Tales of half-assed, gluten-free baking from the heart: Betty Crocker + a can of soda = BFF birthday appropriate

*Interrupting our regular series of farmers market updates with an important gluten-free, boxed mix baking report, live from an undisclosed Stumptown Coffee locale*

Every year, I seem to have some mishap with joining team gluten-free for my bff’s birthday baking.

The final endeavor always looks pretty great, but my standards for cake are high. And homemade birthday cakes? Even higher.

One year, I went with a custom gluten-free baking mix and learned my lesson that when a recipe calls for brown rice flour, it really means super fine brown rice flour.

Another year, I just wasn’t in love with the store-bought blend I used. It was a personal bummer that frosting can only take so far.

This year, it was the opposite, with quite an amusing construction and even more ridiculous of an evening.

Over all, this is the most pleased I’ve ever been with my semi-homemade, gluten-free endeavors. While the cupcakes and myself did not take the near 100F heat very well, we both looked confident heading onto the first bus ride, walking down the aisle with audible gushing from other riders. Melting aside, this year’s construction was one of the funnest things to ever make its way from my kitchen. I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve gotta give it up to Betty Crocker and whatever surely genetically modified superhero, gluten-free flour blend they have in their corporate baking arsenal. This was a finger snapping, $1.99/box-from-Grocery Outlet win. I just decided I wanted something that would freaking work so I could spend the rest of my time handling the decorations. And let me you about the first thing that popped into my head as I laughed to myself about this sudden initiative: Go all out. Soda cake this baby.

RIGHT?! I swear, I have an aunt who’s probably done this little cultural phenomenon, if you will, but things were typically from-scratch or Italian bakery purchased in my childhood home. The one and only time I’ve ever done this so-called “trick” before was during my first year in Portland, vegan-style, with some accidentally vegan mix and a can of cherry coke, no doubt. And that was really a case of peer pressure.

So, I read up on this particular, gluten-free Betty Crocker mix and the soda trip, and didn’t catch any internet fuss. There wasn’t much discussion going on ⸺ all I noticed was a curious recommendation to add whipped egg whites. Well, guess who realized they likely still had a jar of leftover Ener-G from a certain VVC2011 Hannah Kaminsky meringue magic demo? Oh, yes. This gal.

The thing is…I grabbed up two cake mixes because it wasn’t just cupcakes on my mind. I’d had my eyes open for a doughnut pan for some time now during my thrift store visits, and a few weeks before, it finally happened. I was shopping for some new-to-me quirky dream heels at the Goodwill on SE 6th, doing my normal stroll through the baking equipment aisle afterwords, and there it was. Shiny and likely never even used! Screw full price.

That brings me to sitting down with Maeve over glasses of cava, thoroughly reviewing her choices, the option of doughnuts vs. cupcakes vs. cake, and deciding on cupcakes for the sake of transport. It just didn’t sit right. This was my bff we’re talking about, and as someone with a nice amount of baking-for-crowds anxiety that can only be put aside by overcompensating, it was time for another something special.

Clearly this is by no means a recipe, as I have yet to receive a consulting offer from Betty Crocker Global, but I can tell you that:


1) It worked! Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix + Hansen’s Ginger Ale + Ener-G + some other flavor goodness is more than A-OK!

2) The flavor breakdown: The bff’s favorite flavors for summer 2014 were on file as blueberry, lemon and ginger.

The Cupcakes: Lemon ginger with ginger ale, bourbon vanilla, grated fresh ginger, lemon rind and fresh lemon juice.
The Buttercream: Blueberry juice and plum-blueberry liqueur (from summer 2012) with lime rind, bourbon vanilla and orange bitters.
The Mini Doughnuts: Blueberry juice, ginger ale, bourbon vanilla, lemon rind and fresh blueberries.
The Glaze: Limoncello (courtesy of Meyer lemons and summer 2013), lemon juice, bourbon vanilla and lemon rind.
And that Drizzle: Spiced caramel, infused with bourbon vanilla, cinnamon sticks, cloves & Thai cardamom.

3) The breakdown: One box of Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix + 2 Ener-R-G eggs whipped in a Vitamix with liquid of choice + one can of natural ginger ale. 

Early brainstorming with ingredients:


I was behind a couple with multple boxes and suitcases of books to sell at Powell’s yesterday. Real talk, it was beyond time to attempt to sell some of the vegan cookbooks I never ever use (not naming names! buy me a drink first, jeez). This couple had so many books it was taking two sellers to review, which meant I had time to try on a series of summer tops at Buffalo Exchange around the corner. Upon my return, a passerby was commenting on the retro Betty Crocker cookbook in their diminishing pile, and the owner proudly mentioned shared an amusing tidbit: Betty Crocker never existed! It was a fabrication for the brand from General Mills. I would link to some actual mythbustin’ on this, but isn’t it suspicious that my immediate search results are limited to tweets on this topic!? Oh, branding.

