06 April, 2014

Sourdough Cornbread (Gluten-free)

Finally back after a long hiatus -- a combination of a long and winding winter and computer problems. I've been cooking every day but just not in a very inspired way as I struggle to keep up with my mother's fluctuating appetites and mood swings. She eats something for months then suddenly takes a disliking to it so it's off the menu at least for a few months. If any of you are caring for or have a relative with dementia, you may know what I'm talking about. There are many struggles around food and they can be disheartening for any cook. But perhaps the cruellest thing about dementia is that it is so unpredictable. One day my mother can have forgotten the name of the lock on the door and can't understand how to work it and the next she can be using it with no problem and reminding me to call someone to fix it.  It is this that more than anything adds stress for the caregiver. Each and every day can bring new symptoms. It seems as if you just get used to a new way of being and learning to manage the behaviours associated with it when the sands shift yet again and you must adapt or sink.

Through this whole heart-breaking process Mom seems to find some comfort in old-fashioned foods that she was given by my grandmother. She has a special fondness for things like Blueberry Grunt -- fluffy dumplings swimming in a sweetened blueberry sauce, muffins, Irish soda bread, and cornbread.

These days if I want to make any of these I usually just adapt a normal recipe. Since I've become accustomed to working with substitutions, there aren't many things I can't make. I use a few favourite staples like Organic Earth Balance margarine, soy/almond/rice/milk, and different combinations of gluten-free flours. They usually turn out quite acceptably and sometimes they are pretty darn good. I would say this cornbread is that. It has a nice mellow tang from the starter, a rustic textured crumb, and it rises high with the addition of a little baking soda. I make it in a well-seasoned cast iron pan that I grease with a bit of vegetable oil or margarine and put in the oven as it preheats to give the cornbread a good start and a nice crust.

I adapted this to be gluten-free from the excellent recipe in my go-to cooking bible, The Joy of Cooking. It has two organic eggs. It makes eight good sized wedges that taste wonderful with soup or even reheated the next day for breakfast with a pat of margarine or a bit of marmalade. Mom likes it both ways and so do I.

 For a a 10-inch frying pan

Grease the pan well with margarine or vegetable oil and put in the oven while it pre-heats to 450 degrees F.

Mix together well in a large bowl:

1 cup Gf sourdough starter 
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal ( I use organic, a rather coarse grind but any should work)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp guar gum (if desired)
2 T sugar
1/4 cup melted margarine (or butter)
1 1/2 cups soy or other milk
2 beaten eggs

Take the hot pan from the oven using a thick oven mitt and put it on the stove or other heat-proof surface. Pour in the batter which will be a medium consistency, easily pourable. Bake for 25-30 minutes. It takes about 25 in our convection oven but test with a wire tester or thin knife blade in the centre. When it tests dry and has a nice brown colour, it's done. None of these photos has been edited so the colour you see is what you should expect. The photos are a little ragged but editing will return when I get  more control of the new computer.

Note: I made my starter using the wild yeast method and keep it in a covered very large mayonnaise jar in the fridge. I occasionally feed it by adding water and more flour, especially to replace what I use. My starter contains a combination of grains--whatever I'm baking when I use it, including corn flour, buckwheat, brown rice flour, sorghum, teff flour and all-purpose mix. Any sourdough starter should work for this. Mine is over a year old and gets better tasting all the time. I will caution about using too much corn flour-- I find it makes the sourdough too sour.

25 December, 2013

Christmas (Rich Dairy-free) Eggnog: Here's to Your Health!

Well, Christmas is here and it's a long time since I posted, back in September. I've written a few things but haven't managed to get back to them to finish taking the pictures. Here's the thing -- for non-professional bloggers who want to still provide a somewhat finished product, it takes one heck of a lot of time to write, edit, take pictures and edit them, and then set the whole thing up in a finished and fairly blemish-free form. Of course we do it because we want to help make the web a great place to get information and recipes and we want to make that available for anyone on any budget. For anyone, someone, like me who may have given up her job to caregive for a family member, and is on a budget so strict that it might disappear if it were stretched to buying many cookbooks. Or for young people, students, mothers, people without jobs, people who don't have much money but who still want to eat as well as they can.

So even though I don't have too much time or energy for blogging these days, I still want to do what I can. I want to contribute in my small way to what's out there and maybe do it as a thank-you to all you others who do the same, and whose recipes I use, whose words I find inspiration in, no matter how tired or discouraged I feel. And that can be fairly often, because my mom has now developed dementia on top of the Parkinson's and I'm the only sibling close enough or with the will to do anything.

