Gluten Free Carrot Cake Recipe

The thing I hate most about gluten-free baking is that every recipe seems to call for way too many ingredients.  In my baking, as with my cooking, I prefer to keep it simple.  I like recipes that I can prepare with things I have laying around my house, or at the very least, things I will use again.  Gluten free baking seems to depend on a number of different starches and flours, and if I had a bag full of every kind of flour I’ve read about in recipes…well, I’d have a pantry full of bags.

IMG_1533

The amazing baker, with her cakes, at Life Grocery-Cafe. Whether you are gluten-free, vegan, or just looking for a healthy alternative, I highly recommend you check this place out!!

The inspiration for this recipe comes from the amazing quinoa-based cakes at Life Grocery in Marietta, GA.  Their cakes are incredibly moist (not easy to do in gluten-free baking), sweet but not too sweet, and best of all, are made with quinoa, which is a complete protein.   Unfortunately, these cakes are about 20 minutes away from my house, and it’s a rainy-lazy day…so I decided to give it a whirl and make my own.  I didn’t have big hopes of creating a cake that begins to match the awesomeness of Life’s carrot cake, and to be honest I really wanted to see what I could do with just the ingredients I have at the house.  It would be blasphemy to suggest that (cough) my cake was better than Life Grocery’s (IMPOSSIBLE!), but…it was good in a different way.  A little more moist.  Just saying.

I’m sure there are scientific reasons why gluten-free recipes usually require a blend of multiple flours, but I don’t think baking or cooking should be that complicated.   I will say, however, that in my own baking I have discovered that brown rice flour used by itself yields a product that basically just tastes like brown rice—same with oat flour, quinoa flour, almond meal, etc.   So, I made flour out of equal parts of three grains—oat, brown rice, and quinoa—and added a little xantham gum for good luck.  And it totally worked.

carrotcake

So here it is, the recipe!  As you read down the ingredients list, imagine me scouring my fridge for potential ingredients—because that’s exactly what I did.  For instance, pineapple.  Um…you see, I had an extra little fruit cup leftover from my daughter’s snack stash—she decided she hated pineapple after she’d eaten five of them.  So I figured I’d use it now or end up throwing it away one day…and I’m glad I did!  My advice is to not go out and buy a bunch of apples or pineapple just because I used them—look around your kitchen to see what you can throw in!  Zucchini, banana, pumpkin, and squash would all be good choices.

  • ½ cup dry oats (be careful to use gluten-free oats, or omit and use coconut instead)
  • ½ cup dry brown rice
  • ½ cup dry quinoa
  • 1 teaspoon xantham gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • cinnamon
  • pumpkin pie spice (I was out of nutmeg….)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 small green apple, grated
  • ½ cup crushed pineapple
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine oil and brown sugar and mix until smooth; whisk in eggs.  Add fruits to sugar mixture, and then stir into dry mixture.  Bake in greased cake pan at 350 for 45 minutes, or until fork inserted into the middle comes out clean.  I covered with tinfoil for the second half of the baking time. Top with cream cheese frosting.

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Embracing In-Betweenness

As many have noticed (and have gracefully pointed out), I have been slowing down on my blog in these past couple of months.  I have been in the process of finishing up my Master’s thesis, which I successfully defended at the beginning of this month.  If you would have asked me a few months ago what I thought of my thesis, I’d have told you that it was the worst thing I have ever written and I just wanted it to be over with.  In fact, on the day I defended I knew I hadn’t said all of the things I really wanted to say; luckily, my amazing committee knew this and gave me a chance to get it all out there. To date, my thesis defense was the BEST experience of my academic career, and I could not be more proud of the finished product that is taking shape as a result.

What I do when I'm not blogging or in the gym...

What I do when I’m not blogging or in the gym…

And what is this thesis about?  Short answer: bodybuilding.  My stuffy elevator pitch involves such keywords as gender, transgression, subversion, normativity, categories, femininity, masculinity, and opposing binaries.  But really, my thesis is about in-betweenness.  Stuckness.  That feeling of never quite fitting, despite pressure to fit.  Sound familiar? You don’t have to be a fitness competitor to understand this theme.

My research points out that, no matter how hard we try, we will never fit neatly into a category.  But we already knew this, right?  The question we are left with, however, is what to do with all of the people who don’t fit.  As the sport of bodybuilding demonstrates, but which happens all the time, the tendency is to simply create new categories.  But what do we get when we make new categories?  New spaces between categories.  The more categories we come up with, the more gutter space we create.  My research zooms in on these gutter spaces, examining how they can be useful to the people who inhabit them.

My daughter defines a rainbow as being a perfect mix of sun and rain.  In-betweenness at its best!

My daughter defines a rainbow as “a perfect mix of sun and rain.” In-betweenness at its best!

In the sport of bodybuilding, we navigate these in-between spaces constantly—it can mean being too big for Figure but too small for Women’s Bodybuilding, or having a perfect physique but not having the right hairstyle (really!).  For my non-bodybuilding friends out there, however, we can look at much more practical examples.  How many of you find that jeans never fit your waist and your butt at the same time?  Or that you are healthy and fit but still not thin?  Or very thin but not fit?  Has anyone noticed the pressure to be thin and fit, but also a social drinker/eater?  Or that to be successful in sports, women must un-learn how to be ladylike?  We are surrounded by labels, categories, classifications, and contradicting expectations—and we can never fit perfectly.

