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Paleo 101

12 Oct

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I like to entertain. Actually, when filing out the eHarmony personality profile years ago, “likes to entertain” was one of the things that found Rob and I compatible. In Oregon, with the close proximity of everyone in our neighborhood (well, really it was the close proximity of the width of the peninsula – there weren’t many miles to go before hitting water on either side!), we would entertain all the time. Big, late-into-the-night parties, simple girls’ nights, football get-togethers, I think once we may have even celebrated Groundhogs Day. Hey, it’s an American holiday, right?

Since moving to Jacksonville, we haven’t entertained as much. The deployments are constant, the distance from one end of Jacksonville to the other is over an hours’ drive, and we happen to live in the “country.” Which, I love, but it does make the trek out here a little long. But enough was enough. It was time for a girls’ night.

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After inviting a group of friends over, I was in the full get-together swing of things. The morning of the party started a little rocky with my homemade almond butter ending up on the ceiling (that little blender stopper dohicky thing is important), but the house was already decorated for the season, so the only thing left for décor was ironing napkins. Easy. For the menu, I kept true to my roots; seasonal is always best.  The weather has just started to change in JAX, exhibiting an autumnal breeze cool enough to notice there isn’t sweat running down my thighs for the first time in months.  So I thought a healthy comfort food meal would be perfect: white bean dip with cast iron nuts and stuffed bacon-wrapped dates for appetizers, and spaghetti squash with a veg ragu accompanied by a green bean, leek and apricot succotash as the main. The girls were generously bringing wine and dessert, so we were all set.

Green Bean Succotash

Martha and Ina would have been proud of my table (yay for pumpkin name plates!), and the dinner just smelled delicious. Everything was planned out swimmingly until, 5 minutes before the guests arrive, I freak out. Remembering that two of the girls coming were following a general Paleo diet, my gasp was audible. Here I am, with my veg-inspired background not at all following rule #1 of entertaining: serve what will make your guests feel special. AH! Paleo is meat-based, and the pepitas on my ragu isn’t going to cut it! Is there time to stuff a chicken in the oven? No…. Can I throw some salami on the squash? Hardly. With the doorbell ringing, I prayed to the veggie Gods for help, and the protein Gods for clemency.

My freak-out, like honestly most freak-outs, was just plain silly. We had such a good time, and the ladies loved the meal. Better than any food or wine that night was the amazing company and the growing of friendships. Which is truly the reason for any entertaining. We all had a lot in common and were able to share some pretty funny military wife stories. No boys allowed.

The Paleo diet did come up though, and after we said our goodbyes, I decided to do a little more research on the topic. So, as I sat in bed, eating a late-night dessert piece of sourdough with butter, I ironically read about the gluten, grain, legume, and dairy-free lifestyle. Through breadcrumbs on my night-shirt and with butter-licked fingers, I learned about the pros and cons of “primal” eating, and it truly inspired me.

Being one that focuses eating on a more flexitarian principle, I do experiment with different styles of cooking and eating, as long as it’s whole-food, seasonal, clean eating. So into the Paleo world I dove.

Remember the almond butter on the ceiling? Well, that was a small series of catastrophes that led to me throwing my hands up in the air (as opposed to my blender against the wall) on making homemade almond butter, and settled for almond milk instead. Loving plain almond milk but wanting to spice things up a bit, I let raw almonds, coconut chips, and a touch of maple syrup sit completely covered with water for 24 hours in the fridge. After it was blended and then strained, I was left with a beautiful, slightly naturally sweetened almond milk, and a hearty almond mash.

Almond Milk & Mash

The Paleo inspritation: almond cookies! Similarly to how I use my juicing pulp to make crackers, I couldn’t let the mash go to waste. So mixing in a quick dough of coconut flour, almond butter, a touch of maple syrup and the mash, I whipped up a crunchy and creamy Coconut Almond & Maple cookie that would leave even the biggest sweet tooth none-the-wiser. They are super easy to make, and even easier to eat.

