Before I tossed gluten aside, I baked bread all the time. It was a thing for me: a comfort, a craft. Its aroma confirmed to my heart that God is good. Eating a daily portion of it was sacred.
You were on call this morning, so you were at the hospital before the sun woke up. And I’m so sorry you missed it: a miraculous combination of cooperation and quiet that yielded me a chance to try out a new recipe. After stumbling downstairs with three hungry Goobies in tow; after digging through the freezer to find something other than cereal and bananas to feed their empty bellies; after settling on a combination of sliced strawberries, frozen waffles and hash browns (and letting them each choose whatever they wanted), they were full and happy and ventured off on their own to unleash their creativity before the sun was all the way up. There wasn’t any squabbling or pestering, either–just the happy sounds of happy kids. In the quiet, I was faced with a dilemma: sit and drink my coffee in peace, or take the opportunity to make a batch of muffins?
When it comes to cake, you and I are contentious about which flavor wins: chocolate or vanilla. It’s an ongoing battle that will never end because we are so dead set in our ways that we cannot–and will not–change our minds. You could easily live without chocolate, but my life lived without it would be no life at all.
It’s not that I dislike vanilla; it’s just that I like to think of it as a canvas upon which to play with color, composition, texture and form, but for you vanilla is a finished work of art, complete just as it is. For better or worse, we choose to live peaceably despite this disagreement. Plus, there are other flavors of cake that help smooth things over (like white cake with chocolate frosting, or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. It’s all about compromise.)
Through the years we have come to respect each other’s preference, of course, partially out of marital duty and partially because we understand each other a little bit more than we used to. We started listening to each other without trying to win the other onto our own team. Now we appreciate–and even enjoy–the differing perspectives we bring to the dessert table. You will happily eat a slice of chocolate cake (or gulp down a chocolate cupcake in swoop so the Goobies don’t see you going back for seconds), and I accepted the idea that you really do enjoy the one cake in the whole world that sounds completely boring to me: white cake with white buttercream frosting.
We try to lure the kids onto our own teams, but they generally have one foot in each camp because the truth is, they just plain like cake. Flavor matters little to them, as long as it tastes good. Given time, they’ll form their own opinions I think, but for now, cake wins.
When I started tinkering around with baking gluten and dairy free treats , I tried to tackle chocolate cake first (clearly) because this girl can only live so long without the stuff. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to be fair to vanilla, though, if only for the sake of our marriage. Admittedly, I actually liked the result of my efforts (and am restraining myself from nibbling on a slice as I write this).
I imagine some might say I liked this cake because my taste buds have forgotten what really good cake actually tastes like (given the fact that they are accustomed gluten free and dairy free treats taste like), but kids don’t lie about stuff as important as this–not ours, not any. Kids always tell the truth about cake.
I served slices of Vanilla Confetti Cake to a gaggle of kids at a baby shower yesterday: kids with food allergies that span the gamut of the top 8, along with a few kids (like Addie) without any food allergies to speak of. The consensus? “More cake! More cake! More cake!” — and that right there, my friend, is sort of the whole point of tinkering around with these recipes in the first place: to make a cake that tastes good, one that kids think is yummy, a cake that everyone can all agree on–whether we fall in the chocolate camp or the vanilla camp, gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy, nut allergies or no allergies at all. With this cake, everyone wins.
If dessert is art, this cake is a blank canvas in the best possible way. The confetti is only an option; leave the sprinkles out if you want a plain vanilla cake, or swap them out for mini chocolate chips (yum!) for a cake compromise. Disclaimer: I only ever make this cake with my own flour blends (click here for the recipes), both of which yield fantastic results. Smear Mema’s Buttercream on top for a classic decorated cake (as above) or serve with sliced strawberries and a dollop some coconut whipped cream for a springtime treat. Either way, you’ll end up with a masterpiece. This recipe makes two 8″ rounds or 24 cupcakes.
*If using banana instead of egg, reduce sugar to 1 1/2 cups
**If using coconut oil, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.
Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, spray two 8″ round cake pans with nonstick spray (or smear with coconut oil), then sprinkle a little gluten free flour in the pan and shake until the flour completely covers the oil. Set aside.
Next, sift together the gluten free flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together, and set that aside too.
Then in a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugar and beat the two together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip well. Turn the mixer off.
