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We’ve been having a lovely summer!  I can’t remember another summer where it was mostly sunny and warm.  Usually we have stretches of sunny and warm mixed with stretches of cold and rainy.  But it’s been just heavenly.  It’s been a gift for me–I, like many people, do so much better emotionally when it’s sunny.

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I love gardenias and they hold a special place in my heart because they were my mom’s favorite flower.  Of course, when I went to my high school prom, my corsage was a gardenia, much to my mom’s delight.  And when dAhub and I got married, I we ordered a corsage or boutonniere of their favorite flower for each of our family members.  It was so fun to see everyone wearing their their favorites.  Of course, my mom had a gardenia.  The florist said she got such a kick out of designing each corsage/boutonniere from of all of the different flowers.  Our wedding theme was “English Country Garden” mixed with Alice in Wonderland, so the idea worked really well.  Anyway, I bought the plant–it has been blooming like crazy all summer.  New blooms open each day.  It’s like magic.  And I put the pot on our front porch so we can smell them as we enter the house.  Girlfriend and I sit out on the porch in the later afternoons and evenings and read, and we can’t get enough of the scent.  It’s perfect.

I made a promise to myself this summer that I would spend at least a little time each day out in our garden.  The past few years I have been busy with book stuff and I kind of ignored the garden.  This has been mostly OK for the several fruit trees and berry bushes that do their thing without much input from me.  In fact, our dwarf apple trees are covered with apples.  They are only about 3 feet tall (they are truly dwarf trees), but they are so covered with apples that they are bent over to the ground.  And my pear tree, which has four different types of pears finally produced a pear.  Just one, but it’s a start.  And the golden and red raspberries are going crazy–they are just about the easiest plants to grow here.  My blueberry bushes produced quite well but, as usual, the wild birds got all of the berries.  I need to covered them with netting or something.  I am reluctant to do this because the one year I did covered them, a baby bird got stuck in the netting and it took forever to get him out.  It was quite traumatic for me and for the bird.  Ack.  And the fig tree is covered with baby figs–maybe we will be able to get some before the squirrels help themselves.

But, I used to keep a vegetable garden each year.  dAhub helped me plan it years and years ago.  It is in a separate section of our garden and is surrounded by a chicken wire fence that I train vines on.  We put in a picket fence gate with an arbor over it.  It’s quite charming. For the first few years, I concentrated on it and veggies grew really well.   But, apparently word got out in the animal and bug world that yummy things were in there, so it turned into be a private restaurant for the squirrels and the slugs. It got to the point where the squirrels took a bite out of every zucchini and pumpkin I grew.  Something else ate all of the onions under the ground.  And, I got demoralized by the endless fights with the slugs–who mow down the baby carrot tops and the lettuces.  I used copper tape to deter the slugs, but then I lost all the tape (I’m kind of a space cadet when it comes to where I put things for storage).  So, I kind of let everything go and instead we grew seeds for plants that were good for the chickens–dAhub got into that for awhile.  That worked well for a few years.  The veggie garden area kind of went to seed (literally) and just stayed mostly bare with various weeds and volunteer raspberry plants for a few years.

This year, though, I decided to try again.  I have been experimenting with growing our veggies in big pots to raise them up and out of the way of the slugs and the under-the-ground bugs (or rats or gophers or whatever eats stuff under there) and also maybe make them a bit less enticing for the squirrels.  Since I have been home this summer and have the time to water and keep an eye on things, this has worked well.  We have several pots of cucumber plants that I am training up an older metal arbor that wasn’t being used.  And I have a couple of zucchini plants growing up a stepladder I set up in a big pot.  I am also growing multi-colored carrots in another big pot.  Everything seems to be doing well and I’ve even made pickles out of some of our cucumbers!

