This Page

has been moved to new address

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
/* Primary layout */ body { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; text-align: left; color: #554; background: #692 url( top center repeat-y; font: Trebuchet;serif } img { border: 0; display: block; } /* Wrapper */ #wrapper { margin: 0 auto; padding: 0; border: 0; width: 692px; text-align: seft; background: #fff url( top right repeat-y; font-size:80%; } /* Header */ #blog-header { color: #ffe; background: #8b2 url( bottom left repeat-x; margin: 0 auto; padding: 0 0 15px 0; border: 0; } #blog-header h1 { font-size: 24px; text-align: left; padding: 15px 20px 0 20px; margin: 0; background-image: url(; background-repeat: repeat-x; background-position: top left; } #blog-header p { font-size: 110%; text-align: left; padding: 3px 20px 10px 20px; margin: 0; line-height:140%; } /* Inner layout */ #content { padding: 0 20px; } #main { width: 400px; float: left; } #sidebar { width: 226px; float: right; } /* Bottom layout */ Blogroll Me! #footer { clear: left; margin: 0; padding: 0 20px; border: 0; text-align: left; border-top: 1px solid #f9f9f9; background-color: #fdfdfd; } #footer p { text-align: left; margin: 0; padding: 10px 0; font-size: x-small; background-color: transparent; color: #999; } /* Default links */ a:link, a:visited { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } a:hover { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : underline; color: #8b2; background: transparent; } a:active { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } /* Typography */ #main p, #sidebar p { line-height: 140%; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 1em; } .post-body { line-height: 140%; } h2, h3, h4, h5 { margin: 25px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } h2 { font-size: large; } { margin-top: 5px; font-size: medium; } ul { margin: 0 0 25px 0; } li { line-height: 160%; } #sidebar ul { padding-left: 10px; padding-top: 3px; } #sidebar ul li { list-style: disc url( inside; vertical-align: top; padding: 0; margin: 0; } dl.profile-datablock { margin: 3px 0 5px 0; } dl.profile-datablock dd { line-height: 140%; } .profile-img {display:inline;} .profile-img img { float:left; margin:0 10px 5px 0; border:4px solid #8b2; } #comments { border: 0; border-top: 1px dashed #eed; margin: 10px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } #comments h3 { margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: -10px; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-transform: uppercase; letter-spacing: 1px; } #comments dl dt { font-weight: bold; font-style: italic; margin-top: 35px; padding: 1px 0 0 18px; background: transparent url( top left no-repeat; color: #998; } #comments dl dd { padding: 0; margin: 0; } .deleted-comment { font-style:italic; color:gray; } .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


29 December 2008



On Christmas morning, Elliott — who is now 5 and deep in the throes of Santa believing — dispensed presents from each of the stockings to the rest of us. He staved off his protests about having to see our gifts when he really just wanted his own. (He's a polite little boy.) Since everyone insisted that he go in round-robin fashion, and wait before all the wrappings were removed before moving to the next person, he had to be especially patient. As we reached the last of the stocking presents — which meant moving to the living room to deal with Santa's sack — he reached into the toe of the stocking.

"How weird!" he nearly shouted. "There are pomegranates at the bottom of these stockings!"

We all smiled at his confusion. But I was thrilled. Just a few days before, I had been thinking, "Oh man, I haven't bought a pomegranate this year. I'm going to miss this season."

Thanks, Mom, for the pomegranate. (That's all right. I'm not giving away secrets. Elliott doesn't read this site.)

It's fitting that pomegranates were Christmas gifts. They're such decadent fruits, ruby-red and jeweled. That smooth skin is the color of lights on the tree, equally gleaming. And inside, little puckered seeds, poised to burst open with juice. Pomegranates seem impenetrable, the white pith between the seeds protecting them from being plucked. But if you cut them open, score the pith, and wack the back with a wooden spoon, all the seeds will release themselves, happy to be free from the imprisonment.

Pomegranates are wonderful, wide open and juicy, ready for eating, if you dare.

I've written about them before, with a recipe for chicken thighs in pomegranate molasses. But there are other ways to eat pomegranates, savoring, than raw and in molasses form.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy this fruit?

