A Gift for This Moment and Wacky Cake (Gluten Free, Grain Free, and Top 14 Allergy Free)

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I remember hearing my folks say this sort of thing to each other as they sautéed their way toward dinner. I never quite understood what they meant because it never felt like we needed anything. Dinner was always awesome. My mom would dig out a few leftover baked potatoes and dice them, saggy skin and all, while my dad dug out leftover roast beef and heated up oil for hash. They chopped up onions for good measure, then tossed it all together in a hot skillet until the potatoes were crispy and golden. Dinners like that were some of my favorite, regardless of what food my folks wished they had on hand.

Now I know that our pantry sometimes got bare. Now I know my mom bought Hyrdox Cookies instead of Oreos and big tubs of generic vanilla ice cream instead of Breyers Vanilla Bean for one reason: they fit her budget better. But even those bargains were only sometimes treats. Even so, I don’t really remember going without. In fact, a bare pantry meant my dad jumped at the chance to bake a Wacky Cake–the dessert for which we always had ingredients. The fridge doesn’t have to be fully stocked with cream or eggs or milk or butter for a slice of his famous impromptu cake.

Last week I read The Kitchen Front, a novel about ordinary women struggling to cook palatable meals during WWII England. Wartime rationing redefined pantry staples, so pantry stockpiles looked awfully paltry compared to the way they looked before the war. Fresh eggs were limited; dairy products too. Food women used to take for granted were whisked away from them without their consent or approval, and before they knew it they were whirling together bits of stale bread and overcooked vegetables to make mock roast chicken. Some of their concoctions sounded just plain awful (mock anything makes me cringe), but I admired their resourcefulness and creativity nonetheless.

I imagine it was heartbreaking to have to forego serving a cake on a birthday because there weren’t enough ration coupons for eggs. Someone somewhere figured out how to make cake without it–necessity is the mother of invention, right?–and vegan cakes were born out of a different sort of necessity back then.

When I put the book down, I couldn’t help but see the parallel to my own cooking life, of course. Wartime rationing isn’t to blame for the changes in my kitchen, but outside forces beyond my control stormed in and bossed me around too, and I find myself staring at a smattering of ingredients that don’t feel like enough, wondering how to make familiar food out of mock versions of the real thing. Like them, I was frustrated and angry but powerless to do much else than slip into survival mode at first and just keep cooking something. Little by little, they learned to let go of what they didn’t have and how to make do with what they did have, and so did I, and in the process new things are born–like grain free, vegan cake that is familiar and delicious.

Wacky Cake proves that God really does bring about good things out of desperately difficult situations. All the harrowing hardship of the war didn’t change the fact that women wanted to serve something celebratory and sweet. I know what that’s like on a much smaller scale, of course, but imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t serve cake for your boy’s birthday and you might understand a little. This crazy cake made out of cassava flour, cocoa powder, sugar, oil & water makes a decadent, distinctly not weird confection that could be served to just about anyone. It’s flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of allergies–a feat women working in WWII kitchens couldn’t imagine, and yet somehow they secured it long before we ever really needed it. I feel a kinship with them when I make it, because even though allergies and intolerances and dietary restrictions weren’t really a thing back then (like they are today), they knew the frustration and heartache of going without.

I like to think Wacky Cake is a wartime gift God gave to women two generations before me during that dark, difficult season. Food doesn’t solve everything, but sweet balances out the bitter, so cake helps. God must know that; why else would he have made cocoa beans bitter and sugar cane sweet? This dessert uses both, without any of the dangerous ingredients that we can’t serve to our people this season. When I whisk this cake together, I whisper a prayer of thanks because I am certain God knew we would need this recipe for this moment, right now, when so many of us are wondering how to serve special foods to the people we love, too.

The best gifts just keep on giving, and this gift is for you too.

