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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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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you already know, my passion is baking. And, if you haven’t already guessed, one of my other most favorite things to do is to hang out with friends, chatting, and drinking wine. And if this hanging out can be done outside during warm weather, even better. And last week, a combo of all of these things came together at the suggestion of my pal, Jameson, the voice behind the delightful blog Wine Without Worry .

One day a couple of months ago, Jameson called and asked if I would like get together for a wine and baking afternoon. His thought was that we hang out, make the cheese crackers/straws recipe from my book, and then eat the fruits of our labors and drink champagne. Of course, I was delighted to say yes! I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than baking and drinking champagne.

Now, I knew that this wasn’t going to be any old champagne he would bring. He is a wine expert (he was just nominated for the coveted Saveur Best Wine or Beer Blog award). He works as a consultant for wine shops, farms, and organizations around Seattle. And he’s the Wine Editor for Foodista. In addition to all of his other endeavors, Jameson hosts a monthly wine podcast.  Therefore, I knew that when he said he would bring champagne, it would be special–and would be paired perfectly with the cheese straws. I couldn’t wait!  I have to admit: as much as I like to drink wine, I’m not that good at pairing wine with the food I’m eating. I usually pick a wine I like and call it good. Luckily, I have friends like Jameson who can bump up the wine-food experience from just “good” to “wow, this is amazing!”

One of the many things I like about Jameson is that he is curious and always willing to experience and learn new things. He always seems to be traveling to wine growing regions (hello, France!), wineries, wine shops, and to learn from and chat with other wine experts. I think this is a sign of someone who is truly passionate about what they do.  I love being around people who are working in the field they are meant to be in–it’s a joy to behold.  And, I love it when folks like Jameson pair their passion with teaching other people about their field.  This is Jameson.

He is such a busy bee (he is always traveling to gather more knowledge about wine and wine growing), and I had to deal with a long-term virus that felled my family for weeks (not nearly as glamorous as touring the wine country, I’m afraid) that we weren’t able to get together until last week. As it turns out, the day we got together was start of a run of spectacular spring days–a treat for us in rainy Seattle.

As we started, I asked if Jameson wanted an apron and he said, “sure!”  So, I gave him one of the dAhub’s aprons (everyone inOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA our house as at least one apron.  As you can guess, I have many).  As we started making the cheese crackers and straws, I asked Jameson if he ever baked. He said, “a little bit.” I was trying to gauge how much I would need to explain to him about the baking process. He then mentioned, almost off-handedly, that in graduate school he had worked in a bakery and that he had then apprenticed to a pastry chef. LOL! Typical Jameson–he is so humble and low key. So, we got to work in mixing and then rolling the dough.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter we baked the straws and crackers, we went out into the garden to drink sparkling rosé and nibble on our creations. I got out a couple of champagne coupes that I had inherited from my grandparents. Even though flutes seem currently to be the preferred glass for drinking sparkling wine, I love coupes. They are so elegant and pretty and using them makes me feel like I’m hanging out at an elegant 1930s party.

I will admit, I don’t really know much about wine or champagne. I know what I like, but I don’t really pay that much attention to years or appellations or varietals or whatever. Luckily, I have friends like Jameson who know what they’re doing and can bring the appropriate wine to match the food. The champagne he brought–or I should say, sparkling wine (a sparkling wine isn’t officially a “champagne” unless it comes from the Champagne region of France)–was a sparkling rosé from the Tenuta Col Sandago winery in the Veneto region of Italy. And it was perfect with the cheese crackers.  And a bonus: it was so pretty in the coupes!

We spent a convivial couple of hours in the garden, drinking sparkling wine, eating cheese straws and crackers, and chatting about our lives and our work and our hopes and dreams. And, when it was time for him to go, he left the remainder of the champagne with me and I sent him home with the rest of the cheese sticks. He gave me the best compliment ever:”you’d never know these were gluten-free!”  Thank you for the lovely afternoon, Jameson!

Jameson’s blog post about our day.

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Cover--Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays COVHey all! I just wanted to let you know that I love hearing from everyone about how they have been baking from my book even though it’s not the Thanksgiving-Hannukah-Christmas season. Me, too! Every week I bake at least one thing from my book. And a friend of mine just asked me to make her a bûche de Noël for her June wedding as an extra cake for gluten-free folks. Instead of a Christmas log, we will call it a Spring Woodland log.

I realize that some folks don’t know that the book has recipes that can be made all year round. Even though the book’s focus is on the winter holidays, there are recipes for cookies, cakes, pies, breads, and pastries that fit any occasion.  For example, this week alone I’ve made the Chocolate Chip Cookies for a family treat and the Cheese Straws and Crackers for a wine date with a pal.  This weekend I’m going to make fried chicken and will use the Buttermilk Biscuits as a side.  And Girlfriend has requested that I make the Pumpkin Doughnuts as a snack tomorrow as an end-of-school-testing-week treat.

Therefore, I’d like to offer one personalized and signed copy of my book as a Mother’s Day gift for a special mom out there. To enter, see directions at the bottom of this post.

I’ve talked about my mom from time to time on the blog. She died in 1998, a few days after Mother’s Day. She had OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAadvanced breast cancer, but her system was so weak from treatment that she ended up having a heart attack while driving to work, which then caused her to have collision with a semi-truck. The semi-truck driver was fine, thank goodness.  After my siblings and I were able to get past the shock of our mother’s sudden death, we realized that she died just as she lived–in a blaze of glory. If you knew my mom, you know that she lived big. And she died big. I know it sounds crazy, but my siblings and my mom’s friends and I are kind of tickled at how she died because it was so over the top. You couldn’t die in a more dramatic way.  In addition, people told us that they saw an amazing rainbow in the direction of the highway on the day that she died. Everyone said, “I couldn’t believe how beautiful the rainbow was and then I heard about your mom and knew that it was her.”