18 December 2008

banana cream pie, gluten-free and dairy free

sauteeing bananas for pie

(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.)


If I want to crack up the Chef, all I have to do is look at him straight on, and say "Pie." He laughs, every time, his head bending down, the squeal erupting from him. This makes me laugh, and so, within a moment, we are both laughing and slapping our knees.

We must look like crazy people. Who laughs that hard at one word?

(The same thing happens with my dear friend Sharon and the word pants. Clearly, this is a trend.)

Of course, there are stories behind it. Mostly, it is a story I wrote in my book, the epic adventure of taking a still-steaming-hot cherry pie onto a New York City bus. (One version of it is in this piece on pumpkin pie I wrote in the early days of this site.) I've always loved telling this story. People laugh. But no one laughs as hard as the Chef. For some reason, it is his favorite of my stories. Whenever we are in a place where someone mentions pie — particularly in my baking classes — he nudges my side and starts to giggle. "Tell the story," he whispers. And so it lives once again.

However, the word pie inspires more than laughter around us sometimes.

The day after Thanksgiving, when the Chef, Little Bean, and I were in Tucson, everyone wanted more pie. Our gluten-free pumpkin pie had been such a success that it had disappeared by the end of Friday's breakfast. The Chef's father actually didn't know it had been gluten-free until after it was gone. We weren't trying to fool him, but we had done it. The proof was in the empty pie pan.

The next day, after one of the Chef's sisters arrived for a weekend visit ("the fun aunt" we call her), we talked about pie. The rest of us had, in our zeal for eating, left her only a slender sliver. "Not fair," she called. We agreed.

"We could always make more pie," we said. After all, we had brought a container of gluten-free flours with us on the plane, to make all the holiday treats. Several cups still remained. There was no point in taking them home. How about more pie?

"You know, I really like banana cream pie," the Chef's father said, as he sat at the kitchen table, reading the paper. He didn't pay us much attention. I don't think he expected his musings to become pie later.

warm sauteed bananas

If there's one thing the Chef loves to do, it's cook for his family. Every wedding anniversary and family gathering puts him in the kitchen, joyfully dancing. And his parents had taken such care to feed me well during that week. His mother bought gluten-free bread mixes (that became the stuffing) and made me safe chocolate chip cookies. She also bought a brand-new plastic cutting board, put my name on it, and asked everyone to chop food for me there, and the food we would all be sharing. I felt so loved. The Chef wanted to reciprocate.

And so he started to make pie. Within moments he was sauteeing bananas in rum and brown sugar. Without heavy cream in the house — we had used it all — he found a can of coconut milk. The pie crust, baked a few hours earlier, waited for its insides.

I love watching him cook — the flip of the pan, the intent focus on the cutting board, the way he invents on the spot, based on what he has. I took photographs and notes. We laughed about pie.

Later that night, after dinner around the table together, the Chef pulled out the pie. It wasn't entirely chilled — it would be perfect the next day — and he worried it had not set enough. Nobody else worried.

His father looked at the slice of pie on his plate — his wish become fulfilled dessert before him — and said, "I didn't know you'd actually make this."

We grinned. Another pie story.

banana-coconut pie

COCONUT-BANANA CREAM PIE, adapted from Creme de Colorado Cookbook

This pie, by accident, became both gluten-free and dairy-free. No one was complaining in the Ahern household. It takes only a few set of steps to complete — blind baking the pie, concocting the cream, and sauteeing the bananas. If it sounds like too much work for one slice of pie, let me reassure you — it's worth it.

The original recipe comes from a battered old cookbook with spiral binding in the Chef's mom's kitchen drawers: Creme de Colorado, put out by the Junior League of Denver. The Chef grew up in Colorado, and that state (both geographical and of mind) is vastly important to all the Aherns We thought it fitting to bake something from its pages. After all, the Chef's mother said, "I've cooked out of it for years, and only one recipe was a clunker." (Could it have been the granola with wheat germ and soy beans?) I'm realizing that cookbooks like this — PTA collections; Junior Leagues; the best of bake sales — are treasure troves for gluten-free adaptations. After all, every cook turned in her absolute best to be published. And how can you beat their personalities?

This pie? Oh my. We approve.

