sorghum cranberry muffins


Gluten-Free Cranberry Muffins

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a DIY flour blend to copycat the one I’ve been getting from Costco, Namaste’s Perfect Flour Blend. I have mixed feelings on the blend–it’s a tad gummy, but at the same time it’s the cheapest, and let’s be honest–I’m probably not going to be satisfied with any blend. What I want is wheat and anything else will be ‘not quite but close enough’.

I probably don’t even have realistic memories of wheat-filled treats at this point–after a year without, they’re just better in my head than they ever were on the plate.

However. There are some recipes that hit the spot. I fell in love with this sorghum waffle recipe from don’–it’s delicious but it’s also simple. Just two flour ingredients (sorghum and corn starch) and xantham gum–and sorghum flour is the bulk of the flour used, so it’s the closest to whole grain a gluten-free girl can get in a waffle.

I must have been dreaming about baking again, because when I woke up this morning I knew I wanted to make muffins, and I didn’t want to use a blend or come up with some crazy new trial of five flours to make one muffin. I wanted a recipe that functioned like the waffles–as simple as possible.

There’s a little math involved. I compared my standby pancake & waffle (wheat) recipe to my new favorite, sorghum waffles. Turns out they’re fairly similar except for one thing–the amount of flours added. That makes sense–sorghum absorbs a lot more liquid. Sorghum waffles call for about half the flour.

And what are muffins, if not for sweeter, more dense pancakes baked in the oven? (Okay not really but just go with it, okay?) With this in mind, I found a (normal) cranberry muffin recipe and halved the total amount of flour called for, and made that remaining bit a ratio of sorghum flour and tapioca, and mixed it up. The batter was very, very thin so I slowly added more flours until it had a nice muffin-batter consistency.

Eighteen minutes later, I was popping little bits of perfection out of the pan. These muffins are by far the closest thing I’ve ever come to ‘real’ muffins–soft, moist, a little dense, but still fluffy. I mean, check out this crumb:


I’ll stop gushing now. You want the recipe, right?


Sorghum Cranberry Muffins

adapted from recipe girl’s cranberry muffins
makes 48 mini muffins

1-1/2 c fresh cranberries, halved
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 c sorghum flour
3/4 c tapioca starch
1 tsp xantham gum
3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 l eggs, beaten
2 c milk
1/2 c butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Spray or line cupcake pans and set aside.

In small bowl, toss cranberry halves in powdered sugar. Set aside.

In large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Create a well and add wet ingredients. Mix until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries.

Pour into mini muffin pans. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until golden and the tops spring back to the touch.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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dreams of thanksgiving wheat

I have this recurring dream about food. I feel weird calling it a nightmare because the main antagonist is macaroni, but it’s not a good dream.

It begins with a buffet at some big event. The last time I had this dream, there was an entire basketball court worth of food, line after line, hundreds of feet of… macaroni. Plain macaroni in giant vats.

And some more lines of bread for good measure.

At first I make excuses to the people I’m sitting with about how I’m not hungry (not true) and they push me to try something and finally the truth comes out: I can’t eat a single thing at this feast. I’m starving. I paid to be here. I told the host/caterer about my food allergy. There is nothing to eat.

The strange part of this dream is when I realize I’m dreaming–I had this thought while I was watching everyone else, waiting for an appropriate time for me to duck out and race home and eat something–you know, the last time I had this dream, I ate a cookie and it was fine because I was dreaming.

But (dream logic) I couldn’t just tell my companions I was dreaming or that I was suddenly not gluten intolerant after making such a big deal about it. So I make up this story about how since I wasted all my money to be here, the least I could do is bring some cookies home for my husband, so he can have some. Cue me going in line and each time I get a cookie, it disappears off my plate.

It’s pretty easy to interpret this dream–I still have anxiety about social eating situations. Getting prepared and having snacks on hand helped alleviate how often I had these dreams, but they’re back now that Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the horizon.

I’m afraid of being a burden to my host. I waffle between two extreme attitudes–they invited me and it’s the job of the host to provide food for everyone, so if they want me there they’ll cook for me, darnit! and they mean well and they’ll promise me it’s gluten-free, but is it? Can I trust this food? Should I be honest if I start having symptoms and ruin Thanksgiving?

(Not to mention, my suffering for two days because of a ‘little’ slip-up).

I see this conversation coming up more and more in parenting circles as we’re trying to prepare our children and ourselves for big meals full of cross-contamination, mystery ingredients, and cousins insisting there’s just not enough food on our plate yet.