As you know, we have a park at the end of our little block.  And for the past few years, the neighborhood farmer’s market has been held there.  It’s one of the highlights of my week, especially since I don’t really grow enough to sustain us over the entire summer.  It’s held on Wednesdays and I make sure to clear time in the calendar to go over there each week.  There’s always music being played by someone, which creates a festive atmosphere.  Last week, someone was playing a saw(!)  There are folks selling all sorts of things from edibles to things like soaps and jewelry.  Of course, there are veggies and fruits in season. I have my usual round of farmers that I go to each week.  There is a flower person that I buy a bouquet from each week.  There is a grass fed beef guy that I buy our once-a-week beef from (I started to eat beef again after 30 years because my iron continues to be so low).  There’s also an egg person (who also has duck eggs!) and a farm that carries dried beans in addition to fresh produce  They are so fresh that you don’t even have to soak them before you cook them.  I stock up on dried beans for the year.

One of my very favorite booths is the berry booth.  They have a succession of berries in season.  In the beginning of the summer they had strawberries.  And then blueberries and raspberries.  And now blueberries and blackberries.  I buy a half flat of mixed berries from them each week.  This gives us enough to get our fill of fresh berries, as well as some for me to bake with and some to can and freeze.  I also go over to the stone fruit guy and get peaches, apricots, and cherries to eat, can, and freeze.  I love that the same people come each week and we can chat and catch up on the week’s activities.  It’s so convivial and it is just perfect.

I’ve been getting blueberries for the past few weeks.  It’s really hard to choose, but I think blueberries are my favorite berries.  I’m not saying that I don’t like the other berries, but my heart skips a beat every time I have access to really good fresh berries.  As you know, I have something called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) that makes it difficult to eat raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  I have found that my ability to eat raw blueberries has dwindled to being able to each just a few at a time.  But thank goodness I can bake with them!  I also freeze and can them to save them for the times of the year they’re not fresh.

So, today’s recipe is a blueberry crumb bar recipe that is so easy and so good.  It’s a adaptable bar and we’ve been munching on it as a snack in the afternoons, as a dessert after dinner, and as a go-to treat when we traipse over to the nearby lake to swim.  It’s a winner!  I adapted it from a recipe I found on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen website.  And she apparently adapted it from a recipe she found on the AllRecipes site.  And who knows where that person got it.  It doesn’t matter–it’s a great recipe and Girlfriend says it’s now one of her favorites.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve had a lovely summer in Seattle so far.  For the most part, it has been sunny and warm almost every day.  And even if the day starts out overcast, it ends with sun.  This is a miracle—usually we don’t get any sunny or warm days until after July 4th (it’s a joke around here that our summer doesn’t start until July 5th). But this year has been different.

Girlfriend and I have been taking full advantage of the weather.  We have been going to one of our local lakes (we live near 3!) each week. The closest lake to us has a diving platform with 2 diving boards—a high dive and a low dive. When Girlfriend was younger, she would spend hours at the high dive, jumping off, swimming to the platform, and waiting in line to jump off again. We haven’t been to the lake for swimming for a couple of years (although I do walk around it during the winter for exercise), but this year we’ve been going regularly. This summer, since Girlfriend has been taking gymnastics during the school year, she has been doing “front tucks” off of the high dive. A front tuck is a somersault/flip in the air. It’s something that I’ve only seen done on sports shows or by crazy teen age boys. And now Girlfriend is one of those crazy teens. She’s amazing. It’s stunning to watch her use a skill she learned in one context and transfer it to another context.

While she does her flips off of the diving board, I set myself up on the tiny beach with all of the other parents.  We always travel with folding chairs during the summer, so, I sit in my folding chair, in the dappled shade of one of the many trees that line the lake, and read and knit. I look up every so often to make sure Girlfriend is still happily doing her thing. The beach has 4 or 5 lifeguards (the Parks and Rec department makes as sure as possible that the swimmers are as safe as possible), so she is well looked after.  It’s a very nice way to spend a summer afternoon.