The way I see it, we have two choices: we can live in the pursuit of molding ourselves to fit a category, or we stand firmly in the gutter.  Which you choose depends on how hard you want to fight, and what you consider “winning.”  Some people go to unhealthy extremes to be thin, just to look good in a picture.  Bikini competitors often get breast implants because it will help them win a trophy.  They can have that.  Personally, I suggest we willfully inhabit the gutter!  Embrace not fitting.  By doing so—by remaining in the gutter space ON PURPOSE—we face frustrations, but we don’t sell ourselves out for a trophy, or a compliment, or some other meaningless recognition.  We stick it to the man.  We own that gutter.

I am learning to love being muscular and feminine at the same time.  I love embodying multiple dualisms (translation: being two opposites at once): feminine and strong, physical and intellectual,  small and big.  It makes me feel sneaky…

Embrace your in-betweenness!

Speaking of things that are in-between, this recipe for pumpkin pie is perfectly situated between “sweet” and “healthy.”  That is, it satisfies the sweet tooth and is a healthier alternative to traditional recipes.  I am especially happy about the quinoa flour, which was an excellent way to increase the protein content.   And, best of all, it passes the kid-test!

Filling:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup splenda
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • cinnamon

Crust:

  • ½ c oat flour
  • ½ c quinoa flour
  • ½ c oats
  • ¼  cup honey
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • pinch of salt

For crust:

Mix dry ingredients in bowl; stir in honey, oil, and milk.  Mix well with a fork or your fingers, until the mixture begins to stick together.  Press into a greased pie pan.  Bake for 10 minutes at 350.

To make the pie:

Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Add to pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cover with foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Great Greens!

As some of you may recall, last fall and winter I took a hiatus from meat.  In fact, my whole family did this with me.  We did this for two reasons: first, we didn’t feel good about the ethics or sustainability of the meat we were buying, and second, we saw it as an opportunity to re-learn how to prioritize vegetables.  We realized that we would plan a meal around what carb source and meat we wanted, and then the vegetables would be thrown on sometimes and other times left off completely.  We became interested in more ethical and sustainable food sources in general, and this led us to our local farmers market and eventually to a close relationship with one or two local farms.

If you’re interested in my homemade pasta, check out my recipes.

 

If you missed those early posts and want to go back to where I started, you can READ MY OLD POSTS HERE.  You’ll find some of my first recipes and experiments with package-free eating.

 

 

 

Our break from meat forced us to look for other sources of protein (like lentils!), and our weekly trips to the farmers market forced us to get creative with vegetables we had never even heard of but which were in season.  During this time we also gave up all packaged foods in attempt to understand why and how pre-packaged foods became so popular and necessasry.  I learned to make tortillas, pasta, bread, sauces, and a number of other staples that I had always assumed must be bought in the store.

Since then we have identified the products we’d rather buy than make ourselves, and we have returned to eating meat, but the lessons learned during that time have forever changed how we approach food and make meal choices.  It also brought us closer together as a family, and my daughter officially became our team member, willing to take on adventures with us.  Buying foods like pasta and breads is a much different experience now that I know we aren’t dependent on someone else to make them.  And there are still some foods, such as sauces, that I will probably never buy pre-packaged again.

Contest prep diets never tasted so good!

Now that I am back to competing it is a whole new experience now that I have had time to re-prioritize the role that vegetables play in my diet.  I am currently on a very low carb nutrition plan (I don’t recommend this normally, but I’m 5 weeks out of a competition) and not feeling anywhere near as hungry and miserable as I did in the past at this time.  I now eat copious amounts of kale and ENJOY it, where before I would just choke down some spinach as an afterthought.  Where before I’d eat 4 ounces of chicken and some veggies on the side, now I see my meal as a full plate of delicious kale with a little bit of chicken to go with it.  Totally new outlook on the same macronutrients.

I have also benefited greatly from the green smoothies I learned to make from my CSA share.   Each week I get a large basket full of more veggies than I know what to do with!  A simple solution is to make either a sauce or a smoothie out of them.  What does anyone do with two pounds of cucumbers, knowing that in a week they’ll get two more?!  For me, kale and cucumber pair very well with some diet Sprite for a delicious and easy to make green drink that not only satisfies my taste buds, but also adds nutritional benefit to my life and takes advantage of the bountiful harvest from my local farm.

 

So now for some recipes and ideas!

Sauteed Kale:

I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, whose kale sautee tasted like candy to my low carb taste buds!  I enjoyed hers so much more than my own that I asked her to walk me through EXACTLY how she made hers.  Somehow just the smallest differences made a huge difference in taste!
2 bunches raw kale, chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
½ cup apple cider vinegar (ok, who am I kidding…just dump some in!)
1 cup of water
1 or two cloves of garlic, minced
1tbsp veggie boullion
3 tsp sweetener (I use stevia)

 

Add chopped onion to lightly greased pan; cook until onions are transluscent.  Add kale, water, boullion, and cider.  Cover just long enough to allow the kale to shrink up.  Uncover and stir; add garlic and sweetener.  Cook on medium heat with lid on until stems are soft.  The amount of time this takes depends on your kale—some takes as little as 20 minutes, but I’ve gotten batches that took 40 minutes.

Green smoothie (makes two)

Honestly, you can just make this with whatever you have handy.  You can’t mess it up, but it’s important to balance the bitterness of the greens with something sweet like carrots, cucumbers, apples, etc.  Sometimes I leave out the apple when I can’t have the extra sugars, and it tastes just fine!

