Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gluten-Free Jalapeno Jack Mini Corn Muffins

Jalapeno Jack Mini Corn Muffins

Just because I wasn't posting doesn't mean I wasn't eating something fabulous and gluten-free. I had every intention of posting and I just never got around to it. It's quite a shame when I look back on the photos I took with the intention of posting. My mouth waters when I look at this one and realize that it was April when I made these, and I haven't made them since!

Deby's Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe makes this Corn Muffin Mix. I buy it right from the store since they are just down the street from where I work, but it is available for mail order online. Evidently they are having some trouble with the shipping prices, so if you wish to order see the notes on her main page.

It was strange because I had wanted to mix cheese in them and didn't realize until I looked at the box that there were already directions for adding to cheese to the mix. As with everything I've cooked using gluten free mixes, whipped egg whites were a crucial ingredient. I've gotten really good at separating the yolks from the whites and transforming them into a fluffy mass of whipped wonder.

This particular batch was made for the very first Plaster Party held in Denver for the Facing Our Fears (this link goes to a picture of the completed project, but I don't know the photographer) project that was funded by a grant from Burning Man. They didn't last very long and I found myself thankful that I had held back about a dozen of these bite sized cheesey treats in my kitchen, hiding them for later. The party took place in my garage, and this project took over our lives for about the last six months. I've had a wonderful time and forged some friendships I believe will last the rest of my life, but I'm glad to be back to having some time to blog.

This Friday at work we are having a bake sale to raise money for breast cancer research. They have asked that anyone baking make sure that the goods are pink. I think I'm going to try to make these muffins and add some food coloring to the mix. Pictures and story I'm sure will follow.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sweet Tooth

Super trouper lights are gonna find me
Shining like the sun
Smiling, having fun
Feeling like a number one
Tonight the
Super trouper beams are gonna blind me
But I wont feel blue
Like I always do
'cause somewhere in the crowd theres you

Today the weather turned cold. The heat has been blistering all summer long. I've heard that we have the most sunny days every year here in Denver. I've never been impressed. I've longed for cool and rainy, lush and green. Today was beautiful and moist. The overcast skies lending cloudy shade to the city all day. I've been comfortable in my skin. I even had to shut the windows until this evening. Now I want the cool air blowing it's breeze across my back while I type this entry.

I'm preparing for a rare trip to see my parents. They live in Alaska. With a husband and two kids, it's cost prohibitive to travel there, and difficult to leave my family behind very often. My parents are footing the bill for the ticket this time, and luckily this has all worked out to get me home for my mother's birthday. I haven't been with her on her birthday since 1994 when I took the night off work and surprised her with presents and dinner plans. My father was still in the Army and was out of town inspecting some reserve unit in Louisiana, I think. They were briefly stationed here, to my joy, as I had moved here in 1991. They didn't care for it here and high-tailed it back to Alaska at their first opportunity.

Sitting here today with the moist cool air and listening to the cast recordings for MamaMia I feel myself zoomed back to the age of twelve. Feeling the same sadness from this music hanging in the moist cool air coming through my window on an Army base in Germany. Fliegerhorst. I was living with my parents on another continent. I was an only child and an introvert. We were very close. (Should I be ashamed that ABBA still makes me cry?)

I inherited my sweet tooth from my father. I remember from the time I was a small child his quick cure for a sweet tooth. I have no idea why he started doing this, but I should probably ask. Take two tablespoons of peanut butter and stir in honey til the texture smoothes out. I have to taste it to make sure I have the right amount. I would say two teaspoons is about right. That's it. That simple. At the age of twelve I had no idea the feelings of fattening guilt two tablespoons of peanut butter could stir. I take a deep breath and I put all of that aside and slowly lick each bite of peanut butter and honey from the spoon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chicha For Love

2006 has been an incredibly busy year. I've learned and accomplished alot. Met a lot of new people. Found a lot of beauty in the world that for me was previously undiscovered. Ahhhh... enlightenment... Unfortunately all that learning and accomplishing, socializing and enlightening kept me away from the keyboard. I've been yearning (yes, actually yearning) to get back in here. To introduce new words to this wonderful web of blips and bytes and digital represenations of humanity. Last Tuesday night, someone that I met since my last entry (that leaves it wide open, huh?) brought me a beautiful gift.

