Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gluten-Free Strawberry Shortcakes

Summer Fruit

I love summer fruit.  Especially berries.  All kinds of berries.  And stone fruit, like peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, apricots.

Huh.  When was the last time I had a fresh, juicy apricot?

I can't remember.  I'll have to find some this summer.

We've had berries already this summer, but I couldn't resist again when I saw the great price on some beautiful strawberries.  Two pounds of ripe, red strawberries.  When I grabbed them, I didn't know what I was going to do with them.

But it hit me before I had even left the produce aisle.

Strawberry Shortcake.  Of course.

It could have been pie.  I've made luscious, fresh strawberry pies in the past. But that didn't occur to me this time.

This time I had cake on my mind.

That gluten-free white cake from the trifle was still in my taste buds.  Um... my memory.  Still in my memory.

Gluten-Free White Cake

I know shortcake is usually something a little different than a normal white cake.  It is spongier.  Maybe a bit sweeter.  And usually pale yellow.

This is what this gluten-free white cake is like.  Not really white.  Not quite crumbly.  Yes, a bit yellow.  Yes, quite spongy.  And, yes, very delicious.  Perfect for shortcakes.

I baked a full recipe in a square pan, and planned to just cut out circles for the shortcakes.  I used a biscuit cutter.  I had to work it down through the cake a bit more than I expected, but the cake sprang right back after cutting.  Nice.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Shortcake

I had to wait to enjoy those two pounds of luscious strawberries. And wait. And when I finally did get to enjoy them, some weren't so luscious anymore.  Some were gone.  Some were half gone.  I was sad.

But not too sad to enjoy the rest of them!

I cleaned them, took off the tops and sliced them.  Then I sprinkled a bit of granulated sugar on them, but not too much.  Maybe two or three tablespoons worth.  Just enough for the strawberries to make a nice amount of juice.  I stirred them well and let them juice up in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

I also put the mixing bowl and wisk attachment into the freezer.  For a couple of hours.  This seems to greatly speed the whipping of the cream.

Did I mention the cream?

Oh, yeah.  Fresh whipped cream on the strawberry shortcakes.  A must have.  And only the real thing.

When we were finally ready to serve the shortcakes, I poured about a cup of heavy whipping cream into the freezer-cold mixer bowl and slowly started whipping.  I also added about two tablespoons of powered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.  As the cream started to thicken, I gradually increased the speed of the mixer.  Soon, it was going full speed.

Within five minutes of starting, my cream was already stiff.  Beautiful stuff.  I might have stopped it before it got that stiff, but I didn't realize it would whip that quickly.  In a warm bowl, it can take twenty minutes or more.

I didn't hear any complaints about the whipped cream.  Quite the opposite.

I placed one cut shortcake in each plate, spooned the chilled, juicy strawberries over the top and down the sides, and then topped each with a large spoonful of whipped cream.  Outstanding!

Beautiful, scrumptious gluten-free Strawberry Shortcakes with Whipped Cream!  Perfect for a summer afternoon.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Book Review

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker.  Yes, the classic.  I don't know if it is the first vampire novel, but it certainly seems to be the original vampire novel.

I've never read it before now.  I've never been interested in vampires in the slightest.  This might be due to the fact that I associate them with horror.  Horror films to be precise.

I don't like horror films.

When I was growing up, there seemed to be a plethora of what became iconic horror films.  I don't think I watched any of them.  Or maybe I did when I was with friends, "watching" with them, but with my eyes closed most of the time.  Or maybe I was hiding in the kitchen during that particularly fearsome scene.

I'm a bona fide wimp when it comes to horror flicks.

So, I was never, in the slightest, interested in vampires. Not watching them in films. Not reading about them in novels.

And then my daughter got older and had friends.

Yep, it's her fault.  Actually, its her friends' fault.  They started reading the Twilight series.  Again, I had no interest in reading about vampires.  But I also had made it important to educate myself in what my kids were interested in.  I also did this with Harry Potter, and later with The City of Ember and The Hunger Games series.

So, I told my daughter I would read the Twilight series and let her know what I thought about it before she started reading it.  This, actually, was my first dose of vampires.  And it wasn't too bad.  Okay, it was almost good.  It certainly wasn't ever going to be categorized as "horror".

