Sumo Carrot Cake

So I went rice planting, and I  came home and made….carrot cake. Not the most logical conclusion, until you realize the secret ingredient: sumo wrestling in a rice paddy.

I live in a relatively rural community, surrounded by gentle, rolling fields of sprightly green rice shoots and plenty of opportunities to buy fresh, seasonal vegetables at farmer’s markets. I couldn’t be happier to be living here, and I was over the moon when I had the chance to actually get down and dirty and help grow a little food rather than just eat it. I always have greater satisfaction enjoying meals that I know I worked hard for – whether it’s going for a long run or testing the murky waters of crop sowing.

Planting rice involves inserting a clump of three rice seeds into a cross-section etched into the muddy bottom of a paddy. This involves a lot of stooping and mucking in gooey, shin-deep mud with the consistency of thick brownie batter. At times it was difficult to free my foot from the mud to move forward in my planting row, and certain noises resembling body functions resulted. It turns out that fart jokes transcend cross-cultural divides. Bobbing up and down across the field was fun for a few hours, but doing it day in and day out would be the epitome of backbreaking. Now most farms use a tractor to plant fields in a snap, but occasionally they will put on group events get back to the spirit of an agricultural community.

Shared work is a great way to bring different types of people together and celebrate something we all have in common: a love of good food. Our post-planting lunch included freshly-picked spring vegetables, so sweet and clean that they required no extra dressing for the salad. Some people also ate onigiri, rice balls, made from last year’s rice harvest. Following the planting were some celebratory outdoor events –  first the members of the farm co-op treated us to a traditional flute concert. It was an idyllic setting that I imagine would come out of a movie – sweet, reedy flutes, gentle, iconic spring breeze, all basked in the warmth of an emerging summer sun.

It was an idyllic setting – broken by a bunch of young people thrashing about in the mud. The second event was dorozumo, which I have decided is Japanese for mudwrestling. Loosely following the rules of sumo, competitors wade into a yet unplanted paddy and try their best to avoid being thrown in the mud and, in turn, throw their competitor. I was one of two people willing to compete in the women’s division, and I basically won out of desperation. I hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothes, so if I were to loose I’d be stuck as a mudsicle for the rest of the day. We had one of the best matches, a long bout with lots of splashing and hugging in the end. So my shirt got muddy all the same, but for good reason.

And my prize as “sumo queen”, as one man dubbed me? A bottle of homemade carrot juice. Juice on it’s own ramps up my blood sugar a bit too much, so I decided to capitalize on an idea from Gluten Free Girl’s second cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story in 100 Recipes, by Shauna James and Danny Ahern. Their recipe for carrot cake calls for a carrot juice reduction with some added spices thrown in. By the time this homemade stuff had simmered down to a puree consistency, I was ready to dive in headfirst, heedless of my spare clothes situation. The heady fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg was much more tempting than crayfish and tadpole-filled mud. I restrained myself to “taste-testing” a few spoonfuls, and the rest got put into the cake.

The cake base comes from Elana’s Pantry. The recipe is on her website here, so please go check out all the incredibly simple and stunningly delicious recipes she has to offer. Next to her instructions are my substitutions and adaptations, but I want to make sure she gets all the credit!

before heading into the oven

If you have the chance to participate in any sort of community-based agriculture (shared gardens, field trips to local farms, heck even a chance at beekeeping), I really encourage you to try it out. It is a fun way to get involved with your food; if you don’t have much motivation to cook, you’ll probably take more pride in harvesting and cooking something you grew. You may also wind up creating a whole new dish, surprising yourself with what you can create through unusual circumstances.

Through this event, I also found out that CSAs do exist in Japan! CSAs are a chance for consumers to buy food directly from a farmer, giving the buyer an opportunity to truly know where there food comes from and also support their local community. I now look forward to my delivery of the freshest, pesticide-free, truly “organic” food each week, and I can’t wait to go back and harvest our rice crop in the fall.

Elana’s Pantry Carrot Cake, with “sumo” adaptations by Kate
  • 3 cups blanched almond flour
  • 2 teaspoons celtic sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 eggs                                                       4 eggs
  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil
  • 3 cups carrots, grated                               2 cups grated carrots + 3/4 c carrot puree
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup walnuts
  1. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, agave and oil
  3. Stir carrots, raisins and walnuts into wet ingredients
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry
  5. Place batter into 2 well greased, round 9-Inch cake pans
  6. Bake at 325° for 35 minutes
  7. Cool to room temperature and spread with coconut cream frosting
  8. Serve

For the carrot puree:

Start with 3 cups of fresh carrot juice. The juice will not reduce well if it is frozen. Add one star anise, a stick of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg to the juice in a saucepan. Simmer over very low heat until the puree becomes an applesauce-like consistency. This took about 35 minutes, but my gas stove is very quick about these things and the homemade juice I had was already slightly thick. You can make the carrot puree ahead of time. Make sure to remove the whole spices before adding it back into the cake batter!