After that, measure 1 1/2 cups flax milk (or rice milk) into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and add the 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar to the measuring cup. Pour the vinegar/rice milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy–do not fret. Turn off the mixer and scoop in the dry ingredients about a cup at a time–dump, then mix; dump, then mix; dump, then mix; then turn the mixer on high and beat until the batter is smooth and luscious, about 1-2 minutes.
Finally, swirl those sprinkles into the batter and divide it between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the comes out clean (mine were perfect at 35 minutes, but oven temperatures vary. Cool the cakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting. (We love to top our cakes with Joey’s mom’s classic frosting recipe, which you can find here, way down at the bottom of the page after my recipe for chocolate cake.)
I bet you’ve never panicked about a cake before, but I have. I still do.
The only time that cake might have sort of caused a bit of a concern for you was when we sat down with the Cake Lady to discuss our wedding cake. Perhaps you wondered how a dedicated chocoholic like me and a plain white cake with buttercream boy like you would ever find enough common ground in the flavor department to place the order at all. (I know I was.)
Cake made me nervous then and it makes me nervous now. In hindsight, finding a way to compromise on a flavor was a walk in the park compared to what we deal with now. These days, I have much more pressing concerns than whether you’ll coax the kids to insist upon a flavor other than my beloved chocolate.
When I plunged into the gluten free world, baking a cake from scratch went from a pleasant way to spend an afternoon to a risky ordeal that was often not really worth the trouble. Cakes are temperamental anyway, but throw in the fact that it had to be gluten free, and baking a cake became a precarious endeavor. I figured it out eventually, of course, and have been baking cakes without much fuss since then–until lately. Now we have an almost-two-year-old (!?) with a dairy allergy who can’t be hoodwinked out of his fair share of cake, too. And so, baking a birthday cake became a problem.
Addie’s 6th birthday is tomorrow and we had a bunch of her friends over to help us celebrate a few days ago. We’ve been planning on this party for several weeks now, but I put off figuring out the cake part until last week, when suddenly I realized I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen experimenting with gluten free, dairy free cake recipes. I almost just bought a box of that Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix and called it a day. Except that I don’t bake with wheat flour anymore, and I didn’t want to contaminate all my baking gear with gluten. I thought about getting the gluten free version instead, but then I realized Emery wouldn’t be able to have them because that mix contains dairy. And so, I took a deep breath and bought an expensive box a gluten free cake mix because it was dairy free too–and easy.
I spent the money and walked out frustrated and pressed for time and a little thrown off by the fact that it was Halloween that day and you had Vertigo and all I wanted was just to bake my daughter a birthday cake that our whole family could eat and you know, enjoy, and I didn’t want to have to go through this frustrating process every time a birthday came around. I wanted a yummy cake recipe, a go-to cake recipe. I wanted to find THE cake recipe, the one I would turn to again and again and again through the Goobies’s childhoods, the one that would be so familiar I could bake it in my sleep if I had to (and I imagine there will be years ahead when that exact scenario will be necessary). But instead, I bought a cake mix.
Overwhelmed by all this, and very disappointed in the only sort of ok chocolate cupcakes the mix turned out, I decided to whip together a gluten free version of Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake and enjoy a slice with a glass of wine after everyone was down for the night. You know, because I deserved it. (gag). The original recipe isn’t gluten free or dairy free, but I made a few substitutions and tweaked it a little to fix that problem. And you know what? It was fantastic.
As I sat savoring that piece of delicious cake, I realized the Red Wine Chocolate Cake recipe was really just a riff on Smitten Kitchen’s Everyday Chocolate Cake, and I figured if I could transform the Red Wine cake into a gluten free/dairy free version, I could make a non-red wine cake for a crowd of kids. My suspicions were right: you even liked them, despite the fact that they were chocolate. You sneaked a cupcake after the party was long over, and said to me in your very serious voice, “These are really good, Rach.”
You like that these cupcakes are dense like a brownie (and laden with your mom’s famous not-really-butter buttercream frosting–recipe below). I like that they’re moist and actually have flavor (and that the cupcake wrapper effortlessly peels away from them without tearing the cupcake apart). The Goobies like them because they all get to eat them. I like that part too.
It’s safe to assume you’ll see these chocolate cupcakes again and again over the course of our children’s childhoods. And yes, I promise to figure out a vanilla cake cousin for these little beauties. Your birthday is coming up next, after all.
