Gratitude, Day 30: This Is The End, Now With Cranberry Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I won’t lie: this month of blogging about gratitude has been a bit of a slog.

I have learned that combining gratitude, a food blog, and reflection on life is just one thing too many, so I am sticking to food as it relates to life.

It’s not that I am not grateful, and it was never that I couldn’t find something to write about.

Sometimes combining three elements is a little hectic. Next year, maybe it will just be 30 days of cookie recipes, or 30 days of sauces. Gratitude can stay in my journal or shared with those it involves.

Today, the final day of this month-long occasional forced march, I am grateful that I am done.

To celebrate, I made the first of what will certainly be multiple cranberry cakes.

You want this in your face. #Trust
You want this in your face. #Trust

Full disclosure: this could have done with a few more minutes in the oven, but rather than show you a slice that clearly indicates this, I thought I would snap what really matters – the craggy soft interior of a moist, delicious cake that was eaten with fingers before it was barely turned out on the board to take the picture.

This cake is sweet and studded with fresh cranberries that are completely unadulterated. No chopping, no sweetening, no cooking. Nothing.

So what happens is you take a bite and get this luscious, buttery, sweet vanilla cake, followed by a bright/tart burst of fresh cranberry.

So. Freaking. Good.

It’s a bit underdone because this is the first time I made it in a Bundt pan, and I was slightly pressed for time. It takes just 15 minutes to throw together but a solid 75 minutes in the oven.

The other unusual part of this recipe is that it has no leavening agent; eggs and sugar are beaten together until they double in volume and become a ribbony pale yellow.

I would love to claim this recipe as my very own, but it isn’t. I added a touch of orange zest, used my gluten-free flour mix, and didn’t measure the cranberries (just dumped a full bag of frozen cranberries in), but other than that, this recipe is perfection, as is.

Oh, and side note: you could add a ton of sugar and calories by making the pecan topping in the recipe, but that is completely unnecessary.

Today, this last day of November, what are you grateful for?

At Home In The Muddy Water…With Muffins

The present moment.
The present moment.

The Universe, she is a fickle bitch.

I suppose the same could be said for many of us. One moment we are sunshine, light, and warmth…the next we are woe-is-meing and at the bottom of the very darkest well.

And by “we” I mean “me,” and sometimes just that quickly.

Not five hours after the last blog post in which I expounded on deep places of stillness and grace, I discovered I actually owe the IRS about five grand, received a $52 parking ticket when I went to go pick up a useless, destroyed purse of mine that was stolen six weeks ago, and found out that there is a distinct possibility that my mobile phone company (who shall hereafter be referred to as “Fucking T-Mobile”) will not cover the cost of a new phone, even though A) I have insurance, and B) the old phone is well and truly broken through no fault of my own.

Well played, Universe.

It’s like a test.

I am pretty sure I failed it just a little bit when I stormed into the house, railing against bills and screaming at The Teenager to clean up her mess and you left a towel in my bathroom and for chrissakes I am sick of cleaning up dog shit so clean up the backyard.

It’s a bit much to take, all at once.

And then, in a brief moment of clarity, I remembered this:

May we exist like a lotus,

At home in the muddy water.

Thus we bow to life as it is.

I found this little verse in the book At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace Within Everyday Chaos by Ezra Bayda. In it, he talks about how we constantly accept life’s blessings as our birthright, then suddenly turn to the universe and moan, “Why me?” when things don’t go our way.

To this, Bayda replies, “Why not you?”

Why not, indeed.

Should someone else owe taxes instead of me? Get a ticket? Have a 15-year-old?

It’s not a test. It’s just life. One day after another, one trauma and triumph and minor insult and lovely moment at a time.

The test is not in the events. The test is in what you do with them. Much of this is mindset, meeting what happens as it happens.

I have not been good at this in the past, this being in the moment, calm acceptance type of person. I think if maybe these woe-ful events were carefully spaced, then perhaps I might be better at it, but turns out the universe and its attendant whims is not necessarily a Day-Timer kind of entity.

