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.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011


What a busy week.  I'm currently in the opening weekend of my latest project, "Corpus Christi," here in San Antonio.  I am exhausted physically and emotionally, but creatively and spiritually, I feel stronger than ever. 

I hope everyone enjoyed my recipe for Sticky Rice with Mung Beans as well as the retrospective on my Auntie Nora and the power of words and positive reinforcement.  It was a family-oriented week, wasn't it?  But in the culture I was raised, that's exactly what food goes best with: family, friends, and loved ones.

Coming up this Monday I have a must-have recipe for all cooks: vegetable stock.  I'm still hard at work on my birthday cake.  Here's a hint....avocado.  And I hope to have a posting for you about restaurants and how to set yourself up for success while dining out.   Judging from the responses to the last poll, it is a challenge for many others besides myself.

A thought in closing: 

All that you receive is in direct relation to all that you give away. 
The less you hold on to, the freer you are to embrace that which is given.

Have a beautiful weekend. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Children Will Listen..."

4th grade picture day, complete with bowlcut

When I was a child, there were a number of adjectives used to describe me.  My mother referred to me as "healthy," "big-boned," or my personal favorite, "husky."  The kids at school, they just called me "fat" (and that was on a nice day).  For those who have just met me in the last 5 years, it's hard for them to imagine me being overweight.  But as I mentioned in "My Story," until 2007 I was on a never-ending rollercoaster with my weight.  And the way I started, as one of my aunts lovingly put it, was "pleasantly plump."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rice: My Comfort Food

Sticky Rice with Mung Beans

Rice has been a part of my diet ever since I can remember.  At every meal, my family would have rice on the table.  Rice for breakfast, rice for dinner, rice for dessert - you get the picture.  It was very much a part of the Asian culture I was raised in, and even though my siblings and I grew up in a very non-Asian community, that didn't matter when we sat down to eat as a family.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Onward, Upward

Some quick previews for the week to come:

Recipe Monday will feature a delicious and nutritious Asian-inspired rice dish.  Although I cook rice fairly frequently now, I realize that just a few years ago I was making phone calls to my mom about how much water to use, how much rice, do I wash it, etc.  So I figure a how-to on rice couldn't hurt.

I also look forward to sharing a post with you about a very special woman who first taught me to listen to my body.  She walked well ahead of me on this path I now tread; a path she cleared so others might follow.

And I am starting to tinker with my birthday cake recipe.  It's going to be sooooo good. How's yours going?

Finally, if you've ever been curious if coconut ice cream tastes as good as I say it does, wonder no further.  Here's a link to the So Delicious website that will allow you to print up some online coupons:


I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing weekend.  

Smile, laugh, and be generous with hugs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More Favorite Things: DF Edition

No Thank You...

Time for more balance. :) 

With my recent post explaining why I went dairy-free, I thought it would be only fitting to also include a list of some of my favorite non-dairy grocery items.  And even if you're not dairy intolerant or allergic, you may still be able to benefit from this list.  Ready for some biology? 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Granola- Far More Than a Friendly Adjective

Garam Masala Spiced Granola

As with many things, I didn't really discover my fondness for granola until I started working at The Steeping Room.  Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan for nearly 6 years, my association with the word was slightly different. :)  Breakfast for me previously was, well.....sporadic.  A breakfast bar while riding the bus to school, a breakfast taco on the rare occasion I wasn't running late.  So working the opening shift at the restaurant and having to contend with a 90 minute commute through morning rush hour traffic, it was impressed upon me that breakfast was, in fact, important.  Weird, I know.

And that's when I began my love affair with granola.

Friday, June 3, 2011

En Garde...

There's not much I like more than a challenge.

On one of the blogs I follow, The Daily Dietribe, the gauntlet has been thrown down to create an amazing birthday cake.  A roundup of the entries will be featured on her blog come June 28th, which also happens to be her birthday.  And beyond a challenge, I also love cooking and baking for others, so how could I not participate?

For those of you who also love to bake (or just like a challenge), why don't you join me in doing this?  Simply email your recipe and a picture of the cake to:  The deadline is June 25th, which gives us plenty of time to make huge messes of our kitchens, turn our friends and loved ones into guinea pigs, and create a birthday cake recipe which merits a place in history. 

And, if not that, at least a place on someone's plate.  :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Am Dairy Free

With The Canary Files nearing its one-month anniversary of virtual life, I feel very proud of what's been accomplished.  So many ideas trapped in my mind are now finding their way into the universe.  And just like pruning back a tree or removing spent flowers from a rose bush, letting go of those thoughts and inspirations has allowed for even more growth, more ideas blossoming into fruition, and more motivation to share and to give. 

Some of that motivation springs from recognizing what has not made it out of my mind.  Thus far, The Canary Files has concentrated largely on gluten-free living.  And given the coincidence of National Celiac Awareness Month and the media attention surrounding the gluten-free lifestyle, that makes sense.  But the description of my blog is, "gluten-free & dairy-free: my recipe for Happy."  And so I'd like to promote just a little more balance with this post explaining how I came to be dairy-free as well.