A few weeks ago the wonderfully talented Cat (Catherine Elise Photography ) came to visit and take some lifestyle portraits of our family + farm life. I was immediately struck by how lovely, calm and kind-hearted Cat was and how quickly she all made us feel comfortable. As we showed her around our home, the surrounding paddocks (including our wigwams fashioned from fallen logs and sticks) and of course our pastured chickens up the road - we began to forget she was holding a camera at all! Not only did she manage to get us all looking at the camera at the same time - a miracle with small children! - she has captured something far more precious; memories of the journey we are on; something of the joy and love we share as a family. I will treasure them always
When I was diagnosed with coeliac disease five years ago I felt so sad at the thought of giving up gluten for life; the taste of gelatinous oat porridge for breakfast, soft pearl barley in my soups, the silky pull of buttery brioche in my hands, the malty sip of a porter beer - but also how gluten felt against my knuckles when I kneaded it, how elastic and clever and versatile it could be... I often think about my baking life pre-diagnosis, with great fondness. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss making and eating certain things - rye and walnut sourdough bread, flaky moroccan style (m’semen) flat bread, Japanese dumplings and egg noodles…
It took me a while after I completely cut gluten from my diet to want to try any gluten-free baking - I knew many people were doing it, and that I could access recipes galore and gluten free grains and flours - but perhaps I needed a break from baking altogether to forget everything I had learned and known - to clear the space in my heart and mind (and belly) for a new adventure!
These are ten “tips” that continue to shape and develop in my gluten free baking, I hope they might be helpful to you too:
Accepting that gluten free baking and bread will never taste the same as gluten-ful baking, and that is totally okay! Rather than try to replicate a gluten-free version of everything as closely as you can, enjoy the unique textures and flavours of gluten free grains and flours. It saddens me that a lot of supermarket gluten free baked goods are full of gums, emulsifiers, sugars and additives to make it taste “more” like bread, but in doing so create a product that is less-healthy and less-digestible for it’s eaters! I don't think my gluten free bread tastes much like I remember gluten-ful bread did / but I do think it’s delicious in it’s own right!
Never stop experimenting with different gluten free grains and flours. Try them all if you can - and then only use the ones you really like the flavour and texture of. Sure, quinoa may be on all the “super-healthy-food” lists, but if you can’t really abide it then don't eat. There are so many different grains you can use in your baking you need not limit yourself to what other’s use. I also like the idea of experimenting with the grains that are grown locally to you; for me in Australia I can buy beautiful organically-grown millet, buckwheat, sorghum and rice so that’s what I use most of in my baking.
My best gluten free baking recipes always have a balance of starch flours (ie. tapioca, arrowroot, potato, cornflour) with grain-grass flours (rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, quinoa). Because gluten free grains lack the proteins of gluten they are not as easy to bake with - they need extra starch to help bind them together and keep the texture soft and elastic. In bread I use a ratio of 1:3 starch to grains, and in sweet baking such as cakes and biscuits I use as 1:2 ratio of starch to grain. My favourite all-purpose flour mix is a very simple 1:2 tapioca or arrowroot starch to white rice flour. My favourite bread flour mix is 1/2 tapioca starch to 1/2 cup brown rice flour + 1/2 cup buckwheat flour.
Find recipes for something you really love to eat or create your own gluten free version of them. Something I loved (and missed) eating was a french baked custard called “canelé” which I had made before I became coeliac - I used my original recipe and tinkered with until I was happy with it’s taste and texture in gluten free form. I now make these custards for farmers markets and they make a lot of people very happy!
It’s cliche I know, but practice really makes perfect when it comes to success with gluten free baking. The more you make a certain recipe and get a feel for your ingredients, your oven, your enjoyment of it - the better it will get every time you try.
Much of my baking is quick substituting of a gluten-ful recipe; I replace whatever it asks for such as wheat flour with my all-purpose baking mix (1:2 tapioca + white rice flours), with usually an extra egg to help with binding. Sometimes I might use a ground nut flour such as almond or hazelnut instead of the suggested wheat flour and that works wonderfully well in cakes. When it comes to sauces or sponge cakes that ask for “cornflour” I use tapioca starch in exactly the same quantity - I have found it works with success every single time.
7. Buy quality and bulk
Seek out the best quality gluten free grains and flours that you can. Your tummy and your baking will thank you. I have found buying organically-grown grains in bulk quantities (5kg bags for example) ends up being a cheaper than the little packets of conventional gluten free flour found in the supermarket. For those in Australia, I love using Honest to Goodness for buying my flours. When making sourdough bread it’s extremely important to use chemical-free grains (or organically grown) in order to not kill the good bacterias in your sourdough starter. Grains and flours don't store forever - and flours go rancid more quickly than whole grains - it is better to find the flours you like the best and get bulk quanities that you know you can use up over 2-3 months before it goes bad. Otherwise store excess flour, especially nuts flours in the fridge or freezer to keep them from spoiling.