In these times, and in all times, actually, because once a quote speaks to me and I interact with it in my brain it is forever burned there, and I will use it over and over, the Department of Redundancy Department, I am reminded of the distinction between anxiety and depression:

Anxiety looks to the future.

Depression looks to the past.

Present is always exceptionally hard for me because in addition to death and taxes and dogs and teenagers there are a myriad other things to worry about and reflect upon. Things that pull me out of what is now.

Things that may happen soon or have already happened but are not the reality of this moment.

Present, for me, requires a nudge. Something to tether me to what is in currently in my face. Something that will help me turn my phone face down, leave the ringer off, or just “forget” that I left it on the counter at home.

Present today? Well, present at my house today makes muffins. Gluten-free, sweet, barely-considered-breakfast muffins with fat blueberries taking up most of the cake.

Present at my house wants these muffins right now, dammit, so this recipe takes 30 minutes, from the first scoop of flour to taking fresh, hot muffins out of the oven and shoving them in your face.

I’d say that’s a pretty good way to live in the moment.

Blueberry Muffins

Double-plus bonus: These are so simple that you could actually make them while your first cup of coffee is brewing. Seriously. Regular AP flour works here, too. #InstantLove

Ingredients

Dry:

1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups blueberries

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 T light brown sugar
2 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 T melted butter

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a muffin tin (butter, oil, or cooking spray. #ItsNotRocketScience #PlusYouAreSleepy)

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add blueberries and stir to combine.

Fill muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your muffins.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Eat many of the muffins and go about your day.

Voila. The present moment, only with fresh, hot muffins. #Om

Cream Cheese Tarts With Lemon Marmalade

It’s winter. Not the depths of winter, technically, but we are supposed to get a foot of snow in three short days, so here in Baltimore, we are IN IT.

I love winter. It’s annoyingly true. While others grumble about snow days and kids staying home, I like nothing better than to have The Teenager all to myself for the day. Last year at the height of the storm during the Blizzard That Shut Down Baltimore we hiked down to Golden West for the Lisa Marie (a pancake with a strip of bacon fried in it, topped with peanut butter butter – not a typo, a real thing -and served with maple syrup), plus hashbrowns for good measure. We let the dogs run up and down the alley, off leash, until they found a kitty and chased it, then we made snow angels in the middle of the road.

So snow days are my thing.

Especially when you have this just lying around in your cabinet:

Marmalade

This is a jar of epic, three-day organic lemon marmalade that I made last week. It is tart and sweet and faintly bitter from the pith that gives it the pectin to set up all by itself.

I have five of these. That’s a lot for two people to eat, one of whom doesn’t actually like lemon marmalade. Logical choice, for me, is a lemon cream cheese tart. Individual tarts because a whole tart is too much but maybe individual ones will be more manageable.

An easy, gluten-free pie crust, a luscious, creamy, whipped cream and cream cheese filling, and a thin layer of juicy lemon marmalade. Drizzling it with chocolate may be overkill, but I am going there.

Come with me.

Cream Cheese Tarts With Lemon Marmalade

Crust Ingredients

5 tablespoons butter (softened)

1/4 cup sugar

1 room temperature egg

1 cup AP flour (I used gluten-free)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

Cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add egg and incorporate thoroughly. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl and then add into the wet mixture a little at a time until it is just mixed. Shape dough into a ball, then wrap in plastic and flatten. Pop in the ‘fridge and chill for an hour.

When it’s chilled, remove from ‘fridge and flour your work surface. Turn out dough and roll until it is between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick (I use a wine bottle to roll, but I suppose a regular old rolling pin would work as well). For individual tarts, you could rush out and spend lots of cash on individual tart pans, or you could grab some wide-mouthed Mason jar lids and flip the lid so the metal faces up in the center of the ring (instead the white underside).

MiniTarts

Place your tart dough in the lid, pressing lightly into and up the sides of the ring. Make sure you make your dough circles just a bit wider than the ring so that there is enough dough to go all the way up to the top of the metal ring.

