mesquite brownies (aka Tree Cake!)

all the cool kids these days are talking about perennial agriculture– food that grows on trees. if we are going to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere to levels comfortable for us and the species we like, perennial agriculture is where it’s at. yay trees!

one of the challenges of perennial agriculture is that we are used to relying on annual crops (wheat, corn, soy, rice) for the foods that produce the bulk of our calories. these annuals are what we grew up eating, and what our parents grew up eating, and our great-great grandparents too. we’re hard pressed to find a source to teach us how to cook chestnut bread or palo verde porridge. so us permaculture evangelists have some experimenting to do. luckily we are true believers and will eat the crumbly, chalky, pungent products we worked so hard on while we crack the code. you’re welcome.

i wrote about harvesting and processing mesquite here. since then, i’ve learned that the flavor of the pods vary greatly within the mesquite species, and even from tree to tree. our tree is a honey mesquite, and has a quite pungent after taste. a friend harvested some screwbean mesquite and it was sweet, mild, and slightly nutty. then i tried some velvet mesquite and it was even more mild. the other day damian was making screwbean mesquite pancakes (just mesquite flour and eggs. kinda like corn cakes in texture.) and they smelled like chocolate to me. and that, my friends, gave me an idea. mesquite and chocolate, what a perfect combination!

i had made these (amazing) fudgy brownies many times before, and i knew i could replace the wheat flour with coconut flour with good results since i had done it. i figured i could take it one step further and replace any annual ingredient with a perennial ingredient and make “tree cake” for damian’s 36th birthday. the results exceeded my wildest expectations. it became “cake” because i doubled the recipe, baked it in two pans, then layered them with whipped cream*, and stuck a candle in the frosted glory. mesquite and chocolate, a perennial match made in heaven. the recipe below is for one pan of tree brownies. you probably won’t regret doubling it though…

*i know what you are thinking, cream does not grow on trees, it’s true. however, cream from a pasture raised cow does not count as an annual crop because a well managed pasture sequesters carbon and builds top soil instead of washing it away.

Mesquite brownies

  • 10 tablespoons pastured butter, melted (you could use coconut oil or ghee if you want)
  • 1 cup coconut or date sugar, or maple syrup. (if using maple syrup, increase coconut flour by 1/4 cup)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup fair trade cacao powder
  • 1/2 cup mesquite flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour (or more mesquite)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

mix the butter and sugar. mix in the eggs and vanilla, then the dry ingredients. mix it all well and pour into a parchment lined 8-inch baking pan. bake at 325 for 20-30 minutes (i had to bake 40 minutes because of my altitude), until a toothpick comes out almost clean. cool on a rack. DO NOT try to cut into squares until completely cool. if it’s a warm day stick them in the fridge for a bit before cutting into squares.

this picture is not very flattering of the cake, but you get the idea. and you can see how excited people were to get seconds. (i stole the picture from nathen’s instagram feed.)Image

eating mesquite


the biggest tree on our property is a wild honey mesquite. it’s loaded with pods right now.


damian picked a bowl full and put it in the vitamix. then he sifted it (the empty hulls on the left make a good mulch or carbon addition to compost)


and then i was ready to bake!

after getting really excited about eating mesquite (blood-sugar balancing, high protein super food), i was disappointed when i started looking for recipes and couldn’t find any that used exclusively mesquite. the flour is delicious on it’s own, but it does have a rather strong flavor. so if you want baked goods like you grew up with, you’re gonna want to mix it. sometimes i do want baked goods like what i am used to, but i also like to let foods be what they are and not try to turn them into something they are not. i do not like foods that need quotation marks. soy “cheese,” almond crust “pizza,” chicory “coffee,” raw cauliflower “mashed potatoes.” no thank you. i like my cauliflower as cauliflower, pizza as pizza. but when it comes to mesquite, how can i let it shine as itself? what is it?

