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Short and Sweet

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It’s report card season in first grade which means that all of my creative juices and wordsmithing efforts have been going into attempting to encapsulate into a character constricted text box how each of my students has blossomed as a learner, friend, and little person over the past 5 months. But, I resolved to keep my presence known here this year and so I offer you the Cliff’s notes version of a post I have been eagerly waiting to share.

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Banana Maple Almond Butter Oatmeal… caramelized bananas, melty maple almond butter, and winter soul warming oats all combined into one heaping bowl of breakfast divinity. And it comes from Angela of Oh She Glows which pretty much guarantees that it will join your breakfast rotation as quickly as it became a staple in mine.

FG2Though I am confident that the recipe is perfection written as is I have made minor adaptations. My version uses half a banana, swaps Justin’s Maple Almond Butter for the peanut butter, and tops the finished product with only the extra nut butter (the additional banana slices in the photos are purely for show). So take the time you have saved reading this abbreviated post, get the recipe here, and go make yourself this oatmeal now. I’ll respond to all your inevitable comments of gratitude as soon as report cards are complete!

Semi-Sweet Tooth

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I am fearful that my previous post may have sent some of you into diabetic shock and that my reliability ratings took a nosedive amongst those who turn to me for healthful recipe inspiration. But, I return today to redeem myself in the form of a Martha Stoever-ized dessert recipe. Honestly, can you think of any peace offering more genuine a bean based cookie?! I think not.

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I would not classify myself as having a sweet tooth and my food cravings border on bizarre. During a recent visit, my sister, who prefers her fruit in the form of “leather” and her veggies dressed in cheese, gave me the most vehement,  “Are you ****’in  serious?” glare when I proclaimed that I was just “dying for a bowl of oatmeal!” My inclination to not order dessert or politely decline a piece of cake is not indicative of ironclad willpower, but rather of the way that my taste buds have evolved over time. I can honestly say that overly processed, refined sugar laden baked goods just do not hold the same “yum factor” that they once had for my chubby, little kid self.

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But, when a colleague recently offered me a homemade cookie whose ingredient list included black beans, chia seeds, coconut oil, and intense dark chocolate my interest (and salivary glands!) were immediately peaked! As I sunk my teeth into the little pillow of delight I had a total “Now that’s what I’m talking about it!” moment. The flavors in the cookie played perfectly off one another and, though moist, they were so chock full of bits of goodness that they had a chunky, dense texture. I would even dare to go so far as to say that they were decadent!

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While I previously dabbled a bit in the bean based dessert arena (having experimented with black bean brownies on several occasions) the black bean cookie nirvana that I had experienced inspired me to concoct some of my own. While I was lucky enough to get my hands on my colleague’s recipe I aimed for something a bit more “pantry staple” friendly and happened to have a bookmarked recipe that fit the bill. The first go around I followed the recipe exactly as posted on A Couple Cooks.  After scraping the bowl I coyly offered Nick a large spoonful of batter and held my breath several moments before asking “You can’t taste the black beans at all right?” to which he replied “Seriously? There is beans in this?!” Success…the recipe had passed the secret ingredient taste test with flying colors! The second time I made a few ingredient swaps/tweaks/additions to suit my personal preferences. Like a little black dress the coconut oil enhanced the chocolate flavors in all the right ways while the oat flour created a delicate, cake-like texture. As for the addition of the chocolate chips…who doesn’t love the added excitement of finding a hidden morsel of chocolatey goodness in every bite?!

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Overall, these cookies get two enthusiastic thumbs up from my semi-sweet tooth. True, they may not make the cut for next year’s Christmas cookie line-up as I fear that my “consumers” prefer the typical two sticks of butter and pound of sugar cookie profile. But, who said I was looking to share anyway?!

