cherry ginger granola

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What a week. I think I’m still adjusting to working three projects simultaneously, one of which takes me to an office deep in New Jersey for three days a week. Work, coupled with long-overdue get togethers with friends, fighting with USPS over a package that decided to take a cross-country sojourn, trying to keep some sort of semblance of a workout schedule while remembering that apple cake is not a lunch solution, made having “me” time nearly impossible. When I started this freelance life two years ago, I promised myself that I would never sacrifice necessary recharge time–my health and time alone would never be sacrificed. I’m an introvert, which means that although I like people, I don’t like being around them ALL THE TIME. Sometimes, I simply crave my own company.

Come 5pm tonight, I plan on holing up in my apartment with my DVDs, snacks, this granola (!!!), and cat until Monday. You can’t even begin to understand the joys of being completely and utterly alone.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food
3 cups oats
1 cup raw almonds (I used pecans, as I didn’t have almonds on hand)
1/2 cup raw pistachios
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped crystallised ginger

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 300F/170C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the maple syrup, olive oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix thoroughly until all the dry ingredients are sticky. Spread the mixture out over the baking tray and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the granola is toasty-brown.

Remove from the oven, add the cherries and crystallised ginger and then pat down with the back of a wooden spoon to encourage clumping. Leave to cool before transferring to an airtight container to store.

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

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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

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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).

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spiced pear and coconut muffins (gluten-free)

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In between immersing myself in forty documents for a wonderful new brand project I’ve acquired and baking these perfectly fluffy muffins, I’ve been eyeing the street. It feels like Christmas in these parts, as I’ve been waiting for my new camera lens. Some people get excited by finery, but I love food, books and cameras. Recently, I purchased a 16-35mm f/2.8L ii lens so that I’d be able to shoot landscapes and skies. From the terrain in Montana to Joshua Tree to an upcoming trip to Nicaragua, I’m excited to break in my lens and take the sort of pictures of which I’ve only dreamed.

Now if UPS would only just show up while I shove these muffins in my mouth!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats, with modifications.
10 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tbsp tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup dark amber maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut cane sugar
1 tsp almond extract (you can also use vanilla, per the original recipe)
2 medium-sized Anjou pears (I used Anjou and drained the pears after I grated them)
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, cook the oil until completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oil to a clean bowl to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. While I used a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, you can do all of this by hand.

Grate the pears using a box grater, skin and all. Since I used a juicier pear, I drained the excess juice before I added the pears to the batter. Fold the grated pears into the batter.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners and, using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners with the batter about three-quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with chopped pistachios.

Bake the muffins for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

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cranberry orange loaf (gluten-free)

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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.

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raspberry + cherry granola bars (vegan)

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Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ll probably get yelled at by my nutritionist for eating (read: overdosing on) coconut peanut butter. Thankfully, I can’t veer too far into the splurge zone because all my mainstay treats are in the gluten and dairy camp (ah, the glory days of almond croissants, buttered Brooklyn bagels, pumpkin pancetta pizza and pasta pesto!). Now my binges include the occasional plate of fries, popcorn, dark chocolate covered almonds and vegan/gluten-free treats. Since I firmly believe that most bakeries in New York are run by amateurs, and the gluten/dairy-free sweets are less abundant and often unsatisfying, I’ve decided to bake my own birthday sweets because if they blow, I only have myself to blame.

Friends, these bars do not blow.

I love, love, love fruit bars. Smearing preserves on a buttery dough gives me LIFE, and although these pale in comparison to their white flour and creamed butter counterpart, the vegan option is still pretty stellar. Enough to shove a pile of candles into these bars tomorrow, and toast myself after a grueling #4daysfor30days Brooklyn BodyBurn workout.

INGREDIENTS
8 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour (I love Cup4Cup)
1 1/4 cups gluten-free rolled oats (There is still gluten in GF oats, but if you’re celiac, you can rock this recipe; if you have a sensitivity I would back off)
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
1/2 cup cherry preserves
(Makes 12 bars)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with coconut oil and line the bottom with parchment.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and coconut oil on low/medium heat. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool the sheet completely on a wire rack.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugars, salt, baking soda, and nuts. Pour in the melted butter, and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well combined.

Transfer about two thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan, forming a firmly packed layer. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the preserves over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the preserves. I love seeing a pop of blistering red poke through the topping, so don’t overdo it, as you’ll be shoveling bricks rather than bars.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. I actually put these in the fridge for an hour and then leave them out to come to room temperature because I’m that impatient. Then cut into squares. The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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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.

