Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An evening of friends

Tonight, was our third community dinner.
The month of March has been one of a whirlwind, so, on the fly this one was put together with less planning and fewer invitations. But the heart of the night remained.  A small gathering arrived, bearing food and drinks, while the night began to play out with flowing words.
I cannot even begin to say how much these dinners mean to me. The coming together of friends. Folks from all different walks of life, meeting, perhaps for the first time, and sharing their stories.  It is a continuous reaffirmation of the power of connection.  Tonights crowd was definitely smaller than the last, but it offered the opportunity to have those long and meaningful conversations, drawing out the heart of a person. The quick chat/questions ceased and instead came forth the experiences and sharing of something far greater. Peeling back the layers built around a person. Yes! says I, now seeing these beautiful people beyond acquaintance, in its place stands a friend. It warms my soul that in offering to others these evenings, new relationships are forged, stories are spilled, laughter is shared, as the night slowly slips by unnoticed.

April will be the last community dinner, that I shall host.  As I wind down from this evening, I am glad that there will be one more, as well as glad for the transitions to come.  But still my heart is heavy, for I have come to find home through these gatherings.  When I arrived in Bozeman this fall, I came with the mission of wanting to build community, of putting down roots, and feeling like I belonged somewhere.  I had no idea how I would form idea into something real, but given determination and a vision, any person can go far.  Today, I have begun to build that community, and have learnt that if you offer up your passions, and invite people in, they will come.  First just a few, but then with time, more will come, and your community grows. This has been such a great experience, that has certainly opened my eyes to the endless possibilities.  As I make my way back out into the world, I will carry with me those nurtured seeds.  I hope to continue bringing people together, sharing experiences, and creating the space for each of us to experience that feeling of connection with those around us.
The lessons found in creating community, are endless, and no matter time or place, this mission is dynamic. Constantly redefining what it means to be with another whether it be one, a group, or even masses.  How, I wonder is this done whilst traveling or simply passing through? Is it easier, or more challenging?  What does it take to build lasting relationships on the go? Next stop is living in a camp of treeplanters.  A community already, but also an opportunity to nurture new relationships, to get to the heart of what it means to live, work and play with a new family. Then onto an even greater stepping stone, of which I feel will expand the horizons of what it is that I wish to reach with my goals.  I think about the reasons to why I want to hike the camino. In some ways, I feel this journey is for greater discovery of my self, looking inside to find how I can give back and continue to nurture my seeds of hope for bringing new friends together.  To listen with my heart, and to never stop being curious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gluten Free Chocolate Zucchini Bread

More playing around in the kitchen.  Recently, I've been on a big zucchini kick. Then again...I'm always on a zucchini kick! It's such a versatile and yummy vegetable. But I have been wanting to make zucchini bread for a while, and today, I got into the kitchen and let the love pour out. Now I have two lovely loaves to enjoy this coming weekend.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
(a la healthy and gluten free variety)

2 cups rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour (or corn starch)
3 tsp guar gum
1tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil (or butter, melted)
1/3 (or 1/2) cup honey
1 cup applesauce
1 cup yogurt
3 tsp vanilla
2 cups zucchini, grated
handful of walnuts and raisins (optional)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease and flour two bread pans (8 x 4).  In a medium bowl, mix together thoroughly all dried ingredients, set aside. In a separate bowl, add all wet ingredients, making sure to stir in each one before adding the next. Add the dried ingredients, one cup at a time to the wet mix. Stir in thoroughly.  You can add more applesauce to the mix, if looking dry.  Add to the greased pans and you are ready to bake! Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a fork (or other tester) comes out clean.  Let cool for about 20 minutes, then remove from pan, and continue to cool on a rack. Or go ahead, cut yourself a piece. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Art and Science of Gluten Free

