Sometimes It’s Not That Complicated

I am a member of an online Mom’s group.  I don’t necessarily participate all that much, but when the twins were infants and we had just moved here, it was a lifesaver.  There was always someone around to “talk” to.  I still check in from time to time, to chat with my book club friends, get advice on a restaurant, or help a new Mom know it’s going to be okay.  While I was visiting with my online ladies yesterday, an interesting question caught my eye. Continue reading

Blogiversary Cookies.. and a Giveaway

It has been a whole year. I absolutely cannot believe it. Bigg Sis and I had been talking about doing some writing together and it dawned on us that there was a way to get started, like right away. And so we dove in, and wrote post after post, but I don’t think that we had any idea that, unlike putting a book or a series of articles out there, the space of the blog was going to be one that was going to give so much to us. That we would develop relationships with other bloggers, that our own dietary choices would continue to evolve because of the amazing real food community we’ve stumbled into. I’m a little overwhelmed. I’m not kidding.

I have been deeply gratified by the comments we’ve gotten that essentially tell us that we’ve made a difference for someone. It’s like karmic payday. I have been delighted and surprised by the support I’ve received and the way I’ve been stretched as a cook, as a writer, and as a Mom. I feel lucky, and together Bigg Sis and I wanted to be sure that you know how much we appreciate you. Those who show up every time; those who pop in and comment, and all of you lurkers. We appreciate you and hope that we give you some small piece of what you all give to us.

In the vein of giving back, we’d like to offer everyone a blogiversary cookie, and for one lucky reader, a blogiversary book. But which to do first? Me, I’d go for the cookie, but I’ve seen what happens on these here internets, and I’m betting you’d like to know about the giveaway…. Continue reading

Great Grains: Buckwheat

Buckwheat, eh?  A little skeptical?  Buckwheat my friends, is a very cool plant, and a versatile little workhorse of a grain.  It used to be much more popular and still is commonly found in Eastern Europe as a cooked grain and porridge and is also found in Asia in buckwheat noodles.  Buckwheat pancakes and crepes are common worldwide.  And yet, it seems that many folks have not embraced this funny little triangular grain.  I am woman enough to admit that I was a buckwheat naysayer.  Didn’t see the point, so many other more familiar grains available.  But buckwheat really is interesting in a number of ways that I think make it merit a second look. Continue reading

Leftovers and Spooky Desserts

Once a month my father-in-law joins us for one of our Sunday homemade pasta extravaganzas (and yes, I count myself very fortunate to have Sunday homemade pasta extravaganzas). We always have dessert on Sunday night, but when Poppa comes, we try to make it a little more special in some way. Needless to say the kids have caught on to this particular trend and thus their expectations are always pretty high on Sundays, all day, in anticipation of football, homemade pasta, and some special dessert.

This past Sunday, my husband and I were pretty spent. We used the better part of our weekend preparing for Hurricane Sandy (who I shall now be referring to as the blowy b*&^%) and while my husband trudged valiantly on and made his homemade pasta (green no less, with chard from my garden, yes he is awesome), I was rather unmotivated as regards dessert. And then I realized that I had a secret weapon. In my freezer I had leftover ChocoNana Pancakes. I also had an ample supply of frozen bananas. You see where this is going, right? I warmed up the pancakes. Then I threw frozen bananas, coconut milk, and a splash of vanilla in the Vita-Mix and blitzed the stuffing out of it. I got the ratio a little on the too liquidy side, so I added a fresh banana and some ice cubes. While I blended, the kids used a nifty new cookie cutter to cut out ChocoNana bats. And so a seasonally appropriate, reasonably healthy and super yummy dessert was born. All were happy and satisfied and the kids REALLY enjoyed the chocolate bats. The grown ups enjoyed dipping their bats in their shakes, following the kids’ extremely wise example. Delish… and Boo!

Smoky Baba Ghanoush

I like vegetables a lot. And there are many, many vegetables that I like a lot. There are others that I will confess I have no use for (lima beans are at the top of this list – don’t judge). Then there is a category of vegetables that I have often disliked, but for some reason keep trying to find a way to love. Eggplant falls into this category. I did not care for it and yet the eggplant itself is so beautiful that I kept being drawn back to it. The deep purple skin gets me every time.  I’ve tried it a variety of ways, including the French classic ratatouille, and just couldn’t get anywhere with it. And then I found baba ghanoush.