I hesitate to come out and say these are the best chocolate cupcake I have ever made because it is free of so many allergens and I doubt anyone would dare believe me. But I wouldn’t be paying this cake its due if I held out on you, now would I? So ok fine: these are the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever made, good enough to dupe you into thinking there must be one of the top 8 allergens in it. If you opt to use a banana instead of eggs (which is a very wise decision if I do say so myself) they are indeed free of dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish . Thick and moist with a tender crumb–deeply chocolately, yet not too sweet. This is chocolate cake perfection, food allergies or not. This recipe makes enough batter for 24 cupcakes or 2-8 inch rounds. The cake is done when a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. For two 8″ rounds, check the cake at 30 minutes–which is the perfect amount of time in my oven. I used Joey’s mom’s recipe for basic buttercream frosting (recipe below), but you can frost it as you like.
*If using banana instead of egg, reduce brown sugar to 3/4 cup
**If using coconut oil instead of Earth Balance or butter, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.
Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, line your cupcake pan with paper cups. (Bonus if you have a 24-cup pan!)
Next, sift together the gluten free flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together, and set aside to add to the wet ingredients later.
In a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugars and beat them together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip the batter together well. Turn the mixer off.
Pour 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and add the flax milk (or rice milk) into the same measuring cup until you reach the 1 1/2 cup mark. Pour the vinegar/flax milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy, but that’s ok. Turn off the mixer and dump in the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer back on (again!) and mix well, beating together until the batter is smooth and luscious.
Scoop the batter (about 1/4 cup per cupcake) into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean (mine were perfect at 22 minutes). Cool the cupcakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then pop them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Frost with whatever you desire, but we use my mother in law’s buttercream recipe, which I happily share below.
Mix first six ingredients together with a spoon, then beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the food coloring and mix again, adding more color as needed.
Up until this summer, Addie and Mia were perfectly happy to bob around in the water wearing their little floaties. I don’t blame them: those babies were their tickets to freedom. They plunged into the pool unafraid and enjoyed the safety and support the floaties provided.
This past June, something changed and they realized how much they couldn’t do, and how the floaties kept them from really moving freely about the water. Soon, they were flinging those things off and trying very hard to swim on their own. They thrilled at the idea of swim lessons and eagerly counted down the days until they started. When we arrived at the first lesson, their eyes swelled with excitement as they peered over the side of the gigantic pool. They breezed through the first level, excited about starting the next level because that is when they would start to swim on their own, like, for real. They were confident to start that new level up until the moment they had to let go of my hand and dip their little bodies into the frigid pool, lingering at the edge before reluctantly jumping into their instructor’s waiting hands. The reality of learning to swim on their own was a little frightening.
Once she jumped in, Mia’s confidence showed its lovely face. She flailed about in the water, flinging her hands and feet to and fro like a bug on its back trying desperately to get out of a puddle of water. A graceful water baby she is not. But she tries really, really hard, giving everything she’s got with a smile on her face. She approaches lessons with the sort of tenacity that tells me she believes she is already a swimmer, and the lessons are a mere formality.
On the flip side, Addie hesitated a little longer before getting in, but when she finally did, she looked like a natural as she slipped in and out of the water with ease and agility. Her poise masked her misgivings: the poor little thing battled through nervous tummy aches every day before class. She got in the water anyway, admitting she loves swimming enough to get in the water. The more I watched, the more I realized her reservations had nothing to do with fear of the water itself, but have more to do with being frustrated she does not already know how to swim. It was as if she felt like she should have this figured out already and making mistakes in the process of learning sets her on edge. She was not sure she had it in her to get the job done well.
They began learning how to do the freestyle, the first, most basic stroke. I watched Addie’s arms plunge in and out of the water and Mia’s kicking legs bent and not at all propelling her forward. Their instructor praised them all the same, cheering them on and applauding their efforts. As I watched and listened and clapped and waved, I couldn’t help but identify with Addie. Like her, I shy away from doing hard things for fear I will do them wrong, and messing up is not something I deal with very well. This was especially true for me when I first found out I had to remove gluten from my diet, and believe it or not, that’s what I was thinking about as I watched those girls try again and again to get the stroke just right.
I thought about how overwhelmed and lost I felt when I first heard the news that gluten was responsible for how sick I had been for so long. For me, it wasn’t as simple as just not eating bread. It was bigger and wider and more terrifying than that, as if everything I knew about cooking was thrown overboard, myself along with it, and I was drowning in an unknown, dark ocean of grief, hopelessness and despair.
