Saturday, May 30, 2020

gluten-free bread

A few weeks back my husband started wondering if he might have a gluten intolerance. He’s known he's lactose intolerant for years now, but recently the pain — the stomach cramping and bloating he'd usually been able to keep under wraps with his lactaid pills and reduced dairy consumption — was flaring up. In fact, this time it didn't even seem to be linked to dairy. So he decided to experiment with gluten.

I took his announcement in stride. The man is forever saying he shouldn't eat something or other and then forgetting what he said and eating it anyway (and feeling just fine). There was no way I was going to overhaul my cooking if this was just another one of his whims, so when he declared war on gluten, I just rolled my eyes.

“Sure, go for it,” I said, pulling steaming loaves of crusty sourdough bread from the oven. “Maybe you’ll feel better.”

So then after skipping gluten for a week and feeling great, he ate some sourdough bread and spent the next 18 hours feeling terrible. Which then sent me into a tizz. How, exactly, did one go about cooking gluten-free?

Of my four basic starch groups — rice, potatoes, bread, and pasta — two were gone. Overwhelmed, and unable to sort out a menu that didn’t upend our lifestyle entirely, I dashed to the store for a bunch of GF foods: frozen pizza, rice noodles, pancake mix, sliced bread, all-purpose flour substitute. Once I had some supplies, I felt less trapped. Now I could make a plan. In the meantime, he wouldn’t starve.

Turns out, the switch to gluten-free cooking wasn’t actually that big a deal. We ate more rice and potatoes, tons of veggies, a little more meat. My husband, to his credit, was extremely low-key about it all: granola with water for breakfast; boiled eggs, nuts, and apples for lunch. He didn’t make a stink about missing food or needing anything special. As long as he had chips on hand, he didn’t even seem to miss the pies, cakes, and bread that had gone missing (though I missed making them for him!). 

I quickly realized that, since the store-bought GF bread tasted distressingly like cardboard, homemade gluten-free bread was the number one thing I'd need to figure out. (The number two thing would be pie pastry.) My sister-in-law shared some of her recipes with me, and after a couple tries and a few tweaks, I was actually quite pleased with the end results.

the psyllium and yeast mixture

Even though this bread is yeast based, it handles more like a quick bread: no kneading and a spoonable dough. Instead of flour — and it feels so weird to make bread without flour! — I use rice flour, tapioca starch, and an all-purpose gluten-free substitute. Which made a very white bread. So then, for color and texture, I toasted a half cup of rolled oats until they were dark brown and ground them into flour.

so brilliantly white that I almost need sunglasses

Psyllium, the husk of a seed that is often used as a laxative (and that I hear advertised on NPR all the time), is the special ingredient. They say it makes all the difference in gluten-free baking since it helps the bread to retain moisture and makes it a little more elastic.

Don’t go overboard on the psyllium, though! Once I mistakenly added too much and the resulting bread had a distinctly cobwebby mouthfeel.

scooped into the pan and ready to be smoothed out with the back of a spoon

fully risen

The bread doesn't rise in the oven at all (again, weird!), and the top turns dusty-white as it bakes instead of golden brown. The bottom and sides, though, get nice and golden.

The bread needs to rest for a good 12-24 hours before slicing into it because otherwise it'd be gummy.

It's not anything like sourdough, of course, but it tastes good. The texture, what with all its little bubbly holes, reminds me of English muffins. There is a slight grittiness to it (the psyllium?), but it’s barely noticeable.

Toasted, with butter and jam, it’s delicious, and even though I'm not gluten-free, I eat it willingly (or I would eat it if I wasn't saving it all for my husband).

And then just as I was getting into the swing of things (stocking up on tapioca starch and xanthan gum, contacting GF bakers, finding GF blogs), my husband did another gluten test. This time, wouldn’t you know, he had no negative reaction.

