Monday, December 21, 2009

Go ahead honey its gluten free: Chewy ginger chocolate cookies

The story of these cookies start with playing cards at a friend's. Okay, not really cards, but a scrabble word play poker game Ben picked up at the store a while back, on a whim.

Dare I risk digressing by mentioning I am not a card-game or board-game kind of gal, though once I begin to play, I surprise myself by actually enjoying it. I inexplicably defy Marti Seligman and his learning theory of punishment and rewards when it comes to card and board games....

But what were you saying about the cookies, you ask? Oh yes, where was I? Ben and I brought this card game over to a friend's a few weeks ago and while we drank red wine, talked and joked, and, while we played our hands, Erin watched from the kitchen.

When things really started to heat up and we began betting with Lego bricks (oh yeah, we were living dangerously that night), Erin emerged from the kitchen with a plate of ginger chocolate cookies and sat down to join the game. They were not gluten free by any means, so I unfortunately could not tell you empirically how good they were, but according to the chorus of approving moans and groans, I can tell you they were pretty awesome. Ben ate one as 'research' so that he could let me know how my gluten free version (should I attempt one) compares to the gluten-filled version.

Now, how can I back down from a challenge like that? I took Erin's recipe and baked the gluten free version yesterday. Or, should I say, yesterday, I baked the best chewy ginger chocolate cookies ever.

Really, they are the best you will ever taste.

... I'll even bet you 6 Lego bricks on that one.

Happy holidays to you all!   This is my entry in this month's go ahead honey its gluten free round-up, hosted by Stephanie of Gluten Free by Nature with the theme of holiday cookies.  Be sure to check out her site at the end of the month for everyone's submissions!

Mmmm... just look at those delicious little crackles in the top of the cookies and the big sparkles of sugar :)

Chewy ginger chocolate chip cookies
These turn out wonderfully crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. You could use regular grain sugar to roll them in, instead of the Turbinado, but the large grain sugar really makes these amazing.  By the way, I am finding that quinoa flour really does the trick in keeping gluten free cookies tasting fresh after a number of days.  These are awesome right out of the oven and stay great on the counter or in the refrigerator for a number of days.

3/4 cup Sorghum flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon quinoa flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tablespoon ground cocoa (unsweetened)

1 stick butter
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp boiling water
7 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate in chips or chunks

1/4 cup Turbinado sugar (for rolling)

Sift together: flours, xanthan gum, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cocoa.

With a mixer beat butter and fresh ginger for about 4 minutes, add brown sugar until combined, then add molasses until combined

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water.

Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking soda mixture,then remaining half of flour mixture.

Mix in chocolate; turn onto plastic wrap. Pat out to 1-inch thickness, seal with wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and roll each ball through a bowl of the turbinado sugar. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets ( use parchement paper or spray with butter). Refrigerate baking sheets with cookies for about 10 minutes, then slide into oven and bake about 12-15 minutes.

Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Feta

If you haven’t already figured out how strange I am, the fact that I love Brussels sprouts might just be the bit of information you need.  I am well aware of most people’s disdain for them, and I accept that most would find my love for them at the very odd end of the spectrum. 

However, I am convinced those who dislike Brussels sprouts have never snapped them off the stalk, cut them into quarters, and roasted them in the oven with olive oil.

Most people’s experience with Brussels sprouts begins by opening the freezer door and cutting open a plastic bag.  No wonder they find these little, green, mini-cabbage-like veggies a turn-off.  No matter how you prepare frozen Brussels sprouts, they just don’t compare to cutting them up fresh and roasting them until the edges get just a bit crisp and the middles are tender. 

After indulging in far too much ham, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie this weekend, I threw together this simple little meal Sunday night, something I made up on the fly with things in our fridge that desperately needed using.  Miles Davis provided the background music as I chopped veggies and apples and tossed them into a baking dish with a little olive oil and a smattering of spices.  We sat down to a warm, satisfying plate of my vegetable-fruit creation and Ben and I agreed we needed to remember this one.

And, it just might convince even the staunchest non-Brussels-sprout fans that there is something to like.

Roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and feta
The amounts do not matter that much here, just cook as much as you are going to eat.  Even though I’m a big fan of Brussels sprouts, they do loose some of their luster as leftovers – growing a bit bitter.

What you need:
Brussels sprouts, quartered
One or two medium apples, diced
One or two handfuls of walnut or pecan pieces
Splash apple cider vinegar
Olive oil
Dash rosemary
1 tsp or so ground coriander
1 tsp or so sea salt
Feta cheese

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.  Use a dish that is large enough so that the veggies and apples are in a single layer as much as possible.

Toss your chopped veggies and apples into the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Add the splash of apple cider vinegar. Stir a bit to mix in the oil.

Sprinkle the spices and salt over the top, evenly.  Toss the walnut or pecan pieces evenly over the top. 

Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until sprouts are soft and just beginning to brown. 

Divide among plates and top with a tablespoon or so crumbled feta cheese.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gluten free pumpkin spice mini cakes

I laid in bed this morning, just as the sun was coming up, listening to the tick-tick-tick of rain against the window and the lightly-high-pitched sound of rain draining through the downspout outside.  I have always felt grateful that I have a roof over my head, but now as a homeowner, I am keenly aware of how grateful I am to have a roof over my head that has relatively new shingles and gutters that are properly attached. 

I was thinking contentedly of this as I heard Ben, who got out of bed a few minutes before, in the kitchen feeding the cats.  I rolled over, turning towards the kitchen and listened to him talking with Dewey as he divided the wet food among three small plates (our attempt to make sure Dewey gets his fair share of breakfast). 

