Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gluten-free Hermit Cookies

I always get excited when I come across something new - especially if it presents me with a baking or cooking challenge.

When Heidi of 101 cookbooks posted Sante's Hermit Cookies recently, I thought, "Hermit cookies? What are those?" In her post, they appeared to be small, spiced, soft cookies with fruit, nuts, and icing. Just the thing for a good holiday cookie.

I, of course, had to do some additional research - what are they traditionally like? Why the name? What variations have others created?

And, most importantly, I wondered how I should best go about making them gluten free. How do I replicate that whole-wheat pastry flour, softened with milk, texture?

As it turns out, it is a big mystery as to why these cookies are named "Hermit cookies," but they are traditionally made with lots of spice, nuts, and fruit. They are also traditionally square in shape and seem to be more popular (or well known) in the eastern part of the United States. I would be curious to know, however, from any non-US readers whether they have heard of such cookies (especially German or Dutch folks?).

Upon noticing they are usually brown in color (which is one theory as to their name - that their brown color resembles a hermit's brown sack-cloth clothing), I immediately thought of my little-used container of Teff flour waiting for me in the kitchen. It also seemed like a natural fit for a recipe that called for whole-wheat pastry flour.

Teff - that teeny, tiny grain that makes a dark colored, fine flour. It's full of fiber and other nutrients, lends a wonderful texture to baked goods, but I tend to over-look it because I don't want my gluten-free baked goods to look different than their gluteny counterparts. That's a hang-up, however, I should probably learn to get over, because Teff flour really takes (makes) the cake! :)

--sorry for the stupid pun, but I couldn't resist.

I also thought these would be great with some pumpkin flavor, and, to be totally honest, I had some leftover pumpkin puree from the pumpkin scones I baked earlier this week.

I think I found another favorite holiday cookie!

By the way - this new little blog was just listed at Massage Therapy Careers as one of ten gluten free blogs in their Top 100 Wellness Blogs list! I am both surprised and honored.

Gluten Free Hermit Cookies:

I chose to toast some unsweetened coconut with the walnuts because I am in love with the flavor of coconut right now, but certainly omit it if you don't have any on hand or don't like coconut. Also, I imagine some soft, ripe bananas (about 1 cup mashed) would substitute well for the pumpkin in this recipe. By the way, with the nutrients from the Teff and pumpkin alone (not to mention the coconut, raisins, and walnuts), these are pretty darned nutrient-packed little cookies -- definitely outweighs the butter and sugar ;) Make them dairy-free by using shortening or soft (not liquid) coconut oil.

1/2 cup Teff flour

1/2 cup Millet flour

1/2 cup Brown rice flour

1/2 cup Tapioca flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup pumpkin puree (or mashed banana)

2/3 cup butter, room temperature

2 eggs

1/2 cup honey or agave nectar

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I throw them in a sturdy plastic bag and mash with a heavy-bottomed coffee mug)

Heat oven to 350F.

Mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl until well-combined.

If you wish to toast your coconut and walnuts, throw them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Blend the butter and honey until mixed well (will likely be lumpy, with small pieces of butter). Lightly whisk eggs and mix into butter/honey mixture. Mix in pumpkin puree.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until mostly combined. Add raisins, coconut, and walnuts. Mix until evenly distributed. The mixture should be soft and slightly sticky - the kind of dough you can't really roll with your hands.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using two spoons (one to scoop batter and the other to scrape the spoonful onto the baking sheet), drop rounded spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. I imagine a small ice-cream scoop would also work well for this.

Grab another spoon and put some water in a small cup. Dip the back of the spoon in the water and slightly flatten the balls so they are thick, flat disks. They will rise slightly while cooking, but not a ton.

Bake for about 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely and ice with the following:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon hazelnut milk (or your favorite)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Mix above ingredients and add additional milk a small bit at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. I used only the tablespoon milk for a thicker icing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cooking gluten-free holidays

I love this man.

If you think for a second that food isn't an important part of the holidays, think again. In fact, Ben spent hours Saturday morning on the phone with his family, talking about that very topic. Let's just say I am terribly grateful, to both Ben and his family.

Since we will be making the trek out to New York to visit with his family over the holidays, his parents are doing more than any gluten-free gal could ever hope for to make my visit a safe, healthy one. They are asking all the right questions about all the traditional foods and this means Ben has been on the phone with them a lot. He even put together a shopping list and potential menu for the time we will be there.

On that list are some traditional foods, such as pumpkin pie, with GF variations, but it's mostly focused on foods and ingredients that are naturally gluten free. By that same token, many of the 'traditional' foods of the holidays ARE gluten free if they are made from scratch and prepared on clean surfaces. Roasted root veggies, turkey, asparagus, ham, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and green beans are all gluten free.

If you, too, will be preparing a holiday meal with a gluten-free guest, this post is for you.

If you are the gluten-free-er and you are heading to someone else's home for the holidays, I hope your hosts are as open to learn and concerned about your health as mine are. Even if they aren't, direct them to my site, this post, or any number of the other GF bloggers out there. The Gluten Free Girl also has a post on how to cook for someone gluten free.

This is a rough guide with just the basics, and may be incomplete (please comment if you see anything missing!). And, I cannot emphasize this enough -- Don't ever feel silly or stupid or like a pest asking your gluten-free-er about what gluten is and how to cook gluten-free. They will be happy to fill you in with more than you ever wanted to know and feel blessed you care enough to ask.

Gluten-containing grains: Wheat, Barley, Rye, Kamut, Spelt, Triticale, and regular oats contain the protein called gluten. Certified gluten free oats are available; oats only contain gluten when grown and processed near wheat – it is basically a cross-contamination issue. Gluten is a protein and it is what makes baked goods elastic and hold together.

Ingredients to watch out for in processed foods: If you are cooking for someone else who is gluten-free, it is sometimes easier to cook from scratch or only trust products that label themselves “gluten free.” It can become mind-boggling to keep track of all of the ingredients derived from gluten containing grains. Ingredients/foods to be avoided include: wheat, barley, rye, oats, kamut, spelt, triticale, beer, flour, monosodium glutamate, wheat starch, malt (malt extract, malt syrup,malt flour, malt vinegar), soy sauce, gravy (including “sauces” and “roux”), marinades, teriyaki, imitation seafood (imitation crab), and licorice. Blue, stilton, and roquefort cheeses sometimes contain gluten, as does Maltodextrin. The blue part of blue cheese is a mold, usually started from wheat grains. There are exceptions, however, for some cheeses made in the United States, so check with companies. Maltodextrin (and dextrin) is made from corn in the United States, but for pharmaceuticals and food products made outside of the United States, check with each company. "Natural flavors" are sometimes made using barley, so it's usually best to check with the company.

Remember - "wheat free" does not mean "gluten free;" some people have an allergic reaction to wheat specifically, but can tolerate barley, spelt, etc., so some manufacturers cater to this crowd, but are not gluten free.

Many companies will provide gluten information upon request and often have information on their websites, especially in the FAQ section.

If you are out looking on the internet, be sure to find recent information, as many companies change their ingredients and sources for ingredients.

Gluten-free flours: Some "grains" that are naturally gluten free, like buckwheat (which is technically not a 'grain'), may not actually be gluten free when sold as a flour. If they are processed along with wheat, they will not be gluten free. Always check labels. The flours from Bob's Red Mill are tested regularly and their GF flours are labeled as such (note that their buckwheat flour, for example, is NOT GF). Unfortunately, gluten free baking is not as easy as substituting a gluten free flour for all-purpose flour. See my post on flours for more information on how to use these flours and be sure to ask your gluten-free-er about other sensitivities, such as corn.

Xanthan gum: This is a binder that is used to approximate the properties of gluten in baked goods. Most recipes will call for a small amount of gum (either xanthan gum or guar gum). They are, from what I understand, interchangeable in most recipes. It is expensive, but a small bag of it will last you a long time. It should be stored in the fridge to maintain effectiveness.