1 gluten-free pie crust (for the folks who need to be gluten-free and dairy free, try this dough. If your guests can eat dairy, replace the "buttery sticks" with butter.)

1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups coconut milk
4 large egg yolks, beaten
2 teaspoons coconut extract

4 bananas
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter (if you need this to be dairy free, use non-dairy "buttery sticks")
3 tablespoons dark rum or kahlua

Baking the pie crust. Once you have your pie dough made, roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper to the size of the pie pan. Place it in the pan, press it in, and fill any holes with the extra dough. Spread a piece of buttered tin foil to fit snugly into the pie crust. Fill it with dried beans or pie weights. (This will prevent the pie crust from puffing up.) Slide the pie crust into a 375° oven and bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it feels set and has started to brown. Take out the beans and set the pie crust aside to cool.

Making the custard. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt into a saucepan on medium heat. Stir in the coconut milk, gradually, stirring all the while. When the custard has come to a boil, let it remain on the heat for 2 minutes, or until it has begun to thicken to pudding consistency. Remove from the heat.

Tempering the eggs. Stir 1/4 cup of the custard mixture into the egg yolks, stirring continuously until it is all mixed together. Pour the egg mixture back into the remaining custard. Cook on medium heat for 2 more minutes.

Finishing the cream. Remove the custard from the heat. Add the coconut extract. Stir.

Sauteeing the bananas. Melt 1 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add 2 of the bananas. Sauté for a few moments. Add the sugar. Keep flipping and sautéeing. When the sugar starts to caramelize, add the rum. Reduce the rum. It might flame -- don't panic. Stir the pan by hand. When everything looks caramelized and reduced, add the remaining butter and bananas and stir. When the butter is incorporated with the rum, take the skillet off the heat.

Finishing the pie. Pour the banana mixture into the bottom of the pie crust. Cover with the coconut custard. Refrigerate overnight, ideally.


Makes 1 9-inch pie.

15 December 2008

celery root

celery root

Life has a way of keeping me on my toes.

For weeks we kept warm with our work, rising to the bait of starting to panic at an impending deadline. There were moments when I felt like my brain was baking in the heat of it all, the responsibilities and expectations. The Chef and I reminded each other to breathe. And there was always Little Bean, whose smile lights up a room and obliterates our tiny, panicky brains. But still, the days marched inexorably forward.

And then, a surprise. Not a good one. One of those big-scary-adult surprises, the life-and-death, consider-your-own-mortality surprises. Our little family is fine. Little Bean continues to be robust and alive. But someone we love is facing scary decisions, the ones that press on the head with all the implications. There have been tearful conversations and hesitations, so many hopes for a good outcome. We feel like everything will be fine. But I have to admit — I'm feeling a little like that cookie you poked too soon in the oven, and it comes out lopsided and dented.

We have an extension on the deadline for the book. Bless our editor, who understands. (And there's plenty of time anyway, it turns out.) Even still, with three more weeks, we now feel released from that selfish anxiety of a book turning out well.

And in these days, I'm more in love than ever with humble foods. Little Bean has fallen in love with her carrot rattle. And for days, the Chef and I have been eating celery root.

Before I met the Chef, I had never eaten celery root. I'd seen celeriac written on fancy menus of restaurants I could not afford, but I had never figured out what it was. The root of the celery plant. Could there be a more humble vegetable than celery? We think of it as plain and bland, but take a deep smell the next time you hold it in your hand. There's a pungency there, a faint bitterness underneath the sweet smiling green. Celery root -- look closely at the photograph above and you can see where the celery grows -- is that smell, intensified. Hairy and knobbly, this root defies attraction. Who looks at that and says, yum?

We do. This evening, the Chef made us a celery root-parsnip mash, a recipe we're still working out for the book. It had the faint honeyed sweetness of parsnips, a pungent hit from the celery root, and the familiar quotidian joy of russet potatoes. With a mushroom gravy, this small meal made me happy. Just that. Happy.

That feels like these days: familiar quotidian joy; honeyed sweetness; and a pungent hit. And it seems to me that all those years, when I couldn't imagine eating something called celeriac, I was just afraid of what I did not know.

