I'm having a bit of a problem thinking about Christmas and gifts this year. It was this year that I became a vegetarian, started becoming more aware of the environment, and trying to wrestle down the impact of living. It's been a bit of a hard haul and though I've triumphed with a few things including much less shopping for clothes and unnecessary things, cutting way back on creams and lotions and cosmetics, there are a few things I haven't got control of yet.
I haven't managed to stop using more paper than I like, both for students' handouts and printing materials for classes, though I have cut down a bit on the non-essential, and tried to re-use what I have in different ways when I can.
It's funny what stopping shopping will do. You suddenly look around and realize that you already have too many things to be living the simple life that you imagined this whole process would lead to. In fact, you are drowning in gifted knicknacks and gadgets, old papers and books, things that don't work any more (and many of those seem to be electrical appliances with a planned life expectancy). If you're a teacher or have children you might have stockpiles of things like decorations or games that you want to re-use for holidays like Halloween and Christmas, and Valentine's and Easter and Thanksgiving and...you get the idea.
In the kitchen you might be holding on to old bottles and jars for the time when you need them. Maybe for the time when you get inspired to make homemade raspberry jam, if there were ever raspberries available to make it, which there aren't here.
You are dismayed to see bottles from wine that you forgot you ever drank, either because it was in the dim past or because your memory is getting foggier every year. In fact, you might forget why you ever were saving them.
It all adds up to too much clutter in a small space, clutter that doesn't make it easy to find what you need when you need it, or make the best use of the small space you live in.
And that's not counting the separate bags of every kind of recyclable imaginable, that every home in Japan has, awaiting the one or two days a month when the collection is made.
When I think of gift giving and receiving, and that's pretty much always on my mind now, with the deadline for sending gifts to Canada here and maybe passed, I start ruminating about what I can give that won't add to my near and dear's clutter, and maybe even more importantly, forestall getting anything more to add to my own. This year I requested either email certificates for clothes (which by now I really do need) or a donation to Children International, where I sponsor a boy living in Manila.
But I have no idea what I'm going to send the family. Maybe a bit of money, 'cause that certainly is recyclable, and light going through the post. But with my budget, I don't know if the bit of money I can send will be welcome. At least I guess there won't be an orgy of spending on the other end that will damage the environment. Maybe just enough for a nice treat or two for the family table, which is how I hope they'll look at it.
And in the meantime, since I really won't be getting anything much in the post, except from my dear friend in Sweden, M., who has already sent me two most welcome movies on cd, which I easily found a place for amongst the clutter on my desk, I decided to gift myself with what I really want most right now, and won't add much to the general mess around here, a delicious Sunday breakfast, with a taste as much like Christmas to me as most folks' plum pudding.
I'm talking about the taste of pumpkin pie. Or in our family, squash pie, because butternut squash is much tastier and richer in flavour than pumpkin ever thought of being. The moist, sweet spiciness of ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves cozied up to a creamy texture, with brown sugar sweetness melting through it all. My grandfather's favourite, so that in the past, when we all gathered for holidays, we had to have squash pie every time, alongside the mincemeat, or lemon, or raspberry or whatever other seasonal pie was on the menu. So good it was the last food he ever asked for in this life. And it might be the last food I ever ask for too.
Now that I'm gluten-free and living alone in Japan, with a tiny tabletop oven, making a whole pie is a rare event. In fact, since I stopped eating wheat I've only made crustless pies or puddings and quiche, which are still pretty good. I'll probably leave the experimentation with pie crust to the time when I get back into a full-sized kitchen, with a full-sized oven.
Today I decided to try to recreate the squash pie experience in a muffin. Because muffins are small and quick to make, and muffins don't require the same difficult reproduction of regular bread texture that most gluten-free breads do. Gluten-free muffins are good. They may even be better than the usual muffins, because they are very tender without the gluten in the wheat. Meltingly tender.
The muffins were a great success. Spicy and fragrant, pumpkin-y and creamy with soy milk and a streusal topping adding a bit of brown sugar crunch. All that I was longing for and a bit more. I added some soft sultana raisins, and they were a good choice. I ate them warm, for obvious reasons, but later after they cooled, they became denser and more whole-grain in texture, a lot like bran muffins, absolutely wonderful for any gluten-free folks longing for that elusive whole-grain experience.
I can't give you an exact recipe, because I really didn't measure anything, just threw it together. But I will tell you how I did it and if you want to try, please go ahead. All measurements are approximate, but I don't think these muffins are too finicky. I'm sure you'll end up with something good.
Because I used Japanese pumpkin, which is almost identical in flavour to North American squash, I'm calling them Pumpkin Pie Muffins. But you know, if you can't get Japanese pumpkin, then be sure to use squash.
Pumpkin Pie Muffins with Streusal (Gluten-free)
2 Tb Gluten free flour mixture (see below)
2 Tb light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 Tb mild-flavoured salad oil
Mix in a small bowl and combine with fingers, breaking up into small crumbs with a few small lumps. Distribute over the filled muffin cups before baking.
About 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of baked pumpkin. (Clean the pumpkin and invert on a cooking sheet and bake in a hot oven until tender. Scrape from the skin with a spoon.)
Mix in a bowl, with a whisk until blended:
the baked pumpkin
3/4-1 cup soy or rice milk
Add and mix:
1/2 cup or more brown sugar
1/2 cup soft raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb mild-flavoured salad oil
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Add 1 cup of the following flour blend. You''ll have extra for the next batch of muffins.
1 cup brown rice flour ( in Japan "Rice Blessing" flour is available from the Anew stores*)
1/2 tapioca flour (available from FBC General Store *)
1/2 cup soy flour (available from Tengu Natural Foods)*
1/2 cup Amaranthus flour (available from Tengu natural Foods*)
*See the shopping section for links to buy the flours.
Mix all the ingredients except the baking powder, soda and flour. Put them in order in the bowl on top of the liquid mixture and stir just until combined, not too much. Scoop out and distribute into 6 well-oiled muffin cups (non-stick if you have them because they may stick a bit) and bake at 200 degrees C or 375 degrees F for about 20-30 minutes. Watch them closely and take them out when a knife inserted in the center tests just a little sticky but not wet. Don't over-bake for a moist, creamy texture.
You may need to run a bread knife around them while still a bit warm to release them from the muffin cups. They may crumble a bit around the edges but don't worry, it won't affect the taste.
Note: If you can have wheat you can substitute 1 cup of all-purpose or half and half whole wheat and all-purpose flour. This recipe can be doubled for 12 muffins.