Monday, October 14, 2013

Well, butter my grain-free biscuits ...

Mary Plunkett in her kitchen classroom

My friend Mary Plunkett is truly a Wonder Woman! She comes up with more creative ideas in a day than the normal human being has in a month—and, unlike most of us, she has the energy and pluck to carry them out. For example, if she becomes convinced of the health benefits of fresh dairy products, by golly, she buys herself a cow. (Hers is named Mocha.)

Mary's magical "twinkle room"
A caterer and decorator, it only takes Mary a couple of days to transform a cedar field on her farm into an elegant “twinkle room” and feed 65 people a gourmet meal, complete with several courses of food and live music. (She does this several times a year, and if you ever have the chance to attend, don’t miss it!)

In recent months, Mary has been exploring grain-free cooking and baking. Inspired by her own desire for improved health, she doesn’t just pull recipes from a book or from the Internet and call it good. Oh, no! She experiments with her favorites, picking them apart to understand the chemistry and finding ways to improve upon them. (Then she tests them on her grateful friends and family. Yes, please!)

For the past few weeks, she has been conducting grain-free cooking classes (four per week) in the health-department-inspected-and-certified classroom of her home. (Which is right next door to the classroom where she home-schools her two brilliant sons, by the way.)

My schedule, unfortunately, didn’t allow me to sign up for as many classes as I would have liked, but I did manage to work out three of them: Grain Free Biscuits & Sausage Gravy; Butternut Squash Gnocchi & Honey Glazed Pork; and Baked Ham ‘n’ Beans with ‘Corn’bread.

My family’s Christmas breakfast always includes biscuits and gravy, and I’ve been missing them for the past couple of years because of my celiac disease.  I was so excited to see those gluten-free, grain-free biscuits on Mary’s schedule that I was determined to attend that class, come Heck or High Water. And let me tell you: Oh. My. Gosh. Those biscuits, which we ate with grain-free sausage gravy, were to die for!

Here’s the recipe, which Mary graciously has allowed me to pass along to my readers:

Flaky Almond Biscuits

Form biscuits on a sheet
of parchment
2 packed cups blanched almond flour
½ C. arrowroot starch (or tapioca, potato, or sweet potato starch)
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
½ C. cold butter or coconut oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vinegar

Fresh from the oven
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a food processor bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot, salt and baking powder.
  • Add butter and cut the fat into the flour until the fat is about the size of a pea.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and vinegar. Pour mixture into the food processor with the flour mixture and mix just briefly and gently until the dough comes together. It may feel a little wet.
  • Dust a sheet of parchment, or your counter with additional starch. Gently pat the dough into a square and cut into 9 biscuits.
  • Place onto a greased baking sheet. (We used the same parchment upon which we formed the biscuits.)
  • Bake for 18 minutes.

Our flaky grain-free finished
 product--so yummy!
Note: These biscuits can be placed into freezer containers before baking and frozen. Then you can pull them out any time and bake them at 350 for a little longer than 18 minutes.

Mary’s fall series of classes is nearly at an end, but if you hurry, you might still get in on one. Hopefully, she will offer more grain-free classes next spring, but if she doesn’t, I guarantee you that she will “cook up” something else to delight those of us who are lucky enough to be in the know. Join Mary’s Facebook page, titled “Morsels,” and stay informed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wax lips ... and other Halloween treats

My Grandma Gipson and my sister Sherry outside the office of the
MFA Farmers Exchange in Ava, MO (ca. 1954).

My grandfather Clovis Gipson spent most of his working years managing MFA Farmers Exchanges in small southwest Missouri towns. I am old enough to remember his last exchange in Ava, Missouri, though I was very young when he retired.

