Gluten-Free Vegan Carrot Cake

No, I’m not a vegan. But when it comes to baking, less butter and eggs means less poundage and more cake! I’ve been a vegetarian for 8 days now, and while I’m not going out of my way to eliminate eggs and dairy from my diet, there have certainly been times when it seemed like the obvious choice.

I’ve loved to bake since I was about 10, but always felt guilty about the buttery, sugary treats I was making for my highly diabetic and high-cholesterol family…not to mention the extra pair of hips that I grew as a result of my delicious new hobby. For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to bake more healthily. And it’s actually really easy, cheap, and delicious!

I created this carrot cake recipe this weekend mostly out of boredom, but also due to my relentless sweet tooth. The original carrot cake recipe that my family uses is from a sweet women from Barbados who used to live next door to my grandparents. She herself was like a grandmother to me and my sisters, always buying us ice cream and bringing us unique treasures from the Caribbean whenever she would go. Her carrot cake with cream cheese frosting has been a staple at our Christmas dinner for decades…but like most Christmas-only foods, it’s packed with oil, sugar, and butter! This is my attempt, not to replace her recipe, but to not feel guilty when I want carrot cake more than once a year. It’s incredibly easy, loaded with wholesome ingredients, and practically fat free!

But before we talk recipes, here are a few healthful and helpful baking tips.

1. Eggs: 1 egg = 1/4 cup applesauce or 1 tablespoon flax meal + 3 tablespoons water. Flax meal is so healthy that you should add it even it you’re using eggs. It’s also a great addition to oatmeal, smoothies, and breads.

2. Butter: Use olive oil (not extra virgin), canola oil, or mashed sweet potato! The only time I would avoid the sweet potato is with chocolate cake. It just tastes weird. People recommend shredded beets, but I’ve yet to try it.

3. Milk: Boiling water. It makes the batter really thin, but once it bakes the cake is fluffy, moist, and dairy free. You could also use soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk.

Enjoy!

Ingredients: 

2 cups gluten-free multipurpose flour (I used King Arthur, but Bob’s Red Mill is good, too)

1/2 cup agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon flax meal + 3 tablespoons water, combined

2/3 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/2 cup boiling water

Directions: 

1. Peel and grate 1-2 carrots, to yield about 2/3 cup of shreds and set aside. Chop 1/2 cup walnuts and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of flax meal with 3 tablespoons of water until it forms a paste. Add olive oil, agave, vanilla, and applesauce.

3. Add baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and lemon/orange zest.  Some people like to mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl, and wet ingredients in another bowl, and then combine them. I prefer mixing the wet ingredients and then gradually adding the dry ingredients one at a time. It lets you keep an eye on the moisture and make sure that the leavening agents (baking soda, etc) are evenly distributed.

4. Using an electric mixture, gradually add the flour. Gluten-free flour absorbs moisture a lot more than white all-purpose flour. If the batter looks coarse and drier than you’re used to, worry not! That’s what the boiling water is for.

5. Slowly mix in the carrot shreds and chopped nuts.

6. Add the boiling water. Depending on the flour you use, you may not need the whole 1/2 cup. But don’t add more than this much or the cake won’t cook properly. The batter will be loose, almost like pancake batter, but don’t forget, most of this will cook off in the oven.

7. Bake in a greased pan for about 20 minutes! For cupcakes, 15 minutes.

8. Optional: top with cream cheese frosting.

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Day 1 as a Vegetarian

Becoming a vegetarian hasn’t been very hard…but then again, it’s only been 2 days!   Wednesday, May 8, 2013 was my first day as a vegetarian. The last time I had eaten meat before that day was Sunday, May 5. Just 3 days later, I wasn’t really doing anything so radically unusual to my body. I didn’t find myself craving meat, or having “meat withdrawal” or anything such thing. My body felt the exact same. My mind, on the other hand, felt totally different.

As I made my breakfast, my usual oatmeal and coffee, I knew that it would be some time before I was even confronted with the option of eating meat. We don’t really eat much of it in my house. But something inside of me was different. Maybe it was seeing my plants growing on the porch, or some lingering effects of yoga class, but I actually felt like a cleaner, younger, happier person.

I think there’s a lot of power in sacrifice. It’s the reason why Lent is so meaningful for Christians, or Ramadan is so sacred to Muslims. When you see something that you know you can have, and would be really easy to get, perhaps even in large amount, and actively refuse it, you confront the truth of what you need versus what you want. You empower yourself to live more meaningfully. You are not just having something simply “because you can”. You’re trimming away excess, greed, and gluttony.

Pretty soon, what was at first a “sacrifice” is now a gift. You didn’t lose the chocolate you gave up for Lent: you gained deeper appreciation for it. You didn’t starve yourself during Ramadan: you experienced your meals in a more mindful way. Perhaps even people who forgo their usual second cup of coffee feel empowered by not needing it! By mentally labeling myself a vegetarian, I was acknowledging a future of eating more cleanly, as well as the value of other foods. I found myself eating so much healthier, too! I didn’t drink any soda, or eat too many processed foods. I even found myself watching less TV. Vegetarianism doesn’t force you to do this, of course, and I’m not about to throw out all my electronics and Pop Tarts. But being aware and conscientious about one aspect of your life makes you so incredibly more aware of everything else.

