Category: Baking

Weekend Adventures

Saturday morning I woke early.  I knew what I wanted to do.  I had been planning and plotting all week long.  I covered the dining room table in mason jars, each jar filled with flours and starches waiting to be dipped into.  Waiting to be discovered.  The anticipation grew as I thumbed through recipes one last time.  Each night during the week I tried to pare down my selections, but then a new post would show up in a blog I follow or I’d stumble onto a new page of a cookbook still largely unexplored and I’d be back to more recipes than one girl has time for.  In typical me fashion, in the end – I made them all.  I made the blueberry lemon muffins, the blackberry muffins, the apple rosemary muffins, the quinoa cranberry muffins, the biscuits, the quinoa breakfast bars, the almond butter brownies, the pumpkin granola and the chocolate chip pumpkin cookies.


Sunday was a different sort of day.  I pulled all the vegetable fragments out of the freezer and simmered a vegetable stock while two chickens baked in the oven.  I had two pots of quinoa simmering, one with the vegetable stock and one with the mexican flaired juices from the roasted chicken.  I made a pot of Mexcian Pumpkin Soup.  I pulled the meat from the chickens and roasted the bones.  The chicken stock simmered for hours and I’m left with gorgeous jars of amber hued liquid goodness.  I was nearly done, the flours waiting to be put back in the cabinet and the pots waiting to be scrubbed.  I couldn’t get the blog post I had seen out of my head.  The bread in the photograph had captured my attention.  The ingredients are not all readily available here, the recipe having been written in Europe, and I had not planned on that lovely loaf factoring into my day.  Once glance at  the clock and the flours on the table and I grabbed my lap top.  I pulled the recipe up and sorted out which flours I wanted to use.  With a whispered prayer I measured and mixed.  I waited for the yeast to foam and then I waited for the bread to rise.  I pulled the risen bread out of the slightly warm bowl and discovered something most astonishing.  It felt like bread dough.  I’ve become accustomed to the batter like texture of most doughs.  This was nothing like that.  This was firm and stretchy.  I gently slid that little round loaf into the oven and flipped the oven light on.  Rather than doing the dishes sitting in my sink, I watched that loaf rise, turn golden, and when I slid it back out of the oven I tapped the top of the bread.  Hollow echo returned to my ears and I knew, this was bread.  Warm pieces dipped in roasted red pepper infused olive oil had me dancing happy dances on my tile floor.  Suddenly it no longer mattered that a few hours earlier there was poultry blood wreaking havoc on my sanitary kitchen.  I nearly forgot the small figurine that I watched slide off the shelf and crash onto the tile floor I was now dancing upon.  The bread, it was real bread.  Honest to goodness artisan bread despite my alterations.  I want to play with that same recipe again, I want to see what else I can make it come.  I want to pull out those jars and play again but that first batch?  It worked just fine.

I may not have folded all the laundry, and yes I did forget to water the tomato plant and herbs yet again, but my freezer is stocked with muffins, rolls, and bread.  My refrigerator shelves are filled with homemade stocks and beautiful autumn infused soups.  That loaf of bread, the half that remains, waits in the freezer for my Love to taste when he arrives.  Oh, and that little figurine?  Sister glued her back together for me.  All in all, I declare it a delightful weekend.


Happy Eleven.

He’s eleven now.  That boy with hair the color and texture of mine.  He stole my heart when he was five.  He still manages to steal it now.  I don’t know how much longer he’ll want to play with me in the kitchen, but for now he’s excited to say “yes” when I ask if he wants to bake.  I promised him a chocolate caramel cheesecake when I found this recipe. I knew that these cookies would be the only conversion necessary to make the recipe safe for all of us to enjoy together.

