Cranberry-pumpkin Muffins (Gluten-free and plant-based)

Historically, the health-promoting properties of cranberries have been based on folkloric remedies, which have existed for centuries. The healthy giving properties of this fruit were recognized by Native American Indians, and early New England sailors are said to have eaten the vitamin C-rich wild cranberries to prevent scurvy.”–Massachusetts Cranberries website

Cranberries are one of just three fruits native to the United States.”–The Humble Gardener website

Photo by Irita Antonevica on Pexels.com

I couldn’t help but notice all of the ongoing fresh cranberry offerings and deals that have been found lately in the local grocery stores; therefore, I purchased a 12 ounce bag for myself.  Those inviting, bright crimson berries have often reminded me of mini Christmas baubles hanging from an evergreen branch.  Curiosity began to get the best of me, and I decided that I needed to learn more about these tiny ruby orbs.  Afterall, a fruit full of that much color had to have some redeeming qualities, and boy-oh-boy do they ever!

One of the first facts I noticed was that numerous medical and nutritional-based websites consider cranberries to be a so-called, “super-food,” due to their overall nutritional benefits.  Part of this designation is due to cranberries’ high levels of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, that give cranberries their bright red color. (I knew that bright red color was important!) In addition to being consumed in its various forms as part of the treatment for and prevention of  UTIs, research has also linked cranberries to improving the function of the immune system as well as decreasing blood pressure. Additionally, there are several promising studies indicating cranberries may be helpful in slowing down the growth of cancer cells, particularly in certain types of tumorous growths.

Stir in fresh cranberries to your favorite fruit salad.

Several websites describe cranberries’ high levels of polyphenols may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Studies have also found that consuming cranberries, as part of a whole-foods healthy diet, regularly promotes the health of gums and teeth.  Cranberries are also believed to decrease inflammation associated with both chronic disease and aging, and these tiny powerhouse fruits offer numerous benefits to one’s gut health and microbiota. Additionally, the naturally low-sugar, high fiber berries possess anti-inflammatory properties.  Plus, like other berries, cranberries are high antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Cranberries are typically in season and widely available throughout the fall and into the early winter months.  They can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two months, and frozen for several more months for later consumption.  When choosing fresh cranberries, look for smooth skin that is firm to the touch and unwrinkled.  

Fresh, ripe cranberries have smooth, unwrinkled skin, and are said to bounce like a basketball.

Of course, cranberries are typically part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, however, they are quite a versatile food that can be used in a wide array of recipes.  Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salads, and even dark, leafy green salads.  Cook them down into a sauce on the stove with some maple syrup, honey, or sugar, add a bit of cinnamon, and perhaps the zest or juice of an orange or a drop of orange extract.  Use this sauce as a condiment for toast, sandwiches, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, or even in muffins.  Stir in fresh, or dried, cranberries into muffins, cakes, breads, and even cookie recipes.  The ways in which to use cranberries are only as endless as your imagination. 

Below is a recipe I created based upon one I found in an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  Betty Crocker cookbooks have been a mainstay for the members of my family, a tradition handed down to me and my siblings from both my mother and grandmother as Betty Crocker recipes are fairly easy to follow/create and typically use simple ingredients.  This recipe I adjusted to make it both gluten free and plant-based.  I added a few extras to it in order to, as my Grandmother Helen used to say, “doctor it up.”

Gently fold in cranberries into the batter, careful not to overstir the batter so that the muffins do not turn out “tough.”

Both my daughter and husband tried these plump muffins of goodness, despite the fact that they do not, per se, like cranberries.  To their surprise, they both really liked this recipe.  It is moist, but springy–like a good muffin should be.  The sparkling sugar adds a thin crusting effect to the muffin tops.  Plus, a large portion of the berries burst open into the batter during the baking process creating a just the right amount of tang and sweet.  Enjoy these muffins slightly cooled, but still warm, from the oven or warmed over in the microwave.  Share the goodness of these muffins, chock full of healthful benefits, with someone you love, and be sure to store the uneaten muffins in an airtight container or bag in the fridge or freeze them for quick morning or a snack time reheat on the run.

From my home to yours, I wish you homemade, happy, and healthy meals.

Use an ice cream scoop to help divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.
White sparkling sugar, sprinkled on top, creates a nice crust to muffin tops.
Cool muffins on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups (I use a gluten-free variation.)

¾ cup sugar (Can use a sugar substitute, such as Swerve.) 

3 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) of pure pumpkin

½ teaspoon orange extract 

½ cup apple sauce (Can substitute ½ cup oil if preferred.)

2 eggs or “flegg” equivalent (2 tablespoons ground flax seed + 5 tablespoons water, allow to sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.)

2 cups cranberries

½ chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

White sparkling sugar (If you do not have this on-hand, simply use regular sugar.)

Directions:

**Note: if using egg replacement, “flegg,” please make first and set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Line muffin tins with parchment paper or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir in pumpkin, orange extract, apple sauce, and eggs. Until just mixed–careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in cranberries and nuts if using. 

Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups and sprinkle with sugar.  Before sprinkling with sugar, you can also top with a few cranberries, a bit of pumpkin seeds, or a bit of oats.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool on a rack.  Serve warm. 

Makes 12 muffins that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve slightly cooled, but still warm from the oven.

(Almost) One-bowl Gluten pumpkin muffins with optional add-ins

“Oh my gourdness, it autumn!”–as seen on Country Living 

“Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about!” as seen on Elite Daily

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

On October sixth, I wrote about when life hands you bad tasting, bitter ingredients turn them into a sweet slice of cake.  In response to that piece, a reader named Bonnie, sent me an email asking for the made-from-scratch pumpkin cake recipe to which I referred in the article.  When I read her email, I was touched by the fact, someone beside my parents and husband read my column!  Furthermore, I felt fortunate that she would take time out of her busy schedule to send me an email.  Then, I was gourd-smacked.  I didn’t have a recipe to share with her. Oh my gourdness! 

I didn’t have the guts (gourd it?) to tell her that when I wrote the original piece, I based my so-called recipe on my knowledge of ingredients of recipes for other cakes, muffins, as well as pumpkin pie.  The closest I ever came to baking a pumpkin cake was actually pumpkin muffins for Maddie, my daughter.  It soon became one of her favorite fall recipes which was made from a spice cake mix and blueberries.  Still, I couldn’t go(urd) breaking Bonnie’s heart.  She asked for a recipe.  I had to harvest something.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

In the meantime, Maddie, who now lives at home, attends Marshall University as an art major, and works at La Famiglia at the MU student center, was showing me photos of the latest chalk art she had completed promoting the restaurant’s pumpkin cannoli’s.  In fact, her store manager had recently made one for Maddie to taste, and Maddie described in great detail how gourd the pumpkin cannoli tasted.  Maddie further added that she told her manager that the manager should try my pumpkin blueberry muffins. 

Maddie’s chalkboard art for La Famiglia at Marshall University Student Center

Hmm. . . I needed to patch some Zs on this thought.  After a good night’s rest, a new idea vined through my mind.  Why not create my own made-from-patch recipe for pumpkin blueberry muffins that could also double as a 9 x 13 cake if one desired?  I patched together some gourd research and soon enough, a new recipe was born, or should I say, carved.