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Double Chocolate Black Bean Cookies

adapted from  A Couple Cooks

yield: 18 cookies

ingredients

  • 15-ounce can cooked black beans (approximately 1½ cups cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond coconut milk)
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup maple syrup (I used only 1/4 cup as I prefer moderate sweetness)
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons oat flour (can sub whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ to 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips (mine were Whole Food’s 365 Brand)

directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Rinse and drain the beans.
  • In the bowl of a food processor, blend the black beans coconut oil, almond butter, almond milk, and maple syrups. Blend until smooth.
  • Add cocoa powder, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and sea salt to the bean mixture. Blend until smooth (the mixture will resemble the consistency of thick brownie batter).
  • Remove bowl from food processor and using a spatula or spoon gently fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.
  • Bake one sheet a time for approximately 10 minutes. The cookies will still feel a bit soft when you remove them, but harden as they cool.
  • Cool slightly and then transfer cookies to a wire rack. Cool completely.

Store cookies in the refrigerator (I have also had success with freezing them).

Cookie Queen

One of my favorite holiday memories is of my mother’s annual cookie baking. For weeks leading up to Christmas the sweet aroma of warm sugar wafted through our house as she baked batch after batch of goodies. The line-up was a predictable one consisting of recipes she had perfected over the years… sugar cookies, spritz butter cookies, magic bars, polvorones, toffee bars, and bird’s nests cookies. By the dozen she would place them in her collection of mismatched, decorative holiday tins and and then store them in the perfectly chilled uninsulated coat closet in our living room. In true mom style she strategically placed them on the top shelf where they were far out of reach of chubby little hands. As Christmas approached she would retrieve the cookie loot and with an eye for aesthetics carefully divvy them up into foil loaf pans. They were then adorned with festively foiled Hershey Kisses, wrapped in plastic, and tied with one of her signature scissor curled ribbons. The packages were proudly delivered to our teachers, bus drivers, mail carriers, dance teachers, coaches, etc. with plenty of leftovers set aside for our own family gatherings. Through my little girl eye’s there was nothing that signified my mother’s domesticated prowess more than her annual cookie creations.

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About 5 years ago, I was given a trial run at taking over as the official family holiday cookie baker. My mom was now a full time working mother who, along with my father, spent her winter weekends shuttling my 9 year old brother to and from ice hockey games, birthday parties, and play dates or making the trek upstate to support my sister’s collegiate hockey career. I was a first year teacher, newly in love, still living at home, and itching to prove my potential as a homemaker. I offered to do the baking that year and my mother (not so reluctantly) agreed. That year I scoured every “25 Days of Cookies” countdown I could find and eagerly printed a binder full of recipes. One weekend, I even traveled to Nick’s house with my mom’s KitchenAid mixer and baking sheets in tow in anticipation of being snowed in for the weekend. I baked dozens upon dozens of cookies and with each half used bag of coconut flakes or barely touched jar of jam I went in search of another recipe so as not to leave any ingredient left behind. I baked myself into exhaustion that Christmas, but earned myself the Cookie Queen title (and the William Sonoma 12 Days of Christmas apron to prove it!)

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Each year since my baking extravaganza has commenced in mid-December and in a whirlwind of confectioner’s sugar, creamed butter and eggs, and floury haze it continues through to Christmas Eve when with burn-marked hands and a rapid pulse I hastily package the goodies to present to my expectant family members at that evening’s annual soiree. I have a core group of recipes that have earned themselves a spot in the annual rotation, but always include some newbies as well. In an effort to satiate everyone’s sweet tooth and personal palate I try to vary my selections and include a balance of chocolatey, fruity, gooey, crunchy, decadent, and plain. In aspiring to emulate the nostalgia of my mom’s cookie bundles I even dotted my own packages with Hershey Kisses for the first couple of years. I have since abandoned the chocolates and still cannot hold a candle to her ribbon curling skills, but I think I’ve done my mom (and my 6 year old self) proud.

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Below is this year’s Christmas Cookie Roundup. Though most of us have moved beyond holiday baking into resolution mode it’s never too early to start bookmarking for next year! And although all of these recipes fly in the face of everything I practice and preach about healthy lifestyle choices, I do make exceptions for nostalgic and celebratory purposes and *spoiler alert* promise to provide a Martha Stoever-ized cookie recipe in my next post!

