Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gluten free bread rolls (Brötchen!)

I've been on a German-breakfast kick lately and made it a goal to create some little bread rolls for this purpose.

I based these on Karina's focaccia bread recipe, which has become a favorite base-recipe around here for all sorts of variations, and they turned out awesome! They are crusty on the outside and soft and squishy on the inside, with a 'normal' bread texture.

I was so excited about these, they became became German dinner.

Gluten Free bread rolls (Brötchen):
I've had the best luck with bread when I start with room-temperature ingredients (i.e., the egg, oil, etc should not be cold). You can dress these up with things like shredded cheese and/or rosemary - just toss any add-ins into the flour mixture before adding the wet ingredients.

1 cup tapioca flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp sea salt

2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons honey or agave
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 egg

Proof your yeast by stirring it into the warm water (should be about 110F - not steaming or boiling) with the tablepoon of honey. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Blend dry ingredients until well-mixed. Butter and flour (millet flour works well for this) your muffin tin - you will thank yourself for this step when you don't have such a hard time cleaning the pan. Warm your oven and then turn it off.

When yeast is poofed up, add to the flour mixture, along with your egg, vinegar, honey or agave, and oil. Stir to mix well.

Scoop into your muffin tin, filling each well about 2/3 full. Place your muffin tin in the oven with a damp paper towel over the top and let the rolls rise for about 20 minutes.

Remove the paper towel and bring your oven to 350F. Once your oven is to temperature, bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the rolls are firm when you tap them (if they squish down or feel flimsy, they are not done). Remove from muffin tin after about a minute and cool on a wire rack.

Store these in an air-tight container.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ze German breakfast and throwing out cultural convention

In my next life, I think I will live in Germany.

Or, maybe in a previous life I already did.

In any case, I feel a strange connection with the country and the culture and lifestyle. When I studied in Freiburg during college, it was my third visit to Germany. My first had been visiting a dear friend and his family in the northwest part of the country, near the beautiful Rhein River. I was seventeen, traveling by myself for the first time, and on an airplane for maybe the third time in my entire life. That was the start of my wanderlust - when I realized how easy it was to step aboard an airplane and wake up in another world, where people take great lengths to do what is best for the environment, eat locally grown produce, and build homes to last generations. They also have a strange relationship with hygiene and their Magen, but that's another story.

Some say the German language, with its thick guttural sounds, is harsh and foreboding. But to me, it is nothing but beautiful and melodic. Was fuer ein schoenes Sprach! In conversations with my dear friend, he taught me (laboriously) the correct inflection and accent for tricky words like fuenf, and I came to have a soft spot for the spoken German word.

The second time I visited Germany was with friends from high school, when I was 18 and just graduated. I know, spoiled brat, right? Not entirely - I used the money I had been saving for four years, to buy a car, to go back to Germany instead. I visited my dear friend, as well as others, and it was indeed a teary-eyed, painful goodbye. I knew luck wouldn't strike me very soon again and it would likely be a while before I had the opportunity to return. I felt like a girl who had two Heimhats and two families.

At sunrise, on the train from Bonn to the Frankfurt airport, the three of us girls fell silent. As the train gently rocked back and forth, around a long curve, the Rhine river came into view. The sun sparkled off the water, and the banks of the river were dotted with small villages and a number of medieval castles. Red-tiled roofs huddled around cathedrals with bells in their steeples. Vineyards stretched up the sides of the hills, long rows of vines creating a tell-tale pattern in the landscape like that of a stringed instrument. The train teetered along, bringing more villages into view and castles standing on small islands in the middle of the river.

The whole scene playing out in the window of the train held our attention irreverently and time seemed to slow to a snail's pace. I took a deep breathe and knew I would remember this moment for as long as I lived. I thought about friendship and family and wondered where I belonged - in which country did I really feel at home?

That was the real reason I wanted to study abroad in college. I could have traveled to an English-speaking country or chosen a different German-speaking country. But, I chose to return to Germany for the third time. I wanted to immerse myself in the language and the culture. I wanted to eat, sleep, and dream in German. I wanted to see what it might be like to call Germany home.


In those trips to Germany, I became intimately aware of what the word "culture" really means. While taking a walk with my dear friend though his neighborhood one afternoon, during my first Germany visit, I became somewhat uncomfortable as I looked around at the front lawns we passed. They seemed overgrown with vegitation and unkempt in comparison to the straight-edged, flat, green grass lawns I was used to in suburban Minnesota. I asked him what was wrong with the lawns and he explained there was nothing wrong with the lawns, but that Germans like to keep many plants in their "Garten" and keep it interesting. I suddenly saw how boring and flat our American grass-only lawns must look to anyone who wasn't American. What a waste of space.

I quickly learned, too, that what we think constitutes a meal is very much culturally constructed. Meat and potatoes for dinner? Try bread rolls and cheese slices, with a tomato on the side, sliced in half, with salt and pepper sprinkled on top. Those bread rolls, called "Brotchen" are like nothing else I have ever tasted here in the US. Hard and crusty on the outside, but not so hard you can't bite through, and pillowy soft on the inside.

I connected to that way of eating, the simplicity of a piece of bread and a slice of meat or cheese (sometimes both!) and eating whole vegetables on the side. I used to eat tomoatoes like an apple, as a snack or with a sandwich in my pre-gluten-free days.