Kitchen contamination: To be completely safe, kitchen items (cutting boards, spoons, spatulas, etc.) made from wood, plastic, rubber, and silicone that have been previously used with wheat flour should not be used. Also, non-stick skillets and other non-stick cookware previously used with gluten-containing food items are likely to harbor gluten. Don't forget about bread machines, toasters, pizza stones, and cheese cloths – all of these need to be avoided. All stainless steel, metal, and glass objects (provided they are thoroughly cleaned and no sticky residue is left behind) are safe to use for cooking for gluten sensitive individuals. When in doubt, a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil can be used to cover any surface, placing a barrier between the gluten free food and the previously used object.

Anyone who is familiar with clean-room environments, and the dirty vs. clean dichotomy that necessarily follows from it, will immediately understand the concept of cross-contamination. I worked for a summer as a sterilization assistant in a dentist office during college, so I have been well-versed in this dichotomy and I'll give you the gist here, in gluten terms.

If you touch something with your hands, or a knife, or a spoon, etc. that contains gluten, your hand or that object is now "dirty" and should not be used for gluten free eating or cooking. Once you wash your hands or the dirty object, it is once again "clean" and safe for gluten-free eating and cooking. For example, a slice of bread is on the counter. You take a knife and spread butter on the bread, then take some more butter, and spread that on the bread as well. The counter, the knife, the butter, and your hands are all dirty -- even if you can't see visible crumbs. A good way to get around this is to start with unopened products, especially butter, nut butters, jam, and anything else in which a knife or spoon may have been previously dipped. No one wants to have to rack their brain, trying to remember what has been where.

Here's another example that is less obvious. The cat food has gluten in it. The cats eat the food, lick their fur, and they crawl in my lap to be petted. Needless to say, I wash my hands a lot.

This may seem like overkill to some, but gluten is a protein that sticks to surfaces. Unlike bacteria, which can be "killed," gluten cannot be boiled or disinfected away. It has to be physically removed from a surface by washing it away. Do you remember those plastic goggles from biology class? Placing them in the "sterilizer" killed the germs, but did not "clean" them - the gunk stayed.

If your head is spinning, take a deep breath, relax, and remember what I said about whole, natural ingredients - they are all gluten free except for the few grains I listed above. Just keep in mind the cross-contamination issues, enlist the help of your gluten-free loved one, and all will be fine.

And, although we all know food has an important place in holiday celebrations, what is most important is celebrating the presence and health of loved ones and the appreciation we have for those with whom we share our lives.

I am certainly grateful beyond words - for my family, friends, Ben, and his family.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow day!

We woke up to snow yesterday morning, a rare sight in downtown Portland.

Ever since I moved to Portland from Minnesota, I have been glad I don't have to deal with driving in the snow, but I still miss how pretty it is falling from the sky, blanketing the ground and trees with a cover of white. So, it was nice to see those big, puffy flakes falling from the sky, turning the world white. I also find it funny that a couple of inches out here has everyone excited - almost the whole city shuts down and all the schools close.

My first winter here, we had a big ice storm that left ice all over the streets and sidewalks. I laughed as I watched the news, how big of a deal they were making out of a small layer of ice. School was canceled, so I put on my coat, hat, and gloves and headed to the computer lab to get some homework done (by the way - stupid Lauren, the computer lab is closed if school is closed!).

I quickly realized the difference between bad weather in Minneapolis and bad weather in Portland is salt. No salt as well as fewer plows and sand trucks results in SLIPPERY ice. I used to walk around on ice and snow all the time in Minneapolis, but it was made passable by the amount of salt and sand dumped on it.

Yesterday was the kind of day that never really became "light" outside, and we had our christmas tree lights on most of the day, like my family always does on Christmas day. In fact, it sort of felt like Christmas day - both Ben and I home from work, snow falling, and an easy-going feeling that comes from having a holiday to enjoy and nowhere to be.

Ben and I enjoyed our home-bound day hunkered down in our apartment, drinking tea, trying to keep warm, and pursuing individual projects.

I had wanted to bake some holiday cookies yesterday (Russian tea cakes, please!), but I'm out of tapioca flour (I used the last bit of it Friday for our "gluten free pizza Friday" dinner), and I wasn't about to go out in the snow to the other side of town just to buy more, so I had to busy my hands other ways instead.

It was the perfect excuse to crochet some toys for my twin nephews :)

As I crocheted these little guys, I watched the Christmas cartoons my brother recorded on VHS sometime around 1985...included in this tape are gems such as Charlie Brown's Christmas, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Garfield's Christmas Special. I thought about how excited I was, growing up, to watch those cartoons year after year. I also noticed how commercials have changed over the years - my oh my! This was back in the day when Ronald McDonald dominated McDonald's commercials and 7up gave away a "count-down to Christmas" poster with each pack of 7up.

No matter how many times I watch Mickey's Christmas Carol, it still cracks me up to see Goofy trying to ski and hear Mickey's laugh (ha-hah) as he narrates the transitions between cartoon clips of the gangs's favorite Christmas's. Oh, and then there's the ghost of Christmas present and his inability to pronounce "pistachios." (He says, "mismashios," which is what I have been lovingly calling them for years).

In addition to these beauties, I have a few other movies I love to watch this time of year, usually while baking cookies or wrapping presents:

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

The Sound of Music

It's a Wonderful Life

White Christmas

I have them memorized by now, but they conjure up memories of home and holidays past. For me, they are part of the tradition around the holidays. What are some of your favorites?

We also finally broke down and turned on the heat yesterday - with highs in the upper 20's and lows in the teens, we just couldn't put on enough clothing to keep us warm. Even as I type this, I am sitting near a window, with a radiator below it, and I have on two sweatshirts, a longsleeve shirt, jeans, socks, slippers, and a blanket over my lap! My toes and fingers are still pretty cold.

And our cats? They have been particularly playful (I think it's hard for them to sleep when they are cold) - playing hide and seek with each other for large parts of the day. At night, they all climb in bed with us, curling up in the nooks of our arms and legs.

We fell asleep last night listening to the wind howl through cracks in the window frames and the clanging of the christmas lights hanging off our balcony.

We made this for dinner last night - simple as can be and healthy and delicious (not to mention the oven helps keep the kitchen warm!).

Roasted winter root vegetables:

You can really use any winter vegetables you want in this - I just used what I had on hand, but would have loved some brussels sprouts or winter broccoli to round it out.

1 Large sweet potato, cut into small pieces

2 cups chopped carrots

1 rutabaga, cubed

1/2 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

olive oil

toasted sliced almonds

Toss all chopped veggies in a baking dish (or two) and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle seasonings over the veggies and toss to coat.

Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes, until sweet potato is tender.

Serve and garnish with sliced almonds.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dairy-free, gluten-free, creamy sweet potato gratin

I came home from work yesterday, after walking around on my feet for 8 hours, ate dinner and, even though the kitchen was already a total disaster, set out to make chocolate chip cookies.

I had been craving something sweet yesterday, but it's not like I could walk over to the corner store and pick up something to satisfy my sweet tooth. This is why I usually have SOMETHING on hand, waiting for me, for those days when I want something sweet. I bake double batches of goodies and throw them in the freezer.

My treats wait for me in there, with their little ice crystals, for me to take them out, nuke them a bit in the microwave, and enjoy.

Over thanksgiving, I did a lot of baking, like I mentioned. In addition to my sugar cookie cutouts, I made those delicious little pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (sans pecans) on Karina's site. I stuffed them in the freezer and took two or three to work with me each day (believe me, I need the calories). Unfortunately, I ran out mid-week and, after walking around on my feet for 8 hours, I just don't have the energy to bake when I get home.

