December 27, 2011

A quiet Christmas


It has been a great four days off work. I’m a little sad I have to go back tomorrow, but grateful that I’ll have another long weekend for new year’s.

We had our quietest Christmas in many years. On Christmas Eve we went over to J’s brother and his wife’s house to spend the night. We took a lot of gear with us: gifts, food, and overnight clothes. We probably looked ridiculous riding the train.


For me, Christmas is all about the special food. I bought some delicious toffee that I’ve had my eye on for several months. It’s $8.50 for a small box so it’s not something I would normally buy, but the holidays are a time for splurging. I also picked up some hot-chocolate flavoured nougat at the farmers’ market  that had pieces of roasted almonds, marshmallows, and cinnamon. Very seasonal, I highly recommend it (it’s from The Newget Company for those in Edmonton).


We also brought over eggnog, homemade gluten-free gingersnaps, aged cheddar and bacon for Christmas morning breakfast, and ingredients to make a cocktail I had just read about online. It has a rosemary simple syrup, grapefruit juice, and sparkling water.


The cocktail was delicious, even without the gin. Refreshing and only slightly sweet. Again, very seasonal, but in a different way – piney and citrusy.

We spent most of Christmas eve preparing food and eating.  We ate a full turkey dinner, and J and I made an amazing cauliflower-bacon gratin from his new cookbook, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I bought it for him as a surprise and so far this book is knocking it out of the park. It’s beautiful, fun to read, and full of recipes we really want to make. J also said, “this book really makes me want to live in Paris again!” J lived there for a year after high school, studying music. Dorie Greenspan is American but lives part of the year in Paris and writes about it with great enthusiasm.


We opened most of our presents on Christmas eve (it’s an Acadian tradition). (Up above you can see a few of the baby books my Mom gave us, some gingerbread hearts from J’s stocking and David’s tea.) Then we collapsed at about 9:30. I think the incredibly rich Danish rice pudding might have had something to do with it. 

Christmas morning was low-key too. It started off with a delicious breakfast of hash browns, scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. For the first time in many months I ate one of my favourite food combinations: toast with peanut butter, cheddar cheese, and bacon. I know it sounds weird but you really have to try it …


Christmas night it was just the two of us. Our first and last (at least for a long time) Christmas by ourselves. It was lots of fun. We relaxed, watched youtube videos, and ate a slow, relaxed meal. We bought a few treats for ourselves to enjoy, and started off with thick juicy slices of buffalo mozzarella and dressed greens on slices of fried bread with roasted walnuts, topped with salt and pepper and a drizzle of basil oil. J put this together and the combo was perfect. The cheese (which we got at the Italian Centre) was amazing – soft and oozing. It made me think of all the delicious mozzarella we were eating in Italy at this time last year.


Then we enjoyed duck confit on crackers. We were so full after all that, we took a long break before our main course of this turkey casserole to use up some leftovers.


The rest of our time off proceeded in leisurely fashion. We didn’t do much the past few days but more cooking and baking. Tonight we made a Vietnamese soup to use up the rest of the turkey. This was the second recipe from Around My French Table, and again, absolutely fantastic. Incredibly easy and packed with flavour.


(you can see the leftover cauliflower-bacon gratin in the right of this photo)

I also made a gluten-free coconut cake yesterday that turned out really well. It’s sandwiched with raspberry jam and topped with coconut-lime icing. I love having time off to do more baking.


I’ve been feeling a lot better now that I’m well into my second trimester, and working much more comfortable hours at work. We’re looking forward to enjoying the next few months of pregnancy before things really get turned upside down.


Hope you all had very happy and food-filled holidays, wherever you are!

December 7, 2011

Quick Trip to Toronto

I flew to Toronto a few weeks ago for a conference with my Buddhist group. After the conference I stayed in the city for a short visit with my friend emily. It was my first time there since becoming celiac, so I was eager to try some of the city’s gluten-free offerings.