But it made clear to me that I knew nothing of the superstitions and beliefs revolving around vampires.  I was uninformed.

Classic in every sense of the word

In mission to educate myself about literature, I make sure to find time to read THE CLASSICS.  Yes, these deserve all caps.  Because that is what they really are.  Classics.  To be read and savored and reread.

"Dracula" is a classic in every sense of the word.  This is a novel about a vampire, but it also happens to be a beautifully written novel.  Content is only one aspect of a novel.  I want a well-crafted story, with a great plot, great characters, and great writing.

"Dracula" has it all.

It is a classic.

Originally written 1897, I was ready for slow and deliberate reading.  I've often read 100+ year old novels that take more effort and time to get through due to their prose.  This is not what I found in "Dracula".  It was smooth and fluid, a pleasure to read.  The only exception to this was one particular character, The Professor, was written in dialect.  This slowed the reading, but gave the character a stronger identity.

This vampire novel turned out to be much of what I didn't expect to find here.  I guess I was expecting a horror film in words.  I didn't find that, thankfully.  Instead, I found virtually no gore and minimal mention blood. Most of the novel is spent with our main characters trying to determine what is happening and then devising ways to stop it from happening.  Most of this is presented to us through diary entries of our main characters.

Stoker gives us characters who were of his time, and yet not quite so.  We get a female character being sheltered repeatedly by the male characters, yet she is strong and purposeful and intelligent.  This feels like a character born of the sexual revolution, but clearly she is not.  The long battle of women's suffrage had been ongoing for more than 50 years at the time Dracula was published.  Maybe this reveals something about the author's feelings towards giving women the right to vote.

Of course, we get a strong plot with a villain and the heroes.  The pacing is well done, not too slow and not too rushed.  We also get enough narrative description of the area around Dracula's home to paint a rather complete picture.  Unfortunately, I felt like I missed out on getting much description of London, but that is only because I have never been there.  His intended readers were very likely to be familiar with London.

We are also given a bit of the folklore surrounding vampires, but not a lot.  I would have liked a bit more.  Mentions of crucifixes, garlic, the Eucharistic host and the evil eye are all present, but only the first three get significant mention.  What other things are used to ward off vampires?  We are given descriptions of a vampire's incredible strength and quickness, but what other characteristics permeate the folklore?  I was expecting to see more of the folklore included, but it was only slightly mentioned and alluded to.

I was astounded to find "... if looks could kill..." in Dracula.  This appears to be the original use of this phrase.  Our victim has been bitten by the villain and is now looking upon her friends with corrupted eyes.  It amazes me to think of how many times I've heard and used this phrase, never having known where it originated. This is one of the reasons I love to fill in my knowledge gaps of literature.  I'm always finding tidbits of popular culture and common sayings in their original form and context.

In spite of my lack of real interest in vampires, my desire to read the classics won.  And rightly so.  "Dracula" is a fabulous read and well worth the time.  I highly recommend it.

Despite the vampire.  Or because of it, depending on your own perspective.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gluten-Free Greek Pasta Salad

Some like it Hot

It is hot.  Sultry.  Steamy.  Boiling.  Sweltering.  Muggy.  Scalding.  Hot and humid.

Not roasting.  Not searing.  Not scorching.  Not broiling.  Not baking.  All of those denote dry heat to me.  This is anything but dry heat.

The day before yesterday was hot.  Yesterday was expected to be 102 degrees, with a heat index of 115 degrees.  That requires humidity.  I could do without the humidity.  Or the heat for that matter.

We saw the forecast.  We knew this was coming.  Nothing can properly prepare you for this.

Except maybe ensuring that your air conditioning is functioning at peak performance.

I Do Not Like it Hot

None of us much like the heat, and none of us were eager to be outside for any reason.  But we had to get the boy to swimming lessons.  Swimming lessons at an outdoor pool.  Outdoor in the 102 degree heat.  102 degree heat with a 115 degree heat index.

But we had a plan.  We wanted to make a packable dinner and take it with us to the pool.  The pool is open for general swimming after the lessons are done.  Since our boy had his lesson in the first session, we were forced to wait through the second session of lessons before we could cool off.  He, of course, had already gotten a half hour in the water, but the rest of us were sweating it out in the shade of the umbrella.

