I’m slowly adjusting to the kids’ daily absence. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly fill the time, it is amazing how quickly I have had it filled. Without solid hours set aside to bake and write, it was difficult to tap into that part of my brain. But, alas, I have been freed from physical therapy and may have a game plan for running again…finally. For anyone who has suffered from severe shin splints, my heart goes out to you. The amount of patience it has required is beyond imagination and I’m actually thankful for our move and hectic summer schedule because it saved me from further moments of depression due to my inactive exercise status. Having just met with my orthopedist yesterday, I have a specific plan now with how to introduce that heart pumping, sweating producing and endorphin rushing running back into my workouts. I started running just 15 minutes out of my entire cardio workout and have only had minor soreness so I hope to continue reporting on my progress. I imagine you will know how I’m doing just from the tone of my posts. To keep my momentum, I’m ecstatic to have been “cleared” just in time for Tone It Up’s annual Frisky Fall Challenge. All of their challenges ~ the Love Your Body Series and Bikini Series included are amazing ~ offering cardio, toning and positive motivation. Check it out ~ it is a ton of fun! For now, I’m absolutely blissful. Can you tell I just completed a 5K run on my treadmill? Happy bones ~ even if I’m icing!
So most of you know that we have undertaken a major renovation of our “new” old home. My father, a retired Contractor, has been masterfully changing over the entire upstairs. It is a phenomenal task in general, but at 62 (a very young 62 at that) carrying 50 lb doors and trim upstairs all day takes its toll. As a result, I encouraged Dad to take a day off and we struck out on a mid-week adventure into DC. My father has carved most of the Major League Baseball Stadiums and our dear friend, Scott, is an AVID Washington Nationals (Go Nats!) fan, as well as, a lifetime long New York Yankee fan like my Dad (Root, root, root for the Yankees!). Scott and his wife, Sid, were our neighbors and best friends when Joe and I first settled in DC years ago and were sad to return knowing they had moved away to be closer to their children and grandchildren (can you blame them?!). Anyhow, Northern Virginia still holds a place in their hearts and now with the Nationals clinching their Division title, my Dad wanted to make sure that he captured the details of the stadium in the carving by visiting it.
Wednesday was geared up to be a gorgeous day and I figured the perfect time to have my Dad take a rest and walk around Washington. He had read some about Alexander Calder’s mobile that hangs prominently in I.M. Pei’s designed East Wing of the National Gallery of Art so I figured we could make a nice loop ~ first to the Nationals Stadium for a photo shoot of the front entrance, swing around to the National Gallery of Art and then onto Shirlington for lunch.
Because we were heading out mid-morning, I was challenged enough to get my workout and shower in before leaving so I grabbed one of my new favorite meals ~ perfect for breakfast or lunch ~ a Snickerdoodle Protein Smoothie. I literally make this 2 or 3 times a week and it is Scott’s favorite cookies so fitting for today’s adventure. There are several recipes for this in the blogosphere, so I took it upon myself to try a few and offer you my humble opinion. Believe it or not, I have never really appreciated the Snickerdoodle cookie ~ perhaps because I’m such a chocolate fan. Given my love of this smoothie and cinnamon, however, I think I need to post a recipe soon. Perhaps after the Tone It Up Frisky Fall Challenge is complete!
Snickerdoodle Protein Smoothie
3/4 cup almond milk, unsweetened (or any non-dairy milk of choice)
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons vanilla protein powder (I used Shakeology, but rice protein powder would work)
1 teaspoon almond butter (or natural peanut butter)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of ice
Blend well, pour and try not to gulp it down!
Here is Alexander Calder’s mobile, Untitled, anchoring the atrium of National Gallery of Art’s East Wing.
I love the interplay of lines and shadows.
As my Dad pointed out, the design of the building intended to highlight this ~ dramatically inviting the clouds and sky inside.
See the bike so perfectly parked along the street? Isn’t it charming?!
As I entitled this post, I wondered if there is such a thing. After being on a long hiatus – practically a sabbatical in college professorship terms – I’m finally putting fingers to keys and attempting to weed through months of observations, inspirations and musings. Of course, there is plenty of murkiness amidst the bits of clarity. With two boys home on summer vacation and a cross-country move, everyday life seemed to win the valuable real estate in my mind. But, alas, my boys embarked on a new school year today ~ complete with taking a bus for the first time ~ and I was left to carve out my new longer and hopefully peaceful days.
How was everyone’s summer? I really missed my humble space here. I feel like I have done and thought so much, but had no outlet with which to share. As a result, I may incorporate some of my summer outings as I get back into the swing of things. Following our move back to Virginia, I took the boys to Maine as usual and was inspired by all our families gardens. I wished I had the energy then to document everything ~ but in good time I will share.
Today is significant not only for my return to something sweetly mine alone, but because I said goodbye to my youngest. Today, he started full-day elementary school and I’m missing him immensely. He has been my buddy for 6 years now and today I could feel that hand slipping a little bit further. But, rather than wallow in that, I chose to look to all of you.
For now, I will wade back into the blogosphere with a simple traditional recipe. One that I have never tried, but expected to be as great as his other’s ~ Alton Brown’s The Thin chocolate chip cookie. As most of you know, I LOVE Alton Brown’s The Chewy and rate it as my all time favorite, “go-to” chocolate chip cookie. In fact, I will use its’ base often as a jumping point for new cookie mix-in’s when so inspired. Truth be told, I have never been wowed by thin, crispy cookies. At least until now!