We tested a couple more times since but with mixed results. Sometimes he has stomach pain when he eats gluten, and other times he eats it and then feels perfectly fine. It's all very confusing. I'm convinced he needs to adopt a scientific approach — tracking his diet and monitoring his symptoms — but that would require him to remember to do that, and he and I both know that's probably not going to happen.

with toasted ground oats

So now I'm back to cooking however want, and he eats however he wants. Whatevs. It is sort of disapppointing, though. I would love for him to feel better and, all things considered, eliminating gluten would’ve been a small (and easy) price to pay.

Oh well, at least now I know how to make a yummy gluten-free bread.

Gluten-Free Bread 
Adapted from a screen shot of a recipe that my sister-in-law sent me.

There are lots of other GF breads and methods out there (including, I hear, sourdough!) so I've only scratched the surface. Which makes me feel hopeful — there are options should my husband actually need them. GF bread is doable. Be ye (me) not afraid.

The original recipe called for black olives and caraway seeds; I skipped both. Also, it called for sorghum, which I didn't have. My sister-in-law said I could substitute millet flour, but I didn't have any of that, either, so I ended up using more rice flour and the all-purpose blend. But then a couple days ago when I was digging around in the basement freezer, I discovered a five-pound bag of millet flour, oops!

1⅔ cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons yeast
4 teaspoons psyllium powder
½ cup rice flour
½ cup ground rolled oats (that have first been well-toasted)
½ cup tapioca starch
¾ cup all-purpose flour substitute, such as this
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a mixing bowl, stir together the water, honey, and yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble, stir in the psyllium and let it rest for ten minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. The batter will be like a stiff, spoonable cookie dough. (If it’s too runny, add more of the all-purpose flour blend.)

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and, if you wish, brush it with canola oil. Spoon the dough into the pan and smooth the top. Cover with a towel and let rise until double, about one hour. It will not rise at all in the oven, so make sure the bread is well-risen prior to baking.

Bake the bread at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the pan and set the loaf directly on the oven rack and bake for another 15 minutes. The tops of my loaves always take on a whitish hue.

Let the loaf cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight bag. Wait to slice the bread until the second day — if you cut into it the same day, it will be gummy.

This same time, years previous: facts, the quotidian (5.29.17), simple lasagna, the quotidian (5.30.16), an evening together, in her element, spicy cabbage, the race we saw, showtime!, the saturation point, barbecued pork ribs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week twelve

My constant struggle against the downward suck of boredom is starting to have a numbing effect. By the end of last week, I felt like I'd crawl out of my skin. All week long, I’d been at home (and it'd been depressingly dark and rainy and cold) and now the weekend loomed with more of the same. Normally a homebody, I suddenly found myself longing for the excitement of the unfamiliar — Airplanes! Sticky-hot beaches! Open-air restaurants! Packed buses! Potholes! Strange insects! A different language! Weird smells! — with such intensity that it was almost a physical ache.

But I can’t go anywhere so so much for that.

I keep reading that, in times like these, people dig deep into themselves and find reserves they didn’t know they had. They become more settled and peaceful. They grow.

But I’m just becoming stagnant, it seems. I go running and cook food and write (yes, I’m writing again) and check my daughter’s algebra problems and watch Netflix and read and pick the asparagus and with each passing day, I feel like another small bit of my soul has shriveled up and died.

So dramatic, I know, but it’s true.

And it’s also true that I’m perfectly fine, sigh.

I said I needed more cuddles.


How are you navigating the reopening?

Without a comprehensive national plan, it appears we’re all on our own for figuring out when, and how, to do this.

For now, I’ve decided that I’m waiting for the following: 1) to see how reopening goes — will there be an uptick in cases? — and 2) waiting for our local area numbers to go down for fourteen consecutive days. Last I heard, they’re still on the rise so it will probably be awhile yet.


Good news! Now that it’s getting warmer, we can at least do a bit more socializing as long as we stay outside.

On Saturday, my parents and my brother’s family came over for supper. It was such a treat to sit outside in the fresh air, chatting and watching the dogs run circles around each other.

My mother is forever giving my husband That Look. 

