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Ilana

Baking

Christmas in May

May 10, 2017

What makes you think of Christmas?

Is it chilly weather, or the scent of fresh pine? For me, it’s cuccidati, the Sicilian Christmas cookies many of my family members make. The cookie itself is a light, slightly citrus flavored dough topped with a little homemade frosting and sprinkles, but the real star is the ground fig and date filling that rests inside, flavored with cinnamon and citrus peel and studded with little bits of chocolate.

The cookies are great, but they’re also a bit of work. And they’re for Christmas! Sure I may be thinking about them in early spring, but it’s a Christmas thing! What am I going to do with a huge batch of out-of-season cookies?

Then inspiration struck. It all started with this recipe, from The View From Great Island. It’s a Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread that is gluten free and dairy free, absolutely packed with dried fruit and nuts. Ripe bananas add sweetness so no sugar is necessary, and flour is replaced with almond meal, making a low sugar, high protein loaf that is well suited for a slightly sweet breakfast or a not too decadent dessert.

I’ve made it several times, following the recipe to varying degrees. It’s a dense, hearty bread that doesn’t rise much when baked. The original recipe includes suggestions for fruit and nuts to include, but notes that you can use nearly any combination. I’ve done “kitchen sink” bread, with cashew pieces, almond slivers, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, dried mulberries, chopped figs and whatever else I have in the cabinet. I’ve also done a “tropical” style, with only cashew pieces, coconut flakes and chopped dried pineapple which was a hit (my grandfather even liked it, and he was at this point about as difficult about food as one can be).

My mother recently asked me to make a cake for brunch, and I thought this paleo loaf would be the perfect choice; not too sweet, with no refined sugar, dairy or wheat, so overall, not a bad choice. As I sat eating my slice, I got a chunk of dried fig and a thought popped into my head…

“Do a cuccidati loaf.”

Do it.

So I did. And it was honestly, just about everything I hoped for. It doesn’t mimic the cookies precisely, and the pieces are chunks instead of ground together, but the flavors I was craving were all present. After a day or two in the fridge, I think it may have been even better than the first day!

Did I mention it’s easy to make? Any version of this loaf is quick and easy to make, with minimal mess. You have your pan, your bowl (maybe an extra small bowl if your coconut oil needs to be softened), measuring cups and spoons, and something to stir with. This was fast and simple, with a toddler helping to dump ingredients and mix, no less.

So, here’s the recipe.

Paleo Cuccidati Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds (can be omitted if you don’t have)
  • 1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips (check they’re vegan, if that matters)
  • zest of one tangerine.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a loaf pan and line with parchment if you like (I always put a strip of parchment that covers most of the wide edges so I can easily lift the loaf out once it’s begun to cool).
  2. Mash the two bananas well with a fork, then whisk in the two eggs and coconut oil.
  3. Stir in almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix well.
  4. Add the dried fruit, nuts, tangerine zest and chocolate chips and fold in until evenly distributed.
  5. Pour into the pan, trying to get it relatively even. This will not rise, so baked, it will look roughly like it does raw; smooth lumps and try to get it even thickness.
  6. Bake for 40-60 minutes, checking periodically. I’ve found that the time varies based on what’s in it, so watch for the edges beginning to turn gold, the center setting, and of course, check with a toothpick in the center; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready.
  7. Let the bread cool before attempting to slice it; chill it overnight if you wish, then store any leftovers in the refrigerator since this is a moist bread.

And that’s it! If you missed it earlier, the original recipe is the Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread from The View From Great Island.

Now I’m not going to say this is a beautiful loaf of bread. It had nice marbling when you cut it, but it isn’t a glamorous looking baked good. However, it’s well worth it. So, if you find yourself craving Christmas cookies in May, or whatever month it may be, I hope you enjoy this cheat to get the flavor of Christmas cookies without all the work.

Baking

Traditions and cookies

March 12, 2017

Halloween is in October, but Purim is in March. I remember the celebrations from my childhood; packing baskets full of miniature bottles of grape juice, bags of cookies and little cherry candies then delivering them to friends and neighbors in costume. While I haven’t celebrated properly in synagogue since, well, childhood, there’s a little bit of excitement each year when Purim rolls around.

If you’re not already in the know, hang on, because you’re about to get a crash course in Purim. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – and by that I mean in the 4th century BCE in the Persian Empire, King Ahasveros was in need of a new wife. He arranged a beauty pageant, and during this, the lovely Esther caught his eye. Esther was Jewish, but kept that a secret, and the two were married. Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, one Haman, was appointed prime minister of the empire and demanded obedience from the empire’s subjects. Brave Mordechai, leader of the Jews and cousin to the new queen refused to bow to this power hungry, known anti-semite. In a rage, Haman convinced the king to exterminate the Jews. Mordechai organized his people who repented, fasted and prayed, while Esther revealed her background to the king and explained the situation. The king had Haman hanged, and made Mordechai prime minister instead, also granting to the Jews the right to defend themselves. On that day they defended themselves, and on the next they celebrated – Purim is that celebration day.

My father, in his infinite wisdom, says that Jewish holidays can be summed up in, “they tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat.” And I suppose in the cases of Purim, Chanukah and Passover, there is something to that.