In May I attended a small festival in the mountains here. It was organized by a friend of mine who actually included in the information for this festival that for the potluck on the second day it would be nice if people could bring some gluten-free options as there were people with particular dietary restrictions. This opened her to a slew of emailed question which she handled with grace. Unfortunately we hadn't discussed it prior to her doing this, so sitting at this potluck with a lovely vegetarian man who had prepared four or five different gluten-free dishes so that we could eat together, I had to explain to him that I didn't feel comfortable actually eating his food. Had we been in the city I would gladly have given it a try, but out in the woods for another 2 days? If there had been any cross contamination in his kitchen I would not be able to enjoy the rest of the festival.

Eric was very understanding. He packed up some leftovers for me to bring home and try. Which I did. He is meticulous about his eating habits as a vegetarian and that translated over to his incredibly scientific approach to cooking gluten-free. I ate the left-overs and experienced no gastral distress, no hang-over, no symptoms. I was pretty sure we could be friends, but the people that you meet at festivals often fade quietly into your memories never to be heard from again. A year later you'll be asking, "Who was that guy at the festival last year?"

Fortunately my friend Meg was at the festival and had taken a particular liking to Eric. He was quite fond of her as well. They began wooing each other in the woods and quickly became a solid item. At that time I was having weekly dinner parties at my house. They were "kind of" potluck. We would provide most of the food and recommend that if you wanted to bring something to bring fruit, vegetables, salad fixings, or a beverage for yourself. Eric began coming to dinner with Meg and we quickly found out that accomodating a vegetarian when you aren't used to it is very similar to accomodating a gluten-free diet: frought with misconceptions and near misses.

Getting to know Eric you quickly find that he has a singular passionate obsession. Beer. Not the kind of "git me a six pack while yer up, baby" kind of beer obsession. An amazingly educated and particular obsession with beer and the brewing of it. Empathy poured forth from Eric at my lack of tolerance for his beloved beverage. Nearly immediate upon our meeting he began to speak to me of
chicha. A South American beer-like beverage brewed from corn.

Over the last few months since our meeting he slowly made preparations for his first attempt at chicha. Determined to do this right, he bought Navajo blue corn that he actually won on an Ebay bid to hold the cost down from direct ordering. The corn has to sprout in order to make the chicha. I guess not all corn will sprout so you have to have particular corn. I saw it at one point during the sprouting process and it smelled incredibly sweet. The blue color of the corn of course added a novelty to the whole process.

So here we are three months later. Eric and Meg are still dating. They show up last Tuesday night with a six pack of Chicha for Love. Some of my friends call me Love. It's kind of a nickname. Meg had designed the labels while Eric had designed the beverage. Gluten-free home brew made with love just for me. I'm still a little astonished at the beautiful friends I have.

When they said they were bringing the chicha I had some misconception that they were going to show up with a jar of strange liquid resembling stereotypical visions of moonshine. These were beautiful in their brown bottles with the personalized labels. Eric said it was dry for a beer, but as a wine drinker it was quite palatable. The carbonation had for some reason dissipated so at the end of the evening Eric took the remaining bottles home to recarbonate them. There is a saying that presentation is everything, and if it were for presentation alone I could have cried at what these two did. Luckily it was tasty as well. I can't imagine how tasty it will be chilled and carbonated. I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"Sasha" Onion Soup

So, I guess I'm going to start off this installment with a little confession. I'm a flake. A big flake. I had wonderful intentions of getting in here and posting a couple of times a week. Intentions of sharing my life, my love, my food with you. My mother says the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I got caught up in whatever I thought a food blog was supposed to be. I wanted it to be about me cooking. I wanted it to be beautiful. I wanted to talk about gourmet crap and layers of flavor. Turns out that is not my life, my food, or my tongue. My husband does most of the cooking. I work long hours and I come home to his wonderful meals. I do however take the pictures. I write the blog. I eat the food.

Gourmet isn't what this is going to be about. Layers of flavor isn't what I'm going to talk about. All of the food here will be 100% gluten-free. I can have it no other way. My husband is a wonderful man who reads labels and works hard to make sure that I don't have any major discomfort due to Celiac Disease. He not only makes sure that I don't get ill, he makes sure that what I am eating tastes good. He makes sure that I don't have to spend dinner time pining for days when I ate whatever struck me as interesting. He keeps everything interesting.

