Taking the full measure of life

Pleasures of the Finite (and Some Tasty Cookies)

August 30th, 2008 · 28 Comments

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One of the things I found most troubling after my food allergy (and then gluten & casein intolerance) diagnosis was the sudden difficulty with baking.  You see, ever since I learned to bake reasonably well, I’ve loved to do it—and not just because it provides me with tasty food.  Baking is a rare activity in that it provides me a finite outlet of extensive pleasure.  Most of life—and much of what is worthwhile in life—is ongoing, requiring you to adjust your behaviors and expectations regularly as you go.  Things change; people change; ideas change; you change.  Baking, on the other hand, generally does not change; if today you use the ingredients and processes you used to bake yesterday, you’ll most likely get a similar result as your previous effort. Unlike much cooking, baking involves an alchemy that you can, at some point, stand back to watch, without giving further effort.  And the reliable end result of baking, once you’ve mastered the basic concepts, tends to be a rather marvelous and often beautiful product . . . that is then eaten, bringing it all to closure.  A relationship asks for ongoing consideration, but a cookie simply asks to be prepped, baked, and eaten.  Baking is an aesthetically pleasing, reliable process wrapped up in a finite package, and I love it for that reason.

Baking soothes me.  When the stressors of life’s ongoing issues overcome me, you’re likely to find me in the kitchen digging a wooden spoon into a bowl of batter.  Thus, when I got the life-changing diagnosis of food restrictions, my inclination was to head toward the kitchen and bake my upset into peace, if only temporarily.  But in the kitchen, I now found frustration instead of ease.  The old rules were largely out the window.  The flours to master seemed overwhelmingly complex, especially given that I was likely to feel overwhelmed emotionally to start. (I mean, that’s why I was in there in the first place!) I didn’t know how to sub flax in for eggs; I couldn’t be confident my butter substitutes would work well; I wasn’t sure what to use instead of milk.  Several of my early creations were throw-in-the-garbage awful, which drove me to rage over both the financial loss of those ingredients and the emotional loss of what had been a form of solace for me.

Thankfully, I’ve adjusted over time.  I’ve developed a better sense of gluten-free flours and how they play into recipes; I’ve familiarized myself with good substitutions for dairy, soy, and eggs. I’ve come to accept that of the billions of recipes that exist in this world, there are some that I will simply not be able to prepare, and that will only fill me with frustration if I try. (That light-as-a-feather cake that calls for nine egg whites? Not so much.) If I really want to try a recipe but do not have faith my requisite recipe alterations will turn out well, I make that recipe when I’m feeling fine and save recipes I feel more confident about for when I need to destress.  I accept that, no matter what, there are going to be some experiments that are merely okay and some that need to be tossed in the garbage right away.  When a recipe fails, I pay attention to what went wrong (too moist? too dense? too crumbly?)  to make the wasted food instructive rather than merely frustrating.  Generally, after a year of experimenting in this process, I’ve learned to bake up foods that will at least be edible, if not great.  And some are marvelous, which makes the other attempts worth trying. (These days, I usually don’t even eat but a small amount of the finished product when I bake. I’m just as happy to watch other people’s faces light up while they savor the creation, and when I do partake, I find a small amount of the baked goods, entirely relished as I eat, to be more satisfying than discomfort-inducing overconsumption is.)

My husband is coasting over the Atlantic now on a flight to Amsterdam for a conference.  He’ll be gone for a week.  I adore my husband, but I usually enjoy the first couple of days of his absence on these trips; it gives me a chance to live like a single girl in terms of my day-to-day priorities.  It’s pleasurable to, say, sleep with the windows open if I feel like it. (Makes him too hot and unable to sleep, but I find it soothing as long as it’s under 80 outside.)

Today, this time . . . I feel a bit different.  Perhaps it’s partly because I was supposed to accompany him on this trip, but could not after I had to use my vacation time for surgery recovery.  Perhaps it’s partly because he left at the start of a long vacation weekend.  Perhaps it’s partly because some events at my job have left me working through a very complex set of emotions.  I know it’s partly because it hit me yesterday that my best friend—who has been my best friend since sixth grade, and who has once again lived down the street from me (in a different city than where we grew up) for the past two years—is moving 2500 miles away in less than a month.  Whatever the contributing factors have been, I spent the hours before his departure sighing and trying not to weep.  He was going; he had to go; I want him to have a good time while he’s there.

I dropped him off at the public transit station that would take him to the airport.  Then I made a beeline to Whole Foods for chocolate chunks and roasted, salted pecans.  I came home and unpacked my canvas bag, pulled flours out of the freezer, mixed up flax eggs to let them gel.  I opened my inaugural bag of mesquite flour, mail-ordered after I’d read in Heidi Swanson’s latest cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, that mesquite flour “has a slightly sweet and chocolaty flavor, with a touch of malt and smokiness.” Dairy-free, gluten-free malt flavor? Yes, please.  I put my nose to the bag and inhaled.  My eyes flew open wide at the wonderful accuracy of Heidi’s description, and I giddily added mesquite flour to the bowl of flours.  Then whisking, mixing, folding, scooping, and dropping—and the cookies went into the oven.

