cardamom + vanilla birthday cake

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I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.

And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.

I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.

But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.

In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.

Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.

Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.

 

Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.

120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
3/4 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. or about half a cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.
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getaway run + picnic muffins and a few good things

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When the weather turns nice and the days grow longer, I start to get real antsy feet and a desire to go adventuring on the weekends. One of my favorite things is to plan weekend “getaway run + picnics” with William, which often include a long trail run adventure out of town, followed by a post run laugh-stretch session, and then a picnic complete with picnic basket, real plates and silverware, and a post-feast laze in the grass. The juxtaposition between a dirty trail run and a much fancier presented post-run meal makes these occasions feel particularly special. They are the ultimate one-day treat and if I’m lucky, we incorporate many such weekends over the long-day season.

When it comes to the food, I often don’t plan much ahead and throw together something quick from the fridge since really, anything we’re okay with eating at room temperature can be picnic food. One time last year, however, I came up with the idea to make savory muffins for one of these adventures and they went down a real treat. I’ve made them a few more times since and found the ingredients to be fairly interchangeable, but the novelty of a special post-adventure savory muffin has yet to wear off.

 

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On the other hand, on weekends when we’re not adventuring, or on the weekend mornings when I plan to be especially indulgent for hours before venturing out, I love to clear out my inbox, read all the things online and off, journal, and generally laze about with tea in hand. With a whole new getway run and picnic season ahead of us, and longer mornings to indulge in the sun’s early glow, I’m leaving you the option to either make these muffins and go for an adventure, or settle in to a cozy morning of reading/inspiration. Or perhaps you’ll plan, like me, to do both!

  1. Since I love all things reading, books, libraries and lists, I recently created a recommended reading area on the blog to share all my favorite cookbooks, nutrition and related topics reads, and a few others.
  2. Speaking of cookbooks, I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the Banana and Cacao Granola from David and Luise’s latest cookbook. I put my own personal spin on it with toasted local hazelnuts, puffed rice, and other seeds, and find it it simply outstanding.
  3. If you haven’t discovered or read Gena’s Weekend Reading posts over on The Full Helping, I highly recommend. While she routinely shares articles and recipes she’s enjoying, I like Gena’s weekly commentary the most, where she shares about her own journey years beyond initial eating disorder recovery, but still adapting through life’s trials of depression, anxiety, relationships, and simply being human.
  4. Relatedly, one of my favorite recipes inspired one of Gena’s, which she shared about in her new cookbook, Power Plates. By now, I’ve cooked my way through a substantial amount of the book’s recipes and can’t recommend it enough!
  5. Rather than create a long list of all the good things I’ve enjoyed reading online, I’ve been creating a pinterest board for the last year and more, which is also a fun way to put it all up visually. Check it out, if you’re interested in more.
  6. Lastly, I found the news about how much gluten those that follow a strict gluten-free diet are actually ingesting really interesting and not at all surprising, given my own ongoing phases where I have glutened-symptoms almost every time I eat food prepared outside my home. Now, I can’t wait for what to do about this problem and how to best ‘live normally’ despite these obstacles. Fortunately, progress continues to be made in the realm of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity research!

 

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savory getaway run + picnic muffins, makes 6 jumbo size muffins
The vegetables in these can be easily changed up depending on what you have, but I find that adding just a little sweet apple really rounds out the savory flavors.

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large apple, diced
1 large bunch kale, diced
3/4 cup cooked white beans
9 Tbs. aquafaba or 3 flax eggs
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. honey
2/3 cup / 160 ml non-dairy milk
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 cups / 210 grams chickpea flour
1 tsp. mustard powder or 1 Tbs. dijon mustard
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC ), oil a jumbo 6-hole muffin tin or line with paper cup liners.
  • Heat a little oil of your choice in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. salt and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Then, add the apple and the kale and sauté until the apple is just barely beginning to soften and the kale has wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
  • In a food processor or blender, puree the cooked beans until they form a smooth paste. You might need to add a little water to them. Once pureed, they should measure out to about a 1/2 cup. Add them along with the other liquids to a small bowl and then set aside.
  • In another medium mixing bowl, measure out and mix the flour, baking powder, and remaining spices.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and using a spatula, start folding them together, along with the onion, kale, and apple. Mix just until combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.
  • Remove the muffins from the oven and set aside to cool slightly in their pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • They will keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container either at room temperature or in the fridge, and they also freeze well.

