Category Archives: Recipes

Sweetness and Thorns

It’s that time of year again…  Heading towards the warmest months of summer when the sweetest berries ripen.  And in this hottest time of the year, it also brings us back around to canning time.  Come January I’ll be trying to invent things that will heat up the kitchen like canning does, but in July and August… in our house without air conditioning… making jams and other preserves makes the house feel something like an Amazonian rain forest.  Only the love of jam, the availability of free (when you know where to harvest the wild thing, or have your own bushes) berries, and the desire to actually be able to pronounce the ingredients in your food would lead to such folly.  In short, I love it.  😉

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Gooseberries are some of the most beautiful berries ever.  They look jewel-like and the resulting jam… worth every single thorn.

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I left the lemon half in the shot to give a sense of scale, but man… these little buggers can leave a mark.

Now my favorite berries, blackberries and blueberries, will not be ready for harvest for a couple more months.  The harvest season that is soon upon us, however, is that for the gooseberry.  This is not Dave’s favorite berry.  He likes the jam well enough, but this delicious jam comes at a prince, and a bloody price at that.  This rather innocent looking bush is studded with profoundly sharp thorns to protect its delicious produce.  These are not like the puny thorns that snag you from blackberry bushes, but gooseberry thorns are more like mini daggers that sink into your skin and will not let go.  Last year Dave was in Belgium on fieldwork when the gooseberries came ripe so it was only myself and Little Man to gather our berries.  He says it was academic work.  I think it was to avoid the gooseberries.

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Little Man was my gooseberry helper last year.  He brought one of his superhero action figures and played in the dirt, tossing in a few berries here and there.  His favorite part was dumping my “picking bucket” into the larger berry bowl.  Kids can help in lots of ways.

Besides the issue of harvesting the gooseberries, the berries will need to be stemmed and tailed.  This can be tedious, but I have found that doing this with a friend (or my husband) along with a nice cold beer (or maybe two, but remember you need to keep your wits about you if you are making the jam right after preparing the berries) makes the process a lot nicer.  If that does not help, just keep reminding yourself how amazing this jam tastes.  You truly cannot buy this flavor from the store.

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Removing the stems, tails and leaves from freshly picked gooseberries can be tedious.  Grab a friend and a favorite beverage and make the chore into something fun.

Making Gooseberry Jam
Ingredients

4 cups of gooseberries (stemmed and tailed)
1 ¼ cup water
1 lemon, juiced
4 cups sugar

Directions

  1. Prepare your canner, jars, lids and rings. Place a couple of small ceramic dishes in the freezer.  You will use these to test your jam’s doneness later.
  2. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven combine half of the berries, lemon juice and water. Bring the pot to a boil and cook the berries for 10 minutes.  Some of the berries will start to pop and the liquid will turn garnet red.
  3. Add the rest of the berries and the sugar to the pot and stir over gentle heat (about 10-15 minutes) until the sugar dissolves completely. Do not rush this part or the sugar can crystallize (aka bad mojo for jam).  Once the sugar grains are all dissolved bring the berries and sugar to a full, hard boil that cannot be stirred down.  Stir often for about 10-15 minutes with a long handled wooden spoon to ensure the jam does not stick or burn.
  4. To see if the jam has set, remove one of the chilled plates from the freezer and drizzle a little bit of the hot jam mixture onto the plate. Then tilt the plate to let the jam run.  If the jam firms up quickly and sort of crinkles on the top, then it is done.  If it does not firm up quickly, then let it continue to boil hard for a couple more minutes and test it again.  Keep going until you get the crinkles, then you are ready to fill.
  5. Once the jam is firming up well, remove it from the heat and skim off any foam. This can be set aside in a bowl to add to a nice piece of toast to celebrate your hard work.
  6. Fill and process your jars based on the manufacturer’s directions. I like to use wide mouthed 250 ml jars.
  7. After the jars are processed, set them aside to cool for 24 hours. Resist the urge to touch or move them during this time.  If any lids don’t seal properly, simply put those jars into the refrigerator and enjoy over the next couple of days.  The sealed jars can be stored for up to one year.

    Click here for a printable version of the Gooseberry Jam recipe.

  8. After the jars are cooled, clean them off and remove the rings. Label your jars clearly with the name of their contents and the date they were sealed.  Store the jars in a single layer in a dark, cool area.  Do not stack your jars on top of one another.  The reason you remove the rings is that if something went wrong with the canning and bad stuff is growing in there, the lid will lose its seal and pop open.  This food should be discarded and not eaten.  If you keep the rings on or stack something on top of your jars, then you cannot tell if a seal has popped.

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Gooseberry

The innocent little bush, just waiting for this years victims… I mean berry pickers…

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Breakfast Snack Cookies

Somewhere along the way we developed a morning routine of Little Man waking up and heading to the couch for a little TV, a drink of juice and a snack to tide him over until breakfast.  I don’t mind this window of quiet since it buys us a bit of time to start moving (and thinking).  Neither Dave nor I are particularly quick or quick witted first thing. What I’ve tried to do for these morning snacks, is find something that still registers as a treat for him, but that I can feel good about giving him to eat.  For Little Man, the greatest treat in the world is a cookie so treats in that form are generally a big hit.  Then I just wanted to make one that was as choc full of goodness (and tastiness) as I could come up with.  Enter the Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookie.

Once you move beyond the fact that they are delicious, they are also wheat-free, vegan and low FODMAP compliant, though none of those labels sound particularly tasty.  So if you’re going just for taste, ignore those last few disclaimers and get ready for a deliciously chewy cookie that you can feel good about feeding your family for breakfast or snack… or for treating yourself to as well.

With these, or pretty much any kind of cookies, I like to bake off a dozen right away for snacking and then freeze the rest in logs for slice and bake cookies.  For one thing that keeps me from eating an entire plate of cookies immediately since I don’t have a massive pile of cookies in front of me, but it also lets me vary things for Little Man in the mornings for snack time.  One of the things I read while researching Little Man’s dietary issues, is that especially if you have a picky eater, you should never serve your child the same thing two days in a row for breakfast.  Since Little Man is a picky eater and has the dietary issues, it felt like we were only feeding him two different foods for breakfast.  So now I try to have 4-5 breakfasts that I cycle through on any given week.  For us that’s often pancakes, eggs/toast/bacon, waffles, baked oatmeal, french toast, and a Dutch apple baby (baked pancake).  This is also why I like to keep homemade frozen pancakes, waffles, and bread in my freezer.  I make a batch of something and then freeze a good amount of it for use later in the week.  It’s not a perfect system, but it lets me rotate things through for Little Man and hopefully keeps his taste buds ready for new things to try.  FIngers crossed…

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookies
I love that I can give these cookies to my son without feeling guilty about the ingredients, and the fact that he loves them because they’re delicious. Loaded with oats and peanut butter, these cookies give a good boost of fiber and protein, as well as a bit of chia goodness to round things out. I like to bake off a dozen and then freeze the rest of the dough in logs so I can bake more  whenever I want. Just add 5 minutes to the baking time if baking from frozen.

