Oven frittata (6 servings) plus a personal update

Hi, friendly readers! This is my first post since March. That was MARCH, as in four months ago. For the last nine years, this blog has been a fun way to motivate myself to try new recipes and share the results. But over the past few months, food has become a touchy subject as I learned to deal with new digestive symptoms and a handful of new food intolerances. Cooking and eating became a lot less fun, so blogging seemed pointless for a time.

But before I get into symptoms and newly-discovered intolerances, I want to share a lovely frittata recipe I've made a couple of times lately. And if you found your way to this post because you've got your own food intolerances and are looking for some sympathy and advice, go ahead and continue reading after the recipe.

Think of this frittata as a versatile, protein-packed crustless quiche. It can be made on a lazy Sunday morning and reheated throughout the week for breakfast. It makes a fancy-yet-simple lunch or even dinner entrée. It can be eaten cold, as quiches sometimes are (although my preference is warm). It's an excellent (egg-cellent?) recipe for using up whatever grilled, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or canned veggies you have, and the results can be frozen and reheated on a later date. Really, there isn't much else I can say other than this is a recipe to keep on hand for all sorts of occasions! And LOOK at it! It's a culinary topographical wonder with its craggy protrusions and crispy, oven-scorched patches. Gorgeous!

You will need:

  • 8 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp half and half (You can use water if you'd prefer)
  • About a cup of chopped, cooked leftover veggies or prepared canned or jarred vegetables (I used sun-dried tomatoes, jarred grilled artichokes, and sliced Kalamata olives for the one shown here; I've since made a second one with grilled asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and sautéed mushrooms.)
  • A handful or two of salad greens, chopped roughly (I used a mixture of baby spinach and arugula for both iterations.)
  • A tablespoon or so of your favorite fresh herbs, or half a tablespoon of dried herbs
  • Half a cup of shredded or crumbled cheese (I used feta the first time and a pizza blend the second time.)
  • Salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. First, preheat the oven to 400° F. Spritz some non-stick spray on a deep pie dish or swipe a little cooking oil on the bottom and inside. Set pie dish aside.
  2. Next, crack the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the half and half. Use a whisk or fork to beat the eggs and incorporate the half and half. Fold in the vegetables, salad greens, herbs, cheese, and a dash of salt and pepper. (If you use a salty cheese like feta, you'll want a smaller amount of salt.
  3. Gently pour the egg mixture into the pie dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the eggs are set. You can test for done-ness by inserting a thin knife and making sure it comes out clean and by shaking the dish a bit to make sure the eggs aren't still liquid.
  4. Once the eggs are set, remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes. Cut the frittata into six slices. Serve immediately or once cooled.

You can also wrap individual slices with plastic wrap and stick the slices in a gallon freezer bag to freeze until later. I unwrap and defrost one slice for about 40 seconds in the microwave and then put it in the toaster oven at 350° for about ten minutes. By the time I've brewed and poured my morning coffee, I've got a healthy breakfast ready for me!


If you were here just for the recipe, go ahead and get on with your day!

From a very young age, I've had a variety of digestive troubles -- some painful and disruptive and some just confusing and bothersome -- that I put down to a mixture of genetics and bad luck. I've archived a shockingly extensive backlog of embarrassing tales, turned entertaining by time, involving crowded public places and desperate dashes to find a bathroom. (Everybody's got at least one of those stories, right?) I've missed school and work days and social functions and gone through days-long periods where all I could keep down were plain foods like applesauce and saltine crackers. Finally, in college, I was diagnosed with IBS and over the years, I've treated it with traditional prescriptions and alternative therapies (massage, peppermint pills, Reiki) alike. I kept extensive food diaries that finally helped me identify some triggers, which ranged from the predictable and scientifically-supported (artificial sweeteners, onions) to the bizarre and surprising (Iceberg and Romaine lettuce, tequila but no other liquors). Hot and humid weather made my symptoms worse; if I was already stressed, foods that wouldn't normally bother me suddenly became intolerable. Years of digestive distress made me hyper-aware of my body and my cycles, and I grew to think of my large intestine like a reclusive but crazy neighbor: I never actually saw him in person, but every once in a while, he'd do something impulsive and destructive in the darkness of the early morning to make me late for work (always on a day when my class was being observed or I had a parent meeting, of course).