I’ve read several books this summer that I’ve really enjoyed. One of my favorites has been The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of golem stories. I’m not entirely sure why. I think part of the appeal is that golems, being part of the Jewish mystic tradition, are created through a combination of magic and spirituality. In The Golem and the Jinni, a female golem, Chava, arrives in 1899 New York City from Poland with no idea where she is or what she is supposed to do. At the same time, a Syrian Jinni is released from a thousand year imprisonment in an old copper flask. They eventually meet and become unlikely friends as life goes on around them. It is a smart, fascinating, fun, and very well-written book.  I wanted it to last longer than it did.

Another book I really enjoyed was The Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.  This book is amazing. It starts in 1960s, in a tiny port town in Italy. The town is so rocky that it is only accessible by boat. To this town arrives a mysterious American woman who is said to be dying. From here, we are on a ride that takes us back and forth between 1960s Italy, the set of the movie Cleopatra, and then to present day Hollywood, Seattle, and Idaho. All of the characters are slowly woven together in a brilliant story that, again, made me want it to go on longer.

In between lake visits and other activities, I’ve also been baking. One of my favorite things to do is to bake with fresh berries in season. We’ve had a lovely strawberry season here, which is just ending. I’ve been trying to get strawberries each time I go to the farmer’s market next door. I get enough for Girlfriend and dAhub to eat fresh, as well as some for me to bake with. I know I already have a Strawberry Cake up on the site, but I thought I’d share another one to give you options. This is a cake that I’ve adapted from the Martha Stewart website. It is simple and delicious—perfect for summer baking. One thing that is a little odd is that it is baked in a 10 inch pie pan. I happen to have a 10 inch pie pan, so this isn’t a problem for me. If you only have a 9 inch pie pan, I would recommend increasing the baking time by 5-10 minutes (because the cake will be more dense).

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m guessing it’s probably clear by now that I have a fondness for heirloom recipes.  There is nothing I like better than to comb through old cookbooks, pamphlets, and fundraiser cookbooks.  I don’t have than many heirloom recipes from my own family—unfortunately those were thrown out as each generation passed.  But I love reading other people’s family recipes and hearing about their history.   One of the many reasons I enjoyed writing my book is that I had free rein to delve into the provenance of each recipe and find out why it became beloved and designated as special for the holiday season.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my readers, Linda H. wrote and asked if would take a look at a German coffee cake recipe from her grandmother-in-law, Grandma Hartlaub, and give some thoughts on how to convert it to gluten-free.  Linda’s father-in-law, the son of Grandma Hartlaub, is celebrating his 100th birthday this summer (wowee!) and she wants to make it for the celebration.  How could I say no?

I did a little research and, as it turns out, the recipe is a version of a German cake called a “kuchen” which is usually used to designate a yeasted cake.  Indeed, the word kuchen is German for “cake.”  Further, it is a “streuselkuchen” which means a streusel-topped cake.  As you may know, the word streusel is the German word for “something scattered or sprinkled” and it is the term we use for the butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon mix that is often used as a topping or a filling in cakes like this.   I’ve been wanting to develop a kuchen recipe for years and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.   The original recipe made three or four cakes, which makes sense since the Grandma Hartlaub had 10 kids (and was the middle child of a family that had 10 kids!).  Since I have a small family, I reduced it to one cake.  Linda also shared with me that Grandma Hartlaub’s husband, Sylvester, made large quantities of donuts.  Since it was the Depression, the kids often sold them in the neighborhood to supplement the family’s income.  With all of this baking, this sounds like a family I would feel right at home in!

Knowing this history explains, at least in part, why many older baking recipes make a lot of whatever the recipe is for.  I’ve always wondered about this.  It makes sense given that families used to have many more children than they do today.   It wouldn’t do, in a big family, to have recipe that only made a small amount, given that there were many mouths to feed.

I understand why this cake is an heirloom in the Hartlaub family.  It is really good!  I’ve now made it several times for my family and it’s turned into a family favorite.  I think it will be on regular rotation for us.   It’s simple and easy to make (don’t let the fact that it is yeasted deter you), and goes well with my morning tea or as an afternoon snack.

