Kicking off the Holiday Season with Pies for Simply Gluten-Free

"And they're off!" My grandpa would begin one of his classic jokes. In the fast-paced clip of a horse race announcer, he continued, "It's cabbage by a head, carrot in a bunch. Toothpaste being squeezed out on the rail. 

"And Diaper, bringing up the rear!" That last sentence always came with a special gravitas. 

It was a perennial favorite. We would ask him to tell it to us again and again. Recalling it now, I can still clearly hear his voice.

Those familiar words came back to me yesterday. 

The day after Halloween, and the holiday season is upon us. So often it feels like the gates opening with the crack of a starting pistol as we bear, full speed ahead, towards the Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We got to sample some holiday joy a little early this year, when Stephen and I worked on gluten free holiday pies for Simply Gluten-Free Magazine. From the flour blend and pie crust recipe, to fillings for a cranberry-apple galette and spiced rum and sweet potato hand pies, I got to build these recipes one piece at a time. Finding cranberries in August was no simple matter. (Thank you, Whole Foods, for pulling through on that one.) I didn't arrive at these recipes without some help, either. The filling for the Butter Pecan White Chocolate Mousse came from my Aunt BJ. The result is a family favorite I still remember tasting for the first time. (You might remember her from the Hungarian Goulash post this summer. She is an excellent baker and cook.) 

Part of the joy of the holidays is the sense of anticipation they create. Sharing them today fulfills some of my own anticipation. After testing pie crusts and sampling fillings, those recipes are now displayed on magazine racks around the country, and I finally get to share the tear sheets. I think the images are among the best that Stephen and I have worked on together. 

I hope you enjoy this visual taste of the holiday sweets to come. For the recipes, get your copy of Simply Gluten-Free.

Family Recipes, Part 2: George Washington's birthday and mom's chicken soup

Growing up, I counted my grandma among my biggest heroes. She always had things for us to do, and new adventures to embark upon. From homemade fetticini noodles, to little water color painting sets and embroidering lessons, to kitchen-sink science experiments—everything we did had a little lesson to be learned, a nugget of knowledge to take away. I can see so much of who I've become in the natural curiosity she helped cultivate in me. 

 Grandma "running eggs" at their chicken farm in Colorado. She was nothing if not a hard and dedicated worker. 

Grandma "running eggs" at their chicken farm in Colorado. She was nothing if not a hard and dedicated worker. 

Among her most outstanding achievements was our annual celebration of George Washington's birthday. Each February, she would turn off her electric lights and we would share a meal lit only by candles and oil lamps. To complete the scene, we would all dress up in 17th-century style. I remember my dad emerging from my parents' bedroom in black sweatpants tucked into white tube socks. He even converted an old hat into a tri-cornered symbol of American revolutionary spirit. As girls, we had it a little easier. We wore whatever long, dress-up dresses we had stashed among our toys, and my mom made little colonial-style white caps for us. (Clearly, grandma had willing and able collaborators.)

Was our celebration of George Washington's birthday a little silly? Perhaps. I suppose the whole idea was birthed out of trips to Colonial Williamsburg, and a shared love for history among my parents and grandparents. As a kid, it was full of imaginative possibilities. No wonder I went on to pursue history full-time. The best part was that grandma never broke character. There was no cynicism in her recreation, no laughing at herself, only a little flair for the dramatic. It lent gravitas to the scene, and made it that much more realistic and significant to everyone else. 

 A young me, proudly posing before our dimly-lit colonial dinner table. Apparently, they pulled out all the stops in George Washington's day with blue paper napkins. 

A young me, proudly posing before our dimly-lit colonial dinner table. Apparently, they pulled out all the stops in George Washington's day with blue paper napkins. 

The memories of George Washington's birthday came back to me while making my mom's chicken soup the other day. Since my immediate family no longer lives in Colorado, and my grandparents' farm—the setting for the birthday festivities—was sold 20 years ago, food has become an important link to fond memories of the past. As I smelled the soup on the stove, I thought, "It smells like home." Not our physical house, but the feeling of being at home. If the smell of home exists, for me, it is made-from-scratch chicken soup. 

I don't remember exactly what we ate during the birthday. Considering grandpa's sweet tooth, I have no doubt that a historically inaccurate cake was involved, probably of the chocolate variety. Whatever else was on the table, I'm sure it was hearty, warm, and satisfying—like my mom's soup.  

I love the interconnection between food and memory. I love that tastes and smells can instantaneously transport us through time and space. It makes me wonder what kind of flavors will mark the memories of my life now. What will the early years of our marriage "taste" like? (I have a feeling barbecue sauce will be involved, but that's the subject of another blog post)

So in honor of George Washington's upcoming birthday, and the precious memories I have attached to it, I thought I'd share mom's soup recipe. It cooks slowly, as good things do. Hopefully it will warm your heart the same way it continues to warm mine. 

