So Good Chocolate Chip (Gluten Free) Cookies

I just made the best cookies. No, really, they are so good. They happen to be gluten free, egg free, and if you’re picky about the chocolate chips, they’re dairy free, lactose free, and vegan as well. But don’t let that stop you from trying them.

The cookies are chewy and chocolaty (yes, chocolaty is a real word, also spelled chocolatey), and you can’t stop at just one. So, what’s the secret? The cookies are made with oat flour, which gives them texture and chewiness, and coconut oil, which gives them a hint of coconut (use canola oil if you don’t like coconut). If you’re not gluten free, just replace the gluten-free flour with wheat flour and omit the xanthan gum, though I can’t vouch for that change in the recipe.

Plate of cookies

Have you heard of BabyCakes NYC Bakery? The creator of this yummy recipe, Erin McKenna, is also the founder of that bakery. And next time you’re in New York City, you just may want to make a trip to 248 Broome Street and try out one of their cupcakes, like we did on our last trip. Or you can visit them in Hollywood or in Orlando, too.

Storefront sign

I found the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. You can print it here or read it below. You can also find it in the cookbook “BabyCakes Covers the Classics.” Here it is:

BABYCAKES NYC CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

1-½ cups gluten-free oat flour
1 cup gluten-free all purpose baking flour (Bob’s Red Mill!)
1 cup organic sugar
¼ cup flaxseed meal
¼ cup arrowroot starch (good with cornstarch if you don’t have arrowroot starch)
1-1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (fine without it)
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons melted, refined coconut oil or canola oil
6 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons gluten-free vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free, dairy free chocolate chips (I added a few more)

Directions

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, flaxseed meal, arrowroot starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt. Add the coconut oil, applesauce, and vanilla and stir with a rubber spatula until a thick dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.

Bowl with chocolate chip cookies batter

Step 3: Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1-1/2 inches apart.

Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the baking sheets, and bake for 7 minutes more, or until the cookies are golden brown and firm. Let stand on the baking sheets for 15 minutes before eating.

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On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.

IN-N-OUT BURGER

All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

Five Guys

New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.

IMG_0176

Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

My love of color is evidenced by the colors of the home in which I live. My house is red, my car is green, my bedroom is lilac, my bath is aqua.

As I travel, my eye is drawn to color. I found red in a hibiscus in Central Park, in the comb of a rooster in South Africa, in the shirt of a man on the 4th of July in Boston, in the strawberries and radishes at a farmers’ market in California. I found orange in the flames of a campfire in New England, in the wings of a butterfly on Cape Cod, in a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a handpainted sign on the Brooklyn Bridge.

I found yellow in a meadow in the Sierras, on a New York taxi cab, in a candle in Frankfurt, and in bubbling macaroni and cheese. I found green in the leaves and on the wings of a bird, and on a girl’s sunglasses on the beach.

I found purple in the lilacs in front of Louisa May Alcott’s house and inside a hot air balloon. I found blue in the skies everywhere I went.

Road Trip to Upstate New York!

Blue lights flashed behind us as we drove through the small town of Malone, New York, about 11:30 p.m. and just 40 miles from our destination, St. Lawrence University. Our right rear tail light was out according to the chatty young policeman who pulled us over. Less than 5 minutes later, blue lights flashed again, and another friendly policeman, this one from the state, told us the same thing. It wasn’t until after midnight that we pulled into the town of Canton, after 7 hours and over 370 miles in the car.

After replacing the tail light, we drove over to my husband’s alma matter where the trees were turning, the rain intermittent, the buildings old but majestic.

On our semi-private tour, with just one other family, we toured the campus, walking in and out of classrooms, lecture halls, and even a dorm room where a real student studied. (Unexpected bonus: students on the tour receive a giant cookie and their application fee waived.)

We saw the “treehouse” study areas at the library, bought shirts at the bookstore, and ate lunch in one of the dining halls, with meal passes from the admissions office: pasta, pizza, a turkey sandwich (on gluten-free bread), salad bar, and frozen yogurt.

As we drove around campus, we stumbled upon a soccer game and stopped to watch SLU beat Hobart in the game’s second half (3-0).