Traditionally, to celebrate Purim you will hear the story read from the Megillah in synagogue (at least where we went, a somewhat raucous affair with shouts and noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman), giving to the needy (we would collect coins in small boxes to donate), bringing food to friends (the gift baskets mentioned earlier) and a celebratory meal.

Did I mention you dress up? Somewhere, and sadly I don’t have a copy to share, there is a photo of me at 6 months old, wearing a tiny gold crown and blue satin dress, all decked out as Queen Esther.

Now that you know the whole story, why am I telling you it? The answer is simply, hamantaschen. That’s ha-men-tosh-en. Now say it at normal speed. Hamantaschen.

This translates to “Haman’s ear”, which is kind of skeevy, but don’t let you put that off. Hamantaschen are the best; delightful little cookies stuffed with flavorful fillings. Traditional fillings include strawberry, apricot and prune jam, chocolate, and a sweetened poppy seed paste. Now, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t buy hamantaschen this year, because I actually bought and dispensed with two batches before the holiday even started (the entire early part of March was hamantaschen time). But I’m really here to talk to you about making them.

My cookie dough follows the recipe from Tori Avey, for Dairy Free Hamantaschen. My filling was homemade blueberry and peach jams, from the stockpile I made last summer. The dough is just right, and because it doesn’t need to be chilled, it saves time. Instead of rolling the dough on a floured table, I did it between two pieces of parchment paper to avoid extra flour on the cookies and a little bit of mess in the kitchen. Take note than a batch is roughly 35 cookies and will take nearly an entire regular size jar of jam; a teaspoon per cookie adds up. The folding method described in the recipe is spot on, making neat and lovely three pointed pinwheels that hold their shape most perfectly.

At a family gathering last night the peach were the runaway favorite, with the blueberry not far behind. These cookies do take time, as do any rolled and filled cookie, but they are not at all difficult to make. With help from my toddler, I cut out my circles and filled them with only minimal mess (the dough can be rolled out over and over, so sloppy circles are no big deal).

Purim technically ends at sunset this evening. Nonetheless, if you’re a cookie person, I recommend giving these a try. They come out so good, it seems silly to only make them once a year!

Baking

Lets play, plantain or banana?

February 12, 2017

The plantains are on the bottom, bananas on top.

Let’s play a game. It’s called plantain or banana.

If you want to eat a sweet fruit by itself, what do you want? Banana.

If you want something a little starchy that can be used green or ripe, and is great to cook with, what do you want? Plantain.

If you want to make a gluten free, dairy free, low sugar, moist and yummy cake that takes no time to prepare, what do you want? Both.

Seriously though, hear me out. You may have seen plantains in the supermarket and walked right by them; they look like giant bananas and might be green or might be yellow streaked with black. They’re usually pretty inexpensive.

My personal experience with green plantains is limited, though I understand that you can cook them like a root vegetable in soups and stews. The green ones are starchy and hard, with a very plain flavor. The yellow ones have begun to ripen (or mature, hence their traditional title, maduros), and develop a sweet flavor reminiscent of banana, but not quite the same. They remain a bit harder and more starchy than bananas. My first foray into using maduros was simply peeling and slicing them in half, spraying them with a bit of coconut oil, sprinkling with cinnamon and brown sugar and then broiling until the top crisps up. It’s a quick and simple dessert (or breakfast!) that’s sweet and filling and just lovely.

But this time, this time I went wild, using plantains AND bananas to make a cake that well, takes the cake. I was inspired by my mother’s experimentation, and wound up devising this recipe for a cake that is…

  • Gluten free
  • Dairy free
  • Plant based
  • Low sugar
  • Ridiculously moist and tasty
  • Super simple to make in the blender

A couple of notes before I share the recipe:

  1. Sorry to disappoint, you get snapshots. There are no beautiful staged photographs here. But then again if you’ve read Old Fashioned Modern Living in the past, you probably know you’re not here for designer photos.
  2. I used white sugar simply because I didn’t want to use up all my maple syrup. Feel free to substitute other sweeteners, or add a little less; the bananas have a nice sweetness that will satisfy if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
  3. I sprinkled in a little coconut flour just to absorb some moisture. Oat flour, or even regular flour if you’re not gluten free will likely do the trick.

Just kinda looks like cake, right?

Look at that crumb! Seriously, when you consider what went into this cake, the look and texture is surprisingly spot on.

The ingredients:

  • 2 ripe plantains
  • 3 ripe bananas (not black, but ripe)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Scant 1/2 cup of sugar or other sweetener
  • Generous sprinkle of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tsp coconut flour
  • pinch of salt
  • a couple of handfuls of mini bittersweet chocolate chips

The method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel fruit and chop into chunks just so they fit in the blender, then drop them in. Add vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, salt and coconut flour. Add the eggs in (or wait until your main mixture has been mixed and taste it first, then add your eggs). Give it a whirl until it looks fairly smooth.
  3. Prep your pan – I used a 9×9 square pyrex but a deep brownie tin will work too. I spray with coconut oil then line with some parchment to make removal easy.
  4. Head back to the blender and mix (mix, not blend) in your desired amount of chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared pan and pop in the oven.
  5. Bake for roughly 35-40 minutes, checking periodically. Your cake is done with the center no longer jiggles and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean and dry. Let cool a bit before enjoying.