By a strange coincidence, I ended up eating a lot of vegan food. And of course, a lot of baked goods. Here are a few sh0ts I took and some descriptions. I was pretty lax about photos on this trip because I forgot my camera at home and was relying on the camera on my Blackberry – not the best.

Iced latte and gluten-free dacquoise at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio


The dacquoise felt like a real indulgence, and I ate it all up before I thought to snap a picture. It’s a small, round, layered pastry with thin discs of meringue and espresso cream, very elegant and delicious. The iced latte also hit the spot on that balmy day. I really liked the atmosphere of this place too. Kind of European, very bustling. They have a good selection of GF baked goods, including cookies and cheesecake. I took a few things for the road and the almond cookie was the best. They also offer gluten-free bread for all their sandwiches, so I’ll definitely keep it in mind when I’m back in the city.

Lunch at Rawlicious

No photos. I met my friend Michelle here at the location in Yorkville. It was my first time in a raw restaurant so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I left the meal quite impressed. I appreciated the fact that everything on the menu was gluten-free, and though some things sounded more appetizing than others, there was a lot of choice. I really enjoyed the sprouted buckwheat pizza with a salad. Compared to the many GF pizza crust I’ve tried, this raw one was delicious and had a good texture too. The roasted vegetables on top were also good, and I barely noticed that the “cheese” was actually made a of cashews. The side salad was large and fresh with a great ginger dressing. The whole meal was extremely filling and I felt very virtuous when I finished.

The restaurant is small and cozy and the service was friendly. It was the perfect spot for our lunch date.

Cappuccino at Crema Coffee Co.

emily took me here for a quick coffee. Am I ever glad she did. It was one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had. Ever. Smooth and full of so much flavour I didn’t even know coffee could have. The photo isn’t much, but it was damn good.

Macarons at Nadège






I made the trek up Yonge Street to visit the new location of a pastry shop called Nadège. Wherever I travel I know I can always eat macarons, those tiny sandwich cookies made of almonds and egg whites, and since they’re still a pretty huge trend in many cities it’s fun to find new places to get them. Nadège was number one on a “best macarons in toronto” list I found online, and emily confirmed that they are excellent.

I’m so glad I took the walk. The weather was beautiful and it’s always fun to wander in a city you don’t know. On my walk up Yonge I stumbled upon a beautiful little shop called The Drake Hotel General Store where I coveted virtually everything.

Nadège did not disappoint. It’s a small storefront with a long case full of minimalistic fresh displays and a few shelves of sweet wrapped confections for sale. I was especially impressed with the fantastically coloured basil-strawberry marshmallows (above photo). I chose a few macarons for myself and a small box of chocolates to take home to J. That’s the only unfortunate part about macarons – they’re usually so expensive that I can only afford to try a few. On the other hand, they’re so sweet that a few can easily sate me.

I tried the salted caramel (always a must-try for me), blackberry chocolate and pistachio and ate them next to a nearby fountain/pool.

The salted caramel was a definite standout. I am addicted to that flavour and it was done very well. The perfect balance of salty and sweet. The blackberry chocolate was just okay, since I got absolutely no blackberry flavour from the cookie part, merely a rich chocolate from the filling. The pistachio was good too, but neither of them caressed my taste buds like the salted caramel. I was pleased to realize that the macarons from Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton are just as good as these.

That’s all for this time, Toronto. Thanks for all the fun.

December 3, 2011

Gluten-free Christmas Cookies & Some News

The Christmas baking started a couple of weeks ago around here. A little early, yes, but I had an excuse: I attended a cookie exchange for my friend Mackenzie's wedding shower. It was a great excuse to make up a big batch of dough for the holiday season. There's still some in the freezer for the coming weeks.

The wedding shower was great. Unfortunately I couldn't eat most of the tasty-looking treats, but since neither the host nor I can eat gluten, her mother brought a few gluten-free chocolatey things from the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market which were delicious.


