Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gluten-free Trail Mix Cookies

My children are growing up cookie-less.  I think this is the second batch of cookies I have made since drastically altering our diet and sugar intake about two years ago.  The main reason is that I wasn't sure how decreasing the sugar content would affect cookie texture.  Muffins can be made savory.  Other desserts such as puddings, etc. don't depend on sugar for structure or texture, so I have felt pretty confident at severely decreasing the amount of sweetener used.  Cookies are a whole other ballgame, however.  The whole texture of a cookie is dependent on the subtle ratio differences of sugar, fat, and flour.  I don't need to worry about texture with this cookie though.  This cookie has so many add-ins that it defeats any discussion about chewy vs. crispy vs. cakey.  Even though I decreased the sweetener by more than a third, this cookie is still plenty sweet.  I might play around with decreasing the honey even more (to 3 ounces perhaps?) since the dried fruit and chocolate add a lot of sweetness, too.  These are really my kind of cookies--chocked full of oats, nuts, and seeds.  I like a cookie that will fill me up.

I adapted this recipe from one posted on Annie's Eats.  Most of my recipes are adapted from normal, wheat-based recipes.  I will always link back to the original source of inspiration, so hopefully those of you not confined to a gluten-free diet (uh, all but one of you?), can still find these recipe posts interesting.

Gluten-free Trail Mix Cookies


3.4 ounces all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3.9 ounces honey

1 large egg
, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla

1¼ cup old-fashioned oats

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup dried cherries

¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon; whisk to blend, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  Blend in the egg.  Mix in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Stir in the oats until evenly combined.  Use a spatula to fold in the raisins, cherries, walnuts, chocolate and sunflower seeds, mixing just until evenly incorporated.  Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least a couple of inches apart.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until golden brown and just set, about 10-12 minutes total.  Let cool on the baking sheets about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 17 cookies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter 2014

I experienced internal conflict as Easter approached this year.  A number of posts and twitter feeds discussed Easter basket plans: toys, clothes, outdoor chalk, bubbles, etc.  I felt a strong pull to buy stuff to flush out our basket.  I was *this* close to buying a puzzle and a board book and didn't the kids need some new clothes?  On the other hand, I do not want Easter to become the spring version of Christmas.  Growing up, we had a special cake (or eclair) with our name on it and perhaps some sour patch kids and jelly bellies.  I remember my mother saying that Easter is about celebrating Christ's Atonement and Resurrection, not about new Easter dresses and giant chocolate bunnies.  I understand and respect that.  Somehow, I want to make the day special and fun, but without buying into the consumerism that surrounds the holidays.  Do my children really need more stuff?  No!  I also want to keep the focus religious in nature.  With those things in mind, we tried to focus on "experiences" vs. "stuff" this year.  Here is what we did:

(I feel like I need a conditional statement here.  These were our choices for this year.  We have made different choices in the past.  I do not judge you for making different decisions.  I am sharing this because perhaps there is one person out there who might find this interesting and perhaps moderately helpful.  Whew.  Let's proceed.)

We read a scripture every night using this article from The Friend (church publication).  I liked this because after we read, I could ask Finn which picture went with the verse and get a sense of his reading comprehension.  It also worked well with a new goal of mine to have daily family scripture study and prayer so, yeah!

(Side story: the Monday before Easter, we had a Family Home Evening lesson on Easter and why we celebrate it: Christ died and was resurrected, etc.  That Saturday before Easter, there appeared a dead robin on our driveway.  Finn asked if it was going to come alive again, "just like Jesus."  While I am happy that he seems to understand the concept of resurrection, I am definitely not equipped to answer these types of questions.  What _is_ the doctrine when it comes to the resurrection of animals?"  I might have answered, "Uh...maybe?  Yes?")

We painted wooden eggs.  This is our third year doing this, and I really love it.  I started it because I wanted an alternative to plastic eggs for an egg hunt.  I don't like the idea of filling the eggs with candy or other stuff.  I also dislike like how the eggs crack and break over time and use, and you have to toss them and buy new ones.  (Although I do admit that my children do have a fondness for them.)  Instead, Finn and I paint one or two wooden eggs a year.  Next year Enna will be old enough to paint one too.  We slowly increase our egg numbers, and we have fun looking at the previously painted eggs.  They are fun to play with, and I don't have to worry about them getting knocked around.  On the bottom, I put the initial of the person who painted the egg and the year.

We had an Easter basket.  Look, I am not some total crazy person.  I like special treats just as much as the next person.  Each person got a little paper bunny box (printed off here) filled with homemade lemon meltaways, some chocolate, fruit leather, a Kind bar, and whatever else looked interesting at the time when I was perusing the snack isle of the health food store.  Enna and Finn also got a fruit pouch.  I was initially just getting them for Enna since she can't eat the other treats yet, but Finn really wanted one too.  Sure kid.  I will give you a pureed fruit pouch.  The wooden eggs make an appearance in the basket as well as our stuffed rabbit.

