Thursday, September 11, 2008

Baking feeds the soul

One of my inspirations for starting this blog came by way of an old friend and her fabulous cookbook.

About eight years ago, tired of chronic daily allergies and colds every 6-8 weeks, I visited a nutritionist who told me to stop eating wheat (as well as any other glutinous grain: rye, spelt, kamut, titricale, semolina, oat, and barley). I complied, desperate to rid myself of waking up every morning with sneezes and a runny nose. Within several months, my allergies disappeared completely, but I was left with a huge, gaping chasm of loss: no baking.

I dealt with the absence of baked goods in my life as best I could. I bought gluten-free cookbooks to replace traditional baking, but found rice flour unpalatable and the reliance on gluten-replacement substances like guar gum unsettling. I would sometimes fall off the wagon, indulging in croissants and cookies, only to regret my actions when my body revolted. I would finger through my favourite cookbooks with sadness, longing for the satisfaction the writers felt with the simple baking and eating of a coffee cake. Eventually, I resigned myself to accept life without cookies, scones, breads, muffins. I would be okay.

A few weeks ago, I did a Google-search of "grain-free" and found a familiar name. Jenny Lass, my classmate from senior kindergarten through grade 8, is now a diagnosed celiac and co-author of the Grain-free Gourmet cookbooks. I ran out and bought her books and, with trepidation, began testing the recipes. The baked goods rely on almond flour for their substance, which, to my surprise, is readily available and tastes great. The introductions to each book are simple and informative, imparting the science and philosophy of the specific carbohydrate diet as well as the personal journeys of the co-authors. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with Jenny tomorrow afternoon after more than 20 years.

Yesterday, I made Basic Biscuits from the second cookbook, Everyday Grain-free Gourmet. I realized through this process that baking is not a result. It's a complete experience, from feeling the craving for something warm and comforting to eat, through preparing the dough, preheating the oven, and watching the baking rise and turn golden brown. I remember now being eight years old and waiting with anticipation, watching my cakes and cookies rise through the plexiglas window of my Easy Bake Oven, swelling under the heat of a 60 watt bulb. The completion of the baking experience is extracting the goods from the oven and eating them, warm and fresh. They are tiny miracles: the product of intention and patience.

I ate my biscuits with butter, yoghurt cheese, jam and a cup of tea. They were warm and soft and tasted exactly as I remember. Thank you, Jenny.

NOTE: The best way to buy almond flour is in bulk. It is available for as low as $6 per pound through and can be frozen to maintain its freshness indefinitely. Almond flour is also available in small quantities at health food stores, though is much pricier. I have also found almond flour in the health food section of my local supermarket.


geenalyn said...

i love baking (and peter and the kids love that i can bake lol). Those biscuits sounds you have to go to a special store to find the almond flour?

Kristen Peterson said...

You should be able to find almond flour in the "Health Food" section of your supermarket. Most major chains have them nowadays. I bought Bob's brand Almond Meal/Flour. If they don't have it, then surely your local health food store will. Be forewarned: it's pricey (about $12 for 500g), but it's delicious, filling and nutritious. Thanks for your comment, Geena!