Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sanity Challenge Check-In

So it's been just over two weeks since I accepted Cheryl Harris' "Sanity Challenge."  As a quick refresher, the challenge was to write about specific goals that we could set for ourselves to make the holidays "happier, healthier, and more sane."  Always the overachiever, I chose just one goal: to set aside 15 minutes each day to read something that is not on a computer screen.  And just so you know, I'm not being sarcastic.  Teasing apart just one goal from the tangle of shoulds, coulds, and woulds in my head was quite a tall order.  My natural tendency is to multi-task and keep moving, so to set a goal that I would stop for 15 minutes each day and focus on just one activity was actually expecting quite a lot.

After all, how much personal growth can you expect from setting a goal that's easily within reach?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

'Tis the Season for Singing

Just a short clip of me singing one of my favorite holiday songs.  

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from The Canary Files.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Recipe

Season of Beauty

No matter what you celebrate come this time of year, I thought this recipe might come in handy. You don't need to be a master chef and the ingredients can be found in most people's homes. And what's best is that everyone can enjoy it, regardless of dietary constraints.  So what is it?

Consider it a gift from me to you. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lugaw: Chicken Soup for My Soul

Chicken Lugaw garnished with Fried Chicken Skin

It's a rainy December day here in Austin. I'm still in my pajamas and happily sipping a large mug of hot ginger tea as I write this. Looking out the window, the leaves are finally changing color and after surviving yet another triple-digit happy Texas summer, the chilly evenings, overcast days, and precipitation (period) are welcome. And while the change in weather can be seen as a harbinger of the holiday season and rapidly approaching new year, for many it also marks another season - for colds, allergies, and the flu.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home is Where the Heart is...

Beyond searches for sanity and navigating 'best intentions' at parties and gatherings, another thing the holidays can bring is homesickness. A yearning for the security of familiar faces with familiar smiles, and open arms that will embrace and love you no matter what.

And I am so incredibly blessed to have my Mom, Dad, and sister joining me in Austin this week. It's been almost a year since I've seen them, and it's a true reminder of what is important during the holidays. It's not the price tag on the gift you're giving or receiving or the things you can afford. It's the things that can't be bought, and the things you can't afford to lose.

While 'home' for many is a place, that perhaps during the holidays can feel particularly distant, remember that so long as the memory, the truth, and the essence of it continues to burn brightly in your heart, 'home' can be wherever you are.

Love and light,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Challenge of Sanity During the Holidays...

Drawing new paths on my Zen garden.

As both the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 hurtle towards us, it's easy to feel like we have to match that pace and shift our lives into overdrive.  With the buzzing, nearly crackling, energy of stress and anxiety all around us, shielding ourselves from it and keeping our heads above water can be a major challenge.  Shop for presents, plan parties, mail out holiday cards, write blog posts, etc., etc.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ratio Rally! Vegan Salted Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

Gluten-free Vegan Salted Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

A culinary ratio is a fixed proportion of one ingredient or ingredients relative to another.  These proportions form the backbone of the craft of cooking.  When you know a culinary ratio, it's not like knowing a single recipe, it's instantly knowing a thousand. - Michael Ruhlman

If you were asking yourself, "What on Earth is a 'ratio rally'?", the previous quote might give you a little insight.  But if you're still scratching your head (and I don't blame you), allow me to explain.  In a nutshell, beginning this past February, bloggers from all over the web have 'rallied' together each month to create gluten-free recipes based upon culinary ratios set forth by Michael Ruhlman.  Each month is hosted by a different blogger, and each month features a different food item challenge, ranging from pancakes to  pasta.  All caught up?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: Part 2 & Sweet Potato Chia Pudding

Gluten-Free Vegan Sweet Potato Chia Pudding Parfait

Where did I leave off?  Oh yeah... Gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free Thanksgiving potluck.  Some people might hear that and say, "What are you supposed to eat then?"  My answer: "Absolutely delicious food that allows the group of us to remain in peace and harmony with our bodies."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: Part 1