This was at the point I was considering the incorporation of basil, but who isn’t doing that these days?

For sure:

Blueb ‘eggs’ + lemon rind

Is bluebs even more fun to say that noodz for noodles? You tell me.

Shiitake getting real.

Speaking of, I was also loving the $1.99/6 pack of natural soda sale at New Seasons.

The whole gang:

Doughnut batch #1:

The batter was so terrifyingly thin and had this Betty Crocker-y shine going on, but baked without a hitch!

For the frosting:

This was also a little nerve-racking, as my Kitchen Aid mixer motor remains ker-plunk and I attempted to pull this off in my food processor.

Cuppers, consider yourself frosted.

Close up:

That time I went into mini doughnut making.


Ready to transport:

The side view:

Ready for their big day in some cute little liners from New Seasons, and by that, I mean, the shockingly hour-long commute and bus transfer situation in the heat.

I watched them quickly begin to melt and slump and my sugary heart went with it. I won’t even get into the baffling 37 minute break between buses downtown and my almost-fight with a bar owner.

They made it!

(I love how awkward this so much)

In the end, I am not recommending you buy this mix. Please, if you’re in Portland, do yourself a favor and go to Back to Eden. What I am say is that I have far worse gluten free baked goods, and apparently someone at the table called it “the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten”. Could be worse. Til next year!


Blueberry-Basil Vodka Lemonade Slushie & Another Week in Portland Produce

We now return to my surely riveting series of local produce adventures.  Spoiler alert, I’m a week behind because I actually spent this past weekend with friends: patiently assembling gluten-free, birthday doughnut-cupcakes and celebrating with my bff and co, brunching, visiting the farmers market (but, of course), biking around town avoiding downpour, and enjoying an extensive, casual happy hour at a favorite spot in FoPo. Yeah, SE…which could also be called avoiding Division Street and what’s become my immediate neighborhood.

This week’s recipe is for a fancypants sounding but totally easy summertime vodka slushie, which after returning from my warm, weekly ride and downing a couple of glasses of ice water, was quite the treat.

Starting with Sunday the 6th’s beautiful, blue & green haul from Lents:

Blueberry Basil Vodka Lemonade Slushie

Blueberry-Basil Vodka Lemonade Slushie

Serves 1

This week’s recipe share takes a hot day, fresh produce, and a desire to kick back.

It’s basically a fruit smoothie with alcohol. You’re welcome.


  • 1 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice > which would no doubt equally delight with lime juice
  • 2 oz. vodka > a fruity, infused vodka would be lovely here
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave or raw sugar
  • 1 oz. fresh blueberries
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 6-8 ice cubes


Puree the first 5 ingredients along with half of the ice cubes in your blender. Add more ice or sweetener as needed. Serve pronto in a chilled glass with a straw (and spoon, if you like), garnished as desired.

Double for two.

Week 2, Our Table Summer CSA share

And now for the rest of last week’s kitchen tales…

True life.

Cornmeal-crusted seitan, fresh thyme-roasted red potatoes & summer squash, sautéed baby bok choi, jasmine rice, Sriracha, Zelda

Getting stocky with it.

Singapore Curry Noodles

And that’s another recipe I actually wrote down this week! It told me it wanted to be this summer’s fried rice. We’ll see when I get to sharing it, but the scribbles remain on a torn piece of notebook paper by my side.

Fluffy pillow pancakes, adapted from ThePPK.

This half-order had fresh blueberries, homemade blackberry liqueur (from summer 2012) and club soda. Chipped plate appreciation society.

Dijon Potato Seitan Hash

Another welcome new habit.

This Week in Stir Fries & Farmers Markets

Life in stir fries, part I.

Thai-style chicken seitan, bok choy, chiles, garlic & basil with short grain brown 

With my fruitful (and veggie-ful) weekend farmers market hauls easily the highlight of week during this quiet summer so far, I’ve decided to pointedly record notes on one creation per week.

I cook the majority of my meals, and while most of them are, at the least, adaptations of new-to-me recipes, or old favorites, and some are totally on-a-whim fun and games, any notes I usually take remain scattered around my apartment on a variety of dwindling notepads.

So, here comes my summer purpose! I like to think it’s simple and lovely at heart: sharing my seasonal scores, creating dishes, and typing up A FEW notes on a weekly basis. Fingers crossed.

This week, I wanted to share yet another bountiful Sunday visit to the Lents International Farmers Market. Sure, I can easily find charm with every single farmers market I’ve been to in the Portland area, but this one has something extra special. I’m seriously on my way there right now, stopping for an iced coffee and reviewing this past week in produce™. I’m off to explore, relax, get inspired and stock up on a wee bit less than usual, having been handed a napa cabbage from a friend yesterday and starting a surprise, small CSA share at my workspace. Insert exclamation points and greens, galore.

