apple sage walnut bread + some thoughts on the business of work

Untitled

Believe me when I say this isn’t a story about age–the start of one career and another in media res. Rather, this is a story about work and how beauty can’t be found while living in the extremes.

I bear quiet witness to two extremes. A young woman submits to an interview for a stylish blog, and over the course of a few questions we learn that the only job she’s known is one in front of her computer. A college hobby has morphed into a career, replete with sponsors, giveaways and outfits of the day. I read a post where a young woman doles out career advice as if they were miniature sweets wrapped in arsenic (or perhaps that’s my interpretation)–preparing the impressionable for the “real world,” where posts are artfully styled, emotions are choreographed and authenticity…well, you know my thoughts on that one–although I will say Emily gives a measured, refreshing take on the matter. On the either end of the spectrum, a friend tells me about a billion-dollar company that seeks to transform itself, and would I be willing to play a senior role in that transformation and sit tethered to a desk five days a week? Ah, so this is the life revisited, where I cram the whole of my errands in Saturday morning, spend a few precious hours on Saturday night resting, and prepare for the inevitable Monday come Sunday. A company seeks the sheen of the new and the brilliant and the creative, but would I be willing to chain myself to an office badge? Would I be content to make perfunctory conversation with someone while refilling my water bottle (knowing how I feel about small talk)? Could I bring brilliance to the table while ensconced under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights?

I attended a conference once where everyone was thick in the business of self-promotion. Many spoke of their online spaces and how popular they had become. Yet one wonders how does one harness such fame? How does one create more efficiency, tackle that ever elusive labyrinth that is their inbox? I felt a curtain come down over my face and I asked, in the biting way I sometimes do, what is it that you actually create? What do you do? More importantly, who are you? And they talk to me about content; they use terms like utility. Their hope is one of inspiration mixed with a healthy dose of practicality, and this whole performed puppetry reminds me of Lloyd Dobler’s garbled, yet endearing speech in Say Anything:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

And while there was nobility in the idealistic Dobler’s speech, what I get from others is a mouthful of stale air. It feels rehearsed, vaguely Stepford. I get: I want to be famous for being me. Honestly, I don’t understand the notion of the full-time blogger who doesn’t seek to create something which goes beyond the four walls of their home. I tell people it’s the difference between a lithe girl who posts a dozen photos of her in the same outfit in a slightly different pose versus, say, a design.sponge. Create something beyond your singular experience. It may not be large in the grand scheme of things but the lens can’t consistently gaze at one’s navel. Because there will always be other navels, other girls sporting expensive finery, but there are only few who break ranks, create something meaningful beyond the extent of their reach. Or, as Meghan Daum posits,

Obviously, everyone defines confessional in their own way. For me, being confessional would be just kind of revealing your secrets and not processing them in any way, just kind of presenting your diary, for instance. I really am not interested in sitting down to write something personal unless it’s going to transcend my own experience and talk about something larger. That, to me, is the difference between putting yourself out there and letting it all hang out. “Putting yourself out there,” to me, has to do with using my experiences as a lens through which to look at larger phenomena.

Although Daum is speaking specifically about memoir writing, I can’t help but apply this idea of one’s life as lens to nearly all aspects of one’s life. There is a shelf life for the thousands of hopefuls who post the tired, stylized photos and pen an awkward personal story to make a sponsorship post that much more relatable. And while I see blogging as an interim play between one venture to the next (a strategic side hustle, a means for creative testing and exploration), I struggle with people who start off their career this way and think they have the ability to counsel others (I shudder to imagine the performance review: Haters! All of them! Why do I keep getting all of these mean constructive comments?!), and I really struggle with those who act as if their blog is this echelon of greatness, when it’s really not. For many, it reads like a simple experiment in myopia. Every navel gaze invariably meets a dead end–the question then is: Who are you without your online presence? What are you creating? What are you cultivating?

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love and produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear. –D.H. Lawrence

I think of this quote often. Lawrence is critiquing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and the American psyche. Without the balance of destruction and creation, there is no chrysalis, instead we slowly devour ourselves in our own demise (ah, The Ouroborus returns!). If we don’t reconcile and balance our internal division (or duality), we will never truly have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We will never grown beyond ourselves.

You’re thinking: what the fuck does this have to do with bloggers who preen all day and get paid for it? GOOD QUESTION.