Will our hosts understand why we’re bringing our own food and watching our kids like hawks? Can we convince them it’s not personal, it’s not that we don’t trust them, it’s that the dangers are just too great? How do we have those conversations without offending someone? How do we make them understand how sick we get from eating, that yes, one little bite is enough? In fact, that one crumb from that dish over on the other side of the table is enough.

I don’t have the answers, except for that for this Thanksgiving, I’m going to bring some food for everyone (and dig in fast so I get some before it’s gone!). Last year I made these awesome lentil mushroom walnut balls and I can’t wait to make them again. They’re like stuffing for gluten-free vegetarians.

Oh, and if you need pie (of course you need pie), try cranberry chess pie with this gluten-free crust. I’ve made the crust several times–it hasn’t failed me yet. That’s more than I can say for a lot of gluten-free recipes.

Hope you can make it safely through your holidays! How do you deal with your allergies this time of year? How do you minimize your stresses and risks of exposure?

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my depression sucks but its mine to choose

Part 2 of Many

From my last post, I might have made it sound like I’m totally standing up for my health and I have the perfect care providers and everything’s all honky dory. Sorry if I gave you that impression. This particular horror story (while small) happened just a couple months ago.

I’m at the doctor’s office to have my birth control removed. We’re going to have another child.

The precept breezes in and glances through my chart. They go through the standard questions about vices which I’ve already answered to the nurse and to my attending. No, I don’t smoke. Yes, I drink a little wine but that stops today.

I’ve never met the precept. She’s there to supervise the procedure. She says, “Because of your age, you’re also going off the anti-depressant. There’s a slightly higher risk of birth defects, a small risk, but you can’t take any chances.”

In the heat of the moment, I say, “Yeah, sure. Fine.” What else am I supposed to say?

Only after the precept is gone does my physician–who I’ve only just met today, too–talks about this choice that’s been made for me. “Is it really okay?” and “We’re mostly concerned about the first trimester. After that, you could go back on them if you really need to.”

Okay but first, why the hell would I be on medicine if I didn’t really need it?

I think of all the other medications in the world. I can’t for the life of me imagine this conversation happening with any other chronic condition. Period.

“Because you just turned 35 and want to be pregnant, you need to quit your blood pressure medication… your cholesterol pills… your thyroid hormones…”

It wouldn’t. That would be an in-depth conversation with statistics and back-and-forth and I do believe the decision would be left ultimately with the patient. At least, I hope it would.

But apparently, that’s just too much to ask when it comes to our mental health.

I’m just really, really lucky that I got pregnant within a few weeks. What if I hadn’t? What if I got stuck for a year or more with no baby in sight?

I’ve done my own research since. Like the precept said, the risks are there but they are pretty small. Had I received real information in the first place, I don’t know what decision I would have reached. But I do know this has been a rough-as-hell first trimester and most of that is because I had to fight depression on top of incubating a new life.

PS Because of this and another awful appointment, I switched to an experienced ob-gyn. She said, and I quote: “So you’re 35 now. Whatever! You’re healthy, you’ve done this before, you’re going to do fine.”

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perfectly progressive: a rant about tense

A pet peeve of mine: seeing extra had’s and was’s peppering stories. Now, I’m not so arrogant as to think that throwing my opinion around on this topic will somehow change the internet, make these questions stop popping up on writer’s forums and in the stuff I volunteer to beta-read, but, well, hopefully I can entertain you while I rant a bit.

Past Perfect – Perfect for completed, finite things

If a story is written in past tense (let’s call it simple past) we simply conjugate the verb. I ran, she went, he worked, they spun around in circles howling at the moon.

If, however, a character is recalling something that happened in their past, we would use a past perfect construction to signify that hey, this is a flashback. At the “present” in the narrative (though written in past) it’s signaling one specific event, already passed, never to happen again. And even then, usually one use of had will suffice.

The stupid jingle rang in her head, reminding her of that trip to the theme park. Owen had insisted they ride the roller coaster. She tried her best to be a good sport, but she still threw up all over his shoes the moment the safety bars lifted. He never asked her to the park again.

It’s easy to think that each verb in that indirect flashback insisted needs its own had, but it doesn’t. In fact, you could even try removing that one and see if the passage still reads right. After all, we did cue the reader that a flashback was imminent (that trip to the theme park).

Let’s say we’re strolling through memory lane a bit more generally. Something that happened more than once?

The warm smell of fabric softener reminded her of Owen’s hair. He always used salon-quality products even when they couldn’t afford it. When they ran low, he would skip lunch until he saved up enough to restock.

It’s pretty clear that the character is reminiscing and that this little snippet is not happening in the narrative as it is read.

Unless Owen went through a dramatic, personality-altering change and that change is important to the story that he did, in which case, maybe that had is important.