This understanding of our culturally-prescribed definition of a 'normal' meal has, in many ways, made the transition to gluten free a bit easier, I think. I already cared little for what looks 'normal' and would eat things like a pile of green beans for lunch or a gardenburger on a slice of toast for breakfast. Feeling free to eat what I felt like eating without worry over whether it constituted a 'normal' meal meant that in my early gluten-free days I would make a bowl of guacomole with half and avocado, some garlic, sea salt, and cilantro and eat it with a spoon as a snack - no chips, no nothing. (Okay, so I probably still do that!). But, the point is that the culutral convention that says guac should be eaten with chips is really silly when you think about it - do the chips add any nutritional value? Do they make the guac easier to eat than with a spoon? No. It's just more culturally normal to use chips to eat guac.

In fact, a lot of what our culture prescribes as 'normal' eating habits is actually pretty unhealthy. We're too busy for breakfast, so we should stop by McDonalds on our way to work or heat up a frozen Jimmy-dean breakfast sandwich. We need meat at every meal and a good helping of nutrient-lacking starches, such as pasta or potatoes.

If you are gluten free, and even if you are not, letting go of what you perceive to be a 'normal' meal and focusing on putting healthy food in your body, makes meal planning and grocery shopping much easier. For example, the other day, I had a banana, a bunch of hazelnuts, and a small zuchinni for lunch. So, go ahead, question the rules, break the rules, and giggle to yourself when others gaze quizzically upon what you are eating!

Pictured here is our recent German breakfast, which we like to do on the weekends. Slices of peppered salami, slices of cheese (such as havarti, gouda, or chevre), butter and honey, butter and jam, lemon curd (Ben's favorite) - the topping possibilities are endless - served with bread slices and a hard-boiled egg. And, of course, a cup of good, strong coffee!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gluten free chocolate chip hazelnut scones

During the past few weeks, time flew. I was working 16-hour days during the week and all day on the weekends. I needed every moment I could get…typing, thinking, and a lot more thinking. As much as I hate to say it, those difficult questions my committee poses, those questions that make me both look inward to question my assumptions as well as scour countless textbooks and online resources, those are the questions I which make me grow as a person and force my research onto another level. I both love and abhor those questions. These are the questions I fixated on as I re-worked and re-wrote and re-thought and then re-worked some more.

I walked passed countless trees in full rose-bloom, fluffy pink-white against the blue sky, on my way to and from work each day. Every morning I’d feel remiss; I wanted to remember my camera, to stop and take pictures along the way. I knew by the time I had a moment to take the time to stop, focus my camera, try a few different angles, to get just the right shot…the trees would be bare or wilted. It seemed spring was unapologetically getting on without me. All of the usual signs were there, but I wasn’t quite ready to take advantage of them all.

Finally, this weekend, Ben and I took time to play.

With the windows rolled down, we drove to southeast Portland to get dinner Friday night and used the excuse to drive by a house for sale we’ve been talking about buying, dreamy-eyed and hopeful. We like the area, the close proximity to shops and restaurants, and the ease with which we could bike to work. We’ve been talking about what we would want in a home and where it would be located. We’ve been looking online at homes for sale, trying to determine what kind of a house we can expect for our price range.

My first priority? A usable kitchen, one that doesn’t have obnoxiously-sized cupboards that are just the wrong size for baking dishes and cookie sheets, no matter which way you place them, or that has three drawers, each the size of a woman’s shoebox. Seriously, what do you fit in a drawer that size? One and a half rolls of aluminum foil? There’s lots of wasted space in my kitchen.

And, finally, tonight, I baked something again. I was craving scones and chocolate, so you can imagine what I made when I got home from work today – chocolate chip hazelnut scones.

They’re good. They’re real good. I’m trying really hard to not eat another one.

Mmmm…maybe you will have more willpower than me.

Gluten free chocolate chip hazelnut scones:

To make buttermilk, simply add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a measuring cup, then fill to the one-cup line with your favorite type of milk (hazelnut, almond, soy, regular, etc). Do this before you start mixing your flours, to give the mixture a chance to become curdled. If you want to make these vegan, simply substitute coconut oil for the butter, but be sure the oil is at a temperature at which it resembles cold butter (i.e., you may need to soften the oil a bit in the microwave if you store your oil in the fridge). To coarsely chop your hazels, place them in a sturdy plastic bag and bang them up a bit with the bottom of a heavy mug.

1 cup sorghum flour

¾ cup millet flour

¾ cup tapioca flour

½ cup coconut flour

¾ teaspoon xanthan gum

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup butter, cut into pieces

1/3 cup honey or agave

1 cup buttermilk (see note above)

½ cup chocolate chips

½ cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Using a fork and knife or a pastry blender, mix in the butter pieces until a pebbly mixture forms.

Mix in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts. Add the honey and butter milk and stir until just moist (mixture will still be a bit crumbly).

Using your hands, form two balls with the dough and flatten each one onto your baking sheet, about 1 inch high. Slice the discs in half and then each half into thirds, so that each disc makes 6 scones.

Separate scones and place even-distance apart on the baking sheet. Dip the back of a spoon in milk and apply to tops, then sprinkle turbinado sugar on top, if desired.

Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It's done!!!!!!!

Okay, I guess I should qualify that statement. It's done...until 3 weeks from now!

I turned in the second-to-last draft of my dissertation yesterday. This is the draft read by my committee three weeks before my defense. There are usually changes to be made after the defense, but they are final (and hopefully minor) changes. So, one defense and one more draft to go.

What does that mean? Well, basically, I will have more time to bake and create and post :)

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of our little blueberry bushes. It makes me wonder at nature - how do these little flowers become berries? Thank goodness they do, because blueberries are delicious (and lucky for us, gluten free!).