Saturday, November 29, 2008

C is for Cookie

Learning to obtain, cook, bake, and eat gluten-free is a real challenge. It is expecially tough for someone like me, who loves to bake. Tough, I guess, because the end product often seems inferior, no matter how much effort goes into it.

I learned very quickly that prepared gluten-free food is at best, tasteless, and often the texture is even worse.

For the first few months of this odyssey, I vacillated from avoiding the grocery store completely and just not eating much, to wandering around the local grocery, slobbering like Pavlov's Dog, as I examined one forbidden item after another. I will say that no matter how great the temptation to cheat, it usually didn't happen. The effects of eating wheat or wheat gluten are immediate and not something one discusses in polite company. It just isn't worth the very real pain it causes.

I tried one recommended item after another and ended up wondering just how long it had been since the well-meaning, fellow Celiac had tasted "real food". Store-bought GF sandwich bread: 1/2 the size, 4 times the price, and tastes only slightly better than soggy cardboard. GF frozen waffles: tasteless and gritty. I could write a whole lament here but that would not be helpful.

I wanted food I could feed to family and friends without them noticing that the food was different.

I have found that it is best to plan ahead and cook and bake at home. I rely on the wonderful Gluten-Free Gourmet series of cookbooks by Bette Hagman and some great blogs like Gluten-Free Girl and Jennifer Ate. Why? Because the ingredients, and therefore mistakes, are expensive.

There are three items I find enormously helpful:

Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour This flour can be substituted successfully in a large number of my old recipes for muffins, fruit breads, and cookies. There is no need to look up conversions. If the recipe calls for 1 cup, 1 cup of this flour is fine. I do add a little xanthan gum, especially for cookies.

Bob's Red Mill GF Pancake Mix Yes, pancakes. It won't do to mix up too much of this the first time. The pancakes are slightly heavy and very filling. But they're good.

Cherrybrook Kitchen's "Gluten-Free Dreams" Sugar Cookie Mix I've saved my favorite for last. This mix is so yummy there is just no point in making sugar cookies from scratch. I do take liberties with this mix. By substituting Almond Extract for Vanilla Extract, they can be made to taste like spritz cookies. Add 1/4 tsp. of cream of tartar and roll them in ground cinnamon before baking and you have Snickerdoodles. If I am going to a function like a baby shower or a wedding reception, I smuggle some of these cookies in so that I can have dessert too. My next mad scientist project for this mix will be melting chocolate (the safe kind) and dipping the cookies half way into the chocolate.

All of these items can be ordered directly from the manufacturers' websites. I often get them at Super Target. If you cannot find them, carries all of them, at a lower price, and will charge you even less if you set up "subscriptions" based on how much you will need in a 3,6, or 9 month period. If you set up these subbscriptions with Amazon, the shipping on these items is FREE.
For a little extra encouragement, go here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New York, 3 October 1789

"By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Geo: Washington"

Just in case you've never had the priviledge of reading it.....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nebraska November

Just some images of late fall.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness List

1) Finding ways to use local honey instead of sugar. In cookies, applesauce, tea.....
2) Minnetonka Moccasins. Nerdy? Maybe, but I have loved them since childhood when they could be found in every souvenir shop from Mitchell, South Dakota to Donner Pass, Idaho.
3) Puppy sitting. For the record, he hates the sissy jacket.
4) Finding a Gluten-Free pie crust recipe to swear by instead of at. We all owe you, Shauna, for sooooo many things.
5) A naughty kitten who loves to "model" fabric and yarn.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Get out of town!

I like to take mini-vacations. There are so many interesting sites not far away. I think this is probably true of most cities. I can usually find something worth exploring within an hour's driving distance.

I have been watching my friends' home, and animals, about twenty-five miles south of Omaha. Ten miles south of her home is the frontier town of Plattsmouth. There is so much history there. I visit there regularly and still have not see all of it. An important site on the Lewis and Clark Trail, Plattsmouth boasts a wonderful Main Street. It's original buildings house an old fashioned hardware store, an amazing quilt shop, a wine shop which stocks local vintners' wares, a restaurant called "Mom's" which serves up comfort food and a quaint atmosphere, and much more.