Lately, I’ve been dreaming of a chocolate chip cookie with a brittle like texture. Buttery, crispy and break-apart-able in all of its’ messy goodness. I generally don’t like messy and detest buttery fingers so perhaps that has dissuaded me all these years. But, today, I feel like snapping tidbits off and caring little for portioned bites. I yearn to sit with my kids when they come home from school and just dig into a shared plate while they fight over each other to tell me stories of their first day of school. When making something contrary to my usual tastes, I usually find comfort by turning to a reliable source for recommendations. Thus, I turned to Alton Brown. And, did I surprise myself! The Thin was exceptionally good. It met all of my hankerings ~ crispy, flavorful and so fun in it’s messiness that my boys laughed at each other’s chocolatey smiles as they regaled in their days. Just what I wished for! So, depending on the mood, I have decided that The Thin will be in rotation with The Chewy for just these type of moments.
Perhaps you can do the same…
Alton Brown’s The Thin Chocolate Chip Cookie
Makes 2 and 1/2 dozen
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 ounces milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter*
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift together the dry ingredients; flour through baking soda.
2) In a small bowl or pyrex glass measuring cup, mix the egg, milk and vanilla together and bring to room temperature.
3) In a large bowl or KitchenAid mixer, cream the butter ~ beginning on the low setting to soften the butter. (Read note below…) Add the sugars and increase the speed, creaming until you achieve the desired light and fluffy texture.
4) Reduce the speed and add the egg mixture; combining well.
5) Maintaing the slow speed, gradually add flour mixture. When well incorporated, remove bowl and stir in chocolate chips. Using large #20 scooper (about 3 and 1/2 tablespoons), portion out 6 cookies on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Immediately remove cookies to cooling rack.
6) Stack cookies on one plate and invite your kids or friends to join you for some laughter and conversation ~ and marvel in your fortune to enjoy their company. I know it sounds hokey ~ but that was my intent yesterday and for the full 5 minutes my boys humored me, I was in heaven! That was all I needed! Well that ~ and a great chocolate chip cookie!
Note: Alton Brown discusses the true approach to creaming butter in his Good Eats episode, “Three Chips for Sister Marsha.” He explains interestingly that creaming requires butter to be cold and not softened prior to mixing. In fact, the approach is to allow the mixer on a low speed to break apart the butter ~ slowly warming and thereby softening it. Then, the creaming process actually refers to the utilizing of the sugar crystals to cut into the butter, create bubbles of air that further soften and break it down.
So sometimes all the self-talk, hindsight and wisdom can not erase the plain “it’s just not fair” feelings that can overwhelm you when things just don’t go as planned. A wise woman I know wholeheartedly believes that sometimes, despite all efforts, things will unfold just as they were meant to be ~ however unfair they appear. While that may be true, it is really difficult to succumb to that knowledge and fight the natural inclination to sulk ~ even at 40! You may be wondering where I’m going here (as usual).
A few weeks ago, and oh so close to the end, I obtained a moderate tibial stress fracture to my leg while training for the See Jane Run 1/2 Marathon. Being effectively sidelined from the race, I quickly had to shift gears. At first, I was disheartened. I loved training with my friend, Sonia, and had enjoyed picking up some weekly runs with my friend, Gail, as well. These runs were far more important to me as they were counting down precious moments I had left with them here in California and I was so appreciative for this opportunity. I had come to believe that this was the real meaning for me behind the race. It was never the race itself.
In fact, just a few weeks prior, Sonia and I decided to spontaneously to run our 9 mile long run along the Bay. We never even checked the weather and if anyone knows San Fran it can be variable in the morning. Well, the day couldn’t have been more spectacular! Bright and sunny with the Golden Gate Bridge beckoning us in the foreground. At the beginning, we ran up a steep hill that made me immediately question what I was getting myself into. But, at the top we were rewarded with a framed view of Alcatraz ~ oddly enough, the setting for my wedding proposal from my husband 13 years ago. That set the tone.
Our plan was to the run to the furthest end of the San Francisco Bay Trail and then back track, finding our way to one of many worthy breakfast joints. When we reached our turn-around point, however, we realized that the additional mileage would put us well past the Marina where we hoped to celebrate with our sweet and savory meal. So we inquired with a fellow runner and he told us to just hop on this trail ~ jog a 1/4 mile up and you will be on the Golden Gate Bridge. Just run across and back ~ it will give you a couple more miles to your run. Why hadn’t I thought of that?! Run across the Golden Gate Bridge?! That sounded like the best way to bid farewell to my most beloved city. I can’t even begin to tell you how fun it was. Later, I told Sonia that the experience was one for my bucket list and I hadn’t even thought of it. I could fail to run the race and feel so accomplished. Of course, I never anticipated that I wouldn’t run the race, but was thankful for that foresight. It made the injury a bit easier to swallow.
The San Francisco run got me through the first week. However, I was quite naive about the orthopedist’s prescribed rest and thought I could go about my sons’ last few weeks of school and prepare for our impending cross-country move just fine ~ minus the rigorous running schedule. While being limited physically from working out has always been torture for me, this time around I thought it was a free pass to just focus on our last few weeks in California. Then the reality set in (or rather additional warnings from the orthopedist straightened me out!) and I started to feel imprisoned. I desperately needed a pep talk!
That’s when I called my friend, Stephanie. She is a true warrior. She is a tried and true racer. She is happiest hitting the pavement and I’m happiest for her when does. She is a very special friend. Recently, her dear Aunt was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and Stephanie wished to honor her by running for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation in the OC Half Marathon near her Aunt’s home of Los Angeles. This gave Stephanie an even greater reason to run. She could fly her husband and precious young children across country to spend a week with her Aunt. Everything was working well, until Stephanie began to feel a pain in her hip.
The day of her race ~ here is a beautiful picture of OC at Mile 9 ~ her hip failed, but she continued to persevere and crossed the finish line for her Aunt. (She looks strong here, doesn’t she?!) Later that day, she visited the ER and returned home on crutches. (We joke that we are quite a pair now ~ even miles apart!) She learned she had a severe hip fracture and would need surgery.
Now recovering at home, every so patiently, Stephanie is my true inspiration. She continues to focus on the positive and, despite dealing with limited mobility and strict orders to stay put and heal, she is keeping her eye on the prize. Wise rehab now should result in more miles on the road later. Of course, we have spoken now more in the last few weeks sitting on our respective couches ~ so that is the shining light. I joked that the minimal amount of arm weights we can do helps for about one millisecond! I texted her the other day to say that I did a chair yoga youtube video for seniors and found it quite humbling. At least I was able to laugh through it! She is my pep talk! How could I even begin to wallow in my state, when she is fighting every instinct to run? I merely wish to spend time with my friends as the days count down and help my family pack. Rather, I’m icing my leg and finding laughter in this absurd state I have found myself in. At least, Stephanie and I can do this together!
So in my many moments of antsy-ness as a hermit, I dug into my cupboards and attempted to forge ahead on Operation Cupboard Cleanse. I found a jar of Nutella with about 1/2 cup remaining of the addictive hazelnut butter. Check! What could I do with that?! Placing my leg up with ice, I scoured Pinterest and fell upon copious recipes, but many recipes seemed overindulgent and laden with too much sugar. I wanted something more subtle. I finally found this Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from Sugar Cooking. I can’t lie ~ her pictures also were the most enticing to me. I tweaked the recipe a bit ~ adding the same amount of brown sugar as white as it seems to lend more to the nutty flavors. I also used a bit less Nutella because that is all I had. The next time, I may only add 3/4 cup sugar (1/4 white and 1/2 cups brown) and add the full 2/3 cup of Nutella. In grabbing for my chocolate chips, I fell upon a Happy Accident. I had a 1/2 cup of cinnamon chips left over from this Guaranteed Banana Bread recipe. Check! Cinnamon and Nutella sounded like a marriage made in heaven ~ and it was. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the cinnamon chips, but I only used Hershey’s. Alone the chips just taste too fake. However, I have been eyeing King Arthur’s brand and gifted them recently to my dear friend, Cindy, who keeps enticing me with her Cappuccino Bars. I can’t wait to get back to the East Coast just so she can finally bake them for me!
Nutella Cinnamon Chip Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen small cookies
1 and 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2-3/4 cup cinnamon chips (or semisweet chocolate chips)*
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together, flour through salt.
3) In a large bowl or kitchen-aid mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy ~ about 2 minutes. Add in the Nutella and vanilla and blend well. Then add egg and mix until combined.
4) Add in the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chips.
5) Chill dough for one hour. (I couldn’t wait, but I’m sure it would only make them better!)
6) Bake by tablespoons on sheet, spacing about 2″ apart. Bake for about 9 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to cool further.
So this week my beloved friend, Gail, brought me some mangoes. This is such a natural exchange between us and something I’m really going to miss ~ not the food itself, but rather the natural thought that, “my friend would probably enjoy these as much as I do. I’m just going to pop by and bring her some.” Ok…tears are starting. Anyhow, this natural exchange started me thinking. I think food, whether in the form of gifts, as a foundation for gatherings or simply in the form of sharing recipes, speaks volumes about friendships. My best friend, Immac, feeds me (and my family) as soon as I walk through her door. I have became accustomed to it and now view it as a beautiful demonstration of her kindness and love. My friend, Cindy, and I share a fondness for sweets and love to share recipes. I’m pretty certain that most of our conversations have shifted at one point or another to a new recipe discovery and what one should try. My friend (aka, little sister), Cari, is am amazing cook and loves to experiment with herbs and spices, as well as, cooking accoutrements. She is at once inspiring and intimidating to listen talk about cooking. I thoroughly enjoy it. And, when I’m trying yet another “healthy” version of a recipe so that my workouts won’t have been in vain, I love to share with my training partner, Sonia. She and I can certainly appreciate all that we are saving by relishing in a smarter approach. But I digress…
Gail brought me the sweetest of mangoes and unlike any that I had seen. (Of course, I am not very worldly with fruit. In fact, I’m only familiar with the red and yellow mangoes found in supermarkets.) These mangoes were smaller and yellow. When I asked Gail, what kind they were, she said she wasn’t sure but liked them because they were so sweet. Well, she had me at sweet. I graciously accepted them and placed them in my fruit bowl waiting for inspiration. (I later learned on-line that these are Sindhri Mangoes and are harvested in Pakistan. They are so abundant, in fact, they are known as “the King of Mango” and they are Pakistan’s official national fruit. A bit geeky, I know, but I love learning new tid-bits of info!)
