Planting a Vegan, GF Brownie "Garden"

Despite the fact that every other year, Mother's Day seems to be heralded by a freak snowfall, I always think of that weekend as planting time. This year, we knew regardless of the weather it was not to be. We'd already planned to delay planting until after some planned travel. As if offering some reassurance to the choice, this weekend decided to be wet. And as if the universe thought we could use even further confirmation, it sent us a slew of reasons not to plant: a distracting spate of ticks plaguing Riley (and the rest of us) all week; the limping, coughing end of our dryer; a sputtering, leaking end to our garbage disposal; and finally, a sudden death to our vacuum. I know this is melodramatic, but at times it has felt a bit like a mini first world apocolpyse. 

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All of the above said, us deterred from the joys of diving into growing gardens? Oh, no. Instead, today Chef F and I dug into some healthy-for-treats indulgence with this scrumptious vegan, gluten-free, oil-free, light on sweetener (for dessert) brownie cake, "planting" it with the cutest rows of carrots, spinach and strawberries.

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Anyone who knows me more than slightly knows, I love to play with food...when that play involves Chef F especially. It's not easy to confess, but maybe some of that love is just a tad bit owing to the guilty fact that--it's true--I do not always revel in actual play the way I like to believe. 

Don't get me wrong. I love play. I love the power of playfulness, the wondrous opportunity for learning through play, the shared connection. But we all know, sometimes plain old open-ended play is plain hard. It's tough to tune out all the noise--the swamp in the kitchen sink, the litter of boxed email icons in the brain, the ballooning piles of the undone becoming increasingly grumpifying distractions.

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Fortunately, there are some tricks to keeping play playful for both of us, beyond my go-to sad and slightly morbid mind game where I pretend I am 80 and I have the chance to go back in time and relieve the one moment I am actually in...I do hope my little boy is not haunted one day by the overly tight, clinging hugs his misty-eyed mama give him from this technique. 

But there are other, less emotional things, and it's all about purpose. When it feels right for both of us, I can call on my teacher self to join us. Anytime I'm able to consciously integrate play with letters and sounds, shapes, numbers, calculations, hypotheses, observations, etc, that impatience to get to the to-do lists loses its edge. Sometimes the purposefulness comes down to slipping quick mini breaks in between rapt attention--to chop vegetables, put things away, respond to one email. Other times it's as little as stretching a bit, or sneaking in a few crunches during imaginative, detailed "storylines". And always, there's cooking together.

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It's amazing how Chef F has grown and flourished in his skills, as a helper, creator, and taster. Having the record of it has got to be one of the very top reasons for keeping on with a blog. This brownie garden was definitely a memorable keeper. The brownie cake we'll certainly make again, on numerous occasions. It was based on this brownie I made a year or so ago for a friend--the current version removes the oil and reduces the sugar even further, making it more cakelike, but still rich and delicious. Planting was a major bonus.

Look how cute the bitty parsley topped carrots are! Play with this brownie canvas, and you get to chat about all sorts of fun--what plants grow in the ground, which ones are above, on vines, etc. All the while, you're tasting and laughing and smearing healthy-for-chocolate goodness on your faces. And in case you're wondering what happens to the raw, crunchy, leafy vegetables you decorate on top? You eat them. As my esteemed friend Melanie Potock of My Munch Bug (and author of Adventures in Veggieland) says, kids don't know these veggies aren't "supposed" to be dessert. This would be right up her alley.

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Sometimes I do manage to completely lose myself in following my sweet boy's imaginative, playful lead, tuning out the call of the cell phone and the dinging notifications from the laptop 100%. I get to 90% quite often--at least, %75...but when I really, truly immerse...those moments are magic. The lego jungles, the paper rainforests, the starlit "field trips" across galaxies with stuffies. I wish I had a no-fail recipe for getting to that place anytime. That's when I remember, everything I manage to teach my bright-eyed little person is matched and then some by the way he re-teaches me how to see the unseen, and play. 

Vegan, gluten-free, oil-free  brownie cake (perfect for "planting")

  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup chickpea/garbanzo flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax meal
  • 1/3 cup all natural (nuts only) almond or peanut butter)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (drained chickpea liquid)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (dark is best)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3  to 1/2 cup vegan chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, chickpea flour, flaxmeal, and baking soda.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine and form a thick batter.
  3. Pour into a prepared 8 inch square pan (or similar--I used a cute apple casserole, because--look at it!). Bake at 350 F for approximately 25 minutes. 
Wendy McMillanComment