our messy table

Category: Dairy Free

buckwheat granola

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My toddler son has taken to exclusively playing with clothes hangers. The child-sized ones meant for his 4T stature.

This  began a few weeks ago when my mother was visiting. For whatever reason, we were sitting on the floor in my son’s room while he played with whatever he pulled out of the toy box, just chatting about this and that. And as her eyes scanned the room, she noticed that there were only a few clothes hangers swaying quietly in my son’s closet. “You need more of those”, she said curtly, which made me feel like a bad adult. So much so that the next time we were in Target I made it a point to purchase a pack of 15 child-sized clothes hangers.

When my mother came over again a week later, she also had bought a brand new bundle of 15 child-sized clothes hangers to suit my lack of adult responsibility. I dutifully hung them in the closet next to my previously purchased ones.

A few days later my mother came over coffee. And with her came another handful of used, child-sized clothes hangers that she had found somewhere in her basement. And then on Sunday, when we graciously received a large bag of hand-me-downs (yessssss) from a friend, we learned that the gift also included at least another 15 colorful child-sized clothes hangers.

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That very afternoon, my son, perhaps for the first time noticing the colorful assortment of fixtures, crawled into his closet and removed as many as he could from the wood beam meant for hanging clothes. He scattered them around the living room and began utilizing their hooks on every ledge or surface possible. He began using the hooks as a modified hand to open the fridge, pick up books and drag random things about. Yesterday, he insisted on walking our dog with the hanger hooked to the end of the leash, which proved to be more difficult than it sounds. Later, he took a nap with a clothes hanger gripped in each hand.

My son climbed into bed with me this morning, nestled deep in my pillow with his cold little feet pressed against my knees, and then, in a flash of concern declared, “Oh no! My hooks!”

Quickly, my 2-year-old wriggled from my bed, scurried across the hall into his room and returned with two child-sized clothes hangers.  He crawled back into my bed and handing me the green one. “This is yours”, he said.

“What if I don’t want the hook?”

“Sshh, just close your eyes”, he said.

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Later in the day, after my son had hung a pink and blue clothes hanger from each arm and declared himself a butterfly, and after I told him several times to stop picking up the live farm kittens with his modified hook hands, he tried to hook the loops of my jeans with his hook hands and succeeded more times that I will admit. And then I hid the clothes hangers in the tall grass hoping he would forget about them.

And after a while of breathless searching, he did.

Until we went back inside where there were many more clothes hangers scattered everywhere. Then, while I made dinner, he watched PBS with a clothes hanger in each hand, ready if any more fun should arise.

. . .

The summer is coming to a close, my friends. Which means back to school for me and back to full-time day care for my son. And I honestly don’t know what makes me want to sob uncontrollably more: the fact that I will no longer have the time every morning to close my eyes as my son brushes my hair with the end of his clothes hanger hook… or the fact that someone else will be tucking him and his clothes hangers in for his afternoon nap… or the fact that summer is over. It was a GREAT summer. Full of so little weed-pulling (just look away from my garden) and so much reading and swimming and making countless batches of granola for the most amazing two-year-old in the world.

My son has always liked granola, but this summer he took a special liking to the buckwheat granola recipe posted on the back of Bob’s Red Mill’s buckwheat groats package. I cannot blame him. For one, this recipe recommends that you boil the honey, maple syrup, coconut oil and spices together before folding them into the dry ingredients. I believe this brings out a deep, nutty flavor in each giant, crunchy cluster. For road trips, we like to toss this granola in plastic container with a bit of dried fruit. But at home, it is perfect with a simple knob of yogurt, splash of milk, or on its own in a little dish while watching your favorite episode of Go Diego Go.

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Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Bob’s Red Mill

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine oats, buckwheat, coconut, nuts and seeds.

In a small saucepan combine honey, maple syrup, coconut oil, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil and hold at a steady boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla and almond extract.

Pour syrup mixture over the oat mixture and mix well to evenly coat. Spread the granola on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer.

Bake granola until browned and crispy, about 30 – 35 minutes, stirring thoroughly every 10 minutes.

Let cool thoroughly before breaking into clumps.

