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28 January 2006

ooey-gooey goodness

gf choc chip cookie IV, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sometimes, you just need some chocolate chip cookies.

For the past four or five days, I have been trying my best not to complain. I have also not been writing here, even though I have wanted to post new recipes and delighted paragraphs about the sensory pleasures of new tastes exploding on my tongue. The problem is, there haven’t been too many new tastes on my tongue. I’ve hardly eaten food this week, and what I have eaten has been bland.

Oh, I hate being sick.

A vile virus has rushed through my body and left me depleted. Raw throat, pounding head, congestion clogging every part of me, and a pounding of exhaustion I have not felt since before I stopped eating gluten. I’ve spent much of the past week either coughing from deep in my lungs or whimpering. On Wednesday, I lay in a fetal position in a corner of the couch, all day long, so delusional from high fevers that I actually spent six straight hours watching Project Runway on Bravo. (That Santino -- what a twerp.) When I’m watching television for more than an hour, I’m clearly not doing well.

Last night was the low point. About 3:30 in the morning, I was awoken, again, by my sore throat, which felt like three people raking hot forks against my vocal cords. My fever forced me to kick off the covers, frantically. The lukewarm water by my bedside did nothing to mollify the tearing pain in my throat. Groggy and unhappy, I stumbled into the bathroom to search under the sink for some kind of sore throat relief. Ah! Ricola. I found five old Ricola cough drops, swollen and sticky against the wrappers. Still, they’d probably do the trick. Just as I was unwrapping one and starting to put it into my mouth, I realized, “Ah merde. I don’t know if this is gluten-free.” So I put on my glasses and fired up the internet, and searched for “Ricola gluten-free.” Thanks to the internet, I found out — nope, I couldn’t have that relief after all.

Why do cough drops need gluten?

So, in the face of this senseless suffering, there haven’t been too many lavish feasts around here. But there were chocolate chip cookies.

It seems that everyone else in the food blog world is eschewing baked goods, sugars, and starches. Well, not me. It’s still raining in Seattle, and I’m not eating much anyway. Might as well make the most of the bites I am having. On Wednesday, I made a homemade chicken soup with millet, which filled me well and fulfilled my desire to have some kind of hot liquid down my throat all day long. By the end of the day, the millet had expanded fully and became a chicken-millet stew. That was one day.

On Thursday morning, when I felt just a touch better, I woke up and knew I had to make some chocolate chip cookies. When I was a kid, I learned how to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch, based on the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag. Over the years, I perfected cookie baking: thin, crispy cookies with a brittle bite; enormous cookies that called for me to set aside everything else and simply savor them; chewy cookies that oozed a bit of chocolate on my tongue. My oatmeal raisin cookies were considered so outrageously chewy, tasting of hand-made love and nutmeg, that I once Fed-Exed a big box of them overnight to someone with whom I was hopelessly in love. (It didn’t work out with him, but that wasn’t the fault of the cookies.) Before I stopped eating gluten, I could wake up any morning and whip up a batch of cookies to bring to work or feed my friends, without even thinking about it too much.

After my celiac diagnosis, though, I gave up on the notion of making my own cookies again. I took my Pillsbury baking book, dusted with flour, the pages stuck together with butter, and gave it to my friend, Dorothy. Obviously, I’d never be using that again.

Watch out for never.

It took me months of cooking every night, finding my way through my tastes, until I had the heart to start baking again. Now, however, I just can’t be stopped. Fig newtons, apple pies, gingerbread, chocolate-banana bread — gluten-free baking simply doesn’t scare me anymore. Now, it’s simply baking.

Maybe, in the face of feeling foreign in my body, I needed to return to a familiar activity. The dark-grey winter seems to call out for butter, sugar, and flour, even if it is gluten-free flour. Even though I still feel fairly rotten, these cookies have been sustaining me in a way that nothing else can.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go and drink some more hot lemonade.

Ooey-Gooey Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

gf choc chip cookie VI
Slightly cakey, chewy and moist, chocolate arriving in melted chunks — these cookies are sure to please anyone, not just those who can’t eat gluten. Just one piece of advice: don’t forget to add the salt. For those of you who don’t know, a touch of salt is essential in baking cookies, to cut the sweetness and give each bite layers of taste. Somehow, even with all this baking experience, I forgot to add the salt into the first batch of these. My friends Anne and Rick came up with the trick to defeat the over-sweetness, however: we sprinkled sea salt on the top of the cookies before chewing them. This may sound ridiculous, but we were sighing happily as we ate.

one and a half cups sweet rice flour
one-half cup tapioca flour
one-quarter cup millet flour
one-quarter cup teff flour
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon baking powder
two teaspoons salt
one stick salted butter, softened
one-half cup brown sugar
one cup white sugar
one-half cup Dagoba hot chocolate powder with chilis
three eggs
one tablespoon vanilla extract
four ounces dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°. If you have one, lay down your Silpat on your baking sheet. If you don’t, then you should buy one. But for now, line the baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix together all the gluten-free flours (remember to measure them accurately, since every ounce counts here), plus the baking powder and soda. Don’t forget the salt! Set this bowl aside.

Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, cream the butter, sugars, and hot chocolate powder together, briefly, until they are mixed well and starting to grow fluffy. (This should be about two minutes.) Add the eggs and gluten-free vanilla. Put in all of the flour mixture at once and stir briefly, until just mixed. Add the chocolate chunks, then chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least fifteen minutes.

For the right ooey-gooey consistency, plop large balls of dough, about half the size of the palm of your hand, onto the Silpat or parchment paper. Bake for about twelve to fourteen minutes, depending on your oven. When you remove the cookies, the tops will be ever-so-soft. Allow them to cool on a baking sheet for ten minutes before removing to a plate, or your mouth.

23 January 2006

bursting with happiness

FRESH TOMATILLOES, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Hey everyone.

I just wanted to write to say: thank you.

I found out this morning that my little website won Best Food Blog -- Theme -- in the Food Blog Awards, 2005. Gosh! This moves me, deeply, and makes me more than a little giddy.