I think some bloggers are one example of the type of people who are content to dwell within their own dominion. They produce and produce and produce at the expense of themselves. Rarely do they seek to reconcile the real and the artifice within, and we only see one side of the face, a clever mask on display. The danger lies when one doesn’t create beyond oneself, or present both sides of that one face. This is true of bloggers, artists, and people who sit behind a desk, content to clockwatch. I see talented writers write themselves around their own self-imposed prisons. I’ve done this, I did it for years. I wrote what I knew because that’s what the books told me to do. That’s what my MFA program told me to. But it was only when I went beyond myself, beyond the story of me, did I find something powerful. My writing truly got better, ferocious. I was still me. I was still pulling the strings and breathing life into characters on a page, but these were people I’d never known and encountered and this new territory was thrilling. It doesn’t matter if my book will ever be published–I take solace in the fact that I sought out a larger truth beyond the one I’d always been pedaling. And this is the reward, the work.

Know that I’m just as critical, if not more so, of the other side.

Even though I’ve worked hard every single day of my life, even though everything I own has been bought and paid for with this hard work, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate my privilege. For nearly 18 years I spent the bulk of my life in offices. Some were ramshackle, others sleek. Some were in office parks, others in fancy buildings and grand towers, but the feeling was always the same–I am a prisoner for 8+ hours a day. There go the shackles around my ankles. Let me carry them from conference room to conference room. I forged a working permit at 13 so I could work. I spent the bulk of my college years interning in investment banks. And I went from someone who filed folders (yes, paper) to building multi-million dollar companies and leading teams. I’ve been working in offices for 18 years and it’s only in the past two that I’ve grown beyond measure.

Because I haven’t been chained to a desk and computer for five days, 80 hours a week.

I take on projects that don’t require me to be in an office for an extended period of time (I’ve written in contracts that my days on-site won’t exceed X and my hours won’t exceed Y) and the deliverable remains the same. I prioritize my weeks where I do a lot of the execution, interviews and face time in an office and I do the “thinking” and creative work at home. And not only have my skills in brand marketing increased exponentially, I’ve managed to conceive of creative solutions for basic problems. I see the world differently. I come back from traveling and the work I do is imbued with a global perspective. I work from home and I do my best thinking when I’m baking or walking around the park. I break complex problems down to its simplest parts and then tackle those parts. I’m Socratic in the way I think and I’m constantly asking questions and tearing down walls when I hear, this is how it’s always been done. People who meet me now tell me how I’m cool and collected–calm and measured through crisis. Ask people who worked for me two years ago and I guarantee they’ll tell you a different story.

I’ve been a successful consultant for almost two years and it’s because of an imposed flexibility.

The response? Can you come join this company to do the thing that you’ve been doing without doing the thing you’ve been doing? Can you be creative and innovative without all that fluffy flexibility? Can you create something new using these tired old modes of living, of thinking? Can you work five days a week, take only four weeks vacation, and be accessible via every electronic device? Can you brainstorm in conference rooms named after pop stars (because we’re clever like that!)? Can you think outside of a box even though we’re trapping you in it? Because come on, everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be CMO. Everyone wants to lead global teams at a billion-dollar company. Because, Felicia, you have to settle down sometime.

To which I respond: are you fucking kidding me with this? Rewind the tape and play this shit back to yourself and you tell me if it’s not the very definition of insanity.

I made over $200,000 a year. I had a fancy title and nice handbags and the means to stay in fancy pants hotels. You know where that got me? Stressed out, exhausted, depleted, burned out, angry, bitter, and spending six months of a year chained to a doctor and nutritionist. I had big. I was bombastic. And I wasn’t the better for it.

I read articles where people can’t be bothered to care for the most primal of needs, but they’ll track their follower counts like a shuttle launch and want the fame without actually doing the work. I read about kids making $15K a month for posting photos of themselves on Instagram and their greed and vanity are what they wake to. And I read idyllic pieces about co-working spaces in exotic locales for that jetsetting freelancer.

I read a lot of articles about work, and I’m exhausted.

I keep coming back to this simple question: Who are you? Tell me about your character. Tell me what wakes you up in the morning and makes your race to sleep eager to wake the next day? Tell me what you live to do and how you live. Tell me how you’re building and destroying. Tell me how you’re sharing your face, all of it. Tell me about you love and how that imbues what you do and vice versa.

Because both of these examples: the preening blogger and the executive hungry for the shiny object create nothing of value to me. They recycle, regurgitate big words to make them feel safe; they throw glitter on shit and talk about its earthy beauty.

