Tag Archives: vegetarian

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!


Herbal Allies // Turmeric Lassi

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I finished my fourth term in nutrition grad school last Friday. I haven’t shared much about it here but this last winter has been intense. It was the best yet in terms of how much I’ve enjoyed the content and knowledge I’m acquiring. It has been a long haul though and because it coincided with tax season (for William) and spring marathon training for me, life has mostly consisted of attempting to completely fill up my brain with tough biochemical and physiological concepts and then subsequently trying to turn it all off, unplug as much as possible, and just run.

Motivation for any sort of inspired eating kind of went by the wayside. And I never realized how much being able to share just one meal a day with my favorite human is helpful for me to maintain a healthy relationship to food until he worked the craziest hours. Turns out, I’m equally good at doing the same when he wasn’t around to stop me.

It is time for a short stint of rest and focusing on other projects now, for the both of us.

Did I tell you I (of course) chose the longest concentration option of my nutrition program? I am focusing on herbal medicine as a component of clinical nutrition. Back in early 2016, I spoke to why I hadn’t enrolled in the nutrition program at my nearest university and really searched around for one that fit, that merged my interest in herbal medicine, ancient healing modalities such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, and had the rigorous scientific component I was craving. The program I ended up with fits me so well. I’ve pretty much loved every class, even as the content has gotten much more technical. The herbal classes, while still plenty intensive, have been welcome to continue engaging in creativity with the content I’m learning during this time.

One of the practicing herbalists in my program taught me early on that specific herbs will speak to us, we will develop an affinity for them, and we should trust that. Cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are my little trinity that ‘speak to me’ the most and I find myself adding them to meals and drinks on a fairly daily basis. I’ve shared about them more than once before in Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars, Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars, and my Good Energy Maca Latte.

Now that the weather has warmed a bit too, I’m more inclined to incorporate cooler, smoothie-type snacks and mini-meals into my routine. This Turmeric Lassi is my longtime go-to smoothie when I feel like I need a refresh/mix up in my eating patterns, and I often reach for it during an interchange of seasons. With this stint between school trimesters and welcoming William back to regular dinners at home, it’s definitely a new season for us.

 

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So what is so great about the common herbs/spices in this recipe?

Cinnamon // While most of us know cinnamon as the comforting and feel-good spice for baked goods, there’s actually a fair bit of evidence to suggest cinnamon can be used in higher, medicinal doses to improve blood sugar imbalance in type 2 diabetics. That isn’t why I enjoy it, however. I like it because it is warming, stimulating, and improves circulation. Plus, it simply tastes and smells delicious.

Ginger // Common fresh or dried ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion. Like cinnamon, it is a warming and pungent spice, and I particularly enjoy it both through the winter and on chilly spring days.

Turmeric //  One of the current “superfoods,” turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Much of the recent research points to it as a highly beneficial nearly catch-all herb, but it is most often associated with controlling inflammation and therefore improving joint and muscular health. The thing about turmeric that is not often shared, however, is that the beneficial curcumin compound it contains is exceptionally difficult to become bio-available in the body. Taking it with a small amount of ground black pepper and with another ingredient that contains fat helps turmeric work its magic in our systems.

Rosehips // The berries from wild dog roses are among nature’s richest and most-potent sources of Vitamin C, the vitamin we all associate with improving the immune system and warding off illness. It is a good herb to add in any time physical or mental stress is high.

 

Turmeric Lassi, makes 1
The spices here are in a higher, more medicinal dose than might be used in a standard smoothie recipe. I enjoy them but if you’re a little wary, begin with less and add more as desired. Though I make this with either applesauce or a banana, (and sometimes both instead of yogurt), I enjoy this more with applesauce. Using a banana will result in a sweeter smoothie if that’s more your interest. The photo above has a teaspoon of elderberry syrup swirled in for even more immune-enhancing effects. Elderberry is a tasty option for including if you feel a seasonal cold coming on. 

3/4 cup unsweetenened applesauce or 1 frozen banana
3/4 cup unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 – 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 – 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
dash of ground black pepper
1 tsp. rosehips powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 oz. fresh lemon juice (about 1/4 of a large lemon)
sweetener to taste, if needed (honey, maple syrup, powdered stevia leaves, etc.)
1 tsp. elderberry syrup, optional

  • Add all the ingredients to a food processor and puree until smooth. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the chia seeds to thicken it up a bit for a smoothie bowl.

Red Lentil Falafel with Millet, Lemon Ginger Dressing + Quick-Pickled Onions

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I’m reading this novel right now, Sweetbitter. It is a coming-of-age about a young  girl who lands her first post-college job as a back waiter in a prestigious New York City restaurant. Broken up by seasons in her first year, I’ve just reached the point of early spring and the first thing she does is mention the Hungry Gap, the short phase in the year when even the hyper-local restaurants scramble for produce and need to source from afar, the season where we’re sick of winter but warmer days are fickle and food is just sort of ho-hum.

I’ve definitely been feeling the hungry gap season and have reached the point, which inevitably happens every year, where the only meal that sounds good is plain, steamed vegetables (mostly cabbage), a plain grain and protein, and if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, a leftover dressing or some random seeds sprinkled on top. William is extra lucky he’s working long days because of tax season and his office often feeds him. Mutiny would come quickly if he had to endure more than one or two nights of my “plain steamed veg” for meals.

Thanks in part to The Recipe Redux for the march theme of making due with what’s on hand, i.e. spring cleaning the cupboards, I decided to use my creativity an extra bit and make the first day of our new season include more than steamed carrots, turnips, and cabbage.

So here we have red lentil falafel, an extra delicious lemon ginger cashew-based dressing, and pickled onions. This just might be the meal that gets me back into eating a little more adventurously. And maybe you too?

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Red Lentil Falafel with Millet + Lemon Ginger Dressing, serves 4
I love falafel, especially baked falafel with lots of accompaniments like pickled onions, but the lemon ginger dressing is the real star of this dish, in my opinion. After enjoying a lemon ginger dressing at a super hipster Portland restaurant a while back, I’ve been trying to get a homemade rendition right all winter. It may have taken all season, but this version might just be better than its inspiration. Make sure to be liberal with both lemon zest and ginger!

Red Lentil Falafel:
1 cup red lentils, soaked
3 garlic cloves, peeled + roughly chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. sea salt + more to taste
freshly ground black pepper pepper
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cooked millet

  • In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the soaked lentils and 2 cups water to a boil. Turn down, and simmer for 20 minutes. They do not have to be completely soft all the way through. Drain and turn into a food processor.
  • Then, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • In the food processor with the red lentils, combine the garlic, spring onions, spices, apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Pulse the mixture until it comes to a chunky paste but is not completely a puree. It should be fairly wet so add a little liquid if it’s not. Then turn it into a large mixing bowl along with the one cup of cooked millet. Combine the grain and lentil mixture well.
  • Next form about 20 falafels with your hands or with a medium cookie scoop and place them on the parchment lined baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are lightly browned and a little firm to the touch.
  • Serve the falafels with extra millet or flatbread, the sauce, lettuce, and pickled onions if desired.

Lemon Ginger Dressing, makes about 1 cup
1/2 cup cashews, soaked + drained
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water + more if needed
2 Tbs. freshly grated ginger root
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1  tsp. maple syrup (optional)
1 Tbs. light miso

  • In a food processor or blender, combine the soaked and drained cashews, lemon zest, and remaining ingredients and blend until it comes to a consistency that is spoon-able but not runny. Add more water as necessary to reach this consistency.

To Serve:
Quick-Pickled Onions
lettuce
additional cooked millet or flat bread, if desired

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