4.25.2012

"those things I love"


Well, would you look at that.

I took that photo a month ago, with every intention of casually throwing it up here one afternoon, accompanied by some earnest urging for you to all make waffles the next chance you get, highlighting their amazingness for any of you who haven't found the recipe on your own as you wade through this blog.

Um, yeah, I didn't do that.

Instead, I went to work a lot, because I created a new chocolate dessert for the restaurant that is going over like gangbusters, and I can barely keep up with production. (It's a chocolate olive oil soufflé, by the way, with milk chocolate mousse and bitter chocolate caramel. If you're anywhere near Maine, you should come eat it.) Then I added a rhubarb-wild blueberry crisp to the menu, served bubbling hot with mounds of gingered whipped cream melting down the sides, and it's become clear that people are craving bright, tangy fruit desserts as we finally pull away from the dreariness of a long, grey winter, because its sales are actually surpassing those of the chocolate desserts. Which, in the restaurant industry, is unheard of. I also learned how to make some adorable agnolotti pasta, which is my new favorite shape, due in no small part to the cute little ravioli stamp I get to use to seal them shut. Seriously, pasta gadgets are awesome.

And then there was the fact that school vacation happened. It's always an interesting balancing act when the kids are on break but the adults are very much not. And by balancing, I mean figuring out how many days one can realistically bring the kids to work before they realize they are missing out on valuable vacation time. So we also made time for play dates, an overnight with the cousins, museum trips, and big kid bike shopping, and we worked on preparing for our chicks to arrive. We had Easter. We met alpacas.



The chicks I have been planning for and dreaming about since last fall finally got here on Thursday. Aside from the unexpectedly sweltering hour-and-a-half drive home from the farm store where we picked them up (did you know that day-old chicks need to be kept very warm, as in 95º warm? The boys and I were not properly dressed for the return trip!), and the hours I could while away watching those cute little girls and their silly antics, they're surprisingly low-maintenance. So low-maintenance that Kalen and Wylie keep forgetting they're here! The fact that they currently live in the basement probably contributes to that. (I would like to show them to you. But every time I try to take a picture of them, they come out resembling lumpy orange blobs with dark eyes, due to the infrared heat lights they live under. Weird, and certainly not an accurate reflection of their absolute adorableness. You'll just have to use your imaginations for now.)

And . . . that's about it. That was my month. Sitting here thinking about it, and looking at how little space it takes up on the page, it doesn't sound like much at all. Is that really all we did? How did it take up all of my energy and fill my days to bursting? Truthfully, I have no idea. The past month has existed in a strange vortex of time, one that feels very rushed and busy all day long, but that reveals, upon reflection, to not have much to show for itself.

I blame spring.

 \
Spring has really gotten going around here, with an explosion of growth and color and motion and chatter (oh, those noisy sparrows!), and I think I may have mistaken Mother Nature's furious rate of productivity for some semblance of my own. But that actually feels to me like the right thing to do. When the world around you is bursting forth with life, when the scenery on your drive to work changes from one day to the next, when the flowers you planted last summer and promptly neglected come barreling forth from the earth in all their furry, oddball glory and then promptly bloom, well, I think it's right to take a bit of a break from the pace of our own lives to really pay attention to something bigger than ourselves. Even if that something bigger is only the mockingbird who has just shown up in the yard, and keeps exuberantly burying his face in the pompoms of green that have burst from the branches of the maple trees.

And now? Now I feel invigorated. Now I feel like harnessing some of that energy for myself, and getting out there to get things done. Things like mowing the lawn, which hasn't happened since the fall, and planting gardens and teaching Kalen the mechanics of pedaling the above-mentioned bike, and maybe even ordering that bench cushion I've needed for years and have put off buying. Oh yeah, and readying a coop for our quickly-growing chicks to move into!

So before I jump into all of that, let's get back to those waffles for a moment, okay? It's not a new recipe; in fact, it's from the early days of this blog. Which is why I'm worried many of you don't know about it. Because who wants to read blog posts from the first few months of a blog's life? (And if you do, please, please let's not mention the quality of some of those photographs. Thank you.) But, all early-blog-embarrassment aside, these waffles need your attention. There are many recipes on the site (as I'm sure there are on many food blogs), that haven't landed very often on my dining room table since landing here. I think it's the nature of recipe development: there are always so many new things to try, there isn't time to come back around to everything you've already made before. Onward and upward, as it were.

