Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gluten Free Review #2: Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix

Well, I also picked up some more pancake mix. My oldest loves his pancakes so we go through the stuff pretty quickly.
Something I've noticed about GF Pancake mixes in general: they tend to be thick. We've tried three different brands and they all come out extra thick when they are prepared according to the directions. It took serious extra milk to come up with pancake batter that would run like pancake batter should.
Bob's Red Mill makes a bunch of different Gluten-Free mixes and flours. After trying some Maple Grove GF Pancake Mix we tried out Bob's.
Preparation - Nothing special to note. Even a really groggy 14 year old boy can make these. Of course the first ones were over an inch thick. After cooking those we added more milk, and a bit more. They seem to cook up fine on the griddle though. They did come out a bit browner than most and since they were so thick, you had to flip them before they formed bubbles on the top.
Texture - Somehow these came out fluffy like Bisquick. I don't know how they did it. The first batch were a bit dry. The second time we made some (the bag has 22 oz, enough for more than one breakfast) we added even more milk and they came out wonderful. Fluffy, light, spongy, amazing. This was what we were told we were going to miss with gluten-free stuff. Really a home run.
Taste - If you check out my previous review of Maple Grove, you'll notice that I reviewed their taste before their texture. That was intentional as I liked their taste very much but their texture, while not bad, wasn't all that great. I've intentionally reviewed Bob's Red Mill's texture first because it is that good. The taste though, not so good. It just wasn't pancake like. A bit too whole-grainy. A bit bitter. I think it would have been OK in a slice of bread for a sandwich but not with butter and syrup. My 8 year-old son said that it was like eating a soft pretzel. The 14 year-old didn't like it as much as he liked Maple Grove but he proved that with enough butter and syrup he can eat anything. He did make a second batch but that was because we were out of Maple Grove.
Value - Bob's Red Mill is widely available in my area. I can find it at all the grocery stores (Krogers, Tom Thumb (a Safeway variant), and Albertson's), at "Market" stores (Sprouts, Market Street, and Central Market) and at the big box superstores as well (some WalMarts and Target). I think this pressures the price down a bit. I think it's a shade less than Maple Grove per pound on special. And it does go pretty far because you have to thin it out to make decently runny pancake batter. So it's in a pretty good spot price-wise. You can also find it by the case online, either at gluten-free vendors or on, even at Bob's Red Mill's website.
Final Verdict - I'm not buying more of this stuff unless it's for a non-pancake recipe. The flavor just doesn't work for pancakes. The texture is really great though. Maybe we could doctor up the batter with sugar or some other flavors but it's just not a hit for our family as-is.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gluten Free Review #1: Maple Grove Gluten-Free Pancake & Waffle Mix

