Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Ahh, the lessons from my kitchen.  Baking cookies should never, ever make you want to cry.  But these did. And not the good kinda cry, either.  These cookies took 4 complete do-overs to get them right.  Not kidding.  I got the taste right on the first shot...but the texture?  Crap, I could not have made more stupid mistakes.

So this recipe is an adaptation from a very old Chatelaine recipe.  The original, of course, used wheat flour and shortening and white sugar--by the boatload.  But I figured I was up to the challenge.  In hindsight, I have to ask myself--was I really?

So lets go over those mistakes 1 by 1.

First--do not make the cookies too big or stick them too close together. They go from perfectly nice cookies to a big sheet of solid goo which dripped off the edges of my insulated cookie pan all over  my stove, which led to an oven cleaning, just one day after the last oven cleaning...

Too thin...

Next, do not melt the lard/coconut oil fist, thinking it makes the molasses and lard easier to blend into the dough.  The cookies melt all over the cookie sheet before it even goes in the oven, making them too thin and lacy to call gingersnaps.
Too cake-like

Next, do not add an extra egg, trying to set the dough faster, because what it does is leaven the cookies and gives them a cake texture--which might have been great for snicker doodles, but not gingersnaps.

Too burnt...
And most importantly--do NOT walk away on baking cookies.  Even if they turned out perfect on the first round, the second dozen is not a guarantee of perfection to follow.  The element can come on, scorches all of the cookies and ruins everything.

So, so many lessons.  Here's a couple more--do not taste every batch, raw and cooked, when making 4 x 48 cookies.  It will give you an awful bellyache.  Do not cry into your cookie dough.  No one will want to eat it.  Do not scrape ruined partially-cooked cookie dough off a hot baking sheet and shovel it into your mouth.  That will also make you feel ill, eventually, and it will still increase your waist circumference even if it is grain-free and refined-sugar-free and all that.  And my final lesson--do not make these to keep to yourself.  Share them.  Because they are soooo good that you will eat all of them.  And then you will blame me when you put weight on.  Me, I'm blaming the dogs for all of this.  Because they can't argue with me.

So here's the right way to make these cookies....

Makes 48 cookies (or more)


  • 1 c slivered almonds (or almond meal)
  • 1 c tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger 
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 3/4 c lard or coconut oil

Move oven rack to highest setting.  (Cookies scorch easily).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In food processor, puree almonds until fine crumbs/almond meal texture.  Add dry ingredients and blend.  Add lard.  Blend until fine crumbles.  Add egg and molasses.  Puree until mixed thoroughly.

Place by small, very scant spoonful (they REALLY spread) onto parchment-lined cookie sheet (This is waaay important--they stick like crazy if you don't).  Bake 7-9 minutes.  If the element comes on, just turn the oven off and let them finish with it turned off.  Don't worry.  they'll still cook.  Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet before moving to cooling rack.

A lot of sweat and tears, for sure.  But worth it?  I totally love these cookies.  You'd never know they were wheat-free or refined-sugar-free.  Freakin' delicious.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Gingerbread Cake

You know, the first time I mentioned I was baking a gingerbread CAKE, Steve said 'cake?  I don't know if I've ever had it as a cake.'  Yes, CAKE!  All that rich, dark, molasses flavor in a light, fluffy cake instead of those awful dry cookies they use like bricks to make houses out of.  My dad's mom used to make this cake for Christmas dinners, and she served it with a heaping spoonful of real whipped cream.  The cake was so intense-tasting that you HAD to have the whipped cream to cut the flavor down a bit, it was that intense.  And I LOVED it that way.  Years later, when I was living for a short period with my Aunt (my dad's sister), we'd make this cake just because we loved it--at any time of year--and it always tasted like Christmas to us.

So here's to kicking off the Christmas season.  While everyone south of the border is celebrating their Thanksgiving over turkey (ours is long-since past), I will be eating Christmas dinner (yea, Christmas in November, don't ask, it just IS this way in my family) and I will be eating some of this cake, and getting all nostalgic about it.