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windows

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It had been a goal of mine to write more this summer. In fact, I began the summer with a list of goals which were, for the most part, achievable. I had hoped to wash every one of our dusty farm-house windows. To keep a tidy garden blooming with vegetables and herbs. I wanted to run… “lots!” and work my way down the slow-moving book list.

I threw that list away a few days ago. And not because every speck of dust remains laced along the panes of our windows. Or because our meager garden is a wild jungle of weeds. But because it seemed that the list didn’t matter anymore. I knew I could not find value in achieving these goals that could match what has already come with this summer.

My son and I have spent lazy mornings walking around the over-grown yard, feeding the rabbit grass clippings, holding kittens, chasing chickens back into their pen. Our family has sailed on a river in an old fishing boat. We have picked wild berries and made cobblers and grilled our dinner outside. We have driven miles and miles to spend time with people we love. We have stayed up late watching TV shows.

I am so thankful it does not have to be more than this right now.

. . .

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I found the original recipe for frozen blueberry margaritas at the beginning of the summer and have been tinkering with it ever since. I loved the idea of it. But I am not a fan of slushy drinks, particularly slushy alcoholic ones. I am also not a fan of blueberry skins wedged in my teeth

I removed the ice from the blender and whipped out my fine mesh strainer. Mind you, I have never made more than one serving of this drink at a time, so I image staining out the solids straight over the glass would not work as well with multiple servings. If you wish to double, or triple this recipe, try straining out the solids over a pitcher to pour over iced glasses when ready.

Blueberry Margarita

Yield: 1 cocktail

Per margarita, multiply as necessary

  • 2 ounces 100% agave silver/blanco tequila
  • 1½ ounces fresh orange juice
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar or simple syrup, more to taste
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh blueberries

Garnish (Not Pictured)

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • Small lime wedge

First, prepare your glasses: Pour the salt and optional chili powder onto a very small plate. Run a small wedge of lime around the upper outer rim of your glasses. Roll the dampened rim into the salt mixture. Fill glass with ice.

In a blender, combine the tequila, orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar or simple syrup, and blueberries. Blend until smooth.

Taste and add more a bit more agave nectar if the mixture tastes harsh or just doesn’t quite sing, then blend again. Place a fine mesh strainer over your prepared glass. Pour the mixture over the strainer and allow solids to separate. I use a small spatula or spoon to help release all the liquid. Carefully drop one big ice cube or a few smaller ice cubes into the drinks to keep them cold. Serve immediately!

10 things

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I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t a painfully self-conscious person. I remember as an elementary student that something in my body physically hurt whenever I was made to answer a question in front of the class. I remember the white streak of panic when I didn’t know answer. I remember feeling hot shame when the next person to be called on did know because it was apparently an easy question.

I am learning more and more that I am hardly alone in being painfully self-conscious as a kid. And it has been interesting to see how insecurity plays out in the adult world.

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. . .

I remember during a developmental psychology class in college when we were asked to make a list. On the list, we had to write 10 things that came to mind when we thought about ourselves. The room went quiet as we all got to work. I struggled a bit. Finally, I think I wrote something along the lines of:

  1. Insecure
  2. Confused
  3. Impatient
  4. Sinful
  5. Yada… yada…

You get it. I wrote down things that were bad.

When the class was asked to share what we wrote, I kept my hand glued to my side. Our professor called on the other eager students, and I was surprised by their answers.

A lot of the guys said:

  1. Funny
  2. Athletic
  3. Friendly

…. Things like that.

A lot of the women said things like:

  1. Nice
  2. Smart
  3. Christian

…. Obviously, our lists were quite different.

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That class period was a turning-point for my way of thinking about identity. As I listened to the students in the room sharing their very positive lists, I realized I didn’t have a healthy view of myself – that I was dragging around my insecurities like ball and chain.

. . .

It has been about 6 years since taking Developmental Psychology and learning that most people don’t and shouldn’t hate themselves. And during the 6 years, my personal identity has undergone a few shifts.

I have been influenced by strong and gracious people. I have had to overcome challenges and loss. I have had to eat dirt, be humbled, and let people help me when I needed it. For all of that I am a different person.

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Today, there are situations in which I feel quite confident. And there are also days when I am so self-conscious that I feel like a second grader all over again.