So we've dove into Gluten-Free food now, I thought I'd post some reviews of what we've tried. Since there's actually quite a few different brands out there, it's as much to keep track of what we like and don't like as it is a review for anyone else.
Today I'm going to talk about pancakes. Our family loves pancakes. Sometimes we eat them for dinner. My 14 year-old son Joseph has no problems with getting up and making them himself before anyone gets up. It used to be Bisquick or even a from-scratch recipe. Now we can't use those anymore, so I decided to try a mix. There are plenty of gluten-free from-scratch recipes out there (I'd go check out the Baking Beauties Blog if I were you, even if they haven't updated anything in months, it's still got a TON of recipes) but I didn't want to have to invest in all the different flours and starches and gums that you need. I just got some mixes. The first one I'll talk about is Maple Grove.
Maple Grove is not a big Gluten-free house like some other shops. They have a bunch of gluten-included items (we call them gluten-full at home), Belgian waffle mixes, syrups, salad dressings, maple candy. But their gluten-free mix was a shade cheaper than the Bob's Red Mill at Krogers so I picked them up. I seem to remember $3.29 a box.
Preparation - Cub Scout's Honor, I don't remember anything about the making of them. My wife whipped them up. I seem to remember that the batter came out a bit thick. But no complaints about the preparation. It was basically the same as any other pancake mix. No special gluten-free extra materials to add, no special dances to shoo away the gluten. Just mix it up and slap it on the griddle.
Taste - These pancakes came up tasting really nice, a bit sweet, with a hint of vanilla. Seriously, a hint. They did have a different texture than Bisquick pancakes though. Almost gritty. It wasn't terribly off-putting. A guy I work with whose wife has Celiac Disease told me that in general, gluten-free food tastes good, but the textures that I'm used to are hard to repeat. In fact he told me to get used to nothing having that good texture ever again. On the whole the kids thought that they were OK but they wanted to try other brands to see how they came out. So overall they were OK. Not light and fluffy like Mom used to make, but the taste was better than I expected.
Value - This is a touchy subject, because not everyone is as cheap as I am. But then again, they may not be supporting a family of eight and a half. So I actually check price per pound. Gluten-free stuff is expensive and I ain't made of money. The pancake mixes aren't at as much of a premium compared to some other stuff (like pasta or bread) though. And Maple Grove is less expensive than some other gluten-free brands. As a comparison, regular old "gluten-full" Bisquick runs about $6 for 40 oz. That's two and a half pounds. This stuff was $3.29 for a pound. Not bad. Bob's Red Mill was a little less per pound but a bigger bag (22 oz) and there was a mix from Pamela's that ran about $5-6 a pound (I think). So Maple Grove scores pretty well in the value department.
Final Verdict - The price was OK, but that may be an indication of the market for gluten-free pancake mixes. Preparation was straight-forward, no different than what you would expect. The taste was well above my expectations, better than what you would get out of most "gluten-full" pancake mixes. Texture left a bit to be desired though. At first we thought that we might pass on getting more Maple Grove for our pantry due to the texture but after tasting some others we might go back to it. It seems that getting a good taste is harder than we thought. More on that later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Spelling Gene

OK, in our house we often talk about the "packing gene." It's the one that Kim has that enables her to put more dishes in the dishwasher than I can. It usually shows up when I think the dishwasher is full but there are still dishes in the sink. Kim exercises her "packing gene," and more dishes get crammed in, rearranged, etc.
I think there may be a "spelling gene," and that some of our kids skipped out on it. I'm a good speller. English is a tough language and I guess all the phonetic reading that I learned as a kid really came in handy for spelling. I can even spell hard words usually. Not a Scripps level speller, but I'm pretty dang good. Our oldest has always done well with spelling. The next one, not so much. The third was also great. The fourth, he's positive about it, but he's having to work hard at it. Notice a pattern?

So, the other day, the three year old and two year old have this conversation:

Isabel(3): W makes the "wuh-wuh-wuh" sound, like wuh-wuh-water, and wuh-wuh-wet.

Audrey(2): No it doesn't! W makes the buh sound, like "buh-buh-buh" sandals.

Someone missed out on the spelling gene.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Celiac Disease

A couple or three weeks ago we got a diagnosis for our 10 yr-old daughter, Allison. She's always been amazingly skinny and we thought it was some combination of genetics that she had six pack abs in preschool (my wife would still be within ten lbs. of her high school cross country weight if she weren't pregnant and I graduated HS at 6'5" and 165 lbs). She's strong and seemingly healthy, just skinny. We have asked her doctor if she were too skinny before but they just pushed us off. Too many obese kids out there to deal with I guess. Kim had taken her in for a different issue (a slight scoliosis) and the Nurse Practitioner had noticed a bruise on her arm and asked if she could run some blood tests. Kim had thought that she might show up as anemic but instead she came back positive for Celiac Disease. I'd go on about what it is and what it does, but instead I provided a handy link. Go ahead, click on it. I don't mind waiting.
So you back yet? Malnutrition. Yeah, I think all parents want to hear that attributed to their child. So then we noticed that our skinny daughter also had pale skin and dark circles under her eyes and while she could do more dips and could hold a plank position longer than any of the other kids, she got winded easily. OK, so we have to go gluten-free now. My first response was that we would all do it. I didn't want to create a "gluten-free" zone at the dinner table and I didn't want Ally to feel marginalized. On top of it, I discovered that we would have to get a second set of kitchen tools just to make sure that the gluten-free stuff doesn't become contaminated. That's the rub, it only takes a little bit of gluten to go a long way with Celiac Disease. It's can't just be about reducing the amount of gluten, you have to get rid of all of it. Just cooking some Malt-o-Meal next to her gluten-free oatmeal can mean that she gets malnourished for the next week or so. Yuck.
So since then, we've gotten confirmation (via a biopsy) that she does have Celiac Disease. We've started buying and eating gluten-free food. We've stopped making food with gluten in it and I think we'll be giving away the last of that Bisquick in the pantry sometime soon. I decided that I'd blog about it a bit. I'll be reviewing the foods that we try as well. It might get me blogging regularly again.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