I want neither. Rather, I want to dive, head-first, into the betweens. I want to create for myself (privately) and for others (publicly). I want to read, live, laugh and love vicariously. I want to walk into an office when it’s necessary and leave when it’s not. I want to work from the inside of a shitbag motel or from a deserted island. I want to write and revise. I want to get better, always.

IMG_0373IMG1231A

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food, with slight modifications
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup lightly packed coconut cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vanilla soy yoghurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp gluten-free flour
1/4 cup lightly packed coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance), cubed

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice and gluten-free flours, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk with a fork until blended.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick, especially if you are using all-purpose flour.

To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, coconut sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

IMG_0368IMG1231A

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free the gathering kind

a virtuous grain-free banana bread + some thoughts on the art of balance

IMG_0362IMG1231A

The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. –From Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness

I never understood this inclination or desire to flee from darkness, to live anesthetized through your waking life. I once knew a woman who proudly told me that she never consumes anything that makes her upset or cry. Instead she paints herself a world of pink and tulle, and lives in her kingdom where nobody dies and everyone sings pop songs. This is a world where the whole of one’s life is reconciled in a neat 30-minute television episode. Another woman tells me, in passing, that she can’t bear to know what’s going on in the world. How do you do it, she asks, read those articles every day? The rapes, mutilations, pillaging and murders–all of it is too much for her to manage. So instead she reads enough for casual conversation, enough to appear informed, and I tell her, without hesitation that this is actually worse. Hitchcock once talked about fear being afraid of the jump instead of the actual jump. You walk into a room, slide up against a wall and the moment before the lights flick on is the worst of it. It’s the anticipation of the fright that makes the fear scarier than it actually is. Because the lights go on, it never is as scary as you imagined it would be. So imagine living your whole life right before the jump, skirting the edges of doom instead of breathing through it. The fear of reading past the headline, of seeing that horrific image–this is the constant state of anxiety because you’re not equipped to process and understand darkness. And how, I wonder, can you ever make it out onto the other side? To true and breathtaking light?

If people exist simply to shuttle themselves from one happy moment to another careful television show to another sweet song, what is it that they’re escaping? For me, this seems like a sort of prison, a like life. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. Perhaps because I’ve spent most of my life holed up darkness, building a home it, harvesting a garden in it–I don’t fear it as much. You could say I’m comfortable in it–I write mostly from inside of it or from the memory of it. However, I see the danger in this extreme, too. A home you so assiduously built burns to the ground as you flick a lighter (on, off, on, off) and get lost in the flame. Your thumb burns from the friction of hot metal. Limbs buried deep, painful memories locked six floors down, have no other place to sprout and grow but up, up, and around you. Until you’re tangled in it. Until you become smothered by it. Until you think the fall is bottomless, and your breath is what gives it away.

When I was younger I used to write stories where everybody dies because I thought that was the natural order of things. A man kisses her wife goodnight and he dies. A woman drives in the night and dies. A child lays her head down on the earth because she thinks it has a heart that can beat, and when she hears no sound, no thump thump, she becomes absorbed from the place from which she came. I wrote stories about people dying because everyone does, and this was the mark of my own imprisonment. Where my body was a house was an abattoir, and there was no room for life or light. I used to think that a life lived was one where one mastered the art of breathing underwater. Instead, imagine this:

“Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women goodnight, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women’s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.” ― Amy Hempel, “Weekend”

Imagine seeing the world, the moment, as it happens. Imagine a life without the need to perfect every waking moment of it, without having to build ourselves into fortresses of our own discontent, denial and ignorance. We are human, infallible and flawed. We will oscillate wildly–from dark to light and back again–and the wisdom comes from balance, from understanding that equilibrium exists in the space between light and dark, that nothing good comes from being tethered to one extreme or another. Joy doesn’t come from something wrapped in a box or a denim size or letters after an altered name–it comes from a scratch on a cheek, it comes from the person, friend, beloved who stays.

That is the moment. Everything else is just background noise.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, with modifications.
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
3-4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups (7oz) ground almonds
1/4 cup tigernut flour (If you don’t have this, use another 1/4 cup of almond meal)
1/4 ground flaxseed
1 tbsp whole flax, for sprinkling
sea salt

IMG_0353IMG1231A

DIRECTIONS
Over the years, I’m realizing that I’ve fallen out of love with the saccharine sweet taste of the old banana breads packed with buckets of sugar and butter. But I’m also fleeing the rough brick-like texture of the whole wheat varieties. So here’s my balance. A loaf that’s got some sugar in the form of maple syrup, virtuosity in terms of the flax and nut bread, but flavor and fat because…nuts.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a loaf tin measuring about 9in x 5¼ in with enough baking parchment to double as a wrap for storing the banana bread (if it lasts).

