Celebrate all the Leos. Paleo(ish) Chocolate Mud Cake.

Today I’m headed off to a committee meeting with a group of awesome women who run and steer the Nimbin Preschool. This term our meeting happens to fall right in the middle of the Leo birthday bonanza.. 6 of our 8 committee members are currently Leos, so of course we need cake!

This is a recipe I’ve hacked from Annabel Langbein’s Ultimate Chocolate Brownie recipe. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, (I almost never bake anything quite the same twice), but I think this might be the best version yet.

  • 2 cups dates, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 150g butter (use coconut oil or lard to make it paleo, or ghee for lower lactose and casein), melted with
  • 50g cocoa butter (if you don’t have cocoa butter, replace with other fat as above)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2-3 Tbs honey
  • 1 cup cocoa or cacao powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda (bicarb)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (the salt is optional if you’re using salted butter, essential if you’re not. Unless you are on a restricted salt diet of course.. it won’t ruin the cake to leave it out, but all sweet things taste better with a little bit of salt)
  • 1/4 cup liquid (milk – almond/coconut/dairy, or water works fine too)

Optional:

  • Chopped nuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla essence
  • orange or peppermint oil
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh or frozen berries
  • Shredded coconut
  • Chocolate chips

In a blender, add your dates, boiled water and tsp baking soda. Give the dates a pulse or two to chop them up slightly, then let sit for 20 mins.

While you wait, preheat the oven to 160c. Grease and flour your pan, I used a 7″ springform pan, but you could use a larger slice pan to make this into brownies rather than a cake.

Once the dates have softened, add the melted fats and blend until smooth. Add in your eggs, milk or water, and vanilla essence, spices or essential oils if using, and blend until smooth. Stop the blender and add your cocoa, coconut flour, salt and bicarb, blend again. You will probably need to use the tamper on your blender, or stop it periodically and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Mix in any solid additions by hand so they stay chunky. Pour into your pan and bake until it pulls away from the edges and is springy in the centre, about 40 minutes.

The texture and flavour of this cake improve with a day or two sitting in the fridge. I have frosted it in the past with whipped butter and honey with a little cocoa, but it’s kind of overkill. It’s great served with some cultured cream and fresh fruit or berries. As for the additions… it’s very dense, so I find it’s improved with some kind of texture added. Chopped nuts are fantastic, though shredded coconut does the job as well. Frozen berries are nice, chopped candied ginger or dried berries, and a few drops of orange oil work beautifully. Enjoy!

Life without Facebook, day 1.

Today I deactivated my Facebook account. The very first thing I wanted to do afterwards was jump onto facebook and post about it, illustrating why I needed to deactivate! I’m a wannabe-writer, a compulsive sharer, and being somewhat isolated by my hectic life as a mum of three, am a perfect candidate for Facebook addiction. Whether it’s the latest milestone my 9mo met, the hilarious yet profound utterance of my 5yo, or the stormy wildness of my 8yo, my kids give me plenty to share. Then there’s the state of the world, the climate crisis, treatment of refugees, corruption in politics.. endless memes and petitions, laments and gripes. And then all the weird and wonderful things that humans do to distract themselves from the dire reality – art, music, my obsession with sewing patterns despite my severe lack of sewing ability. All of these things conspire with my life-long, chronic procrastination habit to suck hours out of every day. Hours when I could be cooking, or sewing, or cleaning, reading to my children, making sauerkraut with the 5 cabbages that have been on my bench for 2 weeks, building with lego, folding laundry – any of the things that make me happy. (yes, folded laundry makes me happy). Or even, goddess forbid, WRITING. Writing anything, even a banal blurb about how I spend too much time on Facebook. anything to put finger to keyboard and start to let some of it out, these thoughts and plans and ideas and stories that i’ve been storing and ignoring for years. Because I was too busy being distracted by Facebook.

And so I set myself a challenge – instead of spending hours a day on Facebook, I’ll write in this blog. Every day if I can. Without worrying too much about what I write, or editing, or thinking it has to mean anything more than the random musings that come and go. Approach it somewhat like I do my Facebook wall, where I’ll blurb out any old thing and think nothing of it before hitting ‘send’.