This is a moist cake, so be sure to put any extra in the refrigerator to keep. And that’s that!

I am really pleasantly surprised by how this cake turned out. I made a smaller one recently (1 plantain, 1 banana and 2 eggs with a splash of maple syrup in a loaf pan),  that my husband and I destroyed, and then made this one for company. My brother had already begun eating his piece before he realized it wasn’t just regular old cake. I’d call that a success.

If you haven’t experimented with plantains, I’d say it’s time. Grab some bananas while you’re at it, and whip up this beauty. And if you do, let me know what you think!

Health & Home Life

Tallying up time

January 18, 2017

It’s funny, if you ask me how I’m doing I’ll say “good…busy, but good.” And I am busy. But doing what?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I spend my time. As mommy to a toddler, a small business owner, and work at home mom, it’s important to be able to manage my time and try to achieve some sort of balance. And yet, thinking back on this month, I had to think hard about what I’ve been so busy with.

And while I doubt you care very much how I count my minutes in my day to day life, I’m going to share because all the things I realized are accomplishments. They may not be big things, or things that anyone else would take the time to note, but I’m proud of how much I’ve accomplished just in the new year. And maybe this will remind someone who needs it to be kind to themselves, and take the time to be proud of their accomplishments, no matter how small.

Momming

You know what they say, mommin’ ain’t easy. Also, mom life is the best life. I agree with both. I’ve got a stubborn, sweet, hilarious, ridiculously smart little toddler on my hands. Sometimes that means we’re laughing together. Sometimes it means I want to bang my head into the wall. But each day, her little personality comes out more and more and every moment we spend together, whether it’s working or playing or holding her while she falls asleep, is absolutely worth it.

Sawing

In early December I finally picked up a silver saw, and took my first foray into the world of cutting sheet silver. And it’s awesome. Not every piece is perfect, and I occasionally struggle with my solder, but this is a major step towards real jewelry fabrication. Considering I was told the learning curve is fairly steep, I think I’m doing really quite well. I just shared some recent pieces on the Seashore Design Studio Facebook page.

Cleaning

On a quiet weekend in early January, I reorganized the pantry and the linen closet, and tidied up the storage room. I’ve only been meaning to do this for about a year, maybe a little more. Once it warms up outside, garage, I am looking at you. In the meanwhile, the office needs some help. I get frustrated and decide I need to do a purge and make space…and then I fill it with more craft supplies. Tales of a compulsive crafter over here, it’s practically an illness. I can’t…help…myself.

Cooking. Eating. Dieting.

Starting on January 2, the man and I started the TLS 21 Day Challenge. The TLS system is a lifestyle plan that is based on the glycemic index, and teaches you how to change how you think about food, and thus, change your eating habits to make healthier choices. The initial stage is a “cleanse”, but not like what you typically think of as a cleanse. It’s a few days of eating simple, healthy foods to help you break bad habits and addictions, and give your body a chance to relax and reset. Then phase 2 offers a tailored eating plan that focuses on whole and healthy foods. The more aggressive plans are more limiting than the more passive of course, but it all depends on what your goal is.

Little Miss reviewing phase 2 food plans with me.

I’m actually very impressed. I’m spending a lot of time cooking and preparing, but we’re getting excellent results and I can see this as a very reasonable plan to follow indefinitely. It’s not a crash diet, and it doesn’t restrict you to the point of feeling oppressed. It’s simple, healthy eating, focusing not on calories but on how your body processes your food. The hardest shift, to my mind, is going from a standard “main protein dish and tiny sides” mindset, to getting used to having a smaller serving of protein and then filling up on healthy sides.

So we’ve got a toddler who (luckily) eats nearly anything, a largely vegetarian mom, and a carnivore dad who doesn’t do dairy, beans or nuts. It’s been interesting, but not impossible. I have a pretty good understanding of food to begin with, so the hardest part has been making two proteins to accommodate my own preferences.

There is a trade off here. We are spending slightly more on groceries because I’m buying even more produce, however with smaller servings of proteins, our meat purchases are going further. And rather than getting lazy and having my husband buy lunches (and often breakfast, if he eats it), I’m making and sending them for him. So when you consider buying versus bringing lunches, I think we’re saving money – and he’s losing weight at a very respectable pace! But it is taking up a lot of my time.

Of course, I make breakfast and lunch for Little Miss every day. But whereas I used to have an apple in the morning, I’m making myself something real now, which takes time. Then mid afternoon, I prepare for dinner. And breakfast and lunch for the next day for the mister. Then clean up after dinner and load the dishwasher. There are ways I could save time, but since I don’t have to, I don’t mind too much.

I joke around in the evenings that I’ve been cooking and cleaning all day. And some days it feels like it! I cook dinner, put away the leftovers, then prepare a breakfast, lunch and two snacks for the next day (the amount of tupperware my husband has to carry…)

But again, we’re getting results and it’s a sustainable plan. I’m actually delighted. If you’d like to learn more about the TLS system or 21 day challenge, I’d be happy to share some more details!

So anyway…

My January accomplishments aren’t extraordinary. They’re not really above and beyond what you could normally expect. I’m not looking to brag about my activities.

