Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cherry-coconut muffins (gluten-free, dairy-free)

No sooner did I write that last post (about taking time out once in a while) than did I succumb to a sneak attack by the flu going around. I definitely needed to take a time out for this one – 102-degree temperature and body aches so bad the surface of my skin hurt to the touch. And I’m usually the one who hardly gets sick, and when I do it lasts a furious two days and I’m back to my normal routine. This one caught me by surprise and held me hostage for a while.

But, I’m finally feeling almost normal now – a week and a half later. I baked cookies yesterday and finally got around to organizing a few things around the house. Today, after grocery shopping, starting laundry, and vacuuming, I baked a batch of muffins to throw in the freezer for breakfasts this week. On-the-water rowing started last week (though I had to skip out on it while I recovered), so this week I’m going to need some quick grab-and-go breakfasts I can eat after I scurry home to take a shower and get ready for work.

Unfortunately, Ben wasn’t immune to this illness; he came home from work on Monday with a 100-degree temperature. He battled his way though the week with some strong over-the-counter medication and reported to work every day this week. It pained me to think he was at work and this sick, but it just so happened to be one of the most important weeks of the term and perhaps the whole year; staying home unfortunately wasn’t an option. So, I gave him a tight hug every morning, as if I could will energy and strength into his day, and wished him a kick-butt kind of day before I headed off to work. Fortunately, he faired pretty well and is also almost recovered.

Something that came to me in my fever-induced delirium one night was a realization that I’ve been having a hard time coming up with a regular lunch routine. Now that I’m working full time, I need to bring a lunch every day. This hadn’t been too much of a problem in my pre-gluten-free days because I was always content with a sandwich. In fact, not just content - I actually really like sandwiches. But, it becomes more difficult now to always have gluten-free bread on hand or lunch meat that isn’t potentially processed with gluten.

A good friend of mine, who had studied fisheries and wildlife in college, told me once that deer are animals of extreme routine. They walk the same path ever day, day after day. A lot of people in his classes thought this was pretty humorous – imagine an animal that just travels the same path day after day! Only it takes a little bit of self-awareness to see that humans are the same way – we take the same route to work every day, we sit in the same office with the same desk with the same people, we take the same route home, and we usually have some sort of evening routine that involves eating dinner and ‘relaxing’ until we go to bed.

I’m pretty sure one of the problems with adjusting to the gluten-free lifestyle is that it upsets our routine – especially if our routine involves stopping by the local bakery on our way to work for our morning scone. Or, if we think of taking a sandwich to work every day as the epitome of an easy lunch. In fact, I used to take two slices of peanut butter toast to work with me in the morning for breakfast. I toasted the bread, spread on the peanut butter, and packed the pieces PB-sides together in a baggie and tossed them in with my lunch. When I got to work, I filled my mug with coffee, sat down at my desk with my toast and started my day. Now that bread requires more work, planning, and expense in order to have it around, that routine doesn’t feel as comfortable. I have to come up with a different routine, especially for lunches. I think it is key to create a NEW routine if we are to fully adjust, and not necessarily a replacement routine (e.g., substituting gluten-free bread for regular bread).

My mind keeps coming back to this idea of Bento – which, after a bit of online research, I’ve discovered is just a fancy way of saying “boxed lunch.” But, I think one of the underlying themes in a Bento lunch is including various bites of food. For example, a Bento lunch could consist of: two hard boiled eggs, some cooked rice, slices of apples, and cooked Brussels sprouts. Each part corresponds with a particular nutritional need, but the parts don’t necessarily go together, like in a salad or stir-fry. It sort of removes cultural convention of what constitutes a meal.

Not that I’m much of a slave to convention, mind you. I went through a phase when I ate nothing but a pile of green beans for lunch and loved every minute of it. In fact, I think that removing cultural convention from our meal-planning helps us gluten-free-ers eat without feeling like we need to be ‘normal’ in some way or that our food needs to ‘look’ like everyone else’s. And, our American cultural norms around eating are anything but healthy anyway!

What can I take for lunch that requires little preparation time and can be found at any grocery store? Does anyone have any ideas or good standbys? Do any of you do Bento?

These are the muffins I made today – tart cherries with almonds and coconut – and they turned out pretty darn delicious. I had purchased a couple of cans of OregoN tart pie cherries the other day at the grocery store on a whim (truth be told, they were ‘reduced for quick sale’ and I have been eyeing those OregoN berries in a can for some time now), thinking I would come up with a great way to use them. I have another can left and I might make some sort of tartlets with them.

Cherry-coconut muffins

The OregoN Cherries come packed in water, which ends up becoming cherry-flavored water, so I used this water as part of the liquid in the muffins (hey, why not?). So, depending on just how much water is in the can you purchase, you may need to adjust the additional water accordingly. Outside of the brown rice flour, I used some good, high fiber and high-nutrient flours to up the nutritional value of these muffins, but you could definitely do some substituting based on what you have on hand. For a run-down about how different flours function in baked goods, go here.

1 cup brown rice flour

¾ cup sorghum flour

¼ cup tapioca flour

¼ cup teff flour

¼ cup coconut flour

2 tsp baking powder

¾ tsp xanthan gum

2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

¼ cup olive oil (or melted butter)

¼ cup honey or agave nectar

½ - ¾ cup water

1 can OregoN tart pie cherries, with liquid

1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped (or crushed in a plastic bag with a heavy-bottomed mug)

½ cup wide-ribbon coconut (unsweetened)

Heat your almonds and coconut in a skillet over medium heat until toasted and fragrant. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend your dry ingredients together. In a small mixing bowl, beat your egg with the oil, honey, and water.

Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Add the can of cherries and the almond/coconut mixture and mix well.

Spoon into prepared muffin tins (makes 12 muffins) and bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.



P. said...

Those muffins look fabulous! Lunch ideas...well, I'm a big fan of bringing leftovers if there are any (homemade chili with Tostitos, GF penne and meat sauce, roast beef, etc.). Otherwise I'd just mix and match: Tuna salad on romaine leaves, eaten folded in half along the rib like a taco. Hummus and Almond Nut Thins or veggies. Sliced GF deli ham, V8, microwave popcorn and a handful or two of peanuts or almonds, a banana/apple/pear. A Larabar. My old standby was to keep a jar of peanut butter and a package of Health Valley Rice Bran crackers in my desk drawer. Having to eat dairy free as well unfortunately means I can't pack mozzarella sticks, yogurt, and cottage cheese (sigh), but maybe you could.

Lauren Denneson said...

P - thanks for the great ideas! I too usually have a stock of Larabars on hand (and have my co-workers hooked on them now). I also wish I could eat more dairy and bring yogurt, but I need to keep that limited. I forgot about using romaine leaves as 'wraps' - that's a great idea!

glutenfreeforgood said...

Oh wow, some of my favorite ingredients. I've never used cherries with coconut, but it HAS to be good. Love your mix of flours as well.

Hope you get back to 100% normal soon!
Thanks for the inspiration, I'll definitely be doing coconut and cherries one of these days soon.