Baking a batch of fresh blueberry muffins is one of my favorite simple pleasures.
I do it early, before the summer day turns sultry and my body slows to a liquid ballet of movement designed to conserve every last salty drop of intention and energy my creaky, vanilla lotioned body can muster. I rise and bake to the rosy morning sun, stirring my batter half asleep, sipping hot coffee. A northern mockingbird sings his deceit outside the kitchen window. He is remarkable in his uncanny repertoire, a gifted mimic, silhouetted high against a summer-blue sky, perched on the tallest utility pole.
I've been reading this week. Finding books a provocative companion. Words that illuminate and poke. Shared stories that send shivers of recognition, trigger anger, or tug one's soul (kicking and whining) into that impossible place- that place where you don't want to go. The stuff that scares you. Because it might be true.
Reading a book about mothers and daughters at twenty is one thing. You bring to its wisdom your newly hatched self-hood, your fresh experience, your familial-infused expectations (and prejudices). The expectations, assumptions and dreams of a young woman. You are the heroine, the daughter starting out on your journey, looking at a long and winding road ahead. So you read. And listen. And play with ideas. You see what fits. And what doesn't.
And then you stand, decades later, stirring blueberry muffin batter on a cloudless morning. And here, now, the words ring deeper. And the truth stings darker. There is a lifetime of days spiraling out beneath you and above you (because by now you know that time is not linear, or finite, like a string of numbers across a calendar). And the same words vibrate with a different meaning, engraved with experience and regret. The same words illuminate as if from a different light source.
Not from the world.
From within you.
And so here I am. A daughter, still. Learning something old as if it is new. And discovering truths as if for the first time, arriving, as T. S. Elliot wrote, where we started.
My intrepid husband slash sous chef was craving a carrot cake style quinoa bar for a mid-morning snack. To be exact, he said, Hey. I'm craving a carrot cake style quinoa breakfast bar. You know. For breakfast. To which yours truly replied, Look who wants to get fancy. My chocolate chip quinoa breakfast bars aren't good enough for you? Now you need frosting?
To which said long suffering husband replied, Frosting makes everything better.
Looking for a fresh idea for a summer picnic or backyard get-together? This cool and breezy quinoa taco salad might be just what you're craving. Laced with lime juice and sea salt, the combo of fluffy quinoa and ripe avocado, spiked with red onion and sunny sweet pepper, served on a crisp bed of romaine lettuce, is a light and healthy twist on the salsa drenched bean and cheese heavy taco salads so ubiquitous years ago.
It's a total win for gluten-free vegans and vegetarians.
And let's face it.
Quinoa is much more hip than canned re-fried beans.
And this particular quinoa taco salad boasts FODMAPs-friendly dairy-free vegan ingredients.
Quinoa is a complete vegetarian protein, so you really don't need the black beans (as a complementary protein)--- unless, of course, you're fond of those fiber rich little beauties in your quinoa salad. And if you do? Legume away dude.
Dairy lover? You can add your favorite shredded cheese or goat cheese, if you desire.
The luscious time of year is fast upon us. And short-lived. Carpe diem we must. So I'll get right to it, Babycakes. Here are my favorite gluten-free strawberry recipes to celebrate the beginning of Summer. Can you dig it?
Parfait This! Easy elegance for a long hot summer- a fabulous coconut ice cream recipe served parfait style with blueberries and strawberries. (And it's gluten-free and dairy-free.) ...
During a heat wave yours truly is unable to muster any enthusiasm for cooking. Typically, I live on gluten-free peanut butter toast. And ice cream. Yes, I know. I am a poor, sad, sad role model. What kind of food blogger doesn't rise to the challenge and cheer-lead you to whip up kale salads and raw peach smoothies? What kind of food blogger would simply give in to her sticky, damp fatigue and general overall crankiness and not create some inspiring, nutritious, bunny food slaw for you?
She who is about to share a no-cook recipe she actually DID make last night, standing directly in front of her three-speed fan, silver streaked hair pinned wantonly (fashionably!) askew atop her itchy, sweaty head.
Sweet and cold and creamy. Coconut milk ice cream.
Beautiful Quinoa Salad with Grilled Veggies Everyone loves a good old fashioned barbecue. The easy conviviality of a family backyard picnic. The smoky summer scent of charred goodies grilling. Lemonade chilling. Badminton birdies sailing. The crack of croquet balls. The last pink of June daylight. Punching lids on firefly jars. It's the stuff of a midsummer night's dream.
But if you need to be on a gluten-free diet- or if you happen to be vegan- or allergic to wheat- barbecues can be a tad less than convivial. Those mysterious grilling sauces and marinades (so often containing wheat-laced soy sauce). Those gluten-rich fluffy hot dog buns. All those meaty manly burgers and boiled egg dotted salads.
What's a gluten-free vegan to do?
