Category Archives: food humor

A “Sweet” Inspiration: On Reading The Sweet Life in Paris

The Sweet Life in ParisI’ve had some time off since the holidays… hallelujah! It’s been a long time coming since vacationing last February. What’s funny about days off though is that for however much one wants these days to come, the days are never enough. Especially when I’ve just settled into a good book by David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris.

I have 4 days off. That’s a weekend and 2 days off additional. Not much of a vacation, but enough to rest, enough to mute my thoughts about work… that lingering question about how else I can reconnect with food in a way that I can translate it into words. Because preparing sandwiches really can barely scratch the mind, let alone stimulate it. Shall I go back to rereading The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher? Gosh, I only have 4 days and the heft of that book feels like one of those anthologies I used to lug around in college. Perhaps, The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz… why not?

The Sweet Life in Paris is about David Lebovitz life in Paris. A former pastry chef from Chez Panisse, this is basically his dream to live in Paris realized and Mr. Lebovitz details his life and observations through some humorous and sometimes uncanny vignettes. I’ve never been to France myself and my experience with the French have been, well at best, lukewarm (except of course for one of my dorm mates from college… she’s the exception), but I’ve found joy in this book because for a moment, within a period of 4 days, I’m whisked away to Paris, where, in my mind, I am imagining myself in line at a bakery where I can get a small paper bag full of chocolate chip cream puffs or at a patisserie ordering a cup of hot chocolate which arrives, topped with an overwhelming mound of chantilly cream.

Hardly how I thought I would spend my 4 days, but The Sweet Life in Paris is exactly what I’ve been looking for to inspire me back to food. When one works with food, one becomes a little lost sometimes. When the repetition of our daily routines begin to mimic the movie Groundhog Day, we begin to spiral and ball up into uninspired creatures. David Lebovitz shares with his readers recipes that are approachable, recipes that reconnected me with my time in the pastry kitchen… those recipes I enjoyed making myself. I wanted to do them again, reimagine them. Cakes, quickbreads and pate a choux, how can I turn them gluten free? I don’t have the answers now, but all it takes is a spark to get one’s passion going again. And as I continue to read about David’s life in Paris, I know that inspiration is seeping through the skin because my hands are itching to mix, knead and fold once again. Even if there are only 4 days, I hope the inspiration I’ve received from The Sweet Life in Paris is enough to keep me going for the entire year.

Read something inspiring! Have a fantastic and Happy New Year Everyone!

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Caviar: Nothing But New Eggs to Bear

I should think of cakes when I think of birthdays. Naturally, I should. Chocolate cakes, yellow rum cakes or red velvet cakes with chocolate or white frosting and candles sticking out of them. But tonight, upon this sleepy hour, I somehow think of caviar. Black caviar harvested from a really old female sturgeon fish tightly packed inside a golden tin with an enormous rubber band around it.

Caviar Tin
I don’t know why I should associate caviar with birthdays because I certainly can’t afford it on my birthday and probably won’t be buying anybody a tin of these tiny black pearls for anyone. But the idea that they are eggs, perhaps, is why I associate them with birthdays. The egg is where life begins after all. When an egg hatches, a chic hops out. When an egg is fertilized, something new is formed from it. A baby, perhaps. The birth of something new.

These eggs, this caviar amazes me at first encounter. It’s one of those ingredients that harbors some form of celebrity status in the kitchen alongside Italian truffles, Kobe beef and Blue Fin tuna shipped all the way from Japan. And when one comes across one of these rare ingredients in the kitchen, from what we’ve read or witnessed through the media, somehow all the knowledge we have gathered over the years rise to the surface and arrive at a confluence, conjuring awe. I might not say it out loud, but I can feel my eyes widening in a conversation with its self muttering an elongated “Wwwwoooooooowwwww” audible only to myself. Because there must be thousands of eggs crowding inside the can and I can’t help wonder how much does a dollop, on this nonreactive bamboo I’m scooping it with, costs?