Of course, I had to bake up a trail patch to taste.  Since I have celiac disease and should not eat wheat, I went with a gluten-free variation.  However, it should be noted that any all-purpose flour will work here just as well.  Additionally, I am not big on using a lot of oil in my food, mostly because it tends to create reflux which I prefer to avoid.   That said, you can always replace the applesauce with oil or melted butter if you prefer baking with a bit of fat.  Plus, with a variety of potential stir-ins, this recipe serves as a Jack-of- all-lanterns as there are many ways in which you could carve it up. 

This is the Jack-of-all-lanterns cake/muffin recipe. Pick your additions and stir up some gourdness!

Whether you are craving something a little sweet, or someone has asked you, “What’s cooking gourd-looking?”  Your answer can come straight from the vine!  Scoop out a bit of time to bake, and let the gourd times roll! Wishing you all of the pumpkin gourdness of fall!  

From my pumpkin patch to yours, I wish you happy, homemade, and hauntingly gourd pumpkin treats!  

P.S. Thank you, Bonnie, for your gourd inspiration.  Your email was the pumpkin of my pie, and it added spice to my life!

(Almost) One bowl Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins (or cake) with optional add-ins

Ingredients:

1egg or “flegg” (1 tablespoons ground flaxseed + 2 ½ tablespoons of water stir together and allow to sit for 15 minutes)

2 cups all purpose flour or oat flour  (I used oat flour to keep it gluten-free, but you could also use any gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup brown sugar (Can substitute with other sugar or sugar replacement.)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) pure pumpkin 

½ cup unsweetened applesauce (Can also use oil or melted butter if preferred.)

½  cup milk (I like to use plant based, but any milk is fine.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder (I love vanilla powder for a more rich, vanilla taste.)

Optional stir ins: blueberries, cranberries, raisins, craisins, walnuts, even chocolate or white-chocolate chips

White sparkling sugar or cinnamon-sugar

Directions:

If  making a “flegg,” mix first and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare 12 muffin tins by lining with paper, oil, or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients until flour and spices are well blended.

Stir in egg (or flegg), pumpkin, applesauce, milk and vanilla until just combined without over-mixing.

If using an add-in, gently fold into batter.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.

Sprinkle muffin tops with white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow muffins to cool on wire racks before serving

Can also pour batter into a prepared  9 x 13 pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If choosing this variation, allow the cake to cool, and then frost if desired.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator or can freeze for up to a month.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

“When there is cake, there is hope.  And there is always cake.”–Dean Koontz

“My idea of baking is buying a ready made cake mix and throwing in an egg.”–Cilla Black

By the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will be celebrating another year of life.  Honestly, the way 2020 is going, I am almost afraid to celebrate, but I am throwing caution to the wind.  By golly, in spite of everything that is upside down in this world, I am going to celebrate another year of life.  I am going to smile, eat a ridiculously calorie laden meal or two, drink a bit of good wine, and dang it, I am eating cake!  Of course, it has to be gluten-free due to my celiac disease, but I will eat cake–chocolate cake to be precise because chocolate is my favorite!

Sure, 2020 has been a train-wreck of a year in many ways, but fall is in the air.  Even though winter is around the corner, there is something about autumn weather that makes me feel hopeful–hopeful for better days ahead.  Call me crazy, but I gotta believe that life has to take a turn for the better . . .at least that is my birthday wish.

In addition to feeling hopeful, I feel grateful–grateful for my health, my family, my friends and loved ones, my home–flaws and all–and my job.  I wake up every day in a warm bed, and as I step out of it, I am able to turn on hot water for a shower.  Food is stored in both my refrigerator and cabinets–not to mention the fact our water is drinkable.  My job, with all of its challenges, is still providing a paycheck that allows me to celebrate my birthday in the manner in which previously I described.  Therefore, in spite of all the negatives 2020 has to offer, there are still numerous things for which to be grateful this year.

To add to my list of items for which I am grateful, I would have to include an unexpected email that I received from registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie Ferrari, with Fresh Communications.  Thanks to Stephanie, and the kind (or should I say, sweet) people at Swerve, I was thrown a “swerve” ball during the summer months when the Swerve team sent a care package of products to my house.  Thanks to their generosity, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play and create with a few of their products including their chocolate cake mix, which is featured in this month’s recipe.  

As previously mentioned, I do have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products containing wheat, rye, or barley.  Furthermore, birthday celebration aside, I do try to eat in a fairly healthy manner that works best for me.  Due to an incredibly sensitive stomach/digestive system, it’s taken me years to figure out how to best eat for my body. However, I also recognize that what works for me may not work for others.  Thus, when I create recipes, I try to create choices in order to adapt to a variety of tastes/needs/preferences.  Personally, I prefer to eat plant-based, forgoing dairy, eggs, and meat products most of the time.  Therefore, you will see that reflected in this recipe, but I also list other options if that’s not your cup of tea, or slice of cake, as the case may be.  

I based this recipe upon one I found on the Swerve website.  This is because since it wasn’t my official birthday, I wanted to keep the recipe fairly “clean,” and save the calorie-laden splurge for the actual big day.  This is where Swerve products check all the boxes for me.  Therefore, the recipe is not only gluten and grain free, but it is also a fairly low carb treat.  In fact, there isn’t one ingredient that leads me to feel guilty or over-indulgent.  The leftovers store well, and it is my experience that they tend to become more moist and chewy after being stored in an airtight container for a day or two.  Therefore, I can have my cake and eat it too–for several days in a row if I want–rather than saving cake for a once per year special eating occasion!

Whether you’re looking for a way to brighten a bad day, wanting to indulge without completely blowing your calories, or simply in the mood for chocolate, give this recipe a try. Within less than an hour, your house will be redolent with the aroma of chocolate cake baking, and your taste buds will be dancing with the delightful taste of warm, gooey chocolate.  Think of it as a small manifestation of making lemonade, or in this case, cake, out of the lemon of a year.

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade treats.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (I use Swerve brand.  Also, feel free to use Vanilla cake mix if preferred.)

½ cup applesauce or melted butter at room temperature (I use applesauce to keep it plant-based.)

1 large egg, or “flegg”, at room temperature (Recipe for flegg is below.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

½ cup oats or your favorite chopped nuts (I use Nature’s Path organic gluten-free oats.)

½ cup chocolate chips or other candy bits, i.e. peanut butter, white chocolate, and so forth (I use Enjoy Life allergy-free brand.)

Optional: White sparkling sugar

Directions:

Set out egg to come to room temperature, or if replacing egg, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. (Recipe below)

Likewise, if using melted butter instead of applesauce, melt first and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.

In large bowl, add cake mix and using fork gently break up any clumps

Stir in applesauce (or butter), egg (or flegg), and vanilla extract until well combined.

Gently fold in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.

Press mixture into pan.

If desired, sprinkle with white sparkling sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are golden, and the top is puffy.