After gluten-free Mexican at the Hot Tamale in downtown Canton, we joined the crowds at Appleton Arena to watch the Saints’ ice hockey team beat Carleton University in overtime (3-2).

A pizza roll at Sergi’s was the late night snack for the boys.

According to its website, SLU was founded in 1856 and is a liberal arts college offering over 60 majors to its 2300 undergraduates. Seventy percent of the students participate in volunteer or community service while enrolled at SLU, and 50 percent of the students choose to study off campus, whether in the Adirondacks or abroad.

Pizza roll photos by Tommy Taft.

Trip taken October 2012.

Searching for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie in NYC

After finding the best pickle in New York City, my friend was now after the best chocolate chip cookie. According to her Californian rabbi, the best chocolate chip in the world could be found on Manhattan on the Upper West Side.

One morning in June, we met at Levain Bakery on West 74th Street to try a cookie.

What we discovered: the cookies are large, easily two servings worth, which helps justify the cost of $4 per cookie. Full of chocolate, the cookies contain walnuts as well (watch out all of you with tree nut allergies). Gooey on the inside and firm on the outside, the cookies are not crisp and their flavor exudes butter.

The bakery sells more than just chocolate chip cookies. Besides other cookies, the bakery sells bread, sticky buns, and other sweet items.

Since we didn’t try any other chocolate chip cookies in New York, I can’t confirm whether Levain Bakery makes the best chocolate chip cookie in the city, the country or the world. But I agree with the rabbi, its cookie is definitely in the running.

Trip taken June 2012.

In Search of the Best Pickle

We were on a search for the best pickle on Manhattan. Before my friend embarked on a trip to the East Coast in June, she did a little research. She googled and searched, arriving in town with a name and address. Her family and I followed as she walked briskly from South Street Seaport through Chinatown and Little Italy, passing glistening gelato and mouth watering cannolis.

Turning a corner on the Lower East Side, we found the best pickle at The Pickle Guys on Essex Street.

Stepping down a few steps, we entered a room full of pickles: vats of pickled tomatoes, olives, and carrots, mushrooms,  green beans and peppers.

And there were cucumbers: sour and hot, half sour and three quarter sour. I bought the full sour pickle and took a bite. Tart and crisp with just the right bite, it lived up to its reputation.

Whether or not The Pickle Guys actually sell the best pickle in New York, I never found out, but for pickle connoisseurs everywhere, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Trip taken June 2012

Earthy Luxury in New York

Confirming our reservation at the gate, we continued the drive up the hill, passing trails and a greenhouse, a putting green and horse barn before reaching the actual hotel. Made of wood and stone, the building is majestic in an earthy way; its turrets and balconies and chimneys adding to its character. We were staying at Mohonk Mountain House, a resort located in the Hudson Valley near the town of New Paltz, 90 miles north of New York City.

Mohonk Mountain House was first built in 1870 by the Smiley brothers who were excited to find a lake on top of the mountain. They bought the property and immediately built the first rendition of the resort. Future additions eventually increased the number of rooms to over 250 on six floors, most with their own balconies and fireplaces.

The building meanders, its unsymmetrical chimneys looking like a child’s Lego-made tower, its height and silhouette reminding me of sand dripped castles at the beach.

We left our car and our luggage (I needed two bags to carry all my required gear and clothing) and followed the valet’s directions to the lobby and check-in.

Our room was small but charming. With a king size bed, a bureau and desk, a fireplace complete with firestarter and logs, our own private balcony and bath, what more could we need? We got lost in the long hallways with their nooks and uneven floors leading us to stairs and elevators, the spa one direction, the dining room the other.

With a rounded glassed-in view of the Catskills, the dining room has several two-person tables along its windows. We sat one table back from the window, still able to enjoy the view, and sampled some of the many options in Friday night’s seafood buffet. Shrimp scampi, clam chowder, bouillabaisse, oysters on the half shell, scallops, and clams as well as beef tenderloin and a chicken curry were available. There were vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free choices, salads, a dried fruit and cheese platter, and an assortment of desserts. We had a buffet lunch on Saturday and a buffet brunch on Sunday. Saturday night was a sit-down dinner.