Part of Diet, Dessert & Dog’s Wellness Weekend May 31 – June 4th

Also Simply Sugar & Gluten Free’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesday 6/4

The BEST Way to Eat Meat

I have many reasons for eating the way I do. I have food allergies. I care deeply about preserving the environment. I’ve struggled with depression, weight issues, and health concerns. But the most important reasons? 1. So I can be happy and 2. Because it tastes so damn good.

A whole foods diet comes down to that for me. The food just tastes better! And I’m happier when I eat healthily – my body and brain are in sync and working together to help me enjoy life, rather than “fighting food”. Fighting food for me means struggling with guilt, emotional eating, or cycles of ups and downs triggered by sugar, gluten, and other foods I am intolerant to. It is your choice to prioritize your health or the planet’s health, and I choose to do that in the most enjoyable way I can think of – eating awesome food with a clear conscience.I’ve never been a huge red meat eater. I’ve also avoided jumping into the meat topic here because I am friends with so many vegans, but the reality is I eat meat and so do many people. If you do eat animal products, I think you have the responsibility to do it in a sustainable and humane way. That is what I mean when I say eating food with a clear conscience. And bottom line? Sustainable meat always tastes better, because it is higher quality.
Sustainable meat usually means grass-fed or free-range, but there is such a labeling stigma that I want to break it down further.  I’ve decided to cover red meat in this post, moving on to pork next and maybe even updating my previous post on chicken down the line.“Regular” meat that you see in stores is a product of commercial farming or factory farming. Animals no longer live out a happy life with sweet old farmers, plenty of sunshine, fresh air,, and grass. Rather, meat production today has turned into a profit-driven market, where animals are force-fed genetically modified corn and soy along with discarded garbage or even animal waste, kept in dark, extremely overcrowded feedlots or pens, and pumped full of artificial hormones and antibiotics because of unsanitary conditions. Cows contribute more pollution than transportation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Environmental Working Group has released an extremely worthwhile and helpful report called the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.” I’ll give you a quick summary, but I think you owe it to yourself and your health to read it through.- Lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and salmon are the worst for your health and the environment. Commercial farming of these products creates more manure and pollution. Eating meats with concentrated greenhouse gases exposes you to toxins and leaves you at a greater risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

What to do? Eat pasture-raised, completely grass-fed beef, lamb, and dairy products. True grass-fed beef raised with organic practices has more nutrients and reduces your exposure to toxins, pollutants, and artificial hormones. Choose wild caught salmon and try eating more sustainable seafood choices like sardines, anchovies, or local fish.

– Commercial lamb, beef, and cheese production emits high amounts of methane gas, which is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide.

– Manure leaks pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and metals. Factory farm slaughterhouses dump millions of pounds of toxic pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia – into our waterways each year. That means that not only your meat is dirty, but water and other crops that the waste runs off into. Ever wonder why there is so much E.coli in spinach?

– Because conventionally-raised meat is raised and fed in essentially a pond of it’s own manure, overuse of antibiotics on these animals leech into the meat we consume and our groundwater. This also  creates “superbugs”, viruses that are more difficult to treat because they are resistant to vaccines. Conventional meat also contains artificial hormones that increase cancer rates.

What to do? Eat free-range, pasture-raised animals for a scrumptious way to lower your risk of bacterial infection and cancer. How great is it that if you prioritize your health, not only you will reap the benefits but the environment as well.

Sustainable meat choices conserve soil, reduce soil and water pollution, preserve biodiversity and wildlife, and eliminate our overdependence on chemicals while promoting pest and weed resistance.