“Merrrr-ooowww!” cries Dewey.

“What’s that Dewey?  Little Jimmy fell into the well?”  I hear Ben say, intonating as if he lived in a Lassie movie.

“Rrrrr-ooowww?” is Dewey’s reply.

“Oh, we better hurry, huh boy?”

This morning’s rendition of cat-feeding-theater was particularly humorous and I enjoyed a satisfying giggle, laying there under the warm comforter, feeling happy, content, and fortunate.  I lingered there a pair of minutes more, but as soon as I heard Ben snap off the burner, pick up the pot of water and pour it into the French press, I knew it was time to get up.  Someone else making coffee is about the best reason ever to get up on Sunday morning.

We enjoyed our coffee, slowly, and talked about what we had on tap for the day.  Me?  Off to the artist’s market with a friend, bake pumpkin cakes, organize bills and paperwork, plant tulip bulbs (I hope I’m not too late!), and rake the yard (finally!).  Ben?  Off to get Christmas lights for outside, stain and seal the shoe rack he built, insulate the downstairs windows, clean the gutters, and fix the furnace filter.  To name a few. 

Needless to say, we were busy today. 

And, for those of you who are keeping track - after dinner, after we devoured our pumpkin-cake dessert, Ben asked, “Are you sure we can’t put up the Christmas tree tonight?”

I laughed.  Now he’s just pushing my buttons.

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and I hope you are surrounded by loved ones and lives for which you are all grateful.  I know I am.  

Pumpkin spice mini-cakes
These cakes are so moist and delicious!  I did them with chocolate chips, but you could throw in some pecans instead or maybe coconut ribbons. They would be great without any add-ins and maybe with vanilla, chocolate, or cream-cheese frosting. 

1 cup Sorghum flour
½ cup Tapioca flour
½ cup Millet flour
½ cup sweet white rice flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 ½ T baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground clove
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 cup pureed pumpkin
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ cup “butter milk” (any milk + a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice – see note)

Optional add-ins:
1/3 to ½ cup chocolate chips, pecans, coconut, or anything else your little heart desires.

Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease with butter and rice flour.  Heat oven to 350F.

Mix dry ingredients and blend well.  Add pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, agave, butter, and “buttermilk.”  Stir to mix well. 

Spoon into muffin cups and smooth tops with the back side of a spoon if you wish (I usually fill a measuring cup with water and dip the spoon into the water so it doesn’t stick to the dough).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly golden brown.

Cool for a few minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.


Note:  to make “buttermilk,” pour a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and then add any kind of milk (hazelnut, coconut, almond, rice, regular moo cow, etc) to make ½ cup milk.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gluten free apple crisp

I have been wanting to share this recipe with you for almost a week. I’m home sick with what is likely the dreaded flu (H1N1), though it appears I have a very mild case. It feels like I slept for almost all of yesterday and then slept like a rock last night for about 12 hours. Today I feel almost normal. Hooray for that!

The cats have gotten some special mama time while I’ve been home, especially Rosie, who sleeps by my side always (when she’s not cruising the kitchen counters for kitchen scraps we forgot to clean up). And Zora and Dewey have been the Happiest Cats Ever, sleeping soundly on the new sofa bed we put in our recently-put-together television/guest room (we now have a television-free living room - it is awesome!).

Although I’ve shared another crisp recipe on this site, I am particularly pleased with how the topping on this turned out. I’m definitely a crisp-topping girl – don’t get me wrong, the fruit also needs to be delicious, but the topping is really what sells me on a fruit crisp of any kind. We ate this crisp for dessert last week… and breakfast Saturday morning!

Next week is Thanksgiving! I have felt behind all year on the seasons, but I’m taking the time this week to mentally prepare for the celebration of gratitude and the tradition of food that goes along with it. If you are having gluten free guests at your home, check out my post last year on cooking gluten free around the holidays. Also, don’t assume the turkey is gluten free – just like any other meat, if it has been pre-injected with sodium preparations or broths, it might not be gluten free.

By the way, if you live in the Portland, Oregon area, check out New Cascadia Traditional for gluten free pies, bread (for stuffing), rolls, and other delicious gluten free baked goods. They are accepting pre-orders for such things right now, so give them a call! If you are not in the Portland area, check out Whole Foods – they have a number of frozen gluten free pie shells, pre-made pies, scones, rolls, and many other gluten free baked goods in their bakery department. These certainly take the guesswork out of gluten free baking!

Next week also marks the start of the Christmas season and Ben’s long-awaited favorite time of year. Seriously, I had to make the rule that we don’t put up the tree until the day after Thanksgiving and he has been counting down the days. Soon our home will be filled with green and red and twinkling little lights! I am looking forward to a fire in the fireplace with stockings hanging from the mantle and a hot cup of apple-cinnamon tea!

Gluten free apple crisp


3 medium-sized apples, sliced

2 tsp vanilla

2 tablespoons raw sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

dash of allspice

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mix the above ingredients in an 8x8 baking dish (mix well to evenly distribute spices and sugar). Spread to evenly fill dish.


1 cup gluten free oats

½ cup tapioca flour

¼ cup millet flour

¼ cup raw sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp allspice

½ tsp nutmeg

1/3 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces

handful pecans or walnuts (optional)

Mix your oats, flours, spices, sugar, and nuts (optional) until well-blended. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles course crumbs. Spoon over apples, evenly covering the fruit.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until topping is slightly golden.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sausage and apple-stuffed pumpkin

We have certainly settled into our new home, I thought, as I walked from the grocery store, down our street to our house. It feels like home. I know a place feels familiar when the automatic pilot turns on and leads me there without actual brain input. We have only been living here for about two and a half months and I wonder what it will feel like years from now. Five years from now? Ten?