At any rate, the words on my list are different. They are no longer quite as ego-centric. But rather, my list is constructed of words given to me by the people in my life – the people who shape me – who depend on me – who give me a lot to feel confident about.

  1. Spouse
  2. Mother
  3. Sister
  4. Daughter
  5. Friend
  6. Teacher
  7. Artist
  8. Fearful
  9. Understanding
  10. Strong

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Maple, Peanut Butter and Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)

From: Cookie and Kate

Yield: about 30 cookies

  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup, preferably grade B
  • 4 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ¼ cups rolled oats ground for 30 seconds in a food processor
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup (6 oz) semi-sweet or bitter sweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with two racks in the middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have parchment paper, lightly grease the baking sheets).

Pour the peanut butter and maple syrup mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the melted oil and whisk until the mixture is well blended. Use your whisk to beat in the egg, scraping down the side of the bowl once it’s incorporated, then whisk in the vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Switch to a big spoon and stir in the ground oats, rolled oats and chocolate chips until they are evenly combined. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto your prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies, reversing the pans midway through (swap the cookies on the top rack with the cookies on the lower rack) until they’re barely set and just beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool completely on the pans.

service engine soon

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On the current property we are renting, buried deep in one the barns is a lawn mower that works 20% of the time with a blade attachment made for snow removal. Here in the Midwest, when the ground gets very cold, the earth tends to shift. This is a problem. Because in our situation, the winter has shifted a slab of cement in front of the door of the barn so that we cannot open the door to access this mower.

We have a very long driveway, and we have a great many drifts of snow blockading us from the road.

As you may have guessed, this leaves us with no way to remove the snow so we can easily make out way to work every morning.

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My husband has spent roughly 1 hour and 1/2 a tank of gas the last few evenings driving one of our vehicles hap-haphazardly through the snowdrifts (with its blinking “service engine soon” light) to make tracks for his flimsy little car  to make it through in the morning. Then he spent another 20 filling up said flimsy little car’s routinely deflating tires with air.

And sometimes… sometimes it feels like we just don’t fit the mold a smooth-functioning life. Like our life can be summed up to a puzzle with pieces that got sucked on by a toddler then lost under the couch for 8 months. And now we are doomed… doomed to function. Doomed to create a neat and perfectly finished picture.

Sometimes it feels like we are metaphorically my husband’s flimsy little car, and that our life-obstacles are the snow drifts in our driveway and we are just trying to make it through somehow… with a blinking “service engine soon” light and a flat tire.

Its a little scary how quickly the little things can build me up and tear me down. These little things, for me, metaphorically assemble the puzzle of our life;  a finished picture that illustrates where we are. And when it doesn’t come together (which it often doesn’t), I begin to feel defeated. Sometimes depressed. Sometimes angry and like I am completing losing control of myself.

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And sometimes I retaliate against our bad luck. I clear out the basement so our son has a place to ride his bike. I drive to the grocery store and buy ice cream for 3. I paint with my toddler.  I stay home all day making actual meals and spending actual time with my family. I chose to win in the ways that I can.

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Hopefully, with time, the pieces will come together and make sense.

Hopefully, with time, the earth will shift again so we can… you know… get into the barn.

Hopefully, with time, we will get a better grip on things. And when that happens, I sort of hope we miss the old puzzle – the assembled pictures that didn’t quite fit.

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Warm Green Lentil Salad

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, very thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley or cilantro to top (optional)
  • fried egg, to top (optional)

Put a kettle or a pot (containing about 4 cups water) on the stove and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Fold in the carrots and celery.

Add the lentils to the saucepan and stir to coat with the onion mixture. Pour the boiling water into the pan and stop when the level is about ½-inch over the top of the lentils (should be roughly 3 1/2 cups of water). Bring back to a good boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. Stir in the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper and cook an additional 10-15 minutes – or until lentils are tender but still slightly chewy.

Remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

Serve warm – with a lightly-fried egg and a sprinkling of parsley on top if you’d like. Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for an additional 4-5 days.

morning glories

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Our son is recovering from a spell of influenza, an ear infection, and with our luck, probably a few other things. However, the little guy seems to be in the home stretch. His night-coughing has eased. He has regained the energy to do more than doze off at any given moment. And I am no expert. but you would think that the flu shot should count for something?