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal

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Happy Easter Friends!

Today I have a recipe I’ve been making on repeat for the last couple months, and one I’ve been meaning to share for weeks. But in truth, I’ve been busy. And stressed.

In what I knew would be a packed late-winter season, my class schedule was on overload for what ended up being six weeks. When I signed up for them, I thought it would be three to four, and knew I could get through for one jam-packed month. But then a job opportunity landed that I decided to take, my running coach decided I could handle more miles (and thus time), and one of those classes was taught by a professor that was amazing, but intense. Even for grad school.

So in light of all the action happening at once, I took a class extension. I dropped creative projects and unproductive activities like social media, I spent all my waking hours working or running save a precious few in the early mornings and evenings, and I just got through.

I’m still recovering, trying to prioritize down time, read some good books, bake (currently experimenting with gluten-free/vegan hot cross buns!!), and run with joy and gratitude. And also, feed myself well.

And while it’s spring break for many, I’ve a couple more weeks before I get there.

 

So today, let’s talk a little more about stress, overwork, and the nutrients that are necessary always, but even more so when we’re trying to bulldoze forward at full speed. The first are the entire friendly group of B Vitamins. 

The essential B vitamins are necessary in every step along the pathway of converting food into energy. When the body undergoes any kind of stress, whether it is physical or emotional, and feels depleted, the B vitamins are likely needed to restore balance and energy. In addition to converting food into energy and helping to cope with stress, many of the B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, PMS, and mood swings.

Each of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and their friend Choline) have their own specific roles, but they function quite well as a group. They are found abundantly in whole foods, particularly in whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables–except for B12 and Choline, which each deserve their own discussion another day. In order to incorporate the spectrum of all of these essential nutrients into your diet, it is important to eat a wide variety of fresh, colorful, whole foods.

Most of us are actually getting sub-optimal levels of these nutrients, especially when we are overworked and very active.

 

Next up in importance in times of stress is Magnesium

Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical reactions and is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, and blood sugar control. And it is anti-inflammatory. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis as well as the synthesis of glutathione, which is a powerhouse antioxidant that combats free radicals and cellular damage.

Like the B-vitamins, Magnesium is often lacking in the modern diet, our needs are more when we are stressed either physically or mentally, and it’s abundant in whole foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains.

 

Finally, when we are overworked, our immune system takes a hit, and it’s during these times that we often fall victim to colds and flus. While winter flu season theoretically should be winding down, the mega virus(s) that’s been hitting hard these past few months is still going strong. Enter my favorite immune booster, elderberries.

Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and have been shown to shorten the duration of cold and flu outbreaks in research. They also have a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Made into a delicious syrup and combined with anti-inflammatory ginger (which I’m now making and selling in my shop), a daily small dose during times of increased stress gives a good immune boost*. I’ve been taking it all winter and especially these last few weeks, and even with exposure to a whole lot of sick kids, have been staying healthy.

 

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal, serves 1-2
Due to all the aforementioned whole foods I’ve packed into this delicious breakfast bowl including oats, beets, flax seeds, sunflower seed butter, as well as a little drizzle of elderberry syrup, this makes for a really nice start to the day. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately, and definitely feels like a meal that brings to life the meaning of self-care and stress reduction. For busy mornings, I like to prep all the ingredients, save the oatmeal and toppings in a saucepan the night before, and then store it in the fridge. In the morning, bring the pan to a boil, add the oats, cook until done, and then add toppings and serve. 

1 1/2 cups water
1 medium-ish beet, finely grated
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbs. raisins
1/2 Tbs. sunflower butter
1 tsp. elderberry syrup
a dash of cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. ground flax seed, optional
additional sunflower seeds to top

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the finely grated beet, salt, raisins, and oatmeal. Turn down to medium-low and cook until soft and to desired consistency, about 8-10 minutes. You might need to add more water, as needed.
  • Then stir through the sunflower butter, remove from heat, and add the syrup and any additional desired toppings. Enjoy, ideally in a non-distracted setting for the ultimate self-care.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.