I mentioned this to Ben that night after dinner and he smiled, with a look that said, “It could only be wonderful.” Christmases with a fire in the fireplace and stockings hanging on the mantle, evenings with friends eating good food and drinking good wine in the dining room, summers in the backyard garden tending to vegetables…we will see many of these in our new home over the coming years. Feeling settled, to know we will be here years from now, in this same house, is a feeling unfamiliar to both of us in recent years, but it indeed feels wonderful. Although we have what feels like an endless list of “things” we want to do in the house (install a fan in the bathroom, for example), we are certainly taking the time to savor and enjoy this part of our lives and anticipate all that is to come.

Right now, our street is littered with leaves, all of the leaves having fallen off the trees at the same time, or so it seems. We are preparing for our first winter season in our new home, and our first holiday season. (I broke down and bought a package of red apple-cinnamon-scented tea-lights a couple of weeks ago, despite my resolve to not indulge in Christmas things before Thanksgiving has passed. I blame Ben – he just gets so excited about Christmas! If it were up to him, our tree would be up in September.) I got a little nervous when I read we have a pumpkin shortage this year, on account of the spoiled fields out east, but I came across a large display of canned pumpkin at the grocery store this past weekend and a little voice inside my head cried, “hooray!” I know, I know, freshly roasted pumpkin tastes much better, but the canned stuff is pretty darn good and you can’t beat the convenience with a stick.

About this time last year, I made pumpkin scones and I have been waiting to find the canned pumpkin in the stores to make them again! I bought four cans. I am in pumpkin heaven. But maybe I should go to the store later tonight and get more…I think I have an obsession.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking with whole pumpkins prior to this – au contraire! Well, you all know about the pumpkin soup I made for last month's Go Ahead Honey it’s Gluten Free round up. I also made stuffed pumpkins for dinner last week and got rave reviews from Ben. I certainly know what we will be eating each fall for the years to come!

Sausage and apple-stuffed pumpkin

1 small sugar pumpkin

2 sausages, sliced (I am digging Al Fresco’s roasted red pepper and asiago chicken sausage)

1 small apple, diced

½ cup pecan pieces


Real maple syrup

Wash and dry the pumpkin and stick it in the microwave for about a minute (this makes it a tad easier to cut). Remove the stem and slice in half. Scoop out the seeds (and save to roast later) and pulp.

Place pumpkin halves cut-side down in a baking dish with about ¼ inch of water and bake at 350 for 40 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of your pumpkins). Mine took about an hour – they should be really soft.

Remove pumpkins from the oven and turn them over in the dish so the cut side is now up. Place a couple small dots of butter inside the cavities and drizzle with maple syrup. Divide the sausage slices, diced apple, and pecans evenly between the two pumpkin halves. Fill each pumpkin half with the apple and sausage, then place the pecans on top. Drizzle a bit with more maple syrup, if desired.

Bake for an additional 20 minutes, until the pecans are good and toasty and you can’t stand the delicious smell any longer!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pumpkin soup and playing catch-up with the season

As you can see, we are a bit behind on our raking duties. It seems like we have been a bit behind on the seasons all year, though. Is it October already? Indeed the leaves falling on our lawn won't let us forget.

Oh wait, it's nearly November!

This year has been flying by, dear readers. A pair of weekends ago weekend Ben and I traveled back to the town where I grew up for my 10 year high school reunion. (I know writing this outs me on my age, but there you have it - I'm, relatively speaking, pretty young!). Ben and I took a day and headed to my old stomping ground in South Minneapolis to tour the galleries of the newly renovated and expanded Walker Art Center. Some of you might know this area of town for the famous sculpture garden nearby (yes, the one with the cherry and the spoon).

Afterwards, I remembered how close we were to the French Meadow Bakery, which has always had a famous to-die-for bakery case, and I had heard recently they began offering a selection of gluten free baked goods. Needless to say, we stopped in for a cup of joe and a sweet treat.

Their gluten free offerings were all pre-packaged and well-labeled. That day, they had a choice of a brownie, a chocolate chip cookie, and an apple-cinnamon muffin. I chose the brownie, of course, because I wanted some chocolate and felt the need to compare it to the Betty Crocker brownie I made earlier in the month. The French Meadow Bakery brownies were awesome. Period. Really nothing more to say about them, except I wish their cafe was here in Portland! They do offer online ordering and list several stores in Portland that supposedly sell their products, but I haven't found the gluten free items in two of those stores (but, many more stores can be visited and phone calls can be made!).

In our farm share this past month, we have received a number of sugar pie pumpkins and we inadvertently grew a pair of small ones in our front yard (planted there by previous owners, we're guessing). So, when handed pumpkins, what does one make?

Well, we made pumpkin soup. And it was good.

This is my entry in this month's "Go ahead honey it's gluten free" event (started by Naomi at Straight into bed cakefree and dried), which is being hosted by Heather over at Life Gluten Free. The theme is pumpkin treats! Check out her round up!

Pumpkin soup

1 medium-sized sugar pie pumpkin

1/2 small onion, diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp gound cloves

olive oil

coconut milk or half and half

toasted pecans

grated Parmesan cheese

ground black pepper

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds (save them and roast them after dinner!). Place pumkin halves cut side down in a baking dish and add water to the dish until the water covers the bottom of the dish about an 1/8 inch high.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 40-50 minutes until soft. Allow to cool and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.