Allow to cool before cutting into 16 squares.

Store any uneaten bars in an airtight container.

Leftover bars are especially tasty when warmed slightly in the microwave topped off with a dollop of whipped topping, if desired.

*“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

1 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

3 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”–Walt Whitman

Remember the rhyme that went something like this . . . 

“Rain, rain go away. 

Come again another day. 

Little Sally (Insert any name.) wants to play.  

Rain, rain go away.” 

Well, I’ve rewritten it.

2020, go away.

Don’t come back another day.

Little Stephie (Insert any name.) wants to play.

2020, please go away.

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

Let’s face it, folks, 2020 has been a challenging year for the entire world on so many levels.  It seems to me that just when I think it can’t get any worse, it can, and it does!  Sometimes I feel like we’re living in the Old Testament days alongside Job.  Okay, okay, that is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. However, it does feel, at times, that there is a dark and menacing cloud hovering over the edges of life that will not dissipate.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

“All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”–Charles M. Schulz

Therefore, trumpet trill please, I present you with a newly created recipe idea . . . Light, triumphing over darkness.  Sweetness overcoming bitterness.  All symbolically baked up into  one luscious, (fairly) guilt-free indulgence. . . or, so I thought it was a new idea.  (Insert daughter popping my bubble here.)

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

My daughter, Madelyn, introduced me to the name of my so-called creation when I shared with her my, “exciting new recipe idea.”

“Uhm, Mom.  You know that’s not a new thing, right?  Mixing brownie and chocolate chip cookie dough is not new–not even close.  Look it up.  It’s called a “brookie.”

Since when?  I never heard of it.  

“Brookie.  Really?  It’s a thing?  I didn’t first create it?”

“No, Mom, you didn’t.”

Cue the pom-pom shaking teenager from a long-ago video-vine, with which Maddie used to tease me as the unknown teen looked straight into the viewer’s eyes and stated, “You ain’t special.”

“Huh, I guess I am not so clever after all.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

Nonetheless, even if I am not as special or as innovative as I thought,  I will still share my recipe for the so-called “brookies” with you, courtesy of the kind people at Swerve. 

Early into the start of 2020, my brother, Scott, and I were talking via phone when he asked me if I had heard of a new sweetening product called Swerve.  At the time, he described it as the sweetener that he was using to regularly make lemonade in order to remain low-carb.  He added that it did not upset his digestive system as other sweeteners tend to do.  Since I also have an extremely sensitive stomach too, I was definitely interested in giving the product a try.

This was early in the pandemic when there were numerous shortages, especially in the baking aisles of grocery stores.  I was fortunate enough on my next shopping trip to pick up what appeared to be the last package of Swerve in-stock.  Trying it first in my green tea, I found I liked the taste–not possessing that fake chemical after-taste–nor was it overly sweet.  Plus, it did not upset my stomach.

In a later discussion with Scott, he shared with me that he had successfully baked cupcakes using the Swerve confectioner sugar replacement.  Whaaat???  He remained impressed with the product.  Hmm . . .

That’s when I decided to give Swerve a try in my raspberry muffin creation that I shared last month both.  It baked up well, tasted great, and did not seem to affect the texture.  Best of all,  I still did not experience any negative gastrointestinal side effects!  However, when I shopped at my supermarket the following week, they were completely wiped out of all Swerve products. 

Much to my surprise that is when the good people at Swerve reached out to me, asking if I’d like to try out more of their products.  Little did I know how many products this company makes!  Wow!  All of the products they shared were gluten-free and grain-free–which especially works for me.  Additionally, according to their packaging, Swerve products are Keto/low-carb friendly, low-glycemic, diabetes friendly, tummy friendly, natural, zero added sugar, and all natural, “born and raised in New Orleans.”  Plus, I can remain plant-based when I bake with them by merely tweaking a few ingredients as you will see below. 

Additionally, while my first batch of “brookies” was baking, I discovered the Swerve company has an amazing website chock full of support, advice, recipes, and ideas.  Sure enough, as my so-called original recipe continued baking, I learned that they already had a “brookie” recipe on-line.  Maddie was right, I was indeed NOT special.  Cue the sigh and slumping shoulders as the spotlight fades into darkness on my so-called bright idea.  

Even if not as original as I once thought, I will still share my “brookie” variation with you.  I especially recommend this recipe when you feel a little dark and down, or not-so-special.  Simply the smell alone is enough to lift the spirits!  However, it’s the ooey-gooey texture and the combination of two different tastes that is, well, enlightening–reminding the taster that even in the midst of a challenging and dark moment, life can still have its light, sweet moments.

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.”–Ernestine Ulmer

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade, and not-so-original sweet treats!

P.S.  A big shout out of thanks and gratitude to Stephanie Ferrari at FRESH Communications and the Swerve team for inspiring this not-so-original recipe!

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

Ingredients:

1 package brownie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Brownie Mix.)

2 large eggs (I used a plant based replacement that I affectionately refer to as a “flegg” but it’s probably not original either!  See recipe below.)

½ cup oil (I used applesauce.)

½ cup water

1 + 2  tablespoons vanilla extract or powder (I used Organic Gold Vanilla powder.)

Optional add-in:  ½ cup chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life 100% dark chocolate Morsels.)

1 package chocolate chip cookie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix.)

3 tablespoons milk, dairy or plant-based

3 tablespoons melted butter (or plant-based equivalent, i.e. applesauce)

Optional add in:  ½ cup favorite nut pieces or oats (I used gluten free oats.)

Directions:

If replacing eggs, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a square baking dish by lining it with parchment paper, or coating it with nonstick cooking spray.  (I used a 9 x 9 pan.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs with oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and water.

Add in brownie mix, and if desired, stir in chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Spread brownie batter over the bottom of the baking dish.

In another medium bowl, mix together milk and 2 tablespoons vanilla.

Stir in chocolate chip cookie mix, and if desired, add in nuts or oats.

Add in melted butter and mix until combined.

Gently spread chocolate chip batter over brownie batter. 

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry and the edges are set. Cover with foil about half-way through baking time (around the 20-25 minute mark) so that the top won’t get too brown.

Allow to cool.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Store in an airtight container.

“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

2 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

6 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.

Light, Lucious, Lemon Raspberry Muffins and Buckle–with a life lesson on the side

“Imagine a world, in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to a friend.”–Gerda Weissmann Klein

“The tiny seed knew that in order to grow it needed to be dropped in dirt, covered in darkness, and struggle to reach the light.” — Sandra Kring

June sunlight hammered my backside, creating a rivulet of sweat that ran from my hairline, down my neck, and along the bumps of my spine, pooling at the elastic waistband of my athletic shorts.  Spikes of dry grass clawed at my shins and calves, while briars needled my forearms.  With single-minded focus, I picked the ruby jewels of fruit, one at a time, and slipped them into the bowl as my fingers became brightly tinged with the stain of my efforts.  One month later, a similar scene unfolded, only this time my digits were blotched a deep shade of purple.

