Pistachio Rhubarb + Candied Ginger Loaf

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If you search google for pistachio and rhubarb, just about a gazillion delicious recipes pop up. The two ingredients are a classic pairing. But so are strawberries and rhubarb, orange and rhubarb, honey and rhubarb, rhubarb and rose, and of course, ginger and rhubarb. Personally I love them all as well as rhubarb just on its own.

When we moved into our house in early 2016, the first plant to go in the ground was rhubarb. And as a two-person household with four healthy plants, we get to enjoy a lot of it. And by we I mean one of us absolutely loves it in ever-y-thing, and one of us thinks he doesn’t.

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The Recipe Redux asked us to make a healthy-ish recipe to celebrate spring celebrations–something like baby or bridal showers, graduations, and the like. As I’m writing this, it is commencement day for my master of science degree in clinical nutrition, and since I decided not to make the trip back across the country to actually partake in it, celebrating at home with my longest run since Boston and this rhubarb loaf will do quite nicely.

Before we get there, let me tell you a little interesting nutritional tidbit about rhubarb and its oxalic acid content.

Many people know that rhubarb leaves are poisonous and can cause harm if ingested. It’s why they’re never sold with the leaves on. What most don’t know is that they are toxic because they contain a lot of oxalic acid which the stalks also contain, though not as much. Spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard are also high in oxalic acid, which is why for some they can have that puckery-weird mouthfeel that also presents in unsweetened rhubarb. Interestingly, rhubarb is high in calcium, which spinach and Sweet chard has a bit of as well but the oxalate content interferes with absorption, so much so that when I worked for the Linus Pauling Institute, the researchers there said not to expect to get any calcium from a meal with lots of rhubarb, spinach, or Swiss chard. Other sources are a little more lenient on this topic (1, 2). Though there is nutritional debate on the idea, oxalic acid may also interfere with absorption of the iron content from spinach–which for this or other reasons is not at all a ‘good source’ of iron because of its absorption rate despite myths that it is in the plant-based community and beyond.

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Now, out of the nutritional weeds and into reality. So what is wrong with eating lots and lots of high oxalate-containing foods? Other than needing to get your calcium elsewhere, certain people can develop kidney stones if they consume too much. Otherwise, those leafy greens and rhubarb are packed with lots of other nutrients we need. And this is a good time to remind us all that eating a diverse variety of whole as-close-to-nature-made foods is best for health.

With all that new knowledge circulating in our brains, let’s have a slice of tea cake / loaf and celebrate. Because I’m no longer a grad student, it’s rhubarb season, is May the best month, and the sun rises early and sets late these days making more time for play.

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Whatever your cause for celebration, this is a nice little loaf for an occasion. It’s not overly sweet, not too rich, but has just enough punches of sweetness from the candied ginger and roundness of flavor to make it all come together well. Combined with the pinks and greens in the loaf from the pistachios and rhubarb (more so if you have pinker rhubarb stalks than mine), it’s delicious and in my opinion, a good way to celebrate this classic pairing of rhubarb, pistachios, ginger, and because I couldn’t resist, a bit of orange!

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Pistachio Rhubarb + Candied Ginger Loaf, makes one large loaf of about 10 slices

1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
1/2 cup (110 g) coconut oil
1 cup (110 g) non-dairy yogurt
2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbs. orange juice and zest from 1 orange
2 cups (230 g) chopped rhubarb
1 cup (120 g) chickpea flour
2/3 cup (70 g) sorghum flour
1/4 cup (30 g) arrowroot starch
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (50 g) pistachios, chopped
1/4 cup (30 g) candied ginger pieces, diced small

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a large 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
  • In a small dish combine the flax seeds and water to form a slurry. Allow to sit and thicken up for about 5 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, flax slurry, yogurt, vanilla, orange juice and zest, and rhubarb. In another bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold in the chopped pistachios and ginger pieces.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean once its done.
  • Remove from the oven, cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan. Cool completely before serving, and as usual with this type of loaf recipe, the flavors generally combine and improve on the day after baking.

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  1. Weil, A. (2008). Avoid Vegetables with Oxalic Acid?
  2. WH Foods. (n.d.). Can you tell me about oxalates, including the foods that contain them and how are they related to nutrition and health?
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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
14 grams / 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
150 grams / 3/4 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
56 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 ml / 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
115 g / 4 oz. / 1/2 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.