On my first day as a vegetarian, I found myself feeling more satisfied than I had felt in a long time. I thought about all the lobster rolls I wouldn’t be eating this summer on the beach, and the Fenway Franks I’d be passing up at the ballpark this summer, and the Thanksgiving turkey that wouldn’t accompany my passed potatoes and gravy this fall. But I didn’t feel any desire for them. I was actually looking forward to these occasions more than ever!

The Sudden Vegetarian

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN, quoted in Sinfully Vegan

I have always been an omnivore. Growing up, my family ate mostly vegetables. Milk and yogurt were always in the house, and eggs and meat were “sometimes foods”. I never really appreciated that until last year when I began reading more about the food industry and various healthy living techniques. Regardless of the genetic risk of heart disease that runs in my family, I knew that our diet was pretty healthy. After reading books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc., I figured if I at least ate the organic, free-range, twice-as-expensive animal products, I was doing my part to thwart my genes and also help the planet. It wasn’t like I loved meat so much that I wanted to look for a way to keep it in my life. Not at all. I just didn’t think that what I was doing was bad for me or the planet.

I have been toying with the idea of being a vegetarian for sometime now. Perhaps being at least a pescetarian would be healthy option.  And I really don’t meat so often in the first place…so maybe it’s not that big a deal, right?

But it’s one thing to read some facts in a book, and tell yourself that you know better in theory and another thing entirely to see the truth with your own eyes…

Last night I was looking through my Instant Queue on Netflix, trying to pick a documentary to watch. But it was getting late, so I simply picked the shortest one on my list: “Vegucated” (2010), directed my Melisa Miller Wolfson. The summary described a light-hearted tale of three New Yorkers who attempt to go Vegan for six weeks, along the way learning more about the Vegan movement, their own health, and the environment. I expected funny moments of cheeseburger-cravings and some crazy tree-hugger trying to push her political agenda on me.  I wasn’t expecting it to change me, my diet, or how I felt about anything.

What I got was a gut-wrenching, graphic depiction of the American meat industry, from the factory farm to the fridge. No politics, no hippies, and very little tofu. Just plain horror. As I said before, I’ve read several books on this issue, and like to think of myself as fairly informed. In high school I read about MadCow Disease, which was caused my Cannibalism by humans in Papua New Guinea but also by feeding cattle meat and bone meal to other cattle (how horrible!). I had no idea that the food industry hadn’t changed since then. In fact, it had gotten worse! But I had no idea the extent of the madness.

This blog post is not to make you feel guilty about eating meat, or preach about animal rights. Up until yesterday I didn’t give a damn, myself! If you’re like the old me, chances are you care at least a little about the environment: maybe you don’t drive a hybrid, but you recycle when you can and you try not to waste. If you’re like the old me, animal rights wasn’t your scene: you don’t enjoy watching animals suffer, but you also know that you have to feel your family and would rather not “suffer” a vegetarian lifestyle. And that’s perfectly okay. But what if this lifestyle actually was harming YOU and not just those farm animals?

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”  -Paul McCartney

For me that was the icing on the cake. Sure, I wanted to throw up when I saw those chicken cages, but more significantly I was turned off from consuming any meat that has been exposed to that. Maybe the chicken suffers, but we suffer too! It’s not just about the rights of animals. It’s about the rights of people to know where their food comes from. Most people who eat meat do so ignorant of these conditions, and what they do with the information once they get it is their decision. But wouldn’t you at least like to know?

When the film was over, I powered down my laptop. I lay awake for an hour trying to calm down and get my stomach to stop doing cartwheels. I felt sick, angry, and emotionally exhausted. But mostly I felt determined to change. At 1:00am I crept downstairs for some water to find my mother (a vegetarian!) watching soap operas. I put my head on her shoulder and announced calmly, “I’m a vegetarian now.” She made me some toast and sent me back to bed, but tbefore applauding my decision (and very pleased to no longer be the only vegetarian in the house!).

I’m a very rational person. I know that there are many parts of the world where meat is fresh and chickens are happy before they’re eaten, and that’s wonderful. But it’s not happening here in the states as much as it should. I know that eating a little bit of chicken or fish or even steak once in while will not kill you. I know that there are parts of the world, like in the arctic, where people have no choice but to eat animals, and that’s fine. I know that the government has standards, however lax, for organic agriculture and laws of food safety, and will recall products that are contaminated. And that’s great.

I’m a very rational person, and I know that watching ONE documentary is rarely a sound reason for doing anything.  But it’s not just one documentary…if you look an inch closer, you’ll find articles and news stories about this everywhere. I’ve mentioned Pollan’s work several times for a reason, and I encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to read his material. Also Food, Inc. which I read as a book, but is also available as a documentaryThis particular documentary is very accessible, but keep in mind that it is graphic.  I did a quick search on Goodreads.com and there is a list of some great books on food, health, and vegetarians!

Wishing you all health and happiness!

1. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

2. The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell

3. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser

4. Slaughterhouse, by Gail A. Eisnitz

5. The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer