About Emily Smith Pearce

I'm the author of _Isabel and_the_Miracle_Baby_, a middle grade novel, and _Slowpoke_, an early reader.

Gluten-Free Baking Round Up

Gluten Free Bread

If you’re not gluten-free, you may want to skip this one, but I’ve been baking a lot of different GF breads lately and thought it would be worth sharing the results.

First off, let me say, I was a real skeptic when it came to making gluten free yeast breads in particular. Even the best GF breads on the grocery shelf are so mediocre that I’d pretty much given up bread entirely. There IS a local bakery that does GF loaves once a week, and they’re excellent, but I was doubtful I could bake anything at home that would come close.

I’m happy to say I stand corrected! It’s totally worth making GF bread at home because it’s more than ten times better than the stuff you can buy off the shelf. Another nice thing is that since there’s no gluten (sorry I can’t give you the chemistry lesson on this) you don’t have to knead the bread, which means a little less mess and work.

It’s true that GF breads have loooong ingredient lists. That kept me away for a long time. Once I’ve figured out our favorite recipes, I plan to make up some dry ingredient mixes so  getting started isn’t so tedious.

Here are the GF breads I’ve been trying at home:

Gluten Free Sandwich Bread

American Test Kitchen’s GF Sandwich Bread, from The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook (this is also the one pictured at the top of the post)

This recipe was the reason I bought the book. When the ATK folks talked about it on…was it The Splendid Table? I was impressed with how much research they’d done and the many variations they’d tried. Still, when I saw the picture in the book, the texture looked impossibly light and good-looking. Could it really work that well? I’m happy to say that yes, this bread is absolutely excellent, and I doubt if I served it to you you’d have any idea it’s gluten-free. My seven-year-old says it tastes like “Earth Fare” bread, by which he means, it tastes like regular gluten bread that comes from the local grocer’s fresh bakery. Definitely worth making. Recipe here. The book is centered around a DIY GF flour blend that you use in most recipes.

Pamela’s Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix Bread Machine Bread (sorry, not pictured)

A neighbor friend told me about this mix (available locally at Earth Fare) and how it can actually be used in the bread machine. I’d never heard of making GF bread in the bread machine and in fact was on the verge of giving ours away when she told me this. The mix isn’t cheap, but then, it’s still cheaper than pre-packaged bread, and you can use it for muffins, pancakes, and the like, too.

I thought it turned out very well. It didn’t rise much at all, but my neighbor tells me this is normal. The texture was a little bit denser than the ATK version, but it was still quite good, and the flavor was good, too. Definitely worth using if you want to use your bread machine.

GF Crusty Boule from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

Crusty Gluten Free Bread

This bread is my favorite. It’s nice and crusty, the closest thing to a European rustic-style loaf, and I’m like, “Where have you been all my life?” Really wonderful flavor and texture. It’s so good that I sometimes take a bite and wonder how it’s even possible without gluten. It looks and feels like a white loaf but does have whole grains in it. I can’t wait to try their new cookbook, which is all gluten-free.

An added plus is that you make the recipe in a quadruple batch, so you have a nice output for your effort. My little guy likes to form the loose loaves on parchment paper. Here’s the recipe for you.

GF Chocolate Banana Bread

Gluten Free Banana Bread

This one, a quick bread, not a yeast bread, is from Small Plates and Sweet Treats, which I discovered randomly on a trip to the library. The author also blogs at Cannelle et Vanille. She’s originally from the Basque region of Spain but has lived in the US for some time and was once a pastry chef. I ended up buying the book because it was so inspiring, not to mention gorgeous. The recipes are not on the simple side—they take a bit of planning—but her ideas are so fresh to me, many inspired by the foods of her childhood. And her attitude toward gluten-free cooking is downright joyful—-kind of like, “Yay! I get to try new things!” instead of “What a bummer, let’s see if I can try to recreate everything I used to eat.”

Anyway I really liked this banana bread. It has a nice touch of earthiness from whole grain and nut flours, and my little guy just loves it. Sorry—doesn’t look like the author has posted the recipe online, but here is a similar recipe of hers that’s for banana chocolate cupcakes. One note—I halved the sugar, and it was plenty sweet. I did try another bread in the book (seeded bread) which, sadly, didn’t rise, but I’m thinking that was a problem with my yeast.

Besides cookbooks, lately I’ve been reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, also a couple of new-to-me blogs: Refashionista (hilarious adventures in making over horrific thrift store finds) and Toxic Beauty Rehab (natural beauty products).

Fleece Neck Warmer

DIY neck warmer

This was a quick and dirty project, made with a remnant of stretchy lightweight Malden Mills fleece. I’d gotten it years ago from their factory outlet in Massachusetts, used some of it for baby things, and then set it aside indefinitely.

I was about to pass the fleece on when I realized it was perfect for making a new neck warmer. I just used an existing neck warmer as a guide for sizing.