i’m gonna find out. we tried pancakes with 100% mesquite. they were fine, tasty, even, with yogurt and blueberries, but it took a lot of eggs to get them to hold together, and i got the feeling something like a scone or biscuit would be more suited to it’s properties. the cinnamon and caramel notes remind me of graham crackers, so i started there.

they turned out delicious! the mesquite flavor shines. when i make these again though, i’m going to do the same recipe but make them thick like scones. yours will not be this messy unless you also have a two-year-old “helper” -see, quotation marks are not a selling point! also you will use two trays instead of one…Image


(that dark spot is on my camera lens, not the biscuit)

i know i just said i wanted to use 100% mesquite, but i also wanted something really yummy, and i’m just learning, so i used half mesquite here. i’ll post more recipes as i discover what works.

Mesquite biscuits

adapted from smitten kitchen’s graham cracker recipe

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup mesquite flour

3/4 cup  brown sugar, lightly packed (i used turbinado, because that’s what i had)

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen

5 tablespoons milk, full-fat is best

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Topping (optional) i didn’t do it because i wanted to feel good about eating them for breakfast)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

[Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor or electric mixer, you can cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender. Just make sure they’re very well incorporated.]

combine milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be soft and sticky. cover and chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping, if using, by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.

flour your work surface and roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle and cut it into squares (or use a cookie cutter for fun shapes.) (or make scones!)

Place the biscuits on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, 

in praise of kefir and my holy grail of pancakes

i’ve been on the fermentation bandwagon for a few years now (yay gut flora!). i have a hard time keeping up with all my projects, but i do enjoy feeding my family homemade kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough bread, and kefir. the fact is that we are pretty much addicted to all of the above, so when i don’t make it at home (or when a batch doesn’t turn out) we spend a fortune on store-bought.

i was slow to add kefir to my home fermenting after a bad experience i had witnessing a housemate’s goat milk kefir become infested with fly larva. i best not say anything more about that… but really, kefir is probably the easiest home ferment around. just get yourself some kefir grains (ask your friends or look at craigslist. i bought mine through amazon), add milk, cover and let sit until it thickens (12-24 hours), strain and enjoy. repeat. no heating, chopping, pounding or salting is required.

we drink it by the glass, add it to smoothies, put it on granola, and bake with it. which leads me to the point of this post; my holy grail of pancakes. the pancake i have been trying to make for years is an eggy, soft, tender, slightly sweet one. it’s the one they bring you when you go to de dutch pannekoek house, only arguably, this one tastes even better and is free from gmo’s etc. i’ve tried a lot of recipes, but never got the texture quite right. until i started basing the batter on kefir. i’m quite proud of myself for inventing this.

Dutch style kefir pancakes

  • 2 cups kefir (buttermilk would probably work fine too)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or something like sugar)
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • butter for the pan

whisk your eggs into the kefir, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. heat a tablespoon of butter in the pan, then turn the heat quite low and cook your pancakes. try not to rush them, they are best cooked with the pan not too hot.

you’re welcome.

Oma’s Plum Cake

my oma didn’t particularly like cooking or baking, but she sure was good at it. in germany 3:00 is “coffee hour,” when germans everywhere eat a small meal that consists of coffee and sweet baked things. i love germany… the cakes tend to be less rich and less sweet than what we think of as cake here. they are typically dense and slightly dry. fruit is common. depending on the season, oma would make crumb cake, apple cake, plum cake, chocolate marble cake, cheese cake, and poppy seed cake, to name a few. plumb cake and cheese cake were my favorites. this time of year i start thinking about plums and was so excited to see italian prune plums at the farmers market this week. after consulting with my mom, who inherited oma’s 1940’s ‘how to be a german housewife” cookbook, i was able to bring back all the sensory memories of my dear sweet oma. the cake is just as good as i remember.
i bring you now the authentic, superior, recipe for german plum cake:

Oma’s plum cake

60-70 italian prune plums (2-3 lbs)
75-100grams butter (4 oz)
100 g sugar (1/2 cup)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
375 g flour (3 cups)
4 tsp baking powder (dr oetker if you can find it)
1/8 -1/4 Liter milk (½ -1 cup)

cream the butter and sugar. Add egg & mix. Mix dry ingredients separately and then Gradually add to butter/egg mixture alternating with the milk. add enough milk that the batter “tears off the spoon when you lift it” like a thick muffin batter. use a wet spatula to spread into a buttered pan: a jelly roll pan, or small lasagna pan.
prep the plums by “cutting along their bum” as oma instructed me. remove the pit but do not cut them all the way in half. butterfly the plums and arrange them like little soldiers, almost standing on end overlapping with skin side down in the batter. you want to cram as many plums in as possible.

bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the top with sugar after it comes out of the oven. serve with coffee at 3:00pm sharp.
photo soon.

Homegrown Lunch

thanks to a merciful spring and a lot of effort, this year’s garden has been our most bountiful ever. we’ve been harvesting pounds and pounds of tomatoes (the ‘mexican midget’ plum tomato appears to be a winner for our climate.) and cucumbers. the okra is producing well, we have plenty of carrots and beets when ever we want, and even the sweet corn got pollinated. i’ve been making pesto out of all the basil, and we’ve got a bunch cantaloupes ripening. the peppers and eggplants are taking their time, but i think we’ll get a harvest yet.

i love cooking food that i grew, but what i love best is when i can make a whole meal out of ingredients that came from our property. today’s lunch was inspired by smitten kitchen’s entry on ina garten’s scalloped tomatoes i used bread crumbs instead of croutons since that’s what i had available from damian’s spelt bread. so good!

of the ingredients i used, those from our homestead were: garlic, bread crumbs, tomatoes, butternut squash, eggs, and basil. that left only olive oil and parmesan as imports. i can live with that.

picnic in the park

i just got back from a blissful day at oak glen. i would tell you all about it but i have a test in the morning so i really should be studying. for now i just want to tell you that the picnic was awesome. we had forbidden rice salad, gluten free savory cottage cheese almond muffins, and green beans. the menu was rounded out by ample fudge samples and apples. i highly recommend you try both recipes asap. if it’s not too late for a fall picnic where you live, so much the better.


the last few days have been blustery and cool(er). i cannot tell you how excited i am about this change. i’ve been dreaming of rainy days with pots of tea and stew bubbling cozily in a house that smells like cinnamon and fresh bread. i dream of slippers and down comforters, pumpkin pie and scones. i love fall! living in the desert, i sometimes feel like the seasons are just a story i tell myself. take christmas for example. is it really christmas with sun blazing through the windows and you look out to see bunnies hopping around on dry brown sand? i guess that’s an obnoxious thing to say. i’m sorry, it’s just that i grew up associating december with short gray days and long cold nights. where i grew up fall meant sweaters and vibrant red leaves, cold rain and lots of apples. i miss it.

i may not get my wish of a full day of rain, but that doesn’t mean i can’t make pumpkin pie and scones! yesterday i made a phenomenal (if i do say so myself) “pumpkin” pie and today i’m making a hearty bean stew. tomorrow i’m planning to try a corn-syrup free pecan pie.

the pumpkin pie i made with kabocha squash, coconut milk and maple syrup. unconventional, perhaps, but i’m telling you, it was the best! just cut the squash in half and bake it at 350 until soft (about 45 min), blend 2 cups worth with 1 cup coconut milk (or heavy cream), 3/4 cups maple syrup, 3 eggs and the usual pumpkin pie spices. blind bake a crust, fill it and then bake at 325 until set.

the pecan pie will be sweetened with brown rice syrup and agave. i have high hopes.