It’s no secret to those of you who’ve been with us for a while that I am a fan of versatile condiments. I love turning on the food processor and then finding myself with a bowl full of yum that can serve as dip, spread, flavoring for veggie burger, spoon filler. You get the drift. Baba ghanoush makes eggplant work for me AND it serves beautifully in every nibbling and lunching application I throw at it.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately if you think about it, the store where I used to satisfy my baba ghanoush jones stopped selling it and so I was forced to venture out on my own. Who knew it would be so easy and so delicious freshly prepared and served with humble crackers and olives?  Ready to get your snack on? I usually am, and a veggie based dip sounds like just the ticket for my persistent munchies. Take a little dip; take a little dip; take a little dip with me.

Smoky Baba Ghanoush – method and starting point borrowed from The Joy of Cooking

      • 1 eggplant (mine was about 2 lbs, big and VERY purple, just beautiful)
      • 1 T tahini
      • 2 large cloves of garlic
      • 1/2 lemon juiced
      • 1 t salt
      • 1/8 t chipotle pepper powder (you could also use an actual pepper, but be VERY sparing, you’re going for the smokiness, not the heat, you could also use Liquid Smoke I imagine)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Poke holes all over the eggplant with a fork.  Roast the eggplant (and garlic cloves (skins on) in a roasting dish or on a baking sheet.  Take the garlic out after about 15 minutes.  Leave the eggplant in for about another 45.  You’re looking for very dark skin and more importantly, soft flesh.  Allow eggplant to cool to handle it.  Scoop the flesh of the eggplant away from the skin of the eggplant and place in a colander.  When all the eggplant is in the colander, press down with a spoon or other flat utensil to squeeze the extra water out of the eggplant.  The hard part is now over.  Throw all of this with the other ingredients into the food processor.  Blitz.  Place in lovely bowl and garnish with olives.  Serve to your generous mother who has been playing with your children for several hours… or to whomever you like.  Delish.

Eggplant drawing a big zero for you, but you are intrigued by my take on condiments?  We’ve got plenty to spread around….

Big Sis serves up some artichoke dip and white bean and greens spread to give sandwiches a kick.
Craving another Middle Eastern favorite? We’ve got hummus galore.
And last but not least, my perpetual favorite sunflower cheez spread.

To Life, L’Chaim

Chuck was my Uncle-in-Law, if there is such a thing.  Forget that.  Chuck was my uncle, and he was a wonderful, wonderful man.  He made quiet and persistent efforts to connect with everyone around him and was uncompromising in his determination to enjoy his life and spend time with his family.  Chuck took us to his favorite places, sent us his favorite books (hand chosen for our tastes), and taught my children tricks with coins that they think are really cool.  After my first visit with Uncle Chuck, in which I was overdressed all of the time in an effort to make a good impression, I began to pack my Chuck shoes.

These are my Chuck shoes.  My Chuck shoes can go anywhere.  I’ve worn them in the woods of New England while Chuck showed me a trail that runs where a colonial road and Native American trail had gone before us.  I wore them while Chuck walked with us to the historic family farm and walked us over the stone bridge, sharing the history of each element as we walked.  I wore them when we went to the beach in Rhode Island and discussed the complexities of seabirds, decking, and cedar shingles.  I wore them when we visited one of the greatest small zoos in the U.S. and I wore them to the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  I wore them in a rock garden that Chuck wanted to share with me because we were both in the process of building stone walls.  They are my Chuck shoes because Chuck would go anywhere to find commonality and explore shared interests and these shoes went the distance with us.

My dear Uncle Chuck has passed away and I have had the privilege of being counted as part of his family as we grieved the loss of him.  I was lucky enough to watch a remarkable family and a stunning community draw up and surround the grieving with love, support, and, out of sheer necessity, food.  As soon as the funeral service ended, the food began to arrive.  And what a relief it was to know that this was a worry that was taken care of.  And what a comfort it was to receive massive containers of food from the kitchens of community members who hoped only to ease the difficulty that Chuck’s family was forced to bear.  A small joy to be found in being released from the responsibilities of food preparation in order to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of the youngest generation running laps around Uncle Chuck’s home and marveling at his stone walls and pathways.

Uncle Chuck’s Hebrew name was Chaim, life.  And so, in honor of my beloved Uncle, who I was lucky enough to gain through marriage, I shall return home to the basic task of baking.  We shall celebrate our continuation of life with the staff of life.  I will toast Uncle Chuck with bread (it’s okay to laugh at that; he would have).