But even if he’s dead… people tend to remember loved ones without adding hads. My Bernie, he always laughed at that. Your great aunt knew how to make a perfect pie. He never met a stranger.

And if the character in question is having a flashback as part of the healing process, the reader will already know Owen met his untimely end in front of a bus, and clearly, he didn’t pop up in the narrative to get his shoes thrown up on again.

Unless it’s that kind of story.

Now, I’m not saying everyone should purge all hads all the time. I’d just like to suggest that you think about whether some of those hads are necessary. If the reader can understand without it, that had is one more word leaching power, putting distance between the reader and the story, piling words upon words in your story.

Besides, all those hads sound awkward when you read it aloud. Try it.

Was Working in Progress

Sometimes a poor, misinformed soul will occasionally spout out the wisdom that the “was doing” construction is passive and that’s why we should avoid it. And they’re wrong. It’s not passive. It’s just wordy and when used for things that aren’t important to the story, it weakens prose.

Here’s my own personal rule for past progressive (or present progressive): I use it when it’s actually important to the story that this specific motion is still in progress. In other words, when it must be interrupted.

Owen was jaywalking across Jefferson. He got hit by a bus.

That’s pretty important to the story because if I said:

Owen jaywalked across Jefferson. He got hit by a bus.

Then suddenly you’re thinking, wow, did that bus driver go nuts and drive onto the sidewalk to run over Owen after he’d already safely crossed the street? He must have been jealous of Owen’s dastardly good looks.

But then we see it so many other places where it’s not important for the action to be in progress, in which case it’s one more word between the reader and sweet, sweet story.

Jody was leaning against the door frame while Owen blow-dried his hair.

In my mind, leaning can’t really be interrupted, nor it is important that the leaning is in progress. Why not use this?

Jody leaned against the door frame while Owen blow-dried his hair.

When a writer leaves such an action in progress, it leaves a little sticky-note in my reader-brain: this detail is important because the writer went to specific efforts to say it’s still an action in progress. We hold that, remember it, waiting for that interruption, that halt in progress. And if it doesn’t happen, if it’s not necessary, it can exhaust the reader.

The same with other in-progress kind of words. Even the jaywalking example could be better with a bit more show. Things like were swimming, was walking, were driving, was chewing, were sitting… There’s probably a better way to say it.

Other ways Had and Was Creep in and Vague it up:

The English language has a lot of ways to use was and had that work well enough in day to day usage but not so much in fiction–because they don’t paint a picture of exactly what happens:

I was at his throat. She was on her feet again. He was home. They were ready.

She had a child with her. They had signs. He had errands to run.

And again, I’m not saying “don’t ever use these.” But when I see these little gems in action, I ask myself: Can I do this better? I lunged forward and held the knife to his throat. She sprang to her feet like a cat. They leaned forward, bracing themselves to block the attack. A small child clung to her hand. They thrust signs in the air as cars drove by. He promised his wife he’d run to the store.

Make fun of me if you want; my ‘improved’ examples are still pretty terrible. But hopefully, terribleness notwithstanding, you see what I’m aiming for: each was or had replaced with a more specific verb.

Other Little Extras that Are Not Actually Extra for the Reader:

Begin/began and its cousin started to. If a character begins an action, it leaves another sticky-note in my reader-brain that says: hey, it’s important that this action is begun and not yet finished. So if I read:

I began to lock all the windows[…] A knock on the door set my pulse pounding…

Then I assume that this task being half-finished (windows in the house are still unlocked, therefore the house is vulnerable to whatever threat this character is afraid of) that this will be important to the story. And if it isn’t, I’m spending the next half the book looking for something that isn’t there, wasting brain-space and frustrating me with an unintentional red herring.

This other gem drives me nuts for other reasons entirely:

I was beginning to think that maybe [the obvious bad guy] had it out for me.

No really? The reader picked this up five chapters ago and you, main character, are now JUST STARTING TO THINK (not actually thinking yet, just starting to) that all the clues piled up in your face mean something? This is Too Stupid To Live territory. And yeah, I know it’s often meant tongue-in-cheek and to be voicey and funny… but still. One cannot begin to think. One either thinks, or one doesn’t. A person can change her mind, deciding on a different set of opinions than before, but one can not begin to think something. Begin research to form an opinion, yes. Start a long set of discussions with someone, yes. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a big decision, yes. Start to think one declarative, factual thought? Doesn’t do much for me. Too many words to say it. Starting to think has no power.

There are exceptions to this rule, like when we use the word thinking to denote decision-making. But even then, a verb stronger than think will get you more mileage (and a chance to write it without filtering). And it still reads better without the “started to” getting in the way.