But a business coach I once worked with used to say, “celebrate all wins”.

Especially in the dead of winter, with cold winds and grey skies, I say it’s as good a time as any to celebrate all wins. I have been busy, and I have been accomplishing small, but important things. And I’m sure you have too.

So give yourself a high five and keep on keeping on. If you’d like to share whats been keeping you busy, feel free to drop it in the comments, and I’d be happy to give you a high five too!

Baking Life

A year that was awful, and a pie that wasn’t

December 29, 2016

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading in that I don’t actually categorize things by year. New Years Day, to me, is just another day. I don’t make New Years Resolutions. But for argument’s sake, because everyone else is talking about 2016, I’ll refer to it that way.

In a lot of ways, 2016 was really hard, for my family in particular. My maternal grandparents passed away within 6 weeks of each other. We watched them struggle and suffer and ultimately go, and we barely had time to breathe between the two. This kind of loss doesn’t just go away after the funeral. You’re not sad for a few days and then you go back to normal. There’s a mourning period and an adjustment period and then…life. Some days it’s easy. Some days you cry in the supermarket. It’s difficult to accept that this is the “new normal”.

Yes, 2016 had been tough. It’s been an emotional year full of sad firsts.

And yes, I am aware of what is going on in the world. I force myself to read news articles on domestic and international concerns to stay informed. This election was quite ugly, and American politics hasn’t gotten much prettier since November.

If I got all my news from Facebook, first off, I’d probably see lots and lots of fake news…but secondly, I’d be pretty sure that 2016 was the worst year ever because lots of celebrities died. It is sad. Some, even tragic. Certainly many were major losses to the entertainment community and our beloved franchises. But forgive me if, standing where I’m standing, this doesn’t make 2016 any number of expletives or exaggerations I’ve seen it referred to as. I’m not impressed.

Everyone, feel how you feel. Seriously, I’m all about people working through things for themselves and I hate when something is used as a stand in to try to invalidate people’s feelings or concerns (ex: just because something is a “first world problem” doesn’t mean it isn’t profoundly affecting your life right now). But as far as 2016 being THE. WORST. YEAR. EVER. Unimpressed.

I’m big on perspective. 2016 hit my family hard. However…

  1. Little Miss is doing well, her speech is progressing appropriately and it’s becoming more and more clear how very clever she is
  2. My nephew, adorable little Indy was born
  3. My brother got engaged to my high school bestie
  4. My mother and I both got involved in an interesting business and are doing well and enjoying the products
  5. My own little business, Seashore Design Studio, has come together nicely and my sales have been the highest ever (out of 10 years on Etsy with various shops), and I now have an amazing group of “fans” who support and encourage me
  6. My husband remains gainfully employed, with good health insurance
  7. We are all, for the most part, healthy
  8. I discovered the Outlander book series
  9. I got over my fear of my canning kettle and learned to make and can jams
  10. I learned to make red beans and rice and arroz con gandules (it was a good year for rice and beans around here, I guess)
  11. I’ve been able to do more charitable giving than ever before, thanks to my little business
  12. I have continued to learn, research and grow as a person

I have good days, and I have bad days; the kind where everything reminds me of people I’ve lost or I can’t stop thinking about the atrocities happening around the world. But also this year I’ve learned that dwelling will accomplish nothing, but action will. Donating, learning, educating, can make a difference. Giving back in ways big or small make a difference.

Be kind, be generous, make someone smile.

Speaking of smiles, you know what makes me smile? Chocolate. So I’m going to finish this post out with a little story about a pie I made yesterday, as well as the recipe.


Vegan Chocolate Pie

This recipe was based on the Chocolate Raspberry Coconut Almond Tart by BlahnikBaker (link to original HERE).

I had pinned this recipe on Pinterest, into my “Naturally Gluten and Dairy Free” board. Today is my husband’s birthday – we had originally planned to see my parents last night, and his family tonight; due to a bunch of people being sick, that changed. But I was thinking I needed to make a birthday cake 2 days in a row, and no way was I making the same kind of cake for both! So, I thought, I need gluten free and dairy free. I headed to Pinterest and found this recipe, and sure enough, I had everything I needed in the house.

My version is slightly different from the original, but all credit really goes to the original recipe. I wish I had thought of vegan ganache! It’s lovely. My version is a pie instead of a tart, and I changed the proportions a little out of necessity. But still. The crust is tasty with great texture, and the center is dense and chocolaty and sweet, nearly fudgy and delightfully smooth. And vegan and gluten free, which perfectly avoided the allergens I needed to steer clear of. I topped it with candied sunflower seeds and served it with strawberries and blueberries to break up all the chocolate.

Now I do need to note…I didn’t know chocolate pie was a thing before I read The Help. And that’s a real shame, because chocolate pie is amazing. Really, what a great idea. But now, I can’t make it, or even really thinking about it, without thinking about The Help. It was hard not to make any off color jokes last night.

But anyway!

