Definition: Chameleon Writer

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake whole 2

When I was in San Francisco last week, a fine, thin layer of buttery yellow pollen settled into the exterior corners of my car’s windows. I returned with watery eyes and a flooded calendar, and now, plumped with the delayed mental energy of a long weekend with colleagues from all over the country, it feels like a new year. But it’s not just the flowers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The ides of April affects me this way almost every year. I feel new. Most years it’s because the part of season changing toughest on my body is finally over. Some years I feel new simply because those buds bloom. One year, it was because we had a child. Last year, it was because I started Benlysta, my no-longer-new-to-me lupus medication. And this year. This year, oh gracious, ever-surprising life, you have given me something to get ruffled about that doesn’t require additional trips to Swedish Hospital. It’s a new job. Only, it’s not really new.

I am a food writer, among other things. My job has lines, lots of lines. There are lines that define what I do on a weekly basis—I write for Sunset magazine quite regularly, and I dig around for new ideas, and I inevitably test a random recipe or two from a new book or for another person’s book or for, say, Highlights or Arthritis Today magazines. There are lines that define what I do on a monthly basis—I write for Edible Seattle, and on this blog, for example. These lines are the constants on my calendar. They are my structure.They are my steady dates.

But outside those lines, very little of what I do is well defined, beyond the computer on my lap right now. Recently, my 22-year-old sister fantasized a day when she might know what she wants to do for a living. I told her I still do the same. She wasn’t exactly spirited by my comment, but it’s true. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So when I lifted off for the IACP conference in San Francisco, I had very little in the way of an agenda, but I did wonder whether other food writers—other authors with travel writing habits or photography habits or even sometimes-sidelined mosaic-making habits, anything—know what they want to be when they grow up.

What I do know about my job is that besides that faint weekly or monthly outline, I tend to be somewhat of a serial monogamist. I jump into projects and start swimming, breath held, eyes down. Most recently—and apologies for not having mentioned it sooner—I finished the text portion of a manuscript with the crew at Ivar’s. It’s a whale of a cookbook, based on dishes at the restaurant’s three full-service locations, that will be released this summer, to coincide with Ivar’s 75th (!) anniversary as a Seattle institution. It was fun to write thousands of words in Ivarese—a punny combination of history and educational fishspeak—but even more satisfying to learn the workings of a company run so well, by such a casual, understated, wicked smart management team.

Working with Ivar’s made me realize that part of what I love about writing cookbooks with other people, other chefs, or other business owners, is the jumping in itself. I like the challenge. I like the unknown depth. And landing in San Francisco, foremost on my mind was how to decide between being a ghostwriter—someone who writes cookbooks with and/or for other people—and being my own brand, with my own recipe style, and my own distinct voice. I felt torn.

So I asked people. The response astounded me. Why can’t you do both?, people asked. Somehow, twisted up in the details of each project and in the attempt to form a real writing identity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could always be both. Giving my brain over to projects I enjoy but might not conceptualize myself (or even take credit for in the end) doesn’t mean giving my writing voice away for good.

Still, I’m a person who works by definitions. So for now, for this new year of work, I’ll call myself a chameleon writer. I can change shades with the weather and the sun, and when life and health get in the way, I can hopefully sit on a rock in the sun, just breathing, like I did for most of February this year. In and out. In and out.

And when the weather turns, and the tides change, and another project comes my way—this next one, should I sign on for it this week, is an absolute dream—I’ll find just the right color and jump.

These days, my sister is working as a baker in a small town coffee shop. It’s hard not to be motherly and tell her she’s doing just the right thing, trying her hands at new things as the opportunities present themselves. It’s hard not to tell her over and over that she could really be good at anything she set her mind to doing, and that diving into something new doesn’t mean leaving behind whatever stays on the shore on a given day or month or year. Mostly, though, it’s hard not to take my own advice to heart.

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

Here’s a cake that understands what it means to be a chameleon. Make it in one pan, as a single layer cake, with a simple pouf of whipped cream and perhaps a sliced banana or two on top, and it’s a 12-minute miracle. Gussy it up by baking it in two separate pans and smearing the layers with a cardamom-scented cream cheese frosting, and by golly, it almost looks like a birthday cake. Either way, it depends on moisture from bananas and Greek-style yogurt. It works with either all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I’m curious to try it with a mixture of rice and oat flours.) I personally find it’s as happy on my breakfast plate as it is shared with friends after a celebratory meal.

And as far as I can tell, deep down, it doesn’t really matter how you make it, because you can always make it a different way the next time.

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake 1

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake
Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate if it’s cooked in one pan. (Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.) Or fancy it all the way up and cook it in two pans, for something of a celebration. Bake the cakes for about half the recommended time, then serve them layered with a basic cream cheese frosting, made by whipping a stick of softened butter with 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted), and cardamom to taste.