That feels familiar too. Sometimes, the hairy knobbly bits turn out to be friends.

And so, how did you get over your fear of celery root? How do you like to cook it, to make yourself feel here?

p.s. Thank you to my friend Becky, who uses words like persnickety, one of only many reasons I adore her:

"Not to be persnickety but celeriac and celery are in the same family but not the same thing. Celeriac is cultivated for its root instead of for its stalk or leaves. So people shouldn't be disappointed if they don't find much going on root-wise when they pull up their regular celery. "

11 December 2008

the taste of the familiar in ginger-molasses cupcakes

ginger-molasses cupcakes

Every Christmas season, my mother made ginger-molasses cookies. Every year, she pulled out the recipe, written in blue ink, slightly smeared from butter stains and time. My grandmother's spidery handwriting crawled across the index card. I don't remember my mother's mother ever baking, but I'm told she did, once. This recipe probably came from her mother, or an older aunt, or a magazine article from the 1940s. They grew up in Pennsylvania, near Amish country, and the baking tasted of generations.

By the time I was 7 or 8, I was helping my mother bake the Christmas cookies. Back then, I felt mature because I could open a cupboard door and heft out the five-pound bag of flour and carry it to my mother. The counters still loomed above my head. Baking felt like magic. Sift, pour, stir — every action seemed important. The smell of ginger powder — tumbling out of the square McCormick's tin box — made me smile every time.

As the years went on, I began baking the cookies. I loved the familiar actions, the thumbed index card I only saw once a year, the smell of the cookies coming from the oven. And the cookies themselves, of course. Thick instead of crisp, these cookies had heft. Layered tastes of ginger and molasses, a bite of butter, the dimpled bottoms where an extra bit of sugar baked unevenly — all topped with a simple powdered sugar frosting. These cookies were Christmas to me.

When I found I had to go gluten-free, I gave up baking. How would I ever understand all those little bags of flour? Would I ever eat pie? Happy to be healthy for the first time in my life, I romped through foods and thought I would never hold a cookie in my hand again.

It's not really a surprise that the first real baked goods I posted on this site were around the holidays. We long for the familiar, the kiss of ritual, the span of time we taste in that Scottish grandmother's fruitcake everyone passes around. (And passes by. You won't see me trying to adapt a fruitcake gluten-free any time soon.) The holidays have emotional resonances beyond the actual cookie.

A few months after my diagnosis, I started baking again because I missed the smell of cookies in the oven. I missed dragging out the flour, even though the bags are much smaller now, and my hands more capable. I missed that sanctified space in the kitchen, quiet and measured, of laying out ingredients to bake.

And now, when I meet folks who are new to this, or who feel overwhelmed by baking in general, I hear this:

Baking feels daunting. It takes too long and I just don't have the time. Besides, I'll make a mess of the kitchen and I'm not going to be good at it. I might as well buy the packaged goods. But the gluten-free packaged cookies taste like sawdust and three pounds of sugar. Now I won't have anything to eat for the holidays. Damn, life stinks.

If this is your first gluten-free holiday season, or your tenth but you are afraid of baking, or you can eat gluten but you just don't take the time to bake, I have a word for you. Try.

There is nothing like baking. The cookies that spread, the ones that burned at the edges because we rushed to the phone, the attempts at family favorites that fall flat — they are all better than not baking at all. Which is better, an imagined perfection or an uninhabited kitchen?

Whoever first created that thick ginger-molasses cookie recipe that my mother had written in a small tin in her kitchen? I salute you. I still haven't figured out entirely how to make those cookies gluten-free. But I'm still trying. It's Christmas, after all.

bon appetit's blog envy

p.s. I'm honored to be part of Bon Appetit's holiday round-up of food blogs they love. My goodness! They're calling it Blog Envy and they posted it on their website yesterday. You've already seen my sugar cookies if you read this site. But there are so many great recipes for the holidays from incredible bloggers that I highly encourage you to click here now. I mean, David Lebovitz's milk chocolate and black pepper ice cream? Dreamy.

ginger-molasses cupcakes II

GINGER-MOLASSES CUPCAKES, adapted from Dorie Greenspan's gingerbread recipe

Since I put up the post on chocolate cupcakes with coffee ganache a few weeks ago, I've been in a cupcake mood. There's something so cheerful about cupcakes, right? And luckily, it's really not that hard to make gluten-free cupcakes successfully.