Ingredients:
2 tsp. chia meal (see note*)
2 tbsp. water (plus ½ cup for use later on)
¼ cup margarine, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl combine the chia meal and the water, and let it sit for 5 minutes. This becomes your chia egg (aka egg replacement).
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    All you need to make your own chia meal is a bag of chia seeds and a coffee/spice grinder.  This lets you create a healthier chia meal since your freshly ground meal retains more of the essential oils.  Store bought chia meal is much older and the oils have started to dissipate.

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    It may not be pretty, but this peppery-gray goo (aka egg replacer) is full of nutrients, and helps wheat-free recipes hold together.

  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the margarine and peanut butter until fluffy. Add the chia egg, brown sugar and vanilla and beat until combined.
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    Getting the margarine and peanut butter ready.  I use a good quality soy-free margarine.

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    The beaters make fast work of blending my ingredients together, but you can do this by hand or with a stand mixer depending on your “tool” of choice.

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    These are the last ingredients for using the beaters (or stand mixer).  From here on out you will want to use a spoon to combine the remaining ingredients.

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    And here is your lovely batter, ready for the best parts… the oats and chocolate chips.

  4. Add the water, oats and baking soda, stirring by hand with a spoon or mixing on a lower speed in a stand mixer so the oats do not get too broken up.
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    I like to stir this part by hand with a spoon so the oats do not get too broken up.

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    Just missing the chocolate.

  5. Stir in the chocolate chips, and use two spoons to portion and drop tablespoon sized dough balls onto the parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.
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    This is Little Man’s favorite part since he needs to play Quality Inspector and make sure that the chocolate is fit for people to eat.

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    Since this is an egg-free batter, the raw dough is safe for snacking on.  Little Man is not generally lucky enough for this, however, since I like to keep as much batter for cookies as possible.

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    I did not use a scoop to form these cookies, just the old-fashioned method of two teaspoons.  If you do use a scoop, press down on the center a bit to flatten the cookies so that they cook through well.  This batter does not spread like some others do.

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    More cookie love.

  6. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, then allow to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely (of course, you should munch on a couple while they are still warm… just to make sure they are good). These cookies tend to be more fragile than cookies with lots of flour, but their taste makes up for any potential fragility.

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    Since there is no flour in this recipe the cookies can be a bit fragile.  Let them sit on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

  7. The dough can also be rolled into a log inside plastic wrap and frozen for slice and bake cookies. When you want the cookies, simply pull out a log, unwrap the portion you want, slice off cookies and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° and check after 10 minutes. They may need a couple of minutes more since they are baking from frozen. Enjoy!
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    I like to bake off a dozen of the cookies fresh, and then save the rest of the batter as freezer rolls to bake whenever I want them. So start with a sheet of plastic wrap and dump a portion of the batter onto the center of the plastic.

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    Form the batter into a log-like shape using the sides of the plastic.

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    Don’t feel that you have to be too precious about the thing and roll the perfect log.  No one is looking, so if your cookie log isn’t perfect it is no big deal.  And if anyone wants to critique your cookie log shape… perhaps they are not worthy of your cookies.  Just a thought.  😉

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    Sometimes the cookie logs do not last long enough in the fridge or freezer for me to label them.

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    The finished beauties.

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Now I just need a cup of tea and I will declare it snack time.


Note
: Chia seeds lose their awesome oils quickly once ground, so try not to buy them pre-ground as chia meal. Make your own chia meal by blitzing up chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. You can also do the same with flax seeds, or make oat flour by blitzing up whole oats (not instant, please). Store any extra chia meal in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Click here for a printable version of the Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookies recipe.

Homemade Curry Powder

I love spice.  Love it!  The size of my spice cupboard is ridiculous, and that’s even after some serious culling both before and after we moved to Canada.  I’m looking forward to the day (hopefully not too distant in the future) when Little Man will start to enjoy food with any level of heat to it.  Until then, I still use spices heavily throughout my cooking, but limit myself to those that add flavor, not heat.

One of the drawbacks (and sources of great woe) of the low FODMAP diet has been in the total absence of onion and garlic in the spices we are allowed to cook with.  Garlic can be used as an infused oil, but all other forms are forbidden since they are a primary culprit of the bad gastric issues we are trying to avoid with Little Man.  This garlic and onion spice avoidance also means that just about every commercially available spice blend, even from the really good places, are also forbidden since they all contain some form (sometimes multiple forms) of dried garlic and/or onions.  Sigh…

The other day I finally hit my point of “enough!” when I was skimming through some online recipes and they all contained curry powder.  It just so happens that my spice cupboard holds multiple types of curry powder, all of which contain the forbidden items.  Argh!  As I glared at my spices it suddenly occured to me that I actually had all of the ingredietns that I needed to make a garlic- and onion-free (aka FODMAP friendly) curry powder.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but challenge accepted!

I do have to state here that there is absolutely nothing authentic about curry powder.  It’s basically an invention of colonialism as the British came back from their time in India and wanted to recreate the flavors of that incredible place.  Point of fact, this is also how Worcestershire Sauce was created, but that’s a different story.  The point here is to please not expect an authentic Indian cuisine experience from this spice blend, since it isn’t authentic.  It is, however, delicious.

Once you have the ground spices at hand, making the spice blend is literally as easy as stirring them up in a bowl and storing them in a tightly sealed jar in a dark, cool, place.  You can therefore tweak the recipe to give it the kind of flavor (or appearance) that you prefer, such as adding cayenne in place of where I use paprika.  Trust me, if I wasn’t doing this for Little Man specifically, I’d be using the cayenne as well.

I like to use this curry powder to toss with potatoes or yams for roasting in the oven along with a little olive oil, salt and pepper; or add it into quinoa or brown rice before boiling; or even mixing it into a simple vinaigrette for a punch of flavor in an acidic salad dressing.  Your only limitation in how to use this curry powder is your own imagination.  It goes great with just about anything.  And if you don’t need to follow a low FODMAP diet, by all means add a teaspoon or so of garlic and onion powder to your spice blend.  I’ll just have to vicariously live through your allium usage.

FODMAP Friendly Curry Powder
Yes, it is easier to buy an already blended spice mix from the store, but this version lets you adjust the heat level to your (or your family’s) preferences or dietary needs. My version creates a blend suitable for low FODMAP diet dishes, while giving you a fresher flavor than you’ll find from the store shelf. For the best curry powder, grind whole cumin and coriander seeds in a spice or coffee grinder. I use powdered here for quickness.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. ground coriander
2 tbsp. ground cardamom
2 tbsp. turmeric
2 tsp. paprika (or cayenne for more heat)
2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Combine the spices in a bowl, then pour into an air tight container.
    The spices for my homemade curry powder.

    The spices for my homemade curry powder.

    Stirring them together.

    Stirring them together.