2012 Christmas Cookie Roundup

 chocolate peppermint

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies (The Food Network)

Chocolate Turtle Cookies

Chocolate Turtle Cookies (Pixelated Crumb)

Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies (Joy of Baking)

"Perfect" Chocolate Chip Cookies

“Perfect” Chocolate Chip Cookies (The Apron Archives)

Rugelach

Rugelach (Ina Garten)

Triple Ginger Cookies

Triple Ginger Cookies (Bon Appétit)

lemon ricotta

Lemon Ricotta Cookies (Giada De Laurentiis) 

Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies (Martha Stewart)

Linzer Cookies

Linzer Cookies (Gourmet)

Not Pictured: Jam Thumbprint Cookies (Ina Garten)

 

Reflect, Renew, Revive – Part III

Revelation #3: Hypocrisy 

I am a hypocrite. I spend 6 hours a day encouraging children to face challenges, take risks, persevere through struggles… oh and most importantly keep a smile on their face and positive attitude while they do it. Anyone who has any recollection of how difficult and disheartening it was to learn how to read or to conquer the ridiculously inane rules of the English language can sympathize with my first graders. Add to these uphill battles the weight of developmental differences and you now have the kid struggling to remember what letter makes what sound sitting across the table from the kid writing a captivating ten page realistic fiction story. Every day mantras such as “Mistakes are proof that you are trying” and “Each person’s “best” is different” and “With practice comes progress” are lovingly and honestly bestowed upon my students. And yet, I will avoid writing a post because I don’t have a riveting story to tell or will make the choice not to share a recipe because I couldn’t capture a single photograph that met my self-imposed blog-worthy criteria. I will likely never be the kind of blogger who earns a profit, offers cool giveaways, and is sent complimentary items from major brands. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t hone my culinary skills, refine my writing, and learn how to capture a breathtaking photograph. It is time to practice what I preach, put my ego aside, and compromise with perfection.

Recipe #3: Spicy Smoked Maple Tofu

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Not long after my ode to breakfast post, I dedicated a subsequent post to lunches. In particular, the obstacles that get in my way of eating (and enjoying!) “exciting”, healthful  lunches while at school. In that post I featured a recipe for a Tofu-Edamame Salad that was my obsession at the time. I am back to the reality of lunchtime as a first grade teacher, but haven’t ventured far from my favorite summertime lunch. My newest “go to” lunch is Spicy Smoked Maple Tofu bites. The maple syrup and rice vinegar create an irresistible flavor combination while the nutritional profile of the tofu satisfies my mid-day meal needs. I like to take a few of these delectable little nuggets along with some bite-size raw veggies and rice crackers for a well-balanced meal that satisfies my hunger along with my “no utensil” clause.

The recipe can be found at Edible Perspective. Even more impressive than the tofu is the photography on this site! Prepare for mouth-watering.

Reflect, Renew, Revive – Part II

Revelation #2: Me, Me, Me

As much as I value my blogging audience (see previous post), this blog was really supposed to be for me. As terribly selfish as that sounds, I do believe that in order to take care of others you must take care of yourself. After all, the foundation that this blog is built upon (a belief in the power of healthful actions) is essentially one of self-service. Fuel yourself with wholesome foods, make time for yourself to exercise, etc. Of course, the energy and positivity that result from these actions will inevitably have a ripple effect on your social interactions and relationships thus benefiting others as well. Although it may not always be “all about you” it does “start with you.” The notion of putting myself first is one that I, like many, struggle with. In particular, I have a difficult time putting my professional life behind my personal life. Though it does not always come easily or without times when I falter, I do make a conscious effort to put my husband, my family, and my health first. What continues to get pushed farther behind are hobbies and interests. Particularly those that do not serve a clear and immediate purpose. As desperately as I want to unpack the mountain of boxes still living in our attic since our September move, I simply can’t justify giving up a weekend day when I could be planning lessons, reading up on behavioral/academic interventions, reviewing assessment data, etc. Sadly, same goes for blogging. Right this moment I am having heart palpitations sitting here writing this post as I  keep thinking about the list of “more important” things I need to be doing. To be honest, the only reason I am even writing this post is because I was given the gift of an unexpected snow day so essentially I am using up “bonus” time in my day. Blogging was supposed to be an exercise in loosening my grip on the control reigns of my professional life and putting myself first. Thus far, I have not been successful in this challenge. If anything it has only made my inability to “loosen up” even more glaringly obvious. But, being aware is the first step in making progress and I hope that in recommitting myself I will begin to make strides in the right direction (right after I go run a few miles, e-mail a bunch of parents, join a few more committees, stay at school till 7pm, and make it home just in time to put a warm, nutritious meal on the table).

