Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Gluten Free Wha-at?

Though I could hardly boil an egg when I said I do all those decades ago, time and practice have made me a competent cook. I especially love to bake bread and try new desserts. Last year I discovered Mark Bittman's no knead bread recipe. Even the OC, a man not given to superlatives, declared it the best we'd ever made.

It's difficult to impress someone raised in NY city, surrounded by all kinds of ethnic, old world bakeries, so it's possible I became a bit arrogant. The baking gods were onto me though and decided, last week, to instill in me a little humility.

Some friends were coming for lunch, one of whom was having a birthday. The OC (tactical error) asked what she'd like us to make for dessert. She'd love apple strudel, she replied, especially if we could make it gluten free. Oh for pity's sake, I muttered to myself, my name is neither Julia nor Martha. Ask me for a cheesecake, a lemon meringue pie, a rustic berry torte, chocolate mousse, but gluten free anything?? In my limited experience, gluten free means something that tastes like cardboard.

No turning back now though. I needed my game face, a recipe and a trial run.

The OC dug deep on the internet and found Dagmar. Dagmar explained how she had toiled long and hard to fine-tune a gluten free strudel recipe for her finicky Austrian children who liked their strudel light and crispy. After many failed attempts, her children finally gave their sticky thumbs up to this recipe which she was now generously sharing with the world.

 In addition to apples, raisins and nuts we would need GF bread crumbs, Dagmar told us, psyllium seed husk powder, apple cider vinegar and teff flour. 

 WTH? I was beginning to lose my enthusiasm. Teff flour? Never heard of it.  Neither had the grocery store. Even the health food store looked at us askance. "Teff?" they intoned, "how do spell that?" Obviously not in their inventory. Psyllium seed husk powder, by some miracle, we already had.

Say what you like about Amazon, no matter what outlandish thing you're looking for, cross their palms with enough pieces of silver and they'll have it on your doorstep tomorrow. And so it came to pass. A 16 oz bag of teff flour and a box of GF breadcrumbs to boot.

Yoohoo! On with the show. Maybe we could make this work.

 Recipe at hand, I took my first tentative step towards what Dagmar assured us would be light, crispy and delicious apple strudel.

 I mixed 1 cup of teff flour (so little? red flags started gently waving in my head) with 1/2 tablespoon of psyllium powder and a pinch of salt. To this I added 3/4 cup water and 1 tablespoon each of oil and apple cider vinegar. I was instructed now to 'take' the mixture out of the bowl and place it on a surface sprinkled with teff flour. The red flags were flapping noisily now. Ahh, excuse me Dagmar, I don't think this is going to work. In the bowl before me was a greyish, sloppy, messy, mostly liquid and thoroughly unappetizing looking substance. I was sure that 'pour' was the only applicable verb.

I consulted the OC. He thoughtfully stroked his beard. We agreed that our 'substance' needed to be substantially thicker, so we added a little more teff flour. Still it remained stubbornly liquid so we added a little more, and still more, until finally, it began to hold together.

Telling myself to trust her but with my confidence in tatters, I soaked the raisins in rum, melted butter and roasted the breadcrumbs, following Dagmar's instructions to a T.  The OC optimistically peeled and sliced the required Granny Smiths and chopped the walnuts.

We placed the dough (if it could be called such) on a sheet of parchment paper liberally sprinkled with teff flour, placed another sheet on top and rolled it out. When it was paper thin and we'd already mended a few tears, we gingerly peeled back the top layer of paper, gently spread the breadcrumbs, apples mixed with sugar and cinnamon, rummy raisins and chopped walnuts over it and basted the edges with butter. As carefully as if we were handling the Dead Sea Scrolls, we rolled it up, brushed more butter on top, eased it onto the baking sheet, slid it into the oven, crossed our fingers and set the timer.

Forty five minutes later the timer dinged. We held our breath and opened the oven door.

But alas! First glance did not inspire optimism.

