The Great Banana Bread Experiment…

Can you tell which has the all frozen bananas?

I have always loved the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, filling the house with a sweet aroma. I found a quick bread recipe in an edition of Joy of Cooking that is older than me. My grandma, Ma for short, lent it to me shortly after moving into my first apartment. After using it for months, Ma finally gave me the cookbook, telling me that I have used it more in just months than in the almost three decades she’s owned the book. Without the gluten to help hold it together, I was concerned about it not turning out and becoming a crumbling mess. Surprisingly enough it didn’t. The bread was, however, dense… not that I mind because it makes great French toast (just add a little cinnamon to the eggs).

Farm Fresh Eggs... Beware of the chicken poop.

I then decided to enter it in the 2007 Tri County Fair (the fair held every Labor Day weekend in my hometown) and was pleasantly surprised to see a third place ribbon on it. I know third place isn’t the best, but I was happy with what I got. For me it wasn’t about winning the ribbons and a few bucks. Every year I enter because I want people to know that you can make gluten-free food where you actually can enjoy it. Yes it still has carbs and sugar and all that, but please don’t let that stop you from trying this recipe. A few months ago Suzi (she’s in charge of the food department for the fair and also my mom’s cousin) asked my mom what the easiest way to contact me was. Later (after a warning from my mom) I received an email from Suzi. She said that people had been coming up to her asking for a gluten free division for the fair. I was the first person she thought of (trust me, I was honored) and asked me to help her come up with the various classes they could have for the division. I do hope they have a gluten free division because every year I have to put my food up against the “normal” stuff and in a way I feel like I’m at a disadvantage in a way. Gluten is responsible for helping baked good to rise and be fluffy. I also think that if the Tri County Fair does introduce this division (I think I would be one a very few to enter) it may help to raise awareness of Celiac Disease and may even get a few people to ask their doctors about it and, hopefully, get tested. Sorry, I’m getting a little off topic.

The Great Banana Bread Experiment…

Gather all the ingredient by the recipe steps.

So the other day, I decided to make banana bread since I let a few bananas sit on the counter to get black. Usually I throw them in the freezer just after they start turning black. Knowing I already had a few in the freezer, I got curious to know if you can tell the difference between using frozen bananas versus ripened on the counter bananas. My initial guess was no. Banana bread is banana bread no matter how you ripened the bananas to the point where they look absolutely disgusting. I pulled four bananas from my freezer (I usually try to use them within a couple months of being in the freezer). I had to use one of the frozen bananas to make up the banana requirement for the recipe. Same recipe, both using farm fresh eggs (tip with using farm fresh eggs – add an extra egg because they are usually smaller than your typical store bought eggs… oh and wash off any chicken poop before using), all ingredients were brought to room temperature at the same time. I had everything laid out according to the steps of the recipe out of my trusty Joy of Cooking Cookbook and got to work. Here’s the recipe I used:

1 3/4 cups Gluten-Free Flour Mix

2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder

1/2 tsp guar gum

Lemon Zest

1/2 tsp salt (I use Kosher)

1/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup lemon rind (a.k.a zest)

2 eggs (3 if using farm fresh eggs)

1 cup banana pulp

Have all ingredients at room temperature (I leave everything on the counter for minimum of 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

The batter.

Blend shortening until soft. Add sugar and lemon zest and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs and banana pulp. Add the sifted ingredients in about three parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition until smooth. If you want banana nut bread at this point just fold in 1/2 chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are my favorites). I’ve also added raisins, currants, and cranberries. It’s gonna be your bread. Add what you like. Just keep in mind that the more stuff you add to it, the harder it’s going to hold together in the end.

Drop batter in a greased bread pan. Bake for about an hour or until done. Cool on a rack before slicing.

I usually add more baking powder to help the bread rise a little more but forgot this time around. I also used a larger loaf pan so they were flatter anyway. If you want a “normal” sized bread use about 3 tsp – 3 1/2 tsp. Xanthan gum can be used in place of the guar gum but is typically more expensive. Guar gum works for me and I usually keep it away from the baking powder until it get mixed in the batter (bad experience in the past, different story).

Keeping to two seperate.

So how did I manage to remember which was which. Simple I made myself a note and labeled them when I couldn’t bake them right away (what I had a meeting and news of a friend who was in the hospital – he died two days ago).

The results: The one with the all frozen bananas were softer in feel (not moister, but softer in density) and were sweeter. I’m not surprised with them being sweeter. So which did I like the best? The ones made from all frozen bananas, but the ones that were (mostly) ripened on the counter would be great for Banana Bread French Toast since they were a little denser.

Now I’ve just got to think of a new experiment because this was so much fun… Any ideas?

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A Gluten-Free, Stress-Free Disneyland

"The Happiest Place on Earth"

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been to Disneyland. I may be 27-years-old but whenever we visit Disneyland, I still get excited like I’m five. Being forced to live a gluten-free life has caused some stress in my visits to “The Happiest Place on Earth” but finally about three years ago, that stress lessened a bit.