And then last night, we had more friends over for pizza and salad. Here we are, giving them space while they serve themselves first:

Turns out, there's a big bonus to socially-distanced, outdoor hosting: no need to clean the house!


While rolling out pastry for a raspberry tart, I listened to Poet Sonya Renee Taylor on NPR's Here and Now speak truth after truth.

For example:
I heard someone say the other day, you know, 'In this time of great fear,' and I thought to myself, 'There's always been great fear.' We are not experiencing something new. We just happen to see it more clearly.
Here's the scary thing: We have nothing but the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. ... If we're saying, 'This space is open right now,' then we also are saying, 'I have some choice about what I would like to see put in it.' We are at a tough time, but I believe that it's possible to really activate what I like to call our liberatory imaginations to what it is that will deeply bring us joy.
It left me wondering: What space is open to me right now? What "liberatory imaginations" do I have that need activating? Quite honestly, I have no idea. And that truth leaves me feeling mildly bereft...

Listen to the (way too short) interview here.


Attending a church council meeting.


Have you watched Hannah Gadsby's new show on Netflix? I'm excited to see it. Also, here's her interview with Terry Gross; I just finished listening to it today.

For our Sunday night movie, we watched Just Mercy. At one point, we were all crying (some were sobbing), but we all agree: it's absolutely a must watch. No, scratch that. It's a must, must, MUST watch. (Also, Bryan Stevenson's interview with Terry Gross is wonderful, as is his book —I read it months ago and then dug it out again after watching the movie and now my husband is reading it.)


And to read...
*Quarantine Fatigue Is Real (The Atlantic). By drawing on what we learned from the AIDS epidemic, we know that “... an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay — at least not forever.” Instead, in order to learn to live while in a pandemic, we need to learn to 1) differentiate between low-risk and high-risk activies, 2) acknowledge contextual factors for different individuals, and 3) stop shaming people who continue to chose high-risk activities and instead provide them with tools to minimize danger.

*From Camping to Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate the Risks of 14 Summer Activities (NPR).

*When The World Went Away, We Made a New One (The New York Times Magazine). If you have an extra twenty minutes, this personal essay about a single mother (who is also a recovering alcoholic) parenting her toddler while sick with Covid makes for a good read.


This same time, years previous: period, the quotidian (5.28.18), butter chicken, the hard part, the quotidian (5.26.14), the quotidian (5.27.13), one dead mouse, strawberry shortcake with milk on top.

Monday, May 25, 2020

the quotidian (5.25.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

I need more oven racks.

What to make?

Also eggs.

I hope my family likes Thai food. 

For mother's day.

My daughter came home with a coupon so I used it. 

Drinks on the deck, anyone?

Battle of the hoses.

Our neighbor in the little house.

I guess you can't be productive all the time. 

This same time, years previous: about that house (and some news!), snake charmer, a few fun things, in which we don't need the gun, the quotidian (5.25.15), rosa de jamaica tea, down to the river to play, the boring blues, chocolate-kissed chili.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

baa-baa fat sheep

Funny story.

Last year, my older daughter got a couple bottle lambs (one died) from a neighbor. Then last fall, some other neighbors gave us a ram. We kept the two separate, for the most part, and then, tired of sheep, my daughter gave the ram to a farmer friend. For months, she half-heartedly tried to sell the remaining sheep. Eventually, she found a farmer who said he could take it with his flock when they went to slaughter. He didn’t say if he would buy it from her or not, and she didn’t care. She just wanted it gone.

But then, when she was loading it into the truck to deliver it to the farmer, she called me on the phone: Mom, I think the sheep is pregnant. So I tromped down to the field and there was the sheep, trussed up and on her back, her bulging belly and swollen udder plainly visible.

My daughter was dismayed. "I just thought she was really fat!"

So she untied the sheep, let the farmer know her sheep would not be slaughtered after all, and made arrangements for a sheep shearer to come.

And then we waited. "Maybe she really is just fat," I said, as the days ticked by.

