Foodie Pen Pals – the big reveal!

This month I participated for the first time in Foodie Penpals, a food blog event organized by Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean, where folks send boxes of treats to each other all over the country (and the world). I participated a while back in a similar event, a Vegan, Gluten-free Parcel Swap, which was awesome, except who knew it would cost over $85 to ship a box of food to Australia! Wowza! So I was glad Foodie Penpals matches US senders with US recipients. I was super excited to shop for and ship off a box of goodies to my recipient penpal across the country (Courtney at Knits N Bits 4 U), and the very next day I received an intriguingly colorful box from my sender penpal, Dani. (In this swap, you give and receive to/from different people.)

I was writing a paper the day the box arrived, so I decided to wait to open it until I finished. It was a great incentive to get my work done. When I did open it up at last, I was blown away by how beautiful and colorful it was! Dani had wrapped everything in colorful tissue paper and each item had an accompanying note telling me about what it was and why she chose it.

I had been nervous, since this is an omni swap, telling her all my dietary restrictions. I was afraid it would be a drag or cause anxiety and my penpal might feel resentful. But Dani is a true foodie and treated it as an adventure, consulting with gluten-free friends and coworkers and checking labels on the snacks she loves to see if they were suitable to send along to me. From the variety in my package, it’s clear she went to several different stores as well as the farmer’s market. And I don’t think I’ve let the true extent of my mason jar obsession be known on this blog yet, but the little beribboned mason jars she sent with the chia seeds are just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

Here’s what came in my beautiful goodie box:

Bobo’s Oat Bars – Lemon Poppyseed and Cranberry Orange – these have a great soft texture and are nice and filling
Roasted Coconut Chips – These are from TJs. Maybe we don’t have them at our TJs? No one I know had ever tried them. They are addictingly good. WOW. Just. Wow.
Rice Pasta – A brand I’ve never tried before, recommended by one of Dani’s GF friends. Looking forward to checking it out!
Hail Merry Nuts & Grawnola – These were super delicious. My favorite was Vanilla Maple Almonds (I was literally licking the crumbs off the inside of the packaging) but Orange Rosemary Pecans, Salt n Black Pepper Sunflower Seeds, and Orange Cranberry Grawnola were all terrific as well. These and the Bobo’s bars have basically been getting me through long days of schoolwork and travel to family holidays.
Persimmon – From the farmer’s market, Mmm, I’ve been making persimmon, apple, and pomegranate fruit salad. So good. So fall.
Chia Seeds – I love chia seeds! And I’ve never tried the white ones. I have seen several recipes that recommend white chia for better color, so it will be great to have a stash on hand.
Brazilian Coffee – Dani warns, “It’s strong 🙂 ”

Altogether I have to say that my first Foodie Penpals experience was fantastic. I don’t which I loved better – planning and shopping for the box I sent, or anticipating, opening, and devouring the one I received. If you’re interested in participating yourself, I highly encourage you to do so, particularly because Lindsay is quite adamant in the event guidelines about people respecting the dietary restrictions of their penpal recipients, so all of us xgfx-ers have a good chance of getting treats we actually can eat! For the month of December, Foodie Penpals will be different – this month those who participate are donating the money we would have spent on putting together and sending a box of goodies to New York Cares, an organization doing both short-term and long-term aid for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Click the image below to get all the info for participating this month and in future months.

The Lean Green Bean

we are XGFX!

A while back I posted about joining up with the super awesome vegan, gluten-free blog hub some of my fellow bloggers put together. It has been so great to have a place I can go to surf food blogs and know that every single recipe is one I can make, every single photo is one I can drool over without heartbreak.

Well, the blog hub was just the first phase in a grand plan for vegan, gluten-free world dominance. And today, my friends, today we take over the world!!

