Sunday, August 31, 2008

Never fear, gluten-free pizza is here

Don’t be scared.

Yeast does not bite. Toss aside all those silly notions that baking with yeast is difficult. It is not. Remember to check your yeast expiry date (it is on the back of the package or jar) and store yeast in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. It is that simple. Now reward yourself with a slice of hot slice of zza.

Brown rice flour and potato starch don’t have as much protein as wheat flour so that’s why we up the protein with the addition of dried milk, egg whites, gelatine and egg replacer. If you have been craving a pizza with a great crust-just go for it and let me know how it turns out. This recipe makes crust for 3-10” pizza’s.

1/2 cup egg whites from a carton or 4 whites from whole eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 1/4 cup potato starch (not flour)
1/3 cup dry buttermilk powder-dairy-free but not nut-free folks can sub ground almonds or diary and nut-free girls can use same amount of flax meal
1 tbsp each: xanthan gum & egg replacer
1 tsp each: salt & gelatine
2 tbsp sugar
1 package (2 1/2 tsp) Quick rise yeast

1. Combine the egg whites, oil, vinegar and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or bowl if you are mixing by hand.
2. Mix together remaining ingredients in another bowl.
3. Gradually combine the dry ingredients into the wet on low speed.
4. Increase speed to high. If you need additional water (if it is a dry day or you live in a desert climate) add one or two splashes and mix in. Mix for 2 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, start in a bowl with a big wooden spoon. The dough should look like a really thick pancake batter
5. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. On a silicone mat* (or parchment sprayed with a little oil) lined sheet pans, use plastic wrap laid over the dough and pat it out into a 10” diameter disk.
6. Let rise 15-20 minutes (no fear here-we are not looking for height). Pre-bake bases for 10 minutes then top with sauce and your favourite pizza toppings and bake for 10-12 minutes until bubbling and the cheese has melted and browned. You can do the second baking directly on the oven racks if you wish.

I dressed our pizza with tomato sauce, prosciutto, Asiago cheese and then topped the baked zza with baby Arugula. Yum

Only cooking for one? Pre-bake the remaining two crusts wrap and freeze for a quick person pizza dinner.

Silicone mats used in baking to provide a nonstick surface without fat or parchment paper. Silicone mats contain a glass weave that reinforces the silicone. Silpat is a popular French brand that comes in a variety of sizes to fit all pan shapes.

****** I got an e-mail last week from a reader and fellow blogger Kelly who writes over at Dash of Chaos. Kelly is an independent rep for Epicure Selections which offers a huge variety of spices and dips that are 99% gluten-free. If you're looking to spice up your pizza or anything else in your kitchen check out her web site - ********

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I will not be broken

I have never actually stepped on a land mine.

Unlike Jerry White I have never been physically been blown apart just when I least expected it.

But emotional blasts? Ah yes, I've survived a few. Like everyone else, I've had to confront my fair share and as I have slugged my way through I'm always reminded of the old saying "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."

Jerry White not only agrees with that statement, he wrote a book detailing how you can actually make the old proverb your truth. White is the author of I Will Not be Broken, 5 Steps to Overcoming A Life Crisis: I agreed to write a plug for his book because I think his work with American military veterans is an inspiration and I think sometimes we all need to be reminded of how to turn lemons into lemonade.

In 1984 Jerry White was a young college student backpacking around Israel when he stepped on a land mine. He lost his leg and nearly his life but he did not lose his spirit.

He was inspired by his experience to work to ban land mines and to co-found Survivor Corps, an organization that uses peer support to help survivors of armed conflict, including Iraq veterans, overcome their injuries, rebuild their lives and rejoin their communities.

Over the last two decades working with disaster and conflict survivors White has been able to pinpoint exactly how people may effectively take their horrible defining incidents and turn them into strengths. He even has a five step program:

1. Face facts
2. Choose life
3. Reach up
4. Get Moving
5. Give Back

I Will Not Be Broken features words of wisdom and experience from the likes of Lance Armstrong, Nelson Mandela and the late Princess Diana. It's an inspiring yet practical book which provides a road map for dealing with loss and putting your life back together again after tragedy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The post where we both learn something

Did you even know there was such a thing as "sight words"?

I didn't.

Despite the fact that my mother was a kindergarten teacher for 40 years, I had never even heard the term.