Friday afternoon I wished desperately that my situation were different; that I could pop over to the coffee shop on the corner and pick up a lovely little treat (or any other shop, for that matter) with no worries.

I've found that it isn't until moments and days like this that I ever feel frustrated with my diagnosis - when I'm tired, hungry, want something ready-made, and everything around me is filled with gluten. Experience has told me that having a stockpile of things ready to go in the freezer (sweet or not) helps eliminate these woe-is-me, pity-party-conjuring, situations. I also try to keep a well-stocked kitchen in general, with ingredients I need to create something delicious.

With no gluten-free bakery next door yesterday afternoon, I had to find comfort in promising myself I would go home at the end of the day, put on a holiday movie, and bake cookies. And, that's what I did.

Well, almost - Ben was working on a music project, so I didn't want to put on that holiday movie, I just listened to his music instead, which turned out very pretty :)

Until last night, I hadn't yet tried making regular chocolate chip cookies at all. The picture above shows the perfectly functioning dough I created (with our christmas tree in the background!). Unfortunately, once baked up, they revealed themselves to be overly delicate and a bit too grainy. They turned out sweet and delicious, and they will do for me right now, to satisfy that sweet tooth, but I am going to have to do some more experimenting before I post a recipe. Just a couple small tweaks, though, is all I think it will take!

In keeping with my desire to keep a well-stocked kitchen, I went overboard again last Saturday (is this really a surprise?) at the farmer's market and picked up a ton of squash, apples, onions, and pears. And then I couldn't resist a new crop of winter broccoli, from my favorite farm (Sungold Farm) - it looked so beautiful and green, with long stalks and slightly elongated florets. At the time, I wasn't sure what I would do with them, but I was sure I would find a way to cook them.

Wednesday night I put together the sweet potato gratin you see pictured below, with andouille sausage, broccoli, and mushrooms. Just the perfect thing for a non-dairy, comforting, creamy meal!

Gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato broccoli gratin:

2 andouille sausages, cut into small pieces

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

1 cup mushrooms, diced

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups hazelnut milk (or your favorite milk)

2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca flour

Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. In a large bowl, mix the broccoli, sausage, onion, and mushrooms. Layer the broccoli mixture with the sweet potato pieces in a large casserole dish.

Bake covered at 375F for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a large saucepan, combine tapioca flour and milk and stir until tapioca is dissolved. Heat over medium heat until mixture thickens, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in sage, rosemary, and sea salt.

When potatoes are tender, remove the casserole dish from the oven and drain excess liquid. Stir in the sauce. Return to oven, uncovered, and heat through.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

A soup to warm your soul

While I wait, hope, and dream for THE job as I finish up my degree, I've been working retail downtown. It helps pay the rent (barely), but it also takes much time away from my usual cooking, baking, and writing pursuits. I have also become amazingly behind on emails and slacking in my efforts to recruit participants into my dissertation study. So, forgive me if my posts become somewhat less frequent. I promise to share as many of my kitchen successes as possible!

When I started this job, I decided my "thing," the thing that would make this job a bit more interesting, is that I would wear a tie everyday. It turns out I am the only woman there wearing a tie.

Ben has an amazing collection of ties, some very pretty and some downright terrible. He likes the pretty ones just as much as the terrible ones. He finds joy in finding some of the most hideous ties he can and flaunting them at work, just as much as he likes flaunting the pretty ones. So, I decided this would be my excuse to wear some of those pretty ties - probably the only time and place in my life when I can wear a tie everyday and not be considered strange. I'm having fun picking out my ties each day, though the rest of my outfit doesn't vary much (that darned dress code!).

There is something I like about working retail during the holidays - it's almost always busy, most people are in good spirits, and there's a vibrant energy in the air. I also kind of like being downtown during the day.

Walking home tonight, I thought about the tradition of lights during the holidays. I walked past several park areas and trees, many of which were lit up with tiny white specks of light, and it felt happy. They seemed to dance in the air. Lighting trees during the holiday season is meant to give a bit more light to a season with little sunlight, to boost spirits. I noticed for the first time in probably my whole life that they really do give more of a sense of warmth to the winter months. I wonder why we don't leave them on until February or later?

I love those twinkling little white lights and the red and green lights with which the downtown buildings are adorned. I especially love that Portland lights up a big evergreen tree right in the middle of downtown, just like the one in New York City. It seems that some of our post-holiday let-down might be due to the removal of those bright little lights we so enjoyed October through December, don't you think?

Anyway, Ben and I have been craving soups lately, to sort of add some inner-warmth as the temperatures dip to the 30's at night, and we're cranking out some good ones this week. This first one is a good, hearty soup, with lots of vegetables, and can easily be done in the crockpot. Done again, I might even leave the peas out, but they do add a sense of fullness to the soup. Throw in some red pepper flakes for a bit of kick.

Vegetable ham and pea soup:

2 cups carrots, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 large red onion, diced

2 medium parsnips, diced

4 cups broth

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups cubed ham

1 pound split yellow or green peas

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

olive oil

black pepper, to taste

In a large pot of water, bring peas to a boil and simmer on low heat until tender, about an hour. Drain and rinse. Set aside.

In a large dutch oven, saute chopped veggies, garlic, and red pepper in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add broth and cubed ham and simmer on medium or medium-low for about 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Add peas and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so, to heat through. Add black pepper to taste.

If you are cooking it in a crockpot, add all ingredients to the crockpot and cook on low for about 8 hours or high for about 4 hours.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No bummer: Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts

As I finished up my breakfast yesterday morning, I heaved a heavy sigh, placing my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. My heart felt heavy.

My heart hadn't felt that heavy since last year, when fires took over the country of Greece. I ached for the loss of lives, the loss of homes, and the loss of farms, vegetation, and animals. The face of Greece was changed for many decades to come due to the work of arsonists. It was the kind of heavy heart that could only come from tragic “world” events, about which I could do nothing.

Yesterday, my heavy heart came from a conglomeration of events... the attacks in Mumbi, the possibility of increasing tensions between Pakistan and India (both nuclear powers), the 600-point drop in the markets the day before, and the announcement that OHSU is on a hiring freeze. All of this was on the news Monday night, giving a feeling of impending doom for all of us.

I am usually a news-addict. After years of living alone, I got in the habit of watching the news in the morning while eating breakfast and getting ready as well as in the evening while eating dinner. I grew up in a household of five, in which we ate meals together. Eating alone was somehow made tolerable by watching the news – my news-anchor family was always there to talk at me. (Unfortunately for Ben, this means I have the news on a lot more than he is used to). However, Ben had last week off from work, so we spent a lot of time doing other things and didn't see much of the news.

When I finally got caught up this week, the world felt pretty brutal.

I immediately thought of the SNL skit aired during the election campaign – the one where “President Bush” holds the news conference in the evening because every time he talks during the day, the stock market “goes in the crapper.” In that skit, “President Bush” is also surprised to learn his low approval ratings, stating he was previously ignorant to his ratings and, in general, world events because he had declared the oval office, “a bummer-free zone.”

I want a bummer-free zone.
Don't you??

Last week, like I said, Ben had the week off of work, so we did a lot of nothing – like a good vacation should be. We ran errands together, I graded papers, he recorded music, I baked (a lot), he painted, and we made dinners together. We also went for a couple of walks together – one to see the big tree in downtown Portland (Portland's version of the big tree in New York City). We watched movies, some Christmas movies, put up our Christmas tree, and celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than that, we just sort of lazed the time away, sleeping in and enjoying coffee and breakfast longer than usual.

We will be going to visit Ben's family over Christmas. Since this is not only my first gluten free Christmas, but also my first family get-together with Ben's family, I am feeling a little nervous about the whole thing (to say the least). Like most families, Ben's family likes to bake cookies at Christmas, and, in particular, they typically make sugar cookie cutouts.

