glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

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At the height of my hoarding, I owned 300 cookbooks. I stacked them wherever there was room, wherever I could find space, until last year when I started letting them go, one by one, and I now I’m down to 50. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer be consumed by the things you own, to not be tethered to clutter. Now when think about acquiring something new, I ask myself: Do I need this? Do I love this? Can I live without this? Would I be willing to pay to move this? Life suddenly holds a considerable amount of clarity and my home a lot more space.

Over the past year, I’ve been cooking from a fixed amount of books because I’ve had to relearn how to eat without gluten or dairy. I couldn’t be tempted by the pages of pasta recipes or dishes smothered in cheese, rather I had to force myself to explore new flavors and foods. As a result, I’ve realized that abundance exists when you live within constraints. I’ve lived seven months without gluten and dairy, and with the exception of an occasional pizza and bread basket craving, I’ve managed to do the unthinkable–live without pasta.

Yet, I miss some of my old mainstays. While going through another book edit, I found myself poring over the tomes I used to cook from and love, and I discovered this incredible chocolate pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson. With a few simple adjustments, I managed to make this work for my diet, and I cannot tell you how much you won’t even miss the butter and white flour. I made this dessert for a dear friend last night and it was a success! She didn’t even notice I used vegan butter!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nigella Express, modified.
For the pudding:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup soft vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup gluten-free flour
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

For the glaze:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp vegan butter
2 2.1-oz Butterfinger bars, broken shards (I nixed this)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler. Once it’s melted, sit the bowl on a cold surface so that the chocolate cools.

Preferably in a freestanding mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and moussey, then gently fold in the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and then divide among 8 ramekins or custard cups. Put in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, get on with the glaze by melting the chocolate and butter in a microwave (or double boiler), then whisk to form a smooth glossy mixture and spoon this over the cooked puddings.

Decorate with Butterfinger rubble: you can just put the bars in a freezer bag, set to with a rolling pin, and strew over the top. I nixed this as I don’t eat processed candy bars, but rock it out if this is your bag. However, you can top this with candied ginger or honeycomb–that would be divine juxtaposed with the bitter chocolate.

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the best gluten-free meatballs you’ll ever make (no, seriously)

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Today I spent the afternoon with an old, sweet friend, chowing, catching up, and thumbing through stacks of books at BookCourt. You have to know that I tried to resist, I went on about the stacks of books towering ominously in my living room, however, I broke down and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Jenna has impeccable taste in books, and she’s one of the few friends whose recommendations will make me buy books sight unseen–her appreciation for language and story are that great.

Over lunch we talked about food, marveling over the thin, crispy latkes dipped in sundried tomato aioli we ordered and the power of shared meals. Eating is a primal act, and the idea that we can share our most base need with someone else means something. Jenna and I are the kind of people who will pen sonnets over the food that we’re eating as we’re eating it. So when I told her about the shift I made this year–from stone-cold carb addict to veggie lover, from someone who checked out while eating to someone who plates their food and savors every bite–she was intrigued. And while she completely understood my need for nourishment and self-care, she wondered aloud if I’d missed anything from the old days.

Sometimes, I said, I ache for bread. Oh, for the love of god, BREAD. I miss pressing my face up against the oven window and watching the dough crisp and rise. I miss tearing into a hot loaf with cold hands and watching the cream butter melt into the crevices. And while I no longer crave cheese, cream, pasta or anything gluten (and I make a point to not simply replace gluten with its non-gluten counterparts because that’s sort of not the point in getting healthy)–I’ll pause in front of a bakery and think about boules and baguettes.

Have I mentioned that gluten is in EVERYTHING? I can’t have meatballs out anymore because they’re normally mixed bread crumbs or panko. So I’m forced to make them at home. And while that may sound laborious and inconvenient, there’s something thrilling about discovery abundance within limitation. I love these meatballs, which are rendered tender and moist due to the inclusion of sundried tomatoes and eggs. I’m bringing a pot of these with some pasta to a friend’s house tonight, and I hope she (and the kids) love them just as much as I do.

