Recipe: Living Gluten-Free: Making Flour

I’ve been off gluten for more than four years. It’s not a fad diet or something that just makes me feel better— it’s life and death. Before the wheat-allergy diagnosis, I was on a nebulizer three times a day, and it wasn’t working. I was taking Prednisone to keep my airways open. It was that bad. It had been 20 years since my last extensive allergy testing, the decision was made to just see if there were any unchecked food allergies. Et voila- a raging allergy to wheat. I was panicked- how does one get by without wheat? Wait, no bread? NO BREAD??!

Turns out I like breathing more than I like bread. After much of my life on nebulizers, albuteral, inhaled steroids and pneumonia, in less than a week completely wheat-free my asthma was gone. Gone. GONE. In four years, I have not once had to use my nebulizer, and had to use an inhaler once, during a bad cold last winter. That’s it.

One of the pitfalls is that gluten-free things are often a) really expensive, and b) taste like crap. I have failed (and done so spectacularly miserably) so many times while trying to figure this gig out. I’ve spent a lot of money on grainy, sludgey, gross foods trying to replicate what really only gluten can do. You can get passable (and getting better, really) substitutes for flour in the healthy-foods aisle, but they’re really, really pricey. You cannot just sub rice (or any other grain) flour for wheat flour and get the same results. (See “grainy” and “sludgey” above.) So I opted to try and figure out making my own baking mix. I did some research, read a lot, and bought small quantities and played with the mix.

Here’s the biggest tip I can give you: If you have an international foods market near you, buy your flours there instead of from the fancy, green, locavore National Whole Chain Foods. I can get my flours for less than $0.75 a pound at the international market. There is a 700% markup on the same flour at NWCF. So here’s my recipe.

Gluten Free Flour Mix

  • 4 pounds rice flour (half brown & half white, if you can)
  • 2 pounds soy flour
  • 2 pounds millet flour
  • 14 oz potato starch
  • 14 oz tapioca starch

Now, there are a lot of ways to mix this, but the trick is to not get it everywhere, and to have it uniformly and homogeneously combined. A bucket or giant bowl would work, but I have found the least-messy way is to use a clean large plastic bag, pour all the ingredients in, tie it off, and roll it around. I’ve made some serious messes stirring flour, and this, by far, is the best way.

It’s necessary to add the starches to alleviate the graininess of the rice flour— the both improve texture in the finished baked goods. When I first started, I didn’t know about millet flour, and it make a big difference in the crumb and holding-together of whatever you bake. You can add corn flour, or fava flour or other bean flours, but I find the flavor too strong. Millet has a flavor, but it fades into the background after cooking.

I use this flour mix, cup for cup, as I would in any recipe. Yes, it really works. It won’t feel like wheat flour dough- it will be more delicate. It will rise, and it will bake up nicely- as shown in the muffins above. Rolling it out will require a gentler hand and parchment paper, but otherwise, it’s even substitution.

I do add xanthan gum to a lot of recipes- particularly if I want a chewier crumb and am using yeast. Again, helps the texture. It’s pricey, but Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one, and you only use, at most, 1 teaspoon in a recipe.

So there you have it. Go forth and mix, my gluten-challenged friends!

IMG_1138Also? I baked chocolate chip cookies with this, and the kids had NO IDEA. That’s a win, folks!

Let Them Dance (or Roller Derby, Maybe?)

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This is my daughter. At seven years old, she is precocious, brilliant and occasionally bombastic to her brothers. She is naive and innocent, yet has a scientifically attuned mind that occasionally floors her family. She’s a potent mix of potential, imagination, drive, whimsy, creativity, chaos, propriety, expression and innocence. She’s every girl, and she’s utterly unique.

A few days ago, she came home from school despondent, and curled herself into the big  green chair in the corner of my room. Occasionally melancholy, she sometimes worries herself over things she perhaps shouldn’t— I was a little like that as a girl and can sympathize. I used to fret over the state of the world, what would happen if a nuclear bomb went off, and if the Tootsie Pop I had just enjoyed was in fact poisoned and I was about to die. (this was a recurring fear, along with the Kidnapper in The Van who would Follow Me Home From School- ah, yes, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s).

Of course I gently queried her, poked a bit, and finally prodded her out of the chair and back into socializing with her family. It doesn’t usually take much. She insisted she didn’t want to talk about school, and we distracted ourselves with fixing dinner together.  I knew she would tell me when she was ready, and I kept a watchful eye on her.

This morning, wrapped in a warm towel and fresh from the shower, she curled up next to me. Handing me the brush and comb and two purple elastics, she nestled down while I began weaving her damp hair into thick, glossy braids.

“Mom, I don’t like PE anymore.”

Hmmmm… she loves PE. She loves moving and dancing and playing and running. She’s talked joyously about it, up until now. Still combing and weaving her hair, I ask her why, to tell me what happened that would make her stop enjoying something she loves.

