Texan in Norwich


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Back in Texas

Well, here we are! Texas! The weather when we arrived was beautiful (70F / 20C) and sunny. It was like transporting into another season.

Grapevine Lake

The first thing we did when we got here was throw our coats, hats, gloves, and scarves in the closet not to be used for about 2 weeks! We did need them eventually, but really enjoyed a little warm break.

For the past three Christmases, my mom, sister, grandma, and I have all tried to get together for a Christmas baking day. We’ve never actually done it. The first year I couldn’t come, the 2nd year it was just me and my mom, and this year we thought my grandma wouldn’t make it. She ended up being able to drop by for a little bit with my 8 year old cousin, and we had a really nice (and messy) time. We make lots of sweet treats and pack them up to give as gifts to friends and coworkers.

Sister and I baking

Sister and I baking

P1020422My grandma and cousin, Payson on baking day! Also a little cameo from our dog, Cleo, and my sister peeking in the background.

Christmas BuckeyesThese were the big hit of baking day. The recipe is here, and they are gluten free and vegan (I left out the bacon in the recipe). These were SO good! I’m making some more for a party tonight.

I have to say, baking day was a big success this year. We had a few people who received boxes ask for more, and then for the recipes. And it was a lot of fun being silly with the ladies in the family (and James), and making a huge mess of the kitchen.


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Gluten-free, Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the most annoying things about gluten-free and vegan baking is the vast amount of ingredients necessary for each recipe. We’re not made of money over here, so one of the things I try to do is make tasty treats with the fewest amount of ingredients. It will always be more than if I could use wheat flour, but I do what I can.

One of the ways to save on buying lots of individual products is to use what you have to make what you don’t. Instead of searching for gluten and dairy free chocolate chips, I make my own with ingredients that most gluten-free bakers will have on hand.  Another way to save money is to find or create recipes that suit what you have. After buying fresh mint for a midweek dinner, we had some leftover so I decided I would try to make some mint chocolate chip cookies! I haven’t made these before, so it will be a bit of an experiment. Read all the way to the end before you try them in case they are a disaster…

The recipe I use for homemade chocolate chips comes from the Organic Matters blog. For the purposes of these cookies, however I have tweaked it a little, and the recipe I used is as follows:

Ingredients

Handful mint leaves

5 tablespoons coconut oil

5 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon honey (or agave for vegans, I just happened to have honey instead)

Directions

Pulse fresh mint leaves in a food processor until shredded.

Melt coconut oil on stove, then take off heat.

Add cocoa powder and honey.

Add the processed mint leaves (I had to keep adding more until I could taste it in the chocolate).

Pour out the chocolate mixture onto a parchment paper covered pan or plate. I had to use a plate because our freezer is too small for a pan. A pan is ideal, though, because you can spread the chocolate out thinner and flatter. Put this in the freezer until the chocolate is frozen.

While this is freezing, start making the cookies! I got this recipe from Cinnamon Quill, but as I mentioned before, I try to cut down the number of ingredients so I’ve made a few changes. This is the first time I’m making this, so bear with me.

Ingredients

1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup palm sugar (or any kind of sugar, palm is just my favorite)

1/4 cup sunflower oil, grapeseed or safflower oil (generous 1/4 cup; more like 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon)
1/3 cup honey, agave or pure maple syrup (the original recipe recommended maple, but I had honey already, so that’s what I used)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

(The original recipe called for 1/4 cup tapioca starch and 3 tablespoons-1/4 cup potato starch. I used 1/2 cup tapioca starch to save on ingredients and I’m sensitive to potatoes. I’m also sensitive to sorghum, which is included in the original recipe, so I just used 1/2 cup brown rice flour instead. This will alter the taste, as sorghum is quite nice and brown rice flour can be gritty, but what can you do?! Check out the original if you have sorghum.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F or 180C.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. The electric mixer is not really necessary with this recipe, but I have one so I’m sure as hell gonna use it. Then add the wet ingredients and let it hang out while you deal with the chocolate chips.

Once your chocolate is frozen, take it out of the freezer and chop it up using a large knife. I transferred my parchment paper from the plate to a worktop saver so I didn’t mess up a dinner plate. Cutting your chocolate into chips will be very messy because the coconut oil melts at the temperature of your hands, so be sure to wear an apron or clothes that can stand a bit of chocolate on them. It’s not recommended to do this right after your dutiful husband has cleaned the kitchen and right before your leasing agent is coming to inspect your flat, like I am doing. Oh well.

Add 1/2 cup of your homemade mint chocolate chips to the cookie mixture. You’ll have chocolate chips left over, but I like to put these back in the freezer and have some ready-made for next time. If you don’t, then you can halve the chocolate chip recipe above. I also added some more of the processed mint into the cookie batter here because it didn’t taste minty enough.