The Best (Humble) Carrot Cake

The Best (Humble) Carrot Cake

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I turned 30 this last weekend. It was a birthday that both crept up and one I had been thinking about for a while. When I was a teenager, I imagined I’d have my career and life 100 percent sorted by now, already fabulous at or well on my way to being a professor/dean/mom/farm wife/NGO executive/etc.

Hah. The last decade has taught me life doesn’t work so linearly. I’m only just beginning to give myself the opportunity to reach for the career I think will fulfill me–the one that doesn’t have more emphasis on the glamorous or romantic title or idea of it but will actually make me feel full in the daily in and out. And I know now I may well pivot in process. I’m learning we change our minds as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that second, third, fourth, and more tries are often necessary to get something right. For instance, and definitely on the lighter side, I made myself birthday cake. I do almost every year as I love the opportunity to experiment with exactly the flavors of cake I want to enjoy, but I also don’t care for cake or sweets often. Last year I made myself a cardamom vanilla cake with cashew cream frosting. I know because the (failed) recipe was sitting among my draft blog posts for the whole year. This year, I was torn between re-experimenting with that flavor combination and making my absolute favorite, carrot cake. I chose the cardamom vanilla. I even nerded out completely and experimented with three different frostings ranging the full spectrum from all natural/nutritious ingredients to completely not. I generally don’t even like frosting.

Anyway.
The finished cake was gorgeous.
Even if one finger lick of the frosting gave me an immediate sugar rush. 
It was pretty, rustic, and exactly the effect I was going for.
See?

 

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Looks can be deceiving.
I’ve learned that multiples of times over the past decade as well.
The vanilla cardamom was no good. Too dry even on the second attempt and following ratios I know should have worked. The cardamom’s flavor was barely apparent.

 

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Now over any desire to eat cake but with a fridge full of two more (much less sweet) frostings, I found myself with the overwhelming desire to go bake that carrot cake. I adapted this old favorite recipe.

It looked humble.
It tasted delicious.
I found myself eating much more than I needed* and not caring.

A light lesson for sure, but somehow it was fitting that my grand plans for a 30th birthday cake that had more outward beauty than actual enjoyable substance failed completely while the humble, comforting old favorite won out the day.

The same could be said for the day itself as I had visions of a big party or grand adventure to bring in the new decade, and ultimately decided to do exactly what I wanted, i.e. went out to a quiet dinner with William at a very Eugene restaurant, chose a table in the back corner that was a bit like we were eating in a cozy closet/backstage, enjoyed a meal that was basically a tasty plate of spinach, and then wandered home to watch an also very Eugene movie. And then I woke up the next day, my actual birthday, stayed home, baked cake, read, made a nice dinner but nothing more special than normal, and generally just relaxed.

It was the best.
*Also, no one really needs cake.
But sometimes the process–of failing, of trying again, of eventually succeeding, and of getting to share the experience and result with loved ones, whether it’s baking and eating cake or something much more challenging and life changing–is simply good for the soul.
I’m learning that too.

 

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The Best Carrot Cake (gluten-free + vegan optional)
makes two 6-inch layers 
 
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water or black tea
1 cup whole-grain gluten free flour mix, below (or 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if not making gluten-free)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 plus 2 Tbs. canola oil
6 Tbs. aquafaba, 2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water, or 2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 2 large)
cream cheese frosting:
4 oz. vegan (or regular) cream cheese
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease, flour, and then line cake pans with parchment paper.
  • Soak the raisins in a small dish of warm water or black tea.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a medium bowl.
  • Whisk the brown sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add the aquafaba, flax mixture, or eggs; every method works well so use whatever you prefer. Then stir in the applesauce, vanilla, and flour mixture.
  • Drain the raisins from their liquid, and then fold them and the carrots into the mixture until combined. Divide the batter amongst the two prepared cake pans, and then gently lift and drop each filled pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. This will allow for more even baking and a flatter cake top. Bake until the layers are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.
  • Remove the cakes from the oven and cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Then set them aside on a rack to cool completely.
  • For the frosting:  Blend the cream cheese and coconut oil together in a food processor. Then add in the vanilla and maple syrup. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set up before icing the cake.
 
My Whole-Grain Gluten Free Flour Mix
2oo grams brown rice flour
200 grams millet flour
200 grams sorghum flour
100 grams buckwheat flour
150 grams tapioca starch
150 grams arrowroot starch
  • Sift all the flours together.  Use 1 cup for this recipe and save the remaining for other uses.

 

If you’ve read this far, you’re in for a treat. Birthday playlist below!