Tuesday, January 31, 2012


     Going gluten free about six years ago meant either feeling deprived or eating very expensive cardboard.  Either way the result was the same and going without became a way of life.  

     It seems hard to believe because now nearly every supermarket carries quite an amazing selection of really delicious products.  

     The cost is still very high and at times outrageous but at least some satisfaction is attached to the cost.  There is still nothing like the taste of hot buttered bread that just came out of the oven.  Gluten free products do not have a long shelf life which is why you will find most of them in the freezer section.  The mixes for bread are awesome but, cost about the same as the frozen pre made version.  

     The ingredients to make home made gluten free products are readily available now and all of them can often be found together at a local supermarket.  

     This recipe can either be made using the two flours suggested in the recipe or a gluten free flour mix like Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour Mix.  If you have a high powered blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix you can make your own gluten free flours.  It is advisable to still buy the tapioca flour as it is so fine.   It will never get ground up enough in the blender and the noise of tapioca clanging around is just horrible.

     Xanthan gum is what gives the gluten free bread a similar spongy texture to normal bread.  It may seem expensive but only one or two teaspoons are used in each batch.  Do not skip it as you will get very disappointing results.  

     Once you have made a few recipes, these ingredients will become familiar.  It also takes a while to get used to the difference between a gluten bread dough and a gluten free bread dough.  The gluten free version has more in common with a cake batter than a bread dough and this seems very strange at first.  There is nothing strange about the final product though.  

     I found this recipe years ago in a book by Betty Hagman who is considered the pioneer of gluten free baking.  I have tweaked it a little but, it is her recipe.  The first time I made this I was so desperate to eat bread that I devoured a whole loaf in about ten minutes.  It is absolutely delicious, slathered in butter when piping hot.  Actually I would consider it dangerous as it is so good.  If you are watching your weight this is not a bread to make.  Gluten free does not mean calorie free.


1 CUP TAPIOCA FLOUR                                 2 TABLESPOONS OF MELTED BUTTER
1 1/2 TEASPOONS OF SALT                           1 TEASPOON VINEGAR

Mix the yeast and the sugar in a jug with the warm water and let it sit for a few minutes until the yeast starts to bubble.  

Put the flour, xanthan gum, and salt in a Kitchen Aid mixer with the whisk attachment.  

Mix for a few seconds just to incorporate the different flours and the gum.  If the xanthan gum has not been mixed into the dry ingredients and is left in clumps it will form bubble gum like lumps in the finished product.  

Add in the melted butter, yeast mix, and vinegar and mix on high for a couple of minutes.

Line a baking sheet with foil to protect any cross contamination unless there are only gluten free products cooked on it.  

Brush the pan with oil and then spoon the dough onto the pan into two loaves.

Each spoonful should be about the size of an egg and place each spoonful horizontally next to each other to form each loaf.

Set the oven to 400 degrees 

Let the loaves rise for 25 minutes in a warm place.

When they are doubled in size gently brush with melted butter and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack 

Once you have become familiar with the recipe you can play with it and make healthy additions like flax meal and ground sunflower seeds.  Or you could go to the dark side and add cheese and pieces of cooked bacon. 

     If by chance there are any left overs freeze them the same day and defrost when needed .  Gluten free baked goods do not keep as well as their gluten counter part.  The chances are you will not have any leftovers anyway.  


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sally Stansfield

Sally’s Secrets—There Ain’t Nobody Here But…Part 2

     Having probably dissuaded you from owning poultry for the rest of your life, part two of our saga might redeem the idea to at least neutrality.

     I cannot say for sure what ignited the idea of getting chickens again.  You would think that after such an experience we would have been content to buy eggs forever.  There were several factors at work here.

1. The amount of eggs our tribe (which had expanded to eight) could inhale at one sitting was the first reason.  Breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon would easily entail close to eighteen eggs, and if you added in all the baking and lunches, we were up to five or six-dozen a week! 

2.  My love for organic food and habit of reading too much about modern farming practices was another.

3.  Memory issues would be the third reason.  I guess we just forgot that it was more of an ordeal than anything else.

4.  We harbor masochistic tendencies easily proven by the fact that we have eight kids!

     After the idea came up (I am sure it was Doug's ) , we decided that the smart thing this time would be to do some research.  No impulse buys at the feed store this time.  We were wise to that little ruse.  