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 table spoons agave syrup (you can use maple syrup as well)

Filling

  • 1 cup coconut cream (canned or bottled)
  • 6-8oz semisweet chocolate chips (I had half a bag of mini chips, make sure they’re non-dairy if that matters to you)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3-4 teaspoons cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Start with the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix coconut flakes, almond meal, coconut flour (I assume another flour, gluten free or regular would act roughly the same) and salt in a bowl. Melt coconut oil and agave syrup then stir together with the other ingredients and mix well. Pat into the bottom of a pie plate (I used a glass Pyrex one) firmly, making sure the crust covers the bottom and goes slightly up the sides. Bake for 10-12 minutes until a little golden around the edges. Allow to cool somewhat.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat your coconut cream until it bubbles gently. Turn off the heat and add the cocoa and chocolate chips. Let sit a moment, then add vanilla and stir until smooth and even in color. Pour your awesome vegan ganache into the waiting shell, then pop it into the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.
  3. Keep cool until serving. Top with seeds, nuts, coconut flakes, some coarse sea salt or fruit (or serve the fruit alongside it, to keep extra moisture off the cake).

And that’s that! While the recipe originally seemed rather involved, it was actually fairly simple and quick.

So here’s to beautiful desserts, love and light and peace and giving, and a 2017 that doesn’t make people quite so miserable.

Life

I should be cleaning

December 15, 2016

I am hosting a party this weekend, a holiday get together for my husband’s friends from work. I believe all told, we’ll have 12 adults and 4 children in the house. I had planned to clean and prepare all week. The week had other plans.

Instead of writing right now, I should be cleaning.

An hour ago, when Little Miss and I were mixing cookie dough to make a surprise for a friend’s birthday, I should have been cleaning.

Yesterday, the day after I said I was no longer accepting orders for holiday delivery, when I stood at the workbench for 3 hours to finish orders for existing customers and excited new customers, I should have been cleaning.

When I sat on the floor and pretended to eat plastic pizza with my daughter, I should have been cleaning.

But I wasn’t cleaning. And despite everything, I think that’s actually okay.

To rewind a bit, one of the things I was most excited about when we bought our house was the ability to entertain. With a smallish kitchen and moderate sized living room, I’m still not able to host holidays and even family dinners with everyone are a stretch. But I appreciate being able to have people over for casual get togethers, pretty much whenever I want to.

Now I’m not going to lie here, I’m somewhat neurotic about cleaning. Things my poor husband has had to endure include:

  • “We need to clean the bathroom, it looks like someone groomed a long haired chihuahua in there!”
  • “Who decided black furniture was a good idea? I dusted yesterday and you know what I see today? Dust.”
  • “The kitchen floor has sticky spots, do you want the baby to get trapped like a rat?”
  • “Where is my stuff? You moved my pile! I knew what was in that pile!”

It’s not that everything has to be shiny and perfect, it just needs to be…as close as I can get it. I mean, don’t look at my windows because I’ve not cleaned them once in the 2 years we’ve been living here. But I want at least the public rooms of the house dusted, swept, vacuumed and CLEAN.

Typically. Typically I make myself crazy, running around for days before the company is due to make sure everything is neat and clean. I re-organize. I clean the kitchen, only to cook a full meal and make it a mess again.

I think I’ve come to a turning point.

No, I will not have company over with a dirty house. I’ll make sure the bathroom is clean and the tables are spotless and the floor has been swept. But the need to have everything perfect? Done.

Because you know what, I’m busy. I’m running a business from home. I’m raising a very sweet, very smart, suddenly very chatty little girl. I’m finishing my holiday shopping and getting the holiday cards in the mail. I’m grocery shopping and making sure my family has a healthy home cooked meal nearly every night of the week. And right now, I’m doing it with a not-serious-but-very-annoying back injury too.

I’m not commuting to work and working for someone else. I’m not making the big bucks. But I’m doing fairly important and good work nonetheless. I’m raising a really good little person. I’m running a business that is making people happy (and this holiday season, I diverted a percentage of sales and was able to donate a total of $355 to 4 different charities).

So the counters will be cleaned, but the cabinet doors can stay as they are. The wood floors will be vacuumed, but not polished. The bathroom will be cleaned and the towels washed, but do me a favor and don’t look too closely at the bathtub. Because you know what? This doesn’t matter.

It’s not about the sparkle. And who did I think was visiting anyway, who would criticize the books on my end table or dust I may have missed on a windowsill or chair back? Really?

I’m tired of running around doing busy work to satisfy some bizarre notion in my own head. I’m tired of focusing on things that don’t matter, and I’m tired of apologizing. How many times have I had a surprise visitor and said “I didn’t get to clean, don’t look at anything too hard,” with a self deprecating smile?

Be my guest. Any day of the week. With advanced notice, you bet I’ll be tidying up. But scheduling a week of my life to dedicate to cleaning for a party? So long to that notion, consider this your Dear John (Dear Broom?) letter because I am out. Take me and my house as we are. Instead of focusing on cleaning, I’m focusing on the things that matter.

Right now? I actually should be cleaning. I have a little more tidying to do, aside from the last minute set up. Then there’s the shopping. Then there’s the cooking! And really, cooking is more fun than cleaning anyway. Then hopefully, we’ll have a successful get together Saturday night, after which I’ll need to spend 2 days cleaning up again anyway.

And that’s that. Where do you stand on the cleaning issue?

