Gluten-Free Coconut Layer Cake

Gluten free coconut layer cake from Karina

Let Us Eat Cake.

Birthdays are complicated when you reach a certain age. Oh, don't get me wrong. You're grateful for another year. I mean. You're still alive and kicking, right? Waking up to a fresh start. Starting a spanking new year on the planet with one more number under your (slightly pinching) belt. A number that grants you a whisker more authority in the world. A tad more wisdom.

If you've been paying attention to the lessons life likes to offer up as experience, and not sleepwalking, that is. Not acquiescing to the expectations of others. Or choosing safety over the challenge of the new. Or worse- finding yourself somewhere, in some situation, or relationship, strictly for the sake of momentum, chafing inside a role you don't remember signing up for.

Birthdays can be markers like that.

Defining where we've been. And how far we've come. Or not.

It was my husband's birthday early this month. And yes, I baked a cake. And as I stirred the batter and scooped it into cake pans, I thought about the other cakes I have baked for him. The chocolate cake in our first year of marriage. Children beneath our roof. Blue balloons and candles. The newness of each others' dreams. The shine of our ideas. The belief in what was possible.

We've shared twenty-three birthdays now. And the single constant through these twenty-three years is change. Change has woven its intricate design deep inside our marriage, our thirteen different living spaces in seven different states, our evolving work as artists and writers, our sons' own changing lives.

There isn't a piece of our life together that has not been burnished by change.

I asked my husband what he felt about this birthday, if anything. He said at first he didn't feel anything about it. That is was just another day. Another number. But later he turned to me and said he'd been thinking about his early years. The stuff he assumed was important. The choices he made. Or rather, didn't make. The times he stuck with things out of a sense of duty. Or a bone bred stoicism, believing in the virtue of sticking it out. Trying to make the unworkable work.

Looking back, he said, I don't understand it. When people say they wouldn't change a thing? I'd change ten thousand things, he said.

And that's why I love you, I told him.

And it got me thinking. Would I change ten thousand things? Or would I choose the devil I know?

The thing is this. The devil I know, is change.

Irish Potato & Cabbage Soup with Soda Bread

A loaf of Irish Soda Bread warm from the oven. Serve with potato cabbage soup.

Soda Bread + A Hearty Potato Sausage Soup

Put on some Irish music and grab your apron. Here's a recipe pairing to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this weekend- whether you're a dyed in the wool Celtic lass, a sassy Scott-Irish blend, or only mostly Irish in spirit. 

Irish Potato and Cabbage Soup and gluten-free Irish Soda Bread.


Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

vegetarian shepherd's pie

Mashed Potato Crust Love. For Meatless Monday.

Why I've been craving mashed potatoes lately, I don't know. Spring has arrived here in the high desert. The days are longer and kinder. Apple trees are blooming. And all I can think about is a mound of soft creamy mashed potatoes. This means something.

Yeah. What it means is I am craving some serious comfort food in the form of a baked shepherd's pie- only my version is vegan and brimming with fresh vegetables. Forget the meat. And forget the lentils (so 1970's). 

And fake meat- er, I mean, highly processed soy protein or vital wheat gluten? 

I don't think so. 

Seitan is evil.

That's why they call it seitan.

No, my shepherd's pie has to satisfy not only my potato comfort craving, but my hankering for vegetables, spice and flavor. You know what that means. I live lived in New Mexico after all. It's gotta have some green chile in it. It's gotta have a little heat. Comfort food - for this gluten-free goddess, anyway- has got to have a little kick. Something to stir the taste buds awake after a long winter.

Bland is so, well, yesterday.

Irish Cottage Pie | Shepherd's Pie

Gluten free cottage pie and shepherds pie recipe with mashed potato topping

Old School Comfort.

I have been craving comfort food and shepherd's pie- even though it's been a warm and breezy week here by the Chama River north of Santa Fe. The promise of Spring is tugging at our sluggish winter bodies, cracking and stiff and a tad thicker than one would care to admit. We are itchy to walk- just as the junipers are shedding pollen in curtains of dirty yellow. We walked and sneezed and rubbed gritty eyes. The coyotes are laughing on the rim of the mesa. I listen and note they are closer than usual, emboldened by our wintery hibernation. The land belongs to them now. We're simply tourists. As it should be, I murmur.

Meeting your soul mate (did I just write the words soul mate?) after mid-life will humble you. An autumn meeting of kindred spirits inspires a sharp thirst for more time. More juice. Looking ahead- down the road of your life- can be alarming. It's shorter and rutted and slightly curving downhill, not so far and away anymore. Carpe diem as the wise ones say.