It must have been fate, because I decided to visit one of my favorite food blogs, Oh She Glows, where Angela is dedicated to vegan cooking and baking. I had not visited in sometime and I immediately fell upon a beautiful array of red and yellow ~ a Strawberry Lime Mango Crisp. Voila! I happen to love crisps ~ they never disappoint. They are crowd pleaser without being fussy. They are imperfect and difficult to mess-up. And they are simple. In fact, my all-time favorite desserts when hosting guests during the summer are cobblers and crisps. So, I was immediately hooked. The colors were so beautiful together, I thought it would be perfectly festive for this weekend’s Memorial Day barbecues. Angela’s recipes are meant to offer a healthful approach, especially if your of the vegan persuasion, without compromising the flavors. I find her desserts have just the right hint of sweetness without drowning in sugar so the use of these naturally sweet mangoes couldn’t be more appropriate. Better yet, I could share this with my friend, Gail.
The Strawberry Lime Mango Crisp relies simply on the fruits natural sweetness with a touch of lime and a sprinkle of coconut sugar. I would have been happy warming this up and eating it was a dollop of creme fraiche. But, then again, I get weak in the knees at the thought of a granola like topping with toasted oats and coconut, cinnamon and almonds, mixed with real maple syrup. I could eat the crispy topping by itself without any fruit. So, with that dilemma, I figured I might as well enjoy the whole kit and kaboodle! My family loved it immensely and I think it may be a keeper in my “what to bring to gatherings” back-pocket. I couldn’t wait to share this recipe with Gail. Angela noted that the recipe was even better second-day as a breakfast compote, which was perfect. A dedicated nurse, who works the early evening shift, Gail couldn’t enjoy this until the morning so even better. It was a hit! I think the topping would lend itself to any array of fruits and berries. Perhaps look to see what you have and create your own crisp for the holiday weekend. Let me know what combination you discover!
Ingredients for the Filling ~
2 pounds (about 5.5 cups) strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 pounds (about 3 mangoes) fresh mangoes, chopped*
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
3 tablespoons coconut sugar (or granulated sugar of your choice)
1.5 tablespoons lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Ingredients for the Topping ~
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup almonds, thinly sliced**
1/3 cup almond meal or almond flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 2 liter baking dish or casserole dish with non-stick spray.
2) In a medium bowl, delicately mix the fruit and sprinkle the arrowroot powder atop. Stir to combine.
3) In a small bowl, combine the sugar and lime zest, working the zest into the sugar with your fingers. This will help bring out the lime in the sugar. Add to the fruit and toss well. Then drizzle the lime juice in and toss again. Spread the fruit mixture in the prepared baking dish and set aside.
4) In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: oats through sea salt.
5) Using a microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup, melt the coconut oil and allow to cool. Add the maple syrup in and stir. Pour this mixture over the oat mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
6) Evenly layer the oat mixture atop the fruit, covering completely. Place foil over the pan and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil at that time and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the oat topping is golden brown in color and the fruit is bubbling.
7) Allow to cool. Serve with fresh whipped cream, a scoop of real vanilla ice cream or alternative of your choice. Crisp can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
*There was only one malfunction. It was an operator malfunction. I didn’t know how to cut the mango and after consulting a few youtube videos, I still confess that I need a bit of practice. Thankfully, a crisp is rustic by nature and doesn’t rely on precise cuts of fruit for an attractive display.
**I used Trader Joe’s thin sliced honey roasted almonds. How could I resist? I’m sure they elevated the crisp flavors even more.
By now, you all know that I’m on a mission to clean my kitchen. Operation Cupboard Cleanse as I have coined it. Well, in my mission, I had to face some difficult truths about myself. For some, you may be intrigued by the latest and greatest, if not impractical, kitchen gadget like a cherry pit remover that allows you to remove not one pit but multiples pits at one time. Ooo… As cool as that may sound (insert sarcasm), I have yet to use it more than the one time a recipe called for fresh cherries. But, I’m not actually of that sort. Thankfully, the cherry pit remover was my one and only gadget affair.
Instead, I’m an absolute sucker for the latest healthy ingredient. And it is made worse by the fact that the geniuses at Costco are as “up” on these healthy ingredients as the consumer so they cater to my type in large quantities. You may wonder why I’m explaining all of this to you. Well, I’m now finding that I’m three and a half weeks away from moving and I have a 28 ounce bag (random size, don’t you think?) of hemp seeds that I need to use for all its’ health properties. (What’s made more comical or frustrating depending on how you choose to view it, is that I can’t allow my husband to try any of the tasty recipes I have found – thanks to Pinterest – because he is a military officer and he is prohibited from eating hemp seeds because they affect the results of the random drug tests.) So, I’m left to use my Dad and the boys as taste testers.
In my quest to eat up the hemp seeds, I have made Chocolate Coconut Hemp Milkshakes for the boys (so delicious), Raw Fudge Brownies (Umm…yeah, no) and these Hemp Seed Chia Coconut Breakfast Cookies.
If you haven’t read or heard the praises of hemp seeds, let me be the first. Much like flaxseeds, chia seeds or other raw natural seeds, hemp seeds have an abundance of nutrients. A high protein-rich seed, it is considered easily digestible making it a desirable substitute for whey and other proteins that may cause bloating in some It has a high percentage of the simple proteins essential in strengthening one’s immune system and also contains all 20 amino acids ~ 9 of which our body cannot produce on its’ own. They are an excellent source of omega 3s and omega 6s and are highly versatile in recipes. While commonly used as a topping on salads, entrees or oatmeal, they are wonderful in smoothies and, as shared below, offer a unique texture to baked goods.
