Thursday, March 9, 2023

Best gluten free bread books (and one to avoid)


Until I started baking my own break, my boyfriend thought all gluten free bread tasted like cardboard. He revised his statement to all STORE-BOUGHT gluten free bread tastes like cardboard.

I’ve been gluten free for more than a decade and I’ve watched both gluten free products and cookbooks blossom during that time. Store-bought bread has improved (in my opinion, my boyfriend is unwavering) but doesn’t begin to match the quality of homemade gluten free bread.

So what cookbooks do you need? What should you skip? Here’s what you need to know about gluten free baking books, particularly if you’re looking for delicious yeasty bread.

America’s Test Kitchen How Can it Be Gluten Free (volumes 1 and 2) – Recommended

Whenever anyone is diagnosed with celiac’s I tell them two things:

1.       Welcome to the club no one wanted to join.

2.       Every diagnosis should come with the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks

This book is not baking specific, but perfect for the gluten free newbie finding their footing in a new dietary world. It’s got all the recipes you need, from breakfast to dessert.

Favorite Recipes:

·         Multigrain sandwich bread (volume 1)

·         Wholegrain sandwich bread (volume 2)

·         English muffins

·         Hamburger buns

·         Pie crust

·         Tart crust


Canelle et Vanille Bakes Simple

Very few books changed gluten free bread baking like Aran Goyoaga’s first book Canelle et Vanille. I purchased the book during the sourdough phase of 2020. The other gluten free sourdough recipes out there were overwhelming, with pages and pages of steps. Hers read like a normal sourdough starter with simple instructions even a newbie could understand. I baked that boule many times over the course of the year. My only complaint from her first book: I wanted more baking.

Then she announced her new book Canelle et Vanille Bakes Simple, and I couldn’t pre-order fast enough. This book is so amazing, I set a goal of baking every recipe during 2022 and there wasn’t a single disappointment.

Goyoaga brings generations of knowledge from her family’s pastry shop into gluten free baking. And she doesn’t compromise for recipes that are “good enough” clearly tweaking her recipes until they’re perfect. Unlike many gluten free bread recipes, her breads aren’t made with a thinner batter that relies on the pan for shaping. Her doughs can be kneaded, braided and shaped. Every time I touch the dough it feels like a miracle.

Picking favorites from this book is difficult. Everything I’ve made has been amazing. But I’ll give you my favorites with one caveat: after baking every recipe in this cookbook, my favorites shift with the season.

·         Oat Milk and Honey Bread

·         Crusty Baguettes

·         Gingery Oat, Sunflower and Coconut Cookies

·         Meringue Cake with Roasted Apples

·         Profiteroles with Chocolate glaze


River Cottage Gluten Free

I only know about this book because Goyoaga credits Naomi Devlin for inspiring her sourdough recipe. One great thing I discovered: I can use my starter from Canelle et Vanille interchangeably with the River Cottage Gluten Free recipes. These breads tend more towards the batter bread genre, but this book is worth buying for both the yummy bakes and the British-style comfort foods. Also worth noting: Naomi Devlin teaches online gluten free baking classes. I splurged and bought the Enriched Dough course and have no regrets. I cannot make rough puff pastry without watching the video from her course every time.

Favorite Recipes:

·         Oat and chestnut sandwich bread

·         Puff pastry (from online course)

·         Sausage rolls

·         Margherita pizza

·         Flatbreads topped with lamb


Not recommended:

Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread

I’m not going to lie; I feel bad for including this section. I enjoyed the original Gluten Free on a Shoestring cookbook. However, the bread book just doesn’t work. With so many innovations in gluten free baking (including books and recipes I haven’t tried) I think it’s important for new gluten free bakers to have the tools to succeed so they don’t get frustrated and give up.

If you have already purchased this book, do not fear! I’ve joined numerous gluten free baking groups over the years and fortunately there’s a way to salvage these recipes. Add more liquid. Sometimes 50% more liquid. It’s frustrating to try a recipe, especially if you are new to the GF baking world and have it fail. I understand that every home has different humidity levels, and every oven is different. However, I’ve never managed to bake a recipe from this book without adding a significant amount of additional liquid. And from talking to others online it seems like EVERYONE has the same experience. To me that feels like something is wrong with the recipes, not the bakers especially when I’ve had success with so many other books.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Rediscovering my creativity through watercolor


Sitting at the kitchen table, I scoured the toy catalogues adding little stars to everything I wanted my mom to buy. My Christmas list always had the same theme: I want to make things. Craft kit upon craft kit would get little stars. Potholder loom? Made roughly 100 different potholders that nobody wanted or used.  Wood burning kit? Are you kidding? I still have that. Bead loom? Check. Papermaking kit? Of course.

