There’s something humble and lovely about a potluck. Sure, dinner parties are great: the day of prepping and anticipation, the smells coming from the kitchen, the moment of lowering the main course onto the table and listening to everyone’s happy sighs. But the only problem with dinner parties? You only eat your own food.
We’re lucky to have friends who are good cooks and food lovers. They’re not all chefs or food writers, thank goodness. (It’s good to have some variety in our lives, after all.) They’re people who love to laugh, sit around on the deck and talk about the lack of sleep we’re all getting with toddlers, have strong opinions and gentle hearts, and don’t mind a slightly messy house. Nobody worries about what to bring to the potluck. They all love food.
We love our friends. We never get to see them enough.
So, just a few weeks ago, we started a new tradition at our house: open Sunday potlucks.
Every Sunday, from 9:30 to 12:30, our house is open. Whoever can make it that week with a dish of delicious gluten-free food is welcome. This means that every Sunday, we have a different group of friends, a table laden with food, and small children running around the yard giggling.
Plus, to be honest, it forces us to spend a couple of hours every Sunday morning cleaning the house. If you want a clean house, throw a party. This place is actually starting to look pretty good!
Last week, we went to the thrift store on the island and bought a big stack of plates and a box full of coffee cups (wow, there are a lot with kittens on them), each for 50 cents. We keep them in the laundry room, after we have washed them, and bring them out for the next potluck. No more paper plates to throw away. Plus, the person who receives the Golf Maniac coffee cup always laughs.
Each week I have been trying out new baked goods on the crowd. A couple of weeks ago I made what I thought was the first attempt at a zucchini bread, with dried cherries and sunflower seeds. Every one of the people there none of them on a gluten-free diet told me, “You’re done. This is amazing.” None of them missed the gluten at all.
We know that soon the weather will turn chilly. (It started to feel like fall this week, that certain slant of light, as Emily Dickinson called it.) We’ll have to move all the food, the children, and the cups into the house. We can’t wait. The laughter will be bouncing off the walls.
Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread with Dried Cherries and Sunflower Seeds, adapted from Simply Recipes The deer ate our zucchini this year. They pretty much ate everything in the garden. So of course, the summer I am bereft of zucchini is the summer I just HAVE to make gluten-free zucchini bread for the first time.
This zucchini bread recipe is adapted from the lovely Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes. You know about Elise, right? She is humble and smart and incredibly generous. More pertinent here, her recipes always work. If I ever want to make something for the first time, I check out what Elise has done first.
This recipe makes two small loaves of zucchini bread, if you have 5 x 9 pans. Baking this zucchini bread is what made me realize we have gargantuan loaf pans, much bigger than 5 x 9. If that’s your story too, then you can make one big loaf, as we did. (The baking time will be longer.)
Buying zucchini is worth it for this bread.
Reminder: I give you the flours in weight because that is the only way to ensure the recipe works for you. If you still haven’t bought a kitchen scale, please do! In the meantime, try this conversation chart if you insist on measuring in cups.
2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh-grated zucchini
2/3 cup (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven t0 350°. Grease 2 5 by 9 loaf pans.
Mixing the dry ingredients. Sift the teff flour, oat flour, superfine brown rice flour, and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Mix in the guar gum, xanthan gum, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. Set aside.
Making the batter. Combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the grated zucchini and melted butter. Stir, gently. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the top of the mixture, then gently stir them in. Add the flour combination to the mix, 1/3 at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the dried cherries and sunflower seeds and stir until they are combined.
Baking the bread. Slide the loaf pans into the oven. Bake the zucchini bread until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven. Allow the bread to cool for 20 minutes, then turn the pans over and gently release the breads onto a waiting cooling rack.
“Biscuits in the oven going to watch em rise…
right before my very eyes.
We have been dancing around here, to music we never expected to love.
Our friend Monique gave us a cd before Little Bean was born, telling me it was one of her kids’ favorites. When I saw the name, I wanted to cringe, but I resisted. Raffi. I had heard of him, and I thought he was cheesy. I had a flash image of concerts with kids in the audience, all waving flags, everyone singing music that the parents couldn’t stand to hear again. Before Little Bean was born, I swore we would never listen to music meant just for kids. Instead, we’d teach her how to sing with Johnny Cash, and Alison Kraus, and Elvis Costello. All our favorite music was good enough for her, right?
So I took the disc and thanked Monique and tucked it away.
One afternoon, about a month ago, Little Bean was crying. It was late afternoon, the time when babies grow fussy, mysteriously. (Does anyone know why that is?) She’s such a sunny little being, with the wide-open eyes and tiny pursed mouth of a cartoon character, that her crying took me by surprise. I went through the usual routine to soothe her. Nothing worked. I danced her around the room to Prince, which had just come on the iPod. She was having none of that. We went outside. I took her in the kitchen to smell herbs. She jiggled on my knee. I tried to stay calm, which calmed her for a moment, but she went right back to crying in jagged sobs.
Exhausted, I remembered Monique’s present. I flipped Baby Beluga into the cd player and turned it on. I swear, from the first high-pitched squeaks and giggles of the whale in the opening moments, Little Bean was transfixed. She forgot to cry. She started to smile.
“Hell with it,” I thought, sinking back into the couch cushions. “Kids’ music is fine.”
