The lifestyle of an expat — and the lifestyle of a rather reluctant expat at that — is one that can lend itself to a lot self reflection. Add to that the presence of a small child and it also tends to veer into a bit of navel-gazing. I find the hours between 3:30 to 6 pm to be the most dangerous. Lunch has been accomplished, the baby’s gotten in her second nap if you’re so lucky, you’ve done your outdoor time, your reading aloud time, you’ve pitched a few articles and maybe logged a few miles on the treadmill. Husband has the car, your neighborhood is pretty barren of any sort of fun cafes/outside activities, your best girlfriends are a half a world away in California (and North Carolina, and Baltimore, and DC) and so … What would I be doing if I were still in San Francisco?, you may ask yourself. (You may also ask yourself how did I get here?)
In lieu of a ramble in Golden Gate Park to sit under the redwoods avec bebe and the ubiquitous pour-over coffee clutched tightly in hand the kitchen beckons just as much as it ever did. Perhaps surprisingly, more often than not the late afternoons in Casablanca look similar to those of your erstwhile Indian Summer SF: Pandora, the food processor, a fine grind of rolled oats, an internal debate about how much, if any, flax seed to use in a recipe for muffins. Suddenly your current situation doesn’t feel so removed from your previous life in the city by the bay, except that now you have a whole lot more counter space and a lovely overgrown backyard that you’ve chosen to keep that way; all the better to catch the rain drops.
DW’s been on a mostly gluten-free kick lately — I don’t ask questions, I merely bake. It’s true I’m always looking for an excuse to experiment.
I adapted my favorite vegan muffin recipe last week to be gluten-free, and kept it in the vein of ‘flourless.‘: I used real food ingredients (maple syrup, a bit of cardamom, rolled oats) and no gums. Though when I wrote my cookbook I kept mostly to nut flours or egg whites or oat flour as the base for my creations, I have been wanting to experiment with simple combinations of naturally gluten-free whole grains. Think quinoa, amaranth, millet, brown rice, oat, and buckwheat and you’ll have an idea of some of the possibilities. Here, I used brown rice flour and oat flour with a teaspoon of flax seed folded in to help bind the batter. The muffins are tender, fluffy, the slightest bit nutty, and just terribly, terribly good. I don’t know any other way to put it.
I don’t mean to belabor the ‘naturally flourless’ angle but man, when you pare it all down to simple, wholesome ingredients you can really taste it. Gluten-free stuff that is intended to substitute for the ‘real’ thing, well, I never have gone for that. I’ll admit to using King Arthur Flour’s gluten-free blend; it’s very good as these things go and has served me well in a few cakes and cookies. And yet. It just isn’t … quite … right. The texture, the flavor, something. Which is why I have come to argue in favor of using gluten-free flours in specific combinations that complement each other to make the overall product taste just as good as it possibly can. Forget the catch-all ‘all purpose’ blend; forget trying to make it ‘as good as’. Just make it good, no qualifier. Let’s experiment with a cup of millet flour and a half cup of quinoa flour and maybe a pinch of cornstarch but actually maybe a tablespoon of ground flax seeds is all you really need for those sugar cookies …
It’s just a thought. And it’s one that’s occupying me lately and definitely taking up a lot of those afternoon hours. Today, for example, I’m thinking of doing a tarte tatin with a brown rice flour crust and swapping chilled coconut oil for butter. It could be a disaster or the most genius idea I’ve ever had. Time will tell.
Here we’ve had thunderstorms and some wicked humidity. We’ve also had a really nice afternoon at the beach where we sat under umbrellas and ate a decent lunch and dug our feet in the sand. It was mostly deserted out there except for a French-Moroccan family racing into the waves for a swim and the surfers bobbing out to sea despite the drops. We talked about Lisbon and life in Marin County and food photography and had espressos. Sierra got her feet wet in the Atlantic and slept the whole way back to city. More soon, again, please.
I think I may tweak this recipe a bit – up the amount of flax seeds maybe, though I don’t know that it particularly needs it – but it’s oh-so-good as is. I will note that the muffins are the tiniest bit more crumbly than when made with all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour though not overly so. Use whatever berries you like; I think blueberries would be perfect.
Makes 1 dozen muffins.
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened soy milk)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar, if that’s all you’ve got)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or oil of choice, keeping in mind if you choose olive or coconut you will impart that taste)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free oat flour (from 1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats, ground in a food processor until fine)
1 cup brown rice flour
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground ginger
1 1/2 cups berries (I used Carrefour’s ‘rouge’ blend)
optional: 1/4 cup sliced almonds or chopped walnuts
Oat crumble topping
3 tablespoons rolled oats
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk, vinegar, maple syrup, and oil until well combined.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, ground flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, cardamon, salt, and the pinch of ginger. Mix in the berries, tossing to coat the fruit lightly.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir gently until just combined. Fold in the nuts if using.
Distribute the batter evenly into the muffin tins and sprinkle each muffin with oats and brown sugar. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Remove tin from oven and let muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve room temperature or slightly warm, with a bit of margarine or coconut butter.