But then Thursday afternoon, the sheep started hunching her back and stomping the ground. That night my daughter penned her in the shed. The next morning, she ran down to check first thing. From the kitchen window, I saw her look in the pen and then immediately spin around excitedly to look back at the house.

"I think we have a lamb," I told my husband, slipping on my flipflops.

Down at the shed, I peered in and there, still covered with blood and goop, was not one, but two, new baby lambs!

We’d missed the deliveries by about an hour, probably. The female lamb is about half the size of the male, but they’re both active and eating.

And the mama is doing a fantastic job caring for them.

So much for my daughter’s plan to get rid of her sheep, ha.

This same time, years previous: stuffed poblanos, a problem, the quotidian (5.22.17), the quotidian (5.23.16), ice cream supper, Shirley's sugar cookies, the basics, the reason why, through my daughter's eyes.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

garlic flatbreads with fresh herbs

It’s marvelously dark and dreary today. Cold, too. I got up in time to go running before it rained, the clouds so low my head practically brushed against them. Now, my exercise gotten, I can actually enjoy the closed-up, cozy house.

I’ve been drinking lots of coffee, and this morning when I was writing, my younger son brought me a mason jar of steaming hot chocolate. I procrastinated on eating breakfast and ended up missing it altogether — but hot chocolate is practically a meal, right? — and then when I went downstairs around noon to check on the kids’ jobs and school work and pull out leftovers for their lunch, nothing appealed to me. Instead, I mixed up a batch of herby garlic flatbread dough — and I got a hunk of feta out of the freezer to thaw — before disappearing back upstair to my room with an apple.

Soon, though, I’ll go back downstairs and fry up the flatbread. I want to take photos so I can share the recipe with you. And I want to eat some. It’s nearly two o’clock, and I’m beginning to get hungry.

But first, let me fill you in on some ailments that I’ve been meaning to tell you about. Maybe you’ll have some advice.


Ailment 1
I have a problem with my eyes.

During the night, or after sleeping, it sometimes feels like the insides of my eyelids are covered with hard bumps that grate against my eyeballs. Sometimes this happens for weeks on end, and then I'll go for weeks with no pain at all. When it’s really bad — and by “bad” I mean it feels like my eyeballs are being scraped with a cheese grater, or an ice skater is waltzing over my retinas — I have to sit up in bed, unmoving and holding myself at a weird angle (I can’t lay on my back), until the pain subsides.

This all started soon after I had that horrible case of pink eye several years back, so I just assumed that I had some scar tissue on my lids. Over the phone, I asked my eye doctor’s receptionist about the problem, and he said that yes, pink eye can leave scar tissue, but when I asked the doctor himself, he looked at my lids and said, Nope, no scarring, just mild eye dryness. And then he suggested I make moisturizing my eyeballs a part of my nightly regime.

Which I’ve done to little effect: It helps in the moment sometimes, but it doesn’t do a thing to ease the whole problem.

So now I’m thinking I either need a new eye doctor or eye surgery to remove the scar tissue that I don’t have. Or maybe I ought to learn to sleep underwater.

Ailment 2
Earlier this spring, I suffered a horrific case of allergies. For weeks, my sleep was interrupted with nose-blowing. I'd even sneeze while sleeping (except then I’d be awake). Over-the-counter, 24-hour allergy pills did little to help — I tried two kinds — and even Benadryl didn’t do much. Since nothing worked, we started wondering if I was allergic to something in our room. The pillows, perhaps? So I stopped sleeping with them. It helped, for a little, so I bought an allergy-free pillow. But then the sneezing and sniffling came back anyway.

At my husband’s routine appointment with the allergist, he asked about my situation. The doc brushed it off, saying that it’s very unusual that adults develop seasonal allergies — which surprised me. Is that really true?

Anyway, after a couple months, the problem disappeared and now I’m totally fine — no meds and back to sleeping with my feather pillows.

Humph. Maybe we need a new allergist, too?