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Welcome to Topsy Turvy House.  Wow.  Our lives are kind of  a mess right now.  I think that’s the theme of things for us these days.  Right before dAhub got laid off a few weeks ago, we had agreed to do a major house reorganization.  We live in a charming 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom bungalow.  Our house is tiny, but we love it.  It was a nice-sized back yard in which we’ve created a little oasis of nature.  And we live a few steps away from a city park in one direction and a block away from the neighborhood business area in the other direction.  And we have amazing neighbors. It is our perfect little slice of heaven.

That’s not to say that we don’t have space issues. I will admit that I would love an extra bathroom. Now that Girlfriend is a teen, she spends a lot of time in the bathroom brushing her hair and experimenting with lip gloss (Or whatever. I’m not really sure what she’s doing in there other than she takes epic showers that seem to take hours).  And it would be nice to be able to get in there every so often so I can brush my own hair and fix my own lip gloss.  Thank goodness, we do have a refinished attic space that runs the length of the house.  Over the years, we’ve crammed a lot of use into that attic space.  dAhub and I have had our office spaces up in this attic.  The attic is also the guest area.  And a storage area.  And it has TV area.  Our TV doesn’t work anymore (ever since they switched over to the new TV system) and we don’t watch TV anyway, so the TV area is kind of just collecting dust.  Whenever we have family movie night, we just watch it on one of our laptops in the living room.

This past winter I finally realized that having my office upstairs wasn’t all that useful to me because I need to be close to the kitchen.  So, I’ve been doing all of my work on my laptop at the dining table.  Which isn’t all that great, because then I have papers all over the dining table that we have to shove over in order to eat.  Which is ridiculous.  So, for Mother’s Day, I asked dAhub if he would be open to moving our bedroom area up into the attic area and moving the office stuff down into our old bedroom space as my Mother’s Day present.  He said yes.  So, we got all ready to do this and then he got laid off.  We went ahead and moved our bed up into the office area and moved our desks into the old bedroom downstairs.  It’s a tiny room, so we’re kind of crammed in there.  Also, our closet is still there (there is no closet upstairs).  And our bureau is supposed to go upstairs, but it’s currently still in the new office area.

Basically, this is all to say that I’m feeling kind of discombobulated these days.  In addition to dAhub being out of work, we’re not really settled upstairs or downstairs.  And if anyone wants to come visit, we have no guest area at the moment.   And half of my baking books are still upstairs and half are now downstairs.  When I feel out of sorts, I go into the kitchen and start experimenting.

This week I’ve been experimenting with sourdough pancakes and waffles.  I’ve had requests for them from my readers and finally got some time to figure out a recipe.  Oddly, I didn’t grow up with sourdough pancakes and waffles even though I did grow up with awesome San Francisco sourdough bread.  For this recipe, I did some research to see what kinds of things sourdough pancakes and waffles contained and the recipe below is a mixture of all the recipes I researched.  I came up with a basic formula that I’ve been tweaking.  The recipe uses my Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter, which has to be created at least a week before it’s used (you can’t make this recipe without the starter).  Also, I found that it’s best to start the sponge the night before so it has time to ferment overnight and develop more flavor.  If you are strapped for time, I have started the sponge 2-4 hours before I made the pancakes/waffles, and that worked OK, too.  Once the batter is mixed, the cooking of the pancakes and waffles are the same as you would use for any other pancake or waffle recipe.