Thanksgiving this year was exceptionally busy.  Not that I'm complaining - it was just surprising how dense that fourth Thursday of November suddenly became.  On Sunday,  I didn't have any concrete plans, figuring I'd just wing it.  But by Wednesday, I had committed to being at four different places in two different cities.  Alas, I have always been an overachiever.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Bean Hummus: Discovery & Gratitude

Vegan Black Bean Hummus with crudite and hemp-corn chips

In the days following Thanksgiving, many blogs are featuring recipes that either 1) repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers or 2) help people cope with their eating remorse by being uber "healthy."  I suppose today's recipe could fit into either camp, because it is quite healthy and I'm sure that some of you out there did have black beans for Thanksgiving.  But even if it didn't, I'd still be sharing it with you, because above all, it is delicious.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Canary Tip: Best Intentions and How to Prepare for Them

"I heard you have a cast member who is gluten-free."

"Yes, we do.  Jonathan is gluten-free."

"Well, he's in luck!  I made some cookies especially for him and they're gluten-free."

"Really?  Wow, he'll be so happy.  What flour did you use?"

"Just white flour.  No wheat flour at all.  They don't taste gluten-free one bit."


Monday, November 21, 2011

Red Lentil and Acorn Squash Soup

Hearty Red Lentil and Acorn Squash Soup

The holidays wouldn't be complete without hot soup.  Of course, I love hot soup any time of year (even here in Texas), but when the weather starts to cool and the days start to shorten, there's something even more special about it.  The way it feel like it's "sticking to the bones," fortifying the body against weather and sickness, bringing warmth within.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cranberry Compote

Cranberry Compote with Blueberries and Ginger

When I recall cranberry sauce from family gatherings in Michigan when I was younger, I remember a red, gelatinous mass in the shape of a can.  I bet you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Sometimes it would be broken up into jiggly shards, but usually they would just slide it straight from the can into a small bowl and park it next to the turkey.  While it wasn't appetizing in the least, I was fascinated as to why something that appeared more akin to a science experiment was such a staple during the holidays.  And perhaps out of sympathy for the person who brought it or just being an opponent of wasted food, I would always extract a spoonful from it and attempt to "spread" it on my turkey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mashed Rutabagas Rock

I am lucky to work at a job inhabited by so many foodies.  And between the seasonal offerings of the kitchen to the everyday "water-cooler" conversation between co-workers that frequently gravitates towards food, it's an endless source of inspiration for me.  I'm constantly tearing off pieces of paper and scribbling down recipe ideas throughout the day.  Unfortunately, it's a double-edged sword, as my desire to cook and bake far exceeds the time and resources needed to follow through with it.  But alas, excessive inspiration, while annoying and certainly frustrating, is not a bad problem to have.  And on the bright side, since these recipes have usually been stuck in the gray matter for so long, when I finally find/make time to make them, I have a pretty clear idea of what I'd like to do.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Collard Greens "Fettucine" with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

Collard Greens "Fettucine"

Fall is my absolute favorite time to be in the kitchen.  Between lingering cold fronts, the progressive shortening of days, and the multitude of occasions bringing people together, I become extraordinarily inspired.  The ingredients associated with the season also resonate with me in a very special way.  Root vegetables, warming spices, dark leafy greens, squash, mushrooms, crisp apples and pears.  And even though it's been nearly ten years since my last "real" winter in Michigan, the desire and craving for warming foods and rich, hearty flavors seems to defy both geography and climate.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thankful for Change

When one mentions the holidays, common associations may include colder weather, relatives, gift shopping, changing leaves, knit hats, vacation, turkey, and pine trees covered in tinsel.  Stress may also come to mind, as to-do and to-buy lists have a tendency to continue growing past our budget and our patience.  But for me, when it all boils down, the holidays are a special reminder of how fortunate and blessed I am.  Blessed to have family and friends that love and support me.  Fortunate to not only have a job, but a job that I enjoy.  And exceedingly grateful for my health and the harmony I have found with my body.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kitchen is Open Late...