Knowing this, I have taken it upon myself to figure out a good flour combination to make sugar cookies that look and feel and taste just like the gluteny-version. I have to be honest and say I agonized over my first test batch for at least a day – looking online for other GF recipes, to see what they suggest. In the end, I discovered that most (in fact, I think all) recipes called for a disappointingly vague “Gluten free flour” or they called for “rice flour.” “Hmmm...,” I thought, “These will not do.”

So, I decided to simplify. Just as I did for my gluten free pizza crust, I took a look at my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (yes, a regular, old cookbook) to see what the recipe for regular, gluteny sugar cookies listed. Then, I improvised, armed with my knowledge of gluten-free flour.

I chose coconut flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. I added a touch of xanthan gum. I followed the Better Homes and Gardens recipe. I did a dance of joy when I took them out of the oven.

They looked and smelled beautiful!

We never got around to decorating them with icing. At Thanksgiving, Ben and a friend of his ate what was left of the batch – two gluten-eaters.

Speaking of, I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, celebrated with friends or family (or both). I made my first home-made pumpkin pie - which also happened to be my first gluten-free pie!

And, may you have a bummer-free zone, at least while you are baking :)

Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts:
These cookies turn out with the perfect texture! I like my sugar cookies crispy on the outside and soft and cake-like inside. If you like yours crispy throughout, I think rolling them a little thinner might just do the trick. The only detectable difference between these and the gluteny version is a slight bit of grainy texture at the very end of chewing and swallowing them. My guess is that using either white rice flour or a fine grain rice flour would eliminate this. Or, try Sorghum flour in place of the rice flour.  I haven't tried these with a butter substitute, but let me know if you are successful making these with coconut oil or shortening and leave a comment.  Diary-free readers would benefit from your experience!  Thanks!
¾ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup millet flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons any milk (I used hazelnut, but any will do)
In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.

In another bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar using your mixer or hand-beaters.

Add egg, vanilla, and a tablespoon of milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time until incorporated (you may need to take your hands to it if your mixer can’t take the dough).

Add another tablespoon or so of milk if mixture appears too dry. The dough should be moist, but not sticky at all.

Place dough on a sheet of cling wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap up the dough with the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can go overnight as well).

Use white rice flour to roll out the dough to about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters.

Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. When done, the edges will be firm and the cookies will be slightly golden on the bottom.

*If you are baking these for a gluten-free loved one, in a gluten-containing kitchen, be sure mixers and beaters are cleaned of any previous baking residue and place a sheet of parchment paper between your rolling pin and the dough when you are rolling it out.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten Free: Chinese Chicken Wings

Outside of the obvious turkey dinner now behind us, for most Americans, the most “over-eaten” dish is pizza. When we eat pizza, without fail, we always overeat. It's too delicious. It has too many wonderful tastes. I read this somewhere, though now I can't remember where, but someone actually did a survey on the subject!

While I absolutely remember over-eating myself on the evenings my family enjoyed pizza for dinner, what comes to mind most vividly when I think about childhood meals is those nights my mom would make what she called, “Chinese chicken wings.” We couldn't get enough. We never had leftovers. You bet we over-ate those nights.

My mom would start this meal at least a day in advance, unpacking tons of little wings into large containers filled with a home-made marinade. The wings would sit in the marinade all day. I would open the fridge and see those wings bathing in their sauce on the bottom shelf and feel an overwhelming anticipation for the dinner to come. And when it was over? It was like Christmas being over; so much anticipation and waiting and, like the paper wrappings and open boxes left on Christmas morning, there would be nothing left but empty baking dishes and naked bones on our plates.

This month's theme for “Go ahead honey, it's gluten free” is food from our childhood, for which I created a Chinese chicken wing recipe somewhat reminiscent of those delicious wings mom used to make. For some reason, I've never asked her for the recipe, though I assume it involves soy sauce, sugar, and perhaps many other things I shouldn't be eating.

The theme this month is amazingly appropriate, with the start of the holiday season, which, for me, has always meant spending time with family. In the last few years, since I moved to Portland, it has also meant seeing old friends I haven't seen in a while. And, as I grow increasingly homesick this year, knowing I won't be seeing my family for the holidays, it's nice to cook comfort food that reminds me of home.

The round-up of our contributions will be posted by Noosh at For the Love of Food at the end of the month. Be sure to check them out!

Chinese chicken wings:

Ben and I made a small amount of these, just for us. If you are cooking for a family or a holiday party (these would be great appetizers), increase the amounts to your needs.

2 pounds chicken wings
3 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
2 tablespoons honey or agave or brown rice syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash sea salt
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Splash of apple cider vinegar

Trim and discard wing tip. Cut wings at the joint and place in a large bowl. Add the above ingredients and mix well to coat.

Heat oven to 375F and line a baking dish with aluminum foil or parchment paper (for easy clean-up).

Place the wings in a single layer in the baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Redefining myself...again. And, gluten free pizza!

“I can't believe I'm saying this, but I trust Hormel as a brand!”

Ben stated something I had been sort of unconsciously mulling around my mind for a while. That company that makes Spam in a small town called Austin, in southern Minnesota, a few hours drive from where I grew up, labels all of its gluten free products with the most beautiful words in the world: Gluten Free.

And, don't let the fact they make Spam turn you off of their other food products; they make several products that are minimally processed and as “natural” as possible. The product we were purchasing on that particular occasion was likely not that “natural” since it was turkey pepperoni, but we did know for sure that it was gluten free.

Ben and I decided to go back to our pizza roots and make (turkey) pepperoni pizza this weekend. I created the crust and he dealt with the toppings. If it gives you any idea of how easy this crust is, he finished preparing the toppings of sliced olives, sliced mushrooms, (turkey) pepperoni, diced onion, and shredded mozzarella at the same time I had the crust topping-ready.

We tried a couple of crust variations and we even did calzones one of the nights. It worked and was amazingly delicious.

Something else that has been sort of mulling around in my head lately, not so unconsciously, is the fact that I haven't been craving exercise like I used to. Really, I used to put in an hour on the treadmill like it was no big deal and come away feeling empowered and alive. I weight-trained for an hour 3 times a week. I powered through multiple training sets on the indoor rower during the winter months and hours of rowing on the water Spring to Fall. I loved it, I loved all of it.

But, since those dark months this spring, when I became too weak to even walk a few blocks, I haven't worked out that intensely since. I haven't really had the desire.

In wondering why I haven't been excited to go back to what used to define such a large part of my identity (“I am an athletic person”) with the energy I used to have for it, I have come up with a few possibilities.

Maybe working out to that degree was filling some void I felt in my life that is no longer present, maybe I simply don't have as much frustration in my life as I used to, or maybe I care less about my body appearance than I used to.

I think, to some degree, all of the above is correct. Working out has been a great coping mechanism for me for years, and lately my life has been relatively angst-free (outside of the obvious diagnosis!). I also, as a result of my diagnosis, not only naturally weigh less (before eating gluten free, my body didn't metabolize food properly, so I weighed at least 10 pounds more than I do now, though I was working out twice as much and eating half as much!), but I also view my body in a different manner – I much more concerned about how healthy it is than what it looks like. But, also, I think that when I physically couldn't row and run and weight train like I used to, I had to redefine my sense of self to not include “athletic” so that I wouldn't go crazy.

One of the things I struggled with most was feeling incapable of doing my normal activities, so I likely redefined my self to not include those activities, in order to feel more true to my 'self.' It helped me deal with my illness. To feel mentally healthy, especially in a western culture, we like to view our activities as congruent with our self-identities. We also like to view our "self" as consistent (not-changing); observed inconsistency lowers our sense of well-being.