So, there you have it. I felt like ranting.

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“I’m worried about you, Aggie.” He glanced down at her jeans, eyes lingering purposefully on the holes and blood. “I think you’re in trouble.”

“Trouble? No. Not at all.”

“You’re wearing the same clothes as yesterday.” Sam quirked one eyebrow up and stared at her until she squirmed. “And where’s your coat?”

As if the weather conspired with him, a gale made her shiver. “I’m wearing my c-coat.”

“That isn’t a coat, not for December!” Sam threw up his hands and let them fall again in an exaggerated sigh. “Look, whatever you’re going through, you can talk to me.”

He might have been right. Sam was the only human on God’s green earth who would believe her story. But that would make him involved. When he found out she needed help, he’d want to find Bayer too. And that just wouldn’t work.

Tears welled in her eyes, threatening to spill over if she didn’t make herself stop. Aggie was lost and it was so obvious even Sam could see it. How pathetic. “I wish I could.”

“But you think you can’t.” He glanced through the windows of the coffee shop and then gave her a disarming smile. “It’s not the mafia, is it?”

angelhide, a divine comedy of errors

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my depression sucks but doctors suck worse

Part 1 of Many

Happy Mental Health Day!

I’ve been meaning to write about some of my experiences with depression, and since today is Mental Health Day, it seemed a good a time as any.

Depression and mental illness are getting talked about more and more. I think it’s great that influential people are talking about their problems, but sometimes (in my really humble opinion) that conversation doesn’t go far enough.

I’m not going to whine at you about how hard it is. We already know that, right? Instead, let me share my first experience seeking medical help.

I am eighteen. I am failing college.

I’ve never put a word to this thing that happens in the fall, but now I know it’s depression. One of my good friends tells me that’s what it means when you can’t care about anything and you can’t make yourself do the stuff you’re supposed to do. Like homework. Going to class. Get out of bed.

My first act of bravery comes easily. I call a doctor. It’s a doctor I’ve never met, because I’m far from home.

I’m socially awkward at the exam. I remember hoping he didn’t press me too hard about being depressed, because then he might find out I’m faking it. But I’m not, I’m totally not, and I can’t figure out how to stop. I need this. I need help.

He says normally he’d prescribe Prozac, but for me he’s thinking Serafem, a similar drug that’s often prescribed for female problems. That way I don’t have to be embarrassed to take the medication in front of the other girls in the dorm. They wont know what it’s really for.

There was no followup appointment.

There were no warnings of ‘if my symptoms get worse or if I get thoughts of suicide, seek medical help immediately.’ Looking back, that seems like something the doctor really should have mentioned. Definitely more important than the bit about taking a sister drug to hide what’s wrong with me.

I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I blamed myself, my falling grades, the strain between my friends and how alone I felt. I began self-harming twelve days later and obsessed over suicide. After two full weeks on the medication, my symptoms eased. I’m lucky I lasted that long.

My friendships were saved but not my grades. Looking back, I could have tried to communicate with my professors about what was happening–beg for a second chance or three. I never considered it, because even my doctor thinks it should be a secret. Depression is something to hide.

It took me more than fifteen years to realize how wrong this was. That the doctor fucked up. That I asked for help, and what I got was not good help, and not near enough of it.

I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Ever. We talk about getting help but not about what to do if your ‘help’ treats you like poorly or makes you feel worse for having a problem or dismisses you.

When you’re at your worst and you need help the most, it’s hard–make that impossible–to distinguish all the distress you’re already feeling from the shame of being treated poorly. We have an expectation that doctors will treat us with respect and dignity. Sometimes they don’t.

Please know–this shit happens and we need to talk about it. We need to talk about how a doctor’s appointment should go, about how mental health conversations should develop, and how it’s completely okay to ditch a problematic doctor (and find a better one.)

PS–if you want a happy ending to this story, the good friend who encouraged me to get help fifteen years ago is still in my life. He’s my husband.

Shameless promotion: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about depression–my experiences come out in my stories, too. Writing parts of Demonspine were hard for that very reason–depression and suicide are a problem that a character faces, and at times I wanted to give up and take that part out because it was so raw, and it felt like I was baring my soul to the world. Maybe I was, a little. But I kept it in, because I feel strongly that we need mental health in stories and media–the ugly, the raw, the uplifting, the sad. I kept it in because the conversation about mental illness can’t stop with internet celebrities admitting they suffer from one. Let’s keep this conversation going.

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quick quote

She had mistakenly believed that borrowing the van meant asking nicely instead of holding the cashiers at gunpoint. If she weren’t already an angel, she’d be going straight to Hell.

angelhide, a divine comedy of errors

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