Mash the bananas and coconut oil in a mixing bowl to a pulp with a fork. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and a small pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork.

Add the ground almonds and ground flaxseed and mix well. Or, even speedier, you can throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz together.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the whole flax and bake for 1–1¼ hours. It’s ready when a skewer inserted at the centre comes out dry. If your bread starts to look quite brown after the first 30 minutes, then cover the top with baking parchment until it has finished baking.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Serve warm or at room temperature with some lightly salted butter, jam (I absolutely recommend jam for those who have a sweeter tooth as this isn’t the banana bread loaded with sugar and butter of which you’re probably accustomed) and a cup of tea. Store the bread, covered, in the fridge (remember there is no sugar or preservatives) for up to a week or slice and freeze (that way you can enjoy a slice at a time reheated under the grill).

IMG_0349IMG1231A

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

cranberry orange loaf (gluten-free)

IMG_0211IMG1231A

Merry Christmas! This morning I woke with a heart filled with joy, gratitude and love. I’m so humbled by all the wonderful people in my life, the great life I’m privileged to have, and an insouciant cat who believes that 3AM is a proper waking time. I’m spending the day with loved ones, feasting on this delicious loaf cake. Hope you’re spending the day with your beloveds. xoxo

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, with slight modifications.*
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup organic cane sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (5 tablespoons) coconut oil, softened
1 large egg
1 tbsp grated orange zest
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (2 large oranges)

*The original recipe called for a streusel topping, however, I think there’s an error in the recipe because the streusel doesn’t include a binding agent (oil/butter), so my streusel melded into the bread (causing it to sink a little at the center) instead of maintaining its integrity. A bit of a bummer, but the loaf was delicious nonetheless. I also dialed down the amount of cranberries from 1 1/2 cups to 1, since it seemed to overwhelm the gluten-free flour.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 8½” x 4½” x 2⅝” standard loaf pan with coconut oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gently stir in the chopped cranberries.

In a standard mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and coconut oil on high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add the zest and juice, beating to combine. The mixture will look curdled–don’t freak out. All will be well in the end. You just have to believe, people. Dialing down the speed to low, gradually incorporate the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. I like to do this in 3-4 batches, ensuring that the dry ingredients are fully incorporated before adding in more of the flour mixture.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan with a rubber spatula. Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes (rotating the pans halfway through) or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and continue cooling directly on the rack for about 30-45 minutes before you slice into the cake.

IMG_0208IMG1231A

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

gluten-free almond honey cake

IMG_0073IMG1231A

It always amazes me how the smallest of lights can shine so brightly. While I spent the week moping, lamenting for a life that could have been but isn’t, I came across this article in Publisher’s Weekly, a trade mag for those who geek out on publishing stories. I’m not entirely sure how I discovered Anna Watson Carl, but I remembered admiring her photography and being enamored by her food philosophy–food being the thing that binds people, and how meals have this arcane way of cultivating lasting, rich relationships. Food is primal, and the fact that we share our basest of needs with someone else means something. Or at least it does to me. And Anna.

I also admired Anna’s spirit, her desire to not be tethered to publishing schedules and editorial conformity. Rather, she would create the cookbook she wanted, on her own terms, on her own schedule. I supported her Kickstarter, and was jubilant to have received her book a month later.

Friends, this book is worth owning. These are the kind of meals you make for gatherings, for your beloveds. You toast minor victories and major celebrations with the dishes in Watson’s cookbook. From rosemary biscuits with fig jam and prosciutto (alas, there is gluten in this book, but there are plenty of gf options) to spicy black bean soup and roasted winter squash with kale and pomegranate seeds–you will want to cook everything in this book. The photography is simple, clean and austere, yet the food is welcoming and warm, and this juxtaposition–the beauty of food and the warmth of it–always confounds me in the best of ways.

Reading her journey to publication inspired me to think about my book (and subsequent projects) through a different lens. Why must a book be a piece of cardboard binding several hundred pages? A story can take on many forms–visual, audio, text, and the magic is how we make all of it cohere. The magic is in the ingredients, the assembly. Much like cooking, I guess.