Among my earliest memories are climbing to the rafters of the warehouse on bags full of seed, watching the “egg man” in his thick glasses grade the eggs, and playing house in the kitchen of the meeting room.  The exchange office had a water fountain with the coldest water I had ever drunk, and the Pauline, the indulgent clerk, let me sit up on a high stool and punch numbers into an adding machine. The sweet, earthy smell of the warehouse, the cool green tiles on the meeting room floor where I’d lie on my stomach on hot summer days, and the taste of the orange pop Grandma let me buy for a nickel from the big red soda machine are sensations I’ll never forget.

At Halloween each year, I’m reminded of one of my happiest memories from the MFA days. If we were really good (and sometimes even when we weren’t very good at all), Grandpa would give my sister and me pennies to spend at the nearby dime store. My most frequent purchase was those goofy wax lips, which I’d wear as long as I could before I chewed them up into a hard nugget of gray paraffin.

While wax lips are gluten-free, they’re not among the candy selections I’d make today. Give me a Snickers bar or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup any day of the week (but not every day of the week). Fortunately, those candies are also gluten-free, as are many of the most popular brands.

Consider passing out gluten-free candy to the goblins and superheroes in your neighborhood this Halloween. For a complete list of Gluten-free and Gluten-safe Halloween Candy (compiled in 2012), go to:

Fall parties at school are also common this time of year. Here is my list of gluten-free snacks that can be easily adapted for classrooms:

Rice Krispies Treats made with GF Rice Krispies
Apple slices with caramel sauce (Check label, but it’s usually GF)
Frozen grapes (Doug’s favorite healthy snack; use seedless)
Chex Cereal, divided into little baggies (not Wheat Chex)
Dried Fruit
Nut Thin Crackers and canned cheese (Check label)
Cheese sticks
Popcorn or popcorn balls (My personal favorite)
Fruit kebabs (on toothpicks)
Frozen bananas dipped in chocolate
Gummi worms
GF Goldfish
Fruit Rollups
Trail Mix (Sunflower seeds, M&Ms, GF pretzels, dried cranberries or raisins)
Individual pudding or gelatin cups (Check labels)
Celery sticks with sunflower seed butter
Carrot sticks and dip
Individual bags of Lays or other GF potato chips

For some super cute snack ideas, go to Pinterest and type in “Gluten free snacks for kids.” Find Jordan Nicole’s board for some ideas that you could even have the kids make.
Pie Crust Update:

I made a couple of pumpkin pies today with the Kinnickinnik frozen pie crusts that I bought yesterday. My pumpkin pie recipe filled both of the 8” piecrusts that came in the box—with enough left over to make a crustless pie in a little ramekin. You know what? The frozen crust wasn’t half bad! It had a nice texture and tasted great! I’d say it’s a fine alternative to rolling out your own.


My mom took exception to my credited source for the Pumpkin Pecan Perfection recipe that I posted yesterday. She said that she was indeed responsible for my having that recipe—NOT Midwest Living Magazine. According to Mom, she got the recipe from our hairdresser and told me about it.  At that point I somehow hi-jacked the recipe and started making it for all the family gatherings, and she lost credit for having discovered it. So, there you go, Mom. I’ve come clean.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It's the great pumpkin ... !

A harvest of pumpkins at a roadside market in Ithaca, NY.

Nothing proclaims “Fall is here!” more loudly than a big orange pumpkin! As soon as those wondrous squashes reappear in big bins in front of grocery stores, among famers’ markets offerings, and on neighborhood doorsteps, I can’t wait to get a taste of my first pumpkin treat of the season.

Unfortunately, celiac disease has robbed me of my favorite fall treat. I weep daily over the fact that I can no longer indulge in Andy’s Frozen Custard Pumpkin Pie Concretes. (“Wa-ah, wa-ah, wa-ah! Call the wa-ambulance!” as my coaching friend Jeff Edge used to say to his whining players.)