And yes, the first time I’m allowed to have gluten again I will be having bread.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, room temperature
1/2 pound ground sausage, room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, minced
1 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1/2 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
1 lb of pasta (gluten-free or regular) pasta

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients (from beef to the black pepper) until just combined. Do not overmix. You can get 20-25 meatballs out of this mixture, depending upon how large you like your balls. Yeah, I realize I just typed that.

In a large roasting pan or two baking dishes, add the meatballs and the crushed tomato sauce + pureed tomatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes.

While the meatballs are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Add the pasta to the meatball + sauce mixture, and toss to coat. Serve immediately with fresh parsley!

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chickpea pancakes with leeks + squash (gluten-free + insanely delicious)

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When I think about diets, resolutions, and Hallmark holidays devoted to spending a day appreciating the ones we love, I think about time. We have twenty-four hours to celebrate the anniversary of a beloved; come February, we’ll lament abandoning the resolution we made so valiantly on the eve of the new year; we’ll white-knuckle and calorie-count until the day we surrender to a box of cookies because it’s Monday and the world owes us.

Diets, resolutions and single-day holidays are all predicated on finite time, on a defined beginning and end. We’ll be abundant with our love today, yet tomorrow we’ll resume our pleasant amiability and tender wheedling because we are the wheedling kind. We’ll compose our list, traits of the kind of people we want to be, but we always end up an inch from where we started and then we regard our skin as something like an ill-fitted costume we grow tired of wearing. We wanted that new body, that new love, that new life, but we retreat back to ourselves, defeated, think, I guess this is all I’ll ever be. We’ll pale down to bone because the world tells us about the dichotomy of maths–the more you disappear, the more you are visible, coveted. And the guilt you feel when you wave the white flag over a cookie, a warm buttered bagel, or a slice of blackout cake, that guilt whispers that you don’t deserve those single-day holidays. You don’t deserve all this love.

I have to tell you that I abhor diets, resolutions and anniversaries. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a single day in November on which we’re supposed to be thankful. Rather, why not work to love and live with abundance every day. Instead of creating silly lists, why not absolve to create something new–big or small–every day? In that act of creation is change. Why not do something selfless without the expectation of anything in return. Why not wake each morning and say, out loud, I love you to yourself and your beloveds. Why not arrive at every meal and regard it as nourishment and fuel rather than a war you wage with flatware? How about we forget about calories as that’s an archaic measurement of health and well-being and focus on putting real food on our body? How about we consider how we feel in our body and our heart rather than whether a pair of pants fit. I’ve been a negative integer. Those pants used to always fit and often hang, and I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t happy. My heart was filled with greed, anger, and want. There could always be more. I could always be less.

I say, fuck diets, fuck resolutions, fuck singular days of economic devotion. Love and live mindfully and abundant every single day of your life. It’s hard to be present. It’s hard to stay the course. But you might wake one day, over the course of your journey, and realize that this deliberate choice you’ve made, being present for the infinite, is the best choice you’ve ever made.

I used to be angry that I couldn’t have gluten or dairy. I used to want to take the easy way out and consume gluten-free versions of all my favorite carbs. But how would I have ever discovered abundance amidst confinement? Would I have ever bothered making these vegetable pancakes when it would’ve been easier to make pesto pasta? Would I have felt a sense of pride over making something healthy and delicious, or continued on with living an uncomfortably comfortable life?

Fuck comfortable. Be present. Eat all the chickpeas.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
6 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
½ tsp kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated peeled squash (such as butternut or kabocha)
1 large egg
¾ cup chickpea flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup plain yogurt (I nixed this as I can’t have dairy)
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Optional: I served this on a bed for spinach (2 cups per person) + 3 figs divided (per person)

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high. Add leek, season with kosher salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened and starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Add squash and season again. Cook, stirring often, until squash is cooked through and softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate and let cool. Wipe out skillet and reserve.

Meanwhile, whisk egg, chickpea flour, baking powder, 1 Tbsp. oil, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and ½ cup water in a medium bowl; season with pepper and let sit 5 minutes for flour to hydrate. Stir vegetables into batter just to coat.