For my fellow cave dwellers, sight words - of, and, he and you, for example- are words that don't follow basic decoding rules and must be memorized by new readers. Kids who learn early to memorize these words - also called instant, star and high frequency words - find learning to read much less frustrating.

I only learned of this whole concept when the Parent Bloggers Network offered me a chance to review a DVD designed to help teach kids how to memorize sight words. Rob and I have been reading to Graham on a regular basis since he was a baby but I've never really considered the logistics involved in him learning to read for himself, so I thought perhaps it might be a good idea to give it a shot.

Graham and I tested out Meet the Sight Words 1, the first in a series of three DVDs which feature the words being read over and over while morphing from big block letters into animated characters. For example, he becomes a castle from which knights and horses ride and balloons (always a favorite around here) are released.

The first time I put on the DVD, as much as I tried to cheer lead, Graham was not engaged at all. The second time, after bribing him to stay put with some popcorn, he actually sat through nearly half an hour of it and was engrossed enough that I was able to slip into the bathroom.

"What are you watching?' I asked him upon my return.

"It's and mommy," he cried in reply. "Look mommy, it's and."

And is a start.

Later that night I pointed out and in one his bedtime stories. He didn't recognize the word right away, but once I prompted him he remembered it.

And that is a start.

I'm definitely going to throw on the Meet the Sight Words 1 DVD again but I think I'll wait for a month or so. The series is recommended for ages 15 months to six years so, at not yet three, Graham's still at the young end of the age range.

I don't intend to push anything on him, but I think the repetition and the animated characters will help him memorize his sight words and I now realize this is an important step in learning to read.

Even though I didn't know there was such a thing as sight words just a month ago.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gluten-free crispy honey almond bars

I know- the recipe doesn’t sound like it could possibly work.

No eggs, no flour, no butter, no typical bar-like ingredients. But believe me, these are great. Sorry all you nut-free people, the almonds are not optional. Also, you must let these bars cool completely in the pan before cutting or else they can crumble. If you want to speed things up, stash pan in the fridge until cool.

1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup each: almond slices & ground almonds (unblanched, if you can find them)
1/4 cup ground flax
1 cup dry skim milk powder
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Line an 8-9” square pan with parchment or foil and spray well with vegetable oil.
3. Toss cereal, almonds, flax and milk powder in a bowl.
4. Drizzle honey and oil over and mix well until all ingredients are completely incorporated. Add chocolate chips.
5. Pour dough into pan and press ingredient evenly down in pan.
6. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until lightly golden and set.
7. Leave in bars pan until completely cool. Cut into squares and serve or wrap individually and have a treat on the go.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Easy wheat-free lemon almond cake

Not too sweet, this texture-filled cake is perfect to top with berries or as a treat to eat with coffee. Wrap some up for an on-the-go snack.

Not only are almonds are good for you - filled with cholesterol-lowering HDL and packed with vitamin E and calcium - they taste great too.

You can make a glaze for this cake with juice from another lemon and icing sugar mixed together. Add a little Amaretto as well, if you have some hiding in your liquor cabinet.

1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup each: brown and white sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 eggs
1 3/4 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups ground blanched almonds (sometimes called almond flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 lemons, juice and zest-reserving some zest to garnish (about 1/3 cups juice)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease an 8” cake pan (a removable bottom is really handy) and line with parchment or use a bundt pan. Get the grease into all cracks for easy removal.
3. Beat butter, sugar and honey together. Beat in eggs, mixing after each one.
4. Add cornmeal, almonds and baking powder and stir to combine.
5. Stir in juice and zest then pour batter into prepared pan.
6. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the cake comes clean.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dark Summit winner announced

Forget - what's the fun in that?

First Graham and I wrote all the commentors' names on little sheets of paper, then we folded them all up and put them in a big pile.

And then he picked one.

And then, because the last give-away taught me that little names on little pieces of paper do not photograph well, Graham and I copied the winner's name in big easy-to-read letters.

Congratulations Vic! E-mail your address to me at and I'll get the folks at Random House Canada to send out your copy of Dark Summit by Nick Heil.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Best-ever gluten-free brownies

If you can't eat wheat or you're the type who wants to try something new? Say hello to teff, the Ethiopian wonder crop.