But these waffles are different. These waffles, so simple in their ingredients, so easy-to-the-point-of-neglectful in their preparation, these unassuming waffles have moved into the realm of Can't Live Without It food for my family. Wylie, for whom the word "waffle" seems to frequently slip his mind, simply refers to them as "those things I love with the holes in them."

We all know what he means. We all love them as much as he does.

About a month ago, I held a talk, more of a casual group discussion really, at my local natural foods market that was all about gluten-free breakfast baking. I brought biscuits and multigrain scones for everyone to snack on, but I also wanted to give them waffles. After going gluten-free most people, if they eat waffles at all, get by on the frozen ones from the grocery store. You know the ones I mean. They're small, and thin, and they have an odd, dusty feeling in your mouth, no matter how much maple syrup you drown them in.

I want people to have real waffles back in their lives.

So I confirmed with the market that I could have a little table, placed next to an electrical outlet, during my talk. I arrived that morning bearing my waffle iron and a bowl of puffy, bubbling batter that I'd made the night before. And while people drifted in, and introductions and small talk and earnest discussions got underway, I made fresh waffles for everyone. Big, fluffy golden brown waffles, with a satiny-smooth interior and crisp edges, and a complex yeasty flavor, made sweet by the butter and maple syrup it had been fermenting with.

They were quickly devoured, with great joy, and it reminded me that when you've been living gluten-free for years, watching everyone around you eating foods that are off-limits to you, the gift of perfect waffles can be a pretty big deal, indeed.

Gluten-free waffles. Humble ingredients, spectacular results. That, in a nutshell, is my goal in almost all of the baking that I do. That, and also convincing everyone around me that they can do it, too. So if you missed seeing this recipe the first time I posted it, please, make waffles now. Make them for Mother's Day, all dressed up with berries and whipped cream and flowers and a card on the tray next to them. Or make them on Friday morning, a special breakfast treat to end the kids' week on a good note. Heck, make them for dinner when you don't have the energy for chopping and sautéing and braising. Whatever you do, find a way to make them part of your everyday life.

Because we all deserve great waffles. Especially if we are gluten-free.


Gluten-Free Yeast Waffles
Yields five 7-inch Belgian waffles

245 grams (about 1¾ cup) Tara’s gluten-free pastry flour
25 grams (about ¼ cup) certified gluten-free oat flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder
1½ teaspoons rapid rise yeast
12 fluid ounces whole milk
85 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons real maple syrup (preferably grade B)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a small bowl, whisk together the pastry flour, oat flour, xanthan gum/psyllium husk powder and yeast. Set aside.

Heat the milk until very hot (but not boiling). Pour it into a large mixing bowl and add the butter, maple syrup, vanilla and salt. Stir to melt the butter. Allow to cool to lukewarm, then add the eggs and flour mixture. Stir to combine, working out most of the large lumps but stopping before the batter is completely smooth.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rest on the counter for 1 hour. The mixture will begin to bubble. At this point, you can cook the waffles now, but the flavor will be better if you refrigerate the batter overnight and cook it the next morning.

To cook, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your waffle maker. Serve hot, with maple syrup, fresh berries, or, for a really decadent treat, Nutella and sliced bananas.

4.04.2012

{ratio rally} flourless brownies


I just deleted a whole bunch of text right here.

I'm sorry you didn't get to read it, but truly none of us have time for it right now. Lots of chatting and loud statements about what characteristics I look for in an ideal brownie, but not really going anywhere fast, if you know what I mean, and fast is what we need to focus on.

Because the germs are spreading in this house. For over a week, at least one member of my family has been sick at any given moment. Nothing serious, but at this snail's pace of recovery it feels like a tremendous burden to still be dealing with it. Especially since, with an irony that seems unique to motherhood, it is just now striking the youngest and most neediest member of my family, and me.

I can feel my already-limited time for doing anything other than caregiving slipping away quickly, with only a quick backwards glance and a hasty good luck lady, you're on your own with this one.


I know.

Except, I'm not on my own, not really. There's Josh, who is incredibly helpful when he's home and offers support and empathy for the exhausting, frustrating times when he can't be here. And Kalen, amazing six-year-old that he is, is able to entertain himself when needed and can play extra-gently with Wylie if asked, with an understanding and patience far beyond his years.


And then there's my good fortune that today is Ratio Rally day, with means that I am surrounded by amazing friends and bakers, all banding together to bring you lots of ideal brownies, of all types. So even if you don't share my predilection for chewy, intense fudgy brownies, with crisp edges and crackly tops and insides that go all satiny in your mouth, you're going to find something in today's line-up that is, for you, perfection.