Saute diced onion with some olive oil in a large soup or stock-pot until they become translucent. Add the broth, pumpkin, and spices. Stir well to mix.

Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, until heated through and somewhat cooked-down. Blend in a blender until smooth.

On each serving, drizzle some coconut milk (or half-and-half), and sprinkle with pecans, cheese, and pepper.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh Betty!

Sunday morning I pushed a cart up and down the grocery aisles wondering where all the people came from. Where I grew up, the phrase, "Before church lets out," meant something. Primarily, it meant that if you get your errands done Sunday morning before noon (a.k.a., when church 'let out' for the day), you would enjoy less traffic in the stores and in general. It was usually our goal to get things done before this time ran out.

Around here, this doesn't really mean much apparently. Sunday morning at the grocery store was pretty busy. I tried to tuck briefly into the baking aisle to pick up some paper muffin cups (Ben appreciates the ease of clean-up when I use these to bake muffins or cupcakes) and was forced to make my way down the entire aisle because traffic blocked any sort of quick duck-out.

Imagine my surprise as I sped past the baking mixes when I saw the words, "Gluten Free," in big, red print on a row of baking mixes. These were the much talked about, but yet to transpire, Betty Crocker Gluten Free baking mixes. I couldn't resist slowing down, stopping, and picking up the packages to examine them more closely.

The ingredient list indicated the primary flour in the mixes was rice flour. I should have you know I am weary of any gluten free baked good that relies primarily on rice flour because they are usually grainy and not so flavorful. This particular store stocked the vanilla cake, chocolate chip cookie, and brownie mixes. They were about $4 a box, which is less expensive than Pamelas or Bob's red mill (at around $6 a mix), but more expensive than their 'regular' mixes, which come in between $1.50 and $2. They are made in a dedicated GF facility. Even though I knew they were likely to be not that great, considering their reliance on rice flour, I HAD to try one.

It was maybe the novelty of it (I haven't eaten a Betty Crocker product in over a year at least) and mostly curiosity that made me do it. I chose to purchase the brownie mix. I have heard it is hard to screw up gluten free brownies and I haven't eaten a brownie in over a year either. I have yet to attempt to bake gluten free brownies. And, heck, at least the ingredients were pronounceable!

So, Betty came home with me that day and sat proudly on the kitchen counter for about two days. I took pictures of her. Then I baked.

First of all, the batter is easy to throw together. It only fills an 8x8 pan, however. I figured the toughest thing to replicate would be the brownie top - you know, that flaky, crispy top? These did that just fine. I was a tad disappointed with the rest of the texture and the flavor. The texture was a bit too gummy. Brownies are supposed to be chewy, I know, but these were somewhat different...almost like they seemed too unnatural. And the flavor - the little chocolate chips definitely saved these brownies because without them, I think they wouldn't really be flavorful at all.

I think people forget that wheat flour has taste and rice flour does not. When you rely on rice flour as the primary substitute for wheat flour, the flavor suffers. You really have to include other flours or other flavors to make up for it.

I'm not sure how much of my distaste for the brownies comes from simply baking from a mix (don't home-made baked goods always taste better than ones from mixes?) or my lack of other gluten-free brownie-eating in the past year or ? Perhaps Betty has some more work to do before her mixes are up to par with what we expect.

In any case, they were "good enough" brownies, especially for those looking for a familiar brand and for those baking for gluten-free loved ones who don't want to invest a lot of money in various flours to bake from scratch (If you are in this category be sure your pan is clean and don't use old scratched-up pans or silicone pans, which harbor gluten. You can always line your pans with aluminum foil or parchment paper if you have any cleanliness worries. You can read more here for baking and cooking for others). They are also incredibly fast and "good enough" for those who have little interest in investing lots of time to their baking.

Have you tried any of the other Betty Crocker Gluten Free mixes? What did you think of them?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Applesauce raisin cake

I realized something the other day, as I was cutting up potatoes and yet another batch of carrots pulled from our garden, something that has been on the edge of my consciousness for a while now but hasn't yet been fully articulated in my mind. Since I began eating gluten free, I have become so much more aware of food - where it comes from, how it is grown, and politics surrounding access to and cultivation of it.

I've become so much more excited about growing my own food, baking and cooking from scratch, and, recently, pickling and canning the harvest. I've also noticed that I'm not alone in this.

I read a fair number of gluten free blogs and have noticed the trend towards a heightened awareness around what one puts in one's mouth. At first thought, this makes sense because those of us who have to eat gluten free are much safer when we eat things we have prepared ourselves, using whole ingredients. If we don't know the source or method of manufacture of a food product, most of us are hesitant to subject our bodies to gluten-roulette or be the guinea pig of the "does this food have gluten" experiment. Thus, as a rule, food prepared by others is always suspect (unless, of course, they know and love us and take good care of our health by keeping the gluten far, far away!).

Delving a little deeper into understanding, I would even go so far as to say that I tend to avoid even non-gluteny ready-made foods now more so than ever if they have unintelligible ingredients. Because, heck, my body needs some TLC and why would I go to such lengths to treat it well by avoiding gluten and then turn around and harm it with chemically-processed anything? That just seems to defeat the purpose. By the way, I learned last night that the sugar substitute Equal is an effective ant-killer because they are attracted to the sweet taste, but the chemicals kill them. What does it do to our bodies then?

