Sunday, July 24, 2016

Finally, a decent gluten-free cupcake!

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to make desserts for my friend Felicity's wedding shower. As she and I are both trying to cut down on our gluten intake, I decided to take another run at gluten-free baking. I mean, it's not like a wedding shower is a high pressure situation, suitable for a first attempt at a new recipe, right? ;) So I decided to make a few dozen mini peach tartlets and a couple dozen carrot cupcakes -- all gluten-free. And much to my delight, both came out deliciously. Things turned out so well, that I actually am whipping up another batch of cupcakes right now, which I'll be bringing to a pool party after work tomorrow. Just a dozen this time around.

Here, for your gluten-free recipe box, is a little something I adapted from the Divas Can Cook blog. I think even the decidedly un-diva-like Bugs Bunny would approve of these....

Gluten-free Carrot Cupcakes
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes


  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or milk + a splash of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups carrots, finely shredded (I used a little over 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, finely shredded
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 TBSP butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (may need more to thicken if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. (Or if it's my not-so-great electric oven, 375F. Don't ask.)

Prep a dozen muffin tins with paper liners (or grease with a thin layer of butter, then dust with flour.)

In a large bowl beat oil, both sugars, and eggs. Set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until just combined.

Fold in shredded carrots, coconut flakes, and vanilla.

Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. (I used a 1/4 cup measure.)
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, then cool in baking pan on a wire rack on the counter.

Prepare the frosting by first creaming together the butter and cream cheese.

Add in the confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Mix until silky and creamy. Add more sugar if a thicker texture is needed.

When cupcakes, are cooled remove them from pans and frost.

Note: Unfrosted cupcakes will keep on the counter for 1-2 days, or in the fridge for a handful of days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in the freezer for a couple of months.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A recipe for venison

For years I have listened to gardeners and farmers in rural areas complain about deer eating their crops (or in the case of my ex-boyfriend's mom, their hostas). Seems people try all kinds of things, from scattering powdered wildcat urine -- I can't help but wonder what the job must be like to gather said urine -- to draping human hair around the perimeter to hanging bars of Irish Spring soap nearby, to deter the gentle but hungry ruminants.

I never had to deal with deer myself until I started working with a school garden within long-range spitting distance of Rock Creek Park this past fall. One day in mid-October, students and I planted a 3-foot by 20-foot block of kale seedlings; the next day half of them were chomped down to about 2 inches above the soil. Now, that's just rude. A mass planting of garlic around the perimeter of the single long garden bed seemed to help, but I didn't want to take chances with the other half of my crop so I invested in a few rolls of deer netting. (Really, though, they should call it human netting, since more often than not students and I got ourselves tangled in it during the harvesting process.)

I've just worked with volunteers to build and plant a few more garden beds at the school, but without a protective garlic border around each of the 8 new beds I fear I might need to do something to supplement the deer netting loosely covering the tender young veggies growing in them. Perhaps I should prominently post a recipe for venison stew... and get it translated into deerspeak?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A german feast!

I was sad to have my friend Tinka head home to Munich earlier today, after our fun week of biking and dancing and exploring the city together and feasting. What a special treat it was to have my friend here for her birthday, when we cooked up a feast based on some recipes from the Bavarian cookbook she kindly brought me. (Seems I'm not the only one who gives other people gifts on their own birthday.)

Last weekend as we perused the farmers market, the two of us picked up fixin's to make chicken schnitzel and spaetzle. And of course since I had an extra sherpa with me at market, I went a little crazy again with the produce acquisition... which is funny, since my fridge was already stuffed with homebrew, and produce from both of my school gardens, as well as about 6 pounds of rhubarb from my landlady, but luckily I am an excellent fridge packer. Anyway, when Wednesday evening rolled around we got to work on a proper German meal, paying no mind to the fact that I was woefully underprepared for proper German cooking. How do I not yet own a spaetzle press?? At least I had a solid tenderizer:

Each of us playing to her strengths, Tinka took care of the chicken pounding and cheesy spaetzle making, while I got cracking on some veggies to make sure we didn't die of heart attacks right at the end of the meal.

It was SO delicious. But the highlight of the cooking was perhaps earlier that day, with our improbably successful German rhubarb cake, which we baked and then enjoyed with a few cocktails midday for a birthday "lunch." (I think the last time I counted drinks and dessert as a meal was some time during my senior year of college. Though at that time I didn't need a 2 1/2 hour nap right afterwards.) I say improbable because, dear readers, the recipe was the most bizarre thing I had ever read, and having never tasted -- nor even seen -- a rhubarb cake in my life, I had no idea if my interpretation of the less-than-clear directions would even come to an edible conclusion. Clearly it did, as less than half of the 10" pastry remained after lunch:

If you want to try making it yourself, here's the recipe we found online for the rhubarb topping and for the base. (Forget the meringue layer -- it's way too humid to mess with it these days.) Beware, though, as my landlady tried to recreate it twice to no avail. Let's just say the instructions are not up to the stereotypical German standards of precision. I'm thinking I need to head to Bavaria sometime soon to research this recipe further....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Herbal first aid

I have always been fascinated by idea that plants have medicinal properties. The power of plants to affect us, positively or negatively, to heal us, to alter our perception of reality, is something I've been ruminating about more than usual, having just finished reading Michael Pollan's brilliant Botany of Desire during my flight back from California last week. And wouldn't you know it, mere days after my return my friend and local herbalist, Tricia*, sent an email advertising her class on herbal first-aid remedies. A class on identifying and local plants to alleviate common maladies? Sign me up!

