Saturday, January 24, 2015

Celebrating 100,000+ pageviews with Birthday Cake!

I have an optimistic view of humanity. I believe in our potential. I believe in our ability to create. Above all, I believe in making a difference. Every one of us is capable for greatness, although greatness can seem very mundane and normal. Greatness doesn’t have to always mean fame or glory. Greatness sometimes doesn’t mean recognition either. Sometimes it means being there, for yourself or for another person, at the right place in the right way.

I thought I’d be elated when Meals with Morri hit another stepping-stone to success: one hundred thousand pageviews. It took almost four years, but it happened. I was excited, sure, until I started comparing myself to other gluten free bloggers out there: the ones who are published; the ones who are sponsored; the ones who found voices for their passions; the ones who seemed to stick to their path, so sure of what they wanted and continuing to evolve; and above all, the ones who were widely liked and talked about. Oh yes, the green monster called Envy hit me hard.

I really didn’t have a focus for Meals with Morri, other than seeing what I could make without gluten, soy, or cane sugar. I briefly touched upon having an under-functioning thyroid, some of the new ways I’ve learned to love my body (rock climbing, Insanity, yoga), my travels, a couple of book reviews and one for a product, and I thought about bringing activism into my writing. But for many years I was terrified of causing more harm than good with publishing what I thought, extremely careful in general to have a baseline of niceness and impartiality. Just focus on the food, not the politics, essentially.

Funnily enough, and quite embarrassing, it hit me the hardest when I happened to randomly click on one particular blogger: she's eighteen, a lover of yoga and fitness, cooks gluten free, had her site for less than two years… and she had over 1000 Likes on Facebook. Suddenly, the 100K didn’t seem to compare at all. Never mind that I have had people from all over the world read my blog and perhaps try my recipes. Never mind my personal journey to happiness and evolution. Never mind the Masters Degree. Never mind my ability to create and learn in the kitchen. Never mind the food.

It was politics, pure and simple, a popularity game that I so desperately wanted to win, or at least be a part of. I felt icky for feeling this way, until I realized what was beneath it: I felt like Meals with Morri didn’t matter anymore. And beneath that, I learned that of course it matters because I enjoy it. It matters to me. I connect with and learn about people and places through food. What I was yearning for, truly, was a focus, a niche, a way to really share with others.

While in Malta, I loved the people I worked with and what I did in the office, but I really struggled with living in the culture itself. I struggled with connecting with the Maltese people, and more often than not I spent my time at home after work, on Skype or doing Insanity. I felt like I didn’t belong there, awkward and foreign, simply because I couldn’t figure out how the island worked so that I could be a part of the island’s story. Similarly, I felt disconnected (and still do a little) from Meals with Morri.
One of my personal goals for this year is to learn to obtain internal validation. Up until this point, I was at school. It seemed like a pretty cut and paste sort of deal: I knew exactly what I was doing, and who I was. Without school and the unknown looming ahead in 2015, I was terrified. I didn’t know who to ask how I could be successful, and I didn’t know what questions to ask. I nitpicked at my choices, about why I just couldn’t be successful, why I was doing it wrong or wasn’t doing enough to get where I wanted to go. Meals with Morri went under the microscope, and I tore it apart with my fears.

But then I remembered: I didn’t start Meals with Morri for the glory. I started it because I thought it would be a fun way to empower myself in the kitchen and teach others about what I know about my trials and successes. I didn’t know that I would also go down the route of utilizing conflict resolution for food security and agriculture issues, hoping to work with local projects to redesign the cities/towns/neighborhoods they call home in bringing effective, self-efficient change. I was worried that Meals with Morri wasn’t the place for that. I was worried that I would lose that connection with people if I started talking about things that were, to be frank, political. 

What’s the saying? You cannot have your cake and eat it (too), right? It may not work out, but that can be said about a lot of things. I have no idea what this year is going to be like, considering that, at some point, I will have a job (hopefully one that is relevant and the people have similar passions) that will help in making a positive something happen. But I do know that I love food, I love the process and the people behind food, and I love the idea of bridging people together to finally work together along with this big blue marble we call home.

So at this juncture I’m just going to wing it. I’m going to start putting myself out there more, reaching out and trying new ways of connecting with others outside of my circles, network more openly, and to start believing that I can do things without other people validating me or giving me permission. I’m going to have that cake, eat a slice, and share its recipe.

This cake recipe has been part of a number of birthday celebrations for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the first desserts I made by myself, and it’s an easy one to do. The recipe I modified is found on the Hershey’s website, and I have used both King Arthur’s Multi-Purpose GF Flour as well as my choice of flours to make it. I substituted the cane sugar for coconut sugar with great success, and have made the cake in various shapes and sizes without any issue. I have also been able to halve and quarter the recipe depending on the number of people who are going to eat it without any issue.

It is the cake that Mama Dazz always asks for her birthday, and one that non-gluten freers are always happy to share with me. Since it is rather sweet, at least for my taste buds, I usually serve it with a lightly sweetened whipped cream but it would also do well with ice cream, fruit preserves, or a homemade caramel sauce.

I’ve made this recipe as cupcakes, as a thin sheet cake, and as thick round layers on top of each other. It is an incredibly easy and satisfying thing to make for whatever occasion you can think of celebrating, even if it’s to celebrate a quiet weekend at home.  

Healthified Chocolate Cake (adapted from Hershey’s recipe)
360 g Coconut palm sugar
126 g. Cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. Baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. Cream of tartar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 Eggs
90 ml Olive oil
240 ml Boiling water
140 g Rice flour
70 g Almond flour
1 tsp. Sea salt
240 ml Whole milk
2 tsp. Vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.*
Stir together the coconut sugar, flours, cocoa, leavening agents, and salt in a large bowl.
Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, and then beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (or by hand with wooden spoon.
Slowly, and in increments, stir in the boiling water (batter will be thin).
Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes, and remove from pans to wire racks.
Allow them to cool completely before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

*Variations (directly from Hershey’s website):

For one-pan cake: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

For a three-layer cake: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

For a Bundt cake: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

For cupcakes: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

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