Monday, December 17, 2012

Our All-Purpose, Gluten Free Flour Recipe

This is the flour blend we use for most everything here. It's been highly effective in recipes that call for regular flour, substituted cup for cup. Most gluten free recipes will tell you how much xanthan gum or gluten substitute you need to add, but if you decide to adapt your own recipes, do not forget the xanthan gum; I've wasted a good deal of lovely ingredients making baked goods with the consistency of either sand or rubber frisbees, by leaving out this ingredient.

Gluten Free Flour Mixture

1 24 oz bag Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour (I like the fine consistency of this brand)

2/3 c. tapioca starch

1 1/3 c. potato starch

Combine all in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake well. If the recipe hasn’t already been adapted for gluten free ingredients, you will need to add ½ t. xanthan gum per cup of flour.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Preparations and White Chip Coconut Cookies

 ***This seemed to post before I was done writing it - if you viewed it earlier, please take note of changes to the recipe***

        Planning ahead has never been my strong suit, and with a surgery in the weeks before Christmas, I seem to be a bit more behind than usual. We did several hours worth of online shopping Saturday morning, and I’ve never been quite so grateful for supersaver shipping, and a pass from going to a mall. We have long striven to keep Christmas simple, sticking to two gifts per child and donations in their names, but someone had to shop for them all the same. Perhaps it’s last week’s heartwrenching tragedy, but I have more of an urge than ever to stick close to home and hunker down with the people I love. The rower and I did venture to a fair trade gift shop, and to a coffee house where I drank tea that kept me up into the wee hours of the morning, but it was worth it.

          We’re giving ourselves grace to move more slowly, put up a small tree next weekend, and take it easy with decorations. I’ll give myself permission to keep school simple and incorporate Christmas preparations. In addition to our morning hymn, praise and devotional time, we’ll focus a bit on the OAntiphons – you may recognize them from the hymn O Come, O come Emmanuel.   Some Catholic friends, whose home is rich in liturgy and faith, shared this link and concept with us. Here’s a wee bit – do check out the link to learn more:

          “The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.
       ...According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.

          I’ve also been trying out this novel concept (don’t laugh) of baking ahead of time for the holidays, instead of in a mad, two-day frenzy that leaves me incapable of enjoying any of it, once Thanksgiving or Christmas or said holiday has arrived. It actually worked at Thanksgiving (who knew?) so we’ll give it a go this week too, freezing things as we go. I hope to share recipes for those also trying to do GF holiday baking – and to spare you the pain of trying to adapt a recipe off of the back of a chip bag, only to realize, after two trays of cookies have baked, that you’ve left out the xanthan gum. Ugh. You’re welcome. You might note that in most instances, I've adapted recipes to contain less sugar - up to half - than what was originally called for. If you like your baked goods sweeter, take note. We usually don't get complaints, and in fact, receive many requests for recipes, so I think you can get by without all that extra sugar. The recipe below contains plenty even with adjustments!

          Up today: the Wrestler’s favorite, White Chip Coconut Cookies. I double this recipe, and bake half chipless to make a few trays dairy free, and then add the chips (still two cups for a double recipe, since I've used half the dough) to the remaining dough.


Trusting in Him,

White Chip Coconut Cookies
1 2/3 c gluten free flour
1 t. xanthan gum
¾ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
2/4 c. Spectrum Shortening (or margarine or butter if you’re ok with dairy)
½ c. packed brown sugar
¼ c granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 c. flaked coconut
¾ c. chopped walnuts (optional)
***2 c. Nestle Toll House White Morsels*** Optional, omit if you need dairy free, these DO contain dairy
          Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine shortening, sugars, and vanilla in large bowl and beat until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture, and once incorporated, add the coconut and nuts (optional) and mix well. If dairy is not an issue, add the chips and mix well. Drop by rounded heaping teaspoonsful onto ungreased baking sheetsx, and bake 8-11 minutes, or until lightly browned but still soft. Remove to wire rack to cool. HINT – line cookie sheets with parchment paper, and slide each piece off onto the cooling rack after baking, with cookies intact. This makes clean-up so much easier and cookies bake more evenly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gluten Free Apple Bars - Yum!

         As soon as we returned home from the hospital after the Wrestler’s recent surgery, I had to bake. Seriously, not an hour had passed after we’d gotten home, before I was making a crustless, dairy and gluten free pumpkin pie (a great recipe, and so easy). Perhaps it was being away from home, perhaps baking is my stress release, or perhaps it was my dietary boredom after eating the simple foods I’d packed myself for a few days away. Likely all three are true.