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Anywaay… I was scheduled to start my first week of work on Monday, the morning after my son started showing symptoms of being sick.

Time, this week, seemed to be on our side. Due to early-outs and late-starts and school cancellations, I was able to guiltlessly spend time at home with my sick baby. On the days school was not canceled, my sister, in her last week of Christmas vacation before returning to college, was able to play nanny in my house. It was wonderfully lucky. My husband and I were spared the misery of hulling an un-well child outside in the negative 60 degree wind-chill. And after work, I was able to come home to healing child in a mismatched outfit with watercolor running out of his nose.

Thanks, little sister.

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You would think with all the unanticipated time-off, I would have been a picture of productivity. I had a to-do list the length of my freezer mounted in plain sight along with additional preparations for school. And yet, there is something about a snow-day, something about unanticipated time off that depletes my sense of urgency. For instance, on Thursday (a full snow-day), after I put sick baby down for nap, I took a bath while nibbling bittersweet chocolate. I took a second bath the following morning (a late start and baby still asleep) while drinking two cups of very hot coffee and finishing a book. From where I now sit, the thought of this is shocking. This is something I can never bring myself to do on a Saturday… mind you… anticipated time-off. Halfway through these bath-taking processes I wondered, “…. Who am I ?!”

Now that my son is on the mend, and the winter weather is supposed to regulate, I am both excited for and leery of a promised routine.

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I mean, I really enjoyed those baths. There was even one night where my husband and I got lost in Netflix like we used to. It felt like summer in January… in negative 60 degree wind-chill…

I want to wish my Midwest readers well as we all re-enter the time of routine. I hope you all are warm and safe and healthy. And since the weekend is upon us, I though a recipe for a hearty breakfast cookie would be a great way to start.

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. . .

I picked up on this recipe after a friend served them to us while we stayed with them for a weekend. This friend also introduced me to Sarah’s blog, My New Roots, from where the recipe originated.  I put my own spin on things when I make these cookies, omitting the anise and grating in orange zest, sometimes adding a splash of vanilla, sometimes not. At first I was puzzled by the ingredient list. Why pureed beans and an egg? Can we swap the brown sugar for honey or maple syrup? How about gluten-free flour? I have tried all of these options, all yielding very different results. I would trust Sarah on the original. The listed recipe is a reliably good one. But feel free to tinker around.

Like Sarah, we affectionately call these breakfast cookies “Morning Glories”. They go very well with a cup of coffee or earl gray tea. If you are a toddler, yogurt-dunking is mandatory. Yogurt dunking, and also your new favorite fox cup filled to the brim with water.

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Morning Glories

Adapted from: My New Roots

Yield 1 to 1 ½ dozen breakfast cookies

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole grain flour (we use spelt)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. taking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 15-oz. can white kidney beans, great northern beans or navy beans, rinsed and darined
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar*
  • 1 large egg**
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 2/3 cups sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees and place a rack in the top third. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Pulse the oats in a food processor (or blender) until they resemble a very rough flour. Transfer the oats to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest and salt.

Pulse the beans and olive oil in the food processor until they are creamy. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and pulse until smooth. Add dates and pulse a few times until chopped and incorporated. Scrap down the sides of the bowl once or twice along the way.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until the ingredients start to come together. Stir until everything just comes together.

Place the sesames seeds in a bowl. With a tablespoon, scoop out some dough about the size of a golf ball, then roll it into a rough log shape. (Yes, the dough at this point is very wet, but it becomes very easy to handle once coated in sesame seeds.)

Roll the log of dough into the sesame seeds, remembering to dip the ends too. Set each log on the prepared baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten the dough just a bit, into a bar shape. You want the bar to be the same thickness all the way through – do not make the ends flatter than the middle. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving at least an inch or so between each bar – they’ll spread a bit, but not much. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the sesame seeds around the bottom start to get golden.

Store in an airtight container for a week, if they keep that long!

Notes:

*Swapping brown sugar for a natural sweetener, such as maple syrup or honey has yielded, for me, a very messy and wet batter I didn’t like working with. Give it a try if you want!