What drives up the cost anyway? Appearance for one. Large, light gray pearls of caviar are prized more than the dark ones. Grayish caviar means the eggs are old (and probably not dyed) as opposed to newer eggs that are vibrantly black in color. Where the caviar is derived from influences price. Caviar from the Caspian Sea, either from Russia or Iran, where most naturally existing sturgeons in the world flourish, typically sell for thousands of dollars. Beluga caviar for example, with a reputation for being one of the most expensive foods in the world, is gathered from sturgeons that are at least 20 years old. Sturgeons from the Caspian sea can be considered “OG” or original since these fish have roots dating back to the time of dinosaurs. Caspian sturgeons are considered authentic caviar, caviar enjoyed by kings and tsars throughout the ages, which add to their value compared to farm-grown sturgeons. Because some species of sturgeons have become endangered, either because they’ve been hunted for hundreds of years or must learn to survive in increasingly polluted sections of the Caspian Sea, the sturgeons become few and far between which can only enhance their selling price throughout the world.

True, price is one of the wow factors to caviar. Beluga and Sevruga caviar can run for thousands of dollars while the Osetra caviar run in the hundreds. Is it that good that these caviar are priced so high in the market? Some say it isn’t the first bite, but the second, third and fourth bite which makes it all worthwhile. Honestly, I’m indifferent to it. It’s like boba, but really tiny with a fishy afterthought to them. Does it make any difference combined with potatoes and sour cream? It tastes pretty good, but I know I won’t get full from it. Too darn expensive! But I also didn’t grow up eating caviar nor do I have any fond memories to tie caviar for me to keep eating it. I’m happy to taste it when it is there, but I won’t be placing my pockets in a deficit to get a tin of it. Perhaps, on one special occasion I may purchase a humble container for family to taste, but that would require winning the lottery which is probably the only time I’ll consider spending on Beluga caviar all the way from the Caspian Sea.

[p.s. Happy Birthday SJP!]

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Ciabatta: The Irony Yields A Bit Of Laughter

Part of my daily routine at work is receiving breads for my sandwiches. There are all kinds: mini baguettes, pull-apart potato rolls, squaw bread rolls, pretzel bread rolls and a medley of ciabattas… some are grain-specked, some have caramelized onions and others are just plain ciabatta bread rolls. I provide slider size sandwiches all around that are alternately filled with the classic turkey slices, tuna salad, roast beef, salami or mortadella for variety. The latter is my favorite paired with ciabatta bread.

Nothing extraordinary really happens. I slice the bread, slather some type of flavored Mayo in it and fill it with lettuce, tomato, cheese and respective “meats.” Making sandwiches can be equated to pushing paper at the office. The kitchen is my office and trying to create the perfect combination of sandwiches to offer up our special high-end clientele is the goal everyday. So once in a while, I’ll slip in some brie cheese or leftover prosciutto from another banquet party, if allowed. And only if allowed because there’s such a thing as food cost and ,in the kitchen, a wheel of brie cheese and a slice of prosciutto, to put plainly, ain’t cheap. So if allowed, I’ll compliment this with whole grain mustard mayo, arugula leaves and a slice of tomato.

20151211_091027However, before this whole process of sandwich making even begins, sometimes, there exists a moment where an anomaly reveals itself. Today, whether it’s an anomaly or irony awaiting discovery among the pile of breads received each morning, there was one piece of bread that caught my attention. As I was slicing through each caramelized onion ciabatta, one kicked me wi th a case of the giggles. It was a ciabatta roll shaped like a child’s foot. I picked it up, held it in the air for a while and thought how the size of it looked like my niece’s foot. And then the irony clicked… ciabatta is also known as the slipper bread because it resembles a slipper as it is usually flat and caved in the middle when it bakes up. Ciabatta is Italy’s answer to the French baguette.

Finding this peculiar ciabatta among dozens worth of bread, I can’t help wonder whether this is similar to those other sightings like finding a donut made in the image and likeness of Christ or one’s that looked like Mother Teresa or Princess Leah from the early Star Wars? Well, no, not exactly. But a ciabatta looking like a child’s foot, perhaps the irony that ciabatta is known as the slipper bread is a foodie thing, but it was also enough to break that particular ennui of a day filled with the same processes and actions, flanked with seemingly endless repetition of the mundane. No, it’s not a donut, but it came close to a miracle gifting me early with laughter right around the holiday season.

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Goat Cheese: The Quickening Snow Upon Some Winter Wonder Salads

Every morning is a race. I have to prepare sandwiches. I have to prepare salads. A salad under thirty minutes is the goal… I feel like Rachel Ray sometimes. And I don’t mean just a green salad with tomatoes and croutons, but a well composed salad… with grains, a handful of herbs and sometimes some grilled vegetables. A sensible medley that are cut and tossed altogether with a flavored vinaigrette to complete the salad. This is the challenge every morning. One of the humps I must go through in order for the entire day to go smoothly. A salad in thirty minutes or less. Otherwise, I’ll be behind on time.

Mediterranean Salad with Couscous, Chickpeas and Goat Cheese

Mediterranean Salad with Couscous, Chickpeas and Goat Cheese

One thing I learned over the years in making a salad is that goat cheese is a life saver. Goat cheese crumbles by MontChevre is the brand I encounter and use at work all the time. If it wasn’t for this goat cheese, I don’t know what I would do. Honestly, goat cheese is not something I gravitate towards when I think of eating cheese. It’s not something I eagerly perk up my head and say, “oh yes, please do give me another slice of goat cheese!” If I can help it, I’d like all my cheese to be made from cow milk, not from goat.

Golden Beets and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese

Golden Beets and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans

However, to appreciate goat cheese, one must understand its characteristics. Goat cheese is usually packaged in clear plastic as a log. It is a clean, white cheese that is neutral tasting up until the pungent aftertaste kicks in. After the swallow, it registers in the head in this way, “ah, this wasn’t cream cheese after all, it was goat cheese.” Perhaps, unappealing at first, but then because the goat cheese may have complimented the cracker a bit, one keeps eating more. And this is how the goat cheese is introduced into our palate. From here on, it becomes part of our taste repertoire that we learn to include it in our arsenal of must shop for cheeses, even for the holidays.

Couscous Salad with Kale and Goat Cheese

Couscous Salad with Kale, Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Part of being a food enthusiast is understanding the characteristics of the ingredients we encounter. Even if they aren’t our favorites, we must still strive to learn and figure out how their certain characteristics can harmoniously play into a dish. With goat cheese, I often can sprinkle the crumbles over a composed salad, what I refer to as a quickening snow effect. That pungent creaminess associated with goat cheese nicely compliments sweetness, from cranberries to strawberries; in addition, goat cheese can tame down the unctuousness derived from the oils usually added to moisten salad. Nowadays, I look forward to goat cheese as crumbles which can be readily sprinkled onto any salad because the I believe that quickening snow effect elevates the salad into a thing of beauty.

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Caramelized Onions… The Art of Beautiful

On my weekends, I love going to my local farmer’s market and do some produce watch. I look at the fruits and vegetables before I play the game I sometimes play… how much can I get for $10? So I stroll up and down the aisles, glance at the red and green bell peppers, inspect the purple potatoes, look over the mound of tomatoes on the vine… certainly I can buy all these, but the more important question is are they a good deal? Is it worth to purchase now or will it just endure the cold in the refrigerator until I figure out what to do with them? Pass. I need produce that will inspire me. I need it to be cooked with ease while being simultaneously delicious.