But the thing that really dawned on me the other day was this thing called control. This thing called "internal locus of control" has been a favorite topic for many researchers in psychology (and credit needs to be given to Rotter who is often cited as the originator of this concept). In a nutshell, mounds and mounds of research has evidenced that the more control one feels over one's life, the happier, healthier, and generally better off one is. According to this research, some people generally feel they have control over the trajectory of their lives; if they work towards something, they will one day see the positive rewards of their hard work. Others tend to feel that no matter what they do, the world has more control over what happens to them. Those who genuinely believe they control their life experiences are happier and healthier as a whole. This can also be true for situation-specific sense of control. For example, one thing we can all relate to is feeling a sense of control over one's work day. Are you told when to take your breaks? Are you told not only what to do but how to do it? This low-control environment makes for generally unhappy employees while they are at work.

Now imagine you are told you have a disease in which your body's immune system is attacking itself and the best way to cure your symptoms and heal your body is to avoid a protein called gluten that you can't visibly see in some foods (outside of the obvious) or on cook surfaces. And American food manufacturers seem to put it in all sorts of things under all sorts of names and restaurant staff may or may not pay attention to cross contamination or understand what gluten is...

Woah. Suddenly the blissful ignorance of what went into food others made for you feels dangerous and the steps you have to take to understand your illness and eat safely feels overwhelming - and you want control. By taking action and learning as much as you can about food - the one thing that will heal you - you regain a sense of control over a part of your life that feels out of control. And this sense of control over your diet makes coping with the illness much easier.

I remember in my earlier gluten free days, I would "treat" myself to an expensive item I wouldn't normally buy or try a new product each time I went to the grocery store just for the sake of doing it, because I could. I would pick out an expensive cheese or olive oil or I would try a new vegetable or fruit. It was my way of feeling like I could say "yes" to something new or interesting or fun when I had to say "no" to so many of the other products that lined the grocery store shelves. It made me feel more in control of what was in my fridge.

More importantly, though, I became obsessed with reading about celiac disease, gluten free cooking, and food in general. At first it was intimidating, but it quickly felt freeing; knowledge removed the feeling of suffocation and enabled me to act. Now that Ben and I grow some of our vegetables, get almost all of the rest of our fruit and vegetables directly from the farmer who grows them, cook the majority of our meals at home from scratch, take care to pay attention to stainability in food production, and have begun canning and preserving, I feel in control of the food that I eat and, as a result, in control over my health.

I have never felt so good.

This is the cake I made for Ben's birthday this year (less fancy than the one I made last year, but still totally delicious). It's a cake his mom used to make and I adapted it to make it gluten free! We served it topped with real whipped cream, but you could certainly frost it if you like (cream cheese frosting would probably be delicious with this). I made the cake again in cupcake form this past weekend...but I would recommend sticking to the cake version unless you are able to make 16 cupcakes at a time. I only have a 12-muffin tin and had a bit of batter leftover, even after over-filling the wells. As you can see, the cake is very moist and stays that way for quite a few days in the fridge!

Applesauce raisin cake

2 cups brown rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup potato starch
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons nutmeg
1½ cups turbinado sugar
1½ cups applesauce
2 teaspoon baking soda (stirred into applesauce)
1 cup raisins
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 eggs
½ cup any milk (hazelnut, almond, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (with rice flour) your cake pan(s). You can use a 9x13 cake pan or two 8-inch pans.

Mix dry ingredients (except raisins) until well blended. Stir in applesauce, eggs, milk, and butter.

Fold in raisins and pour into prepared cake pan(s). Use a spoon or spatula to spread to edges.

Bake for about 25 minutes for 8-inch pans, or about 35 minutes for 9x13 pan. Cake should turn golden on top and when a toothpick is inserted into center, it will come out clean.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I want you all to know we have not fallen off the face of the Earth. We have, in fact, gotten closer to the Earth.

We’ve moved, that is. Down from the 9th floor of a downtown apartment tower to a house.

A home.

A home in a quaint little neighborhood with parks nearby, bike lanes aplenty, and a farmer’s market within a mile. We couldn’t be more ecstatic. Ben has a painting studio, each cat has a room of one’s own (seriously, we joked there were enough rooms for one cat per room and they indeed each claimed a room), and I have a kitchen that functions! Best of all, the ground is right where it should be, just outside the windows, waiting for us to plant in the spring. It’s our own space to eat dinner in the backyard and build a fire pit and plant as many fruit trees as we see fit.

We’re in heaven, ironically, now that we are closer to the earth.

From our container garden, which has now exploded onto our yard, we've harvested some of our figs and our carrots keep on coming!

And, I have been cooking and baking and taking pictures, but instead of posting them and sharing stories from our lives, I’ve been packing, making decisions, unpacking, making more decisions, making still more decisions, cleaning, making more decisions, and celebrating. Our farm share has been providing us with an abundance of vegetables the past month and we have been using them well.

This is what Ben made us for lunch this past weekend. A colorful Greek salad with vegetables from our farm share - just look at the pretty tri-color cherry tomatoes! They were so sweet and delicious!

Right about now you are probably sick of trying to come up with ways to use all of that zucchini you got from your neighbor, the farmers market, or your own garden. Well, I have a little secret – I honestly could never get tired of zucchini and I am always coming up with new ways to eat it, even if some “new” ways aren’t that different from other ways :)

In the past few weeks we have been blessed with lots of zucchini, including donations from a friend whose garden is exploding in vegetables right now. We made two dishes using shredded zucchini – one inspired by a dish Ben had at a restaurant when he lived in Maryland and another is what I call the lazy version of that dish. I will share with you the lazy version and you can make it the not-lazy version as you wish. I call the lazy version zucchini pie and the not lazy version zucchini cakes. So sweet they are.