I know that sounds overly dramatic. Maybe it is. But gluten is everywhere, and figuring out how to move freely within the gluten free world was paralyzing. I was not up for the task at first, so I grabbed onto things I knew would keep me afloat: prepackaged, gluten free foods that did their job of keeping gluten out of my system, but certainly did not teach me how to cook with comfort in my kitchen again. These products were my floaties, enabling me to bob around a bit, but limiting my freedom. And I was thankful for them at first: my body was healing and I was grieving and it hurt too much to try and fail and try and fail. I was both upset I didn’t already know how to cook/live/be gluten free and very afraid to really try.
I’m sure some people plunge into the gluten free world with abandon. They are like Mia, confident they will eventually figure it out and not terribly worried if they don’t get the hang of it right away. I was more like Addie: upset I had to start from scratch because it felt like I should already know how to do all this. And I was also very afraid to fail at it.
It took me a long time to listen to my own advice about making mistakes in the kitchen: it really is part of the learning process. We learn something essential when we goof up and have to figure out how to fix it (or how to nix it). But I finally, finally, let myself deal with the fact that gluten and I don’t get along, and if I ever wanted to be free of my floaties and really enjoy life in my kitchen again, I had to swallow my pride and risk making a mess out of things. The biggest lesson I learned: it was not nearly as difficult as I once imagined it would be, and the only thing that really stood in my way was my own fear of failure.
That is why I was able to tell Addie with absolute certainty that she would catch on, she would figure it out, and any mistakes she made in the process were really a good thing because they would teach her something essential. Plus, her fear of failure was really a desire to do well, and realizing that is sometimes all the motivation you really need to do the hard work of trying.
This recipe is one of the first I tackled when it finally came time to figure out how to make my own beloved recipes gluten free. It is the muffin at our house, the one we make for friends and new neighbors and small groups and Saturday mornings. The really unique ingredient here is olive oil, which lends a fruity, somewhat sophisticated flavor to the muffin, one that I highly recommend. If the idea of using olive oil doesn’t appeal to you, you can use either melted refined coconut oil or canola oil instead. Can’t do eggs? Use 1/4 cup applesauce instead. This recipe can be baked in a loaf pan instead; bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is crackled and golden, and a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.
3 medium ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 cups of mashed bananas)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (or regular cane sugar)
*2 cups good quality gluten free flour blend that measures cup for cup (like this one), or white whole wheat flour, if gluten isn’t an issue for you.
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (if desired. It’s easy to omit this ingredient, but I rarely–if ever–do.)
*add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum if your gluten free flour blend doesn’t already contain it
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin tins with paper baking cups, or coat a regular loaf pan (or an 8×8 baking pan) with nonstick spray.
First, the dry ingredients: in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum (if using), baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set it to the side.
Now, the bananas: remember, the uglier and more bespeckled they are, the better they are for baking. In our house, I call those little black specks sweet spots to help my girls accept that “ugly” bananas could be good for anything besides dumping in the garbage. Like I say to them, the more sweet spots there are, the better the banana bread will turn out.
Take the easy way out and mash those bananas using a stand mixer (or a regular old handheld mixer will do, too). Just throw all three peeled bananas in whole, turn the motor on medium-high, and let the paddle attachment do its magic.
Once the bananas are smashed and mostly smooth, add the olive oil. Once the bananas and oil have emulsified, add the egg, sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk again for a minute or two, until the mixture is velvety and smooth.
Remember those dry ingredients? Add them gradually, whisking between additions. Pour and whisk, pour and whisk, pour and whisk. With every addition, stir until the flour mixture is moistened, but don’t over mix (a few seconds on medium speed should do the trick). Once all the dry ingredients are incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into those muffin tins you have waiting in the wings. Scoop about a 1/4 cup of the batter into each cup (or plunk the whole thing in a loaf pan), and sprinkle each top with a little bit more sugar.
Pop the pan into the oven and bake, about 18 minutes (or 50-60 minutes, for a loaf), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the pan sit for about 3 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before eating them–if you can wait that long.
Yesterday we picked the last three apples from our gnarled old apple tree. Those beauties ripened just as the school year wrapped up last spring, when the promise of summer was fresh and exciting. Somehow, summer slipped by and here we were picking the last few of them just two days before school starts again.