100 miles of nowhere, or more

So in my efforts to finally find the end of the internets, I've stumbled across many a cycling website. One that caught my eye is that of Fatty, Being a man of size myself I was naturally attracted to the title and they guy is a fine satirist. His big push is now to organize others to fight cancer by supporting the Lance Armstrong foundation. I don't have a particularly special place in my heart for Lance (although that's changing a bit) but cancer, you can't quite argue against fighting cancer. So I noticed he offered others a chance to do a century and donate to the Lance Armstrong foundation and you wouldn't have to leave home to do it, I jumped. Well, not literally, I think I was sitting down at the time and if I had, I'm sure I would have injured my knees on the desk. Discretion is the better part of valor and all that. A year ago he rode 100 miles on rollers to raise money. This year he posits a 100 Miles of Nowhere for everybody everywhere. You sign up and donate, then you ride your century on a trainer, rollers, or as small a course as you can find. There's even a bunch of guys who are going to do it on May 30th up at the velodrome in Frisco, TX. So I decided to do it as well, but since I live on a cul-de-sac, I decided that I'm going to do it right at home. Yup, 100 miles on a cul-de-sac. I also wanted to show it off with my handy-dandy GPS ride tracker on my phone, BimActive. I tried about 20 laps the other day and all I got was zero miles. Yup, all that spinning around and around just looked like random GPS noise. So then I tried adding the cul-de-sac circle and the rest of the street. Per my son's odometer, that equates to .09 miles per lap. I think I need to do over 1000 laps to get this done. We'll see if I can keep it going that long. Part of it is to raise money to fight cancer (an old school buddy just started his 1st round of chemo this month, my wife has one aunt who's a survivor and another was diagnosed in March), part of it is just to do something crazy. I always seem to be looking for a windmill to tilt at. This Saturday, May 23rd. From whenever I get up to whenever I finish. The girls are having a bake sale. They've already made flyers.
Oh, did I mention that I'm going to do it twice?
See that link above where there's another group of guys doing the same thing at the velodrome, the bicycle track? They are doing it May 30th. I know a couple of them and it just looks like fun. I'm not track certified though (maybe I can work on that) so I'll have to pull out my trainer on the infield and do my miles there. Who knows? Maybe my girls can bake some more cookies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ninja news from all over

OK, I had a couple of imitation ninja stories over the past year, but nothing seemed to show up for weeks on end at  I had given up hope that I could regularly record the exploits of the near ninjas among us.  True ninjas, of course, we would never know about.  Or if we did, we'd be dead before we could blog about it.  Enough of such happy thoughts, on to the news!

In Massachusetts, a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a sword in a scabbard tried to hold up a dry cleaners.  In a classic Not-Really-A-Ninja move, he first went to a nearby convenience store with said ski mask on and said sword in scabbard in plain view.  Presumably he was trying to carb up for his later efforts in the dry cleaners.  Maybe picking up some beef jerky, some Cheetos and a Red Bull.  You know, ninja food.  Well, the clerk in the store decides to call the cops, when Mr. Not-Really-A-Ninja asks, in an obvious homage to Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, if the clerk is talking about him as he hurriedly takes off the ski mask.  When the clerk tells him, "Uhmm, yeah," he takes off.  Later attempt at holding up the dry cleaners fails, as the person there claims "I can't open the money drawer."  This guy is so Not-Really-A-Ninja, I have to wonder if his sword is sharp.  Also, the total ignorance tactic seems to work for dry cleaner clerks when faced with inept ninja-tude.  Just remember to take a note of that, dry cleaner clerks everywhere.