But now, I have gotten better to the point where I CAN workout like I used to and I have little desire. So, this week, I began trying to get myself back into my usual groove – and it's working. It feels great to push myself and to feel muscles again I forgot I had. We'll see, maybe I will redefine my 'self' again enough to feel “athletic” like I used to :)

Gluten free, yeast free, dairy free, (vegan even!) pizza crust :

We have two versions of this recipe – the first one is a thinner crust (the almond flour version) and the second one has a more bread-like texture, more like homemade pizza crust, but with less flavor (the garfava flour version). Neither one is going to be like pizza-house pizza (there's no yeast in this recipe!), but they are both delicious, relatively healthy, hold up to a lot of toppings, and are crispy on the bottom and edges.

1 cup tapioca flour

½ cup millet flour

½ cup sorghum flour

½ cup almond flour or (for more bread-like) garfava flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried basil

¾ cup water

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400F.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together and then add olive oil and water. Mix well. Knead the dough with your hands for a bit until even texture.

For regular pizza, form a ball and flatten on parchment paper. Pour some water into a small cup and wet the back of a large spoon to spread the dough out into a round disc, about ¼ inch thick, with slightly thicker edges. Re-wet the spoon as necessary. Top with your favorite toppings and bake for about 20-25 minutes.

For calzones, form two balls and place each on a piece of parchment paper. Spread out the dough as directed above. Place fillings in the center of the dough and, using the parchment paper, pull the sides of the dough together and pinch together with your fingers. The resulting calzone will be a half-circle shape. Slice a couple of air vents in the top of each calzone (to prevent bursting) and bake for about 20-25 minutes.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gluten free coconut muffins

Whoever said that necessity was the mother of all invention was certainly right – especially when it comes to my cooking. After making coconut milk ice cream on Friday, I ended up with about 1/3 cup coconut milk leftover, which I placed in a screw-top container and stored in the fridge.

It wasn't enough for making a curry, nor was it enough to use in a soup. However, I wondered what it might add to a muffin recipe.

As odd as it may seem, I developed this recipe around having this bit of coconut milk lurking in my fridge, but they turned out amazing! Every time I make ice cream from now on, guess what is going to follow?

Coconut flour has really become a favorite of mine for baked goods like muffins, cakes, scones, etc. It really gives them a great, soft texture, while still holding these tender baked goods together.

On a side note, please, if you have time, participate in my dissertation research (see note above). I need at least 300 participants and I only have 64 as of today :( Pass it on to your friends and family too!

Thank you so much!!

Coconut muffins:

1 cup brown rice flour

½ cup tapioca flour

¼ cup coconut flour

¾ cup millet flour

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 egg

1/3 cup coconut milk

¼ cup coconut oil

1 cup water

¼ cup agave nectar or honey

½ cup pecan pieces

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut ribbons

Toast the pecan pieces and coconut in a skillet for a few minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until coconut begins to brown and the whole mixture becomes fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl and create a well in the middle of the mixture. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl and pour into the well of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined and stir in pecans and coconut.

Scoop mixture into a prepared muffin tin.

Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Access, access, access

I came across a great example of what I touched on in my risotto post regarding access to food this morning while reading the Sunday Oregonian.

This article from today's Oregonian speaks well to the issues we have regarding access to healthy food options and illustrates why preaching to people about what constitutes healthy food does not make it any easier for them to access fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. It may encourage them to strategize around how they could increase fruit and vegetable consumption, but when you can reasonably only get to the grocery store once a month, you don't have access to those perishable items 3 of the 4 weeks in a month. It shows just how important the design of our cities, meaning where grocery stores are located in relation to housing, is in access to healthy food. This is no small issue and affects a large proportion of our population. It's another piece to the puzzle.

This woman's story takes place in a city in which public transportation is some of the best in the United States - imagine even fewer bus routes and less frequent service. Further imagine having food allergies and intolerances and being in this woman's shoes. Maybe some of you reading this are in that place...

Living in a Food Desert

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nine months later: gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream

I wore jeans yesterday - all day. And again today too.

No, I'm not talking about the difference between having to dress in office-wear versus home-casual. I'm not bragging that I don't have to wear business-casual. I'm talking about jeans feeling like home-casual; it's been a long time since jeans felt comfortable.

I used to suffer through wearing jeans or dress slacks while in public (at school or work) and then scurry home to put on sweat pants or workout pants (those with stretchy, giving fabric) so that my poor little belly would be comfortable. By the afternoon I would feel painfully bloated so that the jeans that had fit that morning felt like they had shrunk two sizes. And not to mention I would be so cranky and irritable that all I wanted was to be home.

I may be saying too much for some audiences...though many of you who are reading this site have been there and you are, by now, so used to talking about your former symptoms (even if only with close friends and family or with doctors), or hearing about others' symptoms that it doesn't even phase you.

Some of you, I imagine, stumbled upon my site through a google search for gluten free recipes or other information. Maybe you are suffering from a strange set of symptoms and you suspect you may be gluten intolerant, and, as I did, you are soaking up anything you can to determine what path to take and whether you may have to ditch glutenous foods.

I like to point out how my life has changed, what symptoms I am no longer experiencing because it helps me remember how far I've come. I am not completely healed, but I am getting there. And many would say I am nearly 100%. Did I mention I rowed in two 5K regattas last month?

Sometimes, though, I feel as if I maybe just awoke from a bad dream. I feel so healthier now that I “forget” what I used to feel like and I frequently “forget” that I still need to be super careful about what I eat. I bought a package of Trader Joe's rice cakes a couple of weeks ago, not looking at the package until I was already half-way through one of them – they are processed on equipment shared with wheat! Ugh - I paid for that one.

I also write these things because I want to make a difference for anyone who is, like I was, searching the internet for hours, searching for answers. I read countless people's stories; stories of their symptoms and their path from one healthcare provider to the next, until they finally got a diagnosis. Or, until they finally listened to their bodies, ignored the doctors who diagnosed them with “irritable bowl syndrome,” and started the gluten free diet.

I wrote a large part of my story in my original post on this site, called acceptance, for that person who might read themselves in my story, decide once and for all to try going gluten free, and discover what feeling normal and healthy feels like. And, eating gluten free doesn't just mean the elimination of symptoms. Untreated celiac disease can lead to anemia, malnutrition, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and even GI cancers, among other things.

What I would say to the former me is to not worry about the food part; you really don't have to “give up” or “go without” anything. In your own kitchen, the sky's the limit. And companies such as Pamelas and Thai Kitchen and Glutino are creating ready-made gluten-free versions of all of your favorites. More and more companies and restaurants are tailoring food just for us, right down to breweries that make gluten-free beer. Several gluten free bakeries are popping up all over the United States and many of us have access to freshly-baked gluten free scones, muffins, bread, pies, cookies, and brownies (to name a few!).

And, gluten-free bloggers are all over the internet, from all over the world, with stories and recipes and tips to keep your life sane.

Someday you will look back on your former life with wonder over what you put up with on a daily basis.

That is what I would say to my former self.

I realized today, while on my run, that next week marks nine months of gluten-free eating. Poor Ben had only been dating me 4 months when I called him, late, after hours of devouring information in chat forums and on various websites and blogs. My head was spinning. I had been crying, realizing what I had guessed was likely right, that I would have to “give up” gluten. I explained to him what I had discovered and he was more excited for me that I might have the answer than worried about the dietary restrictions. He said, “So, we'll eat gluten free.” I countered with, “I don't think you realize what this means – everything has gluten in it!” He refused to be phased by it and just simply stated that we will figure it out together. His support, and his help, really got me through those first few months. He called restaurants for me, before we met friends for dinner, to see what GF options they had available. He searched out GF products while grocery shopping for himself. He now has that automatic reflex of turning a product over, to read the label, as much as anyone who himself is gluten intolerant!

So, here's to celebrating 9 months of gluten free eating! Have some ice cream!