Of course, I'm pleased for myself, but keeping the blog is its own reward. There have been so many connections with wonderful people, sweet stories, and wonderful surprises since I started this site in July. Not to mention a lot of great meals. I'm certain that keeping this site for all of you has spurred me onto greater heights of cooking than I would have reached had it just been me, alone, in the kitchen. You have all been here with me as I write. You're welcome here any time. Mostly, I'm thrilled for all of you who can't eat gluten either. Thank you for all your emails and comments, saying that I have inspired you and pushed you to eating better food. That, for me, is the best reward. That's why I'm here. And with this award, it's really gratifying to have the way we need to eat feel more recognized in this society.

Thank you, all of you, for your votes. And for listening to me prattle about the fears and exultations of this process. I'm eternally yours.


19 January 2006

the joy of biting down on that crust

Madwoman pizza, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I was a kid, pizza brought a certain set of sense memories: small round pepperoni slices, curled up at the edges, orange oil pooled in each one, crowded together on a thin layer of cheese. Mostly, we ate frozen pizza when I was growing up. Cardboard-tasting crusts. Toppings that refused to move, even when we bit down on them. Runty and unsatisfying simulacrums of the pizza I knew must be possible in the world, even if I had never eaten it.

The best evenings were when we found out we were going to Shakey’s pizza, for sizzling-hot pizzas delivered to our table, with the sound of pinball machines -- and later Ms. Pac Man and Frogger -- surrounding us as we ate. Maybe we had just finished a big soccer game, or my parents couldn’t stand another night in the house. Either way, I was happy. Thin crust that crackled when I bit it, slightly burnt at the edges. Those stamped-out pepperonis. Or little greasy crumbles of sausage, evenly brown, filled with fat. I seem to remember my brother going through a period when he would only eat plain cheese pizza -- was this also when he would only wear beige clothing or khaki pants? -- so I ate my fair share of that.

Later, we moved up to Round Table pizza, where the crust was far more doughy, and we graduated to green peppers or Canadian bacon and pineapple for toppings, and ordered from menus with vaguely Arthurian themes. If we worked at it, we’d save a few pieces to take home, to eat cold for breakfast the next morning, all the salt pooled at the top, the cheese congealed into a hard mass, the pepperonis curled up almost entirely into themselves -- and all was right with the world for a few moments. How exciting to open that massive cardboard box and see the smear of tomato sauce and the bits of cheese sticking to the top.

It didn’t seem to matter just how bad the pizza was. I just loved the cheesy goodness. Eventually, I did have to draw the line at the pizza from the lunch room at my high school, which came in soggy squares and so much oil on the top that we had to wipe it off with paper napkins, which immediately became transparent from the amount of fat they soaked up. This is the place that also served us french fries so greasy we could actually wring them out like dishcloths. No wonder I ate a Yoplait yogurt and an It’s It bar for lunch every day of my senior year.

Still, I loved pizza. When I grew into adulthood, I ate increasingly great pizzas. And some were deeply memorable. Like the thin-crust, hot-from-the-oven slice I ate in Florence, Italy, just off the Piazza Santa della Croce. I was there alone for the weekend, not knowing a word of Italian, in the middle of February, when there were no other tourists. I didn’t speak to anyone for three days, which was like a lonely meditation retreat in the middle of Italy. But I could point to a slice and smile. This slice restored me to myself: the bite of the garlic; the supple depth of the tomato sauce; the fresh mozzarella better than any I had ever tasted. I sat at a table by myself, outside the cafe, waiting for a hail storm to stop, looking out over the piazza, eating my pizza, utterly at peace.

There was the evening my dear friend Sharon and I ate an entire deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East, in Chicago. We sat in a weathered wooden booth, exhausted from a day of driving, on our trip across the country. Five days into it, we had settled into a routine: eating, telling stories, and laughing. While we waited for our pizza to arrive, we looked around at the names carved into the walls, the black-and-white photos of Italian stars from the 50s, and talked about childhood friends. Sharon laughed so hard at the name of my favorite kindergarten friend that I suddenly realized just how funny her name had been. And there, the main character for my novel was born. When the pizza arrived, we were punch drunk with laughing and driving and knowing each other so deeply. When we bit down into the depths of that sauce and cheese and mushrooms and red peppers and the heat and the joy of it and the bottom of the pliable crust, we both looked up at each other, our mouths full, our eyes wide, and said at the same time, “Oh my god.”

Finally, there were the thousand gorgeous slices of pizza I have eaten at Sal and Carmine’s, on 101st and Broadway, just across the street from my apartment building in Manhattan. Coming home after a long day of exploring, writing, and gallivanting, I’d emerge from the subway at 103rd. If the air biting at my hands and cheeks was particularly cruel, I’d have to stop in for a hot slice before I ducked into my building and ascended the elevator to my apartment. A long sliver of a store, with little-to-no decoration, Sal and Carmine’s was only there to sell pizzas. Slices, mostly. I’d order one (or two) cheese slices and wait. With this pizza, I was perfectly content with merely cheese. This was no beige pizza. Sal (or Carmine; I couldn’t keep them straight) grunted hello, then turned toward the large ovens, and expertly slid out my slice and slipped it onto a white paper plate. He’d smack the brown paper bag with a flick of his wrist, for clearly the five thousandth time, and it would make a satisfying “pop” as it opened to the room. Then, he’d slide in my slice and hand it to me. I’d open the bag again to sprinkle hot peppers all over it, and throw in a couple of napkins. He’d slide me a Dr. Brown’s root beer, and I’d wave goodbye. Sometimes, I’d even wait until I’d crossed the street before I’d take a bite. But most of the time, I’d walk across Broadway with an enormous slice of pizza, folded over, hovering above my mouth.

When I first out I couldn’t eat gluten, I knew that I’d be fine, because I didn’t want to be that sick, ever again. But what about pizza? I thought I’d just never eat it again.

But I don’t give up that easily.

I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free pizza crusts lately, and I’m starting to sing with them. By no means am I done with my recipe yet -- you can expect updates in the months to come -- but the one I made last week that tasted authentically itself. Slightly nutty, from the quinoa flour. Thick and chewy, with a dense crunch. And the perfect repository for chunks of mozzarella, with fresh basil. Ah, another good pizza memory.

Lately, I find myself eating more crusty, bready, starchy foods than I have in months. It’s winter. It’s January, in particular. The dead, mid-winter month of the year. And this week, I’ve been run off my feet, so busy with projects and people and work that I haven’t posted here in days. This evening, once again, I found myself with only an hour at home before I had to head out again. (Soon, this will stop. It’s no way to live.) No chance to cook, and especially to make something up. So I did something I hadn’t done in years: I ate a frozen pizza, reheated in the oven.

Before you panic, I have to tell you, it was gluten-free. I don’t write about this much, but I’ve been receiving a lot of gluten-free foods in the mail. Large companies and small businesses read this site, then send me samples of gluten-free foods, hoping I’ll like them. Sometimes I do. Most often, I don’t. I’m picky. I insist that food taste like food. A few times, I’ve wondered if the foods were truly gluten-free, because I got a little sick after eating them. I don’t mention those here. I don’t write about free products, unless I like them.

But I do like these little gluten-free frozen pizzas I ate tonight. Made by Madwoman Foods (and you have to love that name), these pizzas are made from organic ingredients, the freshest foods, then shipped out with a little cold pack inside. And they’re great. They taste like real cheese, fresh spices, a rush of old pizza memories coming back. And they weren’t the memories of frozen pizza from when I was a kid. I recommend them to you. And the little tea cakes they make, to which I’ve grown a little addicted, especially the chocolate orange cakes. These are especially good, and made with ghee, so people who are lactose intolerant could have these cakes as well. I love supporting small companies who are trying to do right in the world. I hope you do too.

With rustic quinoa crusts, and even the convenience of an occasional frozen one, pizza doesn’t have to be forgotten by those of us who eat gluten-free. Really, how could it? Instead, I’m moving on, with a mind full of memories, and the persistence of invention, until I’ve perfected my own, favorite gluten-free pizza crust. Eventually, those mouths full of basil and spicy sauce will join the memories of Florence and Chicago and the median on 101st in the darkness. I’ll no longer think of it as only gluten-free pizza. Eventually, it will just become pizza.

crunchy, slightly nutty pizza crust

gluten-free pizza

This recipe comes with a warning: this will not taste like a typical pizza crust. Gluten-free foods will never replace the glutened foods we once knew. They will always taste different. Maybe even better. With that in mind, I've concocted this one, with quinoa flour. Quinoa flour has a distinct taste: slightly nutty, ever present. It doesn't blend in with the other voices; it sings out. Also, the texture is thick, crunchy on the top, much more bready than most typically thin pizza crusts. I like that. I want a gluten-free crust with heft. But if you wanted something thinner, more demure, try a different flour combination, a little cider vinegar, maybe even some egg whites. Experiment and try your own, then let me know what works for you.

two cups sweet rice flour
one-half cup tapioca flour
one-half cup quinoa flour
one teaspoon salt
one cup lukewarm water
one packet gluten-free yeast (Red Star yeast is gluten-free)
one tablespoon sugar

Half an hour before you want to make the pizza dough, pour one packet of quick-rising yeast into the lukewarm water, then stir in the sugar. Gently, stir the mixture together, then let the bowl (or measuring cup) rest on a warmed surface, such as the stove when the oven is on. Let this rest for half an hour or so, or until the yeast mixture has grown bubbly and swollen.

Mix the flours together in a bowl. Add the salt and stir well. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour the warm yeast water in. With a fork, stir the liquid into the flour, slowly, starting at the center and stirring outward. When the dough is thoroughly mixed and slightly sticky to the touch, let the bowl rest on the surface of the stove this time, for about twenty minutes. (Gluten-free dough, for hopefully obvious reasons, will not rise the way a wheat flour will. However, it’s good to let the dough rest a bit before rolling it out.)

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, on a gluten-free-floured surface. Transfer it to a baking sheet and slide it into a 400° oven for eight minutes or so. You want the crust to feel slightly hardened, tending toward crispness. Top with your favorite pizza sauce and toppings, then slide it all into the oven again, for another ten minutes or so, or until the cheese has melted and the sauce crusty and bubbling.


14 January 2006

love in the form of flourless chocolate torte

flourless chocolate torte I, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

At the end of the day, after long hours of work, I just can’t wait to race home. Not to lie down on the couch and flounder for awhile, like I did this time last year. Lousy time last year -- when I was enervated from celiac disease and didn’t even know it. But this year, even though it’s January, and it just won’t stop raining from the Seattle skies, I race home gleefully, excited, once again, to stand in front of the stove and create something I’ve never cooked before.

But even I like to step away from the stove sometimes. When dear friends offer to make me a gluten-free dinner, I happily sit down at the table instead.

Last week, Amy and Paul made dinner for me. And not just any dinner, but a wonderfully satisfying gluten-free dinner. We live twelve blocks from each other, but we’re all so darned busy that finding the time to sit down together more than once a month seems impossible. Somehow, though, arranging a small dinner party feels wonderfully civilized.

It always feels civilized at Amy and Paul’s. Amy, who has been my friend for the past four years, has impeccable taste, with small frames arranged on the living room wall perfectly. She has a penchant for all things cupcake (including a photo of two of the Sex and the City girls in front of Magnolia Bakery, on her refrigerator), and a photograph of herself as a little girl with Beverly Sills. Always kind, a cheerful listener, and an equal fan of silly pratfalls as me, Amy is a wonderful friend. Paul came into her life a couple of years ago, and I knew within weeks that they’d be getting married. He’s unfailingly kind, gentle of spirit, and a real mensch. And lately, he has hip glasses! At parties, Paul is always aware of the awkward spaces and tries to fill them, or break down any tension. He’s wildly enthusiastic about certain things, and when he really starts gesticulating, his voice squeaks a little, adorably.

Of course, they both love food as much as I do. It’s hard for me to imagine being close with anyone who doesn’t love to talk about the joys of Wusthoff knives, different kinds of chocolate, and our favorite produce finds. So we bantered and danced around our favorite topic: food.

