It seemed silly, at first, to be attending a food blogging conference when I’d only made 6 posts on my new food blog. Never mind that only three of them were, at the heart of it, about food. Over the weeks leading up to the big weekend, many questions entered my mind: Would it all be above my head? Would I be the only new person, and as a result, stand out like a sore thumb? Would I have anything to offer? Would it be hard to make friends? (I’m not the only one who thinks of these things when they go into a new social situation, right? )
In the past when I’d been to conferences, I’d gone with colleagues—keeping me equipped with a sidekick in socially awkward situations, or someone to talk to when it seemed like everybody else in the room but me was engaged in conversation. But in this case, it was just me going into this new world. And I was feeling nervous.
When I showed up late to the registration of the Big Summer Potluck, I was warmly welcomed by Erika and the crew from Mussleman’s, promptly given a sangria, and then introduced to a group of bloggers so that I didn’t have to walk into the party alone. Being welcomed into the group in that way was such a thoughtful and caring gesture that made me feel immediately taken care of. It was also what set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
The weekend was spent connecting with some super fantastic and engaging people. The days took shape around cooking demos, engaging keynotes, and intimate breaks where mingling and talking with new people was easy. Brooke shared a valuable blog visioning exercise and a session on mindfulness in the digital age. There was a most hilarious and thought-provoking discussion led by Joy on the balance between seeking out inspiration in others while trying not to compare yourself to them. The discussion provoked true reflection in some people, with bloggers opening their hearts about the realities that they struggle with both personally and professionally. It was funny, and moving, and real. The end of the day wrapped up with a talk that I can’t even begin to do justice to about writing, art, and making a living doing what you love by the great Molly O’Neil. If it isn’t already clear, the sessions were great. I mean, they were really fantastic!! But here’s the thing: it wasn’t just about the sessions. This gathering was full of deep, meaningful, and REAL connections. I had a heartfelt conversation with Pam. I shared deep laughter with Kelly & Tricia. I talked Naturopathic medicine with Winnie. And I shared dinner and easy conversation (the kind you have with people you’ve known for years) with Joy. And there were many more conversations that struck me.
At this conference, if you can really call it that, people truly opened up their hearts. I felt like I was with friends and family. And because of the thoughtful planning on the parts of Pam, Maggy, and Erika, everything about this experience was remarkable and lovely–down to every last detail. I left the weekend feeling like I’d been given gift–a gift of inspiration, of joyful experience, of laughter, of insight, new freindships and connections. Ok that was many gifts! I guess I cleaned up!
So in the spirit of good things, I want to give you a gift today. The gift of chocolate. And really, who doesn’t like that?
This rich, moist, and fudgy chocolate beet cake is so outrageously delicious. I know that it’s a cake, and you might think to yourself that you don’t bake cakes very often, but let me assure you, this cake can be made for any reason at all. Need a boost? Make the cake. Want to impress someone? Make the cake. Home alone? Make the cake. Bought new shoes? Make the cake. You could make it, like I did, instead of studying for your immunology final exam. It could be a procrastination cake. Or you could make it for a birthday party. This could be your new go–to cake! If you don’t want to eat the whole cake yourself (like I was in danger of doing), cut it in half and give some to your neighbour. If you haven’t become friends yet, you most certainly will with this! It can be celebratory or everyday ordinary.
Chocolate Beet Cake with Crème Fraîche and Poppy Seeds (serves 8 -10, very well) Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender
The beets add moisture and a subtle sweetness. The creme fraiche offsets the rich chocolate with a silky tartness. The poppy seeds add a delightful crunch and (let’s be serious) they look so pretty!
// Ingredients //
250g, cooked & pureed beetroot
150g unsweetened chocolate
50g fine dark chocolate, 70% cocoa (or you could use all 70% cocoa)
¼ cup hot espresso
110g butter, cut into small pieces (the smaller the better)
90g Greek yogurt
135g spelt flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 (heaped) tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
190g natural cane sugar (*see note)
crème fraîche & poppy seeds to serve
Cook the beet(s), whole and unpeeled, in boiling unsalted water. Depending on their size, they will be tender within 30-40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice off their stem and root, and blend into a puree. Set aside.
Set the oven to 360°F. Lightly butter an 8 inch springform pan and line the base with a disc of parchment paper.
Cut the chocolate into small pieces and melt it in a double boiler. Don’t stir. When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot coffee over it and stir at once. Add the butter to the melted chocolate. Dip the butter down under the surface (as best as you can) and leave it to soften.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.
Now, working quickly but gently, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes, then stir in the egg yolks. Do this quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend into the mixture. Fold in the beet. Whisk the whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar. Firmly, but tenderly fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Work in a deep figure-eight pattern, but take care not to over-mix. Lastly fold in the flour and cocoa.
Transfer to the prepared pan and put it in the oven, turning the heat down immediately to 320°F. Bake for 35-40 minutes. The rim of the cake will feel spongy and the inner part should still wobble a little when gently shaken.
Leave it to cool (it will sink a little in the centre), loosening it around the edges with a knife after half an hour or so. It’s not a good idea to remove the cake until it’s cold. Serve in thick slices with creme fraiche and poppy seeds. Enjoy.
*Note: I used ~ 170g of xylitol instead of sugar. As you will come to find on this blog, we try to limit our intake of sugar. I notice that when I eat it I often get headaches, stomach aches, and feelings of lethargy afterwards. I also notice that my mood and energy fluctuates quite significantly. But it’s all about balance and I believe that there is a time and place for eating sugary sweets, so I still have sugar in my life. It’s just in moderation. That’s not to say that I don’t eat sweets! Are you kidding me?! I have a sweet tooth, so I am constantly experimenting with different sweetener options and noticing how I feel. We all know what foods we feel good eating and what we don’t feel good eating. I encourage you to start noticing what yours are.
I am very hesitant about using ingredients that are overly processed and not whole foods, however, we both have strong negative reactions to sugar so I’m exploring alternatives. There are many alternative and chemical sweeteners that I won’t use because research has shown that they can have terrible side effects and links to diseases like cancer. From what I have come to understand through my studies in Naturopathic medicine, stevia leaf and xilytol are good low-glycemic sugar substitutes that won’t elevate your blood sugar and are virtually calorie-free. Xylitol may, however, cause digestive upset in some people. With respect to xyiltol, specifically, I have not done a lot of research. This is the information I have gathered from several Naturopathic doctors and professors that I trust. If you have come across research about xylitol–positive or negative–I’d love to hear from you.