Ailment 3
Last week I cut off the tip of my finger. I was slicing a hard crust of sourdough bread with the serrated bread knife and, well, then I wasn’t.

Hearing my shouts, my younger daughter came, took one look, and walked off, so then my younger son stepped in, ransacking the house for bandaids and helping me slap them on.

My finger (and thumb, because I’d nicked that, too) bandaged, I sat down in the rocker and, furious and hurting, began crying, which scared my younger daughter who then called my husband who was in the middle of lifting a wall and, upon hearing the tale, got woozy. He offered to come home but I told him no — since the tip of the finger had still been attached (I had contemplated tearing it off the rest of the way but, deciding that the wound would be less painful with a lid on it, I just put it back down and bandaged it on), I figured there was nothing to do. Either it would reattach, or it’d fall off and I’d have a permanently short finger.

(And then my older son got on the phone. "Hey Mom. I understand that being a new amputee can be hard. Would you like me to arrange a therapy session for you?")

That evening, when I rebandaged the finger with supplies my husband had bought at the pharmacy, I discovered that I’d taken off a part of my nail, too, and that actually, it ‘twas but a mere flesh wound, all things considered. Two days later, I started running again and it didn’t even throb.

And now it looks like the top of the finger may actually be reattaching, whoo-hoo!


Now, my ailments covered, how about some flatbread?

Ever since failing at Nadiya’s flatbread (why the hype over yeast-free flatbread when a little bit of yeast makes such a difference?), I’ve had a craving for the stuff. Yesterday I researched a bunch of recipes before landing on one that called for mixing fresh minced garlic and herbs into the dough. It was spectacular. Pliant and tender, billowy and flavorful, it's the perfect addition to any curry dish or Middle Eastern meal.

This afternoon, I ate it warm, wrapped around kalamata olives and chunks of creamy feta. It was truly sublime — the perfect afternoon snack — and so incredibly easy to make.

This recipe, I think, is one you’ll want to memorize. Get to it!

P.S. My younger son just came down and reheated the last piece, brushing it with butter and then sprinkling it with feta and drizzling it with lots of honey:

Um ... wow.

Garlic Flatbreads with Fresh Herbs
Adapted from The Minimalist Baker.

If you don’t have fresh rosemary, you can use fresh thyme or oregano or dill. Or use all dried herbs — they’ll rehydrate when you add the warm water. Basically, try to aim for a tablespoon of fresh herbs, and a pinch or two of some dried, if you want. But whatever you do, you must use fresh garlic. It’s what makes this bread.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup spelt flour, or whole wheat
2 teaspoons yeast
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic minced very fine
1 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary (or thyme or oregano)
a pinch of dried thyme (or rosemary or oregano)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying
¾ cup warm water

Measure all the dry ingredients and herbs into a bowl and stir to combine. Add the oil and most of the warm water and stir to combine, adding more water, as needed (I've never used the full amount). Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for several minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise for an hour.

Divide the dough into eight pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into thin, flat blobs (circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, triangles, whatever).

Drizzle some olive oil in a hot skillet. Fry one of the flatbreads until it’s bubbling on top and kissed with brown on the bottom. Lift the flatbread, drizzle in a little more oil, and flip, cooking the other side of the bread until golden brown. Wrap the flatbread in a towel to stay warm. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads.

Serve the flatbreads warm, with curry, butter and honey, cheese, olives, hummus, fresh tomatoes, etc.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.21.18), sauteed lambsquarters with lemon, after one year: Costco reflections, finding my answers, the trouble with Mother's Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), rhubarb streusel muffins.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

chicken shawarma

Back at the start of the pandemic, the pressure to cook all but disappeared. Feeding my family — just my family — required next to nothing of me. I missed the thrill of churning out large quantities of food. I missed the potlucks and parties and the people dropping by. It was boring. It was depressing.

