paleo and me

I’ve had a great big bump in blog views lately thanks to my review of Make It Paleo and the amazing authors sharing it on Facebook, and it’s really made me want to share more of my story…and a few photos.

Deep breath…here goes…

I’ve struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for as long as I can remember. I’ve battled between binge eating and obsessive dieting, sometimes falling into unhealthy workout and harmful purging habits. In high school, I discovered fat-free and Snackwell’s and ate pasta every day. In college and my early years as a wife and mother, I gained and lost the same 40 or 50 pounds on a fairly regular basis.

I thought I had finally found a place of health a few years ago after losing 70 pounds on Weight Watchers, but even that was a struggle. I constantly fought cravings and it was nearly impossible for me to maintain my weightloss.

Seven months after I stopped Weight Watchers, I came home from a women’s retreat and became ill. What started as a low fever and body aches quickly developed into frozen and swollen joints, and complete mental fuzziness and confusion within a week. By the end of that month, I had more or less every symptom you could list for fibromyalgia…even though my doctor continued to be certain that it was all in my head. I gained 40 pounds in less than 2 months, with another 30 piling on within the next three.

What followed was 18 months of confusion. I didn’t really respond to fibromyalgia medications and was having horrible side effects to the anti-depressants my doctor was convinced I needed…probably because I didn’t. I’ve lived with depression on an off since middle school – this wasn’t it. My gynecologist thought I had classic symptoms of insulin resistance, tested me for it, and told me to pull all refined flour and sugar from my diet. I ate very little flour and almost no sugar for a month, lost 10 pounds, felt a little better, and then went back to my normal diet when the blood tests said insulin resistance wasn’t my problem.

This went on and on until August 2010. Pain, confusion, stress, anxiety, more pain, more stress, and so much frustration because I felt like my body was betraying me. My normal diet has always been fairly clean, full of lots of fruits and vegetables and lean meats. With the added stress of a new school year and one child having a particularly difficult time adapting, I found myself moving far away from that normal diet to lots of fast food and junk food and feeling worse than ever before.

I noticed, though, for the first time how truly horrible I felt after each meal – especially when they were wheat heavy, like a dinner at Bucca di Beppo that left me feeling like I was in a coma…underwater…and incapable of putting together a coherent sentence - and started to wonder…

maybe gluten was the problem.

I’d felt so much better that month I stayed away from refined sugar and flour. I did a few internet searches and decided to go for it.  Within a few days, the mental fog started to clear. Before the first month ended, the joint pain was gone. At two months, it was beyond obvious that gluten had been my problem all along. Now that I’m over a year gluten-free, I have no fibromyalgia symptoms at all. I lost about 25 of those pesky pounds I gained in the first year, and another 25 over the last eight months. The mild depression that I’ve battled since middle school went away.

I started studying paleo three or four months ago, after a failed attempt at vegetarianism. I’d noticed during that time that I was relying more and more on grains and legumes, and some stomach issues I hadn’t dealt with for a while flared back up. I was fighting for energy levels – even while making certain to get lots of animal free protein. And I just didn’t feel good.

I’ve been reading about nutrition for quite a few years now – spending a little time dabbling in Weston Price stuff, learning about things like micronutrients – and knew that what my body wanted was a whole foods based diet that was also non-imflammatory. The more I studied, the more I became convinced that paleo was something I needed to commit to.

It didn’t take long to figure out that paleo was the answer I’ve been looking for all along. My weight, which had plateaued for the last six months regardless of what I ate or how much I exercised, started dropping again. The stomach issues are a thing of the past. Sugar cravings are gone.

Food is simply that – food. Fuel for my body. It’s not something I obsess about, it’s not something I feel guilt or anxiety over. It’s just food.

Even more than that, I feel good. When I look at that picture from December two years ago, all I can see is how unhealthy I was. Not just over-weight, but chronically ill. My skin looks gray, my face swollen, even my posture is bad.

Now, I feel amazing – I have energy to run through my day, I sleep like a rock for 8 hours straight, my skin glows. I’m finally enjoying the health and wellness I lost and have fought so hard to get back. I can be active with my kids and keep up with my two-year old nephew every day.

I still have further to go. I’d like to lose some more weight, but as Stacy shared last week on Paleo Parents my goal has evolved. I want to be at a comfortable weight – something I don’t have to fight day in and out to maintain. I’d like to go down about one or two more pant sizes, but realize that I have good German birthing hips and I’ll never be a size 7. With cooler weather and shorter days, I’m struggling to get exercise in regularly and I know that will help me firm up even further.

