Food For Thought: Are You Ready To Become A “Mad Scientist” In The Kitchen?


By Sandy McCall


When I was a little girl, I used to play in the tub for hours (or it seemed that way to my mom) pretending to mix up concoctions in little containers that I might later pretend to give or sell to someone. Is this the imagination of the “mad scientist”? Perhaps! And I am still doing that today but I now have a real laboratory, my kitchen.


My mother was a great teacher, although her goals were different than mine and I sometimes learned through opposites. Her goal was always to look at the cost first and if it wasn’t on sale, we pretty much didn’t eat it. Even so we had some great food on a budget.


When you have health challenges, or picky eaters, or a budget to live within, it can be fun to create something that will nicely fill the perceived voids and break down your personal barriers to experimentation. It’s all about coming up with solutions through your senses that are appealing to you and yours and meet your goals!


I am sure you have heard of the old trick of adding cooked cauliflower to kids’ mashed potatoes because the potatoes are an easy sell and the cauliflower not so much. Well it’s by using this same idea that we might find a gluten-free, dairy-free or other solution that tastes good and serves your purposes as well. Maybe you would like to eat less meat or just make a meatless substitution in a recipe. I am always thinking of ways to create a healthier version of a recipe that I hear about or to change up a long-held family tradition to make it healthier or more appealing. It takes a little effort, but you can have a great time experimenting.


Creating in the kitchen is my R & R, but for some cooking feels like necessity or a burden. I have even heard people say that they just eat to stay alive. Wow! If a newly discovered health challenge is making it more difficult for you to create appealing meals, maybe just changing the way you think will help. Do you see cooking or eating as a burden? Can you start to see it as an adventure, a fun challenge, or an exploration that may feed you in more ways than one? Sometimes I end up creating something that we all love and sometimes not, but it’s all good experience for the “mad scientist” in the kitchen.


And I am convinced that choosing to spend a little extra money on good food will pay for itself with better health as we age—it’s all about quality of life, isn’t it? It’s a “pay now or pay later” situation in my experience. Living in a time of perceived quick fixes as we do makes it more important to use our crystal balls to see into and imagine our futures.


You might start today to look at your kitchen as the doctor’s office where the pleasure is greater than the visit to the doctor and it sure costs less. (Disclaimer: If you have been diagnosed with an illness or disease and are following your doctor’s instructions, carry on!)


Check out the TV show on the Food Network channel called The Food Hospital. It airs on Sunday at six p.m.. Here’s a note from the website: “The Food Hospital examines the science behind using food as medicine. In experiments conducted with strict scientific rigour, patients suffering from a range of medical conditions and symptoms are invited to attend The Food Hospital where they are prescribed specific food treatment programmes to find out if their health problems can be alleviated or cured by the food they eat.”


So back to our goals! What’s your goal? Eating healthier food? Adding or subtracting particular foods? Creating more appealing foods or wider variety for yourself or your family? And your tastes may change considerably as you discover alternatives to your old food habits.


My personal challenge is to create more appealing foods that digest more easily and don’t contain yeast or oats. I am interested in more alkaline foods than acidic foods and I am looking at eating less gluten and dairy. Sounds easy? I am not attracted to eating pickled and fermented foods, although I know they are good for digestion, etc. I am attracted to cultured foods like yogurt and sour cream and cooking with vinegars. I don’t eat much bread but there are times when a nice sandwich would be great and quick. So I have been experimenting with sour dough breads as well as yeast and gluten-free breads that have a good taste and texture.


Just yesterday I cooked up some millet (twice as much water as millet and a touch of salt). When cooked, I added flax meal, chopped apples, cinnamon, yogurt, honey. Try cooking a little extra millet for your dinner grain!


Make a list of pros and cons for yourself and then take a chance!


So what are you attracted to? Which foods work well for you? What do you want to change? Is it a simple change? Is the herb or spice you want to use or substitute in the same family as what the recipe calls for? Sweet? Pungent? Spicy? Savory? Here’s a little trick that I use if I am leery about adding a spice, etc. to a recipe. I take a small amount of what I have cooked so far and add just a small sprinkle of spice on top and give it a taste. Is it appealing? Will it do the trick? Is something missing?


One of my daughters didn’t like the idea of a flourless chocolate cake recipe because she said, “cake should always have flour!” I steer clear of anything called fruitcake because I have memories of a cake that contained candied fruit and was not appealing to me. See how our thinking and memories can hinder a possible new experience?
Try a food you have never tasted or haven’t eaten much. I was sure I would not like turnips and I was wrong! I was afraid of using flours like buckwheat and sorghum, or eating rice pasta… Have you experienced mild and crunchy Jicama in your salads?


Asheville NPR station, WCQS (88.1) has a great food show that airs on Saturday at noon called “The Splendid Table.” Host Lynne Rosetto Kasper has a great imagination and takes risks.


Check out this article in Mother Earth Living called “Intuitive Eating.”


It helps to always keep staples in the house. Here’s my list of must haves: rice, pasta, grains/seeds, dried or canned beans, canned tomatoes and sauce, flours and cornmeal, herbs and spices, cocoa, coconut milk, vinegars, oils, tamari, dried fruit, nuts.


It’s usually fresh veggies that I am low on because they disappear fast but most times I have an onion, a little celery, a carrot or two, a pepper, garlic and maybe some leftover chicken in the fridge so I can create something from what’s available, combined with the staples I keep on hand. An easy stir-fry with cashews over rice or noodles, or chili with cornbread? Voila! A tasty meal on a budget without having to stop at the store!


Have fun! Can’t figure out where to start? Maybe I can help. Write to me for ideas about your particular situation.



Quinoa Waffles & Pancakes: These waffles and pancakes are hearty and flavorful with good ingredients plus being gluten free!! I used to see hearty as just meaning heavy but no more!! Can you shift your thinking from white flour to this?


1/2 c cooked quinoa (white quinoa makes them appear lighter)
Pinch of Salt
*1 cup gluten-free flour
2 t baking powder
2 eggs
3T yogurt (plain or vanilla)
2T palm sugar (opt)
1/4 c almond/coconut milk (more or less depending on desired thickness)


*possible gluten free-flours: white rice flour is lighter, buckwheat is heartier or try a combo of several flours like sorghum, brown rice flour, coconut, oat, millet, quinoa or teff



Molé Chili


2 t olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 or more cloves of garlic
2 lbs of ground chicken or turkey (or veggie “meat”)
1 t of chipotle in adobo sauce
1 t ancho chile powder
1 t ground cumin (I like more)
1 t ground cinnamon
½ t paprika (I like Spanish)
½ t ground cloves
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
28 oz canned tomatoes with juice
2 cans of kidney beans drained and rinsed
(I like other types too like black beans or pintos)
1 C chicken or veggie broth
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder


Heat oil and sauté onions and garlic, add ground meat and add all spices. Cook until meat is browned. Add peppers, tomatoes and beans and cocoa powder, stir and cook for about 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream or toppings of your choice. Remember to make the cornbread before you start the chili and then enjoy!




Sandy McCall

Sandy McCall

Sandy McCall’s day job is working as the Broker/Owner of Southern Life Realty. When she’s not cooking or loving-up her cat and dogs, she enjoys writing for WNC Woman and volunteering for Madison Habitat for Humanities. or 828-273-9755.

Sandy McCall
Written by Sandy McCall