When It All Goes Wrong: What To Do

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“Aaaack!  He kissed me!”

I was in the fourth grade when I had the misfortune to become the object of someone’s obsession.  His name was Roger, and he was a slightly overweight, buck-toothed, Polynesian boy whose father was in the military with mine.

For a reason known only to himself, he decided he wanted to kiss me.  So, for seven months, my recesses were spent running away from Roger.  As soon as I stepped onto the playground, he would be after me.  Fortunately, I could outrun him, and I managed to evade him for seven long months.

Then came that fateful day in April which I’ll never forget.  Roger was absent! After a morning of long division and grammar, I joyfully ran to the playground monkey bars with my friends.  Finally, I could just sit and relax and play without worrying about Roger.

And that’s when it happened.  Unbeknownst to me, Roger was not absent for the day but only missing the morning for a doctor’s appointment.  So, there I was, sitting at the top of the monkey bars, happily chatting away with my friends, unaware that the stalker was stalking his prey.

Suddenly my friends screamed, and I turned around, which was the wrong move to make.  Before I knew it, Roger had laid a wet, sticky, yucky kiss right on my cheek! “Aaaack!  He kissed me!” I yelled, and to this day, I believe a guardian angel must have been looking out for me, because I quite literally jumped off the top of those monkey bars, about eight feet off the ground; landed squarely on my feet at the bottom; and took off running to the girls room, which is where my teacher found me fifteen minutes later, still desperately washing my cheek with soap and hot water, with just as hot, wet tears steaming down my face.

The irony is that once Roger had been able to kiss me, he left me completely alone. The chase was done, and he was no longer interested.  I was too young at the time to give this particular life lesson any significance other than that I was finally free and able to relax for the last two months of fourth grade recess, which I gratefully did.

Sometimes, we get just as caught off guard when we’re cooking.  We’ve mastered the tricks of substituting key ingredients to match our food restrictions, and we’ve created many a recipe with much success.  But then it happens:  We’re baking or cooking something for company or the family, and the recipe just does not work; and the question is, “What do I do now?”

1.  Don’t panic:  99% of the time, whatever you’ve created is still salvageable.  Usually the problem with what you’ve cooked is either a taste issue or a texture one.  In either case, there are remedies.

2.  If it’s a texture issue, cover it:  If it’s a baked good, make a fruit compote where you saute some fruit with Agave and spices and serve it over slices of the cupcakes, cake or cookies.  If it’s an entree or vegetable item, sprinkle the type of cheese you can eat over it and warm it in the oven to melt the cheese.  Or make a sauce that complements the dish and pour it over the entree or vegetables.  The fruit or melted cheese or the sauce will help to cover the texture issue.

3.  If a baked good’s taste is not what you’d like, drizzle it:  If a cake or cupcakes or cookies aren’t quite to your liking, nothing works better than a good drizzle.  Melt some allergen free chocolate, thin it with your type of milk product, and drizzle it over the cake or cupcake or cookies.  Or if you can use powdered sugar, make a glaze of your liking with powdered sugar, a liquid to thin it, and flavoring of your choice — vanilla, orange, mint, etc….  Or use a cream cheese that you can eat where you melt it in the microwave with your type of milk to a drizzling consistency.  A good drizzle covers a multitude of taste imperfections.

4.   If it’s both a taste and texture issue, disguise it:  If you’ve made something that is falling apart or has a texture that is too soft or too thick or too anything, turn it into a crumbled or cut up mixture that can become a part of something else. For example, a cake that you crumble or cut up can become a layer in a parfait or trifle of fruit, yogurt or pudding, and cake or you can layer it with ice cream or frozen nondairy dessert to make a terrine.  Vegetables or meat can easily become a part of a stew, stroganoff, soup, or layered pasta or other type of casserole.  Once you layer the food in with other things, the taste and texture issues become a non-issue.

5.  If something you’ve cooked doesn’t taste good, doctor it:  Generally if you don’t like how something tastes, you usually have a sense of what is wrong.  It might be too salty or too sweet or too bland or different spices are competing with one another or one spice is too overwhelming.  In any of these cases, you can remedy the situation.

If it’s too salty:  Add more of the solid (vegetables, pasta, meat, beans, etc…) or liquid (broth, water, juice, milk, etc…) ingredients to balance out the ratio.  Or use a dash of something sweet like honey, Agave, maple or brown rice syrup, etc… to counter the salt.

If it’s too sweet:  Add an acid like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.  Or if it’s a dish that will work to do so, add some salt or more pepper or a spice that works with the dish like cayenne or cumin.

If it’s too bland:  Add something sweet, salty or spicy to jazz it up.  Or use lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, in small amounts like a teaspoon at a time, to bring out the other flavors more.  Or invest in oils like truffle oil which a small drizzling of on top of a dish goes a long way toward adding deep flavor.

If it’s too spicy:  Cut the heat with something sweet like honey or Agave or molasses or with something fatty like your type of butter or peanut butter.  Or if it’s a dish that you can mix rice or pasta into to spread the spice out more evenly, do that.

