Thursday, October 20, 2011

Compassion: Gluten Free Carrot Cake

Imagine the most honored guest you could think of was coming to dinner.  What kinds of preparations would you make?  What would you serve?  How would you make that guest feel comfortable and at home?

Now: imagine that you are the honored guest.

When was the last time you treated yourself that way?

I'm not talking about hedonism here.  I know the six bags of candy you bought for Halloween are calling your name.  That's not compassion; that's the kind of thing that gives you a hangover the next day.  I'm talking about being kind to yourself, making yourself comfortable.

In yoga class last week, we chanted the Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Om Tāre Tuttāre Ture Svāhā": a call to Tara, who is considered to be both symbol of light and life, and provider of compassion.  Devotees also believe that she can grant wishes, eliminate suffering of all kinds and bring happiness.  When called upon, she instantaneously saves us from eight specific calamities. The First Dalai Lama interprets them as representative of corresponding dangers as follows: 1) lions and pride 2) wild elephants and delusions 3) forest fires and hatred 4) snakes and envy 5) robbers and fanatical views 6) prisons and avarice 7) floods and lust 8) demons and doubt.

I don't know about you, but I could use saving from wild elephants.

The mantra is really more of a heart opener, though, than anything else.  To ask for compassion for ourselves, and to call ourselves to the work of compassion.  My teacher asked us to imagine the heart as a box that can hold everything: all of our worries, all of our struggles, all of the nagging thoughts that won't go away.  All we need to do is give those things to the heart, and the heart will take care of them, giving us comfort.

In my case, I think this means I shouldn't beat myself up for imperfection.  For yelling at my daughter, in one of my more unattractive moments today, to "go the F to sleep" (have I mentioned that she's a horrible napper?  Yeah, that didn't work so well).  For not landing a job, despite the resumes and cover letters that continue to go out.  For a host of other things.

It's funny; I don't usually get upset about imperfection in the kitchen.  I might stress over something in the process, but once it's done, if it's not right, I either eat it anyway or throw it in the trash.  (Yes, I realize that this is wasteful.  Trust me ... things don't often get trashed.)  Sometimes when cupcakes sink, I confess: I just put more frosting on them, and no one knows the difference.

That happened here, because I was making gluten free cupcakes as a surprise for my neighbor's birthday, and didn't have gluten free flour with xanthan gum in it.  But they only sank a little, and they were pretty awesome anyway: moist, warm, sweet without being cloying.  So what if the cream cheese frosting isn't centered? 
Gluten Free Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups light olive oil OR your favorite vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (see notes)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
3 cups freshly grated carrots
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups gluten-free powdered sugar (See note)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Use two round 9-inch cake pans, one 9x13 pan or 36 muffin cups for this recipe. If using round cake pans, lightly grease and place a circle of parchment in the bottom of the pan for easy removal. Use paper lining cups if making cupcakes.

Cream sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric beater or stand mixer. Add oil and vanilla and beat just until smooth.

In a separate bowl combine gluten-free flour mix, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat until blended.

Stir in grated carrots and nuts. Pour the batter into prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. For muffins, reduce baking time to 30-35 minutes or until they pass the toothpick test. Cool on a wire rack.

While cake or muffins are cooling prepare the frosting: place butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat on high until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.  Frost when cake is completely cooled.


Most powdered sugar products are made with granular sugar processed with cornstarch or tapioca starch. However, when buying powdered sugar, read labels carefully to be sure that the product you are considering is not made with wheat starch.

You can use Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix in this recipe with good results. It contains xanthan gum, eliminating the need to add more gum to this recipe. Use your favorite gluten-free flour mix in this recipe and add 1 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum to the recipe if the mix you're using doesn't contain one of these baking gums.
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  1. I love the idea of thinking of your heart as kind of a hope chest where you store important things (excitement, happiness, worry, love, etc.). It's such a nice visual. I also LOVE the idea of a carrot cake muffin!

    Please note that while you were sharing with others about how to improve their life, I was sharing a riveting story of getting caught with my ass up in the air by oncoming traffic. I'm thinking people took more away from your post today than mine! :)

  2. People say that I have a big heart (without coming across as big-headed) Now I know why. Just too much kept in that box. Carrots are my favourite vege and now I can eat them in a cupcake with delicious frosting. I'm comfortable with good food and great company. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. I love this. So many of us could stand to be so much more compassionate to ourselves.

  4. Are there any houses for sale in your neighborhood? 'Cause, girl, I wanna be your neighbor. These look delicious! GF recipes always intimidate me, but interestingly this one does not. You are such a great caretaker of your friends, Justine. They're lucky to have you.

    (And I love the image of my heart as a box, btw.)

  5. Am I the only one contemplating the floods and lust metaphor? (Also there's a book out now called Go The F**k To Sleep. So you aren't the only one, my friend.)

  6. My computer wallpaper reads: "Have no fear of perfection you'll never reach it."

  7. PLUS there's extra cream cheese frosting, and that makes it a win-win situation in my book:) I like that idea of the heart being a box, being strong enough to accept all those things.


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