Chocolate and pear skillet cake, gluten-free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

Here’s my spin on a delicious cake known as torta di pere, adapted from this excellent recipe.

My version is made with almond flour and honey instead of wheat and sugar. Plus I bake it in a cast iron skillet. A country cake with rugged ingredients and the sophisticated and unexpected combination of chocolate and pear seems perfectly suited to being baked in skillet.

You can use a spring form pan but if you have a 10-inch cast iron frying pan give it a try.

A cast iron skillet is an excellent baking vessel, especially when you get the hang of it, because cast iron enhances brownness and promotes a crisp exterior. Baking this cake in a skillet results in a wonderful crust; the edges and bottom become golden and caramelized yet the inside is moist.

There’s a learning curve to baking with cast iron. Timing is everything since cast iron gets very hot and stays very hot. With experience you can really nail certain recipes, especially things you want soft in the middle with a nice crust.

You can pour your batter into a cool greased pan. For best results, preheat the skillet by placing it in a cool oven and allowing it to heat as the oven heats before you grease it and add the batter.

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

chocolate and pear cake, gluten free

Chocolate and pear skillet cake, gluten-free

 

2 cups almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs, separated. Beating the egg whites and then folding into the batter results in a lighter cake.

1/3 cup honey

6 tbsp olive oil or oil of your choice. Melted coconut oil or butter works, too.

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 pears, peeled and in a small dice. I used Bartlett pears.

3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks

 

Place 10-inch cast iron skillet in cool oven and turn oven to 325 F. Allow skillet to heat for twenty minutes while you make batter.

In a small bowl mix almond flour, baking powder and salt.

In a larger bowl cream the eggs yolks, honey, oil and vanilla. Add the almond mixture and combine well.

Beat the egg whites and fold into batter.

Carefully remove the heated skillet from the oven and grease it by adding add 1 teaspoon of oil, butter or coconut oil, brushing to coat the bottom and sides.

Pour in batter and top with diced pear and chocolate chunks.

Return to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and light to the touch. Doneness is more important than baking time so be sure to check by light touch or the toothpick method.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Best served at room temperature or slightly warm.

Store any remaining slices in an airtight container in the fridge.

Wabi-sabi; appreciation without the panic

wabi-sabi

I wrote about wabi-sabi, how it can help you look at your day-to-day life differently and put you more at ease.

You might be asking: what good is a concept that reminds you things shrivel, break or die?

It’s quite good, actually.

Here’s an example from my own life.

See the painting above? We saw it hanging in a gallery one summer and were smitten. We left the gallery without buying it. After all, we were only there to look. But we couldn’t stop talking about it, so we returned to the gallery for one last look and that was that. The painting became ours.

That was 2004, around the same time a powerful tsunami hit the Indian ocean. Remember? It was all over the news and the stories were heartbreaking. I remember turning away from a newspaper article, looking up at the new painting now hanging on our wall and thinking it could get destroyed in a flood, fire or some other unfortunate event. Oddly enough the thought wasn’t troubling. In fact, it put me at ease.

By imagining the painting damaged or gone it suddenly became more precious to me. It wasn’t about giving way to carelessness or neglect. It was accepting the painting could (will?) one day be gone AND appreciating it, all at once.

That’s what a wabi-sabi perspective offers. Appreciation without the panic.

 

Exhibition kitchen/The Rockpool experience by Elaine Coffee

elaine coffee painting

Viewing life through a wabi-sabi lens

wabi sabi the beauty of things whithered

Discovering a concept that describes an emotion your culture has no word for can help you make better sense of yourself and more able to cope with life’s stresses.

This happened to me several years ago when I learned about wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi (wobby-sobby) expresses things I’ve long felt but had no words for.

Wabi-sabi (not to be confused with wasabi – the green condiment with the strong pungency eaten with sushi) is a concept deeply ingrained in Japanese society and notoriously hard to explain.

I read somewhere if a culture has no word for something then it’s not considered important or significant. It’s not surprising there’s no direct translation of wabi-sabi into English. That’s because a wabi-sabi way of seeing the world is quite different from the way we typically see things in the West, especially when it comes to expressions of beauty.

wabi sabi dried sun flower

wabi sabi old barn

wabi sabi

wabi sabi dried flowerIt’s easy to forget ideas of beauty aren’t universal. In the West we lean toward Greek ideas about beauty, which focus on perfection – symmetry and proportion, glossiness, newness and freshness. Wabi-sabi shifts the balance away from perfection in favour of authenticity.

