Annie Wegner-LeFort

Country is Country: Gluten-Free Alabama Bread

Technically, this is a week of vacation for me. Working from the home and now as a "private contractor" (or maybe I should say and coin the term: private culinary contractor?) at a small area cafe should afford me ample time to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. After all, with such a flexible schedule, I should be able to slip off for a walk or a nap as I please, shouldn't I? But so often that isn't the case, especially now in the heat-soaked Summer with school out and a busy new 6 year old to keep entertained.

alabama bread

I usually try and make the 180-mile journey to my Parents farm more often than I have since gas prices have spiked. I like to drive it without stopping in part because it's only a little more than 3 hours, but also in part because it reminds me of the days when I drove incessantly. Gas was around $1/gallon, and I remember one year logging more than 25k on my Buick. Now when I stop the engine and step out onto the dry, gravel driveway the thing that strikes me first is just how absolutely quiet it is. I don't live in the biggest or loudest city, but city is city and country is country. Country makes me breathe in deep, immediately calm down and think more clearly. Country is what feels like home.

home always has something with poppyseeds in it too.

My mom has been experimenting with eating much less sugar and gluten. In attempt to alleviate some symptoms in a persistent health issue, she noticed that she felt better, had more energy and even was sleeping a little better when she cut way back on those two components of her diet: two components that we usually eat far more of when we're together.

Before leaving my city home, I mixed up a big batch of gluten-free all purpose flour mix using some on-hand flours and starches. (I used this recipe base, substituting teff, quinoa, and millet flours for the sweet rice flour. Shauna also has a more recent post here with a great explanation of GF flours and starches and how to combine them for GF ap flour.) I had just read a recipe by one of my favorite (local) GF bakers Annie Wegner-LeFort called Alabama Bread, and I couldn't wait to bake one up. I had some blueberries and my Mom had some raspberries, and this bread took no time to make its way from bowl to parchment lined loaf pan.

alabama bread batter

Gluten-free baking is something I will be excited about for a while. I love the textures and contrasts of alternative flours, and there is never a fear of overmixing. I haven't figured it out completely, but I now understand a little more about the structure of gluten-free bread. I think it's better to bake in a "taller" pan, helping the loaf rise a bit more than it might without the extra inch or so. My Mom has 4 inch by 10 inch loaf pan that worked perfectly. I'd like to invest in a duo of those pans, they make a perfect "tea loaf" slices that aren't too big. I lined my pan with parchment so I didn't need to worry about getting the loaf out, and I think every extra caution is worth it when working with gluten-free baked goods.

alabama bread

From the little research I tried to find on "Alabama Blueberry Bread", I found that it is usually a bread that gracefully bridges the gap between loaf and cake. "Breakfast Bread" is how Dorie Greenspan would probably define it: the bread that you can convince yourself is healthy enough to begin your day with, one very comfortable with a cup of coffee alongside. I wondered if blueberries are actually native to the south, and I found that Southerners probably would use Rabbiteye blueberries. The article I read also noted (interestingly) that "as increasing numbers of Northerners move south, the demand for blueberries will increase."

Perhaps even more southern is is the ample addition of pecans, which I prefer to stand over the bowl and crumble in by hand instead of chopping. There is something calmly therapeutic about crumbling a pecan by hand. If you keep a shaker of cinnamon sugar at the ready for toast as I do, you can use it to sprinkle the bottom of the pan before adding the batter and also dusting the top prior to baking. It makes for a nice, gently crisp, sugar topping.

Gluten-Free Alabama Bread (adapted slightly from Annie Wegner-LeFort)
1 loaf, easily doubled
  • 1 1/2 c. gluten-free ap flour
  • scant 1.2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. xanthan gum
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 T. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1/2 c. + 2 T. grapeseed (or other vegetable) oil
  • scant 1 c. blueberries
  • scant 1 c. raspberries,
  • 1/2 c. more or less pecans, crumbled in by hand

Preheat the oven to 350, and crumple a piece of parchment paper to crease it thoroughly then line a 10x4 loaf pan with it.

