Friday, July 30, 2010

Cotton Baby Sweaters

Only 4 months to go, and I finally finished my first baby item.

I knit this basic boatneck pullover with Manos del Uruguay Cotton Stria in gender-neutral tones. It couldn't have been easier—pure television knitting. I knit the torso in a tube from the bottom up, split the stitches in half at the armpits, and knit the front and back flat. Then I seamed the shoulders, picked up stitches at the arm holes, and knit the arms in the round, shoulder to wrist. It's two tubes attached to a larger tube. No shaping. No sewing. No thinking. It's boxy and roomy, for wrastlin'.

Here's the beginning of my next project, the Dewey Cabled Pullover from Vintage Baby Knits:

I'm using Cascade Ultra Pima in a lovely mustard (chosen to hide vomit stains). This time I'm following a pattern and it requires counting, so I'll have to pay attention.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gluten-Free Dough at Flatbread Company

Before going gluten-free last September, Flatbread Company was one of my favorite restaurants in Portland. I loved their crispy brick oven pizza and hippie toppings, their thoughtful salad and drinks (especially the maple lemonade), and the patio and wall of windows that look out on docking ferries. After I gave up gluten, I quit going to Flatbread Company—who wants to sit around and watch other people eat pizza?

It turns out my self-imposed exile from Flatbread was unnecessary. Though it's not listed on their website or menu, Flatbread carries a vegan, gluten-free pizza crust made by Mommy's Muffins in New Hampshire. For four dollars extra, you can make any small pizza gluten-free. And it's really pretty good!

The dough is made with chickpea and rice flour, as well as all the familiar GF starches. It tastes like a nutty whole-wheat crust, and serves as a neutral backdrop for toppings. Mine didn't char like the traditional crust, but it held together and supported toppings without becoming a brick.

The gluten-free dough is handled carefully and cooked on its own tray, but cross-contamination is possible (there is a lot of flour flying around back by the oven). Flatbread also carries brownies and whoopie pies that are gluten-free but not vegan. I can't imagine why these gluten-free options aren't on the menu; I avoided Flatbread for almost a year because I thought they couldn't feed me.

As far as I know, Flatbread Company is the only place in Maine where you can order a gluten-free vegan pizza. Not only is it delicious, you can eat it while waiting for seals to pop their heads up beside the dock. I'll be back!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Just A Little Post About Scones

Most of July has been too hot for baking, but this week brought cooler temperatures (along with some exciting thunderstorms). A while ago I signed up to bake something for an event at our Maine Audubon center, and though I got off to a bad start with Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book, I decided to try the scones. (Kittee swears by Flying Apron's scone recipe, and I trust her tastebuds.) If you don't own this pretty but inconsistent cookbook, you can find the recipe by going to Amazon and searching the look inside feature for Blueberry Cinnamon Scones.

I made these twice (the #1 rule of gluten-free baking is always do a test run). The first time, I swapped the blueberries for raspberries and added some orange zest, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. The dough was too wet to knead, so I added about ⅓ cup additional brown rice flour. The finished scones were tasty (the chickpea flavor bakes right out), but fragile. Fresh from the oven, their texture was crumbly, but by the next day they disintegrated if I even looked at them funny.

I added ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum to my second batch, and the results were perfect. These scones are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, and they withstand gentle handling the way scones should.

Unless you like scones the size of your head, I recommend forming the dough into two 2-inch disks and slicing each of these into eighths, for 16 hand-sized scones. Bake smaller scones for 25 minutes. A drizzle of simple confectioner's sugar glaze makes these as fancy and a tasty as anything you'd find in the Starbucks pastry case. A dusting of turbinado sugar (before the scones go in the oven) would also be nice.

For the first time in a long time, I baked something gluten-free that's good enough to serve to normal people! It feels good.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Freezing, Canning, and Drying the Season

I've got local produce up the wazoo. Back in December, we decided to double our CSA share this summer, figuring we'd store whatever we couldn't eat within a week. We didn't plan on the weather getting so warm so early, with rain at regular intervals. Our haul is easily triple last year's, and I've spent most of the past few Saturdays washing, slicing, blanching, and canning.

Slowly but surely I've been filling our freezer with vegetables. Carrots, spinach, chard, peas, and basil pesto (frozen in single servings) will all come in handy this winter, when I'll be busy wiping up spittle or some such nonsense.

I recently celebrated my thirtieth birthday, and my big present was a dehydrator (which ought to tell you how exciting I am). Last weekend I dried zucchini and summer squash. Though they're not crunchy enough to eat as chips, they're surprisingly sweet, and will make great additions to soup mixes.

