Sunday, January 30, 2011

Did I Just Call Her "Dude" ?

I love Saturdays. It's a baking day for Mommy and everybody knows it. Oh, I'll get the kids to their various activities; Taekwan-do, drama, guitar, the mall (Not really an activity, Oscar!), but for the most part, since the hubs is home, everyone has grown to accept that I will be creating recipes, "doin' my thang" on Saturdays. Sometimes Sunday too if I can get away with it. I love my baking! Truth be told, I think our four kids enjoy the fact that their mom is always in the kitchen baking.

I remember coming home from a hard day of junior high school, for example, and if my mom had been baking that day the smell right behind my opening of the front door was the giveaway. Something just set my mind at peace with that smell. It really could be anything...chocolate chip cookies (even though, yikes, I'm not a fan of chocolate!), brownies, apple pie for after dinner, you know, the old standbys. Those were what we got in our household and nobody minded a bit! Homemade is homemade goodness, organic love.

 So, the kids and my man know to just give me some room on Saturdays. Except Quinn. She's our three-year-old. Six-feet of attitude stuffed into a 3-foot sack! For real. She's mostly a bundle of snuggles, but DO NOT say "no" to her! She has a long memory and if she wants something or wants to do something, she will turn on the siren. If you hold your ground, she will turn UP the siren. Like a friend of ours said, "She's got stamina." That she does. This morning is a good example of "Baby Quinn's" persistence.

I had big plans for some amazing looking figs I came across at Whole Foods. I felt as if I needed to update the Crisp. You know. The crisp with the soft, sweet underbelly and the topping made of crispy goodness. More on that in a moment. Back to Quinn... She was determined to "help" me in the kitchen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Doorstop Disasters and Lunchbox Successes

Each time I try to come up with a new gluten free/dairy free recipe I am confronted with the very real posibility that it will fail. Even three years into this adventure of gluten free baking, I fail miserably sometimes. The other day I was working on a new bread recipe and I knew before the dough was even through the mixing stage that it wasn't going to work. It had a consistency of gritty, lumpy cement. So, I threw it out amidst pointed questions from my husband about why didn't I just try to bake it. See how it turns out. After all, I worked so hard on it and isn't that stuff expensive? Well, sometimes you just know. That dough was only going to make a super doorstop. No thanks. I could take no more humiliation that night. So, I put it where it belonged...the trash.
I wish I could tell you that I just moved on and tried the next day with spirits raised and a spring in my step, as they say. Nope. I was embarassed and felt dejected. It took me a solid week or so, to try my new bread recipe again with some tweaks and adjustments. I'm pretty satisfied with it at this point. I'll get it into the post at a later date. BTdubs...I have been using a fabulous recipe from the book Gluten-Free Baking With the Culinary Institute of America.This book rocks! I've learned so much and I am constantly referencing it for my own recipes. It even looks liked a well-loved book. All dog-eared and stained...I love it! But, I digress... My point is this...You are going to make mistakes. You will get frustrated from time to time. You may even put away your measuring cups and your Kitchen Aid (I covered mine up with a kitchen towel once for a week. I felt it was taunting me.) until you can breathe without feeling like you're choking on your failure. Gluten free and dairy free baking is loaded with small nuances that bring with it a steep learning curve. Rest your nerves on this however; with each goof or utter failure, comes a lesson learned or a chemical reaction uncovered. I suggest keeping good notes on each of your baking experiments That way you will have a reference point that is in your own words and therefore easy for you to quickly understand. I have a notebook filled with different outcomes on various baking trials. On the cover I have written in bold black Sharpie, something Spongebob said to his snail Garry when he refused to take a bath. It says, "You have duped and/or frustrated me for the last time!" It reminds me that all of the challenges we face with gluten-free baking are really opportunities for improvement and successes. (Plus, it makes me laugh. Spongebob is HUGE in our house! We're not alone, are we?)
If you want to improve and increase your collection of go-to recipes, you have to make sure that you don't give up. That you get yourself back into the kitchen and try, try again. Give ourself plenty of opportunities to fall flat on your face and conversely to open up that oven and know your family will be smiling and asking for more, please! Success! The other day I was inspired to create an Almond Butter and Jelly Muffin. Oh how kids love peanut butter and jelly in all its forms. So, since my 6-year-old Isaiah is allergic to peanuts, we use Almond Butter. I think I might try to make my own because dang, it's expensive. At least the variety that doesn't require you to spend twenty minutes mixing the deep layer of oil sitting on top into the rest of the glop, is expensive. But, I splurged for this recipe. You know guys, just feel free to use peanut butter if you're able or really any nut butter that makes your kids lips smack the happiest.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keep Dancing, Aunt Marian

