Behind the scenes: On taking a break to recharge

by | Jul 28, 2016 | Writing

Note: This is the fourth of six posts going behind the scenes of my writing process — what inspires me, the way I work, and how I recharge. For links to the rest of the posts, scroll down.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually recharging with hobbies that aren’t quite so mentally draining.

I swim laps to shift gears from brain to body — and it’s a good thing, too, because my other favorite hobby is baking, and I always eat too many of the results!

Some mention of food inevitably winds up in my books, whether it’s dilly beans or strawberry-rhubarb pie. In late summer, I make elderberry jelly from the bushes in my yard. As fall rolls in, I’ll spend a full day making applesauce for the coming year.

Elderberry jelly on white bread

Homemade elderberry jelly on a slice of homemade white bread. Baking is a wonderful way to focus on something other than writing and let plot problems percolate in the back of my brain. I keep a notepad handy for any writing ideas that pop up while I’m puttering around in the kitchen.

I love trying new recipes, launching into the creativity of blending familiar ingredients into novel and unexpected creations. Not unlike the invention of a new book, but occupying a far different corner of my brain. These days, I’m focused on two new obsessions: pressure cooking and gluten-free baking. If you’re a baker, try out the recipes below. If you’re not, just enjoy the photos!

And if you have a favorite recipe, please post in the comments!

Fruit of the Forest Muffins

Muffins warm from the oven and ready for breakfast. Or a snack. Or dessert. Or just because. Muffins don’t need a reason.

Fruit of the Forest Muffins

Recipe from Robert Landolphi’s Gluten-Free Baking: Delectable From-Scratch Sweet and Savory Treats, my current book-boyfriend of the kitchen. (I also highly recommend the lemon poppyseed bread recipe, but I don’t have a picture of the result because I eat it too fast.)

A note: The book includes both weight and volume measurements for flours. I use the weight measurements — a small kitchen scale is a smart purchase for any baker! The improved accuracy makes for lighter baked goods. And remember that “stir until just moist” means exactly that. Overmixed muffins are dense and tough.


  • 3.45 ounces brown rice flour (about ¾ cup)
  • 2.6 ounces potato starch (about ½ cup)
  • 1.8 ounces oat flour (about ½ cup)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk (I use 2%)
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups mixed fresh berries (I used frozen blueberries and raspberries)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or granulated sugar, for topping


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a pan of a dozen muffin cups (with or without liners) with cooking spray.

Combine first eight ingredients (flours through salt) in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk.

Combine milk, eggs, and melted butter (allow to cool a bit or add slowly, aka temper, so the eggs don’t start cooking) in a smaller bowl. Whisk.

Pour liquid mix into dry mix and stir just until moist. Fold in berries.

Evenly distribute batter in 12 prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and muffins spring back when touched. Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before removing.


Molasses Spice Cookies

I should really make another batch of these. Like, right now.

Molasses Spice Cookies

Recipe from Camilla V. Saulsbury’s The Chickpea Flour Cookbook: Healthy Gluten-Free and Grain-Free Recipes to Power Every Meal of the Day, another cookbook I’m working my way through. In this case, I wanted to share the joy of molasses cookies — my absolute favorite cookie — with my gluten-intolerant bestie. This recipe removes the gluten but still properly captures the flavor and the chewy-crumbliness of molasses cookies.

A note: Chickpea flour also goes by the name garbanzo bean flour. Also, the book offers healthier options for some ingredients, but I’m a plain old sugar kind of gal. 😉


  • 300 grams chickpea flour (2 ½ cups)
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (reserve extra for rolling cookies in)
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened (1 ½ sticks)
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tablespoons dark molasses (not blackstrap)


In a medium bowl, combine and whisk the first six ingredients (flour through cloves).

In a separate medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugars and butter. Beat with a mixer on medium for a minute or so. Scrape down the sides and add the egg and molasses. Beat until blended and smooth, about 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and gently stir in by hand until just blended.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a small, shallow plate with granulated sugar. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls — about 48 total — and roll them in the sugar to coat. Place about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie pan.

Bake for 14 to 19 minutes. The tops should crack. The edges will be set; the centers will be a little soft.

Cool cookies on the pan on a wire rack for 3 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies directly to the rack to finish cooling.

You can try to resist eating the warm cookies, but why bother?

Going behind the scenes

See the end result of M.Q.’s recharged creative process in the Neighborly Affection series and the Gentleman series. Her next book is An Accidental Gentleman, out August 16, 2016.

Available from these fine shops

The links below will take you to the M.Q. Barber page at each retailer. Need more info to make up your mind? Check out the series pages for the Neighborly Affection books and the Gentleman books.

Also available at your library

Did you know that you can read M.Q. Barber books for free through your library? Libraries can request digital copies through Overdrive, Hoopla, and BorrowBox.

If your library uses Overdrive, you can download the Libby app and request a book directly from your library. Check it out!