To make the double-layered tube (with 1-way stretch fabric), sew the first seam with the stretchy grain parallel to the seam. When you turn it to sew the second seam, the stretch will be going horizontally around the neck (which you need) instead of vertically. It’s counter-intuitive, but take it from me, since I had to redo it once. It took forevvvvver to pick out that seam. I used a small zigzag stitch and topstitched the edges.

I had hoped to make some leggings out of the fleece, too, but then, after some research, realized leggings would require a 2-way stretch. Bummer.

Anyway, I’ve been doing lots of gluten-free baking, so I’ll have to share some more of that soon. Gluten-free bread-making always seems to involve a little magic. I’m amazed at how well things have turned out.

Many thanks to my little model here. Obviously, the neck warmer is a bit big for her, but you get the idea. For more of my sewing projects, click here.

Almond Meal and Banana Muffins

Flourless Almond Banana Muffins

I was looking for a muffin recipe with a little more stick-to-your-ribsyness, a little less white flour and found this one on Pinterest, thanks to Amanda of Running with Spoons. The muffins are made with a little oatmeal (I used GF), almond meal, almond butter, and bananas.

One slight issue: the recipe is for 9 muffins, and I really wanted 12. So I added a little more this and that to extend the batter. An extra banana, an extra egg, a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt, a little extra almond butter and almond meal. I also added 1/2 tsp baking powder in the hopes that I could get a little higher rise. Plus a little splash of water when my blender was having trouble mixing everything up. I didn’t have the ground flax seed on hand, but I’m sure that would be a nice addition.

3 out of 4 of us really liked these muffins. They are kind of a cross between banana bread and snicker doodles, with a very tender, moist texture. Taster number 4 found them a little too “banana-y” but then, they ARE banana muffins and I DID add an extra banana. I wonder about using applesauce instead for some of the banana. Hmmmm…

These were very easy, and I felt happy about getting some protein and fiber in while still serving something yummy.

The muffins did rise nicely when they were in the oven, but once they started to cool, the tops deflated. They’re not dense or heavy in any way, though, so in the end their relative flatness didn’t bother me.

These are a definite repeat, though I may continue tinkering with the ingredients. For more of my cooking and eating adventures (including lots of gluten free stuff), click here.

Dress Shirt Quilt in Progress

Dress Shirt quilt

Here’s just a little peek at the quilt I’ve been working on for lo these many months. The quilt top is basically finished now, so I’m working on the back and making plans for quilting it.

It’s made up of my husband’s dress shirts that were on their way to Goodwill. Hope I can show you more soon.

Here is an earlier post about it, and if you want to see more patchwork projects, click here. I just realized I haven’t even blogged about another quilt I’m making. I’ll have to remedy that.

Hope you’re having a good Monday. American friends in the Northeast: stay warm and safe!

Berry Muffins with Millet (Gluten-Free)

Cherry muffin

I’m dipping my toe a little more into gluten-free baking because my seven-year-old is really missing baked goods. I found this recipe in The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. Sorry, I haven’t found an online link to this recipe, so you’ll have to take a look at the book—-maybe try it from the library first.

We all enjoyed the muffins, gluties and nons, though I do have a few notes.

At the last minute, I ran out of my GF flour blend (thought I had plenty) and needed something to fill out the last 1/4 to 1/3 cup. I grabbed my Trader Joe’s gluten free oats, leveled off the last measuring cup with them, and forged ahead. I also substituted coconut oil for the butter (all three times I’ve made them) and that worked fine.

The amount of millet is not that much, but it gives a nice little crunch.

The first batch was too sweet by more than half for me. I don’t like sweets all that much, so this is a personal taste thing, but I will tell you that when I cut the sugar from 3/4 cup to a scant 1/3 cup, my children didn’t even notice. I was much happier with that level of sweetness.

The first batch was with cherries and almond extract, following the recipe, but the kids didn’t care for the almond flavor. If I was just making them for myself, I’d probably cut the almond extract a teensy bit since even I have to admit it was a little strong. In the 2nd and 3rd batches, I used blueberries and a little vanilla instead.

I kept making the second and third batches with the little bit of oatmeal and continued to get good results. These are great first thing out of the oven. They’re also good the next day though will be a little drier. I wouldn’t let them stick around longer than that (not that you’ll be able to) as I think they will just continue to get pretty stale.

One thing I did to make the later batches easier was to pre-assemble the dry ingredients. Since GF recipes often have a lot of ingredients, I think I’ll start doing this on a regular basis to make the whole baking thing a little less daunting.

There have been some criticisms about this book being too “white bread” and dairy heavy. It’s true, and I do wish there was more of an emphasis on whole grains. However, sometimes we DO want some white-bread-type recipes, and I totally appreciate the extensive research ATK has done. The texture we’ve gotten with their recipes is really impressive.

