serious business

As I head into week five (six?) of law school, things are starting to get serious.

Three legal pads full of writing assignments and case briefs, a comprehensive midterm one week away, my favorite book bag discarded because it wasn’t up to hauling around 80+ pounds of books at a time —

of course, all of this pales in comparison to Second Grade.

There is soccer practice, as evidenced by the tangle of shoes and shorts I stumbled over the other night.

team purple

There is science!, which means there are petri dishes and vials, slides and cover slips, tweezers and specimens — all scattered across the kitchen table for long, indefinite stretches of time.


Nina and I took a break from our serious endeavors to make this cake.

rosemary chocolate cake rosemary chocolate olive oil cake

Olive oil cake with bittersweet chocolate and rosemary

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Another adaptation from my rainy day, desert island, if I could only choose one cookbook, Good to the Grain.

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Olive oil for the pan
3/4 cup almond meal flour
1 1/2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F / 180 C. Oil a 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan. If your pan does not have a removable bottom, line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and rosemary. In another bowl, whisk together the soy milk, olive oil, yogurt and apple cider vinegar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently mixing until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool before cutting — unless you don’t mind an ooey gooey mess of chocolate.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes


Kitchen garden tour // chocolate beet root cake

Indoors, my husband’s minimalist nature prevails; outdoors, my maximalist nature is unhindered. More is more! I often refer to the steps leading from the back of my house onto the grounds as my happy place. From a distance, my teensy weensy, one story, 1,000 square foot old-but-not-too-old farm cottage appears to dwarf the small beds that flank both sides of the concrete stairway. When you’re standing on those steps, though, the beds take on a life of their own.

1. house

To your right, a small but vigorous patch of wild strawberries that produce all summer long. To your left, a tiny kitchen garden with chives, oregano, thyme, lavender and marjoram spilling onto your feet. The steps and back wall are lined with pots containing anything from shade-loving greens to a bay laurel tree, and a grotesque named Gargoyle. The opposite edge is lined with dahlias, sunflowers and lemon balm, and the front is guarded by our gnome. Inside this illusory boundary, it’s organized chaos. Greens overflow from a central raised bed year round – what we don’t eat I let bolt and feed them to the hens. Green and purple shiso form a carpet over the garden floor. I’ll let an entire patch of carrots, cabbage or onions go to seed just so I can marvel at the flowers. Flats of seedlings are lined up wherever they’ll fit, preempting the soon-to-be basil forest into a nursery. In addition to the toads, frogs and turtles that take advantage of Nina’s carefully arranged broken and side-turned pots and the thicket of Japanese knotweed I can never completely eradicate, we have blue-striped skinks who live in the cracks around the stairs and scurry from bed to bed along the side of the house. It feels like another world.

2. strawberries+chives3. kitchen garden collage4. dahlias et al

Continuing to walk around the house is the tea garden, anchored by a small wisteria tree and a sea of irises. This past winter was not kind to my turmeric and ginger roots, lemongrass, nettles, catnip or chamomile; the bed is presently a chocolate mint garden. I’ll be replanting everything in pots and troughs so I can move them around if next winter is surly.  Next to the tea garden is a butterfly bush and scrub grass. My goal is to turn it into a rock and succulent garden by summer’s end. Parallel to these beds is our rose trellis. On a whim, my husband lashed a few scraggly vines up off the ground so Nina wouldn’t cut herself on thorns while chasing Goblin. The roses have all but taken over the south side of the house. I use the petals for cooking all summer long, and collect rose hips for tea in early winter.

5. Goblin+mint 6. chocolate mint 7. scrub garden 8. rose trellis

In front, we have one bed completely overgrown with wild blackberry vines, and another that’s home to anything that catches Nina’s eye when we visit the nursery. This autumn the blackberry vines will be replaced with peonies, mums, and maybe a gardenia. The other bed has Chinese lantern and balloon flowers, hostas, caladiums, sweet potato vines,  variegated grasses – anything that tolerates partial shade. Around the corner, the north side of the house is home to hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, allspice and holly trees, giant blue hostas, and my rhubarb. A few feet away is another overgrown bed that I’m going to turn into a moon garden. It’s anchored by ginkgo and Japanese maple trees.

9. future peonies 10. collage 11. ginko+maple

That was an awfully long walk around my house! Next week I’ll take you through my main garden, our fledgling orchard, and the arbor.

But first, cake.

A few months ago, I bought a cookbook based solely on the photo and text of one recipe. This is not unusual behavior for me. But the tiptoeing around this recipe, my not wanting to be disappointed outweighing the challenge of omitting a scant cup of butter and five eggs from a highly lauded recipe by a renowned author and chef? Very unusual. And then I saw the most beautiful bundle of beet roots at the farmers’ market, stopped myself from asking if they were any good (it’s way past beet season here), dug my best quality chocolate out of the freezer, and made the best damned chocolate cake I’ve had in a good long while.

cakeThis is what happens if you touch your cake before it cools. Consider yourself warned.