Today I want to share the multigrain bread that I took with us on our recent trip and warmed in the toaster in the continental breakfast room (and I will save my rant on what passes for travel breakfast for another day), topped with a little peanut butter (yes, I checked the recall list for the brand) and a sliced banana.  This bread is easy to put together and has a great texture.  If you’re not experienced with bread, I promise you will be okay.  This bread turned out to be the perfect way to start our days in New England – the nutty heartiness of the bread and the banana for my achy back and legs.  Who else could provide the key to such a perfect loaf but my favorite chef, Deborah Madison.  The recipe is in her massive and incredibly useful Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  I will write it up as I made it -a few vegan adaptations and flour choices based on my desire to give up all purpose flour as part of my own Baby Steps to Healthy Eating program.

Multigrain Bread with Sunflower Seeds – adapted from Deborah Madison

The Sponge

  • 1 cup uncooked multigrain cereal (I used Bob’s Red mill hot cereal, I’ve no idea if this is what she meant, but it worked)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

The Bread

  • 2 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T safflower oil (or as you like) plus extra for glazing
  • 3/4 c sunflower seeds
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (I used 2 whole wheat and 2 white whole wheat as this was what I had)

Mix ingredients for the sponge in a bowl (If you have a stand mixer, use the bowl for it).  Cover it (I used a clean dishtowel) and let sit for an hour.  Your sponge should become bubbly and should smell, well, yeasty.  Stir the sponge to release the air and add the salt, oil, and sunflower seeds.  Begin stirring in the flour (move to stand mixer for this if you have one, if not no worries, totally doable by hand).  If using a mixer, switch to dough hook if you have one as you get down toward the end of the flour to add.  When all flour is in, allow mixer to knead for a couple of minutes.  If mixing by hand, stir flour in until it is too heavy to manage, then put the bread onto a lightly floured cutting board or counter and knead in the remaining flour by adding a little at a time and folding the bread dough over on itself until the dough is tacky but not wet or overly sticky. Put dough in oiled bowl and allow to rise to double size, about an hour and a half (a warm but not HOT location will help this process).  Push down the dough, divide into two and shape into loaves (I’m sure there are right ways to do this, I just fiddle with it until it looks loaf-ish. Place in oiled and floured 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch loaf pans and let rise again for about 45 minutes. About 25 minutes into this rise time, preheat your oven to 375.  Cut the top of the bread and brush the top with oil to glaze. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes or until brown and awesome. L’Chaim Uncle Chuck.

Nut Butter Recall Expanded Again

Hey folks.  Bad news on the nut butter front.  The list for recall has been expanded again.  I urge you to check the following list if you have prepared nut butter products in your home.  If you want to steer clear of prepared peanut butter (which seems prudent at this point), you can still have peanut buttery goodness.  If you’ve never made it before, the lovely ladies at A Beautiful Mess have written a fine explanation of how to make your own with NO added sugar or fat, thank you very much.

When It Just Doesn’t Work, Add Chocolate

Some days it just doesn’t work. Okay, some weeks it just doesn’t work. Here at Lake Ouch My Head, we’ve had a week that really hasn’t worked. The twins have brought home the first bug of the season and while it’s relatively mild in actual symptoms (aside from the headache), it has had all of us feeling very tired, dopey and more than a little cranky. Cooking adventures have been poorly planned, poorly executed, and largely underwhelming. The lesson for me as home chef this week has been one of Lazarus meals – a quick resurrection in order to avoid wasting the ingredients and in order to avoid having to eat out because things have gone so far awry….

Looks like tofu, right? Chickpea flour, salt, water… go figure.

Earlier in the week I attempted some chickpea flatbread and while making it a little voice told me that the batter was too thin. THIS is the moment when things went wrong. I should have listened to the little voice. It was, in fact, too thin and the pan I cooked it in was too small. The end result?

Looked like tofu, cooked like tofu.

A VERY strange custard-like consistency that I managed to re-fashion like tofu for a lunch for me and Mr. Little Sis the following day. The children, having heard me dub it a mistake, would have none of it.