Wabi-sabi is a mind set, a way of seeing things but it’s also expressed in certain physical characteristics. Things earthy, modest, organic, rustic, simple, and things that bear the mark of time because they have been so well cared for are all beautiful and all very wabi-sabi.

wabi sabi aged utensils

wabi sabi

wabi sabi old church

wabi sabi

wabi sabi weathered basket

It helps to know wabi-sabi started out as separate terms.

In the 8th century sabi appeared in Japanese poetry and meant the beauty of things withered. Sabi celebrates the toll living takes on everything, and is expressed in the graceful aging of objects in nature as well as things made by hand from materials like wood, wool, clay and cotton. Autumn leaves, a fading flower, aged utensils and weathered wood are considered beautiful because they are authentic. At its core, sabi is about flux and the limited mortality of all things.

Wabi emerged in the 15th century as a reaction to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which was lavish, expensive and a means to show off wealth. The ceremonies mostly involved the ruling class and were extravagant affairs. Tea houses were gaudy and expensive imported goods were used. The wabi way of tea is the opposite; humble, quiet, and simple. Beauty exists in the modest and imperfect. Tea is served in locally fired bowls. Decor consists of bamboo and fresh flowers in weathered baskets. Hospitality, not pretension, is what counts.

wabi sabi

wabi sabi fading peony

wabi sabi

wabi sabi dried flowers

Now wabi and sabi are combined, interchangeable and shorthand for finding beauty in the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi-sabi is often summed up in three truths:

nothing lasts,

nothing is finished,

nothing is perfect.

Maybe you find wabi-sabi too gloomy and grim a concept to adopt. Or maybe you’re like me and find it unshakable.

I see value in viewing life through a wabi-sabi lens. It’s a way of engaging with life that, although bittersweet, puts me at ease. Accepting life as imperfect, unfinished and transient actually feels quite freeing.

Coconut flour pancakes

coconut flour pancakes

If I were to compose a list of favourite recipes this would be my pick for best and most satisfying gluten-free pancake. Even if avoiding gluten is not essential for you or your family, it’s simply a great pancake recipe. It results in pancakes that are light, tender, and delicious.

Beyond taste and texture you can love them because of the many nutritional benefits of coconut flour. It’s high in fibre and protein, rich in trace minerals and low in digestible carbohydrates.

Don’t care for the taste of coconut? You might still like these pancakes since coconut flour doesn’t have a strong coconut flavour.

Be warned: you can’t treat coconut flour like wheat flour and it will not work as a direct substitute. Coconut flour, made from dried and ground coconut meat, is very very absorbent. You only need 1/2 the amount of coconut flour you would of regular flour and you double the amount of egg.

This recipe doesn’t make a large amount of batter but don’t worry. A little goes a long way. These pancakes are exceptionally filling; two pancakes, especially when served with an ample side of berries, satisfy beautifully.

Hopefully there’s coconut flour in a shop near you. This brand might be familiar.

See the original recipe here.

coconut flour pancakes

Coconut Flour Pancakes (makes 6 small pancakes)

4 large eggs

1/4 cup of milk. I use almond but you could use cow’s milk, soy or any other nut milk.

3 tablespoons oil. I use melted coconut oil or melted butter or ghee.

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 tablespoon sweetener. I use maple syrup or honey but you can use sugar.

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat.

In a large bowl, use an egg beater or whisk to combine eggs, milk and oil. If using liquid sweetener add it here as well.

In another bowl, whisk the coconut flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (if using) until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until no lumps remain.

Grease griddle or skillet with oil or butter.

Drop 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the hot griddle.

Cook 3-4 minutes until small bubbles begin to form on top, then flip.

Cook on the other side 1-2 minutes more.

Serve warm with berries or topping of choice.

Drizzle with maple syrup.

My favourite cracker recipe

life changing crackers

A cracker recipe is, hands down, my most popular blog post. Not the recipe for Raw Chocolate Chewy Squares or Pineapple Upside Down Cake but a wholesome flaxseed cracker recipe.

I wonder how much traffic this cracker recipe will get because I think it’s even better.

I prefer the consistency of this cracker dough and I like rolling the dough between sheets of baking paper instead of trying to spread it evenly with the back of a spoon.

These crackers taste great and have the satisfying crunch of a crisp bread. The oatmeal and maple syrup lend them a subtle sweetness. They are high in nutrients and fibre, and gluten-free.

The other day, just as I was pulling the second sheet of crackers from the oven, a delivery man appeared at my doorstep with a parcel from France; a jar of marmalade made by a friend with hand-picked oranges from in her garden. Magical timing.

life changing crackers

life changing crackers

This is a basic recipe but you can make your crackers even more flavourful by adding extra ingredients. It makes about two regular size cookie sheets of crackers. Find the original recipe and ideas for seasoning here.