Between my day job and either rehearsing or performing in the evening, my days are quite long.  On a typical day, I'll leave the house around 9am and won't get back until 10 or 11pm.  While it's often recommended to avoid eating late at night, it's a necessity for me.  Even after three full meals during the day and snacks in between, I'm ravenous by the time I get home.  And while many people often tell me, "I wish I had your metabolism," my usual retort is that they should be careful what they wish for.  I don't mind having a fast metabolism, but when it's more akin to a runaway train, filling my plate literally fills my plate figuratively as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Canary Tip: Cooking Dried Beans

I remember the first time I attempted making beans a few years ago, with emphasis on "attempted."  I had just moved into a new apartment and I was unpacking boxes in the kitchen.  A few months previous, I had bought a bag of dried black beans with the intention of trying to make them, but I never got around to actually doing it.  So pulling them out of a box, and having the day off with the apartment to myself, I decided that that day would be the day.  So I washed the beans, emptied the bag into a pot of water, and started cooking them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My First Saturn Return: A New Path

As a disclaimer, this post is longer than usual.  Additionally, this post is much more personal than anything else I've shared with you to date.  I don't usually write this way because if you're anything like me or the people I know, you probably read blogs on the rare occasion you have spare time.  Also, I'm a fairly private person by nature, and it's rare for me to open up like this, especially to people I may not know.  But seeing so many friends and relatives in my life right now experiencing crises and facing major life decisions, I understood that the time had come for me to share more of my story.  Because knowing that other people feel the same way you do is only one part of "not feeling alone."  The other part is taking that first step and letting people know how you feel.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Five Spiced Pear & Ginger Lassi: Seeking Balance

Five Spiced Pear & Ginger Lassi

I recently rediscovered how much I love five spice.  In case you're not familiar, it's a classic Chinese seasoning consisting of ground cinnamon, star anise, fennel, clove, and Szechuan peppercorns.  While it may sound like a lot, the balance struck between sweet, salty, smooth, sharp, and spicy is wonderfully engaging to all the senses.  From its pungent licorice aroma to the way it saunters across the taste buds, it's a spice that's difficult to ignore and even harder to forget.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Banana Peanut Butter Cupcakes: It Started with Mushy Bananas

Banana & Peanut Butter Cupcake a la Elvis

It was the summer of 2002.  I had been accepted to graduate school at UT in Austin, and the impending transition, not only to a new school, but to a new state, was both exhilarating and anxiety-ridden.  It was a big risk I was taking, moving somewhere where I didn't know a soul.  But all the same, I was proud of myself for taking that next step towards independence and breaking away from the nest.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Family Style

If you know me, you know how much I love eating.  I'm that guy who lets hot food get cold while taking pictures of it, who makes embarrassing noises while savoring each bite, and who plans entire vacations around restaurants he'd like to eat at.  But even if all you know of me is what I write and the pictures I take, I still think it comes through loud and clear how much I respect and appreciate both the process and act of eating.

And if you ask me, there's no better way to eat than family style.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

Oh, how I wish I was speaking in the literal sense. 

For those who don't know, in addition to blogging and waiting tables, I'm also an actor.  Fortunately, I am blessed to say that I am a working actor, and for the last 3 years I've enjoyed a steady stream of stage work, commercials, and film shoots with little to no down-time in between.  Of course, taking into account that all of this is in addition to working five days a week and teaching an occasional dance or Pilates class here and there, some of you might begin to question the use of the word, "fortunate."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kim Bap: Roll With Me

Kim Bap served with Sriracha, Pureed Ginger, and Ground Shiso

Many years before I worked at The Steeping Room, I worked at a lovely Asian bakery, restaurant, and teahouse called Eastern Accents.  Specializing in Chinese baked goods, Korean food, and tea, I discovered the small family owned business while attending the University of Michigan.  And while I only worked there for a little over a year, it still remains one of the best jobs I've ever had. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Breathing In

It all started with a dream.  In it, I was talking to Amy, one of owners at The Steeping Room.  We were in a stark white room, sun shining through the windows, and amidst our pleasant conversation, she turned from me and said, "It's a hot mess."  Confused, I asked her, "What is?"  And still facing away from me, she simply replied, "Your blog."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kale: Simply Delicious