Or today, at any rate, is the day that the kickass site goes live. is a miraculous playland of vegan, gluten-free goodness. (A helpful definition from the site: “xgfx is the way we designate food and other items that are both vegan and gluten free. We like using xgfx because typing out “vegan and gluten-free” over and over can be tiresome.”) The site has its own blog, tips for baking and dining out xgfx style, and all kinds of resources for living the xgfx life. The parts I’m most excited about are the community recipe archive – sign up, post recipes! I have! – and the product and publication reviews. Gluten-free vegan food, cookbooks, etc., are expensive, so it’s excellent to have a place to get the skinny on the latest cookie or pretzel, especially for the stuff that sounds amazing but would have to be ordered online. No one wants to pay shipping charges to get a dud!

I’m part of the review squadron, which hopefully someday will mean free treats delivered to my door for me to pass judgement on, but so far consists of me raving fanatically about the THREE boxes of Mary’s cookies I bought and devoured. I am so happy to be part of such an awesome community – the work that Kittee, Jessy, and Allyson have done in making happen has been phenomenal. The site is so beautiful, the graphics and design are so engaging, and most importantly the site really fills a previously unmet need.

Pan-seared summer squash with mint and garlic, Impressionist cauliflower

In honor of the launch, I have designed a menu for next week that is entirely vegan and gluten-free! (That’s a little joke, see?) The Gluten-Free Menu Swap this week is hosted by Cheryl at Gluten Free Goodness with the theme of sugar-free delights. I think I’ll use this as an opportunity to put my Vita-Mix to the use I’ve been dreaming of – I want to recreate the mint-chocolate-chip raw milkshake from Cafe Gratitude. It’s made using fresh mint and cacao nibs, and it’s totally divine – I’ve been rounding up recipes to cannibalize in my attempts to recreate it, and if I have success, I’ll let you know! (I’ll probably let you know even if I fail, ’cause I kind of like talking about my cooking failures, too.)

As always, you’ll find a ton of menu plans in the Menu Plan Monday roundup over at OrgJunkie!

Monday ~ Family Passover seder

Tuesday (defrost 5 cups stock)
“I am DIY” rice bowl with black rice, chard, kale, and avocado (save some kale for African stew)
Mint chocolate raw milkshake

Wednesday (marinate tofu for tomorrow)
African stew with millet, chick peas, and kale

The crispiest tofu with vegan ranch dressing
Fatiguer’s broccoli

Friday (start cabbage salad tonight)
Potato galette
Impressionist cauliflower
Pan-seared summer squash with garlic and mint

Que sera silken cabbage salad
Arepas with pinto beans and vegan cream cheese


Shopping list: Mint, chard, kale, avocado, 1 lb sweet potato, broccoli/broccoli rabe, garlic, 2.5 lb Yokon Gold potatoes, cauliflower, 2 lb summer squash, 2 lemons, green cabbage, vegan cream cheese

Que Sera cabbage salad

Parcel Swap!

I haven’t gotten a care package since college, when my mom used to send me the most amazing “Passover in a box” every year. But I love making them and sending them to people, so when I saw that the gluten-free folks on my favorite vegan forum, the Post Punk Kitchen, were organizing a parcel swap, I jumped on board. I was paired up with the fantabulous Mandee of Cupcake Kitteh, and we exchanged a little flurry of emails about what kinds of stuff we had access to and what kinds of things intrigued us.

A few weeks after we started coordinating, a GIANT box showed up at my door. It was like Christmas morning; I was filled with glee and anticipation as I tore into it to see what was inside. Mandee is in Australia (!!) which meant that when my package arrived it was full of scrumptious goodies that I would never be able to buy for myself. Best of all she sent bread. Lots and lots of packaged bread. Rolls and toast slices and panini. England and Australia are way, way ahead of us here in the US when it comes to shelf-stable delicious soft bread that is both vegan and gluten-free. Oh, and gnocchi! I can’t find a recipe for gluten-free, vegan gnocchi, so it has been a long time since I’ve had delicious fluffy little pillows of potato-y joy.