She starts to tell me about her friend, a little girl who decided during dance time to mock my daughter, her dancing and her body, in front of the other little girls in the class. She was mortified, and since that day, she has sat by herself and refused to move or take part in the activities. The activity this month is dance. She sadly informs me that she cannot dance, and that she is afraid the other girls will laugh at her again, so she hides.

Hot tears spring to my eyes and my heart roars a mighty mama-roar in my chest, but I try and maintain my cool while I finish her braids. I say all the right things- directing her to remember that when people say things that are not nice, it doesn’t mean they are true. That unkind people are not really friends. That she is capable, and strong, and beautiful and that no one can take that from her. And it all feels so paltry before the castigation and cruelty of 2nd grade girls seeking an inroad to social acceptance by clicking against the odd girl out.

What do you do? You can build them up, make sure they have tools and a solid sense of self, a firm foundation of faith and family and belonging and being loved. And then some wretched cruelty casually flung their way causes them to doubt themselves and their value… and to hide.

Like so many moments in parenting, I fumbled through, wishing fervently for a manual, coupled with prayers for some magic words and soothing balm for her little heart. All I can do is hope I did enough. I kissed the top of head and pulled her hood up to keep her warm as I sent her off to the bus stop and to face her world. It’s still a small and fairly controlled world, but there are already so many from which I cannot protect her. I can only be here, waiting to help, soothe and nourish, when she returns home.

Also, I think some dance classes are in order. Reintroducing her to the joy of movement and of her body before this unkind seed takes root seems like a good idea. Any thoughts from more experienced mamas on dealing with peer rejection and body shaming in girls are most welcome.

Damn, this parenting gig is hard.

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Socks

IMG_1122The Christmas knitting has commenced. I figure if I start now, I might even be able to make a pair for myself. Or so it may go…

The funny thing is, as I knit, I’ve noticed whatever my thoughts are or whatever I’m doing oddly becomes embedded in the memories of the piece. The stripes? Was watching Happy Gilmore. The heel? “The Girl Who Waited” Doctor Who episode on BBC America. The rest? World Series Game 1 last night, while I chatted with my Home Teacher. I find the same thing with paintings, quilts and other projects I make- even years later, when I look at a piece, I am shot back in memory to what I was thinking or doing when I made it. Anyone else noticed similar things in creation?

Random Crap: “Meh” Edition

It’s picture day at school today. Which of course means my children all decided THIS was the day to cultivate haystack bedhead and hideously mismatched clothes. It was an easy-fix with Abby and Jeffrey, but oh Bean… I just gave up. I did. I folded. Not worth the fight. Not worth sending him off to school in a tizzy. We shall see with mild curiosity what returns to me.

It’s the middle of October now, and the leaves are just barely beginning to change. It’s so different here than it was in Washington state- I keep forgetting fall comes later and winter is milder– despite the ridiculous amount of “snow” days we get here.

It’s knitting season! Everyone has asked for Christmas Socks again this year, so I figured I’d start now- I’ve got the yarn for two pair, need to pick up stuff for Abby’s, and I’m making myself a pair this year. Can I get out the Christmas music yet?

I threw a tiny little birthday party for one of my dear friends last weekend. I’ve been out of the party-throwing world for so long I had forgotten how much fun it is to have folks over and meet new friends. There are so many wonderful and interesting people in the world. I can’t wait to have Christmas party again someday. Though this tiny little townhouse… I’m not so sure.

Jeffrey officially made the leap from little kid’s Sunday School to the Young Men program in church last Sunday. It only took him two months to make up his mind- not bad. He’s comfortable now and that’s what he seems to need. I guess he’ll have more activities and crap now, which means more taxi service. How long before he can drive?

Speaking of Jeffrey, he’s officially taller than me. It was coming. I still wasn’t ready:

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Anyone else read the “Outlander” series? It’s at the top of my pile of non-academic reading. Speaking of which, someone is waaaaay behind in one of those piles…

The Siren call of Ikea has been luring me lately, despite the utter fact that I a) need literally nothing, and b) can’t fit anything else in this tiny house. So far I have resisted. But… I know they’re putting their holiday things out soon, and…and… and… LIGHTS! DECORATIONS!!! ADVENT CRAP!!!!!! yeah, I’m a lost cause…

Anyone know any recipes using shallots and red current jam? Mo bought them at the store and now cannot remember what she utterly NEEDED them for. At a loss. Help!