Mom's Chicken Soup
Serves: 10-12   Time: 3 hours

Ingredients:
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 whole young chicken
8-10 cups of water
1 bunch carrots, sliced horizontally
1 bunch celery, sliced horizontally
1 cup brown rice
1-2 cubes chicken bouillon (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: 1/2 cup parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in the bottom of a large stock pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion, and stir regularly until onion is clear — about 2 minutes. 
  2. Add the whole chicken (including the skin and bones) to the pot, and add enough water to cover. After water begins to boil, reduce heat to a simmer with cover slightly ajar for 2-3 hours, or until chicken is completely cooked and the meat is coming off of the bone. 
  3. With a strainer over a large bowl or large separate pot (I've used a large Dutch oven), pour the prepared broth and chicken out of the stock pot. (NOTE: Do this slowly, so that the chicken comes out last) 
  4. Turn stove back to medium heat, and return strained broth to the stock pot. 
  5. While allowing the chicken to cool slightly, chop the carrots and celery and add them to the broth. 
  6. Skin and debone the chicken. Then return the meat to the stock pot. 
  7. Add rice, and allow the pot to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste, and/or a chicken bouillon to enhance the flavor. 
  9. Top with chopped parsley before serving. 

NOTES: 

  • Allowing the chicken to cool slightly before deboning eases the process, and makes the fatty tissue and bones much easier to remove — it will also keeps you from scorching your fingertips. 
  • This soup freezes well, and makes great leftovers. My mom always said the second bowl was the best. 
  • If you're looking for a little extra kick, throw in some hot sauce for added spice. Trust me, it's delicious. 

Family Recipes, Part 1: Easter traditions and reasons to chart your own course

When it comes to holiday traditions, Easter can be confusing. For many Christians the celebration of Christ’s resurrection stands at the heights of the sacred calendar. Yet most of traditional practices — including the name of the holiday — have pagan roots. Where did the word Easter and its bunny come from? Well, that would be a reference to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility whose sign was a rabbit.

If you’re a Protestant, you have even less traditional ground to stand on, because following the Reformation, Easter celebrations were rejected as too papal. It was Catholics who established the tenets of the Christian Easter feast. Protestants didn’t come back to the fold, so to speak, until the late-nineteenth century. By that time, they also had the benefit of enjoying candy Easter eggs (Cadbury introduced the first chocolate egg in 1875), jelly beans, and Easter baskets stuffed with treats.* 

While the Easter table might lack the kind of nostalgic grounding in tradition that one experiences at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find this freeing. For us, Easter has become a time to create new holiday memories and traditions with our friends. Since it takes a two-hour drive or a four-hour flight to spend the holiday with family, I try to incorporate family by including some traditional family recipes on the menu. 

For this year, I’ve adopted the traditional Hungarian kiffel (something we usually eat at Christmas) to our celebration of the resurrection. The kiffel combines cream cheese pastry and a touch of jam for a mixture of savory and sweet that’s hard to resist. This also kicks off a series on traditional family recipes that I plan to continue sharing on the blog. I figure, what better way to explore the history of what we eat, than to delve into the foods I associate with my family history?

Whenever I eat a kiffel, I think of my dad sneaking a few each time he passed through the kitchen and my mom telling him to save some for the rest of us. It makes them all the more special to think about my grandma and great grandma making them before me. While our families will be celebrating Easter across the country, our little Alabama duo will think of them fondly and enjoy a cookie in their honor. It’s not a bunny or an egg — but who said those had all that much to do with celebrating the resurrection in the first place? 


 Photos by  Stephen DeVries . 

Photos by Stephen DeVries

Great-Grandma Yahraus’s Kiffel Recipe (gluten free)

Note: I adapted the recipe below to my gluten free needs. For those making the cookie with wheat flour, see my notes in parentheses.) 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese (cold)
  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter (cold) 
  • 2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (2 cups if using wheat flour)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder (1/2 tsp. if using wheat flour) 
  • 1 rounded Tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • Jam or other filling of your choice (I varied mine between orange marmalade, blackberry jelly, and chocolate chips)

Directions: 

  • Sift together flour and baking powder. 
  • Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in cold butter and cream cheese. 
  • Working with your hands add in sour cream and egg yolk so that the dough forms a soft ball. Be careful not over mix the dough — if it has a marbled look, that’s okay. 
  • Divide into two balls, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can be refrigerated overnight). 
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF
  • Working one ball at a time, unwrap roll out on a sheet of parchment paper dusted with tapioca starch. Roll out dough until it is 1/8 inch thick.
  • Cut dough into 2” squares and place a 1/2 tsp. of filling in the center. Fold into triangles or cylinders. 
  • Bake for 10-13 min. (Mine were perfect at 12 min.) 
  • Sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

*My information on the history of Easter came from Cathy K. Kaufman’s “Easter” entry in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (1ed.), Andrew F. Smith, ed., Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed online at http://www.oxfordreference.com.libdata.lib.ua.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195154375.001.0001/acref-9780195154375-e-0280?rskey=iQtsmi&result=7 on 18 Apr. 2014.