Good to the Grain

gluten-free quinoa cookies


Yesterday, Lu threw her first big temper tantrum.

For a week she snuffled along with a cold, then pneumonia. Thankfully, we caught it early, so I didn’t have to worry about her lethargy and sadness for longer than a night. (That night — when she coughed every two minutes and cried in between — seemed three weeks long, however.) As I’ve been saying to everyone, antibiotics are the bomb. Within an hour of her first dose, Lu did her loopy little bow-legged dance around the room again. By day two, she seemed her jubilant self.

However, yesterday, she wasn’t quite herself again. She didn’t sleep that well the night before. I went in to console her after bad dreams so many times that I ended up falling asleep on her bed, her big teddy bear my pillow. I woke up with the imprint of its button eyes on my cheek. Danny tenderly said to me, “Happy Mother’s Day!” Lu arose and clutched at my neck. In that moment, all was well.

Still, I couldn’t help wishing that I had been able to wake up in my own bed, give them both kisses, nudge the pillow into a new coolness, then fallen asleep until 10:30. And then be awoken by breakfast in bed: waffles with warm maple syrup, scrambled eggs, slices of bacon, and hot coffee. The three of us would sit in bed until noon, Danny and I reading the Sunday paper, Lu alternately reading her books and bouncing on the bed. All the while, warm sunshine would spill through the windows of our bedroom.

It didn’t quite work out like that.

My parents came over early, to see us, but mostly to see Lu. I only had 1/2 a cup of coffee in me when they arrived. My mother brought me a Mother’s Day present: a pair of slippers with dust mops on the bottom, so I could walk through the house and clean at the same time. Um, thanks? We talked and laughed, and they played London Bridges with Lu. Within a few moments, however, she was inconsolably sobbing. “My bat!” The whiffle bat we had bought her the day before sat alone outside, in wet grass. She wanted to play baseball. It was raining. Again.

(It has rained approximately 3276 times in Seattle this spring.)

Nothing consoled her. Nothing. She sobbed, not saying anything that could help me figure out what to do. I walked her around the house.

And then I remembered. Hungry.

We shoveled yogurt and maple syrup into her. Five minutes later, she revived to bounce on her bed.

I was exhausted.

The whole day went that way. She fought her nap because she knew we were going to a play her 8-year-old cousin was performing in. She fell asleep, a rumpled mess, half an hour before we had to leave. I woke her, regretting already, to put her in the car. Only 10 minutes into the play — with music by my brother, who is the music teacher for the elementary school, and his students — Lu sat in the darkness, tensed. Clutches of children danced onstage with colored swaths of cloth, masks to represent animals, and jangly dark music. After her beloved cousin left the stage, wearing jungle makeup and a strange costume, Lu screamed in the darkness: “MAMA! GO HOME NOW!” We fled.

Friends came over just after we returned home. She loves these boys — we jokingly refer to his parents as our future in-laws — but for half an hour, she wanted nothing to do with them. She huddled into me, whimpering whenever they came near. She begged for a banana, then squished it between her fingers. When she saw the mess on her hands, she screamed. She didn’t want the boys near her bike but she didn’t want to ride it herself. At one point, she ran toward the boys near her bike clutching her wet bat and a whiffle ball in one hand, a bowl of cut-up kiwi and the remnants of squished banana in the other hand, screaming. She climbed onto her bike, then looked at me accusingly and said, “Hold me, Mama. Hold me!”

Of course, I did. And all the while, I wondered: what did you do with my child?

I also kept thinking, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

She calmed, eventually. Later, she and the boys set to digging clods of dark dirt in the garden with her new shovel and a couple of spades. I had a bit of a chance to talk with my friend, Christi, who has just realized she needs to be gluten-free. I felt like I could help her. The sun even broke through the clouds for a few moments.

However, later in the evening, when it was time for bed, Lu shoved all her beloved books off the bed and shouted, “No books! No books!” A moment later, she burst into tears: “My books! My books! Where are my books?”

After I had kissed her, consoled her, and closed the door to her room, I collapsed on the couch. Danny was at work, battling maddening crowds for the holiday. There was no food in the house. I couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together.

I will admit to this: I had a pouty moment. A little churlish, a smidge petulant, and a lot ridiculous, I wished that Mother’s Day had been the way I had hoped.