I heard that the authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day have recently come out with a gluten-free book, and I can’t wait to try it. Back before we had figured out our gluten problems, I’d made the “five minutes a day” bread several times with fantastic results. It’s crusty like a good German bread. Anyway, I’m betting their new book has some yummy recipes, hopefully some with whole grains.

Click here for more cooking and food posts. Happy weekend, everyone!

Happy 2015/ Favorites from 2014

Paper Stars

Hi everyone! How were your holidays? We had some sickness, which was no fun, but all in all, it was great to spend time with family and to slow down for a bit.

I’m enjoying getting back into the swing of things, though. What about you? I thought I’d start off the year by cataloging some of my favorite things from last year. A few of them are things that were new in 2014, but most of them were just new to me. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them.

Songs

“At the Beach” by the Avett Brothers

“Just You and Me” by Zee Avi

“The Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs

Podcast

Pop Culture Happy Hour

I think I’ve already talked about this to death—it’s an NPR podcast with pop culture critics sitting around and talking about new and old music, movies, TV and the like. It’s smart but not highfaluting, and it’s very, very funny. I listen to it every week.

(You can find this podcast and the songs on iTunes).

Television

Sure, we watch some network shows, but I figure you know about those already. Here are some you may not have tried:

Call the Midwife, on PBS or Netflix: based on the memoir of a 1950s midwife in London’s East End. She lives with Anglican nuns who are also midwives. The characters are just incredible.

Borgen As far as I know, this one’s only available via DVD. In a nutshell, it’s a Danish West Wing. The acting and writing are terrific, and again, fantastic characters. It’s in Danish with subtitles, so you definitely have to pay attention.

A Chef’s Life (currently airing on PBS)—I just found this one recently thanks to my mom (who also turned me on to Call the Midwife). I can’t tell you how excellent it is. It’s part documentary, part cooking show, part food history program. It follows Vivian Howard, a chef hailing from tiny Kinston, NC, as she and her husband run their high-end restaurant. But it’s more than that. Vivian visits all kinds of local folks who teach her about various aspects of southern cooking and farming. It is totally charming, never saccharine, often funny, and it even won a Peabody. And btw Vivan Howard and the producer, documentary filmmaker Cynthia Hill, are both UNC grads! (that’s where I went for undergrad in case you didn’t know)

Broadchurch via Netflix, a British seaside murder mystery. Beautiful, gut-wrenching, dark, and addictive. Great characters (hmmm…sense a theme?).

Bletchley Circle, again from Netflix, follows a group of British women who were code breakers in WWII. Now they’re reuniting to solve mysteries.

Also enjoyed the BBC miniseries version (with Gillian Anderson) of Bleak House, available via Netflix.

Books

These are all nonfiction, which seems to have been my theme for last year. I read a ton of memoirs and several history books.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first known serial killer

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart, a memoir about moving from the Soviet Union to New York in the early ’80s. Dark, funny, poignant.

My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, a cooking memoir, complete with recipes, of a half Italian, half American woman who grew up moving back and forth between Berlin and the US. I laughed, I cried, I got super hungry.

Cookbooks

Once I found the Budget Bytes blog, I had to have her cookbook of the same name. It’s a great place for weeknight meal inspiration, and I love her simple-yet-interesting, less-meatarian approach. Many recipes are easily adaptable to be gluten-free if they aren’t already.

I’ve just started cooking out of the How Can It Be Gluten Free? Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. So far, I’m really impressed, and I’ll share some of our favorites soon.

I’m sure there are other things I’ll remember as soon as I wrap up this post, but for now, that’s what I can think of.

In case you’re wondering what’s happening with my writing, I’m still at it! I’m in the process of revising both my YA novel and my middle grade nonfiction book (not simultaneously but back and forth). It’s slow-going, which is why I don’t talk about it much, but I seem to be inching forward.

Bath Fizzies

Homemade Bath Fizzies

Plop, plop! Fizz, fizz! This was a project I planned a really long time ago but never got around to doing until this month. I got the idea and directions from Martha Stewart.

It goes together fairly quickly, though the part where you have to spray the ingredients with a water sprayer is kind of tedious. I made some peppermint fizzies and some lavender ones. The directions call for food coloring, but I didn’t really like the thought of food coloring in my bath, so I skipped that.

I used a mini muffin tin and got the citric acid from AmeriHerb, a wholesale company. I’m sure there are several online sources. The rest is just corn starch, baking soda, and essential oils. I was afraid they would fall apart when I popped them out of the muffin tin, but they held together just fine. I did use a silicone mold, which probably made that part easier.

Be careful—-my hubs almost popped one of these in his mouth, thinking they were some funky-looking cookies. Heh heh.

They make fun little treats to give out as gifts.

For more crafting, click here. For more simple gift ideas, click here.

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