Holiday Cinnamon Rolls {gluten + dairy-free + vegan}

At the beginning of advent, William and I had an after-dinner discussion on holiday traditions and the ones that are most important to each of us. One of mine is baking and making gifts of the season to share. My grandma’s Apple Cake, my great grandmother’s Cinnamon Roll Cookies, the stereotypical fruitcake and mince tarts packed with dried fruit and spices that seemingly only me and my dad like. And cinnamon rolls, a new tradition in the past few years. For me, baking during the holidays is more about the joy it brings to others than really wanting or needing to eat all the foods myself. I grew up in an active, ranching family whose busy season happens to be in the winter (“spring” calving usually starts around Christmas, and regardless, animals always need fed first), so some sweet treats after being outside for hours in the cold and dark are always welcome.

After being mostly removed from that lifestyle for more than a decade, I still love to bake and send treats in the mail when I’m not visiting my parents. That’ll be the case this year. And of course, I still bake for myself and William as well. What I’ve found over the years is that most of us have a disjointed relationship to the treats that often come with the holiday season. They bring nostalgic feelings of happy memories, fill the house with comforting scents, and generally taste amazing. And then comes the guilt. We really shouldn’t. It’ll mess with our ‘diet’ or our ‘active lifestyle’ or our ‘new improved body’ we’ve worked so hard for. Or, the high sugar and inflammatory ingredients will hamper our healing process. I’ve been there on all accounts: the guilt, the feeling of needing to control my body, and in recent years, the awareness of hampering my healing.

But the other thing that severely hampers healing is stress. And stressing about every morsel that enters our mouth severely interferes with healing – of any type. We’re going to delve more into intuitive eating and what that really means (intuition versus cravings) here in the coming weeks, but first, let’s pause for the holiday season. Make, bake, and enjoy your favorite treats if you’d like, be mindful about what you really want and enjoy them with all your senses. Continue to chew your food. And generally let go of the guilt.

And if your body is in some stage of healing and you still would enjoy Cinnamon Rolls, these ones are just a bit more nourishing than most, yet still leave room for being slightly decadent, celebratory and delicious.

Happy solstice, yule, Christmas, and holiday season. I hope you enjoy in whatever way you can, and above all, remember to take care of you.

Holiday Cinnamon Rolls {gluten-free + vegan}, makes 4
A few notes on method and ingredients:
– The trick to really good GF bread and pastry is a binder and the best one(s) are a combination of ground chia or flax and psyllium seed husks. Both can usually be found in natural food stores or ordered from herbal companies online.
I’ve only made these with my gluten-free flour mix so any store bought mixes will have different textures/results. Measure flour by weight if you’re substituting. For the frosting, the hemp seeds are optional but provide a little flavor contrast. Just add in the same amount of additional cashews if you’d rather. I’ve tried all types of sugar in these, both in the filling and in the frosting. While I’ve given options, the first one listed is my favorite and first recommendation.
– These can be prepped ahead of time. Prepare them in the evening, and then place the rolls in their pan in the fridge during the rise time overnight. In the morning, let them warm up on the counter while pre-heating the oven. The baking time will likely need to be longer.

Wet Ingredients:
6.5 oz. / 185 ml / 13 Tbs. non-dairy milk
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
1 Tbs. ground chia seeds 
1 Tbs. psyllium seed husk
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)

Dry ingredients:
170 g / 6 oz. / 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose blend
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. cardamom, optional

Holiday Spice Filling:
6 Tbs. brown sugar or coconut sugar
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice OR 1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted

Frosting:
¼ cup cashews, soaked
2 Tbs. hemp seeds
2 Tbs. non-dairy milk
1 Tbs. brown rice syrup, honey, or maple syrup
1 tsp. coconut oil
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk until lukewarm or at 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for 10 minutes. Add the chia seeds, psyllium, oil and vinegar. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the middle of the flour mix and stir with a wooden spoon. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. When this happens, set aside the wooden spoon and start kneading the dough in the bowl with your hands. Knead it lightly until it gets manageable and somewhat smooth.
  3. Roll out the dough on your counter or large cutting board that’s lightly floured. The dough should be easy to roll and not too sticky. Roll it into a large rectangle, a little more than  ¼ inch /3 mm. Combine the spice and sugar filling in a small bowl and spread it out evenly on top of the dough.
  4. Tightly roll the dough up from the short side so you have 4 1 ½-2-inch rolls. Line a small 6-inch or similar cake pan with parchment paper, and then place the rolls inside, cut-side up. Cover lightly with a tea towel, and allow to rise for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan now. They will not double in size.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. (Check after 15 minutes but my oven usually needs the full 25). Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.
  6. While the rolls are cooling slightly, blend together the frosting in a high-speed blender, and then pour and smooth over the cinnamon rolls. Add a light dusting of cinnamon on top if you’d like.
  7. These taste best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven but can be stored (covered) for about three days.