It's pretty nice to not have to carry that burden around on my own.

It's also pretty nice to know that if your ideal brownie sounds an awful lot like the one I'm posting here, it's an infinitely forgiving recipe, perfect to make when you need to be able to drop everything to care for a sick child, and/or when the illness steadily creeping through your own body camps out in your head, fogging your thoughts and making it difficult to remember to keep an eye on things in the oven.


Because (as my children will tell you) these brownies taste really, really good, no matter that some may have gotten their tops singed, and all got a bit over-filled, causing the batter to rise too high and collapse in on itself. (Which, it must be pointed out, makes them the perfect shape for holding a scoop of ice cream. Never call an ugly brownie useless.) They're easy to make, since your mixer does most of the work (even when I'm not sick, I don't get very excited about whipping eggs and sugar to ribbon stage by hand), and if you get called away from the kitchen for a bit and your melted chocolate cools too much and starts to get firm, a quick blast over a pot of hot water (or in the microwave) loosens things up and you're right back on track. You can even make this batter in the evening, and when you look at the clock and notice that it's 11:30pm, and rightly decide that baking brownies at this time of night is clearly the train of thought of a sick, crazy woman, you can pack it into a container and stick it into the fridge overnight. The next day, still sick but at least a little less tired, you only need to microwave the container of batter for 10-20 seconds, until it's just warm and soft enough to pour thickly, and you can be baking brownies, this time with the added benefit of daylight and a cup of coffee close by.


Aside from their forgiving nature, the thing that I love about these brownies is that they taste great both for what's in them (excellent chocolate, the best butter, free-range eggs, and lots of mint), as well as for what's not: flour.

That's right, no flour. I've decided that flour is the enemy of my perfect brownie. I don't want anything powdery and fine to get in the way of the deep, robust chocolate flavor. I want chewiness in my brownie, not a tender crumb, and if any crumbs do form, I want them to be sticky, not dry. I want something that has the density to stand up to the aforementioned ice cream without getting mushy, but that is also flavorful enough that it is a complete dessert on its own, no adornment necessary. Getting rid of the flour does all of that for me.

The other thing I want to point out about these brownies is that they definitely benefit from being baked in single-serving-sized portions. As you probably already know, the edges are one of the biggest pleasures of a good brownie — that quick transition from the crisp, chewy outside to the yielding, smooth center has been known to cause fights over the last corner piece in the pan. By making them in paper baking cups, everyone gets a maximum amount of outer crust, making each bite decidedly satisfying. It's all about keeping the peace, you know?


So that's it. Really good, really fudgy, flourless brownies. A recipe box staple, I should think. But since recipe boxes need far more than just the staples, I highly suggest you browse the rest of the Ratio Rally submissions. Our host for the month, Mary Fran of FrannyCakes, has done a wonderful job organizing all of us, and the rest of the bakers have come up with some pretty fabulous brownies. So please, go and ogle everything. While you're sufficiently occupied, I think I'll just quietly ease out the back and go take a nap.

Adina from Gluten Free Travelette made Chocolate Brownie Pie with Orange Zest
Angela from Angela's Kitchen made Gluten & Dairy Free Cream Egg Brownies 
Brooke from B & the boy! made Triple Chocolate Brownies 
Caitlin from {Gluten Free} Nom Nom Nom made Peppermint Brownie Bars
Caleigh from Gluten Free[k] made White chocolate and marshmallow brownies 
Caneel from Mama Me Gluten Free made Triple chocolate brownies
Charissa Luke from Zest Bakery made Slutty gluten-free brownies
Claire from My Gluten Free Home PB&J Brownie Whoopee Pies
Claire from This Gluten-Free Life made St. Patty's Day Marshmallow Swirl Brownies 
Erin from The Sensitive Epicure made Mexican Cocoa Brownies with an Almond & Pepitas Crust
gretchen from kumquat made Salted caramel brownies
Heather from Discovering the Extraordinary made Nutmeg Blondies
Irvin from Eat the Love made Blueberry Citrus Marble Brownies 
Jean from Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes made Blue Ribbon Brownies 
Jenn Cuisine made Grain free brownies with no-bake ricotta cheesecake cream 
Jonathan from The Canary Files made Vegan Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies
Karen from Cooking Gluten Free! made GF Chewy Crackled Top Brownies with Raspberry Puree
Mary Fran from FrannyCakes made Gluten-Free Hazelnut (Nutella) Brownies 
Morri from Meals with Morri made Oaxacan Brownies & Mesquite Cacao Blondies 
Mrs. R from Honey From Flinty Rocks made Black Bean S'More Brownies
Pete and Kelli from No Gluten, No Problem made Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Rachel from The Crispy Cook made Co-Co Nut-Nut Blondies
Shauna from Gluten-Free Girl made Gluten-Free Brownies 
TR from No One Likes Crumbley Cookies Gluten Free Berry Fudge Brownies


