Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pay It Forward

The Hudson River and Bear Mountain Bridge from Anthony's Nose
On a recent weekend, we took the girls snowshoeing in the Hudson Highlands. It's a relatively modest, but surprisingly rugged, stretch of mountains that cross the Hudson River north of New York City and south of Poughkeepsie. For this particular trip, we set our sights on Anthony's Nose, a prominent peak that serves as one half of the southern gateway to the fjord section of the river. From a bald, rocky overlook, you can peer down to the Hudson and the Bear Mountain Bridge far below.

As we prepared to leave from our car at the trailhead, a father and son did the same. They walked off in one direction. We went another. More than an hour later, our two groups crossed paths on the summit ridge of Anthony's Nose. We stopped and chatted for a bit, telling them how we'd recently moved back to NY from CO, and asking for any good local hiking recommendations. Then we wished one another well, and continued on our respective ways.

Later that afternoon, as we returned to our car, I noticed a suspiciously rectangular piece of paper under one of the windshield wipers. Darn, I though. A parking ticket. I was baffled. We were parked in a legal parking area where many hikers leave their vehicles. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered it wasn't a parking ticket at all. It was a clear plastic sleeve, inside of which was a topographic map with hiking trails noted for Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks just across the river, along with a handwritten note. It said, simply, "This was the only map we had in the car, but it'll get you off to a good start. Welcome back to the east!" They hadn't even left their first names.

It was an unexpected act of kindness and thoughtfulness that put us in a happy mood for the rest of the day. Ever since, I've been thinking of ways - and looking for opportunities - to pay it forward.

Gluten-free, vegan sugar cookies with frosting
This past weekend, we had a chance to do just that. Kelli's sister, Karen, drove up from NJ with her two girls to visit. While the kids all played, Karen told us how on Monday, Valentine's Day, she was bringing snack to First Friends, a community program where children and their parents get to know one another before the kids head off to kindergarten. The only challenge was that one child had egg and dairy allergies, and one of the moms was allergic to nuts.

We had already planned on making Valentine's sugar cookies with frosting (for our daughters to decorate), so we called an audible, and first made a batch of gluten-free, vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), nut-free sugar cookies with frosting that Karen could take to First Friends. Like the father-son hikers that left the map for us, there'd be no in-person direct exchange. We'd simply pass along the cookies - and the good karma - content to know that our gesture would hopefully be well-received and appreciated, even though we would have no way of actually knowing, and any direct thanks would never work its way back to us. We were paying it forward. (And it felt good!)

We began with the recipe for Frosted Sugar Cookies on page 184 of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, then omitted the almond extract, subbed Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks for the butter, and replaced the egg with a water and ground flax meal slurry. The result was a cookie set at the edges, but soft and chewy in the center. The Earth Balance and flax gave it a slightly different flavor profile, but it was still good and in the same ballpark as "regular" sugar cookies. Here's how we made them:

Vegan Frosted Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
1 tbsp ground flax meal whisked in 3 tbsp warm water
1 tsp GF vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 tbsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat your oven to 375 deg F.
2. Cream together the sugar and "butter" in a mixer until light and fluffy.
3. Add the flax slurry and vanilla and mix.
4. Stir in the flour, xanthan gum, baking soda and cream of tartar.
5. Scoop rounded balls of dough about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, then gently press with the palm of your hand to flatten slightly.
6. Bake for 7-8 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to show the first hint of browning (larger cookies will take longer). Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7. Frost the cookies!

Note: For a quick and easy frosting recipe, cream together 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons Earth Balance, 1 1/2 tbsp dairy-free milk (e.g. soy), and 3/4 teaspoon GF vanilla extract until smooth. Use more or less dairy-free milk to achieve the desired consistency, and add natural food coloring for colors other than white.

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, vegan.

- Pete


Erin S. said...

I love that random act of kindness! Have you tried hiking over in New Paltz yet? Minnewaska State Park is supposed to be great. I haven't been there since college

GF Gidget said...

Random acts of kindness are the best! This may seem like a stupid question. BUT... is coconut considered a nut allergen?

peterbronski said...

Hi Erin... We know New Paltz and Minnewaska well, and love 'em both! We've spent our fair share of time rock climbing in that neck of the woods.

Hi Gidget... We agree! Random acts of kindness are aweseome. Re: coconut. It depends. Traditionally, groups such as FAAN have leaned toward "no, coconut is not a tree nut allergen." However, the FALCPA (from FDA) says "yes." In practice, coconut allergies are rare.

Cheers, Pete

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Those cookies look fantastic, Pete and Kelli! Love the Pay It Forward approach always. :-)

BTW, a reader commented on Heidi's blog (Adventures of GF Mom) the other day that Heidi's recipe that contained coconut could not be considered nut free. She state that her child's allergist considered coconut a tree nut and stated that the protein factor was the same. In fact, her child had reacted to it. That was the first I had heard it being considered a tree nut.

We rode over that very bridge on our motorcycle on one of our summer excursions several years ago. We stayed in Blooming Grove, NY, in a great B&B. I think that's about an hour away from where you are now. Glad it was summer and not snow season!

Just noticed the new photo of you, two--love it!


Johanna B said...

I don't think I've ever commented on your blog but I subscribe by email. I absolutely loved this post. Thanks for the inspiration.

theMom said...

Love your new pic. Very cute.


njbookwoman said...

Nice story! Many, many, years ago when we lived in Westchester, Anthony's Nose was one of our favorite hikes --Beth may have "hiked" it in a snugglie back pack!
Love your new picture and enjoy reading the blog and the recipes.
ginny knackmuhs

Stephanie said...

What a great post! I am excited to try this recipe as well, it sounds great even if it is "free" of lots of things.

P.S. Like the new pic of you two :)

peterbronski said...

Hey Everyone! So glad this post resonated! Have a wonderful day...

Cheers, Pete