My package contained:

  • Vege Chips in Original, BBQ, French Onion, and Sweet and Sour flavors. These are puffed chips, the texture of shrimp chips. So tasty, and naughtily addictive.
  • Vege Crisps in Rosemary Garlic flavor. These are slices of sweet potatoes and taro root, turned into thin chips.
  • Sliced white bread, ciabatta rolls, panini rolls, and pizza crust
  • Pretzels (I haven’t had a pretzel in several years!)
  • Poppy seed crackers
  • Gnocchi
  • Wallaby Bars in Cashew & Currant and Macadamia & Ginger flavors. These look amazing – I haven’t tasted them yet because I am hoarding them. Plus, they’re called Wallaby Bars. How awesome is that?
  • Crystal salt flakes – Special salt from a special area in Australia. I’m hoarding this, too, but I am also dying to taste it. Maybe some good olive oil and a sprinkle of crystal salt on one of my new rolls?
  • Plum jam – I’ve been eating this on my new toast and it is outrageously good.

I had a really good time putting together Mandee’s parcel with so many of my favorite things, but I don’t want to write about what I put inside until I know she’s received it. No spoilers! Doing a parcel swap with Australia isn’t really a good idea when you’re flat broke (I somehow managed not to anticipate how much it would cost to ship a box of food across the world), but I’m so glad that I did this at least once. I really enjoy Mandee’s blog and she seems like a lovely person from her blog, the PPK forums, and our email conversations, and getting to actually exchange tangible items with someone who is part of my virtual world is a very cool feeling. All this vegan, gluten-free food that I read about and look at pictures of, all these restaurant reviews of places I’ll never visit – the parcel swap in some way brought it all to life. Not to mention the giant box full of exotic treats I get to play with now.

All in all (provided my package makes it to Australia in one piece), I declare my first ever parcel swap to be a rousing success! Thanks, Mandee! I hope you enjoy mine as much as I’ve enjoyed yours! Okay… time for some plum jam on toast.

The great apple cake caper

If there’s one thing I love more than a great recipe, it’s a great recipe that features ingredients that come in my CSA box. And if there’s something I love even more than that, it’s a great recipe that takes some piece of CSA produce that’s been sadly neglected and rescues it from certain composting.  As I’ve mentioned here before, we tend to be a bit on the picky side when it comes to fruit texture, and we can detect a less-than-crisp apple a mile off. They’re not rotten, though, so I can’t bear to toss them; instead they just sit on the glass cake plate we use as a fruit bowl, holding up remarkably well but certainly not getting any crisper.

Back in July I just couldn’t bear to look at the sad apple graveyard any longer. Cooking fruit goes a long way towards dealing with poor texture, so I must have looked at a billion recipes for apple crumble, crisp, and cake before I found a delicious-sounding recipe for Apple Upside-Down Cake. I only had enough apple rejects to make half a recipe, so I made it in a loaf, rather than square, pan. It turned out… amazing. Moist, dense, exquisitely flavored cake topped with perfectly cooked, caramelized apple slices. The kind of thing you dream of for months.

We were still dreaming of it, in fact, as we watched the apple casualties begin piling up again last month. This time I felt much more relaxed when less-than-stellar apples arrived in our box, knowing that their alchemical transformation into dessert gold was always near at hand. Except for one thing. When I finally went to look for the recipe last week, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I checked the binder where I keep hard copies of favorite recipes with my own notations and changes, combed frantically through my collection of recipes bookmarked online, and then finally just started searching randomly with Google, hoping to stumble across a recipe that sparked my memory. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t remember whether it had been a gluten-free recipe that I had veganized, a vegan recipe I had converted to gluten-free, or even that rarest of things, a recipe that was already both.

Tonight, as we were contemplating what to do with our evening after a busy day of guests, Duck said to me, “Let’s make an apple cake.” It was clearly the perfect thing to do. Except for that tiny hitch. I started the search again, looking at apple cake recipes far and wide. I must have looked for ten minutes when Duck came in and sat down next to me. “Have you tried searching your bookmarks?” Yep. “Your browsing history?” Yep. I kept typing and clicking, not really paying much attention anymore, when suddenly, there it was. I gasped. I remembered everything – the photo, the recipe, even the little story about the blogger having the cake for afternoon tea with her friend.

Needless to say, I bookmarked it, printed it out, and saved a copy to my hard drive. We had more than enough apples for a full-size version tonight, and it’s so good that Duck (normally the foremost despiser of anything involving cooked fruit) drew a line down the center of the cooled cake with a knife to make sure he got his fair share.

