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

A New Outlook + Braised and Roasted Cabbage

I was never a huge fan of cabbage as a child. It fell under the category of over-boiled, soggy vegetables, ruined by unfortunate preparation methods (Oh how I lament how many people must have been turned off lovely broiled Brussels sprouts or lightly sautéed spinach because they’ve only ever experienced bland, boiled, limp nothingness). And sauerkraut, sauerkraut was old people food – warm and weird and eaten other odd senior citizen favorites like creamed corn and bright yellow and pink packages of Oscar Meyer liverwurst.

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Giving the gift of…giving + Holiday Nut Mix aka Cinnamon Crack

UPDATE 30 May 2012 – One of the judo moms asked me to bring this to a BBQ last weekend. I took the leftovers to work today. One of the new Japanese teachers asked me what it was called, and “Spiced Nut Mix” did not properly convey the addictive, everyone-rush-at-the-bowl quality these nuts have. Our entire office smelled like cinnamon and every teacher was positively groaning with delight. So we quickly decided that “Cinnamon Crack” was a much better name. Careful, it requires a lot of will power to stop eating this one!

This year I’ve crystallized my holiday tradition: bake til you drop. I can’t help myself ~ I love giving food and I imagine one day I’ll become artsy enough to package it up cutely and get it to people before December 25th. But who doesn’t like a  little holiday cheer in January too?

communal baking – the best kind of sharing

I like to give gifts that have meaning, ones that give people real happiness, ones that are actually useful. I can’t stand giving gifts that no one needs, made cheaply from poor quality materials that will just end up in a landfill. So if you are still scrambling for ideas like me (what do you give a 19 year old college kid?!), here is a reference of references and a simple, fast recipe that is perfect for holiday parties or a homemade gift. Continue reading

international breakfast hash

so good you can make it on two continents

The brain is an incredible thing when it comes to food. At least my brain is, because, somewhat like George Costanza, if my brain were a head of lettuce, all but one leaf would be devoted to thinking about food: What will I eat next? Where does this come from? How can I cook this? Am I willing to pay 398 yen for a tiny jar of pickles? What IS that?! In Japan, I often find myself staring at squishy packages of shale-colored lumps, internal organs of unidentified animals, and seafood counters that include octopus beaks, whole flounder, and something that looks suspiciously like krill. There is an endless variety of excitement to be deciphered when I take my frequent trips to the grocery store.

The brain also convinces us what we can and can’t do, or what we can and can’t eat. Tackling food allergies is more about changing your mind than simply changing your diet. How we approach food affects our satisfaction with it. I’ve fully embraced the gluten-free lifestyle and am so much happier and healthier for it. Sometimes I have romantic pangs for cheese and greek yogurt, but I’ve accepted that being dairy-free is the healthiest bet for me. And after a few months of trial and error, I’ve discovered it is possible to be soy-free in, of all places, Japan. So if you think you can’t do it – then you won’t, or you won’t be happy. But if you think about how much healthier and truly happier you will be, if you can eradicate all that is dragging you down in life, like a chronic illness caused by food intolerances, a change in your diet is possible. In fact, enjoyable. I have to thank my dad for spurring one of the best changes in my life.

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