** I have swapped out the egg for a vegetarian binder such as pumpkin or apple sauce with success.

red lentil soup and “normal”

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Here I am… thinking of all the ways I can get out of “real life” stuff this afternoon. There is something about the holidays – something about time spent away from work and instead spent traveling and being with family and friends. And there is something about my daily intake of sweet, caramelized food that makes me want to drift off to the sparkly land that inhabits all of my happy memories. It makes me want to pretend that the holidays will last forever.

But there are bills to pay, gosh darn it! And do I even care about my waist? It is time to deep freeze my toffee and chocolate-dipped-whatevers for upcoming bad days. It is time to starting thinking of ways to make kale taste good again. Time to look at my bank accounts and make grocery lists and lesson plans and actually fold that massive heap of laundry making itself quite comfortable on the bed. Oh, yes, and my toddler. Shouldn’t I have taught him to count to 10 by now? Shouldn’t my basement be organized and my closet color-coordinated and my next few months of meal plans freshly written out?

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Here is something you should know about me. I am a total loser when it comes to functioning outside of my routine. Some would refer to the horrid term, “control freak”, which always make me cringe. It’s the word “control’ that holds such negative connotation.

I only want control over myself and my son’s nap routine. And that is that, I swear. I have no desire to control other people or the choices they make. They can paint their own picture. Make their own story without me feeling remotely responsible for their success and failure. But my routine is very sacred to me. And here is why:

As lovely as they may be, the holidays do funky things to me (and my digestive system).Once you bring me back to reality, once you remind me of the cost of relaxation, I completely freak out. I floss my teeth excessively. I run 4 miles. I dig into the deep freezer for that sworn-off chocolate. Then I shut down. I think of ways to get out of “real life” stuff. Because life outside of the routine was easier.

So here I am.

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However. I had a very nice day with my son today. A day that felt almost “normal”… whatever that means for us anymore. As for now, I am choosing to believe normal is a day when my son plays with his toys and sings songs and gets mad at me for not turning on his new favorite movie… again. When he naps when he was supposed to and eats dinner and takes a bath and reads books and goes to bed when he us supposed to.

But know there is a human element to my need for control. Know that, as contrary as it sounds, I am grateful for this crazy life that I have no control over. I am so grateful for the crazy people who love me. And though I always freak out a little over the holidays, I am grateful for them as well.

I am grateful and humbled by the people who gave us so much when we do so little to deserve it. I am thankful for “normal”… and the lack thereof, so normal can be something to aspire for.

I am grateful for the roller coasters. For deep freezers. For naps. For family. Friends. And ,once again, for soup.

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We have made the soup quite a bit in the last year, and with several variations. We have used tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes, diced fresh garden tomatoes, thrown in cilantro, omitted the coconut all-together, added fresh ginger, golden raisins, substituted green slip peas for the rice, sauteed in diced carrots, I could go on! This recipe serves as a nice template for the creative soul, but tastes wonderful is it is typed below. We recommend good bread with each serving.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1 1/3 cup split red lentils
  • ½ cup brown rice
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, olive of coconut oil (we use butter)
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

Give lentils and rice a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the broth or water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don’t want to burn the curry powder. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions. Saute for two minutes stirring constantly.

Add the toasted curry powder to the mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Or simmer longer for a thicker consistency.

We’ve been enjoying big ladles of this soup over 1/2 cup of warm farro or brown rice. Quinoa would be an interested alternative. Sprinkle each bowl with the remaining green onions.

Tomato Soup with Fennel

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I wanted to drop in one more time before the Christmas… before our daily routine turns into a wild, roller coaster ride of social events, powdered sugar and too much coffee. The roller coaster is a good analogy for us this time of year, as it is for so many others. Yet as I pondered it this morning, I realized that lately the roller coaster ride has felt a bit like “the new normal” for us. I also pondered over the fact that I don’t like roller coasters.

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So I am savoring this day before the first drop (again with the analogy). All my paper work is (FINALLY) submitted so that my teaching license can be processed. My exit portfolio meeting has been completed. All my required writing and reflecting has been done, done and done again. I have a long-term substitute teaching job coming with the end of Christmas-break, and goodness knows there is much to be done before then. But I am home with two toddlers today, one who is supposed to be napping but is instead watching Thomas the Train. And I am eating leftover soup with a crumble of goat cheese. And steam is pouring from the rim of my favorite coffee cup and I just want to sit here and not think about the roller coaster anymore.