Oh, just borrowing one of the Eagle Eye’s patio tables before they open up:

With this summertime focus on fresh, fresh, fresh, I’ve found myself making multiple stir fries for the first time in ages. All fall and winter I was clearly all about the world of curries and fried rice remains a go to, but I’ve now stir-fried twice this past week, which is more than I had within the past 2 months.

A sign a farmers market fangirl cannot resist capturing.

Weekend haul:

Collard Greens I sautéed these in unrefined coconut oil with fresh garlic, rice vinegar and tamari and ate alongside buffalo soy curls and shells & cheese for work lunches the first half of the week. Definitely no complaints there.

Chinese Kale Stir fry, check. What a fun surprise! I have so many fond memories of eating this during my travels in Thailand.

Cherries While I couldn’t resist picking some up, I’ve been growing suspect of my mouth’s feelings about cherries, and this helping sadly confirmed the worst. Basically, no amount of sweet, sweet deliciousness can make my mouth stop tingling. These cherries went into the muffins you’ll see below, which were shared with friends and coworkers, and into some white wine sangria I may brave at some point (or continue offering to Maeve).

Bok Choy Stir fry #2, check. Note to self and the internet: move bok choy up into the eat-this-asap selection of the fridge. I lost a couple of outer leaves to wilting!

Fresh Garlic Oh, be still my heart. Unlike the garlic I buy at Fred Meyer, there never seems to be a stupidly bad bulb from the farmers market. This week’s garlic went into stir fries, another batch of stock (which then helped produce the PPK test kitchen chicken seitan in this post’s stir fry recipe), fried rice and one great big pot of marinara for Vegan Pizza Day celebrations last night.

Carrots Stock, fried rice and salads.

Genovese Basil Basil times continue to be happy times. This aromatic bunch went into two stir fries and that big pot of pizza sauce. Love.

Garlic Scapes Here’s the breakdown: 1 was pulverized into chili bomb pepper-infused pink salt for a popcorn topping, a few more went into fried rice (okay, my life is stir fries and fried rice) and the rest found their way to Panda’s door step.

Beets To roast with rosemary and lemon the next time I turn on my oven (and remember)!

Lettuce So, so many salads. I’m running dangerously low on tahini.

Life in stir fries, discussed:

Thai-style chicken seitan, bok choy, chiles, garlic & basil with short grain brown 


Thai-Style Basil Stir Fry

Makes 1-2 servings, easily doubled

This has become one of my super quick, go to stir fry sauces, so I actually wrote it down! You can easily direct the flavor in the direction of added chiles, kaffir lime, julienned ginger, or hey, swap out the seitan for Thai eggplants or fried tofu. It works. I devoured so many fantastic, fresh, garlic and kaffir lime studded dishes during my time in Thailand, and this is right up that flavor alley. And easy!

Let me get off my chest that while I know that you know that I know holy basil is ideal in this: Shhhh, any pleasant variety will do nicely.

To stir fry:

  • 1 tablespoon easygoing oil, such as peanut or canola
  • 1/2 lb sliced seitan
  • 3 cloves sliced or minced garlic (the fresher the better)
  • 5 dried red chiles
  • 1 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaf, sliced thinly [Optional, but elevates the whole thing. If using dried, you can keep whole.]
  • 1 small bunch bok choy or similar greens, sliced
  • good pinch of freshly ground white pepper
  • handful of fresh holy or sweet basil leaves, minced


  • 1 teaspoon black soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Nước Mắm Chay aka vegetarian fish sauce*
  • 1 tablespoon room temperature/chilled vegetable broth or water (aka not warm!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon raw or palm sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon tapioca, potato or cornstarch

*You can find vegetarian chay fish sauce at many Asian grocery stories, or make your own. One bottle seems to last me for years, seriously. You can also do as I do when between batches and bottles: Substitute half vegetable broth/half rice vinegar and a bit of fresh lime juice to throw in some sharp, pungent flavor.


  1. In a small cup or bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  2. Pan-fry the seitan in oil on medium heat until browned on both sides, being careful not to burn.
  3. Quickly add the garlic, chiles, kaffir lime, bok choy and pepper, stirring quickly.
  4. Give the sauce another stir and add to the sizzling pan, stirring around.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat, toss in the basil and serve with rice.

Stir Fry #1

Smoked tofu and assorted veggies with garlic, mushroom soy sauce and Khmer chili sauce

It’s all about the saucin’

Packed up and ready to go

As seen on the ride to Lents Town Square, the original El Nutri Taco cart. It’s also the closest vegan option by my event planning gig at a non-profit in these parts, so I’ve been no stranger.

“More Inside”

On my to do list, for sure.

Cherry muffins with golden flax and cacao nib liqueur



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