I bake when winter’s cold seeps through every nook and cranny, barging inside when it’s not welcome. Spring feels far away on days like these, so I cope by baking blueberry muffins. They brighten the day and remind me that harsh, hard seasons eventually fade into warmer, more welcoming ones, and this season will too.
Winter reminds me of hard days when kitchen life turned upside down. My outlook was bleak. The promise of good food felt elusive, even laughable–nothing like it was in my childhood. Back then the kitchen beckoned, I answered its call out of curiosity, not necessity. I was lucky enough to have parents who indulged my desire to explore to my heart’s content (God bless them). Lots of good stuff came out of those early experiments.
Oh, there were plenty of flops, too, but even the worst of them didn’t deter me from getting back into that kitchen the next day. Trial and error has been part of the process for as long as I can remember. Every miserable failure fueled my drive to get back behind the stove and try, try again. This recipe is the result of that resolve.
Of all the challenges this unconventional kitchen life handed me, baking without grains was the trickiest. Gluten free baking was tough enough, but at least that still uses grains. Learning how to use alternative flours (almond, arrowroot, coconut, tapioca, potato) is like learning a different language. Nuance gets lost in translation, complicating the exchange. Discovering cassava flour was like meeting a good interpreter who makes meaning out of the mess.
Miracles don’t make sense, exactly, but they do have meaning. These muffins are naturally grain/gluten free and accommodate for all the top allergens. (They contain egg, but work beautifully with an egg replacer.). The basic recipe is plain on purpose: it can be dressed up on a whim with all sorts of flavors and textures. Feel like lemon poppy seed? Use this recipe. Curious about cranberry orange? Use this recipe. Craving chocolate chip? Use this recipe. It’s endlessly adaptable.
Today we made blueberry lemon because citrus helps lift our moods in the middle of a dreary day. It reminds us brighter days of spring really will come again and prompts us to watch the miracle unfold.
Until it does, we’ll be keeping warm by baking batch after batch of these muffins. I hope you do too!
It’s no secret food is my love language. Food speaks to me louder than almost anything. I gave myself a bad time about this for years. “What’s wrong with you?” I’d ask, shaming myself for the embarrassing amount of time I caught myself dreaming about food.
Cooking went from comforting to cruel when gluten turned against me, and I shamed myself again for grieving the loss of something so trivial. It’s just food, Rach. Get over it, I’d say. But I couldn’t just get over it, and if you are reading this today I imagine you couldn’t just get over it either when your food life flipped upside down.
Here’s what I learned: it’s 100% totally fine to be upset when we lose things we love. Grief is part of the healing process. To deny ourselves the time and space to feel the emotions that come along with loss robs us of the opportunity to make peace with what we have left. I was sad I lost gluten. Sad again when I lost peanuts and pine nuts and pea protein and cashews, then pistachios and eggs and dairy and sunflower seeds and egg and shrimp. Things went from hard to harder until life felt miserably unfair, and I shouted at the heavens asking, “Are you kidding me?”
Deciding these foods were off-limits was easy; making peace with their absence was hard. Some eventually came back (hallelujah and hello eggs!), but I felt funny about mourning the loss of all the others. Keeping them away kept our bodies safer, but my heart was still broken. I got angry that my love for food and comfort in the kitchen didn’t prepare me for any of this.
I woke up one day wondering if my sadness would seep into the kids’ skin, irreversibly embittering their hearts toward the goodness and beauty of the gift God gave us in food. I don’t wonder about that anymore: those kids love food like I do–perhaps more so, in some ways. Emery says he wants to open an allergy friendly restaurant where anyone can find something safe to eat, and Mia wants to develop allergy friendly recipes and share them on a cooking show of her own. The kitchen became their favorite place to spend time because food speaks to their hearts too.
These Chocolate Sticky Buns called their name before they called mine. And instead of hearing an enemy to fear, they heard a question to answer: “Mom!” the Goobies called from the other room where they were watching an episode of Cook’s Country. “How can we make those?” they asked, pointing to a pan of pastries smothered in dark, decadent chocolate sauce. “Easy,” I said, confident that by now I could manage to pull off a gluten free / dairy free version of the original. Their eyes lit up and they started the episode all over again, this time Mia writing down every ingredient, every tool, every step in the process before asking, “When can we try?”
Saturday was the designated day I never saw coming. Eight years ago, rolling dough out with my daughter was a dream I couldn’t see coming true. Watching it rise, rolling it out then rolling it back up again was as far-fetched an idea as walking on the moon. But it happened.
I berated me for loving food too much at first, then I beat myself up for not knowing enough about it later. Little did I know both those things would help me define a kitchen culture that celebrates safe food and embraces trial and error as the most essential tool in my arsenal. Although sadness still ebbs and flows in all of us, celebration and adventure are foundations upon which we stand when we give new things a try.