As a child I wanted to do one thing: create.

Ipad with a video playing, watercolor of the northern lights taped to the table, art supplies scattered around

The strong urge towards creativity lasted all the way through high school. Even as a surly jaded teenager, I retained a childhood sense of wonder where art was concerned. Back them my medium was Walmart oil paint thinned with my mom’s vegetable oil (because it was cheaper). I had no tutorials, books, or guides. Just a creative urge and the local Walmart.

Then I stopped. I’m not sure when I stopped. Maybe moving into a dorm where I no longer had my own space was the death blow to my creativity. Could’ve been society’s instruction to “Grow up and do something practical with your life.” But at some point, between 18 and 22, I stopped painting. My paint tubes dried hidden on the top shelf of my closet, forgotten in my new-found adulthood.

I didn’t stop because I didn’t enjoy painting. I stopped because I wasn’t good enough to make money and that was the guiding light of being an adult.

At 36 I decided I needed to rediscover my creativity, saw an advertisement for Let’s Make Art and joined a watercolor subscription box. Back in my youth I associated watercolor with cheap dollar store palettes and plastic bristle brushes that never cooperated. I wasn’t looking to pick up watercolor. But that was what they had, and I wanted to establish a routine and a monthly subscription box seemed like the best approach. The unfamiliar medium wasn’t going to stop me.

Liquid watercolors are a dream. Not that I understood how to use them when they arrived on my doorstep. Or the brushes I bought. Or anything else. Terms like blooms and bleeding were thrown at me and we were talking flowers or ER trips.

But I was creating. Yes someone (the lovely Sarah Cray) walked me through each step. But I held the brush and the feeling was glorious, a connection with young-Cassi previously lost to the ages. This was not the sad palettes of my youth, but a beautiful and forgiving exploration of color and line.

Still, I’m a little sad to think of all the years I lost. Fourteen years where I could have been creative, honed my skills and discover my artistic vision. Because I didn’t think I was good enough. Now I believe “good enough” is a lie. It implies the reason to create is the final product. But the goal should be the act itself: creating beauty in a world that’s often overwhelmingly dark. And I am good enough to do that. The beauty I create adds, imperfections and all, rather than detracting from the world. In small little ways it improves the world, through my growing creativity and peace but also the heartfelt cards and gifts I’ve made for those I love. Making art is doing good.

Let that be enough.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Adventures in Fermentation

I often say that I collect hobbies like some people collect baseball cards. From writing to reading, rock climbing to camping, I want to do it all. My most recent collection of hobbies stays mostly in my kitchen. Over the past several years I've spent many hours trying to perfect gluten free baking (don't even ask how many varieties of flour I have) and I think you might actually call me a skilled baker now. 

Step into the picture a new kitchen witchery hobby: fermentation. It started with a make-your-own wine kit (thanks Mama Deb) but as usual it escalated.  From kimchi to kombucha (which I didn't even used to like) I'm exploring fermented foods one mason jar at a time. 

So far my favorites are: kombucha, gingerbug sodas and my sourdough starter (yes I followed that 2020 trend)
What I want to try: everything else! 

With my kombucha and gingerbugs, I've had a few over-pressurized adventures. But hey, at least my hair smelled like pineapple kombucha so it could have been worse.

There is something magical about fermentation. You put very basic ingredients in a jar and through tiny invisible microorganisms it transforms into something new. Humans and fermented foods evolved side-by-side. It's one of the earliest food preservation methods our ancient ancestors discovered. Give me a time machine and I'd go back to the first sauerkraut or kombucha and see how the process was discovered. We know a lot about the science of fermentation, but only a sliver of the history. That's how old it is.

Interested in fermenting? Here are a few of the books that have started my journey. 

