Sourdough; gluten (and recipe) free

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“So what do you think of the crust?” I ask.

“It’s probably one of your best, yet,” Stan says.

“Really?” I respond, hungry for more compliments. I’m shameless when it comes to the food I make. I want to hear my family gush, explode with gratitude, and generally fall over themselves while commenting on the delicious fare. Stan’s comment (considering it comes from him) fits this category. It’s extra gratifying to hear today because I went free-style with the sourdough starter, adding a cupful of flour here, some oil there, and a dash of salt for good luck; it was basically an all out shot-in-the-dark.

I relate this to Stan and he summarizes, “You mean you just whipped it up with the flour and water that’s been rotting on our counter for the last week?”

Belén stops, mid-chew and looks as if she’s swallowed a hairball. “Rotting?” she repeats.

I correct the terminology quickly; words are powerful after all. “It’s called fermentation.”

Stan’s got my back on this one. He explains how tons of food we love is fermented before we eat it… cheese, yoghurt, wine…

“And chocolate!” I add. “They have to ferment the cacao beans to make it!” (Thank you, Hershey Park)

Belén takes another bite of her pizza and then says, “Oh yeah, fermentation. That’s much better than rotting.”

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I have the starter, jar of water (so it’s room temp and the chlorine evaporates), and container of flour (not pictured) on my counter for easy access. I cover these with a cloth to keep dust and debris out.

I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free sourdough for years. My first attempt was in Bolivia when I soaked whole-grain brown rice for a few days, ground it up by hand, let it sit for a few more days, and then threw it in the oven. The result was edible. Very spongy, unlike anything I’d eaten before, but edible. A couple years ago I started looking at gluten-free sourdough techniques on-line and they seemed way too finicky. I checked a few months ago to see if anything had changed and my internet search was just as overwhelming as I’d remembered it; too much fine print and too many precise instructions. So I decided to do it my way.

1. Combine equal parts flour and liquid. I used whatever I had in my pantry: teff, sorghum, brown rice, white rice, a bit of starch, etc and kefir. You can start with water, but I wanted to give my bacteria a head start so I used kefir for the first few feedings.

2. Let sit on counter, adding equal parts flour and water everyday, or when you think of it. (If it starts to smell too alcoholic, it’s starving. Feed it.)

3. Use as a base with pancakes, bread, pizza crust, etc.

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Once it’s healthy it will look a little bubbly and thicker on top. After you take some out to bake with, add more flour/water and stir in. In a day or so it will get that same mushroomy look.

You know that quote about cooking being an art but baking a science? Well, this puts baking squarely into the artistic realm. I’ve abandoned my recipes when it comes to pancakes, pizza crusts and biscuits and it’s much more fun. And tempting. Normally, I wouldn’t even suggest pancakes on a school day, but when I see that bubbling little bowl on my counter I can’t help but reach for the skillet. It’s like a girl waiting to be picked up for the prom. (Is that metaphor a bit much? I’ve never been to a prom–my high school graduation party was in a hockey rink–but I can imagine.) The point is, once that starter get’s going, it’s irresistible.

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For some reason, I’ve avoided regular pancakes during this pregnancy. They gross me out. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the baking powder or soda? I’ve been eating mostly crepes, when I’ve wanted something pancake-y, until these beauties started showing up. This morning I made a batch with 1 cup starter, 1 cup flour, 2 eggs, salt, pour of oil and a 2 tablespoons sugar. I don’t really measure, but work with what I have until it resembles a batter. The same goes for pizza dough: take out some starter, add  more flour (maybe a little more starch if your mix is all whole grain) to thicken, an egg if you want, extra salt, herbs and plenty of oil. Spread on a pan with a spatula, bake for 15 min at 425 to brown, add toppings, then bake until done.

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The pancakes are best with loads of butter (but then, what isn’t?) and chokecherry syrup.

With a full stomach,

T

 

*This post shared on Real Food Wednesday

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Herbal Salt Recipe and Marriage-bolstering Potatoes

Well, it came. Yep. The ground is dusted with snow and both girls have already downed at least one icicle “lollipop”. This means the garden season is officially over for me, as I harvested the last of my herbs this weekend to make herbal salt. Though I haven’t collected any scientific data on this, I think combining fresh herbs with salt preserves flavour better than drying them alone.

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rescued rosemary

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After removing the rosemary leaves from their stalks, I chopped them in my food processor. Knives work too.

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I think I’ll add more salt to this pan of rosemary salt–it looks a little green,

One day I’d like to make an un-recipe book filled with dishes that are too flexible to fit the recipe format. Herbal salts would definitely fit the criteria; you can use any combination of fresh herbs, with almost any ratio of salt. If you prefer, you can substitute salt with sugar (with lemon balm, lavender, etc)–I haven’t done this because I don’t use sugar in the same quantity I do salt.