Next to the garlic section are the variety of onions. Red onions, white onions, Vidalia onions, shallots and brown onions. I love red onions for their color and how they can highlight a salad or a sandwich, but, boy, can they make me cry! It’s the sulfoxides that turn into sulfenic acids and whereby the gas produced react with the water in our eyes which stimulates us to cry. It’s inescapable, onions provoke tears and one can’t help think about crying when they are about to slice into an onion. Just as I was about to pick up the red onions, the sign above the brown onions read, “4 lbs. for a dollar.” How many onions for a dollar again? I grabbed 7 or 8 medium sized onions altogether.

For some apparent reason, this awesome deal with the onions excited me. Can anyone get anything for a dollar these days? Even the dollar menu at McDonald’s can be considered dollarish. Anyhow, it felt like going to the Goodwill Store and finding a rare antiquity for mere cents. If my sister discovered how elated I became about a bunch of onions, she’d probably look at me with sarcastic disbelief and say, “Really? Onions?” Yes, doggone it, onions! Onions are wonderful and inspiring type of produce. Because more than crying, I wanted to caramelize them.

Has anyone wondered how to transform an onion into something beautiful? Apart from turning them into deep fried lord of the rings or awesome blossoming them, you caramelize the hell out of them. It’s a cliche, I know, the onion and its many layers, but peel one and one uncovers something new. I believe their real beauty lies in cooking them down: slice about 7 or 8 medium sized onions and place them in a large sautee pan on medium to low heat with about 2 to 3 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Leave the onions alone and return to them occasionally, stirring and folding every so often. Add a healthy dose of salt, perhaps two generous pinches and a teaspoon of pepper, not to forget about 3 tablespoon of brown sugar to help with browning process. And like a wizard, stirring and folding, you have no choice but to turn these onions into something magical. Adjust the salt and pepper for personal preference and towards the end, drizzle a teaspoon of red wine vinegar just to brighten up the taste of the onions. Savory and sweet as I spoon it into my mouth. Wow, these onions. I can eat them in a bowl like cereal.

Caramelized Onions
What I love about caramelized onions is their versatility. Once the onions are wilted down, browned and its natural sweetness extracted and enhanced during the cooking process, the application seems endless. Finely chopped caramelized onions folded into mayonnaise make for a delicious condiment used as a spread for hamburgers or sandwiches. I love how they offset the saltiness of a ham and swiss sandwich, the accent they create inside a roast beef croissant sandwich with a slice of brie in between… lovely! Caramelized onions can elevate an artisanal pizza with just few pinches all around the pie. The other day, I enjoyed them inside an omelet along with melted cheddar and swiss together. I loved them in my experimental gluten free bread flavored with roasted garlic and caramelized onions even when they didn’t turn out perfectly as I desired (more to come on this when I rework the recipe). And because they keep for a while in the fridge, I certainly can warm them up and have it on the side with steak and sauteed mushrooms. Add brown stock to these onions along with a crouton topped with Gruyere chees and you have yourself a French onion soup. Oh what possibilities… not bad for a dollar.

If one were to observe the onion, it is plain and round. It comes in brown, white and red. Not too exciting and, yet, it imparts just that. Except for wasabi, no other produce can make me cry. Tears come pouring when I slice into an onion and I can’t help but feel embarrassed in a kitchen full of men, crying as I do as though I’ve just finished watching a tragic love story. But the only thing that would be a tragedy is not discovering its potential, the many things one can do with an onion. Because an onion can serve more than just a flavor carrier in our favorite dishes, cook them down in low heat and miraculously they become these beautifully sweet, inspired caramelized onions.

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A “Sweety Drop” to a Faraway Place

Cocina SelectaIt arrived in the kitchen one day. The label read Sweety Drop by Cocina Selecta. The words were as ambiguous as the black wraparound paper on the can. The artwork hardly gave me any clues as to what was a Sweety Drop. The canister has a tab where you can it pull. No can opener needed on this one. We all looked at one another, stumped by the can because none of us had any idea as to what may be contained inside, except for a clue in the back on the can that tells us it is a product of Peru. I was glad it had that bit to hint at us because I was associating the name with that serial killer, Sweeney Todd. Though he might righteously fit in the kitchen, with his barber tools and all, I wouldn’t want a product derived from his craft near salads or sandwiches for that matter.