So, we ate.  We needed a packable, easy-to-eat-at-the-pool-where-you-might-not-be-lucky-enough-to-get-a-table dinner.  Chairs aren't exactly plentiful either.  But there are a lot of chaise lounges.  They just aren't that convenient for eating dinner.  But I digress.

I've found it much easier when packing a dinner to serve our individual servings into separate containers.  Each of us gets our own container from the beginning.  That eases and quickens the distribution of food when we get to where we want to eat.  I just dole out the containers and eating utensils and we are ready to dig in.  No shuffling of large serving containers or balancing of plates and utensils and serving bowl; no extra large, partly empty containers to pack out; no hassle.  This also means that we can tailor the contents ahead of time to each person's liking, avoiding all manner of "discussion" later.

Whatever we chose, I didn't want something that had to be eaten hot.  No way.  Cold.  Or cool, preferably.  Salad or sandwich.  BLTs are pretty popular around here, but that didn't seem like it was going to hit the spot this time.  Green salad?  Didn't sound substantial enough for holding us through a extended evening of swimming.  But maybe some kind of salad....

For this poolside dinner it was to be Gluten-Free Greek Pasta Salad and fresh watermelon.

Gluten-Free Greek Pasta Salad

I've made this Gluten-Free Greek Pasta Salad before, but only for potlucks.  It has always been very well received by gluten and gluten-free eaters alike. Now, I was making it just for us, and it was now our main course.

On the upside, it was going to be served cool (or nearly so by the time we got to the pool and waited for the first round of swimming lessons to end) and is very easy to prepare.

On the downside, I had to boil a large pot of water on the stove to cook the gluten-free pasta.  Boiling.  Hot.  Inside the house.  Boiling.  Hot.  Outside too. Well, at least it went quickly and I didn't have to stand over the stove the whole time.  Here I chose fusilli, but any short, thick shape will do. And when the pasta was done, I wasted no time in rinsing it all with cool water.

Away heat, away!

For the fresh vegetables, I cut up one seedless cucumber, one red bell pepper, one broccoli crown, and one vine-ripened tomato.

Then I quartered kalamata olives the long way.

Then I added about three-quarters of a cup of crumbled feta cheese.

The dressing is made from one fresh-squeezed lemon, a half cup of safflower oil (or your favorite salad oil), several minced cloves of garlic, a quarter cup of fresh chopped oregano, salt and pepper.

Then toss it all together.  Vegetables, olives, cheese, dressing, gluten-free pasta.  Stir gently, but completely.  Chill.

I think the flavors are at their best when they have had a chance to meld for a couple of hours in the refrigerator.  Stir again before serving.

And this was our main course for our poolside dinner.  Simple, cool, and delicious!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

Book Review

Reading "The Pioneer Woman:  Black Heels to Tractor Wheels" by Ree Drummond was quick and fun!  I have been reading her blog for over a year now, and I really enjoy her sense of humor, beautiful pictures, and descriptions of life on the ranch.

So, when I saw her book on the shelf at the library, it was a purely instinctive reaction for me to grab it.  Never mind that I was already in the middle of two books and had three more books waiting for me.  I told myself that I wasn't going to get distracted with The Pioneer Woman and that I would finish The Remains of the Day before cracking her open.


It didn't work.

I plowed through the first third of the book the same evening I picked it up.  I just couldn't resist!  A day and a half later, I was done and I throughly enjoyed it!  Ree is light and funny, even when things aren't so great.

A Love Story

Here Ree tells us the story of meeting and falling in love with her husband.  Her intentions didn't include a ranch, horses, or cattle, but that's where she was drawn.  She describes in hilarious detail the mid-twenties life she knew, all of which was about to change.  And maybe one is blind to things when in love, since she seems rather startled, after returning from their honeymoon, to find herself alone in the house on the ranch during the day.  And it is quiet.  And she is alone.  And there are no stores within gazillions of miles.  And she is alone, without a soul in sight of the house.

Oh, except for the cows in her yard.

One might have expected her to spend a little more time thinking about what life on the ranch might mean, once the hubby returns "to work" full-time.  But maybe that's just how blind love can be.