8. Embrace eggs
Eggs are glorious. Obviously I am a bit biased because I am a farmer of pasture raised eggs and handle some 300 of them every day! Eggs contain almost every mineral and vitamin the human body needs and are full of protein; especially in the whites which will help your baking hold together, rise and be softer/lighter in texture.
9. Explore the garden
Explore your garden (and local farmers markets) for edible weeds, herbs, vegetables, and fruits you can incorporate in your baking throughout the seasons. Got lots of apples? Make pies! A ton of parsley or rosemary? Make biscuits or crackers. Never ending supply of zucchinis or squash? Grate it up and mix into your bread with caraway seeds! My favourite gluten free baked good by far and away is a very simple tarte tatin I make in Autumn with quinces which are so plentiful around here I can pick them from wild trees growing beside the road.
10. Don't apologise
I will never forget the time, a couple of years ago, when I was standing at a local farmers market with my table of gluten-free bread and a random lady came up to me with a frown and said "this stuff is what I hate! gluten free rubbish", I was shocked, but eventually she told me that what gluten free bread had tried she thought was awful and hated how trendy it was to be on a gluten free diet. I was quick to remind her that many people have diseases and intolerances, and that while it isn't "healthier" for all people to be gluten free, for many many people it is, or even their only choice! We have a gluten free household so when I cook for events or parties, it's always free of gluten, and delicious, and I never apologise for it.
I have released an eBook “The Art of Gluten Free Baking” with my recipes for gluten free sourdough, artisanal breads and more. You can buy it here.
two scars on my belly
like lightning bolts or wings perhaps
reminders of a body
that's been stretched:
an ancient tale
of one growing another -
it's the nuzzling face
of a newborn,
mouth and eyes rooting
for sweet nourishment -
it's the kisses on my neck
of a two year old
who just climbed into bed
and whispers something softly
about toast or trucks
it's the five year old in the back of the car
what is mist made of?
how many sleeps until you die?
it's where I let go of self
and find her again,
with softer skin, a fuller heart
and hands that are always moving -
who cares less about the perfect,
surface of things
and bends into beauty
that's offered in the everyday
in faith, in messes -
to love deeply
and keep on.
round the paddock -
with sticks and fallen logs and
curving branches we fashion
wigwams, secret places to crawl
into and whisper stories -
are mundane things made magical:
ice crystals on the lawn,
cut glass hanging in the window
catches the late afternoon sun
and makes rainbows dance on the ceiling,
baby blowing farewell kisses,
every single ray of sunshine,
frothy milk with cocoa,
socks on our toes, five
layers against the chest,
conversation in bed
he curled around me
curled around a hot water bottle,
blankets pulled up to our necks -
numb hands packing cold eggs,
building blocks and train tracks -
brooding baby chicks,
boxes of belongings opened
and sorted, bon fire blazing
(the broken crib, rocking chair)
earth tilled, turned,
lets the season wash over her:
the difficulties and the beauty -
and the more she lets herself
slow down, lie dormant,
the better it feels,
to be laid bare
Alex and I are fortunate enough to both own beautiful digital SLR cameras, and however hard we try we just cannot seem to set up a portrait of all five us. So early one morning this week our sweet neighbour Bek agreed to meet us down by the chickens to take some current family photos for us. She did marvellously! And I feel so thankful for how far we've come in this farming journey and how each one of our boys is perfectly at home among the earth and feathers! And of course the hens adore their chicken man, Alex - one even perched herself on his hat. I mean, how can you blame her...
six months ago you died,
how we miss you.
this is the first sunflower of summer
a gift of remembrance.
I want to show you my garden
in all it's ramshackle glory -
the sun soaked, grass-hopper
nibbled nooks and crannies;
slice up fresh tomatoes for us to eat
cook you eggs any way you like them,
scoop a spoon of raw honey from our bees
for us to lick clean; I'd tell you about the granite
boulders on the hillside,
point out the calls of native birds,
as we hear them - and I'm certain my
little boys would find you beetles and grass seeds
and tree sap "rubies" for your pockets,
and I catch myself thinking,
you didn’t know her that well -
and it’s true I didn’t know you
as other people did, I’d never met you face to face -
but some part of you I did know,
and the kindred I felt was warm and embracing
through computer screen, cables, satellite, seas -
nine years ago in a cloudy world wide web
I met you and a handful of other vibrant women,
a sisterhood of penned words,
of blog posts, banter in comments, in email,
made objects, videos, photography -
I was never made to feel inferior, or “too young”,
in my art I felt encouraged, in my words I felt heard,
in my smallness I felt wanted, in my losses I felt held,
in my triumphs I felt celebrated,
a kind of acceptance and comeranderie that this
introverted soul could bear gladly, reciprocate.
the closest thing I'd felt to having peers.
six months and I hold old postcards from you,
a stone with birds you painted, circling,
a feather you collected and posted,
I re-read comments you left on my photographs,
the memory of your voice six years ago, on the telephone
when outside snow was falling -
these are but tiny memories of you,
and I tuck them safely under my skin,
so many of your sage words ring fresh in my ears -
"To pause and see the small glories of everyday
are truly what makes a life overflow"
"I honestly believe this is the most
important and holiest work that can be done"
"Self care is always the right choice."