Heat 1½ Tbsp. oil in reserved skillet over medium-high. Add batter by the ¼-cupful to make 4 pancakes, gently flattening to about ¼” thick. Batter should spread easily—if it doesn’t, thin with a little water. Cook until bottoms are lightly browned and bubbles form on top, about 4 minutes. Use a spatula to carefully flip pancakes over and cook until browned and cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with a sheet of foil to keep warm. Repeat with another 1½ Tbsp. oil and remaining batter. Serve pancakes topped with yogurt, parsley, sea salt, and pepper.

Do Ahead: Leek and squash can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Batter can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill.

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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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creamy tomato basil pasta (vegan/gluten-free…I know, but it’s really good)

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You should know that I used to be addicted to pasta. As someone who used to drink men under the table, under the floorboards, I know a bit about compulsion, about the need to feel anesthetized. To be here, but not really, and you know how it is. It got to a point where I went through several boxes of pasta a week. I’d have a pesto pasta for lunch and gnocchi for dinner, and I’d only post a photo of a kale salad or green smoothie, but you know all about that faux Insta life–it’s proliferated all over the internet to a point where one could call it a disease.

When my doctor and nutritionist broke the news, that even after these nine months of living gluten-free I can never eat like I had before, I was practically catatonic. I kept asking how did this happen? How did I allow myself to get to this place? How had I substituted a glass of red wine for a seemingly demure plate of cacio e pepe? Had I been asleep for the bulk of my waking life to only wake to a smack in the face? When I learned that I could only have gluten OR dairy once a week, that pasta would soon be relegated to an occasion meal, it took a while to accept this. It took a good two weeks to overcome my withdrawal from gluten.

Even now, even when there are so many terrific gluten-free pasta options (I found Bioitalia while I was in Spain and I’m hooked), I have to be careful. Because I’m swapping out gluten for rice, potato and other starches, which are fine in moderation but don’t for a healthy, balanced diet make. And I’ve got this thing for developing unhealthy attachments to specific foods (Exhibits A, B, C: pasta, avocados, chickpeas–all of which required individually-deployed fatwas). So know that when I post a pasta recipe it better be a DAMN GOOD ONE because I can’t have it for another week or two.

You should know that cashew/almond cream is the best thing to have entered my life since Cup4Cup flour. The combination yields the creamy texture and taste of heavy cream without the bloat and the sickening full feeling that invariably happens when you feast on any dairy-rich dish.

Trust me on this.

Part of me wishes I’d never found this recipe because now I have leftovers in the fridge that I can’t touch until the end of the week. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE GLUTEN STRUGGLE? It’s real, friends. Real.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, with modifications
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews (soaked for 2 hours, or overnight)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
9 ounces uncooked gluten-free pasta (basically 3/4 of a package)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, drained (I use San Marzano)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 handfuls baby kale
1 cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Start by soaking the cashews. Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse. Blitz the nuts and almond milk in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy (approximately 1 minute). Set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions on package.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add tomatoes and kale and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.

Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the sauce. Add the reserve pasta water, and stir to combine well, cooking for a few minutes until heated through.

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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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my food journey (weeks 8-9) chowing gluten + dairy free in spain (a lamentation)

Restaurante Campanario Granada
If you love (and I mean, LOVE) fresh bread, red wine, cured sausage, seafood and cheese, you will hole up in your AirBNB apartment in Spain and never leave. You will slice into your chorizo and lap up all the spice and grease happily with a chunk of warm bread. You will worship at the altar of the mollusk and you will eat cheese into the gloaming. Or until you pass out, whichever comes first.

