counting down and crossing off

 Ok folks, we're getting short on time, so let's do a quick run-down of what's already been checked off:
  • all gifts have been bought/made,
  • almost all non-Santa gifts have been wrapped,
  • Christmas cards finally made it out the door,
  • chocolate sandwich cookies have been dipped in mint chocolate and decorated,
  • Santa has been visited and snuggled with and given the best possible wish lists ("stuff" and a real vacuum),
  • cranberry chocolate chip bread has been made,
  • pie crust is chilling (which will become the base for this),
  • my great-grandmother's traditional anise Christmas cookie dough is chilling,
  • both sick children have finally crossed over the threshold and are headed into well,
  • gingerbread cookies have been baked,
  • various nuts/fruit pastes/cheeses have been bought for Christmas day snacking,
and (lest you begin to view me as too much of an over-achiever),
  • the lace scarf that I began to knit over two years ago, intending to give it to my mother for each consecutive Mother's Day/birthday/Christmas, is so close to being done that I've prematurely crossed it off, too.
Oh yeah, and enough snow fell last night that it appears we may have a white Christmas after all! So things are good here. Despite the fact that last night, in an exhaustion-and-illness-induced delirium, I blurted out Josh's Christmas present to him. Me, the one who hates spoiling Christmas surprises more than anyone. The one who, as a child, always needed to be told exactly where all the Christmas gifts were being stored, in order to give that sacred space a wide enough berth to prevent any accidental discoveries. Me. I ruined Josh's Christmas. (Well, not really, as Josh has been sweet enough to point out numerous times. But still, it's quite out of character of me, and I'm kicking myself for the slip. Josh, on the other hand, thinks it's amusing and charming. Lovely man.)

Anyway, tomorrow is Christmas Eve and things are pretty much under control around here. Of course, we leave in the morning for my parent's house and no packing has been done, or even been given much thought. And those anise cookies still need to be rolled, cut, baked, cooled, and iced - I'm stalling on that one because I can't decide if it would be wisest to involve the kids in the project, or keep them occupied and unaware with a holiday video in the other room. And, sadly, the blog post I had planned for you two days ago never appeared. (Remind me to never sign up for 60 inches of lace and cabling again!)

I was going to tell you about these gingerbread cookies I remember making with my mother many, many years ago. About how they were soft and tender and friendly, somehow. We decorated them with raisins and I'm pretty sure Mom switched out the white flour for whole wheat and would have used honey instead of white sugar, and I was small enough that I needed to stand on a chair, and even then only remember the counter being chest-height. I wanted to talk to you about the curious fact that I don't think it was Christmas-time when we made those cookies, and yet they are THE Christmas gingerbread cookie goal of every batch I've made for the past few years. That decades-old memory just has a festive feel to it, in spite of the absence of an actual holiday. I was even going to poke some gentle fun at Mom, who insists she can't remember making the cookies with me and that I must be thinking of something I did with my grandmother, and yet when Dad grabbed the first baking book he could find, he immediately found the right recipe, with Mom's notes all over it. Go figure.

But like I said, it's almost Christmas and my to-do list still needs a bit more of my attention. As do all the dishes piled up in the kitchen. And my children could use some more parent-child interaction, although they honestly don't realize it, reveling as they are in the novelty of being allowed to watch a video more than once a week.

And yet . . . it is almost Christmas. And with all the focus on giving and sharing, I can't let go of the feeling that I want to give all of you one more thing before I sign off for the holiday weekend. Even if you've already finished your holiday baking. Even if you're completely cookied-out, as so many of us are at this point. I want you to have this recipe. Because, as my memory reminds me, gingerbread cookies don't have to be just for Christmas. The warm spices and decorating-with-kids fun are perfect all winter long, and will be welcomed even without a backdrop of jingle bells and twinkling lights. And if making them reminds you of the coziness of the holiday season? Well, that sounds like a memorable baking experience if ever I heard one.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, my friends! May you eat, drink and be merry!

Soft Gingerbread Cookies
yields 3 to 4 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

2 oz (57 grams/4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
108 grams (1/2 cup, packed) light brown sugar
155 grams (1/2 fluid cup) molasses
80 grams (1/4 fluid cup) mild honey
1 large egg
410 grams Tara's gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
36 grams teff flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp guar gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper
2 fluid oz (1/4 fluid cup) water

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the molasses and honey. Add the egg, mixing until combined. (Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled.)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, gums, baking soda, spices, salt, and pepper. Add half of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, mixing on low speed until just combined, scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl as needed. Pour in the water, and mix to combine. Add the remaining flour and mix until fully combined.

Divide the dough into two pieces (it's going to be very sticky), wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Have ready parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheets.

On a well floured board, roll out one piece of cookie dough to about 1/8 inch thick. As long as you work quickly and keep the dough dusted with flour, it shouldn't be at all hard to work with. If the dough gets too warm it will become too sticky; pop it back in the fridge to cool a bit. Using cookie cutters, cut out cookies into desired shapes and place on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with other half of dough. Scraps may be rerolled and cut, up to two more times.

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until their surface is dry and they indent slightly when you gently touch them, but are not yet beginning to get noticeably darker. (Unless, of course, you want a crispy gingerbread cookie. In that case just bake them longer and you'll end up with cookies strong enough to use for gingerbread houses!) Cool completely on a rack, then decorate as desired. Cookies keep, wrapped airtight and at room temperature, for up to three days.


cranberries for christmas

My family seems to have fallen off the holiday food wagon.

Actually, we may have forgotten to get on altogether. I think it's that we haven't recovered from the over-indulgences of Thanksgiving. Oh, on the surface it looks like we're full-force into the Christmas season. Our tree is up, the house is decorated, presents are being shopped for, and holiday music is our near-constant soundtrack. (Which would be a bit more tolerable if the Frosty the Snowman chorus was not screamed at maximum volume every time. Children, please.)

But food? No candy has been made at this house since Thanksgiving's marshmallows. There are no candy canes laying around. Until I sat down to write this, I'd completely forgotten about eggnog. We recently sent a care package to my in-laws, and I asked the boys to decide what kind of cookies they wanted to make to send to their grandmother. I assumed they'd choose something seasonal, something that they could decorate with icing or sprinkles. Instead, they chose peanut butter cookies. Turns out they really like pressing their fork on the dough to make that crisscross pattern! So no Christmas cookies for us yet. And my recent baking days have been filled with test batches of gougeres and focaccia. Yummy, but not very festive.

This is starting to feel weird. Every morning, the boys give us a dramatic countdown to Christmas, using their big felt Advent calendar as an aid. And every morning, the flutter of stress at not having done any holiday baking to speak of clangs around inside me with a bit more insistence. Soon, I am going to have to answer it.

