Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Baby Booties

I have a cousin who has  central nervous system vasculitis and has had several strokes.  The disease has caused the nerves in her brain to tell her she cannot see, even though her eyes can function for sight.  She is transported to physical therapy every week.   She has done a remarkable job in her recovery process.

One of her daughters is expecting a child in June.  She requested that baby's booties be placed on her Christmas tree this year.  Great idea!  I thought I might give a hand with that and finished up the project last night.  They will be in the mail to her today and she will get the booties in a couple days

I wanted to do them in Christmas colors and wanted to use up some of the yarn from Mama's sewing closet that I cleaned out when she died. How did she get so much yarn?   She had a friend who sold her house so that she could live on a boat.  The friend was quite a knitter and crocheter and had big Sterilite storage bins of yarn.  Six of those containers found a home in Mama's sewing closet. (The closet was very big -- in fact, in a life before the Joyners moved in, it was small baby nursery).  

I was so glad to have all that yarn when Mama was sick (and she also had Alzheimers) because it was her task to wind the skeins into balls.  When one wants to use the balls now, they have to be rewound because Mama wound the balls loosely and in only one direction, so they collapse and the yard gets tangled.  But, it gave her something to do.  She had lost the ability to do any kind of needlework.  She remembered that she could do it, but couldn't remember how and couldn't focus. At first when her memory was slipping, I would write simple instructions on posty notes and she used those directions to knit or crochet.   But gradually that didn't work anymore. Making yarn balls was something she thought she could do. She eventually couldn't do that either.

Using up that yarn has been a task of mine.  I used much of it before the house was sold;  the remainder  was moved to my storage.  Two blankets for Project Linus were completed and another one started, which is still in progress).  I made a baby blanket for my grandson.  Then most of the hats made for Coats for the Children have been made from Mama's stash of yarn. 

These two blankets
were made in 2012 completely from Mama's yarn stash.  They were carried to a collection site for Project Linus.
Coats for the Children hats completed in 2012, using
yarn from Mama's stash. (There is no picture of ones
completed in 2011.  That was the year I began working
on using up her yarn.)

This blanket was made for my grandson using yarn
 from Mama's yarn stash.

For the last few years, I have made at least 12 hats for Coats for the children.  This year has been so eventful that time has not allowed for that.  It began with Mama dying in January.  Cleaning out Mama and Daddy's house in Belhaven, NC took a lot of time.  They had lived in that big house for 50 years and filled it with the things they cherished.  Then I helped my daughter and her family move to the farm in Rougemont.  So, I have not had the time to spend making the hats.  I did decide to make hats in memory of the children killed at Sandy Hooks and will continue that project if it takes several years.  I got four of the hats completed this year in their memory.  But most of the yarn for those Sandy Hooks hat had to be purchased because I needed specific colors and types of yarns, especially for the beading of the girl hats.  Some of the hats (below) were made to practice stitches and beading for the Sandy Hook hats.  The practice hats were made from Mama's yarn stash.

Seven hats for Coats for the Children completed in 2013,
some knitted and some crocheted

Now for the Christmas booties -- the most recent project completed using Mama's Stash.  For the red booties with the cable at the front, I used the free pattern on Judit Sogan’s blog.  She described the project as “A Small Baby Project for the Weekend”.  I was able to complete both shoes in two days, working only at nights on it.  I spent two weeks working on free patterns which had terrible directions.  I wanted to spend time rewriting directions but found I was running out of time to get the booties mailed before Christmas.  I was so delighted to find Judit's instructions. There must be a little teacher in Judit because her numbers and exact instructions were very easy to follow.

 Judit’s instructions stated to use baby yarn for the project.  Since these booties were to act also as a Christmas decoration, I decided to use the colors of white and red.  Mama’s yarn stash had some white sport yarn, which I could substitute for baby yarn but she had no red baby yarn.  I found that difficult to purchase without scouting out the yarn shops or searching online.  This was a rush project and time didn’t allow for that.  Besides, I needed to use yarn from Mama’s stash.  The worsted yarn caused the size of the bootie to increase but that is OK because the baby will not be wearing it until next Christmas anyway and will probably need the large size (6 months).