While I couldn’t resist trying these cookies – largely due to simplicity and that the recipe enabled me to use up two more ingredients in my cupboard – check and check – I could see how hemp seeds would be most tasty in quick breads and muffins. Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting too much when I made these. The three eggs seemed a bit excessive and I was afraid the baked cookie may taste “eggy” but I was wrong. These cookies FAR exceeded my expectation. They were soooo tasty. And the texture was completely unexpected. They were more like the bite of a tea cookie but unlike shortbread. Rather they were soft at first bite and then you discovered this crunch from the chia seed and the chew from the moist coconut. My father really enjoyed them. While I would likely pair back on the eggs next time, I would consider adding a bit of lemon zest for a twist. They are great with a cup of tea ~ delicate in appearance but satisfying in each bite.
Hemp Seed Chia Coconut Breakfast Cookies*
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup finely shredded coconut (I opted for larger shreds for texture)
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup erythritol (like Truvia Baking Blend) or maple syrup
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
2) Using a small cookie scooper (or larger depending on desired size of cookie), scoop cookie dough and roll into balls.
3) Flatten the balls into desired size on baking sheet, as the coconut flour will prevent them from spreading otherwise.
4) Bake for 15 minutes.
*Makes 20 small snack-size cookies or 10 large breakfast-size cookies
**Three eggs seemed to be a bit much for the small amount of dough. I’d like to experiment with other replacements for the egg as a binder. Please lend me ideas on replacements. Thinking flax meal eggs may work.
Ok. I have to admit it. I have not been inspired as of late to write. Usually, this would throw me into a frenzy and I would stress out and anxiety would ensue. But, I have been using our impending move as a rational for simply being lazy. And it truly is an excuse of sorts – at least on the actual physical placing fingers to keyboard – piece. I’m not in a frenzy to pack (our movers will do that for us) and I actually have been weeding through our things for over a year now. I just simply didn’t have anything to say. I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired and dull. As I recounted this to my friend, I realized that perhaps I’m simply not writing because that would make this move more realistic. It would give it legs and then the days would simply fly by faster. Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited for our move in many ways – among them being closer to family and old friends. But, at the same time, I’m having to say goodbye to my neighbors, friends and only school community my family has known. Well, that just makes me well up with tears. And, I am not a crier!
I would have continued to live in denial – happily, but everyone started acknowledging our “last time this” and “our last time that”. Just today, in fact, my hairdresser went to schedule me for my next 7 week appointment and said, “Oh. You’re leaving me.” Ugh! And, my neighbors are hosting our going away party this Saturday afternoon. If that isn’t a final acknowledgement, I don’t know what is! So, finally noting the warning, I decided to do what I do best ~ all the while being in denial. I created another goal for myself….Operation Cupboard Cleanse. While this could seem like a major task, I’m turning it into a game. So, I’m taking on the job of emptying out my baking pantry one-quarter bag of spelt flour and one-third cup of cinnamon chips at at time. Warning: I may be offering some seemingly unseasonal and “kitchen-sink” type treats, but I promise it will be fun. Please join me as I may just have some questions as to what I can bake with cacao nibs and caramel bites?!
Thankfully, before you click on another, more appetizing blog site, I can offer you these deliciously healthy, Maple Nut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Kate of the mouth-watering, Cookie+Kate food blog. She offers healthful, vegetarian recipes that are divine. I have never made a recipe of her’s that wasn’t a hit! One morning over a quiet cup of coffee, I urge you to visit her site. Or, if you are trusting, simply make these cookies. They are packed full of oats (one more canister used up – CHECK!), loaded with a healthy source of protein and fat, naturally sweetened with maple syrup (one more bottle recycled – CHECK!) and speckled with chocolate chips (steadily chipping away at my stock, no pun intended!). Seriously, I had to freeze the remainder of the batter, because I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are so deceptively healthy that you could easily pack them for your kid’s school lunch or your post-workout. If you made them larger, I bet they’d be great as a breakfast cookie. Yum!
2/3 cup all-natural nut butter (I used almond butter)
2/3 cup real maple syrup, preferably Grade B
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 tablespoons), melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 and 1/4 cup oat flour (see notes)
1 and 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups (12 ounces) semi sweet chocolate chips
1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2) Following Kate’s great advice, use a 2-cup glass measuring cup (like Pyrex) to measure out the nut butter and syrup. Note: I find it helpful to first spray the inside of the cup with non-stick spray so the nut butter and syrup pour right out. Then, add the nut butter to the 2/3 cup line, then pour the maple syrup in until the ingredients reach the 1 and 1/3 cup line.
3) In a medium size mixing bowl, pour the nut butter and syrup. Then add the melted butter and whisk until blended. Add in the egg and whisk thoroughly. Add in the vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt and whisk until fully incorporated.
4) Using a wooden spoon or large spatula, add the oat flour, rolled oats and chocolate chips. Stir well.
5) Using two teaspoons or a small cookie scooper, drop the dough by tablespoon onto baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, until just appearing golden brown along the edges. Remove pan and allow cookies to completely cool on baking sheet.
~ Oat flour can be made by grinding old fashioned rolled oats in a food processor or blender for about 30 seconds.
So, I have finally succumbed to a harsh truth. My pants ~ my beloved Paige jeans, my first pair of designer pants, don’t fit. You may ask what this has to do with pancakes. Well, it doesn’t really. But, I would never deprive you of a healthy and delicious recipe. And, I guarantee you that it will only help you slide into your favorite jeans. So, trust me for the moment and hear my tale. (Or save yourself, and scroll down to the recipe at the bottom. Either way, I won’t judge.)
