An artist’s gotta eat: Red Cabbage and Chocolate Cake


It must be lockdown. I must confess.   No, not to having twenty thousand double length toilet rolls under the bed in the spare room. I will confess to several tins of chick peas in the hall cupboard but it’s the biggest bag of standard flour I’ve ever bought in my life that I have to confess to – 5kgs.    In my defence, when I finally went down to the supermarket after the faces got grimmer and the numbers got larger, it was all that was left there, unless you wanted wholemeal flour, which I didn’t.

I put the bag into my trolley without a moment’s hesitation – well after a moment looking for a much smaller bag.   And looking for that essential element of home baking “baking powder” of which there was none.   I thought I could use my cultural heritage and make Irish Soda Bread.

I haven’t made any soda bread this lockdown but I have opened the enormous bag of flour.   I’m not sure quite what to do with it so it’s still sitting on the bench by the kettle.  I have a tendency to eat any bought cake or biscuits sooner rather than later so I’m not surprised after I discover I’ve a whole container of baking powder in the pantry that I decide to make one of my infamous chocolate cakes.

The chocolate cake is described as “dairy free”.   It’s that one bowl wonder that the busiest of working mothers can make – “trust me I know”. It’s the cake you can use for the school lunch cake – made in the biggest pyrex lasagna dish.   It’s the cake you can make into that dinner dessert thinly sliced with Greek yoghurt, cream and berries or slather with icing and candles for the happiest of birthdays.   It’s also the cake you have to put in the freezer to stop you going to the pantry to have “just another little slice”.

Before you start. Line whatever baking container you’re using with a sheet of baking paper.   In my pyrex lasagna dish I brought the paper up both the long sides (mainly because I cut it too big).   I rubbed the leftover oil in the measuring cup up all the sides and on the paper on the bottom of the dish. No dramas getting the cake out and no soaking to remove chocolate concrete.

Wouldn’t you know I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.  I reduced the amount of oil and the amount of water. I ended up with a very unprepossessing heavy mix which had to be spooned into the lasagna dish.   I did put the blobs all over the dish but I made no attempt to smooth it out or have an even spread of the mixture as it went into the oven. I don’t recommend this but I have no idea how long it was in the oven because I went off to do something in another room. When I came back I stuck a knife in the middle of the cake and it was done!

Here’s the recipe off Mrs Google – make sure you read all the comments before your start – the results can apparently vary wildly. All I can tell you is that this recipe is “a piece of cake”.

And here’s what I did.

Dairy Free Chocolate Cake

Turn your oven to 180 degrees C.

Into a large bowl sift

3 cups of standard flour

2 cups of sugar

6 tablespoons of cocoa

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

Make a well in the middle of these dry ingredients

And add

2 cups of cold water (I put in only one and a bit)

1 cup of oil (I used rice bran oil and I probably only used about half to two thirds of a cup)

2 tablespoons of white vinegar

2 teaspoons of vanilla (I didn’t put this in as I’ve used it all up)

Mix to smooth and put into your lined baking dish.  

If you don’t want to ice your cake you could sprinkle it with thread coconut.

I put this cake on the bottom oven rack and left it to it.   Clean knife in the middle said it was cooked.   It’s a moist really chocolately chocolate cake.   Make a rule that you will only eat one piece a day.

I decided I would only ice a piece at a time.   I made a simple butter icing with a tiny knob of butter, large teaspoon of cocoa and some icing sugar – disgustingly good!

And because Chocolate Cake obviously goes with Cabbage:

If as a child you’d told me I’d be sneaking back to the fridge to eat another little bowl of cooked cabbage I wouldn’t have believed you.   Not just any cabbage mind you – spiced, thinly sliced, red cabbage.

Cabbage that just screams “eat me” when you take the lid off the container.     Cabbage that makes thin slices of pork sing and fish happy to be eaten.

My spiced cabbage is not as good as my neighbour’s but it’s good enough to be instantly addictive.   It’s so simple to make. The hardest part is getting the cabbage finely cut.   I bought a large peeler thing I thought would do the trick – it does but it and the cabbage have to be at just the right angle.    

Spiced Red Cabbage

1 medium sliced onion (I used a banana shallot)

1 medium sliced apple (I finely diced my apple)

1 head of red cabbage (I used half a smallish red cabbage for each batch I have made)

1/3 cup of sugar (I reduced this for the second batch)

1/3 cup of white vinegar

¾ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Several whole cloves (just be aware they’re there when you’re eating the cabbage)

Ground nutmeg (I didn’t use nutmeg)

Ground cinnamon (about half a teaspoon)

Lemon juice (just squeezed the juice of one lemon in through the little sieve

I put some olive oil in the bottom of my large copper bottomed steamer pan and then softened the onion and the apple. Popped in the sliced cabbage and all the rest of the ingredients.   Gave it a stir, put on the lid and left it to it on a low heat. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.   Gave it a couple of stirs. Made a couple of eye watering taste tests. Turned off the heat and let it sit until cool.   Ate an embarrassing amount with half of a thin New Zealand pork butterfly steak and some cooked sliced bright orange sweet potatoes (Yum) and then put the rest in pan in the fridge.    

If you’re not used to having psychedelic coloured dinners you may want to swap out the sweet potatoes for something less colourful – I loved it – such a lockdown laugh – a dinner you could see from space.

Half a red cabbage makes a lot of spiced red cabbage. I’m not sure why but it’s incredibly filling.   Apart from being absolutely delicious I think it must be incredibly economical and probably hideously good for you (even with the sugar).   It’s scrumptious either hot or cold so you could use it with cheese or sliced ham in a sandwich.   It would be wonderful as a layer in homemade burgers.

Here’s Jamie Oliver on Mrs YouTube making a version – looks even more amazing. 


Well, it’s another day and time to get on with it.   I’m cleaning the inside windows one room a day… between eating spiced red cabbage and chocolate cake.   Wherever you are in the world and whoever you are be safe.   And do as Essential Emily says “….wear your freakin mask and wash your freakin hands….” Arohanui Kia Kaha

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. She purchases her power from Trustpower and is a beneficiary of the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust.  Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.


For something different check out PUHA words from the land and read Rosemary’s “Friday Night” a very short story.


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