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. . .

I put Molly Wizenberg’s second and newest book, Delancy on every single one of my Christmas lists this year. I and am feeling very hopeful. So as I await the splendid affair that is Christmas, I will pay tribute to her first book, A Homemade life, with the recipe for the very soup I am enjoying right now.

This rustic soup is very easy to make. And like most soups, it gets better with time as the flavors meld. We served it last night with toasted baguette and a light spread of goat cheese. For my toddlers today, I served the leftovers with grilled cheese. I should note that vigorous dunking occurred. In the future I will try serving this soup with parmesan or a drizzle of olive oil. Any way, this humble soup has become my new tomato soup go-to.

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Tomato Soup with Fennel

Adapted slightly from A Homemade Life

Yield 3-4 servings

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ large white or yellow onion
• 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and quartered root to stalk. And thinly sliced
• 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
• Water
• Sea salt, to taste
• Sugar, to taste
• Red wine vinegar, to taste

Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sliced fennel. Stir to coat and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic. Allow another 5-7 minutes of cook-time until fennel begins to soften. Watch that the garlic does not burn.

Next, add the canned tomato juice. Use your hand or the lid of the can to hold the tomatoes back. Next, use a fork to break up the whole tomatoes into craggy chunks. Add the tomatoes to the soup. Fill the empty can with cold water and add that as well. Add fennel seeds, thyme and a pinch or two of sugar.

Allow soup to cook uncovered over medium heat until the fennel is melty and soft and the soup has thickened a little. This could take 30-40 minutes. Season with salt to taste. If the soup tastes a bit bland, add a splash of vinegar.

maple popcorn

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It seems impossible to even think… but after all that comes with school and life, I might be creeping toward some sort of finish line.

I am a person who finds validation in finish lines. I love the feeling that comes with finishing a long and tedious race. But as I said… to even think about it seems a little delusional. I don’t want to get too comfortable in the triumph. Because if there is anything I have learned, it is that the triumph of finishing is fleeting. And finishing one long and tedious race often promises another. And another. And another…

. . .

My husband and I had to make an out-of-town trip on my son’s second birthday. We packed him a little over-night bag and left him with my parents. And while we were gone for just a 24 hour period, it seemed like he grew up a little. When we came to pick up his wired little body from my parent’s house, and he didn’t seem to have missed us in the least, the stunning realization hit: he turned 2 without us.

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. . .

There is this illustrated bedtime book we often read about a baby girl with tussley black hair whose parents are going about the bedtime routine. The little girl is putty in their hands… through clean-up time and bath-time and snuggle-time and book-time and finally, sleep-time. And the whole dang time the parents are smiling at their toddler. They seem totally engaged – as if nothing more is on their minds than giving her tender loving care. And, I know it’s dumb, but I often feel very envious of those illustrated people. I want so badly to align with the idealistic image of a contented and controlled parent. I want so badly to arrive at the end of each day and have nothing more on my mind than enjoying the company of my family.

And I can’t stop feeling in awe of my 2 year old son. That he didn’t need me there to hold his warm little hand for the transition.

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. . .

To celebrate our son’s birthday, the three of us went out last night for cheap spring rolls. To follow, we went to see the downtown lights display.

Today, after his nap, my son and I are making a little birthday cake. There will be finely ground graham crackers, cinnamon and lots of brown sugar. There will probably also be some confusion and spilt buttermilk and broken eggs. Either way, I am going to try and breathe easily about it. Because whether or not I am exhausting an old race or beginning a new one, whether I am thinking about a million things at once or able to zero-in, I am going to breathe. Because my son is healthy, and loving, and 2. And there is a lot to be thankful for in that.

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. . .