Recipe #2: Cinnamon Bun Granola

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So I may not have totally crawled out of the yogurt for breakfast rut. It still sneaks its way into my lunchbox at least 2 days a week. But, with this granola peering at me from the cabinet I really can’t be blamed. I am a lover of all things cereal (an ode to cereal post may be in my future) and find it a suitable meal/snack for any and every time of day. I’ve read and heard it all about sugar-laced granolas, but had struggled to find a satisfactory homemade alternative to the store-bought varieties. That is until I stumbled upon this recipe from Kath Eats Real Food. The secret ingredient: buckwheat groats! Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better this gem of recipe appeared on Oh She Glows. I have made sure to have this granola in stock at all times since I first indulged back in October. Sure, it still has its share of sugar (coming in the form of unrefined sources such as real maple syrup and dates), but a little touch of sweetness in the morning isn’t always a terrible thing. Complimented by the crunch of the buckwheat groats it is perfection. Be sure to have your have your quarter cup measurer on hand and divvy up the goodness in advance because this granola is totally addictive! I recommend enjoying the granola while sipping coffee and browsing Kath Eats Real Food and Oh She Glows. They are two of my favorite blogs… both creative and inspirational. The type of people you tell your husband stories about to which he responds “Wait, do you know this person or is this one of those bloggers you stalk?”

Reflect, Renew, Revive – Part I

Right before the new year WordPress e-mailed me my annual report for Martha Stoever. They politely applauded me on my blogging successes in 2012 toting my 19 posts as “not bad  for the first year!” Their electronically generated canned comments, though a well-intentioned virtual pat on the back, did little for sugar coating the actual statistics listed in the report. I had just shy of 4,000 views in total for the year (the average food blogger get thousands each month), I have a mere 26 followers and my top commenters were my mom and my aunts. I turned to my Facebook page in hopes of some encouraging news there, but it did little to soften the blow as the stats box there showed a lowly 33 likes. No wonder my blogging hiatus since September had not raised any red flags!

These reports only confirmed what I had assumed all along. My blog is the equivalent of a shy, awkward middle schooler. Not so pitiful that it elicited taunting comments, but meek enough to slide under the radar unnoticed. I may still secretly harbor hopes of a “She’s All That”-esque transformation in which the hidden beauty of my passions will slowly be unveiled and will suddenly captivate a mass audience. But, in the few weeks that I have had since my less than stellar report card was received I have had the opportunity to reflect, renew, and revive my original intents for starting this blog. Yes, I know this whole notion of reevaluating is totally cliche for this time of year and would likely seem far more organic had it come in say September. But, better late than never.

Three revelations came about in my reflections. In an effort to prove that I do learn from my mistakes, I will share them in separate posts. I am the first to admit that I skip directly over lengthy posts in search of “the good stuff” (a.k.a. the recipe). I will conclude each post with a recipe that I have been loving lately. The recipes are not my own and I will simply link to the pages of the bloggers who are owed all of the credit for them. I only have a single picture of each taken with my phone as I am battling technical difficulties with my camera at the moment. But despite the lack of fanfare I promise they are winners.

And now without further ado…

Revelation #1: The Voice

This blog was originally intended to be an extension of my passion for a healthful lifestyle. In particular, my love of cooking, my prideful grocery shopping and meal planning habits, and unhealthy obsession with recipe “researching.” I find a great deal of pleasure in these quirky interests and believe strongly in the benefits of mindful eating and fueling your mind and body with wholesome, natural foods. I thought that through sharing my thoughts and experiences with a larger audience it would spawn even deeper levels of excitement and satisfaction. And it did. I need to bear in mind that whether that audience is a core fan base comprised of only my incredibly supportive family members or a vast following of strangers spread across the world only if I put my voice out there will my voice will continue to be heard.