So this is an adaptation of the recipe that came from my grandma.  I don't know where she got the recipe (she passed away years ago)--maybe the Toronto Star newspaper published the recipe 50 years ago or so.  She got a lot of recipes from the Toronto Star over the years.

Little bit of trivia here; the Toronto Star used to publish a new recipe every week--and they tried to use ingredients that were affordable for those times--like making cookies with lard instead of butter because it was much cheaper and more available at the time.  Homemakers would eagerly await the next new recipe each week.  Through the 40's and 50's, houses all over Toronto would be serving up the same Sunday night dinner--whatever was featured that week in the newspaper.

So here's my paleo-adapted version.  Let's be honest here, it may not contain flour and may have reduced and altered healthier sweeteners in it, but it's still cake.  During the holidays, you still deserve to eat cake.  Just let it be cake that doesn't turn your guts inside-out.  Don't eat the whole cake (once you taste it, you'll want to!).  Share it with guests like a nice host/hostess...


  • 1/2 c lard
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1/3 c molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 pan with whatever fat you want to use (I used coconut oil).  Using a hand-mixer or stand-mixer, cream lard and coconut sugar together until fluffy.  Add molasses and eggs, mix thoroughly.  In separate bowl, mix all remaining dry ingredients.  Add to molasses mixture, alternating with boiling water, until all is added in.    Pour/spread in prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.  Serve with real whipped cream or whipped coconut milk (with just a pinch of coconut sugar in it--trust me on this one).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Paleo Life presents....Fermentation 101

Presenting....Paleo Life, the show!!

Lately, I've been putting in a lot of time on a project called Paleo Life.  As part of the Toronto Paleo Meetup Group (here), and T.O. Paleo Life, the FB page, I've been searching for a way to get the word out there about not just the paleo diet and lifestyle, but also to showcase all of the talent and the brains behind the paleo movement up here in the Greater Toronto Area.  Paleo Life is going to be a 1/2-hour show featuring local paleo advocates, presenting many of the various aspects of paleo life/the paleo movement.  Episodes will include current trends in science research (gut-health, ketosis, the diabetes link) to health and lifestyle (next episode--I'm going to learn MovNat!)

This video was filmed as part of a seminar that we (the GTA-Toronto Paleo Meetup Group with special guest presenter Andra) hosted and presented last weekend at the Toronto Health Studios (thanks Cheryl for letting us use your studio).  The seminar was actually over 2 hours and it was just awesome.  The video recording only caught the first portion of it--all the science, but none of the how-to's.  We covered a lot of different types of ferments that I thought were important to include in the video, so in editing, I went and added in all the recipes that we covered.  I hope you like it--it was my very first recording and I had to do it without a cameraman that day.  I've learned from it--next time have a cameraman and next time place the camera where the viewing audience is so we're looking in that direction)

So here's to  my new beginning--as a YouTube Paleo Life show host extraordinaire.  We have a lot of interesting guests lined up covering a wide range topics for the near future, and there will be several video formats used.  Hope you keep watching and let me know what you think! 

(And if you have an area of expertise that you think the world deserves to learn about, drop me a note!)


Tortiere, Two-Way

Ah, and so begins my Ode to Canadian Food.  Once I figure out what Canadian food is, anyways....

Tortiere (tor-tee-ay) pie is a very traditional French-Canadian meat pie.  It was typically served on Christmas eve, but due to it's ability to be made ahead of time and it's sheer simplicity, it seems to be served a whole lot more in many households around here--spreading well beyond the French-Canadian border and into Anglo-Canadian homes everywhere (and is one of the most available foods-in-a-box at any grocery store in any part of Canada).

So, tortiere is typically made with a mixture of ground meats.  Beef, Veal, and pork, most often, but sometimes game meat is in there, too, for an extra punch of flavor.  My mom made this a lot when we were growing up.  With all 3 kinds of ground meat.  Funny thing is, even though we ate almost nothing but pre-packaged box foods from the freezer aisle, THIS she made from scratch.  In our house, it was served at any time through the winter on a weekend, but especially Christmas eve, Boxing Day and New Year's Day because it could be prepped ahead of time, leaving my mom free to entertain/socialize with the rest of us.  My mom was no slave to the kitchen; she was (and still is) a social butterfly that to this day outshines anyone else in the room at a party.