Besides eating, there were so many things to do. We could row the boats, attend yoga or aerobic sessions, swim in the Olympic size pool, hike the trails, and ride the mountain bikes. For a little more, we could putt the green, ride a horse or get a massage. Summertime adds a beach with swimming, fishing, and other boating options. Winter adds potential cross country skiing and ice skating at its outdoor skating rink with large stone fireplace.

As it rained and was in the 40s our only full day, too cool for the winter activities and too warm for the summer ones, we elected to swim laps in the indoor pool before getting a massage and enjoying the outdoor stone mineral bath. Sunday we enjoyed a hike and yoga before brunch and check out. The sun came out too, but it was time to go. We drove away, hoping to return some day for a longer, warmer stay, maybe even with the kids.

Trip Taken April 2011

Where Are We Going?

It was a mystery. My husband planned a weekend away for the two of us, without the kids, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, but he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. “It’s a surprise,” he said and gave me the following instructions: “Bring a bathing suit, a nice dress for dinner, clothes to hike, bike and exercise in, and dress nice for when we arrive.”

Since it was only for a weekend, and we live in New England, I was able to narrow it down a little. Another clue: the climate would be similar to our home near Boston. It was mid April so I planned accordingly, wondering if we were heading north to Maine,Vermont or Quebec, west to Lenox or somewhere in the Berkshires or south to Connecticut or Rhode Island or even New York City.

We left at 1 p.m., right on schedule and took a left out of the driveway eliminating the northern choices. As we drove, he kept the map hidden.

Have you ever been surprised? Usually I find the anticipation can be more fun and exciting than the actual event itself, but since I didn’t know where I was going, and the roads kept changing, the options narrowing, and the hours increasing, I began to find the mystery a little frustrating. As my voice expressed incredulity as we passed yet another option, and I asked, emphasis on the where, “Where are we going?” My husband laughed. “This is more fun than I thought it would be,” he said.

In New York, the grass was greener than at home. Mountains appeared to our right; his answer to my question confirmed their identity, “The Catskills.” As the roads became smaller with several twists and turns, he was forced to have me navigate. But there was no “Aha!” By this time I knew I was in New York and near the Catskills, and I knew we were going some place new, to a place I had never been or even heard of before.

We drove by stone walls and through small colorful towns where buildings on the main streets were painted a variety of bright colors as they paralleled a river. We saw signs for SUNY (State University New York) New Paltz and double backed after taking a wrong turn and up and away from the Catskills toward the Shawangunk Mountains (aka The Gunks) eventually turning up a hill toward Mohonk Mountain House, our destination for the weekend.

Trip Taken April 2011

Eating in NYC (Gluten Free!)

In New York City, we all ate well, and the gluten eaters were as satisfied as the gluten-free eater. We ate crepes, bread sticks and pizza, panini and Reuben sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, French fries, cupcakes and cheesecake, and all were gluten free.

Risotteria in Greenwich Village for dinner:  What celiac wouldn’t love a place where the bread sticks are gluten free? We shared so much pizza and panini that we were too full to try any of the gluten-free desserts.

Crepes in Chelsea Market for breakfast: Ask for the gluten-free crepes at Bar Suzette. Made with lentil and rice flour, the crepes are delicious with Nutella and strawberries.

Lunch at a New York Deli: The gluten-free Reuben sandwich at Bloom’s Deli was piled so high with corned beef, my daughter could eat less than half at one sitting. We brought the rest back to our hotel fridge.

Dinner on the Upper East Side: Another deli, we ate this time at Peters’ Restaurant where everything can be made gluten free except for a few items marked with an x (e.g., wraps, focaccia, bagels). While some of us ate pasta and Greek chicken, our gluten-free diner chose meatloaf and French fries.

Macaroni and cheese in the East Village: S’Mac cooks up a variety of macaroni and cheese options though we all chose the gluten-free pasta so we could share and sample the different flavors we chose (spinach, olives, garlic and goat cheese; Manchego cheese, fennel and onions; Gruyere and bacon). S’Mac offers regular elbow macaroni as well as whole wheat and rice pasta. You can eat vegan there, too.

