Monthly Archives: October 2011

Monday Trivia

What has more feathers than a Vegas act…

is encased in highly flammable material…

and is always prepared to do a little gardening?

We’ll get right to the point tomorrow.


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Apple Cake: Gluten vs. Gluten-Free

Gluten or gluten-free?

I honestly can’t tell.

Chances are that if we crossed paths in the last couple of weeks, then you were the unwitting recipient of a slice or two or nine of apple pie. I came into a lot of apples after a trip to Plain, Washington. We’d never been there, and let me say that it was just plain beautiful.

I’m sorry. It couldn’t be helped. You try to go without making your own pun. It’s just plain impossible.

Anyway, after making bags of apple sauce with one of my favorite people, I still went home with two heaping bags of apples.

So I made apple cake from this delicious recipe from Taste of Home. It’s quick, easy, doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, and very tasty.

And for the first time in many months, I baked with wheat flour.

I have to admit that there was something so familiar, and therefore comforting, about pulling that bag of wheat flour off the pantry shelf. For one thing, I didn’t have to mix my gluten-free flours. Instead, I simply opened one bag. I didn’t have to worry about binders or crumb or flavor, as I do when I mix gluten-free flours. I didn’t wring my hands in front of the oven door and turn on the oven light to examine the cake’s progress every two minutes.

Dang, I thought, as I baked cake after cake, this is easy. And cheap.

But where’s the challenge in that? So I decided to see how easily this recipe could be modified to make it gluten-free.

Very easily, it turned out. I just substituted gluten-free flour by weight (I’m currently loving a blend of 1 cup white rice flour, 3/4 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup sweet white sorghum flour, 2/3 cup potato starch, and 1/3 cup tapioca flour) and added an extra egg to act as a binder since we stay away from xanthan gum.

Mixer bowl full of cake batter made with wheat flour:

Mixer bowl full of cake batter made with gluten-free flour:

Pretty noticeable difference here, but once the cakes were baked and set side by side, you really couldn’t tell which was which. And as far as taste goes, maybe Nacho Man and I are just getting used to it, but we preferred the taste and texture of the gluten-free cake.

Or maybe that was just the sweet taste of success I was enjoying. Because as good as it feels to know that you can count on a recipe to produce a good cake, it feels even better to know that with a little tweaking, that recipe will produce a good cake that the gluten-free people in your life can enjoy.

Will it always be this easy? Is the point of gluten-free baking simply to substitute gluten-free flours and hope for something that reminds you of a good “regular” cake or cookie? No. But when something works, I say go for it.

Check out the Taste of Home website if you want to make the cake with wheat flour. For our tastes, the recipe made enough butter sauce to frost two cakes.

Gluten-Free Apple Cake with Caramel Frosting (adapted from Taste of Home)

serves 9


5 1/8 ounces gluten-free flour mix (1 cup + 2 teaspoons of my gluten-free mix)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 medium apples, cored, peeled, and shredded

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

3. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.

4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in apples and walnuts.

5. Pour into a greased 9×9″ baking pan and bake approximately 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Drizzle with caramel frosting while still warm. This is one cake that’s okay to frost and serve warm.

Caramel Frosting


1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup half-and-half


1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugars and half-and-half. Stir constantly. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Pair with Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story, by Anna Egan Smucker and Kathleen Kemly. It’s based on the true story of two brothers from Missouri whose search for a delicious new variety of apple took them to the apple tree of Anderson Mullins in West Virginia. A fun information book that reads like a story.

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Zoo Stew

Things to love about fall in Seattle:

1. It’s sweater weather.

2. It’s soup weather.

3. Apple pickin.’ More on that later.

4. The Woodland Park Zoo is, for those glorious weeks after the end of summer vacation and the start of field trips, almost entirely ours.

As much as I love sweaters and soup, I’m giddy about Number 4. For us, no trip to the zoo is complete without a lengthy stop at the flamingo hangout, a visit to all the big cats, and a hello to the bears and otters. On our last visit, we happened to hit the Komodo dragon exhibit at feeding time.

We’re as hungry as the Komodo dragons after we come home from the zoo. So we like to have zoo stew.

Zoo stew does not contain zoo meat. Though you can tell your kids it does if that makes it more appealing to them.