When “Day-O” came on, I started to sing, exaggerating every syllable with my mouth, like Harry Belafonte on steroids with a face made out of rubber. Little Bean looked up at me, and she stayed looking. At that point, she only made glancing eye contact. The Chef and I both longed for her stare, the adoring eyes. Until that moment, the ceiling captured all her grins. But when I sang to her, the words tumbled from my memory, even though I didn’t know I held them. As she bounced on my knee, she watched my mouth, looked at my eyes, and took me in, for the longest time since the day of her birth.
That was the point I began to love Raffi.
Since then, the Chef and I have been playing this album for her every day. She loves it every time, her eyebrows flinging upward, her feet beginning to kick. Each song makes her happy (except for one called Joshua Giraffe, which goes dark and stormy in the middle, and she cries every time). She always dances.
Here’s what we never expected, however. The Chef and I are hooked on this music.
He’ll call me from the restaurant and say, “I’ve been singing that one song all day.”
Now, normally, the answer might be some sappy country music song we heard on the radio on the way to work that made us both teary. Or some old song by the Clash that mirrors any anger in our minds. Or any of two dozen Beatles songs that are important to us.
But lately, it has been: “You know, that jaunty one, how oats and beans and barley grow.”
And I start whistling, right away.
(I’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that barley contains gluten. We’ll come up with another grain when she’s older.)
These are great songs. I’m not kidding. They’re funny and loving, memorable and whistle-able. (I don’t care if that’s not a real word.) And more than that, they are the kind of music we want Little Bean to listen to, as she’s growing into this world.
One of the songs, “Thanks a Lot,” feels like the only kind of prayer we’re likely to say around the dinner table. A traditional song that Raffi sings so sweetly, “To Everyone in All the World” reminds me every time that our political system would be mighty much better if we lived like this: “I may not know the lingo/but I can say by jingo/no matter where you live, we can shake hands.” And perhaps for obvious reasons, one song makes me cry every time:
“All I really need is a song in my heart
food in my belly
and love in my family.”
Whenever that one comes on, the Chef and I scoop up Little Bean, hold her in our arms, and dance her around the living room, singing.
Okay, so we have become those parents. And you know what? We don’t care. Little Bean has been in this world for less than three months, and already she has encouraged us to let go of ridiculous expectations. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it: we love Raffi. If he were still giving concerts, we’d be first in line to wave flags and sing earnest songs that we still love to hear.
(So if any of you have recommendations for great kids’ music that’s still pretty damned cool for parents, we’d love to hear them.)
Besides, the best song on the disc is all about biscuits. “Biscuits in the oven, going to watch ’em rise….” After weeks of singing this to Little Bean, I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to make biscuits.
I remember my mom making biscuits from scratch some evenings. Now, I realize she used Bisquick as the base. What does that matter? She still put them together with her capable hands, cut through the pillowy dough with an antique cutter given to her by her mother, and pulled the golden warmth from the oven to our oohs and ahhs. I remember standing beside her in the kitchen one day, when I was about seven or eight, and watching her hands make biscuits. They seemed so sure, so reassuring. I wondered if I would ever be that strong.
Now, I look down at my hands, almost exact replicas of my mother’s at my age. And I wonder if, a few years from now, when I am making gluten-free biscuits inspired by the Raffi song, Little Bean will look at my hands and wonder what hers will look like when she is an adult.
I found, this week, that I had to create a gluten-free recipe that worked for me. The first two years of living gluten-free, I didn’t really care that much about baked goods. But now that our darling, hilarious daughter is here, I realize I want to make her biscuits some evenings and have her ooh and ahh at the warmth I am pulling out of the oven with my hands.
“When they get ready going to jump and shout
roll my eyes and bug them out.
BUTTERMILK BISCUITS, GLUTEN-FREE
Of course, the only problem with baking biscuits in this house after hearing that song is that gluten-free biscuits simply don’t rise the way that regular biscuits do. Why? No gluten. That doesn’t mean they can’t be darned fine, however.
I’ve been baking biscuits for days around here, cutting butter into different flours and waiting in anticipation for the moment I could open the oven door. The first batch was horribly disappointing the expected gluten-free hockey puck. But I love this trial and error process. Every batch taught me something different. And by the time I crafted the recipe you see below, I really was jumping and shouting to see them, like Raffi sings in the song.
The egg white takes the place of the protein gluten provides to a baked good. Lately, I’ve been finding that just a bit of egg white gives strength and structure to gluten-free goods.
I’m pleased with the softness of these biscuits, the fluffy center with air holes, and the crispness of the bottoms. They’re a little bit pillowy, and a little bit crusty. Frankly, I’m glad I found the recipe I like, because I have to stop eating so many biscuits now.
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
3/4 cup buttermilk (give or take a bit)
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Combine all the flours, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir them up well so they are one. Sift them into a large bowl.
Cut the butter into small pieces and drop them into the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (also known as a pastry cutter), or two forks if you don’t own the fancier tool, cut the butter into the flours. You should have a good blend, with the butter the size of small peas, by the end.
Froth up the egg white with a fork or small whisk. You are not looking to make meringue here. Simply whip some air and volume into the egg white.
Pour the egg white and the buttermilk into the dry mixture. Stir them in slowly with a rubber spatula, taking care to not overwork the dough. When the liquids are incorporated into the flours, stop stirring. Bring it all together with your hands.
Drop small balls of the biscuit dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (I prefer these biscuits small, about the size of a plum, to help the middles bake through.) Slide the tray into the oven.
Bake the biscuits for about 20 to 25 minutes. Test for your own version of doneness.