Since mid-January, I have been leading a gluten free life.
This was not something diagnosed by the doctors, nor was a doctor visited.  However, after experiencing quite a few newly developed health problems and unpleasant symptoms, I thought I would see if altering my diet would make any improvements. As sugar, wheat, nuts, and dairy are the four major categories of allergies, I decided to focus on one of these groups. As I am not too big into nuts, that one was easily ruled out.  The remaining three were all a toss up, and I decided, that whether than to sacrifice my love of cheese, and my sweet tooth, I would take a break from the wheat family. I had recently quit a job working at a bread bakery, and had my full fill of bread in 2010, so I decided that it wouldn't be too much of a challenge.
Initially, the experiment was supposed to last about 2 weeks, and then I would reassess the situation.  After the two weeks, I had found that my symptoms had started to improve.  So, I have stuck with it. In all honesty, there are so many resources now, at least here in Bozeman, it has been a fairly easy transition. Especially as I cook all my own food. though step out for a night on the town or travel across country and the options become limited or non-existant. It reminds me of the early years of growing up vegetarian, before vegetarian diets were trendy.
I don't know if it was in fact the wheat that was the culprit of what was going on, but I figured if I was feeling better without it, why not keep going?  I'm planning on reintroducing wheat back into my diet again soon, to see if the problems being to show again, but for now, I am having fun exploring the new world of baking and cooking gluten free!
My job at the Nova Cafe, oddly enough, only makes gluten free baked goods.  One of the only places in Bozeman to do so. It's pretty rad.  When the opportunity presented itself that they were looking for another baker to fill in, I pounced on the chance like a leopard after its prey. And so I began my formally informal training as to how to convert recipes and bake gluten free delights. Though the flour combination may be different, I have found it to be relatively straightforward, at least with basic pastries. I have yet to venture into the world of more complex recipes.  All in due time.  In my own kitchen, where I can limit how much sugar goes into what I make, I have begun to play!
Already, I have made two successful batches of muffins.  The first, though great when they came out of the oven, dried out after a day, which had to do with liquid combinations. But the second, chocolate-banana muffins...divine.  The recipe will soon follow, once I am able to remember what I did...
Now, I am onto perfecting the art of making a good gluten free pizza dough. Pizza is by far one of my top food choices, and perhaps has been the most difficult to ignore. Sure there's the ole 'corn-tortilla-pizza' but sometimes you just want your crust to have substance. So today's first attempt is Tapioca flour dough.
Of course, one little unknown fact about me, is that though I love reading,  I don't always love to read directions.  Instead, I err on the side of just taking the plunge. Well, let me tell you what I have learnt about Tapioca flour. It a) absorbs liquids very quickly b) can clump and become something similar to cement c) is probably extremely redundant to mix it with corn starch as they function pretty much the same. This and more was all learnt in less than five minutes. Phew!
For next time, I'm going to take the time to research the flours I'm using before using them.  Remedy for cement-like dough? Over-watering the brick until it looked like a gooey mass. But did I give up then? Nay. I plowed on through, took my gooey mass and patted it down onto the pizza pan. It kind of looked like it would shape up....it was holding. I was optimistic and also a firm believer that you can pretty much cook anything even if it is doomed.  Decisions were made to then pop it into the oven to start the cooking process. Something told me this dough was going to need a lot of cooking time. Ten minutes later, I pull it out....actual time it had to do any cooking....zilch. At this point, I was too excited about the final results, namely eating pizza to cook it any longer. Lesson no. 2: Take time while cooking, as it is going to alter results of a fine meal into one of questionable means. DON'T RUSH, do it right! Where's the craftsmanship?  If you are following the dots here, you will begin to see that my expectations of attempt number 1 on the pizza making front is taking a significant dive.  At this point if it come out resembling a pizza, then my time would be worthwhile.
I successfully cooked the top of the pizza, it actually looks pretty amazing. Now, time to cut into it, and taste the sweet wabi-sabi of a pizza. First cut. Dough appears relatively undercooked. But then I think about tapioca. It's translucent, maybe then it was a good sign?  I take a slice, pop the pizza back in the oven and begin to test the results. Definitely undercooked, but...there is promise. Round two of cooking, top growing darker, insides, just as gooey and undercooked, if not more so. Is this even possible? I'm not sure how I can go about getting the inside cooked this time around, but I shall eat it anyway. It's edible.
In short, this first go around, though not unsuccessful, wasn't exactly what I would call a success. There is hope, yes indeed, and I come out feeling a little wiser on the matter.

Learning curve:
1. Tapioca flour does not need to be mixed with cornstarch. This is just redundant.
2. Do not just treat the recipe like it is wheat. Slow down, don't rush the process, even if hunger and excitement are the backbone of the operation. Learn to tame those impatient beasts.
3. Pre-cooking the dough for longer than 10 minutes, in all likelihood, will fare well. Trust me...
4. Read and research flours before jumping in. GF flours do not run cheap, and really, why waste good food, when one could take a few extra moments and learn some potentially vital information.  Otherwise, start getting used to experimenting with fate and eating undercooked pizza.

Things to do differently next time:
1. Mix rice flour with the tapioca flour....this combination feeling is the winning ticket.
2. Measure out all dried goods in a separate bowl FIRST then add them to the wet ingredients and mix.
3. 3" of toppings is maybe a bit over the top....this may also have something to do with the dough not cooking...

Basic Gluten Free Pizza Dough

2 cups rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour (or corn starch)
3 tsp guar gum
1tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
1(1/4oz) package yeast
1 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350F, grease and flour pizza pan. In a large bowl, add yeast, honey, oil and warm water.  Give a gentle stir and set aside for yeast to do its thing.  In a separate bowl, mix together flours, guar gum, and salt.  Mix together, ensuring that all the dried ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Once it looks like the yeast has had time to bubble up, begin adding in the dried ingredients to the wet, one cup at a time, making sure that there are no clumps of four left about. (this is where it gets tricky until round two of pizza dough).  If the mixture is looking dry, begin adding more water, until it is looking more like dough. Add the water slowly, rather than in a panicked manner, as then you will over water it. Oil your hands, as the dough is pretty sticky, and begin patting it out onto a greased pan (unlike traditional doughs, until further experiments reveal differently, you don't need to knead). Par-bake dough for 10-15 minutes, keeping an eye on its progress from time to time. When it looks partially cooked, bring it out, and dress it up in all your fine pizza fixings, then return to oven.  Bake for another 20 minutes, or until toppings have met your expectations.  Slice 'er up because it's ready for eatin'!