Chocolate beet root cake

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This is my vegan interpretation of Nigel Slater’s Extremely Moist Chocolate Beet Cake, from Tender. Have no fear – it does not contain five eggs’ worth of egg replacer or a scant cup of oil subbed for the butter. What it does contain is seven ounces of best quality bittersweet chocolate, and this is non-negotiable. You’ll need to take great care when melting your chocolate, which is easier than it sounds. Simply place a heatproof bowl inside a skillet of barely simmering water, and stir stir stir. This cake is dusty on top, but incredibly moist. I serve it topped with homemade vegan crème fraîche and poppy seeds, but it tastes (almost as) good without.

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7-8 ounces beets (3 small/medium)
7 ounces best quality chocolate (70% cocoa solids), cut into half-inch size pieces
1/4 cup hot espresso
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
1 cup natural cane sugar
3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Vegan crème fraîche and poppy seeds, for serving

Boil the beets, whole and unpeeled, in unsalted water until fork tender, 30 to 40 minutes depending on their size. Cool under running water, remove the peel, top and tail, and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times until coarsely puréed.

While the beets are cooling, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8-inch round springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment. If you don’t have a springform pan, you can turn this out onto a plate once it has cooled, but it will be a little messy.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set inside a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted. Add the espresso and olive oil and stir until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powders, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture, almond milk, apple cider vinegar and almond extract to the bowl, and gently stir until fully incorporated. Gently fold in the pureed beets.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and transfer to the oven. Immediately decrease the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 50 minutes. The top of the cake will look dry, especially around the edges, but it will feel springy to the touch. In the last few minutes of baking, the center of the cake will fall. Once the cake has cooled completely, carefully loosen around the edge with a thin icing spatula or butter knife before removing the ring. Serve with vegan crème fraiche and poppy seeds.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Stovetop time: 30-40 minutes | Oven time: 50 minutes

These muffins keep stealing my pear butter

You know that pear butter I made a week or two ago? It’s gone, baby, gone.

{Film note/Aside: We had an Affleck mini film festival over the weekend. It’s Southie accents run amok at our place right now. You’re so, so lucky I don’t have the patience to type things the way I’ve been pronouncing them. And I’m so, so lucky my husband puts up with my attempt to work ‘cah’ or ‘Hahvuhd’ into every other sentence. Even though the word Harvard probably isn’t spoken once in either Gone Baby Gone or The Town. Also, every time I say ‘cah’ we get off on a “Stop the cah, Cole. Stop the cah!” tangent. If my daughter doesn’t turn out schizophrenic, it will be a small miracle.}

Where were we? muffins, about to receive a crumb coating of bittersweet ganache/mousse/whatever.

My favorite thing about being gluten free is the inherent multi-graininess of it all. As I’ve become familiar with different grains, I’ve learned which ones pair best with each other, with stone fruits, with chocolate, or with absolutely nothing at all. Kamut, I’m talking to you. 

multigraininessKamut free.

These muffins are the perfect blend of almond and corn and sorghum and oats, rounded out with turbinado sugar, dark chocolate and sage-infused pear butter.


appeasing.the.gargoyleWe always offer this fella a bite. He’s super impressed with the crumb of these muffins.

Multi-grain pear & chocolate chunk muffins

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Any fruit purée or butter will work for these, but in my house it’s almost always pear butter. Pumpkin is a very close second. Adapted a zillion times over from this recipe, which Celine adapted from here after I sent her some pear butter.

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2/3 Cup sweet sorghum flour
2/3 Cup almond meal
2/3 Cup potato starch
1/3 Cup steel cut oats
1/2 Cup cornmeal
1 Cup almond milk
1/4 Cup sunflower oil
1/2 Cup turbinado sugar
1 Cup pear butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 small (1.5-2 oz) dark chocolate bar, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack positioned in the center. Line 16 standard muffin cups with paper liners, or lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray without paper liners, for 14 standard muffins.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, almond meal, potato starch, steel cut oats and cornmeal.

In a medium bowl, combine milk, oil, sugar, pear butter, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple cider vinegar.

Stir wet ingredients into dry. Fold in chocolate.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool.

Yield: 14 muffins

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 22-24 minutes

Ladies of leisure

Last weekend, Nina and I participated in the 2013 World Wide Vegan Bake Sale, and helped raise funds for our area’s farmed animal refuge.

In preparation, I baked off and on for an entire day; meaning, I began around 8:30 in the morning and finished up as Saturday Night Live came to a close, a mere 17 hours later.



There were, of course, breaks: for floppy hat adjusting, turtle scouting, Goblin chasing.


