Comfort-Food: A Love Triangle with Dough, Cinnamon, and Sugar

Christmas morning, every Christmas morning, there were Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. No matter the rest of the gourmet breakfast my mother made — individual, hand-made omelets with Amish Cheddar and crispy home fries and twice baked potatoes and fruit salad with vanilla cream cheese dipping sauce — the little pillowed, white baker snuck his way into our kitchen.

Since I have celiac, and have also come to a certain understanding about the dangers (both health-wise and nature-wise) of processed foods >> Pillsbury cinnamon rolls have fallen out of the top spot of comfort foods. But they were so important to me as a child, that I still feel the need to honor them.

If you’ve never opened a roll of Pillsbury dough, here’s how it goes:

Pillsbury dough comes in these super compact tin and cardboard tube. What? You ask. Your comfort food used to come in a tube? Yes. It did. These tubes are feats of nature, the fact that we, as a nation, can fit 8 cinnamon rolls PLUS frosting into a tube the size of a travel coffee mug is amazing. Horrifying, and amazing. The tube has all the instructions for baking, plus a Box Top — which was extra special at the time I was baking these (in 4th grade).

So you’ve got this tube. How do you get to the goods? You peel the first layer of paper off from the tube. It is supposed to crack open automatically — it never does. At this point you’re standing with a naked tube, worried that maybe it will crack open at any second and you won’t be ready for it so you slam it into the side of the counter really hard and it breaks, spilling all the dough on the counter. Your mom yells at you. Such is the way of the Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls. There is really no way around it.

At age 9, I got bored at this point and went to open my stocking while my mother arranged the rolls on a greased glass pie pan, and put them into the oven for 9-11 minutes at 350 degrees. I only know these directions because I read them while I was cutting out the Box Top. I got a pack of pencils in my stocking, though!

Beep! Beep! Heaven has arrived, and me and my sister bum rush the kitchen for the privilege of icing the rolls. You should also bum rush whatever kitchen you are cooking these in because they are worth it. Pro tip: If you ice them too quickly, all the icing will soak into the roll — and then you’ll have a bunch of very soggy rolls and a bummer of a Christmas morning. 

Everyone in my family had a section of the rolls they liked the most. My mother liked the one that was the most cooked, my dad liked an outside one with a lot of icing, and me and my sister always, always split the middle roll. The middle roll is usually undercooked, soaks up the extra icing from the outside rolls, and is the true Arc de Triumph of breakfast pastries.

We had cinnamon rolls outside of Christmas on rare occasions, but the Christmas rolls were the best because everyone was there to eat them. And no, I can’t have them anymore because of my disease, but cinnamon rolls are still one of my favorite foods. Plus, the spirit of the roll exists whenever I cook for others. Cooking and eating should be exciting and collaborative, something that the Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls blessed upon my family.

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Roll into Spring! (It’s Cold)

I love Asian cuisine. I love soy sauce, ginger and garlic, I love the unforgiving use of peanuts.

When my parents were together, my father never cooked anything but spaghetti and meatballs – so when they were divorced, he didn’t cook much else. It did give him the opportunity to cook spaghetti with Skyline Chili – a meal my mother vehemently abhorred – but otherwise he was left with nothing. So – we had a lot of takeout Chinese food. This quickly became one of my favorite meals — which is very surprising because whenever my parents had it when I was younger I would start crying and gagging immediately. But I fell in love.

When I found out I had Celiac, takeout Chinese food was one of the things that had to go – and it was very very sad.

Recently my mother found a gluten-free Thai restaurant near her house (it’s in Gahanna) called Chi Thai. They are very careful about allergies, you just have to tell whoever you talk to at the restaurant.

I don’t live in Gahanna though, so I am left to fend for myself. And when I found Spring Roll wrappers at Earthfare (a health foods store near my mother’s house) I knew I could finally have what I’ve been missing.

Rice Wrappers

Rolls are very hard to make, no matter what you are wrapping (even the pros at Chipotle mess up), so don’t give up if the wrapper breaks at first! The taste will be the same, and you can always try again!