Simple {gluten-free} Sourdough Stuffing and a 2020 Thanksgiving Menu

I stumbled upon a twitter thread the other day amongst the celiac community on the topic of the upcoming holiday celebrations. The initial question was about handling cross contamination at gatherings involving food. So many individuals repeated what I’ve felt all year, a sense of not having to worry about it for the first in a long time, due to smaller stay-at-home gatherings this year. As sad as it to think about such a drastic change to our social traditions the last few months, not traveling or eating with others has also been much easier on me. For the first year in more than a decade, I haven’t experienced any of the multi-day ill effects after eating out at restaurants or in others’ households due to cross-contamination.

Even before the pandemic hit, William and I had planned for this year to be a non-travel year for the holidays. What we didn’t necessarily intend was that we would be spending Thanksgiving (and likely Christmas), not with friends or family coming to us, but with only the two of us. A continuation of the norm this year. Instead of lamenting over not catching up with anyone or seeing friends in person, I’ve decided to take the perspective that this year can be a good ‘rest year’ from the constant scurrying about that has become the last 15 years. And because I love to cook, I’ll be making holiday meals of the dishes we truly enjoy. Because I’m married to a traditionalist, and trend towards the traditional as well, I’m planning for a smaller-scale traditional Thanksgiving featuring all my / our favorite sides that I can now enjoy free of gluten-fear.

Below is what I plan to make, along with a little more inspiration if you’re still deciding on your own scaled down semi-traditional Thanksgiving meal. As per usual, all of these recipes are gluten and dairy free. Most are also vegan and soy free. William has ordered a ‘half turkey’ from his favorite local farmer, and though I don’t tend to crave meat left to my devices, we’ve both agreed it’s not really a Thanksgiving meal without the turkey — and stuffing of course! If you do not eat turkey, I suggest adding some sort of protein-rich side to your meal such as the creamy white beans linked below, and then make a centerpiece dish by baking this stuffing in a medium-large pumpkin or winter squash instead.

In whatever way you’re spending the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope you find a little time to reflect on what you are thankful for this year and what has brought joy or peace amidst the rest.

Savory //
Renee’s Harvest Moon Kale Salad
Claire’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts + Mushrooms
Celebratory Turkey (the best you can find, brined and rubbed with thyme)
Celery Root + Potato Mash
Simple Sourdough Stuffing (recipe below)

Other savory ideas:
Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms
Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning
For the Joy Salad
Wild Rice Stuffing Balls
Creamy White Beans with Greens
Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread

Sweet //
Cranberry Chia Jam
Apple Pie with a Fabulous Gluten + Dairy-Free Pastry
Pumpkin Pie

Notes about the Menu:
– If you eat turkey and are highly sensitive to gluten, you may need to make sure your turkey has been processed without any gluten-additives. My first recommendation is always to purchase a turkey from a local farmer, if available, but I know that can be asking a lot, especially if you’re not hosting the meal. Otherwise, here is an excellent list of available brands that don’t process with gluten.
– For dairy-free / vegan mashed potatoes, we tend to skip the russet varieties and opt for German Butterball or Yukon Gold varieties. They have more flavor and moisture, and work well by mashing without butter, and just a bit of non-dairy milk, seasoning, and a splash of olive oil, if desired.

Simple Sourdough Stuffing, serves about 4
This is as close to the flavor of my mom’s (and similarly, grandma’s) gluten-full stuffing as I can get, but features whole-grain gluten-free sourdough bread instead. Truly, flavor rich! Growing up, my mom’s thanksgiving stuffing was my favorite dish to look forward to. Years later, when I finally asked what her secret is, she told “me lots of butter”. Though that’s not exactly true because I grew up on margarine. Anyways, I first made this with olive oil and the flavor fell a little flat. I could tell it was the lack of butter. If you can tolerate dairy products, using ghee will be best (flavor and digestibility) and alternatively a good quality vegan butter instead of olive oil. My preferred brand of vegan/non-dairy butter is linked below. My mom doesn’t keep a recipe and relies on tasting to make sure just the right amount of seasoning is added. That’s a good method since we all have a different preference and it will depend a little on the freshness of your dry herbs.

