Saturday, April 26, 2014

Silent Celiac -- what to bake

A while ago I mentioned an accidental blood test coming back positive for Celiac.  Several tests later, I am still positive for Silent Celiac (celiac disease with little to no symptoms).  In a slur of still-unresolved questions, I have been gluten-free for two months now (with the exception of the night I sat down to a plate of cake and another night when I accidentally ate gluten-laden granola so then chased it with a crispy sticky piece of baklava.  I choose not to explore questions like, "you will really live without ever eating baklava or croissants again?"  Regardless of the answer, I like to think of it as a month to month choosing).

It's a lot like when I lived in France; at some point I stopped translating word by word, but just formed french sentences in my head and spoke.  Right now, I'm very much still in the word-to-word translation, i.e. what concoction of flours makes the best pancakes, rather than what kind of frittata could I make for breakfast.

I think in the long run, the healthiest, most economic gluten-free way is the frittata approach -- to learn to think about food in a whole new way.  Instead of wondering which quinoa pasta tastes best, instead wonder about the grains and beans and fish and vegetables I can make a meal out of.  But I'm not there yet.

The first month was pure food-confusion.  It must have been because so many of my routine and beloved foods were uprooted, but I just wasn't sure, over and over, what to put in my mouth.  I ended up eating a lot of chips and salsa, cheese, granola, and chocolate covered almonds.  It wasn't my best month.

Month two was a little better.

Because I'm still operating in word-to-word translation, I have tried baking several gluten-free recipes (and always will do this, hopefully better and better).  The fact is, they just aren't that great so far.  Tonight, for example, I made a Lemon Cornmeal Cake featured on NPR.  It was almost good.  I could taste how it really could have been good, if a little lighter, fluffier, more gluteny with less corny grit and saturated lemon flavor...  I made America's Test Kitchen's GF banana bread from their new cookbook-- which, let me tell you, is laborious and involves many bowls, pots, pans -- and after all that work (including heating and straining the bananas and then reducing the strained banana juice -!) it was good, but not amazing -- a little crumbly and slightly gritty.  King Arthur's gluten free flour mix and Glutino GF flour are my favorites (they are very expensive... a whole other dynamic here), and from what I've read, they get the best ratings.

What HAS worked beautifully are these two recipes:

The Pioneer Woman's Sour Cream Pancakes
These have become our new go-to pancakes (thanks, Lindsay*)
  • 1 cup Sour Cream
  • 7 Tablespoons King Arthur's Gluten-Free Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar (or 1 T to leave room for syrup at the end)
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla 
  •  Butter, for pan 
  •  Butter and Warm Syrup For Serving

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream with the dry ingredients until just barely combined (don't over mix.) Whisk in the egg mixture until just combined.
Heat a griddle over medium-low heat and melt some butter in the pan. Drop batter by 1/4 cup servings onto the griddle. Cook on the first side until bubbles start to form on the surface and edges are starting to brown. Flip to the other side and cook for another minute. (Pancakes will be a little on the soft side.)
Serve with softened butter and syrup.

Molly Wizenberg makes a cake she calls "Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake," which she also served as her wedding cake.   A few weeks ago, on my birthday, I came home to find that beautiful cake sitting on my doorstep.  It's an almost flourless chocolate cake that my friend Cassie so cleverly tweaked by swapping flour with cocoa -- perfect.    
Molly's recipe (slightly tweaked):
7 ounces best-quality dark chocolate
7 ounces unsalted European-style butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 1/3 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 Tbs cocoa 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.
Finely chop the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring regularly to combine. Add the sugar, stirring well, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition.  Add the cocoa. The batter should be smooth, dark, and utterly gorgeous.

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.) Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

Serve in wedges at room temperature with a loose dollop of ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream.
Note: This cake is even better on the second day, so consider making it the day before serving.

