Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to School Blues

I've been desperately ignoring it, doing my very best ostrich impression, hiding my head in the sand, but it's come anyway. Yes, school is upon us. I know for most mothers, back to school is a time of "ah, the kids go away all day and life is quiet again." For homeschoolers, though, it's a time of "oh no, my other job is starting up again!"

For some reason this year has been particularly bad. I was in such deep denial about the coming school year that I didn't even put in my school book order until two weeks before we were scheduled to start. Perhaps that was my subconscious ploy to delay - if the books aren't here, we can't do school, right? But I was foiled by my most excellent curriculum provider. They had the books on my doorstep the day we started. Grrr.

You see, I was not ready to let go of summer. It seemed like we'd barely had a summer and I wanted to continue our ambitious agenda of lazing around, going to the pool, hanging out with friends, reading trashy novels, and baking just for fun. But life intrudes and pretending to be a grown up takes precedence over play time.

So, to console myself, I made cookies. Since I'm trying to drastically cut down on sugar (see my last post), I thought I'd try these cookies. Sweetened only with fruit, they seemed to be the answer to my post-breakup prayers. But I have to be honest with you. They're a make-do cookie. You know, the kind you eat when you're desperate for something sweet and there's nothing else in the house. It's not that they're bad, but they're not amazing. If you had your choice of these cookies and the ones in the previous post, you'd pick the latter. Every time.

In fact, I even ended up chucking a few of these cookies. They'd gone moldy. My family probably figured out that if they just held firm, the sugar embargo wouldn't last and I'd come up with something more tempting. (They were right. You should see what's sitting on my counter now!) Or maybe it was because of the coconut. My family has issues with coconut.

But if you're committed to not feeding your family sugar, or if your kids have never had sugary treats, you will probably really enjoy these cookies. They are moist, the banana-chocolate combination is always a winner, and they have the added bonus of making you feel virtuous while eating a cookie. But if you're one of the parents who packs a lunch for your child to take to school, be aware that they might try to trade these away for a Twinkie. (Euww!)

No Sugar Banana Cookies
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups rolled oats (not quick or instant)
2/3 cup almond meal
1 Tbsp coconut flour
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded & unsweetened
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup chocolate chips

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.

2- If your coconut oil is solid, warm it up to liquid. You can use either a saucepan or just set the measuring cup into a cup of hot water. You want the oil liquid, but not hot.

3- In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, coconut flour, shredded coconut, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder.

4- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Let the dough sit for 10 minutes to firm up a bit.

5- Drop the dough in dollops about 2 tsp each onto the prepared baking sheet, about an inch apart. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the tops are just browning. Leave on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a cooing rack.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Breakup

Dear Sugar,

It's been a while now since we broke up, but I can't stop thinking about you. Don't misunderstand, it's not that I want to get back together; I know you're no good for me.

I remember all the reasons I gave when we broke up:

~ You don't make me feel good about myself

~ You were so controlling

~ Sometimes being with you just made me sick to my stomach

~ And, I know this sounds immature, but, you were always more popular than me. When we went anywhere together, you were the one people were interested in. I need to have friends that care more about me than you.

But even though I know we're through and I'm better off without you, the problem is that I can't stop thinking about you and all the good times we shared. Baking together in the kitchen, cozying up together at the end of a meal, and those delicious stolen moments together late at night. I'm constantly reminded of you by all the friends we have in common. And when I'm lonely or bored, I still reach for you, like a phantom limb.

What we've shared was special and magical, but it can't go on. I learned a lot from our time together, and I grew a lot, too (several pant sizes), but I have to put an end to this. I'm seeing others now. I try to fill the void with my new companions, Stevia, date puree, and sometimes I still see my honey. They don't make magic happen like you did, but it's for the best. I've moved on. I won't look back.

Well, maybe just a little. Now and then.

Missing your sweet kisses,

Cookie Baker Lynn

Post Break-Up Cookies
(aka Hazelnut & Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies)
-adapted from Flour

Just the right balance of tender, chewy, crunchy, and sweet, these are the perfect way to get over a break up. You make the dough one day, and the next day, if there's any dough left, bake up the cookies. Two comfort foods in one.

3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp (1-1/2 sticks plus 1 Tbsp/ 185 gm) unsalted butter, at room temp
2/3 cup (140 gm) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (150 gm) packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (210 gm) blanched whole hazelnuts, roasted
2-1/2 cups (370 gm) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
12 oz (340 gm) milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

2- Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl again.

3- In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup (70 gm) of the hazelnuts until ground to a fine powder. Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup (140 gm) hazelnuts. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chunks. On low speed, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Mix just until the flour is totally incorporated.

4- For best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or at least 3 to 4 hours) before baking.

5- When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 deg.F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

6- Using a medium cookie scoop (about 2 Tbsp) make dough balls and drop them onto the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

7- Bake for 9 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

(As always, the quality of your cookie won't surpass the quality of your ingredients. Make sure your hazelnuts are not stale or rancid and use good quality chocolate. I loved the Guittard I used in these.)