Steamed Kale with Roasted Vegetables

There's been a lot of hype surrounding cruciferous vegetables lately.  But unlike most celebrities or sports teams, in this case the buzz is actually well-deserved.  Research shows that cruciferous vegetables can help lower cholesterol, prevent certain types of cancer, counter inflammation, and detoxify the body.  Wow, is right.  It's actually quite an extensive family of vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, brussel sprouts, arugula, watercress, and collard greens.  And if you were to look to the top of that list, you would find the star of today's recipe: Kale.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Drop in the Bucket

People who live in Texas would not be likely to use the word, "comfortable," to describe our summers.  And as the years progress since I moved here almost 10 years ago, they seem to be becoming not only increasingly uncomfortable, but unpredictable as well.  If anything, "excessive," might be a more appropriate adjective - excessive heat, excessive lack of rain, excessive use of electricity to maintain cool interiors.  And ah, yes, excessive use of water to maintain the illusion that we're not living amidst a drought.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Your Mother's Meatloaf

Meatloaf served with Romanesco Broccoli and Zucchini with Pesto

People are usually shocked when I tell them I eat meat.  Even good friends of mine do a double-take when I order chicken at a restaurant.  And if your knowledge of my diet was to come strictly from my recipe postings, then you would probably be under the impression that I'm a vegetarian with pescatarian tendencies.

But nope - this canary is omnivorous.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago Today


Because without a past, we have no future.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Love and Labor of Juicing

Double Raw Juice Happiness

At work, there has been a lot of juicing lately.  From day to day, there would be a variety of recycled glass jars filled with a spectrum of colors above the server station.  Grassy green, hot-ember orange, vibrant magenta.  It would inevitably turn into a juicing potluck, with each person sharing their concoction with everyone else.  And afterwards, we would all be beaming from ear to ear, exchanging "ooo's" and "aaahh's" and hugs, glowing both figuratively and literally.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Time for a Tweet

Tweet, re-Tweet....

I remember when I first became aware of Twitter in 2007.  I had just returned to acting and was working on the show, "Take Me Out."  A number of cast members, particularly those from New York, would often be typing furiously during breaks in rehearsal.  I would come to learn that they were, in fact, "tweeting."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hot Soup in the Summer

Mediterranean Lentil and Chickpea Soup

 Really?  "Hot" soup in the summer?  

Some may interpret that phrase as either a sadistic joke, a terribly misguided choice, or a little of both.  And if you happen to live anywhere near me in the broiler sometimes known as Texas, I wouldn't fault you for thinking it downright crazy.  But believe it or not, keeping your diet well supplied with steaming soup, warm tea, and fiery salsas in the summer is not such a bad thing.  And as ironic as it may sound, it may actually help your body to remain cooler.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ginger Tea: Drink Up

Salabat, aka Ginger Tea

Ahhhh, ginger.  It is one of my favorite ingredients and a staple in my kitchen, whether fresh, pickled, or ground.  I adore that unique spicy bite and the warmth that travels from the back of your throat to your fingertips and toes.  But mind you it wasn't always like this.  As a child, my mother and grandmother were also fans of the fiery root, using it liberally in stews and soups.  Imagine my surprise when what I thought was a potato was in fact a huge chunk of ginger.  "Fire in the hole" is the closest phrase I can think of (that's appropriate) to capture that feeling.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lentil Salad: The First Time

I'll never forget it.  

It was the summer of 1996 and I was attending orientation for incoming freshmen at University of Michigan.  It was great to be away from home (even if just 45 minutes away) and to find myself staring over the precipice of a new, exciting journey with so many new faces to meet and experiences to learn from was...breathtaking.  After the first time, I couldn't wait for the next opportunity.  I would lie awake on the top bunk of the stuffy dorm room, unable to stop thinking about it.  I was mildly infatuated, which for the teenager I was probably read as overzealous obsession.  Trying to force myself to stop thinking about it had the exact opposite effect.  I wondered if others felt the same way I did about it...