This recipe creates fluffy pancakes and waffles with a sophisticated sourdough taste.  They are excellent with butter and good pure maple syrup.  I’m going to be honest: Girlfriend isn’t that keen on them.  But dAhub and I love them.  There is a depth of flavor to them that you don’t get with regular pancakes and waffles.  I have found that I like them with a little sugar in the batter, while dAhub likes them without sugar–so I’ve made the sugar in the recipe “optional.”  Since this recipe makes a lot, I cool the extras and froze them in Ziploc bags.  I then pop them into the toaster oven to defrost and heat up for breakfast on mornings that I don’t have time to make things from scratch.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings from House of Sick People! Or maybe the more accurate title should be, House of Exhausted People. dAhub has a respiratory infection and Girlfriend has a fever and is exhausted. We got back late last night from Girlfriend’s final school orchestra performance (she plays violin) and had dinner and didn’t even hit the beds until about 11:00—which is much too late for a family that needs to get up at 6 am. When I came downstairs to wake up Girlfriend she turned over and said, “I’m tired and I have a stomach ache.” I told her to stay in bed and sleep. A day off is what we all need. DAhub, ironically, had to get up early to go to the doc for his infection. It’s been one of those days where I just said, “Enough.” We all need a break.

I don’t know about anyone else, but by this time of the year, I’m wiped out. We are in the big end of year frenzy for Girlfriend’s school, so there are concerts and performances and projects and presentations and emails and surveys and library books to find and, and, and. We can’t wait for summer break and for the relaxation of our schedule. I only have one kid, so I don’t know how people with more than one kid do it.  I can barely keep up with everything my one daughter needs to do and bring and be aware of each day.  I always think that All the Things should happen in February. We’re not doing anything in February except being cold and dreaming of sunny and warm days. I say, do the performances and concerts then.

Today’s coffee cake is a Cardamom Coffee Cake. I made it (after baking cookies for the concert bake sale), thinking I would bring it to the parent coffee hour for Girlfriend’s school. I used to make one every Friday for the coffee hour at Girlfriend’s elementary school, but I’ve been so busy with book stuff that I haven’t gotten it together to do it for her middle school. Then everyone woke up sick and tired this morning, so I decided that I’m going to serve it for our brunch with pals on Sunday (hopefully a rest will help us get well before then).

This coffee cake is one of my favorites. It is decadent and rich and dense and moist. It’s full of fat and sugar. It contains a pound of butter and a pound of sour cream  And four eggs. Oh yes it does. This is why I consider it to be a special occasion coffee cake. I only make it a couple of times a year, but when I make it—wowee! I forget how well the cardamom flavor goes with the brown sugar. The recipe is adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen, which is still one of my favorite cookbooks. That and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest are two of my “deserted island” cookbooks—i.e., books I would take with me if I was to be stranded on a deserted island that somehow had an oven for me to bake in.

I think the Moosewood was the second cookbook I got when I went to college, right after my mom gave me a copy of the Joy of Cooking. And it has served me very well over the years. I use it almost every week.  I really think it needs to be on everyone’s bookshelf.  Each recipe works well and is delicious.  It has a series of soup recipes that are our favorites. One thing I’ve been trying to do this spring is invite friends over for lunch one day a week. I make a pot of soup and a couple of baguettes. We sit and chat over soup (and often over a glass of wine) and catch up. I’ve been so immersed in my own little world lately that I forget to connect with my pals. This lunch ritual has been wonderful and the soups have all been from the Moosewood. If you have the book, the Gypsy Soup and the Spicy Tomato Soup are in regular rotation over here. If you don’t have the book—get it! You won’t be sorry.

Anyway, the coffee cake. It also has a couple of veins of nut streusel woven through it, so at first glance it seems like your ordinary run-of-the-mill coffee cake. But one bite will let you know that it’s beyond everyday. It’s really good. It’s out of this world good. Be aware that when you bake it, it will probably rise up out of the pan by a quarter of an inch or so. Don’t panic–that OK because the cake is dense enough that it holds its shape. Also, if you don’t want to use the nuts in the streusel filling—that’s OK, too—just leave them out. The nuts are good, but they aren’t required. I use pecans, but walnuts would be excellent, as well.