1 whole cucumber  
2 whole carrots
1 whole apple
¼ lemon (with peel!)
1 or 2 cups of greens—any will do!  Romaine lettuce, turnip greens, kale…whatever you have on hand
1 tsp stevia, sugar, honey, etc
water or diet soda such as sprite or fresca

Add all ingredients to blender; blend until smooth.People often ask me what kind of blender I use for these, and to be honest I use whatever cheap blender I bought on sale at Target two years ago!  This blender has been through hell with me but continues to make good smoothies.  I won’t tell you that sometimes I don’t have to chew the pulp a little, but since I don’t know how smooth a Vitamix or other expensive blender would get it, I’ll just continue to chew my pulp happily.  J

Conclusions From a Work in Progress

Someone asked me the other day how my project is going and whether or not I will continue to eat this way.  At first I thought this was a very odd question.  My first thought was, eating what way?  And my second thought was, why wouldn’t I?  Over the past month, however, it has dawned on me how odd some people find it that we don’t eat processed foods.  So many of us sit on opposite sides of the Hamburger Helper aisle, though we really aren’t so far apart.  I guess that’s the point of this blog, though, isn’t it?

You can make this without the preservatives! This doesn't save time or money!

 

This awesome casserole took the same amount of time and money that it would take to make HH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also occurred to me that this started as an experiment of sorts, which implies that at some point I should reach a conclusion.  Instead, I have found that it’s been a series of experiments and adventures with a series of conclusions and revisions.  This is an evolving work in progress–I’m not done yet nor do I see an end in sight.  However, I have found answers to some of my initial questions.

  1. Can I sustain my family solely on local produce?

Short answer, no.

Long answer: I’m sure it can be done, and I look forward to coming closer to that as a

Does it get any cuter than a kid washing kale with total glee?

long-term goal.  But for the athletic needs of my family, we need more protein than what we can find at the farmer’s market.  We have supplemented with beans and grains, which we have not as of yet been able to find locally.  Also, as winter crept in it became increasingly difficult to buy local produce.  We hope to be better at it next year!

 

  1. Will my family benefit from a totally vegetarian lifestyle?

Short answer, no.

Long answer:  While we are still largely (95%) meat-free, we haven’t felt much of a difference in our life without meat.  If anything, we have recently begun to notice that our diet has not been well-suited to promote recovery from our workouts.  We are slowly incorporating small amounts of chicken into our diets, though we fully intend to maintain an emphasis on local produce and whole grains.  We are slowly using up the chicken in our freezer, and have taken steps to buy it locally through a CSA.

  1. Can I live without coffee and other forms of caffeine?

My how I missed it...

Short answer, yes.

However, the question I should have asked is whether or not there is any practical reason to.  After six weeks, I did not feel any different without coffee. I think of coffee as a warm cup of comfort, and I genuinely just like it.  In its absence, I did not notice any difference in my endurance, nor did my sleep pattern change much if any.  So while it was nice to know that I could break the habit, I simply could not find any good reason to continue living without it.  So I’m now enjoying my two cups a day.

  1. Can I sustain my family without store-bought baked goods?

YES!

I have had no difficulty taking the time every Sunday to bake bread for the week.  In

When you can pull these out of your oven, why would you want to ever buy them again!?

addition, I have found that it is extremely easy to whip up a focaccia, Hawaiian rolls, or French loaf as needed.  Once I got over the initial fear that it would be too difficult, I started to gain confidence.  Now I can bake several different breads, rolls, and biscuits totally from memory without looking at the recipe.  I will not be giving up my homemade bread!

 

  1. Is the processed, store-bought version of anything actually worth buying?

Short answer: Not really.

…But…There is one thing that I will admit is much more convenient in the store-bought version: minced garlic.  I admit it.  A spoonful of minced garlic from the little glass jar is so much freaking easier than peeling and chopping those little stinky garlic cloves.

...My guilty secret.

Otherwise, most “convenience” foods aren’t really that much more convenient, in my opinion.  Sauces, pastas, breads, grains, and beans are all things I’d rather make from scratch.

Today’s recipe is an adaptation of cherries jubilee using cranberries.  Yum! 

 2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
juice of one orange
orange zest (optional but highly recommended!)
1/2 cup water

 Bring water and orange juice to a boil.  Stir in sugar to dissolve; add cinnamon, orange zest, and cranberries.  Return to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about a half hour or until cranberries are soft but most still maintain their shape.  Cool slightly and serve warm over vanilla ice cream.

Birthday Suits and Energy Balls

Today I’m going to unwrap the body.  My body.  Maybe your body.  At the risk of offending some, alienating others, disappointing a few, and uplifting at least one person, I’m gonna go there.

My thinking face...who wouldn't want to do this full time one day?

I’ve been pretty intensely engaged in body theory for the past several months.  The kinds of questions asked in this realm of theory include, how do we think of our bodies?  How do we experience our bodies?  What is the significance of the lived body?  The question I am most concerned with, however, involves the notion of the mind-body split: that is, does the body exist separately from the mind, and which is the “real” self?  I can—and do—take these questions in long circles, usually ending up right where I started.  But that’s the beauty annoyance of theory…

And I know you’re wondering why the hell anyone would spend time on this.  What’s the point, what will I do with it, and how can it be applied?  And don’t worry, I ask myself these questions all the time.  Actually, I look forward to joining the work force and engaging in theory as a hobby.  Maybe one day I’ll go back to thinking full-time.