Between bites of cookie, Nina recorded a turtle in her field journal with the seriousness of a National Geographic reporter. Our resident Goblin was introduced to said turtle; she was unimpressed.



{Our grumpy-faced Goblin is neither grumpy, nor a goblin. Discuss.}

Clover fields. Floppy hats. Turtles. Diligent and completely necessary does-this-taste-gluten-free? treat sampling. Meyer lemon sugar cookies with orange blossom icing. Tartlets. Spiced apple hand pies. Jammy dodgers.

Being ladies of leisure suits us just fine.


Coconut almond tartlets with chocolate ganache

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This crust recipe makes approximately 30-35 mini tartlets, by way of mini muffin tins.  If you want to make one large tart, there is enough crust for an 8×11-inch rectangular, or 9-inch round tart pan.  If you’re making one large crust, be sure to poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork.  The baking time will not change.  If you’re making the minis, there will be leftover ganache.  You’re welcome.  If you’re making one large tart, you’ll end up using most/all of the ganache.

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1/2 cup sweet sorghum flour
1/2 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup almond meal
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
Small pinch fine grain sea salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
4 – 6 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 350F/180C with racks in the top and bottom thirds. If your mini muffin trays are not non-stick, lightly oil them.

In a large bowl, sift all of the dry ingredients together. Add the almond milk and 4 tablespoons of the melted coconut oil, stirring until the dough is crumbly and holds together when pinched. If the dough is too dry, add the remaining coconut oil one tablespoon at a time. Scoop out a scant two teaspoons’ worth of dough and press into one of the mini muffin molds, completely covering the bottom and all sides. When all of your dough has been used, pre-bake the crusts for 12-14 minutes, until just barely golden. Set aside to cool while you prepare the ganache.

Chocolate ganache:
1 1/3 cups best quality semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup coconut cream
12 ounces silken tofu
1 teaspoon almond extract

Using a double boiler over low heat, melt the chips, stirring continuously. When the chips are almost completely melted, add the coconut cream. Continue stirring until the chips and coconut cream are fully incorporated. Remove from heat. In a food processor or blender, puree the silken tofu, chocolate mixture and almond extract until completely smooth.

Add a large dollop of ganache to each crust, and refrigerate overnight. The remaining ganache will keep in an airtight container for several days.

Yield: 30-35 mini tartlets (with leftover ganache), one 8×11-inch tart, or one 9-inch round tart

Prep time: 60 minutes | Cook time: 14 minutes | Refrigeration time: overnight/6+ hours

Like Santa, minus the beard

After four years of seeing posts about Lindsay’s annual vegan care package swap floating around the web, my curiosity got the best of me and I signed up.

I have no idea what took me so long, but I’m glad I finally participated! The idea behind the swap is to be paired up with someone in a different part of the country, get to know one another, and then send each other care packages.  Sort of like a Secret Santa, except you receive a gift you like. It happened to land within the Vegan Month of Food, which was a very nice touch. My care package swap partner was Tanya, and the box of goodies she sent was so good that Nina took off with half of it.

A mug, an owl, and a box of maple sugar candies are now the personal effects of my daughter. A box of maple sugar candies, you ask? Why yes, of course, they’re tucked under the owl’s wing. They’re the Tootsie Pop of the new millennium.

Everything else in the box seems to be perfectly timed with my upcoming race. The coffee will be cold brewed for my race day breakfast smoothie; the granola and multigrain hot cereal are breakfast staples; the wasabi nori has brought my bowls of miso-sesame sticky rice to new heights; the raw vegan protein powder worked so well in a recovery smoothie that I’ve picked up more packets to take with me on the road; and best of all, the chocolate almond butter packets are the perfect size for adding to the aforementioned race day breakfast smoothie.

Thank you, Tanya!

Marathon smoothie

For any runners out there who are wondering the how’s and when’s of this smoothie, here goes: if I’m running less than six miles, I drink only this smoothie, about 40 minutes before my run; if I’m running six or more miles, I pair it with a small pot of yogurt and fruit, two slices of this French toast, and two tablespoons of preserves, about 120 minutes before my run.

2 small bananas, cut into chunks and frozen
2 ounces cold brewed coffee concentrate
8 ounces almond milk
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 packet (1.15 oz) Justin’s Chocolate Amond Butter Spread

Blend everything until smooth, adding additional almond milk if needed. Drink immediately.

Top secret

A few months ago, I was testing recipes for Celine and Tami’s whole grain baking book.  This happened to intersect, timing-wise, with a little thing called the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale.

The bake sale I participated in was raising funds for a farm animal refuge in my neck of the woods, and we were getting a lot of preliminary buzz.  As this was our first fundraising event held for the sanctuary, we really wanted to knock people’s socks off.  I volunteered to make all of the gluten free items and wanted to offer something besides the requisite cupcake; something that both gluten freebies and gluten lovers would swoon over.