Gluten free, dairy free mint chocolate chip ice cream:

3 cups coconut milk (I used 1 ½ cups lite and 1 ½ cups full fat)

¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

1 Dagoba chocolate bar*

¼ cup agave nectar

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring coconut milk, peppermint extract, and agave to a strong simmer (but not a full boil). Stir constantly once it begins to audibly simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a bowl and let cool. Chill in the fridge until completely cold.

Meanwhile, chop your chocolate bar into small pieces or shave with a large-hole grater.

Remove the bowl form the fridge and remove any skin that has formed on the top. Process according to your ice-cream maker's directions. (I have to add the chocolate at the end, so add the chocolate according to your maker's directions).

*Most of the Dagoba bars say they “may contain trace amounts of milk protein.” If this is too much of a risk for your belly, use a bar or chips that are 100% dairy free, such as Enjoy Life brand.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spanish risotto

When I was in college, I created a Spanish-rice inspired casserole, which one of my friends (and roommate at the time) dubbed, “Lorenzo's Spanish casserole.” This was another one of those casseroles I could make on Sunday evening and eat all week for dinner, unless, of course, I was sharing with my roommates, which we often did. That casserole consisted of a box of Spanish rice mix (it came with white rice and a seasoning packet) and I threw in things like black beans or ground turkey, corn, black olives, bell peppers, and onion. I think it changed slightly each time, depending on what I had on hand and what I was craving. I would top each serving with a good dose of shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

I thought about this casserole the other day, when I was making a Spanish-inspired risotto. By no means was I basing the risotto on that previous dish, but as the rice started to soften, I looked down at the ingredients swirling around my wooden spoon, and the sight lit a small flash in my brain – a vague memory of the look and smell of Lorenzo's casserole.

I almost immediately smirked, thinking how far I've come from cooking something from a box. I not only usually CANNOT make things from a box, because manufacturers so often use glutenous substances as binders, but I realized I actually stopped making things from boxes well before I was diagnosed gluten intolerant. I couldn't stand the sodium content. And the unpronounceable ingredient list. They stopped tasting like food and felt plastic-y.

And I thought about that seasoning packet. Who knows what is in there? Now that I have so much fun playing with seasonings and learning what tastes fantastic together and wondering how it would taste if I just added a bit of cumin or something-or-other... I can't imagine throwing in a boxed seasoning packet, mindless, and unaware.

But, I cannot charge or blame anyone who cooks from a box or a package. My understanding of how fortunate I am to be able to afford to by-pass those cheaper, pre-made meals in favor of my own creations is just too great. I also far too well understand my good fortune of feeling confident in the kitchen and having the immeasurable resource of the internet at my fingertips, with it's vast array of cooking tips and techniques. Furthermore, I live in city with a farmers' market steps from my front door. Fresh produce, poultry, eggs, and cheese are just a few offerings abundantly available. Contrast this with some parts of this country where even the nearby grocery stores don't stock fresh produce.

My work in psychology and health often intersects on issues such as these, and I see how complex a problem it is, as well as how complex the solution needs to be. Improving the entire education system in the U.S., creating living-wage jobs, improving access to fresh produce, and even things like altering marketing practices to change what is considered “normal” eating habits – these all have to be part of the solution, among several other components. Until then, it will remain more practical, more affordable, and more comfortable for many people to cook from, and eat, packaged foods. Even I use canned beans more often than cooking my own.

All of that was swirling around in my mind, as I stirred and stirred my risotto.

I have been playing around with Spanish smoked paprika lately, since Ben moved in with a large jar of it. I added it to the yellow split pea soup I posted earlier (which I labeled “chili” for my own tomato-free imagination). So, when I decided to whip up a risotto for dinner the other night, I wondered what kind of a risotto would have smoked paprika? What else would I add?

Since risotto is traditionally Italian, it took some box-breaking, mentally, for me to think away from traditionally Italian ingredients.

I started out with a lot of minced garlic, some olive oil, and the smoked paprika. For some reason, I like kidney beans in my “Spanish” dishes lately – I think it's because of their red color. So, I opened a can of kidney beans. Following the beans came some good, Spanish olives...

I eventually created what I think is the best risotto I have ever made. It's flavorful and punchy. It keeps you guessing. It's not traditional – and I like that.

Spanish Risotto:

Use a good, deep stock pot or dutch oven for this - it helps prevent some of the broth from evaporating away. You will also want to use a good, comfortable wooden spoon, since you will be doing a lot of stirring. This recipe calls for cheese, which adds a lot of flavor to the dish, but it is just as delicious without it. The lovely thing about risotto is it's creamy texture, with or without any dairy product.

1 cup Carnaroli rice (this rice is the easiest to use if you are not an expert risotto maker, but you can also use Arborio, which is harder to get "right," but I think it is more easily found)
4 - 5 cups good broth (depending on how much evaporation you end up with)
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
ground black pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
dash cayenne pepper
1-2 tablespoons cilantro
1/2 can kidney beans
1/2 cup sliced Spanish olives
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1/2 cup hard cheese, shredded (such as zamorano or manchego)

Bring your broth to a simmer in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Keep it simmering at this heat until you have used it all.

In your large stockpot, heat a good dose of olive oil (it should well-cover the bottom of your pot) and saute your garlic for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes, until the edges of the rice become translucent. Add your paprika, some black pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper, and the cilantro. Stir to mix well.

Add a ladle-full of broth and stir until all of the broth is absorbed. Add another ladle-full and stir until absorbed. Continue this until all of the broth is used, or until the rice is tender, with just a tiniest bit of bite left.

Stir in the olives, beans, and green onion. Mix well and heat through. Add one last bit of broth, if needed.

Add the shredded cheese (optional) and stir.

Take the pot off of the burner and set aside, covered, to rest for about 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a skillet on the hot burner and toss in your pine nuts. Toast these over medium heat for a few minutes, until they start to turn color.

Either stir your pine nuts into the risotto, or use them as a garnish.

Garnish with additional green onion and shredded cheese, if desired.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cranberry cinnamon breakfast bars

Is there anything more calming and comforting than the warm scent of cinnamon?

This Fall, I have been cooking and baking a lot with cinnamon, especially in some combination with apples or cranberries. And the scent strikes me every time, as if I forgot in a matter of hours just how lovely it was.

This wonderfully sweet and spicy scent brings up all sorts of good feelings and all manner of memories.

I remember moving out here with former boyfriend, driving all the way from Minneapolis in a pick-up truck, with a temperamental trailer hitched to the back. In the middle-of-nowhere-Montana, we stopped for a quick lunch (PB sandwiches – clearly well before I ever suspected a gluten intolerance) at a large gas station. We pulled off to the side of the parking lot, ate our lunch, and watched the fierce wind whip flags on flagpoles, blow leaves off of trees, and kick up dust all around us. We declared this spot the windiest city in the United States (move over Chicago!). Though there were mountains in the distance, the land around us was mostly flat, and you could see for miles and miles.

Once we were ready to get going again, former boyfriend turned the keys in the ignition and the truck refused to start. At about the 100th try, we walked over to the pay phone on the side of the building to call AAA for a tow or a jump (which ever one was needed). On the brick wall, next to the pay phone, hung a small bat. Yes, a bat, the animal, not the sporting equipment. It was upside-down and apparently chose that spot for it's bed.

We waited and waited for AAA. I took pictures of the horse at the fence next to our truck. We went back to the pay phone to call AAA and saw the bat had slid slightly lower down the wall. I browsed the little gift shop adjacent to the gas station. The bat slid further. We waited some more.

By the time AAA came to tow us to Bozeman (nearly 100 miles away), to the dodge dealership, it was almost dinner time and the little bat was nearly on the ground. We were dropped at the dealership minutes before they closed and they informed us they wouldn't get to even look at our truck for another week.