My family and I spent two days hopping between Disneyland and California Adventures in Anaheim, California. The first day my meals consisted of mostly salad without dressing and potato chips. You can only handle so much of that. When it came time for dinner, my family spread throughout Disneyland choosing whatever they felt like having, but I was stuck being limited in my options. Stress overwhelmed me and I found myself taking it out on my family, resulting in uncontrollable tears. We ended up walking two and a half city blocks in Anaheim to eat at a restaurant. I hated the feeling that I destroyed part of my family’s trip because of my Celiac disease. I knew I couldn’t handle another day on such an unhealthy diet.

One of the bands playing outside the Firehouse on Main Street USA

The next day my mom and I went in to City Hall just inside Disneyland (go inside the gates, head to your left and it’s right next to the Fire Station, in front of the Emporium). I think the one thing that has been the hardest in the seven years of being a Celiac is asking for help. I’m getting better but it’s still hard to admit to feeling helpless. We were greeted by a lady with a smile on her face. I looked at her and said. “I don’t know if you can help me, but I have food allergies.” She pulled out a three- to four-inch binder, pretty much slapped it down on the counter and said, “What allergies do you have?” keeping that same smile. I told her I had Celiac disease and was about to explain what it was when she told me not to worry, flipped to a section and handed me a sheet of paper. I found myself holding a list of places and foods that were gluten free throughout Disneyland AND California Adventures. She asked if I had any more and handed me another sheet for my lactose intolerance. They have since removed the list for lactose intolerance but you can still ask.

I can honestly say that I have never felt more special in my entire life. Finally I could enjoy one of my favorite places to be just as much as the rest of my family without the worry of getting sick. I never would have guessed that that special feeling was going to increase.

A picture of Walt Disney - "Imagineering the Future"

That night, when it came time for dinner, I decided (with the help of my lists) to get a chicken breast sandwich (yes you read correctly, sandwich) on a gluten free bun from Tomorrowland Terrace and spaghetti from Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port, both places located in Tomorrowland. It took them a while to track down the gluten free bun but when I did get my sandwich, it looked amazing and it was. Redd Rocket’s was the most surprising of my entire trip. I asked the cast member if I could get spaghetti with gluten free noodles, showing him that my list said I could. He wasn’t quite sure and went to ask. I was greeted minutes later by the Manager and Chef who both asked me about my allergies and what exactly I could and couldn’t have. The Manager, Jennifer (I‘m pretty sure that was her name), stayed with me while the Chef (I’m sorry I can’t remember his name) went to start my meal. He got called away but my meal was made by the Sous Chef. About half way through cooking the noodles, one of the cast members approached the Sous Chef but was told to ask someone else to answer his question. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He opened a fresh container of marinara sauce so there wouldn’t be any chance of contamination. I was amazed. The three of them wanted to make sure that I could enjoy a meal and not end up in First Aid (been there, different story). I will never forget the effort and attention put into my meal. That memory helps me to remember it’s okay to ask for help. It’s better to be a pest and ask for help than spend your trip sick because you ate something you shouldn’t have. All I can say is thank you but even that doesn’t feel like enough.

Spaghetti from Redd Rocket's Pizza Port

On my most recent trip on Monday, January 4th, 2010, while celebrating my brother’s 30th birthday, I got to relive my experience at Redd Rocket’s. The manager, Chris, made my meal in about 10 minutes (exactly how much time he said it would take). I didn’t even have to ask. One of the cast members recognized the sheet of paper in my hand and asked me if I needed something gluten-free (again I’m sorry, he turned and I couldn’t get his name). I said I did and he went to get the chef, but Chris beat her to it and helped me. Chris even informed me that he was pretty sure they removed the pesto from the Tomato Basil Sauce but I could ask in a future visit to see if it is dairy-free as well and they would read the list of ingredients.

Fruit Plate at the River Belle Terrace

For breakfast, we enjoy eating at the River Belle Terrace, located in between New Orleans Square and Frontierland, right next to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean (oh yes, I know my way around Disneyland). I enjoy getting the fruit plate, piled with watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, an orange slice, strawberries, pineapple and half of a kiwi (which I need to remember to ask for one without since I am highly allergic). If I’m really hungry, my family usually will let me have their potatoes as well, no gluten or butter used and they are really, really good.

It seems like every trip, I find more and more things I can enjoy without the worry. They are there to help you get the most out of your experience. If you are ever in doubt, ask. If the cast member doesn’t know they will find whoever does. Disneyland also allows you to bring in food now. I usually bring in some snack bars to get rid of any cravings I might have until meal time. There are more gluten-free options at Disneyland than at California Adventures but I think as the park grows, there might be some more options in the future. What? I’m optimistic.

I really do hope this helps anyone to not avoid Disneyland because of any allergies or dietary restrictions. I know I’ve said this time and time again (especially in this post) the best advise I can give you is to ASK. The cast members are more than willing to help. They want you to have the best experience you can possibly have. It’s called “The Happiest Place on Earth” for a reason so smile, laugh as often as you can, become a kid for the day, just have fun and enjoy the experience.

The River Belle Terrace

The River Belle Terrace Menu Board

Potatoes from the River Belle Terrace

Cafe Orleans has a Salmon Salad that is gluten-free

One of the Popcorn vendors in New Orleans Square, the popcorn is gluten-free