But I learned to live with my symptoms. I could usually laugh off the lateness or sudden disappearances during meetings with a vague-yet-socially-acceptable excuse. ("Belly troubles again! Sorry!") But about a year ago, my symptoms started changing, and none of the treatments I'd used for years were working any longer. Planning meals became more difficult as my reactions became more unpredictable. I found my way to a holistic doctor who taught me, first of all, that there are no "normal" levels of symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Almost any time the body reacts with one of those symptoms, it's a sign that something is wrong. She also helped me understand that the IBS I was viewing as the cause was only a symptom of a deeper problem. The IBS had been triggered by food poisoning I had experienced as a child, causing the healthy levels of bacteria in my gut to get all out of whack. Without rebalancing those bacteria, she explained, my IBS symptoms would never go away. My real issue was SIBO, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. In effect, this meant that processes that were supposed to happen exclusively in the small intestine were also occurring in the large intestine, creating byproducts the large intestine wasn't equipped to eliminate, leading to a number of other digestive problems.

Thus began a months-long period of trial and error involving a weird assortment of herbal supplements, malodorous teas, electrical nerve stimulation, and a hell of a lot of bloodwork, all in an attempt to kick the disruptive, drunken guests out of the pool party and sneakily invite only the polite guests back in. And for a while, I was starting to feel better. An errant onion in a stir fry didn't leave me groaning on the floor for hours! I was bloated only two days each week instead of five!

But then, a few months into my crunchy granola-sprinkled journey down the holistic path, I suddenly felt worse -- more lethargic, bloated, discouraged and in more pain than I had felt in at least a decade. A blood test revealed hidden food intolerances that added to my growing mental list of Foods I Cannot Have. On one hand, I was grateful to know what had been bothering me, but at the same time, I was intimidated by starting a new elimination diet. My food intolerance blood test results fit into three columns: green for foods I could easily tolerate, yellow for things that might trigger me, and red for things I should never eat again. My three "reds" were sesame, buckwheat, and yeast. Here is a quick list of the things I've learned in dealing with my new intolerances:

  1. There are three types of yeast struggles: Yeast allergy, yeast overgrowth, and yeast intolerance. Thank goodness I don't have a true allergy. This isn't anything life-threatening that will lead to anaphylactic shock.
  2. I didn't have a chance to talk to my doctor about a diet plan right after learning about my yeast intolerance (long story) so at first, I had to figure out what to avoid on my own. Most of the resources I found online were about eating for a yeast overgrowth, which means avoiding anything that contains yeast OR feeds the yeast already living in the body. That meant nothing fermented (no alcohol, mushrooms, soy sauce, tempeh, seitan, vinegar or anything containing vinegar like pickles) and nothing with sugar (no dairy, desserts, no added sugars in store-bought products, and hardly any fruit or refined carbs) and no yeast of any type, of course. I followed this diet for a few weeks until I could meet with my doctor, only to learn I had been too strict and could add some things back in. I certainly was grateful!
  3. At first, my doctor advised I completely cut out all the "reds" plus my ten or so "yellows," which included dairy, soy, wheat, rice, oats, and a few easy-to-avoid foods like instant coffee. I made a list of my yellows and reds, plus the triggers I'd discovered from personal experience over the years and suddenly had a long and frustrating list of things to avoid. I choose to be vegetarian, which can be challenging enough in itself, but adding another long list of no-go's made shopping, cooking, going out, and socializing very stressful. Faced with that long list (and again, I was unknowingly operating under the too-strict yeast-free diet in the beginning), I had the first anxiety attack I'd had in several years. At that point, I decided I could focus only on the reds before I took on anything else.
  4. Even after I learned I'd been too strict, I found out yeast is a tough thing to avoid. It's used to make breads, baked goods like croissants, some pancakes and waffles, and some snacks and boxed cereals. Yeast extract is used as flavoring in a ton of products, from salad dressing to crackers. (Sometimes, much to my fiery frustration, "natural flavoring" contains yeast, but packages rarely disclose that information.) Nutritional yeast is a go-to ingredient in many vegan recipes. Brewer's yeast, as far as I can tell, is used to make all alcoholic products except tequila (which I can't have anyway), gin, and vodka. However, flavored versions of these products might contain yeast. Unfiltered vinegars contain yeast, and raspberries go bad quickly enough that they should be avoided if you've got a yeast intolerance.
  5. There is a LOT of confusing and conflicting information online in the few resources that address yeast intolerance. For example, some sources say nuts should be avoided, some say only certain types of nuts are safe, and some don't mention nuts at all. A medical professional can help you sift through what's really important.
  6. Yeast-free and vegetarian is a difficult combination, especially when it comes to protein replacements. Almost every soy chicken patty, grain sausage, or veggie burger in the grocery store has yeast extract in it for flavoring. In some restaurants, the only vegetarian option is a sandwich, but I can't have any bread (gluten-free or otherwise) or most wraps (unless I can scrutinize the package's ingredients).
  7. If you're learning to cope with a new food intolerance, keep a running list of photos of items that are safe for you. In some cases, only one variety of one product might be safe for you. In that case, it's helpful to have a visual collection you can easily refer to.
  8. It's also difficult to shop and cook around multiple food intolerances. A product that's safe for one intolerance might not work for another. For example, I've been eating one brand of crisp breads as a toast/bread substitute because they don't contain yeast. However, one flavor contains buckwheat and another contains sesame!
  9. Reading headlines on grocery checkout magazines made me believe that identifying and eliminating my hidden intolerances would lead to increased energy, glowing skin, and immediate weight loss. Apparently, some people's bodies do react this way. However, I'm apparently one of the people whose energy goes toward healing the internal damage that's been done for years. I've avoided my reds for about three months now and have yet to lose any weight.
  10. Dealing with a food intolerance can be lonely and frustrating. Especially when it's new, it feels overwhelming. For some people, food is just fuel, but cooking and eating are a deep aspect of my identity, and changing the way I viewed food was harder than I anticipated. I realized I took for granted being able to find something to eat at a catered work function or being able to grab a snack out of a vending machine. The only way to cope, especially in the beginning, is to plan the hell out of your day. You have to plan for every meal, snack, and beverage. Keeping a stash of safe snacks in your car, purse, or office is useful. Don't count on restaurant servers being able to identify the presence of something as granular as yeast in a finished dish. After enough time, you'll learn which cuisines are safest for you. (Chinese is tough with yeast intolerance; Indian is safer.) Travelling and visiting family gets trickier with new intolerances, especially if you're the type who hates putting people out and being the center of attention.
  11. If you've been feeling terrible for a long time, don't give up. If you're able, look into alternative therapies and doctors non-Western training. In some cases, a prescription pill is exactly what a person needs. But in other cases, that pill can either mask symptoms without actually solving the problem or cause new side effects. Holistic treatments can be weird (Ask me about my TENS unit sometime!) but my thinking, especially about the traditional herbal therapies, is that if there was NO utility in them, their use would have ended a long time ago. Don't be afraid to ask around and read new books and talk to a variety of professionals, all while keeping your health and a healthy sense of skepticism in the foreground, of course.

All in all, I'm grateful for the new knowledge and I'm mindful of the fact that things could be worse. This isn't a dangerous autoimmune disorder, and it's not a terminal disease. I'm not in constant invisible pain, and I'm not missing enough work that my job security is at risk. I'm lucky I have access to a holistic doctor and that I can afford to pay her fees out of pocket since our insurance doesn't cover her services. I'm thankful I live in an area with a ridiculous number of grocery stores so that when one is out of that single flavor of frozen waffles I can handle, I can check another store. I can't even imagine the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people worldwide who have food intolerances they'll never know about either because they don't have access to the medical professionals who can identify them or they can't get to the food they'll need. I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in, and I'm thankful things aren't worse. It's a new phase of my culinary life, but if it makes me feel better in the long run, it's a road I'm willing to continue down, slowly but surely.

Vegan egg roll bowls (4 servings)

Imagine you microwaved an egg roll and it exploded in the process. This dish is a purposeful, less messy version of that predictable occurrence.

If you like egg rolls and want to make them at home but don't want to bother with a deep fryer, this dish is for you. It takes all the best fillings of egg rolls (lightly sauteed cabbage, crispy carrots, and zesty green onions) and turns them inside out into a bowl. It's quick, easy, and filling! Plus, it's way healthier than a deep-fried egg roll!