Anyhow, to recap, my jeans don’t fit. You must understand. I bought these right before I became pregnant with my second child almost 6 years ago and parting with the money was only made easier by the sheer confidence I felt in them. Of course, I never got to enjoy them solidly before having my child, but it served as extra motivation to tone up quickly following his delivery. And, I did ~ relishing in that confidence once again…for a bit.
Then as I neared 40 my body started to shift. Have you experienced this? Come on, it’s ok to admit. We are friends here after all. The shift was subtle at first. Just a bit of skin peeked above my waistband. Then, my legs became a bit thicker, which prompted a change in my workout regimen. That fixed the problem for a bit. In fact, I had hung them from a hanger and positioned them squarely in view for motivation. And it worked. I leaned down and rejoiced in rocking my jeans once again.
Then, lastly my butt grew (or maybe just shifted due to gravity?) so that the jeans no longer flattered my backend. Hell, they simply wouldn’t even slide up over without grabbing the sides with both hands and jumping up and down like a mad woman. Soon, the same jeans that successfully motivated me ~ positively challenged me ~ mocked me. I began to feel worse for their presence. So, I did what I do best. I got angry. I got angry for letting mere denim diminish my sense of self. Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd. I decided to channel that anger for the good and headed to Nordstrom for a new pair of Paige jeans. I decided I deserved to feel good. And, funny enough, within seconds I did. I mentioned to the stylist that I needed to buy one size up and she immediately said, “Well, that’s not an issue. There isn’t much of a difference between sizes.” She had a point, so I took a deep breath and headed to the dressing room. Despite what she said, there was a difference. The difference was in my outlook. I slid the jeans right on and it made me feel just as before. I was renewed and empowered! I only had one thing left to do. I went directly home and took down my jeans. For those of you wondering what happened to those beloved jeans. I folded them up and tucked them away. In full disclosure, as I’m sure you noted when you saw the photo, this wasn’t exactly difficult to do since the jeans were bootcut and it is 2014.
By gifting myself better fitting jeans for the moment, I was granting myself some leeway. I was being kind. I wasn’t giving up on my goals to be fit or healthy. Inherently, I still strive and live by those standards. But, my wise cousin once explained that she owned a few sizes to accommodate just those fluctuations. In her brilliant mind, she reasoned that you should never feel uncomfortable or unsexy simply because you are up a few pounds one week and down a few the next. Did I mention, she was and is brilliant?! Admittedly, it took me a few years to embrace her approach, but now I see the real value. I take heart knowing I don’t wish to constrain myself to one number. I simply wish to be happy in my own skin. And, these protein pancakes will do just that! I make these almost every day of the week. To say I love them is an understatement. And they have a huge following with the Tone It Up community that I have mentioned many a times. There are many variations and this one below is just my latest creation. It uses Tone It Up’s Perfect Fit Protein powder (my favorite) that is organic, vegan and gluten free. It is made from organic brown rice and subtly sweetened with stevia. I am not sponsored by Tone It Up to promote their products in any way. I am simply one of their genuine supporters. It is these pancakes and their amazing workouts that helped me rock those jeans more than once.
Perfect Fit Protein Pancakes
1 scoop Perfect Fit protein powder (or any favorite protein powder of your choice)
1/2 of a banana, mashed to a puree consistency
1/4 to 1/3 egg whites
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoon of almond milk
1) Using a whisk (mini-whisk or fork is easiest), mix all ingredients in a bowl or glass pyrex measuring cup.
2) Heat a non-stick pan on low heat (important to keep it low). Coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray, and pour the batter into the pan.
3) Using patience, cook the pancake slowly for about 4 minutes before flipping. Cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Transfer to plate.
4) Serve with a variety of toppings, including real maple syrup, powdered stevia, or even a smear of nut butter. Add fresh fruit like blueberries, blackberries, pineapple or pureed raspberries. Sprinkle nuts and/or coconut as a garnish on top. Enjoy!
Note: You can make several silver dollar size pancakes or simply cook one large one as I do. I figure the greater surface area accommodates my toppings better!
Recipe courtesy of ToneItUp
You may recall that my last post revealed my efforts to regain traction with my daily schedule. Well, I did manage to post two admittedly delayed blogs, it was in lieu of publishing an on-time shout-out to Easter. And, since my offering, was Easter specific, it appears in hindsight I should have prioritized differently. Hindsight always illuminates the obvious, doesn’t it?!
I had been reminiscing about my childhood Easter gatherings at my childhood best friend’s home. Her Mom, Mary, always made every holiday the best and brightest! I fondly recalled her Easter Bunny Cake and found the exact cake on Pinterest. I was immediately transported back to their home. You should have seen how giddy I was. While Mary’s had all the fixins’ for a kid ~ complete with jelly beans for the eyes and nose, I chose a more demure little bunny for my pictures. I just couldn’t resist. It was so cute!
Well, I was very eager to share and inspire you to make this, adorable beyond words, Coconut Bunny Cake from Jenny of Everyday Occasions for your family, but fell short on that end. I did however make it in time for my family and guests to taste test for you. And, my husband managed to photograph it for you before the massacre began. (My Dad said there was something eerie about inviting the children to gather around ~ in eager anticipation of the delicious cake ~ to watch us slice the heck out of the adorable baby bunny.)