summer has arrived in joshua tree. it’s hot and a bit humid, which means our swamp cooler is more of a placebo than climate control. in weather like this, only a handful of foods are appealing; salad, jello (not real jello, i make it out of juice), Hefeweizen, watermelon, ice cream, and of course okonomiyaki- savory japanese pancakes. i hear okonomiyaki are popular bar food in japan. something to eat while you drink beer. they are really easy to make, don’t require heating up the house, and can be made with whatever vegetables you have on hand. i usually make mine with shredded cabbage, grated carrots, zucchini, chopped spinach and slivered onions. bean sprouts are an obvious, but i rarely have them around.
they are especially good with the okonomiyaki sauce and sweet japanese mayonnaise -both of which can be purchased at an asian food store. since i don’t live near an asian food store, i make my own sauce out of dashi, mayonnaise, wortishire sauce, tamari, agave and ketchup. it sounds horrible, but it’s really good.
to make the pancakes:
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup dashi, vegtable broth, or water
2 cups or more shredded or grated vegetables
okonomiyaki sauce and mayo for garnish
fry in a bit of oil and flip when golden.

if you need more inspiration, check out some of the cool you-tube videos like this one:[youtube=]

healthy sitcky buns (sort of)

sticky bunsupside down (up?) sticky bunsharriet recommended the book ‘baking with julia’, based on a pbs series hosted by one of my favorites, julia child. i got the book from the library and proceeded to spin myself into a frenzy of sorts brought on by page after page of gorgeous photographs featuring the most awe and drool inspiring baked goods. an outsider may have thought i was reading a shocking political expose of the largest proportions, based on my exclamations of “oh my –!” and “are you freeking kidding me?!” but no, it was a cook book. my reaction is hard to describe, part of it was sheer disbelief that anyone would go to the lengths described in the directions, stuff like: “beat the dough vigorously for at least 30 minutes” “work very quickly as even the heat of your hands can set the dough rising again” “chill your marble pastry slab with a bag of ice before you begin” recipes that commonly take 48 hours to complete.) part of it was an intense longing to pull something that looked like these photos out of my own oven. and it was all mixed with some frustration at the amount of white sugar and white flour that each recipe was based on (meaning it was unlikely that i would pull an identical version out of my own oven.)
once i recovered myself a bit, i realized this book could serve as inspiration and jumping board to create my own versions of these insane recipes. versions that perhaps contain whole grain flours and alternatives to refined sugar. maybe even some protein?
my first try was sticky buns. julia’s version calls for the base to be a brioche dough. this fact alone was hard for me to get over. a brioche dough for sticky buns- who does she think she is? the notion is out of control. brioche is that french yeasted thing somewhere between challah and a croissant. very rich, airy, not too soft, not too sweet. it’s made with a long fermentation and 3/4 of a pound of butter. you see them as buns with perfect little top knots in french bakeries. don’t get me wrong, i love brioche, but brioche is plenty rich and decadent all on it’s own. to turn it into sticky buns is just so over the top, i apparently still can’t get over it.
i decided to make these for the supper club on sunday but neglected to notice that brioche dough must ferment in the fridge overnight before being baked. so i compromised and used a challah dough as a base. challah is also rich in butter and eggs, but is much closer to bread than pastry.  
i also omitted all refined sugar by using a bit of agave in the dough and honey for the caramel topping. throw in a bit of freshly milled whole wheat and flavorgirl has triumphed once again.
here’s my version of the recipe:

flavorgirls ultimate sticky buns

note: this makes a lot. you can halve the recipe or just be really popular by having lots for everyone.

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup agave or other sweetener
1 stick butter cut into pieces
1 cup whole milk (don’t substitute with anything other than goats milk)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
4 cups unbleached or bread flour
2 -2 1/2  cups whole wheat flour

2 sticks butter
1 cup honey
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

chopped nuts
ground cinnamon
cup honey
raisens or currants (optional)

mix yeast, water and honey, set aside
set milk and butter in a sauce pan and heat until butter is fully melted and milk is very warm. (but not over 110F)
add yeast mixture to milk mixture along with your sweetener, eggs and salt
transfer to a large bowl or standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
add flour 1/2 cup at a time mixing with a wooded spoon, then kneading with your hands. until the dough is smooth, soft and elastic, about ten minutes.
transfer dough to a buttered mixing bowl. brush the top of the dough with butter and cover with buttered plastic. (we like butter)
let rise in warm spot for 1 to 1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