Despite the flexitarian diet, the evening was such a blast and I look forward to the next time the girls get together. Only next time, I’ll serve marinated flank steak, and these cookies for dessert!

Enjoy!

Paleo Almond Cookies

Almond, Coconut, & Maple Cookies
(makes 12, 2-in cookies)

  • ½ c almond butter
  • ½ c almond mash left over from making Sweetened Almond Milk
    • (almond milk: 16 oz. raw almonds, ¼ c coconut chips, & 1 tbsp good maple syrup – let sit completely covered with water for 24 hours – blend completely, then strain through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve for almond milk. Save the leftover mash for these cookies)
  • ¼ c coconut flour
  • ¼ c good maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together until incorporated, only about a minute. Using spoons, or a small ice cream scoop, spoon onto parchment paper or a silicone mat on a half-sheet pan.  Push down to make the cookies even.  Top with a sprinkle of sea salt, and *optional: a piece of roasted coconut.

Bake until golden brown and crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside, about 25 minutes. Let cool, serve, and devour.

Enjoy!

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The Sunshine State?

16 Jul

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Growing up, we moved around a lot.  Every 2-4 years my family and I were packing up and relocating to a new state for my dad’s job, giving us new experiences and new fun.  Each place had its own charm; Bartlesville, OK holds great memories of walking with my mom to pet the horses at the ranch down the street.  And I’ll never forget Brahm’s – it’s still my favorite ice cream shop, and the taste of their burgers lingers in my mouth to this day.  Littleton, CO had the entire genuine western regime one may think of when cowboys ride off in the sunset.  I loved that place – even buried a penny in one of Jenn’s baby jars in the backyard with a note asking the treasure hunter to mail it back to me (I never heard anything).  When I moved out of the house on my own to the painted sky of Arizona, the rumors regarding the magic of the desert are more than true.  There may be nothing more amazingly beautiful than the desert sky (and yes, it is a DRY heat).

But there is one place that never really touched me as home.  I’m not sure why.  Somewhere in the lost cabinet of a house where odd socks and spare change and broken shoelaces go to hideout forever, is a videotape of a very memorable Thanksgiving in Houston, Texas.  We lived in a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac, with a pool and giant kitchen, with wings of the house that we could easily get lost in (which we sometimes did).  Jenn was 4, I was 11, we had recently gotten our dog, Casey, who was truly a wild-ass Texas dog that would run, run, run like a blur of brown and white lightning until we literally had to catch the animal like a greased hog-tie.

During times of naughtiness, we had a perfect “time-out” spot on the bottom step of our huge, winding staircase.  It was a place, which Jenn found herself maybe a few times, and my mom’s more-than-annoyed modulation of, “Go sit on the step!” during times of post-toddler vs. pre-pubescent sibling rivalry still rings clearly (although now it makes me laugh when I think of it).  Once during an “on the step” time, unknowingly to my mom, Jenn climbed upstairs, grabbed a pillow, blanket, and a Where’s Waldo book.  Maybe it was her 4-yr old way of Sticking it to the Mom, or maybe she really was clever enough to make her time-out experience somewhat enjoyable.  Whatever the reason, after a very prolonged period of quiet, we peeked around the kitchen corner to find Jenn’s legs stretched out the length of the step, book sleepily fallen on her chest, singing the zzz’s (a picture of this moment lies somewhere… Mom, blackmail?).

So maybe it was my I’m-so-cool-because-I’m-in-sixth-grade-so-everything-is-emo-and-everything-I-say-needs-to-have-an-“ugh”-noise-after-it phase of life, but I did NOT like Texas.  The Thanksgiving videotape, where Dad’s deep voice happily booms from behind the camera, where Mom’s smile stretches a mile as she delivers a perfectly browned turkey, where Jenn’s jibber-jabber about giving thanks for the strawberries and a giant chicken, and where we are all dressed for the occasion in the formal dining room, lends only the image of a Martha Stewart Holiday until my face comes into focus.