Tonight, for instance, he took the broth from our pot roast on Friday and was going to make French onion soup. Part way through he announced that is not what he was making at all. He was making "Sasha" onion soup. In our house, it doesn't matter what is served, I never think there are enough onions in, on, or around it. He decided that most French onion soup had a few onions drifting in the bottom of the bowl, but that just wouldn't do for me. Instead he turned the idea into a delectable dish I can equate more closely with stew than soup, and he topped it with a Provolone covered slice of gluten-free Country White from

My taste for onions sated, and my confessions done for this evening, I will try to come back more frequently. No pretense. No worries about who cooked it. I really just want you to know how normally I eat without a worry for gluten.

(I still reserve the right to whip out a fancy recipe if I feel the urge...)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dinner Time

Salmon Roulade

I have tremendous feelings of guilt over writing yet another post on something I had no hand in cooking. This is supposed to be my journey through the kitchen, and yet I keep finding myself back to leaning on my husband who has always been my rock in the kitchen. Would that make him a kind of soup stone?

Even though I didn't cook these, they were part of my adventure. They were something that I needed to experience. They were Salmon Roulade. Purchased in a roll from the grocery store all he really did was slice them and put them on tiny "toastlettes". I think I may have just made up a word, but they struck my as "toastlettes".

I've never been able to like fish. If you say that sentence out loud it sounds absurd. That is exactly what I intended to say, though. I've tried to like fish. Especially salmon. All of its purported health benefits scream that I should be eating it every day. Yet, everytime I put the luscious looking pink flesh to my lips, it turns funky and fishy and I can't possibly make it past the first bite. Still, it always calls to me when I see it. I want desperately to want to eat it.

Once upon a time, in the mystical kingdom of Fairbanks, Alaska, I rode a riverboat. At the end of that riverboat ride they served some salmon all mashed up and from a can. It was delicious. It was heaven. It was the only time that salmon has ever tasted good to me.

On a trip to South Carolina last year I had grouper and it was divine. I tried the same fish here in Denver. It was a completely different animal. I am well aware that different fish have different flavors. That is what I am told. Excepting these two instances, I have only ever experienced them in varying degrees of rank fishiness.

You are probably thinking that I just don't like fish because I am so terribly land-locked and am not getting it fresh. Not so. My parents are residents of Alaska and go dip netting regularly. My mother smokes and vacuum seals the salmon and ships it to me. Still - fresh and smoked by me own mother...blech!

So there was this package of Salmon Roulade. That pretty pink color wrapped around cream cheese and dill. How could that be wrong? Home they came with us to reside until dinner time.

I can't imagine why I continue to try. I don't know what it is in my head that continues to tell me that these are going to taste good when time after time they turn my tongue sour. But try them again I did, and thank goodness!

Evidently, it just has to be a combination of flavors for me. At first, from the smell, I though surely these were not going to be any good. They smelled like every other bite of salmon that ever crossed my lips. On it's little "toastlette" it made it's way to my mouth. The fish taste did hit first and I was frightened, but it quickly combined and turned creamy and sweet with the dill creamed cheese. The flavor of the gluten-free country white bread from Deby's held up well to the flavor of the Salmon Roulade and as all the flavors washed over my palate I finally found what I was looking for. Some kind of strange ancestral memory that has compelled me over and over again to put this fish in my mouth was finally satisfied as the flavor came to new definition in my mouth and mind.

With renewed vigor I will be perusing the world of fish. I know now that I'm not crazy! It really can taste good to me! I must find again that satisfaction. I'm sure there must be some way to cook all fish that would suit me. I just have to find it.

And of course, it's 100% gluten-free, so I really don't want to rule it out. Next time, I'll cook it myself, though. I promise.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

Travelling the world growing up my only cultural constant was my mother. I was an only child and an army brat, so everything around me changed every three years, except for my mother. My father worked long hours and was gone on lengthy field maneuvers quite often. I credit him with imparting great wisdom to me, often in servings larger than I was equipped to handle, but the lessons have stood with me through a lot of difficult times in my life.

My mother, though, she was our family. She was our tradition. She was our rock. Due to my excessive use of the word was, I feel the need to share that my mother and father are still living and well far away in the frozen North. I say was, because I have not been a part of their traditions for a long time. They are still my family, and many of my fondest memories involve them, but they have been far away from me for a long time. I miss them terribly and wish desperately that plane tickets were less expensive. Anymore, our family traditions center mostly around making sure we call each other on holidays and special occasions (not to mention the three or four times a week I chat with one or both of them just because).