When I grew up and moved out, I started buying the frozen-boxed variety of it because I couldn't stand making pastry.  Or being a social butterfly at a party.  It was never as good as home-made.

Turns out this stuff is ridiculously easy to make.

And I've found that I like mine made with nothing but pork like Montrealers do it.  Easy-peasy.

Now, I've made this recipe two ways--the "traditional" way, paleo-ified up, for when you have guests coming, for special occasions, for pleasing a family that feels robbed of their comfy carbohydrates from your pre-paleo days...  And I've made a simple pared-down low-carb weeknight version for those days when you just want food.  Real.  Simple.

Classic Tortiere


  • 1 c almond meal
  • 3/4 c tapioca starch
  • 1/4 c butter, coconut oil or lard, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1Tbs cold water, to bind
Meat Filling:
  • 2 lbs ground pork
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tsp savory
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground celery seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbs tapioca


First, get started on your meat.  In a big dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, add all ingredients except the tapioca.  Bring it to a boil and simmer it for 30 minutes, frequently breaking it up with a spoon.  Use tapioca, dissolved in a bit of water, to thicken into a gravy at the very end.

While you meat is simmering, work on your pastry.  Mix all dry ingredients in bowl first, then, using bare hands, work in butter until pastry is crumbly.  Add egg and cold water.  Form into a ball and set in fridge for at least 5 minutes, preferably 15 minutes.  Don't skip this step (like I did)--you'll be fighting with your pastry if you skip it.  I had to re-roll mine twice before I realized what I'd done.

Now pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Ok, after it chills for a while, pull it back out and divide it onto 2.  Roll out your pastry between 2 layers of waxed paper or parchment paper.  Paleo pastry is definitely more crumbly to work with, so save yourself the aggravation and use some paper.  After your first piece is rolled out about 1 - 2 inches bigger than your pie dish, carefully loosen the top piece of waxed paper and then put it right back on, loosely.  Flip the whole thing over carefully, loosen the other side, then try to transfer it to the pie dish.  Don't worry if it STILL crumbles a bit.  It's the bottom and no one will see it.  Just press the crumbles back into place.

Pour in your prepared filling.  Then do the same pastry routine with the top layer, press the edges together, cut a few slashes into the pie to let steam escape, and stick it in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Sometimes paleo pastry darkens faster around the edges than traditional pastry.  You can carefully place a few narrow strips of tinfoil around the edges to cover them when they start to get brown, or just ignore it like I do.  It still comes out great.

Now, if you want the simple version, just follow all the meat steps the exact same, but skip the pastry.  As soon as you get your meat simmering in the pot, throw some cauliflower into another pot and simmer it up for some classic mashed cauliflower.

Know any other traditional Canadian foods?  How do you define traditional?  Canada is such a mixture of cultures that anything goes, and it varies by region.  Let me know what you think!  

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocolate Sustenance

I saw this awesome post from my friend Danny at Primal North (here).

Now, Danny is a huge primal weight-loss success story (not a huge person anymore, it's his success that is huge--DO NOT MISQUOTE ME on that one!!)  He teaches a low-carb ketogenic regime that works wonders for him (more on Danny another time, I guarantee it).

But what really caught my eye on this particular day was something he called chocolate blubber.  Yes, blubber.  Now, once you get past that all-too-pictographic name, you see what he's doing is making portable fat for his road travels, and to make it extra-palatable, he's making it chocolate.  Seriously.  It's super-fatty chocolate.  Can I put those words together without smiling?  They make me happy.  Chocolate.  Fat.  Fatty chocolate.

Fat is the most filling and satisfying of the 3 macro-nutrients, right?  It's what causes satiety.  Do you know what I've been snacking on at the end of my work day lately??  A mixture of butter, cocoa and home made coconut butter.  Heavy on the butter.  Because I can't seem to get enough of fat these days.  Because fat is filling and it totally squashes any hunger-craving I might be having.  For those of you that are still fat-phobic, you are soooo missing out on delicious things.