I’m worth it. I’m worth taking a few extra minutes to plan meals…to cook extra chicken for lunch the next day…to order crazy requests at restaurants…to reprioritize my budget when needed to feed my family food that nourishes them in the best possible ways.

Are you?

More of my paleo posts.

me like cave food

I shared last week that we were transitioning to a paleo/primal diet. I have to admit, I was a little bit of a doubter heading into it…but no more.

Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve pretty much completed the transition, and it’s been easier than I anticipated. I’m assuming that’s because I don’t eat a lot of processed foods to begin with and gluten hasn’t been part of my diet for over a year now. Of course, deciding to make the change in the middle of some stomach issues that severely restricted what I could eat might have helped a little, too. It certainly made it that much more obvious that grains and I aren’t a good match!

I was really worried about cravings, but I haven’t had any. I have had a dark chocolate Ghiradelli square once in a while and they’ve seemed sooo sweet! I’ve also cut back a bit on salt and even the tamari we used in our stir-fry last week was overwhelmingly salty. I did make quinoa pasta one night for the kids, but was perfectly happy with the zucchini ribbons I used instead…and I’m not even really a big fan of zucchini.

I’m usually someone who needs dessert after dinner. I haven’t missed it…at all. I eat dinner and I’m completely satisfied. It’s the same way at every meal – I’ll have a snack if I’m hungry, but the mindless nibbling I’ve fought for so long just disappeared.

The biggest change has been breakfast. Even when I stopped eating gluten, breakfast tended to be on the sweeter side – greek yogurt with honey and walnuts or oatmeal with a little molasses or sucanat. Now I’m eating scrambled eggs and leftover vegetables from the night before (mashed butternut squash, anyone?), we’ve had Elana’s awesome pancakes about once a week and I want to try an egg muffin like these (but maybe without the pepperoni for breakfast) for something a little different. I’m also really wanting to try something like this - sounds great for winter.

It is an adjustment, and one that we’re still working to make as a family. I feel like I’m mostly right on with my eating – the only issue being if we’re eating out, and then I just have to put a bit more thought into it – but I also believe that this is one of those “put your mask on before you do your kids” situations they tell you about in the airplane safety spiels. Most of the foods served here or available in our house are “paleo friendly”, and the ones that aren’t…they’re just not getting replaced. I know there are probably some food battles in our future, but I’m not worrying about them until they get here.

The results of two weeks of paleo?

In the first week, I lost 4 pounds and 2.5 inches. That’s not unusual for the first week of big change…but it wasn’t that much of a change for me and I’ve been lucky to lose even a pound a week for the past few months. This week, my weight stayed about the same (up a few ounces)…but I dropped another inch and a half. It was my first week back at the gym since I became sick a few weeks ago and it’s also my crazy hormone week. I’m totally happy with that about the same and am trying to focus more on my measurements than the scale.

What I’m really anxious to see is how I feel at the end of 30 days…and then 60 and 90. The first month I ate a vegeterian/mostly vegan diet, I felt great after the first month and then worse every week after. The long-term is what I’m most interested in – but right now, I can’t remember the last time I felt this good and this clear-headed. I keep noticing the most random differences…I wake up easily, ready to jump out of bed and take on the day…my fingernails (which had weakened incredibly while eating vegeterian) are super thick and strong out of nowhere…the skin issues I’ve been fighting since we moved back to California seem to be disappearing.

So far, this diet is beyond worth any extra work and thought it causes in the kitchen.

A few books I’ve enjoyed so far (lots of blogs in that post from last week too):

not-so-wordless wednesday: hot pot

As part of our staycation this past weekend, we tried hot pot for the first time in San Mateo – where you have a bubbling pot of broth in the middle of the table, order meats, vegetables and maybe some noodles and cook it yourself.

It might just be the most fun we’ve ever had at a restaurant and the food was terrific.

In spite of Caleb’s look, her really got into it, first trying udon…

then requesting we order broccoli…

Yep, broccoli. It’s been one of his go-to vegetables for a long time.

But this?

Napa cabbage.

Blew me away.

Next he tried pea sprouts.

And then…

the boy who has never eaten a salad…

He threw some green leaf lettuce in the pot, chomped down and declared it good.

Apparently, all I’ve ever needed to get this kid to eat vegetables was a pot of simmering broth in the middle of our dining room table!