    And viola, you are done.  My curry powder is not as yellow as some store brands.  You can make it more yellow if you want by adding more turmeric.  I like this deeper color, and the balance of flavors created here.

    And viola, you are done. My curry powder is not as yellow as some store brands. You can make it more yellow if you want by adding more turmeric. I like this deeper color, and the balance of flavors created here.

  2. Store in a cool, dark place. Use in any recipe that calls for curry powder. The curry powder can be used in a vinaigrette, tossed with potato or yam wedges for oven roasting, or rubbed onto a whole chicken before roasting. Enjoy!
Then just store the spice in a tight jar, like my tiny mason jar or any recycled jam or honey jar, and you are ready to go.

Then just store the spice in a tight jar, like my tiny mason jar or any recycled jam or honey jar, and you are ready to go.

Click here for a printable version of the FODMAP Friendly Curry Powder recipe.

These little jars can also make fantastic gifts.  Try putting a few together for a hostess gift, for a wedding shower, or around the holidays.

These little jars can also make fantastic gifts. Try putting a few together for a hostess gift, for a wedding shower, or around the holidays.

Adventures with FODMAPs – Lactose Edition and Amazing Cornbread with Maple Butter

As I’ve written earlier, we are in the midst of the dubious pleasure of testing different food groups for reintroduction into our son’s diet.  After following the 10 week low FODMAP food regimen we finally saw healthy changes in Little Man, and then began the exciting and worrisome task of testing the various FODMAP groups to see which one(s) are triggers for him.  Based on the suggested plan for testing the different groups, we started with the Polyols (aka fruit alcohols).  They went suprisingly well, and buoyed by our success with the polyol FODMAP food tests we dove right into the lactose tests.  There are numerous categories of FODMAPS (discussed in a previous post Adventures with FODMAPs – Polyol Edition) and each one needs to be tested in order to find which FODMAP foods or food groups might be triggers for Little Man.  Alas, our previous good fortune was to be short lived.

We started our lactose trials with Little Man’s favorite food in the world; boxed mac and cheese.  A couple of weeks ago Little Man and I were in the grocery store doing regular shopping and we came across the aisle with his favorite brand of mac and cheese.  He stopped dead in his tracks, jumped into a wide stance with his arms out like he was going to hug the shelf, and immediately broke into a happy dance singing about his love for mac and cheese.  Full on singing at the top of his lungs in the middle of the aisle.  While he was dancing out of pure unadulterated joy, my heart was breaking since I knew that we were in the middle of the strict FODMAP diet, so he couldn’t have this food that obviously he’d been missing.  Luckily this brand also carries one style of gluten-free mac and cheese, so I picked up a box for him to enjoy when we started the lactose test.

Now here we are testing the lactose/dairy FODMAP category and Little Man got his boxed treat.  I had to make Dave and myself a separate box, since I think that Little Man was prepared to defend his mac and cheese with whatever plastic utensil was at hand.  We had to control his portions or I think he might just have eaten the entire thing.  The left overs he devoured for lunch the next day.  Luckily there weren’t any ill effects from this beloved food.  So we continued.

The next evening we moved on to testing the lactose group with feta, a low lactose cheese.  We gave some to Little Man just to eat with dinner (primarily since when he heard I was using feta, he came and begged for tastes) and some blitzed up in a delicious walnut and feta dip that we hadn’t enjoyed in months.  Seriously, you’ve got to try this dip.  Dave and I used to make this often as a part of a meze (Greek for little dishes) meal.  Little Man fell on that feta like a hungry wolf pup, gobbling up both the plain feta and the dip.  We then watched him like a pair of hawks, and didn’t notice any unfortunate symptoms over the course of the next day.  With that false sense of security we continued.

The following evening we had a dinner of delicious shrimp quesadillas with cheddar cheese from Pioneer Woman.  Now, when testing FODMAPs you need to be careful to only test one category at a time.  Otherwise if you are trying to test for lactose with a quesadilla (something that contains both lactose and gluten), then if you get a reaction you won’t know which category was the culprit.  That’s a long way around to say that we needed to make these wheat-free quesadillas.  I haven’t found gluten- or wheat-free store bought tortillas that I like, so I made spelt tortillas and they were great.  I’ll share that recipe soon in a separate post.  The quesadillas were seriously delicious, and again we didn’t notice any bloating or other symptoms.  So we moved forward again.

For this day we had cumin-spiced chicken and butter pasta for dinner.  The butter pasta is a simple and serious comfort food for Dave.  We used to eat butter pasta for dinner sporadically in graduate school when we needed a fast, comforting, and dead cheap meal.  It’s simply spaghetti (in our case a gluten free variety) tossed with a little starchy water from their boiling liquid, a good amount of butter (we used a nondairy variety since that’s what we had in the house), and a wonderful handful of Parmesan cheese (the real stuff please).  When we make this for ourselves, we also toss in a handful of finely chopped Italian parsley and chives. Little Man is in a “no green” phase of eating right now, so for this test we left them out.  He does, however LOVE Parmesan.  We gave him a couple of little shards to munch on while he also gobbled up the pasta.

It was after the butter pasta meal that we did finally see those unfortunate symptoms that we’d been both watching for and dreading.  Poor Little Man had a distended tummy for a couple of days and was understandably low in energy and appetite. In this case we don’t think that the culprit was necessarily the Parmesan, but the accumulation of lactose over the last few days.  We would later test Little Man with a snack of a good quality raspberry yogurt, and see these unfortunate symptoms appear again.

The appearance of those symptoms for Little Man after eating dairy products was both disheartening since we have to be careful with those foods for him, but it was also somehow reassuring since we now at least know one of the food groups that is a trigger for him.  Now that we know this trigger, we can do our best to avoid them or at least to plan around them so that he can still enjoy his favorite dairy foods from time to time, we just have to be sure to limit as many high FODMAP foods as possible around those meals.  The key with FODMAPs is that they are cumulative, so each time that they are eaten they build upon the last.

So the good part is that we’ve identified a solid trigger for Little Man, and of course the downside is that it’s a category that is insidious.  You never realize the number of foods that contain dairy until you start looking for it.  For instance we learned that some hotdog brands contain milk powder.  And, yes, we found that out after feeding the to our son.  Doh!  So now we are taking a week to get Little Man’s system back on track and then we’ll experiment with the joys of fructose FODMAPs.

Another plus from our experiments with lactose has been the discovery of an amazing substitute for honey butter.  Before things went sideways with Little Man in the lactose testing, I had plans for a meal that was basically an excuse to have cornbread with honey butter.  That is one of Little Man’s favorites, but both the butter (lactose) and the honey (fructose) are high FODMAPs and are therefore victus non grata (unwelcome food).  It was a super simple switch, but that evening I tried making a maple butter by switching out the honey for maple syrup… and my goodness… where has this been all of my life?  I now try to find more excuses for making corn bread just to have this maple butter again.  You’ve got to try it.