“Jilly! Where are you on this Thanksgiving?” Dad’s chipper voice was a decent attempt to change his daughter’s sullenness.

“Texas.” Period.  Ugh.  Sulk.

“Texas!” there’s the chipper again, “It doesn’t sound like you like this place so much, hu?”

Cue: another “duh, Dad” face.

Enter: Jenn almost standing on the table in excitement.

“Well, I live in Texas, and I think it’s Woooondderrfulll!!!!!” The exaggerated arm movements and the high-pitched, very fast talking voice that you are probably imagining out of my little sister at that moment are all true.

For a place that brings back so many clearly vivid memories, I never took to it.  I remember the GIANT bugs, and the greenbelt where Casey tripped Dad and cut up his shoulder.  I remember when I had chickenpox so badly during a 90+-degree summer with gagging humidity that the only thing that gave relief was just floating in the pool.  I remember the time where mom flipped out over a gecko and chopped off its tail and the tail flipped around wildly which made her scream even more, so the terrified (I’m sure) tailless gecko scampered into the scale which made the scale end up tossed into the backyard.

And I remember the thunderstorms.  The everyday cracking, pouring, God was power washing the Earth, thunderstorms.

I think all the moving of my youth kind of primed me for this military lifestyle.  As we are now in Florida, I find myself making new memories, cooking new foods, and trying to experience all we can in the short three years we will be here.  But for some reason, Houston keeps percolating in my mind – little blump, blump, blumps of familiar feelings, images, and scents.  Florida is reminding me, more and more, of Houston.

And I like it.

The icing on the cake is the thunderstorms.  Everyday we wake up to bright, goldenrod sunshine pouring in our bedroom windows, but as sure as the rooster roosts, by noon it’s pouring.  At first we were worried about Sig and his reaction to the smack-you-with-a-two-by-four thunder, but our super laid back, Owen Wilson (if he could talk), Oregonian dog did nothing more than raise his head to the noise.  Huh.  That was new.  Yawn.  I’m sure everything is fine.  But I hope it stops raining before I have to poop again.  Sigh.  Stretch.  Sleep.

Since I have been holding the house down these last few weeks as Rob becomes accustomed to his new job and schedule with the Coast Guard, I have felt it is my duty to make this house a home, especially in a place that feels so different to him from Oregon.  Meanwhile, I’m realizing my ease in the transition is that his place feels so familiar to me.

One thing that I know is Rob loves a cookie.  Especially one with chocolate chips, or, if he’s really lucky, the M&M ones Meagan bakes back in Oregon.  Personally, I feel there is something so comforting (and a little naughty) about having a cookie for breakfast, so in an effort to truly make this house feel – and smell – like a home, cookies, albeit somewhat nutritious in my book, needed to be baked (I waited for a daily thunderstorm, so at least having the oven on during the Southern summer felt validated).

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Thus, the Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies were invented.  They are little old-fashioned, two-spoon drop cookies of oat-y goodness, just sweet enough to be a cookie to return to over and over again.  Hearing the, “Babe, it smells good!” as Rob came home made me just as happy to know he was going to enjoy eating them.  Cookies help make a house a home.

So, as I’m coming to the realization that our Sunshine State is really a quite rainy one, it’s ok.  Thanks to Oregon, we are used to the rain.  Thanks to Houston, I’m used to the storms.  And thanks to the Coast Guard, we’ve got many more memories ahead of us.

Enjoy the cookies – preferably on a rainy day.  🙂

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Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 30 small cookies)

  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • ½  c quinoa flour (this adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey, as well as some protein – again, great for breakfast)
  • ¾ c old fashioned oats
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter
  • ½ c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c good honey (preferably local – it naturally helps with allergies)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ c mini chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • *optional: sea salt, or Maldon salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a bowl, whisking until combined. 