Ten minutes later, I had these tasty gems ready to cool, and I was feeling a bit more relaxed myself.  I give these an unqualified recommendation when you feel the need to bake your worries away . . . or when you’re just in the mood for a treat.

Mesquite Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Gluten-free, Egg-free, Casein-free, Vegan

6 Tbsp. hot water
3 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 tsp. oil

3/4 c. sorghum flour
3/4 c. teff flour
3/4 c. buckwheat flour
3/4 c. mesquite flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt (use a bit more if you don’t use salted nuts in your version)
1 c. Spectrum shortening or ghee
1 c. turbinado sugar
1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 c. dairy-free chocolate chips
1 c. roasted, salted pecans (or sunflower seeds, for a non-nut option)
1 c. certified gluten-free oats (might work fine or even better without this addition)

Put the oven racks in the top half of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together the flax meal, hot water, and oil in a small bowl (I use a ramekin for this). Allow to gel while you perform the next steps.

Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cream the shortening/ghee with the sugars and vanilla until well-mixed. Add half of the flax egg replacer, and mix well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and add the other half of the egg replacer. Mix well again. Add the flour in three or four doses, mixing between each dose. Fold in the remaining ingredients.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop or press about two tablespoons of dough into a ball or somewhat flattened ball. (The cookies will not spread much.) Place the cookies about an inch apart.

Bake 10 minutes, or until starting to darken in spots on top. It is better to underbake than overbake these cookies. Remove the cookies from the oven, and transfer to a wire cooling rack after a couple of minutes.

I ate one cookie warm and another after the cookies had cooled. While they were both good, I think letting the cookie cool so the flavors will meld and shine is the better option.

Makes a lot of cookies. My batch made about 40.

Tags: allergen-free recipes · dessert · vegetarian

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Cheryl // Aug 30, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Gosh, those really do look luscious. Mesquite really is amazing! I’m glad the cookies helped provide a little comfort. I bake a lot when I have a lot on my mind, too.

  • 2 gaile // Aug 30, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    wow. those look fantastic! I will have to hunt down some mesquite flour – I wonder if my inlaws, who live in texas, ever see it around? These might be a nice treat to freeze and have, two at a time, during the week, for school lunches. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • 3 Daphne // Aug 30, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Those look lovely. I read about your journey that you’re on… congratulations, and I am enjoying reading your thoughts! Thanks for sharing… and thanks for stopping by my blog!

  • 4 Kristen // Aug 31, 2008 at 5:10 am

    Those look so good.

    I could go for a few right now (at 8a) after the night I had — this baby is SO low in my pelvis that walking is now painful.

    Sorry. I just feel like complaining to someone other than my husband. 😛

  • 5 christie i. // Aug 31, 2008 at 6:04 am

    I love to cook and am starting to learn to bake. It is such a wonderful form of meditation for me. I am glad you found a release in your cookie baking.

  • 6 abba // Aug 31, 2008 at 7:27 am

    The cookies look fantastic. I bet they taste very good. Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot.

  • 7 ThickChick // Aug 31, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I’m sorry to hear that your friend is moving. I went through this last summer and while it is hard having her so far away, so many amazing things have happened to her in her new town, AND… it’s REALLY fun to go visit.

    I hope your friendship has a similar result!

    And your cookies look positively amazing!!

  • 8 Lynn Barry // Aug 31, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I hear ya on the not baking as much as I once did…but then when we do it is an event! HUGS

  • 9 melody // Aug 31, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    They look great!

    …so certified gluten free oats are that way because they are processed in a gluen free facility???

    Or at least that’s what I think I know… People are always going on and on about oats and gluten and what I found was that oats don’t contain gluten.. but they are sometimes contaminated during processing?

  • 10 sally // Aug 31, 2008 at 6:52 pm


    As I understand it, oats can be contaminated one of two ways: by being grown next to wheat and having some form of cross-pollination or cross-contamination that way, or by being processed on the same lines that process glutenous grains, with the dust from those grains (on conveyor belts or in the air) contaminating the oats. Certified gluten-free oats are ELISA tested in batches to prove they are free of contamination.

  • 11 Cindy // Sep 1, 2008 at 6:34 am

    What a wonderful blog! I’m looking forward to spending time here.

  • 12 Mary Jo DiLonardo // Sep 1, 2008 at 9:57 am

    I never would’ve imagined something so healthy would look so scrumptious!

  • 13 Beck // Sep 1, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    What wonderful looking cookies! I’m still finding my feet as a gluten-free baker – with far more failures than successes, but a better success rate all the time. I wonder where I can find that flour around here?