These cupcakes taste exactly like the ginger-molasses cookies my mother always made for the holiday. I've been determined to conquer those cookies. Meanwhile, these slipped out easily. Now, I'm not sure I need the cookies anymore. It's hard to turn down ginger-molasses cupcakes for breakfast. (Ahem. The Chef and I had to taste them one more time this morning before we told you about them.)

Dense and moist as gingerbread, these cupcakes are not dainty mouthfuls. They'll fill you up. The ginger rushes in for the first few bites, followed by a whoosh of brown sugar and butter, followed by the faintest afterburn of ginger later. The texture owes its thanks to teff flour and cream cheese. And they're ready for tweaking, so you can make them your own.

I have a feeling we might be eating these at my parents' house this Christmas.

(And part of this post is also on the fabulous blog, Cupcakes Take the Cake. I'm the guest blogger today, but they have so much to offer us. You really need to go read them too!)

for the cupcakes

2 tablepoons fresh ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup teff flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup whole milk
3 ounces cream cheese, softened

for the icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream (or more, depending on the consistency you like)

Getting ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your cupcake tins with canola oil and dust them with a bit of sweet rice flour.

Preparing the ginger. Peel the ginger with a fine micrograter or nutmeg grater. Or, you can slice it fine, if you wish. Mix the ginger with the tablespoon of sugar. Stir and set aside.

Combining the dry ingredients. Sift each of the individual flours into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve. When you have combined them all, sift the combination through the sieve. This helps to make the flours fine, and to create one flour for baking. Add in the baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir well and set aside.

Creaming the butter and sugars. Put the softened butter and sugars into a mixing bowl. Stir and whirl until they are well-combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Making the batter. Add in the eggs one at a time, waiting for a moment before adding the next one. Pour in the molasses and continue the mixer. Throw in the sugared ginger. Reduce the speed of your stand mixer to low and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Beat. Add the milk. Beat. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Beat. Drop in small bits of the cream cheese by hand, as the mixer continues to run. As soon as the ingredients are all added and just combined, turn off the mixer.

Baking the cupcakes. Spoon the batter into the cupcake tins, filling them about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the cupcake comes up clean. Take the cupcakes out and allow them to cool. Don't worry if the cupcakes fall a bit flat. That creates the texture of gingerbread in these cupcakes. Cool the cupcakes for 10 minutes, and then let them tumble out of the tins. Allow them to cool to room temperature before frosting them.

Frosting the cupcakes. Combine the powdered sugar and cream and stir until the mixture is smooth. If you want the cupcake thick, stop. If you want it to be more of a drizzle, then add a bit more cream. Frost the cupcakes. Eat.

Makes about 12 medium-sized cupcakes.

08 December 2008

one way to give this holiday season

the Buddha and the heart stone

As many of you know, Mondays are normally ingredient posts around here. What do you do with corn? How does the scent of strawberries inspire you? Are there olive oils you love better than others?

This morning, I thought I would be posting about celery root this evening. (Okay, it may not be the most exciting ingredient in the world, but what other food can you describe as knobbly and hairy and have it be delicious?) However, we'll have to talk about celeriac next week. (Start your celery root engines revving now.) This week, instead, I'd like to share with you a beautiful way to give to one of our fellow bloggers.

Kate runs Gluten-Free Gobsmacked, one of my favorite gluten-free sites on the web. Filled with recipes that work — roll-out Christmas cookies; sandwich wraps; and even gluten-free croissants! — Kate's website is funny, open, and very much her. When I met Kate in Olympia last year, we talked fast and with our hands as though we had known each other for years. I liked her immensely. But I knew that already. She's in her writing, in her fearless baking, in her kind words. And I'm pretty sure that her pepita sandwich bread can kick my sandwich bread's ass.

I want to share Kate's website with you for a particular reason right now. She's waiting to meet her daughter. And she needs our help.