Mint Chocolate Flourless Brownies
Yields 1 dozen

The ratio for this recipe is loosely 4½ parts chocolate:½ part butter:2 parts eggs:3 parts sugar

225 grams high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
28 grams unsalted butter
150 grams granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 grams peppermint flavor
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Arrange 12 shallow paper baking cups (sturdy ones that don't need to be in a muffin tin) on a baking pan.

In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is almost completely smooth. Off the heat, continue to stir the chocolate until fully melted and smooth. Set aside to cool. (You can also do this in the microwave, stirring every ten seconds.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the sugar, eggs and peppermint flavor on high speed to ribbon stage (the eggs are thick and pale, and drop off the whisk in ribbons). With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the melted chocolate, mixing until fully combined. Scrape down the bowl. Add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine.

At this point, the batter may be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Prior to baking, microwave the batter just until it warms up enough to be pourable, but isn't hot. Proceed with recipe.

Scoop two heaping tablespoons of batter into each baking cup. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the surface of the brownies are cracked and dry and center feels soft, but not liquid, to the touch. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4.01.2012

who we are


My grandparents were the welcoming type. As in, the "coffee's on, door is always open" type. And I mean that literally — there was always a hot pot of coffee in that house, from before daybreak to after dinner, and their door was rarely locked.

Their home had an open floor plan, with the kitchen, dining room and living room all sharing the same large space. My grandfather, Putt-Putt we called him, when not out in his shop, fixing cars or building tuna fishing boats or houses or airplanes (really), would sit at the head of the dining room table, mug of black coffee permanently at his side, and, as I remember it, almost immediately be joined by some friend or relation, stopping by for a chat. Nanny, often in the kitchen, would serve up another cup of coffee and offer a sandwich. The dining room had French doors opening onto the deck and windows wrapping around one corner, and the southern exposure guaranteed that that part of the house always felt wide open, bright and warm.

Welcoming.

And everyone felt comfortable there. From the dining room table you could watch cars pull into the parking-lot-sized-driveway (because a normal driveway won't do when you've got boats and skidders and backhoes to move around), and soon Uncle Donny or Chuck or Barbie or Ricky would make their way up the stone steps and through the door, no need to wait to be asked in. This happened daily, and repeatedly. Naturally, my grandparents went through a lot of coffee, of the most pedestrian kind. Folgers or Chock full o'Nuts, something that came in a big metal can that afterwards could be repurposed as a container for nails or paint stirrers or the tadpoles we scooped out of the pond. The smell of cheap drip coffee is still to this day one I love.

It was a long time before I realized that this was a different way of living than what we did at our house. And longer still to understand why I was so attracted to it. It wasn't so much that I was drawn to the constant parade of people coming and going; after all, they were all grown-ups, and once the initial, required jesting-with-the-visiting-grandkids was done, they mostly left us alone. No, it had everything to do with my grandparents, and the atmosphere they created. It felt like a slower pace of life at their house, one where no job was so urgent it couldn't be put aside for half an hour to allow catching up with a friend over hot coffee and, depending on the season and your luck, maybe some strawberry shortcake or a piece of pie. Nanny and Putt-Putt greeted everyone as if their arrival was just what had been missing from the day up 'til then, and no one ever felt like they were imposing.


This was due partly, I'm sure, to the fact that by the time I was old enough to really know them, to be paying attention to the goings-on of their home, they were retired. As were most of their friends. I can only assume that the retired lifestyle allows for such spontaneous socializing. Busy as they may have kept themselves, it appeared to be a much less structured busyness than their former nine-to-five lives had been.

But also, I think there was something about the two of them that made people want to swing by, to dip their toes into life at the house on Mere Point Road on a regular basis, something steadying about it. Whether they came to gossip or gripe or seek advice, everyone always left feeling good, always looking forward to doing it again soon.