Life

It’s the most wonderful time…

December 8, 2016

Oh hi. You’re still here? If I’m not mistaken, I haven’t written a word in just a bit over a month. Life has been…busy.

Truth be told, the end of this year has flown by. I went to Lake George with my family in August and in a lot of ways, it feels like it was yesterday. September was still right after the trip. October flew by, marked only by my brother’s engagement party and my birthday. Halloween was quiet and then November rolled in. There was Election Day and then suddenly it was Thanksgiving. And now we’re full on in the holiday season. I have my Christmas cards, waiting for addresses and stamps, and I’m trying to finish my shopping as quickly as I can so as not to wind up doing it last minute. I know everyone feels this way, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

And you know what they say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

I actually tend to have a difficult time with the holidays, and this year will be no exception. It’s the first year we’re celebrating without both of my grandparents, which has been an adjustment unto itself. I think a part of my detachment this year has been due to this. I’ve managed to stay fairly even keel most of the time, and make it through all of the events and holidays thus far. But then sometimes reality hits me and I choke back tears in the supermarket. You know how it is.

This year I’m making an active effort to not slip into grinch-hood. Little Miss is almost 2.5 years old, and extremely aware of everything going on around her. She is thrilled with all the holiday lights outside and had fun helping me set up our little tree. Last night I showed her how to spin a dreidel, though her spin looks a lot more like chucking it at the table and laughing. I’m not big into Santa Claus, and really don’t know how much she would even understand, but I am trying to introduce other traditions for both holidays we celebrate as a family, and allow her to get involved.

Today we will do the first of the holiday baking, for an event this weekend. I’m sure she will help; she loves mixing and pouring and helping me measure. It gets messy, but it’s fun. I imagine that in the coming weeks as I make the biscotti and Italian fig cookies, she’ll be helping me as well.

One of the things that has helped me get “into the spirit” this year is actually my business. Through Seashore Design Studio I offer handmade fine and sterling silver jewelry that is strong, and flexible in style. Recent promotions have allowed me to ship dozens of items along with free gifts and extra goodies to friends and customers, as well as collect from these sales for charitable giving. The feeling of being able to give back and make a difference has gone a long way towards keeping me engaged, especially following this year’s political season.

I’ve also been doing a lot of my holiday shopping on Etsy. So far 99% of my shopping has been done from independent artists, with that last 1% from small companies or companies I love. I know how excited I get what I see a new order come in, and I want to be able to do that for other people. Plus there are some absolutely fantastic, unique gifts to be had when you buy from people instead of corporations.

I apologize for this blog being quiet for a while. The time has flown by so fast, and there’s been so much to do that there just never seems to be time to document something to share. I hope you’re well; stay warm (I’m already always cold and it’s not even real winter yet).

Baking

Autumn kitchen sink muffins recipe – gluten and dairy free!

November 1, 2016

So I had a big day Sunday. I peeled almost 30 apples, made 9 jars of quite yummy applesauce (plus some in the freezer), and managed to burn myself pretty nicely. Hey, you win some, you lose some, but the burn is another story.

So before that happened, I’m in my kitchen, big pot of apples cooking on one burner, huge canning kettle coming up to temperature on the other. Little Miss and her daddy are relaxing in the living room, and I think hmm, since I need to be in the kitchen anyway, let me use this time.

Rewinding for a moment, last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law upstate and we made a visit to the rather windy, but always lovely Schenectady Farmers Market. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying more Pucker’s Gourmet pickles, but again, that’s another story.

So we stop to buy some bread and I nudge my husband and nod towards what is labeled as a “carrot apple oatmeal raisin” muffin. Another couple of nudges got me one, and we decided to share it the next morning. It was fluffy and beautiful, and quite yummy; not a combination I would have necessarily thought of. So for the past week I’ve had this flavor combination kicking around in my head.

Fast forward again to Sunday. In between stirring the apples, I shredded some carrots and diced an apple real small and well…threw things together. I made up the recipe off the top of my head based on what I know of baking (and had the forethought to write down what went into the bowl for in case they came good). And come good they did.

My muffins don’t have the beautiful golden domed top of the one we bought at the farmer’s market. But you know what they don’t have either? Gluten and dairy. The ingredients are actually quite simple, and the outcome was moist, yummy, just sweet enough muffins that peeled cleanly out of their wrappers.

muffins3I’m calling these Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffins. Are you familiar with the “kitchen sink” concept? That’s when everything goes in but the kitchen sink (my soups tend to be kitchen sink soups too). I could call these Gluten Free, Dairy Free Apple Carrot Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Raisin muffins, I suppose, but that seems like a mouthful.

The recipe is incredibly straightforward, but there is one point I will clarify. I happen to have recently bought oat bran, which is what I used here, but in the past I have simply thrown organic rolled oats into the food processor to grind them into oat bran. Because this recipe doesn’t rely on gluten free flour, you don’t get that odd taste and texture that it often gives baked goods. As you’ll see when you’re mixing, the ingredients distribute nice and evenly so each bite is consistent; you don’t get doughy bits and them random mouthfuls of just the mix ins.

Feel free to leave out the chocolate chips or raisins, or substitute in craisins or other dried fruit. A handful of rolled oats would add some extra chew.