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Last summer I was chatting with Clare, my pal and the amazing photographer of my book, about the projects she was working on. She shared that she had just shot the photos for the new cookbook by our talented pal Jessie Oleson Moore, who is also known as CakeSpy. Jessie used to live in Seattle, but has moved to New Jersey–which is a loss to Seattle. When I first met Jessie, she had just opened up a charming brick and mortar store where she sold her well-known, whimsical “Cuppy the Cupcake” designs, as well as art and items made by other Seattle artists. She has a pug dog named Porkchop who hung out with her in the shop. We fell in love with Porkchop–and Girlfriend still asks about him. He is such a cutie—just like Jessie!  Alas, about a year ago, Jessie decided to pursue other projects and closed her store and moved across the country–which means that I don’t get to visit her and Porkchop anymore in person, but we still chat on Facebook.

Anyway, her new book is about the histories of various iconic American baked goods, called The Secret Life of Baked Goods. My immediate reaction upon hearing about the book was: “That’s brilliant!” Followed by, “Dang, I wish I thought of that.” Every so often, a book comes out that I wish I had written. This book is one of them.

After much impatient nail-biting on my part (I’m not a good at waiting for things), her book just came out and it is every bit as awesome as I knew it would be. Not only is it gorgeous (thanks in part to Clare’s amazing photos) and has terrific recipes, it is a baking nerd’s dream. It traces the history of American baked goods such as Red Velvet Cake, Baked Alaska, Hermit Cookies, Smith Island Cake, Girl Scout Cookies, and Lemon Meringue Pie. If you have my book, you know how much I love to know the history and provenance of various recipes. I want to know why they are named as they are, and why they became important to particular times of year or to places. Jessie’s book is a terrific read in addition to being a treasury of fun baking recipes.

As I went through the book, I found that I wanted to make all of them. Now, this book isn’t gluten-free, but doesn’t stop me from enjoying this book. And I wanted you to enjoy it, too, so I decided to do a giveaway (details below).

One recipe in particular caught my eye several times—the Tunnel of Fudge Cake. I’ve heard of this cake over the years and I’ve never quite known what it was. Of course, anything with chocolate is OK by me. As I read through its history in Jessie’s book, I found out that it is a Bundt cake. You know my love of coffee cakes and Bundt pans, and I knew this was the recipe I had to share with you.

Apparently the cake was developed by a woman named Ella Helfrich, who entered it into the Pillsbury Bake Off competition in 1966. The cake ended up taking second place (oddly, behind a yeasted snack cake containing cream cheese and dry onion soup mix). But, even though it wasn’t the grand prizewinner, it was the recipe that took the public by storm. After the contest, Pillsbury was overwhelmed by 2 million requests for the cake and it created a run on Bundt pans from the NordicWare company.

Originally, this cake was made with a Pillsbury frosting mix that is no longer available. In response to the requests of millions of fans, Pillsbury came up with a “from scratch” version of the cake. I will admit that I always thought you added some sort of filling to the cake that gave it its name.  I was wrong.  What happens when you bake it is that the outside becomes crisp and on the inside, a tunnel of fudge is formed that is dense and fudgey—exactly as you would expect (you can kind of see it in the photo at the top of the page). It’s a decadent cake—it is topped with a chocolate glaze.  It’s a chocolate lover’s dream.

Secret Lives of Baked Goods--cakespy If you’d like to enter the giveaway for a copy of the book, leave a comment on this post by 11 pm PT, Tuesday, May 28, 2013. I will choose a winner via the random number generator! The winner chosen on 5/29 by the Random Number Generator is Meran. I have sent her an email. Thank you for participating!

In the meantime, here’s the gluten-free version of the Tunnel of Fudge recipe.

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I will be doing 2 (free) gluten-free biscuit baking demos at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington!

Details:
* Saturday June 1, 2013  -11:30am-12:30 pm
* Sunday, June 2, 2013  -3:00-4:00pm
* King Arthur Flour Baking Stage

I would love to see you!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I look out of my window this morning, the sky is overcast and grey. The air is cool. But yesterday was gloriously sunny and warm.  I spent much of the afternoon in the garden, writing and soaking up the sun.  Such is Seattle springtime. One day it’s hot and sunny and feels like it could never be anything different. And then it rains and rains for days. But, Seattleites have learned to be grateful for the sunshine we get and to dream of the sunshine yet to come.