So I saw Danny's post, and I thought, hey, now this is a much prettier version than what I was doing!  He's gone and classed-up my fat-snack-food-treat.  Heck, he even makes it look good.  But the name?  Danny--we've got to change the name!!!

I wanted to make my chocolate blubber just like his.  Except I didn't have any dark chocolate in my house (the horror!!)  What I did have was a lot of cocoa (a Costco-sized container of it...) and coconut sugar.  And a hankering for seriously fatty chocolate.  So I thought....well....this is how it went down:

1/2 c coconut oil
1/2 c butter (salted is fine, heck, add some salt, you'll like it)
1/2 c cocoa powder
3-4 tsp coconut sugar (I used 2 tsp coconut sugar and 4 scoops stevia, but it imparts an aftertaste--stick with real coconut sugar)

Melt all together, pour into a silicone meatloaf pan or into muffin silicone cups and set in fridge.  Let it set.

Snack on that deliciousness.  A 1" square or two will fill you.  I swear.

If I added chopped bacon, or chopped jerky, I could call it chocolate pemmican.  Mmmm.

But I will call this....Chocolate Sustenance.  It just sounds better than blubber.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lacto-Fermented Ketchup

Round 1--did I go too far too fast?  Yes, I did.

Have you discovered fermented foods yet?

Oh, boy I have.  I have suddenly been swept away with lacto-fermentation fever.  I'm loving it.  I feel like a mad scientist creating crazy concoctions in my kitchen.  Some of them work out fabulous, some of them do not (which requires that I try it again, with modifications).

My first batch of fermented beets was awful.  They came out ridiculously salty (beets should be sweet, not salty--that was offensive to taste--but my second attempt was AWESOME!!).  And my first batch of cucumbers went overtly soft and salty and sour--I know now that I left them both out on the counter for waaaay too long.  My first batch of roasted hot pepper sauce grew several inches of mold  and even when I removed it and tried again, it happened again.  I think the bad bacteria went too deep into the sauce, so I had to pitch it.  My first mistake there was making the sauce with still-warm peppers straight from the oven, which is bad, and then I set that jar right beside the crockpot and used the crockpot, which caused the jar to heat up again, killing the good bacteria and letting the bad bateria take over.  Funny thing; the hot sauce still tasted good even though it had grown mold (yea, I bravely tasted it), and it was hotter than all heck.  But I didn't think it was a good idea to keep that science experiment.

This is NOT supposed to fail.

The worst complaint that I have with fermenting is that it takes time.  So if you make a mistake, if it doesn't go right, it can take a long time to get the issue sorted out.

Fortunately for me, the ketchup recipe worked out THE FIRST TIME!

Always a good thing.  Failures can be discouraging.  I have an incredibly short attention span, so I'm with you on that one.  But don't give up.  While improper canning techniques can have disastrous consequences, lacto-fermentation experiments that go wrong simply end in...yuck factor.  Not sickness.  So get brave and try something!  For the initiate, I recommend this easy home-made yogurt recipe, or this easy home-made sauerkraut recipe.  But for the adventurous, I give you.......

Homemade Ketchup!

I really missed ketchup after going all paleo-like.  It was a sugar-trap, I knew that.  But since fermentation allows the bacteria to feed on the sugar, which drastically reduces or eliminates the sugar content altogether, why not ferment some ketchup?  Before Heinz ketchup took over the world, ketchup was thick and smoky tasting, not so sugar-and-vinegar like it is today.  It had complex flavor and depth and need I say more?

This recipe comes from Nourished Kitchen here .  This makes a pretty big amount, which is good, because once you have, you're going to start putting it back into all the things you used to put ketchup in and had to omit once you went paleo.  I think this weekend, I'm going to try making a sweet, sticky fermented bbq sauce and it's going to start with this ketchup base.