I have a really amazing memory of Aunt Marian. She's got an oversized straw cowboy hat cocked on her head and she's kicking her heels up (literally), dancing in the streets of Ennis, MT. It must have been the

Fourth of July. People used to dance in the street to country music on The Fourth of July in Ennis. She's smiling, drink in hand, just dancing...

Yesterday, Aunt Marian died. To the very end, Aunt Marian was comforting others. Through what must have been a powerful Morphine haze, she stroked her best friend's back and comforted her, whispering, "Don't cry." Incredible. This woman is incredible. "Was" incredible. That feels weird.

Roughly 18 hours after one life drifted to an end, as is the way of the universe, another life began. My niece, Rachel, came screaming into the world weighing 8 lbs 10 oz. Welcome sweet angel. You are bound to be an amazing woman. I wonder how you will feel about dancing...hmm.

So, there it is. The life cycle illustrated larger than life in one family, two different states. Goodbye, Marian. Your impact to those people in who's life yours interceded will not be forgotten. Your life meant something and that something was real and lasting. (Insert Marian) winking, here!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pre-Menstural Aggression and Ahhhh...Raspberry Bars

When I woke up this morning nose-to-nose with Quinn, my 3 year old, and her mildly funky breath,  my first thought was what a lucky lady I am. I  have 4 kids who bring into the fold of this family very individual, and dare I say it, "dynamic" personalities and I am madly in love with each and every one of them.  But, as the morning progressed through our tried-and-true routines, I started to feel...the break.

I have a lot on my mind after all. My Aunt Marian continues to struggle every day and part of my brain has been twisted and transported to her space.  I have to "stay" there as long as she is  here.  It's the right thing to do.

Although a little shaky and feeling the ever so slight buzz just under the surface of my skin, I was able to get the kids to school without snapping completely.  However, it was coming.  There really is no way to stop it.  I just have to get myself into a locked room by myself and try to handle it.  Fellow Mommies, you know of what I speak, don't 'cha?  Unfortunately, this meltdown was happening too fast, but I didn't know why. What was happening? Why did the thought of how much my kids mean to me send me into an emotional tailspin?  Why do I love my husband so much that I couldn't possibly be the wife he deserves? And why did I feel the need to tell him? Every rambling, jagged part of what I was thinking?  I mean really. Isn't it better to keep the crazy to ourselves?  My husband was not able to escape the brunt of my neurosis, unfortunately. My mind was just moving too fast, my tears were flowing at an embarrassing rate and I was sure that if my husband left this morning we would never see him again.

Then I looked at the calendar.  Sure enough PMS has arrived and boy is she pissed! Andy, my ever-so-patient man, humbly reminded  me that this happens every month.  And, my god, he's right!  Every 28 days I lose it.  The "it " I speak of is that PMS-time when a lot of women experience what can only be described in my life anyway, as a total annihilation of my sensibilities and general kindness to the human race.

This morning, however , I found my crutch. You probably understand the feeling. When I start baking I am thoughtfully moving myself into a space of meditation, into a time of blissful peace  Without my mom here to comfort me and bring me a heating pad, I settled on the idea of her Raspberry Bars.  She used to make them a lot and they always brought peace into whatever was going on in my teen aged, drama-filled life.  So I set myself up to recreate these squares of comfort, but in a way that my family could eat them and stay safe.

No gluten.  No dairy.

The sweet center of these bars could, theoretically be any flavor preserves that floats your boat.  I like raspberry because it reminds me of my mom.  That and I would like my kids to have that same feeling of comfort when they come home from school today.  And this day, in particular, I can take no chances!

On that note, these make an excellent lunchbox snack as they keep very well in a sandwich bag. 