  • 14 Beth // Sep 1, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I’m with you on the baking as therapy. I had dinner with my roommate from last year tonight and she said that she’s lost ten pounds, then jokingly attributed it not living with me anymore- ha. Also the family I live with now is in constant shock of my baking (not buying bread- what an idea!) because none of them really like to bake all that much (and I bake at least twice a week).

    On a different note- I want to make some nutella and remembered that you posted about making it before. You haven’t posted a recipe, just said that you process hazelnut praline with melted dark chocolate. My question is: how do you make the praline? Do you dry melt sugar, then coat the hazelnuts, let it harden into brittle, break it up and go from there, or do you have a different technique? That’s the only way I know how to make praline, I was just wondering if you had a less time-consuming way.

  • 15 sally // Sep 2, 2008 at 5:36 am

    Beth–Honestly, I just bought hazelnut praline in a jar. It’s praline in the sense of ground nuts and sugar in a paste, not in the sense of pralines plural. 🙂 (Mmmm pralines–I do love pralines.) I just melt chocolate bars, add a bit of oil if necessary, and stir it all together.

    What I bought was a different brand’s version of this: http://www.amazon.com/Casa-Oliver-Creamy-Hazelnut-Praline/dp/B000LUQ4U4 At the time, they sold it at my Whole Foods. I don’t know if it’s out of season or if it just didn’t sell well, but they don’t have it now.

    You could also try mixing hazelnut butter (which I’ve seen at gourmet shops a couple of times, I think) with sugar and chocolate to get a similar effect.

  • 16 Beth // Sep 2, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Ha- I guess that is definitely less time intensive! I have some hazelnuts left from a fancy recipe, so maybe I’ll just make some sweetened hazelnut butter. Thanks!

  • 17 Jenn // Sep 2, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    These look so delicious! I also love baking and find it so comforting and relaxing. I’m trying to eat vegan more and more often, and I’ve been on the lookout for tasty vegan baked goods, so I’m always pleased to see new baked goodies on your blog!

  • 18 michelle // Sep 3, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I love your description of baking in your first paragraph – so true and beautifully put. I was so intrigued by the mesquite flour in Heidi’s book too! It sounds fabulous (did I tell you I finally went out and bought her book too??). I hope you are well, my dear! Hang in there and try and enjoy this time alone for relishing rare moments to yourself.

  • 19 Lilbet // Sep 4, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    What a great recipe. I can’t wait to make these.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • 20 Katherine // Sep 5, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Baking as therapy…it might help me get over my fear of baking. Your cookies look decadent!

  • 21 Anniebeth // Sep 6, 2008 at 11:32 pm


    Just a wonderful post and really echoed a lot of what I went through (and am still going through) when I discovered my food allergies. Luckily, I stumpled upon your site which was immensely helpful.

    With my food allergies, I am learning to embrace my new way of eating and I now really enjoy coming up with new creations in the kitchen. I have tried new foods I never would have before. It has become therapeutic for me as well.

    The cookie recipe looks absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to try it.

    How were your blueberry pancakes? 🙂

  • 22 Michel // Sep 7, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I am new to the gluten free lifestyle, not much of a cook and where I live there are not many gluten free options so my eating habits have become very gluten free stale. I really need to be brave and branch out to the cooking and baking world. My husband leaves next week for six month out of the country and I think I will stock up on the ingredients for these cookies. After I drop him off at the airport instead of going home and sitting on the “pity pot” I’ll get my mixing bowl down and make up a batch (or two) of these cookies. Then, I’ll get a gluten free cook book and try some other things! Thanks!

  • 23 Stacie // Sep 7, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Wow! Those cookies sound fabulous…I know what you mean about enjoying the first few days of a husband’s absence….but I am always ready for him to come home after the initial excitement of time to myself goes away. I am sorry to hear about your friend moving…we have moved around so much during our marriage that I am too familiar with that feeling.

  • 24 bbg // Sep 9, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    these cookies really look and sound great– i’ve been toying with the idea of adding mesquite flour to my overflowing shelves of of flour. you’ve moved me one step closer 😉

  • 25 glutenfreeforgood // Sep 9, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Baking and cooking do make for good therapy. Mesquite is wonderful — I love it. It’s got a sweet, delicate, cinnamon, chocolatey taste. Maybe with a faint hint of coffee or caramel or something. Nuts maybe? Hmmm? Sniff, sniff. (I’m smelling my jar of mesquite flour trying to figure out how I’d describe it.) Lovely, I suppose. And on a nutritional note, it helps stabilize blood sugar and is high in fiber and protein. Good stuff, for sure. Your cookies look yummy. Very therapeutic! 🙂
    Take care, Melissa

  • 26 rondabc // Sep 9, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Wow! Those look so delicious, my mouth is watering. I’m gonna have to stop reading, go buy some mesquite flour and take a try making them (with agave nectar though instead of the sugar).

  • 27 Katherine // Sep 10, 2008 at 7:04 am

    It’s amazing what creative and delicious recipes are out there that are gluten free. Your cookies look and sound amazing. The mesquite had my attention…very unique combination.

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