Live Changing Crackers

1 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

2 tbsp chia seeds

4 tbsp psyllium husks, 3 tbsp if you use powder

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tbsp maple syrup

3 tbsp melted coconut oil

1 1/2 cups water

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.

Whisk oil, maple syrup and water together. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. If the mixture is too dry add more water, a little at a time. The dough should be thick but manageable.

Gather into one ball or two. Dividing dough into two balls gives you nicer sizes to manage, plus you can flavour each differently if you like.

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, firmly roll into a thin sheet. The thinner you can roll the dough without it ripping the better. Then you get a nice crisp cracker that’s a pleasure to bite into.

Remove the top layer of parchment and set aside for later use.

Score the dough into the shapes and size you want. Let sit on the counter for two hours, all day or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab the edge of the baking paper and slide onto a cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove cookie sheet from oven. Place the extra piece of parchment (from earlier) on top and flip over. Slide back on cookie sheet and bake another 10 minutes until dry, crisp and golden.

Let cool completely before storing in a lidded container for up to three weeks.

life changing crackers

Yellow roses and a three-legged cat

 

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

Capturing the beauty of yellow roses as they fade helped me tap into peace and calm, which I really needed these past few weeks.

I was distressed about one of our cats; Archie wasn’t doing well and I feared the worst.

We adopted Archie from the Humane Society ten years ago. He’s such a lovely animal, terribly handsome with a most peaceful deposition. It’s an understatement to say we’re attached to him.

He’s our therapy cat. Anyone could benefit from being around him (except those allergic, perhaps). You look into his gorgeous green eyes, stroke his soft beautifully patterned fur, hear his roaring purr and you feel better.

Imagine our grief when we learned of a growing and painful bone tumour in one of his hind legs.

Amputation was recommended. It was expensive but it would put an end to Archie’s pain, which was growing increasingly hard to manage, even with heavy painkillers. It would definitely prolong his life. But a life with three legs? Was it the right thing to do?

Something the vet said put us at ease: a cat doesn’t look backwards to when it had four legs, it moves forward and adapts.

It’s been almost three weeks since his surgery. His recovery is a wonderful thing to assist and witness. Being kind and tender has been the trend around here. I’m touched to see those qualities shine in my husband and kids.

He slept a great deal the first week but now he’s more alert. We can tell by his ears – super perky! He gets out of his heated bed to eat and use the litter. His stitches are out and he doesn’t have to wear the dreaded cone of shame anymore, thank goodness. He even manages going down the stairs on his own. And he grooms himself! It’s a good sign because it suggests he’s not depressed.

Further on in his recovery, when his wound has healed and his fur has grown back in, I’ll post a video or two.

Archie’s going to get along just fine with three legs instead of four and that makes us positively giddy with happiness.

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

yellow roses

yellow roses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coaxing paperwhite bulbs: an aura of spring in the dead of winter

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

With very little coaxing paperwhite bulbs will reward you with clusters of fragrant blooms in as little as four weeks. All you need is a container, a holding medium and water.

Soil is not necessary; paperwhites will happily grow anchored in either decorative stone, glass, pebbles or gravel.

paperwhite bulbs

paperwhite bulbs

planting paperwhite bulbs

I started my paperwhite bulbs in mid December, too late for Christmas blooms but perfect timing for flowers in mid to late January.

I chose white pots that belonged to my mother and small river stones for anchoring the bulbs. I decorated the top with moss.

The grande finale is obviously when delicate little white trumpets appear and release their characteristic heady scent. But I get great pleasure out of tracking the paperwhites’ growth until they flower. This poem sums it up perfectly.

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

paperwhite bulbs

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

Next year I’ll try something suggested by researchers at Cornell University: to keep paperwhites from growing too tall and spindly, and to prevent droop I’ll add a splash of gin (almost any hard liquor will do) to the water. It supposedly shortens the stems, lowers the center of gravity and prevents paperwhites from getting top heavy.

Here are guidelines on how to coax paperwhite bulbs. Best growing time is between October and January.

  • Place a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase.
  • Place a layer of paperwhite bulbs close to each other, roots facing down.
  • Put a few stones or pebbles around and between the bulbs to anchor them. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed.
  • Add water to just below the base of the bulbs. If the base sits in water, it will rot. If you are using a pottery vase, use your finger to measure the water level. Replenish when water level falls.
  • Put in a cool and dimly lit or dark place for one to two weeks or until roots have begun to take hold and green shoots emerge. Then move the pot to a bright spot.
  • Rotate the pot regularly to encourage even growth.
  • Four to six weeks later paperwhites should bloom, longer if in a room with less light.
  • After your paperwhites have finished blooming, gently pull the plants from the holding medium and toss them in the compost as they won’t flower again.
  • Wash and dry the stones and the container for future use.

paperwhites

paperwhites

Tidying up

tidying up space clearing

We get good mileage out of tidying up our homes in early December until early January. It’s a natural time to clean up to make room for invited guests and for decorations such as the Christmas tree.

