ceiling effect

 

Shelter in place: links to tasty treats from A Raisin & A Porpoise

Meanwhile, I wait in the sock basket.

Maybe this is an overshare, but I have a mild to moderate bulging of the disc between L4 and L5 in my lower back, as well as some questions about who made up the scale that bulgings are measured on, and a new respect for anyone living with a moderate or (the mind boggles) severe one.

Here are some insights and observations made possible for me by this exciting aspect of the aging process:

  • Twice in the last six months I have been laid out flat, in too much pain to even writhe, vividly reminded of the claustrophobic intensity of labor contractions and keenly aware that without a sense of purpose and ultimate reward, pain just sucks.
  • I have a really good sense of the texture and landscape of my ceiling. There are some mighty cobwebs up there!  Wow! Cobs been busy.
  • It is possible, with the right motivation, to overcome a lifelong resistance to medication and swallow enough pills to masquerade as a human maraca. I have heard that people take narcotics to make themselves happy and more creative.  This is puzzling, to say the least. It has not been my experience that my happiness and creativity are positively impacted.  More like: my brain feels like a cotton ball and the room spins very fast. Also, regarding prescription-strength muscle relaxants, this just in: brain is a MUSCLE!
  • The absence of pain is perhaps the most under-rated, under-appreciated, under-sung bit of fabulousness ever made available on earth.
  • There’s more than one way to feel like a rockstar.  For example: you can drift around the house in a druggy haze and make nothing much for your children to eat except cake. In my defense, it was a birthday and it was also a really good cake. I like to think it was good parenting in the end, because I delivered the birthday cake within the internationally-recognized three-day margin of error and because I made a pretty compelling living tableau of “Just Say No” as I lurched around the kitchen.

In culinary terms, there is not much else to report on from my kitchen this week.  But the world is so full of a number of things! Here are some good things cooked by other people:

  • This bread is the antidote to everything and will knock your avocado toast out of the park.
  • This book is another gorgeous collection of naturally gluten-free, no-gums-required, no overworked-kitchen-scale-measuring-out-various-formulas-of-wheat-flour-substitutes, elegant and delicious baked goods.  I get the sense that the chef knows her way around a Brussels sprout, too.
  • Going to have to get well past the delirium before I attempt this pasta, but I look forward to trying. Her pumpkin mousse seems better suited to my attention span at the moment, and destined for a lunchbox near me before squash season ends.
  • Also before the last squash leaves the market, I want to find some GF grain that will stand up to this savory, green, gorgeous treatment because it looks like something I want to eat right now.
  • Before I don’t want to see another hot soup as long as I live, I want to see this one.
  • After-school snack of the century, sounds like.
  • Tropical escape scones, for east coast humans a bit weary of snowflakes in all their mesmerizing glory.
  • Not edible, but the new catchphrase around here: Worry about yourSELF.

I hear from other zipcodes that spring is manifesting.  I am no longer a believer.  My new theory is that it will not stop snowing until the mosquitoes hatch, but I am open to being proved wrong.

 

 

 

going crackers

crackers

I have a lot to thank Alice Medrich for. My college years coincided precisely with the last four years of her ownership of the legendary Bay Area bakery, Cocolat, and the portion of my freshman 15 not accounted for by See’s Candy bridge mix (purchase-able in increments of 25 cents, when we were window-shopping in the overpriced mall and pretending that we were not going to circle back for another dollar’s worth), nor by a horrifically caloric and delicious 2am niblet that my friend Nina pioneered (involving a bagel, an awful lot of butter AND cream cheese AND cheddar cheese, some tomatoes and both a toaster and a microwave), is all on Alice Medrich and the chocolate truffle, a Friday-only indulgence (or this is how I choose to remember it; if you have other data that contradicts, please keep it to yourself) that made a little team of four of us feel glam and luxe and very, very happy.

I am not sure my thighs ever recovered, but in the correct hypnotic state I bet I could remember each of the truffles and the good woman friend I shared it with.  So Alice M. can add that to her resumé.