When the World Goes Bananas, Make Dessert (and Grain Free, Dairy Free Bananas Foster Bars)

I had two bunches of over-ripe bananas sitting on my counter last week. This is a rare occurrence because usually over-ripe bananas go straight into banana bread or the freezer. Two dozen at once overwhelmed me. “What do I do with all this?” I asked myself as I stood paralyzed, staring blankly at them.

For the briefest moment I considered throwing them away. Then I shook my head with a definitive “No way!” because what a waste. But my freezer couldn’t take any more, and a quadruple batch of banana bread wasn’t going to happen (because news flash: apparently I make banana bread a little too often and the freezer was stocked with that, too).

I had a choice: tuck them in the trash then go about my day pretending they were never there, or face the problem and do something.

So I did something. I started with thinking about Joey–the man who goes bonkers for bananas. “What would he like?” I asked myself.

Duh. Dessert.

At first I considered custard, then cream pie, and finally narrowed it down to cookies or bars until suddenly, out of no where, the memory of Bananas Foster barged in and changed everything. The first time I tried that miracle of a dessert, Joey sat across the table from me in the dimly lit, local Italian restaurant that made us feel ten thousand miles away from home. Neither of us was hungry for dessert, but when the waiter asked if we wanted to try Bananas Foster, we exchanged a knowing look and said an emphatic “Yes please.” One bite of the sticky sweet bananas doused in vanilla and rum and we were hooked.

And that’s when I knew: I would make Bananas Foster Bars. I didn’t know how to make them, or even if they were a thing at all. All I knew was I had a pile of bananas that had to be dealt with and I knew how to turn bananas and cassava flour into a moist, cakey treat, so that’s what I did.

As I pureed and measured and whisked, I thought about how so much in our world has changed since that first bite of Bananas Foster. I thought things were bad back then, but it’s bonkers now, right? Hard things are piling up and we don’t know what to do with them, and even if we did, would we know where to start?

It makes me think about the story of the widow and the oil–the desperate widow’s debts piled up. She knew what she had to do (pay the debt), but she didn’t know how to do that (with what money?). And the story of when disciples had 5,000 hungry mouths to feed, but they didn’t know how to do that either. In both situations, someone asks, “What DO you have?” The widow says “Nothing, except a little oil.” The disciples say “Just a few loaves and two small fish.” They realize didn’t have nothing. They had something. And when they used it, things changed.

Maybe that’s where we need to start too. If the world is bananas, let’s make some dessert, you know? We might not have all the answers: but do we have just one? We don’t have the loudest voice, but do we have a voice at all? We don’t know whose word to trust anymore: but we can trust what God says, always.

Maybe instead of looking at what we lack, we look at what we have, and then we use it.

I didn’t have a bunch of useless bananas: I had Bananas Foster Bars just waiting to be made.

The Colors of Winter, and Fresh Fruit Torte

Dear Joey,

The view from my writing window is gray this morning. Even what little snow is left outside looks greasy and gray these days: the sad remains of snow flurries that were cause for celebration a couple weeks ago.


I don’t hate the view. Or at least, up until today I haven’t, and I think perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I used to dream about snowy winter weather during the temperate, lavish green ones I took for granted back home in California. The hills are emerald green by now, I imagine, and beanies are more of a fashionable reminder of wintertime, rather than a necessary defense against bitter winds. Bags brimming with oranges and lemons and grapefruits used to show up on our doorstep back home, all gleaned from my Grandparents’ stalwart old trees. Can you imagine the miracle of finding a bag of citrus on our doorstep today? I clearly see Grandma taking a break from all the fruit picking and cradling an afternoon cup of tea in her hands. Its steam swirls in the cool of a January afternoon, and she laughs as we share a short visit. I want to be there with her right now: capturing her laugh in a locket and catching the sweet smell of the backyard blossoms in a bottle, and I want to tuck them into my chest so I can always remember her that way. And I really want that bag of oranges she inevitably sent home with me.

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These Are Gold, and S’Mores Pie


Make new friends but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.