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Awesome Cornbread and Maple Butter
Ingredients
:
1 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup chia meal (see note)
¾ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (cow, almond, soy, coconut…)
2 eggs
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup softened margarine or butter
2 tbsp. maple syrup (the real thing, please)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Grease an 8-inch cast iron pan or baking pan with butter, margarine or coconut oil, and place the pan in the oven to heat while you make the batter. Preheating the seasoned pan is what gives the bread an awesome crispy crust.

    Preheating the pan (preferably cast iron) before adding the batter creates a deliciously crispy crust.

    Preheating the pan (preferably cast iron) before adding the batter creates a deliciously crispy crust.

  2. In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, chia meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the ingredients together to make sure they are well incorporated.
    The dry ingredients.

    The dry ingredients.

    Whisked dry ingredients.  The chia looks alarmingly like black pepper, but soon it will blend in nicely.

    Whisked dry ingredients. The chia looks alarmingly like black pepper, but soon it will blend in nicely.

  3. In a small bowl or large measuring cup combine the milk, eggs and olive oil. Gently beat the eggs to start combining things.
    I like to mix the wet ingredients together in a large measuring cup rather than dirty another bowl.

    I like to mix the wet ingredients together in a large measuring cup rather than dirty another bowl.

    The wet ingredients don't need to be perfectly blended, but give them a good spin before adding to the dry ingredients.

    The wet ingredients don’t need to be perfectly blended, but give them a good spin before adding to the dry ingredients.

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  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until they are just combined. Do not over mix, or this will give you tough cornbread.

    The spelt and chia cornbread batter is darker than a standard recipe, and the flavor will be more rich as well.

    The spelt and chia cornbread batter is darker than a standard recipe, and the flavor will be more rich as well.

  5. Carefully pull the prepared hot pan out of the oven and pour the batter into the pan. Gently smooth the top, and return the pan to the oven.
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  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out dry.
    The hardest part is letting the cornbread cool before digging in.

    The hardest part is letting the cornbread cool before digging in.

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  7. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the softened butter or margarine with the maple syrup. If you over soften the butter, don’t worry. Just mix it all together and stick it in the freezer or refrigerator to firm up a bit. You can also add a bit more syrup for a sweeter flavor, if you like. Transfer the maple butter to a small serving bowl.
    It's rare that I remember to set butter out to soften on the counter, so I generally need to use the microwave in short  second bursts.

    It’s rare that I remember to set butter out to soften on the counter, so I generally need to use the microwave in short second bursts.

    I was a bit over judicious in my maple syrup pour for this picture.  If this happens to you, just do the same thing that I did and add a bit more softened butter until you get the consistency that you like.

    I was a bit over judicious in my maple syrup pour for this picture. If this happens to you, just do the same thing that I did and add a bit more softened butter until you get the consistency that you like.

    After a few moments in the freezer or minutes in the refrigerator, this too soft maple butter was perfect for use.

    After a few moments in the freezer or minutes in the refrigerator, this too soft maple butter was perfect for use.

  8. Once the cornbread is fully baked, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Then slice the cornbread and serve it with the maple butter. I love serving the cornbread in the cast iron skillet right on the table alongside a small crock of the maple butter. Enjoy!

Note: Make your own chia meal by blitzing up chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. You can also do the same with flax seeds, or make oat flour by blitzing up whole oats (not instant, please). Store any extra chia meal in the freezer to keep it fresh.

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Click here for a printable version of the Awesome Cornbread and Maple Butter recipe.

Adventures with FODMAPs – Polyols and Sweet Potato “Fries”

We’ve finally made it through the initial eight weeks of the FODMAP diet so we can begin trying to reintroduce different categories of FODMAPs into Little Man’s and our diets.  Whew!  It’s been a bit of a haul, and honestly it’s likely been closer to 10 weeks because we completely botched the first week or two.  After that point we got into the swing of things and started seeing really great improvements in Little Man’s health.  Now we get to start trying out foods, one category at a time, checking for reactions to each one, slowly going through multiple foods from each category before moving on.  Let the games begin…

For more specifics on the FODMAP diet and reintroducing foods, please see Sue Shepard’s Complete FODMAP Diet book.  This details the tests they ran to create the diet, the types of issues that following the diet can help, a detailed discussion of FODMAPS, foods to avoid and how to reintroduce foods for these “challenges” to see what reacts badly with an individual and what can be safely eaten.  I do not attempt to be an expert on this diet, but simply am doing my best to follow the guidelines to help my family’s health.

Shepard recommends starting the reintroductions with the Polyol FODMAP category, moving slowly through up the scale of contentious other categories, and finally ending with the one that no one can actually digest well… Galactoids (aka beans… but more on those in a few weeks).  Polyols are “sugar alcohols” and occur naturally in some foods, but are also used in processed foods as sweeteners.  For us, the high FODMAP polyols that we used as “challenges” to reintroduce to Little Man are apples, blackberries, pears, and mushrooms, as well as the moderate polyol FODMAPs of sweet potatoes and avocados.  Even though this was the least contentious of the categories to start with, it is one that I’ve been looking to forward the most because of its prevalence as a sweetener in juices, cookies, granola bars, fruit snacks, jams, and any other myriad of snack treat or food aimed towards kids.  Try finding jams, juices or fruit snacks for kids that don’t contain either high fructose corn syrup (another high FODMAP, but one that we try to eliminate anyway) or some form of apple.  Ugh…

Starting the reintroduction process has been nerve wracking.  Little Man’s tummy was looking good and it’s difficult to put that at risk, but I’m also excited to start this process so that we can (hopefully) finally know what his triggers are.  My hope is that it will be easier to only have to avoid a few triggers (please be only a few!) than the world at large.

For the reintroduction process, it’s important to not completely gorge on the food you are testing, but also to make sure that you eat a good portion. If you try too small of an amount, you may not get an accurate response.  So you should try a regular-sized portion (Shepard has suggestions), see if there is a reaction, and then try again.  If you have a regular sized proportion of a high FODMAP food and have a reaction, Shepard suggests that after your symptoms subside try the food again at a smaller amount.  It might just be that you can only tolerate a small bit.  Once you know what foods and what amounts of the foods you can (or cannot) handle, you can start to better understanding your triggers.  Shepard also suggests trying these trigger foods again at a later date.  Sometimes our systems change, and especially since Little Man is so young he may out grow (or may not) the unfortunate reactions he’s experiencing today.

It took us almost two weeks, but we just completed testing the Polyol FODMAP food group.  Luckily for us, Little Man did great with all of the polyols we tried.  He did so good, in fact, that for the first time in months I let him have one of the good fruit snack treats (sweetened with apple juice) we call fruit straws.  He was ecstatic, and so far I haven’t seen any bad reactions.  To celebrate this “challenge” Little Man and I ate our fruit snacks while going on an adventure walk in our neighbors’ Enchanted Forest.  Aside from the fruit straws, we were also treated to our first view of a native orchid species to these woods called Fairy Slippers.  The orchids are tiny, so it took us a bit of time to finally locate the amidst the larger Trilium and gorgeous yellow violets. Little Man, who is obsessed with all things Kung Fu Panda, was determined that we were having a hard time finding the Fairy Slipper orchids because a group of Croc bandits must have come through and taken them all.  Luckily we chased off the Croc bandits and found the orchids.  Whew!