My mother sang songs to me. There were songs that all of us know. My mother is a grand repository of Disney songs and musical numbers. There were others though. Some of them other people know when I sing them. Some of them are completely foreign. I don't know if they were songs of her childhood. She never shared that. I have always assumed that someone must have sang these songs to her when she was a child.

One song she used to sing to me it took me years to comprehend. I had always thought that the words were nonsense all run together as they are. Maresy Dotes and Dosey Dotes And Little Lamsey Diveys. A Kidulley Divey Too Wouldn't You? I was 23 or 24 when I finally deciphered that one and called my mother laughing hysterically at the grand joke on me.

The following she sang to me the most regularly though, and I find myself still singing it as I arrive home after shopping.

To market, to market,
To buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again,
Jiggety Jig.

To market, to market,
To buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again,
Jiggety Jog.

(Some time ago I made the delightful discovery that this rhyme is etched into the stone signage for Broadway Marketplace here in Denver.)

When I read that this was
Some Pig Blogging Weekend, the sing-song melody filled my head and hasn't left me alone. I knew that I had to come in here and join in this glorious praise of pigs. I have always been a lover of pigs. I even had a pet pot-bellied pig named Charlotte for awhile. Apartment living didn't agree with her, and the myth of the easily trained pig was thoroughly busted. We found Charlotte a lovely home with other barn-yard friends more her speed.

Pigs were a gift from the gods to a Welsh king (Pryderi) according to Celtic legend. Their sweet meat was coveted and subsequently stolen by a neighboring nation. It of course ended in war. People love their pigs.

I spent seven years of my childhood in Germany. One day while we were off in search of yet another castle to tour, my myopic mother had removed her glasses. We were driving through the vast farmlands that border many of the roads I can remember when my mother began asking my father why they were keeping their pigs out in the fields. My father I laughed until our sides nearly split, and when my mother put her glasses on she began laughing as well. Those were cows in the field, but we still tease her. Even if it's a moose on the side of the road, we might ask her if she saw that pig over there.

Mostly, the consumption of pig has always been at the top of my list of My Favorite Pigs...I meant My Favorite Things....wonder what that slip meat.. I mean meant. Whew! Maybe I should go eat something.

Ham has always been my feasting item of choice. That was a tough one when my father was stationed North of Chicago at a base that no longer exists. I went to a school where the cafeteria was kosher and we had so many holidays off between Christianity and Judaism it's suprising we ever learned anything. Oh, and there was always that Casmir Pulaski day. I never did figure that one out. Ham just wasn't on the menu at community social gatherings.

Bacon goes in anything that I can slip it into. (Word of warning. Bacon bits do not work well with Marinara. I still have bad dreams about that one. We were very, very hungry.) I don't like my bacon overly crisp. Some people cook the fat right off the bacon. I love that long succulent strip of fat along the side of the salty pork. Keep your lean turky bacon away from me. Houston (my sweet husband) won my heart with his meatloaf which is part burger, part pork breakfast sausage, and has slices of bacon sandwiched between a top and bottom layer.

Houston and I have long been known for serving his pork roast at every party we have ever thrown. It is a staple. Houston spent 6 years working in the oldest restaurant in Denver. We order our pork roast through them. We tried one from the grocery store once. It almost wasn't worth serving. (It was pork so we ate it, of course. Even poor quality pork is still delicious.)

Pork loin is served for dinner in our house at least twice a weak. We substitute it diced for meatballs in spaghetti. We spice and chop it into our salads. We service it with rice and tropical fruit. What can't you eat with pork loin?

And when it comes to breakfast...

The celiac diagnosis has made life difficult on many frontiers, but the quality of our pork sausage isn't one of them. We learned very quickly that most commercial sausages have fillers. Those fillers usually contain gluten. If you buy a good quality pork sausage you still need to read the label. They will sneak fillers into some of them. The best sausages, pork or otherwise, do not contain fillers. 100% meat means 100% gluten free.