To Make Herbal Salt:

  • finely chop fresh herbs (I do this with my food processor and add a little bit of salt to help with the grinding)
  • mix herbs with coarse salt
  • spread on a cookie sheet to dry, cover with tea towel, and stir every day or two
  • after a couple days? weeks? (when it’s dry!) store salt in your cupboard. I like to use jars with wide mouths so I can get my fingers inside them. You definitely want to touch this salt as you apply it.
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I made this batch earlier this summer. It contains sage, oregano, thyme, and as an after-thought, a few dried nasturtium petals to give it zip and colour.

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You can use the salt with fresh veggies, meat, or pasta, but it really shines on oven-roasted potatoes. (Toss cubed potatoes with plenty of olive oil and salt. Roast in a hot oven until crispy.)

Thankfully, it looks like we’ll have enough potatoes around here, to eat with our salt, for quite awhile. Stan stepped out this weekend to buy some spuds and came back with eighty pounds! Fortunately for me, I think Stan feels some sort of responsibility for preparing them since he shouldered them into our basement. He made French fries for about ten people on Friday, and scalloped potatoes for thirty-five, on Sunday. Both days he served four. Our little family. Of four.

I’m not complaining about the potatoes though. I’m actually grateful because they helped us through a slump of sorts. It wasn’t a food shortage–thank God for that–but a shortage of warmth and patience between Stan and myself. Last week was one of those weeks where we started off on the wrong foot and then hobbled our way through every day, a little more defensive and irritated than the last. Don’t you hate those kind of slumps? It wasn’t terrible, violent, or dramatic, but more like wearing a sweater with an itchy tag, all week long. By Saturday I’d almost lost track of what, precisely, was the main issue, because I was too busy noticing all the other little things that were wrong with Stan.

*Enter the potatoes*

Just as I was finishing with a Saturday-afternoon project, Stan started slicing up potatoes. At 7 o’clock he lit the barbeque. I looked out the window and saw it was sleeting. He came back in for the potatoes and carried them to a pot heating on the side element of the bbq. I watched him as he dumped the raw potatoes into the sizzling oil while slushy snow collected on the rim of his bowl and on his hair. The girls jumped around him, hopping with the excitement of cooking french fries in the damp, snowy dark. And then, something slid out from under my tenacious mental grip. Maybe it was the how I’m hard done by card I’d been holding on to all week.

Stan came in the house to hand me a bucket of crispy fries and went out to cook another batch. And another. And another. The fries were hot and salty and gluten free and better than all the McDonald’s fries I’ve ever had.

Life is not an Amelia Bedelia story; food does not always solve the problem, but honestly, it really helped this time. Or maybe it was just the tipping point that led me to a healthier perspective. (Yes, I think I’ll go with that, it sounds more sophisticated than the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.) It probably didn’t hurt, either, that I’d picked up a book with a chapter titled “Incompatibility is Grounds for Marriage” earlier in the day. And let’s not forget I’m talking about Stan, here; he’s one of the most penitent people I’ve ever met, even if he doesn’t have anything to be penitent about.

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By the end of the evening, with our bellies full of simple carbs, we were ready to face another week together. This time, with our best foot forward.

How do you get through slumpy, bumpy, itchy weeks?

What’s your favourite potato dish?

Tricia

PS. IMPORTANT! YOU DON”T WANT TO MISS THIS!

Announcing…. my first ever blog give-away contest. Instead of leaving a comment, all you have to do is show up at my backdoor to claim your prize (a hearty serving of scalloped potatoes ready to go!) …This is not a joke.

Coconut Flour Cookies

We were at a farmer’s market recently, when we passed by a vendor selling gluten-free baking. Not only was it gluten-free but also grain-free, sugar-free, egg-free, and milk-free. Personally, I get a little edgy when I see baking described with too many “______-free” adjectives, but the enthusiastic businesswoman behind the table insisted we try a sample. Beaming while she watched us chew, she eagerly asked our opinions.

“What do you think? Aren’t they delicious?” she prompted, while looking at Stan. If she was looking for someone to gush about her product, she picked the wrong client. Even at the best of times he measures his praise. Perhaps she didn’t notice his ambivalence or maybe she was just desperate–she’d already informed us this was only her third week in business. In any case, she had something more she wanted us to try.

Handing us tongue-depressor sticks with shiny, crimson blobs at their ends, she encouraged us to imagine the possibilities:

“This is sugar-free raspberry, beet, and basil purée. You can feed it to babies or serve it as a puréed soup.”

Even before Stan tasted it, he had a funny look on his face.

This time the vendor noticed and queried, “It’s just puréed soup. You’ve had puréed soup before, haven’t you?”

