Hello everyone! I hope you have been enjoying truly wonderful holidays and making some special memories with your family. We had a really special Christmas with my family and were thrilled to have Son home for a week! Sadly, he went back home yesterday and I’ll be honest and admit that I’m a bit sad about that. But I’m feeling better today than I did yesterday and, of course, I’m thrilled for him to go back to a home, job, and friends he loves. I’m trying to remember this Dr. Seuss wisdom:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
On to the topic of today …
My friend Lynn (Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures) occasionally shares posts on “keeping it real.” I always appreciate her “keeping it real” posts, whether they are about not getting stuff done on her “to do” list or feeling overwhelmed with the momentary challenges of life. It’s important to share with others from time to time that we’re human. As in important for both us and our readers. Life is never a picture postcard every single moment.
I like to think that I keep it pretty real here on gfe. I’m real and I’m flawed. I don’t do anything perfectly. Yes, I have a recipe on gfe called Perfect Pound Cake, because it really is perfect as far as pound cake goes (and gluten-free and gluten-full friends agree), but otherwise, you don’t see many claims of “perfect” here or photos of recipes that look like they are so perfect that they couldn’t be made easily by every single one of you.
I make lots of mistakes. As I’ve shared here before, some of my recipe accidents—or times I have winged it with substitutions—have led to new and better recipes in the end (recipes like Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Granola, Magic Oat Bars, Unmolten Chocolate Cake, and Vegan Pot Pie).
Things don’t always work out that way though. Sometimes the accidents just prove that I did not follow the directions and/or my substitution ideas were a bust, and the best salvage operation I often can manage is re-purposing a veggie disaster for soup or a dessert disaster as crumbs for a crumb pie crust or ice cream topping later.
There has been a lot of discussion on substitutions in the blogging world of late. Overall, I don’t mind substitution questions. I “get” the need for substitution suggestions. Most of the time, you—my readers—are looking for substitution suggestions because you have additional food intolerances. Other times, you might not have the stated ingredients on hand. “I’ve been there done that” for each of those situations … and many times.
I have no issues with kind requests at all. I empathize and want to help. Your needs are the motivation behind me creating egg-free, vegan, grain-free, and more-free recipes. I really like creating food that works for everyone, delicious food that can be enjoyed safely.
I will admit that it can be disheartening to immediately get a comment that says, “I can’t eat eggs,” “I hate pumpkin,” or “I can’t eat the main ingredient in this recipe.” There are usually so many other recipes that don’t include the ingredients that one might be avoiding, that leaving such a comment seems unnecessary. I realize that folks are focused on missing certain foods though, especially when they first give them up. It is a loss. That is your world and you are feeling the need to vocalize your feelings to others who, hopefully, will understand and empathize and, most of all, help. The gfe discussion post Grieving Gluten: The Five Stages of Gluten Loss Plus One can be helpful in working through not only the loss of gluten, but also the loss of other foods. The comments are worth a read as well.
It can also be a bit upsetting when a reader leaves a comment that a recipe did not work at all. When one inquires further, most of the time one learns that the reader substituted different ingredients. (My friends Pete and Kelli Bronski over at No Gluten, No Problem wrote on this topic a while back.) For example, one reader commented recently that my Perfect Pound Cake did not turn out for her (yes, that same pound cake that I mentioned above, the one that is always perfect! LOL).
In this case, the reader left a nice comment trying to figure out the “why” behind the recipe not working for her. After a brief discussion, it turns out that she had used sweet rice flour versus white rice flour. That substitution yielded completely different, and definitely not perfect, and not even successful results. Ingredients do matter and the ingredients that bloggers include in recipes are the ones that worked for us. In the case with the unsuccessful pound cake, the reader was not yet knowledgeable on the various gluten-free flours. We had a great discussion, she was relieved that it was an ingredient issue and not some unexplainable phenomenon, and she’s ready to give the recipe another go with the correct ingredients next time—woohoo!
Food bloggers work long hours (for little or no money in many cases) and most of us blog simply to help others. We want to help others avoid all the trials we have been through with recipes and in general. A kind thank you comment can sustain us for days, sometimes months. An unkind comment will stick in our heads like a bad dream, overriding the kind comments. In the wise words of one sweater-clad sage you probably remember:
“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.” ~ Mr. Rogers
Recently I shared a recipe for Strawberry Whipped Cream Santas from Jeanette’s Healthy Living. These treats (shown below) as Jeanette made them are absolutely adorable, don’t you think? And also absolutely perfect for the holidays, right?
I planned to make some for our family’s holiday gathering at my parents’ home on Christmas Eve. I decided that I would make some of them with ready-made whipped cream versus the homemade whipped cream that the recipe called for (I was sure it would work just fine) and mini chocolate chips (as directed). I would also make some with my homemade Coconut Whipped Cream (either my honey coconut whipped cream, honey cinnamon coconut whipped cream, or maple syrup coconut whipped cream versions) and use cocoa nibs to create a dairy-free recipe so gluten-free, dairy-free Son could enjoy them as well.
Of course, on Christmas Eve I was running behind schedule, so I decided that the Santa treats would have to be a fun girls’ activity once I arrived there. (Not a sexist comment … I couldn’t see any of the males in our family interested in anything but eating the Santas!). I grabbed the supplies I needed (and beaucoup other stuff—food, presents, and the like) and headed out the door. After sharing a wonderful meal (with most items gluten free and dairy free; Son and I had plenty to eat!) and exchanging gifts (see one of my faves below—thank you, Ashley!), we were ready to make the Santas. I quickly realized that I didn’t have all the ingredients I had planned to take with me.
