Category Archives: food and cooking

Brownies prompt a question.

I was searching for a different recipe when I ran across this one for brownies, which I decided to take to a potluck last week. In reading the comments on the recipe, on the New York Times cooking site, I came upon the question of whether one could use “regular” cocoa powder instead of cacao in this recipe. Because the spelling is so similar, I hadn’t even noticed that the recipe called for cacao. Cocoa is what I always keep in my cupboard, so I needed to know.

The question wasn’t answered definitively enough for me, and I soon found a long discussion of cocoa vs. cacao on a different site, comments long ago closed. Most of the chefs and cooks on that site said there was no real difference besides the spelling, though a few insisted otherwise. My take is that at least some brands of “natural cacao powder” likely retain more nutrients than cocoa. Everyone did agree that you don’t want “Dutch process” cocoa because that is used to make poor quality cacao beans saleable.

When I went to the pantry for my cocoa powder, I saw that it was cacao powder after all, a big bag I’d bought at Costco without wondering why they were using that spelling. So I didn’t have to substitute that ingredient. If I’d had both cacao and cocoa on hand, I’d have baked one pan with each ingredient, for taste-testing purposes. Maybe next time.

I loved these brownies. They seemed very rich in spite of having no butter or eggs. I ate one and a half, and felt buzzed by them, they were so chocolatey. But I slept well that night anyway.

MEXICAN BROWNIES

Vegan and gluten/grain-free; adapted from the NYT recipe which was adapted from Julie Piatt.

3 Tablespoons/14 grams ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
Coconut oil, for greasing pan
¾ cup chickpea flour (besan)
½ cup cacao powder
½ cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mild chili powder
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup almond meal
1 1/3 cups sugar
8 oz. Earth Balance vegan butter, softened
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 ½ oz unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons olive oil

1) In a small bowl, whisk together the flaxseed and water until mixture has an egg-like consistency. Set aside.

2) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, sift together the chickpea flour, cacao powder, tapioca flour, cinnamon, chili powder, xanthan gum, salt and baking soda. Add almond meal and stir until fully incorporated.

4) In a double boiler or in the microwave melt the unsweetened chocolate and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

5) Whisk the flaxseed “egg” again, then put in the bowl of a stand mixer along with the sugar, vegan butter, almond milk and vanilla. Stir on low. Gradually increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until mixture is fully combined and mostly smooth, 5-7 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and olive oil and beat for 15 seconds.

6) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until fully combined and streak-free. The batter should be thick and gooey. Add additional almond milk if it seems too dry. Fold about half of the chocolate chips into the batter, then spread it in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips.

7) Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the brownies comes out mostly clean, 50-60 minutes.

The NYT recipe had more chocolate bar and chocolate chips. I added the olive oil to make up for the missing fat. I used unsweetened chocolate instead of a dark chocolate bar so I increased the sugar a tiny bit.

I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9×13 Pyrex pan, which made for tall brownies and probably necessitated the full hour of baking.

For those interested generally in vegan cakes and brownies, this recipe, Chocolate Carrot Cake, is vegan, and has been accidentally, and then later intentionally, made into brownies. The brownie-eaters could not believe they were vegan. They are easier to make than the Mexican Brownies here in this post, but I like better the texture and complex flavors of the more involved recipe, the chili and cinnamon, almond and vanilla. Let me know if you try one or the other.

The Accidental Carrot Cake Brownie

Feasting all over.

We are celebrating one of our parish feast days, and I was blessed to be at Vigil tonight. The hymns and readings for the feast are the same every year, but the arrangements and singers and various aspects change, so that every service is both comforting in its familiar traditions and beautifully unique.

At a festal vigil the Five Loaves are blessed and broken for us to eat, to sustain us during what can be a long service; and we receive anointing with holy oil as another way to participate bodily. The Vigil service includes parts of the Vespers and Matins services and is the first part of the feast, which concludes in the morning.

The caterpillars on my milkweed plants are partaking of a different sort of food.  They have been traveling among all the different species of Asclepias, including the new plants just set out. Though there are fewer of them now, it’s good to see their survival instincts operating.

The day that I set off for Pippin’s place last week, I received a quantity of quinces by way of a friend of a friend, which anonymous friend drove several miles from another town to drop them off at church, so that I could pick them up on my way north. They sat in the back of my car for those several days, and this week I processed them. They turned out to be very wormy, but they were so big and numerous that after quite a lot of trimming and slicing, I ended up with a few quarts. I poached them with lemon, sugar and a cinnamon stick. I froze most of them but have been enjoying one quart right away.


In the past I have mostly baked them, and that was much easier. I love quince and am sad that so few people have trees anymore. I have put out queries some years to search out whether anyone knows of unwanted quinces I could take; this batch came to me completely out of the blue, unasked for.