Place flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and spices in a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Make a well in the center and grate the lemon zest into it. Add the eggs and oil, and beat well with a fork. Once well beaten, mix in the dry ingredients. (Switch to a spatula, if necessary.)

Once the batter is well mixed, fold in berries and pecans to distribute evenly. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar, and bake for about 1 hour until a tester comes out clean.

Try to wait until cool to slice, but that will probably be impossible. Apparently, the loaf should store well in the fridge for several days at least - but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to let you know if that is accurate.

alabama bread

There is also a reason that nearly every recipe I perused made two loaves instead of one. We polished up 3/4 of the loaf before the end of the day. Next time, I will definitely make two. The last of the loaf will go today for sure - 24 short hours after coming out of the oven, and 24 hours less until I have to leave the country again for a while. Meanwhile I'm soaking up the quiet life, enjoying the first of the rain I've seen in more than a month, and enjoying the final days of my sugar binge. Happily, at least some of my sugar consumption is gluten-free!

Ramps Today, Three Ways.

ramps, dirt.

Late this morning, I packed a little spade, a plastic bag and my Husband and headed for the woods. Last week was so incredibly busy, that I didn't have time to go pluck a few of the hundreds of ramps I spotted the week before. It's been rainy here for the past 3 days, and the forest floor felt spongy. I felt grateful to shovel up the the dark earth carefully surrounding a few of the ramps; I felt strange to be digging in a common area, the ground foreign and surprisingly healthy - fresh with that loamy, dirty smell that before today I thought only really existed in the country.

I brought home my haul, which was on the light side because Spring is fading and I was cautious not to over dig. I'm not sure I can ever get over the prettiness of ramps, their ribbony tops and rose-legged midsections, their gleaming white bulbs that smell cleanly pungent.

ramps, no dirt

This is the first time I've ever foraged for ramps, and I didn't really go out in the woods this Spring looking for them. But there they were, laughing at me that I had just bought a little bunch at the store for $2.50, hiding in plain sight amongst the trilliums and Jack-in-the-Pulpits and other tiny, flowering Spring things that I recognized and pointed out to my family. When I saw the bounty of the forest just steps from my house, I vowed that I would experiment a little more with this wild leek and today I did.

ramp sorrel pesto

My neighbor across the street planted some things in the back of her house a few years ago in a garden plot that ended up being too shady to be prolific. The chives I could recognize, but I didn't recognize the large, neat green bunches of sorrel that seemed to be self-propagating themselves. Neither of us knew what it was (since she had forgotten what she planted), and as we nibbled it, tart and lemony, she found the original plant marker buried beside the largest clump. Having the memory I do, I recalled seeing a sorrel-ramp pesto recipe - and after I mixed up a double batch of it today, I think I can declare it my favorite pesto ever.

The recipe for Ramp and Sorrel Pesto is from Annie Wegner-LeFort, a girl who knows much more about foraging that I do... and that makes me think I should ask her to be my guide in helping do a bit more of it. I used toasted almonds and about twice (or maybe thrice) the amount of olive oil she called for because I have some amazingly delicious olive oil on hand right now. (But, I'll be discussing that at length sometime in the near future.)

pesto portions

I love when I taste something and it exceeds my expectations. Sorrel on its own, munched in the outdoors, is good and shockingly refreshing, but I couldn't imagine using an amount of it in a recipe and not having it take over. But ramps and sorrel are a perfect match, complementing each other perfectly and not really overwhelming me with their combined strength. I did just as Annie suggested and portioned it into mini-muffin tins and popped it into the freezer. It seems a shame to freeze something so delicious mere moments after it was out growing in the woods, but I maybe will get back out to pick just enough more for another fresh batch before the season ends.

I trimmed the bulbs from the rest of my stock and weighed them in at about 10 ounces. Not quite enough for much, but enough for about half of Hank Shaw's gorgeous looking saffron pickled ramps. I settled on that one after much debate. There are lots of nice looking ramp pickles out there, but I figured that if I am going to can a single jar of something, I had better make it stellar - and what does that more than saffron.