[sigh]...  Lentil salad.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Canary Tip: Keep It Cool

So we've just recently set a record here in Austin.  More than 27 consecutive day of triple-digit temperatures.  And on top of that, barely any rain.  Now if you think I'm complaining, you're partly right.  I'm really just acknowledging our current climatic state of affairs.  Trust me when I say that you will know when I am complaining.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bread, Eggs, Cheese...Oh My!

Strata with Balsamic Caramelized Onions,
Tomatoes, and Spinach

One of the many perks of working at The Steeping Room is the constant flow of inspiration from our talented and creative chefs.  The menu is anything but standard, and one of the things I love best about working there is being able to introduce people to things they would never think of trying otherwise, whether it be an unusual ingredient or an unexpected combination of ingredients or flavors.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's Your Recipe for Happy?

The subtitle for The Canary Files reads, "Gluten and Dairy-Free: My Recipe for Happy."  And while that's definitely true, I began to think to myself:  is there a way for me to make that even more true?

For me, gluten and dairy were the biggest hurdles in terms of getting my life and my health back on track.  When I finally eliminated both, it was a total 180.  An epiphany.  And that really helped me to understand how much influence my food choices have over my quality of living.  Now, over the past 4 years, I've finally been able to pay attention to how food affects me.  And as I've mentioned in a previous post, I've learned how to listen to my body, to not only help give it what it needs but also help it avoid what it doesn't.  I am consistently GF and DF, but there are several other things that I either moderate in my diet or do not eat at all.  And this has translated to my cooking and baking.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Smoothie Time

Cucumber Avocado Smoothie

In last week's recipe post, I was raving about how delicious fruits and vegetables taste during the summer season.  Thanks to modern day farming and importing practices, we can have the convenience of fruits all year-round.  But if you taste a peach, a cucumber, or a watermelon at the height of their natural growing season, you'll see for yourself that the difference in flavor, color, and texture is truly night and day.  And if you're lucky enough to buy your fruits or veggies from a local, sustainable farmer, it can be even better.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This Canary's Birthday

"Happy Birthday" in shorthand

For those who didn't know, my birthday was just over a week ago on July 20th.  I turned 33, offically entering my 34th year of life.  Now, I know several people who put a lot of pressure on their birthday, as if it should be somehow more special than every other day, or perhaps it should be especially indulgent, spontaneous, or memorable.  And while there's nothing wrong with that, that just isn't for me.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gifts of Summer: Fruit Salad

Herbed Fruit Salad with Cucumbers

One of my favorite parts of summer is going to the farmer's market or grocery and seeing all the beautiful fruits and vegetables as they come into season.  From plump peaches, succulent figs, the rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, to melons perfect for chilling and getting us through the daily grind of triple digit Texas temperatures, it's a feast for both the eyes and the mouth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Coconut Stew: Made With Love

Coconut Stew with Squash, Green Beans, and Shrimp

Today I'll be sharing with you one of my all time favorite recipes.  It's a traditional Filipino dish called Ginataang Kalabasa at Sitaw, which translates to Coconut Stew with Squash and Green Beans.  The instant the taste of rich coconut milk infused with garlic and ginger hits my palate, I'm transported back to wonderful childhood memories of cooking with my grandmother, prepping vegetables while she quietly sang church hymns.  Closing my eyes and thinking about it I can't help but smile.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Canary Tip: Letting Go

Black & White Mandala

As many of you already know, I am a server at The Steeping Room.  Through working there and eating there almost daily over the past 4 years, I have been shown how beautiful and delicious gluten-free and vegan dining can be.  Apparently I'm not the only one who's taken notice, as I've also witnessed the percentage of food-sensitive foodies balloon in that same time period.  And with that group also came an entire spectrum of emotions surrounding food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Salsa Lovin'

Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa

When I first moved to Austin to attend grad school in the blazing hot summer of 2002, I didn't know a soul.  For the first 6 months, my best friends were my DVD player and the A/C unit.  Eventually, I started meeting people in school and I started to form a network of friends.  Beyond studying together, we would have movie nights and frequent informal gatherings to help all of us relax and decompress.  And every time we would get together, we would all bring food to share.  I don't think it was ever explicitly stated, but all of us were foodies, and it seemed to make everyone happy to feed each other.  That was something I sorely missed - the communal and social aspect of eating. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Canary Tip: Bending With the Wind

In becoming gluten-free and dairy free, the last four years has presented an extremely steep learning curve.  I used to think that I knew what a healthy, balanced diet consisted of.  But in hindsight, I now understand that healthy for one person is not necessarily healthy for everyone else and that the foods you love are not necessarily the foods that love you back.