However, if you don’t drink, can’t consume gluten or dairy for fear of a full-body hive blitzkrieg, and the idea of fondling a crustacean gives you vertigo, Spain can be challenging. While I was away I didn’t bother with a food diary because you people didn’t even want to know the amount of sausage and patatas bravas I managed to Dyson in one sitting. You don’t want to know that my meals were a rinse, lather, repeat, because everything, everything, contains gluten. That fried eggplant with drizzled honey? Flash-fried with flour. Ah, that’s why I broke out in hives! The salad that I thought would satiate arrives on a childlike plate, and the greens are actually nearly white because cruciferous greens are not as abundant in Spain. While it was easy to stockpile food in Barcelona (and La Boqueria provided ample offerings in terms of vegetables), Granada was a real challenge. I’m sure eating gluten + dairy free can be done, however, it requires research and preparation. You can’t just walk around, fancy-free, without analyzing the menu, without alerting your server that you have an allergy to gluten and dairy, and inquiring, este tiene gluten?

Because EVERYTHING CONTAINS GLUTEN.

The other day I was reading Twitter and a woman upbraided a group of women who inquired whether there was gluten in a dip. The woman tweeted about rolling her eyes, and perhaps a few months ago I would have done the same, however, now I know what it’s like (unfortunately so) to treat every meal like it’s a miniature inquisition because gluten isn’t just about BREAD, it’s a thickener, a binder; gluten delivers perfect texture and heft to a sauce, marinade or dip. Plus, it’s cheaper. And while wheat processing in the EU is markedly different than the Food, Inc. of the U.S. (wheat in the EU is a smaller protein, less abrasive to your system), it still creates an inflammation for someone like me who can’t chow down on roasted bread slathered with Spanish olive oil and crushed tomato (a breakfast staple in Spain, one which made me weep with all my bread-adoring envy). Gluten is in soy sauces, ketchups, beef stocks, off-the-shelf salad dressings, even in gluten-free rolled oats, and you’ve got to be a food-label sleuth in ensuring that your meal won’t make you sick to the point where you feel as if your appendix might burst, which is how I used to feel when I overdosed on gluten and dairy on the regular.

Lucky for me, I love pork, most vegetables, potatoes and rice, but after two weeks of a restricted diet, I started to actually crave vegetables. Since veg constitutes about 80% of my daily diet, I actually ached for cruciferous greens. I didn’t want pasta or pizza or bread–I actually desired brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s this:

1. Do your research: Before you leave, make a list of restaurants that specialize in gf/df or vegan/vegetarian food. I didn’t do this in advance and I’m a moron because of it. Even though I can’t have gluten or dairy for another seven months, for the rest of my life I have to be cognizant of my intake. I can’t ever go back to how I used to eat, so I’ve decided to make my life easier and live gluten/df 95% of the time. Going forward, I’m making it a point to consult travel magazines, blogs, WIKI pages and other resources so I have a handful of restaurants/food markets that will keep me sane during my trip. Next month I’m going to Thailand, and while everything thinks that this is easy, breezy, I have two words in response: soy sauce.

2. Rent an AirBNB, if you can: Having the ability to make breakfast (eggs every day, friends!) and dinner in an apartment saved a lot on my budget and gave me some sanity in terms of meal balance. Most supermarkets in the EU will show items that are gluten-free or dairy-free, which is awesome. Food shopping was a cinch, and I found that nut milks were pretty abundant in Spain. In advance of my trip, I asked my hosts if they could provide me with a blender so I can make my morning smoothies and protein shakes to offset the egg situation.

3. Learn how to talk about your allergies in the country in which you plan to visit: My Spanish is pretty decent, but I made sure that I learned how to correctly address my allergies in the Spanish. Most countries in the EU know about food allergies, although I didn’t even bother saying that I have a sensitivity, which would create a host of confusing questions. When in doubt, I went extreme and said I had celiac because most people in the food industry know what that means. Not only did I explain my situation up-front, but I asked about the ingredients (and how the meal is prepared) in my dish, even if I didn’t think they had gluten or dairy based on the description. I mean, do those eggplant slices look like they touched flour? Clearly I was wrong, assumed that they were safe, and paid for it in hives later than evening. Thank god I’m not celiac.

4. Bring back-up snacks: While I fervently believe that you should always eat local food, I’m finding that it’s easier to bring a bunch of bars and pre-made snacks, especially when traveling to smaller airports. I know it doesn’t seem right, but I need to plan for everything.

