From high above, the rare spotless white patches of snow on the ground sparkle in the morning sun like precious gems. They are irregular in shape as they are scattered in the still rather gray-looking landscape, but when I imaginatively frame them together, they form a pretty natural patchwork that makes me almost miss the disappearance of winter. But only for half of a second, not even: I am really too keen for spring to settle comfortably and show us its talent. I am really craving for green plants and flowers to grow again, and I am jealous of my brother in France who tells me that they’ve started to garden already. When I visit in May, I want to be able to help and feel the soil with my hands too.
My flight to Chicago is uneventful beside the bowl of warm mixed nuts — pecans, pistachios, cashews and walnuts — brought to me by one of our half-smiling air hostesses; I take that she must be having a bad day for being so grumpy and unfriendly. The nuts are one of the privileges of sitting in a good seat*** as my father-in-law likes to say. When I fly stand-by, I am sometimes lucky to get one of those seats. I often plug my Ipod and take my laptop out then, managing to get a few good hours worth of work while also daydreaming as I look out of the window to catch a glimpse of the busy life below.
“When are you coming?” I ask P. before leaving. He cannot travel with me because of a late meeting on Friday afternoon.
“Tomorrow, hopefully,” he says. There is a pinch in his voice. “Did you take your Ipod?” he then asks, as he always does. That makes me smile. He never fails to make sure I have good music to listen to.
“Yeeesssss, I have it.” Cold Play, Joseph Arthur and Rufus Wainwright keep me company for most of the flight.
“You saw the beet soup and smoked trout, apple and avocado salad in the fridge, didn’t you?” I ask. “Don’t forget to finish them up.”
He takes care of music; I take care of food.
***understand “business class”
The prospect of a weekend away with P.’s family sounds more than appealing, especially when I find out that the weather turns out sunny and springy in Chicago. There will be relatives who have traveled from Ireland, a birthday party, Irish jokes and music — and good food too. In truth, I am craving to have a meal, or more, prepared for us. I always enjoy the thought of tasting someone else’ s home cooking. Don’t you too?
These are great days for family stories. Uncle Paul is good at telling stories. His body language complements his words well. He tells us about his dad, P.’s grandfather, and the banana sandwiches he used to eat during the war. “Well you see, bananas were very rare in Ireland at the time, so when Papa was seen with banana sandwiches while on duty during the weekends, you can imagine that everyone wondered where on earth he got bananas from!” he says, laughing. “He only found out the truth years later. When Nana heard about upcoming food shortages, she went to the village to buy a bottle of banana essence. So the banana sandwiches were actually mashed parsnips flavored with banana, and that was it!”
I am in love with this story, all the more as I imagine Papa’s face when he finds out. What a joke! “He used to trade the banana sandwiches against beef sandwiches,” Paul adds. “He surely got a good deal out of parsnips!”
We don’t really have much time to cook elaborate dishes, and as matter of fact, it suits me well since I am looking forward to a break, away from the kitchen. But I am not even half a day there that my hands start to feel itchy to prepare something.
Perhaps I could put together a salad or a dessert.
“What would you like me to cook? ” I ask my mother-in-law when we start thinking about dinner.
“I have a box of sweet strawberries,” she replies. “Just look in the fridge and help yourself with whatever you like.”
The strawberries look sweet and juicy indeed, not too big either. I think about the crowd gathered for dinner and try to pick something that everyone will like. Not always an easy matter.
“What about strawberry rice pudding? Would you like that?” I hesitate to make my lime mousse with stewed rhubarb and strawberries but there is not enough time.
“Oh yeeesss, please!” she exclaims with great enthusiasm. “Papa used to make it for us all the time. We would sneak in the kitchen and do it secretly! Don’t tell your mother, he used to add too.”
I know that well from living with P. It continues to run in the family.
Since I am not in my own kitchen, I use what I find handy to prepare rice pudding, following the recipe of this one, but with coconut milk and unsweetened soy milk instead of milk, and cinnamon sticks instead of cardamom. And it tastes just as good.
“Do you mind if I bake something tomorrow too?”
“What kind of question is that? “, she says laughing. Of course, I should know better. Irish people like to have many cups of tea a day, and a nibble to go with it.
So the next day, I prepare a batch of twelve small gluten free poppyseeds and lemon muffins.