Our Little Bean is asleep in her bed as I write this. Any time I want, I can duck into the bedroom and watch her sleep. (I do, often.) After only a few hours of her being asleep, I miss her. I cannot wait until the morning when she'll start cooing again.

Kate and her husband are adopting a girl, a daughter they already love. They have to wait a few more months before they meet her, though. The suspense is killing them. I cannot imagine the agony of not meeting our Little Bean until she is 8 months old.

Adopting a child costs innumerable dollars. This is a shame, since so many children need homes. Kate and her husband aren't rich. Most of us aren't. But I know, without a doubt, that they will be tremendous parents.

So they have found a way to involve the community in the effort.

As part of their effort to raise funds to raise their child, Kate and her husband have put a copy of my book up for auction. I feel a little sheepish about pointing your way to this ("buy my book" has always felt a little acrid in my mouth). This post isn't about me, or my book. It's about Kate and her daughter.

Many of you wrote in the comments on the last post that you have wanted to slow down this holiday season, and find a more meaningful way of giving than simply running to the store. May I humbly suggest that this is one way?

Please go here to see Kate's explanation. She has been far more eloquent than I could have been. And if you want to skip right to the auction (it ends on Tuesday, December 9th, just before midnight), then go here. Perhaps you wanted to buy a copy of the book for someone you love this holiday season. This is simply a way of giving twice.

Thank you for reading, everyone. May we all give kindness.

04 December 2008

sugar cookies and slowing down

sugar cookies I

(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.)

We returned from Tucson on Monday, tired and amazed. Little Bean did not cry once, on any of the flights we endured going to and fro. Instead, she looked up at the lights, and the rings on the handle of her car seat, or whichever pair of eyes hovered above her, and seemed to say, "Cool. Here's a new experience."

We're pretty sure we're in for a tough time when she's a teenager. This part is so easy.

She touches her toes now, and holds them in her hands for hours. Her bright little eyes take in everything. She cranes her neck to see more. She rolls onto her side with vigor and an arched back. She laughs at nearly everything. She loves music (especially Cat Stevens and Daler Mendhi) and the smell of dill under her nose. When we tell people that she sleeps, most nights, from 7 pm to 7 am, we receive astonished looks. When we say she has been doing this since she was 10 weeks old, we see some glaring. (For the most part, we've stopped saying this now.)

Our favorite part of the day, among many moments of presence and laughter, comes before the sun rises in the morning. We wake up to hear her babbling, laughing in the darkness. Most mornings, the Chef and I lay under the covers, whispering quietly so that she won't hear. We never want it to end, the chatter and consonants spilling from her lips. And I swear, she cracks herself up, staring up at her favorite blanket, in the pitch blackness.

Seriously, she's going to be a difficult teenager.

Of course, her grandparents in Tucson (the Chef's parents) were besotted with her. There were morning feedings at the kitchen table, time on the sun-dappled blanket on the carpet, walks past the golf course, and the nightly ritual of a kiss before bedtime. We were all relaxed and happy.

However, as soon as we landed, we were flung headlong into the stress of the impending deadline. People, the book is due to the publishers in 28 days.

Wish us luck. Send us breath. Cross your fingers.

We love this time, of cooking together with Little Bean in the kitchen, working out the words to describe the gentle simmering of a veal stock on the burner, tasting something together and deciding it works (dinner rolls; handmade pasta; berry pancakes; focaccia). This is the time of warmth and laughter and light and stress.

Sort of like the holidays, really.

Why do we rush headlong, every year, into the stampede of giving, the insistence of pleasure, the obligation of generosity? Does anyone actually enjoy it?

It took me years to stop crossing off lists and letting days go by without ever breathing because I had four more dozen cookies to make before I could go to bed. I'd say the year I caught double pneumonia and nearly died slowed me down, a bit. The terrible winter I endured the car accident precluded the possibility of buying presents for everyone. Two years ago, I had another book manuscript due — I wouldn't mind a book being due in March some time — and I just couldn't think about Christmas cards. They weren't ever sent.

I don't think anyone died.

But someone died in a Wal-Mart, at 5 am last week, because he was trampled to death by a mob of shoppers desperate to find more bargains.