Our little family has had a bit of a cloud pass over us. dAhub was laid off from his job of 12 years last week. His (former) company is always laying folks off to make their budget projections and it was only a matter of time. He’s been lucky that he’s been there for as along as he has been.

To be honest, I think this is a good thing for him and for us. He’s not been happy there for a long time. And with each layoff, the powers-that-be just gave more work to the remaining folks. It’s not a good atmosphere in which to work. In fact, he had been talking about looking for a different position for the past few months, so this kind of feels to me like the universe telling him it was time for a change.

It’s so odd to think of him as no longer being at that particular company.  He started there when Girlfriend was a baby–so he’s worked there for most of her life.  I keep thinking of earlier times when his company was more friendly and convivial.  Folks who worked there used to give parties and hold gatherings for the excuse to have fun and hang out with each other.  But, over the years, as more and more people got laid off, the friendly nature of the company slowly eroded and it became just another job that was super stressful.

So, this is a good thing.  But, no matter how good it will be ultimately, the present is a bit stressful and unsure. We are fine—please don’t worry about us. But, something like this is always a bit of a blow to the gut. We are in need of a little extra comfort these days. Of course, I turn to baking in times like these. Not only is baking my comfort and haven, but it produces things that are comforting to the people around me. I wanted to share with you a cake I’ve been baking a fair amount lately as a pick me up.  It is a lemon buttermilk snack cake. This cake is simple and so easy to make on the spur of the moment. And it is fresh and lemony and tastes like happy sunny days and hopefulness. So, it’s our favorite treat at the moment.

I will keep you updated on how dAhub’s job search is going. Again, we’re not too worried–we are lucky that computer programmers are always in need. But, if you think of it, send good job-finding thoughts to dAhub as he embarks on this journey of change and following new paths.

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Flour Tortillas, Gluten-Free

by Jeanne on May 13, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, finally, finally I got around to developing a recipe for flour tortillas.  Thank you for your patience!

This recipe turned out to be more challenging to get right than I anticipated. But, I have gotten so many requests for flour tortillas–from my readers and from my family–that I was determined to figure it out.

I have to admit–I don’t really like the commercially available gluten-free flour tortillas.  They tend to be too stiff for me and they don’t really roll around fillings all that well.  And they taste kind of funny to me.  When I started to work on a recipe for these, I had a few some specific goals.  I wanted tortillas that:

1) were soft and fairly easy to roll around a filling
2) tasted like I remember wheat flour tortillas to taste
3) used easy-to-obtain ingredients

Traditionally, flour tortillas are made with lard.  Good, quality lard is somewhat challenging for me to get in Seattle, and I didn’t want to render my own, so I knew that if my recipe contained lard, I would never make it.  It turns out that butter is excellent for this recipe.  It provides a nice taste and the texture is perfect.  If you can’t use dairy butter, I would experiment with using lard, shortening, or coconut oil.  Don’t use a liquid oil, though–that will create a different texture for the tortillas.  Also, I played with the amount of salt in the tortillas until I got it to the level we like.  You can add more or less salt depending on your tastes.

If you are a kitchen gadget hound like me, this recipe is a great reason to pull out your tortilla press.  I got mine at a local Mexican store years and years ago for making my own corn tortillas.  It’s one of those single-use pieces of equipment that’s really fun to use.  I use my tortilla press for the first shaping–to create a nicely rounded disk.  I then transfer the dough to a floured rolling board and roll it out a bit thinner.  If you don’t have a tortilla press and you don’t want to get one, you can roll out the dough with a rolling pin. For the rolling process, I use a small Asian rolling pin. This is a handy tool for rolling out small bits of dough. If you don’t have one, you can just use your regular rolling pin. I will say that I use my small rolling pin much more than I would have thought I would.  It’s also handy to have a ruler to check the diameter of your tortillas as you roll them.  And a small knife is handy for cutting off the ragged edges

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings from sunny Seattle!  I am coming to you live from my garden.  Whenever it’s sunny and the slightest bit warm, I move my writing operations to the garden table.  I sit in the sun as long as my skin will stand it (about 15 minutes) and then put up the umbrella and settle in.  Being in the garden with the chickens and the other forms of wildlife is one of my most favorite things in the world.  It’s my sanctuary and my joy.