Specifically, I had forgotten the mini chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, and sweetener for the coconut whipped cream. Sheesh. But mom had regular-sized chocolate chips and while those would give Santa some big old bug eyes, they would work. And after brainstorming with my niece, Ashley, and nephew’s wife, Morlee, about what other non-dairy options we had for eyes, we thought of raisins. Fortunately, mom had those on hand, too.
Raisins would work just fine and cutting them into smaller pieces would offer the right size. Mom had confectioner’s sugar, so I decided to use that as my sweetener for the coconut whipped cream. Unfortunately as it turned out, the transporting of the coconut cream had made it more liquid and it didn’t whip very well at all. I ended up making only one dairy-free Santa with it and saved the rest to throw in Son’s smoothie the next day.
For the dairy-full Santas, as I mentioned earlier, I purchased ready-made whipped cream. But I had selected the extra creamy variety which was, in hindsight, a poor choice as a “binding” whipped cream. (Jeanette even used a stabilizing agent in her whipped cream because of her concern for the whipped cream breaking down over time.) And that nozzle on the whipped cream can … well, it’s not exactly an “artist’s” friend. My idea to add some whipped cream to top Santa’s hat made things even worse. Jeanette had used a piping bag to carefully dispense her homemade, stabilized whipped cream. In the end, our Strawberry Whipped Cream Santas turned out to be a laughable, but lovable lot, and in no way resembled Jeanette’s adorable Santas!
And that’s in no way Jeanette’s fault and is a big part of my point of this post. Substitutions often don’t work well at all. Bloggers can’t usually test out all the possible substitutions. But many of us are likely to have an idea from previous experiences of working with ingredients if certain substitutions will work. I always say, “I *think* ingredient x will work.” (The *think* I stole from my friend Kelly of The Spunky Coconut.) The asterisks emphasize that one hasn’t yet tried that combination of ingredients. I always encourage folks to let us—me and the gfe readers—know if they try a substitution and tell us how it worked out. Many do take the time to come back and leave such a comment. I am extremely grateful when they do and I know other readers are grateful if they see the comment.
The truth is that most of with food intolerances are so grateful to others who try substitutions and then take the time to tell us whether they worked or not. If we’re dairy free, egg free, vegan, paleo, or whatever, it makes us so much easier for us all if we all share any knowledge we gain from our own experimenting. It was from reader feedback in comments on my original Crustless Pumpkin Pie (dairy-free version here) that I learned that flax eggs would work in the recipe. So when I was invited to speak at the Fredericksburg Vegetarian Group meeting last year and asked to offer up gfe recipes that their members could make, that pie with that particular substitution was included. It was made by one of the members and enjoyed by all.
So getting back to my statement on “if” you see the substitution information in comments, you might be thinking “Well, how do we find out about the feedback on these substitutions? Do we have to read through all the comments?” While admittedly I have fairly mastered skimming comments to find what I need, I learned a much easier way from another blogger friend, Nance, several years ago. I like to call it the power of “Ctrl F.”
“Ctrl F” enables the “Find” command. When you push the “Ctrl” key (to the far left or far right from space bar) and then the “f” key, a “Find”/search window will pop up at the top of your page and you can enter whatever word you are looking for. (Depending on the browser you use, the search box can pop up on the top left or top right.) If I’m looking at a recipe and I want to see if anyone has reported substituting for the egg(s), I’ll do “Ctrl F” and enter “egg.” You want to enter the word that folks are most likely to use. You can’t count on folks to use a term like “substituted,” but most will say something like “for the egg, I used …” or “I subbed a flax egg.” Egg would be the common denominator, so that’s what I search on when looking for reader comments on egg substitutions.
Here’s a screenshot using “Ctrl F” with the term “egg” (with Internet Explorer as the browser) on my Crustless Pumpkin Pie post. After the Find/Search box, you see Previous, Next, Options (“Match whole word only” or “match case”), and the number of matches. As you can see, there are five matches. I click on “Next” until I (hopefully) find what I am looking for. The first two occurrences are the use of the word “egg” in the actual recipe, but with the third match I hit pay dirt. Reader Shelly states in a comment that she used flax eggs successfully in this recipe. As you can see, she shared other info about her crustless pumpkin pie experimenting as well. Readers like Shelly are much appreciated by us all!
So try using “Ctrl F” before you ask the blogger your substitution question. While the process might sound complicated if you’ve never used this functionality before, you’ll quickly get the hang of it, it will only take a few seconds, and the answers you need might be right there for you in comments. Plus, you’re likely to learn some other substitution options that you’d never even considered.
Back to those Santas …
Although this experience is a great example of how substitutions can’t be taken lightly, the bottom line is that we had fun and we will make the Santas again. But next time we’ll use the right ingredients and right tools. It doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to figure out that these adorable Strawberry Whipped Cream Santas need the proper whipped cream “applied” using a decorating bag with the right-sized tip, and the proper size of edible black eyes. Again, we’ll do better next time!
Okay, you can stop laughing now! I think I have proved that I am a human … and I didn’t have to add two numbers or decipher those jumbled, often illegible characters to do so. Fortunately no actual Santas—or strawberries and others ingredients—were harmed in the errant making of this recipe. And you know what? Every Strawberry Whipped Cream Santa got eaten and nobody complained! That doesn’t always happen when substitutions go wrong.