This year, the Chef and I have vowed to take pleasure in the holidays, the way we did as kids. Little Bean is too young to have it mean anything. (Seriously, it's all about the bubbles at the moment, the ones that come in a bottle for 59 cents.) As much as I loved the mound of presents yet to be opened, I love even more, in retrospect, these experiences:

-- the cold bristle of pine needles near my nose on the day we brought the tree home

-- sitting underneath that tree, now decorated, my eyes filled with primary-colored lights

-- drinking hot cider, my hands cupped around the warmth

-- opening the Advent calendar, the cheesy $2.99 teddy bears and grinning elves Advent calendar every day (we bought one for Little Bean the day we came home)

-- practicing Christmas carols on the piano, from the John Thompson piano series

-- watching all those Rankin/Bass specials I loved so much (the ones that seem just plain weird to me now. All those talking puppets and elves who wanted to be dentists and heat meisers and the schoolteacher flirting with Santa. Were those guys on acid?), in the same order every year

-- complaining that my mother wanted to watch The Gathering or The Bishop's Wife or the Albert Finney version of Scrooge, even though those are by far my favorite now

-- feeling warm in my new pajamas Christmas Eve

-- anticipation. all that anticipation of evenings at home, gathering, books of Lifesavers in my stocking, my brother playing songs on the guitar, egg nog from the carton, and the hope of that day meeting all our expectations.

That's what lingers now, when I think about the holidays. Most of it didn't cost anything. Much of it had nothing to do with presents.

When you think about the best gifts you have ever been given at the holidays, what were they? Is it really that big-screen television? Or was it something more quirky, less expensive, something meant only for you? I'd love to hear.

So over here, we are working to find those moments of light this next month. Forget the shopping, the scrabbling, the squabbling. We're going to slow down and sit in front of the fire, put on Harry Belafonte, and remember to breathe together, even in the midst of an impending deadline. We are grateful to have each other, and our daughter, whom we so easily could have lost when she was born.

This is enough.

And gluten-free sugar cookies don't hurt, either.

sugar cookies II

ROLLED SUGAR COOKIES, adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Instead of making a dozen different kinds of cookies this Christmas, I'm only making these. And I'm not sending tins of them to friends, making an epic trip to the post office to show off my baking skills. We're just going to be munching some in the next few weeks, enjoying every bite.

I have a sugar cookie recipe on this site already, an adaptation of a Bette Hagman recipe I learned the first Christmas I was gluten-free. It's a good recipe, and I'd make it again. But I like these better now. Every holiday might be the same structure, but I learn more every year. And in this case, I've gone back to the basics. It doesn't grow more plodding and brilliant than The Joy of Cooking, really.

These are only slightly sweet, in anticipation of the thick rich frosting waiting to sugar them up even more. If you want to eat them plain, I'd bump up the sugar even more. They have the soft bite of snow under boots, the flakiness of that snow first falling, and the ephemeral pleasure of the first storm of winter. (Snow is on my mind. The Chef misses it, terribly.)

We made a little simple syrup for the top and dusted them with powdered sugar. But buttercream frosting and the green sprinkles from our childhood would be fabulous too.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 cup amaranth flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch fresh nutmeg

Combining the dry ingredients. Place all the flours in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk them together. Slowly, sift them through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Add the xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together. Set aside.

Creaming the liquids. Stir the butter (or let the beater attachment of the stand mixer do it for you). Add the sugar and cream them together until they are just combined. Add the two eggs and vanilla extract and beat for a couple of minutes more. Throw in the pinch of nutmeg and stir one last time.

Making the dough. Sift the dry ingredients into the liquids, one cup at a time. When the entire mixture is combined and well integrated, you are done. It should be a thick batter, not entirely stick to the touch, but not as stiff as traditional rolled cookie dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Baking the cookies. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Don't let it reach complete pliability. The dough should still be rather stiff from the refrigeration. Preheat the oven to 375°.

Roll out the cookie dough between two pieces of parchment paper (saves on gluten-free flour on the board). This dough doesn't go paper thin, so you'll have cookie with a bite to them. Cut out with your favorite shapes.

Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on your oven and how crisp you like them. Let them cool for 10 minutes before eating them. I know. Try.

Makes about 15 to 20 cookies, depending on the shapes.