In a mixer (or using a hand-mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar together until just combined.  Add in the eggs, honey, and vanilla and mix to combine.  Scrape down the edge of the bowl, and in thirds, mix in the dry ingredients.  Once all combined, mix in the mini chocolate chips. 

Using two regular kitchen teaspoons, scoop the dough onto the lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room for slight spreading.  I fit about 15 cookies on one baking sheet. 

NOTE: If using sea salt or Maldon salt, sprinkle the cookies with just a pinch of salt 3 minutes AFTER they have gone into the oven.  The salt really does add quite a nice, delicate touch to the sweet bites.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown, and the tops feel firm.  Place on a cooling rack, and enjoy when your taste buds can’t handle it anymore.  And your house will smell just lovely.

Enjoy! 

OMG Cookies

2 Aug

Growing up, there was a “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” poster hanging in my bedroom.  It listed all of the comforting, thoughtful, and humble tidbits of advice that are so simply simple that they are easily forgotten through the doldrums of “real” life.  Well, if you ask a Kindergartner who just came home from a trying day of their first of at least 12 years of education, Kindergarten is real life.

I would stare and stare at that poster.  But out of all of wise advice, there were two points that I would always look for (they were right next to each other) and thus still remember today: Flush, and, Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Isn’t that the truth?

That poster is now hanging in my mom’s Kindergarten classroom, and whenever I come to visit, I look for my two favorite bits of advice.

While I’ve got the flushing part down, I am always looking for a good cookie.  Well, let me rephrase that – I don’t generally love cookies, so when I get the craving for a cookie, I only go for the excellent ones.  Today, I had that craving.

Searching the fridge and pantry for the other prescribed “options” to satisfy sweet cravings, like all the health magazines tell you to do (I’m sorry, I’m not roasting zucchini to satisfy a sugar and butter craving.  Although I do love roasted zucchini), I found nothing to satisfy the immediate need.  However, while lacklusterly leaning against the pantry door, I was reminded of my baking ingredients, as well as the homemade Oregon granola I mixed up a few weeks ago (I call it Oregon granola because I use local dried cranberries, local hazelnuts, and amaranth grains).

So I got to baking, and unlike the many, many other times I’ve tried to make great cookies, I actually did this time.  There was so much satisfaction in hand-forming them, and Sig kept smelling the air while they were baking.  The cookies are sweet and salty, and crunchy and gooey; of course, I ate a couple just a few minutes out of the oven with a glass of milk.  You need to try these cookies.  Really.  I’m about to eat the whole batch.  They are nothing like roasted zucchini.  And if you are trying to be healthy and start to feel guilty about making cookies, then remember these two things: 1) they are made with whole wheat flour, and 2) warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Granola Shortbread Cookies (makes 12 cookies) 

  • 2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c granola (use your favorite brand or homemade) 
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (plus a bit more to sprinkle on top of the cookies) 
  • 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips 
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, just starting to become room temperature, but still a little cold in the middle
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (make sure it’s good quality, or it will smell and taste alcohol-y) 
  • a bit of 1/2 & 1/2 to brush on the top of the cookies before baking

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Whisk to make sure it is well combined.  

In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.  Once mixed, add the almond extract and the egg, and mix to combine.  

In batches of 3, add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix to combine.  Using a spatula, fold in the granola and the chocolate chips – the batter will seem a bit crumbly, but that is ok.  

Using a 1/4 c dry measure, scoop up that amount of batter and tap into the palm of your hand.  Using your hands, form the cookie like you would a hamburger.  Once 12 cookies have been formed and placed on baking sheet, paint a bit of 1/2 & 1/2 on the top of each cookie.  Then sprinkle each cookie with just a bit of kosher salt on top.  

Bake until cookies are golden, plumped, and fragrant, about 15 minutes. 

Enjoy warm with cold milk!  

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