And I’m so grateful to be here, because this is the place we heard chocolate sticky buns calling.
I know calling pie crust life-changing is dramatic, but the rigmarole of finally arriving at a place where grain free, pie crust and good can coexist in the same sentence warrants it.
Those of you who gave up grain like I did (and still feel the sting of foregoing the classic comfort food) can attest that finding a good alternative to mainstream foods is life-changing, both in our kitchens and in our overall quality of life. Good food makes us feel good again, doesn’t it?
And this crust really is good–easy, even. It’s certainly not perfect, but its imperfection lends indelible charm. Classic and unconventional; adaptable and finicky; empty and waiting to be filled, this crust gets the job done.
And yet, it falls apart on me every time. The craggy mess of a dough smooths out easily when rolled, but transferring it to the pie plate is another story. It’s sticky and messy and just plain not the same to work with as “normal” pie dough. It falls apart, which frustrated me until I realized how easily it mends together again. The dough is finicky, perhaps, but not futile. It’s forgiving when it yields itself to a tender hand that wants to see it succeed. Against all odds, making it work well is pretty easy after all.
Making this crust reminds me think of what David said in Psalm 103:5: “He fills my life with good things.” (NLT). Sin, disease and death plagued David, but he nevertheless showed up and opened himself to the possibility that God would make things right again. He celebrated when God filled his life with good things after hardship made it seem impossible.
David was like pie crust: fragile, imperfect, and desperately in need of something good to fill the empty space. I am like pie crust too: flaky and fragile and completely forgettable on my own. Created for something good, I remain broken or empty or both unless I am flexible enough to trust the hand of the one who is transforming me into something beautiful. Maybe we’re all a little bit like pie crust. When we sit ready to receive the good things God pours out, we end up better than we could have been on our own.
I may not be happy I ended up in a kitchen where grain free baking is the norm now, but I opened myself up to the possibility that something really good will come out of it anyway. God promises to give us good things, and his faithfulness does not depend on my feelings.
I’m so thankful for that.
And I’m thankful for this pie crust too. It may not be perfect, but it sure is good.
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.
Vanilla Confetti Cake
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.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 3/4 cup softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
*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.
Chocolate Cake Cupcakes
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.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 6 oz softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar*
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened original non-dairy milk beverage (we prefer Good Karma Flax Milk)
*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.
Mema’s Buttercream Frosting
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon meringue powder–omit to keep the frosting egg-free
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.
Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins (GF/DF/NF*)
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 isthe muffinat 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.
Brandied Apple Crisp (GF/DF/NF)
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 crisp is based on my recipe for Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp, which was born out of a need to modify my Grandma’s famous Apple Crisp. This version is 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. And of course, we topped off with with dairy free vanilla ice cream, because is there really any other way to eat it?
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 pure cane sugar
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 gluten free oats
1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 Tablespoons Soy Free 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:
Do you know the muffin lady, the muffin lady, the muffin lady?
Do you know the muffin lady who lives in San Ramon?
Yes I know the muffin lady, the muffin lady, the muffin lady.
Yes I know the muffin lady because she is my mom.
She then giggled and settled into her seat, clearly enjoying how clever she was, and finished the third muffin before we got out of the driveway.
The next morning, I set what was left of the first batch of those muffins onto the kitchen table and let the girls help themselves for breakfast. Before I knew it, most of them were gone and Mia looked intent on finishing every last one of them.
“You really like those applesauce muffins, huh Mia?” I asked, trying to confiscate the last few to save for their original intended purpose.
“Yep, I sure do,” she said. “I guess I’m just a muffin girl.”
The entire batch was gone before lunch.
This afternoon was cooler, so I took advantage of it and had Mia help me bake another batch of those little muffins. I am the muffin lady, after all. I have a reputation to live up to–and hungry mouths to feed.
Applesauce Mini Muffins (GF/DF/NF)
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 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup Gluten Free flour blend
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 cup Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (or 1/2 cup coconut sugar or evaporated cane juice. These yield a slightly sweeter muffin)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
First, turn your oven on to 375 degrees and give a mini muffin pan a good coat of nonstick cooking spray.
Move on to the dry ingredients. Measure the first seven ingredients into a medium sized mixing bowl and whisk them together. Set aside.
In another, slightly larger mixing bowl, add all the wet ingredients (the following five ingredients) and whisk to combine well. Then gradually tip the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, whisking as you go until the batter forms and there aren’t any more pockets of flour to be found.
Scoop the muffins into the muffin pan using a mini ice cream scoop (or use regular spoons to fill each muffin cup with about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of batter). Dust with cinnamon sugar and bake for 13 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).