Gluten-free Carrot Cake

Gluten-free Carrot Cake

April is birthday month for the grownups in our house. I love baking and my celiac diagnosis of three years ago doesn’t slow me down. The spouse’s favourite birthday cake is carrot cake. Last year I made the version in Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America. That was good but this year I did not feel like faffing around beating egg whites.

Thank goodness my celiac diagnosis came in the Internet age. A little searching later, and Gluten-free Girl came up. She made a GF carrot cake adapted from the Barefoot Contessa’s gluten-y version. I have had a soft spot for the Barefoot Contessa ever since I realized that her Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe contained at least twice as many chocolate chips as anyone else’s.

This wouldn’t be a gluten-free baking recipe without a long exegesis about flour.  Gluten-free Girl has a proprietary flour blend which of course does not ship to Canada. I used my new favourite flour mix, which I make myself according to the recipe in Gluten-free Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a recent Christmas present. Since this is a flour made for breadmaking, it’s a “harder” flour than most of the mixes I have tried and contains sorghum. I was finding a lot of my baking with mainly rice-based flours was ending up very biscuity. The harder flour makes a more familiar texture for me. I remember reading years ago in Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen that Canadian wheat flour was naturally harder than American and that one had to allow for that when using American recipes. I just kept on using all that hard Canadian flour for everything and my palate has obviously been trained to prefer that texture. That’s my major GF revelation of the day.

So, the recipe! It serves 8-10.

This is my adaptation of GF Girl’s adaptation. She uses coconut sugar and coconut oil, which I don’t have in my pantry, so I used brown and granulated white sugar. I don’t have a stand mixer either so this was mixed up using an electric hand mixer and a Danish dough whisk for adding nuts and raisins.

2 cups gluten-free flour blend of your choice (add 1/4 tsp of  xanthan gum per cup if yours does not contain it already)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs (I use free-range because of the poor hens)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large carrots, grated
1 cup raisins of any kind
1 cup chopped walnuts


1/2 cup softish cream cheese
1/2 cup softish butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups icing sugar

Heat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, then grease again. I have not yet had the nerve to cut silicone mats to fit my baking pans, but go for it.

Mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Mix together sugars and oil in a big bowl. When well-mixed, add the eggs, one at a time and mix well. Add the vanilla.20160422_141012

Add the flour mixture and mix, in about three equal parts. Then add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts. This is the point at which a dough whisk or the good old wooden spoon comes in handy. Mix thoroughly.20160422_141447

Dump the very gloppy cake batter into the two pans, dividing as evenly as you can.  Bake for 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350° F (180° C), and bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, another 30 to 35 minutes.20160422_142019

Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove them from the pans onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before attempting to ice them. (I baked mine the day before icing them). Do not let your teenager touch them.

Make icing: beat cream cheese and butter together until well-blended. Add vanilla and mix. Add icing sugar in about three equal parts. If the icing is too runny, add a bit more icing sugar. If it’s too thick, add milk by the quarter-teaspoonful.

Spread one third of the cream cheese icing on the bottom layer, then bung the second cake on top and glop the rest of the icing on the top. Spread it over the top and sides. My sister the totally amazing cake-icer would probably do a crumb coat (apply thin layer, allow to dry, add thicker second coat) but I was a bit pressed for time. 20160423_111538

It was incredibly yummy and when our backs were turned the teenager made serious inroads into the leftovers. 20160423_133538


Escape from the school bus

Escape from the school bus

Three weeks ago: “Mum, there’s a lot of swearing on the school bus. You know, the f-word” (in hushed tones).

Two weeks ago: “Mum, someone swore at me in the school bus. He said to sit the f down” (in tears).

Last week: “Mum, people were hitting me on the school bus because I didn’t want to open my window and they were trying to make me” (in tears and trembling).

Right. I called the vice principal, who promised to reiterate to the children the rules of the bus. Now, the only adult on that bus is the driver and she actually has to drive.  I was skeptical how well these admonitions would work.

The child spent a very subdued weekend and told us frequently that he was afraid to ride the bus.

On Sunday night we decided to ditch the schoolbus. We’re carfree, and it’s spring, so the obvious choice was the bike.

And what had been holding us back from biking before this? Mainly the crappiness of the route to school. It starts well, on the path along the river. Then one gets to cross four lanes of traffic on a very short light and bike a meandering route through a neighbourhood, up a big hill and down another one, this last on a very busy road. Then the crossing of  another busy road with lots of cars turning left, and then, tada, at school.

The meandering route is caused by having to skirt around a cemetery with no access along its entire southern boundary, and by the horribleness of the direct route. The most direct way is along a busy road with lots of parked cars and those most useless of street markings, sharrows. Then there’s a bike lane marked by paint along the side of the road but no sidewalk next to it for Little to bike on. Not safe enough, not by a long chalk.

There are plans afoot to improve bike access along that route but they had not occurred magically over the weekend.

In previous years, distance had been a factor. The school is about 5k away, which was a little far when Little was in grade one. Now she can handle it easily.

For me, time is still a factor, since the children do the round trip once and I do it twice. It ends up being three to four hours of my day on getting the kids to school and back. The voluntary simplicity project we’ve got going in our house makes it possible, but it compresses the work of my day quite a bit. On the other hand, biking 20k may have some effect on the middle-aged-fatness reduction project which we’ve also going here.

So how was the ride on the first day? Fantastic, wonderful, awesome. The kids were so excited to get on their bikes and to get out by the river. After many years of biking with Middle I know I have to build birdwatching time into every journey. We stopped twice, once to gaze at gorgeous wood ducks, and one to look at a large hawk grooming herself. Little remarked on all the dangerous bits on the ride, tsked, and said, “There are too many cars on this road.” We arrived in the schoolyard in good time, all of us flushed and cheerful. They scampered off to class and I rode to Loblaws on the big orange bike to buy some mulch.