Aside from apple, one of the polyol foods that I have been looking forward to “testing” are sweet potatoes.  We are still struggling with getting Little Man to eat vegetables (and fruit in any form that is not completely pulverized or turned into jam), but one that he will eat without any question is a sweet potato.  In our household we call these “french fries” even though they aren’t fried, aren’t made from regular potatoes (though you can use them if you want), nor are they in french fry shape (though you can easily cut them that way too).  Ah well.  The good news is that since Little Man has cleared this challenge, we can start enjoying sweet potatoes again at dinner time. Little Man’s favorite way to eat sweet potato “french fries” is in the form of Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries.  For the reintroduction celebration of sweet potatoes, I served them as Smokey Sweet Potato Bites.  I’ve included both recipes here, though the pictures are only for the Smokey Sweet Potato bites since the method is the same.  When we put these on the dinner table Little Man’s eyes lit up and he literally fell on them with both hands.  Dave and I were concerned that he was going to eat too many of them and therefore have a bad reaction, but all was well with the world and Little Man was super excited to have one of his favorite foods back.  Whew!

If you think that you don’t like sweet potatoes, maybe give them one more chance and try these out.  The cost and labor output is low, and you might be surprised by actually liking them.  I, myself, only like sweet potatoes in certain dishes.  I’m not a huge fan of baked sweet potatoes served like regular baked potatoes, nor do I like sweet potato fries especially if they are treated like a dessert and covered in cinnamon sugar.  Apologies to all of those sweet potato lovers who like those two dishes, but they simply aren’t my thing.  My classic Oven Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries” and Smokey Sweet Potato Bites, however, are totally different.  The sweetness of the sweet potato is balanced with the smokey spices, and the edges of each bite are crisped in the oven.  What’s not to like?  Here’s how they are made.

Oven Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries”
In our household, these are the classic form of “French fry” that appear on our dinner table regularly. They aren’t fried, nor are they made out of potatoes, nor are they in French fry shape (though you can easily cut them that way). What they are is delicious, and Little Man’s favorite vegetable. If you don’t think you like sweet potatoes, give these a shot. You might just change your mind.

Ingredients:
2 medium sweet potatoes
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°. Prepare a baking sheet by drizzling a little olive oil over it, then spreading the oil around with your fingers to evenly cover the pan. Set it aside.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes, and then cut them in half the long way. Then cut those halves in half the long way again. Line up your sweet potato quarters and slice them into ¼ inch “bites.” Try to keep the pieces close to the same thickness, otherwise the really skinny ones will burn before the thicker ones crisp. Once all of your sweet potatoes are chopped, place them in a large bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and toss with a large spoon until the sweet potato bites are evenly coated.
  4. Pour the seasoned sweet potatoes out onto the prepared baking sheet. Be sure that your sweet potatoes are all in one layer, spreading them out if needed.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, checking the “fries” towards the end of the cooking time to ensure that they aren’t “over caramelizing.” If they are getting too dark at the corners of your baking sheet, simply flip them around with a spatula moving the darker pieces into the center and the less done pieces to the corners.
  6. Once the fries are crispy and browned, remove the pan from the oven and move the bites with a spatula into your serving bowl. Taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of my Oven Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries” recipe, and keep on reading for another variation (this time with pictures!).

Smokey Sweet Potato Bites

Smokey Sweet Potato Bites
These are a smoky, spiced version of the classic Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries that Little Man loves. That basic recipe can be a blank canvas to season with whatever spices and herbs you are feeling inspired by. I love the smokey paprika with these fries, and they pair fantastically with roasted chicken or pork, or with any hearty vegetarian main. Like with the classic version, if you don’t think you like sweet potatoes, give these a shot.

Ingredients:
2 medium sweet potatoes
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°. Prepare a baking sheet by drizzling a little olive oil over it, then spreading the oil around with your fingers to evenly cover the pan. Set it aside.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes, and then cut them in half the long way. Then cut those halves in half the long way again. Line up your sweet potato quarters and slice them into ¼ inch “bites.” Try to keep the pieces close to the same thickness, otherwise the really skinny ones will burn before the thicker ones crisp. Once all of your sweet potatoes are chopped, place them in a large bowl.
    I included this picture to let you know the approximate size that I tend to buy of sweet potatoes.  I generally avoid the ones that are closer to small comet size.

    I included this picture to let you know the approximate size that I tend to buy of sweet potatoes. I generally avoid the ones that are closer to small comet size.

    The look after being peeled...

    The look after being peeled…

    Halving them lengthwise...

    Halving them lengthwise…

    Then halve them lengthwise again, and slice into little arcs.  These are perfect bite size (or for little fists...) bites.

    Then halve them lengthwise again, and slice into little arcs. These are perfect bite size (or for little fists…) bites.

  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and toss with a large spoon until the sweet potato bites are evenly coated with the oil and spices.
    Adding the spices to the bowl.  I love smoked paprika.  Look at that color!

    Adding the spices to the bowl. I love smoked paprika. Look at that color!

    Evenly tossed raw sweet potato bites with spices and olive oil.

    Evenly tossed raw sweet potato bites with spices and olive oil.

  4. Pour the seasoned sweet potatoes out onto the prepared baking sheet. Be sure that your sweet potatoes are all in one layer, spreading them out if needed.
    Pouring the bites onto a prepared baking sheet.

    Pouring the bites onto a prepared baking sheet.

    Smooth out the pile so that each bite can get nice and crispy in the oven.

    Smooth out the pile so that each bite can get nice and crispy in the oven.

  5. Bake for 30 minutes, checking the sweet potato bites towards the end of the cooking time to ensure that they aren’t “over caramelizing.” If they are getting too dark at the corners of your baking sheet, simply flip them around with a spatula moving the more done pieces into the center and the less done pieces to the corners.
    These are about halfway done.  Flip them here so that both sides get golden brown, and if any on the edges are browning too quickly you can move them to the center.

    These are about halfway done. Flip them here so that both sides get golden brown, and if any on the edges are browning too quickly you can move them to the center.

    Here they are almost perfect.  You can taste them now to adjust for seasoning.

    Here they are almost perfect. You can taste them now to adjust for seasoning.

  6. Once the sweet potato bites are crispy and browned, remove the pan from the oven and move the bites with a spatula into your serving bowl. Taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Enjoy!

    Smokey Sweet Potato Bites!

    Smokey Sweet Potato Bites!

Click here for a printable version of my Oven Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries” recipe or my Smokey Sweet Potato Bites recipe.