"I've said it before, but we are such walking miracles:
we are not perfect, we are not whole.
We are lined with the wear of existence,
skin scarred, hearts cracked open.
But if we are very lucky, we fill those cracks with gold
and go on living, ever more beautiful for having been broken"
I see you now, confessing to a life well lived,
dancing wildly in a green scarf, making beauty in ink,
reminding us of grace and new beginnings -
I dream of you, stroking Candace’s hair,
holding Brad’s hand on a walk, loving your body in spite of cancer,
picking strawberries with a feather behind your ear,
tickling the smelly tummy of a dog, savouring the seasons,
laying out crystals and bone on a wooden table,
kissing me on the forehead -
what stories we will tell about you, Umber -
we will tell our children;
her bones were branches than unfurled at her finger and toe tips
they gave her sweeping curves, a regal height -
her heart was part horse hair (for painting)
part silver sterling (for smithing), part star dust (for gazing)
her words kindled flames in the hearts of her readers,
yes, even the stones at the river bed
could answer her call to kneel before the altar
of joy and goodness and pain and beauty -
her laugh could split atoms,
and her art could make bitter hearts cry,
in the middle of her spine was a point
that when gently touched, two wings would appear,
we never saw it but we heard from the old pine trees,
and the hawks and the larks,
the jaybirds, the cuckoos, the owls,
the oaks, the redwoods too -
she could be seen flying, star-flanked,
just before day break on clear autumn mornings,
(you knew, my favourite kind of mornings)
six months ago you left this earthly tent,
and the word love doesn’t come close
to how I feel about knowing you
and being known by you,
or how we miss you -
or the gratitude we feel
for all the wisdom and beauty
you've left in your wake,
bless you now and forevermore
friend, Kelly, Umberdove.
p.s. Kelly's blog - read it all and be full.
On the weekend we celebrated Archie's first birthday with a picnic among the old oak trees at our local botanical gardens. It was a happy affair with a small group of friends and family joining us for simple finger food, chatter, bubble blowing... The big kids explored the beautiful new playground and babies crawled among leaves, twigs and grass. I made a gluten free ginger and yoghurt cake layered with whipped pure cream and a little honey to sweeten. It was a big success and tasted reminiscent of those old-fashioned spiced sponge cake and cream rolls you used to find...
~ Ginger Yoghurt Cake with Honey Cream ~
(makes a large celebration cake)
for the cake:
250g rapadura or brown sugar (you may also use honey but add an extra 2 tablespoons flour)
5 large eggs
350g plain gluten free flour (I used 50:50 ratio rice flour + arrowroot starch)
4 tsp baking power, aluminium free
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
220g plain unsweetened yoghurt
180g butter, melted
Whisk sugar and eggs until pale. Stir in flour, spices, yoghurt and melted butter. Pour into two 23cm cake tins lined with baking paper and bake for 35-40 mins in a moderate oven 180'c or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely. You can sandwich them together with the cream below or carefully cut them in half using a large knife (to make 4 layers)
for the cream:
600ml pure cream
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Whip cream until soft peaks form - continue to whip as you drizzle in honey and vanilla until firm. Spread out over cool cake to form layers and ice the top.
A year ago, when the house was still slumbering,
you started your way out into the world,
in gentle lamp light,
the rushes of labour came slowly,
it was just you and I,
alone (together) in the warm water...
I remember stopping in those spaces
between contractions to savour the inutero you;
the taut roundness of my belly,
the kicks and wriggles from within.
How well I knew you, and yet
never yet peered face to face.
And now you have gone
one whole year around the sun -
our surprise baby boy, Archer Brenin,
a blessing to our family.
You, with long lashes and eyes
not quite blue or green or brown -
those chubby wrists and delicious ankles,
star fish hands that slowly wave hello and goodbye,
nose pawing, arms flapping with excitement,
nuzzles into the neck, chin chomping, bottom shuffling,
giggling at brothers, chickens, cat,
a lamb with wobbly legs -
Your pastimes; opening and closing doors,
eating (anything), breastfeeding,
putting things in dada's boots,
pegs by the clothesline, kitchen cupboards,
dustpan and brush-ing...
Now you can move (on your bottom) with ease,
roll and reach and balance on hands and knees -
you beeline for the things you want; eggs,
little scraps of fallen food, feathers, specs of dust,
but usually it's us you want -
to a lay your silky head against our laps.
All your days stretch before you;
what promise, what unknowns to traverse,
but for now I am content to gather up
the mere twelve months of you,
to kiss your soft cheeks and enjoy
you just as you are right now.
Happy birthday Archie babe,
we love you so, we love you so...
four years ago
we became farmers,
not that we were born that way,
we had studied painting, sculpture, history, sociology -
we had only lived in cities,
we came without land or money,
but a willingness to learn, youthful optimism -
we came with a red-haired toddler,
a hope that we could grow for him
and his siblings to come -
a wholesome life,