We can’t really make sense of this summertime harvest: apples are a fruit of the fall. What’s the deal with all these things hanging around during the hot summer months, the worst time of the year to turn on the stove and make something with them? I did my best: I baked batch after batch of spiced brown sugar apple crisp and applesauce muffins, along with several jars of applesauce. I sliced apples for the freezer and for fancy cheese platters and for summertime snacks. And we know how many apples Emery munched on while swinging in the afternoons. Still, so many of our apples went to waste. The lawn was littered with them, bruised and cracked open and piling up faster than we liked because it was so hard to use them all.
I feel pretty guilty about all this. I lovingly blame my grandparents: they had an apple tree in their backyard and darn it if they didn’t find a way to use up every last bit of fruit that tree produced. I can still see them working in their kitchen: my grandpa manning the apple peeler and magically transforming apple skins into curly green ribbons while my grandma flits to and fro, slicing apples and hovering over the hot stove, watching as the apples cooked down. They must have done this many times for the duration of apple season because by the time it was over, their freezer was filled to the brim with applesauce and apple crisps.
Not us: we did the best we could, but still so many apples went unused. Every time we tossed another bucketful of rotten apples into the yard waste bin, my heart sank a little lower in defeat. Even as I write this, I hear my Grandma Teague’s voice chiding me, saying “How you managed to put up any of those apples is beyond me! You’re a busy girl, my dear.” She’s right: I need to give myself more grace. We had more apples than we could deal with.
At the beginning of summer, a tree full of ripening fruit symbolized the promise of months ahead full of sweet moments, and I vowed to make the most of every last one of them. And I did, a lot of the time. But as summer wore on, that apple tree turned into an hour glass that emptied too fast. Time passed and apples fell, and I felt more and more pressure to do more, be more, enjoy more, because soon these golden days would be over. The more pressure I put on myself, the more weary I became. I let more and more apples fall without giving them my attention. Before I knew it, the apples ran out.
Summer is gone now; school starts today. The tree sits outside our kitchen window empty, and I wonder if I let too many moments with the girls slip by without giving them my full attention, too, just like I did with those apples. I whisper to God, “Was it good enough?” as I wonder how the girls will remember this summer, hoping their memories will hold on to the good stuff and toss away the bad.
As I sat wondering all this, I thought about Galations 6:9. the verse that talks about not growing weary while doing good, especially to those closest to you, and how it will bring about a good harvest at the right time. I struggle to feel like I’ve done that at all because I became weary a lot this summer, letting moment after precious moment fall, too tired to make the most of every single one of them.
I put so much pressure on myself to make this summer perfect, but in His kindness God reminded me that the process is ongoing. The apple tree is empty now, but the hard work that will bring about the next harvest is just getting started. So it is with the school year: by next summer, what a good crop we will bring in if we work hard with the end goal in mind. They’ll be like a “trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they [will] prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:3, NLT). Being in the moment and investing our time and energy into their little lives, little by little, will turn into something beautiful and good.
After we cleared the branches and brought the last of the apples inside yesterday, I set to work on yet another apple crisp, one meant to share with friends who we had not seen all summer long. It seemed fitting to mark the occasion with the last of our little harvest of apples. The girls surprised me by asking if they could help, and I hesitated for a moment. I really wanted to get the job done quickly because our friends would be there soon and I still hadn’t showered for the day, but with all these ideas about wasted time swirling around my head, I said yes instead. Addie hopped up on the counter and helped mix a few ingredients together before insisting she take pictures as Mia and I worked on the rest. And so, we enjoyed the last real free afternoon of summer vacation peeling, slicing, and baking, turning the last of the bit of the season into something special.
I realize I’ve been talking a lot about apples lately, but I offer this recipe as penance for my repetition. Gluten free, dairy free and nut free (as always, around here), this Crumble is based on my Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp, but tweaked just enough to make it a little bit more indulgent. The topping is a little heartier, but the brandy is really what sets this dessert apart–don’t skimp on it. The alcohol cooks out as it bakes, leaving a delicate brandy flavor that melds beautifully with the brown sugar and spices. We top it with vanilla bean ice cream, of course–as long as Emery isn’t around.
For the Filling:
30 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 6-8 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
4 1/2 Tablespoons Brandy
4 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons evaporated cane juice (pure cane sugar works too) 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Topping:
2 1/2 ounces coarsely ground oats (gluten free if necessary)
1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (pure cane sugar works too)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 Tablespoons Earth Balance, melted (regular butter works too)
pinch of salt
*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 3 1/2 quart baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).
Wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the brandy on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the brandy is well distributed among the apples.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour them on top of the apples and toss it all together until each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.
Pop it into the oven and leave it there for 60 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar is melted and bubbly.