TartCrust

This recipe made eight of the wide-mouthed lids and three of the regular lids. Perfect if you have small children who need an even smaller tart. Chill in the freezer for half an hour (wrap lightly in plastic wrap).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake mini crusts until lightly browned and dry, about 15 minutes (about 30 minutes for a full-sized tart). Keep an eye on them. If they start to bubble up, you can prick them lightly with a fork, or you can line each crust with aluminum foil and use pie weights to prevent bubbling (or just use rice. I use the same rice over and over. I let the rice cool after each use then store it in a jar for the next time. This lasts indefinitely, or until you move and decide to throw it out.). Your crust should be a lovely golden brown color. If you are using pie weights or rice, remove them in the last few minutes so the whole crust can brown.

Let crusts cool completely while you make the filling.

Filling Ingredients

1 8-ounce bar of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup of sugar

1 cup of whipping cream, whipped until it forms peaks

optional: 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and one tablespoon of sugar to add to whipping cream

Method

Cream the cream cheese and the sugar together until fully mixed. Whip the whipping cream (and optional sugar and vanilla extract) in a separate bowl until the cream forms stiff peaks. Beat the cream cheese and the whipped cream together. Spoon into cooled crusts and chill for at least an hour.

Tarts in waiting

Top with your topping of choice and chill for another 30 minutes. I am using lemon marmalade, about a tablespoon per tart, but guess what? Jam of any sort would be delicious, or slather the tops with hot fudge sauce. If you do that, be sure and finish with a bit of fleur de sels.

Tarts

To serve, unmold from the Mason jar rings. You should be able to slide the tart off the lid, but if not, serve it with a dollop of whipped cream, a smile, and a strong cup of black coffee.

Spring is just around the corner.

In The Beginning…There Was Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour, And It Was Good

bread

Seems fitting to start this blog with the one recipe that started the revolution.

Well. That’s maybe  a bit extreme.

But.

I have been gluten free off and on since 2004. I am one of those people who doesn’t have celiac but just feels better without gluten in my life. For someone who loves bread, cake, and pizza as much as I do, this is tragic.

Finding this recipe and tweaking it for ease and affordability has salved that wound somewhat.

This is the basic recipe for a gluten free flour mix that you can sub in cup-for-cup when a recipe calls for AP flour. It is based on this recipe but changed for ease of creation (no measuring). It makes delicious cakes, crackers, cookies, waffles, and pancakes

Here’s the recipe:

1 24-oz. bag Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

1 24-oz. bag Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour

1 16-oz box of mochiko (sweet rice flour; available only at Asian grocery stores or online. We subbed potato starch in our first batch because we couldn’t find an Asian grocery in Marietta, GA)

1 15-oz bag of tapioca flour (also at Asian grocery stores, but sometimes in regular stores)

2 tsp. xanthan gum

Directions: Dump everything in a big bowl, stir together thoroughly. Stir again when using.

A word about xanthan gum. Some gluten free people are still sensitive to gums, and they can actually be eliminated from this recipe. I choose to keep it in there because A) it seems it make the flour perform a wee bit better, and B) it’s not an issue for me. Xanthan gum is a bit pricey, but I got it on sale for 25% of the regular price, so it was a no-brainer. It does expire, but opinions on how long that takes are mixed. Store in the ‘fridge in an airtight container, or keep it in the same container in the cabinet.

As noted above, this gluten free flour has worked well in all recipes that call for all-purpose flour, but I am still working on pizza crust and bread. I realize the loaf pictured above is a bit of a tease, but that’s my goal. Just difficult to persist in that endeavor when it’s 98 degrees outside. If you use this flour in a recipe that calls for a specific gluten free flour mix, check their ingredients to see if they are similar. Some commercial gluten free flour mixes us garbanzo bean flour, which imparts a distinct bean-y taste. No thank you.

Give this a try and let me know how it goes!

(image source)