Art of Fermentation 

This is the Bible of Fermentation! But if you're looking for specific recipes, you'll need to purchase something else as well. The Art of Fermentation is mostly a textbook, but it's a fascinating read that goes into the history of ferments, as well as a variety of different types of ferments, fermenting equipment and more. It may not have recipes, but it makes up for that by inspiring an aspirational curiosity that will jumpstart your fermenting journey. 

The Big Book of Kombucha

Another book that's not a recipe book, but still a wonderful read. I devoured this book from cover to cover, thirsty to understand everything I could about kombucha before buying my SCOBY and embarking on my tea-tastic journey. It's a great reference book that I constantly look at (sorry I just can't remember how to maintain a SCOBY hotel) and is great for flavor inspirations as well as troubleshooting. 

True Brews 

When I first got my winemaking kit I was overwhelmed by all the books available on Amazon. Even more, I was overwhelmed by all the very strong opinions people had about the books on Amazon. So I asked my favorite fermenting Facebook group and someone recommended this book. It's a great starting point with recipes for everything from wine to homemade soda. It's informative without providing too much information to process. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trip Report: Climbing Half Moon at Red River Gorge

View of Chimney Top rock from Half Moon

Sometimes great adventures are well-thought out and planned. This is not one of those adventures. Last Saturday we sat around the campfire sipping cider trying to decide what to do the next day. We had two requirements: it needed to be in the shade and it needed to be a trad climb.

Flipping through our guidebook, we noticed that Half Moon had routes and that they were in the shade. For the non-Red River Gorge initiated. Half Moon isn't really a climbing area, or at least it hasn't been since the 1970s. Nowadays it's populated by drunk tourists, who don't understand why you're not allowed to camp on a trail and that you shouldn't be following a trail on a sketchy ledge inebriated. We don't go there very often.

But there's a classic 5.7 multi-pitch trad route up the Half Moon, which sounded absolutely perfect. We did a little bit of quick research, Mountain Project makes the route sound crappy (it's not) but had good beta and Red River Climbing said it was good but didn't have useful information. We were intrigued.

The faint trail down to the base of Half Moon started at the arch and wasn't much of a trail. I did more "butt hiking" than feet hiking. The directions weren't great and the trail was more of a memory than a path, but we followed the cliff line until we found a likely crack. After comparing it to the guidebook we knew we were there. And we were alone in the woods under a classic easy route. That's hard to come-by at the gorge.

There are other routes at Half Moon, but the guidebook has few pictures. We bushwhacked around, identifying cracks that we might try to climb another day before heading back to our target, Full Moon.

The bottom of Full Moon is a little bit manky, but take a couple steps up the wide crack and it's dry, perfect stone. If you can't deal with a foot of moss on an otherwise excellent climb, then it's probably time to sell your trad rack. Even though it's wide, there are plenty of placements for horizontals along the way. If you're comfortable walking cams, you can manage with a standard rack, plus BD 5 & 6 cams.

feet wearing climb shoes and a crack in the rock

Pitch two and three are the money pitch, the perfect layback crack with jugs leads into a wide chimney with two cracks. After some analysis, and consulting with the spider guardian of the right crack, we chose the fist crack on the left wall of the chimney.

man looking up at a crackMan climbing a chimney in the rock

My boyfriend emerged from the chimney to the cheers of onlookers across the valley at Chimney Top. One of the perks of climbing in a tourist-heavy area: you become the entertainment. The day was perfect, the climb was perfect and the applause felt like the perfect end to a lovely summer day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Trip Report: Weirdos in the Woods

tent in the forest

I spend almost every weekend camping in the woods, usually Red River Gorge in the beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest. I love the solitude of the small campsites along river and ridge lines, as opposed to the crowds at Miguel's or any of the other climber campgrounds. Usually, it's uneventful and quiet. Usually. Can you tell where this is going?

I feel like I should start by saying this is a funny story. Nothing bad happened to us or anyone else. It ended with a lot of laughter and probably embarrassment for the other campers.  But part of me wonders what could have happened in different circumstances.

Let me paint the scene for you. We're sitting in camp chairs behind my car basically tailgating. We're too lazy to carry all the food and cooking supplies down to the campsite and back up again so we ate in the gravel pull-off along the narrow winding road.

It's dark. We're winding down because we have another day of climbing planned. Suddenly, with no flashlight or headlamp, a stumbling man walks up to our car and says, "I need help."