Friday, September 2, 2011


Very often I feel inadequate. When I look at the jobs I have to do, they seem like huge mountains to scale and for my Everest assault I'm equipped with only a fork, a paper bag, some dental floss, and I'm wearing shorts, a tank top, and flip flops.

Then I make the mistake of looking to my side. There are herds of other women, sure-footed as mountain goats, decked out in climbing gear from REI, managing to make it look as easy as a walk in the park as they nimbly navigate life's hazards, leaping from rock to rock, ascending at a dizzying pace.

My biggest personal mountains are in the areas of my job (homemaking) and the raising, training, and teaching of my children. I meet amazing women, or read their blogs, and think, "My gosh, where does she find the extra 36 hours per day to be in a book club, do inventive crafts with her children, redecorate her bedroom, learn Italian, run marathons, publish a book, raise all their own food in the garden, play an instrument beautifully, can everything that grows, cook delightful, inventive, and healthful dinners every night, sew her own designer wardrobe, and still keep her home immaculately clean?"

I compare myself to that and I just want to crawl onto the couch with a bowl of pudding, pull a blanket over my head, and give up. I'm not ever going to be that amazing, so why bother trying?

I used to have hope that one day I'd be amazing, that one magical day it would all come together. My house would be spotless, my children would be on track in their schoolwork and would start reading the encyclopedia, just for fun. Since everything at home was under control, I could shed the stained sweat pants, put on a cute outfit, and go out with girlfriends, not dreading the inevitable phone call of "When are you coming home? They're trying to kill each other and if they don't succeed, I'll do it for them!!"

But I've come to the conclusion that's not going to happen. I once had a friend (one of the amazing kind with perfect, mannered, homeschooled children and a spotless home) come over to my house for the first time. In shock she surveyed the debris of toys, socks, books, projects, shoes, dress-ups, and dog hair coating the living room and she said, "You must be really good in bed. My husband would never put up with this!"

So I started a blog. A happy little corner of life where I could feel amazing. But I'll let you in on a secret. Just in case I might have you fooled, I'm still not amazing. Did you ever wonder why almost all of my pictures are close-ups of the food? Yes, partly it's to show the tantalizing texture of the food. But mainly it's because It's a chore to find more than 2 square feet of table or counter that's clear of stuff.

And the food? Some of it is original, but most of it I just copy. I hang onto the coattails of someone who's truly amazing and hope some of it will rub off on me. Like today's recipe. It is amazing and comes from a woman who is also amazing, Janelle. She has a beautiful blog where she chronicles her life and cooking adventures, Talk of Tomatoes. Fabulous photos, wonderful recipes, and lovely writing. Sigh. (Oh, sorry, just comparing myself again.)

I met Janelle at the food blogger's dinner I attended in the spring. We were each to bring something to share and she brought some red pepper jelly. Ohmygosh, it was love at first bite. Spread on a cracker with some chèvre, it was addictively good. My husband, after his third cracker, said, "You have got to get this recipe!"

Janelle, being an amazing person, already had it posted on her blog, making it super easy for me to copy her. And my family loves me for it. I didn't have any chèvre cheese, so I used cream cheese on flatbread crackers. Oh, heavens, it's good! Hot, sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy - it's a sensation overload for the mouth. You barely finish the first cracker before you're reaching for the next.

I put off making this jelly for months, thinking it would be really difficult and time consuming. It's not. It's super easy. In fact, next time I make it (which will be soon), I'm going to make up a big batch. I think jars of this will be my new favorite Christmas present to give!

The next time you want to appear like you have it all together, use a snow shovel to get all the junk out of the living room, vacuum (vacuum tracks are important, they make it look like you clean regularly), and then serve this jelly with cream cheese on crackers. After the first bite, no one will care that you're only faking it.

Spicy Red Pepper Jelly
- from Talk of Tomatoes
makes about 2 small jam jars

1 cup finely chopped (OR quickly pureed) bell red pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/3 cup white vinegar
2 tsp calcium water from POMONA PECTIN*
1 1/2 tsp pectin from POMONA PECTIN*
2 1/3 cup white sugar

*(I found Pomona Pectin at Whole Foods. It's pricier than standard pectin, but each box makes 2 to 4 recipes, and it's a natural citrus pectin that allows you to use less sugar in your jams and jellies. I love it! The calcium water is included in the packet; it's not something you have to buy separately.)

1. Wash and rinse jars; let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; let stand in hot water. Read through the insert with the pectin, if you haven't used this brand before.

2. Either mince or puree peppers in a food processor. Place in medium saucepan with vinegar and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally, then let simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add calcium water to pan. Stir well.

4. In small bowl, combine pectin powder with 1/2 cup sugar (scoop the sugar out of the 2-1/3 cups sugar you already measured).

5. Bring pepper mixture back to a boil, stir in pectin-sugar blend to dissolve. Then add remaining sugar. Stir vigorously to dissolve, once it boils, remove from heat.

6. Fill jars to 1/4inch from top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on lids. Boil 10 minutes in hot water bath. Remove and let cool. Label.

For gift giving, tie red ribbons around the neck of the jar, add a pretty piece of cloth under the ring, or make a gift basket with crackers, chèvre or cream cheese, and a bottle of wine. (Just a few ideas I picked up from other people.)