5 cups gf / whole-grain sourdough bread cubes (~ 1-inch)
2 Tbs. vegan butter (this one is preferred) or ghee
2 Tbs. dried sage leaves
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 small onion, chopped (~ 1 cup)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped (~ 1 cup)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 3/4 – 2 cups mineral broth, or low-sodium vegetable broth
black pepper to taste

  • A couple days before you make the stuffing, place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry uncovered. Or speed up the process by putting them in the oven at 275 degrees F for about 25 minutes, or until they are dry.
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then, heat the oil or ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sage and thyme leaves, as well as the salt. Cook for a few seconds until you can smell the herbs, then add the onion and celery. Saute for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear. Reduce the heat to low.
  • Stir in the bread cubes, along with the parsley and 1 1/2 cups mineral broth. Turn off the heat, and add black pepper, any additional sage or thyme, and more broth until the mixture tastes flavorful, and is soft and wet. If the bread is still a bit dry, add more broth.
  • Transfer the stuffing to a deep baking dish such as a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Alternatively, bake it inside your Thanksgiving turkey or inside a large pumpkin / squash, for a centerpiece effect.
  • Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover the dish and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes until the edges are starting to get a little crispy and golden brown.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta

When choosing new seed varieties late last winter for the  upcoming growing season, I somehow convinced William I needed another type of winter squash to grow. He hates winter squash. But somehow, I won him over and then our late season garden became a sea of squash. I chose the Robin’s Koginut variety from Row7 Seeds. It’s a variety that has gotten a lot of press in the last few years, for chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, who also wrote one of my favorite books, helped develop the variety in partnership with his local farmers and seed breeders. The result is a combination of a butternut and a kabocha squash variety, and I quite like it. But I also like nearly all winter squash.

Relatedly, over the course of the last few days, I’ve been taking a cooking class on using cooking techniques from Ayurveda. This means an emphasis on getting all six flavors in every dish, balancing the meal so that no flavor stands out over the rest, and that the end result is balancing to the body. One of the other tenets of Ayurveda is eating seasonally, i.e. what is in season, where you live.

One of the other person’s in the class asked about fruit, since I have virtually all types of fruit available to me where I live, she said. Our instructor reminded her that what’s at the store does not always represent what’s in season locally, as most well-stocked groceries carry fruit and other produce from all across the globe at all times. Unless a banana grows outside your door right now, it’s probably not in your best health interest to eat a banana, our instructor said, and advised the person to visit her farmers market instead.

I agree with my instructor wholeheartedly on a personal level. As many of you long-time readers know, I’m a big advocate of eating locally in season, getting to know your local farmers, supporting your community and economy, voting with your fork for sustainability and climate resilience, and of course, because what’s in season is often better for our health.

But for anyone that works with me with nutrition, I take a much more individualized approach. Not all of us come ready and able to make dietary changes that are so vastly different than what we’re currently doing. Not all of us live in a bounty of locally available all the time. Some of us need gentle guidance without judgement to get started where we are.

I have a book on healing with whole foods on my shelf that is nearly falling apart. When I first began really getting into holistic/integrative health, I read it from front to back, a little at a time, night after night. The pages are textbook size and there are nearly 800 of them. When I got done, I started reading again. Over years, yes years, I very slowly incorporated practices encouraged in the book. I tried meditation. I incorporated chlorella and spirulina (years before these would become more mainstream). I learned about types of oils and when and how to use different sweeteners. I learned about the effect of different foods on the body. It was an incredibly slow process and along the way, I slowly shed the way of eating that leaned heavier on the cheese, yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, convenience fast-food, and then all the “skinny” diet crap products, and more into trying new and then seasonal foods. Part of what really pushed me further was the second of three health crises, but I eventually figured out a way of eating that is intuitive and right for me. In the process it also helped heal the first, second, and third health crisis, the last of which I now believe to be both a reaction to a multi-year stint in a moldy apartment and emotionally related, leftover from the first.

This is all to say, for personal sustainability-sake, I don’t believe everyone needs to completely ditch their mainstream big-box grocery immediately and only shop at the farmers market from here on out. Or never again eat a banana. But I do think it can be life changing if you research a couple ways to seek local food where you live, and try a couple new in-season foods to start

If you come across the Koginut Squash, I encourage you to try it. Or if not, seek out a Butternut or Kabocha Squash instead. For learning about local farms and markets near you, try “Local Food Near Me” as a google search, or check out Local Farm Markets as a start. Or if you’re ready or in need of some extra food and nutrition guidance, please reach out to me for more personalized support.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta, serves about 4
1 medium koginut (or butternut) squash
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water or vegetable broth (low/no sodium)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. dried sage leaves, plus a few more to serve
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz. gluten-free pasta, preferably a bean/legume based pasta unless you’ll be adding chickpeas or other beans
3-4 medium handfuls dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, optional

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Halve the squash and take out the seeds. Then put the two halves, cut side down on a baking pan, along with a couple splashes of water. Cook for 40-45 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
  • While the squash is cooking, heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the oil and the onions. Cook until soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In an upright blender, combine the squash, onions, and garlic, water or broth, nutritional yeast, vinegar, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend on high speed until the ingredients become silky smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Drain it, and then combine it with the sauce. If you’d like some extra greens, tossing in a couple handfuls of spinach or another soft leafy green (such as kale or swiss chard), is ideal at this time.
  • After you’ve dished up each serving, sprinkle with a couple pinches of minced sage over the top.