                                    Raspberry Bars

1 1/2  sticks Earth Balance, softened
1 C brown sugar
1 1/4  C brown rice flour
1/4 C potato starch
1/4 tsp xanthan gum 
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 certified GF oats
1, 10-oz jar organic red raspberry preserves
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (375 degrees F if you are in high altitude, as I am, in Colorado).   

     Grease an 11"x 9" baking pan with Earth Balance or a GF cooking spray.

     Whisk together GF flour blend, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda until well blended. Add the oats and mix.  Set aside.

     Cream Earth Balance until white.  Add brown sugar and continue creaming until the mixture is fluffy.        
     Slowly add the dry ingredients mixture and blend until a crumble is created.

     Press half of the crumble mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Dump the preserves into a bowl 
     and give it a good stir.  (This makes it easier to spread.)  Then spread it onto the pressed crumble.  Next,
     sprinkle the remaining crumble mixture over the preserves.

     Place in the middle of the 350 degree oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the edges are browned and
     the middle is set.
     Take out of oven and place on a cooling rack until completely cool.  Cut into desired shapes (Valentines 
     Day surprise lunchbox treat anyone?). 

So, another period has begun for yours truly and another disastrous day was averted thanks to my love and passion for baking. Not to mention a husband that was obviously created just for me!  Let me know how baking and/or cooking has filtered into your life and made it something better than it was to begin with.  I'd love to hear from you.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Danna, Aunt Marian Has Lung Cancer"

Oh, I have plans.

 Starting this blog has been a painstaking challenge.  I have ideas, recipes, stories, pictures of successful baking as well as not so successful baking, as is the norm in gluten free baking.  But, before I can do all of that I need to write about her.  And in the spirit of the immediacy of blogging I am just going to write about her.  My Aunt Marian.  Our Aunt Marian.  All of that other crap can wait.

Aunt Marian is sick.  And so, I am sick. 

I have not seen her in literally decades.  Shes my father's brother's wife. Ahhh, Aunt Marian.  What a lady!  Let me start by taking you into her home.  I say "home" because that's what she created.  I lived in a "house" for 18 years.  My cousins, lucky bastards, lived in a "home".

As soon as you entered this place you felt almost like you could lay down in front of a fireplace and take a nap.  Like, whatever you wanted to do, you could do.  I can't remember if they even  had a fireplace, come on, it's been decades! But, I bet if you did take a nap in front of the fireplace, Aunt Marian would have given you a hug upon waking, looked at you with her soulful, understanding eyes, and asked you if she could make you some lunch.  This place was just pleasant. Its a house that makes you think of homemade cookies and big pots of stew.  Comfort.  Pure comfort.  The kitchen, not unlike a lot of our homes, was the hub of action.  I can almost picture my cousins Barbie, Wendee and Mark teasing their mom in a way that left no one in doubt of how much these three love that woman!  I am also having these sensory memories of some really amazing home cooking.  Lots of food and lots of one of my favorite sounds...Aunt Marian's laugh.  A sound that makes you feel like dancing.  A sound that will light your hair on fire.

 Every summer (for quite a few years) while my brothers and I were growing up in Montana, we would all load up in the god-forsaken Suburban and make the pilgrimage to Minnesota.  All of my relatives on my dad's side were in Minnesota.  They were all there and it was a long trip!  So, even though time seemed to stop during those summer road trips and I would think I would never get my sense of smell back, on the other side was Aunt Marian and Uncle Bob.

All I ever really wanted to do was to go to Aunt Marian and Uncle Bob's house and stay  for the duration of our visit...Aunt Marian especially, has this innate coolness about her.  Even when I was a little girl she just seemed to get it.  I don't think I ever really opened up to her, as I was too locked up in my insecure, feeling- constantly- out- of- place world to go that far.  But, I always felt an open invitation to just share with her.  I watched them all together a lot.  Man, they love each other!  I used to be most blown away by the amount of time they would spend together as a family.  Lots of camping trips, sitting around an open pit fire talking, drinking beer, laughing and just shootin' the shit.

So, while I know that Aunt Marian is hurting right now, I don't have to be there to know that she is still trying to take care of her family.  She's a fighter and I know she won't be leaving her beautiful family or her place in that house she made feel like a hug.  No, Aunt Marian is staying.  This is a blip in time, thats all.