Gluten-free cornbread stuffing

“It’s too bad we’re not all teddy bears. More stuffing would only make us cuter and cuddlier.” Richelle E. Goodrich, American novelist

I can’t decide whether I live north or south of the stuffing/dressing line, but you get what I’m saying. This is a recipe for the bready stuff that used to go inside poultry back in the day.

And, it’s a recipe that pretty much anyone who shows up at your holiday table can eat. Adding lots of broth and slow-baking it away creates a sweet/savory vibe that can be enjoyed by those who are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free or nut free. You’ll have them all covered. Enjoy!

Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing

Two to three days beforehand, make two recipes of my Mountain-style Cornbread (in my recipe archive on homepage). You’re going for dry and stale. Air dry it under cheese cloth for at least 24 hours or dry it out on a low oven if you’re pressed for time.

The day before Thanksgiving (timed for the best flavor and juggling for oven time), use your fingers to crumble the rounds to bits in the largest bowl, pot, whatever that you have. Add 4-6 cups veggie stock. You’re going for moist, not soggy. Add water if needed. Set aside.

Coarsely chop four ribs of celery and four to six unpeeled apples (eating apples such as Gala are best for this).  Finely dice one small onion. Sautè onion, celery and apple chunks in 1 Tablespoon olive oil until fork tender.

Mix cooked celery, apple chunks, onion and 2 cups black or golden raisins (or a mix of both if you’re feeling fancy) with the moistened cornbread. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1 Tablespoon sage and mix well. Taste. Adjust seasoning to your palate. (I use way more sage than this, but that’s me.)

Place in an oiled 9×13-inch pan and bake in a pre-heated oven at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown on top. Cool to room temperature. Cover in an airtight way and refrigerate until a half hour before turkey is done. Let return to room temp. While the turkey is resting, pop container back into a warm oven, covered with aluminum foil, to re-warm.


family life

Secrets from my children

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

She almost caught me. Just when I was looking longingly at a newspaper circular for elastic-waisted pants — the mom jeans to end all mom jeans — my youngest daughter strolled through the kitchen. I flipped the paper over in a flurry. I didn’t want a horrified, “Moooom!” that early in the morning.

If she has her way, I will be wearing jeans that lift this, enhance that until I am dead and, quite possibly, beyond. Little does she know my little secret, however. (Imagine a devious smile here.) For several years, I have been buying all my jeans a size too big and altering the waist so they don’t slide down. Fashionable? Yes. Comfortable? Oh, yeah.

Ditto on the shoes. Shhhh! There are no pointy toes in my closet and there never will be. I’ve got boots, flats, sandals and on and on. Everything a younger woman might have. But, no pointy toes. (I also have Birkenstock knock offs that I wear with socks, but she can’t say a thing as these are oddly fashionable with teens at the moment. Go figure.)

It’s not that one’s children really need to know everything about their parents anyway. The fact that the palm I just re-potted and tucked into the corner of the kitchen came out of a neighbor’s garbage pile is none of their business, for example. “Help me, pleeaassse,” it said. What could I do? The fact I can “hear” plants is similarly my own.

As is my stash of chocolate. Enough said?


gardening, spiritual life

Enough to face the killing frost

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” Humbert Wolfe, British poet

There’s not much left in the garden. But, it’s enough to sustain life through these last days, weeks of the season. A handful of cosmos, a butterfly bush, a bit of morning glory and a couple of potted flowers are still producing enough nectar and pollen to keep “our” bees and butterflies reasonably happy. There are enough seeds still in their pods to keep birds rustling through the vines and enough ground cover to keep crickets on the prowl.

Life is slow now. Butterfly wise, there has not been a monarch since early last week. Nearly every day during a prolonged hot spell they stopped and refreshed before heading vaguely south. Now, they are gone and we’re down to cabbage whites, a plucky little species that is the first to appear in the spring and the last to succumb in the fall.

The crickets, with their remarkable temperature-revealing chirps, are like a seasonal time piece they are now so slow. At night, it’s dipping into the 30s. There’s only a raspy criiiiiick…..etttt come dawn.

Yet it is still life. All of this life, abundant life, even as the countdown to the killing frost relentlessly continues. Isn’t that reassuring?

One generation of insect life winds down. Another is waiting, attached to the underbellies of leaves or tucked into the earth. Other animals are so very busy. Fur is thickened. Seeds cached. Leafy nests assembled. Sleepy rest comes to still others.

It is fall and God is as good as always. Life is. Life will be. And, that is enough.


Spicy butternut squash soup

“Roses and violets from summer gardens, sun-drenched Sicilian lemons squeezed of their juice and mingled with juniper from the frozen north. Saffron threads and gold leaf from the Indies waited to be turned into something magical.” Laura Madeleine, “The Confectioner’s Tale

For days, it has been hovering near 90, too hot to even sit properly on the porch. Then, yesterday afternoon, the temperature began to plummet. Our beds are piled high with blankets in preparation for tonight, when it may dip to the 30s. It is clearly soup weather.

If you find yourself in similar temps, here is a simple recipe to whip up over the weekend. Enjoy!

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Peel, seed and coarsely chop a large butternut squash (the ones with larger, thicker necks have the most edible flesh). Put the squash (it’s OK to use frozen if you’re pressed for time or not handy with a chef’s knife) in a large soup kettle. Add four to six cups of vegetable or chicken stock. Cover with a lid and cook on high until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork tender.