Cooking with Kids

When I first started cooking with Little Man, he couldn’t yet walk.  I would hold him on my hip and press his little hand around a long wooden spoon and let him “help” me stir whatever I was making.  As he grew older, I started asking him to help me cook or bake and he would gleefully dump in a cup of flour that I’d filled for him.  Sometimes he would drop the entire thing into the bowl, measuring cup and all.  Even if all he did was add in a premeasured scoop of flour, he would tell his Daddy proudly that he’d helped make the muffins.  Now more and more it’s not me asking him to come and cook with me, but if he sees me making anything in the kitchen he comes running up asking to help, dragging a stool in his wake.

Little Man helping me stir ingredients in a measuring cup in our tiny Iowa kitchen.

Two year old Little Man helping me stir ingredients in a measuring cup in our tiny Iowa kitchen.

I don’t want this to sound like a fairytale of always awesome cooking experiences.  In fact, there are numerous times when I ask Little Man if he’d like to help me cook or bake and his answer is a curly haired blur of “no” as he runs off to do something else.  But, since I’ve taken the time to slow down and get him involved with baking special treats or snacks, as well as making pancakes or stirring dinner, he now thinks of cooking or baking as something that can be fun to do and he often helps me in the kitchen.

Here three year old LM has his first ball of bread dough to play with.

Here three year old LM has his first ball of bread dough to play with.

Cooking with kids is a completely different ball game from the cooking you do on your own, and for some people it can be incredibly stressful.  When I first learned that I was pregnant with Little Man, I knew that I wanted to have special cooking times with him, and I also knew that I was going to have to change how I worked in the kitchen.  I was a good cook, but often got stressed out when trying to cook with someone in the kitchen with me.  If Dave was in our tiny kitchen as I cooked… forgetaboutit… not good.  Around the same time there were numerous T.V. series about people learning how to host television cooking shows, and much of what they were learning was about how to cook nicely with others and how to teach cooking.  I started watching these shows and trying out their advice so that I could learn to play nicely with others in the kitchen, and hopefully be able to teach my son both how to cook but more importantly how to love cooking.

The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, also had mini

The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, has  cooking workshops for kids. LM got to color his own chef’s hat and then make a turtle cup cake.

Learning how to cook with Little Man has taken quite a bit of trial and error, but now it’s something that we both look forward to.  For me, the three main goals for cooking with kids that I try to be mindful of are to:
1. Choose a time to cook when you aren’t pressed for time
2. Embrace the mess
3. Focus on the process not the product

LM is helping Dave grate cheese last Mother's Day for wraps to bring on our picnic.  I'm not sure how much cheese actually made it to the wraps, and how much was

LM is helping Dave grate cheese last Mother’s Day for wraps to bring on our picnic. I’m not sure how much cheese actually made it to the wraps, and how much was “sampled” by the chefs.

Timing is Everything!
There are days (and quite a few of them) when I simply need to get dinner on the table.  There’s not a lot of time to mess around, I just need to get into the kitchen, get dinner going and onto the table asap.  Those times are not the best for cooking with Little Man.  I do my best to never turn him away if he asks to help me cook, but it’s taken lots of practice for me to be able to do this, and frankly there are times when it wouldn’t be safe for him to help me (like even shallow frying or browning meat/veg with splattering oil).  This is why when I know that I will be making something that is calmer, that is a particular favorite of Little Man’s, or when I know that I can be more relaxed with when a dish or treat is done then I invite Little Man to come and cook with me.  I try to be strategic when I can.  There are even certain dishes that he loves that I require he cooks with me, like boxed mac and cheese.  If you want to see a great Pavlovian-dog response with Little Man, shake a box of mac and cheese in his vicinity.  You’ll see his eyes widen, back straighten, and curls bounce as he runs to see if he heard that rattle correctly.  So now, if we’re having boxed mac and cheese, then he’s the one making it (just not the draining of the hot pasta part yet), with my help of course.

It’s the issue of time and timing that I’ve had to work on the most for cooking with Little Man.  As with anything else dealing with kids, if you are stressed about it your child will be stressed too.  I had to practice this, but it’s almost like a deep breathing exercise.  Just accept the fact that if it normally takes you 20 minutes to get a pan of muffins into the oven, when you first start cooking with a child that time could easily double, but that’s OK.  The goal isn’t speed here, it’s teaching your child how to cook, how to enjoy cooking, and most importantly getting to spend some special time with you while doing so.  If it takes you a few more (or many more) minutes to cook something together, then those are bonus moments that you get to spend together doing something fun.

These were LM's birthday cup cakes to bring to day care.  I found little sprinkles all over the kitchen for days.

These were LM’s birthday cup cakes to bring to day care. I found little sprinkles all over the kitchen for days.

Embrace the Mess!
Much like giving up control of your timeline, especially when first learning how to cook with your child or when cooking with a young child you need to accept the fact that it’s going to get messy.  Just ask my husband (or mother-in-law… wait… on second thought don’t do that…), I am not the most organized or cleanest cook out there.  I’ve gotten better over the years, but I tend to leave a swath of destruction in my wake (just check out the background in the banner image of this post… wait, no don’t do that… its too messy).  I’ve been practicing being better, specifically as an example for Little Man as we cook, but I have a bit of work to be done there.

That said, I am trying to cook cleaner, so when I first started baking with Little Man it was hard for me to let him do the scooping of ingredients on his own.  I would scoop the flour/sugar/spice, hold the measuring cup or spoon over the bowl and only then let him dump the ingredient in.  The reason I did this was partly based on Little Man’s age at the time, and partly based on my own desire to control the potential chaos in my kitchen.  You know best the abilities of your child, and if you aren’t sure of his/her abilities in the kitchen then start with what you are comfortable with and move up from there.  Just remember that your child learns and develops at an astonishing rate.  You (meaning me too) need to remember to let your child push his/her abilities from time to time to see what they really can do.

Increasingly Little Man asks if he can do any of our cooking or baking tasks “all by” himself.  Since baking particularly needs to be pretty precise, I will still often scoop and level a measuring cup or spoon, but then I hand it over immediately to Little Man who will then move it to the bowl and dump it.  Especially at first there was quite a bit of spill over with a winter-esque coating of flour and/or sugar across the kitchen counter when we were baking.  But that didn’t matter.  He could dump an entire cup of flour on the floor… much like I myself did last night… and it wouldn’t matter.  We would look at each other then bust up laughing.  I’d help him do the correct measurement, and then we’d stop to clean up the mess together.  As with anything else in life worth learning, you are going to make a mistake from time to time.  It’s important that we give our kids the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them as well.  This also gives Little Man practice in cleaning up, but he doesn’t mind doing it with me since it’s all a part of the cooking game.

I love how serious he is here with his mixing bowl, as he whisks dry ingredients together.  The flour cloud must have subsided by the time I took the picture.

I love how serious he is here with his mixing bowl, as he whisks dry ingredients together. The flour cloud must have subsided by the time I took the picture.

