birthday pancake cake, all the toppings, and an essential Brazil nut butter

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For my birthday this year, I decided to go the way of non-tradition and make a big pancake cake complete with chia berry jam, nut butter, coconut cream, and a pile of fresh berries. It was absolutely the best and may become a new tradition.

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That was last month. When the Recipe Redux announced their June birthday and the end of a long season of monthly themed recipe challenges this month, it became obvious a pancake cake and a tasty homemade Brazil nut butter is a good way to celebrate the end.

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For the past couple years, I’ve been periodically buying a few cups of raw Brazil nuts, roasting them slightly, and then grinding them into a rich and creamy nut butter. Compared to other nuts, they tend to be a little higher in fat and so turn into a nut butter much faster than other nuts and seeds, and without the really high-powered equipment. Additionally, Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, an essential trace mineral. Selenium content in foods is directly related to soil-mineral levels, and at least in my part of the country, the selenium content in soil is low. Growing up raising sheep, we had to give new lambs a selenium shot to ward off a selenium-depletion muscle disease. Even amongst Brazil nuts, selenium content will vary by location, but they do still tend to have a lot of it compared to other foods.

Selenium is primarily part of a master antioxidant enzyme in the body, meaning it neutralizes free radicals and dampens inflammation. It also plays along with other antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and helps them to reuse (recycle) themselves. Selenium is important for a healthy immune response, making it especially significant for immune conditions such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, healthy aging, and is absolutely essential for activation of the thyroid hormones.

For many individuals, a Brazil nut a day, or even a couple a few times per week, or periodically slathering your celebratory pancakes with decadent Brazil nut butter, will meet one’s selenium needs.

Beyond focusing just on selenium and Brazil nuts, all the nuts and seeds have differing and essential vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, and this is why I always encourage rotating nuts, seeds, and their butters routinely in the diet.

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For this pancake cake, I doubled my favorite go-to pancake recipe, made extra large pancakes, made a quick berry chia jam, and scooped the solids off the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk, whipped it along with a little orange blossom water, and of course, added that Brazil nut butter. I then put a different layer of filling between each pancake and topped them off with extra chia berries. This recipe was inspired by a Pancake Cake in Green Kitchen Stories new family cookbook, but I definitely spun it in my own direction. I encourage you to do the same.

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Birthday Pancake Cake with All the Toppings and an Essential Brazil Nut Butter, serves about 4
my favorite pancake recipe (or yours)
whipped coconut cream
Brazil Nut Butter (see below)
Berry Chia Jam (see below)
fresh sliced berries, as desired

  • Prepare and make all the various components above. Then layer one filling between each pancake and top with additional berry chia jam or fresh berries.
  • Cut into cake wedges and serve with additional berries, jam, coconut cream, and nut butter.

Brazil Nut Butter, makes about 1 cup
2 cups raw Brazil Nuts

  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and add to a high-speed blender or food processor. Process for about 5-8 minutes, until the mixture becomes creamy and thin. Scrape down the sides as needed throughout.
  • Store extra nut butter in a glass container in the fridge.

Berry Chia Jam, adapted very slightly from Little Green Kitchen
2 cups fresh or frozen berries
2-3 dates, pits removed and chopped
2 Tbs. chia seeds
a splash of water

  • Add the berries and dates to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add a splash of water and stir in the chia seeds. Bring back to a boil, then turn off the heat, stir again and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to thicken up. Stir a couple times throughout to keep clumps from forming.

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Reference:
Higdon, J. (2001). Selenium. Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/selenium.

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Post-Run Pancakes, and creating a food community

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Over the past few months, William and I have been hosting, or being treated to, many shared meals with friends. We’ve been living in Eugene for over two years now, and though we still don’t love the city or consider it our long-term home, we’re slowly finding ways to make a community while we’re here. In almost every way, that developing of community centers around food.

We have a couple friends here that, unlike virtually any others so far, I trust can cook for me. I won’t be unknowingly eating gluten and getting cross contaminated, and I’ll enjoy the food and company. I won’t stress about what will be on the menu beforehand and if I’ll have to miss out on half the spread, or need to plan to take a side dish just in case. I can go about the whole experience being totally relaxed and spontaneous. This experience, though I know is the norm for those who don’t have food allergies and/or a history of disordered eating, feels like the biggest of victories for me, and one I don’t take lightly.