Now I’m back, chowing on all the veg a woman can get her hands on, and I have exciting news to report: my itch is nearly GONE and I’m at the twenty-pound weight loss mark. I couldn’t be more thrilled, humbled and excited for this marked shift in the way that I eat.

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Restaurante Campanario Granada
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my food journey: week 6: living a gluten + dairy free life is sometimes a crate of bananas

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STOP THIS SHIT, my friend Amber shouts over chat, after I write that I’m considering renewing Sakara Life for another week. I’m not a millionaire, a supermodel, or someone who is trapped in a cage that is an office, rather I’m proudly indebted to Sallie Mae, a consultant on the hustle, a writer who is praying to varying statues and cats that someone will publish my novel, a deft cook, and someone who’s maybe a little scared (maybe lazy) to invent meals on my own.

Let me tell you what it’s like to be Felicia (an addict, a lover of routine) living a gluten + dairy free life. IT IS VEXING, OFTEN A CRATE OF BANANAS.

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Friends who know me well know that when I immerse myself in something, I go deep. I dig, burrow and settle in the innards of the thing I’m trying to uncover. In that way I’m able to wrest the fear away from the thing that’s nebulous–in this case, it’s living a radically different lifestyle when it comes to food. Actually, scratch that. I’m living a radically difficult lifestyle, period. End of sentence. So I spent the past two weeks ordering over a dozen gluten-free books, medical books about my GI tract (sexy, isn’t it?), and essays from other women who’ve had food sensitivity issues. And while I’ve put on the gluten + dairy free outfit from time to time, I always knew that I could inch my way back to a bowl of pasta.

There is no inching, no crawling, no groveling back to a bowl of spaghetti, rather there’s a life filled with discovery. There’s a life of adopting new habits but not getting stuck in them. It’s a life of feeling okay with sitting temporarily in discomfort. It’s a life of being mindful about my body, inside and out. This means plating my lunch in the office and sitting down to a table and eating it, rather than shoveling food down my throat in ten seconds while I refresh Twitter. It’s a life of redlining contracts controlling how many hours I work so I don’t fall into the trap of stress. It’s a life where I tell people, that, yes, I’m free tomorrow, but it’s time for me. It’s a life where I haul three huge boxes of food into the street and find the strength to rebuild my kitchen, the way I eat, my life.

So while I was eating these extraordinary, million-dollar meals from Sakara, and re-training my body to cover 80% of my plate with vegetables, I thumbed through these gluten-free books and wanted to hurl them against the wall. Because guess what comprised 90% of the recipes?

FUCKING DAIRY.

And we’re not talking about a simple swap-out of non-dairy milk (almond/coconut) and butter (Earth Balance/coconut oil), but these are recipes that I’d have to gut-renovate. We’re talking cheese, yoghurts, sour creams, creams, and creams, goddamn it, as the foundation of the recipes in terms of binding and flavoring/thickening agents. In short, I’d have to create and test all new recipes, and who has time for that? In Gluten is My Bitch, the author talks about how the market for gluten-free and vegan is HUGE, however, there’s this small, niche market for folks like me, who can’t eat dairy, gluten, sweet potatoes, turkey, bananas, lemons, and yeast, that my only option is vegan + adding back the meats + poultry I love.

This weekend, you’ll find me in the kitchen trying to figure it all out. If you have any vegan cookbooks in the vein of the meals you see here (I mean, Sakara is like eating the rainbow! I got so excited to eat VEGETABLES. Crazy, right?!), PLEASE, PLEASE, DROP THEM IN THE COMMENTS.

Next week I’m back to seeing Dana, and I have to say that I’m really seeing results. I snapped this bad photo while at Brooklyn Body Burn this week, and I can SEE the change, and more importantly, I feel so good, it’s unbelievable.

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gluten-free | health-conscious book gear

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Whenever I feel lost, I come back to books. Books have this arcane way of setting the world to rights, of being the salve for all that hurts. As a writer, I make sense of the world through prose; prose helps me navigate loss, love, and the ocean of emotions that fall in between. Books have the propensity to rebuild worlds we previously thought were ruinous, and I always come away from a book with a sense of hope. For me, books are always the answer. Always.