Okay, enough talk. You got all the big points. They’re gluten free. They’re dairy free. They’re easy. And they make a very serviceable dessert or breakfast, because most of the sweetness is natural.

Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffin Recipe (gluten free and dairy free)

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, shredded and peeled
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/4 cup baking oil (I used avocado, because it’s what I had handy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Healthy sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Generous handful each of raisins and chocolate chips
  • Sprinkle of ground chia/flax seeds and hemp seeds (totally optional, but I threw them in)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grab a muffin tin and some liners.
  2. Peel and shred two medium carrots (I used a box grater), then peel, core and dice a medium sized apple into very small pieces, set in a bowl.
  3. Add sugar, baking powder, oat flour, salt, cinnamon and the ground seeds, if you’re using them. Mix it up so everything is evenly distributed.
  4. Add oil and stir in, followed by 2 eggs. Drop your mix ins on top (raisins and chocolate chips in this case) and stir until the mixture looks even.
  5. Spoon into waiting muffin liners, filling half to 3/4 of the way. These will puff up somewhat, but should not puff enough to overflow.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of one comes up clean. Allow to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack, or to enjoy warm.

This recipe made 9 muffins, and any leftovers will last several days in the refrigerator.

Baking

Birthday cakes, minus

October 28, 2016

I say “I need to bake” fairly often. And 9 times out of 10, it’s not normal baking.

Normal implies following recipes and baking what most of the population eats. Wheat, dairy, full sugar, all of that. I nearly always bake non-dairy, using either coconut oil or vegan butter in place of real butter, and often enough it needs to be gluten free also. And sometimes I mess with sugar too, either reducing the amount or substituting in some maple syrup.

This fall I had two birthday cakes to make, one for my dad, and one for well, me. Yes, I made my own birthday cake; it made sense and I like baking.

I used existing recipes with only moderate alterations, and the results were pretty nice, which is why I’m sharing. I’ve made plenty of gluten free, dairy free cakes from existing recipes that sort of felt like you were eating sand. The texture was wrong, the taste was off…there are a lot of ways a well meaning cake can go pear shape.

But these were good. Really, quite good. So I decided, even though it’s been a while since I made these, that I’d share these recipes with you for just in case you find yourself in need of a gluten free or dairy free cake. I’ve already done the test run for you!

Gluten free, dairy free birthday cake

cake1For my dad’s birthday, I wanted to do something to his taste. He’s not a fan of very sweet desserts, so I wanted something with enough natural flavor that the recipe wasn’t relying on sweetness to carry it. I found the Light & Fluffy Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake from Gluten Free Gigi (click the title to link to the recipe), and decided to use that as the base. After years of thinking otherwise, I’ve found that I rather like lemon and as I suspected, the lemon helped cover the flavor of the gluten free flour.

This recipe does call for 1/2 cup of milk, but the author herself used non-dairy milk instead, so it was very simple to just substitute in the cashew milk I had in the house.

I had a minor mishap in that I planned to top this cake with coconut whipped cream, but my coconut cream wasn’t cold enough and wouldn’t whip; I made emergency vegan buttercream using Earth Balance vegan butter sticks instead. The two layers of gluten free, dairy free lemon cake housed an interior layer of homemade strawberry jam I made back in June, then I piped the vegan buttercream on top and pressed sliced strawberries and blueberries into the top.

The two layers were on the flat side, but that worked out just fine for me. I hate needing to trim cakes to layer them.

The result? The cake had a nice taste and texture, and the lemon rounded it out and covered the taste of the flour a bit. The jam added a nice kick of sweetness, and the fresh fruit on top brought it all together. All things considered, I’d call this a success.

Vegan chocolate birthday cake

cake2For my birthday, I chose what else? Chocolate. I didn’t need to go gluten free this time, but I still needed to avoid dairy. I chose The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Cake from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken (again, click the title to link to the recipe). The recipe was easy to follow and overall, pretty simple. I did use slightly less sugar than the recipe called for, and didn’t miss the missing 1/4 cup or so. I will admit, adding apple cider vinegar threw me a little because I hate the smell of apple cider vinegar, but it worked.

I did not make the frosting according to this recipe, but instead made coconut whipped cream (you can easily find recipes, basically you throw cold coconut cream in the KitchenAid with powdered sugar and let it get fluffy) which I mounded onto the layers, then sprinkled the top with  chocolate chips. Because why not.

The two layers fluffed up beautifully, taller than the lemon cake came. In my past experience, vegan cakes tend to come very flat, but not this one. The layers were beautiful, and I piled them up with homemade peach jam from this summer generously slathered between. Then topped it with that coconut whip I mentioned.

This cake came really nice. It wasn’t the overwhelming chocolatey-ness of a german chocolate cake (which has melted chocolate in the batter) or a flourless chocolate cake (which is practically all cocoa powder and sugar), but compared to the vast majority of chocolate cakes that just sort of taste brown, this was a real winner. I am extraordinarily picky about chocolate cakes; they’ll be gorgeous and gooey looking and then just taste brown. They betray me.

This was not a betrayal. This was a very pleasant success.

So! Test runs complete. If you find yourself in need of a recipe for a gluten free and dairy free cake, check out the Gluten Free Gigi lemon cake recipe, and if dairy free or vegan is your intention, visit It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken for the chocolate cake recipe.