But today is Christmas, so I intend to leave that all aside. We have the tree and decorations up; we have the presents opened, carols listened to, and lunch out of the way but I still have too much work left to do. I have to finish off the knitting projects for my children and make multiple batches of shortbread cookies, fix a turkey meal for my mother and try not to be disappointed that I didn't get to more. I'm also reinstalling ubuntu after running out of memory on my old installation and trying to work out all the kinks and recreate my customizations.

In the midst of all this I intend to stop for a precious time, put up my feet and enjoy a cup of homemade eggnog with just enough kick of rum to make my tummy sing, but my head remain clear.

In case you might need a pick-me up, here's the recipe. I started with the classic recipe from Joy of Cooking, but made a few shortcuts that really don't affect the quality much and make it easy to create this. It's very good.

Have a warm and wonderful Christmas, if you can. And though there's nothing especially healthy about this drink, in the physical sense, I think it may pick up your spirits. Have a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year.

Rich Dairy Free Eggnog -- Makes about a quart or so


6 whole eggs and 2 yolks
1/2 lb (about 2 cups, more or less, to taste) confectioner's sugar
1 cup good rum
1 pint soy coffee cream (or cream, I used Silk)
2 cups soy milk
Grated fresh nutmeg (about 1/8 - 1/4 small)


Put 6 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks in a bowl and combine with an immersion blender or use a regular blender. You can also use a bowl and whisk but that will take longer and require a bit more arm action. Beat them until they are uniform in colour and a frothy light yellow.

Add the confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) slowly and blend well until there are no lumps. Add the rum and give it a quick swirl. Add the soy coffee cream and soy milk. Grate in the fresh nutmeg and briefly blend. Whip 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry and stir them in by hand. Refrigerate for a few hours to develop the flavour.  The egg whites will separate out but you can use a whisk to blend them back in before you pour the nog. I usually serve it in a wine glass, which is a nice portion. This will keep for at least a few days--maybe.

29 September, 2013

Apples for Sauce

Nova Scotia has always been a major exporter of apples to the world. The Annapolis Valley has soft fertile red clays and a slightly warmer climate, with cool nights that fosters many orchards. While they all raise beautiful apples of many varieties from early juicy, sweet-sour, and snappy Gravensteins to later soft, pear-like and mild Delicious and Golden Delicious, not many have yet transitioned to spray-free or organic growing.

So it was with great excitement that I identified a U-Pick organic orchard within driving distance of here. I  absolutely adore apples and ordinarily can just barely afford the organic ones, when I can get them. At the local markets they are always in short supply.  This was the second year my family made the trip to Boates Orchard, near Kentville.  This year it was only I and my daughter since we went on a weekday that she had off work and the others didn't.  It was drizzly and cool and we both got wet feet, but the sunniness of the apples glowing with the promise of applesauce, pies, crisps and muffins was enough to keep me happy and warm. That, plus the chance to spend a little time with my lovely daughter -- chief driver, navigator and apple carrier extraordinaire, a treasure of a daughter, even above apples.

Notice it's a sunny day? The pictures are from last year's visit.


Old fashioned Apple Sauce (Cortland)

Apple sauce is often overlooked as a treat because it's so readily available pre-made in stores, but I promise this is not that. If you can get Cortland apples they make a lovely thick, mild apple sauce, just delectable. This is the classic recipe like my grandmother made it. Your house will light up with fragrance when you make this; it smells of childhood.  It makes a gorgeous dessert on its own, topped with or mixed with a bit of cream or soymilk, and is just lovely on pancakes. I think I might even eat it as my grandmother did, spread on a bit of bread, thickly, instead of jam.


For just over a quart of apple sauce:

Peel and core and dice about 25, close to 10 lbs, of medium-sized Cortland apples. Put them into a large pot, like a soup pot, with a few cups of water. You will need to adjust the water so that there is enough to cook the apples and the sauce is not too thick or too thin. Cortlands tend to be a drier apple. Wait a few minutes to see how much juice the apples release, add more as needed and cook and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sauce has broken down. I cover the sauce while it cooks.

At any point after the apples have started to release a bit of juice add about 2/3 cup of granulated sugar, a stick of cinnamon and a tsp of ground cinnamon, a half teaspoon of nutmeg, and a pinch or so of salt. (Add more sugar to taste; this quantity of sugar will give a not-sweet result.) There may still be a few lumps in the sauce but don't worry, this is desirable, as long as they are soft. Just stir it a bit more to aid in the process. Allow the sauce to cool, covered, and then put it into a glass mason jar and refrigerate, It should last about a week or so, but like ice cream, you just may find it has disappeared overnight.