Thursday, December 26, 2013

Paleo Pumpkin Bread (Grain, gluten, and sugar-free)

Image credit: Gaia Online
Several days after my last blog post in October, I woke up with my eyes nearly swollen shut and feeling extremely dehydrated.  I managed to drink several glasses of water but the skin around my lids remained pink, almost as if I were a stuffed panda toy made for a little girl with pink rather than black patches around my eyes.

It was a dry fall and I used to have allergies to tree pollen so I assumed that the excessive leaf dust and leaf blowing in the area was aggravating my hypersensitive immune system. I was busy at work and not sleeping very much. I'd experienced unusual eye swelling before throughout my life, usually in the fall, and it always subsided after a day or two.

However, the pink didn't go away.  It remained and the skin around my eyelids grew thick and leathery--like pink plastic pleather.  I was too busy to go to the doctor at the time, plus I am completely petrified of legitimate members of the medical profession (although not, alas, WebMD).  The last time I went to a dermatologist before the Pink Panda incident was when I had to have a mole looked at--the mole was nothing and faded away, but the memory of the blonde Russian doctor with the Betty Boop figure remained fresh.

My eyelids began to take on a character of their own. I tried every home remedy on the Internet--washing with baby shampoo and dandruff shampoo were popular suggestions. Not eating dairy. Taking antihistamines for allergies; taking a decongestant for a cold. But mostly, I just applied hot compresses and hoped for the best.

People began to notice. "Your eyes are REALLY red."  "What the hell happened to you?" Eventually, I began to feel extremely self-conscious about my appearance. I don't consider myself a particularly attractive woman, but at least I aim for a 'normal' and a 'not particularly offensive and scary look.' Weird rashes definitely put someone in the category of 'someone you don't want to get really close to.'

And of course, I played Dr. Google. Even though I know I shouldn't.  Even though I should totally block WebMD from my computer FOREVER AND EVER. Skin cancer?  Blepharitis?  I kept getting pink eye links even though my eyes were fine, it was just the skin around the lids that was giving me hell.  "What is this creeping...crud?"  was the phrase that kept going through my mind. 

So I analyzed this...why DID the words creeping crud seem to pop up in my brain?  I remembered it was the weird skin condition of a girl in a Judy Blume book I loved as a kid.  And I always feared I would have scoliosis like Deenie.  Instead, I ended up the the girl the tragic beauty queen Deenie befriends after Deenie is forced to wear a brace to correct her deformity...the ugly girl with the 'creeping crud' called eczema.

Sometimes my eye skin would exfoliate, shedding repulsive flakes of skin despite my best efforts to moisturize. Sometimes the roughness would seem to go away, only to return.  After a month, I finally made an appointment.  I selected the dermatologist mainly because 1. he took my insurance and 2. he got his medical degree from a school in Israel, which I have heard has some of the finest dermatological treatment in the world (all the burns they deal with over there, you know). I figured he must have seen some pretty crazy shit over there and so he can certainly fix my face.

This dermatologist was a rather odd combination of brusque, efficient, and flamboyant: his lack of interpersonal skills, intelligence, and theatricality struck me as an odd combination of House and Lady Gaga.

"Eyes?"  he said, by way of introduction.
"Yes, I--"
"Eczema."
I smiled.  I felt so vindicated--for once, I diagnosed myself correctly.
He spent about two minutes with me. With laser-like precision he grilled me about possible changes in the products I used and my cosmetics.  Fortunately, the rash afflicted me at a time when I was so busy I hadn't even had time to dye my hair, so there were no obvious culprits and I don't wear makeup.

At first, the doctor seemed a bit suspicious of me, as if I might be 'forgetting' to mention I was using mascara from 1996, but seeing my obvious low-maintenance style, he  prescribed a miracle cream that cost more than a designer handbag but miraculously restored my skin within three days.

The girl at the pharmacy even had the same dermatologist.  "He's great!  He spent like five minutes looking at me and totally cured the acne I had been suffering for YEARS. AWE-SOME"

For a bit, I was confident and hearing angels in the background but then the rash started to return.  I reapplied the cream but I was scared enough when I went back to the dermatologist for the follow-up visit to ask for the 'patch' test he had suggested.

A skin patch test involves wearing three large pieces of tape that are studded with pinpricks of various substances which are common allergens.  It's like wearing a piece of clothing with three, giant itchy labels you can't take off.  When he slapped them on I thought I might have unintentionally found my own, personal version of dermatological hell.

"Does anything seem inflamed?" I asked him when I returned to have the patches removed and 'read.'  A brief beat--he seemed amused by my word choice. Then he told me I was allergic to nickle. More grilling: no, I don't have piercings or use glittery makeup. Which means: 1.it may be a false positive or 2. I am allergic to nickle but it had nothing to do with a rash.

So if I really want to find out what caused the Creeping Crud, I have to go see an allergist.

Desperate times call for crazy desperate measures so right now I'm pretty much avoiding anything even associated with triggering an allergic reaction. Even dairy.

I've made two versions of this bread: both are sugar-free, grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free and despite that long list of 'freebies,' they are surprisingly good. Both versions also relatively low in calories and carbohydrates.  So even if you haven't been suffering from freakish skin conditions recently and are looking for something a little healthier to 'detox' from your holiday sugar cookie, wine, and cheese consumption, this is a good place to start.

Paleo Pumpkin Bread

(adapted from Elana's Pantry)
--makes 1 mini-loaf, approximately 3 generous servings--

Ingredients

1 cup almond flour (approximately 3.5 ounces--I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Elana used a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cloves--I replaced the nutmeg with ginger and the cloves with allspice.  You could also use a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Some of the reviewers found the bread to be too spicy so you might want to 'adjust to taste,' depending on the potency of your spices

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (slightly over 4 ounces)
3 large, beaten eggs

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Sift  almond flour, salt, baking soda, spices in a bowl.  Mix pumpkin and eggs.

3. Pour into a MINI loaf pan lined with parchment. Bake for 35-45 minutes.

Notes:

*This bread does NOT rise.  Fill the mini pan to the top.

*This is a pretty forgiving (i.e., idiot-proof) recipe.  The second time I made this bread and got nearly identical results using less almond flour  (approximately 2 ounces or slightly over 1/2 a cup) and only 2 eggs

*The bread is best after being allowed to cool for at least an hour or better yet overnight. The first slice of the first version was slightly eggy, but the day after this flavor subsided.  I still liked it in all its incarnations.