  • ***This recipe is only an outline at the moment. I will continue to experiment until I have figured out the proper methods and perfect results. Once the code has been cracked, I will be sure to update the recipe to share. For now, use at your own risk! 
  • Saturday, March 19, 2011

    ....Sometimes, we need to shed some light in to the dark

    Great news! 
    The vanishing blog has returned.  Perhaps, it too needed to go on vacation. Maybe a little beach trip, to relax under a giant umbrella, and dip its toes into the salty ocean waters. Do blogs have toes? Regardless, it was a nice little surprise to see it sitting there as if it was I who had blundered and merely overlooked it. 

    Lately, I feel, that this has been the case for oh-so-many things on this end. The overlooking of details that are right in front of me. Sometimes it takes the pointing out from another before we are able to see the obvious (or maybe the not so obvious). And lately, this is exactly what I have been experiencing. 

    March has certainly been a month of learning to give back. Today, in particular, came great enlightenment in the form of a work review.  Ah reviews! Many things came into fruition from a 2 hour conversation. First, what I have come to appreciate, is the Outward Bound community and their commitment to open dialogue and feedback in a timely manner. Yes, it is true, outside of that OB community, this concept, pretty much falters into dust.  If I ever had any question as to what this means, today, I learnt. As I sat down with my manager, I heard for the first time since I began working at the restaurant, that my performance was mediocre, I wasn't quite doing my job properly, and that I walked very slow. I have to laugh at this, as not one person I work with have said that I am slow!  This doesn't perturb me at all, rather it fascinates my curiosity. Mostly, because I feel like I am rushing about the restaurant like a mad lady. (though granted, I must put in here, that I do know that I have my own pace about things. I think if I were ever to get a trail name, I maybe would find myself dubbed 'Turtle'.)  Oh! How I wish I was able to step outside of myself and see/understand from a different perspective. And then I wonder, why it is that no one could tell me this, as this could have been remedied in an instant. Five months later, and perhaps to the great frustration of many of my co-workers I am at last told.  How slow, I wonder, could I possibly be going and what am I being compared to?  As for my mediocre performance, this was a shock and made me feel pretty low.  I definitely took this aspect to heart, as for everything I do, I do with great heart and dedication.  Though the motions are now being put into place to re-train me on my jobs, I feel frustrated that it is only now that this information is being relayed to me! Right? If I am not doing my job correctly, why wait so long? Wouldn't it be more practical to voice up if there's an issue, such as not meeting expectations? That seems pretty important. Sigh. This was definitely a low moment for my week, but with every grey cloud there is a silver lining. This lining is to improve, and walk away from my job at the end of April, knowing that I did all I could to step up and excel. I am not okay with being titled 'mediocre'.  In all truth, this has been a monumental lesson in a roundabout way. I, too, tend to err on not speaking up. But after today and my great musings of this review, I have come to understand the importance of being courageous and shall begin to walk the talk.  Sure constructive feedback is hard to give, but how are any of us going to improve if we never know? So, today, I begin to give back. I begin to speak up and share my observations, to say the truth. Because, I, at long last understand how frustrating it is to be given feedback in an untimely manner. So fascinating, how we can be taught something over and over again, but it isn't until it happens that we truly learn!

    Second life lesson of the day, is to be mindful of how I communicate with others.  Does this happen with a lot of people? Thinking of things, such as appreciations or excitement, maybe to the point of feeling like it has been expressed either verbally or through body language, only to then find out that people have begun to feel that you are a) apathetic, b) indifferent or c) don't care a wild hare? Well, that was another thing revealed to me today. I don't even know what to think. But I suppose it is time to focus on this matter, and to begin to develop better intentions with my interactions. Namely, to embrace those around me with more thought and focus, and express my emotions more outwardly when the time calls for it. To be more genuine and sincere with my actions, especially to those who may not know me on a more personal level. Truthfully, it hurt to hear that I am thought to be indifferent and without concern, because I feel like I lead with heart and dedication with everything that I do.  But it is something to consider, and really, it is my hope that the people I interact with, whether they be strangers or good friends, know that I do care. I am interested, invested and happy to be in your company. So, with this now in mind, my goal is to move forward showing more appreciation towards others. This will be seen by expressing more often my thanks, and letting others know that what they do/ who they are matters to me. In turn, I hope this may open up new dialogues, more rapport and trust, (in particular with those I work with), as I feel like it is very easy to get stuck in those first-impressions then lost in the misconceptions.

     I am sorry that all of these observations did not get to me earlier, but I suppose sometimes each of us just need to give thanks to the gifts of feedback we are given.  Personally, this at least offers me something to work on, to be more aware/thoughtful of, and to walk forward knowing that the responsibility is now in my hands.  I am starting to better understand the lessons behind the teachings.  Let us open the floodgates of conversation.  It's high time we start talking.