I fretted all day yesterday with that "Jiggety Jig" melody in my head, trying to figure out what I was going to feature for my pig blog. I had all but given up, silly me, when the solution presented itself. We were running late at the store and worrying about what to throw on the table for the kids when Houston picked up a package of pork sausage. There it was. My precious pig. All wrapped up in a pork casing and ready for dinner. He fixed them up with some pan fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and the toast on the side is from a Country White loaf direct from
Debys Gluten-Free Bakery and Cafe. An assortment of Stonewall Kitchen jams, including my favorite, Rasperry Peach Champagne, were set out on the table. My hungry children gaped at their dinners and my husbands stomach was rumbling audibly as they waited patiently for me to take some photos.

Blessed be the pig. Dig in.

I discovered this community of food bloggers this year through
Gluten-Free Girl. I've been lurking and reading ever since. New to cooking and new to this amazing world where people write about food just for fun, I haven't ceased to be interested in them for months and months. Finally I thought, "Hey! I can do this, too!"

Lurking around some more and following links here and there - I discovered the food events that are taking place all the time. Then I discovered the hub -
IMBB. What a marvelous place. The inspiration to get in the kitchen and cook and photograph and write is never-ending. I was already into writing and photography (of the amateur digital type). Cooking is like the doorway into a magickal world for me. Discovering that I actually enjoy being in the kitchen, stirring a steaming pot, and concocting new and delicious foods to sustain myself and my family has been wonderous.

So here I am. My first food event. That girl that is always lurking in the corner has decided to talk a little. Try not to look shocked. You might frighten her.

I had to add this extra note when I realized that I didn't delve into my mouthwatering childhood memories of German style Cordon Bleu, or my recent discovery of Prosciutto..I hope that I continue to be suprised, delighted, and sated by glorious pig (cue etherial music) for the rest of my life.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006


It still hasn't ceased to amaze me how many things are already out there that actually don't require gluten at all in order to come out properly. I was spending a leisurely evening at home watching The Food Network. I know a lot of people don't like them. Or maybe that is too strong. I know a lot of the other blogs I read don't find them useful at all. I wouldn't be here writing about food if it weren't for Rachel Ray and Emeril. I spent long seasons growing up without stepping foot in the kitchen for more than a glass of ice tea. When I began feeling the urge to step into the kitchen I had no frame of reference. How to chop vegetables, handle raw meat, and the differences between simmer and boil were completely foreign to me.

Since my mother lives 3,000 miles to the North of me, and she has lived there since I moved to Colorado at the age of 17, I can't toodle over to her house and lean over her shoulder to watch her. Rachel and Emeril have become my kitchen "Mom" and "Dad". I guess that makes Alton my "Uncle". I watch these three regularly. It probably seems silly to a lot of people, but I watch them for context as much as content. I really have no idea what I'm doing when I step into the kitchen. Rachel made me believe that I could do it. She had no pre-chopped ingredients off to the side. She chopped everything right there in front of me. Emeril made it exciting.

The first time I saw Emeril I was at a friends house. This was sometime over the past year. I know he has been around for quite a while and it must sound as if I have been under a rock. I just didn't ever do anything with food except eat it, and usually on the go. We were chatting as Emeril was puttering around his sound stage inside the box, when suddenly "BAM!" He scared me clear off the couch. It upset me quite a bit. I didn't think that scaring the bejeebies out of people and cooking really went together. It took a couple of months, but I ended up watching him again. Slow night on TV I guess. He went long enough without yelling at me that I fell in love (kind of like my husband....).

Had this not coincided with my discovery of Gluten-Free Girl, it probably wouldn't have gone anywhere. Shauna is like a cheerleader for gluten-free home cooking. Her anyone can live this way happily attitude has really kept me going. She romanticized the kitchen and cooking for me. I needed to go do something in the kitchen so that I can be just like Shauna when I grow up.

All of this of course leads up to my adventure with gnocchi. I could hardly wait all week in anticipation of the weekend when I would have time to make this Italian potato pasta. Discovering foods that are by their very own nature essentially gluten free is always a moment of glee for me. When I saw Rachel Ray eating these little noodles and she mentioned they were made out of potato...I set out to investigating.

It didn't take much. I spent very little time actually, because of the amazing resource Epicurious. That is where I found this recipe. The only real modification that I made to the recipe was the type of flour I mixed into the potatoes. I just substituted Bob's Red Mill All Purpose GF Baking Flour.