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coconut pecan fudgy brownies (gluten/grain-free)

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You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve been having a hard time eating sweets lately because they have so. much. sugar. Since my diet is relatively low in sugar (this is what happens when you’re eating vegetables ALL DAY LONG), baking holds less of an interest for me these days. When I first gave up gluten, dairy and yeast, I was devastated. I felt as if my identity as a baker of sweets was in jeopardy, until a good friend told me that being a baker–a creator of things–is not simply about butter, sugar and flour. I’ve been giving her words a considerable amount of thought over the past few months, and as you’ve likely noticed I’m baking less and cooking more. But I don’t mind it. I’ve been listening to my body; I bake when I have the urge for something sweet, which has been less and less these days. Sweet for me is a small bar of dark chocolate, fruit, rather than cinnamon rolls and pies.

But make no mistake. Come the holidays, I will WANT A PIE. I’ll just know that I’ll have to make it in order to maintain its nutritional integrity.

Yesterday, I was craving chocolate, specifically a brownie. I scanned the growing stack of vegan, paleo, and gluten-free cookbooks, and when I came upon this gluten + grain-free recipe, I was skeptical. I had APPLESAUCE SUBSTITUTION FLASHBACKS. Philosophically, I’ve been a believer that baked goods should been enjoyed in all their full-fat glory, and to mar that would be criminal. Yet, this recipe is certainly not devoid of fat (eh-hem butter/coconut oil) and has oceans of sweet flavor (maple syrup), so I gave it a go.

Know that I hesitated before I a sampled a brownie. I shoved the cooled bars in the fridge, considered dumping them altogether, but I HATE food waste, so I gave these a go, fully expecting burrito flavor in the guise of a brownie.

NOT SO! The brownies were fudgy, not too sweet, and delicious. They’re quite filling so you’ll likely stop at one, but color me shocked, surprised, that black beans can make a worthy grain substitute. WHO KNEW?!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, modified slightly
1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
8oz Earth Balance vegan butter or coconut oil
4 large eggs
1 cup of unsweetened cacao powder
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
sea salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tbsp vegan chocolate chips (dark chocolate is fine here, too)

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9 1/2 x 8 baking dish with coconut oil, vegan butter or coconut oil spray (I like Spectrum Organic). Set it aside. Melt the butter/oil in a pan over low/medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place the beans, eggs, cacao, salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract into the food processor. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth. Slowly add the cooled butter down the shoot and mix until completely combined. Stir in 1/2 of the pecans, coconut flakes, and vegan chips, reserving the rest for the top of the brownies.

Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, making sure the batter is evenly distributed. Add the reserve pecans, flakes and chips, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm but springy and its surface is cracked.

Leave to cool completely, 30-45 minutes before slicing. I actually put this in the fridge after 30 minutes so it can be slightly. The brownies had such a fudgy texture as a result!

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almond meal cookies with coconut + cacao nibs (gluten-free!) + the power of friendship

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The gift of girlfriends. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, how I’m privileged to have a group of women in my life who encourage me to be my truest, sometimes most awkward, self. All of my close friends have a singular trait in common: they’re strong. When you think of strong you might think of Popeye, fuerte, or image a pile of weights of incalculable size being flung into the air. The women I know are greater than the sum of their parts. Their strength isn’t about the thing they can lift, rather it’s about the way they can hold and what they can bear. They’re builders. Two of my closest friends are building a company from scratch, while another is reinventing one. Another creates single-page stories using an illustration and the words find themselves in the spaces between the lines–she writes about the tough stuff, and in a single page she can rip your beating heart out of your chest and scotch-tape it back together again. Some of my friends don’t even know their own strength. How the pace and depth of their breath doesn’t change even as the octaves of their children’s voices climb. Some are patient, some are funny, others are a little crazy (I like it that way), but when I’m with them, I’m my best self. They demand it and nourish it.

Friendships, for me, have always been tricky. For over three decades of my life, I craved the companionship of a single person. The face of this person might shift over the years: he wears a flight jacket and sings Taylor Dane (we are 12); she is Filipina and we write letters from across the country when she moves away (we are 10); she has curls that flounce and she thinks the world is about ski trips, Nautica jackets and what money can buy. We watch Heathers in an apartment that will undergo inspections and violate state health laws for all the filth. But she, she, is impeccable. She is the definition of beautiful with those pink cheeks and eyes the color of certain seas (we are teenagers); She is a lover of Pink Floyd and nudity and we run on a beach naked before I realize my body is covered in burns from the sun. She is the antithesis of me and everyone tells us this. She’s an English major who writes long letters and lies to her family and I’m a finance major who writes short stories in the dark because story-writing doesn’t make you money. She will become someone who lies, so much so she gets lost in the stories she tells and she will never forgive me for having another friend (we are in college). This friend is blonde, hails from Connecticut and has a family I’ve only read about in books. We are funny, heavy drinkers, and serious about the business of being serious. From her and her family, I learn how to become a woman (in the absence of not having a present and sane mother). From them I’m Republican for a few years. From them, I’m Christian for many. We are friends to this day and while we are no longer a pair, while politics is a subject we don’t discuss, and while she is a devoted mother and wife and I sometimes don’t know what I am, we are still close. Ours is perhaps, as I think about this now, the only friendship that has endured half my life (we are 20, we are 30, we are 38/39). Within that time though, I form an unhealthy attachment to a woman who is also a writer, also a fellow addict, also a connoisseur of the dark, also a reader of books and “the right movies,” and our friendship spans many years and ends quietly, abruptly, and the only way I can think of her now is in positive terms because although she excised me from her life (had I been a barnacle? Had we both been?) I’m grateful for much of our friendship (we are late 20s, early 30s). That friendship taught me that I don’t need one physical, breathing person constantly by my side, I need many. I need legions, teams, beautiful, strong people who may take a week to respond to my email but will run, take cabs, fly to my doorstep if I really needed them.

So thank you, S, for the gift of your leaving. I mean that kindly and sincerely because I would’ve remained with a slight variation of me. I wouldn’t have friends who challenge me, uplift me, correct me, teach me, and love me in the small, wonderful ways that they do.

I think about this today, as I bake these cookies for a dear friend, because I have 11 women in my life who are so different from one another (some of whom don’t even know any of the other 10) and from me but they all are strong. I say this because I’m nearly 39 and I don’t know if I’ve things figured out just yet. Or do things need to be figured out at all?

I ate one of my friend’s cookies and I text her this, to which she responds, I hope so. Knowing you, you probably made dozens. I retort, 20.

I know that right now that this year has been greater than the previous five. That I’m healthy, strong, writing good stuff, making mistakes and quietly learning from them, and living on less so I can see more of the world. And I have friends who calm me down when I demand a single personal statement. I need the facts and the maths and the certainty, to which many of my friends remind me that there are few certainties, and if this time, this time right now, is good, roll with that.

Roll with that…

INGREDIENTS: Slightly adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook
1 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (Sara used cacao nibs)
1/2 cup shredded toasted unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, stir together almond meal, coconut and tapioca flours, dark chocolate chips, coconut, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until it’s a pale yellow color, and it’s doubled in volume.

Whisk in the slightly cooled coconut oil and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix on low until the ingredients have just combined.

Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (the original recipe said to nix this and ALL of my cookies clung to the pan, so forget that noise) with 1-1/2 inch space in between each. Press down slightly to flatten a bit. Bake until edges begin to brown, 7-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

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almond coconut chocolate chip cookies (gluten/dairy/grain-free)

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Here’s the thing–I’ve always approached vegan desserts with reticence because most recipes prattle on about how this cookie, muffin, cake, tastes just like the sweets from your childhood, when, in fact, that vegan muffin doesn’t come close to what you’ve had before. I grew up devouring saccharine sweet Little Debbie cakes, whose ingredients were questionable at best, and I eased into adulthood baking flaky French pastries, two-tier birthday cakes, and cookies that forced you to close your eyes and weep.

You don’t understand the rage I felt when someone would suggest I substitute applesauce for butter. And please don’t even suggest it now unless you’re making an apple cake. Regardless of my gluten, dairy, yeast, and the 500 other things I can’t eat, I’m still an ardent evangelist of full-fat baking. The phrase low-fat doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, as it’s just another way of saying, let’s fill the recipe with a pile of sugar, which inevitably will convert to garbage in your liver. I still believe in baking beautifully but consuming mindfully.

Funny thing, I’ve noticed. I don’t hoover like I used to. Since my diet is heavily plant-based, I’m surprisingly satisfied with just one cookie, 2 heaping tablespoons of dairy-free pistachio ice-cream (and trust me, the coconut and cashew milk are fat enough). I enjoy a small indulgence as much as I can, and then I wrap up the goods and save them for another day, or friend.