'Soon' may be tomorrow, actually. Tonight at bedtime, while I was reading The Night Before Christmas, Wylie inspected the decorative border of one page, spied a gingerbread girl cookie, and asked for it. Immediately, Kalen joined the cause, pleading to make the kind of "people cookies" that he can decorate. Finally, an interest in Christmas treats! And I do mean finally, having been reminded no less than 5 times today that Christmas is "so soon! Only ten more days and then it's here!" So we've got a lot of baking to fit into a very little bit of time!

I have, however, made one thing that, to me at least, is in the holiday spirit: that cranberry chocolate chip bread you see at the top of the page. What? That doesn't scream Christmas to you? Your grandmother or great aunt didn't make and lay out a platter of sliced cranberry bread on a sideboard or coffee table at every childhood Christmas in memory? Really? And you didn't toast the leftovers the next morning and slather them with cream cheese??


Well, whether it's a Christmas tradition in your family or not, cranberry bread feels festive to me. It's got the right color palate, for one thing. And it's a nice, tart compliment to all the overly-sweet offerings that fill (most) homes this time of year. Also, it's quick and easy to make, which is very appealing to me, given all the seasonal demands on my time during this month. Adding large pieces of chocolate to the batter just seals the deal.

I made this bread intending to gift it all to my dear friend Sammy. But I won't pretend that I wasn't pleased to find out that the only unoccupied loaf pans I had were smaller than the 9x5-inch pan the recipe calls for. So I filled one pan to the top to make a decent-sized loaf for Sammy, and - yay! - had enough batter remaining that I ended up with a half-sized loaf for myself! (Yes, I know I should have written "for my family." But really, why kid ourselves?) Over the course of the next 36 hours, I proceeded to eat all but the heal end of the loaf. I couldn't pass by the kitchen counter without grabbing a knife and helping myself to another slice - I was addicted, both to the flavor of the bread and to the rush of childhood Christmas memories each bite gave me. The bread, with its soft, tender crumb studded with bits of chocolate and shot through with the zing of unsweetened cranberries. And my childhood holidays, a bundle of warm, rose-colored memories, punctuated with acute moments of an awareness of the specifics.

When I'd finally had my fill I looked at the measly portion left and remembered that I still wanted to photograph it. So that's what you get: the remains. Not enough for you? Well then friends, I advise that you hurry right into your kitchen and whip up your own batch.

Happy holidays!

Cranberry Chocolate Chip Bread
yield: one 9x5-inch loaf, or two smaller loaves

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1/2 cup light buckwheat flour (my favorite is from Bouchard Family Farm)
5 Tbsp almond flour/meal (I like Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp guar gum
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
5 fluid ounces orange juice (I like to use the kind with lots of pulp)
2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries, cut in half
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks/large chips

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x5-inch loaf pan, or two 8x4.5-inch loaf pans. (You will only get about 3/4-sized loaves using the smaller pans. But if, like me, your 9x5 pan is packed with ice cream in the freezer, or is similarly occupied, the smaller loaf pans will be fine.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand held electric mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. While the creaming is happening, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Add the eggs and vanilla to the creamed butter, mixing until fully combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the orange juice and mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined (you're not going to toughen this bread - don't worry about over-mixing).

Gently stir in the cranberries and chocolate chunks, until everything is evenly distributed. Be extra careful if you're using fresh cranberries, as mixing too vigorously will result in pink batter. Pour into prepared pan(s), using a spatula to smooth and spread the batter into the corners.

Bake for 55-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, with just a few dry crumbs clinging to it. (I realize the baking time seems fairly inaccurate; it's to take into account the two different pan sizes. Aim for less time for small pans, more for a large pan.) About 30 minutes into baking, loosely cover the loaf/loaves with foil to prevent the top(s) from getting too dark.

Cool bread in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling. Bread keeps, wrapped airtight and at room temperature, for up to 3 days.


a time-honored necessity

I have a book in my kitchen, one of those spiral-bound blank books with a firm cardboard cover. Mine is inlaid with cork, and is decorated with botanical illustrations of cotton plants. The pages are wavy from moisture, and there is structural damage where some of the cork got ripped off. It is bulging, as it contains as many loose pieces of paper, folded and stuffed into it, as bound pages. It is one of my first collections of recipes, taken from magazines and books and friends, and is more than ten years old. (Which probably doesn't sound all that old, but considering that it's as long as I've been out of college, it feels like a long time to me.)

It's an interesting culinary-themed trip down memory lane to read through it, to see what types of food I was drawn to a decade ago. It is also interesting to realize how few of the recipes I ever made. Coriander Mushrooms, Highland Oat Squares, Mushroom Pâté, Tomato-Miso Soup - all untested. Can you tell I was a reader of Vegetarian Times back then? I wasn't even a vegetarian, but I think my post-college craving for healthy foods pushed me towards that publication. That and Cooking Light - I'm sure a lot of those never-tried recipes also came from Cooking Light. There are notes in the margins where I suggest ways to convert the recipes to gluten-free, but nothing to indicate that I ever took my own suggestions.

There's also not much to definitively say where all these recipes came from - most are handwritten onto the pages, and I was 100% consistent in failing to note where I found each recipe. So much for giving credit where credit is due! A scant few, the ones I have actually come back to over and over again through the years, I can remember the origins of. The pâte brisée and pumpkin pie come from Martha Stewart. The guacamole is Ina Garten's version. Bobbie Mills' Cinnamon Cake, which I don't remember making, obviously comes from Bobbie Mills. And although I have no idea who he/she is, a quick Google search reveals that the recipe was published in the September 1996 edition of Gourmet. It's heartening to know I was reading Gourmet back when I was still a teenager, but I do wish I'd had the foresight to save those copies.

Anyway, you probably care very little about my Gourmet-nostalgia, and even less about Mushroom Pâté, not that I can blame you. It's hard to focus on such things when I keep shoving big photos of fluffy, fresh marshmallows in front of you. But you see, everything you just read (or quickly skimmed, or skipped over completely, as the case may be,) really is relevant, if only marginally. Because contained in that overflowing and mostly-ignored culinary relic is a recipe I can't live without.

Homemade marshmallows.

I don't remember how much time passed between my writing down the recipe and actually daring to make it. I do know it seemed simultaneously straightforward and scarily complicated, which is exactly the type of recipe I like to take on. But kitchen essentials like baking pans and candy thermometers and mixers weren't present in my immediate post-college life, so I imagine this recipe had to wait around a bit while I got my act together.

But once I did, I never looked back. And I've never looked at store-bought marshmallows the same way again. Why eat a stale, stiff, dull-flavored sponge when you know how to make gloriously fluffy, satiny, fragrant sugar pillows? Because really, that's what these marshmallows are. So I make them whenever I can - for s'mores over the campfire, for floating in mugs of rich hot chocolate, for topping our Thanksgiving roasted sweet potatoes, for eating out of hand for no special reason at all. They never go out of style, they always get rave reviews, and the more I make them the less complicated they seem. In fact, they don't seem scary at all anymore, now that I know to keep my fingers away from the hot sugar syrup. That plus the fact that I take comfort in knowing any mess made during the making process is easily erased with hot water during the cleaning process. In fact, I used to make giant batches of marshmallows when I worked at the local bakery, and aside from the additional time needed to cut them all, I can safely say that quadrupling the recipe doesn't complicate things one bit. Assuming, of course, that you have a 20-quart mixer at your disposal!