We couldn't wait in Bozeman for an entire week.

We returned to the truck, which now sat paralyzed in the dealership parking lot. We got in and it started to rain. The lights turned down in the dealership. I cried. We didn't know where we were going to go. We weren't within walking distance to ANYTHING. The dealership had given us a number for a smaller garage in the city, so we found a pay phone, called the number, and waited.

The man who arrived wore coveralls and was smoking a pipe. In a matter of moments, he had us hitched to his tow truck, had called his wife to help us find a room for the night, and we were on our way. He dropped us off at the motel and said he'd call us in the morning.

Overly hungry, tired, and worried, we had dinner at the little restaurant next to the motel. Former boyfriend ordered a slice of pie for dessert and I, too upset to really eat much, ordered tea. Apple cinnamon tea.

The tea somehow comforted me. I slowly began to feel better.

First thing in the morning, the same man from the garage called us in our motel room. He said the AC compressor seized up, freezing the entire engine. He could by-pass the compressor with a different belt or replace the compressor. We opted for the alternative belt option. And, voila! We were on our way.

I have thought a lot about that man over the years and I can't help but marvel at his genuine concern for us, total strangers stuck in his town. He was likely at dinner with his family when we called, but he drove out, picked us up, and took care of us when we were at a point of not even thinking clearly enough to take care of ourselves. Who else would have thought to secure us a place to stay right away? We weren't even thinking that far ahead.

Former boyfriend and I are not religious, but as we drove away that morning, back on the road to Portland, former boyfriend asked me, “Did that man have wings on his back?” And we both thought, yes.

That experience is actually what got me to start drinking tea. On our first grocery store trip in Portland, I picked up some of that apple cinnamon tea, along with peppermint, and some others. I had a hard time sleeping those first few weeks and I remember sitting alone at the kitchen table in the middle of the night, with former boyfriend fast asleep in the bedroom, sipping my tea. It helped, somehow.

Memories like that first cup of apple cinnamon tea flit through my mind yesterday as the warm smell of cinnamon came wafting from the kitchen. I had created a way to use cranberries in a healthy breakfast bar and I was waiting to see how they would turn out.

They turned out just like I wanted: a mostly fruit- and nut-filled bar you can hold in your hand and eat on the go, if necessary. Something sweet, yet low in sugar and full of fiber, protein, antioxidants, iron, and other good stuff.

Cranberry cinnamon breakfast bar:

1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/3 cup teff flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp xanthan gum

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

¼ cup wide-ribbon, unsweetened coconut

¼ cup honey or agave nectar or brown rice syrup

1 egg

1 ½ cup buttermilk (any milk and a Tablespoon apple cider vinegar)*

1 cup diced apples

1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped in half or quarters

3 tbs coconut oil

Prepare an 8-inch square pan (for thicker bars) or a 9x12-inch pan (for thinner bars) by either greasing the pan or lining it with parchment paper. Trim the excess paper from the edges of your pan with your kitchen scissors. Preheat your oven to 375F.

Throw the chopped almonds and the coconut into a skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until the coconut begins to brown and the mixture is nice and fragrant. Remove from skillet and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients, including spices, until well blended. Add the milk, egg, honey, coconut oil, and vanilla and mix until just combined. Mix in the fruit, nuts, and coconut.

Press the mixture into your pan and bake at 375F for about 25-30 minutes until top begins to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


*To make buttermilk, take your favorite type of milk (moo cow or otherwise) and add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Set aside for about 10 minutes before adding to the rest of the ingredients.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yellow split-pea "chili"

Fog enveloped Portland all day today.

I worked from home today, busily typing away, creating syntax files. These syntax files will soon be used to analyze my dissertation data, once I finally have enough participants. It has been a long time coming, but I am finally collecting data.

The fog drifted in and out, but mostly stayed in. As I ate my lunch (a sandwich made from delicious home-made gluten-free bread!), I watched the fog swirl around and nearly hide the tops of the apartment towers nearby. It's been chilly and drizzly all week.

It seems like Portland has turned yet another, chillier, rainier corner.

I've been padding around lately in my slippers and big sweatshirts and sweaters, trying to keep warm. Even the cats have been tucking their noses under paws and tails to keep them warm, and Rosie hasn't left my side all day. Seriously – ALL DAY.

And, I am amazed I made it out on my run this evening. I looked outside at the growing darkness and the haze created by blowing mist and it looked daunting. Good thing I had friends waiting for me, expecting me. Once I was out there, the wind, rain, and even the hill were no big deal (at least until my knees started to whine at me). I am always amazed at how some of the most seemingly daunting tasks really are pretty easy, once you just bring yourself to do them.

I've been enjoying the return of hot tea season and the enormous variety of herbal teas in my tea cupboard. Ben just gave me my third cup of the day. Did you know, by the way, that Republic of Tea is certified gluten free? I did a little dance of joy at my desk when I discovered that. I love their teas and, of course, I own many.

I've also been enjoying the return of the soup season.

I cooked up a batch of yellow split-pea soup this week, which was one of those recipes that come out of desire to use up something I've had lurking in my cupboards for a while. These recipes are almost always an exercise in “what else do I have in my kitchen I should use up?” My answer this time was celery, green onion, and fontina cheese.

I really wanted this soup to be hearty. I really wanted a good substitute for the chili I cannot eat (tomatoes are no good to me right now). It turned out delicious enough to share. I'm calling it a "chili" only because it's my chili stand-in for now.

Yellow split-pea "chili":

2 cups dry yellow split peas, cleaned and rinsed well

3 cups water and bouillon (I use Herb-ox because it's gluten free and sodium free) or 3 cups broth
1 cup diced celery
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
black pepper
sea salt
1 can white beans (great northern or cannellini beans)
olive oil

Garnish each serving with (optional):
a sprinkling of additional paprika
about a tablespoon chopped green onion
a few small cubes of firm cheese (I used a Danish Fontina)
a few kalamata olives, chopped

Fill a large stock pot with water and add the peas. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn the heat down to simmer for about an hour, until peas are tender. Drain and set peas aside.

In the same pot, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions and celery. Add the garlic just as the celery and onions begin to soften and cook for a couple minutes more.

Add the water or the broth and bring to a boil. (add the bouillon here if that is what you are using). Reduce heat to a simmer and add the peas.

Ladle about 1/3 to 1/2 of the soup into your blender and blend until smooth. (You may have to do this in batches).

Return the blended soup to the pot and mix well. Add the beans and allow soup to simmer for a few minutes, to get everything nice and hot.

Season with the Spanish paprika and some freshly grated black pepper. Add sea salt, a bit at a time, until the flavors begin to come together.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the garnishes above.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Using gluten-free flours to adjust flavor and texture

Maybe I'm just a 'silver lining' kind of gal, but I think I'm pretty lucky to have been diagnosed gluten intolerant.

First and foremost, I now feel better than I have in years, and probably better than I've felt my whole life. I'm lucky that I found the source of my symptoms, and at such a relatively young age.

Additionally, my diagnosis forced me into the the kitchen like never before.

I loved to cook and bake in my previous life. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't want to believe a food intolerance or allergy could be at the root of my symptoms was because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to cook as freely or imaginatively as I wanted. I feared having to scrutinize my ingredients and, ultimately, having to leave certain things out. I worried I would never be able to cook for others, because I didn't want to serve an inferior product! (I laugh now, thinking that had been a concern!)

In fact, it turned out to be just the opposite.

If I had never been diagnosed gluten intolerant, I wouldn't know what agave nectar is. I wouldn't have figured out how easy it could be to make macaroni and cheese from scratch (I would still be struggling with that darned roux method). I wouldn't know the peppery-nutty flavor of amaranth at breakfast. I would probably never have ventured into the realm of baking with any flour besides wheat flour.