Around 2006, I really tried to reform my diet and my life from its "grad school ways."  At that time, it was all "whole wheat this," and "whole wheat that," so that became the focus of my grocery shopping and cooking.  Everybody else was doing it, so why not me?  Imagine my confusion when the "right thing for my body" felt painfully wrong.  But not knowing any better, I persisted on that path for the better part of 2 years, complacent with the escalating discomfort of both my body and mind.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I'll Drink to That...

"La Palma" Shandy with berries

What would Recipe Monday on the 4th of July be without something red, white, and blue and semi-patriotic?  Well, it would be just fine, but knowing how obsessed I am with eating your colors, I just couldn't pass up this opportunity.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blinders Off

As the week approaches its end, I find myself at a new beginning.
Through the course of writing this blog, I'm discovering a new sense of self.  For the last four years, I was very focused on healing and elevating my quality of living, which was a good thing.  But the more I went inward, the more difficult it became to look outside myself.  And being so hyper-aware of my own life journey, I temporarily lost sense of how I fit into other people's lives.  But as more and more people share with me that their resolutions to change their diet were inspired in part by me, it is both a surprising and humbling revelation.  Without thinking about it or intending it, I am touching people's lives.

So now, more than ever, I am reminded of the importance of community.  We do not simply exist.  We exist in the context of others, how we are the same and how we are different.  As one of us changes, so do we all.  And by being who we are and aspiring to live our lives to the fullest, we can perpetuate that "ripple," clearing the path for others to do the same.  Learning through sharing ideas, philosophies, values and life practices.  

Creating, defining, and enlivening our "canary culture."

 Have a wonderful weekend and a safe and memorable 4th. 

Carpe diem, my friends.  :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake...

Gluten-Free Orange Almond Polenta Cake with Vegan Avocado Frosting

Most people who know me will be able to tell you that I'm not much of a sweets person. Well, nowadays I'm not. I think that maybe in my younger years I probably over-indulged my sweet-tooth to the point that it rotted out of my mouth and I just don't have it anymore. Which actually works out great, because I don't miss all those desserts or baked treats that can be the bane of the gluten intolerant existence. But since becoming gluten-free, I've actually started baking a lot more cakes, cookies, and muffins.

If you don't like desserts, why do you keep baking them, Jonathan?

Simple. So others can have them. I may not have an affinity for sweet things, but I'm fairly sure that most people I know are not like me. And plus, it's a challenge. Gluten-free baking is by no means easy. Adapting recipes requires so much more than just switching out the wheat flour for a gf flour or grain substitute. Ratios are different, cooking temperatures and times will vary, and other ingredients may be necessary to make up for the absence of gluten. And in my baking adventures, I've had my fair share of "oops," "oh no!" and [insert expletive] moments. But when it works, it works, and you get this smirk-inducing, satisfyingly addictive "success high."

And that was the case with this cake. I was inspired by a recipe for lemon polenta cake, and my first trial ended with moist-free lemony cornbread that was nothing like a cake. Going back to the drawing board, I tweaked a few ratios, switched out some ingredients, and lo and behold, I produced a cake that would have even me coming back for seconds. It reminded me a lot of namoura, a classic Lebanese pastry made from semolina soaked in buttery syrup. The icing was inspired by an episode of Alton Brown's "Good Eats" centered around avocados from a few years ago.

At first, I wasn't sure if they would go together. But when all was said and done, I felt like Cupid making a match.