The cupboards are pretty empty again. I swear I went shopping five days ago, but between summertime growth spurts and the bottomless pit of a boy we share our table with now, food doesn’t last long around here. Gone are the days when we could get by with making dinner out of a single pound of ground turkey, or when we could stretch a pint of strawberries through more than one meal. These kids clamor for snacks before I finish clearing up the mess from the last time they insisted I feed them. They eat all day long, and I spend so much time feeding them, I usually forget to feed myself. I never thought that was possible.
To make matters more desperate, we’re on week three of swim lessons, which means the girls are even hungrier than usual. They come out of the water ravenous for a snack right now. I feel like I should be stuffing a muffin in their mouth while I wrap them up in their towels like burritos, instead of giving them fruit leather to munch on after they were settled in the stroller.
This week, I followed that feeling and made some mini muffins. I balked at the 90 degree weather, turned on the oven anyway and proceeded to figure out a way to make applesauce and buckwheat appealing to little tummies. Cranking the air conditioning up a degree or two seemed a small price to pay to have a heartier snack at the ready after swim lessons were over. But wouldn’t you know, those Goobies accosted me for the muffins on the way out the door on Monday afternoon, insisting But I’m hungry right now! and Yes, I’m sure it won’t give me a tummy ache while I’m in the water!
So I handed each girl their own little baggie of them and helped Emery eat one of his own before herding everyone into the car. By the time Addie climbed into her car seat, she was on muffin number two. Halfway through it she paused to say, “Mommy! Hear this!” and sang me a song:
“You really like those applesauce muffins, huh Mia?” I asked, trying to confiscate the last few to save for their original intended purpose.
The entire batch was gone before lunch.
These muffins are a great way to introduce buckwheat flour to your battery of gluten free baking supplies. I experimented with it when I first went gluten free, but it tooksome time for me to find a combination of flavors that made me really fall in love with the stuff. The applesauce, cinnamon and coconut sugar work together perfectly here, making the buckwheat’s subtle nutty flavor shine. All of my kids eat these muffins with enthusiasm, and I imagine yours will too.
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
Remember all those years ago when we started praying for fruit? I think about how that prayer has been answered every time I pick an apple off of our apple tree.
It all started because we cancelled our membership to a local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) because our grocery budget couldn’t really handle the novelty of it anymore. It seemed like a good decision at the time. It was the middle of winter, we were getting a whole lot of lacinato kale, swiss chard and leeks that just sort of sat in our fridge, sad and limp at their lack of use. There were only so many ways we could think to cook a leek, after all.
Even so, my ego took a hit when we decided to forego the delivery service for awhile. I was an informed and responsible consumer and belonging to a CSA made a difference, you know? But we were still getting used to the expenses that arrive the same day a child does, and so we chose to go back to buying commercially produced fruit and vegetables again, promising we would be more diligent with our dollars for awhile and go back to the CSA when our wallet loosened up a bit.
But time kept us moving along and we didn’t go back. We had another baby, moved in with my parents and started the year long work of saving for a house of our own. In the midst of all that, we started remembering our CSA boxes with the sort of wistfulness that made us long for the ease of just-picked fruit magically landing on our doorstep before the sun came up. We even missed that fridge full of wilted winter vegetables (leeks in particular, ironically, because of those tempura leeks. Hallelujah.) We talked about joining the CSA again, but we just couldn’t seem to make it work for our family. I still felt pretty deflated about it. Even the promise of making it work once we moved into our home, the place we’d plant ourselves and grow together as a family, didn’t really help. And so I did what I always do when I don’t get my way: I pouted.
When I came to my senses, put away my bottom lip and thought about why any of this mattered to me at all, I realized this: something primordial is lost when produce is produced commercially. Food was created to be good. It is supposed to taste good. The way our food system works now, most of us are missing out on the goodness of that food. Everyone knows a tomato freshly plucked from its vine tastes nothing like its mealy, flavorless counterpart available at any major supermarket. Our kids sure do: they spit out grape tomatoes purchased from the store, complaining the little things sting their tongue. But they’ve race toward our own grape tomato bush nearly every morning this summer, picking the firey red ones as fast as they can shove them into their mouths.
God intended for food to taste amazing when he created it. I’m sure of it:
I have a hard time believing God only saw the functionality and efficiency of his design as good. This is the same God that illuminates the sky at night with beacons of blazing glory; the same God that infuses a baby’s head with its intoxicating sweetness; the same God that paints flowers in resplendent hue. This is the God that created our food for our nourishment and our enjoyment.