This most recent batch, as you've probably guessed, was for Thanksgiving. I hadn't meant to make them. I had given myself a prep list that was WAY too long, and I figured my family would just have to live without homemade marshmallows for one Thanksgiving. Until I got notes like this: "No pressure Tara BUT  . . . we LOVE your homemade marshmallows," and this: "store bought marshmallows are just fine (though yours really are amazing, Tara.)" Honestly, how could I not make them after that? And that's what's so great about this recipe. It turns out a product that people will ask for year after year, a candy-type confection that seems impressive but really can be done the night before Thanksgiving in the last 30 minutes before you go to bed. (And a lot of that time is just waiting-and-watching-the-thermometer time. Easy to do when you're tired.)

So once again, our sweet potatoes were crowned with marshmallow glory, and I can't believe I even considered not letting it happen. I know that the whole sweet potato-marshmallow dish gets a bad rap, but I'm convinced it's because no one else is using homemade cinnamon marshmallows. Roast a sweet potato until it's soft, split open the top, lay a homemade marshmallow over it and stick it under the broiler until it caramelizes - I'm telling you, it's impossible to turn one down.

And after you do that, you'll have lots of marshmallows leftover. Which is great, because the weather is getting colder by the day and we're all feeling festive and cheery, and there's nothing better to come inside to after chopping down your Christmas tree or stringing lights around your shrubs or simply clearing away the last of Fall's leaves before the snow flies than a cup of hot chocolate topped with real marshmallows, ones that don't immediately dissolve when they meet the heat of your mug. Trust me. Your family will love you for it.

Homemade Cinnamon Marshmallows
yields A LOT - 5 to 8 dozen, depending on the size of the pan

Canola oil, for greasing pan
About 1+ cup confectioner's sugar (I never measure, I just make sure I have a good-sized quantity on hand)
1/2 cup cold water
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115ºF)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 large egg whites (the whites won't be cooked - use reconstituted powdered egg whites if salmonella is a problem in your area)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Special equipment: candy or digital thermometer

Oil bottom and sides of an 18x13-inch pan (for thin marshmallows) or 9x13-inch pan (for thicker marshmallows) and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Put cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin over to soften. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring, increase heat to medium, and boil mixture until a candy or digital thermometer reads 240ºF (soft-ball stage), about 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat and pour mixture into bowl of gelatin, stirring until all the gelatin has dissolved.

Using the whisk attachment, whip mixture on high speed until thick, white, and triple in volume, about 6 minutes.

While the sugar mixture is whipping, use a hand-held electric mixer to whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they just hold stiff peaks.

Whisk the beaten whites, vanilla and cinnamon into the sugar mixture until just combined. Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. Sift confectioner's sugar evenly over the top, to completely coat the marshmallow. Chill, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

To remove marshmallows, run a knife or small offset spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen, then invert pan onto a cutting board. Lift up a corner of the pan and use the offset spatula (or your fingers) to further pull the marshmallow away from the pan, until it releases onto the cutting board. Dust the surface with confectioner's sugar, as the marshmallow will now be quite sticky. Use a large knife to cut the marshmallow into whatever size and shape you desire. Squares are traditional, but I've been known to grease cookie cutters and make duck-shaped marshmallows for Easter, and hearts for Valentine's Day. Toss the cut marshmallows around in a bowl of confectioner's sugar to coat the sides, then use a fine mesh strainer to shake the excess sugar off.

Marshmallows keep, at room temperature in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.

*Note: for plain marshmallows, simply leave out the cinnamon. Or replace the vanilla with another extract (almond or mint are good) for flavored marshmallows. And if you're a food coloring-type of person, by all means add a little color to your confections!


balancing act

The season of excess is upon us. I considered explaining what I meant by that, but that just seemed excessive. You all know what I'm talking about. And I'm not complaining about any of it. Far from it - I love this time of year.

But it does present one with some special challenges, namely how to balance all that excess and keep yourself healthy during the enjoyment of it. I'm still working on finding my own solutions, and would love to hear how you go about staying sane and balanced. For me, it comes down to accepting that I can't do it all, and so I must lower my expectations of myself or I risk over-exhaustion and inevitably feeling disappointed in my shortcomings. Which wouldn't be very festive at all. So I try to be okay with the laundry piling up, if it means I get to attend a bunch of holiday events with my family. Christmas shopping happens haphazardly, at best, and I've given up on my ideal of giving elaborate handmade gifts. Instead, the goal is thoughtful and personal, in whatever form that may take. And I'm fine with having last-minute, thrown-together dinners because I spent an entire afternoon making and decorating cookies with my boys. Balance, when you find it, sure does feel good.

But speaking of cookies (or, more precisely, the general category of Sweets that they are a member of), I am still very balance-challenged in the food department. I always over-indulge at this time of year, and feel bad about it afterward. And I'm not going to even pretend I'm pledging to do things differently this year. Lots of special, once-a-year treats are so firmly a part of the holiday season for me that I really don't want to resist them. But I do still want to strike a balance of some sort.

So I decided that I needed to have an easy, healthy baked treat to add to my holiday baking mix. Something that could do double-duty as a breakfast item and a mid-afternoon sweet snack. Something I could feel good about my kids eating multiples of, no matter the time of day.

I came up with muffins. I was at my sister's house on Sunday, and she made a batch of pumpkin muffins that filled her home's morning air with the coziest, warmest scent. I arrived home determined to make my own house smell that good! I wanted a mix of whole grains and no refined sugar, to counter what I know are my tendencies toward very sugary, empty starch-filled desserts. But I didn't want anything that tasted too healthy - I still need to feel that it's a comparable alternative to traditional pastries if it's going to be vying for my sweet tooth!

The end product was just what I was hoping for. Despite being packed with whole grains, the muffins are light and tender and not too sweet. Using a strongly-flavored honey, however, resulted in the curious occurrence of a muffin that tastes intensely of honey, without the accompanying intense sweetness usually associated with honey. It may be the first time I've really understood the flavor nuances that using honey in baking can impart; I've never before been able to untangle them from the general overpowering sweetness factor. Using honey as a flavor instead of as a sweetener is something I'd like to explore more.

But until I can find some extra time for that, I'm content to keep making these muffins, an entire batch of which my family can and will eat in a day. I figure as long as we're going overboard for the next month or so, we might as well devote a portion of that indulgent energy to something our body will be grateful for!

And to all of you here in the States, happy Thanksgiving! I hope your day is filled with everything you need to feel nourished, loved, and fulfilled. I'll see you all back here next week . . .