Side note: This was a great way for Tom and I to eat out and maintain our Paleo diet goals, and it would have been completely gluten-free had Caleb not cooked his udon. Next time, we’ll get one section with broth for udon and one to keep gluten-free.

confession

Since late last August,  I’ve eaten as gluten-free as I can. At two months, it had made a massive difference in the way I feel, the way I think, the way I live. Around six months, I was feeling amazing and stayed that way until about six weeks ago.

Now, at nearly a year…I feel like I’m falling apart again.

Somewhere in the past few months, I convinced myself I could handle a little bit of gluten once in a while…which turned into a little bit of gluten just about every day as we moved into the parsonage and I’ve struggled to find a new rhythm in a new place. I’m still not eating regular bread or pasta, but taking a bite or two of donut…battered fish…eating chow mein at my favorite Chinese restaurants…letting my guard down and paying the price. Sugar followed, as it usually does, and meat started making its way back into my regular diet.

My body is definitely paying the price, and it’s a high one.

My energy levels have fallen drastically. I’ve got aches and pains and my brain just isn’t working the way it should. Random swelling, a pain in my left arm and wrist that just won’t quit. My stomach spends most of the day and night telling me I’m an idiot.

What the heck is wrong with me?

Seriously.

And why do I feel the need to throw this out into the universe via blogging?

Because it needs to stop.

I need to stop.

I know what I need to be eating. I know that my body can’t handle gluten without swelling and pain and all sorts of other issues. I know that meat makes me feel icky. I know that refined sugar gives me headaches.

For some reason, I’m ignoring everything my body is telling me I need for what my brain is telling me I want - rebelling and chafing against the discipline I’ve worked so hard to develop.

Ultimately, it is far more of a discipline issue than it is a food issue.

I’m done.

  • No more gluten.
  • No more meat, just fish once in a while.
  • Cutting way, way back on the sugar.
  • Getting back to predominantly cultured dairy products.
  • Back on the veggie train.
  • Welcoming back green smoothies on a daily basis.

I’m not looking forward to the detox. I am looking forward to feeling better, though, and being able to live life more fully again at the end of it and that’s going to go a long way in sustaining me through the hard parts.

How is your diet looking? Are there any changes you need to make, big or small? What steps are you taking this week towards optimal health and wellness?

menu plan monday: 07.18.11

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We had a much needed, much enjoyed lazy Sunday at our house after two days in a row of trips to the "big city" an hour away…including 3 hours at the emergency room for a mis-diagnosed case of strep throat. We have a few roll-overs from last week due to that and a few other things I need to get on the menu before they get spoiled.

It hasn't been easy to plan this week!

Monday
Grilled Tuscan Lemon Chicken
Sauteed Squash, Onions and Baby Bellas
Summer Black Eyed Pea Salad

Tuesday
Tacos (the easy ones – ground beef seasoned with lots of chili powder, cumin and garlic)
Brown Rice Tortillas
Watermelon

Wednesday
Spaghetti with Italian Sausage (with Tinkyada pasta)
Green Salad

Thursday
Tri Tip Steaks
Baked Brown Rice
Carrot Salad (an old, family recipe my husband just discovered and loves. I'll try to get the recipe shared this week)
Steamed Broccoli

Friday
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Veggie Fried Rice

Saturday
Meatloaf (my mother-in-law's recipe, with some extra spices – I should write it down one of these days!)
Roasted Carrots and Potatoes
Green Salad

Sunday
California Grilled Veggie Sandwiches
with Chicken sausages
Corn on the Cob
*My order of Jule's Gluten Free flour should arrive this week, and I'm saying a prayer I can put together some sort of bread for these sandwiches by Sunday. If not, I'll just eat the veggies with a little cheese and maybe a bite or two of sausage. I really hope I can – I've missed those sandwiches!

What meals are you looking forward to this week?

This post will be linked to Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. Looking for meal inspiration? It's a great place to visit!

Gluten-free Almond Cake with Spiced Peach Topping

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In the past three weekends, I've made this cake three times.  First, in a baking class…then for a family dinner…and finally for Tom's birthday.  And every single time, it has been a huge hit with absolutely everyone and I've had multiple requests for the recipe.  