The last recipe was also an NPR recipe, and it's for Almond Butter Cookies.  The writer talks about how wonderfully addictive these are.  What you should know is that they are weird cookies -- chewy and crunchy at once, without the give or crumble you might expect of a cookie.  But, there is something a little addictive about them.  Where they absolutely shine, though, which is why I will make them again, is crumbled on vanilla ice cream.  
note: my dough was greasy-looking and sticky, quite unlike regular chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie dough -- it still became cookies.
Almond Butter Cookies 

1 cup almond butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside.
In a large bowl, stir almond butter and sugars together until well combined.
Add egg, baking soda, maple syrup, vanilla and salt and mix well. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out small, walnut-sized amounts of dough and roll them in your hands to form a ball. Place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The thing is, I don't like pain.
I don't like it, and I don't want it.
I don't like being uncomfortable, either.
I don't even like tags in the necks of my shirts.

Maeve has been sick all week, and after the first fevered night, I wanted to take her to the doctor -- sign us up for the thick pink drink that will end this!  My head hurts; I pop an advil. The air thickens, muggy and hot; I turn on the AC.  I argue with someone I love; I apologize right away and "fix" it.

These things aren't bad -- advil and apologies in particular -- but they're often (always for advil) efforts to end discomfort as fast as possible.

Every piece of writing I've picked up in the last few weeks  -- all by courageous people like Anne Lamott, Dan Allender, Glennon Doyle Melton, Rebekah Lyons -- has said the same thing: don't try to escape pain, but move toward it: resist the urges to mute it, outrun it, find the big mug of something sweet and warm that will lull it to sleep (I've been looking for that mug all day --almond milk vanilla chai is closest I've come...).

I don't even really know what they mean -- stay in the pain -- but I'm noticing what they don't mean. They don't mean race around at top speed all day to accomplish/pursue/acquire and screech into the driveway just as the bus pulls up.  They don't mean eat my weight in chocolate almonds, thinking, on some level, that the sweet crunch between my teeth that I "deserve" is going to treat me right into a new state of being.  They don't mean check and check and check and check my texts/emails/instagram feed for a hit of being wanted or included in someone else's day.  They don't mean veg out at night as soon as the kids are quiet, watch Parenthood and feel the Bravermans' angst/heart-ache/connection instead of feeling my own or lack thereof.  They don't mean numb myself into distraction just enough to keep from fully feeling what hurts, to keep me from actively starting on a road of process.

When I was in high school, I got to wear one of those blow up sumo wrestling suits once and smash into my friends, ricochet off their round bodies, and fly onto my back, where I lay like a bug, laughing with my arms and legs in the air as I waited for someone to stand me back up.

I don't want to live that way.

So this month, I am starting to deflate the suit.

I don't really know what that means yet, but I've started to clear some space.  When I sit down to work, I love a big clean table.  In my house, I usually have to move a lot of whatever it is (cups/chewed pencils/school worksheets/cereal bowls/mail/glasses/Siracha) before I get that table.

So I'm clearing the table, slowly -- the salt shaker, the pepper.  I've de-friended some people I most love on Instagram (and offended them) for a bit.  I've been spending a lot of time alone, with God, and with a pile of books I'm reading.  I'm on a 40 day spending cleanse.  I'm sitting in this song (the 23rd psalm that Page CXVI sings so beautifully):
God is my Shepherd, I won't be wanting, I won't be wanting.
He makes me rest
in fields of green
with quiet streams.
Even though I walk through
through the valley of death and dying,
I will not fear
because you are with me, 
you're always with me.

In just the last week, the woods have transformed from a webby mass of silhouettes to green breezy screen.  I waited for this -- for GREEN to come, for the sound of wind rushing through leaves again, for the freedom of coatlessness.  It's hard to stay in winter, to feel cold through a coat, to cross the frozen dirt ground that can't grow anything, to wake to gray.  But sometimes we do, and apparently, according to these writers, we have to.

What I hope, though, is that when it ends -- because it always ends -- I see.

Already, only a few weeks into April, I find myself walking out of the house and straight to my car, on with life.  Winter is off my radar, and I forget to be knocked over by the sudden life!  I forget to be arrested by what can only be called hope, screaming from the branches.