Multigrain Honey-Pumpkin Muffins
yields 12 muffins

80 grams brown rice flour
45 grams light buckwheat flour
30 grams millet flour
30 grams teff flour
30 grams almond flour
30 grams potato starch
24 grams cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
dash allspice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4 oz (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup wildflower honey (or your favorite flavorful variety)
1 large egg, room temperature
6 grams (1 tsp) vanilla
252 grams (1 cup) pumpkin purée

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a muffin pan with paper liners, or grease the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream the butter and honey. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix to combine. (Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this point.) Add the flour mixture and mix on medium speed until the batter is fully blended and smooth, about 1 minute. Add the pumpkin purée and blend thoroughly.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out with just a few fine crumbs on it, and the edges of the muffins have just begun to brown. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling on the rack.

Enjoy muffins warm (butter optional), or at room temperature. Muffins keep, covered and at room temperature, for up to three days.


a gluten-free thanksgiving

 There's a flurry of the best kind of activity beginning to happen around here. Lists are being written and revised. Books and magazines have been pulled from their shelves and left open to pages of inspiration. Emails and text messages between relatives are occurring with greater frequency. All thoughts and conversations are inevitably looping back to one consistent topic: Food.

It is the season of Thanksgiving, and we are in our element. For people who love food and everything that comes with it, Thanksgiving is an incredible holiday. Not simply because food plays a large role on that day - Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, these holidays also come with culinary traditions. No, the extraordinary thing about Thanksgiving is that it is the one day each year when we are encouraged - expected, really - to make food the primary reason for our celebration. To devote an entire day to a mammoth meal of the best possible dishes we can come up with, and to gather our family close to share it with us? This is a gourmand's dream. And when the day comes steeped in history and tradition and deep gratitude, the simple act of coming together at the table begins to border on the profound.

However, there can be complications, issues that disrupt the festive mood. I'm not talking about Aunt Nancy who's still mad at Cousin Harold for that insensitive comment back in September, or the children who simply can not make it through the day without arguments and tears, or the disgruntled teen who is relegated to the kid's table for yet another year. These are problems every family deals with, and there is nothing I can say that will help solve them.

What I'm talking about gets at the very heart of the Thanksgiving spirit and table: inclusiveness, sharing and feeling welcome. It is difficult to feel fully included in the celebration of Thanksgiving if much of the meal - both the literal and figurative central theme of the day - is off-limits to you. Unfortunately, for those with celiac this is often the case.

Gravy, thickened with roux. Stuffing, made from cubed bread or gluten-full cornbread. Dinner rolls. Casseroles with bread crumb toppings. Salads tossed with croutons. Platters of crackers, to be paired with cheese or savory spreads. A parade of pies. So many common Thanksgiving foods traditionally contain gluten! It can be so disheartening as a celiac to sit down to a meal like this, knowing that, in contrast to the surrounding cornucopia, your plate will be meager. Plain turkey, boiled peas, mashed potatoes. I know. I've done it before. It hardly feels like a 'real' Thanksgiving when you can't take part in the abundance all around you!

It doesn't have to be this way. Having to eat gluten-free should not preclude a person from experiencing the joys of Thanksgiving. All it takes is a little extra forethought and planning. Which, given that this holiday is focused on thinking about food anyway, shouldn't be too much to ask. Especially when the reward is knowing that everyone at the table will feel welcome and included, and will eat safely and happily, with love and gratitude. Wonderful things to give thanks for, I'd say.

This idea of using food to make people feel included has been on my mind a lot lately. With Wylie's surgery last week, we've been traveling a lot and eating away from home much more than normal. And I've come to appreciate all over again how hard it can be to eat well when you don't have complete control over your food. It's discouraging, and more than once I finished a meal feeling unsatisfied, and still hungry. Someone actually offhandedly said to me, "Oh, you celiacs always manage to find something to eat." Um, yes, this is true. As a segment of the population, we are generally not a starving group. But oh my goodness. To go through life in a gluten-full world, just managing to find something here and there to eat that won't make you sick? That is a demoralizing way to live, for sure. No one should have to settle for that; we all deserve better.

Josh and I have been talking lately about the things that restaurants can do to be more accommodating and welcoming to the growing gluten-free population. I've shared with him my sense of relief and the overwhelming appreciation and excitement I feel when I eat out at an establishment that not only has gluten-free items on the menu, but has a knowledgeable staff that is gracious and helpful when I mention my dietary restriction. It's in stark opposition to the sinking feeling of dread I get when I realize I am not at a celiac-friendly restaurant - disheartening feelings that I'm sure no restaurateur wishes to cause his or her customers! Things are better, for sure, than they were a decade ago. But there's still lots of room for improvement.

Which is why, I say, it's so important to work to make everyone feel included in the meal when, rather than anonymous customers, it's your own dear friends and family that you're feeding. When you can sit across the table from them, and watch them eat with gusto rather than trepidation, and see their obvious appreciation of your efforts, and know that you are contributing to their good health and joy. At Thanksgiving especially, this should be something we strive for. To people for whom ingredients are not a constant concern, going out of one's way to make gluten-free food may seem unimportant and headache-inducing. As someone who obsessively reads labels and asks questions wherever she goes, however, I can assure you that when it happens, it feels like a precious gift, an act of compassion not to be taken lightly.

This Thanksgiving, it's easier than ever to create a gluten-free meal everyone will love. A tremendous group of food bloggers has answered Shauna's challenge to make Thanksgiving gluten-free. All across the web you will find recipe upon recipe of time-tested, family-favorite Thanksgiving foods, now made gluten-free. All created with the intention of making the Thanksgiving meal inclusive and delicious for as many people as possible. It's an incredible effort, and I encourage you to go over to the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef site to see the complete list.

It's no coincidence that Shauna is the force behind this virtual event. She and her husband, Danny (aka the Chef) are in the midst of promoting their new cookbook titled, appropriately, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef - A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. I've already told you how much I love the book. But I may have neglected to mention how strongly a feeling of inclusion runs through it. It's not merely a collection of gluten-free recipes. It's a book that sets out to teach anyone - gluten-free or not - essential techniques of cooking. It's a book of delicious, inventive recipes that everyone will love, that just also happen to be gluten-free. It's a book that encourages the reader to make food for the people they love, to share meals with friends and family, and to welcome everyone to the table, every day. In short, this book embodies everything I love about Thanksgiving. If you have any gluten-free people in your life, and what I have written here has resonated with you, you need to own this book. Actually, I'm betting you'd love this book even if you don't know anyone who needs to eat gluten-free. Simply loving good food is enough of a prerequisite.

My contribution to Shauna's Thanksgiving baking challenge is an addictive gingerbread cake. I've always loved the intoxicating flavors of gingerbread, but my childhood memories of it are of a dry, pale brown cake. Looking back, I realize that I always had gingerbread that was Not Enough. Not enough molasses, not enough fat, not enough ginger. The recipe I'm giving you solves all those problems, and then some. It is a rich, dark cake, studded with pieces of crystallized ginger, a cake so moist it glistens. It's so easy to make, you'll find yourself reaching for the recipe long after the holiday season has past.