The cake base is incredibly flexible – you can pretty much top it with just about anything.  The cooked peach topping was terrific last weekend.  Blackberries cooked down to almost a jam-like consistency were pretty darn good, too.  Chopped mandarin oranges and pineapple?  Also yummy.  As a gluten-free base for strawberry shortcake?  I can't wait.  Maybe a glaze of chocolate ganache…or apricot jam…a caramel drizzle…an orange glaze?  It would all work wonderfully.  Even the spices are infinitely adaptable – I want to try ginger with that apricot jam.  I'm even planning to turn it into a carrot cake for Easter, and after that maybe a banana cake.

And it goes without saying that any of those are even better with a dollop of fresh whipped cream!

But even better than all of that is that there is no refined sugar and no gluten in this cake, but it still retains a moist, cake-like texture.   It's also fairly easy to throw together and doesn't require any of the expensive and often intimidating gums so often found in gluten-free baking.  

Note: I've been buying almond meal from Whole Foods, and after learning to grind my own in class I will definitely not be doing that again!  A cup and a quarter of almonds yields about a cup and a half of ground almonds – just what you need for this recipe.  Just throw them in a food processor and turn it on and let it go.  Grind until you have a fine flour.  Go to far, and you'll end up with almond butter – but the savings are definitely worth the few minutes and a little experimenting!

Gluten-Free Almond Cake
Serves 4 to 6
Recipe inspired by Bauman College Staff 

1.5 cups ground almonds
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. plus 1/8 t. salt
1 to 2 teaspoon cinnamon (your preference – 1 t. gives just a hint)
pinch of nutmeg
3 eggs, separated
3 T. honey
2.25 t. vanilla extract
small pinch cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly oil a springform pan or tart pan, and line the bottom with a parchment round.
Could you use a regular cake pan?  Maybe.  I haven't tried it yet, but with enough oil and parchment I think it might work.  Let me know if you try! 

Place almonds in large mixing bowl, and add baking powder, salt and spices.  Mix until combined.

Separate the eggs.  

Add the yolks to the dry ingredients, along with the honey and vanilla.

Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.  

Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture, about a third at a time.  
That almond mixture is THICK – so really take your time with this and be gentle, but also be sure they're completely combined or you'll have white streaks in your finished cake.

 Carefully pour the batter into your prepared pan, and gently spread evenly.  

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Cool for a few minutes before removing the ring of the springform pan or the base of the tart pan.  

Allow to cool completely before serving.

One more thing: be sure to remove that parchment paper before placing it on your serving dish!
Not that I'm talking from experience or anything =) 

 

Spiced Peach Topping
Serves: 4 to 6

3 cups frozen or fresh peaches, (if frozen, defrosted and juice reserved) 
2 – 3 teaspoons sugar (I've been using coconut sugar and love it – low on the glycemic index and plenty sweet)
1 t. cinnamon
A few tablespoons of water, if needed 

Combine all ingredients on saucepan over medium heat.

Allow to come to a simmer and turn heat to low.

Simmer until the peaches break down and the sauce reduces and thickens.  

Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

This post is linked to:

baking class reflections

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Yesterday was a huge, huge step for me.

I said no to fear and yes to growing.  

Tom and I left for Santa Cruz early, enjoyed a beautiful drive through the foothills to the coast and had a little brunch at the Harbor Cafe.  It was delicious and funky and all of the servers sort of looked like they just rolled out of bed (the joys of a coastal college community).  I had a lovely frittata and am going to be obsessed with learning how to make them – especially since our layers are finally starting to lay and we're going to be inundated with eggs in the next few months.  We also hit a Farmer's Market on the way to the school, which helped calm my jangly nerves a little bit more.

Y'all, I could live at that Farmer's Market.  Baby artichokes, bloomsdale spinach, leeks and tulips – oh, the tulips!  Stunning.

But I didn't drive two hours to buy tulips (though I would!).  I drove to take the gluten-free baking community class at Bauman College.  I've been researching holistic nutrition schools that offer distance learning, and Bauman has quickly risen to the top of my list.  When I found the gluten-free class, I knew it would be a perfect way to learn something new and check out the school a little closer at the same time.

I did learn a few things – I'll definitely no longer be buying almond meal for $11.99 a bag when I can make my own in the food processor in about a minute for a quarter of the cost.  Underneath all of that whipped cream and whipped coconut cream (oh.my.heck.amazing) up there, is an almond cake that I adore and intend to make a few spice adjustments to and share soon.  It's also going to make a great base for strawberry shortcake once they're in season.  Best of all – no wheat or gluten and no refined sugars!  We also made a butternut squash tort that I can't wait to play with…as soon as I get some small tart pans.  It would be perfect with banana pudding (one of the chef's mentioned a raw banana pudding made with soaked cashews that I can't wait to try) or pumpkin for Thanksgiving.  Nor more having to eat around the crust for me!