Divine Liturgy for the feast will be in the morning, the celebration of the Eucharist. That will make it feel like Sunday, but it’s Saturday…. and besides feasting, I’ll be gardening — and resting, because I’ve been running around a lot!

I leave you with one of the readings from this evening’s service, which refers to a hearty feast of wisdom:

PROVERBS 9:1-11

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn out her seven pillars,
she has slaughtered her meat, she has mixed her wine,
she has also furnished her table.
She has sent out her maidens,
she cries out from the highest places of the city,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him,
“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Forsake foolishness and live,
and go in the way of understanding.
He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself,
and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.
Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;
give instruction to a wise man,
and he will be still wiser;
teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years of life will be added to you.”

Plums and logs and good intentions.

Originally I’d wanted to use my own and other local plums to make this cobbler recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and I wanted to take it to a party that mutual friends hosted, for my friend David’s name day a couple of months ago. Time did not permit, so I thought for at least a minute that night about doing it for his birthday instead, which I knew wasn’t too far off. But so many thoughts like that, representing good intentions, get lost forever in the chaotic ocean of my mind. And I didn’t know his exact birthday.

Last week when David agreed to stack my firewood, the idea of baking him something by way of a thank-you gift did not even occur to me. I was not operating in my preferred realm of the kitchen and the hearth united, but was thinking of a dozen householder tasks needing done, the sort I can’t confidently do anymore. So when David arrived, I had a couple more jobs for him before he could even start the real work.

The day before the wood-stacking event, I saw a picture on Elizabeth’s blog that puzzled me; it seemed to be a dessert. I asked her about it in a comment, and she responded right away telling me that it was a plum cake that she has made before. That formed a link in my mind to the remainder of a large package of plums from Costco sitting on my kitchen counter. I saw her reply the next morning and tracked the recipe down to the New York Times. And I realized that I had the exact number of plums I needed to make the cake. Only then did it occur to me that I could give it to David; he wasn’t coming until the late afternoon, so I had time to bake it.

To the recipe as given I added some sliced almonds and a little almond extract, and used 3/4 cup of sugar. Elizabeth told me she uses only 1/2 cup. Mine was a 10-inch springform pan and the recipe called for 9-inch; I think the resulting shallowness made the cake want to fall apart when I was transferring it to a plate.

David came, he worked and worked, and was dripping with sweat by the time the job was done. Because of the way that my utility yard is crowded right now, he had to make two tallish stacks.

He took the cake home, after telling me that it was his birthday!
Many Years, David! And many logs!

The Zephyr brought joys.

Liam’s papercrafting

While my son “Soldier” was away for a few weeks, his wife whom I call Joy brought all four children to California to see the grandparents. They came by train, the California Zephyr line, which gave me an excuse to tell them stories about my yearly summer train trips as a child to see my grandmother. The images that my mind retains through the decades related to those journeys are vivid. Many railway experiences of the current Amtrak era are worlds apart from what I knew, but I’m happy that the children had a new adventure, and even slept overnight on the train, which I never did.

Their lively group stayed with me five nights, and visited Joy’s family nearby as well. We were so busy all those days, I barely remembered to take any pictures, much less write about our fun.

braiding seagrass

Liam’s side of our Bananagrams game, using all his tiles.

We went to church, to the beach, to the cemetery — bringing along yarrow, zinnias, snapdragons and sunflowers for the children to lay on their grandpa’s grave. They are too young to remember him, so when we got home I showed them a photo slide show on the computer.

We took walks along the creek and to the neighborhood school’s playground. I read from Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom  as I had read to their cousins last month, and laughed hilariously over “The King’s Daughter Who Cried for the Moon.”

The children combed my garden to find everything I would confirm as edible. They gathered hundreds of manzanita berries from under that little tree and chewed on them, spitting out the several rock-hard seeds in each. The strawberry tree fruits are ripening now, but the tree has grown so tall that they needed a ladder and a broom to knock them down.

These children are, as we say, “good eaters.” No matter what strange concoction Grandma has made, they want to try it — even my ultra-spicy pudding that I make with the pulp left over from making ginger broth. When oatmeal or buckwheat porridge was on the breakfast menu, they loved having a smorgasbord of toppings, everything from peanut butter and milk to chopped dried apricots and this seed mix.

I was given a dozen homegrown peaches recently and I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen to make a cobbler, half of which we ate for dessert one night, and the remainder next morning for the third course of our breakfast, after grapefruit and scrambled eggs.

It was delectable. Where the recipe called for vanilla or almond extract I used almond. I think if I make it again I will increase the amount of fruit, and use a little less cream or butter in the scone topping, with confidence of still being able to call it Plenty Rich. And I would like to try it with plums — or any fruit!

My dear people are headed back home to Colorado now, and the cobbler is gone…. The taste of scones and peaches is already fading, but Joy and her young joys made a big deposit of sweetness in my heart, to flavor many days to come.