Berry picking–full of heat, thorns, and insects.  Strongly influenced by weather with some seasons offering higher yields of succulent delight, and other years producing little fruit that are often smaller and less juicy.  This once per year event can provide a tasty selection of cakes, pies, muffins, salads, and even vinegars or wines; and yet, each tiny tender fruit is celebratory enough to pop, one at a time, onto the tongue allowing taste buds to relish the lush, acidic saccharinity. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I picked berries this summer, it was a contemplative practice that was part focus, with a bit of melancholy, and part determination, sweat, and even irritation–reminding me of the similarities of berry-picking to life.  Many, if not most, memorable life moments require sustained efforts involving work, goal-setting, striving, and set-backs.  Depending upon what is produced by one’s endeavors, typically frames whether or not one continues down the same path/plan, or chooses to adjust plans accordingly.  Similarly, seasonal berry offerings may not be particularly juicy some years, much less tasty on its own merit; however, when these berries are collectively combined alongside other ingredients in a recipe, the product produced is often a delicious delight–even if it was not what was originally planned.

Likewise, dealing with the bramble, the bugs, the itchy ivy and grasses, the pollen, the heat and humidity, and so forth, may fill the berry-picker with dread even before beginning; and then, one commenced into action, the very act of picking may feel nearly intolerable.  Nonetheless, the goal of sweet, tangy fruit impels one to persevere in spite of the struggles and irritations.  In fact, even the journey to becoming a fruit producing plant is never easy.  It requires that a seed be buried in dirt, dwelling in darkness for some time while laying down roots until ready to slog through the sod, breaking the surface.  Even then, the tiny plant must learn to endure all types of weather while simultaneously stretching and extending towards the light before becoming a fruit producing plant.  The same is true for humans.

Picking berries is an annual reminder for me that we all must experience the dark, the muck, and the mire in order to strengthen our ability to break through the soil of our despairs.  Nevertheless, like the berry bramble, we cannot produce fruit without first developing roots, and then being taught to stretch towards the light in order to grow.  Even then, we will still develop thorny parts of ourselves and experience the sting of insects, the heat and cold, as well as life’s seasonal winds.  There will be choking weeds and other setbacks (much like many of us are experiencing now).  Nevertheless, it is during those very times we must be like the berry plant and keep growing, fixing our eyes upon the heavens, because eventually our efforts will produce fruit.  And when those periods of berry-picking occur, we must share our harvest with others and savor the sweet juiciness of the moment because like the weather, life offers continuous change–never standing still for long.

As seen on Instagram @ Postiviteenergyalways

As the Creator divined, there is no light without dark, no happiness without sadness, no rest without work, no pleasure without pain, and no berries without pitfalls and pests.  Make the most of good days, for they are the berries, the very sweetness, of life.  Imprint those memories into your soul, as one does setting aside berries in the freezer, so when the weeds of life threaten and clouds seem ready to burst, you can retrieve those frozen memories, and be reminded that this too will pass.  The light that is within and around you will help, once more, enjoy another season of berry-picking. 

As seen on Instagram at postiveenergyalways.

From my home to yours, I wish you a freezer full of good memories and berries! Here are a couple of recipes to enjoy . . .

*Raspberry Lemon Muffins

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon flaxseed + 3 tablespoons of water (Can substitute with one large egg.)

Zest from one lemon

1 cup + 2 tablespoons flour (I use gluten free flour.)

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats* (I use certified gluten-free oats.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup sugar (I used Swerve brand sugar replacement.)

⅓ cup melted butter (I used plant-based replacement.)

¾ milk (I used a plant based version.)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

*2 cups raspberries or blackberries (Fresh are best, but frozen will work, but may require a bit longer baking time.)

White sparkling sugar (Optional)

Directions:

In a small bowl, add both flaxseed and water.  Gently stir and place in the refrigerator for later use.

Zest one lemon, and set aside for later use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line 12 muffin tins with a parchment paper. 

In a small bowl, place raspberries and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon of flour. Toss gently until all raspberries are evenly coated.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

If possible, use a stand mixing bowl to whisk together lemon zest with sugar for two minutes until light and fluffy.

Mix melted butter, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into lemon/sugar mixture.

Stir in dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Gently fold in flour coated raspberries into batter.

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.

Sprinkle with white sparkling sugar if desired.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins. 

Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn upside down on the cooling rack, and immediately right them on the rack for proper cooling.

Muffins can be stored at room temperature; however, since there is fresh fruit in them, I prefer to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator once completely cooled.  They can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve warm or cold.  They are delicious plain or served with butter, honey, agave, or other favorite topping.

Bonus Recipe:

*Raspberry Buckle

Ingredients for Buckle –the cake part:

¾ cup sugar 

¼ cup soft shortening 

1 egg 

½ cup milk 

Zest from one lemon

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or powder

2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

*2 cups raspberries or blackberries (Fresh are best, but frozen will work, but may require a bit longer baking time.)

Ingredients for topping:

½ sugar

⅓ cup flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Directions:

Zest lemon, and set aside.

Mix together ingredients for topping, and set aside.

Place raspberries in a bowl, gently sprinkle and coat with 2 tablespoons of flour, and set aside.

Prepare 9” x 9” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a mixer, mix together sugar, shortening, and egg.  

Stir in milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, blend together dry ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined.

By hand, gently fold-in in raspberries.

Carefully spread into the prepared baking pan.

Spread topping over all of the batter.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Allow to cool 10-20 minutes before serving warm.

Once cooled, stored in the refrigerator.

Leftovers can also be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Makes 9 servings.

As seen on Instagram @ lauriereasons.

Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

“Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”–Ann Wigmore

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

With the warm, humid weather of summer making its way into the Tri-State area, I find myself craving smoothies again.  Since quarantine, I have once more fallen into the habit of not eating anything until lunchtime.  Sure, my stomach complains at times, but not enough to motivate me to pause for breakfast. As I have shared previously, I hop on and off the breakfast train–going for weeks at a time eating breakfast regularly, and then falling off that habit for weeks again.  Craving smoothies is a sure sign that it is time to hop back on that proverbial train.

However, I tend to have a sensitive stomach that has only become more sensitive with age.  I learned that I have to, unfortunately, limit my coffee intake in the early morning hours.  In fact, I typically down 16 or so ounces of water first thing in the morning before touching a coffee cup.  Additionally, I am sometimes downright nauseated in the morning, and the thought of food, even my favorite oatmeal, doesn’t even sound appealing.  (Yes, I am one of those people who loves oatmeal.)  Thus, I have learned that if I wait until lunch time, my queeziness will subside, and I am usually ready to eat.

I know some research states that one should “eat like a king” at breakfast and ensure the consumption of 30 grams of protein first thing in the morning, but those researchers don’t have my stomach and are often hocking their own protein product.  Still, I do recognize, especially as I age, the benefits of consuming quality, nutritious food at each meal–whether it’s two, or three, meals per day–for longterm preventative health care.  Additionally, there is some scientific data suggesting that making healthful choices in the morning typically leads to more positive choices as the day progresses.  Therefore, if my stomach can handle it, why not have a nutritious breakfast smoothie later in the morning, especially if exercising outdoors in hot, humid weather?

