Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Migraine Gourmet - Jerry Rainville

A high-quality self-published work, The Migraine Gourmet is a labor of love by a retiree with degrees in mathematics, business and law. With extra material on avoidance strategies and adapting recipes to follow the diet, this book has recipes varying from the ridiculously simple (grilled burgers) to one of my favorites, jambalaya.

First the good: the introductory material is very good, especially for the beginning dieter. There is a nice list of spices to pair with various meats and veggies. Strangely missing was a personal favorite, thyme and chicken, but these pairings are very helpful to move away from the usual garlic, salt and butter pattern. Also helpful is the section on some acceptable ingredient substitutions. There is also a glossary and table of ingredients containing MSG. All good stuff! These materials obviously came from someone with experience, not some ivory tower.

On the other hand, the recipe offerings were not as useful as I would have preferred. Five beef recipes including hamburgers and meatloaf seems a bit sparse. The nine chicken recipes bring us up to 14 that might qualify for heavy rotation at my house. The recipes sometimes flag triggers, but not always. Some unflagged triggers include mushroom, Dijon mustard, rice wine vinegar, tomato products, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce.

If you have learned your triggers, check out the contents and see if this book might work for you. Even the tips may be worth the small investment. However, I was left with the feeling that I would not use more than a couple of pages from this book.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Migraine Cookbook - Michele Sharp

Having amassed a collection of cookbooks purportedly for migraine sufferers, I am mostly disappointed in them. Michele Sharp is director of development for The Migraine Association of Canada, essentially a fundraiser and PR person. She has done this for other not-for-profits as a career, so don't look for any medical, nutritionist, or similar credentials. There's not even mention of her ever having a migraine, so all this content was gathered "on the job".

I could overlook all this had it not been for one other omission - Dr. Buchholz receives no mention at all in an otherwise impressively lengthy bibliography. This is problematic not because of my cultish devotion to the man, but because his list of potential triggers is longer than most others. A recipe following a shorter trigger list may be useless to those using his program, especially beginners. More on that in a minute.

The presentation in this book is interesting, but somewhat problematic. The recipe section includes a sidebar next to every recipe entitled, "This recipe is free of the following triggers". If you have completed the program and identified your every trigger, that is fine. However, the elimination process can take a LONG time (going on two years in my wife's case). In the mean time, a sidebar entitled, "This recipe contains. . . " is MUCH more helpful.

So how are the recipes? I look primarily at meat entrees, since that's usually all I have time to prepare. Fish is not cheap (my wife can't work with daily attacks) and the boys barely put up with vegetarian entrees during Lent, let alone year 'round. Ideally, I want something simple with broad appeal, that my family will not mind eating every 2-3 weeks. There are only 14 meat entrees in the book. See if any of these ingredients discourage you: coconut, vinegar, white wine, onions, soy sauce, ketchup, Dijon mustard, mushrooms, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, . . . And I'm not the kind of person that serves duck, lamb or phyllo crust as a family "go to" recipe. Once you eliminate the recipes in question, a small offering of meat entrees is reduced to almost nothing.

The other recipes often stray into the "too fancy" realm. There are a lot of good options that fall in the gap between a boiled piece of meat and "just for company", but not many appear in this book. The desserts offer some bright spots, but in my experience, safe desserts are easy to find just about anywhere.

Bottom line - if you are looking for basic everyday recipes that are safe and do not require special ingredients, look elsewhere. The sidebar feature is misleading, missing some triggers in the recipes. I find this book to be nearly useless and do not recommend it to beginning cooks.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Health Food is Stealth Food

One of the first mistakes my wife and I made when getting her on the diet was running to every health food store and health food aisle we could find. It's health food, so it must be healthy, right? No!

In fact, packaged foods in health food stores/aisles are stuffed with soy and "natural flavorings". Soy is the darling of the health food community. However, it is not your friend. Organic fruits and meats are still possible choices, but soups, stocks, sauces, and just about everything else in a box or jar probably has one of these culprits lurking in it.

Repeated failures can be demoralizing. Don't waste time, energy and spirit on the quest for miracles at the health food store. Put those resources to work gathering recipes and ingredients that you already know are safe. If you have some extra energy, put it to work in the kitchen instead of the grocery store.

What a Friend We Have in Heidi

Heidi Gunderson has been a great resource person in this journey. Her website, Migraine Free Cooking, contains recipes and her blog contains a wide array of helpful items, including more recipes, discussion of pertinent issues, and links to still more resources. You can even follow her on Twitter. Best of all, her long-awaited book has finally been published. It can be previewed and purchased on Amazon.

She has devoted herself to spreading the good news that migraine patients can follow the Buchholz plan and still eat good food. Check her out!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Knife Pointers

One of the unavoidable tasks of learning how is cook is to learn to cut meat and vegetables safely. If you don't take anything else away from this article, remember Rule #1: NEVER USE A MANDOLIN WITHOUT A SAFETY HANDLE ON THE FOOD. This rule was reinforced for me rather vividly just recently. Not only did my brief violation of this rule create significant pain, blood, scarring, sleepless nights, missed work, and inconvenience, but it completely subverted the purpose of this blog: it gave my wife a migraine, prevented me from cooking, and created a significant hardship on her. It looks like I will eventually recover, but please take advantage of my experience instead of gaining your own. Given a choice, I would have taken vegetables cut with a knife over what I got.

Rule #2: Never reach in a food processor or blender when attached to a base that is plugged in. Someone mentioned a violation of this rule to me when I was explaining my own situation.

Rule #3: Keep your knives sharp and clean. A dull knife will catch and jump unpredictably when force is applied. Unpredictable is what we want to avoid when putting blades in motion.

Some general advice: An 8" chef's knife may look intimidating, but it is reasonably safe and very effective for appropriate jobs when used correctly. Get a book from the library and watch a few videos (YouTube is filled with them). Pay particular attention to how to hold the non-cutting hand. Different vegetables require different approaches, so be sure to learn about all your favorites. I use my chef's knife to chop and slice vegetables, and to carve or slice large pieces of meat. The only common job I have found to date that does not work well with a chef's knife is breaking down and trimming chicken. The big blade swinging around so much to do fine work can be a little hazardous in this case. I can't tell you how to distinguish a fine knife from a paperweight (America's Test Kitchen, books, retailers or chef buddies can help), but I can tell you that my cheap Publix knife ($8.00) that I picked up as a spare has been more than satisfactory.

Food processors and automated slicers are great too. I often use the food processor to get ingredients together quickly for meat loaf. My young son enjoys this job and the intimidation and danger of exposed blades are eliminated. Frequent users may want to invest in extra bowls/attachments so that a clean one is available even when the dishwasher has not been run.

A final good skill to have is sweet-talking your butcher. If your meat is prepared for your needs in advance by a pro, then your still-developing skills will not hold you back.