I had just enough left (I had this high-quality one from the Spice House) for a half recipe. The saffron transformed plain, white vinegar (the stuff I call "household vinegar" since I generally use it for cleaning) into something truly amazing. It's golden and sunny, and I'm going to try and save this one jar for a special occasion after it cures at least two weeks as Hank advises. If I was going to use the last of the saffron on something, this was definitely a good bet. I had trimmed down the ramp "necks" and saved the inch and a half or so sized pieces and let them simmer in the small amount of vinegar solution that was left after packing my jar and getting it into the water bath. I'll happily be munching them with something before too long!

saffron pickled ramps
I don't have many of them, but I love these "Longlife" Mason jars...

With the ramp bulbs snug in their jar, I turned the 6 oz. or so of ramp greens into this kimchi from the Hungry Tigress. All I can say is holy cow is this stuff good. You could easily polish it off before it ever got to fermenting, but most of it made it to the jar and it's sealed up on the counter for a few more hours before heading into the fridge. The only thing I could be sad about is how few ramp tops I appear to have now that they are fermenting and wilting... Now would also be a good time for me to mention that if you have ever seen a recipe on the Tigress site, make it because it will, no doubt, be great.

ramp green <span class=

Maybe I should make a verbal commitment to learn more about foraging and gleaning this year. OK, I WILL make a verbal commitment to learn more about it. Thinking of the great adventure I had with my little bounty today and what fun I've had in the past with similarly small hauls confirms that foraging is a good fit for me. I just need a few friends to start me on my way, since I am a little intrepid about just photo-identifying wild edibles. But I suppose for things like violets and now ramps, there really is no mistaking them. If you are lucky enough to spot some, forage mindfully and leave some to propagate for another day, and then... go make these things right away.

When Slaw Becomes Kraut...

Time flies. I can't believe it was an entire year ago that I first met Annie Wegner LeFort at a cooking class she taught at the Bay View Community Center. I also can't believe how that chance meeting has impacted my cooking life ever since. Yesterday I took another of her classes, this one on allergy-free vegetarian cooking, and I find myself inspired all over again.

Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut.

While I have my doubts in organized education, I love learning. I especially love learning from people who are naturally great teachers. Now that I'm not required by society to be educating myself, I enjoy immensely sitting in a classroom surrounded by people of wildly different backgrounds, and learning for the sake of learning.

I have only known a handful of people with food allergies, including some in my family. Usually, it was a peanut allergy or "milk intolerance", allergies that seemed ordinary compared to today's onslaught of wheat and egg allergies. When he was younger, my Dad developed an allergy to shrimp, and I've had my own brushes with reactions to specific foodstuffs (raspberries, oysters) that thankfully seem to have subsided. There are many ideas floating around as to why food allergies of all kinds are increasing, and rather than debate the cause I find it more entertaining to explore the cooking and baking resulting from it.

I think if I was ever diagnosed with a serious, life changing food allergy, I would choose to look at all of the amazing things I could still eat. (I would count it beneficial if I could possibly be allergic to sugar, in fact.) One of the recipes that Annie made for us last night was a cabbage slaw with jicama, green apple and a good amount of cumin, something delicious everyone should eat regardless of allergy issues. I knew straight away I would have to make this myself, and to lacto-ferment it since it does use cabbage after all.

There are not many more humble or healthy things than cabbages, and today at the farmer's market, I got a rather large one for $1.00.

Strangely, Annie was the one who unknowingly inspired me to play around with lacto-fermentation. Several years ago, I got a copy of Nourishing Traditions gifted to me in a round about way. I opened and perused, dismissed most of it as "a little out there", and went on eating a relatively low-fat, skim milk diet that I assumed was healthy. I would definitely say that after discovering the Raisin-Cilantro Chutney that Annie made last year, my eyes were opened. I really began to read in many different sources, including Nourishing Traditions, about nutrient rich and real foods, fermented foods, and why they were better for me. More importantly, these types of foods required me to dote on them, conjure them into existence where they change before my eyes and taste buds. This was the kind of food I was born to make, and maybe I would never have discovered if it weren't for her.