On the lovely dining room table, there was the green relish for which Amy gave me the recipe for my birthday, along with blue corn chips. Soon, Paul produced a quinoa risotto, which zinged in the mouth with softness. He found the recipe in a Mayo Clinic cookbook, which doesn’t sound too exciting, granted. But we all agreed it tasted surprisingly good. And there were sea scallops, flash sauteed and wonderfully satisfying.

We ate well. We moved to the living room to sit around on sofas and crack each other up. Good music. Great wine. An entire evening stretching before us, and nothing but happiness in the room.

But still, we were waiting.

About forty minutes after we finished eating dinner, Paul put his hands on his knees, and said, “Okay, who’s ready for chocolate?”

Ah, thank goodness.

Earlier in the day, Amy had called me, to make sure that powdered sugar, which is mixed with cornstarch, didn’t have gluten in it. It doesn’t. We were fine. Still, I always feel really loved when someone I know cooks for me, and wants to make sure I’m not sick. And so, as a decadent gesture, Amy had made Macrina’s flourless chocolate torte.

If you don’t live in Seattle, then you probably don’t know about Macrina. This haven of gourmand pleasures is the best bakery in Seattle. At least, I think so. Little apple tartelettes. Whole wheat cider bread. Demi-baguette sandwiches with thin slices of French ham. Enormous ginger-molasses cookies encrusted with granules of sugar. And for my purposes the first two years I lived here, it was perfect. One of the two branches of Macrina is just down the street from where I live. As you can imagine, I was there nearly every day.

Not anymore, of course.

Now, I can’t really walk into Macrina again. Oh sure, I could have tea there with a friend, but the smell of all those glutened goodies I cannot eat starts to drive me insane. Plus, I’m sensitive enough that simply sitting in a bakery for an hour starts to make me feel a little sick. It’s just too painful. I don’t go anymore.

But when Amy told me she was making the flourless chocolate torte for our dinner, I did a little cheer. This beautiful chocolate bounty sits in the glass case at Macrina, haunting me. There’s not a bit of flour in it, and if you make sure to use a gluten-free chocolate and vanilla extract, you can enjoy an entire evening of chocolate heaven without getting sick.


flourless chocolate torte IV

So here they are, Amy and Paul, behind a slice of the torte they made for my visit. That’s real love, those two. What a joy to know them. And to eat some of that flourless chocolate torte.

Macrina Bakery Flourless Chocolate Torte

Thick with chocolate and decadent to the tongue, this torte is simply heaven. One bite brings sighs. Two bites makes you moan. And after three bites, you can't imagine ever eating anything again.

If you eat it the same day as you make it -- which we did -- it will be light and fairly cakey. If you put it in the refrigerator and eat it the next day -- which I did with the leftovers -- it's far more fudge-like and dense. No problem. Either way, it's fairly amazing.

flourless chocolate torte II

ten ounces bittersweet chocolate (try Dagoba, which is gluten-free)
nine eggs
twelve tablespoons unsalted butter
three-quarter cup granulated sugar
one-quarter cup dark cocoa powder, sifted
two cups fresh raspberries
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a springform pan with butter.

Roughly chop the chocolate into slivers. Put the chocolate slivers into a stainless-steel bowl, then place the bowl on top of a saucepan filled with two inches of water you have already started to simmer. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come into contact with the water. The chocolate pieces will begin to melt. Stir the melting chocolate gently until the melted mixture is of a uniform consistency. Remove the bowl from the hot water.

Crack the eggs, slithering the egg whites into one bowl, then placing the yolks into another bowl. Set the bowls aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer (or use your hand mixer, if you have that). Mix on low speed for one to two minutes. Mix at medium speed for five more minutes, which will cream the butter. As the butter and sugar cream, the mixture will lighten. Add the egg yolks, two at a time, mixing entirely before adding more eggs. After you have mixed in all the egg yolks, add the cocoa powder and mix it in completely.

Fold in the melted chocolate, at this point. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl, being sure to scrape down the sides. Whip the egg whites until you have formed medium-stiff peaks. Fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate batter with a rubber spatula, one third at a time. Stir and stir until there are no visible white streaks. Pour the batter into the springform pan and scatter half the raspberries over the top. Poke the berries down until they have dunked below the surface.

Place the pan in the oven -- center rack -- and bake for forty-five minutes. Take it out of the oven, then cool it on a wire rack for thirty minutes. Take off the side of the springform pan. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the cake and garnish with the raspberries.
And if you wish, you could top each slice with this whipped cream:

two cups heavy cream
two tablespoons granulated sugar
one teaspoon pure vanilla extract (make sure it’s gluten-free)
one-quarter cup powdered sugar

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your hand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer). Mix until you have reached whipped cream consistency -- slightly thick, but still quite soft. Spoon on top.

09 January 2006

guess what these are....

gf fig newtons, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all that processed food I ate as a kid. TV dinners, bad candy bars, Oscar Mayer meat packs, Jolly Green Giant green beans from a can: everything came labeled and stuffed full of preservatives. It was the 1970s, the 1980s. The television told us what to eat, and we paid attention. We all ate like that-- with the exception of a few strange friends of mine whose mothers actually made their food from scratch. (And now, I envy them, but they mostly say they felt bad they couldn’t have the food on the commercials between Saturday morning cartoons.) It’s amazing to me now, but that was the food supply of my childhood. Iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, Wesson oil, and anything vacuum-packed.

Thank goodness our food supply has broadened to include the rest of the world. And now, we’re starting to tilt back toward the old ways, making our food from fresh ingredients and what’s seasonal. Not everything comes in a package. And we all cook with olive oil, now. (But me? I didn’t even hear of olive oil until I was in college. What a travesty.)

And of course, almost all the packaged foods I ate as a kid were filled with gluten.

I don’t miss it. I’ve lost my taste for enriched white flour, everything stuffed with sugar, and anything wrapped in plastic. Before my celiac diagnosis, I never knew what good felt like. Now that I know that my enervation and headaches are directly related to the evil gluten, I’ve lost my taste for it.

Except, a couple of days ago, I started missing Fig Newtons.