     In his internet travels during this process Doug came across a thing called a “chicken tractor.”  Before you start to try and imagine what this is, just stop because it will be a fruitless occupation.  Let me wipe all those weird images of a chicken on a tractor plowing a field out of your head.

     A chicken tractor is basically a run and a coop all in one.  Originally from England       (those Brits are brilliant aren't they) where it is old news according to my mum.   She was very blaze' when I enthusiastically called to tell her about our new discovery.  I had no recollection of them but I guess when you are growing up you are not really interested in chicken coops and the only eggs you really care about are the chocolate ones at Easter.    

     Anyway, to get to the point, it is basically a portable coop that has a run area attached and shaped like the roof of a house.  Rather than being in one place all the time and stinking up the 500 square yards around them the chickens and their home can be moved every few days.  ( as far away from the house as possible would be good).  This stops the soil from getting over fertilized by all that waste matter that I had such fond memories of.   

     Apart from reducing food costs, getting rid of nasty bugs etc in the soil and fertilizing it, it helps to stop them getting bored too.  Really?  Did I care?  I just wanted eggs, not to provide entertainment for a bunch of chickens.  

     The other bonus would be that they would never be loose, so the neighborhood dog, raccoon, skunk, coyote, etc. would not eat them for lunch.  Depending on where you live this might seem strange but we really do have all those critters running around.  I have never actually seen a coyote close to the house but you know the minute a buffet was laid out for them they would be here.

     One end of the tractor is enclosed for the roost and nest area and the other part is encased in chicken wire for a pen.  At night when they roost the door is shut, keeping them safe.  During the summer the whole thing is moved every few days giving them fresh food, really fresh, live food and lots of grass etc to scratch up and destroy.

     The draw back comes during the winter when everything freezes in Northern New Jersey.   The ground is frozen, you are frozen, the water is frozen, the contraption gets stuck to the ground, the door gets iced shut and the eggs crack.  That was not part of the equation on that balmy spring day.  When the plan was put into action we were oblivious to all the fun six months down the road.

     There was a certain eggcitement (couldn’t resist) in the air at the thought of owning chickens (again).   On the subject of puns, corny ones were thrown about with reckless abandon for weeks before the birds arrived.  Any word beginning with “ex” was changed for “egg.”   It was groan after groan from me as Doug had all the kids totally riled up and rolling on the floor laughing every mealtime.  It would go something like this ......  

 "This is an EGGceptional meal darling  "  from Doug, failing miserably to contain a smirk.

     Peals of laughter and snorts from the kids.  

"You CRACK me up dad" from one of the kids

     More peals of laughter.

"It is EGGcactly what I wanted for dinner"  

     Louder peals of laughter and snorts from the kids and a devilish smile appearing on Doug's face.

"SHELL I have a second helping ? " 

     Giddiness starting to appear in the laughter

"You made an EGGstra special effort to make it so EGGceedingly nice and I have to EGGstoll your virutes in the kitchen. "  

     Double the snorting and laughter and now falling off of chairs as the kids have been whipped into a frenzy and lose all control over their motor skills.

     Of course I play along in this good cop bad cop scenario.  I would sigh at first and then roll my eyes and let out groans as it goes on and on and on.  At some point I EGGsplode and stop the craziness.  Did I marry a twelve year old in a man's body and had we been magically transported back to the school cafeteria.  I began to wonder.  After a few weeks the puns were so over EGGsploited that the YOKE I am sorry, joke got old and things calmed down.  It did seem to take a rather long time to play out though.  

     Now we come to those cute furry balls of yellow fluff.   We skipped them.  No small fry going gaga at the farm store, no heat lamps, bathrooms covered in grossness.  We went straight for the egg producing birds that had been tenderly nurtured.... by someone else.  We didn't care who as long as it was not us!  

     For the fee of about $7 a piece we had birds that were six months old and a few weeks from laying those precious eggs.  Known as a pullet, they actually looked like a chicken, which would be normal because they were chickens.  Six months can make a big difference because we lost the cute fluffy part as well as the ugly buzzard so we were even.