Now, spoon it out onto a baking sheet. My batch made 11 cookies, which isn’t an ideal number, but it just happened that way.

Put in the preheated oven for 10min. Like the original recipe says, they will firm up after you take them out, so really 10min is all they need.

Now. Now now now. These didn’t turn out quite like I was hoping.

I think perhaps the addition of coconut oil in the chocolate chips stretched the recipe a bit far. As you can see, there was nothing to hold the coconut oil chocolate chips in place. They just melted out the bottom. An easy solution to this is just buy chocolate chips, but I think maybe if we added in a binding egg substitute it might make these cookies a bit more hardy. Or just put in less chocolate chips (I’ve gone back and changed the amount of chocolate chips in the recipe). Or possibly just add more dry ingredients to soak up the excess oil. I’ll keep experimenting. But in the meantime, once I cut around the melted coconut chocolate mess, the cookies actually were fine, and delicious!

*Note: the cookies aren’t burnt. When you add in your homemade chocolate chips, they do melt a little bit and turn the batter a bit brown and chocolatey.

Well my first try with the recipe could have gone better, but it could have gone worse, too. The taste and texture of what was left of the cookies was pretty perfect. I didn’t miss the sorghum and the cookies were lovely and soft. If I hadn’t seen what the pan looked like when it came out of the oven, I would have been completely satisfied with them. I’ll keep fiddling with this recipe, and give you some updates when I figure it out!


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Rainbow Wholefoods

When I was in Texas, I relied heavily on the Sprouts in Southlake. Sprouts is a grocery store which emphasizes health. They stock all the normal grocery store goods, like fruits, vegetables, meat, cereals, etc, but focuses on the organic and natural. They sell vitamins and supplements, and also have a wide array of gluten and dairy alternatives. I could find any kind of gluten-free flour I could wish there, as well as dairy free chocolate chips, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and so on. It was the best. My favorite. And it was half way between my house and my doctor’s office, which made it seem even more magical.

I haven’t found anything quite like the one-stop shop Sprouts here, but the closest I’ve come is Rainbow Wholefoods. It’s like Holland and Barrett with more food and without all the confusion. Rainbow is a lovely little store in the amusingly named Labour In Vain Yard, up the hill from Tesco’s. 

This is where I go for my cereal, baking ingredients, snacks, and the occasional tub of Booja Booja ice cream. The staff is friendly and they remember me when I come in. (Although I am slightly filled with jealousy towards them as I unsuccessfully applied for a job there a few months ago…) All of their products are organic, vegetarian, and GM-free. They don’t have the same array of gluten free flours that Sprouts does, but I can usually just about manage with what they do have. The staff are willing to order new products if I ask them to, as long as I can find a UK supplier.

I think the main difference is what I’m used to isn’t as common here in the UK. Being allergic to potato, I rely on other starches like tapioca, which just seems impossible to find here in stores. I have to order tapioca starch from websites such as healthysupplies.co.uk. It also seems impossible to find almond flour. Ground almonds is quite common, but it doesn’t work in my recipes for almond flour. It is too heavy and adds too much moisture. Frustration!

While Sprouts was great for allergy-free alternatives, Rainbow Wholefoods is great for those looking for vegetarian and vegan alternatives. There is even a vegan restaurant above the store. I am not a vegetarian or vegan (except in baking due to my egg and milk allergy) because I am allergic to so many vegetables, but I do love Rainbow.


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Birthday cake from Biddy’s!

One of the drags of having so many food sensitivities is having to make your own birthday cake. It takes a bit of the magic out of it, and once you have made it, no one else seems to want to share it because no one else really likes gluten free/vegan cakes compared to regular ones. This year I was going to make brownies for my birthday, because they are easier and I was feeling lazy. A few days before, I went to the grocery store to get cocoa and apple sauce and all I found instead was this:  Get it together Britain.
Resigned to no birthday treat this year, I started home. On my way I passed Biddy’s Tea Room on Lower Goat Lane, a lovely vintage shop for afternoon tea and cakes.

On a whim, I stopped in to see if they made gluten free and vegan cakes. I was greeted by Charlie, who immediately offered to create a cake catered to my many food allergies for my birthday. I went home, emailed her my allergy list, and two days later returned to Biddy’s to pick up my cake. Charlie and Amy were there to wish me a happy birthday and gave me my cake for free! It wasn’t just a gluten-free/vegan cake, it was also vanilla free, lemon free, and free of many other things that tend to appear in cakes. They went to the trouble of making a new recipe just for me, then gave it to me for free. It was a wonderful birthday present. And quite delicious!!!