In this life, I have done more experimenting with ingredients than I ever had in my previous life.

One of my greatest discoveries is that you can change the texture and flavor of baked goods simply by changing the combination of flours you use. I feel now that wheat flour baking is really limited; bakers stuck in the rut of using only wheat flours can change liquids and fats and sugars in their baking, but are limited in what they can produce with plain wheat flour.

I have several different flours lined up in my cupboard and in my refrigerator, waiting, at the ready, to become delicious (and usually healthy) muffins, scones, cookies, and bread. I play with new ones as often as I can, curious to see how they operate in a recipe, in combination with other flours, and in combination with still different flours. I feel like I have made a million different batches of muffins over the past few months, each one slightly different in texture and flavor. I keep changing up the flour combinations and quantities.

After a lot of reading, and a lot of playing, I've started to develop a feel for what each flour lends to my baking. So far I've tried:

Coconut flour: It's slightly sweet, so it's perfect in sweet baked goods, especially if you aren't using a lot of sugar. It also creates a smooth, pillowy texture when used in small quantities, but it can be somewhat heavy if you use it as the dominant flour. I recommend increasing your liquids a bit when using this flour as a substitute for another in a pre-written recipe, because it absorbs moisture pretty readily. And, with 6 grams of fiber per 2 Tablespoon serving, it adds a lot of fiber to your baked goods.

Millet flour: This flour has fallen back into favor with me, especially in combination with coconut and sorghum flours. It creates a crumbly texture, which, when used exclusively with brown rice flour, creates gluten free baked goods many people complain about – they fall apart too readily. However, add this flour to a combination of tapioca, coconut, and sorghum flours for baked goods meant to be somewhat crumbly (e.g., pecan sandies, Russian teacakes, or scones) and voila! you get the perfect texture you were looking for! This flour, too, is high in fiber – 4 grams per ¼ cup.

Sorghum flour: I have read several gluten-free bloggers advise newly diagnosed individuals to avoid baked goods for a while, until their palate begins to forget what wheat-filled baked goods taste like. And, rightly so, since wheat, rye, and barley definitely have distinctive tastes that we probably even take for granted until we do not taste them anymore. They don't want the newly diagnosed to be out-right disappointed when the package of gluten-free cookies or their store-bought gluten free breads don't taste right. However, these products usually have rice flour and potato flour as their base, which means they don't really have taste at all. Sorghum flour probably most closely emulates wheat flour in taste and function (although it still doesn't have the ability to bind, because it's gluten free). It is a good, sturdy, and all-purpose flour and has become the taste of bread for me. This flour is relatively high in iron, supplying 8% of our daily needs in a ¼ cup, has 3 grams of fiber, and provides 4 grams of protein.

Teff flour: This is another flour that adds a cereal-like flavor to baked goods. It is made from the smallest grain in the world, and is super-fine as a flour. It is nearly as fine as a pure starch, like tapioca, and can sometimes be used as a thickener. However, unlike pure starches, it is really high in fiber (4g), protein (4g), and iron (13%) per ¼ cup. I use it to add flavor to savory baked goods as well as in breads. It has a unique ability to yield a smooth texture while also adding fiber. I have also read a lot of buzz about this grain on training websites (e.g., runners world), where they tout it's health benefits to those who are highly physically active.

Tapioca flour: It's also called “tapioca starch” so that should give you some idea of what it's like. It's a pure starch, nothing but empty calories. However, it does a lot for gluten free baked goods and has become a staple in my pantry since I have to avoid corn and potatoes as well. It helps to bind gluten free baked goods, gives them a bit of 'sticky' mouth-feel (if you use a lot and that is what you are going for, such as with potstickers), and provides the nice firm crust typical of gluteny baked goods. Even though tapioca is completely devoid of nutrition, I almost always add it to my baked goods in small quantities in order to get that golden crust. I also use it as a thickening agent for sauces (in place of cornstarch or potato starch) and in my fruit crisps (mixed with the fruit and in the topping).

Almond flour: This flour is pure, ground almonds, so it naturally adds a nutty flavor and a good amount of protein (6 grams per ¼ cup). It's primary benefits are the rich flavor it adds to everything and its almost moist spongyness (yes, I made up that word). It is very versatile; you can almost throw a small amount of almond flour in the place of any flour to enhance the flavor and nutritional value and you will get great results. It is also great in pastries and crackers. I have yet to use large amounts of it in my baked goods (aside from the financiers), since it is incredibly expensive.

Garbanzo and Fava bean flour (a.k.a. GaFava flour): This flour is ground from garbanzo and fava beans, which means it is really high in fiber (6g), low in carbohydrates (18g), and high in protein (6g), per ¼ cup. It also provides 10% of your daily value of iron. On the positive side, it's really healthy and lends a pliability to baked goods, such as wraps. However, it tastes like beans. So, if you don't like or want the taste of beans in your baked goods, either use very little of it or make sure your recipe is filled with other, stronger flavors to cover up the beany taste.

White and brown rice flour: These flours are the most common substitutes for wheat flour in gluten-free cooking, however, they are pretty devoid of nutrition and are pretty starchy. Not to mention, they are pretty flavorless. Also, they can be somewhat grainy, especially if they are not ground fine enough; in contrast to coconut flour, which is a moisture absorber, rice flour doesn't absorb liquid as quickly, so baked goods using strictly rice flours can be very grainy and crumbly. However, they can be used as a relatively inexpensive base flour, in combination with some of the other gluten free flours. I often use rice flour as a 'base' because I cannot afford to use others, such as sorghum. Also, given they are relatively tasteless, they provide a nice blank flavor canvas with which you can play.

As you can see, I could never play around with flavor and texture this much with just wheat flour, and I likely wouldn't have even thought about using any of these flours if I hadn't been diagnosed gluten intolerant.

I have several more to try, such as buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa, and I look forward to discovering what these flours have to offer as well.

As an example of what difference a few flours make, I have been playing around with baking bread. I have to give serious credit to Kate over at gluten free gobsmacked, who came up with a sandwich bread recipe that is the best I've ever seen.

It does not crumble. It sits on the counter for days and does not harden. It has magical powers. (okay, not really, but it feels like it). I had given up baking my own bread because I was tired of being disappointed. Every recipe I tried was an exercise in clearing out an entire day, complicated directions, and expensive ingredients, all that ended up with disappointment.

I tried Kate's recipe for pepita-powered bread after reading the recipe 100 times and hearing great reviews from other readers. I did a little happy dance as soon as I cut into it. It didn't just “suit it's purpose” it was GOOD!

However, I'm the kind of girl who used to eat whole wheat bread you could sand wood with. My favorite bread is German seeded bread. And this bread was pretty close to white bread in its consistency. Nutritionally, it was great, but consistency-wise, it's similar to white bread.

So, armed with my gluten-free flour knowledge, I made some tweaks. It's still soft, but a bit sturdier and more textured, perfect for my German-girl roots.

See how the type of flour changes the results?

(This is the turkey sandwich I had for lunch today, complete with cranberry sauce, spinach, zucchini slices, and a good goat cheese.)

I don't want to post her recipe, since it is her genius, but you can find the recipe at the link above and I will detail what I did to make it the tougher kind of bread I like:

I followed her recipe exactly, except I used 1/2 cup sorghum flour and a 1/4 cup teff flour in place of the millet flour. I also used only 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast (I need to watch the amount of yeast I ingest) and used 1/4 cup of raw honey in place of the brown sugar. Since my sweetener is liquid, I reduced the water by a 1/4 cup (at the end). Oh, and since I don't have a cooking thermometer, I just baked it for the full 45 minutes and that seems to be perfect every time.

Now that you've seen an example, and are armed with the extent of my knowledge, I encourage you to enjoy playing with some different flours, learn how they work for you, and make your baked goods your own!