You could make just the cake, dust it with powered sugar, and have a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving dessert offerings. Or you could do what I do: gild the lily twice over, in this case with a spiced brown sugar caramel sauce and a bourbon Bavarian cream. It takes a great cake and makes it phenomenal. It's well worth the extra effort, which, as you'll see, really isn't that much at all. But in the spirit of making everyone feel special this Thanksgiving, every little effort counts.

So here's to Thanksgiving, and all the eating and sharing and gratitude that can fit into one day. Welcome to the table.

If you feel you need even more inspiration as you plan your menu, here are a some other good bets to grace your table:
Roasted Squash Soup
Vegetable Soup
Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Apple Rosette Tart
Simply Perfect Apple Pie
Spiced Persimmon Tart

Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream and Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
serves 8-12

Gingerbread Cake
1 1/4 cups (170 grams) Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1/2 cup (72 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly-ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) dark molasses
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (54 grams) packed light brown sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) safflower or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) boiling water
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment, and butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, xanthan and guar gums, spices, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the molasses, sugars, and oil. Whisk the liquid mixture into the flour mixture until smooth.

In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and boiling water. Whisk this into the batter.

Add the eggs to the batter, whisking until smooth, then stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling. Cake may be made up to three days in advance. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.

To serve, dust cake with powdered sugar, and serve with drizzle of Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel and a dollop of Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream (recipes follow).

Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream
This Bavarian cream is looser than a traditional one. It has a consistency closer to whipped cream than to Jell-O, which makes it perfect to pair with cake. For a non-alcoholic version, simply omit the bourbon and increase the cold water to 2 Tbsp.
2 tsp cold water
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp high-quality bourbon, chilled
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 Tbsp (43 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) whole milk
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) heavy cream

Have ready a medium-sized bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over it, and an ice water bath.

Combine the water and bourbon in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over it to soften. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick.

In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the milk and vanilla bean seeds and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and bring back to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute, continuing to whisk.

Pour the custard through the strainer set over a bowl, whisk in the softened gelatin, and set the bowl in the ice water bath to cool.

In a clean bowl, whip the heavy cream until it just holds soft peaks. Gently fold into the cold, but not yet set, custard. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

Bavarian cream can be made up to three days in advance. Keep chilled.

Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
1 cup (217 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp + 3 Tbsp cold water, divided
1 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp water. Whisk to combine.

Set pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and quickly whisk in 3 Tbsp cold water and butter. (Be careful - the caramel will sputter and steam, so stand back!) Pour caramel into heat-proof jar, cool to room temperature, and cover. Caramel can be made in advance and stored at room temperature for up to a week.


our little q-tip

This is my life right now:

Adorable, right? The head covering, to unsuspecting passersby, apparently looks like a legitimate hat, so I guess it's not obvious to most people that it is actually a pressure wrap designed to keep the swelling down around the incision site of Wylie's recent surgery.

Doesn't that sound horrible and scary? I haven't figured out a way to say it that doesn't make it sound weird or more serious than it really was. It wasn't head surgery, not in the invasive way that name implies, at least. To be very specific, it was scalp surgery, but that sounds bizarre and gross. I'd like to not think about in those terms. Considering that it was performed by a plastic surgeon, I suppose we could just celebritize it and call it a 'procedure,' and leave it at that.

Whatever you call it, the result has been a child in need of extra attention as he recovers and tries to deal with wearing a 'hat' no one will let him take off, that is getting itchier (and dirtier!) by the day, and a sore head that he doesn't understand the cause of.

There is of course a second child in the mix, one who also - in spite of being a tremendously helpful and understanding big brother - needs a more-than-normal amount of individual attention, to compensate for the temporary imbalance in sibling neediness. Needless to say, I have been breaking up a lot of fights and soothing out-of-nowhere meltdowns these past couple days.

I have discovered that I need a chart to keep track of when and which medicines to administer throughout the day, and that I am not above using M&Ms and melted ice cream to get that medicine to go down. To further complicate things, it hadn't occurred to me that we would have wardrobe issues post-surgery; Wylie doesn't have anywhere near the number of wide-collared, easy-to-slide-over-a-sensitive-head shirts he needs to get him into next week, when the wrap comes off.

But you know what? This is all fine with me. It seems like a small price to pay for an easy, non-invasive surgery that was as untraumatic for the patient as could possibly be imagined. And most of all, for a healthy child. There are far too many parents whose children must undergo intensive, life-saving surgeries, or who bravely live with chronic illness, or who suffer in ways I can't even think or write about. But us? We are very fortunate. I am not complaining.

But I do miss having more time to devote to food. I wish I had more than ten minutes at a time to devote to planning Thanksgiving dinner (which is a pretty big deal in this food-centered family!). I wish midday was calm enough for me to make a real lunch for the kids, instead of rummaging around in the fridge and laying out an assortment of this-sort-of-passes-as-lunch type foods. And I wish I had more time to bake, of course. I console myself on that last point by acknowledging that we really don't need any more sweets around here, and at the very least not making them saves me the work of all the extra dishes.

I did, however, decide to make time today to prepare a real dish for our supper. One that required some forethought and time, both for preparation and cooking. One that would hopefully be nourishing and comforting to all those in need of such qualities (and yes, I include myself in that group).

Naturally, I made soup. Unfortunately, there are no photos. Simply getting it on the table before a sleep-deprived Wylie fell asleep on the couch was a challenge, and I ate quickly, with the nodding-off child cuddled against me. Bedtime occurred immediately afterward. And honestly, any photos I might have taken would necessarily have been unflattering, bathed as they would have been in the light from our energy-efficient-but-very-unnatural CFLs. I still haven't figured out how to take natural-looking dinner photos at this (dark!) time of year. Someday, there may be fancy lights . . .

So anyway, imagine if you will a pale, glowing, mustard-colored soup, shimmering slightly from the olive oil and fat from the homemade chicken stock, with an earthy, sweet scent that one immediately knows means root vegetables, and a behind-the-scenes whiff of something familiar, yet unexpected. (Hint: think Parmesan.) This soup is only partly puréed, so the remaining pieces of vegetable imply a heft and heartiness that completely creamy, smooth soups rarely have. The soup was perfect on this cold, blustery November evening, and infused the house with a scent I wish we could bottle and bring out every time the mercury dips. We dipped pieces of this bread into it, which was perfect, but if any of you decided that instead you wanted to smear your bread with a nice soft goat cheese, I for one would not stand in your way.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I almost always like every soup I make. The boys, on the other hand, do not. But tonight, Kalen not only ate lots of his serving, he even asked me if I'd like to make the same soup again sometime. And when I said yes, he wisely followed up with, "Well, did you write it all down so you can do it again?" (When did he get so hip to the fundamentals of recipe development?) To which I fumbled something along the lines of "Well, no, but I'll remember, I'm sure I can do it again." That boy knows me well, though; I would very likely forget not only how I made it, but that I ever intended to make it again if I didn't write it down. So, for Kalen and my future soup-making self and all of you, here it is: Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night. Kalen thought it should simply be called Tara Soup, but that's not nearly rambling and romantic enough, don't you think?

Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night
serves 4-6

1/2 large Spanish onion
2 stalks celery
1 large carrot (mine was white, but any color is fine)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic
1 delicata squash, peeled and seeded
1 large russet potato, peeled
6-8 sunchokes, scrubbed clean
1 Parmesan cheese rind (the rinds have lots of uses, from flavoring soups to risottos to sauces - don't throw them away!)
1 quart homemade chicken stock (alternately, you could use a high-quality, low-sodium broth)
kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper, to taste

Dice the onion, celery, and carrot. Heat oil in a large soup pot (I like to use my Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the mirepoix (the onion-celery-carrot mixture) to the oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and the onions just begin to get some color, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic. Cut the squash, potato, and sunchokes into medium-sized cubes roughly all the same size (to ensure even cooking).

Once some of the onions in the pot have begun to turn pale golden brown, stir in the minced garlic. Continue to cook, still stirring frequently, until the onions are a deeper brown and the garlic has begun to brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the cubed squash, potato, and sunchokes. Stir to combine, then add the chicken stock and Parmesan rind. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove pot from heat and fish out the Parmesan rind. Discard. If you have an immersion (stick) blender, use that to purée the soup about halfway, leaving some vegetable pieces whole. Otherwise, use a blender to carefully purée half of the soup (you may need to do this in batches), stirring it back into the pot once it's velvety-smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper. Serve hot with your favorite warm bread.

Soup keeps, refrigerated, for up to 3 days, but will thicken, so you may need to add additional chicken stock when reheating it, and adjust the seasonings accordingly.


once upon a time

My, that was quick! October - gone just like that. Truly, last month seemed like a blur to me. A good blur, yes, but that month felt nowhere near in line with the slowing-down-and-turning-inward time of year that Deep Fall always makes me crave. Hopefully, all of you were equally busy with your own lives, and didn't have much time to notice my infrequent presence here!

So now, let's all take a collective deep breath and relax for a moment. An essential act in the weeks (moments, really) leading up to the hectic holiday season.

Let me tell you a little story.

One day, right in the midst of Life, with a business to run and hungry children clamoring for snacks and attention and a barking dog impatient to be let back into the century-old house with its own never-ending list of attention-grabbing needs and the juggling act of social engagements and family responsibilities and the pursuit of personal goals, right in the middle of everything ordinary and not, a husband and wife suddenly paused for a moment and looked up, locked eyes, and realized that they never saw each other anymore.

But it was the weekend, and a busy one at that, and the husband worked nights with precious time off and the wife's To Do list was never finished and she hadn't even showered in days, for goodness' sake. Clearly, there was only one logical thing to do.

The husband spontaneously took Saturday night off and the wife called up close friends to arrange for last-minute babysitting. She finally got that shower she deserved and they both kissed their darling (albeit confused by the unusual turn of events) children good-bye, with promises of chocolate to halt the tears, and then waltzed arm-in-arm downtown, to dine at their favorite local bistro.

Which, of course, couldn't seat them right away, given that their very impromptu evening had not arrived ready-made with reservations. This suited the happy couple just fine, and they doubled the evenings' venues by going next door to the wine bar and ordering drinks to sip on while munching deviled eggs and radishes and turnips with European butter. They talked design and business and off-the-wall news stories, and it was good.

The bistro owner personally came to collect them when their table was ready, and they proceeded to enjoy a relaxing, hearty parade of dishes. House-made pâté, venison sausage, roasted Brussels sprouts, and local tri-color potatoes with thick-cut bacon, with macaroni and cheese and a Cuban sandwich for the gluten-eating husband. The wife consumed an entire bowl of steamed Maine mussels, tenderly picking the unexpected pearls from her teeth, and told stories of kayaking to wild islands where she steamed just-harvested mussels on the beach and amassed a collection of sea storm-colored pearls. The pair splurged on a bottle of Cabernet Franc, and reminisced about the old friends back in Boston that it reminded them of, people they knew when they were young and naive and mere shadows of their current selves.

When they could eat no more, the sated couple walked home, huddled together against the surprising chill in the air. They opened the front door to a scene of joyful energy, with children laughing and bouncing and rolling around under the living room rug. They were filled in on the dance-and-accordion-music-filled night, the foods that were eaten, the games that were played. Everywhere the wife looked, she saw faces and eyes sparkling with happiness, and the jumble of voices rang high-pitched and true.

It was wonderful for the couple to realize that doing the right thing, the best thing for the family, happened to also be immensely enjoyable for all involved. Healthy, and fun, and an oh-so-needed change of pace. The night ended with difficult good-byes and promises to continue trading the favor, and frequently at that. No payment traded hands, per se; friends don't expect cash from one another.

But there was a tart. A tart made of fruits of the season, with enough warm spices and nutty, buttery crunch to declare Fall its rightful home. A tart that would be as comfortable on the brunch table as on the Thanksgiving table. A tart that couldn't be eaten mindlessly, because the layers of flavor were surprising and demanded that one pay attention to them all. A tart that said thank you in only the way good food made with intention and love could.

A jewel-like spiced persimmon tart. It was the perfect ending to the story.

Spiced Persimmon Tart
yields one 11-inch tart

Poached Persimmons
2 fluid cups (16 fl oz) water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 star anise
2 Fuyu persimmons, thinly sliced
parchment paper

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Add the spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the persimmon slices. Cut the parchment paper into a circle the diameter of your saucepan, make a small hole in the center, and lay it directly on the persimmons. Press down gently to ensure all the slices are submerged in the syrup. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and store persimmons in spiced syrup (leaving spices in the syrup). Can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to one week.

Honey Yogurt Custard
238 gr (8.4 oz) whole plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage)
3 large eggs
50 gr honey
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate until needed (up to one day).

Graham Cracker Crust
240 gr (2 cups + 2 Tbsp) gluten-free graham cracker crumbs (I was in a hurry and ground up this brand. But if you want to make your own crackers, I like Rebecca Reilly's recipe best)
1 stick (8 Tbsp/4oz) unsalted butter, melted

Put the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Place an 11-inch tart pan on a baking sheet. Using your fingers, spread the crumb mixture into the tart pan, pressing to make a crack-free crust on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Set aside until needed.

Assemble and Bake the Tart
Preheat the oven to 350º. 

Pour the yogurt custard into the prepared tart shell and bake the tart (on the baking sheet to catch any seepage) for 20 minutes, or until custard is just set. Remove from oven. Gently take persimmon slices out of poaching syrup, allowing excess liquid to drip off, and arrange slices on the surface of the tart. Return tart to oven and bake 5 minutes more. Cool completely on a rack, and serve at room temperature. Tart keeps, covered and at room temperature, for up to 4 days.


for you

Well hello there!

