Sunday, May 22, 2011

one recipe can go a long way

Well, a blog that was originally created to be a sort of newsletter for friends and family about my goings-on has officially evolved into a food blog. So as a heads-up for those readers who just want to know what the heck I'm up to, this post will be more of the same food stuff. But before I do that, here are a few good things that have happened lately. There's no reason to totally abandon the newsletter style.

1. Spring semester ended. Yay! Overall, not a difficult semester, but it is so nice to have my weekends and afternoons free to try to relax.
2. I got a cold. That's right. I went five months without getting sick, through the whole semester, and then as soon as vacation hits, bam. Cold.
3. I joined a new gym...new for me, and new for the neighborhood. This has me giddily excited. Empty machines. Fresh gym smell. Summer around the corner. Couldn't get much better.
4. A few trips are officially in the works for summer. Can't wait to share them as they pass...

And now, business as usual...

I wavered a little bit in my commitment to sugar-free me this week. As I was getting sick, I got a craving for pretzels with Nutella, and since I was sick, I decided it was appropriate to indulge. The next day, I read this. And while I didn't berate myself for a couple of spoons of Nutella, I did renew my commitment and recall why I try to avoid sugar. It's a tough process for me, because sugar doesn't just taste good. It also provides the means for really beautiful desserts. And it has warm, emotional associations that date back to early childhood. Sugary confections are ironically, inextricably linked to comfort and care. Chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, shiny foil wrappers...they all seem to indicate nurturing, not destruction. So it was also good to read this, and remember that as difficult as it may be, it's good to struggle against our own demons. We've created a national sugar obsession, a national sugar addiction, and until we get it under control, we will literally be paying the price of it.

So here are a couple more alternatives.

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Both of these recipes use the dough found here, adapted to the ingredients in the kitchen. I used regular oats in the date cookies, but oat flour in the peanut butter cookies, which you can create by blending oats for a few seconds.

Agave-Sweetened Cookie Dough

Ingredients:
2/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats or oat flour
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

Whisk agave nectar, butter and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix flour, oats, cornstarch, salt and baking soda. Add to the liquids and stir until just mix. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, and then stir again.

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Thumbprint Date Cookies

Ingredients:
1 batch of agave-sweetened cookie dough
70 g dates
60 g almonds
4 oz water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend dates, almonds and water until pasty in texture. Roll dough into balls and place on a baking sheets lined with parchment paper. With a small, wet spoon, press a print into each ball. Fill the indentations with the date filling. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookies are a very light brown.


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I Can't Believe It's Not Nutter Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
1 batch of agave-sweetened cookie dough
approximately 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter
liquid vanilla creme stevia, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper to make a thin rectangle. Use a ruler or pizza cutter to divide dough into squares. (Note: An easier technique might be to just roll dough into balls and smoosh them to form thin circles...let me know if any one has other ideas for creating these thinner cookies.) Bake for 7-10 minutes. When cool, carefully pull cookies apart. This dough is delicate. Mix peanut butter and stevia to taste, and spread onto cookies, making sandwiches. These cookies keep best in the fridge.


Oh, and they're dangerously delicious...

Monday, May 16, 2011

moms inspire creativity

Disclaimer: My Mother's Day gift made it to my mom in a timely fashion. This post only got delayed to preserve the surprise...and then to allow me to pass my finals.

Every year I am a little bit torn about Mother's Day. It's a lot like Valentine's Day. Yes, I know it is a money-making scheme. Yes, I know we should appreciate the person we love every day. Yes, I know an unbalanced amount of pressure gets put on guys to woo their sweethearts. But at the same time, I'm always secretly elated to come home to a bunch of flowers in the middle of February.

The same goes for moms. I know my mom knows how much I love her and doesn't need a cheesy keepsake to be reminded. But there is something grand about taking a day to pause, reflect, and be intentional about communicating our love and appreciation to the important people in our lives. I think that's part of the fun of birthdays too. So to avoid giving in to the false guilt trip of overpriced flower companies and still show my mom how much she means to me, I went home-made this year.

Bet you can't guess my mom's name...

With a nearly empty nest, I thought she could use a couple of little birdies to take care of. I used this pattern for these little guys (and the recommended Valley Yarns Northampton yarn).

And their eggs? Less than a gram of sugar in each egg. Here's how it's done...

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Coconut Robins' Eggs

Ingredients:
For the chocolate...
     2 squares unsweetened Baker's chocolate
     2 scoops* powdered stevia (or, to taste)
For the filling (adapted from here)...
     1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
     1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
     1 tbsp. agave syrup
     raw almonds (optional)

*My stevia came with a teeny tiny scoop. It's definitely less than 1/4 tsp. I'd estimate it at about 1/16 tsp.


Melt the chocolate in a small pan, stirring continuously. Add the stevia, stir well, then turn off the heat. This keeps the chocolate warm, without letting it burn.


Paint the bottoms of egg-shaped molds, then freeze for a few minutes to harden. When solid, check for bare patches and repaint. I usually complete this step a couple of times.

During the last round in the freezer, mix the ingredients for the filling. If you're adding almonds, put an almond in each egg before adding the coconut filling. Fill the eggs. Do not overfill, as chocolates are difficult to seal if overfilled. Freeze again for a few minutes, then paint over the tops of the eggs. Freeze or refrigerate, and when solid, pop the eggs out of the mold.


Wrap in some pretty candy foils, and enjoy!


A closing note about my mom: she's the best. She stayed at home for about the first twelve years of my life, meaning I got to enjoy freshly baked cookies and a good talk after school. She makes beautiful pysanky eggs, so I learned to appreciate creativity and artistry and the satisfaction of making things. She has always given me the best advice without forcing it on me, meaning I usually made the best decision, but learned to make it on my own. She never disregarded my feelings, so I learned my compassion was a strength, not a weakness. And she always gave me something to aspire to: a strong sense of self, kindness, and above all, happiness, no matter what little things might go amiss.

I love you, Mom.

HAPPY (belated) MOTHER'S DAY!

Friday, May 6, 2011

happiness is in the simple things

It's in the belated Christmas package from your sister, whose obsession love for your cat knows no bounds.


It's in the perky ribbon inside that package, and the extra treat that reminds you of Hogwarts...


It's in playdates with tissue paper...



And it's in homemade crackers I've been meaning to blog about for forever...

I won't lie. These crackers were some work. But I made a double batch on a Saturday afternoon, and when we still had some after a week or so, I threw them in the freezer to keep. Just recently, a very special someone sent me this recipe to try, and I can't wait to see how the sesame seeds work!



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Whole Wheat Crackers

Ingredients:
3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cup water
seasoning, to taste

Mix seasoning* with flour, then add oil and water. Stir until a dough begins to form, then knead just until dough holds together. Roll out on lightly floured surface until about 1/16" thick. Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper and press division lines into dough using a ruler. With a fork, poke holes into the top of the dough. Bake on a baking sheet for about 25 minutes (or to get desired crispiness...I like mine well-done).

*I used a Russian seasoning mix in the first batch...salty with little dried carrots mixed in. In the second batch, I used parmesan cheese, basil, oregano and parsley.

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And finally, happiness is in an afternoon nap...Happy sunny May.