Monday, August 13, 2012

Pat Montella Is Laughing At Me

Pat's the protagonist in my Possessed Mystery Series. When I was developing her character, she needed a hobby. Cooking, I decided--the kind of necessary but creative past time someone doing drudge work for corporate America could delve into at the end of a frustrating workday.

This wasn't a matter of write-what-you-know. When I penned the first book, By Blood Possessed, my repertoire in the kitchen consisted of brewing tea, nuking frozen dinners, and frying up the occasional French toast.

My mom had been the quintessential Italian cook. So was her mother before her. My brother Tom not only took after them, but figured out the art of great homemade bread. They weren't gourmets, mind you, but I grew up well fed. I never needed to learn to cook. For Pat's gastronomic creations, I had my family recipes to draw on.

In 2008, I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. All of a sudden, my diet had to be cleared of wheat, barley and rye products, and of anything else processed with those grains. I lost my major food groups: pizza, pasta and Italian rolls. My brother's bread was taboo. No more cake, donuts or other baked goods. No more of my usual breakfast cereals. Nothing breaded. No beef or turkey gravy. No Philly cheesesteaks or hoagies.

After a frantic couple of months wondering what I could safely put down my gullet, I made my mind up to learn how to cook and, especially, bake without gluten. At first it seemed like alchemy--like I was trying to make gold from inferior metals. Slowly, though, I learned about flours made from other grains: rice, tapioca, etc. I learned to mix them to make a better baking flour than wheat. I learned to change the mix or add specialty flours like buckwheat (not a wheat grain) for really great new tastes. I even learned to use xanthan gum, which Pat had actually made fun of in the first book.

I found out that I love cooking and baking. Oh, I still have a lot to learn. I haven't mastered yeast bread yet, for instance. But I can happily spend an hour throwing together quick breads or cookies or biscuits, and my gluten tolerant friends tell me they're better than most wheat baked goods. Last month, I made my first cake from scratch, something my mom was a whiz at and I thought I'd never do. I've even posted a bunch of my gluten-free recipes at Sparkrecipes.

The main reason Pat's laughing at me is that this month I'll be teaching cooking classes. Me, who five years ago couldn't do much more than boil water. If you're interested and are in my area, classes will be August 20th and 27th. For more info, go to the Really Cooking With Robin website

And look for Pat to be learning gluten-free cooking herself soon. I can't let her have the last laugh.

Buon appetito!

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