You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 8 oz seitan, chopped into small bits or ground up in a food processor
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1" piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 medium napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • rice crackers for garnish

Steps:

  1. Pour the soy sauce, vinegar, and chili-garlic sauce into a small jar with a lid; shake to mix and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add in the seitan, garlic, and ginger, stirring until the seitan is lightly browned. 
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and push the seitan mixture to the outside of the pan. Add the cabbage, carrots, and scallions to the middle of the pan, and quickly stir fry the vegetables until they're softened. (It'll only take 2-3 minutes.)
  4. Turn off the heat and pour the soy sauce mixture into the pan. Toss the ingredients gently to combine and serve immediately, garnished with broken rice crackers.

I've only ever made this with seitan, but I'm sure it would also work well with tempeh or pressed tofu. The next time I make this, I want to try adding some sliced mushrooms in with the cabbage. 

Polenta cake with tomatoes and bleu cheese (6 servings)

When it comes to starches, rice and pasta often seem to be the most versatile. They can be paired with so many things, from silky sauces to roasted vegetables. However, polenta deserves its time in the spotlight, too!

This particular rendition pairs dense, herb-flecked, pleasantly grainy polenta with sweet tomatoes and pungent bleu cheese. I was lucky enough to pick up some local goat-milk Blue Chevrolait, a gorgeously buttery creation from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. Its rich umami notes stole the show without drowning out the other flavors. Cut with a drizzle of honey, it was the perfect topping for this dish.

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 3/4 cups crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1 tsp honey

Steps:

  1. Grease a square cake or baking pan with one tablespoon of the oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Combine the water, cornmeal, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking as close to constantly as your little forearms can handle. (Reaching boiling stage ALWAYS takes longer than I think it will!)
  3. Once the mixture starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low. Whisk constantly for a few more minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to start pulling away from the sides of the pan. (My clue that I'm almost done is that I can't hold the whisk like a pencil anymore.) Fold in the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil, the garlic, and the basil.
  4. Pour the polenta mixture into the prepared pan. Top with the tomatoes and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  5. Remove from oven and allow it to set for a few minutes. Lightly drizzle the pan with honey, and then cut the polenta into rectangles. Serve with a lightly-dressed salad and you're good to go!

My version of the recipe was based on this Epicurious offering.

Pizza quinoa bowls (5-6 servings)

Every home cook should have a handful of go-to recipes that are quick and easy to put together on a busy night. Some of my reliable favorites include rice and beans, crispy tofu wraps, black bean and toasted corn tacos, mini pizzas, and, more recently, pizza quinoa from GirlMakesFood. Cheesy, tangy, and hearty, it's comforting in its simplicity and powerful in its nutritional content. Plus, it all comes together in about 30 minutes! I first started making this recipe about three years ago, but I've recently tweaked it to fit the bowl format that's oh so trendy right now. You can easily customize it to include your favorite pizza toppings. I want to try it with vegetarian sausage and roasted garlic next time! And if I can fix this the night before school starts when my teacher brain is in a million places simultaneously, you can have it on your table this week for sure!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 2 cups spaghetti, marinara, or pizza sauce 
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled cheese cheese (I used crumbled goat cheese)
  • your favorite pizza toppings (We used chopped cherry tomatoes and bell pepper, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, and jarred grilled artichokes)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • Italian herb blend 

Steps:

  1. Once the quinoa has been rinsed and rubbed to remove its bitter coating, add it to a medium stockpot, along with the water or broth. Bring the quinoa to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
  2. Fold in the sauce and cheese. If you used water to cook the quinoa, you might need to add a little salt to give it some flavor, but keep in mind that your toppings might be salty, so don't overload it. Spoon the quinoa into bowls.
  3. Load up each bowl with your toppings of choice. Sprinkle with parmesan and Italian herbs and serve.

I'd love to try this with leftover roasted vegetables folded in with the quinoa. This recipe is a great excuse to use up ingredients from your fridge or garden!

Spiced Green Lentils With Pomegranate, Sweet Potato, and Pistachios (4-6 servings) and Asheville Wrap-Up

Bryan and I recently spent a long weekend in Asheville as an early celebration our anniversary. (Ten years next month! Where did the time go?!) If you're vegetarian and live within reasonable distance of this funky mountain town, you MUST go. Asheville is a haven for vegans and vegetarians. Nearly every restaurant worth mentioning (and there are dozens in Asheville) serve creative, flavorful meatless options, and the city boasts several vegetarian eateries, including the Laughing Seed and the all-vegan Plant.

