Every December, for decades of my life, I made dozens and dozens of gingerbread men. Nearly every weekend, I found myself at the end of each evening with piles of crispy ginger cookies toppling on baking racks and flour all down the front of my shirt. In fact, for years I just baked myself unconscious all throughout the holidays, just coming up for breath in January, spent and determined to never bake again. Somehow, every year I forgot the frantic fracas and went back to it.
Of course, when I first found out I had celiac, I figured I would never bake again. Within three days, I gave my flour-dusted copy of the Pillsbury baking book to my dear friend Dorothy. I tucked my recipes for holiday cookies in the back of a drawer. I was determined to live my life without baked goods.
Now, of course, I think — how silly. There is a natural process to this journey. At first, shock and horror, along with a small spring of hope at the life Iwe might have. And then, as we start to truly feel well for the first time in our lives, there arises a determination to do this right, all fervency and fabulous zeal. A bit of grieving, continual surprise, a little anger, a sense of discovery — we can cycle through them all and stay longer in some than others. Finally, there is acceptance. And we just live.
Honestly, at this point, I think about living gluten-free all day long, but it’s only because I am keeping this website, and writing a book, and marrying a chef who has worked to make his restaurant safe for those who are living gluten-free. If I were feeding myself, and not writing about this, I’m not sure I’d be identifying myself so much this way. I’d just eat the food I know is safe and think of other things.
I’m so grateful to be aware of this. I really loving helping anyone I can, any one of you reading who needs to live gluten-free.
I find, therefore, that I have a natural affinity for anyone else who makes gluten-free food, who wants to educate and help other people. This is why I like Lisa Shaw so much.
Lisa runs a gluten-free baked goods company called Mona’s Gluten-Free. Back in September, she and her company launched their gluten-free mixes into the larger market beyond their Woodinville store, and they held their launch luncheon at Impromptu. In honor of the occasion, Lisa invited representatives from local co-ops, health food stores, and grocery stores to eat with her and talk about living gluten-free. I felt honored to be invited as well. It was an extraordinary moment: being at the Chef’s restaurant, with people who must avoid gluten, all of us able to order whatever we wanted off the menu, and talking freely. The same way I feel an immediate affinity for my fellow food bloggers, I feel an instant ease with anyone who eats gluten-free.
The Mona products are great. The Chef has used the baguette mix many times to make gluten-free bread at the restaurant. I respect and admire the work Lisa has done.
But when she sent me her mix for gingerbread men, my respect sky-rocketed to adoration. Oh my god, these are fantastic. They put tears in my eyes. I have eaten far too many in two days.
Once I came to acceptance — and even an embracing — of my gluten-free lifestyle, I started to disdain the use of mixes. After all, when I baked with gluten, I would never have made something from a box or bag. Once I had experimented with gluten-free flours and started to mix a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I felt above a packaged mix. I haven’t had one in the house since the Chef walked in.
But I’ve changed my mind with these gingerbread men. I want to make another dozen tomorrow and send them out to friends as presents. (Okay, I have to wait until January this year to give my gifts, as the book is due first.) I want to eat another one right now.
Crisp with a chew, spicy with nutmeg and ginger, wonderfully dense in texture in all the right ways, these cookies rise up and form little ginger people perfectly. Last night, I made a batch, frosted them (ha! No one ever said I was Martha Stewart), then took them over to Molly and Brandon’s for a little celebration dinner. They were both impressed. Brandon, who is a little obsessed with the science and reasons why of food, and thus a tough critic, took a bite and said, “There is absolutely no indication that these are gluten-free.”
I have to say, I agree. They are simply damned fine cookies. They’re even better for breakfast the second day.
And so, I’m going to say something I have never said on this website — buy these. If you have an interest in ginger cookies, you must buy a bag of these. Don’t waste any time. It’s that holiday baking season again.
(I’m sorry to say that, six years later, this company has gone out of business. However, you can make your own gingerbread men with this recipe on our site.)
For years, I did not know how to make a proper buttercream frosting. Oh, it tasted good. How could it go bad with butter and sugar? But it was always too runny, a little too soft to do anything but spread it densely with a knife.
Yesterday, as we were walking into the restaurant, I asked the Chef how to make it. “Well, you start with softened butter….”
“You mean melted butter?” I said, hopeful I hadn’t always been making a beginner’s mistake.
“No, that would ruin it,” he said.
He was right, of course. If you let the butter sit out until it is naturally soft — instead of being impatient and melting it in the microwave the way I did for years — this buttercream frosting should come out wonderfully thick and ready to be stuffed into a pastry bag.
And by frosting gingerbread men with a pastry bag and thick-enough frosting for the first time in my life, I was able to make naughty gingerbread people for the Chef when he came home.
½ cup softened butter, not melted but yielding to the touch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk (if you want to be truly decadent, use heavy cream)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
Cream the butter in a stand mixer (or your biceps, if you wish). Add the vanilla and milk and stir until the mixture has become coherent. Slowly, add the powdered sugar, in little dribs and drabs. Only add the powdered sugar until the frosting is the thickness and consistency that you desire. (Please use the above measurement as only a rough estimate.)
Stuff the frosting into a pastry bag and ice your cookies in any pattern you wish.