I'm not going to pretend to be altruistic and  kind. My first reaction was "I don't want to deal with this." I assumed someone was injured and we would be making a hospital trip with a stranger.

Then he says maybe one of the weirdest things I've heard in the woods. "I think my friends are going to kill me."

Behind him, we see another person walking up the road. My boyfriend asks "Are you planning to kill him?" The second guy throws up his hands and informs us that he is not planning to kill anyone.

After much coaxing, the two men admit that they're high. The first man who stumbled into our tailgate ate an edible, wasn't used to it and got extremely paranoid.

He's lucky he ended up in our campsite. Over the past couple of weeks I've though about what could have happened. Stumbling around in the dark he could have been hit by a car, fallen into the creek or down a hill. If they'd been camping along the cliff, it could've been much worse. Many campers, most drunk, high or stupid, have died falling off of cliffs in Red River Gorge. Thankfully, he went back to his campsite with his friends and we ended up with a funny story.

More than just the laughter, that's what stayed with me about this story. If you make a poor choice, like you first experience with an edible, a fun-filled weekend can turn tragic.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I finished two books (and it feels like a miracle)

Lately reading has been difficult. I'm not even positive when this problem began. My whole life I've loved books and stories. But then somewhere in the past two years, whether it's blogger drama or things in the real world, my reading began to slow. When I read, I still read quick. But lately I've found other things to do besides reading (hello podcasts).  I'm working my way out of my rut, requesting library books again and trying to read on most of my lunch breaks. Not today, because I just finished the two library books I had and didn't have anything to follow them with. I don't have an unread book that I want to read in my possession right now. Weird, I know.

But thankfully, the two books I finished were both good and worth reading.

Arclight - 4 Stars (Goodreads | Amazon)
I have to give this book a lot of credit because it's what pulled me out of my reading rut. It's an interesting sci-fi novel with an intriguing mystery. The stories danger lurks in the unseen and the story follows a character who feels like an outsider (but actually for good reason for a change).  The book hinges on her believably, and I bought Marina's story wholeheartedly. This was a good that kept me up at night, in the good I-can't-put-this down-way.

The Hate U Give - 4 Stars (Goodreads | Amazon)
Do I really need to review this book? I feel like everything has been said by someone else because I'm literally a year behind the trend on this book. Timely without feeling preachy because the characters are well-developed and believable. It's just as good as everyone says so you should go ahead and read it.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Backwoods Bouldering

Before I was a climber, I was a hiker. Being from Southeastern KY, there was a lot of ground to explore. I spent most of my childhood running wild in the small forest across the street from my house. At the time it seemed gigantic, a kingdom of my own. On a recent drive through the old neighborhood, I realized when the leaves were down you could see straight through to the open field beyond.

Some places get smaller when you revisit. Others expand with new hidden gems and opportunities. Last summer I went hiking with my brother on one of my favorite short trails, Dog Slaughter Falls near Cumberland Falls.  We always do the short version from FS Road 195, which is a perfect trail that follows a creek to one of the prettiest small waterfalls I’ve visited.

waterfall on a creek

This time was different. Not only did we take two of our family dogs, but I threw my climbing shoes and chalk into the backpack because I’d heard there were boulders in these woods.

I didn’t find the boulders I’d read about on the trail before the waterfall. I found one thing that I could traverse, but the roof problems didn’t jump out to me. Maybe it’s because we could only do so much with our doggie friends, or maybe they’re further off the trail than I expected.

Two leashed dogs on a hiking trail

But past the waterfall and along the Sheltowee Trace, we started to find ample boulders to explore.  According to the Kentucky Bouldering wordpress, most of them were down a sidepath to the river. Because the water looked swift and Hank the dog loves water we avoided getting close to the river. And because I didn’t have a bouldering pad, I didn’t try much of anything.  I did a couple of V0-V1ish problems.

girl climbs boulder in woods

girl climbs boulder in the woods

Normally when I climb I have a guidebook, pictures and do a lot of research ahead of time. This was different.  I’d done a little research but without pictures and a guidebook, it wasn’t like any climbing I’d ever done before. It was a small adventure, exploring this little boulder field more than a mile away from any parking. The woods were full of the unknown and possibilities, a beautiful peaceful place where it was just me, my brother and our dogs. It was perfect. Only thing I’d change? Next time I’m bringing a pad.