Middle put himself to bed that night at 7:45 after his 10k day. First question the next day: “Are we biking? Yay.”





Car-free, but not yet free of the car

Car-free, but not yet free of the car

In early January, we went car-free. We advertised the car on Kijiji, parked it in the driveway and cheerfully ignored it. (We figured out after a couple of weeks that the Mazda5 did not like being ignored in the winter and I dutifully took it out for exercise once a week to keep the battery in shape.)

We signed up for vrtucar, the local car-sharing outfit. I booked a car now and then for big loads of groceries or for taking the children to medical appointments. We got Presto cards and four-fifths of the family embraced the bus enthusiastically. The fifth member hates the bus: too hot, sometimes late, and full of other people. Whenever he comes with us on bus trips the bus seems to be late on purpose, thus reinforcing all his biases and forcing us to listen to his moaning.

We took Uber to the aviation museum and to the children’s hospital for a little emergency one Saturday night. (Did you know that it costs the same amount to Uber there and back to CHEO as it does to park in their parking lot?) The spouse continued to walk to work, over the glorious new bridge at Adàwe crossing, and I started walking part of the way with him. We love those quiet walks together in the morning. I walked to the nearby grocery store for smaller shoppings and remembered the days of my youth, lugging bags of milk home through the snow.

The shift to the car-free life has been surprisingly easy and enjoyable. But…

The goldurned Mazda5 has not sold. Selling the car has been on my to-do list since November. I did lots of running around in the fall: having the safety inspection done, getting the emergency brake fixed, having it detailed within an inch of its life. (Greater love hath no woman than this, than to walk along Cyrville Road in January to get the car cleaned). I followed the instructions on how to sell your car: put it on Kijiji, put it on, provide a record of maintenance when people indicate interest. We’ve had a few bites, but nothing conclusive. One guy who wanted to use it for camping decided on another car. It would be perfect for a couple who likes camping. It would be perfect for a family with very small children.

It’s been a great car for us. We got it in 2007 when #2 was one year old. We had grown out of our little Toyota Tercel and had plans for one more child. That child arrived in 2008 and at one time the car contained a booster seat and two infant carseats, with the ever-present stroller in the back of the car. It has carried lumber for our many renovation projects. One day I had the loony idea of buying a sofa-bed at IKEA and loading it into the Mazda by myself. An IKEA employee came to my rescue and we managed to wedge it in. Countless cheerios and baby carrots have been consumed in the two back seats, all evidence of which is now gone. I realize that cars are much more luxurious now, but in 2007 we were thrilled to have power windows and a CD player. I felt pangs when we decided to go car-free, not because I love having a car per se, but because that Mazda had carried our very young family around. Now that the children are old enough to bike and walk almost everywhere, the Mazda has become obsolete for our family.

By now, however, I am over my pangs. We’ve made our decision, and now we want the car to go. All of us want to be free!

Children going to school

Children going to school

Every now and then, The Globe and Mail publishes an article bemoaning the fact that children no longer walk to school. Another one appeared on April 5, 2016.

The burden of the argument was that children concentrate better and learn more when they walk to and from school, and that we should be concerned about the erosion of this habit. (Perhaps their parents would do better at work if they walked there too, but that’s for another day).

The next day an editorial appeared, reinforcing the message that it is much better for the children and the air we breathe in cities if kids are not driven to school.

Okey-dokey. This issue always pushes my buttons. Of course, children and the environment would benefit if fewer kids walked to school. Often, the underlying assumption seems to be that parents are failing their children by not walking them to school. Parents can only operate in their own physical and institutional environment. Decisions by school boards to close schools so that the districts are larger have made it more difficult for children to walk to school. Decisions by urban government to privilege the car above all other modes of transportation have made walking and biking increasingly unsafe. Pedestrians and cyclists need infrastructure, and parents can’t provide that on their own. For bike lanes to be safe for children, they need to be fully segregated and protected by cars and they also need to be governed at intersections by separate signals. We live five kilometres from our school and the children take the school bus. That’s a bit far for them to walk, and their bike route would include a road with trucks travelling at more than 60 kilometres per hour. Of course we choose the bus.

The Globe editorial concludes thus:

What would it take to loosen the growing car-school connection? At some point, both parents and society will have to decide that this is one area where the habits of the past beat those of the present. Well-coached elementary-school students have the physical ability to make the trip independently, and until recently most kids did. All that’s required is the willingness and trust to let them.

That’s easier said than done. We tend to calculate risks irrationally, and risks to unaccompanied children most irrationally of all. Look to Japan, where it’s normal for six-year-olds to roam across crowded cities on their own – with the understanding that these first forays into independence rely on a powerful and protective sense of a shared community space that is harder to sustain in a me-first car culture.

The way to loosen that connection is to sever people from their cars. The way to sever people from their cars is to make other options easy and safe. The siren call of the car is strong: warmth, comfort, lack of physical effort, speed. My bike calls to me with different blandishments: fun, almost free, speed (with all those cars choking up the roads, bikes are often faster). I love cycling with my children: we talk about the birds we see, about our thoughts or about nothing at all.  At the end of the trip they are almost never grumpy even if they started out that way. Worries and stresses have a way of evaporating on a bicycle. Bonus: sleep comes easily on those nights.

Lone cyclists can’t make the infrastructure that allows all this stress-busting alone. Urban governments have to be partners and have to make decisions that car-drivers won’t like. But I don’t think it’s really fair to lay the blame solely at parents’ doors. It seems highly unlikely that the Globe is going to publish an editorial calling for cycle tracks on every main road, but I can live in hope.