Q: A family member was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Can I use a flour alternative as an equal substitute for all-purpose flour when baking?
A: Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects 1 out of 133 people in the U.S. and can occur at any time in a person’s life. When people with celiac disease eat products containing even a trace of gluten — a protein in wheat, barley and rye that helps dough keep its shape when it rises — their small intestines become inflamed and unable to absorb nutrients. The only treatment is to remove gluten from the diet.
The good news is that several gluten-free all-purpose flour mixes — plus myriad flours made from gluten-free foods, such as other grains, nuts, coconuts, legumes and potatoes — are now widely available. Suzanne Simpson, the nutritionist at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York City, points out that there is no true substitute for all-purpose flour. Editors at Martha Stewart Living, however, recommend using Cup4Cup gluten-free flour (available at williamssonoma.com), which was created by the chef Thomas Keller to be used in the same proportions as all-purpose flour in any recipe.
Gluten-free baked goods end up heavier than others, but adding xanthan gum (available at bobsredmill.com) will keep the items from crumbling. Use 1 teaspoon per cup in bread recipes and 1 teaspoon per 3 cups in cake recipes. The powder is usually not necessary for cookies.
Some gluten-free flours have no iron, protein or fiber and are very high in carbohydrates, while others contain good amounts of these nutrients. This is usually not an issue for cookies and cake, since it is unlikely you are counting calories when you eat sweets. For breads and other staples, though, you may want to stick to healthier flours, such as gluten-free oat, lentil or bean flour; tapioca flour will lend bread some chewiness, but it’s not very nutritious, so use it sparingly. As the public becomes more aware of celiac disease, more manufacturers are fortifying their gluten-free flours. Check labels for added vitamins and minerals.
You can find gluten-free flours and xanthan gum at health food stores, at Whole Foods and at some websites such as bobsredmill.com, glutenfree.com and gluten freemall.com. If you find a flour or mix you really like and want to buy it in bulk, try searching for it on amazon.com. It’s good to know that manufacturers such as Bob’s Red Mill and Pamela’s Products test for the presence of gluten as an extra layer of protection.
Cleaning a perfume atomizer
Q: How do I clean a perfume atomizer so that it can be refilled with another fragrance?
A: Whether you’re swapping your fragrance into a traditional glass-bulb atomizer or refilling a smaller pump made for travel, the cleaning process is the same. To clean the bottle (or vial, if using a travel atomizer), empty any remaining perfume, and then fill the bottle halfway with rubbing alcohol, which will chemically break down the perfume. Reassemble the atomizer, shake it for about 20 seconds, and then spritz the alcohol about 20 times. Pour out the alcohol. Then use an alcohol-dampened cotton swab to clean the threads on the neck of the bottle, the cap (which holds the atomizer’s tube and screws onto the bottle) and the threads inside it, and around the pinhole where the spray comes out. There’s no need to rinse; simply let all the parts air-dry for about 10 minutes.