It feels like it's been ages since I've posted! About two weeks, which in my life really is a long time. Since you last heard from me, I've been road-tripping, concert-going, and birthday-celebrating. It's been a wonderful whirlwind, and I'm tired, but I'm also grateful to be living a life that presents me with such enjoyable occasions so frequently. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that, quite often, my life is fun.

And although I am very much a creature of routine, I can absolutely appreciate the value in leaving my routine behind for a while. Letting life get hectic and scattered and over-tired, and then settling back in at home - both literally and figuratively - gives me a chance to clear my head of the mundane clutter of daily living and really see my life for what it is. To understand what is right in front of me, to re-prioritize and brush aside the distractions preventing me from truly appreciating what I have. And boy, do I have a lot. Two incredible, enchanting children, who humble me every day with their wisdom and intuition and overflowing love. They are, quite simply, two of the most stunning people I know. I have a gracious husband, one with surprising reserves of strength and commitment, who turns dreams into reality and who believes in me more than I do. And I have an extended family of relatives and close friends, people who fill my life with love and friendship and laughter, and who give me more unwavering support than I could possibly be entitled to. I stand in awe of my good fortune. Really, this should be enough.

But then there is this space, where I come to share images and favorite recipes and random bits of my life with all of you, you who are mostly strangers to me and yet still kindred spirits, bonded as we are through this strange medium called food blogging. When I started down this path nine months ago, I never could have imagined the amount of gratitude I feel when I get compliments from readers. When you contact me to let me know you made one of my recipes and liked it, or to say that something you saw here inspired you, I feel amazed that you are not only reading what I write, but going a step further and taking me into the kitchen with you, to feed your loved ones. A true compliment if there ever was one. Honestly, I am bowled over by the kindness of strangers on a regular basis, and know without a doubt that my life is enriched by it.

On top of all this, I've made some dear friendships with incredible people as a direct result of blogging, something that I heard happened to other people but which was never an intentional goal of mine. But, like so many good things in life, these friendships happened almost on their own, picking up steam before I was fully aware of what was happening. I don't mean to imply I wasn't paying attention. But I never before believed that something so impersonal and abstract as the Internet could facilitate true, life-enhancing relationships. I stand 100% corrected.

 There are so many unknowns in life, so many experiences that we won't see coming, and won't have much control over once they get here. Some of them will be bad. This can be quite an unsettling thought. But I'm realizing more and more that if you learn not to take anything for granted, and can see the beauty in everything and everyone around you, all the unpleasantness of life can be handled with a lot more grace and understanding than you ever thought possible. It's the best win-win situation I can think of.

And so, with my renewed sense of gratitude, I'm giving you a gluten-free doughnut recipe. It's a recipe that was intended for you all along, created specifically for placement on this blog. That is, until I gave some to my celiac father, and he took one bite and said, "You have to sell these. Find a way to make money from these! They're better than any other gluten-free doughnut I've bought!"

This brought my very deliberate steps of recipe development → product tasting → blog posting to a halt. Suddenly, I didn't know what to do. Was I unknowingly in possession of a potential money-maker? Certainly, these are delicious cake-style doughnuts, and goodness knows the idea of doing something to financially contribute to my family is appealing. But what would be a realistic next move for me? I didn't know. So I've been sitting on the recipe for about three weeks now. Which is a pretty boring place to be, actually.

The more I thought about it, the more I didn't see any reason to keep the recipe secret. I'm not working on a cookbook that it could be included in. I don't have any contracts to develop recipes for other companies. I don't have a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen in which to produce them for the wholesale market. I can't even get my own kitchen certified for commercial production due to our lovable, but fur-dropping, Lab. I'm not in any position to turn a doughnut recipe into a new career.

But what I do have is this space, something that gives my baking a purpose and brings me personal satisfaction. And this blog would be nothing without readers. I believe that you deserve this recipe more than anyone, as a thanks for all the feedback and encouragement you've given me this year. Thank you, truly.

Also, when you get right down to it, all this is is a recipe for doughnuts. Doughnuts. One of the most social, satisfying treats out there. Who doesn't like a doughnut? Who doesn't love the timeless combination of a doughnut and a cup of coffee or (especially this time of year) warm cider? No one makes a batch of doughnuts to save for later, to be eaten here and there throughout the week. No, you make doughnuts to eat piping hot, straight from the fryer, with your friends and family and anyone else you can round up. Doughnuts are for sharing and conversation. Obviously, if I can add to that with a fabulous gluten-free version, I'm going to. Otherwise, I'd be missing the whole point of the doughnut.

So again, thank you. And here, have a doughnut. I made them just for you.

Just in case this post isn't already too overflowing with appreciation, I'd like to mention one more thing. It was brought to my attention that this little blog is among the 25 Food Blogs We Love on the new do it Delicious site, run by none other than Jessica Seinfeld. I'm beyond flattered and honored - I'm flabbergasted. To be among such illustrious blogging company as Jaden, Lara, Matt, Deb, Aran, David, Molly, and Béa is just thrilling to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Old-Fashioned Apple Cider Doughnuts
yields approximately 10 doughnuts and doughnut holes

1 1/2 cups (212 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 cup (90 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (22 grams) certified gluten-free oat flour 
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/4 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg
3 Tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1 large egg (55-60 grams)
1/4 fluid cup (60 grams) buttermilk
2 Tbsp apple cider (Or, if you're feeling particularly motivated, place 1 cup apple cider in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup. Use 2 Tbsp of this syrup in place of the apple cider.)

3 pounds trans fat-free Crisco, or your favorite frying oil, enough to fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of three inches
Granulated sugar, for coating (optional)

Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse just until there are no pieces of butter larger than a small pea.

Combine the egg, buttermilk, and cider in a small liquid measuring cup (one with a pouring spout), whisking just to break up the egg. With the food processor running, pour in the liquid mix and process just until everything is incorporated.

Line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, lightly dust it with gf pastry flour, and spoon the doughnut batter onto it. Dust the top with gf pastry flour. Using lightly floured hands, press the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round. Transfer to the freezer until firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Line a second baking pan with parchment or wax paper. Remove dough from freezer, and using a doughnut cutter (mine measures three inches across), cut out doughnuts. Scraps can be pressed back together and cut. Place doughnuts and doughnut holes on the second lined baking pan. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes.

Heat the Crisco or oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat to 375º (use a candy thermometer for accurate temperature readings). I realize that Crisco is shunned in many, many kitchens. Mine too. Except that Deb shared the secret of frying with a fat that's solid at room temperature: foods fried in it don't get soggy and grease-laden as they cool! This is key to making a doughnut that still has a crisp exterior and soft interior on Day Two (assuming you have leftovers). You need to do what feels right for you and your family. But on the few occasions each year that I make doughnuts, I'll be frying them in Crisco from now on.