Cooking

A souper idea

October 12, 2016

lilysoupWe have a problem in my house. My toddler is addicted to soup.

I’m not even kidding. She’s asking for it at every meal, and since she knows I have some in the refrigerator, she keeps opening the fridge and demanding it. This kid’s enthusiasm for soup is both hilarious and unnerving.

Not that I can blame her, really. I love soup, and I love making soup. My husband is of the opinion that soup is not a meal and I humor him, most of the time, by serving it as a starter or accompaniment. But to be entirely honest, a hearty chicken soup is as much a meal as anything else, in my opinion.

Let’s go back to the beginning here, do you make soup? From scratch, I mean, no packets, bouillons or mixes needed. If your answer is no, it’s time to try. It’s so simple, I am absolutely telling you, if you can cook at all, you can make soup.

You don’t even need a recipe. Guidelines are all you need, and before you know it you’ll be throwing things in the pot and seasoning like a pro, whipping up pots of fragrant, amazing soup, and just in time for the cool weather rolling in.

Starting in the fall, I make a big pot of vegetable soup nearly every week, and Little Miss and I eat it throughout the week for lunches. In the past I would fish out the veggies for her but now, she wants her own bowl with the full experience in it for her. She eats the veggies, then points to the broth and says “soup!” before either asking for help with her spoon or feeding herself (really, rather neatly for a two year old).

Now, why is soup awesome?

  • It’s warm and hearty, and you can make it with nearly anything.
  • It lasts several days in the refrigerator, and the flavors combine even better after sitting for a day or two.
  • You can freeze leftovers in plastic freezer bags for easy defrosting at a later date.
  • It’s wonderfully nutritious, with all the amazing nutrients from the veggies seeping into that yummy broth.

If you’re one of those people who fish out the chunks and leave the broth, I’m not going to go so far as to call you a heathen, but I’m going to imply it. Strongly. Ahem. I don’t mean restaurant or supermarket soup, I mean homemade soup. As mentioned in my list above, all the nutrients that cook out of the ingredients go into the broth, and if the soup is done well, it should be absolutely delicious! There is no real skill necessary to make chunks of chicken or veggies taste like what they are. The broth however, is an art, and art should be appreciated.

Are you ready for the guidelines, or should I keep pontificating? Nah, you’re ready for the guidelines.

Guidelines for the easiest soup ever, which you can and should modify to make all sorts of amazing soups:

Chicken: Chicken soup is the base for matzoh ball soup, and matzoh ball soup is amazing. I do generally use matzoh ball mix (the matzoh ball mix, not soup mix) for convenience, but the soup is all from scratch. Adjust your amounts to what you need and your seasoning to taste.

soupveggiesFirst you take a pot. Add a little olive oil and let it heat up, then sear some skinless chicken thighs on both sides and set them aside. In your hot pot, saute 1-2 diced onions, then add some chopped carrot and celery and a parsnip if you wish (they cook down softer than carrots and add a sweet, earthy flavor). Give it a few minutes so your veggies get a little color. At this point I like to do some basic seasoning with salt and pepper to mix into my veggies, then I add my water. How much depends on how much soup you want; eyeball it, you know what soup looks like. I don’t think I make pots with less than 8 cups of water, honestly. Now I crank up the heat until the water starts to boil and add some seasonings; fresh or dried parsley, dried dill, and maybe a little garlic powder. Once the water is boiling I carefully drop the chicken thighs in, cover the pot, reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour or two or three. Honestly, the order in which you do these things doesn’t terribly matter as long as it all goes in the pot, but I do recommend the searing and sauteing for extra flavor.

Give it an hour or so for your chicken to cook, then taste your broth. The chicken fat will have added color and flavor, and the chicken should be falling apart, so fish it out, shred it and toss it back in. Does your broth need more salt? A little more herbs? Add as needed, and simmer as long as you have patience. If you make your soup the day before you need it, the time in the fridge will allow the flavors to marry beautifully, and once cold, you can skin off extra chicken fat before warming and serving (you’ll see it, a thick yellow coating on the surface).

Congrats, you made chicken soup. If you want matzoh balls, follow the directions on the packet.

Vegetable: I’m going to surprise you here by telling you the method is nearly the same as above, except without chicken. My standard weekly cold weather soup is just a veggie soup. I saute onion and garlic with whatever veggies I have on hand – this week was a handful of chopped string beans, some broccoli, carrots, celery, cabbage and tomato. I’m big on tomato to flavor the broth in my veggie soup. I also added a handful of red lentils which cook down into nothing, adding a little body to the broth and a little protein too.

So. Olive oil! Chopped veggies! Water! Salt, pepper, garlic powder, dill, parsley, in, in, in! And just let it simmer. And simmer. Taste it and adjust your seasonings. Add chicken, or boil pasta or rice to throw in. Throw some grilled shrimp or parmesan cheese in. The possibilities are endless, and think about how many veggies you get into one dish!

And that’s it. Ilana’s first treatise on the wonders of soup is complete. If you’re a soup beginning, grab a pot and go! If you’re a seasoned (pun intended) soup maker, I’d love to know your favorite recipes!