Monday, October 13, 2014

When Nuts Attack!: A Paleo Diversion (and pumpkin + chocolate recipe)


Monday of a three day weekend. Autumn chill and a light rain. Perfect time to bake.

Baking? But what about that paleo diet and no grains and, and.... Yeah, well.

As you might have guessed by the headline "gluten free and vegan pumpkin bread" some new health-related things have transpired since my last post about the virtues of a paleo diet. All I can say is autoimmune disorders are a b*tch (I'm sure all of my homies with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's, and those living without a firm diagnosis will agree). Before getting to the deliciousness of this pumpkin delight, allow me to ascend my soapbox for one hot minute...

There are many theories as to what causes autoimmunity, and one of those has to do with having had a serious illness and a history of long-course treatment with antibiotics. Basically, the thought is that illnesses such as Epstein-Barr (aka "mono") and Lyme Disease strongly activate the immune system and (and this is a wild oversimplification) never really leave even after symptoms resolve. So the viruses and bacteria that caused the original sickness continue to float around wreaking havoc. Many doctors disregard this theory and say that once the illness has been "successfully" treated - usually with high-powered antibiotics or anti-virals when possible - the disease is gone. Others in the medical community and certainly some patients disagree with this. As one who suffered a severe case of mono at the age of 18 following years of chronic strep throat (from ages 12-17) and practically monthly courses of antibiotics, I can say that I never physically felt the same. My stomach - which had always been iron-strong - turned on me. I remember being 16 years old and filling a prescription for Zantac. This was not at all common in those days. In fact my pediatrician said it was the first time he had ever written a prescription for a medication of that type for anyone so young. My stomach continued to bother me on and off for years. I developed chronic nausea in my 20s amongst other things labeled IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Also in my 20s, I saw a doctor who believed that the best way to combat the occasional urinary tract infection was to take Cipro (the potent antibiotic best known as the first defense against anthrax) every time one had sex. Without divulging too much other than that I was a young and healthy 20-something in a string of monogamous relationships, this was a lot of Cipro. I quit that when I realized that I had probably killed anything good going on in my body. But I was all set if anthrax happened to show up in my mail.

Fast forward to my birthday weekend. We were away visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest where I was also attending a conference. I had a beef burger in keeping with my paleo regimen and was sick for four days (The burger itself was delicious). I got home and tried to return to my usual regimen which included fish for protein, veggies, fruit, and lots of seeds and nuts. I noticed one day that the nuts started to feel like they were getting stuck in my throat. I didn't think much of it. And then this started to happen a lot. Oddly, peanut butter (Not paleo, I know I know) seemed to be ok, but raw almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sunflower butter, almond butter all seemed to be a problem. One day, I started to feel like I couldn't breathe. I ended up back at the gastroenterologist who told me to stop eating nuts immediately and scheduled me for an upper endoscopy. I'm still awaiting the biopsy report but the doctor's thought is that I have eosinophilic esophogitis (EoE) which is an autoimmune response within the esophagus, usually triggered by food. In my case, my beloved, beloved nuts. Forgive me but I can't f**king believe it. She recommended that I give my esophagus a rest and have soft food that would include some grains. I told her about my paleo diet. She looked at me. Asked me if I was a caveman. And then said "Balance." Wise words.

So...Here I am. Making a perhaps short-lived (maybe longer) return to the Land O Grains. Truth be told, in the week or so since I re-introduced the very occasional grain (quinoa, teff, sorghum, millet) my stomach feels calmer but the rest of me feels more tired. We'll see how this little experiment goes. Striving for balance in all things.

Off the soapbox and on to the recipe which happens to be brilliantly moist, rich, cakey, not too sweet, and decadently chocolatey thanks to the sprinkling of dark chocolate chips studding this autumn jewel. Let me know if you try it and what you think.

Pumpkin & Chocolate Bread-Cake (gluten/soy/nut-free and vegan)
1 cup gluten free flour blend (I used 1/3 cup teff flour, 1/3 cup sorghum flour, 1/3 cup quinoa flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 cup organic pumpkin puree (not pie mix)
1/4 cup organic unrefined coconut oil
1/4 cup raw coconut nectar (or 1/4 cup maple syrup)
1 tblsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy free dark chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine dry ingredients in bowl. Combine wet ingredients in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir to combine. Add chocolate chips and mix until incorporated. Pour batter into parchment lined loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool completely before slicing. Between servings wrap in fresh parchment and aluminum foil and refrigerate to maintain moistness.

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