TIME: 10 to 30 minutes active time, depending on your day
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose or gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe

The quickest bite

toasted meusli

Here’s a breakfast cereal that lands halfway between real muesli—made with uncooked oats—and granola. The ingredients are lightly glazed with coconut oil and toasted, so that each oat carries a bit of crunch and true coconut flavor, but there’s far less sugar than typical granola. Serve with milk or yogurt, topped with fruit and perhaps a touch of honey.

Toasted Coconut Meusli (PDF)
Makes: 5 cups
Active time: 10 minutes

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (measured warm, as a liquid)
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, almonds, oil, sugar, and salt until well blended. Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until evenly golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes or so, about 25 minutes total.

Let the muesli cool completely on the sheet, then store up to 1 week in an airtight container.

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Filed under Breakfast, gluten-free, grains

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.

I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.

Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.

As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.

I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.

The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.

So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4

Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.

Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Standing up

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken

It’s not that I believe there’s one way to roast a chicken; I believe there are thousands, and each has its merits. I love Marcella Hazan’s lemon-stuffed roasted chicken, a) because it’s fun to voodoo all those holes into the lemons, and b) because if it works, and the steam from the lemon juice puffs the chicken’s skin up from the inside, it’s quite a sight to behold. I love spatchcocking because you get to say “spatchcock” for the next 48 hours. But when I roast a chicken at home, I do it one particular way, because it’s quick and easy and because I’m hopelessly in love with the imagery of the chicken world’s version of a total floozy settling in for a snooze in the sun, which is exactly what I think of when I prepare my bird. It’s quirky. It’s silly. It’s a foolproof way to teach newbies which side goes up. And the wing tips never, ever burn.

Here’s how it works: first, you’ll need to imagine your chicken is settling in for a nice long nap at the beach. Never mind that your chicken is well past dead, and that you don’t want sand in your dinner. She’s tanning, okay? Everyone looks better with a tan. Give her a good lather, with olive oil, perhaps, or melted butter, and maybe some spices. Next, make her comfortable. Tuck her wings behind her back. Cross her legs. Take the extra material around her neck off, because no one likes weird tan lines. Now she’s ready to roast.

It might be the easiest way, or it might just be the way I’ve roasted a chicken most often, so it seems the easiest to me. But the real reason I roast chicken like this—the important reason—is because if I had to pick, crisp, salty chicken skin might be my favorite food on the planet. And in my 425-degree oven, this little trick tans the chick.

I’d eat a crunchy chicken skin—almost all of it, if you want the truth—everywhere Sam would eat green eggs and ham, and then some. Only poor Sam, in his seemingly infinite quest, never ate his gourmet treasure standing at the kitchen counter, which is a shame. Any food worth calling a favorite is worth eating standing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, said food should be capable of making one forget to sit down.

But aye, there’s a rub—I’ve always massaged my chickens with at least a half teaspoon of salt. At least. It’s an effective way to get the job done, but for people like me, it may not be the healthiest–1/2 teaspoon is about 1500mg of sodium, which is the upper limit for people who should theoretically be watching their sodium intake. So this week, for Sodium Girl’s 3rd annual Love Your Heart Recipe Rally (my participations in the first two years are here and here), I decided to give my roasted chicken a little makeover.

Recipe Rally Icon

Every year, Jessica Goldman Fuong asks folks to take a normally salty recipe they love—a recipe they can’t imagine changing—and reduce its sodium. It’s certainly a challenge; for most of us, taking salt out of a recipe is akin to taking away our favorite pair of jeans. (How do you get dressed in the morning when you don’t have any pants to put on?) The chicken was a natural choice for me, since the salinity of the skin seemed to be what I relied on for flavor. Oh, and because I’m apparently pickling my kidneys; looking at Jessica’s numbers, I add as much salt to my food daily  as most people are supposed to consume in a day, never mind the sodium even the healthiest foods contain naturally.

I started with Jessica’s recipe for “Beer Butt Chicken” in Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook—a gutsy recipe name, for one thing (be with what is, right?), but the recipe itself is also clever, because Jessica offers a few different spice combinations to round out the classic beer-chicken combo, where you roast the chicken standing up over a can of your favorite brew. I’d planned to use cider instead of beer (hard cider is also naturally low-sodium), but the cider was accidentally, um, consumed too soon. So I did what I’d never have done, say, a month ago: I went about my normal chicken-roasting routine, adding a bit of smokiness in the form of pimenton de la vera and a flavorful depth with cumin, smearing and tucking and tying per usual. But I skipped the salt entirely.

And you know what? That gal came out pretty as ever, puffed and crisp in all the right places. I shared her with friends, and later, when they were long gone, I stood at the counter, chipping the shattery, smoke-infused skin shards off the chicken’s legs, and I didn’t even think of sitting down.

Sure, she’s had work done. And in some ways, I guess it makes her no longer the chicken I always roasted before. But she’s still got her merits, and she’s healthier for me than the last bird I made. And–most importantly–she’s still worth standing up for.