-Joseph Parry

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Deuteronomy 6:24-26

Dear Joey,

I made two S’Mores Pies in the span of two days last week. My important, necessary work was met with your murmur of, “Another s’mores pie? I’m impressed!” This pie is dangerously easy, meaning there is a very good chance one will be waiting to meet you at the end of a long day’s work more often than perhaps it should. (Aren’t you the one who joked about buying a house where I could bake pies to my heart’s content and cool them by the windowsill? This problem is your fault.)


Of all the pies, why S’Mores Pie? And why make two of them in two days? Fair question, and the answer can be found in a snippet of a conversation that happened several weeks ago now in my grandparents’ backyard between my BFF (as the Goobie girls would call her) Molly, and me.

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The Great Cake Debate, and Vanilla Confetti Cake (GF/DF/NF)

Dear Joey,

When it comes to cake, you and I are contentious about which flavor wins: chocolate or vanilla. It’s an ongoing battle that will never end because we are so dead set in our ways that we cannot–and will not–change our minds. You could easily live without chocolate, but my life lived without it would be no life at all.


It’s not that I dislike vanilla; it’s just that I like to think of it as a canvas upon which to play with color, composition, texture and form, but for you vanilla is a finished work of art, complete just as it is. For better or worse, we choose to live peaceably despite this disagreement. Plus, there are other flavors of cake that help smooth things over (like white cake with chocolate frosting, or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. It’s all about compromise.)


Through the years we have come to respect each other’s preference, of course, partially out of marital duty and partially because we understand each other a little bit more than we used to. We started listening to each other without trying to win the other onto our own team. Now we appreciate–and even enjoy–the differing perspectives we bring to the dessert table. You will happily eat a slice of chocolate cake (or gulp down a chocolate cupcake in swoop so the Goobies don’t see you going back for seconds), and I accepted the idea that you really do enjoy the one cake in the whole world that sounds completely boring to me: white cake with white buttercream frosting.


We try to lure the kids onto our own teams, but they generally have one foot in each camp because the truth is, they just plain like cake. Flavor matters little to them, as long as it tastes good. Given time, they’ll form their own opinions I think, but for now, cake wins.


When I started tinkering around with baking gluten and dairy free treats , I tried to tackle chocolate cake first (clearly) because this girl can only live so long without the stuff. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to be fair to vanilla, though, if only for the sake of our marriage. Admittedly, I actually liked the result of my efforts (and am restraining myself from nibbling on a slice as I write this).


I imagine some might say I liked this cake because my taste buds have forgotten what really good cake actually tastes like (given the fact that they are accustomed gluten free and dairy free treats taste like), but kids don’t lie about stuff as important as this–not ours, not any. Kids always tell the truth about cake.


I served slices of Vanilla Confetti Cake to a gaggle of kids at a baby shower yesterday: kids with food allergies that span the gamut of the top 8, along with a few kids (like Addie) without any food allergies to speak of. The consensus? “More cake! More cake! More cake!” — and that right there, my friend, is sort of the whole point of tinkering around with these recipes in the first place: to make a cake that tastes good, one that kids think is yummy, a cake that everyone can all agree on–whether we fall in the chocolate camp or the vanilla camp, gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy, nut allergies or no allergies at all. With this cake, everyone wins.



Vanilla Confetti Cake


If dessert is art, this cake is a blank canvas in the best possible way. The confetti is only an option; leave the sprinkles out if you want a plain vanilla cake, or swap them out for mini chocolate chips (yum!) for a cake compromise. Disclaimer: I only ever make this cake with my own flour blends (click here for the recipes), both of which yield fantastic results. Smear Mema’s Buttercream on top for a classic decorated cake (as above) or serve with sliced strawberries and a dollop some coconut whipped cream for a springtime treat. Either way, you’ll end up with a masterpiece. This recipe makes two 8″ rounds or 24 cupcakes.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 3/4 cup softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
  • 2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
  • 2 1/4 cups pure cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened flax milk (or regular rice milk)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups  gluten free cake flour OR gluten free all-purpose flour blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt**
  • 1/4 cup gluten free sprinkles, optional

*If using banana instead of egg, reduce sugar to 1 1/2 cups

**If using coconut oil, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.


Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, spray two 8″ round cake pans with nonstick spray (or smear with coconut oil), then sprinkle a little gluten free flour in the pan and shake until the flour completely covers the oil. Set aside.