In Nearly-Ninja News, a man under arrest for posing as a ninja during an armed robbery last August got into more trouble this week.  The news of note is that, after being caught, still waiting for a trial, he was being moved from one cell to another for a disciplinary infraction when he resisted.  Jailer grabs the suspect's arm and executes a take-down.  But apparently there was some Ninja-dom in this suspect, as the deputy ended up going knee-first into the concrete floor, causing him "extreme pain."  Of course, the news is that said deputy has filed a criminal complaint.  "Interference with official acts causing injury."  At least it wasn't the suspect suing the deputy.

Expect more Ninja News as it breaks.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Review of Action Wipes

Gotta story for you folks.
They are finally building a gym here at my office. Hooray! We've got more than 500 employees officed here and it was part of the original building plan, so it makes sense to have it. Unfortunately, it won't be here until October, and as they are going to have to do some renovation work, the only office shower will be closed soon. Then new facility will have three or four showers in the Men's Locker Room, which will be great. I think we'll be able to get some folks to do some lunch rides. But how am I to be able to ride my bike to work and not be stinky all day? With no shower? Of course, lots of folks do this. One option I had seen was Action Wipes. They're supposed to be like baby wipes but for adults. I'd also heard of them through their Twitter campaign during the Tour of California. Really genius if you ask me. So I figure these might work. I look them up, decide to try them, place an order, and right before I do, I realize that hey, there might be an online coupon code out there, let's Google it to see. I did that and came across Ultra Rob's site. He had a coupon code from that week and was having a contest to give away a free set of wipes! So I used the code and entered the contest. I didn't win, not surprising, but I did get surprised by what happened next.
When you order something online, you usually expect some email traffic from it. So Paypal will send you an email if you used that. Then you would expect an email confirming the order, and perhaps an additional one confirming that your stuff has shipped. That's what I get from Amazon and eBay, from small and large online bike retailers, from everybody. Well, there was more from Action Wipes.
I got all those emails when I ordered my stuff on Thursday and then I got another the following Tuesday. It was the owner of the company (Action Wipes is still pretty small) apologizing for not emailing me sooner, and telling me that she had sent the stuff priority mail and that I should expect it that day. Nice, very nice touch. Then I get home and open the package and in it are my order, and an extra, small pack of wipes (what was being given away in the contest), and a short hand-written note. I have to say, those are not what you expect. Those are things that say above and beyond. From that point onward, I wanted these to work out for me. So the whole un-biased reviewer thing goes out the window at this point, but that's part of the review. I'm biased and it's all their fault!! That's not something that Action Wipes should be upset about, obviously. It's one thing to drool over a piece of beautiful bike equipment, ridiculously light, impossibly stiff, made from unobtainium and priced to show it. When you dump out eight grand for a set of wheels you set yourself up to love them (note: when you have six kids, eight grand only equals three hunnerd dollars, but it feels the same). You have to like that stuff. But wipes? Who gets all geeked up about wipes? Me. I do, and only because they went so far to make sure that I had an individualized, personal experience. The shower at my office is still operational but I brought Action Wipes today because I wanted to try them out. I wanted them to work really well. I wanted to show them off and say "check these out, even more, listen to how much they made me feel like a real human being."
So, review time. I used them today and I don't stink. I don't feel slimy. It was only after about nine miles, at about 60 degrees, with a tail wind, and I didn't average 20 (although the guy in the truck behind me was pretty impressed at my 35 mph on a short downhill). But they worked fine. Well, I only used one, they're pretty big, almost like a thin sponge. And they point out that they are washable and reusable, which I'll try to verify. I don't know how they will work after riding a century, but I didn't buy them for that. I don't know how they will work after an 80 degree ride (we'll get 80 degree mornings off and on from June to September) or after a 30 degree ride. But I like them. I encourage you to give them some money and see if they work for you. Or maybe just give them a chance to impress you before you use them.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bike Commuter Tax "Benefit"