If one spice is overwhelming:  Add a little more of a complementing ingredient. For example, spices like nutmeg, cloves, coriander, anise, ginger, etc… can be “diluted” with the addition of more fruit.  Herbs like basil, dill, oregano, bay leaves, etc… can be evened out with more vegetables.  Garlic, onions, chives, etc… can benefit from more beans or chicken or meat.

If flavors are competing with one another:  Decide which flavor you want and add more of that one.  Or add more ingredients until the flavor are dulled.  Or add a sweetener or something salty or an acid like vinegar to help the flavor meld more with one another.

The below are muffins which I’ve never, ever had any issues, so you won’t need to apply any of the above “fixes”!

Gluten Free Cranberry Chip Pumpkin Muffins


3 1/2 cups Authentic Foods Gluten Free Multi-Blend Flour Mix

1 tbsp gluten free baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 cups finely chopped dried cranberries*

1 cup Enjoy Life Allergen Free mini chocolate chips**

2 cups pureed pumpkin or one 15 oz can pumpkin

1 cup liquid egg whites

1 cup Agave

2/3 cup safflower oil

1/2 cup soy milk (or whatever type you prefer or need)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 24 muffin tins with If You Care Baking Liners (or another type if you prefer or simply grease the cups).

2.  Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves with a whisk until the flour is light and airy, not heavy.

3.  Stir in the cranberries and mini chocolate chips.

4.  Mix the pumpkin, egg whites, Agave, oil, and milk.

5.  Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and blend until well combined.

6.  Evenly divide the batter among the muffin tins.  The cups will be 3/4 full.

7.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Muffins will be puffed up and golden brown.

* Make sure the cranberries are finely chopped, because large cranberries in this muffin will mess up the texture of the muffin since you’re using gluten free flour.  I generally use my food processor to just chop them up, but you can always use a pastry knife or simply chop them up by hand.

** Make sure they are mini chocolate chips to help with the texture of the muffins.  You can also reverse the ratio and have one cup of the cranberries and two cups of the mini chocolate chips, which is how my children prefer it.


Practice Makes Perfect: The Muffin Strategy

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“Finally!  I’m a girl!”

High school drama clubs are known for their shortage of boys, and as such, time after time I was cast in male roles for the plays I auditioned for at my high school.

For the most part, I actually enjoyed the roles I played.  Not every high school girl gets a chance to be a maniacal Captain of Inquisition (Man of LaMancha) or a foul-mouthed military pilot (South Pacific).  (My father wasn’t too thrilled by this latter role!)

What was difficult about those roles, though, was that it didn’t come naturally to me to be a boy.  While others simply had to become their characters, I had to take on a persona AND remember to walk, talk, and gesture like a boy, too.  I’d be saying a line, and the director would yell, “Stop walking like a girl!”

“But I am a girl!” I’d wail, and he’d reply, “No, you’re a crazy inquisitor!  Now walk like one.”

And in time, I did.

With time and practice and a lot of thought, I learned how to become the male characters and eventually any character I needed to be — so much so that a couple of years ago I was showing several children how I wanted them to act in a scene I was directing, and one of my assistants said, “You know, you could do this as a one-woman show!  You’re switching roles without even thinking!”

Becoming any character, whether it was male or female, had become second nature to me.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t thrilled when I was finally given a female role as Bess, the wife of Scrooge’s nephew, in A Christmas Carol, but it does mean that something I initially thought too difficult to ever do actually wasn’t.

Cooking with Non-Traditional Ingredients

In the same way, it can seem awkward and uncomfortable when people suddenly have to cook or bake in non-traditional ways.  It can seem “unnatural” to cook without wheat, dairy, sugar, or eggs.  Figuring out how to adjust dry and wet ingredients for a “substitute” ingredient can be frustrating.  You’re being told to stop cooking the only way you’ve known how to in favor of a method you’ve never tried before.

As with my acting, practice is important for learning how to cook with non-traditional ingredients, but it can be a pain to practice. Practice takes time, money and energy, and you may invest all three and have a disaster which is completely inedible and a waste.  It’s helpful that these days you can find many cookbooks and online sites with recipes and tips from people, but sometimes, you try a recipe, and it doesn’t work for you or it’s not to your liking.

I remember when I first learned I had a dairy allergy.  I went to a bunch of vegan sites to get recipes, and I was disappointed by the taste of the food.  I asked a vegan friend whether being vegan meant having no taste buds, which obviously could have been very offensive to her, but knowing me, she simply laughed and told me that it wasn’t them but that I was a food snob, which in many ways I am. She did follow up her comment, though, with some advice.   “Learn what you can about vegan cooking, but create your own recipes using the tips you learn.”

Muffins for Practice

It was great advice, but you still have the problem of needing to practice in order to create those recipes. And here’s my tip for you:  Start with something like muffins and work your way to other foods.  Muffins are great for practice, because they don’t require a lot of ingredients that you wouldn’t already be using or have in your house, which saves on money. They’re quick to make up, which saves you time; and you don’t have to make a large batch of them, so they’re not wasted if they don’t come out the best. In addition, who doesn’t like a good muffin?  Even if you have to practice almost daily for a week, your children will still be willing to eat them again and again.