So, here we go. This recipe was adapted from this recipe from Heather Christo.

Ingredients:

12 rice spring roll wrappers

½ pound ground pork (preferably local, if you can manage. I got my pork from ** farms and *BONUS* the man selling it at the farmer’s market was very handsome)

2 cloves garlic

4 tbls. Soy sauce

1 cup mushrooms

3 green onions

2 tbls. Peanut oil

1 ripe avocado, sliced thinly

1 large carrot, peeled and julienned

2 leaves of romaine lettuce

1 cup of gluten-free rice ramen noodles (I used Lotus Foods Jade Rice Ramen [buy online!])

For the dipping sauce:

¼ cup of soy sauce

½ tbls. Honey

2 cloves of garlic

Hardware:

Baking Sheet w parchment paper

Pie Pan

Small Pot

Large Platter (to put all the ingredients on)

Large mixing bowl

Two Cutting boards

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in the small pot. Put the ramen in for about 4 minutes.

3. While the ramen is cooking, dice the mushrooms and green onions and slice the carrot, avocado and lettuce. Put the carrot and avocado on the platter, the mushrooms and onions in the pan.

Photo Feb 09, 2 28 56 PM Photo Feb 09, 2 47 33 PM

If you have the desire to put other veggies in there other than mushrooms, avocado and lettuce, GO FOR IT! These are just my favorites.

4. When the ramen is done cooking — drain and rinse the ramen, placing on the large platter.

5. Warm up 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil on medium high heat, sauté the mushrooms green onions, and 2 cloves of garlic for about 1 minute before transferring to the large mixing bowl.

6. Let the mushrooms cool for about 3 minutes before adding the pork so that it doesn’t begin cooking due to the heat. While the mushrooms are cooling, warm another cup of water. Don’t let it boil

7. Add the pork to the cooled mushrooms, along with 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and 4 tablespoons of soy sauce. Mix together.

8. With all the fillings prepared, pour the warm water into the pie pan and place the wrapper in. Be careful, mine tried to curl up and break on me at first.

Photo Feb 09, 2 59 32 PMPhoto Feb 09, 2 57 05 PMPhoto Feb 09, 2 57 11 PM

9. Take the wrapper out of the water and place on cutting board. Lay lettuce slices, ramen noodles, and vegetables on the wrapper. Top with about 1 ½ tbls. Pork mixture. The perfect combination of all of these things depends on the diameter of your wrappers and the size of your vegetables. Once everything is inside, fold the sides in and wrap it like a cigar. Place it it on the second cutting board.

Photo Feb 09, 2 58 19 PM10. Repeat for the rest of the wrappers. If the pie pan water gets too cold, add some more.

Photo Feb 09, 3 15 07 PM

11. When they are all wrapped, spray each side with vegetable oil. Place them seams up on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pork inside is done

12. While the rolls are cooking, make the dipping sauce by combining all of the ingredients and whisking with a fork.

VOILA!

Finished rolls

As you can see from the photo, a lot of mine ended up spilling out of the wrapper because I got too enthusiastic about the fillings. Honestly, I didn’t mind that they spilled out because I liked the fillings more than the wrapper, but if you’re trying to serve this to other humans you may want to keep a standard fill level to your rolls.

These are even great without the dipping sauce, and are super filling. Bottom line: Make these for a dinner party or just for yourself. Either way — they keep well and are very pretty! Here’s to hoping for a quick spring — until then!

Lord of the Peanuts

“It smells like warmed up peanut butter in here,” Evan says, shaking off his coat.

“That’s because I did!” I exclaim. “I made something that is going to blow your mind.” I hand him a plate. “Look.”

The plate is one of my favorites: orange flowers intermix with green vines across the flat, square face. The sides curve up a bit on the ends, just enough so food doesn’t slide onto the dark brown, rotting wooden floor underneath the table littered with remnants of food from last night/week/month.

