Thursday, July 27, 2006

Two Types of Closure

We finally have some closure to the paint, paint, everywhere story. Earlier this week Riley came running into the bedroom early yelling "We forgot to take the Chair!" She had arranged with a friend who uses a different trash collector that we do to have the paint covered chair hauled to the dump. The truck was coming, and we hadn't taken the chair over. I stumbled up and into the wreckroom to help her load it into the car. To pick it up, I had to shift the jogging stroller than was leaning against the wall; it promptly rolled over my toe and ripped my big-toemail in half. I hurt like blazes all day, until I glued it back together with the crazy glue that I usually use on the Maestro's dollar-store-instruments. Now it's only tender. Closure.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Muffin in My Head

We have a number of reasons to suggest that The Maestro should not eat corn. My family has a history of problems with corn, for one. I have been having such good success with 2:1 Jowar/Corn-Starch that I was pretty upset about it, at first. I am fine with corn, thankfully, but I have been looking into the question of starch amounts and sources, to try to get away from corn for The Maestro.

The first question I had was why Amy Perry used 3:1 Jowar/Corn-Starch in her muffin recipe, but 2:1 in everything else. When I was home, my Mom made some muffins and used a 2:1 mix. They tasted mostly the same, but were much lighter, closer to cupcakes than the muffins I was used to making. The experts say that if you use a gluten-free flour straight, the finished product is too heavy. Apparently, the starch lightens it up. Ms. Perry wanted heavier muffins.

Question four was why corn starch? I looked around for cornstarch replacements, and found that most web-sites said that you could substitute potato starch for corn straight across. A few sites, that looked like they took their food chemistry a little more seriously said to use 2/3 equivalents of potato starch for the corn starch.

I tried it out in some muffins, using a mix with 3 cups Jowar, and 2/3 cup Potato starch. I didn’t have any corn-based muffins to do a side-by-side comparison, but the texture seemed pretty much the same. It’s indistinguishable from the muffin in my head, anyway.

As for taste, it isn’t exactly the same. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s a tad more… savory. I think savory might be the right word. It’s not unpleasant, but it’ll take some getting used to, and I won’t be able to pass it off to associates as the authentic product. It’s kind of like when I was a kid and drank goat milk instead of cow milk. Goat milk has a slightly different aftertaste than cow milk. I drank it all the time, so it tasted just like milk to me. My oldest sister couldn’t stand it.

I just ate another potato-based muffin. It turns out than when cooled, the texture isn’t the same. It baked more of a crust than the corn-based muffins did. I think that is keeping them from going soggy when kept in tightly sealed containers.

I need to spend more time thinking about this, though.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Baking Questions

Early during my gluten-free baking journey, I identified a number of questions that I wanted answers to. I have made progress in answering some of these; others, I still have some work to do. Here are some remaining questions I am working on.

1. In a Amy Perry blueberry muffin recipe, from a Carol Fenster book I found, she used a 3:1 sorghum flour/corn starch ratio instead of the more common 2:1. I cannot argue with the results; they were fabulous, but it made me wonder why. I assume that she first tried the 2:1 and was not happy with the result. What is the property she was trying to avoid? To state it another way, in what way were the muffins improved by reducing the amount of starch?

2. Likewise, sometimes recipes use soy flour, and sometimes they don't. I understand this is on a case-by-case basis, but when you try a recipe without soy-flour, what do you observe that makes you think "this could be improved by adding some soy"?

3. Other than baking multiple cakes, is there a way to decide how much soy to add? 1/4 c soy to 1 3/4 c sorghum mix seems standard in the ratios I've seen, but why?
4. Other than being commonly available and cheap, are there any baking advantages of corn starch over potato or tapioca? The amount of carbohydrate is not equivalent among them, but most gluten-free bakers use a mixture of all three, I've assumed for the taste, whereas Amy Perry Recipes use only one.

5. In the past, I have used soy flour as a replacement for egg in dry baking-mix recipes. Now that I am using soy flour for soy flour in recipes that use also use egg for egg, what do you think about the prospects of using soy flour for both? This one is purely speculative, I expect.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Jowar Back-Story

So, why Jowar flour, you ask. OK, maybe you didn’t ask. But you should have. When we first started looking for gluten-free foods, we discovered that there were about a million different mixtures of brown, white and sweet rice flour; corn, potato and tapioca starch; bean flour; lentil, soy, sorghum and millet flour that had been developed. Everyone claims that THEIR mixture has exactly the right of proteins and starches to magically enable you to substitute straight across for wheat flour in any recipe you want. I can’t try every mixture when a quick google search gives me more hits than hours I’ve been alive, and I had no idea how to pick. Looking closer revealed that half the recipes belong to Bette Hagman, so I started there. Um… bland? To give dear Bette some credit, the famed Bette Hagman’s mix that I found all over the internet was developed a long time ago, when the right shape and texture was a great improvement over the bricks that passed as bread. She has a number of other mixes now that apparently are better. But if the pioneering mix that started the gluten-free revolution doesn’t meet my requirements for taste and texture, I’m left with the original problem. What to use?

A co-worker who likes to cook Indian food suggested that I look at the Indian Grocery in town, because they have a lot of “different flours”. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for when I went, but I came home with flours made from millet, garbanzo, lentil, and sorghum. I put them in my bucket with my rice flours and waited for inspiration to hit.

