As I finished up my breakfast yesterday morning, I heaved a heavy sigh, placing my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. My heart felt heavy.
My heart hadn't felt that heavy since last year, when fires took over the country of Greece. I ached for the loss of lives, the loss of homes, and the loss of farms, vegetation, and animals. The face of Greece was changed for many decades to come due to the work of arsonists. It was the kind of heavy heart that could only come from tragic “world” events, about which I could do nothing.
Yesterday, my heavy heart came from a conglomeration of events... the attacks in Mumbi, the possibility of increasing tensions between Pakistan and India (both nuclear powers), the 600-point drop in the markets the day before, and the announcement that OHSU is on a hiring freeze. All of this was on the news Monday night, giving a feeling of impending doom for all of us.
I am usually a news-addict. After years of living alone, I got in the habit of watching the news in the morning while eating breakfast and getting ready as well as in the evening while eating dinner. I grew up in a household of five, in which we ate meals together. Eating alone was somehow made tolerable by watching the news – my news-anchor family was always there to talk at me. (Unfortunately for Ben, this means I have the news on a lot more than he is used to). However, Ben had last week off from work, so we spent a lot of time doing other things and didn't see much of the news.
When I finally got caught up this week, the world felt pretty brutal.
I immediately thought of the SNL skit aired during the election campaign – the one where “President Bush” holds the news conference in the evening because every time he talks during the day, the stock market “goes in the crapper.” In that skit, “President Bush” is also surprised to learn his low approval ratings, stating he was previously ignorant to his ratings and, in general, world events because he had declared the oval office, “a bummer-free zone.”
I want a bummer-free zone.
Last week, like I said, Ben had the week off of work, so we did a lot of nothing – like a good vacation should be. We ran errands together, I graded papers, he recorded music, I baked (a lot), he painted, and we made dinners together. We also went for a couple of walks together – one to see the big tree in downtown Portland (Portland's version of the big tree in New York City). We watched movies, some Christmas movies, put up our Christmas tree, and celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than that, we just sort of lazed the time away, sleeping in and enjoying coffee and breakfast longer than usual.
We will be going to visit Ben's family over Christmas. Since this is not only my first gluten free Christmas, but also my first family get-together with Ben's family, I am feeling a little nervous about the whole thing (to say the least). Like most families, Ben's family likes to bake cookies at Christmas, and, in particular, they typically make sugar cookie cutouts.
Knowing this, I have taken it upon myself to figure out a good flour combination to make sugar cookies that look and feel and taste just like the gluteny-version. I have to be honest and say I agonized over my first test batch for at least a day – looking online for other GF recipes, to see what they suggest. In the end, I discovered that most (in fact, I think all) recipes called for a disappointingly vague “Gluten free flour” or they called for “rice flour.” “Hmmm...,” I thought, “These will not do.”
So, I decided to simplify. Just as I did for my gluten free pizza crust, I took a look at my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (yes, a regular, old cookbook) to see what the recipe for regular, gluteny sugar cookies listed. Then, I improvised, armed with my knowledge of gluten-free flour.
I chose coconut flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. I added a touch of xanthan gum. I followed the Better Homes and Gardens recipe. I did a dance of joy when I took them out of the oven.
They looked and smelled beautiful!
We never got around to decorating them with icing. At Thanksgiving, Ben and a friend of his ate what was left of the batch – two gluten-eaters.
Speaking of, I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, celebrated with friends or family (or both). I made my first home-made pumpkin pie - which also happened to be my first gluten-free pie!
And, may you have a bummer-free zone, at least while you are baking :)
Gluten-free, dairy-free sugar cookie cutouts:
These cookies turn out with the perfect texture! I like my sugar cookies crispy on the outside and soft and cake-like inside. If you like yours crispy throughout, I think rolling them a little thinner might just do the trick. The only detectable difference between these and the gluteny version is a slight bit of grainy texture at the very end of chewing and swallowing them. My guess is that using either white rice flour or a fine grain rice flour would eliminate this. Or, try Sorghum flour in place of the rice flour.
¾ cup brown rice flour ¼ cup coconut flour ½ cup tapioca flour ½ cup millet flour ½ cup butter, room temperature ¾ cup turbinado sugar 1 egg 1 tsp vanilla ¾ tsp xanthan gum ¼ tsp salt 1 tsp baking powder 2 tablespoons any milk (I used hazelnut, but any will do)
In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.
In another bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar using your mixer or hand-beaters.
Add egg, vanilla, and a tablespoon of milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time until incorporated (you may need to take your hands to it if your mixer can’t take the dough).
Add another tablespoon or so of milk if mixture appears too dry. The dough should be moist, but not sticky at all.
Place dough on a sheet of cling wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap up the dough with the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can go overnight as well).
Use white rice flour to roll out the dough to about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters.
Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. When done, the edges will be firm and the cookies will be slightly golden on the bottom.
*If you are baking these for a gluten-free loved one, in a gluten-containing kitchen, be sure mixers and beaters are cleaned of any previous baking residue and place a sheet of parchment paper between your rolling pin and the dough when you are rolling it out.