Today I'm drying radishes:

You can't freeze 'em, and you can only eat so many fresh before your tongue goes numb. I found this recipe for spicy radish dip that calls for dried, powdered radishes. I also think they'll make neat little spicy croutons.

I've been canning, too. Jam, so far, but come August there will be pickles galore. Jam, pickles, and fruit in syrup went quickly last winter, as gifts and in our own kitchen. Juice concentrates got less use, so I'll likely skip them this year.

Thanks to a late frost, strawberries were fleeting this summer, and I only got in a half dozen jars of jam before they were gone. Raspberries are thriving (my berry man at the farmers' market brags about his "bumpah crop"), and I'll be making another batch of jam tomorrow.

I know this winter I'll be too busy to shop for or prepare healthy food, and I'll be glad I set all this aside. Still, after 7 hours of standing at the sink peeling carrots and shucking peas, I can't help but think what hard work this slow food business is! How did those pioneer women do it without comfortable shoes or running water?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Portland's Pepperclub: A Welcoming Spot for Eaters of All Kinds

Portland boasts a half-dozen restaurants with vegan-friendly menus, but since going gluten-free, a few of my old favorites are sadly off-limits (who wants to go to Flatbread Company and smell pizza?) Being gluten-free adds a whole new level of difficulty to dining out, and I've gained an appreciation for the rare eatery where I can sit down, tell the server I am vegan and gluten-free, and have my dietary restrictions understood without further explanation. Fortunately, Pepperclub on Middle Street is a safe bet, with knowledgeable staff who go out of their way to ensure I eat well.

The dinner menu typically features 12 entrées, half of them vegetarian. Of these, 3 or 4 can usually be made without eggs, dairy, and gluten. I've visited twice, and each time the server has bee able to provide information about ingredients and preparation methods. Pepperclub serves wine and beer, with an emphasis on Maine producers, though several St. Peter's gluten-free beers are available.

We stopped in for dinner on a recent Saturday night, and took advantage of Pepperclub's prix fixe special. My first course was a rich, lightly salty carrot-peanut-cilantro soup. It was simple but delicious; I want to try making it in the fall with some of my CSA carrots. Behind the soup you can see some rice crackers that our thoughtful server brought for me in place of bread and butter.

A simple green salad with a sweet citrus vinaigrette followed the soup. I didn't even have to remind them to hold the croutons.

We chose two gluten-free vegan entrées, planning to share. The mushroom loaf with gravy and puréed root vegetables was pure comfort food.

It would have been more appropriate to a cold night in November, but I loved every bite. It was tender but not mushy, with rich flavors of mushroom, red wine, and sweet potato. And who would have thought an orange slice belonged on that plate? It was perfect!

The coconut tempeh stir-fry, on the other hand, was ill-conceived. You can't just slice up cold tempeh, throw it in a recipe in place of chicken, and expect it to taste good. This tempeh was dense and dry; I wondered if it had even been marinated. The vegetables were done right, cooked just long enough to retain some crunch, but the coconut sauce was too heavy. The lime slices make me suspect they were trying to go Thai here, but the dish was dry and the tempeh, having not received the requisite TLC, was sour and out of place. It's dishes like this that convince meat-eaters and new vegetarians that they don't like tempeh. Tofu, or even plain old cashews, would have been a better choice.

After soup, salad, and loaf, I had barely a square inch left for dessert. But how could I pass up orange cake with chocolate mousse?

Oh my, that mousse. So dark. So creamy. Thick as freshly-churned butter, it coated my tongue and brought tears to my eyes. It made me wonder why I don't just give up on disappointing gluten-free cupcakes and make more pudding.

The cake had a pleasantly sweet citrus flavor, but it was so dense and crumbly, I thought it had to be intentional—one of those polenta cakes I've heard so much about. Inquiry revealed that the texture was the result of using brown rice flour, and nothing else, in place of all-purpose. I was okay with it, but if you're used to eating gluten, order something else. Pepperclub's dessert menu varies, but a vegan chocolate cake and vegan cardamom cake are usually available.

While a couple of the things we tried were disappointing, everything about our first visit to Pepperclub last November was incredible. I remember a spiced pumpkin curry with quinoa that was so simple, honest, and fresh, it had me wondering, again, why I hadn't thought of it before. I also remember a bottle of St. Peter's triple blonde ale...at least the beginning of it.

Though it's not a a dedicated vegetarian restaurant, Pepperclub deserves four chickpeas. Even gluten-free vegans have choices here, and that's a rare treat.