I don’t know why, exactly. They’re really not that good. All of them the same size, the cookie part a bit dry, and the fig a uniform shape, ending at the edge. But when I was a kid, I grabbed stacks of them from the rattly plastic tray and ate them while reading my favorite books. It’s funny, because every other food blogger is talking about being done with baked goods for awhile. I really didn’t eat many over the holidays. I just didn’t want them. But now, I do. Maybe it’s something about the dark winter time -- the holidays over, the rain incessant -- that makes me want to curl up with a book and some cookies.

So what could I do? Yesterday afternoon, I started pulling cookbooks off the shelves, consulting websites, hoping someone had a recipe for gluten-free fig newtons. I couldn’t find one I liked, even the ones for regular fig newtons, which I thought I would adapt. So, I made one up.

figs in port

Before I had to stop eating gluten, I was a baker. I could make a pie crust with my eyes closed. Warm cookies appeared from my oven in half an hour. People always asked me for my recipe, even when I was using the one off the back of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip package. For whatever reasons, the science and art of baking appealed to both sides of my mind, and I loved having my hands in dough, kneading something out of nothing.

For the first few months after going gluten-free, I thought I would never bake again. I learned to adapt. There are so many fantastic foods without gluten that I didn’t need to dwell on what I couldn’t have. Who needed to be a baker when I could be a chef in my own kitchen?

But if I know anything about life, it’s this: everything changes. After months of relying on gluten-free flour mixes, I finally took the plunge. I bought all the “alternative” flours in little bags, most of them from the wonderful Bob’s Red Mill. My middle refrigerator shelf is filled with clear bags of millet flour, quinoa flour, teff, and xanthan gum. And now, I know them all so well that I just reach for them and start making up a recipe without needing to consult books. I just start baking.

This evening, after a delicious dinner of sauteed salmon and roasted quinoa I made with homemade chicken stock, I set my KitchenAid whirring. Put on my favorite new cd -- a Christmas present from my brother, a mix cd called “Food Fight,” with songs from Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Monty Python, the B52s, and the Hoosier Hot Shots, all songs about food -- and danced in the kitchen, gluten-free flour flying. I could feel that old feeling under my hands: the patting reassurance of baking without trepidation. Warm butter, creamed sugar, the sharp tug of nutmeg in my nose. The lovely, soft pull of dough. And that intoxicating aroma as the sweet, spicy cookies are baking in the oven.

I’m home.

Gluten-free fig cookies (a la Fig Newtons)

gf fig newton I

These cookies taste exotic and familiar at the same time. The thick fig spread tastes like the gunk we ate as kids, but with an adult twist: a liberal spilling of port. The dark brightness, the sticky consistency, the little flecks of fig seeds --- they all make these a joy to eat. Bite down and taste the molasses and nutmeg cookie crumble in the mouth, then dart around your tongue to lick the fig off your teeth. They’re milk-dunkable and sophisticated at the same time. And I dare you to eat just one.

The flour combination is vital here. Rice flour and cornstarch together make a smooth consistency. Teff flour’s softness makes it all hold together beautifully, to give that slighty sponginess that the brand-name fig newtons have. And the millet flour makes for a crumbly consistency. It took me too long to break down and buy xantham gum, because it’s so darned expensive. But it’s worth it, because a full recipe like this only calls for half a teaspoon. Be sure to store it in the refrigerator, though. All gluten-free flours do better when refrigerated.

Enjoy them. I hope these help you feel like a kid again.

Fig spread
(make this at least twenty-four hours in advance for the true flavor)

one-half pound of the best dried figs -- I used both light brown Calimyrna and dark Mission figs -- chopped into quarters
one-half cup pomegranate juice
one-quarter cup port
one-quarter cup Meyer lemon juice

Chop the figs into quarters. Put them into a large bowl and cover with the liquids. Soak the figs in these liquids (or play with your own combination) for at least twenty-four hours in advance.
Before you make the cookies, drain the figs of the liquid, except for a few tablespoons. Put the figs and remaining liquid in your food processor and blend until it is a thick paste, somewhat like a tapenade consistency.

Cookie dough

one-half cup butter
one-half cup brown sugar, packed in
one-half cup organic cane sugar (this is key, because it has a more granular consistency)
one egg
one teaspoon vanilla
two tablespoons molasses

one-half teaspooon baking soda
one and one half cup white rice flour
one-half cup of cornstarch
one-quarter cup teff flour
one-quarter cup millet flour
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum
lots of fresh-grated nutmeg (as much as you can take)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter on the stove, or in the microwave, if you must. Pour the melted butter into your favorite mixer (if you don’t have a stand mixer yet, you really should splurge. They make all the difference in the world). Add the brown and organic cane sugar to the butter and mix them together. Mix them only until they are blended, then turn off the mixer. Add the egg, the vanilla, and the two tablespoons of molasses. Mix until just blended.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix until the dough is thoroughly blended.
Refrigerate the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This is key with gluten-free doughs.

After you have chilled the dough, roll out one-third of it to a half-inch thickness. (Be sure to flour the board first. White rice flour seems to work best.) Spoon some of the rich fig spread down the center of this circle, then roll the dough up into a little log. Do the same with the remaining dough and spread.

Place the three logs of fig goodness onto your favorite baking sheet, covered with parchment paper or a silpat. Slide it into the oven for twelve minutes (less or more, depending on your oven), checking once in a while to make sure they aren’t browning too much. Take the logs out of the oven when they are firm to the touch and just starting to brown. Let them cool on a wire rack for ten minutes.

When the cookies have cooled just a bit, slice up the logs in inch-thick slices, or as large as you want. Turn them onto a plate, and they look like fig newtons. But you never ate anything this good as a kid. So much better than the ones that came in plastic.

Makes twenty to thirty cookies.

07 January 2006

a shield against the January germs

bok choy, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

This week we went back to school. After two weeks of langorous days of drifting, I was rudely awoken by the alarm clock again. No one could accuse me of being lazy -- hours of sitting in front of the computer, working on a project, pacing the living room and trying to make my thoughts stick to the page -- but I did work in my pajamas over break. I’m not meant for a strict schedule, at least one that relies on me waking up at six am, and swinging my feet over the edge of the bed with a grand attitude. I can’t. In the mornings, I blunder and mumble. Eight am is just an ungodly hour to expect me to teach.