Now, though, I’m beginning to relax into the easier routine. As I adapt to the rhythm of feeding six people three meals a day, I’m finally finding a balance. I refrain from doubling recipes so I have reason to cook more often. I add side dishes. I get creative with leftovers. I delight in shopping my freezers and pantry shelves. And whenever I manage to weave in the bits of produce that my daughter brings home from the farm or that I pull from my garden, I get a little tingle-zap of joy.

Monday's bundle

I try a lot of new recipes, too. Take Sunday, for example.

Inspired by Nadiya (that woman’s a gem), for breakfast I made spotted dick (aka Irish Soda Bread but come on, saying, “Would you like another piece of spotted dick?” is much more entertaining) and my younger son made homemade butter to go with.

Then for lunch, I made shawarma, flatbreads, and a broccoli salad with yogurt dressing, all from Nadiya. The flatbread was a bust — not nearly tender and pliable enough — and no one really cared for the broccoli salad. Also, in the process, I accidentally and violently threw a whole coffee grinder of coriander seeds on the floor.

And then I dumped the broccoli....

Somehow, though, and clearly in spite of me, the shawarma was absolutely outrageous. Fall-apart tender and juicy, and with an enormous kick of flavor, it exceeded my expectations by a long, long, looooong shot.

Shawarma, thin slices of meat stacked in a cone shape and then roasted, is typically served sliced off the cone and wrapped in flatbread (aka, gyros). This shawarma, though, requires no cone because — and here's the trick — packing pieces of heavily seasoned meat into a loaf pan and then baking it yields a surprisingly similar effect! The meat doesn’t shave into bits as nicely as the traditional shawarma (once turned out of the pan, my loaf lost all its shape), but quick run a knife over the whole mess and no one will ever guess it wasn’t roasted on a cone.

Note: if you’re going to save the second pan of meat for another meal, make sure the entire family knows not to touch it on pain of death. And then freeze it immediately, just to make sure. I stupidly stuck the leftovers in the fridge and then my older son, who claims he didn’t get the memo, took two pieces — TWO PIECES — in his lunch today. I am bitter.

Chicken Shawarma
Adapted from Nadiya’s recipe.

Meat’s in short supply, as you’ve probably noticed. Chicken, especially, is hard to come by. Now, whenever I go into a store, if they have my favorite — boneless, skinless thighs — I snatch up the allotted amount, regardless of whether or not it’s actually on my grocery list. (Also, we’ve put in an order for meat birds — gonna raise ourselves some chee-kin!)

The recipe called for two tablespoons (!!) cayenne (on the TV show, Nadiya chirps, It’s not too much, I promise! Cayenne’s sweet!) but no, I’m not buying it. Also, I dialed back the salt a fair bit and it was still plenty.

3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more
¼ cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
green onions, chopped, for garnish
fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish

Trim off any big chunks of fat and cut the thighs in half. Coat with the oil. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and spices. Sprinkle over the meat and toss to coat.

Smear a little oil in the bottom and up the sides of two loaf pans. Divide the chicken between the two pans, laying in one piece at a time and pressing them down as you go. Drizzle a little more oil on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. 

Allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for about ten minutes before inverting onto a cutting board. Slice the chicken into thin(ish) pieces, and top with green onions and herbs. Serve with flatbread or rice.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.20.19), rocking the house, pinned, moo, campfire cooking, the quotidian (5.19. 14), the quotidian (5.20.13), baked brown rice, my favorite things.

Monday, May 18, 2020

the quotidian (5.18.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Cosmos for two, and then The Godfather.

Four cheeses and double the butter.

Buster came to visit.

She dyed her hair auburn and it looked no different than normal, ha!

Weeding, tilling, planting, mulching. 

For the tomatoes.

His new digs.

From the other angle.

They wouldn't stop stupid arguing at supper so I sent them away from the table until they quit.

This same time, years previous: flying, flashfloods, and fireballs, the quotidian (5.14.18), inclusion, surprise!, the quotidian (5.16.16), chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies, the quotidian (5.18.15), help, 'twas an honor, caramel cake.