One of the most interesting things about lacto-fermentation in particular, is that nearly anything can be given the inoculation of whey (and if you are dairy-free, salt can usually stand in unless fruit is present) and be transformed into bubbling, probiotic goodness. The slaw from our class Monday night was delicious right away, but in three day's time, I suspect it will be even more complex.

When lacto-fermenting cabbage, I use a large, food service bucket. It keeps everything nicely inside since it's 8 quarts deep, and the markings help me judge how much it has reduced and what size jar I'll likely need to pack it into. I altered the amounts of Annie's original Marinated Cabbage Salad, and adapted it for lacto-fermenting by adding whey. In my understanding, since the slaw contains fruit, you should use whey to introduce the lactobacillus and not rely solely on the salt.

Lacto-Fermented Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut (adapted from Annie Wegner Lefort)
  • half of a good size cabbage, cored
  • 2/3 of a softball sized jicama
  • half of a medium sized sweet onion
  • 1 large green apple
  • 1 1/2 t. sea salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 T. whey
  • 2 t. cumin powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 t. cayenne powder (to taste)
  • handful of basil leaves, chopped
Prepare the vegetables: using a food pro or by hand, shred the cabbage and jicama. Thinly slice the apple and onion.

Place vegetables, salt, lemon juice, whey, and spices in a large bowl or bucket and beat with a sturdy wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. The mixture will release quite a lot of liquid (see the pictures below.) Add basil leaves and chop for about a minute to disperse evenly. Taste to adjust spices.

Pack the kraut into clean glass jars with very little headspace. Tightly seal, and let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

half a good sized cabbage was greater than 2 quarts.

entire amount of veg and apple was about 4 quarts.

finished amount was about 1 1/2 quarts kraut.

This slaw has become a kraut. And, I'm too excited to wait three days to let you know just how good it has become! I promise I will update the post when I crack open a jar on Friday or Saturday. And meanwhile if you don't want to lacto-ferment it, you can wilt the cabbage and onion with salt for a few hours, pour off the liquid, add in the rest of the ingredients (except the whey) with a 1/3 c. melted coconut oil and a little bit of honey or stevia and you'll have Annie's original recipe. (She does make a dressing with the oil, lemon juice, spices and sweetener and then adds to the vegetables.)

this is the same jar when pressed lightly with a spoon. when lacto-fermenting, you want the liquid to rise above the vegetables.

The only thing I could dislike about making lacto-ferment vegetables is the mess. I had all of my counters clean when I started, and no matter my attentiveness, I had cabbage everywhere. Luckily it's easy enough to clean up, and the jars handsomely resting on the counters in plain sight are reward enough.

I hope I never tire of taking classes. My Gram took classes well into her 60's on different things, and she certainly never stopped reading and learning on her own. I hope that will be me: that I never lose the incentive to read and that I continue to run into great teachers and inspiration from unlikely sources.

You can find a list of Annie's upcoming classes here, and while you're at it, take a look around her blog for just some of the reasons she is so inspiring!

Oh... Those Obsessions!

It's true, I get obsessed. And easily at that. Last night, I went to a cooking class at the Bay View Community Center taught by Annie Wegner-LeFort on Summer Vegetarian Cooking. I went because I like taking classes, because I like cooking seasonal vegetarian, and because I really wanted to meet Annie. I didn't realize that I kind of already knew and admired her from afar. A huge light bulb lit over my head when I found out that she is the pastry chef at Sheridan's, where I had the most memorable chai shortbread cookie several months ago...

I had read the press release when they opened the restaurant and boutique hotel, and dismissed it to my mental warehouse. Sometimes I feel as if I move in obscure circles around people - ingesting information that is learned and then stored, until I realize I've gleaned so many little bits that they add up to a mostly complete picture, sans actual meeting. That's good, and yet a bit sad that I only know people from a voyeuristic Internet reality...