We all feel this way the first week back. I suppose I’ll grow used to again.

But I wasn’t prepared for the bombs of coughs in the lecture hall, the onslaught of sneezing on the stairways, and the bombardment of germs pummeling the air. It’s January. Everyone’s sick. One-third of my students, half of my colleagues, and some of my friends: head colds galore. I’ve been trying to avoid it. So far, I’ve been semi-successful. No agonies yet. But I have been feeling the first pricklings of pain in my head, the tenderness along the arms that usually signals I’m going to be ill soon. This time last year, I would have already been out. Before my celiac diagnosis, I caught every bug that whispered through the school. I felt perpetually unwell. But now, since I’m eating nothing but whole grains, fresh vegetables, and meals made from scratch -- and no damned gluten -- my immune system is sky high. (One friend of mine and I have been joking that I need a super-hero costume with GFG written across my chest: Gluten-Free Girl rides again!) With two days’ worth of Airborne --and yes, it is gluten-free, luckily -- I’m feeling only tired, not the utterly miserable of people around me.

Still, it’s good to have a Saturday.

goat cheese

Last night, the cliche of Seattle actually felt true: it rained. Rain lashed against the window so hard that I could hear it pelting over my music. Windswept puddles pounded the asphalt. Cars hydroplaned down the slick street. No point in going out in that. Time to stay in a little, after a long week.

Time for some vegetables.

Baby bok choy showed up in my organic produce box, delivered on my doorstep. More tender and spring-infused green than traditional bok choy, the leaves unfurl no larger than the size of my hand. And this small version of the popular-in-Asian-cooking vegetable tastes more gently insistent than its larger counterpart. It’s also a good vegetable for the winter, since it’s rich in vitamin C, full of folic acid, and has more beta-carotene than any other vegetable in the cabbage family (brassica, to be precise). And the slender stalks have a celery-like resilience, without the stringiness. They’re great in salads or soups, and especially good in stir fries.

I love making up recipes on a Friday night. The entire weekend before me, everything else left behind. In front of the stove, I have plenty of time to relive the best parts of the week: seeing my beloved seniors first period in the morning the first day back and hugging every one of them hello; walking down the street with Pete, bantering on our way to class, hot coffee from Bauhaus in our hands, no need to make sense; hatching a plan with the journalism class for yet another wacky publication; eating lunch with Daniel and Lisa at Green Papaya, an exquisite Vietnamese restaurant, hearing Daniel’s stories about being in Vietnam over Christmas; meeting a new class full of students, knowing nothing about them, knowing that within a week they will be indelible in my mind again.

Somehow, this dish tasted of all this. Baby bok choy with pumpkin seed oil: green infused with autumn. And spring coming soon.

I guess 6 am isn’t really that bad.

Baby bok choy, pumpkin seed oil, and goat cheese

bok choy and goat cheese

It’s easy to over-season vegetables when you’re sauteeing them, but resist that call. Add just a pinch, a tiny dash, enough to flavor but allow the natural taste of the vegetables shimmer through.

four baby bok choy
two tablespoons pumpkin seed oil
one teaspoon wheat-free tamari
pinch of ginger
pinch of anise seeds
sliver of good, soft goat cheese

Cut the ends off the baby bok choy, then wash them gently. Pat dry the leaves, then stack them up on top of each other. Slice up the stalks and separate from the rest. Then, roll up the green leaves of the bok choy and cut them in a chiffonade. (You might have to do this in two stacks of leaves.)

In a good skillet or wok, on medium heat, pour in the pumpkin seed oil. When it has heated, add the stalks of the baby bok choy. After sauteeing for a moment, add the wheat-free tamari -- no more than a small splash, really. Add the pinch of ginger and the anise seeds. Sautee until the stalks have grown a bit tender, perhaps three minutes.

Throw in the chiffonade slivers of green leaves. Sautee for one minute. When the leaves have grown even more green, add in dabs of goat cheese throughout the skillet. Stir until it starts to melt a bit, which will happen almost immediately. Take the skillet off the heat and serve it that moment.

05 January 2006

a sweet surprise

Good news buoys me up all day, sending me gliding into the next moment with ease. And there are so many moments of goodness throughout the day that I never feel too stumbly. But this morning -- after I graded papers, wrote another letter of recommendation, and felt just a wee bit exhausted -- I found out some rather splendid news.

This website of mine, which has become one of the loves of my life this past six months, was nominated for Best Theme Blog in the Food Blog Awards of 2005, organized by Kate at the Accidental Hedonist. I'm truly honored. Entirely chuffed, as the Brits would say, which feels like the best word at the moment.

This food blogging community has been one of the best discoveries of the year for me, in a year full of discoveries. What delicious people you all are. It pleases me, no end, to be a part of this. And I'm thoroughly thrilled when those of you reading come to this site from search engines, trying to find gluten-free foods you can eat. Thank you for all your emails and lovely comments. You keep me taking photos and inventing recipes.

If reading this blog has brought you some pleasure, or some good meals you made from the recipes, then maybe you could wander over here to vote for my website as the Best Theme Blog. I'd be really honored.

Oh, and if you know anyone else who might like my site, enough to vote, well -- you know what to do!

Meyer lemon sorbet

In the meantime, I'd like to share some sweetness with you. Sweetness with a hint of tartness too.

On New Year's Eve, as part of the three-course meal I made for myself, I grabbed the seven or eight Meyer lemons sitting on my drainboard, and dabbled in some recipe creation. In the dead of winter, I desired sorbet.

Simple and elegant, this sorbet makes long, grey evenings feel more vibrant. Sweet, but not too much so. Puckish with lemon, but not overpowering. And in the lingering taste of the Meyer lemons, something mysterious. Your tongue will be tingling and asking for the answer to that mysterious taste. A hint of bergamot, perhaps?

When I gave some to my friend, Amal, on New Year's day, after our decadent risotto, she grew quiet for a moment. And then she said: "I don't even like ice cream. I haven't bought a pint since I returned to Seattle. But I love this." And then she grew quiet again, looking far away into the corners of the room. "This reminds me of walking with my grandmother in the afternoons, smelling her jasmine, being with her."

Nothing could have made me more happy in that moment.