I wanted to appeal to all the children, so I chose to make my favorite yellow layer cake. I do have a favorite coconut cake that would have been perfect, so please ask me for it and I will gladly share! I was extra thankful for this project because I have found discrepancies in many a cream cheese frosting recipes. Have you had the same issue? Through trial and error, I found one with the right consistency ~ stiff enough to decorate with, and not too sweet. I like mine with a subtle tanginess to it. I must say that this may become the staple cake for our Easter gatherings going forward. I just wish I had started making it sooner!
The cake is made of one round cake layer. To construct it, please visit Jenny’s site for precise photos of the directions. While it is very simple, I still forfeited the knife to my engineer husband for precise tail creation.
I had difficulty with Jenny’s cream cheese icing recipe. While her recipe appears similar to most, I found it was too liquidy or soupy. I wondered if perhaps my butter and cream cheese were too warm. Thoughts? Anyhow, I opted to try one from my cache of recipe cards that serve as placeholders in other cookbooks. It was handwritten on an index card with no reference. I believe it was passed along from my Mom’s roommate, Bonnie. It offered the perfect consistency so I must acknowledge her. This one does not contain butter, which I all too happy to forfeit as it offsets the ample amount in the cake! If you have a tried and true recipe yourself, please share!
Cream Cheese Icing
2 blocks (8oz each) cream cheese
1 cup of powdered sugar
1/4 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla
Zest of lemon
1. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.
2. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
3. Add milk and vanilla and incorporate well.
4. Fold in lemon zest.
~ I chose to use my favorite yellow layer cake. If wishing to make only one bunny, which is more than enough for an Easter gathering, simply halve the recipe. If choosing to use Jenny’s recipe, also be sure to halve the recipe also.
~ I used 1/3 less fat cream cheese, referred to as Neufchatel.
Today is my niece’s First Birthday. A special day indeed. The most amazing think about these milestones is that we have all had one and yet none of us remember it. Instead, we must leave the sentiment to our parents, grandparents, siblings (if they are willing to admit loving us) and other relations. We must rely on old photos and stories to retell that special day.
So, hopefully, in my own words, I too can acknowledge dear Rose’s 1st Birthday. I consider myself so fortunate that I was here for her first day. Her Mom and Dad were living out here, also away from their family, but close to us. While she won’t remember locking eyes with me, I won’t forget it. (And I’ll be sure to remind her in years to come!) Sadly, she moved before she was 6 months old so I have missed so many physical and verbal milestones already. I just take heart that when we move, we will once again get to enjoy her life.
For now, I get to love her photos and enjoy here babbling on the phone. And, in acknowledgement of her sweet presence, I can bake her a birthday cake. This healthy Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting ~ one birthday cake worthy of a one year old’s taste buds but still appreciated by her family members. Her cousins can eat it in her honor and I can document it for her to view along with all of her parents and grandparents pictures and stories of her special day. Happy Birthday little Rosie Posie.
Baby’s First Birthday Banana Cake
Makes one 8″ or one two-layer 6″ Smash Cake
1 and 1/2 oat flour (simply pulse oats in a food processor to a fine powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
1 cup granulated sugar (I used 2/3 cup of coconut sugar)*
1/4 cup coconut oil (or canola oil)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large bananas, mashed
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1) Preheat oven to 335 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of an 8-inch or 6-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour through nutmeg until well blended.
3) In a medium bowl or stand mixer, whip together the sugar through applesauce. Add in the banana and then the coconut. Continue to mix until well incorporated. Gradually add the flour mixture in and stir well.
4) Pour batter into the 8″ pan or divide among two 6″ pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes for 8″ pan and 20-25 minutes for 6″ pan. Remove from oven when inserted toothpicks come out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.
5) Ice or decorate as desired and delight in retelling stories for years to come!
Cream Cheese Icing
8 oz 1/3 less fat (Neufatal) cream cheese
1/2-2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbl-1/4 cup milk
Whip the cream cheese and powdered sugar together. Add vanilla and blend well. If desired, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk for a thinner consistency. Add 1-2 more tablespoons if desired.
Banana puree adds such a lovely sweetness to the cake that I felt it needed very little sugar, and granulated at that. I figured with the wholesome oat flour and warm cinnamon/nutmeg combination, brown or coconut (palm) sugar would add the appropriate caramelized touch to the banana. Also, the original recipe used a cream cheese frosting sweetened with honey. In truth, my family did not care for the flavor so I simply sought to lessen the sugar in an original cream cheese icing recipe and use less icing to adorn the cake. I figured it was a win-win.
Oh boy, where have I been?! I knew that I had taken a reprieve for the kiddos Spring Break, but I was shocked when I looked at the date of my last post. It seems like I took the week off before Spring Break to prepare for our trip and then took the week off following to settle back in from the trip. I’m confident that you all know how this goes… Mom cleans the home before the trip so she can return to a neat, uncluttered home, packs for the kiddos and herself, and then scrambles to grocery shop, etc. upon return. That must be where all my energy was directed. Phew!
I take great heart in the realization that my blog wasn’t one of the dreaded responsibilities hanging over my head. In fact, I couldn’t wait for that blissful, but rare, reprieve to sit and share with you. I even accepted that it was okay if that “time” didn’t occur as I had committed to in my head. You see, in one of my frenzied moments where I felt I wasn’t doing more with the blog or taking efforts to reach a greater potential, a wise person recommended that I need to just let it be what it needs to be [in my life] for the moment. It was the best advice I could have received. She said that in time it would evolve as I (and rather my time commitments) did. It was then that I realized that my blog was a sanctuary of sorts in my otherwise hectic life. To scramble to make more of it would only enfold it into the other chaos. There it would not be the same – and I would no longer yearn to return to it. So…I just will let it be what it needs to be and I hope that it will continue to bring you joy as well.