Like many people who have struggled with an eating disorder, I’ve always been drawn to food. I grew up just completely fascinated with it, always experimenting and exploring, always wanting to know more. Nothing about that has changed but the sharing of it, either at a friend or relatives’, or just spontaneously going out to eat, has shifted dramatically in the last decade as I began to develop more tactics for avoiding eating with others, or later, when I realized many of my health problems were attributed to food intolerances, and most friends and family no longer knew how to prepare food that was gluten, dairy, and for the most part meat-free.

That left me (and still leaves me), generally really stressed and anxious about gatherings that involve food. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I don’t enjoy having to make special requests. But I also don’t enjoy going to meals knowing I won’t really get to participate in them. As much as many of us have heard the advice to just focus on the people rather than the food, there’s something about the food that draws us together and opting out of that aspect is to me, a little like trying to arrive at a complete and finished puzzle, without having half the puzzle pieces.

Related to this, I like what Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille said recently in an interview on the emotion of food:

I think my eating disorder and having left my roots really left me in limbo for many years. I stripped myself of identity so I could know who I am inside and what my purpose is while I am here. I have realized that the vulnerability I have felt the last few years by sharing a bit more of my true story of anxiety and depression have connected me to people and myself in ways I didn’t think were possible. And it’s interesting that I did this through cooking and sharing food, which for many years had such an emotional weight attached to it. It’s through the act of cooking for others and sharing a table that we can make time to connect at deeper levels. We can access levels of empathy and intimacy that are hard to feel in other ways. Also let’s not forget that food has tremendous healing energy. It can ground us and make us stronger or totally mess us up both physically and emotionally.

Other than being really grateful for friends that love to eat and cook similarly to me, and for those that go out of their way to accommodate my gluten and dairy-free needs by learning how to cook and/or bake in this way just so I can be included, I’m learning that being more assertive, giving, and willing to educate others, both about food intolerances and allergies, and about the mental health aspects that some of us bring to eating, are really important. Both of these often parallel topics are ones that I feel a little more called to having a conversation about with friends over a good meal, rather than brushing them under the table and pretending everything is just okay.

With that, The Recipe Redux invited us to to make and share bread this month. Though I’ve alluded to my current sourdough fixation here and on instagram many times over the last year, I’m still in the experimenting stage — because the art and perfection of slow bread is something I’ve long been called to and having a finished recipe that is ready to share still feels a long way off. I do have a really decent sourdough pizza crust going lately but given this dreary, cold, late winter season, my own personal need for comfort foods in the way of pancakes, and past history of pancakes making quite the meal to share with others, this quick little bread-based meal is one I hope you get the time to make. It makes my favorite gluten-free and vegan pancakes so far, is 100% whole-grain, and with the help of a coffee/spice grinder, most of the flour is fresh milled so it’s really quite nutrient-packed. I’ve also taken out all the oil and added in antioxidant-rich sunflower seed butter which gives it a really nice rich flavor. And because I’m still working my way through the last of the season’s winter squash, I find a really nice topping is a spiced squash and sunflower butter puree.

All together, both because these are comforting yet wholesome, and packed full of all the antioxidant nutrients (vitamins A, E, selenium, zinc), B-vitamins, magnesium, and iron that athletes need, I think these are great with the winter squash topping for after workout meals (that’s running for me), or perhaps just to share with a friend or loved one when you both need good conversation and lots of late-winter nourishment.

Enjoy!

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Post Run Pancakes, serves about 2
These make nice, fluffy, whole-grain pancakes. If you’re without or adverse to a little xanthan gum, either leave out or add a little more ground flax. They won’t be quite as fluffy, but still really good!
 
1/3 cup / 60 grams millet
1/4 cup / 40 grams buckwheat
1/4 cup / 20 grams chickpea flour
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. warm water
3/4-1 cup non-dairy milk
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
coconut oil, for cooking
  • Whisk the vinegar into 3/4 cup of non-dairy milk and set aside for a few minutes.
  • Heat your skillet or griddle where you will be cooking the pancakes. They’ll cook over medium-high heat.
  • In a coffee/spice grinder or food processor, add buckwheat and millet grains and grind until they reach a smooth flour consistency. Then, mix them in a medium bowl with the chickpea flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flax-water mixture, milk, and sunflower butter. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until combined. Add more milk as needed.
  • Lightly oil the skillet with coconut oil, and use about 1/3 cup of batter per pancake. Flip the pancakes when the bubbles appear on top and the bottoms are browned.
  • Cook on the second side until cooked through and browned on the bottom.

Spiced Winter Squash Puree
1-2 cups mashed/pureed winter squash
2 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
a few dashes each of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cloves, and black pepper
a pinch of sea salt

  • In a little dish, mash together all the ingredients and season to taste with sweetener, as desired. Serve over the pancakes.