Things get moved here to there and temporarily stored away to make room for new items, and it gets us thinking about our homes and the things we own. In this 1500 square foot house we’re (practically ) five grown ups, so this is a regular necessity.

tidying up space clearing

It happens in January when we remove the decorations, and look for space and a place to put new things. It’s a natural time for renewal and revaluation.

If I had New year’s intention it might be this: to strive for fullness with an impulse toward simplicity. I like how Leonard Koren puts it: “To pare down to the essence without removing the poetry.” Luckily, life provides opportunities to practice this.

tidying up space clearing

I’ve had plenty practice sorting essential items from useless ones; before we settled into this home we moved apartments four times in seven years. Not to even mention the several apartments I moved in and out of before we married.

Several summers ago, the five of us lived comfortably in a small apartment without our belongings for an entire month. After we returned home I looked around at what we owned and thought, “If we moved tomorrow would we take it with us?” I then packed several bags for the Goodwill.

tidyng up space clearing

Clearing my father’s home of his belongings was eye-opening and helped me reconsider my attachments to things, even the sentimental. With it came the comforting realization that you can have vivid memories without relics to conjure them.

When I was four our home burned to the ground and we lost everything. Even catastrophe offers an indelible moment; it was stuff and stuff is replaceable.

 

Fraser fir in da house!

christmas tree lights reflection

I don’t recall a christmas tree ever giving me this much pleasure.

In an effort to fake it till you make it we got our tree earlier than usual. My enthusiasm for Christmas was low and I thought bringing greenery into our home ASAP might help.

We bought the tree, a Fraser Fir, and I cleared a spot for it in the living room on the main floor, near the front door at the bottom of the stairs. We strung it with lights and there it stood for a week or so until a few teenagers and twenty somethings dressed it with a mish mash of ornaments and bulbs of various shades of blue.

frasrer fir christmas tree

fraser fir christmas tree

christmas tree ornaments

christmas tree ornament

If Christmas has a classic smell then the scent of evergreens is high on the list.

This tree is especially aromatic. Its uplifting scent greets your nose each time entering the house and when descending from bedrooms to the main floor first thing in the morning.

Not only is this tree fragrant and beautiful. Turns out we also chose put it in an auspicious location. One evening at dinner, I could see the tree in four different spots from where I was sitting, its image reflected off windows and mirror.

christmas lights reflections

christmas tree reflection

christmas tree

christmas greenery

Oven roasted pecans with maple syrup

oven raosted pecans

I bought raw grocery store pecans recently. Guests were arriving and I wanted something to nibble with our wine.

Once home, I discovered the pecans were ho hum both in texture and in taste; they were a chore to chew and rather bland.

Turning on the oven and roasting them transformed tasteless raw pecans into something remarkable, sophisticated and complex.

oven raosted pecans

oven raosted pecans

Roasting nuts in the oven is a treat for all the senses. It deepens the flavour of nuts. The texture gets delightfully crisper and they turn a beautiful darker shade. You might even hear them crackle as the bake. Your home will smell wonderfully fragrant, too.

If you serve to guests before completely cool, they become a tactile pleasure. “Hmmm, these nuts are still warm,” murmured one guest.

oven roasted nuts

oven raosted pecans

oven roasted nuts

Roast nuts plain or flavour them how you prefer. I gave mine a good splash of maple syrup along with sea salt and lots of pepper.

The thing to keep in mind when roasting nuts is they can go from not done to ready in a nano second. Check them, on and off, and move them around to ensure even roasting, especially if your oven has hot spots. Also, the nuts at the edges of the baking pan can brown sooner than the nuts in the middle.

These are great as a companion to drinks before dinner or as a snack. A small jar would be a great gift to bring the host of a party. They’re also great in a salad.

 

Oven Roasted Pecans with Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 325 degrees F if your oven runs hot.

Place pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with maple syrup, add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss well.

Spread pecans in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. I line sheet with parchment.

Place in oven.

Check after 5 minutes, stir or redistribute the nuts and continue roasting.

Check the nuts again after 3 to 5 minutes.

You know they’re done when there is a nutty smell in the air and the nuts are slightly darker.

Return to the oven if needed and check again after another 3 minutes.

Nuts rarely take longer than 15 minutes to roast, usually closer to 8 to 12 minutes.

oven roasted nuts