2 cups tomato paste
1/4 cup honey 
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Basically, combine all ingredients in a clean jar (except the 2 Tbs whey).  Pour the 2 Tbs whey over the mixture and leave it on top of everything.  Cover it up loosely with a tea towel and an elastic to keep the bugs out.  Forget about it for a couple of days.  After day 2, start to taste it to see when it has reached your desired level of sour.  It will get less and less sweet (and more complex tasting) with each day that it ferments.  When its done enough (probably 4-5 days), you can stir in a bit more vinegar to give it the right texture, or not (the longer it sits, the more liquid that will evaporate).  Up to you.  The vinegar will only add to the amount of time it can be kept in your fridge.

That's the whey on top--nothing bad happening here...
It wouldn't be fair of me to just copy her whole recipe.  So I won't.  Check out the link.  But a couple of things should be noted; I used canned tomato paste.  I used honey and not any special sugar.  You don't have whey?  I bought plain full-fat Balkan Yogurt from the grocery store and made yogurt cheese/greek yogurt to extract the whey (the watery by-product of straining yogurt).  What to do with the leftover greek yogurt?  I'm working on a fermented apple chutney to try in the greek yogurt, also from Nourished Kitchen...  

Now, I've heard you don't need whey to lacto-ferment.  You could just use salt and water.  Well, that works great with vegetable ferments, but not so great with sauces, as far as I've discovered.  If it involves any kind of pureed foods, you better use some whey (or other starter culture) to speed up the process so you can get it fermented and into the fridge (which then slows or halts the fermenting process) before the BAD bacteria (ie. mold) takes over your little experiment.  But maybe you have a different technique?

I learned some stuff along the way......  Keep your fermenting foods away from sources of heat and sunlight.  Allowing your foods to get all warm and toasty will allow mold to grow and you probably won't like that.  It won't kill you, but it will negatively flavor the ketchup or anything else, so don't place it near to the crockpot or in the windowsill, ok?  Not in the fridge, but just....away from everything.  Maybe a separate counter or in the cupboard.  It might be too hot ontop of your fridge.

I let my ketchup sit for 2 days before sticking it in the fridge.  It could have gone 3.  Days later, I pulled it back out and added a bit more whey ontop and let it go a couple more days.  I had to add some apple cider vinegar to thin it down in the end, too, because the fermentation process drew all the excess moisture out of the tomato paste.  But it is now perfect.  It goes great on burgers, and is awesome in Shepherd's Pie with some Worcestershire sauce.  Oh, by the way, you can make your own fermented Worcestershire sauce, too.  Maybe I'll try that soon.  I'll start by searching the Nourishing Traditions and Nourished Kitchen websites.  They're both freakin' awesome.  So don't forget to check it out, will ya?

Doesn't it look great here?  Only the ketchup came out right, though.....


For those of you who suffer like I do....

Know what RWH is?  Red Wine Headache.  It can come on 15 minutes after that first sip, or 8 hours after.  I'm not talking about the headache that comes from having a few too many drinks--that's called a hangover and this is not it.  For some people, as many as 1/3 of people who try to drink red wine, this RWH sucks all the fun out of having a social glass of wine every time.  It's a common enough problem to have its' own Wikipedia page, and several posts dedicated to it on Livestrong.

I may even re-name it RWM for Red Wine Migraine, because these headaches don't tend to improve with painkillers of any kind.  They're ugly.  They're often accompanied by congestion and sinus pain.  They often strike hard and long, and come back a few times before truly disappearing.  It just sucks.

And they get me every time.

So I've looked into this.  And I've experimented with it.  Because someone had to.  It's not like I was going to give up drinking wine--hell no!

I know, I know, if wine makes my head hurt, why drink it, right?  My daughter asked me that one.  Well, I'm a mother in her 40's and I have teenagers.  This is my right of passage and I will continue to drink wine and experience this lovely right of passage for at least the next decade.  What else is a cougar-ish woman supposed to do at this point?  Am I the only one who watched Cougartown and saw some serious parallels to her own life?  Hey, I know people who have a "Big Joe" glass for wine--one cup will do ya when that one glass holds a whole bottle.  If that doesn't convince you of the right of passage, watch Penny on Big Bang Theory.  Call it a woman's prerogative.  Thou shalt drink wine.  It has been written.

I'm not promoting rampant alcoholism.  The media does that for me.  I'm just going to share some knowledge about this rather annoyingly common and vexing problem.

