27 September 2010

Things That Are Dairy-Free: Chocolate Cake

Over the last several months, since we discovered The Imp's allergy to all things milk, I've been looking for dairy-free substitutes for some of my old tried-and-true favourites. I refuse to accept that having an allergy means all the fun stuff is off-limits! For chocolate cake, fortunately, my old tried-and-true was already dairy-free, a fact I didn't even realize until I really started paying attention. The cake is actually vegan, although that's not its raison-d'ĂȘtre. It's not from a vegan or health-food cookbook, in fact it's adapted from the most basic of cookbooks: Betty Crocker's New Cookbook, which I've had forever. (I have the 8th edition.) It's deliciously moist and chocolatey, and dead simple to make. It's been my go-to cake recipe for years - long before The Imp's allergy made it a necessity.

Toddler approved! The Imp enjoys his 2nd birthday cake.

This post also features this cake (with photos), in our life pre-non-dairy. So easy a toddler can make it!

The recipe below makes one layer in a 8 inch square or round pan. For two layers, make the recipe twice. For three, make it three times, etc. For a larger cake like the one pictured in this post, double the recipe and bake each layer in a 13 x 9 inch pan.

I haven't tried it, but I'm sure you could make cupcakes with this recipe too - the cooking time would be much shorter.

Anyway, on to the ingredients:

1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pure baking cocoa powder (I like
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

And here's why it's so easy. Mix all the dry ingredients with a fork right in the cake pan - ungreased. Then stir in all the wet ingredients. When well mixed, stick it in the oven for about 30 - 40 minutes. VoilĂ .

That's the recipe more or less as it appears in the book. I often have a heavier hand with the cocoa powder, using 1/3 of a cup - how can cake be too chocolatey, I ask you? Also since I'm not a fan of super-sweet, I go a bit lighter on the sugar - a scant cup, unpacked.

My oven tends to run a bit hot, so I start checking it at the 25 minute mark. When a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, it's done. Baking too long will result in a dry, crumbly cake. So don't do that!

I usually make 2 - 3 layers at once, then assemble them with jam and/or fresh fruit as a filling between the layers and pour melted chocolate chips (the Safeway Organic brand chocolate chips are a rare dairy-free option) thinned with soymilk over the top as a ganache-style frosting.

I am, however, looking for good dairy-free frosting recipes. Suggestions welcome!

24 September 2010

Things That Are True - Ruminations Upon Turning Forty

Warning: cringe-inducing earnestness ahead. If you're looking for cynicism, click away. You'll not find it here.

My 40th birthday party - photo by HWSNBN

A month ago today, I turned 40.

I had a half a dozen half-written posts in my head at the time, which have grown to a dozen since. Things I've wanted to say: an update on my Fit by Forty mission, discussions of celebrations, birthday cake for the non-dairy set, clever quips about passing life's milestones, and some Significant Ponderings Upon Reaching Adulthood. It's taken a month for all of that to simmer on the back burner of my mental landscape and bubble over into this:

I'm 40. And I don't care anymore.

Let me clarify: this is not "I don't care anymore, nothing matters and what if it did." I have not been tsunami'd by a rogue wave of apathy. The exact opposite, in fact. I am as passionate, as engaged, and possibly more driven than I've ever been. This is "I know what I know, I love what I love, and I no longer give a damn what other people think."

This, friends and relations, is what freedom feels like.

This is a huge deal for someone like me. I have expended a lot of energy - enough kW hours to make a serious dent in the global energy crisis - being consumed with anxiety about not fitting in, worrying about what to wear, what to say, how to act. I have, more than once, allowed my fear to sink me into utter paralysis. I've not done things I desperately, achingly wanted to do - talk to that guy, write that song, go to that event, try that new scary thing - because of my fear of Getting It Wrong. Sheer will pushed me forward on occasion, but more often than not, I feigned aloofness and pretended what I really wanted didn't matter. I opted out.

No more.

An actual photo I took today just before the scribbling began

As I write this, I'm sitting in a cafe that is much cooler than I am. I put my pen down periodically (yes, I still write with pen and paper occasionally - I like the tactile nature of it) and dip in and out of the stream of conversation around me, capturing vignettes of people's public and private lives. I'm surrounded by 20-something hipsters. I admire their easy confidence, their languid coolness, their uninhibited friendships. And I wonder what I looked like at their age to a 40 year old woman sitting scribbling in a notebook nearby. Did I seem so easy and comfortable in my own skin? Or could she tell I was afraid of looking foolish every waking moment of every day? And are these beautiful younger-than-me men and women plagued by the angst (existential and otherwise) that plagued me at their age?

It feels sudden, this I-don't-give-a-damn liberation, but I'm sure, like everything else, that it's not that simple, that it's been creeping up on me far longer than I've been aware. It's just the introspection of watching a major milestone approach and go past that's made it front-and-centre.

I spent my twenties figuring out who I was in the wake of a disastrous and abusive relationship. What other people thought of me was always top of mind. In my thirties, I had a better poker face, but I was still consumed with how I appeared to others. The things that made me happy - designer clothes, extravagant vacations, expensive restaurants - were still tied up in how other people saw me. If I deconstructed every choice I made in the ten years between 27 and 37, what other people thought was the single most important factor every time.

Motherhood - ah motherhood: paradoxically crisis-of-confidence inducing and magnificently empowering all at once. While the mere act of living my life, examining my mistakes, and choosing better the next time has contributed to this new, giddy sense of freedom, it's motherhood that has triggered a quiet revolution in the way I look at the world. I've always been someone who had to know how to do something perfectly before I would even try it - as a result I didn't try a lot of new things. But becoming a parent isn't something I could know how to do before I actually did it. No matter how many books I read or friends I talk to, every person's experience of parenthood is different, and I can't do anything but figure it out as I go.

And Get It Wrong. Boy, do I get it wrong. I angst. I worry. I fret. It's a struggle, and a challenge, and a different game every day - which would have stopped me in my tracks ten years ago. Even five years ago.

But I keep doing it anyway. Aloofness isn't possible. Opting out simply isn't an option.

The getting it wrong and doing it anyway is a monumental change for me. Learning to be a parent has given me the permission to fail, and the courage to try to fail better next time. To just get over myself, to challenge my own assumptions, to reach out, to share my hopes and dreams in this space, and most importantly to believe that my hopes and dreams do matter. Pretty heady stuff.

Web cam photo taken right this minute

Hi. I'm Alexis.

My hair gets frizzy. My teeth are crooked. I make mistakes. I know what I know, I love what I love, and I stand up for what I believe in. I'm 40. And I don't give a damn.

Can I get a booyah?