He gently peeks under the top tortilla, his brow furrows. He shoves the plate back at me.

“Chuck, is that just peanut butter in a tortilla?” I laugh.

“Uh, yes! You know what I call it?”

“No, what?” he says, moving past me to take his place on my loveseat to watch old episodes of Community.

I can barely contain my excitement. I take a bite and follow him into the living room.

“PBtorti!” I yell. He doesn’t react.

“I said, PBtorti! Because PB is the peanut butter, and torti is for the torti—”

“I get it, I get it.”

“ggggaahhh I wish you were more excited.”

“It’s hard to get excited about peanut butter in a tortilla,” he says, smirking.

I smirk back, and take another bite.

“I’m just kidding, Chuck. I love it.”

<…>

I am passionate about peanut butter (PB). I am really passionate about PB. I love the sticky texture, the salt mixed with roasted nutty goodness. When I eat PB, I feel like I’m really eating something of substance. In my medically restricted diet (gluten-free, vegan, no oats, no rice (unless in flour form), low-refined sugar), this is a rare occurrence.

However, I really hate spending 4 dollars a week on natural peanut butter. Plus, the taste is never right. Smuckers is too fake, the fresh stuff in thin plastic containers from my health food store the Farmacy is too bland, Jif is mostly sugar.

Two weeks ago I bought raw peanuts and vowed to create my own destiny like a Prairie Woman. And let me tell you, when I started cracking the peanuts I felt like a true forager — even if the peanuts came in a pre-packaged bag.

So, please read this riveting tale of the most popular legume, try it yourself, and feast your eyes on your sheer Pbutter-making power.

Pro tip: Making homemade peanut butter takes a long time. The actual food-processing to make the PB takes 5 minutes, but the washing, roasting, shucking, and sorting of the peanuts takes at least an hour. Therefore, the chef suggests putting on a good movie to aid you through the process. I chose Lord of the Rights: The Twin Towers.

LotPB

Homemade Peanut Butter

(adapted from my hero Alton Brown’s recipe, found here).

Ingredients:

2 lbs. raw, in-shell peanuts (Do not shuck them before you roast them. I made this mistake with the first bag.)

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon of honey

1 tablespoon of sea salt

Equipment:

Food processor

Spatula (or your hand and tongue, if you’re creating for one)

Measuring spoons

Pan

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Rinse the peanuts under the sink to remove dirt.
  • Transport to bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon sea salt.
  • Lay peanuts out in one, flat layer in a pan. If the pan is not big enough and you can’t fit 2 pans on your middle rack, wait and do 2 batches. Peanuts burn quickly and silently, so the middle rack is essential.
  • Place pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then test a peanut for doneness. Raw peanuts taste like plants, so if it tastes like a peanut they are probably done.
  • Let sit for five minutes, then check the color. Light tan peanuts are the best for peanut butter.
  • Shuck the peanuts, getting rid of the ones that are overdone. You know what they say, one burnt peanut makes a sour batch of PB.
  • Put peanuts, honey, and salt into the food processor and combine until the peanuts are coarsely chopped.
  • Then, add the peanut oil until the peanut butter is to your preferred consistency.
IMG_3832
Fresh PB Combined To Perfection!

  • Add more honey/salt to your taste.
  • Enjoy! Alton says this PB can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 months, but I don’t know how he doesn’t eat it all in one week. Make sure to refrigerate, though, as there are no preservatives.
PB in Jar
Look At That Pretty PB! Also Legolas just shot a mad arrow!

Spread on apples, eat by the spoonful, or try the recipe below!

PBtorti

Ingredients:

1 tortilla (any kind will do, I use Rudi’s Gluten Free tortillas)

2 knife-fulls of HOMEMADE peanut butter (recipe above)

Do not try this with any other kind of peanut butter, seriously, or a plague o’ both your houses.

Equipment:

Microwave

It doesn’t have to belong to you, it can be a friend’s microwave. It’s actually better if it’s a friend’s microwave because then you can make their house smell like warm peanut butter and spread the gospel of PBtorti.