     Feed was also an important component,  we did not want to buy nasty, CHEEP (I can hear you groaning but I couldn't help myself ) stuff.  The point was to get really good eggs.  The local farm that supplied them also sold feed that they grew themselves.  We were set, or so we thought.

     Things were looking good until a neighbor and fellow home schooler decided to follow suit.  This was not bad in itself but ended up adding a little glitch to our so far smooth plan.  The husband is a cabinet maker and makes the most gorgeous pieces for people for a living.  He could not build just any old chicken coop could he.  His chicken coop had to be well, big was one word. 
     As the plan of action called for a rather large construction the wife called the town to see if they could put the " Chicken Taj Mahal " as we called it on the front of their property.  Mistake number one.  She was informed that a minimum of six acres was needed to own a chicken. SIX ACRES!!! for a chicken?  It is not an elephant, it's a chicken!  You can keep a horse on an acre in our town but you have to have six for a chicken? 

     If I have not dissuaded you from owning chickens I have certainly put you off ever moving to New Jersey.  

    When we popped over to visit to see the neighbor's progress on their chicken coop.  I saw a truck filled with wood for the purpose.  I wondered if he had had a disconnect about the one acre for a horse thing.  Perhaps he thought chickens required a stable or maybe they were starting one of those home businesses as homeschoolers tend to do. Our little chicken tractor was going to pale in comparison.

    I really do not think the chicken police are running around rural New Jersey looking for offenders but our once ignorant bliss was shattered.  We would be law breakers, maybe even future jail BIRDS. (groan).  The delightfully kind lady at the town hall did let our neighbor know that a 4H club would supersede this law and there were no regulations about property size for a club member. 

     Problem solved, a 4H club was born and Doug was head chicken man and the children named it  "The EGGsperimenters ".   Membership was closed very quickly to include close friends that understood that meetings were never likely to happen after the initial one and the sole purpose was to supersede the land requirement.  

     The tale of our neighbors ended up being an " I told you so" but we never did tell them that.  Not only did they not follow our advice about a chicken tractor rather than a chicken hotel, they bought chicks.  Honestly, they did, they bought yellow chirping balls of fluff.  Before they saw full buzzard hood the rather ugly at this point chicks accidentally became dinner for their two large dogs and that was the end of their first chicken experience.  At least their house did not burn down.        

    We on the other hand (a bit of I told you so gloating here) were proud owners of twelve healthy layers that gave wonderful eggs.  This was all fine and dandy until the next summer when a female bear arrived with three cubs and started eating the chicken food and then the eggs.  She finally decided that chicken meat tasted better than their eggs but that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sally’s Secrets—There Ain’t Nobody Here But…. 

     When you are buying dog food at the farm supply store would you think that you need your defenses up about being influenced into making an unintended purchase?  Are you going to impulse buy a horse harness for your cat? I think not.  At the supermarket you know what the marketing guys are are up to.  They strategically place sugary cereal at the same height as a child's eyes, sample you with expensive $15 a pound cheese on gourmet crackers.  Your guard is up and with your list in hand you are prepared to stick to only what you need.  Nothing can prepare you for the reaction that occurs when 4 small girls see a tub full of adorable, yellow, fluffy little chicks.  Yes, there is one born every minute as they say, and that day we were it.   

     In the  “ People’s Republic of New Jersey” you cannot buy one or two chickens, you have to buy six.  So what did we do?  We bought 12 chicks and 2 ducklings.  Added to this insanity was the fact that we had nowhere to put them.  We didn't care, all we kept seeing was an adorable handful of cute fluff, children who were ecstatic, and a future of yummy fresh eggs.

     It took about 24 hours for reality to set in.  There we were with a bunch of livestock and nowhere to put them, plus a cat that thought we loved him enough to bring home fresh food. 

     Their makeshift home was our downstairs bathtub with a gate across it. (This was only made possible by the fact that this bath area had a wall halfway across the first part of the tub, creating an area like a shower stall so the gate fit perfectly. 

     When chicks are so young they have to be kept warm.  What time of year do they sell them?  When it is still freezing of course.   Another marketing ploy, as guess who sells all the heat lamps and all the other paraphernalia that you need to grow them?  I was beginning to wonder if the owner of the farm store was moonlighting in a second career as a marketing exec.  The cost of the eggs (that would not even appear for six months) was looking to be pretty expensive at this point.

