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!


Further Northwest

How we roll.

A funny thing happened yesterday morning….J. Legume and I woke up before the crack of dawn, to watch said crack of dawn rise over Vancouver’s West End, and realized we were facing the wrong direction. Check, mark. Here’s a quick … Continue reading

Salt Spring Inspired Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup

Break out your rain boots, adorn your favorite hoodie and repeat after me: it’s officially soup weather.

Roasted cherry tomato soup, garnished with fresh basil and black pepper

It seems like only yesterday, but I earned some real Pacific Northwest points with a British Columbian adventure back in May. It was my first ever visit to Canada, at all, and I’m truly an idiot for waiting so long. Not as idiotic as my brother not realizing Canada stretched across the entire United States, but I feel foolish for waiting nearly three decades to cross those country lines. Looking back, my family didn’t take epic road trips, and the party bus from my college in Boston to Montreal seemed just that…a ridiculous party bus. I’ve re-caught the travel bug this past year, have my mind set on Thailand and Laos this winter, and now that I have a Canadian BFF and a little crush on a French Canadian waiter at a certain vegan restaurant in Vancouver (J’espère qu’il la lecture de ce parce que Vancouver est la première VÉGÉTALIEN Prom approche!), I plan on not departing the Amtrak train in Seattle, if you catch my drift.

While I was up north, I spent time in Vancouver, Victoria and on Salt Spring Island. I’ll save more thoughts and photos for the day I may actually post about my adventure up north™ and have the determination to scroll through that many pages on Flickr. My short stay on Salt Spring Island, where Gabrielle, her partner, and the small, sneaky bundle of wonder known as Buhbah, reside, started with a specially prepared vegan dinner at Market Place Cafe. This lovely meal included a rich tomato soup drizzled with olive oil that’s lingered on my mind since the first spoonful. Gabrielle and I were nerding out and talking tomato soup recently, and after hearing her spicy plan and having roasted a ton of cherry tomatoes that were impatiently waiting for their moment, all by their lonesome in my refrigerator, it was time for delayed inspiration.

Something of a recipe tale. To begin, I sautéed minced shallot, a diced red bell pepper and Hungarian wax pepper in a bit of coconut oil, added some fresh black pepper, sea salt, marjoram, cayenne and oregano, and cooked until soft. After deglazing the pan with the last of my Salt Spring Millotage (can you say bonus points?), I added the two pints’ worth of cherry tomatoes I had previously roasted with garlic, extra virgin olive oil & sea salt, along with two cups of vegetable broth, one cup of water, brought this to a boil, and then simmered, covered, for just under an hour. I threw in a handful of fresh basil, since I can’t resist buying basil or tomatoes whenever I see them at the market, carefully pureed the mixture in my Vita-Mix, and transferred to a saucepan. Minutes later,  I had my first bowl of those sweet, deep flavors, garnished with additional basil and freshly ground black pepper.

The view from the Salt Spring Winery - also my first ever wine tasting experience!