Meyer lemon sorbet

one and one-half cup of granulated sugar (I used the extra-fine baker's sugar)
two cups water
one egg white
3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
zest of one Meyer lemon

Beat the egg white in a stand mixer until it is frothy. While you are letting it beat, boil the water and sugar together until the mixture boils. Let it boil for one minute, then slowly drizzle it into the frothy egg white.
Allow the mixture to stop steaming, cooling off just a bit.
Add in the Meyer lemon juice and zest. Stir until just mixed.

Chill this zesty liquid completely in the refrigerator (at least one hour).

Put the chilled liquid in your ice cream maker and let it run for about fifteen to twenty minutes. If you take it out now, before it's completely hard, it seems to make the taste all the sharper. Transfer the sorbet into a freezer-safe dish and freeze it to desired hardness.


04 January 2006

a bowl of warmth for the new year

mushroom risotto III, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

On the first day of the year, I had an outrageous mushroom risotto, unexpectedly, courtesy of an Italian mama from Tuscany, through Kabul. And with a bit of Tanzania and India thrown in for good measure.

After a quiet New Year’s Eve, I was prepared for another quiet day alone. But imagine my happy surprise when my friend Amal showed up with risotto makings, a bottle of red wine, and chocolate from Paris.

Amal and I became friends years ago, when we took the same African dance class together. Both of us tumble toed and laughing at the back, we started talking about our spiritual lives and making fart jokes. And when I told her the sad little joke my brother and I used to make about Billy Barty as kids, she just wouldn’t let it go. Instantly friends, we’ve been trying to untangle the confusing stories of our lives and laughing down the street loudly ever since. Somehow, we won’t talk for months at a time, but we always end up somewhere in Seattle, sharing a meal, the months evaporating before our eyes.

A few years ago, Amal shifted her life dramatically. Tired of working at the biggest coffee company in the world as a designer (she may have designed the shop you’re sitting in right now, as you read this), she decided to give her life to a third-world country. Her parents, both from India, were raised in Tanzania. Then moved to Canada, where my friend was raised. They instilled in her how necessary it is to work for others, and particularly, to work in a third-world country to make lives better there. And so, she quit her job at Coffee Conglomerate, and moved to Afghanistan.

Her time there is her story. I can’t really tell it. Suffice it to say there were small villages where Amal helped to bring shelter and water for the first time. There were terrifying encounters with Taliban members. There were terrible scenes of bombings and dehumanization. And there was a member of the Italian military, with whom she fell in love, in Kabul.

That’s how Amal ended up living in Tuscany last year, learning how to make risotto from his Italian mama. Slowly, with fresh ingredients, and with enormous patience. Nothing packaged. Nothing rushed. Everything tasting of confusion and love.

Will her relationship work? It still remains to be seen. Now that she’s back, will Amal stay in Seattle much longer ? Probably not. But she’s here now, with more questions than answers, a much softer face, and a killer recipe for mushroom risotto.

And I was happy to receive them all, with warmth, on the first day of the year.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Take the time to soak the chanterelle mushrooms the day before you plan to make this risotto. Amal did this for me, and I certainly felt loved. This step may make the dish seem intimidating, but don’t be intimidated. Imagine the sharp aroma of rosemary infusing chewy chanterelle mushrooms, with their scent of the forest. Taste the sage, with its faint tang and crumble. And the arborio rice, plump on your tongue, filled with the memories of all these foods, and the places they have been.

four ounces wild mushrooms, dried
sea salt (preferably one with herbs infused in it, such as Vignalta)
two stalks fresh rosemary (or dried, if fresh is not available)
one teaspoon dried sage
two stalks fresh rosemary (or dried, if fresh is not available)
bay leaf
one-half onion, diced fine
one-quarter cup chanterelle mushrooms, marinated in olive oil and rosemary
one and one-half cup of arborio rice
shaved parmesan to top, if desired

In a small saucepan, make a broth with the wild mushrooms, sea salt, and herbs. Bring it to a simmer, but do not boil. Keep it warm, on low heat, through this process.
Dice the chanterelles, which have been marinating in olive oil and rosemary for twenty-four hours. (This is preferable. However, if you forget to plan ahead, one hour of marinating will do.)
Sautee the finely diced onion on medium heat in a large pot. When the onion has softened and started to brown, add the diced chanterelles to the pot. Sautee for a moment, then add one cup of broth. When it is heated, add the arborio rice to the pot.
Stir and stir and stir. When the rice seems to have soaked up that broth, slowly add more broth. Stir and stir and stir. Continue this step until the rice has plumped up and fully absorbed all the wild mushroom broth. When the rice is tender, without being mushy, the risotto is ready.

01 January 2006

salty sweetness and smiling surprise

My creation, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last night, I spent a quiet New Year’s Eve alone. And I loved it.

I’ve been to fabulous parties at the top of tall buildings. I’ve been to small gatherings with only a dozen friends. I spent all my formative new years with my parents and brother, willing ourselves to stay up late enough to count down the seconds to midnight, then cheer and clink glasses. When my parents had parties with adults, Andy and I would have onion dip (made with sour cream and that beef onion mix from a packet) and root beer (so we could pretend it was beer). We’d raise our Ruffles, coated in thick onion dip, then knock them together and say, “Chip dip hooray!” That was about as exciting as it ever was.

To tell you the truth, I’ve always rather disliked New Year’s. Too many expectations, of meaningful kisses at midnight and bubbling-champagne life. Too many resolutions, with unrealistic goals bound to be moribund two weeks later. And too many drunken people driving haphazardly down the roads.

That’s why I love my recent tradition best.

For the past five years, I’ve been down in Ashland, Oregon, with my oldest friend, Sharon. Her dad lives there, high in the hills, in a lovely home. I’ve known them all since the early 80s, so there’s no possibility of tension or expectations. For most of the days, we just lounge around on the couches in front of the fire, Sharon and I, reading for hours, sipping tea, and watching snow fall outside the window. Ah, that’s the life. Sharon’s father, whom I still call Mr. ---- , even after all these years, owns more books than anyone I know. Every single room, including the kitchen, has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. If I ever run out of something to read in that house, I will have run out of livng.