Last week I mourned the kind of life that had a stronghold on me. Habits that were at turns comforting and destructive, and after the dust settled and the anger subsided, I spent the greater part of the weekend immersed in books trying to make sense of the hows and the whys and trying to architect a new space I can occupy–a life lived mindfully. Below are a few of the books I’ve combed through, and over the course of the coming months I’ll share other writers and tomes that inspire me to nourish and rebuild.

After I had a minor rage blackout in my nutritionist’s office last week (in response to my laundry list of food sensitivities), she handed me her good friend Nadya Andreeva’s, book, Happy Belly: A Woman’s guide to feeling vibrant, light, and balanced. On the train ride up to Rhinebeck, I learned about proper food combinations, an individual food’s path to digestion (DYK that larger pieces of beef can take up to eight hours to leave your body?), that the less you chew, the more you make your digestive system work in overtime, and, as a result, fermentation starts to occur since food is in your system longer than it should be? Fermentation = yeast = bloat = digestive issues = heartbreak = I miss bread. I MEAN.

Nadya’s book explained all the complicated science quite simply, and the Ayurvedic philosophy, of which most of the book is based, really resonated with me. I’ve been exploring self-care and deep listening lately, and while it may sound bizarre to you, listening to myself chew my food has made a complete difference in the way I come to a meal.

However, I was also angry, which you would expect when you tell a woman she can no longer have pizza, bread, turkey, sweet potatoes, pasta and did I mention, BREAD? I needed humor, anger and some sentitmental education, and April Peveteaux’s breezy, hilarious, yet informative, memoir, Gluten is my Bitch, was just the ticket. I discovered April’s book will typing in certain expletives + gluten in Google search, and I’m glad I did. A celiac, April breaks down the science of our suffering, while at the same time making me laugh through the pain. She also presents a lot of great recipes and some optimism with regard to science and celiac.

When I was done punching walls and kicking pillows around the apartment, I settled into Cara Reed’s Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking: Delicious, Gluten-, Egg- and Dairy-Free Treats and Sweets. Thumbing through the recipes, I saw a lot of my beloveds (coffee cakes, chocolate cakes, crackers and chocolate chip cookies) made without gluten and dairy, and let me tell you this: A WOMAN FELT HOPE. I plan to bake from this book over the next few weeks, but I already thoroughly loved the coffee cake muffins I baked this weekend.

After foraging through my agent’s expansive garden in Rhinebeck, he handed me this lovely book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer by Annette Ramke + Kendall Scott. While my condition is nowhere nearly as serious as cancer, I found a lot of their mindful healthy eating tips smart, and their vegetarian recipes (most of which are gluten-free!) inspiring. Their approach is holistic and self-nourishing, and I’ve already bookmarked a lot of dishes I plan on making.

I’ve had many extensive conversations with my nutritionist about Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook, and let’s just say that while Dana likes the idea in concept, she’s not a fan of the execution, as well as many of the high-fat recipes. While I agree, I did find Sarah’s book an eye-opening read. Quite simply, it made me aware of just how much sugar we consume, and the fact that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Look at your labels. Take the total number of carbohydrates, subtract the dietary fiber, and divide that number by 4.2. You’ve just discovered how many TEASPOONS of sugar are in your meal, and how easy it is for us to get addicted to something for which we weren’t built (from an evolutionary standpoint) to regulate. Just for the knowledge alone, this book is worth the purchase, and I did find many of the recipes, rather than the program, to be wonderful, in moderation.

Finally, one of the best acquisitions I made this year was Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season. I’ve already bought four books for holiday gifting, and if this book doesn’t inspire you to eat well, I don’t know what will. Kimberley offers up incredible seasonal fare, inventive recipes, and I’ve made her fritters more times than I’d like to share.

If you’ve discovered books that have inspired your food journey, please let me know!! You guys have been so awesome with the recommendations, and I have tons of new apps I’ve downloaded and bloggers I’m now following, as a result!