As it turns out, Sweety Drop is a type of pepper. Bright red and shaped like teardrops, these peppers run small, between the size of a dime or a nickle. They burst of sweetness at first bite, and a slight pungency at the same time. Because they are considered peppers, they do have their characteristic seeds inside, tiny ones that resemble jalapeno seeds, but unlike the jalapeno, they don’t impart heat, or if there is any, it is far too weak to be detected by the palate.

Sweet DropThe versatility of these peppers are endless. They can be paired with cheese, tossed in salads, chopped up and used as relish or made into an aioli. However, its unique teardrop shape and its vibrant red color is what is enticing about these peppers, the attraction being that these peppers can easily enhance a sandwich and transform it into a thing of beauty.

They say these peppers come from Peru. When I think of Peru, I think of the numerous flights of stairs leading one up and down that beautiful and mysterious Machu Picchu. I think of the Incan civilization that flourished during mid 1400’s, what kind of vegetation they planted to survive. Not far away, the early predecessor of this pepper was probably being cultivated, and throughout the years, it evolved into this perfect and tiny teardrop pepper that I would learn to skewer over and over to garnish my turkey sandwiches. Because a turkey sandwich by any right is just a sandwich. Stick one of these peppers on it and it elevates the sandwich just a bit. Maybe not as high as the mountains where Machu Picchu sits, but with imagination and some historical familiarity, looking and biting into a sandwich with a Sweety Drop on top of it can, for a moment, take us to a faraway place!
Turkey Sandwich

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Gluten Free Peanut Butter Banana Finger Tea Breads: My Favorite Mistake

What’s with a mistake? I hate making mistakes. It’s the only thing I really hate and I don’t hate much of anything in this world. But the word is inevitable. We are imperfect beings after all and most of our lives are riddled with mistakes. It is the other educator that prods us and shapes our very character depending on whether we learn from them or not. Especially in the kitchen, our very mistakes and how we react to them can possibly determine what kind of cooks we will turn out to be.

Weekends now are devoted to refining the craft of baking. I was a baker for two years and enjoyed it thoroughly. However, because of my inability to adapt to the baker’s schedule and its sometime unmerciful solitary hours, I bowed out. Three years have passed and the act of it is something that my body misses, from the motion of kneading to shaping breads. I miss the touch of flour against my skin, its accidental dusting across my navy blue apron. I miss the smell of yeast awakening inside a bowl of warm water, the scent of dough coming out of the proof box and the buttery perfume croissants emit when I pull them out of the oven.

These smells now permeate my kitchen on my days off, except, nowadays, they lean more towards gluten free. Muffins, sandwich bread and, of course, the favorite and everyone’s request… the gluten free banana bread. My niece loves this bread and so does my 20 month old nephew who will dare climb a chair up towards the dining table to help himself to piece of this bread. (This, perhaps, is the greatest compliment I could receive about my baking.)

Banana Brick Loaf
5 sandwich loaves and 4 banana breads to be baked off during the weekend. That was the plan when I came off my six day work week last week. My goal was to replenish my whittling stock of gluten free bread along with some banana breads for the family. Everything was going well up until my second batch of banana breads, which somehow wouldn’t get color in the oven. I’ve been baking all afternoon and this final batch of banana breads were taking unusually longer inside the oven. Immediately, I had that feeling… I’ve made a mistake. It was too firm to the touch and way too pale. When I unmolded it from the pan and dropped it onto the cooling rack, they resembled bars more so than bread. It reminded me of brick bars. I wondered what ingredients I left out.

Picking up a slice, the bread seemed moist so it couldn’t be bad, but it was dense, which means that I probably omitted the baking soda which kept it from rising. Upon taste, it was mostly sweet and that meant that I also skipped the salt. Darn it! All that labor to come up with a mistake!