Well...I also had a serious lapse in brain-power. Until I started to make the gnocchi, the potatoes were already boiling, I didn't realize that it called for a potato ricer. I honestly had to look it up to make sure I knew what the recipe was calling for. In order to get the potatos to the propper consistency and keep them light you are supposed to use a potato ricer. I don't have one. Yet.

I used my hand mixer on the lowest setting and only for a minute. I still didn't comprehend the full ramifications until I had them spread out on the counter cooling and I could see all the little pieces of whole potato still lingering. All description of gnocchi are light and fluffly. Not chunky. Still I held out hope.

I needed the dough with the egg and spices and began adding my bean flour. I would have blamed the bean flour for the sticky texture were it not for the warning in the recipe that this dough will stick to your hands and work surface. "Repeatedly rub this rough dough from your hands and scrape it with a knife or dough scraper from the work surface back into the dough as you knead."

It then recommends washing your hands. This is actually quite a task as the starches from the potatoes had bonded to my hands like super glue. After plenty of scrubbing and some time later I was able to continue this adventure...

I proceeded through the recipe, having skimmed it in speedy fashion, of course. I cut my rolled potato and bean flour dough in 1/2 inch sections and began dropping them into boiling water. While waiting for the first batch to float I realized that I had made another error. Each 1/2 inch section was supposed to be rolled into a ball and then across a fork. They are supposed to come out looking like this. Obviously not my gnocchi, nor is it my photo. I hope Tyrannosaurus Reflex doesn't mind my use of this picture to demonstrate how truly inept I can be in the kitchen. Had I done enough research I would have seen what they were supposed to look like. It might have clued me in a little.

In the pot however, these were proceeding exactly as the recipe had indicated. They would begin to float and I would skim them off the top. I put too many in at one time on the next batch and by the time I got the last ones skimmed off they had been in too long and were disintegrating in some fashion.

Essentially what it is the picture above is my first feeble attempt at gnocchi. They were delicious in spite of the tiny whole potato bits and the dumpling shape. Yes dumplings. That is what came out of the pot. All my gnocchi hopes went in, and potato dumplings came out. They were gluten-free and delicious and warm and filling, and I recommend you try them yourself as soon as possible. I ended up covered in flour and laughing at myself (in an incredibly ego-boosting healthy way), and no matter your level of experience you should have a go at these as soon as you can.

I recommend salting them and adding as much fresh ground pepper as you like, before adding the sauce of your choice.I quickly whipped up the creamy tomato sauce pictured above. I like a lot of fresh ground pepper. I never knew that I did, but in gathering the ingredients for this recipe I finally broke down and bough a pepper grinder for home. Wow! If you haven't, you should. IMMEDIATELY! I'm peppering everything now. I ate a microwave meal last night (Late night, no excuse, right? Thank goodness for Amy's Organic Gluten-Free Microwave meals!), and even put fresh ground pepper on that.

I will be trying these again very soon. As usual, I'm always sure I can do better. And being new at this is always a good excuse to make a mess of things.

Look, Ma! I can cook!


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Red D'Anjou Pears

They sound far more pretentious than I think they really are. D'Anjou, translated using the google language tools means simply, "from Anjou." That's a frustrating answer. Kind of like someone telling you "just because" is a reasonable answer for any question. Presuming that it means Anjou is a place, I proceeded on a little journey through google land to this explanation of Anjou. Whew! That was quite a bit of reading for nothing.

I noticed a little sticker on the pear (where I read the name from to begin with) that sends me to the site where I find this. Everything I really needed to know about my lovely red treasures.

These were my reward today for being adventurous.

This morning we tried desperately to wake early, but those plans were quickly canceled. When I was finally able to roll myself out of the bed and gobble down some cream of buckwheat, we made our way off to the Denver Zoo. My dear Houston and I had promised each other we were going to do something this weekend that did not involve spending money. We live 2 miles from the zoo and are members, so we make frequent trips to roam the Tropical Discovery exhibit in the winter.

I have been waiting all week to try and make gnocchi. After seeing Rachel Ray eating them on the food network and learning they were made primarily of potato, I knew that I had to give it a try. Anything that can be made gluten-free is a worthwhile adventure in itself. This post is about the pears though...