My mom had a heart bigger than the size of California and enough determination to move mountains. Whenever I think about everything she did, I can’t quite believe it. She had her fair share of adversity. She was an alcoholic as a young adult, and she had two marriages and divorces. By the time I was 13, she was a recovered alcoholic and a single, divorced working mom with four young kids to raise–with me as the eldest.  You would think this would be enough for anyone to handle, but not for my mom–she was involved in everything. She worked full-time as a traveling speech and language therapist for the public school system where we lived. She had two master’s degrees. She not only went to church, but was the organist there. She went to a movie club, a book club, and had regular coffee dates with everyone she knew. She was quick to offer help to anyone.  When a friend’s son was in a coma after a horrific accident, my mom went to read to him several times a week for months.  We always had someone living with us.  One was a dear friend of ours who had bipolar disorder and couldn’t quite get on her feet.  The janitor from church camped out in our yard for awhile when my mom found out that he was homeless.  He didn’t want to intrude and therefore wouldn’t stay inside, but he had a nice tent and our climate was fairly temperate.  One of my high school friends got kicked out of the house by her parents for not wanting to go to the “right” college (!), so she came to live with us.

My mom believed she could do anything–and instilled that sense in all of us. There was never any thought that we couldn’t do what we set our minds to do. Whatever needed to be done, she just did it.  She was the kind of person that climbed up on our roof on rainy nights to put tarps over the holes. There was nothing she couldn’t fix with a little duct tape–I inherited that talent from her. We lived in a small town in California that had a large migrant farm worker population–and many of their kids were my mom’s students. My mom was also an audiologist, so in addition to knowing sign language, my mom learned Spanish so she could communicate well with her charges. We had parties where she invited her students to come over and do sign language “recitations.”  My siblings and I participated.  For years I would regale folks with my sign language version of “I Never Saw a Purple Cow” to rave reviews.

Whenever one of us kids wanted to learn something, she made it happen (although I don’t quite know how she did that–we were on such a tight budget). We all got various music lessons and went to camps.  As a very young kid, I wanted to go into theatre. She enrolled me in acting lessons and camps and classes and then later drove me to community theatres all over our small town to get to and from rehearsal. Finally, when I was about 15, she got me a moped because she needed the freedom to drive my younger siblings to all of their things, too. I grew up knowing that I would succeed at anything I wanted to engage with. I hope that I’m helping Girlfriend to do the same thing.

My mom also allowed me to have free rein in the kitchen. At certain points in her life, she was an avid cook–and had even belonged to a cookbook club when we were really young. I remember standing on a stool in the kitchen one afternoon and helping her to roll dolmades for the “Greek” night at her cookbook club. As long as I can remember, she let me experiment as much as I wanted to in the kitchen. And there were many cookbooks to help me along. I did have an Easy Bake oven for awhile, but that didn’t last long for me.  I wanted to bake “real” things.  I would peruse the cookbooks at nap time (I was an odd kid) and then go into the kitchen and work on recipes I thought looked fun. When I was very little, I had to climb up on top of the counters to get to the cupboards. To this day I can feel the cold counter linoleum on my knees as a hoisted myself up.

Of course, as a kid, most of the recipes that appealed to me were baked items–cookies and cakes–so I worked on those. For a long stretch of time in my elementary school years, our oven was broken and we didn’t have the money to fix it. That didn’t bother me–I just fried the cookies on top of the stove. And I made lots and lots of pancakes. At one point I tried to rig up a stove top oven using cookie sheets formed into a box shape–I don’t think that was very successful. I made do with whatever ingredients I could find in the cupboards.  For the most part, it was fairly well-stocked kitchen in the scheme of things–all of the basics were there–but I used substitutions if necessary.  For example, there was never any vanilla extract in the cupboards, so I just learned to use vanilla beans that were there–which made my cookies and pancakes look a bit odd to me, but they tasted good so I didn’t care.

Of course, when my mom died, it was devastating for all of us. But, it also felt oddly right somehow. She burned so brightly that she burned out sooner than others. I still miss her fiercely and am sad that Girlfriend never got a chance to meet her Grandma Barbara. But, she is with me in spirit and I’m grateful to have been able to call her my mom.

To enter the giveaway: leave a comment telling me something awesome about being a mom yourself or about your own mom or mother-in-law. Please leave a comment by 11 pm PST on Monday, May 6, 2013. I will choose a name at random using the Random Number Generator and contact you via email if you are the winner!

The winner, chosen by the Random Number Generator is Gloria!  I’ve sent an email to her.  Thank you so much for your lovely and moving stories about the moms in your life and about being a mom and a grandma.  I so loved reading them.

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Just to let you know that I will be teaching the following class this summer!

Pasta, Gnocchi, and Dumplings, Gluten-Free

Join Jeanne Sauvage, author of the blog Art of Gluten-Free Baking, as she explains the secrets behind creating exceptional gluten-free doughs. The right ingredients, techniques, and equipment are crucial to creating pastas and dumplings that taste just like you remember the wheat-filled originals. In this class you will revisit the basics of classic doughs in order to understand the challenges and foundations of gluten-free cooking as you learn to make gluten-free pasta with basil–pine nut pestogluten-free potato gnocchi with tomato-porcini saucegluten-free dumplings in a chicken-vegetable soup. Jeanne will teach you how to choose the right ingredients for your desired textures, and how to avoid cross contamination with gluten-full items.

The Pantry at Delancey, July 20th OR July 21st, 2013, 6:30-9:30 pm, $70
Registration (register early–these classes fill up quickly!)

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