get your pan(s) ready by pressing the butter into the bottom, then pouring the honey on top, followed by the nuts. i used my big roasting pan. you can use 2 smaller glass baking dishes or cake pans if you prefer. they can be round or not…

divide your dough in half and roll out one piece at a time as thin as you have the patience for. spread butter on, then sprinkle lots of cinnamon, drizzle some honey or sucanat, followed by your nuts and raisins if using.
carefully roll up your dough and slice, placing each slice in your butter-honeyed pan.
repeat with other half of dough.
cover and let rise for an hour.
bake at 350 for 40-50min
remove from oven and invert onto a serving plate or cookie sheet. let cool and devour with coffee or hot chocolate.

harriet’s pie

on sunday i met someone i hope to get to know very well. her name is harriet, or, the harriet to a lot of locals. that would be harriet of pappy and harriets pioneer town palace, the famous honkey tonk in pioneer town. i don’t know the whole story, but i know she and pappy owned the club and harriot was the cook, and both of them played and sang in the house band. she was (and still is) known for feeding and houseing anyone in need, taking in teens and being ‘grandma’ to many. after pappy died harriet sold the club to wonderful young hipsters from new york.
i met her because she started a pie company. that is, she makes pies and sells them. darlene wanted a pie (plus an excuse to see harriet) to feed the sound crew of the music festival.
the property where harriet lives with her daughter made me feel like i was transported to the most romanticized version of ‘olden days’ i could imagine. harriets kitchen is a beautifully renovated barn, with screen doors, antique furniture, shinny copper pots hanging from wrought iron racks, a five burner chrome gas stove and oven that made me so jealous, a big handmade wooden kitchen table with benches, an old woodstove and a bookshelf full of julia child, fannie farmer, and ‘the pastry queen’
harriot sat us down and immediately made us try her delicious blue cheese dressing by dipping fresh veggies into it while she told us about how she makes her pies.
“i don’t use any new recipes. i only do old fashioned pies. i like to taste the flavor of the fruit so i only use fresh fruit and not too much sugar.”
as many of you know one of my favorite things about being american is the tradition of pie. and i’ve been joyfully making and eating pie since i moved here. but, this pie, this apple pie of harriets lone star pies… it was the best, by far, the best pie i have ever tasted. i almost cried it was so good. harriet brings pie to a new level. i don’t know what her secrets are, but i hear by pledge to do everything i can to convince that woman to take me on as an apprentice.
before we left on sunday (before i had tasted the pie) i got a few tips on her crust. so last night with the taste of harriets apple pie still lingering on my tongue, i gave it a shot. i didn’t have her recipe, but i knew she used tapioca as a thickener and her pie tasted very bright with some nice lemon flavor. i was guessing she used the juice and the zest.
i’m not so into white sugar or crisco (both of which were used in the original pie) so i tried using sweeter apples (fuji and gala) instead of the traditional granny smith. i also sprinkled on a bit of sucanat for good measure. i used an all butter crust like i usually do, but i used a food processor this time and made sure everything stayed cold.
the results? the best pie i have ever made. not anywhere close to harriets pie, mind you, but a personal best for me. rich flaky crust, and excellent flavor and texture in the filling.
here’s how i did it:

maya’s apple pie inspired by harriet and mark bittman
i use all organic everything, which i think helps the flavor of crust and filling

combine in a bowl:
6 apples (a variety is good) peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons small pearl tapioca (not instant)
juice and zest of one lemon
4 T sucanat or sugar (more if you/your crowd has a sweet tooth)
pinch of salt

set aside

in food processor pulse:
2 1/4 cups flour
2 sticks cold unstalted butter, cut into cubes
pinch of salt
until the butter is in small bits no larger than peas
3 T cold water
and pulse a few more times
gather dough into two balls and chill for 15 min. roll out on a floured board.
line your pan, fill ‘er up, mounding the apples in the center.
cover with top crust and cut pretty vents for the steam to escape
bake at 425 for 15 min, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake another 40-50 min, until nicely golden.

mmm mm!