Challenge accepted.

Emulsification.

A night in late November that fits no better description than balmy. All the windows of the house are open wide. A slight breeze pushes the mosquito net to and fro above the sweat-damp, milkily sleeping children. A moth beats itself, whap, against the window. Small and smaller creatures shrill into the night. Cicadas, crickets, frogs, and the deeper whoop-whoop-whoop of a mopoke calling her mate. Outside, there is yet no moon. Living many miles from any large source of light, the sky is absolutely bristling with stars. On this glorious night, I am feeling happy.

Tonight I made lotion for the first time. Magnesium lotion. There are lots of places online that explain why magnesium is a good idea; better sleep, improved detoxification, reduced muscle cramping among them. We have used magnesium oil for many months and find it very helpful, but it itches and stings and so my kids despise and avoid it. Hence the lotion, designed to nourish the skin as well as deliver the wonderful salt. What I hadn’t considered was how wonderful it would feel, just the making. The sweet, warm scent of the beeswax as it melted into the coconut oil and shea butter. The stirring, stirring, watching it become opaque as it thickened again. And the magic of taking a liquid – salty, salty water, and blending it with an oil to become a creamy, delicious-smelling, healing lotion. Crafted with my own hands.

Earlier this evening I used the same process of emulsification, to make mayonnaise. I’m always looking for more ways of getting healthy fats into my family. My kids will happily devour ghee, lard or tallow by the spoonful, they have even grown to enjoy cod liver oil, some of the time. Thus far they have vehemently resisted the nut and seed oils that I have tried; coconut, olive, hempseed, all of which offer so much great nutritional benefit, and such wonderful flavours. But my picky six-year-old in particular has rejected them all as ‘yuck’.

Tonight, I found the key. In our pre-GAPS days I made mayo with rice bran oil, which was creamy, smooth and mild. All attempts at making mayonnaise with olive oil produced bitter, inedible mayo. I’m yet to find an explanation of why delicious EVOO turns into bitter horror when emulsified with egg, but it does. Tonight, I blended two eggs with a solid squeeze of lime, generous pinch of himalayan salt, a few tablespoons of juice from my latest batch of sauerruben, and a tablespoon or so of raw honey. In a jar I mixed around half a cup of olive oil, a few tablespoons of hempseed oil, and a little more than half a cup each of sunflower seed and coconut oil. Dripped the oil bit by teensy bit into the running blender, spattering oily egg all over my self and the kitchen in the process (there has to be a better way.. but my carpal tunnel won’t allow me to do mayo by hand), until it thickened into a beautiful, thick, cream. Right at the end I added a few tablespoons of pesto that I made earlier in the week. Super delicious, super nutritious, and my kids LOVED it. Not only devoured it, but also ate twice as many sticks of carrot and cucumber as they usually would. WIN!

I haven’t yet described what life was like for us before GAPS, and I will at some stage, and then this will make more sense. Today, I am happy because of what my daughter ate today. In no particular order, it included: freshly squeezed carrot and cucumber juice, black sapote, hamburger, pork cracklings, scrambled eggs, sauerkraut, pickled green beans, banana, apple, ORANGE, (yes, orange!! anyone with salicylate/amine/glutamate intolerances will know what i mean!), apple-juice jello squares, “GAPS Hot Chocolate” jello squares, roast chicken, carrot and cucumber slices, shredded cabbage, pesto mayonnaise, cherry tomatoes. Less than a year ago, her diet consisted of Neocate formula, rice and rice products like crackers/pasta/syrup/puffs, chickpeas, nuttelex, sugar, and very small amounts of pear, occasional carrots and peas, and buckwheat. That was it. The variety of foods she can tolerate now fills me with joy. Being able to play with flavours and textures, knowing that her body is being nourished by whole, organic, real food, gives me so much hope.