But the vibrant highlight of the weekend is the neighborhood New Year’s Eve party. Sharon’s father sends out invitations, weeks in advance, to everyone he knows in Ashland. Members of the Secular Humanist club. Fellow Toastmasters. People he knows from the senior citizen learning center. His martini club. And everyone from the surrounding blocks. Every year, we all wonder who will show up, and especially, what food they will bring. The new-age author with the glowing skin and bright-white hair is a lovely woman, but she often brings leftovers from other parties, including the year she brought eight shriveled chicken wings on an enormous plate. The classical guitarist and Mandarin translator brings his shy wife, who barely speaks any English. Poor woman -- she just can’t cook. Within an hour of the party starting, nearly every plate of spectacular nosh is picked clean, except for the one holding her wilted, tasteless food. There’s the jocular next-door neighbor, a perennial favorite, who lilts stories in a mock-Irish accent and talks behind his hands with Sharon and me about everyone else around us. The house fills with senior citizens who have long ago thrown away any notions of being anyone other than themselves. Sharon and I are generally the youngest ones there by thirty years. And they all stay up late, way past midnight, celebrating on two glasses of champagne, while Sharon and I stand there yawning, wishing we could go to bed.

I love them.

I missed them this year.

This year, flights to Ashland were prohibitively expensive. I kept waiting for the prices to retreat, but they didn’t. And I’ve been working on a project that simply must be done soon, and I really couldn’t afford the five days away from that, either. So, I made the hard decision. I stayed at home instead.

Sharon will forgive me. Eventually.

Since I made the decision not to go at the last moment --staving off the inevitable-- everyone in Seattle assumed I’d be gone. I could have gone to a dozen parties, or spent a quiet night on the island with my brother and sister-in-law, and my nephew. That was tempting too. But I realized I relished the chance to be alone, wonderfully alone. There haven’t been too many chances for it, lately. Usually, with teaching and my wonderful cadre of friends, I’m surrounded by people. I may live alone, but I’m rarely alone.

But I love my alone time.

New Year’s really calls for some quiet contemplation.

After one pm, I was in the house to stay. Rain splashed down hard in all the puddles outside. I had all the food I needed. The house was clean, for once, so no need to feel guilty I wasn’t working on it. For hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Working all those muscles made me feel alive. I watched more episodes of Arrested Developmentwhich has become my new dvd obsession. (Haven’t seen it? Come on!) Sharon and I talked on the phone several times through the day, even during the party. (Yes, she has forgiven me.) And I sat hours of meditation, a chance to dive in more deeply than I have in months.

I came up to the surface of me feeling calm.

And of course, I cooked. Four or five dishes, some for a feast I made myself for dinner. A three-course meal by myself. It always makes me sad when I hear single people saying they can’t cook for only one, that they’re saving up their recipes for the days when they’re finally married. Not me. I wouldn’t mind being with someone -- in fact, I’d welcome him, if he’s the right man -- but I’m not putting my life on hold until he happens to walk up to my door. There’s just too much good food to experience, to chew slowly and smile. So I treated myself to a feast.

Around midnight, I was reading, with a little music on. What was I reading? Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers. Don’t laugh. I mean it. Do you remember him? Not the Eddie Murphy imitation of him, or the jaded view of him, but the man himself? He was marvelous. Now, I know it’s not cool for an adult woman to admit that she loves Mister Rogers, but neither is spending New Year’s Eve alone. I’ve long ago let go of cool. Instead, I just love him, his patience and kindness and humility.

And then I read this quote:

“For a long time, I’ve wondered why I felt like bowing when people showed their appreciation for the work that I’ve been privileged to do. It’s been a kind of natural response to a feeling of great gratitude. What I’ve come to understand is that we who bow are probably -- whether we know it or not --acknowledging the presence of the sacred. We’re bowing to the sacred in our neighbor.

You see, I believe that appreciation is a holy thing -- that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred. As I bow, I always feel like saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

—Mr. Rogers

And so, yes, there I was, on New Year’s Eve, crying happy tears of gratitude at a Mister Rogers quote. I realized I didn’t need to be in Ashland, or at a fabulous party, or anywhere else but in my own home, by myself, to ring in this new year the right away. I was here.

And being here, on this website, with all of you reading, has been one of the gifts for which I am most grateful this past year. I hope the recipes bring you joyful mouthfuls, the photographs some sensory pleasure, and the stories at least a little occasional laughter. I just can’t believe my luck.

I hope that every one of you reading has a year full of laughter, surprises that enrich your life, and people to love, fully. And of course, meal after marvelous, memorable meal.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin John

One of the dishes I made last night was some Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day. This Southern dish of black-eyed peas and rice, simmered with ham hocks, is meant to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. I’d never made it before, so I have no idea if it tastes authentic to someone raised on this, year after year. But it sure made a fine breakfast this morning. Yes, for breakfast. Why not start the day with luck and prosperity?

We could all use some of that, particularly those of us in this country who often don’t have enough money for food. Let’s do what we can to make their meals more memorable too.

two small smoked ham hocks
one pound dried black-eyed peas
two medium onions
five cloves garlic, peeled
two bay leaves
one cup long-grain rice (I used jasmine)
one can diced tomatoes
one jalapeno pepper, diced fine, seeds removed
one medium red bell pepper, diced
one medium green bell pepper, diced
three ribs celery, chopped
two teaspooon Creole seasoning
one teaspoon dried cumin
four stalks fresh thyme
one teaspoon salt
green onions, sliced

Put the ham hocks, black-eyed peas, one of the onions (cut in half), the garlic, and bay leaves in a large Dutch oven or stockpot, with six cups of water. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the beans are tender. This will probably be about two hours.

When the beans are tender, and the entire mixture smells deeply of smoked ham goodness, add three more cups of water and stir. Bring this to a boil again, then add the rice into the pot. Put on the cover and simmer it all until the rice is growing tender, about ten minutes.

Add the minced vegetables and peppers into the pot. Cook for a further eight to ten minutes, until the rice is entirely tender.

Top with sliced green onions and hot sauce. Try some gluten-free cornbread on the side.

Serves eight to ten.