The Millet flour made it into a “loaf” of bread that was one inch high, and purple. Not what I was looking for.

I found a Carol Fenster recipe for Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake that called for “Garbanzo/Fava bean or Sorghum flour”. I had just bought two of those, so I took a gamble and used the cake batter made with Garbanzo flour to top a rhubarb cobbler. I later learned two things that would have helped me. First, bean flours are REALLY nasty if they aren’t cooked enough. There were a few spots in the middle that were almost toxic. I suspect that the “cooked enough” point for the flour may be a little beyond what is good for the dish you are making, kind of like the safe cooking temperature for pork is past the point that gives you good pork. Second, Dr. Fenster didn’t mean Garbanzo OR Fava OR Sorghum. The mixture of Garbanzo and Fava is a common flour combination that you can buy from Authentic Foods under the trade name “Garfava”. So she meant Gabanzo AND Fava OR Sorghum. Even if I had baked my cobbler enough, it wouldn’t have tasted as she intended, not even taking the rhubarb into account. Dr. Fenster might hate rhubarb anyway. Who knows?

A couple of weeks later, I had occasion to make a cake for the Maestro. I tried a straight-up Pineapple-Upside-Down cake this time, using Sorghum flour. To my delight, it was moist, and delicious, and the right color. It used tofu, which I think is where the faint hint of unusual came from, but on the whole, if I didn’t know it didn’t use wheat flour, I wouldn’t have suspected. After several weeks of trying, I had my first indistinguishable result! That’s really what I am going for with all this, foods that are indistinguishable from the traditional gluten-containing product.

Sorghum Flour appeared to have all the qualities I was looking for. It was relatively inexpensive at the Indian Store, unlike Amaranth. It has a mild taste and color, unlike things like Millet or Rice. I combed the internet for recipes and discovered several by one Amy Perry, who uses it in a 2:1 combination with Cornstarch most of the time, and occasionally with some Soy flour. So I can use a “mix” of only two ingredients most of the time, rather than the four or six that a lot of people use.

I said that Sorghum flour is inexpensive at the Indian Store, where it goes by the name of Jowar. I have looked for cheaper sources, and found that I have the hook-up for the cheapest Jowar anywhere. If I lived somewhere bigger, it would cost more. You might look into ordering from Twin Valley Mills,, depending on your city size, location and East Indian concentration, it may be cheaper for you.

Ideally, I would have had this blog set up around the time of the purple millet bread, but I didn't. Hopefully some-day I will get everything caught up so you know everything I have learned. Until then, enjoy your pancakes.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Is Your Mama a Llama

One of the bands that I grew up with was the Cowboy Junkies. After being together for about 10 years, they released a double album, called 200 More Miles. It was a compilation of live recordings, from 1984-1994. According to their website, 2006 is the bands 20th anniversary, which means that they or I can’t do math, or that they organized as a band twice. In any event, to celebrate their 20th birthday, their archivist has set up a website, There are a number of purposes of this site, but one in particular that I am excited about is to make available to fans concert recordings.

I downloaded the first one yesterday, Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Co, Feb 2, 2006. Can I say it is an amazing concert? I was particularly pleased with the 9+ minute version of Sweet Jane. This was the song that gave them national attention twice (two nations, two different times), and there is already a live version on 200 More Miles. I thought that after 20 years, it would be all played out. I am impressed that Margo and company can still find new directions to take this song after so long. The concert version of Cause Cheap is How I Feel is a lot more, um, vibrant than the studio version on Caution Horses.

So what is a Llama? I don’t know, which makes me think I’m not one. I suspect that if I had ever heard In the Time Before Llamas, I would have a better idea. My guess is that Llamas are the Cowboy Junkies version of Deadheads, people to followed the Grateful Dead around from concert to concert, or the Jamily, the Pearl Jam version.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sorghum Pancake Recipe

Here is the pancake recipe I promised. You mix the dry, then add the wet, like regular pancakes. I mixed these all together, then added jowar by the Tbsp until I got the consistency I like. I think I added 3 Tbsp. I like my pancakes rather flat, so you can add 3 tsp of baking powder if you like.

1-1/2 c 2/1 mix Jowar flour/Corn starch
1-2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 egg
1-3/4 c milk (soymilk)
2 Tsp veg.Oil

Welcome Home

We just got back from an almost two week trip to my family of origin. It was a good trip, but exhuasting. On the outskirts of Elwood City there are a number of cornfields that non-locals have trouble appreciating the aesthetic of. I was driving last night through them, with the windows down, reveling in the cool night breeze. I was listening to Taj Mahal play a Lullaby in A-Major on the Banjo. It's good to be home.

Of course, not everyone feels that way. The Maestro has started waking up screaming several times a night, and keeps telling me he wants to go back to Nana's house. I keep hoping that he will settle down into a peaceful routine agian. He has always had trouble with change and new situations, and I think he is pretty stressed out from two weeks of not-home. Can a three-year-old get an ulser?

Hildr is happy wherever she is, if her Mom is nearby, anyway. She is especially happy now that her cousins have shown her what a grown-up girl can do. The days of feeding my baby small bites of things, to minimize the mess, are over. She wants the whole muffin now.