Someone at work who lives in the same Denver neighborhood I do told me about an Italian grocery nearby. I was amazed that I had never noticed or stopped in, so after the zoo we made our way over to check out Spinelli's Market. True to the description I had received it was a small market nestled in the neighborhood. I immediately headed into the produce aisle, where prominently placed were these burgandy colored pears. I gaped at them for a moment before continuing down their aisles of fresh organic produce. Many were presented in large baskets and crates. It was a little step back into a smaller world and a slower pace. I took my time perusing the vegetables.

I had been sent in particular for their Italian sausage. I only had a moment to peer into their meat case before a sharp man asked me in an impatient tone if I needed something. I try not to get bent out of shape at first impressions, so I asked him if their sausage contained fillers. I have food allergies (which while fundamentally untrue because Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder seems to be the most easily understood in the world around me) is what I told him. He said he really wasn't sure and stood there staring at me. I explained that I couldn't purchase any without knowing. He answered that he would have to look at the packaging. He made no move to do so and looked anxiously over my shoulder at the woman behind me. I stepped aside.

I think that I should have been more assertive and forced the issue, but for all I know his dog may have passed suddenly that morning thus causing the stick in his...well, you know... I have plans to stop into the grocery and try again. I didn't let it run me off completely and made a mental inventory of other items of interest that I knew were not off limits to me. The pasta aisle of course was out, and their pre-made gnocchi contained wheat flour. They had some that intrigued me though. They were pumpkin gnocchi. It sounds like my gnocchi adventure is just beginning.

I selected a lovely rolled prusciutto and mozzarella to go with the gnocchi I was making this evening, and stopped back through the produce where I placed three of those lovely pears in a small paper sack. The word foodography played heavily across my tongue and lips and the color and texture of the pears drank in my eyes.

I have been photographing them all evening. Later, it will be all over. No more photo ops. I shall slice one of them in half, warm it slightly in the oven, and place a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in the hollow created by it's absent seed. Simple and delicious, I had better eat it quickly before it melts.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Flourless Almond Torte

Let me start by apologizing for the horrid lie I told in my last post. My most heartfelt apologies for leading you to believe that I had never made a cake that didn't come from a box. Unfortunately, my memory seems to be leaving me early in life. According to my mother, this runs in the family. She expressed this to me as she was apologizing. She had called to tell me that she had just discovered my birthday card in the backseat of her car. My birthday is 6 days before Christmas, and my parents have been under a lot of stress this year with opening their new business, so I had assumed it had just slipped past them. They hadn't forgotten my birthday entirely. They had a pot of burgundy Chrysanthemums delivered to my office on my birthday. Had it not been for the flowers, I surely would have mentioned it. I've lost my train of thought now....

Ahhh - the lie. It slipped my mind that I had baked another cake this year. I'm sure that it had slipped my mind because it isn't a conventional kind of cake. It isn't a cake in the sense that I have always thought of cakes. The recipe actually says it's a torte. I'm not sure what that means....let's look that up, shall we?

Torte: A rich cake made with many eggs and little flour and usually containing chopped nuts.

Okay. A torte is definitely a cake, and I am definitely a liar. The photo above is the all the evidence needed to convict me. The picture above was taken by me, of a cake I baked, that had absolutely nothing to do with a box. The eggs came from a carton, the sugar from a bag, the almonds came from a bag....hmmmm....I think I made this cake, er tortey sort of thingy from scratch.

It started with this post from our favorite Gluten-Free Girl. After reading it I was compelled by forces previously unknown to me to hunt down this recipe. It took several hours of internet searching to find exactly what I was looking for, but there it was. A gluten free cake reminiscent of my youth. As I mentioned in my previous post, the one where I lied, I am an Army brat. I lived in Germany for 7 years on and off growing up, and developed a fair taste for the pastries of Europe. We were a rotund family upon our final return when I was 14. My mother calls it the food across Europe tour. We just ate our way through as many countries as we could.

After my diagnosis last year, I thought that all the wonderful pastries in life were dead to me. Alas, Shauna discovered something that had I ever cooked in my life I might have known. Pastries are not made of wheat alone. This glorious torte came at a time before delicious gluten-free chocolate cake mixes. I was so excited as I set out to find all of the ingredients and get under way. It felt like the door to another world had creaked its way open and I walked through to a land where I wanted to spend time in the kitchen. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was ready to find out.

With all of this build up it sounds like this must be difficult. Let's remember who is talking here though. I am the Anti-Chef. This recipe is so simple that it's a shame not to try it at least once. I even purchased a spring-form pan for just this occasion. I have used it quite a few times since, but it was christened with a flourless almond torte.