I fell in love with the magic that mixing a few ingredients can bring, and when I was forced to shift my diet, baking initially fell out of favor. The stove, rather than the oven, became my new best friend, and I neglected the new flours and ingredients in my pantry. However, lately, I’m finding that I’ve struck a nice balance between discovering new ways of cooking cauliflower (and there are SO. MANY. WAYS.) and finding new flavors in old favorites.

Take the chocolate chip cookie. I’ve baked A MILLION COOKIES a million different ways, and I initially regarded this recipe with disdain. However, when they came out of the oven and I took my first bite, I wasn’t comparing this cookie to a buttery, semi-sweet chocolate chip one, rather, I felt as if I’d encountered something altogether new. I can’t explain it just yet, but it was a different cookie, a richer, smokier, heartier one, and if given the choice I might choose this version over what I’ve had previously because it’s not a pale-down version of the original or a variation on a single theme, rather it’s a new song, a blank page ready for this first word.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m less interested in re-creating than creating. I don’t need a slew of bad ingredients to take me closer to where I was because all it does is reminded me of what I can’t have. This cookie pushes me forward, makes me think of all new flavors I CAN have.

BANANAS, right?

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of almond butter
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups of almond meal
1/4 cup of dark or vegan chocolate chips
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend coconut oil and nut butter until combined. Add both sugars and beat for 1 minute more. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.

One by one, beat in the baking soda, baking powder, and almond meal. The dough should be slightly sticky. If your dough is dry, you can add a tablespoon of almond milk to thin it out. Fold in the chocolate chips and coconut flakes.

Using cookie scoop or spoon, scoop 1-inch balls onto prepared sheet. Leave 2-3 inches between each cookie as they spread. There is no need to flatten the dough before baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. The cookies will be soft coming out of the oven, but become chewy and crisp when they cool.

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

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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.

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blueberry buckle cake (vegan!!!)

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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.

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feather-light (vegan!) chocolate mousse

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Truth be told, I’m a little infatuated (read: addicted) to Organic Avenue’s Chocolate Mousse. Over the past few days, my travels invariably have me jetting into this uber-expensive health joint, and I’ve been seduced by the idea of a semi-virtuous sweet to take the edge off the fact that I’m on steroids, detoxing from gluten and feeling ravaged. Believe me when I say that I never, ever, want to have gluten again. It’s not worth all of this suffering. It’s not worth enduring this cruel invader who cleaves to every cell while my body retaliates with a full-blown gluten exit strategy.

Gluten, there’s the door. Thanks, bye.

While gluten is making its exit, I’ve been foggy. It’s been harder to concentrate and write, and I find myself revising posts for hours because I can’t think straight. I’m privileged to have been off work these past few days because I can’t even imagine functioning in the workplace, and if there’s one thing I CANNOT stand, it’s not being at 110%, especially when I work with people whom I respect and admire. Walking around in a daze, simply in an effort to move, I took two new business calls with major corporate clients, sent bids, sent emails, spoke to friends, and I woke at 1:30AM thinking, what did I do yesterday? How did I do it?

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have the sleep of children. One of the side effects of taking steroids is insomnia, so I paced my apartment for the great portion of the early morning hours, feeling sick, slightly faint, and I only felt slightly better when took my next round of meds.

Seriously. I can’t wait for these hives to EXIT. I can’t wait for gluten to leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, etc. I can’t wait to be talking about something else other than gluten.

Which brings me to this mousse. Bad segue, I apologize, but I’m not at 110%. While chatting with Dana this week, I revealed that I’d become smitten with the OA sweet, of which she shared that the mousse came from a recipe she’d initially developed for OA, although the finished product was a bit sweeter than she’d anticipated. Luckily, I can now make this treat at home, and not only do you not taste the avocado, you won’t even miss the fact that this is DAIRY FREE. The glory, friends. The glory.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from my food coach, Dana James, adjusted slightly (Serves 2, 260 calories per serving)
1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tbsp coconut butter (or coconut oil)
2 tbsp coconut milk
3 tbsp coconut sugar or agave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch Himalayan salt
pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
To serve – 2 tbsp coconut flakes & 1 tsp raw cacao powder

DIRECTIONS
Put all ingredients in a powerful blender such as a Vitamix and blend for 2 minutes. Add more coconut milk if pudding is too thick. I chilled my mousse in the fridge for an hour before diving in.

Serve in a mini-bowl topped with raw cacao powder and coconut flakes lightly toasted in a cast iron skillet.

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