Recipe #1: Banana Bread Quinoa Flake Bake 

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Last year I dedicated an entire post to breakfasts. Specifically, my efforts to diversify my early morning meals. Well I am pleased to report that even once the school year commenced I continued to get creative and not fall back into the yogurt rut. Sadly, one of my favorite recipe findings is a warm meal that requires immediate consumption so it must be reserved as a weekend treat. I’m not positive if it’s the “hard to get” nature or if it really is just that satisfying, but this Banana Bread Quinoa Flake Bake has been brightening up my Sunday mornings for the past few months now.

Head on over to Natural Noshing for this recipe (and leave some extra time for browsing her other natural, gluten/refined sugar free recipes!)

Ballin’

A new school year has officially begun. On Wednesday morning I welcomed 19 adorable and eager 6 year olds into my first grade class. Behind the facade of their well put together outfits, shiny new shoes, and trendy new backpacks were timid, uncertain little kids who I’d guess had laid in bed the night before just hoping that their new teacher would be nice and would take care of them. Little did they know that said teacher had been sending out her own silent wishes for them to think she was kind and to know that they would each have a special place in her heart. Behind the facade of my mega-watt smile and brightly colored, super organized classroom I was fighting my own first day jitters. The first three days were a whirlwind of early mornings and late nights with the in between filled with getting to know one another and establishing routines. By Friday I was hoarse, mentally and physically spent, and a little voice chirping “Ms. Stoever….” was on repeat in my head. The days of morning reading, hot breakfasts, freshly made lunches, mid-day workouts at an empty gym, and a to-do list consisting of only frivolous errands are definitely over. But, just as my students’ nerves weened over the first few days so did my longing for my summer life. I proudly watched on as their true personalities and confidence began to shine through, friendships started to blossom, and laughter became our soundtrack. When we all gathered on the carpet on Friday afternoon to talk about the highlights of our first week together and the shy little girl in pigtail braids at the back of the carpet raised her hand and whispered “My favorite part of the first week was meeting you” the remaining grasp on those summer vacation luxuries dissipated. I was quickly reminded that there are few things in life as satisfying and rewarding as touching the lives of children and that makes everything (even plain yogurt breakfasts and raw veggies lunches) that much sweeter.

I am still committed to trying to incorporate some of my favorite meal discoveries from this summer into my school year repertoire and I hope to report back on my progress in future posts (hopefully iPhone photos with Crayola inspired backdrops will suffice!) But, the following recipe earned its spot as the first of the school year with flying colors. You see, along with the return to my old routine comes the reemergence of the late afternoon energy plummet. A piece of fruit is my usual go to for a quick sugar rush, but I eat plenty of fruit as is and was hoping to find an alternative that would provide me with a bit more nutritional balance (in terms of stamina a combination of carbs and protein goes a long way for me). I came across this energy ball recipe on one of my favorite sites. Brittany of Eating Bird Food has a plethora of healthful, tasty original recipe creations, but this particular was acquired from a Whole Foods cooking demo. Being a WF fanatic myself (and with a name like Heady Goo Balls) I had total faith that these little balls would do the trick. I whipped up (more like pulverized… but no post is complete without at least one cliche) a batch at the beginning of the week and popped one each day when I felt the onset of the afternoon crash. Though small in stature these babies pack a nutrient-dense punch that got me through the end of day clean-up/set-up plus the dreaded hour+ long commute home. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to make yourself something that includes a blend of grasses as an ingredient they got an “Mmmmmm!” from Nick which is about as rare as a “I’m not going to cook tonight” from me.

My adaptations to the recipe were minimal so head over to Brittany’s site for the specifics (be sure to allow yourself extra time for browsing!) I omitted the bee pollen granules and used a cookie baller for scooping which resulted in 13 tablespoon sized balls. That means I’ve got plenty to keep me ballin’ through school week 2.

Original Source: Heady Goo Balls from Eating Bird Food