Thanks to that introduction, I bought her first cookbook and stained it well. But she really put muscle into keeping me insulated for winter with some brownies I read about in a magazine somewhere years later, and which, customized slightly for my gluten-free tendencies and acquaintances, have become the signature R&P brownie.

Customizing things for gluten-free applications is a touchy subject for me.  Sometimes I go to great lengths attempting to create a passable facsimile of something normally made with wheat flour, and sometimes it works out well, but I know from sad experience that it’s more of an art and science than it is the work of a moment, and it can end in tears and bankruptcy.  Generally, I think if you’re thinking of attempting a dessert to suit numerous restrictions, you should probably give your oven a rest and poach a pear.

Enter Flavor Flours, the new Alice Medrich cookbook.  It isn’t a book about baking gluten-free desserts, though every recipe is gluten-free. It’s a book about all these wonderful, weird flours and doing things with them that taste good and work well, mostly without gums and stabilizers. I am probably not doing a good job of conveying how revolutionary a notion this is to me, because it makes me want to race around the kitchen whooping and chortling and thumping on stuff like a chimpanzee on speed.  No, not thumping on the chimp.  Poor guy–he has a drug problem!  As if he needs me pounding on him, to compound his troubles.  Thumping as a chimp might, on the counters and walls.  I mean–the legendary Cocolat Queen of Sheba cake, made with teff flour, but not in a weird, tooth-polishing, “what is this, teff or something?” kind of way.  More in a “whoa, are you sure I can eat this?” kind of way. Whoop, whoop.  Thump.

After reuniting with the Queen, I moved on to an unassuming little recipe for crackers.  Buckwheat crackers.  She makes them with walnuts and I refuse to admit that walnuts exist, so I made them with pecans, among other minor little tweaks.

I set one down near my son, while he was pretending to do his homework.

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These are damn fine crackers. And if you are a gluten-free person pining for those artisan slab crackers in the fancy cheese section, the ones that up to now you could only gaze upon, then this is your moment of chimp glory.

curvy crackers

buckwheat crackers

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours

  • 1 c (100g) pecan pieces
  • 1c + 2T (100g) brown rice flour
  • 3/4 c (120g) fine white rice flour
  • 1/2 c (60g) buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 c plus 2T (40g) flaxseed meal
  • 1T coconut sugar
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • several hearty twists of the pepper mill
  • 3/4 c plus 1T water
  • 1T rice vinegar
  • 2t baking powder
  • 2T excellent olive oil
  • 2T neutral oil, such as canola, corn or safflower

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and hear the oven to 450 degrees.  Put the pecan pieces in an oven proof-dish and toast in the hot oven until golden and fragrant. Locate two baking sheets, and cut four pieces of parchment that fit them.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the flours, nuts, flax, salt, pepper and sugar. Add the water and vinegar and beat for two minutes at medium speed.  Sprinkle the baking powder over the dough, which should be sticky and thick, and add the oil, and beat for another minute to mix these in quite well.

blobs

Drop about three tablespoons of dough in a little sausage shape onto the top third of the parchment, another 3T into the center, and a third wad of the same size in the bottom third.  Cover with the second sheet of parchment and use the heel of your hand to flatten the lumps.

flatNow, with a rolling pin, roll these into oblongs that are somewhere around 3″ wide by 7″ long.  They should be nice and thin, say 1/8″.

apeeling

Peel off the top parchment (use a bit of care, but the dough becomes magically unsticky and should give you no troubles) and set it aside.  THIS PART THAT COMES NEXT IS A LITTLE STRANGE BUT IS NOT A TYPO.  Put the crackers on the waiting baking sheet dough-side down. That is correct.  Paper up, dough down, sheet ungreased, straight on ’til morning, don’t look back.  Bake them for five to six minutes, reversing back to front and top to bottom for even baking, until the paper starts to peel up and the edges are beginning to brown.  Remove the paper, flip gently (the crackers, not you, you silly monkey!) and slide them back into the oven for another few minutes, until well browned at the edges and mostly dry.