And then I looked at my wrist and remembered to breathe.

Expectations are premature disappointments.

I thought, immediately, of Gretchen Holt Witt, the founder of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Her 2-year-old son, Liam, battled cancer for 4 years. He died this year. He was six.

Gretchen and Larry Witt turned their grief into energy for other kids. Did you know there are 13,000 new cases of childhood cancer every year? And that roughly 25% of the kids who do not survive those cancers do not because there is not proper funding for their treatments? These beautiful people are urging us to have bake sales to raise money for kids who are deathly ill, right this moment.

And I was feeling bad because I had battled a sobbing child all day.

I am certain, to the bone, that Gretchen would give anything to have a sobbing, temper-tantrum-throwing son to hold in her arms.

Then, as happens in constant waves these days, I remembered the loss of our friend Kim.

Danny and I attended her memorial on Wednesday. It was the most inspiring, sad, and hilarious memorial I have ever attended. I won’t even attempt to tell you about it.

However, I will share this.

Tucked into the program for her memorial was a single sheet of paper:

Read These Books

The Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

I pulled down my copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the most important books of my life. Grateful and determined to be in that moment, I settled into the couch stained with squished banana and the memory of Kim sitting next to me. And I read.

By the time Danny came home, exhausted after a long day, I was back to myself again. It had been an imperfect Mother’s Day. We three are alive.

Danny and I sat eating rhubarb buckle he brought home from the restaurant, talking late into the night.

Today, I made another batch of quinoa cookies, for Lucy (who woke up delightful again after a long night’s sleep), for Liam who can no longer eat them, for Kim who will inspire me to the end of my days, and for you.

Thanks for being here.

Kim’s list inspired us to talk about books we love, the great consolers we want with us to the end of our days. What are yours? We’d love to see your list.

QUINOA COOKIES, adapted from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours

These are the gluten-free version of Kim Boyce’s brilliant creations. As I have written about before, I love Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. (I’m not the only one. It just won a James Beard award!) Its inventive flavors, baked goods created with whole grains, and its introduction to gluten-free flours to pastry chefs and home cooks who don’t have to avoid gluten? Oh yeah.

These cookies are barely sweet. If you are still a fan of grocery store powdered sugar sweetness, these may not be the cookies for you. I’ve been gradually losing more and more of my sweet tooth every year. These cookies have a low hum of sweetness, along with the faint echo of the grassiness of quinoa, and a healthy taste that makes you feel good for eating them. When our friend Becky tried them, she said, “You know, these are the like the cookies I should bake, because 1 of them really satisfies me, instead of wanting to eat 50.” And then she ate three more.

I find I crave treats like this more than gloppy sweetness. Whole grains, unrefined sugar, good eggs, molasses — these satisfy and make me feel like I could live a long time.

350 grams whole-grain flour mix
60 grams quinoa flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
195 grams (1 ½ cups) gluten-free rolled oats
1 ¾ cup quinoa flakes

228 grams (1 cup or 2 US sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup sucanat
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mixing the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole-grain flour, quinoa flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and nutmeg. Whisk until the ingredients are well-combined and aerated. Set aside.

Combine the oats and 1 cup of the quinoa flakes and set aside.

Creaming the butter and sugar. Add the butter, brown sugar, and sucanat to the bowl of a stand mixer. On low speed with the paddle attachment, run the mixer until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing the mixer to run for 1 full minute between eggs. Scrape down the sides. Pour in the molasses and vanilla extract and mix for a moment.

Finishing the dough. With the stand mixer running, add the flour mixture 1/3 at a time, allowing the dough to mix in between each addition. Add the oats-quinoa flake mixture and run the mixer for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides.

The dough will be crumbly. Don’t worry. They come together when you form them into balls. Scrape the dough onto the counter and let any remaining flour or dry ingredients tumble on top. Gently, work any remaining flour into the dough.

Baking the cookies. Form cookie balls of about 50 grams each. Roll each cookie ball in the remaining quinoa flakes. Put the cookie balls onto the baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches between them.

(You’ll need to bake the full dough in 2 batches.)

Slide the baking sheet into the oven. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes, turning the baking sheet in the oven halfway through. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack and bake the remaining cookies.

Makes about 20 cookies.

[print_link]