It was a fairly basic class, with most of the students barely knowing their way around a kitchen, so I don't think I came home with too much new information.  I did learn some basic ratios for baking with gluten free flours that I want to work with.  And I got to test out some ingredients I've never used before – agar agar, coconut sugar (which I could eat with a spoon and is a very low glycemic sweetener), and coconut cream.  We also had a lunch that the chef's prepared for us that included a miso and takame (seaweed) soup that I'm anxious to try on my own.

And I learned that I need to look into Bauman further.  Their philosophy is so on with mine – that we honor our bodies and our Creator when we eat in ways that promote health, that what is naturally in the foods we  eat is more important that what is processed out, whole foods are vital, low gluten diets for everyone (easier on digestion), and that creating and serving healthful food for others is one of the greatest things we can do.  We even see eye to eye on soy (organic only, fermented or sprouted).  Their vision of working with individuals, families and communities toward wellness mirrors my own, and I think this might be the place to make it happen.  

 I was surprised how much I loved working with the chefs.  Chef Rebecca was our main instructor and hugged me three times before I left.  I've been most interested in Bauman for their distance learning nutrition, but I think perhaps after that I'd love to figure out a way to take the natural chef program also.  I will definitely be taking all of the community courses I can!

Next month is Indian food.  Anyone want to join me?

one week

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Photo source: unknown

 This past weekend marks just about six months since I made the decision to eat a gluten-free diet.

Well, almost gluten-free.  There have been a few bobbles where I've convinced myself that my body can handle a tiny bit…and have been proven wrong each and every time by muscle pain, mental fogginess and misery.  I don't recommend doing that, but each time has strengthened my resolve and my commitment to the necessity of a gluten-free diet for me.

And I truly can't believe the drastic way my life has changed.  Everything I lived with on a daily basis for nearly two years?  It's all gone.  All of it.  No more pain, no more fogginess (unless I eat too much sugar), almost no more stomach issues and my energy levels are great.  All because I removed a little protein found in wheat, barley, rye and malts from my diet for one week…just to see what would happen.  One week easily turned into two…then to a month…and even though it doesn't seem possible, nearly half a year. 

It's not always easy, but it is always worth it.  I don't ever remember feeling this good.  Even before the more severe symptoms started, I'd lived with stomach issues since I was a child and chronic headaches since I was in middle school.  Once in a while, I get a headache…but I can usually pinpoint the cause (sugar or stress).  And my stomach hurts every so often…but that's usually only when I've eaten too much sugar (again with the sugar!) or meat.

Speaking of meat…

A little goal I set for myself this year was to slowly move towards a more vegetarian diet, partly because of the stomach issues but also because of The China Study.  A friend recommended I read it several months ago, and I have to say – the science that most of the diseases of affluence (cancer, dementia, heart disease, etc) can be avoided and/or cured by a careful plant-based, low to no animal protein diet is overwhelming.  As I've grown increasingly more passionate about nutrition and begun to study it over the past five years, I've come to believe  that whole foods, plant based diets are best, without a doubt.  After finishing The China Study, not only do I believe that even more strongly, but I'm ready to finally start making those next steps towards really living it. 

My first goal?  One week without meat.  That's all.  When I originally decided to cut out the gluten, I told myself I'd only try it for one week.  If there weren't any noticable changes in the ways I'd felt, I'd be free to go back to breads and pastas and vanilla malts.  Within three days, the changes were so evident I couldn't deny them.  I want to see if I feel any difference next week – if I notice any changes in my workout, the way I feel, the way I sleep.   And I'll make a decision about where I want to go from there.

How about you?  What can you change in your diet for one week?  What would it do to the way you feel if you were to cut out gluten for a week?  How about refined sugar?  Or maybe it's not about what you cut out, but what you add in.  Could you add in one more serving of vegetables a day?  What about whole grains?  

Are you up for it? 

Roasted Mushrooms with Shallots, Garlic and Soy

Roasted Mushrooms 

When I was in high school, our band boosters club put on a steak dinner and auction every year as a fundraiser.   It was a blast (probably because my best friends and I always seemed to finagle a way to work the soda's only bar rather than the food) and raised a good amount of money each year.  My favorite part, though, were the leftover mushrooms.  I know they were marinated, but I'm not sure how they were cooked.  Leftovers were auctioned off in large jars and the bidding could get fierce.  When the leftovers came home with us, I would eat them by the bowlful. 