The idea is that you throw this in a crock pot and let it do its business while you’re at the zoo. That way, you educate your children and make a healthy, comforting, homemade meal all in the same day. Go you.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute 1 large chicken breast that’s been cubed. When it’s nearly cooked, add half a large onion that you’ve diced and 1 red or orange pepper, also diced. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic a few minutes later. This is also a good time to add 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the pan. Stir everything well, and add a little chicken or vegetable stock if your meat and vegetables are sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Then, pour in half a bottle of beer (not that apricot flavored stuff) and 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and marvel at how it deglazes the pan and helps create a delicious sauce.

It’s a shame to let that other half a beer go to waste, but you’re about to load the kids into the car. If you absolutely can’t let it go, then make this dish on the stove top when you get home and treat yourself to a little Happy Hour. You’ll have earned it after your field trip.

Transfer the contents of your skillet to a crock pot. Add 2 Yukon Gold potatoes that you’ve peeled and cubed, 1 cup of dried white beans that you’ve soaked overnight or cooked on the stove top until they’re fork tender (or use canned beans), 1 4-ounce can of roasted chiles, 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes that you’ve drained, and a couple of bay leaves. Cover and set the crock pot to low heat.

Have fun at the zoo.

Right before you’re ready to serve your Zoo Stew, do something that separates the good moms from the fun moms.

Toss in a handful of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard.

If the kids complain, remind them that you took them to the zoo. Or ask them to imitate how a Komodo dragon eats spinach.

(Komodo dragons don’t really eat spinach. We saw what they eat. And it definitely isn’t spinach.)

Zoo Stew

serves 4


1 large chicken breast, cubed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

half a large onion, diced

1 red or orange pepper, diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock

half a bottle of beer

1 cup of dried white beans that have been soaked overnight or cooked until they are fork tender

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 4-ounce can of roasted chiles

1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained

2 bay leaves

1 cup spinach, kale, or Swiss chard

salt to taste

pepper to taste


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then the cubed chicken. Saute for several minutes, stirring often.

2. Add the onion and red or orange pepper. Add the garlic when the onion has become opaque. Add the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Add a little water or stock to the pan to prevent sticking.

3. Add the beer and stock and stir well.

4. Pour contents of skillet into a crock pot. Add potatoes, beans, tomatoes, green chiles, and bay leaf. Simmer on low for several hours, or until beans and potatoes are done. Add the greens and continue cooking until they are wilted.

5. Remove bay leaves before serving soup.

6. Pair with a great zoo book. Here are some of Rue’s favorites: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Class Two at the Zoo, The Dumb Bunnies Go To the Zoo, Life-Size Zoo, Pssst!, Mud City, and Sylvie.

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Roasted Tomatoes

Someone in Seattle got enough sunshine over the summer to grow tomatoes.

My newly-back-to-work mom has quickly made some friends, and one of those friends had a prolific tomato-growing season.

I decided to roast them and make sauce to freeze, so that later this year we can enjoy that taste of the summer that mostly eluded us.

Slice up a bunch of tomatoes and pat off some of the juice. Throw in a few whole cloves of garlic, peels still on. Drizzle with olive oil–I promise that the olive oil in the above photo actually made its way onto the tomatoes–then sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you want, you can add a bit of sugar or balsamic vinegar.

Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until everything looks well cooked.

These are roasted tomatoes, Instagram style.

Do you know about Instagram? It makes me look like the photographer I so am not. And it’s FREE.

I decided to throw our roasted tomatoes into the food processor for a minute, along with the garlic that just slides out of the peels at this point. You can season your sauce with Italian seasonings or fresh basil and parsley, if you’d like.

It makes great pizza sauce. I also served it over roasted spaghetti squash and garnished it with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. It looks like spaghetti but the spaghetti squash is crunchy and the roasted tomato sauce isn’t as heavy as marinara.

But enough about what I think. I’ve devoted an entire blog to what I think. I put the dish on the table and let the judging commence.

And here are the results:

Nacho Man: big thumbs up. Practically ate seconds out of the serving dish.

Lupe: thumb at three o’clock

Rue: “Can I have bread and butter?”

You know what? It’s becoming part of the repertoire while we still have the tomatoes. I’d like to see ’em beg for fresh roasted tomato sauce when I pop open a jar of Ragu come February.