Nanny laughed a lot, and Putt-Putt's language got very animated when he talked. These were people that everyone wanted to be around. They were easy and outgoing, comfortable with themselves and indiscriminately doling out kindness to everyone who crossed their threshold. And as I moved into my own version of adulthood, I came to understand the fundamental role they really played: they were our Sun. Not just for our immediate family, although their gravitational pull on all of us scattered members was undeniable and irresistible. But I began to see them as an important commonality in the random orbits of all their friends, too. They provided a much-needed stillpoint in everyone's lives, a little bit removed from the rest of the day, restorative and energizing. And not because it was necessarily always calm at their house, because sometimes it wasn't. But it was constant, dependable and — there's that word again — welcoming.


I always had this sense, vague and undefined though it was, that I would have a home just like that when I was grown up. I would cultivate friendships with people based largely on this arms-wide-open philosophy, encouraging my house to be a hub of socializing and bonding over unlimited cups of coffee. (Though, maybe not the same coffee my grandparents served.) My home would have that same feeling of warmth and light and unabashed friendliness. I would be welcoming.

However, as anyone who knows me well can probably guess, that scenario neglected to take into account who I actually am. Someone with forces other than nostalgia tugging on her personality, ones that balk at interruptions and sudden changes in plans, that resist letting friends see the dust bunnies under the dining room table and the toys scattered in the living room everywhere (while simultaneously resisting doing the work needed to banish them), and that keep her days so fully occupied that finding a moment to relax with a warm cup of something is hard enough on her own, never mind coordinated with a friend. So, while I welcome the occasional unannounced visitor, my house sees very little social traffic on a daily basis. It's just not me.

Sometimes I think that my hesitance to embrace impromptu gatherings means that when we do have people over, I can appreciate the significance even more. I can feel the change in atmosphere in the house, from banal normality to festive anticipation, a convivial feeling of opening ourselves up to the outside world, our community ties strengthening before my eyes. It's very, very good, and I'm working on doing it more often.


Which is why I loved our bo ssam party last week. Friends new and old were gathered together to eat food we'd never had before, a fitting way to welcome the new season. It was during the crazy-warm spell the atmosphere had gifted us with, so we dragged the dining room table out into the yard, threw a seldom-used tablecloth over it, and had our first garden party of the season. (Never mind that there was no garden. We're working on that.) We scooped soft, sweet meat into crisp leaves of lettuce, piled it high with jasmine rice and kimchi and two kinds of pickled carrots and daikon and ginger-scallion dipping sauce, and ate it all with much gusto and boisterous approval.


More than that, though, we spent quality time together. We caught up and got acquainted. We told stories, we laughed, we learned about who we are. We debated wines and lit the fire pit, we were dazzled by Wylie's self-designed superhero costume and impressed by Kalen's chess tutorial. As the cool darkness eased over us, we moved under the pergola, eating our just-made ice cream closer to the warmth of the fire. The kids got drowsy. The after-dinner drinks came out. The fire burned low. And the music kept playing.



Grapefruit Crisps
Yields 1 dozen

Having some dessert essentials always on-hand helps manage my stress levels when I don't have time to plan out a real dessert for a dinner party. These crisps, with the unexpected flavor of grapefruit shining through brightly, are a snap to make and keep for ages. Paired with my go-to cinnamon cream cheese ice cream, dessert that night was a refreshing and low-key way to wind down our evening.

23 grams/¼ cup almond flour
56 grams/approx. ¼ cup granulated sugar
29 grams/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
45 grams/2 tablespoons corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
22 grams/approx. 8 teaspoons Tara's gluten-free pastry flour blend
6 grams/1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum OR psyllium husk powder
finely grated zest of one large grapefruit

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking pans with silicone baking mats and set aside.

In a baking pan, cast iron skillet, or other oven-proof sauté pan, toast the almond flour for 3-4 minutes, or until it's just beginning to turn a lovely light brown color. Keep an eye on it, it can burn quickly. Set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, stir together the 56 grams of sugar, the butter, corn syrup and vanilla just until smooth. Off the heat, add the toasted almond flour, pastry flour, 6 grams of sugar, xanthan gum/psyllium husk powder, and the grapefruit zest. Stir to combine well. The batter should be very loose and pourable.

Scoop the batter by the scant tablespoon onto the prepared baking pans, six per pan, leaving room for lots of spreading. Bake the crisps for 6 minutes, or until they are a rich brown color and are spread very thin. If any crisps have merged together, gently use a knife or the edge of a spatula to separate them. Cool on the pans for 2 minutes, then use a thin spatula (an offset spatula also works) to gently move them to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely, then stack the crisps, separating them with pieces of parchment or wax paper, and wrap airtight. Crisps keep, stored at room temperature, for up to two weeks.
 
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