Labels and Sea Salt Almond Crisps
I’m a fan of labels. The ones on my groceries alert me to the sneaky ways manufacturers add sugar to my food, along with a host of other questionable ingredients. Peek in my fridge, pantry, or basement larder, and you’ll see that I like to label my jars too. If you keep twenty plus varieties of flours and starches, it’s essential. However, when it comes to putting labels on my diet, I draw the line.
Since I’m in the business of cooking with and for other people, these labels come up on a regular basis. It can be downright maddening, especially when food allergies and intolerances aren’t a factor. Many people wear these labels like badges of honor. Being gluten free is more fashionable than skinny jeans these days.
Well, like them or not, for the past thirty days I’ve been a “Paleo.” (Specifically, we’re following the Whole 30 elimination diet program described in the book It Starts with Food.) Worse still, I was a teetotalling, sugar-snubbing Paleo. Despite my firm belief in Julia Child’s mantra of “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” I was THAT GIRL—the one that can drive any well-intentioned host crazy.
“No thanks, I’m fine with water.”
“Is there cream in that?”
“Sorry, I can’t eat that.”
(To the gracious hosts who have tolerated me these last few weeks, I bid you a heartfelt thank you.)
If having special dietary requirements is hard on a host, it can be even harder for the guest. Memorial Day weekend in Toronto I watched my friends Lauren and Jeanel gleefully share an eighteen month Manchego cheese served with housemade sourdough bread. “Don’t let me stop you,” I insisted. Everywhere we ate, I was adamant that they order what they wanted and not cater to my restrictions. And I meant it…until I saw that beautiful cheese. They also shared some delicious looking desserts that weekend, but those didn’t call to me the way that cheese did or the perfect croissant Lauren enjoyed the next morning at a quaint French bistro. Delicate golden flakes fell to her plate as she ate, flakes that I wanted to lick up right then and there etiquette be damned.
Those temptations aside, giving up sugar, booze, legumes, grains, and dairy was easier than I expected. There’s a simplicity that comes with so many limitations. On nights when I can eat anything, I often twirl about my kitchen unable to decide what I want to cook for dinner. For the last thirty days I’ve channeled that energy into culinary creativity. My new spiralizer got a workout, turning zucchinis into noodles (Greg’s favorite) and cucumbers into pretty ribbons. My green bean Frencher—a 2012 impulse buy that was still in its box—also made its way into my gadget rotation with a lovely green bean and chicken salad inspired by one with potatoes at Bon Appetit. I made my first ever grain-free bread—coconut almond, which we love so much it will be a staple around here even when grains are no longer off limits. Same goes for the addictive little almond crisps featured here. They are a perfect mate for creamy Gorgonzola and a spoonful of fig jam. Dining out was easier too. When eighty percent of the menu is off limits, decision making is a breeze.
Maybe it’s my aversion to diets and dietary restrictions, or maybe it’s my unwavering allegiance to peanut butter and pizza, but I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t feel any different being on the Whole 30 bandwagon. After all, we were already what most people consider “healthy eaters.” The truth is we both experienced positive changes. In one week we were sleeping better than we have in years. YEARS. The dark circles under my eyes require little to no makeup now. And Greg says that my eyes aren’t as puffy either, a condition he neglected to mention previously. He had a particularly sluggish first week at the gym, but by week two his workout energy levels had returned and his overall energy level throughout the day was noticeably more balanced. Best of all, his tummy has been trouble free. My fingers were crossed that the program, which is largely founded on anti-inflammatory principles, would speed the healing of my three month hamstring injury. The jury is out on this one. The pain in my butt has diminished significantly, however I can’t be sure if it’s Whole 30 or the simple passing of time and letting the tendons rest.
This week we started the reintroduction phase, adding back one food group at a time in isolation and observing their effects. We started with dairy: homemade vanilla bean ice cream and the creamy gorgonzola cheese that we schmeared on these crackers. “Go hard or go home,” my niece Kate texted in reply to my menu plans. We washed it all down with our first mojitos of the year. There is no formal plan for reintroducing sugar and alcohol. You’re strongly encouraged to limit both, now and forever, though that didn’t stop the muddling of simple syrup, limes, and mint from our garden. The next morning Greg felt fine. And I was completely bloated and crestfallen. I wasn’t in pain, just uncomfortable. We blamed the cow and not the white rum, though arguably more research is needed on both counts. I’m hopeful that the reintroduction of grains will go better than dairy for me, and that we’ll soon be enjoying pizza again. It will take more than a bloated belly to keep me away from my beloved cheese, but I might eat a little less now. And there is talk of making pizza every other week instead of weekly, but rest assured, that’s just talk for now.
It’s hard to argue with the solid nights of sleep we’ve been enjoying for a month and the added pep in our step first thing in the morning. So, many of the changes we’ve made to our diet will be permanent even as we return to our “Everything in Moderation” way of eating. Less wine. Less sugar. Less cream. Less cheese. More coconut milk, nuts, and eggs. And more La Croix. But as of now we’re done with labels.
Sea Salt Almond Crisps
2 cups unblanched almond meal
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg white (2 tablespoons)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
flaky sea salt to finish (Maldon is my favorite.)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Put the almond meal in a medium-sized bowl and make a well in the center.
- In a small bowl whisk together the water, olive oil, egg white, and sea salt. Add the wet ingredients to the almond meal and stir to thoroughly combine.
- Between two sheets of parchment paper or two Silpats, roll the dough out into a large rectangle an 1/8-inch thick or a little thinner. Sprinkle with sea salt. Gently roll the dough once more to press the salt into the dough.
- Using a pastry cutter or knife cut the dough into any shapes you like. Take care if you are cutting them directly on a Silpat. Transfer the crackers to a large baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until lightly toasted looking on top. Don’t fret if they are slightly soft when you remove them from the oven; they will crisp as they cool.
- Allow crackers to cool on the sheet for five minutes then remove to a wire rack. Store leftovers in an airtight container.