When we started GAPS almost 11 months ago, I promised myself I would keep a blog about it. Here I am, posting my second post. That says all kinds of things about not only how intense and all-encompassing GAPS is, but about how much I avoid writing, even though I enjoy it so much. So here it is, I’m not even going to re-read it.. I’m just going to hit ‘publish’, and hope that I’ll be back again soon.

xxx

On starting a blog:

Well, here I am. I have been ‘planning’ to start a blog since, well, since I first heard about the things. A wannabe writer for many years, I use all the usual excuses for not actually doing any writing. I’m too busy, my kids, my partner, the gardening, the messy house, our health problems… The excuses are pointless, for other than myself, who cares whether I write or not?

I am always mulling over ideas, composing in my head as I drive the kids to school or cook yet another meal, but they never make it to the page. By the time I get to a quiet space in my day, I tend to switch my thoughts off instead of on. I recently realised I spend a minimum of an hour a day on Facebook, sometimes more. Mostly I use it to access support communities relating to the GAPS diet that our family is currently doing, but much of that time is wasted just toodling around, signing pointless petitions, admiring other peoples art or photography, chuckling at the latest satirical Tony Abbot cartoon. It’s a way to zone out, much the same as reading trashy magazines or watching commercial television. Switch off the brain and just let the banality wash over you.

Another excuse I use to not write is my need to have the perfect post, drafted and edited and tweaked.. which of course never happens, because I get so overwhelmed by the idea of writing, editing, polishing and posting my idea, that it never makes it out of my head.

I also suffer the usual aspiring writer’s fear of being read; ‘What if it’s too personal? How honest should I be? Should I write about the deep and dark things that sometimes preoccupy my mind? What will people think?’ Well, what people exactly? Who do I really expect to read this? Until I tell anyone about it, no-one will know it is here. There are a million blogs like it.. I’m not selling anything that anyone wants. No one knows who I am or that I am writing this.. people may come across it, and of course I write knowing that there is an audience, but it is as yet an imagined audience. So who cares about what the imaginary audience in my head thinks? Excuse vanquished.

The other problem I have had is a lack of focus.. ‘What will my blog be ABOUT?’ Feeling like I need to have a specific purpose or focus, yet unable to decide what that is, has been another procrastination excuse. Yet I have been wanting to write about Obelia and our experiences with her illness since she was first diagnosed with gastroschisis at 12 weeks gestation. My feelings about it, all the intensity, the joy and the horror, have been too intense for me to articulate. The longer I have left it, the bigger and more complex the story has become. Obelia will be 6 in a few weeks, so now I have a LOT to write about!

So, for the month of May I have set myself several challenges. Firstly, to have a Facebook detox, to which end I have deactivated my account this morning. They have made this even harder since last I tried, it took me 20 minutes to find the ‘deactivate’ button, then I had to fill in a questionnaire about why I was deactivating, and ignore the huge photos of my Facebook friends with ‘So-and-so will miss you!’ imploring me to stay.

Secondly, to post at least one blog post daily. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it doesn’t need to be long. Just get those words on the page!

Update:

Well, I’ve failed that one already. It’s the 14th May today, two weeks since I started this draft. In that time I’ve stuck to my Facebook detox, and this blog has been sitting open in a Safari tab, just waiting for me to finish it. I have found my eyes avoiding that area of the screen, ‘I don’t see you, I have too many other things to do’. It’s not true. This is the one thing that brings me the most pleasure, creatively. I love to write, and I don’t understand the part of me that pushes it away. So, my challenge to myself stands. Write, every day. Let it flow, let go of the fear and the perfectionism, shush that inner critic and just begin.

In the weeks and months to come, I hope to tell you some of the story of my daughter Obelia, and of our family, as we seek to heal her. I’m trying my hardest not to use the word ‘journey’, but what a journey it has been. I’ll talk about gastroschisis. About having a baby in hospital, about NICU. About extreme food intolerances, failure to thrive, inability to breastfeed. About everything turning out almost exactly the opposite of what you expected or imagined. And about GAPS, which has done so much to change our lives in just four months.

Okay, so now my life really is calling me, in the form of my almost three-year-old who has coated herself in baked pumpkin pudding and is threatening to climb into my lap.

Have a lovely day, my imaginary audience. If things go according to plan, I’ll see you soon.

elowyn.