My brother became a parent 10 years before I did. My sister-in-law and he have raised two awesome daughters. It was he who first told me that toddlers and kids don't hear the negative part of commands. If we say, "Don't climb on the table," they hear, "Climb on the table." So it was my brother really who planted the notion in my head that we should tell our children what we do want, rather than what we don't want.
And who are we really, as grown-ups? We have the same brain we had when we were kids, but we've managed to throw a whole bunch of impulse control and will power and the like on top of it. Which is why, in times of stress, that our impulse control and will power can go right out the window. Which is why it's hard to stick with New Year's resolutions that require copious will power and self-control.
New Year's resolutions are designed to make us happier in some way, right? The solution then is to create resolutions for positives. Things we like to do but of which we deprive ourselves. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't stick to your diet and exercise regimen, but it does mean losing the regimen part, which totally connotes pain and suffering. Kids run and jump and play and never kvetch about having to exercise. How can you make healthy living more fun? Could it be that you seek out and create a new healthful recipe to try each week? Could it be that you take walks in picturesque places that make you want to return again and again? Maybe it's as easy as doing a Leslie Sansone walking DVD -- it's hard not to feel good after you've done a couple of miles with Leslie's perpetually upbeat coaching on the tube.
Or maybe you can add a declaration to increase your happiness in very doable ways. Here's More Magazine's list of 20 films that can boost your mood. And here's a list of feel-good novels, included in a national British mental health promotional strategy. Watching more movies or doing some recreational reading as a New Year's Resolution? Cool! Or maybe your resolution can include helping others, either by formal, organized volunteering, or by keeping an eye out for ways to help others in little ways on a regular basis. Cultivate a hobby, take a class that interests you... It doesn't have to be expensive or stressful. Check out Coursera for free, quality on-line educational opportunities on all kinds of stuff and you don't even have to leave your house. It is good for your mental health to regularly get together with friends though, so maybe pick a class and do it with one of your family or friends.
However you approach the New Year, I hope it is one full of promise, optimism and warmth for you and your loved ones. As for me? I think I'm going to pick something from all of the categories above -- maybe a monthly or quarterly approach to various happiness-promoting activities to keep things fresh and interesting, with something new and cool always just on the horizon.
I recently advised a friend to buy ice cube trays for a pittance rather than $600 to fix her refrigerator because the ice maker was broken. People say I have a gift for problem-solving. Today, I bring you the gift of the technological recipe capturing device, your smart phone.
If your kitchen is like mine, you have one or more recipe boxes full of recipe cards, newspaper clippings, and pages torn from magazines. Our recipe boxes contain both recipes that either we use all the time, or those which looked interesting when we first saw them but have never gotten around to making. Today I was browsing the latest (free) issue of Better Nutrition magazine and an interesting recipe for Savory Sweet Potato Balls jumped out at me. My first inclination was to tear it out of the magazine and add it to the others in the box, maybe to try sometime, maybe to forget about.
But just a scant hour before this, I was working on reducing the clutter that I have allowed to accumulate on my quadrant of the dining room table. I have a number of projects in the works and this space is my staging area while things are in process. I had allowed too many bits of paper and partially completed projects to accumulate and was pleased that I had made a pretty good dent in reclaiming my zone. I couldn't bring myself to add to general household clutter with another scrap of paper, even one with a pretty delicious-sounding recipe, which might just go into the card box to languish and take up space.
Yay for technology! I took a picture of the recipe with my smart phone. I can sort and file it and back it up to the recipe file on my computer. If it turns out to be a keeper, I can decide later to commit it to the recipe box if I want. If it turns out to be a languisher, then at least I haven't added any clutter to my life.
Feel free to take this idea and make it your own. Better living through technology.
My last name is Baker, but I am not one. At least not a professional one. I'm like most people, I think -- I can find my way around a kitchen and follow a recipe. One thing that might make me a little different is that I like experimenting and making stuff up. Not all of my culinary creations turn out very well (I remember trying to make my own amaranth flour and creating awful little ramekins of nasty grittiness...), but I frequently feel like whipping up something new with stuff I already have on hand. There is more science to baking than cooking, and making the switch from regular to gluten-free can seem a little daunting. What the heck is xanthan gum anyway, right? So here are my tips for gluten-free baking for regular people. My main disclaimer is that I have never baked bread (gluten-free or otherwise), so I don't have advice about that.* I don't promise that you won't find better gluten-free baked goods out there, but I do promise that I do everything possible to make it good and easy. I wouldn't do it twice otherwise.