With a simple substitution, however, my second favorite fall pumpkin treat is still available to me.  I found a recipe called Pumpkin Pecan Perfection a few years ago in Midwest Living Magazine (at least, that’s where I think I found it, so they’re getting the credit), which immediately became a family favorite. Here’s my gluten-free version. (No, it’s not the least bit healthy, so turn back now, if you are trying to follow the high road to physical wellbeing.)

GF Pumpkin Pecan Perfection

1 large can (approx. 28 oz.) pumpkin
1 C. sugar
3 eggs
1 large can (approx. 14 oz.) evaporated milk
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

Mix well and pour into a greased 9x13” pan. Sprinkle one box of yellow gluten-free cake mix over the pumpkin layer. (Betty Crocker has a dandy one that you can usually find right there with the “normal” cake mixes! Or you can use any gluten-free yellow or white cake mix. )

Sprinkle 1 ½ C. chopped pecans over the cake mix. Drizzle with 1 ½ to 2 sticks of melted butter or oleo over the top. Bake at 350 for one hour. Cool and top with Cool Whip or ice cream.

I’d be almost willing to wager that, if you like pumpkin at all, this stuff is better than any chocolate treat you’ve ever had!

Kroger brand pumpkin pie yogurt.
Many other pumpkin-flavored treats are also available to folks with gluten issues. Yoplait, for example, is rumored to have a gluten-free pumpkin-flavored yogurt, but I have yet to find it. One of my friends says she saw pumpkin yogurt at Aldi, but I couldn’t find it there, either. I did find the pumpkin flavor (Kroger brand) at my local Dillons store, though, and they also offer a GF Cinnamon Roll flavor. Yum! If you want something a bit healthier, here’s a recipe for making a treat with Chobani, Fage, or other plain Greek yogurts:

Pumpkin Greek Yogurt

1/3 C. 2% Greek yogurt
1/3 C pumpkin
1 tsp. ground flax
2 tsp. unsweetened coconut
1 tsp. chia seeds
Drizzle of honey

Mix all together and enjoy.  (Recipe from

Pumpkin ice cream is in season, too. Edy’s and Breyers pumpkin-flavored ice cream is gluten-free, and I’m sure that there are others out there as well.  As always, check the labels before you eat it. Some companies put bits of piecrust in the ice cream, which is definitely off-limits! There are many recipes for homemade pumpkin ice cream on the Internet, if you’re feeling industrious—I plan to try one in the near future (as soon as my feeling of industry returns).

If it’s pumpkin pie you’re craving, there are (allegedly) some decent frozen gluten-free pie shells on the market, including crusts from Kinnikinnick and Whole Foods, but you can’t find them just anywhere. I picked up a couple of the Kinnikinnick brand at Mama Jeans Natural Foods Store just today, so I’ll be testing those soon.

Your best bet for pie crusts is to make your own from scratch or by using crust mixes, such as those from Glutino, Better Batter, The Gluten-Free Pantry, or Bob’s Red Mill.  Prepare your own favorite filling and substitute the crust. I’ve never been very good at pies, so I honestly haven’t tried too hard. I made a (barely) decent strawberry pie once using a mix from Namaste, but it was nothing to blog (or even write home) about.

While I’m on the topic, check out this Pumpkin Fluff Dip that I lifted from Allrecipes. Serve it with any GF ginger snaps, such as Mi-Del, or with Gluten-Free S’moreables Graham Style Crackers from Kinnikikinnick. (Love, love, love those!)

A clever serving idea!
Pumpkin Fluff Dip

1 (16 oz.) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (5 oz.) package instant vanilla pudding
1 (15 oz.) can solid pack pumpkin
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

In a large bowl, mix together instant vanilla pudding mix, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice. Fold in the thawed frozen whipped topping. Chill in the refrigerator. Make a clever serving bowl by cutting off the top of a small pumpkin and scraping out the seeds.

Even if you must avert your eyes as you pass an Andy’s Frozen Custard stand (“Wa-ah, wa-ah, wa-ah!”), you can still enjoy the fun and flavor of fall!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Traveling mercies

Don't let celiac disease foil your travel plans or
you might miss beautiful Niagara Falls!