Teff is a whole grain, packed with fiber and protein-complete with all 8 essential amino acids. Since many gluten free flours have low fiber levels, teff is a great addition to any wheat free pantry.These brownies are more cake-like then chewy. I think this lets the chocolate shine, so this is the time to break out the really good chocolate such as Ghirardelli cocoa powder and its 60% cocoa bittersweet chips.

If you are Toronto based, head over to McCall’s baking supply shop on Bloor Street in Etobicoke. If not, troll the internet or head to your favourite bake supply shop. Teff flour (ground teff) can usually be found at stores that carry Bob’s Red Mill products such as Loblaws or bulk stores. You can also check out Bob’s website (yes, there really is a Bob).

If you can only find the whole teff grains, get out your trusty coffee mill and grind away - it will add a slight mocha flavour to your brownies but that would probably taste pretty good.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup teff flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease a 9” square pan with cooking spray or butter.
3. In a medium sized glass bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the chocolate chips and microwave for another 30-45 seconds. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar until smooth.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
5. Stir in the vanilla.
6. In a small bowl combine flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.
7. Stir in the flour mixture into chocolate mixture until smooth.
8. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until it feels slightly firm. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and cool completely in pan.

Serve with ice cream or sprinkle with icing sugar.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where humanity and hubris intersect

I have always been intrigued by Nepal and specifically by Mount Everest.

In June of 2001 Rob and I were on our way to a travel agency to discuss a flight to Kathmandu and a trek to Everest base camp when we heard over the car radio that Nepal's Crown Prince Diprendra had shot and killed his parents and seven other members of royal family before committing suicide during a dinner party.

Plan B was formulated on our (correct) assumption that the murders would throw the country into political turmoil and instead in October 2001 we trekked in the Andes Mountains in Peru where we hiked a 4,200 metre peak (13, 780 ft) and, incidentally, got engaged.

A trip to Everest remains a distant dream for both of us and when I say Everest, I mean Everest base camp, which at 5,208 metres (17, 090 ft) is the highest I would ever attempt to climb, remembering as I do the nausea, headaches and fatigue we experienced as a result of oxygen deprivation in Peru.

Everest stands 8,848 metres (29, 029 feet). Anything above 8,000 metres is considered the death zone: a place where the brain swells, blood vessels leak and fluid accumulates in the lungs. I am both fascinated and horrified by human compulsion to summit Everest and so when Random House offered me a review copy of Nick Heil's Dark Summit, The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Climbing Season, I jumped at it.

Dark Summit is a detailed account of the 2006 season during which 10 climbers lost their lives attempting to conquer Everest. One of them, an Englishman named David Sharp, lay dying near the top while 40 other climbers walked past him on the way to the summit.

Nick Heil is a measured and restrained storyteller but he nonetheless manages to clearly show how the commercialism at the roof of the world encourages naked ambition over compassionate humanity.

He writes of the aftermath of that deadly season:

"Beyond the lurid spectacle of men and women suffering slow deaths at high altitude was the suggestion that the modern circus on Everest had exposed something essential about who we are as human beings...because Everest was such a grand stage, one on which players performed so close to the limits of self-preservation, it had the unique ability to magnify...basic drives and behaviours."

Heil, a former senior editor at Outside magazine, is guilty of being almost too detailed as he moves the reader through the cast of characters, from various teams and expeditions, who assembled at Everest base camp that spring. The writing is sharp and crisp, but it is still difficult to keep everyone straight: it is clear Heil has taken pains to be exhaustive lest Dark Summit be seen as just another one of the shrill and judgemental voices that flooded the media once the 2006 death toll became apparent.

Dark Summit really shines in the last few chapters when he uses his considerable gift for writing to best effect by indulging his inner philosopher. He asks, but refuses to answer, difficult questions of many people - the mostly affluent climbers, the commercial operators on the mountain, the people and governments of China and Nepal and even people like me who romanticize the achievements of early mountaineers like George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Fans of Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's book about the deadly 1996 season on Everest, will be similarly enthralled by Dark Summit. Long after the final page has been read climbers and non-climbers alike are likely to find themselves pondering, as I did, the mystique of a mountain where human achievement and hubris intersect with deadly results on such a regular basis.

Leave a comment to win your very own copy of Dark Summit. I'll close comments Thursday, August 14th at 6 p.m. and announce the winner on Friday the 15th.