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Imagine that you are a foodie of epic proportions. You spend all your time making food, eating food, or thinking about making or eating food. Your mailbox is regularly filled with issues of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines. Browsing the cheese section at Whole Foods is your idea of a good time. You’re convinced that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, because that’s the way to yours.
Now imagine that you are also long-plagued with mysterious medical ailments and that you have noticed strange symptoms randomly take hold of your body. You drift from doctor to doctor, who all brush you off or look at you like you’ve gone senile, until one comes up with an answer that actually makes sense: you have food allergies. Not only do you have food allergies but you are also (gasp!) gluten intolerant!
Quel horror! What a disaster. Can a worse fate befall such a committed foodie?
No. I am here to tell you that it cannot.
Not long ago I was sharing some pate de campagne on crusty French bread with a foodie friend. We were rolling our eyes and mocking all the poor souls who claimed to have all sorts of food allergies, intolerances, and enzyme deficiencies. We agreed that these people actually suffered from food phobias that were manifestations of a deep-seated fear of gaining weight or dying from cancer. We also agreed that these people were generally a pain to eat with.
Now I am one of those people.
I have been told that I am intolerant of several foods, some of which I rarely or never eat–like kidney beans and cola nuts. Other things I gorged on daily, in one form or another, like wheat, milk, and eggs. Not surprising, since these items all fall in the list of top seven allergens. But excuse me! How do you live a life void wheat, milk, and eggs without moving to the Himalayas and subsisting on brown rice and yak butter?
For the last couple of months I have been finding out how.
The first week of my avoidance diet was a living hell. I found myself repeatedly breaking down in tears or throwing pans across the kitchen a la Gordon Ramsey, wondering what in the world I was going to eat. No more pasta carbonara. No more Quiche Lorraine. No more almond croissants the size of baseball mitts. Soon I pulled myself together, however. I was feeling so lousy and nothing else had helped that I told myself I had to give this an honest try.
I began by eating foods that were naturally gluten-free. I bought Egg Replacer and found a delicious Greek style yogurt made from goat’s milk. I switched to Manchego cheese, the deliciously pungent Spanish cheese made from the milk of sheep. Slowly I began to find my way.
The first month I felt terrible. I actually felt even worse than I had before. But after five weeks, six weeks, I began to feel amazingly well. I bounded out of bed with energy. I smiled more. My belly no longer looked like I was carrying around a five-month-old fetus. I even lost some of the weight that I’d been finding so impossible to get rid of.
I don’t know if I totally buy into this food allergy thing. I think that very few people have actual food allergies but sensitivities seem to be another issue altogether. Because our food is grown in such depleted soil and so many of us are exposed to chemicals and pollution that even environmental allergies are increasing exponentially, it makes sense that many of us would react to certain foods. I don’t know if I am willing and able to cut out all these cherished foods forever, but knowing that I feel so much better when I do has made it so much easier to stay away from them. Furthermore, the couple of times I have cheated, I broke out with hives on my face, which makes those little cheats seem hardly worth it.
For weeks I have sat here wondering how I was going to continue to post on my blog. I didn’t want to change the format or the content. I didn’t want to become another gluten-free blog. The great thing about blogging, though, is that I have expanded my repertoire and have learned to look at food in broader terms. There is a lot you can eat even if you can’t eat wheat or dairy. Even old favorites can be revamped with a little bit of ingenuity and know-how. (Also, I still cook for other people and see no reason to deprive them. You’ll continue to find those recipes here.)
Not knowing if I could forgo my daily baked good, I did a fair amount of research in gluten-free baking, which lead me to Annalise Roberts’ wonderful book Gluten-Free Baking Classics. Annalise has come up with a blend of flours that substitute beautifully for wheat flour in a lot of recipes. Many of the things I have made from this book have been a close approximation of the “real thing”. In fact, Gourmet magazine once wrote about this book … “we dare anyone to detect that they [chocolate chip cookies] weren’t made with traditional wheat flour”.