What if I can’t afford it?
1. First, assess your priorities. Think of your health care costs down the line if you wind up needing heart surgery or lifelong treatment for diabetes. Find other things to cut back on in your life and use the money instead for better quality, better tasting food.
2. Use meat as a side. Mark Bittman is a huge advocate of this, and he has many recipes that use meat economically and in a way that still lends great flavor to dishes.
3. Order meat in bulk and split the cost with a friend, family, or neighbors.
4. Eat less meat. If there really is no room in your budget, than reduce your consumption of meat in favor of more filling vegetables, squash, lentils, beans, and other plant-based proteins. It’s better to eat good quality meat twice a week rather than terrible quality meat every day.
5. Buy tougher (and cheaper) cuts of meat and use slow cooking methods like braising to yield mouthwatering results.

What if I can’t find it?
1. Look for a meat CSA. You can start here at the Ethicurean, or search the directories at LocalHarvest and the Eat Well Guide.
2. Check out your local farmer’s market or ask local farmers. Buying local supports your community and reduces the impact of transportation costs on consumer prices and pollution.
3. Ask your grocery store to start carrying sustainable meat choices! Let’s make this mainstream – consumer demand is a powerful thing.

What if I can’t cook it and I’m afraid to screw it up?
1. Get a friend or mentor to help you out with the cooking or show you some techniques.
2. Check out this helpful site and recipes.
3. Use your crockpot! It is the most forgiving way to prepare meat. There is less risk of burning it or drying it out. Stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow!
4. Email me with any questions. I’m here for you.

A word of caution. While grass-fed beef is a better health alternative for you, it’s full environmental impact is currently up for debate. I still think it is 1,000 times better, taste, health, and environment-wise, than factory farm meat, but I believe in moderation when it comes to red meat.

Check back tomorrow because I am going to introduce you to your new best friend – the slow cooker – and my favorite sustainable meat choice!

U.S. Food Favorites

I’m back home in the States for a week and I’ve been cooking like a fiend. I’ll have plenty of recipes to share once I get the time to edit photos and write up the posts. I’m flying back to Japan tomorrow, though, so I’m going to save a bigger post for when I have a bit more time. But I wanted to share all the awesome products I’ve been enjoying while I’ve been home.

Almond/Coconut milk blend, Unsweetened. Toasted nut flavor, creamy coconut undercurrent – no sugar! Fabulous on it’s own or in a green smoothie. Continue reading

Tuesday Green Tip #3: One Cup Method

Can I give you some life tips AND green tips?

Life tip: Don’t eat too many duck eggs.

Life tip: Don’t think you have defeated jet lag after four days.

Life tip: Don’t roast beets in tin foil without a pan underneath.

Life tip: Don’t add a glass pan underneath hot roasting beets and then place it on your mom’s fancy stove that is neither electrical or glass but some flat fancy surface because the pan will EXPLODE all over the kitchen while you are making dinner. (More on this later)

Continue reading

Simple Meals + Sustainable Choices at the Store!

Hey everybody!

I’m excited for a great number of things, but the fact that my local grocery store now carries sustainable salmon choices has me over the moon!

Can you see the blue seal to the left of the price tag? That is the Marine Stewardship Council seal of approval, so you know your seafood is certified and not fraudulent.

Here is a complete list of products available with MSC guidelines, called Fish to Eat.

Why is it important to make sustainable choices? You can read more in my post for Cod & Country, but the long and short of it is, if you want to be eating your favorite fish in 5 or 10 years, you have to start buying sustainable choices. Otherwise, we are going to overfish our way out of a meal. It’s in your best interest, and the ecosystem’s, to protect what we have left. Plus you can discover some delicious new seafood choices in the process!

Continue reading

Time to Celebrate…I need your help!

maybe pie for breakfast?

It’s March 1st, in Japan anyway, which means that it is time to officially kick-off my goals for this year. It is a list I’ve made to celebrate my quarter century on this Earth and all the things I want to do to make it better and improve myself.

I was inspired last year by Joy the Baker’s 30 Things for 30 Years (note to self, start photodocumenting this stuff). A few months ago I started reading the helpothers.org Smile Stories and came across this awesome post by MixMingleGlow. I made a list of my own, and now I need your help to make all these things happen! Details below:

25 Things for Turning 25: A Quarter Century at it’s Best

1. Get 25 people to make a $25 kiva loan, or more!

Kiva.org is a way to lend directly, in small amounts or microloans, to alleviate poverty while knowing that your contribution really makes a difference.You make a loan, get updates from your lend-ee, and then get paid back! You can make more loans with that money or do a communal loan.

2. Compliment one person every day

Work in progress: I don’t always make a conscious effort to do this, but I make sure to always let people know how appreciated or thankful I am for what they do. Try it! It makes you feel good.