“No. No, I haven’t.” responded Stan, taking a few steps backward.

Now it was my turn to look at him strangely. “Yes you have, Stan. I make it all the time.”

But he was already moving on, and away from her wares. I swallowed the pungent, yet sweet, sampler and followed him to ask what he’d meant.

…He thought she was trying to sell period soup. And while he was sure it wasn’t actually made from human fluid, he was also sure he didn’t need it. One never knows what new fad might show up at a farmer’s market.

***

Belén and I made these grain-free cookies over the weekend. (I’m celiac, so I do appreciate some “-free” baking!) They’re super easy and the coconut-cinnamon flavour warrants eating a good portion of the dough before it hits the oven.

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Coconut flour sugar cookies

Happy Monday,

Tricia

PS. Just to be clear, I love farmer’s markets. Especially ones like our local market, where old ladies sell hand-made doilies beside their old-fashioned, fermented sauerkraut.

The difference between age seven and age eight

This past Thursday, the tables turned.  I felt them spin, as clearly as if I had muscled them around myself.  At precisely 7:25 am, Belén notified me of her position, from the other end of the table–figuratively and literally.

Belén: Mom, I’m not wearing those jeans.

Me: Why not?  There’s nothing wrong with them… Look, they’re even GAP (I’m not sure why I throw this in, knowing it means nothing to her) and they look good on you.

Belén: But they’re not skinny jeans.  I only wear skinny jeans, mom.  You may as well just give those ones away; I’ll never use them.

Me: Your skinny jeans are in the laundry.  Just put these on.  I would wear them if I could.

I flag the jeans in front of her face to emphasize my point.  Belén looks at me and shakes her head resolutely.  I sense she will not be persuaded.  In that moment I realize it doesn’t matter to her one whit whether I fancy the jeans or not.  In fact, my sense of style weighs very little on her scales.

Me: Well I don’t get it, these jeans look fine to me…

My voice trails off and it dawns on me I am no longer a hip young woman (wait, was I ever one?), but a mother.  A mother who is out of touch; who can’t tell a pair of jeans from the next one.  Of course, this is not the first time my sense of fashion has clashed with hers.  Trips to the grocery store in tutus, high heels for walks in the snow, and Christmas dresses in July, have all been sources of conflict, but this time it is different.  My voice echoes back to me with a distinct trace of bewilderment and surrender, as it should.  Clearly, I don’t know a thing about jeans.  More critically, I have lost the upper hand in all things fashion.

On a brighter note, turning eight also means taking on new responsibilities in planning and hosting a birthday party.  An hour and a half before the guests arrive, I hear Belén come into the bathroom during my shower.

“I’ll help cut up the carrots for the veggie tray,” her voice cutting through the steam,  “That’s the next thing on our list, right?”

Why yes it is, dear eight-year-old-baby-turned-co-hostess!

****

I’ve been waiting eight years for my children to grow old enough to play “capture the flag” .

ahem… if you recognize any of the fabric in there, it must be just a look-alike pattern. I would not have cut it up for a flag 😉

We played it in the park behind our house, after sunset.  One of the advantages of inviting entire families, (parents included), to your birthday is having grown men come howling at you out of the darkness.  Judging by the pitch of the screams in response, it was thrilling!

All the kids waiting inside, while the dads hide the flags.

So thrilling, that one participant collapsed in the hammock afterwards.  He fell asleep after Stan outfitted him with hearing protection–the girls were on edge for the rest of the night and couldn’t seem to stop screaming.

Stan was very excited about giving Belén her present this year.  He bought this guitar, varnished it, and then dressed it up a little with some carbon fibre.  I wonder if, twenty years ago, he could have pictured himself fiddling with a butterfly design, to make his gift just right for an eight-year-old daughter?

The lessons start this week.  I am looking forward to them in kind of a hopeful, yet slightly cringing, way.  I can already hear myself nag, nag, nagging…

And lastly, here is a recipe to bet on.

Whenever I serve anything gluten-free to guests I try to hold back, but some how or another, I never make it through the night with out a little probing.  I always want to know: Does this taste as good as “the real thing”?  Supposedly, these do.  (Or perhaps my kind guests sensed the desperation in my voice.)

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cupcakes, adapted slightly, from here

3 large eggs

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup oil

2 cups pumpkin puree

2 tsp vanilla

1 2/3 brown rice flour, 1/3 starch (I never use the same GF flour mix twice… mmm… maybe that explains something?)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tsp. cinnamon

dash of nutmeg and ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

Icing

1 block of softened cream cheese

3,4,5…6? tsp softened butter, depending on how happy you are

1/5 tsp vanilla

3 ish cups of icing sugar

spash of milk, if needed

Go well into the week!