Baked Spaghetti Squash


1. Wash and poke the skin of a 2-3 pound spaghetti squash. Place into a glass baking dish  and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, or until you can insert a knife without too much resistance.

2. Carefully remove the spaghetti squash from the baking dish and set it on a cutting board. When it’s cool enough to handle, slice it open horizontally and scoop out the seeds and stringy insides.

3. Gently scrape the pulp with a fork.

Roasted Tomato Sauce


enough whole tomatoes to fill a baking sheet, washed, sliced, and patted dry

olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, peels on

1 teaspoon salt

black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

balsamic vinegar (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange the tomato slices and garlic cloves on a baking sheet.

2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar (if desired).

3. Bake until tomatoes are cooked to your preferred doneness, and garlic cloves are very tender.

4. Put roasted tomatoes and garlic cloves (peels removed) in a food processor.

5. Season with herbs as desired.


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Now what?

I did the unthinkable.

I voluntarily left a good-paying part-time job in the middle of a recession, or a double-dip recession, depending on who you talk to.

Did I mention that I loved that job?

Nacho Man didn’t get a raise, I didn’t win the lottery (after all, you have to play to win), and we didn’t suddenly come into an inheritance.

I don’t think I need to have my head examined. The fault lies with my heart.

My heart’s gotten sentimental about the fact that my children are suddenly eleven and five years old, which doesn’t seem right or possible. It’s gotten possessive and wants to experience all of the ups and downs of the days and years to come. It also wants me to have the presence of mind and sole focus I’ve claimed is so important but haven’t truly practiced. That means no more thinking about story times while Lupe and Rue are trying to talk to me; no more surreptitious e-mail checks from home.

No more of that.

But I’m still going to need something for myself. I’ve been mulling over some possibilities:

1. More couch time. It sure looks comfortable. The kids throw the cushions at each other on a regular basis and they bounce right off, so I’m guessing it’s pretty soft. It might be the perfect place to curl up with a book…oh, wait. I didn’t have time to do that when I was a librarian and people thought I got paid to read.

2. Domicile perfection. Oh please. You can’t improve on perfection.

3. Sleek physique. Ruled out for the same reason cited in Number 2.

4. Uber blogger. Now that’s something I could get behind. Blogging is fun. I love giving a regular dose of wit and you tens of you love receiving it.

5. More enrichment with the girls. Considering how the whole “Mommy School” thing is going, I should probably put more energy into this one.

6. More cooking and baking. Um, yes please!

7. Sewing. There’s good reason to get to work on this, but we’ll chat more about that in upcoming posts.

So basically, I’m interested in relaxing, running an efficient household, running, writing, spending quality time with my family, eating well, and crafting.

So now you can see why I couldn’t be bothered with a paying job.

But from the looks of things, neither could Ms. Bitty. As my story time mascot, she has given out thousands of high fives over the years. Apparently, it’s enough already.

I’d like to borrow that when you’re done, Ms. Bitty.


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I’ve been at this for nearly six months now, and if you take everything I post as absolute truth, then I look like a pretty fool-proof cook and baker. But if you’ve been reading this since the very beginning, then it’s safe to say that we’re no longer in the early dating phase of our relationship. I’m committed, you’re committed, and the ugly truths are about to seep out.

You know how some foods sound amazing in your mind, but get lost on the rambling road to actual meal? It not, then meet my black bean and yam enchilada filling.

What are the odds that both eggs would have double yolks? Slimmer than the odds that I’d manage to break one.

Snickerdoodles. I mean, SNICKERDOODLE.

Buttermilk biscuit. This actually looks more like a snickerdoodle than the actual snickerdoodles.

Jackson Pollock country gravy.

Then, I went into my gorgonzola cheese period.

Gorgonzola dressing. This looked way hotter in my imagination.

Now, anyone with any sense would have stopped there. But I saw it through to the bitter end:

Look at how my sausage is actually  leaning away from it. Like it’s class picture day and it doesn’t want to stand too close to the kid with the yucky stuff on his shirt.

Pretty bad. But look here. It’s a happy face. That can’t be so awful, can it?

Gluten-free samosa dough. I can guarantee you that no one was smiling after we ate them. Still, it’s nice to end on a happy note.


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