So then.  Where do I start here?  I’ll start with a question for you to consider: Do you ever feel a disconnect between the  “real” you and the way you are perceived?  Come on, EVER?  Alright, I’ll go first: somehow I have come to be seen as some kind of ideal fit body.  I have abs.  I am often read as “pretty.”  And this annoys the ever-living hell out of me.  That is not who I am!  See there? A disconnect between how I am seen on the outside, and the bookish, nerdy self I love on the inside.  Mind-body split in action, baby.

Outside...

 

 

Inside...lol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s focus only on the body for a moment.  Any discrepancies there?  Don’t most of us dress in a way that at least attempts to flatter our perceived good qualities and hide the things we don’t like about ourselves?  The guy sitting beside me here in the coffee shop has no idea how many times in the past ten minutes I’ve had to adjust my jeans to avoid muffin top.  (Just between you and me, I’m paranoid about this.  Don’t lie, you have your own quirks! )  The woman across the room eyeing me for imperfections (the longer she looks, the better I’m doing, no?) has no idea I’m hiding a huge abdominal scar from childbirth.  Bet she’d leave me alone if she knew!  And let’s be honest ladies, how much time have many of us spent in our lives trying to alter the appearance of our breasts with push-up bras, binders, and strategic necklines?  Because our bodies as they are simply will not do—our public images are very different than our bathtime images.  Or at least, mine is.  You don’t have to admit to yours.  😉

I’ve been reading an interesting book on body shame, and I’ve been considering how I feel about my own body and whether or not I suffer with shame.  And of course I do.  I’ve been thinking about how far I go to hide the things I don’t like.  How aware I am of the way I’m perceived, and how guilty I feel for “tricking” everyone.  (I mean really, push-up bras clearly have a job to do…)  And how much of a hypocrite I feel for being all, “ra ra ra feelgoodaboutyourbody” on my blog while I still cry over scars and stretch marks in the privacy of my bathroom.

Interesting read of the week

….And sometimes my car, but I digress…

And why on earth would I make this available to an unlimited number of strangers on the internet?  Good question.  I’ll probably regret this later.  BUT I’m an idealist and I believe in the general good of the universe and our obligation to uplift each other.  But I’m writing this because I am more than aware of the difference between the way I appear to others and the way I look in the unforgiving fluorescent overhead light of my bathroom.  Or, unforgettably, in the light of the dressing room at Dick’s Sporting Goods (don’t try on clothes there.  Just trust me).

I’m sharing this because I can do a lot more good by unwrapping my body for the encouragement of others than I can by hiding it and feeling silently sorry for myself and wondering if any “perfect” people out there feel the same way I do.  How many other moms, fitness aside, have cried, “oh no I’ll never wear a bikini again…”?  And while most of us recover, the loneliness of feeling like the only one with flaws is much more difficult to recover from.  So…honk if you have a feature you go out of your way to hide or flatter, or if you feel the pressure of a body secret that you’d rather not everyone knew.
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Today’s recipe is for my homemade energy balls:

2 cups whole oats
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
3/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup almond slivers
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
3/4 cup chopped dates

1 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup honey

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl and set aside.  Melt peanut butter and honey in a sauce pan, stirring constantly until it becomes a runny liquid.  Pour liquid over dry ingredients and stir until all dry ingredients are well-coated.  Form into one-inch balls and set onto cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate until balls harden (I refrigerate mine over night).

 

 

One Meal for Meatless Monday…and Wednesday and Friday

These recipes won't drive you to drink--they'll free up your time and your budget for some good wine! 🙂

Today, I’m especially excited about what I’ve been cooking lately.  As a result of some of the feedback I’ve been getting from readers, I’ve been trying extra hard to focus on recipes that are budget friendly, quick, and convenient.  As an added bonus, I spent this week experimenting with recipes that not only utilize basic staples that I keep in my kitchen, but which also incorporate many of the odds-and-ends produce that might otherwise go to waste.  How many times have you found yourself with one leftover limp carrot, or avoided purchasing zucchini because you’re not sure what to do with it?

So my week saver has been the most amazing vegetable chili EVER, used in three different dishes.  Chili is fun because you can pretty much put anything in it, you can’t mess it up, and making a lot at one time is no more difficult than making a little.  I made a huge batch and divided it in half so that I could freeze some for another time.  So not only did I save myself tons of time this week, but I also have a quick fix backup meal for some week in the future when I get too busy to cook.

Found this on a bag at a boutique...

For the record, this post is making me feel the painful sting of identity crisis.  When on earth did I become the Betty Crocker mom?  Geez I’m almost embarrassed.  But, in order to live the lifestyle that I value, it takes practice, commitment, and preparation.  So please refrain from laughing at me!

So here’s the recipe for the chili that I prepared this week, which serves as the base for three different meals that I will be sharing.  Tip: Most dried beans require pre-soaking, and to be honest I put off chili for a week because I couldn’t remember to soak them before I went to bed!  So finally I bit the bullet and decided to try soaking them in the morning; I covered them with water at about 7 a.m. and let them soak until about 3 p.m.  You could use canned beans if necessary.  You could use any vegetables, but the ones I chose were just what I had laying around this week.