These bars – they sold out faster than you can say Himalayan sea salt.

When I first started getting requests for the recipe, I took a little bit of pleasure in telling them it was top secret.  After the umpteenth request?  Not so much.  I won’t be sharing any other recipes from the book before it gets published; but if you like what you see here, I promise you, you’ll love this book.

Salted caramel nut bars
adapted from Whole Grain Vegan Baking

The original recipe uses barley flour for the crust, but I wanted to make these gluten free. I had a lot of buckwheat flour taking up space in my freezer, so that’s what I used. As it turns out, it pairs perfectly with the heady caramelized filling and salty sweet chocolate on top.

For the crust:
Parchment paper (enough to line the pan with an overhang)
1 3/4 cups (210 g) buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (56 g) semi-solid coconut oil, melted

For the filling:
2 tablespoons (28 g) semi-solid coconut oil
1/4 cup (48 g) dark muscovado or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (84 g) brown rice syrup
1/2 cup (60 g) dry roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (70 g) raw cashews, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (30 g) raw pumpkin seeds
Generous pinch of kosher or Himlayan sea salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup (88 g) semisweet chocolate chips
Himalayan sea salt

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper (or lightly oiled foil), with a 2-inch overhang.
Place the flour, salt and maple syrup in a food processor. Add the oil, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until moistened. The dough is ready once it holds together when pinched. You can mix in a bowl with a large wooden spoon if you’d prefer, but be prepared to give your arm a workout. Press down evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, with moistened hands if needed. Pre-bake 10 minutes.

To make the filling: In the meantime, place the oil, coconut sugar, and syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, add nuts and salt, and cook for an additional minute, until the sugar crystals are dissolved and the syrup has thickened just a little. Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds.

Remove the pre-baked crust from the oven. Place the nuts on top and use an offset spatula to evenly spread them all over the crust. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the nuts are golden brown on top. Keep a close eye on the nuts so that they don’t overbake!

Remove from the oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top, letting the residual heat melt them for you. Use an offset spatula to spread them over the nuts. Sprinkle with Himalayan sea salt.

Let cool completely before cutting into squares. The squares will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Yield: 16 squares

Prep time: 15 minutes (some of it while the crust pre-bakes), Cook time: 25 minutes

And then there was cake

I mentioned in my previous post that we camped for three days at Stone Mountain. Most of our camping trips fall within the long weekend, three to four day range:  long enough to explore an area, especially when we live a couple of hours’ drive from several similar sites, and only half a day from the ocean; and short enough that I don’t feel guilty ditching my marathon training runs.

The part that many people tell me is a challenge for them when camping – food – is something we have fun with. The longer we plan to camp, the more creative we get. There are portable foods: granola; spring rolls; baked cubes of tofu and polenta. There are the foods that keep well in a big chest cooler: cold brewed coffee; little pots of yoghurt studded with chunks of frozen fruit; jars of plant milk; more jars of tabbouleh, Nicoise potato salad, lentil pilaf. And of course, things to be cooked over coals, on skewers or a small cast iron skillet: jars of just-add-milk pancake mix; foil packs of root vegetables; Dandies marshmallows; Field Roast sausages and tofu dogs.  We have it down to a science.

The one thing I couldn’t figure out how to pack for this trip? My husband’s birthday cake.

Once we returned home, my daughter and I whipped up two nine-inch rounds of our go-to multigrain chocolate cake, crumb-coated them with espresso-spiked frosting, lit some candles and declared it a party.

Multigrain chocolate cake

This recipe has been around for ages, referred to as wacky, war, and depression-era cake. Traditionally made with all purpose flour, I prefer to make it with a blend. The buckwheat and oat flours have a sweet, milky flavor, and the rye gives it a nice malty undertone.  For frosting, I use whatever vegan buttercream recipe is in the nearest cookbook (or pops up first in Google). This recipe yields one cake – double (or triple!) if you plan to make a layer cake.

3/4 C spelt flour (whole or white, your choice)
1/4 C rye flour
1/4 C buckwheat flour
1/4 C oat flour
1 C raw/turbinado sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine grain salt
1 C water
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C mild-tasting oil (sunflower, safflower, canola…)
1 tsp almond or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 / 175 C degrees and position a rack to the center position.  Lightly oil and dust the bottom of your cake pan if you’ll be eating it out of the pan; line with parchment if you’ll be transferring it to a serving plate and/or using it in a layer cake.

Sift all of the dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients.  Stir to combine, pour into your cake pan, and bake 25 minutes, or until the middle is set and the cake is beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Tastes best after a few hours when the flavors have had a chance to meld.

Yield: 1 9-inch round or 8×8 inch square cake

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 30 minutes