He stood at the kitchen counter as I gathered the ingredients, we have baked together often enough he understands the routine.  Hands clasped in concentration he read from the directions I had printed.  Slowly we worked through each section together.  Frequently I called to him to look into the mixing bowl, to take a taste of the batter at each stage, to see what “creamed” looked like, to taste the bittersweet chocolate before it was blended into the caramel goodness.  Each phase his eyes lit up with anticipation.  He reminds me how to be entirely in the moment, to savor the process and not just the result.  He stared intently at the pot where the sugar turned to a consistency similar to rock candy, then to liquid, then to a lovely caramel.  He watched in fascination as it turned to a deep amber and laughed with glee as the cream made the amber goo foam.  That last taste of batter he told me “I can taste it, I can taste the caramel and the chocolate apart and together, the layers, I can taste them”.  His green eyes lit up with the discovery.  I smiled and told him “remember that Bear, always remember to taste as you go so that you understand how the taste was built”.  His only reply was a hug.

I showed him the food processor and gave him the ingredients for the crust.  He mixed it himself from start to finish, with pride.  He stirred and felt and thought.  He asked for more “wet stuff” and with a slight chuckle I handed him another tablespoon of butter. He mixed slowly and then told me “I think its right now, can you check with your head too?”.  With a quiet laugh I nodded my approval to him.  The woman in me smiled at the boy but the girl I once was sighed in deep satisfaction.  As a child I dreamed of the days I would teach my children to cook and bake not by words on a page but from my hand to theirs.  In my dream world my grown children would be asked how they knew how to prepare food and with a shrug they would say “I just know” because it would have been an always part of them.

God chose to give me a different version of my dreams.  The child with the wide eyes and awed laughter baked his own birthday cheesecake standing with me on my tile floor. A dream I didn’t have the wisdom to dream come true.

Happy Birthday my red headed boy. I love watching you experience life and find joy in the everyday experiences.  I love you.  Enjoy your cake, Precious One.

The Flours

When I first began to understand the havoc that gluten was wrecking on my body I read.  I read everything I could find on the subject.  I read books on celiac, gluten free cookbooks, and gluten free blogs.  I did not merely read them.  I devoured them.  I read them sitting on my couch, at the dinner table, while soaking in a hot bath, and curled into my soft cotton sheets.

I read the books cover to cover, trying to retain every tip and trick they held.  Don’t bake with a preheated oven.  Use parchment paper or silpat.  Don’t over mix.  Don’t over touch.  My list of dont’s was long but I was determined.  I read and I read and I read.

Still, I refused to bake.  Dinner I could muster.  Lunch was easy to solve, last nights leftovers worked just fine.  Breakfast, that wasn’t too hard.  I ate a lot of eggs in those first days until I discovered Rice Chex cereal was gluten free and came in cinnamon flavor.  I took to heart the advice, don’t try to replace all the old gluten laden loves, just learn to love the things God gave us that are naturally gluten free.  This I could do.  Bake with a whole new mindset?  That was a different story.

Yet, a mysterious thing began to happen.  Each week at the store I would find some new bag of flour had made it’s way into my cart.  It started with this mix.  It was good, but I have never been one to bake from a mix.  Then it was the brown rice flour, it seemed to me I might need that one if only for dinners.  The sorghum flour too, after all I had seen that used for fried chicken so it must be necessary even if I wasn’t going to bake.  It continued into a true quest, hunting down the amaranth and the still on-going hunt for the teff flour.  I read the origins of these ancient grains and I learned their nutritional benefit.  Slowly I filled my kitchen cupboard with jar after jar of powdered substances I did not yet understand.  They were familiar only in the words of those authors.

Eventually, it had to happen.  I had to bake.

The dark eyed boy came over for a visit and as small boys are inclined to, he holds a special passion for cookies.  Particularly chocolate chip cookies. I sighed and reached into the cabinet.  I had a mix on hand, purchased in those early fear filled days.  Those days when I was convinced baked goods were gone forever.  I kept it there in the cupboard to remind me that though life had changed, it was not gone merely different than it had been. I hesitated, but with a steely resolve I reached past that mix and picked up a jar.  I began to hand jar after jar to the boy, the assistant just waiting to measure and pour.  My countertop was filled with starches and flours, sugars and gums.  Ingredients I had yet to touch.  I remembered the proper way to measure and promised me that by this fall I’d own a kitchen scale so I could do this baking properly.  For now, I helped the wee hands scoop and measure, pour and stir.  With a smile  I slid the tray in the oven and wondered what I had done.