 6 cups of beans, soaked overnight (I chose 4 cups of black beans and 2 cups of garbanzo beans because that’s just what I had in my kitchen.  I would have used pintos if I’d have had them).
2 zucchinis
4 large carrots
5 tomatoes
3 green bell peppers
1 stalk of celery
4 ears of corn, corn removed from cobb (frozen corn would work too)

 3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
several turns of freshly ground pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
a dash of cinnamon (damn, my secret’s out now…) 

A couple of tips:   To make the vegetable chopping process quick and easy, and to placate children who may not welcome chunky vegetables, put all of the vegetables into a food processor!  Minimal mess, minimal fuss, and you get all of the benefits of the vegetables with none of the textures that can be off-putting to children (and picky adults….).

 

Put half in the freezer for later!

This also helps cut some time off of the preparation later: there’s no way Mike will be able to make my chili without me, but that didn’t stop him from helping me.  When I set the beans to soak in the morning, I also stored all of my chopped veggies in a plastic dish in the refrigerator, with spices and seasonings, so that later he could add them to the pot of beans for me while I was absent.

So now it’s time to cook.  You have a bowl of veggies and spices, and a big container of beans…add them together in a big pot, add ¼ cup of olive oil and only about one cup of water (the vegetables will reduce), and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, with the lid on, for at least an hour.  Cooking time depends on you: If you can’t get around to starting it until an hour before dinner, then that’s fine.  If you have a wiling helper or if you find time in the early afternoon, then you can let it cook a little longer.  There is seriously no way to mess this up!

________________________________________________________________

Now for the fun part: 3 easy meals, all with chili, and all kid-friendly (I hated chili when I was a kid!)

1) Chili, homestyle with cornbread
2) Chili Boatatoes
3) Tortilla pie

 Meal #1, pretty self-explanatory.  But, here’s my recipe for the accompanying cornbread:

 1cup flour
1cup cornmeal
1/4cup sugar
2tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1cup milk
¼ cup oil
1 egg

Mix dry ingredients in bowl; add milk, oil, and eggs and mix with fork until blended.  Pour into greased pan or muffin cups; bake at 400 for 20 minutes.  Cornbread is done when top is golden brown and a fork inserted into center comes out clean.  If you’re making muffins, check after ten minutes, as cooking time will be less.

Meal # 2: Chili Boatatoes!
Bake large baking potatoes in oven, 425 for about 30-45 minutes.  When potatoes are done, roll them on a clean, flat surface to mush up the insides.  Cut a slit longways down the middle of the potato, and push ends toward the middle to open it up a little.  Top with chili and cheddar cheese and add sour cream if desired.  Isabella calls  them chili boats.

Meal #3: Tortilla pie! 

This dish gets its name because it’s my homemade version of Frito pie.  It was my favorite football game fare when I was a kid, so I knew my daughter would love this spin on a classic kid-friendly meal.

Starting with my homemade corn tortillas, I cut them up into strips and pan-fry the

This one was Mike's...he likes his cheese!

strips until they are extra crispy and golden brown.  Then I top the strips with chili and cheddar cheese.  Simple but amazing.

I have listed the recipe before, but here it is just in case—and it is super easy!  For this meal I cut the recipe in half.

 1 cup corn flour
¾  cup water
1tsp salt

Mix ingredients to form a dough; divide into six golf-sized balls.  Press each ball flat between two sheets of wax paper; you can either use a tortilla press or a rolling pin.  For round tortillas, I recommend the press!  But for this recipe, the shape really doesn’t matter because we’re just going to cut them into thin strips anyway!

Fry each flattened tortilla in an ungreased pan for about a minute on each side.  When all tortillas are done, use a knife to slice them into long, thin strips.  Return to greased pan and fry until strips are golden brown and crunchy.  Top with chili and cheese.

Sustaining Sustainability in Winter, Apple Crisp

 

Just as I (and many of you) expected, winter has thrown a big wrench in my sustainable food project.  I spent much of the fall season hoping to pull together a plan for the winter.  I asked farmers what they do, but even most of them rely on the grocery store!  I asked around at “local” farmers markets, but I couldn’t find any answers there either.  By the end of November, I realized that I had started this project too late in the season to actually make it work the way I had hoped it might.  This, I think, is where many people would jump right off the wagon.  And I admit, I had to really struggle to stay on myself.  But this has given me a great opportunity to stop and re-assess my goals.  I can’t save the world in a month.  This won’t work if I try to take on everything at once.  So what does my priority list look like?

At the start of this whole thing, I had three major goals, and within these goals are some basic no-nos that in my household go completely without saying, such as NO FAST FOOD.

–To reassess my outlook on “health” and create a new culture of health in my family
–to eliminate my reliance on all pre-packaged or processed foods
–to  get as close to the food source as possible.

I think I can adapt to the winter without entirely giving up on these goals.  I have tried as hard as I possibly can to rely on local produce, but as winter moves in it has become nearly impossible.  So we can either starve, or I can admit that some priorities have to come before others.  For instance, in the absence of the farmers market and until I find a better option, I will be buying my produce from Whole Foods, since the labels clearly indicate where everything is from and almost everything local is organic.  Because local produce is limited, I buy whatever I can, even if it’s not as appetizing as some of the foreign produce.  Hmmm…local kale or spinach from Peru?  I then branch out to the things that are regional, such as sweet potatoes from Mississippi.  And lastly, I fill in holes with a few domestic extras, such as organic celery from California and organic carrots from Florida.  I still question the sustainability and ethics of shopping at Whole Foods, as I recognize that there is still the issue of mass production, shipping, labor, and the issues of privilege and access surrounding Whole Foods pricing in general.