So what causes RWH?

The old theory was sulfites.  But that's old news and it's wrong.  Sulfites are added to food to preserve it, but there are more sulfites in white wine than red, and this headache problem is far more pronounced in red wine than white.  Besides, a reaction to sulfites would actually be an allergic reaction with hives, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  So that's not it.  I've actually heard that people who are allergic to sulfa-based medicines also react to sulfites in wine (don't know if it's true or not, though).  My daughter is allergic to sulfa.  Can this be used to deter her from that teenage right of passage--the drink till you puke party?


So, the other causes for RWH are suggested to be; tannins and/or amines (histamine and tyramine).

Lets talk tannins first.  Tannins exist naturally in all fruit as they act to help ripen the fruit (and give it the astringent taste), but are especially high in blueberries, pomegranates  persimmons and grapes, as well as apple juice.  They exist in wood, and are therefore high in smoked/processed foods.  And are highly concentrated in pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts.  They also exist in high amounts in chocolate (the darker, the more concentrated).  So if you don't get headaches from chocolate or nuts, its probably not the problem.

So how about histamines?  Histamines occur due to the fermentation process.  They're also released in the body as a response to allergens.  Red wine can contain up to 200% more histamines than white.  Apparently taking a Claritin before consumption can resolve this issue, or at least help identify if it is indeed the issue.  Can you imagine popping a Benadryl before a glass of wine?  Don't do that.  Wow, that would be a drunken mess.  But if you suspect it IS histamines, try taking an antihistamine just once, and see if it makes a difference.  It did for me.  Ironically, other foods that are high in histamines (and therefore you'd assume would cause similar reactions as wine does) include; avocado, parmesan cheese, eggplants, and balsamic vinegar.  Other foods that release histamines into the body include bananas, nuts, cocoa and chocolate, black and green tea, eggs, strawberries, pineapples, tomatoes and citrus fruit.  Ok, I HAVE gotten headaches from tomatoes, citrus fruit, pineapples, strawberries and nuts.  Oh, crap.  See this article on identifying a true histamine intolerance.

Histamine issues can also include stomach issues like cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, local inflammation and facial flushing.  Hmmm, yes to bloating, local swelling and facial flushing.  Ohhh, no.

The studies on histamines are, unfortunately, frequently contradictory.  Some suggest there is no correlation whatsoever between histamines in foods and reactions to it.  Some studies have even suggested that rather than a true allergic response to histamines, the problem is that wine is a vasodilator and therefore causes worsening of existing allergies and rhinitis.  They suggest that this exacerbation of symptoms are the cause of RWH, but isn't that like the chicken-or-the-egg problem?  (For more on this, see this article and this NY Times article).  Livestrong has this to say about consumption of histamines.  If that doesn't confuse you, note that while taking a benadryl worked on my headache one day, it did not work the second day, and other fermented beverages like kombucha, and home-fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut, do not seem to have the same effect on me.  I tend to drink 1-2 cups of home made kombucha per day.  However, store-bought ordinary pickles and sauerkraut CAN give me a headache.  So can white vinegar and malt vinegar.

In my case, all roads lead to histamines, I think.

And lastly, let's talk tyramines.  These occur in food as it breaks down, over ripens, spoils or ferments.  So it's in over-ripe bananas.  And the bruises in apples.  But also in aged cheese, cured meats, dried fruits, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and many other processed foods.  It is in the yeast used in condiments.  Tyramines are suspected of causing up to 40% of all migraines.  Pretty telling, huh?  They both contract and dilate blood vessels, making them a pretty obvious evil for anyone out there who also gets barometric-pressure migraines.   Younger wines contain higher doses of tyramines than aged wines, oddly enough.  Weirdest tidbit I've read on this subject so far--people who react (get a headache) from citrus fruit have a connection to tyramine sensitivity.  Hmm.  Amines are looking pretty suspect, huh?

So what if you drank a glass of wine one day and were fine, and then drank the same stuff the next night and it lead to a terrible headache?  Frustrating, right?

