Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Best we could do


I stared down at the finished cake on the counter in front of me. Instead of looking like the beloved image of Minnie Mouse I had known since I was a child, a slightly crazed looking cartoon mouse stared back at me. It reminded me of "Itchy and Scratchy", The Simpsons' slightly crazed version of the iconic "Tom and Jerry". I sighed and said to myself, "It's the best I could do, and I just hope it's the best cake a four year old has ever seen." It was late and I had spent an hour decorating the cake that Rosie had requested for her birthday. Not to mention the hour it took to bake, plus the time spent going to the store to buy the mold, and the time researching a vegan and gluten-free recipe which will satisfy all my children's needs. I thought back to how I once stayed up until 1:30 am, with a sinus infection, 8 months pregnant to decorate a 3-dimensional duck cake for Lillie's second birthday. If that's not love, I don't know what is!

I looked down at the kitchen floor and debated whether to mop it. I easily decided against it, as I would have nearly over a dozen four year olds tramping across it the next day. The living room was strewn with toys and Daisie's clothes, which she now changes at will for seemingly no reason several times a day. Posie slept peacefully in her swing as I debated what I could do to make the house look presentable before she woke up and demanded my attention, possibly until the wee hours of the morning. I sighed. It will just have to do, and laughingly thought I'll just try and keep the parents at the door, the kids won't care how my house looks. Finding it impossible to be a perfectionist these days, even if I wanted to, I decided it's just the best I could do. And, I think that's the most anyone should expect from any parent. When I had my first child, a friend of mine, who is a child psychologist, told me about the "Good Enough Parent" concept. Gone are the days of perfect parents imagined in the Dr. Spock era. Followed onto the trash heap are the overindulgent yuppie parents who tried to not only be perfect themselves, but also to make perfect children (all probably ending up in intensive pshycotherapy BTW). Nowadays just being good enough is enough. What a great concept! When you have a child with special needs for which you try to compensate, I think the idea of trying to do everything perfect in the act of compensation is quite prevalent. For me, my child has to have the perfect gluten free cupcake in order that she doesn't feel different from all her other classmates eating bakery cupcakes. I've been searching for the perfect gluten free bread so that Lillie can have a decent sandwich at lunchtime. It can be tough, but ultimately I think it's only as tough as we make it for ourselves. Recently I spoke with a parent who was in the process of going gluten free for her son. I ran into the woman dropping her son off at the first birthday party he was attending as a gluten free eater. She took out his permitted snacks, then told me she ran into technical difficulty trying to make a gluten free pizza for her son. It was so important to her that he could have the same thing as everyone else for lunch at the party. She had spent all morning on the endeavor only to end up empty handed. She felt slightly defeated and greatly frustrated. The mother told me she was running over to our local pizza shop to get him an order of fries in order that he would have something special for the party. "But" I said anxiously as she had one leg in her car, "they fry the breaded onion rings and mozzarella sticks in the same oil--it's not really gluten free!" She froze and looked like she might either strangle me or cry or both. I instantly felt bad. "It is good enough for now" she said. I didn't disagree.

As I watched the kids at Rosie's party chomp on their cake without any indication they knew it was gluten free or vegan, I thought that we're often harder on ourselves than we believe others are of us. We're our own "toughest customers". At the end of the day, a smile on our child's face is the biggest indicator that we are "good enough"!

I discovered a fabulous new recipe book called The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook by Cybele Pascal. It has recipes that are gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, soy , peanut, tree nut and sesame free. It is my new baking bible. The page for chocolate cake is already batter streaked and worn. Run, don't walk, to buy this book! The author calls for using her own flour blend, but as I had difficulty finding the ingredients required, I substituted Jules All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend, and it worked beautifully.

Chocolate Layer Cake
from The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, p.p. 106-107

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour blend (see note above)
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (if not included in flour blend already)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 1/4 cup rice milk
1 1/4 cups rice milk
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line with cutout parchment paper, grease again, and dust with a little cocoa powder (or just spray with Pam).

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour mix, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

3. Add the egg replacer, rice milk, canola oil, vanilla, and warm water and beat on medium-low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

5. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Bake until the cake is pulling away slightly from the sides of the pans and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Let cool in the pans on a cooling rack for 30 minutes. Cover the cake pan with a large plate, flip, peel off the parchment paper, and flip the cake back onto the rack, right side up, to cool completely. Repeat with the other cake. Frost as desired. Store covered.

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