Working in a professional kitchen, I carry with me the trauma of mistakes. It wouldn’t be so bad, but my novice years in a pastry kitchen were spent training under a French chef whose blood boiled at the drop of inefficiencies, discrepancies and mistakes. Mistakes meant redoing and that meant more time spent on hourly wages not to mention the sometimes detrimental feedback from a waiting customer. Mistakes meant wasted products which can be costly so he would never allow me to forget my mistakes. Incorrectly measured ingredients sometimes meant getting yelled at and falling under harsh scrutiny for the rest of the day. Mistakes sometimes became too dramatic and wasn’t all that fun. Because of this, I hated making mistakes in the kitchen.

3 slices banana dense
Over the years, I’ve also grown. It took this weekend’s mistake to realize that I can shift my perspective and actually look at this banana brick bar and view it as a gold bar. I was fond of the bar shape and I was fond of the banana taste to it. Because it is dense and firm, these might even be its positive aspects to the bread. My mind was suddenly turning one light bulb after another suggesting different uses for the bread. If I sliced the bread about a centimeter thick, I can dip it in egg and turn it into finger french toasts; slip it into the oven and turn it into biscottis. It’s amazing when you remove defeat from your mind… this mistake, I happily turned it into peanut butter banana finger tea breads.

I took the same centimeter size slices and toasted them on the pan until both sides were golden. I removed them from the pan and cooled them a bit before spreading a healthy amount of peanut butter and sprinkling atop with cranberries, shredded coconut and sunflower seeds. There are endless possibilities for toppings. And if I had Nutella, for sure this would have been on top of that. But for this, I went with the classic peanut butter and banana combination and it is surely a mistake, placing trauma aside, I certainly want to repeat again and again as I look forward to enjoying it with a cup of tea or coffee in the future.

Beautiful Mistakes

Gluten Free Banana Bars

100 g Garbanzo FLour
60 g Tapioca Starch
40 g Arrowroot Starch

1/2 C olive oil
3/4 C sugar

3 ea medium bananas, mashed
1/2 C sour cream
1 t vanilla
2 ea eggs

Preheat oven to 350*. Grease 2 one pound loaf pans and set aside. Mix flours and starch and set aside.

Whisk olive oil and sugar together until emulsified. Add mashed bananas, sour cream, vanilla and eggs and whisk until fairly mixed. Fold in flours.

Divide between the loaf pans and bake between 25-30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and slice to accomodate either finger tea bread, finger french toast or biscotti. Enjoy!

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Loving that Gluten Free Bread

Loving Bread 1
I don’t think we’ve truly tasted bread until we make it with our own hands. I don’t think I would come to this thought had I not turned predominantly gluten free. For in comparison, today’s bread is air. We are sold fluffed air for bread. This is something I wouldn’t have arrived at if I didn’t look for an alternative bread for the almost gluten free lifestyle I was about to plunge into.

As a former baker, bread has always been important to me. From the two years I spent baking overnight, turning out croissants and danishes and muffins on a daily basis, all I can say is that it is as much a craft as a cobbler is to a pair of shoes or a cheesemonger to a sharp aged piece of cheddar cheese. No one can begin to understand a baker’s craft unless one walked in their shoes, and how they might agonize over unproofed dough, tracking down the culprit as to whether it is due to insufficient warmth or overly salted dough. These kind of details are enough to make a baker go insane at three o’clock in the morning. But no one would know, no one would see except him or herself and God. These are the quiet hours when there is nobody around the kitchen and the baker is forced to come to a decision as to whether to start again and face the embarrassment of a fatal mistake as to why a hefty amount of croissant dough met its demise that morning.