The Laughing Seed's barbecue platter: vegan chipotle beans, cornbread muffin, tangy Southern slaw, and BBQ jackfruit

We always eat well in Asheville. Each time we go, we revisit some old favorites (like Laughing Seed) and add in a few new places. We tried a couple new-to-us restaurants this time around, including Bhramari Brewhouse, Chai Pani, and Zambra.

Pillowy veggie samosas, crispy kale pakoras, and salty-limey okra fries from Chai Pani

We spent a cozy evening at Zambra over tapas for our anniversary celebration, taking in the fresh air from our table in the breezeway. Zambra serves beautifully-plated, unique tapas options and offers an extensive wine list.

My two generous glasses of velvety-smooth Tempranillo suggested top notes of "I forget which tapas we ordered" with lingering hints of "but I know they were all amazing."

Of course, there's much more to do in and around Asheville besides just eat. We drove to nearby Bryson City to hop a train on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, where our beautifully-restored 1942 steam engine chugga-chugged us past stunning views of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala and Tennessee Rivers.

The unique color of the lake comes from the residue of copper mines!

We listened to spooky tales of Asheville's sordid history and even used ghost-hunting equipment to detect spectral activity (no luck) on the Downtown Spirits Tour. We browsed the eclectic downtown shops for hours, gazing at the local art in display windows and listening to street musicians as we passed by. We spent a cacophonous afternoon at the Asheville Pinball Museum, where we played vintage classics (Sadly, my favorite, Gottlieb's Haunted House, was sold since our last visit) and brand-new iterations (Ghostbusters!) alike.

If you're a pinball fan, the admission price is about the best $15 you'll ever spend.

But the place that always, always feels like home in Asheville is Malaprop's. Bryan and I have been to more than our fair share of bookstores -- believe me -- but Malaprop's is our favorite by far. It sounds silly to call a bookstore "book-focused," but if you've visited enough of them, you know that some bookstores emphasize collectibles from various trending fandoms while others spotlight cozy seating but offer few reading choices. Malaprop's, however, wants to attract readers who read. It's Heaven, and it makes my bibliophilic heart so, so happy.

I took home five new books, including Carla Snyder's One Pan, Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers, which I've already cooked from twice. The concept is simple: Use one cooking vessel to serve up a flavorful dinner for two people. I'm already finding that each serving is pretty big, however. Both times I've cooked from this book, I doubled the recipe so we'd have leftovers for lunch the next day, only to find I had leftovers for two lunches for both of us. But hey, when the food is this good, I can't argue. The dish I'm featuring in this post (you know, when I'm done rambling about trains and pinball and books and ghosts) is complex; the lentils are earthy and peppery, the spices add aromatic interest, and the garnishes of pistachios, chèvre, and mint bring in a layer of bright, tangy, sweetness. It's perfect, really!

Hello, beautiful.

Spiced Green Lentils With Pomegranate, Sweet Potato, and Pistachios (4-6 servings)

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • A generous pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 small onions, chopped (or an equivalent of dried minced onion if you've got an angry IBS belly like I have)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups green lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves

Steps:

  1. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil shimmers, add in the coriander, cumin, cloves, onion, garlic, and sweet potato, plus 1/2 tsp salt and some ground black pepper. Sauté until the onion starts to soften and the garlic is fragrant -- about 3 minutes. 
  2. Add the lentils and broth and allow the mixture to come to a soft boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils and vegetables are tender and the liquid has been absorbed -- about 30 minutes. (Follow the author's advice and start checking after 15 minutes to see if the mixture needs more broth. I ended up needing to add a quarter cup after 25 minutes because the lentils were still a bit crunchy.) Remove from heat.
  3. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice (Watch those seeds!) over the mixture. Then add in the chopped pistachios. Add more salt if needed, although if your broth is salty or the pistachios are heavily salted, you might not need to do so.
  4. Scoop each serving into a bowl, and then top each bowl with a tablespoon or so of the pomegranate seeds and goat cheese, plus a sprinkling of parsley and mint. This can be served hot or at room temperature.

As I said, I doubled the original recipe, although I kept the garnishes at almost the original measurements. I think they work well as an accent but don't need to dominate the dish. The only other change I made was to swap out the original olive oil for sunflower, as olive oil tends to burn on my stove at higher temps. Look at the gorgeous, gorgeous colors of this dish!