The beat is turning around, my friends, and I toasted the end to a rather long week with a fat slice of almond cake.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook
4 eggs (room temperature), separated
1/2 cup lavender honey (or wildflower/raw honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups almond meal

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with coconut oil cooking spray. I either use the kind from Spectrum, or I use softened coconut oil. Even when I return to dairy, I’ll continue to use coconut oil for the mild flavor it imbues and it’s silk texture is TO DIE.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, honey, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the almond meal and whisk until smooth. At first, you’ll likely freak out (as I did) that you have too much meal and not enough liquid, but don’t fret, whisk for a good minute and the goods will come together beautifully.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high until they are foamy and white, with soft peaks (not stiff). This will take 1.5-2 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture with a spatula. This will take some time as you have a lot of whites and a thick cake batter. Make sure you fold gently, yet incorporating all of the almond meal.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out smooth. Let cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove the outer ring. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

Gently remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan with a spatula. Serve with fresh berries, confectioner’s sugar, or pistachio ice cream. I had this on its own and it was DIVINE. Slightly sweet and crumbly.

IMG_0072IMG1231A
IMG_0068IMG1231A

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

IMG_0013IMG1231A
It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.

Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.

So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:

Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.

It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.

So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled

For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.

IMG_0018IMG1231A
IMG_0020IMG1231A

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

nectarine, yogurt and poppy seed cake (gluten + dairy free)

IMG_7333IMG1231
While I haven’t quite fallen under the spell of dairy-free chocolate chips (and you don’t even want to know my response to sampling a certain brand’s dairy-free salted caramel ice-cream, unless you want to queue up images of gagging and a face caving inward), gluten + dairy free baking is no longer the traumatizing experience I assumed it would be. And while I still occasionally uncover the packet of yeast I neglected to chuck, or wonder if a few pats of butter will really kill me (no, but I’ll itch and wretch horribly FOR DAYS, so there’s that), I’m slowly becoming accustomed to enjoying a whole new terrain of cooking and baking. And with the cooler months on the horizon, nothing gives me more joy than being ensconced in a hot kitchen, stirring soup and baking cakes.

Remember yesterday’s mini-rage blackout? When I lamented over the fact that I have to get creative with gluten-free cookbooks, because most invariably rely on dairy as a salve for our gluten loss? Aran Goyoaga’s Small Plates and Sweet Treats was one of those tomes, and as I paged through scores of lush and beautifully-photographed recipes, I kept seeing sour cream, cheese, butter, milk, yoghurt, heavy cream, in 80% of the recipes. Case in point, this nectarine pound cake. I fell in LOVE with the snap in the cookbook, and, quite honestly, who can refuse a pound cake? So instead of hurling the book out the window of my yoga studio, I got smart and made quite a bit of substitutions.

The result? A delicious, lemony-rich cake. So good, I had to shove the remainders in the freezer in case I get crazy (although my carb cravings have subsided quite a bit).

This morning I’m expecting a load of groceries and I’m back to recipe exploration. Wish me luck!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Aran Goyoaga’s Small Plates and Sweet Treats
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted Earth Balance butter, at room temperature
4 tbsp coconut oil, at room temperature
1 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest or lemon extract
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup Almond Dream plain vegan yoghurt
3/4 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tbsp tapioca starch/flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
4 nectarines, halved, pitted and sliced
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tbsp coconut palm sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch tube/bundt pan with coconut spray, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter, coconut oil, sugars, vanilla extract, and lemon zest no medium speed until light, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Add the yoghurt and mix until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, ginger and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of the mixer and mix on medium speed until it comes together into a creamy batter.

Scoop the batter into the greased pan and spread evenly. Smooth out the top with a spatula as much as possible. Top with sliced nectarines and sprinkle with slivered almonds and coconut sugar. Bake for 1-1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan completely before inverting it onto a cooling rack. Store at room temperature for up to 1 day, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. The cake can be frozen for up to a month.

IMG_7336IMG1231
IMG_7334IMG1231
IMG_7338IMG1231

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

blueberry buckle cake (vegan!!!)

IMG_7307IMG1231

You can’t imagine how wonderful it was to lick the batter out of the bowl again. For a moment, I was able to dial back the clock and stand in a kitchen surrounded by flour, butter and cream. Only this time I was creaming vegan butter and trying to understand the texture of its cream versus traditional butter. This time, I was sifting gluten-free flour and not working about over mixing the dough because there was no gluten to activate. It was strangely liberating making this buckle cake, which is really an oversized muffin in a fancy tin.