I know, I know, many diet experts warn about the dangers of drinking your calories, rather than chewing them.  Furthermore, other diet experts caution against all of the calorie laden ingredients that can be easily added to a smoothie.  However, I would argue that a properly prepared smoothie–one chock full of whole food ingredients based upon your unique dietary and caloric needs–can be a nutritious, healthy choice, especially if you have a sensitive stomach like mine.  One of those whole food ingredients is acai.

In fact, it’s impossible not to notice the proliferation of acai products, pronounced, ah-sigh-ee, in restaurants, grocery stories, and health food markets. From smoothies to smoothie bowls, from flavored yogurt to juice refreshers (think Starbucks), from flavored protein bars to pill/supplements, and from dark chocolate bars to infused margaritas, acai seems to currently have sweetheart status in the health community.  Although acai is generally referred to as a berry, it is technically a drupe, also known as stonefruit, like cherries, plums, olives, and peaches, and it is popularly lauded for its numerous health benefits.  

Based upon my reading though, there seems to be a general consensus to group the acai with berries. Furthermore, acai tends to have a short shelf life as it only grows on palm trees in Central and South America; and thus, it is most often available in three forms: frozen fruit puree, freeze dried powder, or pressed juice.  As a self-proclaimed foodie, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to give acai a try by purchasing a small bag of the freeze dried powder.

To be clear, I do not believe that acai is the panacea of health that many supplement companies try to convince consumers; however, acai does offer many health benefits similar to most dark fruits and berries. Acai possesses high levels of antioxidants (even higher than blueberries and cranberries), essential fatty acids, fiber, and are nutrient dense. Still, like any one single food, acai is not the magical key to health; however, when consumed as part of a larger diet based on wide array of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, acai is a wonderful addition.  

One word of caution though, many frozen fruit purees, juices, and other acai-flavored products are loaded with added sugar and/or other ingredients a health-conscious consumer may not want.  Therefore, if, like me, you want to reap the nutritional benefits without the junk, the freeze dried form of acai seems to have the greatest amount of fiber, essential fats, and health-boosting plant compounds.  

Below is the recipe-scaffolding that I created using acai freeze dried powder.  Do you have to use acai?  NO!  Instead, replace the acai with ½ cup of another fruit; or, if you want to stick with the drupe (stonefruit) family, add in cherries, Indian gooseberries, or slices of nectarines, peaches, and/or mangoes. Feel free to play with this recipe.  There is never an obligation, in my opinion, to follow recipes exactly as created.  Think of this recipe as a springboard of ideas for creating your own variation of this summer-time smoothie.  Want to make it a smoothie bowl? Then, fill a bowl with this smoothie and top it off with slices of fruit and the crunchy goodness of nuts, seeds, granola, and/or oats.  Summer is the time to have fun in the kitchen; and, yes, it can still be nutritious!  After all, one positive choice leads to the next!  

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals or smoothies! 

P.S. If you do find another variation that gets your taste buds excited, please share it with me by emailing me or tagging me on Instagram or Facebook!  I’d love to see what you create!

Here’s to your health! Cheers!

Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

Makes 1 serving, but can be doubled, tripled as needed.

Base Ingredients:

½ + ½ cup favorite smoothie beverage (water, milk, plant milk, kefir, coconut water)

½ to 1 cup of frozen or fresh berries (Pick your favorite! Frozen fruit leads to a thicker smoothie.)

½  cup frozen, plain–no other added ingredients–riced cauliflower (I know, it sounds weird, but it’s a wonderful thickener, and it’s a great way to sneak veggies into your day without tasting it!)

½ banana, frozen or fresh (Remember, the more frozen ingredients, the thicker the smoothie.)

**If wishing to use protein powder, see note below, and add in here.

1 ½  – 3 tsp acai powder (depending upon the amount you want)

½ tsp vanilla extract

*Dash of sea salt and any other optional add-ins suggested below

*Optional add-ins:

**1-2 scoop(s) of favorite protein powder (This is an optional addition.  I make this smoothie with and without protein.  However, I found that even using a tablespoon of my favorite plant-based protein powder gives the smoothie a more rounded flavor and thickens the smoothie a tad bit more.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nuts or seed (Think walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and etc.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nut butter

¼ to ⅓ cup oats (As a thickening agent, and another boost of nutrition, especially if you need the extra calories.)

In a blender, or blender cup, add ½ cup of your favorite smoothie liquid. 

Next, add it fruit(s) and plain riced cauliflower 

Add in banana, cut into chunks. 

Add in all other ingredients as well as any optional add-ins

Finally, top it all off with another ½ cup of preferred liquid.

Blend until smooth.

Best if served immediately, but can be stored in fridge for later use.

Note:  Can add more or less liquid to adjust to desired consistency.

Mmm, drink in that refreshing fruit and veg!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties have anthocyanins that can help reverse some loss of balance and memory associated with aging.”–David H. Murdock

 

“Strawberries!  Fruit from the heart.”–Anthony T. Hincks

 

img_1657
Slice the sugar soaked rhubarb and place into a mixing bowl.

 

Long ago, in a far away land . . .

 

Oh, wait, it only seems like that.  

 

When I was a very young girl, my dad kept a small vegetable garden for a few years. While it didn’t seem to last for many years as our family grew, I was young enough to be fascinated with its order. I recall watching Dad as he planted and staked tomatoes then surrounded them by marigolds.  He explained to me that those unique smelling flowers would protect the tomatoes from pests.

 

img_1660
Halve the larger strawberries before adding all of the strawberries to the bowl with the rhubarb.

 

One year, I was especially interested in a new plant he was going to grow. Rhubarb.  I had never heard of this plant, and wondered about it as Dad described it as fruit that looked like red celery.  At the time, I was well-acquainted with celery from the holiday “relish trays” my grandmothers and mom made that contained both peanut butter and pimento cheese stuffed celery.  While I never liked the celery, (although I love it now) I would lick the peanut butter off, sneak over to a trash can, and furtively toss the celery!  Dad explained that rhubarb was sour (He may have said tart, but my small mind translated it as sour.) and needed sugar added to it, but that it made good crisps, pies, or cobbler.  I liked desserts, so it sounded like a good food to me!

 

img_1314
Combine the fruit mixture ingredients and pour into a prepared square baking dish.

 

I was saddened to learn that we could not eat rhubarb that first year, but instead I would have to wait another year before I could taste it as the plant needed to mature and become established. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much more about Dad’s rhubarb growing beyond one fading memory of Dad bringing a small batch of rhubarb into the house near the end of the school year–so it must have been early to mid-May.  I recall my childlike wonder with its appearance, and my eagerness to eat the pie Mom was going to bake up.

 

img_1662
Spread fruit evenly in baking dish.

 

In addition to following Dad around when he was working, I also loved hanging out with my mom in the kitchen.  I am sure I drove her nearly crazy with my incessant chatter and seeming desire to help.  However, my intentions to help were not always pure as I ultimately hoped to taste whatever it was she was making–especially if she was baking!