Next, sift together the gluten free flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together, and set that aside too.

Then in a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugar and beat the two together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip well. Turn the mixer off.

After that, measure 1 1/2 cups flax milk (or rice milk) into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and add the 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar to the measuring cup. Pour the vinegar/rice milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy–do not fret. Turn off the mixer and scoop in the dry ingredients about a cup at a time–dump, then mix; dump, then mix; dump, then mix; then turn the mixer on high and beat until the batter is smooth and luscious, about 1-2 minutes.

Finally, swirl those sprinkles into the batter and divide it between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the comes out clean (mine were perfect at 35 minutes, but oven temperatures vary. Cool the cakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting. (We love to top our cakes with Joey’s mom’s classic frosting recipe, which you can find here, way down at the bottom of the page after my recipe for chocolate cake.)

The Great Birthday Cake Dilemma and the Only Chocolate Cake Recipe I Will Ever Need (Top 8 Allergen Free!)

Dear Joey,

I bet you’ve never panicked about a cake before, but I have. I still do.

The only time that cake might have sort of caused a bit of a concern for you was when we sat down with the Cake Lady to discuss our wedding cake. Perhaps you wondered how a dedicated chocoholic like me and a plain white cake with buttercream boy like you would ever find enough common ground in the flavor department to place the order at all. (I know I was.)


Cake made me nervous then and it makes me nervous now. In hindsight, finding a way to compromise on a flavor was a walk in the park compared to what we deal with now. These days, I have much more pressing concerns than whether you’ll coax the kids to insist upon a flavor other than my beloved chocolate.

When I plunged into the gluten free world, baking a cake from scratch went from a pleasant way to spend an afternoon to a risky ordeal that was often not really worth the trouble. Cakes are temperamental anyway, but throw in the fact that it had to be gluten free, and baking a cake became a precarious endeavor. I figured it out eventually, of course, and have been baking cakes without much fuss since then–until lately. Now we have an almost-two-year-old (!?) with a dairy allergy who can’t be hoodwinked out of his fair share of cake, too. And so, baking a birthday cake became a problem.


Addie’s 6th birthday is tomorrow and we had a bunch of her friends over to help us celebrate a few days ago. We’ve been planning on this party for several weeks now, but I put off figuring out the cake part until last week, when suddenly I realized I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen experimenting with gluten free, dairy free cake recipes. I almost just bought a box of that Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix and called it a day. Except that I don’t bake with wheat flour anymore, and I didn’t want to contaminate all my baking gear with gluten. I thought about getting the gluten free version instead, but then I realized Emery wouldn’t be able to have them because that mix contains dairy. And so, I took a deep breath and bought an expensive box a gluten free cake mix because it was dairy free too–and easy.


I spent the money and walked out frustrated and pressed for time and a little thrown off by the fact that it was Halloween that day and you had Vertigo and all I wanted was just to bake my daughter a birthday cake that our whole family could eat and you know, enjoy, and I didn’t want to have to go through this frustrating process every time a birthday came around. I wanted a yummy cake recipe, a go-to cake recipe. I wanted to find THE cake recipe, the one I would turn to again and again and again through the Goobies’s childhoods, the one that would be so familiar I could bake it in my sleep if I had to (and I imagine there will be years ahead when that exact scenario will be necessary). But instead, I bought a cake mix.


Overwhelmed by all this, and very disappointed in the only sort of ok chocolate cupcakes the mix turned out, I decided to whip together a gluten free version of Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake and enjoy a slice with a glass of wine after everyone was down for the night. You know, because I deserved it. (gag). The original recipe isn’t gluten free or dairy free, but I made a few substitutions and tweaked it a little to fix that problem. And you know what? It was fantastic.