Just because I have celiac disease, I’m not about to refrain from travel. Sure, it gets old, having to seek out restaurants with gluten-free offerings—but with patient companions and a little perseverance, it can certainly be done.

My walking buddy Lee Ann and I recently completed a 10-day road trip from Springfield, Missouri, to New York without my experiencing a single incident of “glutening” the entire time. I’m amazed at how much easier finding gluten-free food has become, even in the twenty-six months since my diagnosis.

Here are a few tried and true Travel Tips for Celiacs to make your road trips comfortable and worry-free:

1.                  Take along plenty of gluten-free snacks in case you find yourself in “iffy” situations. We took along a bag of Glutino pretzels, fruit, nuts, cheese dip, and gluten-free granola bars—and we picked up more interesting snacks along the way, including kettle corn and pumpkin fudge from a country store.

2.                  Pack some gluten-free oatmeal (if you can tolerate it) or other gluten-free cereals, in case the complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel where you’re staying doesn’t have much to offer celiacs. Each of the five different hotels we used during our trip supplied yogurt, hot water for instant oatmeal, and some type of fresh fruit. Most had scrambled eggs and bacon as well. Unfortunately, none had gluten-free bread or muffins.

3.                  Make use of apps. I always check Find Me Gluten Free, which usually has at least a couple of recommendations near your current location. You can also type in “gluten free menus” on Yelp and come up with restaurants in many places.

4.                  If you’re in a hurry, frequent your old chain standbys. Wendy’s, McDonalds, Chipotle, and Panera (avoid if you’re super sensitive) are my favorites. If you have a little more time but don’t want to take chances on unknown places, chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel, Applebees, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, and many others have gluten-free menus.

The second half of my Collegetown bagel.
5.                  Don’t be shy to ask about gluten-free offerings at places where you might not expect to find them. While we were in Ithaca visiting Lee Ann’s son, we breakfasted at Collegetown Bagel, where I thought I’d probably be limited to yogurt, but, lo and behold, they had a great gluten-free breakfast bagel!

6.                  Never travel without Imodium or other drugs to treat your symptoms, in case you accidentally ingest gluten.

7.                  Since many hotel rooms and/or hotel dining areas are equipped with microwaves, take along microwave popcorn for a snack, in case you find yourself hungry in the evening. You can also find gluten-free chips, nuts, or candies in most hotel vending machines, but the calories in these items add up fast.

8.                  If you’re traveling out of the country, don’t forget to download and print free Gluten Free Dining Cards from the Gluten Free Passport website at Show restaurant personnel these pocket-sized cards, which outline celiac dining needs in a number of different languages to ensure that your meal will be safe. You can also obtain this information for your Apple or Android by downloading the Gluten & Allergy Free Translation Cards for Travel App.

Buttermilk Falls near Ithaca, NY.
While you’re on the road, take some time to check out grocery stores in other parts of the country for items that you can’t find locally. We visited three or four different grocery stores on our trip, and I found interesting new gluten-free products at each of them.

On our road trip, Lee Ann and I visited her son Michael and my children Emily and Bryson, all studying in New York. We attended two of Michael’s wonderful piano performances in Ithaca, took in two Broadway shows (Matilda and Newsies), ate at several of my favorite NYC restaurants, walked the length of NYC’s High Line Trail, explored The Cloisters, braved the lines at the 911 Memorial, hiked around many Ithaca-area waterfalls, visited Niagara Falls, overnighted in Canada, sampled wine at a couple of charming wineries, discovered an off-the-beaten-track covered bridge, and spent some time with a friend in Detroit. We walked and talked and laughed and marveled.

I refuse to let the threat of gluten complications mess up my travel plans. With a little planning and a bit of extra packing—and a few traveling mercies—folks with celiac disease can still enjoy their favorite destinations.