1. Practice first with a gluten-free mix for cupcakes or brownies or pizza crust to get the hang of how different the batter/dough is. You'll have the comfort of knowing that it's not that you've done anything wrong because you followed the directions but you get to see first-hand that it's a completely different baking experience.
2. Get a multipurpose gluten-free flour blend in a box or bag. Heresy for some, I know. There are some amazing gluten-free bakers out there who have spent a great deal of time, energy and money perfecting different ratios of gluten-free flour by volume or weight for different applications. Personally, my house is too small and my patience too short. I like Arrowhead Mills and Pamela's the best. I hear Trader Joe's has a gluten-free flour blend and I look forward to trying it. Bob's Red Mill also has a flour blend, and they seem to have better market penetration that their competitors, so you can find it more places. I discovered Arrowhead because it was on sale at my local grocery store one time, and other than having some notable flaws in the recipes on the back of the box (their blueberry muffin recipe doesn't actually say when to add the blueberries, for example), I've found that their blend does a great job in general. Pamela's is great too, though usually more expensive. Know that if you buy gluten-free Bisquick, most of your stuff will taste suspiciously like Bisquick. This is good if you are making pancakes or biscuits, but not so good if you are making pizza crust.
3. Arithmetic is your friend. When using a gluten-free recipe that uses a host of different flours, add up the total the recipe calls for and use your pre-fab gluten-free flour blend instead.
4. Review the ingredients on your flour blend to see if it contains xanthan gum or guar gum. If I convert a regular recipe to gluten-free and my flour blend does not contain one of these items already, I add about a 1/2 a teaspoon of xanthan gum per cup of flour called for. You can use less for"flatter" foods like cookies and pizza crust. Xanthan gum gives the batter some stretchiness to help it be more like its gluteny cousin. If my flour blend already includes one of these things, I do not add any more.
5. If you are trying a new recipe, make half a batch if possible. These ingredients are expensive! Experiment with less and if it doesn't turn out well, you'll only be half as annoyed.
6. You'll have greater success with flatter items and smaller items. Things that don't need to rise, like cookies and pancakes, seem to be easier to get right than breads. Likewise, cupcakes and muffins are more successful than cakes and full-sized quick breads, though quick breads are pretty forgiving.
7. Brace yourself for wetter, stickier batter. If you are used to making regular crusts, bread, etc., gluten-free batter and dough will seem all wrong. It's wet and sticky and wants to climb up the beaters of your handheld mixer and doesn't spread in or on the pan like other dough/batter. You are not doing anything wrong. If you didn't follow tip number 1, go back and buy a mix to practice with first.
8. Chocolatey baked goods seem to be less identifiable as gluten-free. I don't know why that is. If you feel like you need your gluten-free offering to "pass," make a chocolate thing.
9. Some baked goods are naturally or quite easily gluten-free. Lots of peanut butter cookies have no flour whatsoever. It's easy to find cornbread recipes that use only cornmeal or cornflour. Flourless chocolate tortes are all the rage, And believe it or not, I've found a number of Martha Stewart recipes that rely on cornstarch instead of flour.
9. A note about cross-contamination. If you are a long-time baker of regular items, you'll want to invest in a new rolling pin and surface onto which to roll out your items. I've never seen a rolling pin that didn't have Flour of the Ages embedded in it. Wooden cutting boards and surfaces can also hold the flour. Get new ones and declare them gluten-free, keep them wrapped when not in use, and label them. As for baking sheets, I use parchment paper on my cookie sheets, and I've recently bought some silicone cupcake things that I will keep gluten-free as well.
10. Buy the Gluten-free Bakehouse pie crust from Whole Foods. My friend Jessie made the pie with it and I couldn't tell that it was gluten-free. For whatever reason, making gluten-free pie crust intimidates me. Live's too short to be cowed by pie, so if there is a thing out there that solves the problem or makes you feel better, by all means do it! I did make a gluten-free Mi-Del Ginger Snap cookie crust at Thanksgiving. it was easy and good, so that's always an option. I've also made a crust for quiche out of thin slices of potato, a restaurant I frequent, Seven Stones in Media, PA, uses corn tortillas for their quiche crust, so there're more than one way to work around the pie crust dilemma.
* If you are looking for insight on bread-making, check out the YouTube from Pamela about how to make bread from her mix. Not that you can't use a bread maker or make gluten-free bread from not-a-mix, but the main things I learned were that a) I don't have a butch enough mixer, and b) boy, doesn't that batter look funny! No kneading! So sticky!