While the squash is cooking, whip up one recipe of my Speedy Summer Corn. This recipe can be reached through my home page under the recipe button, or just saute 1 package frozen corn until some kernels are lightly browned and season with cumin and chili powder. Set aside.

Using an immersion blender, puree the squash and stock. Add one 16-ounce jar of good-quality salsa and stir. Add a bit of water if the soup is too thick. Taste. Add salt and pepper if desired. Ladle into bowls and top each serving with 1/2 cup of Speedy Summer Corn. Served with crusty bread and salad, this makes a satisfying meal on a cold weekend.

spiritual life, writing

Life 101: 4 lessons from the news

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” Arthur Miller, American playwright

Watching the news in the last few weeks has been sobering. No matter how you look at it, America and, indeed, the world are not in their finest hour. As writing news is what I do for a living, however, I may look at the unending mayhem in a different way. One, news reports can give direction to our prayers. Two: News offers continual talking points for parents.

The latter is what has particularly been on my mind lately. Mid-life mom and church lady that I am, I’ve come up with four news-illustrated truths I hope will sink deep into our daughters’ souls and minds.

  1. We live in a fallen world; so don’t expect life to be “fair.” Hurricanes can sweep your house down. You might not get the job, the man, the situation you want, or at least not when you want. There is way more illness and injury, abuse and neglect than you will ever want to know about. Justice is not always served. Sometimes, in fact, the guilty go unpunished and the righteous are murdered in the street. (God knows exactly what happened to you and who did it, my slain fellow journalists! Your blood cannot be silenced.)
  2. Some people will take a bullet for you; others are not even safe to be around. There is often a very sad backstory and God is able to deliver, but some people are just not safe. Wise people will take this into account and not put themselves or their children into situations in which their well-being is dependent on the goodwill or lawfulness of unproven acquaintances, particularly those who are drunk or high.
  3. God is able. No matter how corrupt the official, the organization or even the church — God is able. No matter how violent, how hellbent the offender — God is able. No matter how sick, how disabled, how unemployed, how tragic, how hopeless, how suicidal, how loveless the situation appears to be — God is able. Therefore: Don’t try to keep Him in a tiny box. Set God loose in your life and see for yourself that He is good.
  4. And so are you. Because He is good, your hope is pinned on something that will not fail or disappoint — no matter how impossible the news makes such a thing seem. You can make wise choices. You can rise above this troubled world. You can hope. You can help. You can shine with joy instead of living in fear. So, go. Shine on and on and on!
community, spiritual life

Gut or tear down?

“Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.” Aberjhani, American poet, “The River of Winged Dreams”

It has been fascinating to watch. An old Arts & Crafts style house in our neighborhood recently changed hands. It was the home for decades of a single family, a home the elderly son of whom must have finally decided was too much house for one man.

The for-sale sign went up. It went down nearly as quickly. And, a virtual army of contractors has been swarming the badly neglected structure for the last two or three months. The first change was exterior paint. The house went from a faded, chipping brown with tired beige trim to a nautical blue and white that would look at home in Cape Cod.

And, that was only the beginning. There have been new windows, new doors, a ripping out of overgrown landscaping. Most recently, interior plaster has come crashing down. The open windows today revealed a whole-scale rewiring is in the works.

Someone has obviously decided that there was enough history, beauty and value in this old house to make it worth “gutting,” an odd American term for taking a structure down to its supports for rebuilding, instead of tearing down. I’m so glad, because, whoever that someone is, the whole neighborhood is in agreement. It was a good house even in its neglected state. Now, it’s a thing of beauty.

I’m so glad, too, that God works exactly the same way. Tired beige souls, neglected marriages, hope that can no longer quite stand on its own — God is a master craftsman, a restorer of them all. It’s true. No one, no one is a tear down, not as long as there is a God who makes all things new.



Mountain-style cornbread

“Her corn-cake, in all its varieties of hoe-cake, dodgers, muffins and other species too numerous to mention, was a sublime mystery to all less practised compounders.” Harriet Beecher Stowe, American writer

There’s cornbread and there’s cornbread. In my childhood, my grandmother whipped up a lot of those little Jiffy boxes, baking them in a Pyrex dish. I loved the results, using the spongy, bright yellow squares to soak up chili and stews.

Only after moving to Appalachia did I discover an entirely different species of this food — cornbread prepared in a pre-heated, sizzling-with-fat iron skillet. I still have fond memories of the Jiffy mix, but I doubt I’ll ever go back. Mountain-style Cornbread comes out of the pan with a crunchy, golden exterior that simply cannot be beaten. Enjoy!

Mountain-style Cornbread

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. While the oven is heating, add 1 Tablespoon of fat to an 8- or 9- inch iron skillet. (Old-school cooks use lard. Butter tastes great. Since I am dairy free, I now use canola oil, which produces a comparable texture but doesn’t taste quite as good.) Put the skillet in the oven and let it heat.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine one cup yellow corn meal and one cup all-purpose flour (wheat or gluten free). Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 Tablespoon white sugar and 1 Tablespoon baking powder and mix well. Add two large eggs, 1 cup milk (dairy or dairy-free) and (if you like the tang of buttermilk) 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Mix well.

Using a thick mitt, remove the heated skillet from the oven (close the oven door behind you to retain heat). Spoon and scrape the batter into the skillet, smoothing out the surface. Return the filled skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until top of cornbread is golden brown. Cool five minutes, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.