Life’s Real Sweetness

If this post seems caffeine-induced, that’s probably because it is.

With the early shift at the coffee shop, keeping up with schoolwork, and trying to train for a relay marathon at the end of the month, coffee has felt like a necessity. A delicious, energizing necessity.

In the midst of craziness, there has been time for sweetness.

Un-contrived, mostly unplanned moments that make life sparkle with meaning and joy. Here’s a little glimpse…

We’ve been soaking up the warm sun this past week by spending evenings at the park…

Workouts that leave me like this make me happy and energized all day

My little sister turned eighteen almost a month ago and I still can’t believe it.

And then, I turned twenty myself. 

There is something about reaching a milestone of maturity and yet feeling so far from it that makes you realize how very precious this life is.

All I wanted to do my birthday weekend was go on long adventurous hikes with my family.

Simple, everyday moments. So natural and yet so special. Life in its real sweetness.

If we don’t grab on to it now, it will slip our grasp.

It’s Day 22 of my fast of processed and packaged foods. To be perfectly honest, there have been a few cheat days. But on those days, the little treats that snuck in have been exactly that — treats and not habits. That is exactly how I want to feel toward sweets — special on the occasion but not necessary every day.

I’ve been experimenting with satisfying my sweet tooth naturally. Do you know what I’ve discovered? It’s just like the simple gifts of life — it’s the real, un-contrived foods that give sweetness at its best. Sweetness you can feel good about.

I made these cookies on the afternoon of my twentieth birthday. I wanted to celebrate without compromising my Real Food challenge. So I opened the fridge and pantry cupboards and began pulling out an army of ingredients.

These were totally unplanned and had great potential for failure. No sugar, no flour, no butter or oil, no egg, no recipe. My chances of producing something edible were mighty slim, but I think it was the excitement of embarking on a new decade that gave me courage.

Surprise of all surprises — they worked. And they were delicious. 

So delicious in fact, Jenny couldn’t keep her hands off of them.

“These are the best things you ever made. Seriously. I think turning twenty has made you a really good cook.”

I really had no idea how to interpret that so I just kept munching and smiled. She has no idea she basically consumed a day’s worth of vegetables and whole grains in the four cookies she ate.

It’s the natural, bite-sized moments in life that are the sweetest.

 Carrot Cake Apple Bites

~ makes 12 cookies

Ingredients

  •  1/3  c. buckwheat flour
  • 1/3 c. oat flour
  •  ¼ t. salt
  •  ½ t. cinnamon
  •  ½ t. baking powder
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  •  ¾ c. grated apple
  •  ½ c. grated carrots
  •  2 T. almond milk
  • ¼ c. shredded coconut
  • ½ c. chopped apple
  • 1/3 c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. chopped pecans (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • To make buckwheat flour and oat flour: process raw buckwheat groats/raw oats in a food processor or blender until a fine, flour-like texture
  • In a large bowl, combine buckwheat flour, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and rolled oats.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together honey and vanilla. Stir in the grated apple and carrots and almond milk.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  • Mix in coconut, chopped apple, and rolled oats.
  • Drop by teaspoonful on to prepared baking sheet. These cookies will not spread out much at all when baking so shape them as you want them to look after baking.
  • Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Nutrition Facts for 1 cookie~ Calories: 83.5, Total Fat: 4.6g (Sat.fat: 2.8g), Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 53.6mg, Potassium 39.5mg, Total Carbohydrate: 11.6g (Dietary Fiber: 3.0g, Sugars 3.6g) Protein: 1.5g.

Cookies for breakfast, anyone?

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When Yummy Things Happen

Adaptability.

I’m working on it (beginning with spelling it).

It’s one of character traits that when you realize you need it, you find all kinds of opportunities to learn it.

Learning that sometimes torrential downpours happen and you find yourself without an umbrella and then means you have to run across campus in your sequined flats and arrive in class resembling a wet rat. And no, the world is not ending.

Learning that on the one free day of the week you hoped to spend with family, everyone else is out of the house. You suddenly have a free whole day for studying.

Learning that even when you have whole days blocked up for studying, that never really happens. Because other important things come up. Like baking.

Learning that as soon as you find one good excuse to bake (those apples in the fridge are getting mealy), there come along three other necessary events to bake for that weekend (thirty+ guests, a neighborhood party, a friend’s 90th birthday). This means you need to triple your recipe. And go to the store for more apples. And you can give up any ideas of studying.

Learning that when sisters watch you bake, you will end up making an entire separate batch with chocolate chips instead of apples and you will become the brunt and punchline of several jokes when you ask the question “What does quirky really mean anyway?”. Never ask that question. But you will also have someone to stir the batter as you wipe flour of your camera so you can arrange and take thirty pictures. That’s normal, right?

Learning that no matter how much they leave you to your textbooks, make fun of you, or call you names (can you be a little more original than Ditzy?), all will be forgotten when they follow a buttery, warm-apple fragrance into the kitchen and sinking their teeth into your creation, offer up mmms and contented sighs that makes your quirky sister heart swell with love.