What had I done?  I baked cookies.  Good cookies.  Light, crisp, slightly salty and still just vaguely doughy cookies.  Cookies oozing with chocolate goodness.  I ate them warm from the oven in crumbled bits (which will happen if you ignore the requirement to let them sit for twenty minutes before you move them, but seriously who waits twenty minutes for the first cookies to cool?).  I ate them room temperature.  I stashed them in the freezer in a vain attempt to protect my waist line, but discovered that I love them frozen even more than I do fresh from the oven.

The boy?  He said “These are good” and that was it.  I asked him if he thought they were different and he shrugged and said “They are cookies” and I smiled in response.

I baked.

Healing body and soul

It snuck in early, this love I have for food.  It began as a comforting pass time, a tradition of foods learned at the side of a woman who was like a mother to me.  My best friends mother taught me the traditions of southern cooking.  She showed me how to make sure oil was hot enough to fry in.  A thermometer was never necessary for this task you merely have to watch the foam when you pinch a small bit of flour into the hot oil.  She taught me how to make saw mill gravy, chicken fried steak, and fried chicken.  We made endless pots of mashed potatoes and countless batches of chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches.  Sundays would find us with chopping board and can opener as the sun tea jar was filled with glorious Salsa, a staple for the week to come.

In those dark days after the unit of five became instead a unit of two and one of three those treasured days of cooking at her side faded.  Instead I cooked, alone, in my father’s kitchen.  His gleaming white ceramic tile floor and stark black appliances did not hold the comfort of cooking with her, but the food still called to me.  I experimented with baking, pulling from the oven batches of braided cinnamon bread, homemade pretzels, and more dozens of cookies than I could ever recall.  My bible-study group became my testing ground, and the speed with which the food disappeared became my measurement of success.

Those days held late night escapades with friends making crepes at three in the morning and a long afternoon with the cowgirl preparing for my father’s birthday party.  There was my first holiday meal prepared alone, and the first slight alterations to my mother’s dressing I dared to try.  There were abysmal failures and charred burning messes.  There were warm sugary treats that disappeared faster than I could make them.  There was a race car birthday cake and the pooh bear cake.

In those days, I loved food. I loved slipping into the quiet place of knife and cutting board, spice rack and garden, pulling from each the food we lived on.  It was a deeply satisfying time in my life.  When the world was crumbling and I was no longer sure of my place in it I returned to what I knew.  Sun tea jars filled with salsa, mashed potatoes and gravy next to fried chicken, and pasta dishes laden with fat but oh so divine on the tongue.  My red and white checked cook book is spattered with the evidence of that era in my life.  The dog eared pages between those covers speak of the many hours I spent pouring over words wondering how the simple ingredients translated from words on the page to tastes in the mouth.

I had forgotten I loved the art of cooking.  I had forgotten the deep satisfaction of simmering liquids and popping oils.  I had forgotten the way I love to meld texture and flavor waiting for it to become “just so”.  Until my Sweet One came along I rarely cooked.  The reasons no longer matter, what does is the fact that my knives are slowly dulling on the chopping block and my fingers are once again tainted with the slight aroma of garlic and onion.  My mind is whirling with recipe ideas and my kitchen table is covered with recipes printed from blogs of men and women who would not mind that my fingers smell of garlic.  Theirs do too.  My kitchen has been filled with the rich aromas of pomegranate cranberry beef, southwestern pot roast, and quinoa stuffed peppers.  I bought a mini food processor so that hummus and pesto could be prepared.   My blog reader is filled with cooking blogs, and my list of books on hold at the library all revolve around food.

Slowly, my kitchen is becoming a place of content solitude again. It’s becoming a place of healing as I learn to cook new foods, different foods, foods that are not poison to my body.  I no longer prepare the fat and gluten laden fare of my childhood.  These days it’s fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.  It’s quinoa, chicken, and eggs.  It’s new and yet it’s the same peace I’ve always known when the counters are covered in ingredients, the mixer is whirling and the percussive sound of knife against cutting board can be heard.