Annie's class was really great. Some people, are just natural teachers, and I like watching them, as I feel that I am not. I like to think I'm a natural consultant, which is a far less noble profession than teaching. If I've read it, likely it is rolodexed in my mind, and ready to pop out of my mouth at opportune (and inopportune) moments... but good teachers need the tact and gentleness to repeat themselves, the ability to be gracious and generous with themselves to others, and the good ones accomplish this with such ease it fills me with envy.

While I could tell I felt kindred-ly at home with the recipes she provided us in print, this one that really impressed me most was one I actually already had in my possession, and yet never have tried: Cilantro-Raisin Chutney from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. Before the class started, I read over our handout and politely dismissed this little gem of a recipe, and so wrongfully so. When I had my first taste, obsession quickly set in. Although it was a vegetarian cooking class, she mentioned that it was great on pork, serendipitous since that is what I had already planned for supper tonight. Needless to say, I got some cilantro today (I've left mine to seed, so I can replant), and made up a batch. I will be reveling it it until the weekend, methinks.

I was excited to share my new obsession with my Husband, who is also a cilantro fan. He was briefly excited, until he felt the sting of "licorice-ness" on his tongue. He even went as far as to tell me he thought it was really good, until he discovered that licorice aftertaste. The anise seed is what he tasted, and I love this so much, that I'll leave it out on the next go around to see if it appeals to him more; he is an avid hater of licorice.

To glean the whey needed (which could easily be omitted), I strained some of my yogurt, which came in handy for the taste-testing. I ended up eating my afternoon snack of yogurt mixed with this versatile condiment and a few grains of raw sugar, perfection in my book. I could eat this chutney as a soup, I'm pretty sure - but I now know that it will end up on sandwiches, bread (I'm thinking flat bread of some sort here), lentil burgers (another great recipe Annie provided) as well as just about anything else I can think of. It's really that good.

I found that I didn't need to add any additional water, but you can add it to your preference.

Cilantro-Raisin Chutney (inspired by Annie Wegner-LeFort, by way of Sally Fallon)
  • 1 1/2 c. raisins, soaked in warm water for 1 hour
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro, stems removed
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 t. powdered coriander
  • 1 t. cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 t. freshly grated ginger
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 2 T. whey
  • 1/2 c. water
Pulse garlic and cilantro in a food pro until coarsely chopped. Drain raisins, and add to processor along with remaining ingredients, except water. (You can also toast the spices gently in a cast iron skillet, I did this even though I had to use some powdered spices.) Add water judiciously until your desired consistency is reached.

Pack into a clean glass jar, and let sit at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to cold storage.

(Annie also mentioned that this recipe freezes well, not that I'm going to need to find out. ) I have plans for this stuff for the rest of the week, and just thinking about it makes me excited all over again.

Almost as excited as this modified slaw that I've been eating since yesterday:

Cabbage, green pepper, Hungarian wax peppers, jalapeno peppers and a bit of celery seed tossed with salt and a little sugar and left to drain in a colander at room temp for a few hours until some of the moisture has drained out. Tonight, I mixed what wasn't already eaten with rice wine vinegar and olive oil. Still crunchy, still addictive - and really ready for just about anything. I had some on a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch today and why I'd ever need another condiment, I don't know. My Husband did like this one on the side of his pork chop, and what he didn't eat, I happily lapped up off his plate for him. (I feel like planning ahead and soaking some wheat berries to toss with the rest, but I have too much other stuff to eat up! Ahhh, summer.)

I feel somewhat geeky for getting so excited about the condiment side of things. I mean, these are no projects requiring time and attention for days, these are amazements that can be concocted with abandon in mere moments! Their flavors are varied enough to be enjoyed with a host of different cuisine options for days before their welcome wears on, and they really are Obsessions.

I couldn't be happier that I attended this class, and that this recipe is mine to be made for years on into the future. Whenever I taste it, I will happily be transported back to that little Bay View Community Center classroom and Annie's description of it, and that makes it even better. Be sure to go and pay Annie a visit at her blog, The LeFort Urban Homestead, you will be then be full of inspiration and new obsessions of your own. She can have that effect on people.