So here’s to you, Mrs. G.F. of Recipe for a Gluten Free Life. To you and your amazing, sublime, miraculous Apple Upside-Down Cake. For rescuing my mushy apples – twice! – and for reappearing out of the internet mists in the hour of my greatest need.

This recipe is, for me, ultimate comfort food. It assuages my guilt (no wasted produce!), and feels reasonably healthy (an apple a day and all that) rather than overly rich and heavy, which is actually pretty vital to a pleasurable dessert experience for me. I don’t tend to gravitate towards the big indulgences when it comes to sweets (not that this isn’t plenty indulgent!) – I save my overkill for the savory side of things. It’s warm, and it’s soft, and it’s sticky and sweet, and, this time around, I made it with someone I love. What could be more comforting than that? So I’m going to submit this to January’s Sugar High Fridays, which is hosted this month by A Merrier World, with the theme of Sweet Comforts.

The recipe, as  it turned out, was gluten-free, not vegan, so below is the vegan version with my very minor changes:

Apple Upside-down Cake (aka “What do I do with my old mealy apples?”)
Original recipe is from Recipe for a Gluten Free Life. God bless her for figuring out to make a Better Homes and Gardens recipe gluten-free. The first time I made the recipe, I used a gluten-free baking mix that didn’t have teff or sorghum flour, and it came out fantastic (as she assures us it will). This time I had on hand the exact flours she specifies and it came out even better. The teff is just indescribably good. But it’s great without it, too. One warning: this cake doesn’t keep well. All the sugar and fruit make it get too moist too fast. Best to eat it all right away, or at least within a day or so.

5 tablespoons Earth Balance (or other non-hydrogenated vegan margarine), cut into pieces
another 5 tablespoons Earth Balance, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 apples, cored and sliced in wedges, skin on
1 large apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup teff flour
1/2 cup sweet sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup soy or hemp milk
1/4 cup soy yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3.9 oz applesauce, unsweetened (the size of a little packaged lunch-size tub)

Preheat oven to 350. Put the 5 T. chopped Earth Balance in the pan, a 9X9, and put in the oven until melted, but be careful not to brown it. Sprinkle brown sugar over Earth Balance, mix together. Put in the apple wedges and put back in the oven for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of your mixer (if you have one), combine flours and dry ingredients and whisk. Add wet ingredients, including the softened Earth Balance (the other 5 T. that you didn’t put in the oven), soy milk, soy yogurt, vanilla and applesauce. Use a mixer if you have one, otherwise stir until combined. Fold chopped apples into the batter.

Spread batter evenly over the apples in the pan. Bake about 35-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, then invert carefully over a large plate. Serve with the apples all gorgeous and caramelized on top.

We’ll never go beanless again ~ The Steady Pulse Round-Up

Last month I invited all of you to help me to conquer my beanphobia by sending in your tried-and-true, tested and approved recipes for beans, lentils, dried peas, chick peas, and other pulses. I asked for recipes that were easy to make, made with common ingredients, and that you make and enjoy regularly, and I was thrilled to hear back from so many bean mentors and legume masters! These recipes will keep Duck and I enjoying nutritious, non-scary bean and legume meals for months to come! Read on for recipe inspiration and mouthwatering photos! Continue reading

Sugar High Fridays #53 ~ The Test of Time Round-Up


Sugar High Fridays is a monthly dessert blogging event created by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess.  Each month we get our sugar high on in keeping with a theme. This month, as the hostess of SHF #53, I chose “The Test of Time – Desserts over a century old” and bloggers from all corners of the sugar high world reached back through the ages with their spoons and mixing bowls, to grandparents and ancestors and beyond, to bring some time-tested sweet treats of yore onto our plates.

Join me now for a trip backwards through time, beginning with the recent past and nibbling our way all the way back to antiquity. And be sure to check out the individual posts for family memories, cooking adventures, old recipes in their original curious formats, and fascinating, well-researched culinary history!