Zucchini Pie
This is a great base recipe; feel free to add or change what you want. You can add artichoke hearts or kalamata olives or spinach… the options are endless. If you want to be not lazy, shape the mixture into balls and flatten onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, to make cakes. You can fry them up as well and serve with fried eggs!

What you will need:
About 2 cups of shredded zucchini
½ of a red onion, shredded
4-5 small-ish potatoes, shredded
½ a block of feta cheese, cut into ¼ to ½-inch chunks
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup sorghum or millet flour
1 egg
¼ cup almond flour
2 tsp sea salt
Garlic, pepper, and basil to taste

9-inch pie plate

Begin by greasing your pie plate with the butter.

Place the shredded zucchini into your colander in your sink. Mix in the sea salt and let sit for about 10-15 minutes and allow water to drain. With a big spoon, push down on the zucchini to squeeze out water. Wait a few more minutes (go and check your email or something to distract yourself). Squeeze some more water out. Then mix in the shredded potato, onion, pine nuts, sorghum flour, egg, and seasonings. Then stir in all but a few of the feta chunks.

Spoon the mixture into your pie plate and flatten with the back of your spoon. Sprinkle the almond flour on top. Mash down the remaining feta chunks with a fork and sprinkle over the almond flour.

Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes. You may need to loosely cover with aluminum foil if it begins to brown too much.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

There will be snacks (and pickles)

I know we're gonna meet someday
In the crumbled financial institutions of this land

There will be tables and chairs

Pony rides and dancing bears

There'll even be a band

'Cause, listen, after the fall
There'll be no more countries

No currencies at all

We're gonna live on our wits

Throw away survival kits

Trade butterfly knives for adderal

And that's not all -- Woah!

There will be snacks, there will

There will be snacks

There will be

There will be snacks!

I've had this song by Andrew Bird in my head for days now (above is an excerpt). And I've been so intrigued by its lyrics - the air-balloon lightness of some words couple with the lead-weighted seriousness of the topic, like the comic relief in a tragic Shakespearean play. Some lines really get to me, like, "Just don't let the human factor fail to be a factor, at all." And I love how something simple and common-place as snacks are included in his idyllic description of what the world "after the fall" will be like. (See the video below I found on YouTube of someone's class project where they used this song as the soundtrack to a video collage of news on the Hamas transition to power in 2007)

Anyway, something Ben and I have been snacking on lately has been our home-made pickles. We grew impatient (okay, Ben grew impatient, picking up a jar every day or so to look at them and ask if I thought they were ready. "You tell me," is what I would reply, since, after all, the recipe was his mother's mother's recipe) and we opened a jar of pickles we sealed up on July 12th. Ben bit into one and excitedly exclaimed how delicious they were, then he walked over to me, sitting at the computer, and offered me a bite. I took a bite and was met with the perfect blend of vinegary, salty goodness that melted in my mouth, yet remained crunchy. They were perfect!

Honestly, I love pickles. My sister, sister-in-law, and I hover over the pickle and olive spread at family gatherings and I'm not sure if anyone else gets to enjoy any of the briney goodness but the three of us. These home-made pickles? The best pickles I have EVER eaten.

So, since our first batch was an overwhelming success, we made more this weekend. We picked up some more regular cukes and a huge bunch of dill at the farmers market. We also got some lemon cucumbers in our farm share, so we decided to experiment, using the lemon cucumbers to make pickle chips in our smaller canning jars in addition to the pickle spears we would make in our quart-sized canning jars.

Ben sliced up the cucumbers and I mostly watched and took pictures :)

A recipe courtesy of Ben's grandma. This will make approximately 2 1-quart-sized jars of pickles - double and triple as you wish!

2 large cucumbers
6 sprigs dill
2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups water
1 cup white vinegar
2 Tablespoons salt

2 1-quart-sized canning jars

Run the jars through the dishwasher or boil in a pot of water for a few minutes to sterilize.

Slice the ends off of the cucumbers and slice into spears, determine the length of your spears by planning for some head-room at the top of the jars.

Place a clove of chopped garlic and 3 sprigs of dill in each jar, then stuff with the cucumber spears.

Heat the water, vinegar, and salt in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Pour over the cucumber spears in the canning jars and seal with the lids (careful - the glass jars will be hot!).

Place the jars somewhere hidden so you won't have to anxiously look at them everyday and wonder if they are ready yet. Wait about 2 weeks until you try the first jar and, once the jar is opened, store it in the refrigerator.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Tzatziki sauce

I got to work Wednesday morning to find the air conditioning broken. It was going to be 107 that day.

I waited around for about an hour, getting some work done, but mostly feeling just too hot to concentrate. Then I walked home, where the little AC unit we have was keeping our apartment at a tolerable 85 degrees, so the cats didn’t evaporate. I put on a pair of Ben’s old boxer shorts and a tank top, turned the AC up a little stronger, and sat down at the computer to log into my work account. There I worked, at home with the blinds drawn to block the sun and cats jumping in, and then back out of, my lap. They stayed only a few minutes in my lap at a time, deciding it was too warm to share body heat.

This past week we broke heat records around the Portland area and the weather was the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And why wouldn’t it be? The weather here becomes extreme for maybe two weeks out of a normal year – for about a week in the winter when it snows maybe an inch or two, or when the mercury dips below 32 while it’s raining and we get a layer of ice over everything, and for about a week in the summer when the breeze refuses to blow and the temperature shoots above 100.