I made a couple of changes though.  I made a mistake on a row because I was careless in reading the directions.  In row 33, I didn't do a K2, so the holes for the ribbon were closer together than Judit's bootie.  (Had to figure where the mistake was so that I could repeat it on the second bootie).  I didn't make the 2 stitch i-cord.  I thought the cabled booties would look more like Christmas with 1/4-inch white ribbon.  

The white booties were made with the white sport yarn using a very easy free pattern from Lion Brand Yarns.  I attached a red ribbon to make it, again, more like Christmas.  I hope these booties cheer my cousin and are what she requested.  Making the booties helped put me in better Christmas spirits.  Love you cousin P.M. and all the Joyners.  I miss you all and wish you a Merry Christmas.

Next project, finish the blanket started before the booties and continue with the Sandy Hook hats.  I have found some perfect patterns and ideas to complete some more hats in honor & memory of the children.  Check back and see my ideas and finished projects.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

So Sorry But The Wheat Has To Go

 Learning Gluten Free

My first introduction to gluten free bread was disappointing.  The first loaf of gluten free bread I bought in the grocery store was expensive.  The bread had no flavor and was so dry.  And everyday it got drier.  So I decided I to go without gluten free products.  That meant not eating anything that had any form of wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye and triticale.  I did not anticipate that wheat would be in most all processed foods because the mentioned forms of gluten can be made into modified food starches in processed foods. Wheat is used to bind ingredients in hotdogs and sausage.  Wheat hides in many products.  Learning to read labels has become so important and will always be important.  The FDA has recently required labels to include wheat if it is in a product on made on a line with other wheat, nuts, soy, milk, and eggs. (Did I miss anything?)

I began reading and reading about why it was important to go gluten free.  Going gluten free gradually reduced the awful stomach pains until there was no pain -- unless, I ran into it accidentlly.  Being gluten free for awhile causes the body to react even worse and last longer when it comes in contact with gluten.  I went though my cabinets and pantry and removed all gluten products and donated it to the food bank. The donation included all the pasta and pasta mixes, canned soups, packaged cake mixes, rye and wheat flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour, pancake and waffle mixes, Bisquick and anything that had a label with wheat.  I had Bob's Red Mill soup and bean mixes that were so good but had some form of wheat in them. (Bob 's Red Mill also makes many gluten free products).  I am so glad that someone could enjoy them.  Whole Foods and Lowes Food has many gluten free flours and other gluten free products but some of the more tasty and exotic flours, such as amaranth and teff are hard to find; I order those on Amazon.

I found that milling the flours myself from seeds, groats, and rolled oats helps with the expense of the gluten free flours.  When I first decided to get a mill, I read on line and looked at review after review to decide the best mill to get for me.  I decided that the Blendtec mill was my best choice.  I read that most mills puffed flour in the milling process.  The first milling I completed did send a very thin coat of fine flour several feet around the mill.  So now, I plan the days to mill and mill on the deck.  It is a small mess to clean up, but well worth the time to me.  The mill will pay for itself in a few months.

Now it was time to get in touch with my baking skills and see if I could make my meals gluten free. There was no flour in the house.  I found a long list of flours that I could use.  The acceptable gluten free flours include sorghum flour, bean flour, millet flour, chai flour,  quinoa flour, soy flour, white rice flour, brown rice flour, corn starch, potato starch, arrowroot starch, corn flour (not the same as cornmeal), tapioca flour, amaranth flour, buckwheat (which is not wheat), and teff.  This is not the end of the list.  There are more, such as almond meal and flax meal.  These flours and meals have no gluten and that is a good thing but causes problems with baking.  The gluten holds the shape of the dough as it rises.  So the gluten free dough needs something to hold it together and help hold the carbon dioxide as it rises.  Wheat helps bind the ingredents in a dough.  The gluten free doughs need binders, substances that hold the ingredients together.  The substances that can be used to hold the dough as the yeast makes the dough rise is guam gum and xanthum gum.  Some bakers use just one of the gums while some bakers us a mixture of the two.  Eggs, egg replacers, plain gelatin, chai seeds, flax meal, and other substances are also used to help in binding the flours and starches together.  To help the the dough rise better, there are dough enhancers (which include an acid such as vinegar or ascorbic acid).