130 years ago ~

Great Grandma Kelly’s Jam Cake


Laura of The Spiced Life recreates her grandmother’s great-grandmother’s jam cake, starting with figuring out how to actually make the cake! The long line of matriarchs passed down the ingredients through the years, but figured their descendants should be smart enough to figure out the rest of the directions. Luckily Laura was more than up to the challenge, as her moist, elegant creation attests!

140 years ago ~



Friedl of Kitchen Fun gets daring with speculaas, bringing this traditional autumn and winter cookie into the spring air and trying her hand at a gluten-free version. Happily for Friedl (and for the rest of us who can’t eat wheat) gluten-free speculaas is delicious speculaas. And something tells me they taste every bit as tasty shaped into a sweet heart as they do molded into a windmill!

150 years ago ~

Tilslørte bondepiker


Janne of The Bitesize makes a traditional Norwegian dessert passed down to her from her great-grandmother. She points out perceptively that old recipes are more likely to feature natural and local ingredients, and this dessert makes mouth-watering use of things like breadcrumbs, apples, and cream that would have been commonly available in a 19th century Norwegian household. The name translates to “veiled, rural girls” but, as Janne asks, which layer is the veil and which is the girl?

160 years ago ~

Strawberry Shortcake


NAOmni of Not Another Omnivore grew up eating strawberry shortcake on her grandparents’ farm and once she started researching its history realized it was well over a century old. Her post explores all the different options for the dessert’s “carbohydrate” component, from biscuit to pound cake to angel food cake. But looking at NAOmni’s photo I’m wondering, does the carb even matter when you’ve got that tantalizing strawberry topping?

200 years ago ~

Far Aux Pruneaux (Far Breton)


Inspired by a bottle of milk that needed using up, Pamela of The Cooking Ninja tries something new to her but quite old on this earth: Far Aux Pruneaux, a traditional dessert from Brittany, France with a dense flan filling flecked with sweet prunes. Dating back to the 18th century, this dish has evolved through the years from a savory buckwheat flan to the incredibly delicious sweet version we know today. (Can you tell this is one of my favorite desserts of all time? I am practically drooling on my keyboard…)

250 years ago ~



Elodie of yummyaourt gives Proust a run for his money with her charming “Once upon a time” tale of the origin of the Madeleine. She calls them “little pieces of pleasure,” and, looking at her luscious photos, I couldn’t agree more, especially when she advises flavoring them with orange blossom water or Earl Grey tea!



Karolcia of For the Body and Soul makes the Spanish version of Madeleines, called Magdalenas. Instead of a shell shape, these are made in a mini-muffin pan and use olive oil rather than butter. Karolcia is a baker after my own heart with some kitchen experimentation – she bakes half her magdalenas with baking powder and half without, to see if it really makes a difference. I feel quite willing to devour these moist and crunchy lemony treats under any experimental conditions!

350 years ago ~

Tourte de Beurre


Carolyn of 18thC Cuisine was the first person I thought of after I picked our theme, since everything in her fascinating blog is well over a century old. For Sugar High Friday she brings us a rich sugar cream pie flavored with almonds, baked on a piece of paper on the floor of the oven, using one of the oldest cooking techniques around!

Linzer Torte


My own contribution to our test of time was a literal test – a test of four different recipes for what is believed to be the oldest known cake or torte in the world! (Although I’m not really sure how they reckon that since there are cake- and torte-like desserts in this round-up that are clearly as old or older…) I compared the original 17th century recipe with three gluten-free varieties to see if this famous Austrian treat not only held up to through the ages but could change with the times as well.

450 years ago ~

A Tarte of Strawberryes


Digigirl of Don’t Forget Delicious! brings her highly applicable experience in Medieval re-creation to this event. The only trouble being, it turns out the Middle Ages weren’t exactly the golden age of dessert. But after combing through ancient cookbooks in Middle English and French, she finally turned to the internet for aid, and came up with this incredibly appetizing sweet and juicy tart featuring wine-soaked strawberries – or strawberryes as they called them back in the day!