When the oil is up to temperature, use a thin spatula to pick up and gently lower the doughnuts into the pot. Depending on the diameter of your pot, three or four at a time is good - you don't want to crowd them! Watch your thermometer and adjust your burner accordingly to keep the temperature at 375º. Cook the doughnuts, flipping them over halfway through, until they are a rich golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the doughnuts to a paper towel-lined plate. If desired, toss the doughnuts in granulated sugar to coat.

Doughnuts are great right away, still excellent on Day Two, and good on Day Three. Don't bother trying to keep them any longer than that - they'll start to taste old and stale.

A photo from this post has been submitted to the GF Photo Contest, which can be found here: http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2010/10/gluten-free-photo-contest.html


a treasure in our midst

I've been in a hearty-soup state of mind lately.

The temperature has dropped suddenly, and our neighbors have lost no time in firing up their wood stove. This means I am inclined to randomly open the door in the evenings, close my eyes, and breath deeply, calming my mind and body with that primal, reassuring scent. A recent drive inland carried with it the realization that parts of this state are already experiencing their peak foliage season. Our house as well is being overtaken by deep reds, oranges, and yellows. Mini gourds lay everywhere, pumpkins grace our table and front porch, we've got bundles of flame-brilliant leaves curing in glycerine solutions for later crafting projects, and for the first time in my adult life, ornamental corn has joined our Autumnal decorating scheme. We're doing everything we can to embrace the season.

Soup, for me, is a natural desire in the cooler (and, as things progress, downright cold) months of the year. There's something about a pot simmering on the stove in the late-afternoon light, filling the house with rich aromas and steaming up the kitchen windows just a bit. It's relaxing and comforting to know that your work is done; you're just waiting for the melding, intertwining magic of the soup pot to happen.

It's also convenient. Dinnertime at our house is not always the calmest, most congenial part of our day. With two little ones (who have usually maxed out their daily cooperation allotment) running around, and Josh away at the restaurant, making dinner can often be a stressful and scattered time for me and the boys. But if I get a pot of soup going early? Well, knowing that dinner is taken care of makes the end of the day feel positively easy and luxurious. You can see why I love soup.

My most recent pot of soup was inspired by a Sunday outing with friends to Beth's Farm Market. The Market is huge, which is especially impressive considering it represents the bounty of a single local farm. I've lived here for over seven years, but had never turned off Route 1 at the numerous 'Beth's farm stand' signs to see what all the fuss was about. I'm so glad we finally made the trip! My farm-obsessed kids adored it. Tractors everywhere, hay pyramids to scale, even a corn maze to lose ourselves in!

 But for me, the most fascinating part of the day was wandering among the squash. Really, the place was just overflowing with orbs of every size and color! Many familiar to me, some not so much. A few were a mystery even to the staff - Josh asked an employee about a particularly drab, tan-colored specimen, and was told that she really didn't know what it was or how it tasted. Of course, he snatched one right up.

I was especially enchanted by a jumbled stack of large, pale pink squash. They were unusually knobby with warts, with some covered so thickly it was difficult to see their skin! The sign in their midst declared them "Double Uglies" - obviously a made-up name, as I can't find any other references to a squash with that moniker. I will admit to being a bit offended on behalf of the defenseless things - they seemed beautiful to me! Delicate yet sturdy, girly and homely all at once, a study in physical contrasts. I had to take one home.

 When I looked it up at home, I discovered that my squash was actually named Galeux d'Eysines, a prized French heirloom variety of pumpkin. This made me feel like I had had one of those painting-over-the-sofa moments. You know, the stories about the painting that had always hung on grandma's wall, got added to the drafty, cobwebbed attic with the rest of her belongings after her death, and is later found to be an original, unknown da Vinci. Like this recent story. A treasure right in front of me, under-appreciated by everyone else. Suddenly, my pumpkin was special.

All specialness aside, however, it never occurred to me to make anything other than soup with my new pumpkin friend. Funny how some ingredients just seem destined for a particular dish, even before you realize you've decided on it. There is a bit of irony, though, in the way I decided to prepare this soup. Remember everything you just read about how much I love the do-ahead nature of a long-simmering pot of soup? It's all true, except that this particular soup doesn't work that way. It's somewhat backwards. Sure, you get needed downtime at the beginning while the squash roasts, but the actual soup itself comes together quickly at the end, with your full attention at the stove. The final result, however, is everything I want in a soup. It's rich and filling, but not too heavy. It tastes warm and comforting, with unexpected flavors that complement each other perfectly. It has lovely contrasts - velvety and crunchy, salty and sweet, warm and cool. Even the color - a vibrant yellow-orange, like my favorite Fall sunrises - is perfect.

Maybe you haven't seen the lovely Galeux d'Eysines at the markets near you. Sugar pumpkins however, as well as butternut and buttercup squashes, abound at even the most basic of grocery stores this time of year. Any of those would be a fine stand-in. And larger winter squash, such as Blue Hubbard or Long Island Cheese, can also usually be found at farmer's markets through the Fall, and are excellent for making soup. Really, any orange-fleshed winter squash with a sweet, nutty flavor is going to produce a superbly-flavored soup.

At the heart of it, it's all about the feelings the soup inspires. Does making it create a cozy atmosphere in your kitchen? Is it the culinary equivalent of a warm blanket, enveloping you in comfort and contentment? Are you sated and satisfied after eating it? Yes?

Then it's a good soup.

Roasted Squash Soup
yields 4 main dish servings, or 6 servings as a side dish

4 slices cooked bacon, 1 Tbsp fat reserved
one Galeux d'Eysines squash, or other large winter squash (you may need two if you use a small variety, such as buttercup), to yield 580 grams of roasted flesh
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Cortland apple, peeled, cored, and chopped, or other tart, firm baking apple
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 pint chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 Tbsp heavy cream, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
apple butter, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400º.

Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into wedges, drizzle with 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast in the oven on a baking sheet until the flesh is very tender and slips easily from the rind, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Cool on the baking sheet until just warm. Remove flesh from the rind and weigh out 580 grams of squash into a bowl. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook slowly until the onion softens and just begins to brown. Add the minced garlic and sauté for two minutes, then add the chopped apple, dried thyme, and reserved bacon fat. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple pieces soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the roasted squash (and any accumulated juices) and chicken stock to the pot, stirring to help mash the squash. Once the soup has reached a simmer, take the pot off the heat and use an immersion blender to purée it. (Alternately, you can purée the soup in batches in the blender. Return soup to pot once it's smooth.) Stir in the butter and 2 Tbsp heavy cream. (You may need to re-warm the soup at this point, if it has lost too much heat.) Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls, and garnish with crumbled pieces of bacon, dollops of apple butter, and a swirl of heavy cream.

A photo from this post has been submitted to the GF Photo Contest, which can be found here: http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2010/10/gluten-free-photo-contest.html
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