Ree doesn't hesitate to include us in her heartaches too.  She doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on them, which is good, but I didn't quite get a sense of how deeply she was affected by these things.  Maybe because her humor was there, maybe because it was difficult to share or express.  Either way, this is not a heart-wrenching account of those experiences, and that is probably just fine, given the focus of the book.  When I picked it up, it didn't expect or want it to be a tearjerker.

I read the entire book in a day and a half, and I loved every minute of it!  Clearly, I had trouble putting it down.  I'd like to hear more stories of the ranch, just so I can laugh along with Ree!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gluten-Free Fresh Berry Trifle & Greek Green Salad

Eating Gluten-Free at Social Gatherings

We were invited to a friend and colleague's house for the Fourth of July.  We went last year and we were excited to go back this year.  It's a potluck, so everybody brings a side dish or dessert to share, along with some grill-able (meat) items of their choice.

I've learned the hard way to be sure to bring something gluten-free to such events. I very rarely go to such an event and encounter anyone else who needs to be gluten-free, nor do I usually find very many safe things to eat. So, I make sure I take something that is safe and that I want to eat. This works, but I found that it still wasn't satisfying if I took a dessert, but couldn't eat any of the salads or side dishes. And vice versa. Having no safe dessert is a real bummer when everyone is happily chowing down.

Now, I take two dishes. Two gluten-free dishes. One salad or side and one dessert. Two delicious dishes.

I've never had a gluten eater complain about what I bring.

For the Fourth, I really wanted to do something with red and blue berries. They are in season at this time, and our yard is usually full of ripe, red raspberries. Perfect!


This year, most of our raspberries ripened a bit early, and we had been picking them as they did. That left only a few for the Fourth. So, in shopping for more berries, we bought strawberries and blueberries.

Now I had berries. Now what to do with them?

Gluten-Free Fresh Berry Trifle

I scavenged my cookbooks. Last year we made blueberry cupcakes (some had raspberries) and decorated the tops with red, white and blue icing. They were delicious, but I wanted to do something different.

I found a Trifle. I'd never heard of a trifle. I don't come from English roots, but apparently lots of folks know what a trifle is. I was about to learn.

In Washburn and Butt's "125 Best Gluten-Free Recipes", I found "Summertime Trifle". I could use fresh berries and wasn't cupcakes or muffins. And it sounded good.

Gluten-Free White Cake

But first I had to make "White Cake" in the same cookbook. This cake turned out so incredibly delicious, I couldn't stop sneaking the crumbs from the pan! It tasted better than any plain white cake I've ever had! Gluten or no gluten. Everyone in the house agreed.

Then I had to make the custard. This isn't hard, but paying attention is wise so that the eggs don't curdle. I didn't have enough eggs to make a second batch, so I paid close attention the first time. It was working fine, but after thickening, it still seemed a bit thin. But then I remembered that it would firm up more once it had chilled for a few hours. I pulled it off the stove and moved on to the last step.

Then I assembled the trifle by layering the cake cubes, some sprinkles of blackberry brandy, half of the custard, half the berries (all three), and then repeating the layers in a glass casserole dish.

It was lovely to see those berries peeking out through the custard. But I wasn't done yet.

Fresh, real, home-whipped, whipped cream. With sugar and vanilla, of course. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite like fresh whipped cream. Wow. Even the guest who made two berry pies from scratch asked me three times if it was real whipped cream. Yes. Oh, yes indeed.

Gluten-Free Greek Green Salad

Once dessert was well in hand, I threw together the Greek Green Salad. This is of my own invention, based on the flavors in the Greek Pasta Salad from the same cookbook. Romaine lettuce, kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onions, red bell pepper, with a dressing made with lemon juice, fresh garlic, herbs, and olive oil. It turned out quite good, and I got several compliments on it. The large bowl was empty before even half of the guests had served themselves from the side dishes. That's the best compliment.

I even overhead others, who didn't know me or who had made the trifle, announcing that there was a trifle to be had! People were seeking out my first attempt at a trifle. And I didn't even know what a trifle was the previous day! It turned out delicious! And that's according to the gluten eaters! I had to hold back my family members to reasonably small servings to save some for the other guests.