The cookies I made are my first attempt at converting a favourite Christmas recipe, and they were a huge success. . J and I first made Nigella Lawson's Christmas Decoration Cookies five years ago (!) when we were living in our first apartment together in Charlottetown, the site of the original little red kitchen. We've loved them ever since. I think it's the unexpected spiciness from the black pepper, and the use of brown instead of white sugar. It turns them into a cross between sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies. They adapted perfectly well to my whole-grain gluten-free flour blend, without any xantham gum or guar gum. The dough was easy to work with and the taste was just what I remembered.

The icing is a nice way to dress up these cookies, but I'm not sure it's entirely necessary. I think the spicy flavour comes through better without it.

(We don't usually make these to hang on the tree anymore - we'd rather eat them fresh. But they do look lovely if you want to turn them into decorations.)

J and I are getting pretty excited about Christmas. We're staying here in Edmonton, and it's the first year that neither of our families will be coming to visit us. A different, quieter Christmas, but I think it's a good thing. From here on out Christmas will probably be crazy, since there will be an added element.

Yes, this is our last Christmas just the two of us. By next year we'll have a seven-month old for everyone to spoil and enjoy. We're expecting our first baby on May 25. Needless to say, we're pretty pumped about it!

And that's the main reason the blog has been so quiet over the past few months. I haven't been feeling so  great - lots of nausea and fatigue. It's been an adjustment, and blogging is not a big priority. But having rounded the three-month mark a few weeks ago, I'm hoping that more energy lies ahead. We'll see how it goes.

Enjoy these cookies and the start of your holiday season! These days I'm really enjoying candlelight in the evenings and looking at the sparkly coloured lights on the legislature grounds outside our window. Here's to lighting up the Edmonton darkness however you can.

Gluten-free Pepper-Spiced Christmas Roll-out Cookies
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Decoration Cookies

For the cookies:

3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) dark brown sugar
10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) Gluten-free All-purpose flour mix, plus extra for dusting (I used this one)
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (I like it with 2 teaspoons)
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons clear honey

For the icing and trimmings:
2 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons water
Gold or silver sugar balls or sprinkles
Ribbon or wire, for hanging

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).

Place the butter and sugar in a clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the color and texture of the mixture becomes pale. Place the mixture into the bowl of a food processor* and add the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and freshly ground black pepper. Blend the mixture. While the food processor is blending, gradually pour the eggs and honey down the funnel of the food processor's lid into the bowl until a dough has formed (you may not require all of the liquid if the dough has come together before it is used up). If the dough is too dry add a little water to the mixture. If the dough is too wet add a little flour.

*If you don’t have a food processor – blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add the butter and sugar mixture and beat with the electric mixer until it is a sandy texture. Then gradually add the egg and honey while the beaters are still on until the dough comes together. Stop and test after you’ve added about two-thirds of the liquid to see if you can squeeze the dough together into a ball. If not, continue to add liquid until you can.

Halve the dough. Wrap one half of the dough in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag, and refrigerate. Place the other half of the dough onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough, with a rolling pin, into a disk to about 1/4-inch thick. Using cookies cutters, cut decoration shapes out of the dough. Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out more shapes until the dough is used up. Remove the second half of the dough from the fridge and repeat this process.

If you want to hang your cookies on the Christmas tree: with the pointed end of a small icing nozzle, puncture a hole just below the top of each decoration (through which ribbon or wire can later be threaded to hang them).

Arrange the decorations on baking sheets lined with a layer of reusable silicon baking parchment and cook for 15-20 minutes or until they are cooked through and golden-brown in color. Transfer the decorations to a wire rack to cool.

To make the icing, mix approximately six tablespoons of boiling water with the sifted icing sugar and stir until you’ve got a thin, glossy glaze. Ice the cold decorations using a teaspoon (use the tip of the spoon for dripping the icing onto the decoration and the back of the teaspoon for smoothing). Scatter sprinkles or gold and silver balls as you desire. Cut the ribbon into short lengths and thread the ribbon through the holes in the decorations.