Because the textures of the doughs are listed as being gritty, very gritty, starchy, and fluffy, they are mixed together to help improve the texture.  Most flour mixtures used to bake yeast bread, quick breads, cakes, and pastries include a percentage mixture of the flours, meals, and starches to inprove the baking texture.  Some of the flours are inexpensive and some are expensive.  It is important when buying the ingredients that there is no cross-contamination with gluten and non-gluten in the milling process.  And of course, that makes the ingredients more expensive because the millers have to have special buildings for gluten free milling or there has to be special cleaning of equipment when milling gluten free products.  For example, to make sure that oats are gluten free, the oats are purchased from farmers that dedicate their fields only to oat; there is no contamination with wheat grains in the fields.  Then, the oats are processed in gluten free buildings.  This is what makes gluten free more expensive!

I do eat homemade gluten free bread products every day for three main reasons.  Most all flour products cause a rise in blood sugar for diabetics, especially those products made with rice flours.  Two, making gluten free products is not cheap.  The third reason is the time factor in making the gluten free products. Homemade gluten free products do not have a long shelf life because there are no preservatives, which can also be good for the body.  Completely going without, I found, is not necessary. It is disappointing to have to eat hamburgers all the time without a bun.  Sometimes, it is nice to have a warm blueberry muffin for breakfast and delightful to have cheese and crackers as a snack.  So, the expense, time and sugar/carb control causes me to be frugal in eating the gluten free products.  I try to remember the joy in in being frugal is that it is easier to control body weight.

I am learning everyday how to live gluten free.  It is not something I cherish but it has made me feel better.  Even though the gluten free products are certainly not the perfect specimens I learned to bake in home economics classes in college, I am learning to accept the difference -  gluten free will never look, nor taste the same as wheat products.  Gluten free has its own physical and chemical characteristics and properties.  One has to deal with that and move on, making the best product possible with those characteristics and properties.  That is my challenge!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers

Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers

The original recipe that I used for the Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers came from About.com Gluten Free Cooking.  It is among the many websites I use frequently.  Sometimes I can use the recipes on the site as is but I usually convert the recipes to use less sugar.  I find the website to be an excellent reference.

Some of the reviews on the website for the original recipe were not kind.  Some stated that the batter was runny and made a mess.  Another reviewer said that it was a wonderful recipe and liked it.  So I thought that it must have some merit.  When I made the batter, I didn't find the batter to be runny.  I think the reason for that was maybe I used a different flour blend. I used the exact wet ingredients. (The flour blend I used is noted below).

I agreed with one of the reviewers about making the wafers as Madeleines are made.  I tried the suggestion of using the mini muffin pan but the batter shaped like muffins as they baked, making a peak in the center.  The mini whoopie pie pan baked them perfectly, though I need to adjust the temperature and cooking time.  Some of the wafers baked too long. The wafers made in the mini pans are smaller than those of the original recipe.  (That problem is also an oven problem.  I really need to get a new one.  This one has no light switch to see in the oven; I have to open the oven door for the light to come on.)  The wafers would cook perfectly in my convection oven.  I was disappointed that the mini whoopee pie pan was too long to go in the convection oven.  The pan cannot be larger than 13x9-inches.

The Wilton Mini Whoopie Pie Pan can be found in Walmart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macys and I'm sure many other  places.  I found mine on a clearence shelf in Walmart.  I think that I might be able to make a smaller mini whoopie pan by using heavy duty aluminum foil, using the  mini whoopee pie pan as a mold.  Since the English muffin rings using the aluminum foil worked, I'll try making the pan next time.  Using the convection oven is great because one rarely can burn food because the oven timer cuts the oven off.