The color was shoe-leather brown, the texture that of a rock. Tapping it with a knife produced a dull thud.
It was not light.
It was not crispy.

 I would like to have invited Dagmar and her persnickety children for tea and dared them to risk their teeth on it while I beat their mum around the head and neck with my rolling pin. That being the stuff of venomous fantasy, we took an axe to it, not wanting to damage our good knives, and broke it open.  The filling inside was quite tasty, but the overall experiment was, as the OC succinctly put it, "Not ready for prime time."

Lunch went well. There was no gluten free apple strudel but everything else was good and, though it was not gluten free, nobody, not even the birthday girl, suffered from dessert deprivation.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

How to Stay Warm in Florida

It's not that we've never experienced cold, it's just that, since moving to Florida we now shiver uncontrollably if the temps drop below 60 F. I should say that, since the OC is not bothered much by cold weather, 'we' means me and the mouse in my pocket.

I remember great flakes of snow wafting down in Montana, silencing birds, beasts and humans alike, joining sky and prairie under one enormous wooly blanket, every sound muffled but the quiet breath of the universe and the occasional snapping of a twig.

I remember how I met Twila, our elderly neighbor. I dinged her car while parking in the icy ruts and  shuffled, mortified, through the snow to her door to apologize, my pregnant belly leading the way. Twila had lived all her life on a Montana ranch and, widowed now, lived alone. We became fast friends and when the baby came, it was she who minded his big sister.

I remember bundling the children up in mittens, hats and snowsuits like miniature Michelin men and hiking into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree. How red their cheeks were and how much fun we had.

I remember how it snowed on Halloween in North Dakota and how the school bus stopped at each kid's house so they wouldn't get frostbite waiting outside in the Arctic air.

I remember how the OC darted out hatless, to shovel just one more small patch of driveway and almost froze his ears off.

I remember guzzling gluhwein at Weihnachtsmarkt in Stuttgart, generating heat from the inside against the numbing cold on the outside.

I remember lakes in Minnesota freezing over, fishing cabins popping up on the ice like mushrooms, and fishermen driving their trucks out to sit with a line dangling through a hole in the ice, and thinking what a wondrous thing it was to be so entertained.

I remember our springers dancing into the kitchen as the children spilled in from the school bus, backpacks unceremoniously dumped as dogs and children joyously reunited, Hershey and Blazer tap-dancing like Fred and Ginger as the snow and ice from their exuberant paws melted into puddles on the kitchen floor.

I remember oldest daughter making snow angels in Belgium when she came 'home' from college for Christmas.

And everywhere, shoveling snow and scraping ice off windshields as normal as sweeping the kitchen.

We've lived in cold country, even enjoyed it. But now we live here, and Florida thins the blood. We can spot visitors at forty paces....they'll be wearing tee shirts, shorts and sandals in our cold spells while we're muffled up in winter woolies. It makes us laugh and remember (me and that mouse.)

We all survived the North and lost no toes or noses to the cold. When the OC retired
 we sold our house, cheerfully donated snow shovels and ice scrapers, and came , with just one child still at home, to live in the sunshine, still sporting ten fingers and toes apiece.

But this year the North came to join us. A brief visit, surely, twenty four hours at most we thought,
then back to balmy, but we were wrong. The temperature kept dropping. We needed a survival plan.
Climbing to the highest closet shelves, we retrieved blankets, sweaters and warm winter coats. Things we had kept for rare return sorties to the frozen wastes, hardly used at all but kept as a hedge against climate chaos, which it appears, is upon us.

 I do not go to bed alone. Heat radiates from the OC, supplemented by hot water bottles, thick socks, heating pads, long johns and cuddly llamas on a long forgotten, recently resurrected woolen blanket the OC brought from Chile. But eventually morning comes, time to emerge from the cocoon to face another cold day and struggle into woolen leggings and more thick socks and whichever sweaters and scarves the moths have yet to eat, and head to the kitchen to bake bread and dip it in thick, warming soup and dream of fireplaces and blazing logs...……


And of course my tongue is deep in my cheek. It's actually a treat when we get a cold spell here in God's Waiting Room. It gives us a chance to dress in real clothes instead of skimping down to the bare minimum so's not to melt. It gives us a semblance of seasons and a rhythm we'll be dreaming of dancing to, come August.  