 

 

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about “helping” mom as she prepared to bake that rhubarb pie. One part that does stand out was the amount of sugar mom added to the bowl.  She explained that rhubarb pie required more sugar than most fruit pies because of its tartness.  That did not seem like a bad thing to me, but as a mom who often tried to limit our sugar intake–and, let’s be honest, with four kids, who would want them all sugared up–she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of me eating that much sugar.  Still, my dad had fond memories of rhubarb pie and was eager to eat it despite my mom’s mutterings in opposition. 

 

img_1667
Spread oat/flour mixture gently over fruit.

 

I have another faded recollection of sitting in our avocado green dine-in kitchen and eagerly awaiting a piece of rhubarb pie.  

 

Did I want ice cream on it?

 

You betcha, I did.  

 

img_1319
You will know when the crisp is done because the fruit will be bubbling and the topping will be golden brown.

 

My younger brother did not want to try it at all–he was a bit more picky about what he ate, and our middle sister was a baby/toddler age–still in a high chair, so she did not get any either. (I don’t think our youngest sister had yet been born.)  I sat with my unbreakable Corelle bowl, and took in the vanilla ice cream as it melted over the pie into all those cracks and crevices.  Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than I feel I must have liked it because to this day, I still have positive feelings about rhubarb.

 

 

When I recently saw rhubarb in a local store, along with plenty of red, ripe strawberries, I realized both fruits were in season.  It then occurred to me that recipes often combine the two ingredients for a fresh, plant based treat.  Therefore, I decided it was high time to research and play with rhubarb in honor of Dad’s rhubarb growing and Mom’s pie baking.  Both fruits are in season now through the first half of June, so it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try!  This is a much lighter dessert than that pie of my childhood, but it earned a tasty stamp of approval from my daughter and husband as well as my taste buds. Let me know what you think.

 

img_1669
You’ll know that it’s done when the topping is golden crisp, fruit is bubbling & it looks jammy.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals and/or treats–as the case may be!

 

img_1670

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients

For filling:

3 cups strawberries, halved if large

3 cups of sliced rhubarb

¼ teaspoon orange extract 

⅓ cup strawberry jam  

2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch (or can substitute 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)

For topping:

1 cup rolled oats (I use gluten-free.)

½  cup sliced almonds or almond meal, or ½ more oats (I chose more oats, but I think almonds would be delightful!)

¼ cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour

3 tablespoon softened butter (plant-based if desired) or other vegetable/coconut oil

4 tablespoon maple syrup (Can use date syrup, honey, or agave, if preferred.)

2 medjool dates chopped, optional (Just for a bit extra sweetness if desired.  Can also use 2 teaspoons of date syrup.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Directions:

Place stalks of rhubarb in a glass with 1-2 tablespoons sugar (maple syrup, honey or agave) in ¼ -½ cup water and allow it to soak overnight, but really 2-4 hours will do it!

When ready to bake:

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Lightly coat a square baking dish (8 x 8, 9 x9 or similar dimensions) with nonstick cooking spray or with a light coating of coconut, vegetable oil, or butter.

Slice presoaked rhubarb, and add to a small mixing bowl.

Halve strawberries, if needed, and add to rhubarb.

Add orange extract, strawberry jam, and arrowroot (or cornstarch) to fruit and gently stir.

Spread fruit mixture into prepared baking dish.

In a separate larger bowl, stir together oats, almonds (if using) and flour.

Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in rest of ingredients, until mixture becomes course and crumbly.

Gently spread oat mixture over fruit.

Place in the oven and allow to bake for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden brown.

Serve warm as is or with your favorite topping such as ice cream or whipped topping.

Store leftovers for up to a week in the fridge, or can freeze for up to a month.

Enjoy leftovers gently warmed.  

Makes not only a great dessert or snack, but is also a delicious breakfast!

Makes 6 generous servings, or 9 smaller servings.

 

Pumpkin-Blueberry Scones, with Gluten Free Variation

I just can’t pass the scones up if they’re there. They’re soft and light and a little bit salty.  Sometimes I dream about them.”–Rainbow Rowell

 

I remind my American readers that biscuits in England and Australia are crispy and flat things such as you call cookies, and the soft doughy things you call biscuits are what we call scones.  And they say we speak the same language . . .”–Kerry Greenwood

 

I owe much gratitude for this recipe, the research that went into it, and everything I learned as a result of it to Jacki and Tony Humphreys, both of whom are wonderful cooks and greatly loved family!  For as long as I have known them, they’ve loved the art of cooking and the gathering that often goes with it. I’m fortunate to have been, and continue to be, raised, influenced, and surrounded by family, on all sides, who love to cook.

 

In particular, I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread are some of my favorite things to create, but I’ve dabbled in other forms of baking, but never scones.  I suppose I could count the times that I made biscuits from scratch–which are supposed to be similar to scones– but, trust me, I would not be able to tick off all five fingers on one hand for the number of times I baked biscuits, and that was years ago!  

 

img_1464
Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

 

Scones just sounded intimidated, but what I came to find, thanks to Jacki and Tony, is that I actually enjoyed baking them a bit better than made-from-scratch biscuits.  Perhaps, it is because, at least for this recipe, scones require less precision than biscuits. Then again, mounding the dough into two circular blobs was certainly entertaining, and the aromatic scent of this recipe throughout the process was likewise pleasant.  Whatever the reason, while I wouldn’t call this a simple recipe, it certainly wasn’t overly complicated either.

 

When Jacki and Tony first gave me a box of gluten free, plain scone mix, I set it on the counter for a week, looking at it as it stood erect, menacingly communicating that only real experts can make these, and I was a complete a total baking fraud–which is sort of true–I am NOT by any means, a professional baker.  As the days passed, I would occasionally pick up the box, read the directions, put it down again, and walk away feeling a knot in my stomach. Why was I letting this inanimate object unnerve me? 

 

                      Cut eight tablespoons of butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or if                          you don’t have a pastry cutter, see substitutions below.***          

 

Knowledge is power, right? Right.  Or so I told myself at the end of the week when I decided to dive into the world of Google in order to discover all that there is to know about making scones.  Ok, ok, maybe not ALL, not even close, but I certainly read several educational and informative pieces on scone-baking. Much to my delight, the scone recipes that most resonated with me did not require kneading; and furthermore, when cutting the butter into the flour mixture, the butter did not have to be evenly crumbled.  In fact, large chunks of butter were permitted. Baking scones might be doable after all!

 

Rolling up my proverbial sleeves, I decided that it was time to play.  What’s the worst that could happen? If I messed up, and the scones were a total flop, then I would have plenty of freshly baked scone scraps to feed the birds.  While I don’t particularly like wasting perfectly good ingredients, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I had fed the birds the flopped results of a well-intended recipe!

 

            Ok, so they are not the most attractive looking blobs!  Give a gal a break.  I am NOT              a professional baker, and it was my first attempt at baking scones.  Still, they were                gluten-free, (Although you don’t have to bake yours that way, Dear Reader.) and                     delicious!