We make jokes about things like frying eggs on the sidewalk, but mostly we complain about not being prepared for any of it – not enough sand trucks in the winter to even hope to make a dent in the ice on the roads, no one owning air conditioning for their homes in the summer – and in both instances, life slows to a snail’s pace. Not wanting to expose ourselves to the extremes Mother Nature bestows upon Portland, we hunker down, choose carefully only those things that need to be done, and wait…

This too shall pass and we will be once again enjoying mild summer sunshine with cool, breezy evenings. And the topic of everyone’s conversation will shift as the weather once again falls into the background of life.
I know this is all temporary, but I have to admit, I’m getting a little antsy to be back in the kitchen again. The blinds stay drawn, making for a rather dark living and cooking environment, and, for that matter, we’ve been trying desperately to keep cooking to a minimum.

But, in all honesty, sometimes the need to cook a certain way leads one to expand their cooking repertoire, to break from the norm. In hot weather, there’s no better way to eat than mimicking how those who live in hot climates. So, this week, we cooked up a crockpot full of black beans and ate burrito bowls with home-made guacamole. We lived Mediterranean-style with Greek salads (complete with our home-grown spinach!). And what goes better with Greek salads than tzatziki sauce?

I pulled out the hand-written recipe my friend Sara had written down for me in college – a tzatziki sauce recipe from a cookbook of her mother’s. The recipe is as close as I’ve ever had to the real thing outside of Greece (and let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of bad, Americanized – and even Germanized, tzatziki sauce). At the time she copied it down, in her distinctive handwriting, we didn’t know it would be almost a perfect replica of the tzatiziki sauce would enjoy together many years later at the ‘piggy’ restaurant in Athens (that was our pet name for the restaurant that had a pig as it’s ‘mascot,’ for the lack of a better term). I love now the irony that it was her who passed this recipe onto me.

Tzatziki sauce
Don’t be intimidated by this sauce – it really is easy to make. If you don’t have fresh dill, the dried stuff is okay too, but use less because it is usually stronger dried than fresh. I didn’t quite squeeze the cucumber dry because I wanted more cucumber taste, but you can use your own discretion when it comes to how much cucumber juice you want in your sauce.

2 cups yogurt cheese (see note and picture below)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated and squeezed dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week – I saved the yogurt container and used that to store it – and it tastes even better as the ingredients have a chance to blend a day or so.
Note: To make “yogurt cheese” spoon a 32 ounce container of plain yogurt into a coffee-filter or cheese-cloth-lined strainer. Set the strainer over a bowl and let stand in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (or overnight). Discard the liquid. (see my picture above) I used Trader Joe’s Greek Style yogurt, though, and I don’t think I really needed to do this step, because the Greek Style yogurt is already really thick. So, if you get a good, thick yogurt, you could possibly skip this step.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drunken cherries and berries

The Oregonian published an article recently on preserving sweet cherries, with one of the recipes calling for Rainiers and wine. Wine and cherries? Ben and I were sold.

We already had berries and cherries on the brain, so we added this idea to our list of weekend preserving projects.

This is the time of year when you can’t decide which berries to eat. When you want to buy at least a pint of every type of berry at the farmers market. But if you did, you would eat berries all week and still never make it through all of them – red raspberries, white raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries, marion berries, and even currants, all fill the market. Marion berries are my current favorite – they are the sweetest, softest, juiciest blackberry you will ever eat. They, unfortunately for those not living in the Pacific Northwest, are primarily unique to this area, and, like the hood river strawberries, are too delicate to make it past the local markets.

We set to work this weekend, our refrigerator filled with fruit. We made marionberry jam. We made blueberry jam. Then, we heated some cheap wine in a saucepan with lemon zest and sugar, brought it to a boil, reduced it, and poured it into the quart canning jar, already filled with fresh bing cherries. We did the process all over again, but this time, Ben filled two quart-sized canning jars with marion berries. I poured the heated wine into the jars and sealed them tight. They will be delicious over ice cream. They will be delicious over just about anything and even delicious over nothing! I also imagine folding them into some kind of baked good, such as scones or muffins. We also made pickles, using Ben's grandma's recipe of garlic, dill, and vinegar.

If you have never made jam, don’t be intimidated by it. It is actually really simple. You can even buy pectin that allows you to make sugar-free or reduced-sugar jam. I used this pectin in the marionberry jam, using only about 1/3 cup of raw sugar and it set right up perfectly. Nothing compares to home-made jam, using berries at the peak of freshness and adding only those things YOU want in your jam, nothing else.

We have already dug into the first jar of cherries, eating a few after dinner for dessert, and then grabbing a few more.

The other day, we made home-made vanilla ice cream. When we sat down to eat our ice cream, with a heaping of the marion berries preserved in wine, we were in heaven. Ben said this is his favorite dessert ever. I agree. And, there will be quite a bit of the 'juice' left over once the berries are gone - I'm thinking this sauce will make delicious ice cream floats!

Marion berries preserved in wine:

You can get some cheap wine for this, either in a box or in the big jugs. We used a rose for the cherries and then chose chianti for the marion berries, wanting to try a drier wine. Both turned out delicious, so I encourage you to experiment and pick wines you like. We also did one with the vanilla and lemon and one without and, again, both were delicious and different.

1 quart-sized canning jar

1 pound (about 2 pints) fresh, ripe marion berries (or berry of your choice)

2 cups wine

1/2 cup raw sugar

1 tsp vanilla (optional)

zest of one small lemon (optional)

Run your canning jar through the dishwasher or stick it in some boiling water to steralize it. Wash your berries and place in the clean jar.