500 years ago ~

Hyderabadi Almond-Semolina Halva


Muneeba of An Edible Symphony gives props to her heritage with a fragrant, saffron-infused dessert. Even though her beloved Cuisinart met its end trying to prepare this dish, Muneeba soldiered on valiantly and the delectable results were clearly worth the effort! The hour it ending up taking to blend the mixture by hand gives me great sympathy and respect for the Hyderabadi princesses who first enjoyed almond-semolina halva. (Or great sympathy for their cooks, rather!)

1500 years ago ~

Hot Cross Buns


Anna at Life’s Too Short For Mediocre Chocolate is a history buff, and puts her expertise to work sharing the history and symbolism of Hot Cross Buns. Adopted as an Easter sweet, these buns have their origins pre-Christian England where they once (and still do, for some) honored the Saxon Spring goddess Eostre. Whatever they stand for, cranberry walnut hot cross buns with cream cheese frosting sound like sweet, sweet symbolism to me!

2000 years ago ~



Even Ivy, of Kopiaste… to Greek Hospitality, isn’t sure how old the recipe is for daktyla, one of the best-known pastries of Cyprus, only that is has been passed down in her family from generation to generation. I did some research on similar pastries, however, and it seems daktyla may have been around for two thousand years! Clearly these heavenly phyllo “fingers” stuffed with almonds and orange blossom water have had the staying power needed to make it through the ages.



Sra of When My Soup Came Alive puts a new spin on a very old formula by making an ancient Indian rice pudding from couscous. The results look positively ambrosial – I think you may start a trend here, Sra! What magic can come from expediency – in this case a years-old packet of couscous that needs to be used up becomes a reworked classic that will probably get made again and again.

Back to the present day ~

Well, friends, there’s the round-up! Thank you for joining me on this excellent adventure through time and place. I truly enjoyed all your marvelous creations and I learned so much! I feel ready for my pop quiz on dessert history now…

I’ll meet you next month for another sweet, sweet Friday!

Announcing Sugar High Fridays #53: The Test of Time

I am delighted and honored to be hosting the March edition of Sugar High Fridays, the lick-your-plate delicious, incredibly long-running blog event created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. Each month a new theme brings bakers and other treat-makers together from all over the web to show off their sweet, sweet talent and creativity.


I’m super excited about the theme I picked for us this month:
The Test of  Time – Desserts over a century old.
From Eve’s apple to Alinea‘s “transparency of raspberry and rose petal,” we humans have always had a sweet tooth and always will. What methods of satisfying our cravings have stood the test of time, getting passed on through the years? And what treasures from the past are languishing somewhere out there, waiting to be rediscovered?

Here’s a chance to show off your great-grandmother’s recipe, handed down since the old country and faithfully reproduced from a faded index card. Or to recreate some strange and long-forgotten ancient dish from medieval Europe, feudal Japan, or indigenous America and see how it pleases the modern palate. You’re also welcome to put your own fresh spin on an old dessert, as long as you include in your post a recipe or a description for the dish as it was in its original time period. Bonus points (in the form of SHF glory, of course!) for making a dessert that’s reeeeally old and/or using an ingredient or piece of cookware that is itself actually over a century old.

The fine print, etc…

  • Make a dessert that is over a century old, then write a post about it on your blog. As mentioned above, if you are doing a “new spin on an old classic,” include in your post a recipe or description for the dish from its original time period. If you have the energy and interest, it would definitely be fun to hear some of your dessert’s history, but at the minimum tell us what era your dish is from.
  • In your post, please link to this post as well as to the SHF page at The Domestic Goddess. You are welcome to use the SHF #53 logo above or this smaller version:shf_small_logo
  • Write and post your entry by Monday, March 23rd. Then send me an email with the following information:
  • – Your name
    – Your blog name and URL
    – Your post’s title and URL
    – One photo (if applicable), sized to no larger than 200 x 200 pixels (does not need to be square, but the largest dimension should be no bigger     than  200px), with your blog name in the filename
    – If you aren’t a blogger and would like to participate, please email your well-edited entry and photo (if you have one) to me and I will post it here

puddingsIllustration from The New York Cook Book by Marie Martinelo, published in 1892
From American Treasures of the Library of Congress