These bars are one of my favorite recipes because they are endlessly adaptable. The base recipe, adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars, is so versatile and can be taken any way your imagination, mood, occasion, or kitchen pantry dictates. Some of my favorite add-ins have been the toffee chips (follow Mama Pea’s recipe for homemade toffee = amazing!!) with coconut and chocolate chips, fresh blueberries and white chocolate chips, peanut butter and chocolate chips.

This newest creation was inspired by the autumesque weather we’ve been enjoying — Apple Butterscotch Bars. Why have I not baked with butterscotch chips before? Find of the week season.

adding color to a “blank slate”

Apple Butterscotch Bars
(Adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. vegan margarine
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. diced apple
  • 1 c. butterscotch chips
  • 1/3 c. coarse raw sugar (or brown sugar)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a 9×12 pan with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, cream together sugar, margarine and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients gradually into wet mixture until fully combined.
  • Gently fold in apples and butterscotch chips (or other add-ins of your choice).
  • Press mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
  • Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Learning adapplebility adaptability isn’t easy. Sometimes it includes rain-drenching, flour-coating reminders that I am not in control of my life. Squashed sequin flats and late night study sessions will happen, whether I plan them or not, and if I choose by God’s grace, I can surrender my unmet desires, give thanks in all things, rejoice in the abundant life I’ve been given, and eat Apple Butterscotch Bars because somehow I missed lunch.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Parmesan

Growing up in a New York Italian family was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every family gathering there are loud enthusiastic conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and everyone always congregates in the kitchen which always smells spaghetti sauce, roasted peppers, and olive oil. There we stand around the counter, munching drippy mozzarella cheese on toasted bread, cutting huge wheels of Locatelli with guitar strings (well, how would you do it?), popping olives, and making memories.Yes, I pretty much loved growing up.

I never got to know my Italian grandma, but her heritage is still very much alive in her descendants. From the pictures I’ve seen, I know my dad carries her features and that she gave me her dark hair, short legs, and olive skin. My grandpa tells me how they met after the war as he tenderly strokes her picture, and my aunts reminisce about her as they stir a bowl of steaming pasta. And through their stories, I’ve grown to love her.

Last summer, our big Italian family stayed in a huge house at the Outer Banks. There were many loud enthusiastic conversations, lots of exuberant hugging and kissing, and since the sun was scorching out and the ocean freezing cold, everyone congregated in the kitchen.One of my aunts brought along photo albums and Grandma’s recipe box and we all gathered around to relive preserved memories. Fingering through the frail, stain-splattered, well-worn recipes, cookbook pages, and shopping lists written in the faint script of my grandmother was like opening a treasure box. Her instructions for Italian egg-rolls, chamelli cookies and stuffed peppers were connections to my past, little clues into a woman who has passed on to me her love of family and food.

When I started to eat healthier, I did not want to give up the foods I grew up eating, that are so tied in with my ancestry of Italian deli owners. So I began experimenting, and recreating old favorites while keeping the flavors I loved. Kind of like how each generation changes hairstyles and locations, but maintains the family heritage — no matter how far we grandchildren roam, we still gather for loud conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and memory making in the kitchen.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 6 slices stale wheat bread
  • ¼ c. ground flax seeds, divided
  • ¼ c. sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. wheat germ
  • 2 t. garlic salt
  • 2 t. basil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 2 T. hummus
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • ½ c. tomato sauce (Quick homemade sauce: Sautee tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers in olive oil until very very soft and the juices have leaked)

Cheez sauce: Blend all ingredients until smooth.

  • 1/3 c. hummus
  • ¾ c. silken tofu
  • ½ c. almond milk
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. parsley

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with non stick cooking spray. Prepare Cheez sauce by blending all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a food processor, grind bread, 2 T. flax and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, garlic salt and basil until breadcrumb consistency. Set aside.
  • For binding mixture, blend hummus, milk, and 2 T. flax seed in a blender until smooth.
  • Dip eggplant slices into the hummus mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs. Arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  • In a small casserole dish, arrange half of eggplant in a single (or slightly overlapping) layer. Spread ¼ tomato sauce over eggplant. Then spread  about half of prepared“cheez” sauce over  the sauce. Do one more layer of eggplant, sauce, and “cheez.” Top with sliced tomato, a sprinkle of parsley and oregano, and any left over cheez. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheez is somewhat set and  casserole is warm throughout.

My Italian grandma would have served her eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I ate mine with a salad. But while I was cooking, all the females of our family were in the kitchen together, laughing, spilling breadcrumbs and sneaking spoonfuls of sauce. I thought of my Grandma cooking with her two sisters and four daughters, creating delicious meals as gifts of love for her family. And if she could see me carrying on that tradition, even if I left off the mozzarella and pasta, I think she would be pleased.