I thought you could all use a recipe for a little something for a holiday party. I love this recipe because there is a) no butter, b) no corn syrup, c) no refined sugar and d) is still perfectly addicting and delicious. Also, I often detect a funny artificial flavor with many homemade caramel corn recipes, and I really don’t know why that is. But let it be known, this recipe is perfect. It is quite sweet given the amount of maple syrup. Yet, with its hint of natural peanut butter and sea salt it tastes like real food – not just candy. You could easily play-up this recipe by adding ¾ a cup of peanuts, toasted almonds, coconut or a combination of all three.  Due to the lack of corn syrup as a preservative, I would recommend keeping this popcorn refrigerated until serving-time. This keeps it fresh and crisp.

Maple Popcorn

Once again, from Cookie and Kate

Popped popcorn, yields about 6 cups

  • ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

Maple caramel corn

  • 6 cups popped popcorn
  • ½ cup real maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons natural peanut butter or nut butter of choice
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

To pop the popcorn, place a large mixing bowl near the stove. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid. Turn the heat up to medium, add 2 kernels of corn, and cover. Once the kernels pop, remove the lid and pour in the remaining popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give the pot a little shimmy to distribute the kernels evenly.

Cook over medium heat, shaking the pot occasionally. Crack the lid just a bit so the popcorn stays crisp, and cook until the popping sound slows to about one pop per every few seconds. Remove the pan from heat and dump the popcorn your bowl, taking care not to pour in any unpopped kernels at the bottom of the pot. If necessary, pick out any unpopped kernels that made it into the bowl with a spoon.

To make the caramel sauce, in a small, heavy bottomed pot, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Keep a watchful eye on the syrup and continue boiling for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, reducing heat only if necessary to prevent overflow. Remove the pot from heat.

Add the nut butter, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon to the pot of maple syrup. Whisk until well blended. Drizzle the mixture over the popcorn and toss with a rubber spatula or big spoon until well mixed. Pour the popcorn on the parchment-covered baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer.

Bake the popcorn for 6 minutes, then rotate the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and salt, to taste. The popcorn will continue to crisp up as it cools. Once it’s cool, break the popcorn into pieces and serve.

 

on baby books… and cornbread

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Last night, I took my son out in the snow for the first time this year. When I set his booted feet down in a freshly fallen blanket, he stood there, frozen, with a worried look on his face. “I stuuuuuck…” He said nervously, raising his arms to be carried out of what he possibly assumed would cement him there forever.

Once I gently eased him into walking in the snow himself, he reminded me much of Bambi. He raised his feet high with each step. He looked around, memorized by the glistening trail of footprints as we made our way through the yard.

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Suddenly, he pulled off his mittens, stuck his hands directly into the fluff and threw it in the air. A look of exuberance lifted from his small, rosy face. And then, as I imagined, he panicked. He held his hands out to me and said, “hot!”.

I quickly came to his rescue. Cupping my hands around his, I breathed until the snow melted.

It was a simple moment. But one I wanted to remember it.

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I decided to record the endeavor in my son’s baby book.  That night, after my son went to bed, I slid his baby book out from the book shelf, brushed off the dust with a few good swipes and opened it in search of a page to record something like “reactions to new discoveries”.

Much to my horror, bleak pages with blank lines danced before my eyes. It turns out that I was supposed to be recording a lot of what has been going on in the past 6 months…

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Milestones such as getting his last tooth is a date that has been forgotten. There have been funny translations (“poot” for “poop”, “lelele” for “elephant”), first sentences (“That’s a mama whale! That’s a baby whale!” or… “Iroh eat the apple”) cute grammatical errors (“It’s a pink” instead of “It’s pink”), first time counting (“2…..4….”), color matching and singing his ABC’s (“A,C,D,D,D,”) have come and gone without being recorded.

I could no longer tell you how old my son was when he first tried to put his shirt on by himself. The exact date he decided that he was capable of brushing his own teeth (he decided, meaning, I still wish he would let us do it… but that ship has long sailed). I can’t remember if it was last week for the month before when he started noticing when my fingers covered the pictures of his books (and pushing them out of the way in annoyance). I don’t even know how tall he was at his 18 month doctor’s appointment.

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Upon realizing this frightful reality – this act of pure negligence – I spent the next lamenting hour tossing and turning in bed. What kind of mother with only one child forgets to record the first time her toddler brushed the dogs teeth with Daddy’s toothbrush?