Loving Bread 2
Changing over to this new lifestyle, I discovered quickly that not everything gluten free is gold. Although many products are sold out there, some are just really unpleasant and unpalatable. Working with sandwiches, it really makes me think twice about going back when I encounter such a gluten free product. I ask myself why it is I surrendered the joy of a croissant sandwich over this grainy, unbreadlike-tasting bread. That’s redundant and quite a mouthful, but I just spent $7 on a loaf of bread that I’ll force myself to eat because I spent 7 bucks on it even if it isn’t good. I’ll toast the hell out of it and slather it with a ton of cream cheese and strawberry jam just to eclipse the taste of that bread out of my mouth. I’ll chase it with coffee or milk if I have to, just as long as it is gluten free.

The one thing gluten free contributed, aside from minor weight loss and not being quite so bloated all the time, is how it reacquainted me with baking again. Now more than ever, baking becomes necessary. My dissatisfaction with products I’ve encountered encourages me to recreate breads and desserts according to my standards. The idea of making something staple and needed as bread has never surfaced until now. Sure I made my pandesal, but I can’t eat it daily as I do my new gluten free loaf. When I worked in pastry, though an enticing place to work in, no one can really consume too many cookies or brownies for that matter because that would be sugar overkill. Fear of diabetes lurks not too far and if one wasn’t careful with the array of chocolate cakes, ganaches and mousses abound, one can easily trip into some health-related pitfall, if not diabetes, then overconsumption made manifest around the waist.

Loving Bread 3
Bread, when one is gluten free, takes on a different notion. It no longer becomes that item of abuse like the unlimited, free cheese biscuits or house rolls delivered to the table at our favorite restaurant. Oh God, no. I look at that bread basket now and see it as poison. Take it away please! The gluten free bread becomes, in essence, a food item reeling me back to what is important and necessary. This is what being gluten free means. Going back and rediscovering what the basic staple, such as bread, really means to one’s body. In a case like this, the bread without its gluten foundation becomes more substantial, a food item that the body learns to appreciate and not take for granted.

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Bread of Life? My Bread for Life!

Food has something magical in it when put together right. Even a mere sandwich, given the right touches of smoke and fat can be transformed into something enormously satisfying and out of this world. Take your pulled pork sandwiches and smoked swordfish salad with minced jalapeno… as though someone has taken a wand and dotted it with a spell so it would taste splendid with each bite. Ahhh, the beauty of a sandwich.

These days, however, before I even arrive at that ahhh moment with a sandwich, I have to have the right kind of bread. Gluten free preferably because I’ve converted and I’m sold. I’ve said it before, being gluten free is quite challenging at times. Temptations abound at work especially when the scent of bread from the pastry kitchen tries to yank me from my bowl and dish gathering each morning. When the baker asks if I want a just-baked, out of the oven type of morning bun, it takes all my energy to repress the hectic swooning inside of me. When I have uttered a firm “no,” I wonder sometimes whether I have let slip from my eyes how much I truly wanted one. Still gooey with melted cream cheese, you said? My stomach tugs at me, reluctantly, I say no again as though the gluten prisoner concealed inside of me has no say in these matters anymore.

Instead, I focus all my energy on making bread at home. More than bread, a bread for life. To finally arrive at a recipe that tastes close to the kind of bread I’ve been eating most of my life, it feels as though I arrived close to where I want to be. I can breathe again. The search is over and I’m sticking to this one for the long haul. I followed the recipe on One Good Thing by Jillee. The pictures convinced me, her labeled “Gluten-Free Bread That Doesn’t Suck” looked like a brioche bread to me. I looked at that bread, imagined having it for breakfast with runny eggs, and I took a chance.

bread for life

I followed Jillee’s recipe but made my own substitutions. I used garbanzo flour instead of brown rice flour, arrowroot starch instead of cornstarch. Olive oil for the butter (I ran out of butter). Had I known that egg replacer could easily be replaced with baking powder, I wouldn’t have spent $6 bucks on it. That and I took the recipe and just dealt with it like a baker. I was uneasy about it at first because I’m not used to bread that can’t be kneaded. I used a paddle to mix this bread, not even a dough hook. My hands remained clean throughout the whole time, which is unlikely when I knead dough.