Dude. NoVA and DC are back to work. Now maybe I can do some archival work at the Library of Congress for a friend of- because the shutdown was really about my inability to get to the library, right? In all seriousness, it was scary around here- there are Federal employees all over the country, but here… yikes! The whole area pretty much shuttered-up. I shall abstain from pointing out what a bunch of idiots are across the river. See how I took the high road there? Yeah!? No…? Sigh…

Some friends of mine had long planned a trip to Yosemite— they’re rock climbers and Yosemite is ground zero for climbers. It’s nearly a holy pilgrimage to climb Half Dome. Guess when their trip was? Shutdown city. But they’d already bought the airline tickets and made arrangements with their kids and sitters and work. So they went anyway. While the park was officially closed, they cannot close the highway. There were barricades on the side roads and they were told not to “do no sightseeing”. (Can you believe that crap!!?) They saw some other cars parked, and decided it was worth possibly getting a parking ticket to do a little hike- they were in the high country, not the Valley floor. They ended up hiking the 28 mile round-trip to the top of Half Dome and back. They only saw one other couple the whole time. Yosemite is ALWAYS crowded! They had the entire park to themselves. When they got back to their car? Not even a parking ticket. What an amazing gift to get to experience Yosemite deserted- especially for gifted, experienced climbers who had waited years to do this. So take that, barricades.

glacier point half dome

Rite of Passage, Right?

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I’d flopped on the lower bunk bed, intending to play Lego with the kids for the half hour before bed, and told the kids I had been mistaken- it wasn’t a three-day weekend, and school would be in session tomorrow. Jeffrey looked up, panicked, “MOM! I have a report due, and I thought I had tomorrow off to do it!”

“What report?”

Holding Lego pieces in his hands, still looking panicky, “Remember that poster board I brought home a few weeks ago…?”

OH geeez…so there’s a giant report on England. A report covering language, culture, technology, architecture, food and holidays of the mighty, wonderful mother country of England, and I find out about it A HALF HOUR BEFORE BED THE NIGHT BEFORE ITS DUE? Yep. My kid is sweating bullets, we crash-crammed a decent outline (thanks, internet) and I crash-crammed him on HOW to write an outline as we did it. How does a kid get to 7th grade and not know how to write an outline?

So this is one of those times I cannot (and will not, actually) bail him out. He’s going to have to face his teacher himself, tell him he totally dropped the ball, and the report will be submitted late. The best grade Jeffrey can hope for now is a C. And he’d just gotten a progress report with all A’s and B’s. It’s hard to watch him crash and burn. Sometimes being a parent sucks. This is just a lesson they have to learn, right?

What’s the worst last-minute project your kid has ever sprung on you? This is a rite of passage…. Right??

My Girl: Mentored

IMG_1103Holding onto girls who are bright and interested in math and the sciences is an ongoing (huge!) issue in the educational community- and at large, as a society. One of the keys to keeping girls engaged and active where they excel is mentoring. Thankfully, I know some truly exceptional women, and Abby has mentors in ecology, mathematics, legal reform for women, and biology. I have a dear friend who is a professor of biology in Florida, and she sent Abby a box full of microbes this last week. My girl has spent days on the computer, learning about e.coli, paramecium, chicken pox and penicillin. This will serve her well when she’s the first woman on Mars, right? Oh yeah.

 

Baby Brother’s Bridal Bash

IMG_1046Bean was thrilled when I got the suitcases out. For two days, he walked around the house literally IN the suitcase. Despite his best efforts, he is now too big to actually zip himself inside, but he tried. Ohhhhh how he tried… (He’s asked for his own BIG suitcase for Christmas. Should make the holidays easy on mom, right?) (Do you love his outer-space pants? They’re silky lycra, snagged on clearance from the women’s department at Ross, for $2 a pair. He lives in them.)

My baby brother got married, and the entire family joined forces and traveled to Oregon to help throw a wedding bash and support him as he starts a new path in life. More than 35 of my clan flew from the four corners to the Pacific Northwest to chip in and make this shindig happen, to celebrate and to enjoy a mini family reunion of sorts.IMG_1051While I raced the sun east Friday morning, a wonderful friend volunteered to stay with my children for the weekend- the kids were over the moon; this friend is a break from the rules and regulations of mama. Bean utterly adores this person— any time I find someone Bean loves, it’s manna for my soul. I truly would have loved to have taken them, but a slingshot trip over and back would have been a) way too expensive for all four of us, and b) not nearly enough time with grandma and grandpas and cousins for the expense.

Also, Virginia and the east coast in general needs to stop trying to sell me on their “mountains”. It’s cute and everything, but these, my dears, are mountains:IMG_1060And that particular one is half blasted away! Yes, it’s Mt. St. Helens. It used to be a lot bigger. See? Mountain. Timberline. Snow. All year long. Even at half-blown-away size. Shenanodahs? Hills.

Anyway…. The wedding took place. I think my brother is happy, and the siblings and cousins were all together for the first time since I moved east last year. IMG_1096The day after the wedding we hit some of the sights along the Columbia River Gorge, and I got to hang out with my extended family for the day. Yes, that’s my mom. She looks like she’s twelve here, and I love her.IMG_1082 IMG_1075We headed to Multnomah Falls next, and made the short climb to the bridge. It was a rare, lovely clear fall day- we totally lucked out.IMG_1089Later that evening, tired and hungry, we hit up the restaurant across the street to watch the 49er game (remember, we’re all from San Francisco!) and boo the Dodgers in the NLCS. 1 for 1 on the evening. This picture makes me happy:IMG_1099Then I flew home. Tired. Happy. IMG_1056