 

In the end, I cobbled together this recipe that I share with you today.  My husband, John, and my daughter, Madelyn, were my official taste-testers.  Both were surprised by the texture, at least for this variation, was more like muffin–albeit less sweet.  Maddie, who suggested the pumpkin/blueberry flavor combination, observed that the scones weren’t super sweet, so she tried topping them with pure maple syrup, honey, and even whipped cream.  John, slathered them with butter, and he further suggested that a vanilla glaze drizzled on top might be a nice addition for those wanting to sweeten up this recipe a bit. Meanwhile, I was greatly relieved that I didn’t have to feed the local bird population!

 

Give this recipe a try when you’re hankering to bake something different.  It makes a nice addition to breakfast that would be especially tasty served with some fresh fruit and yogurt, or it makes a nice dessert or snack for later in the day.  And, for those of you like me who need a gluten-free option, the great thing about baking scones is that you simply replace all the purpose flour with a gluten free variation, and everything else about the recipe stays the same, unlike other bread recipes I’ve made.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals and treats!

 

                     Serve these scones up with pure maple syrup, honey, or butter as my husband,                         John is did!

 

 

Pumpkin Blueberry Scones

 

Ingredients

2 ¾ cup all purpose flour (I use gluten-free.)

⅓  cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt* 

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice**  

8 tablespoons cold butter, sliced thinly

⅔ cup pumpkin

2 large eggs

¼ cup plain or vanilla yogurt (Can substitute milk with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice added, allowing it to sit for 3 minutes before adding to the recipe.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon orange extract

1 cup blueberries, if frozen thaw in colander to allow liquid to drain off

2 tablespoon cinnamon & sugar mixture or sparkling white sugar

 

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, if you don’t have parchment you can simply grease the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices.

Using a pastry cutter,*** work in the sliced butter until it is crumbly.  This process is very forgiving because it doesn’t have to be evenly crumbly, and large butter chunks are ok! 

In a separate mixing bowl, stir together pumpkin, eggs, yogurt, vanilla, and orange extract

Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients until everything is incorporated, then gently fold in blueberries.

Sprinkle parchment lined (or greased) baking sheet with a bit of flour.

Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the baking sheet, (the dough will be a bit sticky), immediately divide in half, and form two flattened circles about ¾” inch thick.

Brush with milk if desired and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or sparkling white sugar.

Using a knife that’s been run under cold water, slice each circle into 6-8 even wedges.

Then, I know this sounds crazy, but I promise this works, set the pan in your freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while the dough is in the freezer.

Bake 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.  (If using gluten-free flour, baking sometimes takes longer, so monitor carefully. This should not come out of the oven wet or doughy.) 

Serve warm, and store leftovers in an airtight container (or zippered bag) in the fridge.  

Rewarm leftovers in the microwave or stove for a few moments before serving.

These kept nicely for a week in our fridge.

Makes 12-16, depending upon how you cut the circles of dough.

 

My daughter and I found this was delicious served with pure maple syrup as well as honey, while my husband topped it with butter.  Additionally, my daughter also topped the scones with whipped cream.  

 

  

Additional notes: 

*You can also use a scone baking mix–which should have the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Just check the ingredients list first to ensure it does.

 

**If you don’t have cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, you can simply use 1 ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. 

 

***If you don’t have a pastry cutter, you can use a food processor (but don’t over overwork dough), two butter knives, a sturdy fork, or you can even use a box grater and grate the very cold (or even frozen) butter into flour mixture, making it easier to cut into mixture with forks or knives.

 

Gluten-free Chocolate Banana Bread

Like many others quarantined at home, I have been cooking and baking quite a bit more than I usually do.  Additionally, John, my husband, and I are exploring more plant-based recipes. (I don’t eat meat, but John will order a meat based dish on the two nights per week we order take-out in order to support local restaurants during this COVID-19 outbreak–although I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to grill up some meaty morsel at some point.)  What we are finding is that we enjoy what we consider more fun-based and/or comfort based type foods. Examples would include pasta, based dishes, Mexican-inspired variations (tacos, enchiladas, nachos and so forth), and a weekly baked sweet treat. Nothing fancy, mind you, just good ol’ homemade goodness.

 

On a recent grocery order, I thought I ordered two bananas, but when my groceries arrived at my car, I had an entire bunch.  Rather than make a fuss with the poor overworked grocery staffer (God bless them for working during this crisis–seriously.), I just kept the entire bunch of bananas knowing that in the worst case scenario, if they didn’t all get eaten, I could either freeze them or bake-up something with them.  

 

yellow bananas
Photo by Juan Salamanca on Pexels.com

 

Sure enough, I ended up with 3 large ripe bananas.  I started to freeze them, but then thought about the banana bread I used to make with mini-chocolate chips.  As I began looking through my past recipes, the thought hit me. I wonder if there are recipes out there for chocolate, chocolate-chip banana bread?  Hmm . . .

 

img_1178

 

Thus, began my research into the recipe idea. There were literally hundreds of recipe ideas, so I narrowed my search down further to plant-based ideas.  Again, I found hundreds of these variations as well–some with cocoa, others with melted chocolate, some with nuts and/or nut butter, and some with oil . . . well, the list went on.  Therefore, I read recipe reviews and taste notes and began cobbling together my own recipe variation.

 

 

 

First of all, the batter itself is thick, rich, and fun to lick up!  (I always think of my Grandmother Helen when I lick a spoon at the end, stating, “Here’s to you Helen!”  It’s a family thing.) Secondly, the redolent scent of sweet bread baking in the oven is sinfully delightful and highly recommended on a rainy or chilly day when you won’t have your windows open.  Lastly, the taste and texture only gets better with time–just like a good banana bread should. That said, you do need to refrigerate this in order to make it stay fresh for a week, but it will still get more moist and more sweet with each passing day.

 

 

 

My husband and daughter served this warmed with redi-whip on top as a dessert or snack.  I ate it out of the fridge for a quick and easy grab and go (well, go to work virtually) no-fuss, little-clean-up breakfast.  I especially loved to smear it with peanut butter or PB2–it was like eating a Reese’s cup for breakfast!

 

img_1196
Slice it up and eat plain, or top it with a wide variety of sweet or savory toppings.

 

Why don’t you give it a try the next time you end up with a few overripe bananas?  In fact, if you’re willing to go into the grocery store, you could buy overripe bananas from the produce clearance bin for next to nothing.  Not only does it make a great dessert, snack, or breakfast, it can also be frozen for up to a month or so!

 

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals and sweet treats!

 

Fresh out of the oven goodness!

img_1198
Look at that moist center of melted chocolate chip gooeyness!

 

 

Gluten-free, Chocolate Banana Bread 

(Plant-based, no-oil option)

Ingredients:

2 cups over-ripe mashed banana (about 3 large ripe bananas)

2 ½  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

2-4 tablespoons of favorite nut butter (peanut, cashew, almond, sunflower) or 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I split the difference and went with 3 tablespoons of almond butter.)