I recognize that my entire approach is questionable, but at the end of the day my health and intentionality are what’s important to me.  I have talked to a lot of people who’ve told me that they’re inspired by my blog and by the adventure my household has undertaken, but I’m watching them get discouraged and fall back into old bad habits at the first sign of trouble.  I know it’s tough.  I get it.  But my best advice is to pick three things that are extremely important to you and stick to them no matter what.

How lean is this cuisine? Try making it yourself and know for sure!

This brings me to another point.  There is a moral panic over obesity in America.  And rightfully so, perhaps.  But we are clearly pointing our fingers at the wrong culprit.  Heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses are taking a huge hold in the United States, largely due to high-fat, high-sugar, and high-sodium processed foods.  In our attempt to fix American obesity, we’ve created unhealthy, damaging dietary “solutions” (artificial sweeteners, “healthy” TV dinners, and “healthy” fast food alternatives), and have created a culture of body hatred.   Just as alarming as the obesity rate is the huge emphasis and pressure to be fit.  Which really means thin.  And I might argue that in some ways this is just as dangerous.

In adults and adolescents alike, food guilt and body consciousness manifest in some interesting ways, but the one that most concerns me is the number of people I know who do not feel bad about their bodies but instead feel bad because they think they should feel bad about their bodies.  So let me get this straight: you like yourself, but you feel like you shouldn’t…doesn’t anyone see a problem with this?  I can name several of my friends who fall into this, though I’m sure they’d be terribly upset if they saw their kids demonstrate it.

I have seen kids menus at several restaurants that now have calorie counts!  I do not want

Choosing the best of several poor options is not the same as a healthy meal.

my child counting her calories at age 6!  There has got to be a better way to teach her about  healthy choices without instilling food guilt as a family value.  I have gone out of my way to keep her out of the reach of my strict bodybuilding dieting for several years now by teaching her about moderation, but apparently food obsession has gone mainstream in a very gross way.

Ultimately, my goal is to explore another option.  To create a household that openly discusses the body and health on non-aesthetic terms.  To create a food environment that does not provoke guilt, but which emphasizes the importance of food in terms of where it comes from, why we need it, and how we can enjoy it.  To maintain a household culture that promotes fitness in its many forms, from biking and hiking to gymnastics and martial arts.

Today’s recipe: Apple Crisp
This recipe is a fantastically simple, crustless alternative to apple pie, and not even the biggest fans of apple pie will be disappointed!

How ya like them apples?! (Couldn't resist)

 

Apple mixture:

6 apples, peeled and diced (I leave the peels on unless I’m sharing it with others who may not like the peel)
juice from ½ orange
½ cup sugar
½ cup chopped cranberries (optional but highly recommended!)

Crumble topping:
2 cups whole oats
¾ cup brown sugar
½ stick of butter (softened but not melted)
½ cup of flour

In a mixing bowl, quickly combine brown sugar, flour, and butter into a crumbly mixture that resembles gravel or wet sand; use a fork to prevent butter from melting.  quickly mix in oats and set this mixture aside.

In a large mixing bowl, toss apples and cranberries in orange juice; sprinkle with sugar and toss lightly to coat.  Transfer apple/cranberry mixture into greased baking dish and cover evenly with crumble topping, pressing gently.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until apple mixture bubble slightly at the sides.  Serve with homemade whipped cream (optional).

 

 

Have Your Pie and Eat it Too…in Moderation.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and that makes it the official start of the Holiday Season.  And, as everyone loves to point out, it also signals the start of a long series of holiday feasts.  Why is everyone so quick to complain about the holiday calories, and yet so quick to eat them?  It’s a sad cycle that is certainly not conducive to healthy self-esteem: you hate that you’re going to eat, you eat, you hate that you ate, and then you make a New Year’s resolution to lose the weight.  Couldn’t we just skip a few steps and worry a lot less?  There’s nothing worse than to see this anxiety play out as someone heaps mashed potatoes and gravy onto her plate at the table.  Eat it or don’t, but please do everyone a service and shut up about it!

…So this brings me to my super-cheesy holiday challenge: can’t we all just indulge a little bit?  Eat the Christmas cookie, and maybe even two—but then walk away.  Indulge in that piece of pie (maybe even two…) after the big Thanksgiving meal, but be content not to eat the rest of the pie.  Can you do it?  Even further—can you do it without agonizing about what you ate or about the rest of the pie that you didn’t eat?  Can you indulge (a little), enjoy, and then walk away?  What’s the worst that could happen?  Some might say that the worst thing that could happen is to gain a few pounds.  I say the worst that could happen is to go into self-hatred mode.  I’ve been there—it’s much easier to lose five pounds than it is to feel good about yourself after feeling like you’ve broken rules that don’t even exist.

This holiday season, don’t treat food as an enemy.  Don’t hate your body over a pound gained.  Don’t lose faith in your self-discipline over a piece of pie.  The way I see it, we all have three choices: We can eat our pie in peace, we can peacefully choose not to eat the pie, or we can stress the hell out about whether or not to eat it.

If this blog post finds you at a place in your life in which you cannot exercise control, then what I would like for you to take from this is a new perspective.  Consider setting a goal that is not measured in terms of weight; instead, make it your goal to learn how to enjoy food in moderation.  If you are currently on a nutrition plan that is conducive to a goal that you feel good about, then please talk to your trainer/nutritionist before making any changes.  However, if you struggle with food and your body and want peace in your life, then start now by making changes to your approach!