As I sat savoring that piece of delicious cake, I realized the Red Wine Chocolate Cake recipe was really just a riff on Smitten Kitchen’s Everyday Chocolate Cake, and I figured if I could transform the Red Wine cake into a gluten free/dairy free version, I could make a non-red wine cake for a crowd of kids. My suspicions were right: you even liked them, despite the fact that they were chocolate. You sneaked a cupcake after the party was long over, and said to me in your very serious voice, “These are really good, Rach.”

You like that these cupcakes are dense like a brownie (and laden with your mom’s famous not-really-butter buttercream frosting–recipe below). I like that they’re moist and actually have flavor (and that the cupcake wrapper effortlessly peels away from them without tearing the cupcake apart). The Goobies like them because they all get to eat them. I like that part too.


It’s safe to assume you’ll see these chocolate cupcakes again and again over the course of our children’s childhoods. And yes, I promise to figure out a vanilla cake cousin for these little beauties. Your birthday is coming up next, after all.



Chocolate Cake Cupcakesimg_6785

I hesitate to come out and say these are the best chocolate cupcake I have ever made because it is free of so many allergens and I doubt anyone would dare believe me. But I wouldn’t be paying this cake its due if I held out on you, now would I? So ok fine: these are the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever made, good enough to dupe you into thinking there must be one of the top 8 allergens in it. If you opt to use a banana instead of eggs (which is a very wise decision if I do say so myself) they are indeed free of dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish . Thick and moist with a tender crumb–deeply chocolately, yet not too sweet. This is chocolate cake perfection, food allergies or not. This recipe makes enough batter for 24 cupcakes or 2-8 inch rounds. The cake is done when a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. For two 8″ rounds, check the cake at 30 minutes–which is the perfect amount of time in my oven. I used Joey’s mom’s recipe for basic buttercream frosting (recipe below), but you can frost it as you like.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 6 oz softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
  • 2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened original non-dairy milk beverage (we prefer Good Karma Flax Milk)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups gluten free all-purpose flour (homemade or Namaste brand)
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt**

*If using banana instead of egg, reduce brown sugar to 3/4 cup

**If using coconut oil instead of Earth Balance or butter, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.


Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, line your cupcake pan with paper cups. (Bonus if you have a 24-cup pan!)

Next, sift together the gluten free flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together, and set aside to add to the wet ingredients later.

In a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugars and beat them together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip the batter together well. Turn the mixer off.

Pour 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and add the flax milk (or rice milk) into the same measuring cup until you reach the 1 1/2 cup mark. Pour the vinegar/flax milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy, but that’s ok. Turn off the mixer and dump in the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer back on (again!) and mix well, beating together until the batter is smooth and luscious.

Scoop the batter (about 1/4 cup per cupcake) into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean (mine were perfect at 22 minutes). Cool the cupcakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then pop them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Frost with whatever you desire, but we use my mother in law’s buttercream recipe, which I happily share below.

Mema’s Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon meringue powder–omit to keep the frosting egg-free
  • 1 1/4 cups all vegetable shortening, such as Nutiva Organic Shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup water
  • food coloring, if desired

Mix first six ingredients together with a spoon, then beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the food coloring and mix again, adding more color as needed.

A Winner, and Gooey Cocoa Crispy Rice Treats

Dear Joey,

Well, we left the house in a sort of rush on Friday to try to evade the get-out-of-town traffic. We didn’t do a very good job and it took far to long to get to the lake than we had hoped. Oh well. The busy morning also delayed me from announcing the winner of the Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Backpack. Oops.

I did manage to at least choose the winner before we left for the weekend(and the winner is Deborah Gardner. Congratulations Deborah! Check your email for instructions on how to claim your prize.) But as a consolation prize, I have a never-let-you-down recipe for allergy friendly crispy treats. I figure disappointment deserves chocolate, right?