The chickens (or “The Girls”) love it when I come out here.  They are convinced that I am going to give them something delicious to eat.  When Girlfriend was small, she and her pals often had lunch and snacks out here.  The chickens came to learn that little kids eating macaroni and cheese tend to be messy–which means that a lot of macaroni and cheese ended up on the ground–and in the chickens’ beaks.  To this day, their favorite thing to eat is macaroni and cheese.

The "Girls" Left to Right: Peep, Billina (standing), Rosie, Lulu (in back of Rosie), Clover The “Girls” Left to Right: Peep, Billina (standing), Rosie, Lulu (in back of Rosie), Clover

The Girls also know that if I come out here to garden, chances are that I will dig up some delectable worms and bugs for them to snack on.  Our oldest chicken, Rosie (she’s the only one left from our first flock), follows me around quite closely whenever I’m gardening.  It’s often somewhat difficult to dig because she’s prone to sticking her head in the hole–within garden trowel range.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve almost bonked her on the head by accident.  As I garden and she snacks, we chat. She tells me about her day and how much she loves to eat bugs. I tell her how pretty she is. It’s a nice bonding time.

No matter where I am in the garden, all the chickens come by to tell me what’s going on. They usually do it with a high pitched kind of trill in their throat. The also make a “buk buk” sound that is more quiet and subdued than their normal “bawk! bawk!” that they make when they are announcing an egg being laid or sounding the alarm about something.  There’s also a noise they make when they are eating something delicious (like fallen sunflower seeds from the wild bird feeder) that sounds a lot like purring. So, I call it chicken purring. It seems to signal deep contentment. Which is what I feel in the garden. I think I will start purring, too.

As you know, Mother’s Day is in a couple of days.  There’s a cake recipe I’ve been dying to share with you that I think would be perfect for a Mother’s Day treat. It’s called the Pink Cake, and it’s the cover cake on the wonderful cookbook, Vintage Cakes, by Julie Richardson. Julie is the owner and head baker at the Baker and Spice bakery in Portland, OR.  Neither the book or the bakery is gluten-free, but both are so pretty and delicious looking.  I adapt her recipes to gluten-free and they are so good!

I had the good fortune to watch a cake frosting demonstration with Julie while she was in town promoting her book in the fall. And I learned a great deal! She showed us how to prepare and then frost the three layer Pink Cake, which is a chocolate cake with a Berry Buttercream. Not only is it a delicious cake, it’s a stunner!  The combination of pink frosting and three chocolate layers elicits ooos and aahs every time I’ve made it. I’ve now made it several times–for friends’ birthdays and for my own birthday. And, I will be making it for Mother’s Day. I know how to treat myself!

Some of the tips I learned from Julie during her demo are so simple and yet so perfect. One thing she recommends is that you freeze your baked layers before you frost them. This makes the layers less crumb-containing and easier to frost. The other thing she does is brush each layer with a sugar syrup mixture to add more moisture to the cake. This is brilliant! And, finally, she secretly adds a ganache layer underneath the berry buttercream layer–which puts this cake right over the top.

This cake isn’t overly difficult to make, but it does take time and patience. I usually bake the cake the night before I frost and assemble it. After the cake is completely cool, I wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight. The next morning I take each layer out as I frost them. This keeps them nice and cold and easy to work with. After the cake is frosted, you want to place it in the refrigerator until about an hour before serving. This way, the frosting doesn’t get too soft and difficult to spread.

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Happy Mother’s Day to you and the mothers in your life!

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