⅔ cup date syrup (or maple syrup, honey or agave)

1 ¾ cup all-purpose baking flour or gluten-free variation

½ cup unsweetened pure cocoa powder + 2 more tablespoons dutch cocoa powder, if have on hand, but regular cocoa powder is fine

¼ cup sugar or stevia

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate mini-morsels

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper, so that the paper overhangs sides. (I used 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 pan.)

Mash bananas and measure.

Then, add bananas and next four ingredients into large blender cup

Blend until smooth and creamy and pour into a medium mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients EXCEPT chocolate morsels.

Mix dry ingredients with a fork until no white powder remains.

Gradually fold in dry ingredients into wet, scraping down the side.

Gently stir in ½ cup semi-sweet or dark morsels

Carefully pour in batter and smooth over top of batter.

Sprinkle with remaining mini-morsels and gently press into batter.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Turn off the oven and leave in the oven an additional ten minutes.

Remove from the oven, lift bread out of the pan holding on to parchment paper, and set on the cooling rack to cool.

**Store in the refrigerator.  

**It’s also easier to slice once stored in the fridge. My daughter and I were eager to taste this bread once baked because the aroma that filled our house while baking left our mouths watering.  However, I sliced off both heels (She doesn’t like them, but they don’t bother me!) set in the fridge for several hours, keeping it on the parchment paper, but moving it to a plate.  

Then, when I removed it from the fridge, I found it MUCH easier to slice and store it in a sturdy bread container, but keeping it in the fridge.

Stores in the refrigerator for up to five days or so.

Makes ten average-size slices.

 

Breakfast, or Brunch, Vegetable Stir-fry

I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I am inconsistent with breakfast during my work week.  Most days, I do eat something, even if it’s part (or all) of a protein bar and/or some fruit.  Other days, especially if I’ve taken time to food-prep on Sunday afternoon, I have containers of pre-made smoothies, smoothie “bowls,” or overnight oats lined up in the fridge–ready for grab-and-go convenience.  However, once I arrive at the school in which I work, I find I’m trying to quickly gulp down my food before my students arrive, or saving my prepared breakfast food for lunch (why not?) and either skipping breakfast all together, or falling back to eating a bit of the ever-present protein bar or fruit that are always in my lunchbox. Thus, during the work-week, there’s very little food enjoyment for me with regards to breakfast–and often lunch too–(see later paragraph) which makes me sad as I really do prefer to enjoy my food. 

 

img_9855

 

Still, I continue to love food, especially when I have enough time to sit, savor, and enjoy each yummy bite.  However, I fully recognize that the foods I prefer, and most enjoy, are often considered different as others have so kindly pointed out to me.  In fact, I have been told on multiple occasions that my food, “looks disgusting.”  While I try to laugh off the insult and weakly attempt to defend my food choices, “It’s only oats with blueberries, chia seeds, a bit of banana, and maple extract,” it has certainly caused me to reassess when and what I eat, especially in front of others!  

 

At one time in my life, I was especially fond of breakfast foods!  However, since being diagnosed with celiac disease nearly ten years ago, around the same time I decided to commit to eating a more plant based diet, dining out for breakfast, or it’s more gluttonous cousin, brunch, is seldom easy, much less fun, for me–at least in my immediate geographic area–as gluten-free, plant based eateries are a bit of a rarity.  If I am lucky, the menu will offer that so-called “disgusting” oatmeal; and, if I’m super fortunate, a restaurant might offer tofu and allow me to order it prepared,“naked” (not dipped in batter, so it remains gluten-free).

 

img_1131 

 

While my weekends during the school year tend to be busy, whenever I do get some extra weekend time, I take great delight in making a big ol’ breakfast away from critical eyes, and one that holds me through until time for dinner..  I particularly find pleasure in serving these breakfasts with gluten-free bread and/or some fresh fruit. Thus, when creating this recipe (and my forthcoming recipe), I cobbled together ideas from several plant based recipe sites, but also tried to make it carnivore-friendly if desired.  This is because I believe that how each person chooses to eat is highly personal. I try not to proselytize a one-size-fits-all diet, or for that matter publicly criticize one’s diet choices. While I know a gluten-free, plant-based diet works for me, I’d rather create recipes that offer flexibility, nutritional benefits, and still taste good for all types of eaters.

 

img_1001

 

While my original creation was designed to somewhat look and mimic the flavor of eggs, it doesn’t have to focus on that. Feel free to play with and change up the ingredients. Consider adding in other colorful vegetables of your liking, including diced yukon gold or sweet potatoes.  Remove and replace any vegetable you don’t like with vegetables you do enjoy, and feel free to increase or decrease vegetable amounts. (I chose cauliflower as a base because it is so mild and tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients, however, chopped potatoes make an excellent base too.) Remove and/or change up the seasonings, along with their amounts! Additionally, play with toppings!  Consider lively and colorful toppings, such as chopped/sliced scallions, chopped avocado, sliced olives, roasted red peppers, salsa, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional breakfast box and play! Food should be fun and tasty!  

 

img_1205

 

May this recipe inspire you to get creative in the privacy of your kitchen!  Feel free to send me pics and comments about how you chose to prepare it! I’d love to see your pics and share them on my website!  

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and, hopefully, not-so-disgusting meals!

 

 

 

img_1002

 

Breakfast Vegetable Stir-fry

(Feel free to double or triple ingredients.)

Ingredients:

½ tsp minced garlic

¼-½ cup, or more as needed liquid, water or vegetable broth *If not cooking oil-free, 1-2 tablespoons of a mild-flavored oil can be used instead. 

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped peppers (I prefer a mix of colors.)

1 cup roughly chopped cauliflower (I prefer to use one cup prepared riced cauliflower to save the mess and time.)

½ cup sliced portabella mushrooms (or other mushroom variety)

3 ounces **tempeh sliced thin and cut into small pieces **Instead of tempeh, you can use tofu, 2-3 beaten eggs or egg whites, or 3-4 ounces of precooked meat of your choice

½-1 tsp liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or soy sauce

½ tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and black pepper to taste

***Kala Namak (Black salt) to taste ***Only use this seasoning if keeping it egg and meat-free as it adds a flavor and aroma similar to that of eggs.

Directions:

Preheat pan over medium. (You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water skitters across the bottom of the pan.)

While the pan is preheating, gather and prepare vegetables.

Once the pan is preheated, add garlic.

When garlic begins to soften and turn golden, add in onions and peppers.

Stir in ¼ cup of vegetable broth or water, if not using oil. (If using oil, add in the desired amount.)

Stir constantly.  If you notice vegetables sticking, stir-in liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Add cauliflower and continue stirring.

Add green peppers and onion, stir, and then add sliced mushrooms. 

Again, if at any time, vegetables begin sticking, add in more liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Stir in desired protein (tempeh, tofu, beaten eggs, or precooked meat).

Continue stirring and tossing over medium heat until protein is cooked through.

Reduce heat to low and stir-in desired amount of aminos (or soy sauce) and rest of seasonings.

Once seasoning is thoroughly mixed into food, remove from heat, cover, and allow flavors to meld for 2-3 minutes.

Then, serve immediately.

Makes one generous serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge–makes a great breakfast or lunch for the next day!  

img_1209