Plus, when things don’t turn out the way I planned or hoped or intended, chocolate helps me deal–especially when its made from a thoroughly dependable, never-fail sort of recipe.



Gooey Cocoa Crispy Treats


These are basically that classic crispy rice treats we all know how to make, but my version is gooey-er than its traditional counterpart because I that’s the way I like it. I used cocoa crispy rice instead of the plain ones because, well–do I really need to give a reason to use chocolate? Since these are gluten free, dairy free, and nut free (and super easy to make), they are a great treat to turn to if allergies are an issue. Beware that not all crispy rice cereals are gluten free, so make sure to buy a box that explicitly states it is gluten free if gluten is an issue for you (I used Mom’s Best Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal in this recipe). Otherwise, of course–use whatever crispy rice cereal you like.


12 oz. marshmallows

1/4 cup Melt Organic Buttery Spread (or Earth Balance, or a similar vegan buttery spread to make these dairy free. Otherwise, use butter.)

6 cups Gluten Free Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt (1/16 tsp)


First, prepare your pan. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 glass pan with non-stick coconut oil spray (or something similar). Set aside.

Next, set a big pot over medium heat and melt the buttery spread. Add the marshmallows and heat them gently, stirring almost constantly as they melt and meld with the buttery spread. Once they’re completely melted, stir in the salt and vanilla and quickly add the crispy rice, stirring to coat them completely with the molten marshmallow goodness.

Plunk the sticky mixture into the prepared glass pan and press the rice down, smoothing it as you go. It helps to spray your fingers with non-stick spray so the treats don’t stick to your fingers. Let the treats cool and set for a few minutes, then slice into them as you like.


My Passion for Cooking Came Back, and Banana-Mango Coconut Ice Cream

Dear Joey,

My, am I in a different place than the last time I checked in around here (7 months ago??), mainly due to the fact that for months I have been living with the frustrating feeling that my body is failing me. Something hasn’t been right, and that something is directly tied to the foods I cook and eat. As such, my enjoyment of and inspiration for cooking–whether creatively or otherwise– vanished. When I think about our cleaned out cupboards, the foods you all want to eat around here, and the foods that my body just won’t tolerate,  I see a challenge so big that even doing one small thing (like frying an egg) feels like too much and not enough. Too much work, monotony, money; not enough flavor, creativity, excitement.

As for you, being the not picky eater that you are, you have forgiven my predictably simple (and even somewhat lackluster) meals of late. And anyway, you would never describe them like that; perhaps you would even go so far as to say that they have been better than normal. I am, after all, cooking with a renewed sense of health, as well as lots of cilantro, red meat, and desserts that are actually healthy.

Because my digestion is so weird/sensitive/frustrating and because a very helpful doctor gently advised me to never eat gluten again (“It’s just not worth the risk…”), things have changed pretty drastically around here. Our stockpiled staples have dwindled, my list of “go-to” dinners are sitting unused in my recipe file, and our freezer is full of meat. For the most part, I’m uninspired in the kitchen and pretty much terrified that the foods causing my body so much pain probably they aren’t so good for our kids or you, either.

I blame you for this paralyzing fear: wasn’t it you who asked me to look into that “Paleo diet thing” to see if it was something that might help, not only with my own health but with yours as well? Me being the good wife that I am did as you asked, and you as the good husband that you are have been eating the results of what I have learned without complaint. Things have improved. I feel better. The girls are willingly eating more vegetables than they used to and they don’t ask for goldfish at snack time anymore. There is no good reason I should be so timid in the kitchen. And yet, it took months to get to the point where I have felt comfortable enough to experiment with and enjoy the process of cooking like I used to. I thought I had lost it. My passion, I mean.