These aren't exactly the same.  I'd still love to find that exact band booster dinner recipe, but this one is just as good (and doesn't have to be made to serve several hundred).  It was one of five side dishes I made for Christmas dinner this year, and I'm thinking I might have gotten a just a little bit carried away.

I'm going to blame it on the fact that I can't eat gluten, which seriously cut into my holiday baking.  That urge has go somewhere, right?

This one…it tied for my favorite.  The other one (roasted cauliflower in a parmesean sauce) will have to wait until after our cross-country move next week.

I adore mushrooms and throw them in everything I can.  I'd never roasted them before, beyond throwing a couple of sad looking ones from the bottom of the vegetable drawer into a baking dish with other veggies.   I knew I wanted something special to go with the rib eye steaks husband dear had his heart set on for Christmas dinner, and roasted mushrooms seemed like an obvious choice.  I pulled together a few recipes, compared notes and came up with this.  I've made it another time since and decided it's a keeper.

Roasted Mushrooms with Shallots, Garlic and Soy
served 7 with no leftovers (bummer)

1.5 to 2 pounds mushrooms (I used white, but I'll definitely add some crimini next time)
3 shallots (or more) cut in wedges
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 3 T. olive oil
1 T. soy sauce (I prefer Tamari)
several 2" pieces of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Trim mushrooms and cut large ones in half.  Combine in a bowl with the shallots. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the garlic, soy and olive oil.  

Toss mushrooms and shallots with the garlic mixture and transfer to a baking sheet.  Place several springs of rosemary about the pan.

Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.

This post is linked to:

Flourless Chocolate Turtle Cake

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Ummm…

I've made this cake twice in the past week, and I"m already looking for another something special to take it to.

The first time, I made it exactly as directed in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking (which I love) and served it with fresh whipped cream and crunched up candy canes.  It was absolutely amazing, but…a little bit too much.

The second time, I made a few small changes and cut the recipe in half.

Oh, and added a carmel sauce and pecans.  

And more fresh whipped cream.

Just for fun =)

Either way, it's amazing.  Dense, rich and chocolatey beyond reason, it's perfect for special occasions regardless of whether you can eat gluten or not (New Year's and Valentine's Day come to mind).   And I'm thinking you could get crazy with the toppings…dulce de leche, Bailey's whipped cream, glazed strawberries, something minty…the possibilities are endless!  And while it's baked in a spring form pan, I think I'm might try baking it as short cupcakes next time with more toppings.

Flourless Chocolate Turtle Cake
Serves: hmmm….we had 8 people and didn't even eat half  (I told you it's rich!)

Cake
7 oz. dark chocolate (I used the dark chocolate chunks from Whole Foods)
1/2 lb. salted butter
2/3 c. plus 1 T. sugar
1/2 c. half and half
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt
4 eggs
Shortening and cocoa powder for greasing the pan 

Turtle Topping
7 oz. carmels (removed from the wrappers)
1 T. evaporated milk
1 T. butter 
1 c. pecans 

For the cake….
Preheat oven to 350.

Using butter or shortening, grease a 10" spring form pan.

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and dark chocolate.  

Once melted and combined, remove from heat and add sugar, stirring to dissolve.
This takes a few minutes -  I do it by hand, but I assume a mixer would work too.

Stir in the half and half, vanilla and salt. 

Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl.  

Slowly pour and mix the chocolate mixture into the eggs, mixing completely until very well blended.
The half and half cools the chocolate down enough that I haven't had anything curdle or scramble.

Pour the batter into the spring form pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cake is just set.
And be sure the ring is properly attached to the base of the spring form pan before pouring the batter in or you are in trouble!

Remove cake to a  cooling rack and allow to cool completely before removing the ring.

Remove the ring and refrigerate the cake until chilled, leaving the cake on the spring form base.
Because even if you wanted to, I'm not sure you could get it off.

For the turtle topping… 
In a heavy saucepan, melt carmels with butter and evaporated milk, stirring until completely mixed.

Allow to cool and thicken for a few minutes, then pour over the top of the completely cooled cake.

Top with pecans, either whole in a ring around the edge or chopped and sprinkled.

Chill again in the refrigerator.

To serve…
Remove the cake from the refrigerator half an hour to an hour before serving.  Serve as is or topped with fresh whipped cream and enjoy!

Next week…roasted mushrooms with shallots and rosemary!