The challenge of cooking in someone else’s kitchen is somewhat interesting, don’t you find too? Although I am not really of the shy-type to make myself comfortable in someone else’ kitchen, I still find it challenging. Where is everything? Am I just too used to my own kitchen gadgets? But I choose a recipe I’ve experimented with before, making improvisation easy.
The muffins use quinoa and white rice flours, a hint of hazelnut flour, lemon juice and zest for taste and moistness, and poppyseeds for added crunchiness. Canola oil replaces butter while soy milk is used in place of milk.
I’ve made these muffins a few times, but with variants. For some, I prefer to replace quinoa flour with millet, and for others, I like to add berries at the bottom. I personally find that quinoa makes the muffins moister while millet gives a little grittiness. Note that because these muffins use gluten free flours, they will always be denser in texture, and do not rise as much: fine by me since I prefer this type of texture. The muffins can be baked in individual paper cases, regular muffin molds or small ramekins if, like me, you like the idea of enjoying the cakes eaten by the spoon.
In fact, everyone likes them a lot, especially my celiac father-in-law and my mother-in-law — she is thrilled to have a new recipe to use. Gill, Paul’s wife, is curious about the flours used.
“I would never have guessed that you used rice flour, or quinoa even!” she says. “The muffins are really light and moist. Really nice!”
Perhaps another one of my friends who will now welcome alternative flours in her kitchen.
This actually makes my day.
When we leave on Sunday, I make sure to pack a few into our cabin bags, to keep us company while traveling back: a nice change from your typical wanna-look-like-real food found on planes.
- 3/4 cup white rice flour (or brown)
- 1/3 cup quinoa (or millet) flour
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons hazelnut flour
- 1/2 cup blond cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Dash of salt
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- Zest and juice of 1 organic Meyer lemon
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup (minus 1 tablespoon) canola oil
- 1/2 cup (minus 1 tablespoon) soy milk**
- Raspberries (optional; a few for each muffin)
*Replace with all-purpose flour if you like
** Replace with regular whole milk if you prefer
- Preheat your oven at 350 F. Grease 6 glass ramekins and sprinkle them with sugar (or use 10 paper cases and then, it is not necessary to grease them). Tap the excess out; set aside.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the soy milk and oil.
- Add the lemon juice and zest.
- In another bowl, mix together the rice, quinoa and hazelnut flours with the cornstarch, salt, baking powder and poppyseeds.
- Combine the two preparations and mix to have a smooth batter.
- Place a few raspberries at the bottom of each mold (optional), then pour the batter over, 3/4 full. Bake in the oven for about 30 min for large muffins (20 to 25 min for smaller ones). Check whether they are done by inserting a knife. If it comes out dry, your muffins are cooked. Remove them from the oven and let cool. You can eat the muffins in the ramekins if you like too, by the spoon.
- 150 g de farine de riz blanc (ou complet)
- 50 g de farine de quinoa (ou de millet)
- 3 càs de maïzena
- 3 càs de poudre de noisettes
- 100 g de sucre de canne blond
- 1 càc de poudre à lever
- Pincée de sel
- 1 càs de graines de pavot
- Zeste et jus d’un citron bio Meyer, si vous trouvez
- 3 oeufs
- 100 ml d’huile de colza
- 100 ml de lait de soja**
- Framboises (facultatif; quelques unes pour chaque muffin)
*Remplacez par de la farine T45 si vous préfèrez
** Remplacez par du lait de vache, du lait ribot, si vous préfèrez
- Préchauffez le four à 180 C. Beurrez 6 ramequins en verre et saupoudrez-les de sucre (ou utilisez des caissettes en papier, pas besoin de beurrer alors. Enlevez l’excédent de sucre; mettez de côté.
- Dans un bol, battez les oeufs avec le sucre, puis ajoutez le lait de soja et l’huile.
- Ajoutez le jus et le zeste de citron.
- Dans un autre bol, mélangez les farines de riz et quinoa avec la poudre de noisttes, la maïzena, le sel, la poudre à lever et les graines de pavot.
- Combinez les deux préparations et mélangez jusqu’à l’obtention d’une texture homogène
- Mettez quelques framboises au fond de chaque moule (facultatif) et versez l’appareil dessus en remplissant aux 3/4. Cuisez au four pendant 30 minutes pour les grands muffins, 20 à 25 pour les petits. Sortez du four et laissez refroidir. Si vous utilisez des ramequins, dégustez dans le moule, à la petite cuiller.