I feel I have so much to share, but perhaps I will let this above message say it all. As you may recall, we are moving to the Washington, DC Metro area. We flew there for Spring Break to introduce the children to the area and register them for school. It was a wonderful trip and I am so thankful that our boys are so flexible. They appear, for now, to be embracing the move as an adventure. I realized that as adults we could learn a lot from the flexibility of children.
Along these lines, I’ve been focusing hard on my workouts. For a bit, I decided, like the blog, to let it be what it needs to be. Taking the pressure off myself, I gradually got back on the rails. Once I found my physical momentum again, I decided I needed a destination. So, my sweet friend, Sonia, someone I really look up too, asked if I’d consider running the See Jane Run Half Marathon in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am so touched that Sonia would consider me as a running partner and I feel a strong connection to do this ~ as a way to solidify our friendship across the miles, as a way to bid farewell to my beloved San Francisco, a city near and dear to my heart, and as a way to love myself.
I waited to share this with you all as I was afraid to disappoint Sonia, you and myself. You see, I have had a couple of knee surgeries and several injuries and have been told by more specialists that I can count that running is not a recommended sport for me. Sonia has been so supportive and delayed our registration so I could test the long run days (LSDs) to see how I fare. I’m happy to say that so far, with lots of thoughtful stretching, foam rolling and yoga, I have been doing well. Here we are this past weekend on a 6 miler! My Mom lovingly reminded me that if I can do six miles, then I can easily double it. Leave it to Moms to overstate their own child’s potential all in the name of love and support!
The beauty of this training hasn’t been in my renewed physical strength (although that has been great!), but in the new opportunities to spend with my friends. While in Virginia, I followed my once fiercest workout partner, and far faster runner than I, around Lake Accotink. Had I realized then that this was the location of many of her notable snake encounters, I probably would have bailed, But it was a great run to just be with her. Here are our shadows on the lake following the 5 miler.
And, today, unexpectedly, I found my dear friend/runner, Gail, was heading in the same direction as I was for her daily run following school drop-off. We decided to run for a bit together. It made my run and set the tone for my day! I just wish I had a photo to document it!
In all of this, I have learned something profound in the process. I have learned that I’m completely ok if I find running a half-marathon isn’t for me. I have nothing to prove physically anymore. I have a new found acceptance and contentment in knowing that the process is just as important then reaching the finish line. In fact, the process may be the most special outcome of this as I spend precious time with my soon-to-be miles away friends. This is why I decided to share my goal with all of you. I do hope you are willing to join me on my journey and snack with me!
In honor of the stamina required for everyday life, I decided to try David Lebovitz’s No-Bake Granola Bars. The bars are chock full of good-for-you ingredients. Oats, nuts and seeds, dates and dried fruits bound together by sunflower seed butter and honey. That simple and wholesome! Oh, did I mention there is a bit of dark chocolate? Did I need to?! The process is as simple as the ingredients and the net result is delicious! Just the perfect touch of sweetness from the dates and cherries, which offer a soft, chewy texture. Truthfully, I’m hankering for one now as I type!
If you are unfamiliar with David, he honed his skills working alongside the Executive Pastry Chef at Chez Panisse before moving along to new adventures, which is a fine stamp of approval as is. However, I came to appreciate him through his blog and books. I urge you to explore them yourself! After reading a few of his blog posts ~ he is quite self-effacing and his adventures in Europe both make you drool and wince ~ I bought The Sweet Life in Paris and I couldn’t put it down. A quick and enjoyable read about discovering oneself – and all of your admittedly embarrassing American traits – while living in the heart of Paris. A joy! The bonus is his love and knowledge of food ~ especially chocolate. (I promise that I will post his recipe for the Absolute Best Brownies. I made them for neighbors one Christmas and kept receiving requests for more!)
For all your patience in reading this lengthier post today, I reward you with one of the worthiest recipes. I sincerely think you’ll be impressed!
Makes 12-16 bars
1 1/2 cups (150g) rolled oats
1/4 cup (45g) sesame seeds
1/2 cup (60g) whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (75g) roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped*
1 cup (125g) dates, pitted and diced
1/3 cup (50g) dark chocolate chips*
1/3 cup (35g) dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (65g) smooth natural peanut butter, or sunflower seed butter*
1/4 cup (80g) honey
pinch of salt
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2) Combine the oats and sesame seeds and spread in one thin layer on a baking sheets. Toast for 10-12 minutes until slightly browned. Pour into a large bowl and then toast the almonds for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool and coarsely chop and add to the oat mixture.
3) Add the peanuts, dates, chips and dried cherries and mix thoroughly.
4) On low, heat the peanut butter, salt and honey. Stir until just warmed and smooth. Allow to cool slightly then pour over oat mixture and stir thoroughly. At some point, place your spatula down and use your hands to do the dirty work.
5) Scrape the mixture into the pan and press down to evenly and compactly spread the mixture. Freeze the bars for 30 minutes. Then remove and slice into bars.
I used the following substitutions with no affect on the recipe. Scrumptious with every bite! I opted to substitute cashews for peanuts only because that is what I had on hand. I also used sunflower seed butter in place of peanut butter.