They will crisp up all over, even the parts that look under-done, as they cool, provided you’ve baked about 9 or 10 minutes in total and the edges are well-browned.  Don’t attempt to get them toasty brown all over, or burned edges will result (trust me, as I did the necessary leg work on that matter).

Remove them to a rack.  Repeat with all the remaining dough; note that it’s fine to flip the paper onto a hot baking sheet as long as you pop it right into the oven as soon as you do. Some trays of crackers curled as they baked, making them look very swish and fancy, and others did not.  No reason I can think of why this might be. Flat or curved, they were quite delish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

hit by lightening

sparkly gluten-free lemon cookies on A Raisin & A Porpoise

I am reading a novel in the middle of the day.  Now there’s something crazy right there.  It’s Ali Smith’s How To Be Both (so good! SO good!), and when I read, therein, the phrase ‘hit by lightening,’ I realized that it describes exactly the feeling that results from performing a magic vamoose out of negative temperatures and icy pathways and long lists of things to do, to a place where reading a novel in the middle of the day, in a t-shirt, near a palm tree, is not only possible but actually happening. CRAZY. No layers to pile on, no strategies or routes to plot to get from house to car intact, and nerve-feeling restored in even the outermost extremes of all extremities.

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If I remember correctly, right before we got out of Dodge, I was making lemon cookies. I had seen a recipe pinned up on what my daughter refers to as “Tumblr for old people,” and I followed the link to find the instructions were in Italian.  I can hedge my way around in Italian when circumstances demand it but I don’t trust myself to parse out a recipe, so I engaged our pals over at Google Translate, who are always good for a few laughs.  My favorite part of the translation, hands down, was “leave to cool and then spolverizzali with icing sugar,” with spolverizzali being the best English equivalent that they will offer for the Italian word spolverizzali.

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This made me tired, all this translating–too tired to chill and roll cookie dough.  When any plans to leave the house must take into account a five minute Clothing period, then even if you love winter to bits there is a baseline level of fatigue that wants a drop cookie more than a fussy rolling-pin-based experience. But I was intrigued by the backwards ‘beat the butter into the eggs’ thing, and vaguely reminded of some lemon cookies my mother used to get in Little Italy, which I am always hunting for.  So I punted and made drop-ish cookies instead, which I rolled in sugar so they would be sparkly, just like the pretty snowflakes are when it is so fricking cold that the snow squeaks under your boots as you mince across the tundra and tears freeze on your eyelashes.

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make sure your butter is plenty soft, like so

These were chewy and cakey in very pleasing ways, and though not at all like the cookies of my tender youth (still hunting!), really tasty.  I made them with various flour combinations and found, not surprisingly, that eggs and butter are pretty capable of carrying the day here.  If you lack sweet rice flour or arrowroot, then fine white or brown rice flour work as subs for those. The texture was a little grittier when I used straight up rice flour, but the almond meal and overall lemony-ness made that OK. And if your rice flour is the regular kind, not the fine kind, a trip through the blender or spice grinder can set that to rights.

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sparkly lemon cookies

inspired by il fior di caperro

  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 c sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 10T unsalted butter, very soft
  • zest of one lemon, finely grated
  • 2t lemon juice
  • 1 c sweet rice flour
  • 1 c almond meal
  • 1 c arrowroot
  • large pinch of kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350 and line two pans with parchment (although note that you can make the dough and chill it for later baking).

Beat the eggs and sugar in a mixer until quite light and fluffy.  Beat the butter into this mixture in three additions, followed by the lemon zest and juice. Combine the dry ingredients, and also in three additions, stir these in at low speed or by hand.  You can proceed at this point or chill the dough for later fussing.  Roll scoops of dough between your palms until you have a smooth ball (mine were about ping-pong ball sized); drop these into a small bowl of granulated sugar and press lightly.  Place the cookies sugar-side up on the parchment, with about an inch between them. Bake about ten minutes, until they have puffed and set.  The tops will not brown, so don’t wait on that.  Cool on a rack.  These stayed cakey and soft for days, which was a lucky break for the college post office that couldn’t seem to unite my daughter and the care package.

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