Years ago I found a basic muffin recipe in a cookbook which I have simply modified over time as the number of foods I’m allergic to has increased. The recipe is:  2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 beaten egg, 4 tbsp sugar, 1 cup milk, and 1 tbsp melted butter.  The original recipe explained that you could add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any chopped or mashed fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc… to the batter. Then you bake them for 20-25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

You can use that recipe or another recipe that you find in a favorite cookbook to practice for whichever ingredients you need to substitute, and you can go the earlier posts on this site about substituting for dairy, eggs, sugar, wheat or nuts to help you.

Meanwhile, a favorite recipe of my children’s is posted below.

Blueberry Banana Chip Muffins


2 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 2 cups Authentic Food Gluten Free Flour Blend

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life Allergen Free mini chocolate chips

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1/2 cup egg whites

2 tbsp Agave

1 tbsp safflower oil

3/4 cup soy milk

1 cup frozen wild blueberries

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line 18 muffin cups with liners.  (I use “If You Care” ones.)

2.  Combine the flour, powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

3.  Mix the bananas, egg whites, Agave, oil, and milk.  Add the blueberries.

4.  Quickly stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing only until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups.

6.  Bake for abut 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Food “Subbing”: How to Revamp Recipes

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“Do you have a pass to be out of class, young lady?”
     I was 22, and it was my first day as the newly hired in-house tutor and substitute for a 6-12 private Christian school, and apparently my recently acquired pantsuit did nothing  to disguise my youthful appearance.  To my chagrin, as my conversation with the teacher progressed, I realized I was not even being mistaken for a high schooler but as one of the middle school students!
     This would not be the most embarrassing moment of my new job, though.  My crowning mortification would come a few days later in the week, when a seventh grade boy decided he’d like to invite the “new girl” he’d seen around to the first dance of the year!   (For some reason, my husband of several months thought this was hilarious!)
     Over the next couple of weeks, I even had to convince some parents that despite my youth, I was a good replacement for the retired tutor.  In time, though, staff, students, and parents alike learned that I was more than capable of fulfilling my responsibilities for the job.
“Making Over” a recipe
     In many ways, people tend to be skeptical in the beginning about substituting non-traditional ingredients in tried and true recipes.  They fear that the new ingredients will detract from the quality of the food or that they’ll mess up the whole recipe entirely by attempting to make any changes.I can tell you, though, that  most recipes are quite adaptable.  You just need to remember the few tips we’ve discussed in previous posts about exactly how to replace one set of ingredients for another.
     To help you see how to pull those tips together, I’m going to show you below how I adapted a recipe to fit my family’s needs.
An example

     Recently I was invited to brunch with some friends, and I decided to make some muffins.  I found a recipe for pumpkin muffins which looked good.The ingredients were:2 cups of raisins1 cup boiled water

3 1/2 cups white all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 1/4 tsp white sugar

4 eggs

2 cups cooked pumpkin

1 cup vegetable oil

Since I don’t ever use white flour or refined white sugar, I substituted 100% whole wheat flour for the white flour and Agave for the sugar.  Because I was using the Agave, it meant I needed to increase the flour amount and reduce the amount of Agave (in the end I actually reduced it more than just half).  I decided to omit the raisins, since my children don’t like “chunks” in their muffins; and because I wanted to add protein to the muffins,  I substituted soy milk for the water.  In addition, I switched the “bad” fat with a “good” fat and decreased the amount of oil being used.  To lower the fat even more, I put in all egg whites in place of whole eggs. Finally, because I personally like more flavor and because I had leftover butternut squash I wanted to use up, I added to the spices and substituted squash for the pumpkin.

So, here’s what my new recipe looked like:

1 cup soy milk*

4 cups 100% whole wheat flour**

1/2 tsp salt (decreased it simply to have less sodium intake)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup Agave

1 cup liquid egg whites

2 cups cooked pureed butternut squash

2/3 cup grapeseed oil

The muffins baked up nicely, and the four of us at brunch and later my family enjoyed them immensely.

Squash Muffins


1 cup soy milk*

4 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 3 1/2 cups favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 tsp salt (decreased it simply to have less sodium intake)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup Agave or honey

1 cup liquid egg whites

2 cups cooked pureed butternut squash

2/3 cup plant based oil

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare 24 muffin cups.  (I would use “If You Care” muffin cups.  You can also spray with Pam or coat with butter or oil.)

2.  Mix all the dry ingredients:  the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

3.  Blend the wet ingredients:  soy milk, Agave, eggs, squash, and oil.

4.  Quickly blend the dry ingredients into the wet just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Fill the muffin cups evenly about 2/3 full.

6.  Put the muffin tins into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375 degrees.  (Preheating the oven to 400 allows the muffins to begin with the heat necessary to facilitate  rapid rising of the muffins, but lowering the heat allows the muffins to cook evenly without the sides becoming more cooked than the middle.)

7.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for at least five minutes in the tins before removing to a wire rack to cool.

* You can always use water or another type of milk.