Yet, remember last week when I wrote about baking no longer being the singular object of my affection? That truth still stands even though I enjoyed a slice of this cake with Van Leeuwen dairy-free pistachio ice-cream (it’s surprisingly good, although don’t get the salted caramel, which is honestly not that good). While the cake baked, I stared longingly at the batch of tomato soup on the stove, flavored with double-smoked bacon.

This past week I had lunch with my friend, Jamie, who understands my L-Glutamine life, wholly. We spoke of our respective conditions, swapped gluten + dairy free baking ideas, and more importantly we mused over the fact that we’d swapped hats, as it were. An avid vegan cook, Jamie came to lunch carting a huge bag of almond flour, while all I could talk about was cauliflower, cruciferous greens, and the fact that I DON’T HAVE CELIAC (PRAISE, KITTENS). I have become less excited about baking and more enthralled with the seemingly endless ways one can prepare a vegetable.

But this cake. You have to know that blueberries were on my list of sensitivities, but I’m picking my battles. So I endured a good bit of temporary itch eating this buckle cake, but believe me when I say it’s worth it. While the cake may not be as photogenic as its gluten counterpart, the richness of the batter, the moist consistency of the end result, will have you closing the door on gluten + dairy.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Bon Appetit
For the topping
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup gluten-free flour (use Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted Earth Balance butter (vegan), cut into 1/2″ pieces

For the buckle cake
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted Earth Balance butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour (use Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup)
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 tbsp chia seeds/3 tbsp warm water (for vegans); 1 large egg (for non-vegans)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut cream (this is different than coconut milk)
1 pint fresh (or frozen, thawed) blueberries

A 9″-diameter springform pan

DIRECTIONS
For the buckle cake: Preheat oven to 350°. If you’re going the vegan route, add the chia seeds and warm water to a small bowl and let rest for 10 minutes, stirring intermittently. Butter and flour pan. Whisk baking powder, salt, and 1 1/2 cups flour in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed (or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), beat sugar, 1/4 cup butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in egg (if using; chia mixture, if using) and vanilla just to combine, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients, then coconut cream; mix just to combine. Gently fold in blueberries. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and place pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

For the topping: Whisk coconut palm sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with your fingers until mixture comes together in large clumps; set aside.

Evenly sprinkle topping over the cake.

Bake buckle until top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 80–90 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool completely (30 minutes) before unmolding and serving.

IMG_7308IMG1231
IMG_7310IMG1231
Untitled

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

sometimes you just need a symphony of sweet

Untitled design (1)

After a tough morning, I decided to return to my beloveds: flour, sugar and butter. I scrolled through a few years of baked goods to rediscover the sweets that made me smile when I unearth them from the oven. Here are a few of my favorites.

From L-R: Sir Francis Crumb Cakes {how stalwart + regal!} | Blueberry Muffins {the moment when I didn’t screw them up.} | Chocolate Ganache Birthday Cake {probably the best cake I’ve ever baked} | Chocolate Babka {this was a three-day Odyssey} | Kouign-Amann {the notion that I’d baked something resembling a croissant was a personal triumph} | Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake {this cake made me a bundt believer} | Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting {my favorite cake in miniature!} | Chocolate Chunk Cookies {best ever} | Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread {you’ll wake at 3AM craving this}

cake + sweet loaf recipes cookie recipes muffin recipes pastry + bun recipes sweet recipes

chocolate swirl coffee cake

IMG_5953IMG1231

There’s always a moment when I start a new project when I think: I can’t do this. I’m crippled with self-doubt and I feel like a fraud waiting to be found out. Even when confronted with the simplest of tasks, I always go through this moment of terror, and then it fades just as quickly as it arrives. Then I say that I can and I do, and the experience always ends up being wonderful. I thought about this yesterday as I met with a new client and was delivered a project which, at first glance, seemed tremendous. A global company, multiple divisions, endless processes + procedures {remember the halcyon days of completing a requisition form for a pen?!}, and a sizable budget. My client reports into the President of North America, who also knows my work, and the visibility is tremendous.

In short, this project is a BFD. It’s exciting in magnitude and scope, and I’m always thrilled to seek out the things that challenge me, or transform how I think in a particular way. But…But…this project is BIG.