Plus, to be really honest, I have been mourning the loss of a dream. Dreams of our girls growing up in a home where the kitchen is constantly filled with the smells and tastes that filled our childhood homes, and our parents’ childhood homes. Teaching our girls how to knead dough, how to work it until it is supple and elastic; showing them the mysterious magic of yeast; tearing into whatever we’ve just baked moments after it comes out of the oven (and burning ourselves in the process); tasting their first batch of cookies they have made all by themselves; listening from the other room as they bake cookies with friends for school bake sales or just another Friday night (and sneaking into their stash after they have gone to bed).

For me, losing wheat (among other things) has been emotional. It still is. And I know that sounds silly, because really in the scheme of things, in a world plagued by unspeakably awful things, could I get emotional about something so trivial? I don’t know, exactly, except to say that for me it has felt like I am losing a family heirloom, one I had planned to pass on to our children, and instead I am giving them the reality that the American food system is flawed and our bodies are paying a high price for it.


But they are not aware of all that, and they are thriving in the reality that we are creating for them. They have adapted better than I thought they would. They were not used to a lot of junk before anyway, but they certainly have strong opinions about food. I really thought they would miss sandwiches and crackers more than they actually do. Turns out, there are plenty of other choices that are easy and enjoyable. (Mia, eating cucumbers? Addie eating Brussels sprouts? Awesome.)


It took some time, but my passion came back.

And so, please forgive me if the house is a mess, if the grocery bills are high, and if the boxes of even the “healthiest” of cereals begin to disappear. I know you will forgive me as long as I keep the good stuff coming (right?).


Banana-Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

It Came Back, and Banana-Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

This ice cream is one of the easiest and most delicious desserts I have come up with. Three ingredients, thirty minutes (if that), and a simple refreshing ice cream that reassures me I might actually be happy living without dairy if I ever took that leap. (Not that I anticipate actually doing that anytime too soon–I never said I was completely Paleo, did I?) If you don’t have an ice cream maker, I understand your pain; I didn’t have one until just recently. Feel free to come over for a scoop while you wait for someone to surprise you with one. But let me know about 30 minutes in advance, deal?


2 ripe bananas
2 cups mango (peeled & chunked)
2 15 oz. cans full fat coconut milk
*variation – add a couple tablespoons of honey or another sweetener of your choice if you prefer a sweeter ice cream, but I find that bananas and mango are sweet enough to make this a light, refreshing dessert.


Start with the fruit. If using frozen mango, start by defrosting 2 1/2 cups. If using fresh mango, peel and chunk the fruit to equal 2 1/2 cups. Peel the bananas and puree them with the mango until smooth; add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Notes: I use the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker (which I recommend, if you’re in the market for one). It froze this ice cream in about 25 minutes. When it was done, it was perfect soft serve consistency. Once frozen in the freezer, though, it froze solid. Take it out from the freezer about 45 minutes (or longer, depending on the temperature of your freezer) before you plan to eat it.

Aunt Helen’s Comical Chocolate Cake

Dear Joey,

I just want you to know that I’ve never actually described chocolate cake as  comical before. Let me be very clear on that point. To me, chocolate cake should never be something to laugh at. It’s far too serious a matter.

But when you came home from work and saw the catastrophe that was our kitchen — the sink piled high with bowls and spoons and sippy cups and reject cake pans–and said, in a very tentative voice, “I guess I did get home early today, didn’t I? So what exactly are you making?” the only thing I could think to say was, “Aunt Helen’s Comical Chocolate Cake.”

Comical because it took far more effort to make it with two babies around than it would if it were just me in the kitchen alone. Comical because I planned to bake it in two cake pans that, as it turns out, I don’t even own. Comical because every time my mom and I talk about the cake, we remember how proud Aunt Helen was that there were only 3 Tablespoons of cocoa in the whole cake. Three tablespoons. That’s it!

Aunt Helen’s cake, though absolutely delicious in its own right, is anything but chocolatey. It tastes like one of those tried and true sheet cakes that has good ol’ fashioned powdered sugar frosting, the kind that would show up at church potlucks all over the Midwest. (This cake probably did make an appearance at many such events since Aunt Helen was a pastor’s wife in the Midwest.)