This recipe is wet and calls for the dough to rise close to the top of the pan. The rise took closer to two hours rather than its estimated 50-60 minutes. The 45 to 55 minute bake time in a 375 degree oven might be too long, so depending on the oven, whether the temperature is calibrated correctly, one might aim for 30 minutes and drop down the temperature to 300 degrees if one wanted to reach the 45 minute mark. My bread was already done and golden brown at 25 minutes. I suppose if I wanted the bread to have a substantial crust all around, I could have baked longer. Even with the substitutions I made, I’m really quite pleased with this bread.

Yummy Bread for Life

I have to say that this bread, apart from being delicious, is quite inspiring. Making it felt satisfying. Having access to it, for the first time, I feel not quite deprived as I have been. I rejoice and I want to share it with my family. I looked forward to making breakfast this morning because I had this bread to offer. Though the bread is cold, having been baked the night before, it tasted even better after it popped out of the toaster. The bread is substantial and grain free which is really what I require most foods to be these days. And it is just lovely, slathered with peanut butter and jelly inside. Bread of life? My bread for life!

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Chocolate… A Tale of Two Cakes

Was I dreaming this? Is this for real? I’m fast asleep on the airbed in the extra room when my niece came in and woke me briefly. She said hello and I acknowledged her with eyes barely opened, trying to make sense of time and place and where the hell I was. Oh yes, I was waiting for her to come home. After work, I stopped by her house to visit, but she had gone to a party. She was about to exit the room, and my head ready to fall back on the pillow, when she suddenly backtracked and asked, “Where’s my chocolate cake?” It must have been ten o’clock at night already.

I am the aunt who went to culinary school and spent 6 years in a pastry kitchen. Therefore, I became the go-to person for cakes. Cheesecakes, cupcakes… chocolate cakes. My niece eats a modicum amount of food, but she has fixations when it comes to sweets. They arrive in waves depending on what she’s remembered or learned. It could be a week of pining for, or rather whining for, cookies, brownies or banana breads. I don’t really know whether her list of cartoons actually elicits these cravings, but this week it was chocolate cake. The reminders passes from random voicemail to her own mother calling me about how her daughter, my niece, had been asking for chocolate cake. “Fine, fine,” I said, “I’ll make it on my weekend.”

It’s been a long time since I baked a cake. Since my focus lately had been on gluten free bread, cakes were far from my mind. But since my niece reigns supreme in my heart, gladly I take this on. The simple chocolate cake. But I want to enjoy the cake too and I want my sister to enjoy it too. It can only be gluten free.

The sponge would be the challenge, but a minor one because I already know that I would only need to substitute the A.P. flour with a gluten free alternative. For this, I used a combination of garbanzo and almond flour along with tapioca starch and applied it to a chocolate cake recipe. The result was a success. I baked it on a half sheet pan and decided I would just split the sponge in three equal parts and layer it. I explained this to my sister, upon which she texted me promptly back and asked if I could make two cakes instead of one. I have a nephew now after all and if I make it for one, it meant, I have to make one for the other. “No problem,” I texted, “I got you.”

chocolate cakesIt was one of the hottest days that week… a heatwave fell upon the day when I had to ice the cake. Seeing that my sponge turned out well and the chocolate icing was just right, I had forgotten about temperature playing a crucial part in making cakes. If I was melting in this horrid weather, the cake would surely do too. Thank goodness for my pastry smarts kicking in when they did. Placing the cake back and forth inside the refrigerator seemed to stave off the icing from turning into liquid butter. My poor refrigerator though… it worked double time to keep the cool in. The rewards though… priceless. A tale of two cakes… one for my niece and one for my nephew… gluten free at that… was absolutely enjoyable! Another gluten free success.

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