Another flub was less dramatic in its outcome, and in fact it wasn’t a flub, it was just a “meh” kind of dish. I made mid-week pancakes (we usually only have fresh pancakes on weekends, I make plenty, we freeze the rest for M-F) because the children had a day off from school. They roundly rejected the idea of pumpkin pancakes (that I’ve been drooling over everywhere on the blogoshpere) and so I thought I would attempt yet another homemade syrup substitute (insert dead horse for children to beat here). Remembering the date cream that Big Sis made and that I enjoyed so much, I rifled through the dried fruit in the pantry and came up with figs and cherries. That sounded pretty darned good to me. So I blended them together (1/2 c figs, 1/3 c cherries, approximately 1 c water, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a squirt of vanilla). I ended up with a fruit butter consistency with a, well fig and cherry flavor. It was yummy, but it didn’t knock my socks off. When I put it on my pepita pancakes (like my pecan pancakes, but with pepitas because that’s what I had), it was good, but not necessarily post-worthy if you get my drift. No major revelation here. Annoyed by yet another waste or at least poor use of ingredients, I racked my brain for a way to use this fig cherry butter. I ate a piece of fig cherry butter on toast while I considered my options. It was very good, but not stunning. And then it struck me. Fruit butter, a dwindling supply of baked goods in the house… cherries… chocolate. Oh yes.

Chocolate Cherry Bombdies (GF, V)

  • 3/4 c cherry fig butter
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 1/4 c buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 c oat bran
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 3 c oats
  • 1/4 c chopped dried cherries
  • 1/2 c choc chips (I used semi-sweet)

Serious five year old whisking.

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix wet ingredients in large bowl.  Combine dry ingredients in another bowl.  Enlist a small person who needs something to do to whisk the dry ingredients (they really like whisks) and take really weird pictures while they do.  Add dry to wet and stir or use mixer until well combined.  Scoop into ungreased 9×13  baking pan and spread out.  Mine did not cover the entire pan.  If you like a thicker bombdie, use a square cake pan.  If your children are not watching, add nuts.  Mine were helping, so we went nutless, ahem.  Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes.  Mine were in for 25 and are crisp on top and a little chewy in a good way.  My oven is admittedly a little wonky, so I suggest you keep an eye on yours starting at 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, cool in pan.  Cut into blondie sized bars and enjoy.  Resurrected baked goods.  Delish!

When You DO Need a Treat

I struggle with the treat area.  There, I said it.  My kids have been the fortunate recipients of mostly unprocessed or only lightly processed snack foods, but I have, in my forty some-odd years on the planet, consumed a fair number of packaged snack foods.  The difficulty that this poses for me as a parent is that I am vulnerable to the argument that perhaps I am being TOO restrictive, that I am depriving my kids (OH NOOOOOO, ANYTHING BUT DEPRIVING YOUR KIDS!!!!) of some sort of necessary and later to be romanticized pleasure of childhood.  So I struggle to find balance.  They don’t get A LOT of the things that their classmates and friends get, but I attempt to frame it, as I do with myself, as a turn toward the abundance and delicious satisfaction that real food, even as snack or treat, can provide.

Healthful twin lunches. Healthy twin kids.

My recent efforts, as a reflection of my desire to keep my kids on the attitude of gratitude end of the spectrum as regards their lunchtime totage, have focused on the treat portion of our little stainless steel container.  As it turns out, packing lunch has been something of a guilty pleasure for me.  The picky child in our family takes her Tinkerbell lunchbox everyday with the utmost trust that I have included SOMETHING that she will eat.  And I generally do.  And the funny thing is, she eats it.  She eats most parts of whatever I pack.  She eats things she won’t eat at home, and when she gets home, she finishes whatever’s left…. hot diggity.  So I have no guilt about providing a small not so sweet in their tins.  I have made two lovely discoveries this week that I thought I would share… one that is gluten (but not chocolate) free, and one that has gluten, but is vegan, and I must say, quite awesome.  I’m eating some right now as I type.  On to the goodness…

What do you mean what happened to the first row? What first row?

First up: Gluten Free Blondies – adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie’s Chocolate Chip Blondies. These babies are BEAN based; that’s right, you heard me, bean based.  So I’m thinking I need to whip up a lunchbox yummy and looking at my fridge to see what I should use up and rolling my eyes at the container of white beans from the previous night’s dinner… turns out they were just what I needed.  I love it when that happens.

See those little beanies in there?

The changes I made to Katie’s recipe here are pretty minimal.  I cut the sugar to 1/2 c from 3/4 c.  For the grain I used a mixture of flax and rolled oats. I added 1T of applesauce because my batter seemed too dry (I used homecooked rather than canned beans).  I went a little light on the chips to no ill effect and I added 1/4 c of pecans. The procedure is super easy. Preheat oven to 350. Mix ingredients with the exception of chips and nuts (if you use them, which you should) in a food processor until the batter is smooth. Add chips and nuts and stir to incorporate. Place in 8×8 greased or lined baking pan. Bake for around 30 minutes. They will be softer than your average blondie – sort of fudge-y and awesome. If you’re smart enough to eat one warm, you’ll get the reward of the melty chip drip that is part of the blondie experience. Delish.