In my memory, the cake is absolutely delicious in its own right, whether it’s super chocolatey or not. (And for reasons I’ll never be able to explain, I always taste a hint of cinnamon when I think of that cake.) Whenever I think of this cake, I think of Aunt Helen and how “tried and true” she is in my memory. I don’t know her, not really. She came to visit when I was a kid, and my memory of her is wonderful, but it’s really Grandma’s Teague’s stories of her that make me admire her the most: stories of singing together, harmonizing while they washed the dishes; stories of how they both wore the same wedding dress only a few short days apart from each other; stories of how her life was strikingly similar to the story of The Poisonwood Bible.  Resourceful, creative, and compassionate, with a laugh that (in my memory, at least) sounds like the tinkling of a glockenspiel.

But back to the cake. As I stirred together the batter, I couldn’t resist adding more cocoa than the original recipe called for. I mean, if you’re going to do something, do it right. (Right?) So I doubled the cocoa content, wondering if Aunt Helen would be offended if she knew what I was doing. To make matters worse, I added some cinnamon so  that I wouldn’t be disappointed when the cake doesn’t taste like it does in my memory.

As the dishes piled up, I couldn’t help but hope that Addie and Mia will sing together while they do dishes one day, just like my grandma and Aunt Helen did. But my day dreaming was interrupted by Addie, who didn’t exactly appreciate the noise I was making with the hand held mixer. She whined until I picked her up so she could see what I was doing, and even then she was still unsettled. So, I  gave her a taste of the batter, which worked. Suddenly she didn’t care about the noise anymore. It was as if she was saying, “Bring on the noise if it means I get a treat that tastes like this!” I took that as a good sign that the cake was shaping up to be something good. (I mean, come on. Look at her attack that spatula.)

But in my efforts to keep her interested and not scared of the mixer, I misread the recipe and only added in 2 cups of flour, not the 3 cups originally called for. (And I only realized this after the cake was already baked…).

So to be sure I hadn’t ruined Aunt Helen’s legendary chocolate cake, I took it to Grandma’s house the next day so she could taste it. Her assessment? Delicious. And I agreed–how could I not? It was chocolatey and very moist (a result of leaving out 1 cup of flour!).  Addie’s assessment? She happily took one bite, asked for more, and promptly spit it out.

I’m glad you didn’t do the same thing when you tasted it. I took that to mean you liked it, which leads me to believe that it’s ok to reinvent old classics for modern tastes, right? (Even if a 21 month old spits it out? Heck, more for us.)

Love, Scratch

Aunt Helen’s Chocolate Cake, Reinvented

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1 scant cup butter flavored organic shortening
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 Tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sour milk (2 cups low fat milk + 2 Tablespoons plain vinegar)

Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 butter, at room temperature
2-3 Tablespoons (or more) cocoa
2 – 2 1/4 c confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 cake pan.  Make the sour milk by adding 2 Tablespoons plain vinegar to 2 cups lowfat milk. Stir and set aside. Mix dry ingredients together. Set aside. Cream together the sugar and shortening; add the eggs and vanilla and mix until creamy. Add 1/4 cup sour milk and mix; add 1/2 cup dry ingredients and mix. Repeat until milk and dry ingredients are all incorporated. Mix on high until creamy and smooth. Pour into prepared pan and bake for one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Cool on a wire rack.

While cake is cooling, make the frosting. Use about 1/4 cup butter at room temperature and dump some cocoa in the bowl (maybe about 2-3 Tablespoons or so).  Add 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and blend with a mixer (or a hand held whisk if your babies are in bed, like mine were). Splash in some milk and mix until incorporated; the mixture should be smooth and thick. If it’s too thin, add some more confectioner’s sugar (I added another 1/4 cup).

Spread evenly on top of the cake and let set. After it is fully dry, it’ll be semi-hard, like a super-thin candy shell on top.