So I went through my terror, which was the total sum of fifteen minutes, and then I paused. I broke down the project into manageable parts, and within those parts I dissected further. When you start from the smallest and simplest place, things don’t seem as daunting. Now I have a village of smart parts that cling to the hem of a whole, and the panic receded. OBVIOUSLY I can do this I said to myself on the train ride home. And it occurred to me that this doubt comes from a mixture of seeing the largeness of something {its vague, obtuse and grand nature} coupled with insecurity.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list. This list is for my eyes only, and details all of what I’ve achieved. From practical and measurable successes to the triumphs that are smaller in nature, I’ve written all of it down to remind myself of what I’ve done, and what’s left to do. I return to this list often, and it’s like having a drink with an old friend. Reading my list, and creating little houses of projects within the overall village that is my assignment, transformed something that was once frightening to something that is terribly exciting.

I fist-pumped on the train and rushed home to make this chocolate swirl coffee cake as a celebration.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Godiva, modified slightly
For the streusel + filling
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bar (1.5 ounces) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp unsalted butter

For the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.

For the streusel + filling: Place sugar, pecans and cinnamon in food processor. Cover and pulse until nuts are coarsely chopped. Transfer 3/4 cup of mixture to small bowl and stir in chocolate for filling. To remaining mixture in food processor add flour, cocoa powder and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly for topping. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; whisk to combine and set aside.

Beat butter at medium-high speed in mixing bowl for 1 minute or until creamy, using electric mixer at medium-high speed. Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low and alternately add dry ingredients and sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just until combined.

Scrape half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with filling. Scrape remaining batter over filling and smooth top. Sprinkle with topping. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean and cake pulls away from edge of pan. Let cake cool in pan set on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.

IMG_5952IMG1231
IMG_5946IMG1231

cake + sweet loaf recipes sweet recipes

go bananas over this semi-virtuous banana coconut loaf

IMG_5807IMG1231

Stumbling upon Tara of Seven Spoons’ post on baking loaves was liberating. Over the years, I’ve built up a solid repertoire of swoon-worthy desserts: chocolate mousses, kitchen sink cookies, three-layer golden birthday cakes with tufts of cream cheese frosting, and my collection of loaves and simple breads. However, I’m insanely Type-A, so the idea of deviating from a recipe gives me vertigo, so much so that I repeat recipes month after month, and even though I have the ingredients committed to memory, I still need the book.

Following an outline gives me comfort. Take that for what you will.

However, when Tara said that all loaves have a core foundation of 2 cups of flour, 2 eggs and 1/3 fat, I stood over my kitchen counter, jubilant. I had no formal recipe of which to go off; I had no instructions, and I made myself go at it alone. I’ve been talking a great deal lately about being lost, and I’m wondering if forcing yourself to experience the dark is the first step in getting through it. So in my small way, this is me finding my way to light by stumbling and falling.

So I futzed with the flours. Spelt’s a grittier flour, but I thought paired up with the creamy richness of the bananas would yield a delightful texture play. But what I love most about this loaf is that it’s not entirely too sweet. The maple syrup delivers a smokier flavor, and I feel as if I can actually TASTE the ingredients {flaxseed, coconuts, etc}.

I was going to wait to publish this tomorrow, but I’m just so DAMN TICKLED.

And will you look at that? The sun just broke through the clouds. If you’re in New York, look out your window.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup gluten-free flour {I used Cup4Cup}
1 cup spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup {Grade A}
1 tsp almond extract {you can also use vanilla or coconut extracts}
1/2 cup buttermilk {you can also use almond milk}
3 medium bananas, ripened + mashed
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Special Equipment: One 9X5 inch loaf pan

DIRECTIONS
Pre=heat the oven to 350F + grease your loaf pan {I used coconut oil or coconut oil spray, but you can use butter, naturally}. In a medium bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients {flours, baking soda, salt, flaxseed} until just combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk the coconut oil and eggs on medium-high until the mixture has combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and add in the maple syrup and almond extract. The mixture will appear like it’s curdling, don’t worry, all will be resolved when you mix in the dry ingredients.

Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the buttermilk, bananas and coconut flakes. Pour the mixture into your pan and level with an offset spatula. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to rest on a rack in the pan for 15 minutes. Carefully turn the loaf out onto a wire rack + cool completely.

IMG_5802IMG1231
IMG_5798IMG1231
IMG_5797IMG1231

cake + sweet loaf recipes sweet recipes