Just two blocks east of Mom's, near the Burlington Rail Lines, I found the Cook Cabin. Del Hervey, a member of the Cass County historical society, was just locking the cabin and a restored caboose, for the winter, when I arrived. I didn't want to bother him and thought I'd just snap a few pics before heading toward the toll bridge to get some pictures of the river. But Del, in spite of the chilly weather, was enthusiastic about showing me around.

The cabin was built by German settlers, Joseph and Mary Cook (originally Koch) in 1868. It was their second home. The first was even smaller. The main floor is roughly the size of my guest bedroom but the Cooks raised eleven children to adulthood under this roof. Diaries and letters from family members indicate children slept downstairs until they were walking and "trained" and then moved upstairs, to the sleeping loft, with their older brothers and sisters.
The Cook family was on friendly terms with the Native Americans who also lived in the area. They did find it a little odd when their neighbors entered without knocking and helped themselves to whatever food was on the table.
The cabin was moved from its' original site, five miles away, to the edge of the city. Later generations had added on and eventually engulfed the cabin in a bigger farmhouse. That farmhouse was painstakingly peeled away until the cabin was once again freestanding. Historical Society members are not quite finished restoring it, but have done a wonderful job.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor

My neighbors' teenage daughter, K., has an attic bedroom which includes this skylight.
The current display is just one of many which change at least once a month.
Now how can you not love a kid who just wants to send a smile up into the world?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sweater Rescue: Part One

Have any of you ever braved the Goodwill Wearhouse? It's not for the faint of heart. This is the last place items donated to Goodwill are taken, before the knick knacks are smashed and thrown in a dumpster and the clothing is all sold to rag companies.

Workers at the GW wheel huge, wooden bins heaped with items out onto the floor of the store and you are free to sort through and fill your cart with anything you like.

The cons:
There is often the nerve wracking sound of items being smashed in the back room.
Some of the shoppers are really competitive when those bins are first rolled out. I'm perfectly happy sticking with the bins which have been in the showroom for a while.
You must take care when sorting through the bins. Quite often there are sharp objects lurking.
Your shoulders and arms can get tired and sore from sorting. This is especially true for those of us who are petite because the bins are somewhat tall.

The Pros:
Since Goodwill's prices, in their regular retail stores, have gotten markedly higher, due to E-bay's popularity, some very nice things end up in these bins.
The merchandise, except for the furniture, appliances, and books, is sold for $1.37 per pound. Be careful. Some individual items are so heavy that their "by-the-pound" price ends up being higher than it would have been priced at the regular Goodwill.

I've shopped for linen for quilts, anything in large sizes made from t-shirt fabric to experiment with projects from The Alabama Stitch Book, vintage quilt tops, and my favorite, cashmere sweaters. Yes! Cashmere. It's light as thisledown! I recently walked away with seven cashmere sweaters for $1.29 and tax.

Six of them where in awesome shape. Two of them still had their original tags! One cappucchino colored cardigan had a few tiny holes and one missing button but that didn't stop me.

First, I placed all the sweaters in a freezer bag and froze them for 72 hours. Moth larvae cannot survive freezing. This is why moths migrate. Then I washed them in cold water in the gentle cycle. I never send cashmere to the dry cleaners. It simply isn't necessary. Then I dryed them in the dryer on the gentlest setting. I recommend using a dryer sheet because the cashmere can smell, well, a little gamey, when drying. Always clean your lint screen with a soft toothbrush and a little Dawn dishwashing soap after using a dryer sheet. The sheet can occlude the screen and keep your dryer from working efficiently.

Then, I checked the inside of the sweater and, sure enough, there was a spare button still stitched to the inside seam.
More soon....

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mitten Maven

For some time now, I have been marveling over the work of Leena at Riihivilla.

Leena and her husband live in Finland. Leena has been dyeing Finnsheep wool for more than 20 years, gathering and fermenting her own dyestuffs, and, together with her mother, creating awesome Mitten Kits. The kits are inspired, in both colorways and design, by the breathtaking Finnish countryside.

Leena and her husband sell their yarns at the Market Place Kauppatori, in Helsinki, but fortunately for us, they are also available online.

If you have a knitter on your list, or you are looking for a chilly weather project with sumptuous color, may I suggest you pour yourself a cup of tea, explore Leena's blog, and then check out her shop? Do remember that the kits and patterns are for personal use only.

If only I could make up my mind which kit to hint for this Christmas.......! I think the one pictured above might be my favorite.