  I will be back posting more recipes soon!

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