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken (PDF)
For a low-sodium dish, the numbers on this flavorful roasted chicken are a little high—if you split it between four people, it has about 162mg of sodium per serving, a hair higher than the recommended 140mg per serving for those following a strict low-sodium diet. For the rest of us, it’s just delicious—crisp in all the right places, and flavored with a good smear of ground cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, and dried oregano.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Remove all chicken innards, trim any excess fat from around the chicken’s neck, and dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels inside and out. Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or in a cast iron pan. Blend the pimentón, cumin, and oregano together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.

Roast the chicken for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.

When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, lupus, recipe

A different kind of resolution

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie 2Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie batter

I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.

Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.

The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.

February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)

The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.

So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.

The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.

So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.

I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.

Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie stack 1

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)

Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, gluten-free

The 7:05 a.m. muffin

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 2Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed Mini Muffins

I grew up the uncoordinated child of two avid tennis players. All summer long, in Boise, Idaho, we organized our days around tennis, and around my mother’s aerobics classes (she also taught step aerobics, when she wasn’t lawyering), and around the pool hours. I was in no uncertain terms a gym rat, but not really the fit kind. I scuttled around on a predetermined path each day, planning my appearances to coordinate perfectly with events I knew would take place at given times. I wanted to be there to greet Billy the crazy tennis pro, and Maile the front desk woman (a gay person in Boise!), and of course to spy on the cutest lifeguards as they emerged from their cars. They were in high school, I’d heard.

In the winter, things were considerably less exciting. But at 7:05 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, just as my mother’s 6 a.m. aerobics class was about to end (I was permitted to go and “use the gym” on my own from an early age), a large white muffin truck pulled up outside the front door.

There wasn’t really a question about which one I wanted. It would be the almond-poppyseed. They were small and a little dumpy-looking, but they had the perfect crack in the top each time, and inside that crack, and all along the edge of each treat, there was a thin lemon glaze worth fighting one’s brother for. There were usually two or three almond-poppyseed muffins, but occasionally, they’d stick real almonds on the top, and that was never really an option for me. At 10, almonds were a flavor, not a thing.

And so it happened that at 7:05 this morning, emerging from a good sleep, I looked at the clock and my brain rewound twenty years. Here they are, in a slightly more modern form—made with Greek yogurt and without gluten, and based on a recipe from a friend, Jeanne Sauvage, whose book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, probably thought its abuse might end on January 1st. No such luck.

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 1
Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppyseed Muffins

Based loosely on a recipe for Applesauce Spice Muffins from Jeanne Sauvage’s Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, these muffins have a thin lemon glaze that crackles when it dries. If you’d prefer two-bite muffins, bake the batter in batches in lined mini-muffin tins. The tiny muffins will only take 15 to 20 minutes to bake.

I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

Time: 20 minutes prep time
Makes: About 18 muffins

For the muffins
Muffin liners
2 1/2 cups (350g) gluten-free all-purpose flour, such as Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup nonfat milk
Sliced almonds, for topping (optional)

For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 18 standard muffin cups (or 12 standard cups and 12 mini cups) with muffin liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the yogurt, and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the dry ingredients and mix on low to blend. Stir the almond extract into the milk, add to the bowl, and mix again. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Spoon the dough into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about three quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with sliced almonds, if using. Bake the muffins until lightly browned (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean), 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins and 25 to 28 minutes for standard-sized muffins.

When the muffins come out, make the glaze: Stir together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack, then drizzle or brush a little glaze onto each muffin. Let the glaze cool for about 10 minutes, then enjoy warm.

Note: Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, gluten-free, recipe

Resting

resting with jackson

For the record, although it looks like I’m spending a Sunday in my pajamas on the couch, there are other things happening around here. I’m recovering from an unforgiving stomach flu, and from a whirlwind trip back east to celebrate the New Year, and from Christmas with family, and a from month-long extravaganza of cookbook events before that. And well, let’s just say 2012 was A Year for me. A big year. A two-cookbook year—three, if you count the ghost writing. The year I started Benlysta. The year Graham took a few independent steps. The year the dog started going grey.

My husband labels hangovers by how long it takes after the evening in question to drink a similar amount again. So, for example, if you go out with friends and decide the next day that you’re going to wait a couple days before drinking that much again, you have a two-day hangover. If you have a two-month hangover, you probably had a pretty fun night.

So here I am with my Gatorade and a waifish bowl of Rice Krispies, nursing my twisted innards back to health with foods I normally never touch, wondering if perhaps I have a three-book hangover. I haven’t stopped long enough to find my goals for 2013 yet, but I know somewhere in that list, maybe between “eat more raw beets” and “find a good way to organize photo files,” I’ll put something like “be quiet” or “wear slippers more often.” There will still be cooking and writing and snapping and oh, yes, parenting, but hopefully, there will also be sitting.

You’ll forgive me, I hope, for starting the year off with a whimper. It’s so inconvenient to cook with a cat wrapped around one’s legs.

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