          The next day I tried adapting the Apple "Brownie” recipe (no chocolate involved) that my mom made frequently when we were kids. With changes to reduce the sugar and oil, and to make the recipe gluten free, it turned out wonderfully. The wrestler peeled apples from his wheelchair, while I mixed the ingredients, and everyone helped eat. Judging from the nearly empty 9x13 pan, the recipe is a keeper. Next, cranberry bread…

 Apple Bars
1 c. sugar
1 ½ c. rice flour
½ c. millet flour
2/3 c. potato starch
1/3 c. tapioca starch
1 ½ t. xanthan gum
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
½ t. salt
1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce
2/3 c. canola oil
½ t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 c. chopped, peeled apples

          Combine all dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine eggs, oil, vanilla and applesauce, and mix well. Add wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and mix well. Batter will be extremely thick; be careful not to over-mix. Fold in chopped apples. Using clean hands, pat into a greased 9x 13” pan. Bake 45-55 minutes at 325, or until the top is firm and browned, and it is cooked through.
Try to cool a bit before you eat them. If you can.

Trusting in Him,


Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Surgery and Stories

          I should be writing something deep about our experience at Shriners Hospital this week, where the Wrestler had surgery on his femur. I wish I had photos to show you, of my brave boy, and the interesting people we met. Instead, I come to the keyboard with bits and pieces of stories, of people whose whole books I’d love to read, if they’d written them.

          There was the Amish couple, at the hospital with a son who’d suffered a terrible barn accident, which had caused lots of internal damage and a residual hip issue. I spent a long time in the tiny kitchen on the surgical unit, where the man, who looked much like an old friend of mine with a beard (no moustache), Amish haircut and suspenders, slowwwwly spun the story of his son’s injuries while he and his black-clad, white bonneted wife helped themselves to their snack of cheese, ham and ice cream. I could tell of the adorable 5-year-old Chinese adoptee recovering from cleft surgery, and the brief conversation his mother and I had while we waited for the Wrestler’s surgery to be done.

         At Ronald McDonald House, where we spent the first night and Husband stayed the night after surgery (I volunteered for overnight hospital duty; he got the two-hour drive home), there was a teen-aged boy who wore a cap that looked like a skull, and listened to music so loud we could hear it coming out of his ear buds. He held doors for us, saying in a Spanish accent, “we’re all family here,” and helped translate for the other residents, all Spanish speakers.

         Two of those residents were a woman and child from the Dominican Republic, who've spent the past year at the Ronald McDonald House, so that the little girl can get surgery and prosthetics. She came to see us in the Wrestler’s hospital room after surgery, and we talked in pantomime for a bit before she sat her little girl in the Wrestler’s bedside chair, and left her there with us for a while. The child’s tiny hands held a little Cinderella doll, and she looked at my phone photos, shaking her glossy curls and saying Beeuuuteeeful!” after each picture of our cat or dog. Through gestures and fingers, we ascertained that she has 8 cats at home.

          In the hospital recovery room, we met a local couple, and we waited together for our children to wake up from anesthesia. Their child was young, her hand wrapped and bandaged, and the couple was young, worried and sincere. We told them we knew how scary this is and how well we knew toddler would do, so quickly, and they seemed a little relieved. There was the nurse in that room, pregnant with her fifth child but considering adopting after that, and another nurse whose daughter had Celiac. There was a pharmacist, elegant with short silver hair and dangling earrings, with whom we discussed the challenges of raising teens, and the cleaning woman who told us she had been in fostercare, and wanted to give her toddler son opportunities she never had. She’s taught him English and Spanish and is working on Italian and sign language, she told us.

          Then there was the Wrestler. He is our quiet one, calm and capable and unflappable, who doesn’t like to fail, to admit defeat or upset. He can be the class clown, distracting others with a funny face, or trying to give a brother a wedgie during history, of all things. He is hard to know sometimes despite the fact that we spend all day together, and yet on this trip, I learned more about him and am further in awe of this young person I am blessed to parent. I realized, as we watched Home Alone together at the Ronald McDonald House the night before surgery, how much he just loves to laugh, and how much he enjoys it when I laugh with him. I don’t do that enough. I realized, as he woke in that recovery room and asked, voice raspy, “May I please have a drink of water,” how very, very polite he is even half sedated.

          I realize again, as he uncomplainingly recovers from an undoubtedly painful surgery that leaves him with a weak spot of bone on his femur (until it heals) and a sizable incision, how very brave he is. I knew this, when as a newly arrived three-year-old, I took him to the doctor for shots. Seeing the tray of needles, that tiny boy pushed up his sleeve and offered the nurse his arm. Today, two days after surgery, he wheeled about in his borrowed wheelchair, peeling apples for apple bars and insisting on doing his schoolwork even though I’d given him a pass to rest for the day. Now, mid-afternoon, he’s let himself sleep on the sunny library futon, a cozy and well-deserved nap.

          I had gone on this surgery trip hoping to minister, and connect with the people I knew we’d meet, and on reflection, I realized that what I’d done most was listen to stories. Stories in broken English, in Spanish I couldn’t understand, stories unspoken, stories hurried and stories slow and dramatic and told for the telling, from so many diverse people. I would love to read the book of each of their lives and am thankful for a glimpse at the pages and the chance to connect for even a few minutes. I am thankful for my brave young man, and the incredible gift we have of seeing him through surgeries, to hear his please and thank-yous in the middle of the night, to be the hand he grasped as he woke from anesthesia. Might you pray with us for his continued recovery? Thanks for sharing a bit of our story. I’d love to hear a bit of yours.