It’s About the Process Not the Product
This last goal for cooking with kids really sums up the previous two about letting go of stress about time and cleanliness.  If your muffins are the ugliest in the world, that’s just another part of the great story that you’ll tell for years.  And who knows, even though they look a mess those ugly muffins might still be delicious.  If you make something that is a complete flop, inedible to the core, again this can become part of family lore and it can also be a great opportunity to call in reinforcements like the local pizza delivery place.  The only thing that matters is that you were in the kitchen cooking with your child.  Period.  End of story.

If you are going to cook, at some point you are going to fail in spectacular proportions.  I, myself have had some doozies.  For years Dave would not let me make mashed potatoes since mine were insipid at best, watery and under/over seasoned at worst.  Then there was also the first Thanksgiving meal that I made him.  That shall not be spoken of here.  There was also the time that I didn’t just “over caramelize” the kale chips at my mother-in-law’s house, I incinerated them.  I’m not even sure there was any forensic evidence left of those “chips” that had started out as a beautiful head of expensive kale.  Perhaps a fancy chef could have used them as a kale ash garnish for something, but for me that fail was so spectacular the only thing I could do about it was laugh and deposit my creation in the organic bin.

We all make mistakes.  Frankly these mistakes in cooking mean that we are trying something new, and hopefully we can learn from what went wrong, making our cooking better for the next time we try that recipe.  Like my “blackened” kale chips, I learned to watch crisping kale like a hawk, never taking my eyes off of it.  From your cooking mistakes you can learn to make your own cooking better, as well as letting your child learn from mistakes too.  What is most important here is that you deal with the mistake with grace (and maybe even some laughter), try to troubleshoot it to see if it can be fixed (more learning moments here), and if all else fails you clean up together and try again (or call for take out).

LM loves chocolate and I love all of the healthy ingredients I get to sneak into his snacks.

LM loves chocolate and I love all of the healthy ingredients I get to sneak into his snacks.

Getting Started…
The best way to get started cooking with your child is to choose a recipe that is a sure fire hit with your child, as well as being one that fits your comfort level in the kitchen.  For me, that “dish” was boxed mac and cheese.  It’s not even a recipe, really just more of following instructions on the box.  What was important for me was that this is something that Little Man LOVES, that we could pull off quickly before his attention span faltered, and that turns out the same every time.  The first time “we” made mac and cheese together, all he did was dump in the sauce mix and stir the milk in for a few seconds before he decided he wanted to go play.  No problem.  He played and I finished off our masterpiece.  For lunch that day he was super impressed with himself that he had helped Mommy make the food.  As Little Man has grown more confident in the kitchen, I keep finding new things for him to do.  I think that the first actual recipe we did together was for Banana Chocolate Muffins (see above picture for the results).  From that point on I made a point of asking him to come and cook with me whenever I was following a recipe for a dish that I knew he would particularly like (such as pancakes), as well as letting him join in when ever he asks.

What I’ve started to do recently is to ask Little Man if there is something that he would like to make with me in the kitchen.  Right now that question still stumps him a bit since he doesn’t know the options he has to choose from.  So if he seems stalled, I suggest a couple possibilities that I know we have ingredients for and let him choose.  I think the next thing we’ll try is to flip through one of my cookbooks with pretty pictures and see if something catches his fancy.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t choose some form of fancy souffle.  But you know, even if he does choose a souffle, something that I’ve never made before, and even if it is a magnificent flop, we’ll have a blast doing it.  I might just be sure that I have the ingredients for some Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies stashed away… just in case.

Here are my favorite recipes to make with Little Man:
1. Mini Chocolate Cupcakes
2. Auntie Erin’s Cocoa
3. Cheddar Chive Scones
4. Marie’s Hummus
5. Mom’s Latkas
6. Perfect Spelt Pancakes (also Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes)

Enough chatter, get out there and cook with your favorite kid or kiddos.  And if you have any tips that have worked for you, please let me know in the comment section.  I’m always interested in learning more.

Based on my outfit, I must have just come home from teaching, jumped into the kitchen, then grabbed LM for some Mommy time while making dinner.

Based on my outfit, I must have just come home from teaching, jumped into the kitchen, then grabbed LM for some Mommy time while making dinner.

Friendship Cookies and Good Bye Tears

Sometimes there are things that I want to write about, but the moment is a bit too close at hand.  I started to write this post last August after a dear friend from Pella and her family visited us for a couple of days in the middle of their epic road trip from Iowa to British Columbia and then back down to the Oregon coast.

Dinner on the Deck

Dinner on the Deck

Visiting the fairy doors at Neck Point.

Visiting the fairy doors at Neck Point.

We’ve done a lot of moving around, Dave and I.  From various apartments in upstate New York during graduate school through our impromptu academic tour of the American Midwest and now to Vancouver Island.  Most of these “homes” have not lasted for more than two years before we move again following the job market.  In each of these places we have been blessed with some amazing friends.  The kind who we may not see for a year (or more), but the minute you are back in contact it’s as if you were never apart.  Conversations pick up as if we had just been chatting yesterday, and it is this effortlessness that makes it all the more gut wrenching when you have to leave them again.

Learning to skip stones at Neck Point.

Learning to skip stones at Neck Point.

Also checking out the gorgeous sea life in the shallow waters.  Can you see all the tiny crabs?

Also checking out the gorgeous sea life in the shallow waters. Can you see all the tiny crabs?

Sailing cork boats at Transfer Beach, Ladysmith.

Sailing cork boats at Transfer Beach, Ladysmith.

Which brings us back to the post that I started last August.  Little Man still talks about Iowa as a place that he wants to go back and visit.  In fact, he consistently talks about how “tomorrow” we need to catch a plane and go to Iowa then to China to visit his Kung Fu Panda friends.  At first I thought he assumed that all travel must go through Iowa since that is the last place that he traveled from on our move here.  So we pulled out the globe and his map and I showed him how Iowa is in no way closer to China than we are here.  Then Little Man explained to me that the goal was to visit Iowa and his blue home (our house there was painted blue with a scarlet front door), then to travel on to the Jade Palace in China.  Ah…

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When our friends came out to visit from Iowa, it was as if we’d just parted company the day before, not the year it was in real time.  We played, the kids played, and we ate, drank and talked for hours.  It was fantastic.  And as is often the case, the better the visit is, the sadder the departure.  We had already taught Little Man the Turkish tradition of throwing water on the vehicle of loved ones who are leaving to ensure that they must come back soon.  So as they were getting into their car, Little Man was urging me on quickly to grab a container of water to make sure they came back.  We dowsed the car, and are still waiting with baited breath for them to return.

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He was quiet as we went back inside after their departure.  We closed the front door and Little Man looked out the window watching their car disappear around the corner into the woods.  Dave scooped Little Man up and took him to the couch in his arms.
“Daddy, what does ‘sad’ mean?”
Little Man’s head was bowed so all I could see were his golden curls, not his face.
“Sad is something we feel when we are upset.  Are you sad that your friends are leaving?”
A nod of curls followed by, “Do you cry when you feel sad?”
“Yes, some times we cry when we feel sad,”  Daddy said.  “It’s OK to cry when we feel sad.  It’s OK to cry.”  Daddy folded him in his arms as Little Man’s face crumpled into tears.