Plate

Any plate will do, but never put styrofoam plates in the microwave. 

Smile

It’s okay if you don’t have this yet, you will once you eat PBtorti

Directions

  • Fold the tortilla in half length-wise. Don’t worry if it breaks!
  • Spread 2 knife-fulls of peanut butter on one of the tortilla halves.
  • Fold the other tortilla half over the PB tortilla half.
  • Microwave for 30 seconds on high.
  • Wait one minute before eating, as peanuts conduct heat very well. HOWEVER do not wait too long to eat, as the PB will harden and it will be really gross.

Culinary Rebellion >> An Overview

Food changes with you. Breast milk turns to smashed peas turns to mashed potatoes and chicken and then bread! Hard items begin to emerge like chips and marbles that I put in my mouth thinking they were candy. And we get to choose! Finally we have agency and we can choose to eat Lucky Charms or Raisin Bran for breakfast and whether or not we want to finish off our lunch with a Hostess Cupcake or a finger coated and dripping with white Elmer’s Glue.

We are connoisseurs of our own mental cookbook. Food is supposed to change when we change. Your taste buds change ever 7 years, they say. When I was younger I hoped that one day my buds would change to like black licorice. I don’t know why. I loved the look of it, the shiny darkness. It looked like something that shouldn’t be eaten, but I wanted it. I still don’t like black licorice, and my taste buds haven’t changed as much as the items my stomach will accept into it have. When the most common question you get is “What DO you even EAT?!” — you know you have a lot of allergies.

<…>

I’m at my university’s health center at the end of my first quarter of my freshman year, and the woman just said numbers to me that I can’t understand.

“What?” I grimace.

“170,” she says. “You’re overweight.”

While I’m home for winter break I visit the pediatrician I’ve been seeing since I was 6. I’ve been having trouble breathing, and my GI tract feels like a concrete snake inside me. She has a gentle, hollow voice. Pressing, but understanding.

“A lot of the time when people become vegetarian they don’t substitute the right kinds of food into their diet, just a lot of breads and starch. That’s probably what happened.”

“Okay,” I say.

I stop being a vegetarian, and over the rest of the year scale back my food intake further and further until I’m only eating 1500 calories a day. I know this because I am calorie counting, a type of eating disorder that many people don’t talk about, but that is very dangerous. I lose 10 pounds from this, but my body still seems to be rejecting everything I put inside of it.

Finally, in the summer after my freshman year, I stop eating gluten — not because I thought it was bothering me, but because my brother has Celiac and I wanted to show solidarity. 3 days later I felt amazing, and haven’t gone back every since.

<…>

I hesitate to write about my food troubles because every time I start to think about how bad I have it I think of everyone that has it worse off than me worldwide and murder and genocide, and then I shut up and try for the 15th time to cook a vegan, gluten-free meal that doesn’t use oats, rice (in it’s pure form, I can have rice flour but not grains of rice. I don’t get it either), almonds, quinoa, low-refined sugar, low-pepper blahblahblah. I hate myself for even thinking about being upset about my restrictions, but that is part of the large swelling of the self-judgement portion of my brain that has been occurring since birth. I emerged from the womb chewing on my fingernails and screaming “I’M NAKED DON’T LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!”

I was diagnosed with Celiac when I was 18, got my first colonoscopy when I was 19, and now, at 20, I am side-stepping my way towards culinary deliciousness. Because, despite its general hatred for my gastrointestinal system, I love food. I love eating food and talking about it and looking at it. I read cookbooks and food blogs dreaming of a day when I have a kitchen bigger than my wingspan and a refrigerator that doesn’t drip an odorless black liquid onto everything inside of it.

I also don’t complain about the restrictions because they saved my life. I was headed down a path toward anorexia, I couldn’t control my emotions. Eating food that my body likes keeps my balanced and able to be a human. I’ll trade gluten for happiness any day.