I don’t know if I would go that far in terms of these scones, but when faced with the prospect of going without, I would say that for gluten-free, they’re pretty dang good.
Annalise Roberts’ Gluten-Free Baking Mix
2 parts brown rice flour (i.e. 2 cups)
2/3 part potato starch (i.e. 2/3 cup)
1/3 part tapioca starch (i.e. 1/3 cup)
Gluten-Free Cranberry Scones
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 cups rice flour mix (see above)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
1) Preheat oven to 425F. Position rack in center of oven. Line heavy baking sheet with parchment paper.
2) Combine milk and cranberries in a glass measuring cup and set aside.
3) Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt in a large bowl of an electric mixer. With mixer on low, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Alternately, use a food processor. Put mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
4) Beat eggs in the same large bowl of electric mixer until very light and foamy. Add milk and flour mixture and mix at medium-low speed for 1 minute. Use lightly floured hands to pat dough into a large 1-inch thick round on a lightly floured surface. Cut out scones with a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter or a glass. Press dough scraps together and repeat.
5) Place dough on prepared baking sheet and put in center of oven. Turn oven temperature down to 375F and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and cooked through. Serve with warm butter or preserves.
Makes about 9-10 scones.
Note: When measuring the flour mix, do not scoop up flours with measuring cups as this will pack the flour down too much. Measure each flour by scooping it into the measuring cup and leveling with a straight edge. Measuring accurately is even more crucial in GF recipes than in others. Combine all of the flours in a plastic container and shake to combine. Large amounts of flour can be mixed for later. The flour mix is best kept refrigerated, as it can go rancid after four months or so.
Last Saturday I actually baked something fabulous. This was a very big deal. I never bake anything fabulous. Maybe decent. Maybe tasty-but-ugly. But never fabulous. At least, I never think of it that way. This is partly because of my over-arching perfectionism. I’m no pastry chef but I always expect to bake like one. Last week saw a good couple of disasters in the kitchen, which is why I haven’t posted much of anything lately. I bungled a lemon yogurt cake and some cupcakes I made ended up largely in the garbage.
I had been thinking about making Ina Garten’s recipe for Cheddar-dill scones for ages. I’d been wanting to bake something savory, something different from what I ordinarily bake. The thing is, I’m generally not a fan of scones. The handful of times I’ve bought one at a coffee shop I was disappointed. They were so dry and crumbly that I needed a huge cup of tea to wash them down with, and they were often stale. Ina Garten, I reasoned, would not let me down. Almost everything I have made from the two recipe books of hers that I own has turned out wonderfully. The one caveat is that I think she often uses an excessive amount of fat. This recipe, for example, calls for a cup of heavy cream. I substituted the cream with buttermilk, not sure what the result would be, but take my word for it–the scones were amazing. I couldn’t stop eating them. In fact, I gobbled down six of them while they were still warm. Six! Granted I halved the recipe and made small scones–my stab at portion control–but still …
Needless to say, I spent a very long time on the treadmill the next day.
Ina Garten’s Cheddar-Dill Scones
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Makes 16 large scones
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 pound sharp yellow Cheddar cheese
1 cup minced fresh dill
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
coarse sea salt
1) Preheat oven to 400F. Combine the flour, the baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
2) Toss together the Cheddar and dill with 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture in a separate bowl.
3) Mix the eggs and buttermilk and quickly add to the flour mixture. Combine until just blended. Incorporate the Cheddar and dill.
4) Dump the dough on a well-floured surface and knead for 1 minute, adding more flour if needed, to prevent sticking. Roll the dough into a 3/4 inch thick square. Cut into four squares and then in half to make triangles.
5) Brush the tops with egg wash. Sprinkle each scone with the coarse salt. Bake on a sheet lined with parchment paper for 20-25 minutes until crusty and golden.