When complete it sat on the plate like a giant cookie. It comes out very dense with a crisp outer layer and a moist chewy center. It holds together very well, and I topped it with sugar melted in lemon juice. I took the leftovers to work and fed my department. It goes down happily with a hot cup of coffee in the morning.

Again my apologies for telling such a fib. I've made a cake. From scratch. Really....

(Looking back through my notes I discover that recipe I ended up using actually calls it a cake, not a torte, and it's from Spain. Details.....)

Flourless Almond Cake

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Cake in a Box

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I have never been anyone to spend much time in the kitchen, but this year had to be different. It was Houston's birthday, and there simply had to be cake. I don't remember what lies I told myself in 2004. It was shortly after the diagnosis, and nothing had really sank in. I actually have very foggy memories of that entire time period. I imagine that I just ate it anyway and made myself ill, but I can't actually tell you for sure if we had cake at all.

I am an only child. Was an only child. Now I'm an only adult. Does any of that make sense? In 8th grade my French teacher, Frau Cox, told me that it was expressed en fracais as "Je suis unique." That sounds better to me. I am unique, as I am sure many of you are.

As such, my parents, like something straight out of the sixties (which they were), decided to raise me differently. The only responsibilities I had were cleaning my room and doing well in school. I know that my parents were trying to afford me opportunities that they didn't have. Unfortunately it was crippling. I didn't develop the perspective to appreciate what they had done until well after they were done taking care of me. I moved out when I was 17. A military brat - my father had orders to report to Fairbanks, Alaska. I settled down in Denver, Colorado.

As a child who didn't ever learn to cook or clean, my idea of baking cakes were these marvelous little boxed mixes that went in the microwave. I think they were Duncan Hines. I ooh'ed and aah'ed and wow'ed myself at my baking prowess as the dinger told my family it was time for yet another chewy spice cake. As ill equipped for life as I was when I left home, I had my microwave spice cake.

Eventually I did graduate to more complex mixes, but I never did learn to bake a cake on my own. As my income increased over the years I discovered specialty bakeries. They were even easier than mixes. I was a little more removed from the kitchen every year, until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2004.

This year however, there had to be cake, and it had to be gluten-free. I'm sure that not all cities were as fortunate as Denver in 2005. In August we were blessed with the opening of our very own gluten-free bakery here in Denver. Deby's Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, where everything on the menu is 100% gluten free. Cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries stock the shelves and display cases. They can be made to order as well, but...

I have been working very diligently this year to spend more time in the kitchen. Cook more foods for my family. Imbue our diet with what good energy and love I can impart to it during the process. I thought it would be nice to make the cake myself, and very conveniently Deby's produces a mix. Reading through the directions I was relieved that I got through my fear of egg whites over last summer. Much baking in the gluten-free world seems to center itself around folding dry ingredients into a large bowl of stiff peaks. This was no different.

I followed the directions, which include 1 cup of pureed pineapple, which astonishingly enough leaves no trace of fruity taste or fibrous texture. I smeared the thick batter into the cake pan and baked it for 25 minutes. A beautiful chocolate cake emerged from the oven.

It cooled for several hours and I coated it with a homemade buttercream frosting before serving it with candles alight to my huband smiling widely. The buttercream is an adventure for my next post and the photos should be avoided by those with heart conditions. It didn't come out pretty, but the cake. Mmmmm. Moist chocolate ribboned its way through the cake which held together as any respectable gluten bearing cake would. There was simply no difference, and if you are comfortable with egg whites, is simple as any Betty Crocker mix ever was to bake. I don't ever recall finding anything this good at the end of an instant cake before, and over the following two nights of eating the leftovers it never dried out as I had expected it to.

I have plans for 2006 that include attempting gluten-free baking without mixes. It seems that the only thing I have given up since my diagnosis is convenience. I can have everything I had before, sans gluten, if I am willing to put forth some effort. This cake mix brought a little bit of convenience back into my life, and made me feel a little less deprived.

Thank you, Monica. I didn't think I'd ever eat cake from a box again. (As silly as that sounds, I know!)

(Monica is the incredibly friendly, jovial, knowledgable and helpful owner of Deby's. Deby is her incredibly sweet and helpful 10 year old daughter.)