It’s hard to feel like I don’t have a choice but to feed our kids virtually tasteless, pesticide laden foods. It’s hard to teach them to love fruits and vegetables when the ones they’re given are mushy and tasteless. It’s hard to make a case for eating more of them when it feels more like punishment than something to savor. It’s hard to miss out on experiencing the glory of the way food is supposed to taste.
And so, I began to pray for organic fruit. And I asked you to start praying for organic fruit too. I felt a little foolish suggesting it, but since food is so central to life, I decided a strange prayer like that wasn’t really so weird after all. Plus, I was ready to be rid of the weird mix of guilt, humiliation and longing that still harassed me every time I went shopping. But you didn’t laugh at me. You affirmed me and added to the depth of the prayer, reminding me that fruit is the thing toward which much energy and attention moves; an end product; a result of effort spent. Wasn’t that what we were doing that year, saving for a home? (Not to mention our children’s lives–who they are and who they are becoming–don’t we pray for a rich harvest there, too?) And so, we began praying for fruit. The organic kind.
Eventually, the arduous year of saving for a house produced fruit of its own, and we found ourselves putting down roots in a house with a gnarled old apple tree standing proud in the backyard. I didn’t love the tree at first, but then springtime came and we marveled at they way its blossoms sprang to life and my heart changed. Apples followed, and come back every summer, a very real answer to prayer. We may not be part of a CSA again yet, but we have organic fruit growing at our house.
We’ve been enjoying these apples this summer especially. It’s a little funny that the tree produces before the fall, I think; but I pray our kids remember this summer spent under its branches, picking its fruit and nibbling on them before breakfast in the early morning sunshine. As Addie was eating one just last week, she sighed and said to me, “this is the best apple I’ve ever tasted.”
This recipe evolved from my disastrous first attempt at making a gluten free pie crust. I had never made a gluten free pie before, but with so many apples around, I couldn’t very well not bake a pie, could I? But my best effort nevertheless turned into a salty, gloppy paste. Happily, I have enough of my Grandma Teague’s good sense in me to salvage the apples and make an apple crisp instead. Later, as Joey spooned it into his mouth straight from the baking dish, he announced between bites, “I like this better than apple pie anyway.”
For the Filling:
20 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 4-6 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Gluten Free Flour Blend*
2 Tablespoons evaporated cane juice (pure cane sugar works too) 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Topping:
3 1/2 ounces coarsely ground oats (gluten free if necessary)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup refined coconut oil
pinch of salt
*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9′ pie plate or glass baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).
Then, the dirty work: wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the lemon juice on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the lemon juice is well distributed among the apples.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour the spicy goodness on top of the apples and toss it together as you would a salad so that each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.
On to the topping: in a separate bowl, cut the coconut oil into the ground oats, sugar, etc., until it looks like coarse sand. Spread evenly over the top of the apples.
Pop the pan into the oven and leave it there for 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar melts into spicy liquid love, bubbling up around the edges and beckoning to be married with vanilla ice cream.
Let’s talk of pleasant things, shall we? Skip all the “There’s been so much going on, lately” catch-up and jump straight to Christmas cookies? What do you say?
Christmas cookies have been on my mind for the past couple of days, ever since my Grandma Teague told me she was just getting her Christmas baking underway. As I listened to her admit that she was finally letting go of the need to strive toward perfection during Christmastime and was only going to bake a handful of varieties of cookies this year, I completely missed the point and started fretting about the fact that I myself haven’t started my Christmas baking yet. Nor had I made any sort of list or plan about cookies and the people to whom they would eventually be given.
I guess the truth is that I don’t think of myself as a Christmas baker. I bake during Christmas – that is true. I even enjoy it and honestly, the season just doesn’t feel complete without doing at least a little of it. But I do not have an urge or need to make any one certain treat this time of year. I know that sounds completely bizarre coming from me of all people, but truly, I am pretty content with letting other people do all the dirty work so I can loaf on the couch with a box of Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s and a tin of my mom’s Russian Tea Cakes.
But alas, the more I thought about Christmas cookies and how I am the mom now, and responsible for making new traditions (or passing on old ones) to our children, I realized I ought to get my act together and at least devote a little bit of brain power to what sorts of cookies I want our girls to think of when they think of Christmas. It was just this afternoon when I decided that Spritz cookies were going to be at least one tradition to pass on. There may be others that make the cut along the way too, but for now, those are the ones I am going to perfect.