Turns out beans weren’t the only thing I needed to use up. With the onset of the school year (and cooler temps), our green smoothie intake has diminished and my banana purchases got ahead of me. Super over-ripe bananas can only mean one thing in my house… banana bread. Oh yes. This recipe is adapted from one I got from a dear friend who first made it for us during a delicious fall weekend on a farm in the Catskills. She had adapted the recipe from one she’d had given to her by someone else… Honestly neither one of us has any idea at this point where it originally came from. On the off chance that it was yours and you still recognize it, let me know and I’ll credit you.

I was encouraged to limit my pecans so we could try it “both ways.”

Intensely Good Banana Bread

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup regular oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 2 large eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 bananas)
  • 1/4 c peanut (or other nut) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pecans for the top

Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine flours, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Place sugar, applesauce, oil, and molasses in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add eggs, banana, nut butter, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Decorate with pecans. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Eat some while it is warm and the outer crust is at its peak. Cool completely on wire rack before storing.  Amazing.

Need more ideas for healthier sweets?  Try these gluten free chocolate chip cookies, these gluten free coconut almond milk mash cookies, honey milk balls, apple oat muffins.

This week we’ve joined Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Blog Carnival. Check out the other real food entries here.

Concession Sweets

As many of you know, my twins started kindergarten this fall….. gack.  There’s an awful lot swirling around in my head about THAT very fact and rather than sit here and take it in, there’s a whole new world of work and school logistics to get to know.  We’re all feeling, while still reasonably enthusiastic, a little tired and beat up around here.  The kids are especially tired in part because their school day is so much longer than anything they’ve done before, and in part because the paltry amount of time they are given to consume lunch is not working out too well for ravenous boy and chatty girl.  Lunchboxes are coming home with a dent at best.  They do, of course, always manage to extract the small sweet that I’ve been including to cheer them up at the time that they say they miss me the most (awww, yes, it breaks my heart a little).  Because of these developments, after having a talk about the fact that veggies need to be eaten before sweets just like at home, I’ve doubled down on my efforts to find and make sweet bits that are much less…. well everything.  The delightful thing about severely restricting sweets is that your kids get a lot less picky about them and so this is one category of food where everyone, even my daughter, is consistently rapturous about my efforts, and let’s face it, that’s pretty good for the chef. 🙂

This week’s little sweetie scored 100% approval and was just about as easy a cookie as I’ve ever baked.  Why is it better than other cookies?  Less sugar, less fat, and I used buckwheat rather than regular flour (read about the benefits of buckwheat here) and so have a whole slew of health benefits over your average chocolate chipper.  Yes, that’s right, once again I will breach into the realm of the sacred and dismember a classic flavor expectation with a healthier chocolate chip cookie.  Nearly blasphemous.

We Heart Buckwheat Chippers inspired by Jordan’s Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 c buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 t baking soda
  • .5 t salt
  • 1/3 c canola oil (or whatever kind you like)
  • 1/3 c applesauce
  • 2/3 c maple syrup
  • 1 t vanilla
  • heaping .5 c semi-sweet chocolate chips ( I used minis to ensure choc in each bite and because, let’s face it, they’re cute)
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix flour, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in smaller bowl.  Add wet to dry and stir.  The dough will be wetter and easier to mix than traditional chocolate chip cookie dough.  Don’t be alarmed.  The dough will also be considerably darker than you might expect.  Again, it will all be okay.  Add chips and nuts (and whatever else your tribe prefers in such things) and stir gently to distribute.  Plop onto parchment or greased baking sheets.  I confess to using an official cookie dough scoop for such things (my Christmas baking requirements justified this little gem), but use whatever method you usually use with drop cookies.  After filling the tray (I got 12-15 per tray), squash the tops a little as they will not spread the way higher fat cookies do.  Bake for 6-9 minutes.  Mine took 9, but my oven is wacky.  Judge doneness by touching the cookie gently.  When it feels like a cookie and not a squishy ball, they’re done.  Allow to cool on the pan briefly for cleaner liftoff.  Cool completely on wire rack, or I should say after you’ve eaten some while they’re warm because you simply must eat some while they’re warm, cool the rest on a wire rack.  Delish.