3. Take a walk and pick up litter at least once a month. (Twice a month is ideal)

Trash is unsightly. Don’t treat your surroundings like a garbage can. This also makes me feel really good. I wear thick gardening gloves and fill up several recyclable bags. Take a walk around your block and tidy it up for yourself and your neighbors!

4. Make a sweet potato and chestnut layer cake, dairy-free cream cheese frosting optional.

In order to make said cake, I’ve got to stop eating them immediately…

Working on it.

5. HOT AIR BALLOON. It’s happening.

It IS happening. Work in progress.

6. Send one care package per month.

How happy are you when you get something in the mail? Pass it on! It could be a friend, neighbor, family member cross country, or a complete stranger. I remember how much fun I had putting together a Red Cross package for flood victims back in 5th grade.

7. Inspire others to send more snail mail.

A handwritten note speaks volumes from the heart. And they usually have really cute stamps at the post office.

8. Reverse trick or treat

Knock on ten doors and present them with some homemade baked goods or a meal. I would never say no to a hot bowl of soup in the middle of winter. Two weeks ago I brought a crock pot of chili into my office and everyone was ecstatic. Not quite fulfilling the requirement, but I plan to do it before the year is out.

9. Be a Buddhist for a day.

I don’t really have this one figured out yet, but the idea is to try something totally new. Buddhism embraces loving kindness and letting go of all anger, fear, hatred, or jealousy. No one needs that in their life.

10. Volunteer at a nursing/assisted living home.

Turns out I live right down the block from one! Very excited to do this. I think I’ll go play my viola, bring some treats, or simply sit and chat.

11. Have a dance party.

Sometimes I do this by myself to get rid of a funky mood. But dancing with other people is a great way to celebrate life. Check out War Dance for an inspirational, uplifting film.

12. Laugh every day.

13. Have a spa day with Mom

Call your Mom and tell her you love her. Or call your mother figure. Or do something wonderful in memory of your Mom. Same goes for Dads. Tell people you love that you love them. You can’t say it enough.

14. Inspire 100 people to do better by the environment

Here is where I really need your help – spread the word! Recycle! Choose sustainable seafood! Conserve on water! Eat more greens! Share your thoughts on how we can integrate sustainable living and joy into our every day lives.

15. Sing more among friends and family

I may be making myself go to karaoke on my actual birthday. But singing makes people happy. Check out this video! (By the way, I think he was a busker, not homeless)

Someone Like You

16. Get my family together for Grillsgiving 2012

Being together with family and appreciating good food and company is one of my highest priorities in life.

grilled turkey = best turkey ever

17. Eat sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji

Adventure tiiiiime! Sustainable seafood only.

18. Teach a legit cooking lesson

Share your love of the kitchen with someone else. Or seek out someone to show you!

I forgot I taught 40 kids about Thanksgiving, but that was last year!!! New year new lesson.

19. Do 25 things from the Natural Living Test each month

Act on your priorities.

20. Go to at least one of Jake’s sporting events

Kids are important. Playing with them is super important, especially if you are an adult. Kids know how to have fun.

21. Leave quarters/change in a sandbox for kids to discover.

Day maker right here, for everyone involved.

22. Have a “date” with each member of my family

Big family living an ocean away. Time with them is valuable and precious  (even if you live on top of each other).

23. Start training for the next marathon

Exercise. Endorphins. Not producing carbon dioxide in a car? Big bonus. It doesn’t have to be a marathon, but believe in yourself. You can do whatever it is that you want to do.

mile 6

24. Get rid of one thing cluttering my life every day, be it tangible or intangible.

This is one of the BEST things I have ever committed to doing. One thing per day, big or small, means I’m never scared out of doing it. (I routinely assume any household chore is going to involve hours of labor and intensive tests of strength and character. I feel like Samson when I finally take the paltry 15 minutes to clean my toilet) I feel so much better having less stuff and bringing less stuff into my home. Check out this short documentary, based on the book “The Story of Stuff”:

25. Get 25 genuine bear hugs from 25 different people in ONE.DAY.

I love hugs. Don’t you?

Bonus:

(26.) Do something totally crazy, unexpected, off-the-wall, bonkers awesome, aka surprise myself.

So please! Write a comment, send an email or picture, share with us what you are going to do to celebrate life this year! I hope you find as much joy and inspiration from this list as I did making it. I’m really looking forward to accomplishing all these and having some fun!

More great ideas:

Smile cards

38 Random Acts of Robyn

what?! you’re an adult now? sort of…