The long and short of it is that migraines are often caused by cumulative factors.  It may be two or three things in combination that cause your body to revolt.  It may even include outside factors like a combo of tyramine and an incoming storm, or dehydration and tannins.  It may be all of the above.

So what do you do?

Well, I'm trying to find some wines that are low in tannins and amines.  This is a serious enough issue that the wine-making world is actually experimenting with how to make decent low tannin and low amine wines with varying rates of success.  Low tannin wines are definitely out there, but ask for a low-histamine wine and they'll look at you cross-eyed.

White wines are an obvious answer to both the tannin and amine problem, but not all white wines are low in both, or either of these compounds.  Some are just as bad as reds, so buyer beware.  I'm not as big of a fan of whites as I am of reds.  As far as I'm concerned, white wines should be relegated to breakfast drinking and poolside spritzers in the summertime.  They're not as classy as reds.  But that's my personal opinion.

So what are the safest wines to drink, if you just gotta drink?

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and sauterne are low in tyramine, according to this article.  All of these and pinot grigio are low in tannins, too....  But what about reds?  Generally, the drier the wine, the more tannins in it.  California wines are on the low-tannin end of the spectrum--but high in the amine end of the spectrum.  Avoid "oaked" wines as they are all high in tannins.  Pinot Noir, Gamay, French Bordeaux, Sauternes and Merlot are safe bets to test for adverse reactions first as they are the lowest-tannin reds.

On the other hand, if the problem is histamines, white wines are generally all safe except for Chardonnays and Californian wines.  Contradictory, I know, go figure.  Fruit wines have a lower histamine content, as do rose wines.  I can't find a definitive list of low-amine reds anywhere out there.

Wines to definitely avoid include Riesling, Shiraz, Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.

So far, here's what I've tested (oh, the suffering of having to TEST so many wines...sigh....)

"Safe" Low Tannin/Amine Wines

Sauvignin blanc (Silver Point)  

  • White from New Zealand
  • Taste is slightly sweet, best as a wine with appetizers
  • Got a 90 rating!  (though sweeter than I like, personally)
  • Great Price at $12.95

Skinny Grape Chardonnay (Round Petal)
  • White from British Columbia
  • added bonus--low cal!
  • About as sweet as the previous wine, but different fruit taste
  • good summer wine, great with club soda as a spritzer
  • great price at about $11.95

Pinot Noir (HobNob)

  • dark red, bold taste for a pinot (darker than many pinots)
  • not "oaky", vaguely sweeter than a typical pinot but not sweet
  • strong notes of dark cherry, medium body
  • great change for people who usually prefer shiraz
  • about $12.95 at LCBO
  • one day 1 no headachhe, but on day 2 this one still gave me a headache

Yellowtail Pinot Grigio
  • Australian white
  • tastes of pear and green apple, a bit less sweet than the others
  • best white so far
  • about $10.95

Copper Moon Shiraz
  • my fave red, and it causes serious headaches
  • $9.95
  • I'll say it again--ouch!

Fuzion Shiraz Malbec

  • seriously affordable wine @ $7.95
  • very tasty, mellow red
  • sometimes causes headaches, but not always
  • might be able to drink this one night, but not 2

This Livestrong link suggests that the best low-histamine alcoholic beverages are gin, rum and vodka.  Maybe for those of us who suffer the RWH, these are the best answer.  It's not the answer I was looking for, and its probably not a popular answer for many of you, either.  We'll just have to keep testing until we find one that consistently does not cause a headache.  I will continue to test and post and amend this particular blog posting as I sample my way through the entire collection of LCBO wines...  A daunting task, but someone has to do it (sigh)....

Have you found a red that doesn't cause headaches?  Let me know!  Between you and me, we can create a cohesive list of "safe" wines so that 40-something cougar-ish moms everywhere can enjoy this right of passage with as much zeal as a tv show portrays it to be (just short of alcoholism, though, because THAT would not be paleo-appropriate)

Want more info on this?  It's a big enough deal to get it's own Wikipedia page!  Yaay Livestong--always good for science info.  Use their search engine for more on tannins, amines, and many other things I haven't covered here.