OK, so as part of last year's "stimulus" package, something called the "Commuter Tax Benefit" was extended from mass transit commuters to Bicycle Commuters. By the way, the writer of this blog commutes on bicycle to work quite often. It's only for $20 a month, which doesn't pay for a ton, but hey, that means I never have to worry about having the dough for some spare tubes, eh? Maybe I can throw it all at a nice set of lights or a helmet or some shoes. Yup, it's looking better and better. But it's up to the company to offer it, it's not something I can set up for myself. Dang it! I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't have been for those meddling kids, and their dog too! But I digress.
Then I noticed a glitch in our local HR's web site where for one afternoon, there was a banner headline about a "Commuter Savings Account." Of course it was gone the next day, and the link never went to anything. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a buddy of mine who's a journalist for the Dallas Morning News. He was researching it and he knew that I rode a bike. So I really looked hard into it. Here's what I found out so far.
OK, the "Commuter Tax Benefit" has actually been around for a while. The original law was drafted to give tax incentives to big companies to offer fringe benefits to employees tax-free. Note that the companies still had to fund the bene's, but now they could fund them tax-free on their part. So it would encourage (theoretically) the employers to offer more bene's in lieu of or in addition to salary. There are several sections of it including moving expenses, retirement planning services, and a fringe bene for folks who's home valuation is adversely affected by a military base closure. The transportation section is focused on parking and mass transit costs and is just now being opened up to bike commuters. Please note that no employer is obligated to offer any of these cash benefits. In 1998, the law was amended to allow employers to offer these benefits in a different manner. Instead of funding a cash benefit, it allowed employees to set aside money from their own paychecks as pre-tax dollars, then draw upon those accounts to pay for these qualified costs. If you are an employer, which would you choose, to offer free money to your employees? Or to offer your employees the chance to bank away their own money tax-free? Hmmm... Not a hard choice. Fund the management of the plan instead of funding the plan itself. So instead of bicycle commuters looking for a cash benefit, now the best they can expect in some circumstances is a tax-free reimbursement. If their employers offer it. And so far, mine doesn't. Actually, I didn't expect it. We've got thousands of locations, some with hundreds of employees and some with only a dozen or less. It sound like a nightmare to manage that plan. And the taxes that I pay on $240 are next to nothing. OK, with six kids and 14 dependents on my W4, it is nothing. It would have been nice to have as a bike-stuff-in-a-pinch security blanket, but I don't see anything suggesting that it's going to happen soon, or at all.
So I'll just have to ride my bike in order to ride my bike, like I always have.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Joseph is now back in public school

For the last year and a half, my wife has been homeschooling our kids. We started a couple of summers ago because we were in the process of selling our house and thought that homeschool would give us some continuity if we moved mid-semester. Well, for our oldest, it really hasn't panned out like we'd like it to. He's a year ahead in math or so, but he really hasn't been motivated in his other subjects. Our 9 year-old also has been feeling the lack of a social net that public school can provide. So, for now, the 14 year-old boy and the 9 year-old girl are in public schools, while the 11 year-old girl and the 7 year-old boy are still doing homeschool. Probably just until the next academic year. We have a high opinion of our school district and we aren't really afraid that we won't be passing along our own faith and values. So we're OK with it. Plus it will mean that Kim gets more time with the babies.
Well, for my oldest, it's a new universe in many ways. He's in 8th grade and knows several kids there from elementary school. He's in Athletics, which is a stretch for his 5'7", 115 lb self. Actual conversation I overheard yesterday between him and the 11 year-old girl.

Boy: Today we did the bench!
Girl: What's that?
Boy: Well, you lay down on it, and there's a bar, and you hold it in your hands and slowly let it down to your chest and then push it back up.
Girl: what's it for?
Boy: Well, you use it to build muscles. It weighs 45 pounds, and you can put weight on it if you want.

I just about fell over at that last comment, like the weights on the end of the bar are just optional.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another poor excuse for a Ninja

Just when you thought there were enough Southerners who thought that they we just a few dojo lessons from being a true Ninja, another one crops up. This one in Florida. Of course, he was shown to be a Ninja wanna-be, he has twice tried to steal an ATM but failed. A Ninja would not have failed. Well, that and a Ninja wouldn't have been caught on camera, or had a beer belly.