Giving thanks and
Trusting in Him,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On What Makes a Cook's Kitchen, and Moroccan Chicken

          I’ve been reading posts on a kitchen forum as we plan some changes in our little workhorse of a kitchen, and a recent thread posed the question, “What makes a cook’s kitchen?” There are gorgeous kitchen’s on the forum – rooms as large as the footprint of my whole house, with multiple refrigerators and freezers and cooktops and big, beautiful professional ranges – and oh, the marble countertops. It’s taken some reconciling with reality to figure out what changes will optimize workspace and function in our own space, on our own budget, and sometimes it’s easy to lose the big picture when gazing at those lovely rooms.

          But that question, and the ensuing thread, did something magical for me. It brought to mind the kitchen of the woman who taught me to cook, many, many years ago. Ditha was Lithuanian, and a professional chef who taught cooking. When I was a young teen, she hired me and two neighborhood girls from our small village to come to her home, and cook dinner for her and her husband each afternoon while they were at work. For two weeks, she trained us, and after that, we'd come in alone or in twos, usually barefoot, and let ourselves in through the back door. The recipes and ingredients would be laid out, and we'd cook the dinner, wash the dishes, set the table in the little breakfast room, and leave dinner warm in the oven or on the stove.

          Her kitchen was small by today's standards, but very functional, with "real" cooking tools everywhere. There were wire baskets of eggs, fruits and vegetables hanging from the ceiling, and the butter was always left out of the fridge. The sunny breakfast room had a special baking station, with a wooden top, Kitchenaid stand mixer, and sections of the countertop that lifted up to reveal flour and sugar bins beneath. My mother was a wonderful cook who made good use of ground beef and macaroni to feed our hungry family and the frequent visitors, but Ditha introduced me to ingredients I’d never seen before. I met my first boneless chicken breast at Ditha's house (and learned how to debone them myself), and used lovely ingredients like vanilla sugar from Germany. I sampled generously and know that she must have learned to adjust her quantities to account for that.

          I credit my love of cooking to Ditha, and when I stand in my own small kitchen and chop, or mix bread dough with my own stand mixer – white and industrial, like hers -  I'm so thankful for the gift she passed on to me. She had a stroke when I was a young mother, and I was able to see her one last time, show her my young children, and thank her. She couldn't speak, but a tear rolled down her cheek. As I think about her and her kitchen, and what she taught me, I realize how much of it is incorporated into the way we live and cook here. My two youngest – Littlest and the Musician - are my most avid cooks, and I love to watch them stir, chop and taste as they cook alongside me or alone. When I know a dish “needs” a little something, given a taste, these two are the ones who will suggest a spice or flavor I might add.

          I realized, in my reminiscences; what I’ve known all along. What makes a cook’s kitchen isn’t the custom-built cabinetry or the restaurant style range, but the tools, the food, and the people who make and share it. I get such great joy out of sharing Ditha’s gift with my children, and seeing them love real, good food. Would it make your heart sing to have boys come home from youth group and clamor for the beans and greens you’d cooked for your own late supper, and thought to save for your lunch? It did mine, and I gave them the leftovers, smiling. I like to think a little of Ditha and her kitchen lives on here.

          Earlier this week, we had the privilege of cooking dinner for a friend who barely survived a ruptured and undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy (thanking God for her life, and praying for her continued recovery). We chose Littlest’s favorite, Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas. There are lots of spices, but they’re fun to add, especially when you have a helper, and it smells SO good while it cooks. We hope you like it too.

Trusting in Him,


Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas
3-5 T Olive Oil
4 Chicken Breasts, boneless, cut into small pieces (I cut them into strips and each strip into two or three sections)
1 Large onion, chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T Cumin (add more to taste – I usually add at least 1 t. more)
1 T Tumeric
1 t. Paprika
3/4 t. Cinnamon
¼ t. Black pepper
1/8-1/4 t. Cayenne Pepper
1/4 t. ginger
A dash each Allspice, Nutmeg and Ground Cloves
1 T Gluten free flour (your choice)
3-4 C. Chicken Stock (I love Kitchen Basics)
2 T. Honey
2 T Tomato Paste
2 Cans Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

          Heat oil in large saucepan or dutch oven. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic, and cook for another few minutes, stirring constantly. Add chicken and stir well to coat with the onions and spices, and cook until the chicken is slightly browned and cooked through. Add the honey and 3 cups of chicken stock, stir, and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and tomato paste, and cook for another 15 minutes, adding chicken stock if it’s too thick. Now, take the T of GF flour and put it in a small dish, and add a few Ts of chicken stock, and stir into a thin paste. Add this to the pot, stirring well, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until thickened slightly. You want a nice sauce for your rice, and can add stock if it’s too thick, or cook down a bit if it’s too thin.
          Add salt and pepper to taste (don’t be afraid to salt generously; I don’t normally like a lot of salt, but ½-1 t of salt really brings out the flavor of this dish). Serve over hot rice.