Heat the wine in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in sugar. Allow the sugar to dissolve and the mixture to come to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and the zest, if using. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about 1 1/2 cups, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Pour the wine mixture over the berries and seal tightly with the lid. Allow the jar to cool completely at room temperature and then stick it in the fridge. If you are listening nearby, you will hear the 'pop' of the lid sealing as it cools. Keep the jar in the fridge - this isn't shelf-preserving.

Wait at least 2 days before you enjoy them (I know, the waiting can be hard!!). Use within 3 months or so.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beans, Beans...

We talk and think a lot about food in our household (a surprise, right?). We have conversations over the dinner table, talking about what we want to make next. We discuss what our weekly farm share will bring, what enjoyment it brings us, and how we want to cook the fresh provisions it contains. We glowingly dream about all the berries and fruit in season right now and all the cooking, baking, and preserving possibilities they present us.

Ben’s eyes will grow wide, his speech will become a bit faster, and I know he’s hooked on a particular idea. These ideas take various forms, from gluten free doughnuts with lemon cream filling (which, we still haven’t done, so I continue to hear about it) to gluten free onion rings (which we did last weekend with sweet walla walla onions). He was, in fact, the impetus behind our strawberry-jam-making session last month.

For the past two weeks, he has talked about beans. Beans, beans, the musical fruit… (sorry, I can’t talk about beans without hearing that childhood song in my head). We received a generous bag of dried pinto beans in our first farm share this summer and that started his wheels turning. The wheels got stuck on home-made baked beans. He envisioned slow-cooking them in the crockpot with bacon and sweet walla walla onions.

I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve had baked beans since I moved out of my parents house, but there is something so very Americana about them – something that reminds me of summers and fourth of July family gatherings with corn-on-the-cob, paper plates, soda and beer in the cooler on the deck, and lawn chairs in the grass. And, I have certainly never had any other baked beans than Busch’s baked beans from a can.

So Ben set about pulling together the ingredients and threw them all into the crockpot Monday morning before he left for work. We were greeted at home later that evening by a mingling of sweet and savory aromas…and well, the rest is history. Delicious, sweet, salty history. We ate them with gluten-free bratwurst and my home-made gluten-free bread rolls.

Baked beans:

1 pound dried pinto beans

1 pound raw bacon, cut into small pieces

½ sweet onion, diced

¼ cup raw sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

The night before, rinse and sort your beans. Place them in a large pot of water and bring to boil for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit overnight (this is called “heat-soaking” and removes a larger amount of the sugary starches from the beans, which reduces their musical tendencies :) )

When you are ready to assemble the ingredients, rinse the beans well with cool water and place in the crockpot. Add the rest of your ingredients and stir to mix.

Turn your crockpot on low and cook for about 10-12 hours.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery opens in Portland!

It's been HOT here the past few days. So hot, we haven't had much of an appetite for food - if you can believe that. Lauren, the person who gives people the "food tour" of Portland to whomever comes to visit, doesn't feel much like cooking or even eating.

Yesterday, around 1:30pm, as I biked perhaps the mile or so to the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery and coffee shop, I realized that I had eaten breakfast around 8am and completely forgot to eat lunch. That never happens to me. Forgetting to eat is against my religion (well, that is, if I had one). Regardless, I had planned on getting a delicious gluten free baked good from my favorite gluten free bakery and enjoying it with a stumptown coffee while I got some work done.

How surreal it was to walk into a coffee shop and to be able to select ANYTHING I wanted from the menu without worrying about gluten. Not even a speck. They are a dedicated gluten free facility. I felt normal again.

(For those of you who don't know, New Cascadia Traditional has opened their own bakery/coffee shop in SE Portland. Check out their website for more details.)

I picked out a delicious-looking berry muffin and an iced coffee. The muffin turned out to be a blackberry muffin with struessel topping, just like the bakery-style muffins I remember from my gluteny days. It was ridiculously good. I realized in that moment, in that first bite, that I had almost forgotten what regular muffins were like. This one jolted me back to gluteny days gone by...and I have to admit I quickly realized the "muffins" I make at home are not really muffins. I'm sure they are more nutritious than what I ate yesterday, but they are indeed something other than muffins.

I already can't wait to go back.

Today all I could think to eat was something cold, like a fruit smoothie. We had just bought a couple of pints of blueberries and I had thrown a couple of uber-ripe bananas into the freezer this week, so I made a banana-blueberry smoothie for Ben and me. It was our lunch, or snack, or something. In any case, it was good. Those of you in Minneapolis might recognize the glass from my old stomping ground...

We're also getting really excited because our plants seem to be doing really well. We have already harvested and re-planted spinach once this summer. We also have an abundant-looking crop of carrots growing expediently and about five figs developing on our fig tree (see picture below). Our blueberries have not done so well this year...partially because of an air-conditioning mistake (long story) and partly because I don't think bees get this high up to pollinate. We just planted our brussels sprout starts in their larger containers today (see picture above, with carrots in background). Think good sprout-thoughts!

Banana-blueberry smoothie:
When your bananas start to over-ripen, toss them into the freezer, skin and all. To use them in a smoothie, or bake with them, set them out for a few minutes and then peel with a knife. The skin sort of falls off them.

1/2 cup milk (I used hazelnut, but often use coconut in my smoothies)
1/2 cup ice
1 cup blueberries
1 banana, cut into pieces (a great use of frozen bananas, but regular ones are okay too)
2 tablespoons ground flax seed

Dump all the ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth. Yep, it's that easy.

Enjoy! and feel refreshed!