Today, I am trying to sort through these forgotten milestones and rekindle the hope to ever becoming an adequate parent. I am referring to my digital albums (which I might say are very organized, month by month) for guidance. And in doing so, I stumbled across pictures from a weekend not long ago when we made this amazing cornbread.

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It only seems appropriate to dig out a cornbread recipe on a day like this – when the snow has collected in thick blankets over the trees and is illuminating your whole house with the brightest of light.

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This recipe has all kinds of good things in it: chia seeds, corn flour, quinoa and parsley… Its tastes amazing as a side to any warm soup or on its own with a slice of sharp cheddar for a snack. We personally recommend it with my husband’s wildly spicy chili after a night of being “stuck” in the snow.

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Quinoa Cornbread with Parsley

Yield 12 muffins

Adapted from My New Roots

Remember to rinse your quinoa. Without this step, your quinoa will taste very bitter. I simply drain mine over a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter inside. I run waster over it until the water runs through clear, swirling it around ever so often (picture above shows this). Also, if you do not have corn flour, spelt or whole wheat flour will substitute nicely. However, it will no longer be gluten-free.

  • 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 cup milk, dairy free works fine
  • 3 Tablespoons chia seeds + 9 Tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey or agave
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. Put 12 muffin liners in a cupcake pan.

Mix chia seeds and water in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Add the cooked quinoa.

Check the chia gel to make sure it is thick a gloppy (it should take 15 minutes or so to obtain the right consistency). In a separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients together, including the chia gel.

Add the wet to the dry and combine in as few strokes as possible. Fold in the parlsley.

Spoon batter in to muffins cups and bake until the edges are golden brown and they pass the toothpick test, about 15-20 minutes

curried cauliflower soup

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It is possible that I have been reading too many blogs as of late. It’s my guiltiest pleasure… to read the stories of women who have written successful, fresh blogs and therefore have written books and have been traveling on book tours… sitting in hotels in different cities with their husbands eating chocolate covered almonds and drinking cocktails. Sitting in airplanes and ho-humming the in the soft, afternoon light as they post about smart, enlightening articles they just stumbled across in the terminal on their way to somewhere impressive. Successful, gifted women in planes and hotels writing and being successful and eating almonds.

Reading these posts has made me sigh.

Especially this time of year, when everything is supposed to be so beautiful but it instead smells like animal manure. And loud machinery rampages on around our home at all hours of the night. And scared little mice have decided to make our home theirs.

Yet this evening, as I walked in the driveway after a run with the dog, I saw through our kitchen window my son and his father sitting around the table. They were surrounded by a warm glow, eating soup from the night before. My husband was holding his spoon that funny way he does. Our son was head banging to no music and chewing a piece of bagel.

And they made me so grateful that I was about to walk into the house to them. That our son was going to come running to the door as I walked in and wipe out when he crashed into our dog. That I was about to help him put cream cheese on his next bite of bagel and talk to my husband about the show he is watching (and I am half-watching).

That I was about to wrap our son in a warm towel after his bath then read him books until my feet fell asleep under his little butt and his yawns became very long and slow.

Very thankful that they are my home. And this blog is just the humble thing it is. Just a place for me to tell you how much I love my family. And to give you recipes like this.

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Curried Cauliflower Soup

Hardly adapted from Cookie and Kate

Yield: 4 Servings

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into small florets, stems chopped
  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil or olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Thai red curry powder
  • 1 small lemon zested (about 1 teaspoon zest)
  • ½ cup white wine*
  • 1½ cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions/chives, not shown
  • Hot sauce to serve, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the cauliflower with enough coconut oil to lightly coat it Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a large baking sheet and roast until the tips of the cauliflower are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, sweat the onion with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and a dash of salt until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and lemon zest and stir to incorporate. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the wine, and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has evaporated.

Add all of the roasted cauliflower stems and half of the florets to the pot. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup is warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. (Or transfer the soup in small batches to a blender, blending until each batch is smooth. Beware of the steam escaping from the lid.)

Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into 4 bowls. Top each with ¼ of the cauliflower florets, a sprinkle of green onion and chives. Serve with hot sauce.

Notes:

* I have substituted the wine for vegetable broth with good results