 I probably will  make only minor or no adjustments to the ingredients using this gluten flour blend for the wafers.  The wafer in this recipe has a wonderful taste.  One ingredient change I did make in the orginal recipe was in the sugar content.  I cut the amount of sugar to 1/3 cup and added, with the sugar,  2 tablespoon of Stevia in the Raw. If you have no problem with sugar, use the 2/3 cup in the original recipe.  You could substitute all the sugar with another sugar substitute but remember without honey or sugar, the cookies will be a little tough.  (Sugar is needed for tenderness.)  Also, I didn't use sugar to press the cookie down.  I used a wet measuring teaspoon to flatten the dough.  (The teaspoon was slightly rounded on the bottom, which made flattening the dough easier.

A new product I used when making this recipe was the glass mixing bowl for the Kitchenaid mixer.  Being vertically challenged has gotten worse in the past couple of years. (I guess I'll continue to get shorter). I have never been able to see the bottom of the metal bowl of the mixer and even recently,  I have to use a small step stool to reach the second shelf in the kitchen cabinets.  Oh, with the glass mixing bowl,  I no longer need to stop the mixer and tip the bowl.

Hope the wafers are successful for you.  I can imagine these wafers in a gluten free banana pudding.  I'll try using them in a gluten free trifle, also.  I'm not sure whether they can be processed as crumbs and used in a pie crust but I'll give it the try and let you know.  I might experment with some chocolate in the batter. In the mean time, I need to perfect the shape and baking temperature of these wafers because the recipe is a keeper.  Thank you, Terri Lee Gruss for inspiring me.

One last comment -- there are several recipes for vanilla wafers on the web.  Some of the wafers appear more uniform than mine, but most are made from rice flour.  Because rice flour has a high glycemic index, I do not use it.  If you use rice flour, give some of those recipes a try.  Some of them look exactly like "Nilla Wafers".

Here is the converted Gluten Free Vanilla Wafer I used.

Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers  

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons Stevia in the Raw
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour mix (with xanthan or guar gum  in the mix --  See rule below for    using gum and the recipe for the gluten-free flour blend I used)
  • 10 tablespoons melted, cool unsalted butter OR a dairy-free butter substitute
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar to dip glass in to press cookies (optional

1.  Preheat oven to 375℉ or 190°C.
2.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, silicone pads or lightly grease.  Mini whoopie pie  pans or mini muffin pans can also be used.  Lightly grease only the bottoms, not the sides if using the mini pans.  Gluten free batter needs the sides to help the wafer rise.  ( Remember that the batter baked
     in a mini muffin pan may look like mini muffins, not cookies or wafers.) 
3.  In the bowl of a mixer, combine eggs, sugar, and sugar substitute, if using sugar substitute.  Beat on high until creamy, about 3 minutes.
4.  Add vanilla, lemon peel and salt and combine with egg mixture.
5.  Lower the speed of the mixer and combine the gluten-free flour, 1/4 cup at a time, with the egg/sugar mixture.
6.  Add the melted butter slowly to the batter and beat until combined.
7.  Place heaping rounded teaspoons of dough on the parchment paper approximately 1 1/2 inches apart or  place that same amount in the mini whoopee pie pan or in mini muffin pan.


8.  If using a stiffer dough, like mine, the dough needs to be smoothed down with a wet teaspoon.  The  dough can also be pressed down with a small glass coated in sugar.

Smoothing batter with wet measuring teaspoon

9.  Bake in oven for about 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown and crispie.  Immediately and carefully place the wafers on a cooling rack.  Store in a airtight container.  (If using a mini pan, the baking time may be slightly less than 12 minutes.)

Notice the muffin shaped cookies in the back.  They were baked in a mini muffin pan.

If using a mini pan, the yield will be approximately 50 wafers.  The original recipe stated the yield was approximately 36 wafers.


Linda's All Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend

  • 3 cups Oat Flour
  • cups Sorghum flour
  • 3 cups Tapioca starch
  • 1 cup Corn flour (Masa Harina)
          Whisk the flours together. Place in an airtight container.

          Potato starch and corn starch can be substituted for tapioca starch. I have used a combination of the three when       
            there wasn't enough tapioca in the pantry. Guar gum or xanthan gum will be needed for most baking.  The rule ,   
            provided my Cooking Gluten Free!, for using the gums is as follows:
     1 teaspoon per cup of flour mix for sandwich bread or pizza crust
     1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour mix for cakes, muffins, and quick bread
     1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour mix for cookies