Paparazzi taking photos of dinner.

Paparazzi taking photos of dinner.

We had to treat our Iowa friends to some locally caught salmon.  This time packet grilled and seasoned with ginger, garlic, chives and soy.

We had to treat our Iowa friends to some locally caught wild salmon. The salmon was packet grilled and seasoned with ginger, garlic, chives and soy.

Dave's famous... I mean, Joe's famous potatoes.

Dave’s famous… I mean, Joe’s famous potatoes (Cabin Grilled Potatoes)

This much sauteed kale with garlic, came from...

This much sauteed kale with garlic, came from…

this much rainbow chard that came from...

this much rainbow chard that came from…

my glorious garden.  I can't wait to see it lush like this again!

my glorious garden. I can’t wait to see it lush like this again!

I stood in the kitchen, “good bye” tears in my eyes, and tried to gain control.  My “plan” had been to hold it together for Little Man’s sake, so I could comfort myself with tears later after he was asleep.  No such luck.  So instead I baked.  The known movements of measuring, portioning and stirring were comforting, as was the aroma from the oven.  For this moment, for me at least, the main point wasn’t the special treat to eat afterwards, but the actions and senses leading up to it.

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That visit spurred me on to try to find Little Man more friends here on our island.  He was only 2 1/2 when we left Iowa, but all of his little friends that he’d known since birth were now far away and it’s hard (even for a little guy) to break into a community like Nanaimo where many people have lived for generations and don’t know what it’s like to be new in a place and friendless.  Now, to celebrate when we make new friends or for special play dates (generally outside ones where errant chocolate chips won’t ruin someone’s couch), I like to make a baked treat to bring along.  Sometimes this means mini-muffins or scones, but what we’ve started thinking of as special treats with friends are cookies.

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One of my favorite comfort foods is an old fashioned chocolate chip cookie.  However, the “old fashioned” part has had to be updated a bit for our current dietary requirements.  My goal here was to take that standard recipe for a delicious chocolate chip cookie with crispy edges and a chewy center loaded with chocolate chips, and make it into something that while it would be a stretch to call it “healthy” I could feel good about feeding my child and offering to other children (and parents, of course).  So in my case that meant getting rid of the wheat and using spelt flour, which still has some gluten for texture but has less of the gastro-issues than wheat has, and sneaking in some chia meal to up the “goodness” value.

As I’ve written before, there’s no need to go out and buy a special bag of chia meal.  If you have chia seeds at home, all you need to do is pour some of the seeds into a coffee grinder or food processor and blitz them up.  Creating your own chia meal has the added benefits of making all the great nutrients of chia more easily accessible to your body, and there is less chance of a stray whole chia seed getting into your dishwasher and growing like a chia pet.  If you don’t have chia, but do have flax seeds feel free to use them the same way.  If you have neither, then you can simply replace the amount of chia meal for a flour of your choice, or even oats.

Enough talking, let’s make some cookies…

Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients
:
2 cups spelt flour (or whole wheat)
¼ cup chia meal (see note)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) good quality dairy free margarine (or butter), softened
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet.
  2. Combine the spelt flour, chia meal, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set this aside.
    I was making these cookies more or less in the dark since Little Man was having a hard time nodding off that night.  So if the flash seems a bit harsh, that's because it was the only light source.

    I love how the chia meal always looks like I’ve just dumped a ton of black pepper into a recipe. Trust me, it will work its way in unobtrusively soon.

    See, the chia meal is whisked into the rest of the dry ingredients and away it goes.

    See, the chia meal is whisked into the rest of the dry ingredients and away it goes.

  3. Combine the softened margarine (or butter), sugars and vanilla in a large bowl either by hand or with an electric beater or stand mixer. Make sure the mixture is smooth and creamy.

    There's no need to use any other tool than a large spoon and a little elbow grease to combine the wet ingredients here.

    There’s no need to use any other tool than a large spoon and a little elbow grease to combine the wet ingredients here.

  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter mixture, combining well.

    Adding the eggs, one at a time.

    Adding the eggs, one at a time.

  5. Carefully add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring slowly at first so that you don’t create a flour cloud by beating your ingredients too enthusiastically. Make sure that the dough is smooth and thoroughly combined.

    I did the sizing of the bowls backwards in this picture, so this step might look a little different for you.  It will still taste amazing in the end.

    I did the sizing of the bowls backwards in this picture, so this step might look a little different for you. It will still taste amazing in the end.

  6. Add the chocolate chips, stirring just to distribute them throughout.

    I'm surprised that Little Man didn't sense the chocolate being added to the bowl and run out in his pjs requesting a sample.

    I’m surprised that Little Man didn’t sense the chocolate being added to the bowl and run out in his pjs requesting a sample.

  7. Using two spoons (or a small scoop if you are feeling fancy) scoop out and drop tablespoon-sized portions of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart since the dough will spread while baking.

    The dough is a little glossy here since the cookies had been in the oven for a minute or so before I remembered to take the photo.

    The dough is a little glossy here since the cookies had been in the oven for a minute or so before I remembered to take the photo.

  8. Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes or until nice and golden brown. The cookies should not look wet in the middle, but will be soft when you take them off of the tray.  Don’t worry, they will firm up as they cool. Remove the tray from the oven and let the cookies sit for about 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. They can be cooled completely or served immediately. Just warn little mouths about the potential for hot, melted chocolate chips.
    Perfectly golden.

    Perfectly golden.

    Dangerously ready to eat.

    Dangerously ready to eat.

  9. You can continue baking the cookies until the dough is done, or take any dough that you don’t wish to bake now, form it into a log on plastic wrap, cover it securely and keep it in the freezer until you are ready to slice and bake the cookies. You may need to increase the baking time by a few minutes, so watch them carefully towards the end. The dough can be frozen for up to a few weeks.  Enjoy!
    You can freeze cookie dough to make your own slice and bake cookies, ready whenever you want them to be.

    You can freeze cookie dough to make your own slice and bake cookies, ready whenever you want them to be.

    No, the cookie log does not need to be perfect.  You are just going to slice and bake it so don't waste too much time making the perfect cylinder, unless you have a food stylist snooping around in your freezer.

    No, the cookie log does not need to be perfect. You are just going to slice and bake it so don’t waste too much time making the perfect cylinder, unless you have a food stylist snooping around in your freezer.

Note: Make your own chia meal by blitzing up chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. You can also do the same with flax seeds, or make oat flour by blitzing up whole oats (not instant, please). Store any extra chia meal in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Click here for a printable version of the Not So Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe.

All these need is a glass of milk.

All these need is a glass of milk.

20140715_110758

And a friend.

Walking at Neck Point.

Walking at Neck Point.