Munch on lettuce?
Don't worry, Babycakes. I've got your back.
How about a light and summery quinoa salad with grilled corn, fresh parsley, lemon, and chopped mint topped with smoky grilled veggies- velvety red onion, sliced zucchini, charred bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, tender-crisp asparagus and butter soft eggplant?
When I first set foot on this lonely gluten-free road (it was 2001, remember, pre-gluten-free boon; there was nary a gluten-free bagel or wheat-free blueberry muffin in sight), I wrestled with converting my beloved tried and true wheat flour recipes, gamely baking and tossing too many gluten-free hockey pucks and brick loaves to count. Until I discovered xanthan gum- the weirdo secret ingredient that gave gluten-free batter and dough a hint of that elusive stretchy tenderness that gluten once gifted. Xanthan gum was a find.
And it has been a nifty little problem solver for many years.
Until it wasn't.
After a decade or so of cooking, baking, and eating strictly gluten-free I began to feel- shall we say- less than wonderful after eating something with xanthan gum (or guar gum, or locust bean gum, or carrageenan).
Ingredients my grandmother never heard of. Ingredients I never used to eat. Or bake with.
I had a gluten-free shakabuku.
I was seeing gums and emulsifiers added to everything. From coconut milk to olives, from gluten-free gingersnaps to vegan ice cream.
And I decided to go back to the way I used to eat- still gluten-free, of course- but- no xanthan gum. No guar gum. No carrageenan.
My tummy is (WAY) happier. My digestion is normal (translation- no pain, no bloat, no kill me now existential ennui).
I've been experimenting with baking without xanthan gum. And I'm here to share my blueberry muffin success. I'm using flax seed meal to help the batter a bit. And so far?
Karina's Side Note: I baked these tasty little gems in my new Cuisinart Deluxe Convection Toaster Oven Broiler (our new apartment has no oven, so after researching counter top toaster ovens, we ordered one of these from Amazon.com). I love it- it keeps the kitchen cool (gives off very little heat) and the convection baking is super efficient for baking gluten-free goodies. So far we've made my xanthan gum free Dark Chocolate Brownies, and the new Blueberry Muffins in it, using the convection method.
Blueberries and summer. I cannot imagine one without the other. It is virtually impossible. Beyond my control. The same way a certain scent, caught unexpectedly in passing, can- in a single heartbeat- transport you to another time and place.
Scents and tastes and memories link and embed themselves deep in the mushy hardware of our brain, micro-threading bits of life experience into electrical impulses that spark and conjure images and emotions that rival the blinking hot concept of time travel. Sun warmed wild mint, for instance, jolts me into my six year old body faster than you can wish for blueberry pancakes, tugging me into a swirl of loneliness and boredom I can almost taste, the heat and dust of a summer afternoon prowling a parking lot, looking for a tiny piece of shade apart from the bees.
In a perfect world I would have been blueberry picking, roused from innocent rumpled sleep before first light by a beloved grandmother or a tender hearted aunt, and given a small metal pail to fill, tasting every other silvery blue berry I picked, listening to my steady companion hum I'll Fly Away.
But I have no blueberry stories of childhood.
My picking days came later. As a young mother bending and reaching under a cobalt Cape Cod sky, plucking berries into buckets. Back then summer was forever woven with the fate of blueberries. Scattered on clean white scoops of yogurt in an antique bowl, baked into tender blueberry breads drizzled with lemon glaze (the cherished, hand written recipe given to me by an old friend, Cape Cod Kitty- it was her mother's famous blueberry cake), or bursting out of muffin tops glittering with sugar, and scented with cinnamon.
But the truth is I cannot rewrite my childhood. Nor change what is beyond my control to change. And I do not believe in destiny. I am not a fatalist. I do not believe in a master plan. I wrestle with mystery and meaning every single day, with nary a satisfactory answer in sight. It seems to me that nothing happens for a reason. And everything happens for a reason.
The sweet, relaxed comfort of home cooking. An impromptu picnic on the patio with family-style classics like horseradish spiked potato salad. Instead of growing worldly and sophisticated and dabbling with truffle oil (a chemical taste beyond awful), each new gray silver hair spins my taste hula hooping into simplicity faster than Lady Gaga can waggle. Well, maybe not that fast. She is pretty nimble. But you get my drift. I'm whipping up ten-minute rice stir-fries, not Coq au Vin. I’m blending up pomegranate smoothies, not roasting Duck a l'Orange.
And lucky me, the dawning summer season is all about simplicity.
Who needs complicated and fussy when the farmers’ markets are abundant with glorious, fresh ingredients? Vegetables in every color. Ripe and voluptuous fruits. And every one of them gluten-free. And dairy-free. That’s the beauty of it. No imitation here. No game of let’s pretend. This is nature’s bounty, pure and raw and beautiful.