     The snow melts and spring rolls in and dear husband is still promising to build that chicken coop and keeps promising and keeps promising.  The chicks get bigger and bigger and noisier and noisier and one day you realize that they are not cute anymore.  They are downright ugly.  They lose all that fluff and get this moth-eaten, scrawny buzzard look about them and they smell nasty and poop everywhere (still in the tub!).

     It was now April, the 26th to be exact (and I only remember the date as it was hubbie's birthday), he wanted to go to the Javit's center in NYC to the car show.   We left the girls with our very competent babysitter and went off to celebrate.  If you have ever been to a show at the Javit's you will know that the noise is over whelming.  Not only are there thousands of people but the companies that are there are bombarding you with music and ads.  We were unaware that anyone was trying to contact us so on the trip home it was a surprise to find eight new voice mail messages on Doug's phone.  I thought he was joking when he said they were from the police and the fire department.   It was not a joke. 

     The girls had been playing a board game in the living room and one of them had mentioned that it was a little chilly.  The room was home to a monster sized wood burning stove.  That baby could crank.  It was actually an insert but we did not have a fireplace so Doug had built a brick platform for it.   They asked Sarah our babysitter to make a fire which was not a problem apart from the fact that she had not noticed the 3 very large candles decorating the top of the stove.  It was almost May and we had stopped using it weeks before.  It was all cleaned out and nicely decorated for the spring.  Well, the fire was roaring within minutes and they resumed their game.  The festivities were interrupted by strange spitting noises.  As they turned around the penny dropped very quickly.  With wax melting on to the plates and spitting it was just a matter of time before something worse happened.  Sarah being the clear headed and mature babysitter that she was did the most important thing first, she got the kids out.   Taking the oven gloves out of the kitchen she gingerly tried to remove the plates.  All was well until one tipped and the wax hit the stove and that was it, a fire!!!!!!

     We returned to a very upset, sheepish babysitter, kids that were having a blast at the neighbor’s house because it was 4 hours past their bed time, and a living room plastered with wax and yellow foam. Apparently I had been visited by most of the county fireman and police and one lonely officer had stayed to wait for us.  The house was filled with this horrible mist of smoke that made my breathing weird so rather than lose a lung we piled the kids in the minivan and headed to a local motel.  My first thought was that with all the excitement and four kids in one bed sleep would not be in our future.  They were all so exhausted that not a peep was heard until morning.

     The chicks, or should I say, baby buzzards, were safe in the bathroom.  I do not think the twenty emergency workers even knew that they were there.  The bathroom door had been firmly closed and it was the only room not affected.

     The next day we moved to a condo for a week while the cleaning company cleaned every surface in the house.  When I returned one day to meet the people that were giving us a quote to clean the yellow gunk off the wood stove I opened the bathroom door to find the buzzards had escaped.  Pretty thoughts were not in my head as I surveyed the squawking disgusting mess. That was it. I had Mommy meltdown. 

    Poor Doug got the brunt of Mommy meltdown and was probably glad he was at work.  He came home early that day and finally made them a home outside.  It was a makeshift coop located on the inside of the shed wall and looked like a rabbit cage.  He made an escape hatch and a ramp so they could climb in and out.

     Over the next few weeks we began to realize that when it rained, water came down the mountainside straight into the enclosure.   Now we had scrawny buzzards running around in what can only be described as “poop soup,” and no eggs for four more months.

     Did you know chickens smell?  Actually, chickens smell really nasty, especially when playing in “poop soup.”  Where was the shed?  About twelve feet from the garage. Twelve hundred feet would have been preferable. 

    Well, we finally did get eggs, but be careful what you wish for.  Twelve chickens laying one egg each every day well, you do the math.  We had them scrambled, boiled, fried.  We had quiches, meringues, cakes, cookies and we still couldn't eat them all.  We were inundated with them. 

     We finally gave them away one year, just before we went on vacation, as for some reason none of our friends wanted to babysit them. Can you believe that?

     The next time we bought chickens it was an entirely different story.  The next egg-citing installment coming soon.