And though (in theory) we should all embrace each day as if it might, indeed, be our last, this effort gains a deeper poignancy at 54. My knuckles are so bumpy with arthritis now I can no longer wear my wedding ring. I twisted it off with pain and dish soap. I didn't want to have it sawed off. Just the thought of the saw buzz made me shiver with separation anxiety.

When I was lying on the gurney outside the operating room, awaiting hip surgery- after ten hours in the ER playing our Movie Game with said soul mate (to play the game you start with A and take turns naming a movie title until you run out of A's; then you move on to the B's) the pony-tailed anesthesiologist told me to remove my wedding ring.

I can't, I said. It won't come off, don't worry.

It's hospital policy, she explained. To remove jewelry before surgery.

You'll need a saw, I said. She smiled. I'll get some surgical tape- we'll tape it, she whispered.

I tilted my face toward my husband. He stood there, stoic and brave, betrayed by a gleam of wetness obscuring his usual clear and steady blue gaze. We both knew the risks of breaking a hip, and undergoing emergency hip surgery. The odds aren't kind. But my age was in my favor. I was twenty years younger than the average woman who falls and breaks a hip. You're a spring chicken, the surgeon had said.

I love you, I told my husband. Tell the boys I love them. I felt the nurse tape my wedding ring. Ready? she asked.

Yup. Carpe diem, I answered.

Gluten-Free Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Gluten free Irish soda bread with raisins also known as Spotted Dog bread

Irish Soda Bread Love, Y'all

For bakers using wheat, Irish soda bread is one of the easiest no-fuss breads to throw together. The gluten in the wheat works its magic to bind the quick-rising dough without yeast. But if gluten is no longer in the equation, creating a tender loaf of Irish soda bread is a tad more complicated. Gluten-free quick breads can be crumbly and dry. Especially if you use the old school white rice flour and starch combo.

Lucky for us, we have several newer alternative flours to choose from. Millet, sorghum, buckwheat, coconut, brown rice, and quinoa flours have better taste, more protein, and a superior texture than the old school stand-by rice flour. 

What do I have against white rice flour? It might simply boil down to personal taste. After baking gluten-free for awhile, one develops personal preferences. I don't like the cooked rice taste, or texture, that rice flour imparts. Ditto for bean flour which tastes vaguely metallic. (And I don't care how much protein and how few carbs a raw bean has, okay?)

So I experiment and tweak my recipes. I try a new flour combination and entertain intuition. I start thinking about how a recipe crumbles a bit, so I add some honey because honey is a humectant. And Hello! The bread bakes up tender and moist (agave does the same thing, by the way).

This whole process of gluten-free baking is a process.

And as an artist, I cultivate a deep affection for process. So even though I have a perfectly acceptable gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe on the blog, I felt the need to try again this week and experiment with a new formula. And I came up with a slightly sweet and tender loaf that is rice-free and vegan. No eggs. No milk. And guess what? 

It's better than better. It's scrumptious.

My husband declared it his favorite gluten-free bread to date (as he chowed down on a wedge of this soda bread grilled in a dab of olive oil). So why do I tweak recipes? Why do I make it complicated? Why add a touch of honey when I already use sugar? Why do I add millet when I have sorghum?

This is why.

Because there's always room for improvement in gluten-free baking. Recipes aren't precious. They're not written in stone like a commandment. 

 A recipe is more like a poem. Set to music. And the music?

Jazz, baby.

Gluten-Free Pasta Frittata with Kale

A slice of Gluten-Free Pasta Frittata with Kale (Dairy-Free)

An Italian Classic - Updated.

Today I offer you a recipe spun from the magic of leftover gluten-free spaghetti and eggs- a creamy, light frittata. Perfect for the weekend. Or when you're simply too tired to cook. Or you have nothing in the fridge but a carton of eggs, half a bag of kale salad and last night's leftover spaghetti in eggplant marinara.

It's one of those intuitive, spontaneous recipes I've pulled out of thin air, so many times.

For dairy-free folks- the "cheese" pictured in this version was a vegan "mozzarella" (my current favorite is Vegan Gourmet). But if you prefer using dairy- select one or two of your favorite organic cheeses. I've made this yummy dish using goat cheese (and roasted red peppers!), and another time I tried a blend of real mozzarella and Parmesan. It's a very versatile recipe.

Have fun with it!



Leftover brown rice pasta makes a delicious Gluten-Free Pasta Frittata with Kale (Dairy-Free)