Cupcakes: We tried two gluten-free cupcake establishments, both located on the Lower East Side. Most everything (banana bread, cupcakes, brownies) at Babycakes is not only gluten-free but vegan as well. They also offer a few baked goods made with spelt flour. Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery, a few blocks away, caters to those looking for the gluten-free not so healthy but delicious alternative. And when the gluten eaters elected to imbibe at Magnolia Bakery on Fifth Avenue (which is NOT gluten free), my daughter was happy with a Klondike bar bought at a market down the street.

Our only disappointment was trekking across town for gluten-free bagels at Vic’s Bagel Bar on 36th Street and 3rd Avenue, only to discover that they had none that day. Another day, we called and they were all out. So, if you want to check out this place, be sure to call and to show up early. They only make one batch of gluten-free bagels first thing each morning before making the regular bagels.

New York, Two Teens, Three and a Half Days

With all its lights and energy, shows, museums, restaurants, and tours, New York City will stimulate and entertain even the most disinterested of teenagers. Here’s how we spent a few action packed days during February break in New York City.

Day 1: Arrival in NYC, NBC Studios Tour, Dinner in Greenwich Village, Walk through Times Square.

After an early check in at our hotel, we walked a few blocks to Rockefeller Center for a tour of NBC Studios. The highlight – seeing the Saturday Night Live set and learning how much of what we see on TV is an illusion. Dinner in Greenwich Village followed by an after dinner stroll through Times Square and a visit to Apple’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue.

Day 2: Chelsea Market, High Line Park, Lunch at a New York Deli. Broadway Matinee, Dinner on Fifth Avenue.

After energizing ourselves with lattes from Ninth Street Espresso and crepes at Bar Suzette in Chelsea Market, we walked the High Line. The High Line is an elevated railroad bed turned into park and walking path along the lower west side of New York. Instead of walking on the streets between the buildings, we walked above or among them, seeing the city from a different perspective.  Lunch was consumed at a deli before a 2 p.m. Broadway show (“Wicked”). Dinner was followed by cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery.

Day 3: Liberty and Ellis Islands, 9/11 Memorial, Tenement Museum, Dinner on the Upper East Side.

After going through airport-like security, we boarded the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands (buy your tickets in advance and arrive plenty of time before departure). Although the Statue of Liberty is closed for renovations, we were able to walk around Liberty Island while listening to an audio tour and learning why the French gave the U.S. her gift. On Ellis Island, our audio tour taught us about the many trials and tribulations of immigrants arriving in New York during the first part of the 20th century.

Back to Manhattan, snacks from a street vendor and a quick walk to the 9/11 Memorial (tickets are free but must be reserved in advance) where we waited in line to remember and to reflect.

Later at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, our engaging tour guide took us into the apartments of a family who lived in the building during the 1870s and another family who lived in the building during the Great Depression.

Day 4: Museum of Modern Art, Tour of the UN, Dinner on the Lower East Side.

After a leisurely morning and late breakfast, we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), a short walk from our hotel. We took another audio tour (this one was free with admission) and browsed art by Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Rousseau, Cezanne, Matisse and many others, learning about a few of the artists’ techniques and inspirations and pondering what actually makes art. Then across town to the United Nations Headquarters where our tour guide, a young man from Peru, took us into the Security Council Chamber and the General Assembly Hall. Fascinating for all of us but especially for my kids, who both participated in Model UN during middle school. After a quick dinner, we headed home to our small town a few hours away, happy but exhausted from a few days in the Big City.

Getting there. Whether you fly, take the train, bus or drive yourself, allow plenty of time to acclimate to the hustle and bustle once you arrive before any scheduled tickets or tours. We found a great online deal and parked for $16 per day in a garage on 38th and 1st, much better than the $56 a day our hotel was offering. For parking deals before you arrive, check out Trip Advisor’s parking website guide.

Staying there:  Staying in NYC is not cheap, but there are many options and many promotions or deals. This trip we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, only a short walk to Times Square. The hotel’s price included two bedrooms, a sitting area and kitchenette plus a large buffet breakfast.

Trip taken February 2012.