At the end of the day, both bowls were empty. Wiped clean.

That's success. And both gluten-free!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Remains of the Day

Book Review

I just finished "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro.   It only took me about a week to read this at my leisure on the sofa.  It read rather slowly, since this is the story of a gentleman's butler, with the butler as the narrator.  The prose is appropriate, albeit a bit cumbersome.  But I can just see Mr. Stevens, stiff necked, straight backed, with a very nasal British accent.

No, I haven't seen the movie, but I am planning to do so soon.  I prefer to read the book first, whenever possible.  I guess most people do.

When I started reading this, I really didn't know what to expect.  My knowledge of the story was based on a 15-year-old movie trailer, seen on network TV fifteen years ago.  Basically, I just knew it was about a butler, mostly likely British.  That's it.  I discovered that the story is framed in a six day "motoring" journey through the English countryside.  Within that, most of the action is presented as memories recalled.  I'm not a particular fan of this method of sharing 90% of the story with the reader.  Ishiguro also uses this method in his newer book, "Never Let Me Go", which I read first.  I'm even less a fan now of the memories telling the story.

It was clear throughout "Remains" that the butler's noble employer is destined for a political and personal fall from grace.  I sometimes like such foreshadowing, but Ishiguro seems to do an excessive amount of this in "Remains".  Half as much would have been fine, and I would have still seen it coming.

There were only a few primary characters, which I like when they are fully developed.  The head housekeeper provides an interesting counterpoint to the noble employer.  Our butler is always serving his Lord and acquiescing, but not so with the housekeeper.  She seems to be odds with our butler, nearly always bickering with him.  But I couldn't quite tell if she might have been or become a love interest for him.  I liked not knowing.  I kept guessing, right up to the end.  This was well played.

Both the Lord and the housekeeper re-enforce the final, overarching theme of the book, namely that we should accept and come to terms with how our life plays out (good or bad).  This didn't become apparent to me until the end.  They came at the same conclusion from different directions.  One came from making choices without knowledge of the underlying connections and repercussions, which broke the Lord.  The other was one of knowingly making choices and accepting them and resolving to not let circumstances break our housekeeper.  Further strengthening this theme is our butler's extensive examination of his own thoughts on his profession.  His conduct.  His behavior.  His life.

All considered, I enjoyed this book.  I didn't know what to expect and I was gently rewarded.  Have you read "Remains"?  If so, tell me what you think in the comments.


Welcome!  I've been dreaming about creating this blog for months and I finally have it!  Let's get started with my vision for this blog.

I have been looking for a way to connect with other people who are eating gluten-free.  My spare time is limited and finding a critical mass of gluten-free eaters has proven difficult. Finding them and getting them together all in one place at the same time is even more difficult.  Enter the web and a blog.  I know many gluten-free eaters in other parts of the country and this is a way to connect.  I've found ways of cooking, socializing, and dining out that others might find useful.  And I hope they have tips and hints to share with me.

One of the most difficult parts of being gluten-free is social gatherings with food.  Wanting to be able to safely enjoy such activities with my family, I've learned to go out of my way to take two gluten-free items to all potlucks: one main or side dish and one dessert.  This way I can be sure I have two things that I want to eat and that are safe!  I did this for the Fourth of July and both dishes came back empty!  There were plenty of gluten eaters that gobbled up my food, but that just means that it was good.  And besides, I want other people to eat these, just as long as I'm able to get a serving of each.  I'll post those two dishes, Greek Green Salad and Fresh Berry Trifle, soon.  Both were completely gluten-free and delicious!

My other goal with this blog is to share my love of reading.  I work a full-time job, commuting a non-negligible distance each way, and have a family.  But I still find time to read.  Last year, my goal was to read an average of one book per week.  I made my goal and beat it by 3!  I love to be able to discuss books with others who have read them too!  I am particularly interested in reading literary fiction, non-fiction, and carefully selected science fiction.  I'm a stickler for a strong characters, smooth writing style, no logical flaws, and no errors in timing among other things.

So that's what this is all about.  Whether you are here for the gluten-free food or the books, I hope you will join me in finding the best of both!  Let's get this show on the road!