Actually, I signed myself up as well as my dear friend Tinka, who is visiting from Germany for the week. As usual, it was both enjoyable and informative -- Tricia's such a great teacher. During the first segment of the class, we learned how to identify, cultivate, and take advantage of the basic medicinal properties of some culinary herbs as well as plants often considered weeds (like wild plantain, no relation to the banana). Talk about practical: Tinka immediately chewed up a couple of plantain leaves to create a "spit poultice" that immediately reduced the irritation from some recently acquired mosquito bites. The technical term for this property is anti-pruritic, which means it stops things from itching. And two days later, when I found myself with a scratchy throat, chocking down a mug of freshly boiled oregano tea knocked whatever was breeding in my respiratory system RIGHT out of there. (It is quite an intense concoction, with 1 cup of hot water to 1 packed teaspoon of fresh oregano leaves. Not a remedy for the faint of heart. Or rather, the faint of tastebuds.) It turns out that both oregano and thyme are not only delicious but also naturally antibacterial. We also learned about the medicinal uses of plants that were vulnerary (heal tissue damage), anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling), and anti-microbial (kill germs). Suddenly I felt like a shaman-in-training. Well, without the drums or animal bones.

After Tricia talked the group through harvesting and storing everything from thyme and yarrow branches to comfrey and chamomile flowers, we headed into the fire station for some hands-on work making infused oils, salves, and balms. (What's that? Oh yes, I should mention that the class took place at one of the local firehouses, which partners with a cool local nonprofit called Everybody Grows. Two guys from the EG team manage the on-site demonstration garden out front, and were as excited as I was to learn more cool things to do with the stuff growing out there.) Together, we proceeded to make a batch of calendula-infused olive oil. Tricia explained that it needed to steep for anywhere from 4 hours (in a warm water bath) to 2 weeks (in a hot car -- no, really), so she did a TV-style quick change and whipped out a second jar of already steeped calendula oil.

We used the herbalist's medieval torture-style mini press to extract as much infused oil from the soaked flowers, stirred in some natural beeswax, and warmed the viscous mixture. The result was now considered a salve. We removed it from the heat and added a few drops of lavender essential oil. What we had now was a balm, which Tricia carefully poured into cute little tins that we labeled and brought home.

Pretty awesome, no? I can't wait for Tricia's next class....

(*You may remember reading about Tricia in an earlier post on making homemade bitters. I learn so much from this lady! Incidentally, a blogpost on other cocktail-related bitters I've been concocting since then is currently under development...)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You may be a food educator if...

1. You regularly ride public transit with a backpack overstuffed with garden produce.

2. You end up having a lengthy conversation with the woman behind the counter at the liquor store about her favorite way to cook leafy greens. (What? I was buying some supplies to make more bitters!)

3. You proudly show strangers photos of your seedlings on your phone.

4. You take photos of amusing food-related things while on vacation.

5. You save your old laundry detergent bottles to make watering cans. These are especially handy since nobody wants to steal 'em.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Only in Berkeley can you find a brassica-themed Vanilla Ice reference. Oy. This town is too hip for me....

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The (incr)edible schoolyard

Welcome to Day 1 of my week-long California adventure. This morning found me back at Alice Waters' original Edible Schoolyard project. It was amazing to revisit this most beautiful and extensive school garden, tucked away in Berkeley. Having worked in the field for nearly six years since Ollie and I passed through here on our cross-country bike tour, I was even more impressed than I was the first time around. Imagine that!

I picked up my visitor's badge in the school's main office a bit after 11am, then wandered out to the garden to poke around. When I asked them a couple of questions about their interaction with the green space, two middle school girls hanging out at the garden's long picnic table proceeded to give me one of the best garden tours I've ever had. After tasting some delicate yellow raspberries growing near the entrance, the girls walked me past the espaliered apple orchard and excitedly told me about pressing the fruit into cider the previous autumn. We strolled past the in-ground beds of swiss chard and brassicas, with a stop to admire the gorgeous dahlias (my new favorites) as we made our way to see the chickens cavorting around the straw fort students had helped to construct in the far corner of the outdoor space. We continued on to the chicken coop to check for eggs, admired the orderly tools around the shed, and then explored the greenhouse, where I examined the remnants of last week's seedling sale on tables that students had built.

My impromptu guides led me next to the bee hive, apologizing that the usual veil and gloves were not around for me to borrow so I could take a closer peek. (Yes, kids are invited to check out the honeybees on their own. Pretty awesome!) After that, we meandered to the school-built outdoor prep tables and stone pizza oven, where eighth graders annually prepare and bake their own pizzas. The young people have become much more involved in garden work and construction than seemed to be the case during my last time through, and they sure are proud of this... as they should be!

As if I wasn't enamored enough, my teenage guides led me next through a tunnel of grape, kiwi berry, and passion fruit vines. "Certainly more prolific than my own school garden's vining fruit," I muttered, mostly to myself. California weather and four garden teachers certainly help things thrive around here. Still: impressive. We ended our loop back near the entrance, where I admired the outdoor worm bins and rustic kitchen setup.

With a friendly wave, my guides were off to class, and I was left wondering if one of my own gardens might be as impressive one day. Something to ponder during lunch tomorrow at Chez Panisse with my friend (and kind local host) Colin....