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{Recipe Redux} American Pancakes + A Dinner Party

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I squirmed down in the seat of the bus, tucking my knees up against the seatback, and in those early morning hours, slowly ate my dry cereal. Out the window, the industrial nature of the city made way for the green the country is known for, and the boys’ lilting voices conversed around me in their various dialects, some still too unfamiliar to catch all the words.

Later, on the way back from our class trip, my odd behavior of eating dry cereal was questioned, and subsequently we got on the topic of American food. Most of my Horticulture cohort, a small group of eight guys save Orla, had been to America the previous year. I was joining them for the semester at University College Dublin, and as is often the case of cross-cultural friendships, we began bonding over food. The boys raved about their experiences with American food. Even the bread, it’s so sweet, Ollie incredulated. And then he was on about the pancakes. Pancakes, in his perception, were the epitome of American deliciousness.

The others nodded in agreement, pancakes were quite nice. It was decided we’d have a class pancake party and I volunteered to make them proper American-style pancakes.

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On the night of the party, a mid-week November evening, Conor, Orla and I set off for Dan and Liam’s house in Stillorgan with all the fixings. Conor and I had shopped at Tesco the night previous, and there I learned pancakes really were rare in Ireland. Though I had planned to anyway, we were to make them from scratch because the Irish grocery didn’t then stock specialty items like pancake mix.

Once at Dan and Liam’s, I entered a typical college-boy-house, much the same as here in the states. Good thing I brought ALL the supplies, I thought, as I took over the kitchen. There wasn’t much in the way of cooking essentials in the cupboards. As I whipped up the batter, Dan, Liam, and their roommates, Joe, Terry, and Tim made up a bunch of sandwiches. I’m making you all pancakes for dinner, I exasperated. Oh, those are dessert, they replied. We wouldn’t eat sugar and dough for dinner. It soon became apparent the experience would be an education for us all.

As I worked on what I endearingly call a student stove—aka any old stove that is quite fussy, has burners that shouldn’t be used, and is often found in a college apartment—I got a fair share of ribbing over those first few throwaway pancakes until the heat settings were correct. Then, when it came time to eat, I attempted to show the group the typical way to eat an American pancake, in a big stack with maple syrup. Maple syrup wasn’t exactly easy to come by, however, so we improvised with golden syrup instead. Eating more than one at a time was viewed as outlandish, and the group much preferred to roll them up like Orla, with sugar and lemon. This is the Irish way to eat a pancake, Orla explained. Some of the others smeared one or two with chocolate spread.

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The whole experience was enlightening, and one for which I’m deeply thankful. Back home, I lived as part of a quartet of girls who loved to host dinner parties. At the time, though I loved cooking for them and our impromtu visitors, I didn’t get the appeal of hosting dinner parties. There was too much pressure, and I didn’t want to disappoint.

The pancake party was my first experience hosting a dinner, and though it went nothing like how I imagined (after the pancakes, it quickly morphed into the type of house party the Irish are more typically known for), it stands out in my memory as a learning experience of cultures and customs, of realizing the similarities amongst college students no matter the location. It was also an opportunity to practice going with the flow and adapting with a room full of people wanting to be fed. Most of all, it helped me to realize how much I love to entertain and cook for others.

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Pancakes, adapted from Celiac Teen

The Recipe Redux asked us to share a food memory for which we’re thankful this month. The recipe below is the one we often use for gluten-free, dairy-free pancakes. They have a slightly softer texture because of the flours and are also vegan as I’ve found better results when using a flaxseed mix instead of eggs. I’ve found the flour mix to be fairly flexible and often use 2 cups of my Gluten-Free Flour Mix in place of the three flours below. I often pour the batter into the waffle iron and make waffles instead, as we’re still cooking on a student stove and there are always casualties! This recipe is the one I used back in 2008 for the party. It was my favorite for a long time and I’d still recommend it to the gluten and dairy-eating crowd. 
 
Ingredients
1 cup millet flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 6 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups almond milk
2 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
(1/3 cup additional almond milk, if needed)
  • Whisk the vinegar into the almond milk and set aside for a few minutes.
  • Heat your skillet or griddle where you will be cooking the pancakes. They’ll cook over medium-high heat.
  • Whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flax-water mixture, milk and oil. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until combined.
  • Lightly oil the skillet, and use about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Flip the pancakes when the bubbles appear on top and the bottoms are browned.
  • Cook on the second side until cooked through and browned on the bottom.
  • If you find the batter to be too thick, or becoming thicker as you cook the pancakes up, add some milk and whisk until fully incorporated.