But after a few days we're over it. And this time, it's been more than a few days.

I could stamp my feet. I could jump up and down, but I'd probably injure myself. If I had a cat I'd follow him to the sunniest window and curl up beside him....

But wait! Here comes the OC announcing that it's seventy degrees outside and he's off to cut the grass! 

Oh well. In the immortal words of Emily Latella - "Never mind!"

Note: I know that the freezing temperatures in the northern and mid western states and parts of Europe are no laughing matter and the people there have my sincerest sympathy. I wish them warm fires, thick soups and an early Spring.

Friday, January 04, 2019

What? New Year Already?

Happy New Year everyone! 

Yes, I know, it's old hat by now. But, you've been stopping by here for a few years so must know that three days late is my default setting. If you're feeling grateful that there's something to read here today you can thank American College Football. It was a few days ago, maybe the first, and Ohio State was playing Washington. The OC was comfortably planted in his chair, with his book and his crossword, keeping a weather eye on the action.

 I've lived in this country going on fifty years and I still don't understand American football. Partly because I haven't made the effort. It's way down at the bottom of my list of things to learn more about before I die. I don't understand why people get so excited about a bunch of grown, or usually overgrown, and grotesquely padded men, running at a hundred miles an hour, up and down a field wearing tights, helmets, metal face protection and carrying a ball that doesn't look like a ball, while the other team does everything in their power to stop them, and both sides blithely ignore the danger of serious brain injury.

In spite of my puzzlement here are some of my favorite Ohio State football fans.

And the crowd roars! What just happened? A score? A touchdown? A penalty? Don't look to me. All I can think of by way of explanation is that it's a carryover from Roman times, brought here along with that first pizza delivery.

'Nuff said. There was shouting and roaring. The intense and earnest commentators wagged their heads and tongues, debating every move as though world peace hung in the balance. The OC, an otherwise highly intelligent man, sat in his armchair, reading, letting it all wash over him like so much lovely classical music. And he had command of the controls. Not that I'd know how to use them or even care to learn, if he ever surrendered them.


 So. Back to my lair where I'm surrounded by things I can make sense of - fabric, books, more fabric, paints, photographs and, drumroll please..... Blogger.

It would be easy, and self deceptive, to say that I blog for myself only, because I enjoy writing, especially the serendipitous bits that appear on the page when I'm on a roll, without me ever having planned them. The truth is that, without the feedback from your comments, I'd just scribble away in more and more notebooks, as I've been doing for most of my life, leaving a tangled, mixed up mess for my children to unravel. Or burn. After I'm gone.

Life's a journey. Making connections and sharing with fellow travelers intensifies the joys and makes bearable the sorrows. I believe we are all more alike than different, and stirring a memory, a smile or a deja vu moment in my friends, both here and in real life, makes me happy.
And who doesn't want to be happy?

 I had a look at my blogging record for last year and was unimpressed. At first glance I saw thirteen posts for 2018. Not so bad, I thought. Except that on closer inspection I discovered seven were drafts. Seriously unimpressive.

My experience with new years' resolutions has been that I ride the wave of enthusiasm for a few weeks, then crash. I'm not making a list for this year though I've read some inspiring ones and taken notes. I know what I have to do. I need to just do it. Which is not to say that lists aren't helpful. They are. 
"Know thyself."
And I do know this about myself:
sometimes my list becomes the project when I'd be better employed getting one thing on the list a little farther down the road.
Action not procrastination.

In that spirit, here, live from my lair, is my first blog post of 2019. And, if you've enjoyed reading it, don't forget that little thank you note to the American College Football Association.

 ***In case you're interested - Ohio State won, which made those fans up there  over the moon happy, while I was still scratching my head.