Today’s recipe:  Hawaiian rolls!

2 packets of yeast
2 tsp honey
½ cup water
1 cup pineapple juice
¾ cup sugar
1tbsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 stick of butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
6 cups flour

Heat water and add honey; stir in yeast to dissolve.  Set this mixture aside until the yeast blooms, about ten minutes.   Mix in the juice, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and butter (all ingredients but the flour).  Slowly add the flour, about a cup at a time, until a dough is formed.  Turn out onto floured countertop, and knead a few times.  Do not over-knead this dough.  Form into a ball and return to bowl; cover with damp towel.  Allow dough to rise in a warm place for about an hour.   After dough has risen, punch it down to deflate it.  Turn the dough out onto lightly floured countertop, and roll into a long loaf (think French loaf in size and shape).  Cut into 12 equal slices, and roll each section into a ball.  Place the dough balls into a well-greased rectangular glass baking dish, and bake for 35 minutes at 350.  Cool for five minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Serve with cinnamon butter!

 

 

 

Food Guilt, [Mis]conceptions, and Kale Casserole!


Is it possible for our bodies to just…be?  It seems like we tend to think of our bodies in terms of how they look or what they should be or aren’t doing.  Losing  or gaining weight.  Not losing or not  gaining weight.  Too short, too tall.  Too big, too small.  We tend to think of our bodies as vessels that must be forced into cooperation, beaten into submission, and occasionally over-indulged for a job well done.

This carries over into our [mis]conceptions of food.  We see food as a means to an end—“bad” food makes us fat and guilty, “good” food makes us lose weight and feel good.  But why can’t a cookie just be a cookie sometimes?  Why eat it if you’re going to complain about how guilty you feel afterward?  I have been there, but I’m happy to report that I no longer am.  This is one thing that bodybuilding both complicated and cured for me. 

During a contest prep diet, I allowed myself a Saturday cheat meal; the idea was that I’d eat a “clean” (read: strict!!!!!) diet all week, and then enjoy a meal that did not fit the diet plan.  What I took from this strategy, and what I was able to teach my daughter, is that no food is truly off-limits, if eaten in moderation.  (Oddly, however, I find that I naturally draw the line at some things.) However, my food guilt kicked in on my off-season when I wasn’t dieting, and I soon found myself in an all-or-nothing mode.  The only time I didn’t feel food guilt was when I was dieting.  The rest of the time, even when I knew I was absolutely not supposed to be dieting, I hated myself for all of my “not-clean” foods.  And how healthy is that?  So for me, the goal has been to move beyond that to reach a point where food is just food.

 I have dieted down to single digit body fat.  Twice.   And I will always be comfortable with the knowledge that I completely own my ability to lose weight if I want to.  I have survived the post-contest rebound.  I have lived through periods of bulking (in which I deliberately attempted to gain weight by eating a LOT).  But the true challenge is to do neither.  To simply live—with no food anxieties.  To eat when I’m hungry, and not eat when I’m not hungry.  To enjoy a cupcake from time to time, but to remain conscious of macronutrients when making meal choices.

Some of you may be wondering what this looks like.  For starters, I have rejected the notion that the healthy body can be measured aesthetically.  Perhaps I am perceived to be healthier at 10% bodyfat than I do at 18%, but in truth I’m much healthier when I am not dieting.  This goes a long way to help me make decisions about food.  Instead of choking down mass-produced chicken in the name of protein, and pumping myself full of caffeine to get through the day after rigorous workouts, I am listening to my body and realizing that my adrenal glands are pissed at me and my digestive system prefers to be meat-free.

Not single digit body fat, but soooo much healthier!

On an everyday level, I know how to balance meals.  Even without meat, I still can’t ignore the importance of balancing macronutrients—this means making sure that I am getting a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.  Granted, my macronutrient balance looks a little bit different than it used to, but I am still making sure to get enough protein throughout my day.  And I really don’t have to think about it very hard—it’s become second nature.  So at the end of the week, when I have maintained a balance all week, if I want a cookie I will enjoy one without a second thought and certainly without guilt.  Not because “I’ve been good all week and am now entitled,” which is what I hear people say far too often, but because I feel like having a damn cookie.

Today’s recipe was born out of necessity—upon searching my kitchen for ingredients, I realized that the only local produce I was able to purchase this week was a basket of sweet potatoes, several peppers, and a lot of kale.  So I decided to experiment with a casserole, and it actually went REALLY well!  With one leftover white potato and a few other ingredients I had laying around, I found a great use for kale!

Ingredients:
Kale (several bunches)
One sweet potato (mandolin sliced thinly)
One white potato (mandolin sliced thinly)
4tbsp Olive oil
2 tbsp flour
½ cup Vegetable broth
¾ cup Milk
1 tsp tarragon
salt
pepper
½ cup cheddar cheese

In large pot, heat broth and 2tbsp of the oil; add kale and sautee until kale cooks down.  Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes.  Drain kale in colander; while kale drains, heat remaining oil in the pot the kale was in.  Sprinkle in the flour while whisking to form a roux; slowly whisk in milk and bring to a boil.  Add tarragon, salt, and pepper.  Reduce heat and add kale; stir to coat, remove from heat.

In large greased casserole dish, form a layer of potatoes using roughly half of them.  Spread kale mixture over the layer of potatoes and top with half of the cheese.  Form another layer using the remainder of the potatoes and top with remaining cheese.

Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes, or when potatoes are soft.  The time will vary depending on the thickness of the potato slices.

“Mommy, Are We Ever Going to Have NORMAL Pizza?”

When is someone going to call me out over the fact that I’m bringing a six year old into this whole big sustainable eating project?  Surely someone is reading this blog and thinking, “yeah right, there’s no WAY my kid would eat that.”  And it wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s not an issue in my household as well.   I struggle a bit, but not always in the way that I might have expected.  First, I have to say that I have a child with an extremely adventurous spirit—I guess I can chalk it up to the fact that she was born in Turkey and has had more transatlantic flight time than most adults I know!  She’s my road-trip buddy, my vacation friend, and my partner in all things fun and mischievous.  So of course she was down with mommy’s food adventure!  My struggle, however, is to create balance for her so that she doesn’t miss out on “kid foods” and end up with a complex about junk food as a result of a deprived childhood.  Restated: I don’t want to be the crazy hippie mom who screwed up her kid.

I’m by no means qualified to write articles about making coordinating holiday curtains and napkin rings, or turning vegetables into kid-friendly dinosaur shapes.  I don’t arrange zucchini into flowers, or make food into smiley faces on her plate. I didn’t even do the airplane spoon!  These things really aren’t my thing.  My approach is a little more straightforward.  I don’t offer an alternate meal at dinner—I’m more of a “this is what we’re eating” kind of mom.  So how do I get her to eat?

For the most part she is excited to eat what I cook because she’s involved in some way now.  She helps me carry vegetables at the farmers market, and then helps me wash them when we get home.  Later, when it’s time to eat kale or turnips, she feels connected to them and can’t wait to know what they taste like.  She especially loves turnips because they usually have dirt on them.

This is definitely one way to do it...(Borrowed from cutefoodsforkids.com)

The best way, in my opinion, to get my daughter to eat what I cook is to make her feel included—not just in the preparation process, but in the adventure in general.  In my household, trying new things and being open-minded is right up there with the Golden Rule.  She is not praised or rewarded for eating everything I cooked and mindlessly doing what was expected of her—she is praised for her willingness to try something new.  I don’t expect her to eat an entire bowl of curried lentil stew, but I do expect her to try a small portion of it.  When we run into something that she genuinely doesn’t like, I adjust her meal so that it’s fair to her, and without sending the message that I’m willing to cook her an entirely separate meal.

Sometimes I have to get a little creative.  Not cutesy Halloween sandwich creative, but a little outside-the-box nonetheless.  For instance, squash doesn’t sound so great to a kid, so from the time she was about two years old I just convinced her it was pumpkin.  Very similar, but eating the jack-o-lantern was much more appealing to a kid than eating something that sounds like it may have come to an unfortunate end before reaching the dinner table.  And eggplant?  Who in their right mind would want to eat something squishy that has egg in it?  I can’t blame her.  But what’s in a name?  In my house we refer to it as “that really pretty purple vegetable.”  This concept works for many, many things.   And with especially strange-looking foods, I help things out by mentioning that it’s so-and-so’s favorite.  She hasn’t yet figured out that her grandmother and aunt have an impossibly long list of “favorite” foods…

But recently, she asked for “normal pizza,” and I realized that despite her adventurous spirit, maybe not everything I’m doing is entirely fair to her.  So I will be making a few compromises.  First, I have started making a big deal about home made Sunday brunch—and she gets to choose what we make.  Also, once a week I let her order a personal pizza from a local pizza place.  I want her to know that she is not entirely helpless and that I hear her concerns.  The kid eats kale, lentils, and quinoa (along with pasta and other kid-friendly home made meals), so I’m happy to compromise.  It’s not my job to shelter her and make all of her decisions—it’s my responsibility to guide her and educate her so that later she can decide how she feels about Pizza Hut.

Today’s recipe is one of Isabella’s favorites, and this recipe for black beans can be made into at least four different meals: tacos, chili, soup, and with rice.  This is also ideal for the convenience factor because if you make a huge batch, you can either freeze the leftovers or repurpose them the next day.   There is absolutely no way to mess this up unless the beans are undercooked!

Basic Black Beans:

If you’re feeling a little extra fun, you could always use my recipe in conjunction with this creepy festive idea! (photo found at http://familyfun.go.com/halloween/halloween-recipes/halloween-snacks/black-bean-cat-crudites-688201/)

2 Cups black beans
4 cups water
corn (you can use frozen, but fresh off the cobb tastes the best!
zucchini, diced (optional)
carrot, diced
chili powder (2tsp)
cumin  (1tsp)
onion powder (1/2 tsp)
2 cloves pressed garlic
salt (to taste)
cayenne pepper (optional)

Soak the beans overnight; I let mine soak in the crock pot.  Drain and rinse, add more water.  If you don’t remember to presoak, you can quick boil them (boil ten minutes, drain, add enough water to cover, then continue to the next step).

Add all of the remaining ingredients, with the exception of the corn and zucchini.  Let cook in crock pot for at least three hours.  If you start them in the morning and plan to eat them for dinner, then cover and cook on low.  If you have less time, cover and cook on high.  Watch to be sure that the water has not cooked out; add water as needed.

Add zucchini and corn 20 minutes before serving.

When I serve these over rice, I prefer them to be a little more watery.  In tacos, I let the water cook out.  For chili, I cook them with crushed tomatoes and serve with cheddar cheese.  For soup, I add a few potatoes and whatever greens (chopped) I have lying around.