Ah, Spritz cookies. Those delightful little butter cookies decorated with shimmering red and green sprinkles. They always looked a little bit like ornaments to my little girl eyes. I can see them piled high in a funky old Christmas tin alongside all the other treats that filled my Grandma’s dessert table. In my memory, there was always a great variety of cookies, but the ones I remember most clearly are Russian Tea Cakes, Krumkake, and of course, Spritz cookies.
First, prepare your cookie press by getting everything set up (design plate chosen/inserted and get everything assembled to the point where all you need to do is add the dough).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then, soften (but don’t melt!) the butter. In a stand mixer, mix the butter and sugar on medium high until well combined. Add the egg, extracts, and salt; reduce speed to low. Add the xanthan gum (if using), cocoa powder and flour. Stir until just combined. The dough will be sticky.
Then, fill your cookie press, and press the dough out onto an ungreased cookie sheet (don’t use parchment paper, either). You can add sprinkles at this point, if you want to – just sprinkle on top before you put the cookie sheet in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes–much longer, and they’ll burn. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.
*Variation: for plain Chocolate Spritz Cookies, increase vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and omit peppermint extract.
We’ve talked a lot about aging in the past few months, how after we turned 30 our bodies started to ache in places we didn’t really pay any attention to before. A good night’s sleep became more elusive than ever (even after our babies started sleeping through the night), and as it turns out, we carry our stress in our shoulders and necks, and our bodies respond with aches and pains to the stress that surrounds us – whether we are conscious of that stress or not. And lucky for me, my doctor told me that the symptoms of IBS will persist for as long as the stress in my life is present. Great.
The doctor’s instructions and the FODMAP information sat on the counter for well over a month before I got desperate enough to try it. Until I really studied it, made a plan (and a special trip to Whole Foods’ gluten free section), I felt like it was too much to take on. But the pains persisted, as did my complaints, and so in an act of kindness (or was it frustration?), you pledged to join me in it- for support, for solidarity. To help me stay strong and make the effort to eliminate all the potential triggers that could be causing the pains I’ve been experiencing for far too long now.
Because of the low FODMAP diet’s strict limitations, I have found myself making adjustments around here by cooking and eating more meat in the past week than I have in the last several months put together (beans are a no no). Not only that, but I’m also munching on rice cakes smeared with almond butter, stirring up batch after experimental batch of gluten free muffins, urging Addie to eat her sugar snap peas (while I cannot partake with her, as is the norm), and trying very hard to use bell peppers instead of onions in recipes that might be somewhat forgiving of the swap.
I guess it’s the grown up, mature thing to do to start listening to our bodies and giving them the kind of attention they need. It feels a little selfish and a little bit over the top (really? I can’t even eat apples?), but I’m learning that taking care of myself is really an act of love for others, too. Being kind to myself, giving myself the thought and attention and things that I need to be healthy and strong means that I’m giving our girls the gift of a healthy mom, and you the gift of a healthy wife, right? I hope I’m right.
On the upside, delving into a culinary world that differs from the typical American diet can’t be all bad, right? In the end, we’ll (hopefully) be a little bit healthier, and I will have learned a few tricks to add to my kitchen arsenal should it turn out that I have a significant sensitivity to wheat (or lactose, or soy, or onions, or or or . . . ).
Breakfast was my biggest problem when giving up wheat became necessary for me. But Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix came to my rescue, as it can easily be substituted for regular all purpose flour (which makes transforming most recipes very easy). I used Smitten Kitchen’s Pumpkin Muffin Recipe as a guide, along with the gluten free baking mix and swapping out maple syrup for the sugar (except for the topping). Of course, you could use regular all purpose flour and regular baking powder to make a conventional version of these muffins. I suspect they would be just as delicious. Everyone in my house loved them – even Addie, my pickiest eater. She ate two in one sitting. The whole batch was gone within 24 hours.
1 1/2 cups gluten free All Purpose Baking Mix (such as Arrowhead Mills)
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your gluten free all purpose baking mix already contains xanthan gum)
topping: 1 tablespoon pure cane sugar + 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners, or otherwise grease the tin very well.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In another even smaller bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon. Set this aside as well.
In a medium mixing bowl (or using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer), whisk together the pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Spoon into your prepared muffin pan and top with cinnamon sugar mixture (as much or little as you’d like per muffin).
Bake for 25 minutes, or until puffed up and golden.