He shoots...he scores. :)

Gluten-Free Orange Almond Polenta Cake (GF, DF, rSF, SF)

1/3 c softened vegan butter
1/2 c agave
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/8 c GF cornmeal
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon GF baking powder
1/2 c ground almonds
1/4 c brown rice flour
1/2 c GF AP flour

1. Preheat oven to 385 degrees.
2. Cream vegan butter (I used soy-free Earth Balance) and agave together in a mixing bowl. Then add eggs, orange juice, and lemon juice to mixture. Once combined, add cornmeal, lemon zest, baking soda, salt, and GF baking powder.
3. In another bowl, sift brown rice flour and GF all-purpose baking flour (I used Bob's Red Mill). Add ground almonds to dry mixture.
4. Begin to gradually add dry mixture to wet ingredients. Your final batter will be very fluid, which is the way it should be.
5. Grease a cake pan and lightly flour. You may also want to consider lining your pan with parchment paper as this cake will have a tendency towards separation anxiety.
6. Bake for 15-25 minutes. The length of time will depend on the depth and size of your cake pan. Look for a deep golden color on top and a lack of movement when you jiggle the pan. I also pay attention with my nose, knowing that once I start to smell the cake that it is close to being finished.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let it cool for at least 45 minutes. It will be very delicate, so avoid the temptation to release the cake too early (and it will be tempting....).
8. Makes 6-8 servings.

Meet your ingredients

I loooove zesting

Don't add more flour! I'm just right!

Moist, light, and full of flavor

Avocado Icing (GF, DF, V, rSF, SF)

1 medium avocado
1 tablespoon agave
1 tablespoon lime zest

juice of 1 small lime
1/8 c melted coconut oil
1/8 - 1/2 c fresh orange juice

1. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a food processor (or blender).
2. Add agave, lime zest, and lime juice. Pulse until combined.
3. Turn the food processor on and start to slowly drizzle the melted coconut oil into the avocado mixture until it is smooth and creamy. You may need to scrape down the sides periodically to avoid any lumps in your icing.
4. You can add the orange juice to the icing while still in the food processor, but I prefer to transfer the icing to a jar and then use a small whisk to blend in the orange juice. It allows me to have more control over the consistency. If you want a thicker, more spreadable texture, simply use less juice.
5. Chill your icing and allow the flavors to come together. Make sure your container has a nice tight seal on it. Remember that once chilled, your icing will thicken a little more. And there's no need to worry about your icing turning brown - the acid from the orange and lime juice will prevent that. Your icing should stay a wonderful pastel green for at least 2 days.

Green gold

Whisking in the OJ

When's St. Patrick's Day?

And there you have it. The cake and icing are a great pairing, but separate they continue to shine. Why just this morning I took some of the leftover icing, dolloped it onto some warm blueberry buckwheat waffles, finished it off with some juicy blackberries and I had a heavenly breakfast. What I love is that neither is too sweet, so the flavors of the ingredients come through loud and clear. I find that the cake and the icing are at their best when lightly chilled, making it a perfect summer cake for all you Geminis, Cancers, and Leos.

And speaking of birthdays, I want to take this opportunity to thank Iris, author of The Daily Dietribe, for motivating me to come up with this recipe. Necessity can be the mother of invention, so despite burning the candle at all ends this past month, I was grateful for her Birthday Cake Challenge. I'm really proud of this recipe and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my guests come next month when my own birthday rolls around.

I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I do. Share it with family, friends, and those who are special in your life.

Sweetness isn't always about sugar. :)

Happy Birthday to you...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Canary Tip: Love, Not War

Thank you to all who responded to the poll regarding eating out.  It's good to know that people can feel safe eating out GF and/or DF, even if it's just at a handful of places.  But what happens when we venture outside our day-to-day lives and the familiar territory of our "home base"?  Away from the waitstaff that know us by name and away from the routine go-tos that we know are "safe" on our favorite menus?  For those that are relatively new to the "canary" lifestyle, it can be a very frightening reality.  It can still be frightening to me, especially when I travel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Stock

Vegetable Tea

When it comes to good food, it starts with vibrant, flavorful, quality ingredients.  Start with delicious and, chances are, you'll end with delicious.  And with summer upon us, the longer days and the heat lead me to crave brothy noodle soups, coconut curries, and buckwheat tabbouleh.  What do all of those have in common?  Well, besides making my mouth water, they all require a good stock.