We ate a special meal.  This year we had ham, roasted sweet potatoes, and steamed asparagus.  Nice and simple.  I was pretty stoked that the sweet potatoes and asparagus were local.  (The ham was a supermarket special, so my snoot-cred is negligible.)  For dessert, Mr. F. and I decided to go all slavic, despite not having any slavic blood in our bones, by making Paska, both bread and cheese versions.  These are traditional Ukrainian Easter dishes: a raisin-studded brioche shaped in a cylinder, and a sweet cheese molded into a pyramid.  They turned out only o.k.  The problem was a lack of reliable recipes.  Also, I am not sure brioche can be made reliably gluten-free.  (Side note: none of my Ukrainian friends had ever heard or eaten the cheese Paska, despite being "a traditional Ukrainian Easter dish."  Hmmmm.)

We watched a short video about the death and resurrection of Christ.  I am not sure that wasn't the best idea as I then had to field a hundred questions about the mean men who stabbed Jesus with a sword.  "Why did they do that?" "How sharp was the sword?" "How did the men grow mean?" "How long did it hurt Jesus?"

We ended the day on a high note with a wee Easter egg hunt in our back yard using our wooden eggs.  Finn gets so excited doing these.  After he finds all the eggs, he loves to be "Sneaky Finn" and hide them all again.

I would love to hear how you celebrated Easter.  Maybe I can snag your ideas for next year!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The next scheduled bathroom cleaning is September 2015

I needed to clean the bathrooms.  This was not some OCD expression on my part (ha!), but instead an actual health concern.  There is "immune strengthening" and then there is a "public safety issue."  My bathrooms were teetering or maybe even straight up wallowing in the second category.  I mentally told my kids to suck it up and to entertain themselves.  I needed to rally the troops (i.e. gather the cleaning supplies) and advance on the enemy.

My children surpassed my low expectations and played independently quite nicely while I worked, causing only mild havoc on the rest of the house.  I, prematurely patted myself on the back as I attacked the shower.  I had saved the worst (and the most involved) for last.  It was while I was engaged in attacking mold and mildew, scantily clad in a plastic and tile box that Enna grabbed the liquid ant bait trap.  I looked up only after hearing Finn's hysterics.  "She has the ant medicine* and is spraying it all over!"

Indeed.  Enna had managed to drip sugary borax solution all over our master bedroom, yoga mat, books, and her hair.  I left the unfinished shower, to grab the ant-killer bedribbled girl.  I rinsed her hands, ineffectually wetted her hair (we had to give her a bath later to get it all out), and shut her in her room while I wiped down the sticky trail left by her play.  After the ten minute detour, I went back to cleaning the shower.  By that time, however, I felt rather defeated.  I was in no frame of mind to wage war against things so insidious as mold and mildew.  I took out some soap scum and called it good.

And this is why the bathrooms get cleaned every lunar eclipse versus something more socially acceptable like every week.

*Mr. F. must have described the ant trap to Finn in those terms.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gluten-Free Banana Coconut Muffins

My freezer has never been so full of bananas in my whole life.  This isn't mentioned in parenting books, but with the introduction of children eating solid foods into your life, there also comes bananas.  Lots of them.  We don't seem to eat bananas consistently.  Some weeks we eat all the bananas we buy and want for more.  Other weeks, those bananas languish on the counter turning brown and inedible. At that point, those brown, bespeckled things are tossed into the freezer to crystalize until I turn them into a redeeming baked good.  I am always on the lookout for interesting recipes calling for bananas.

Unfortunately, I am not a huge fan of banana-flavored foods.  As a mother of small children who eat bananas and really like bananas in all forms however, I figure this is my cross to bear--to bake and eat banana bread, waffles, scones, cookies, etc. more often than I would otherwise choose.  The easiest way to make banana baked goods more appetizing is to, of course, throw chocolate in there.  Chocolate makes everything more palatable.  But......I had this thing (called a nursing child) where I couldn't eat chocolate if I ever wanted to sleep again at night, so that surefire method wasn't available to me.

Enter Banana Coconut Muffins.  The coconut really steps up the allure of the banana.  The flavor hints of the tropics, or a deserted island, or solitude.  Suddenly these muffins seem really appealing.  I can eat one of these at the end of the long day and imagine that I am anywhere but here.  Or not.

For all of you heathens that can actually consume gluten, the original, wheat-contaminated recipe is here.  In addition to subbing out the flour, etc., I doubled the recipe (who wants 8 muffins?), replaced the sugar with honey and reduced the amount of sweetener, and slightly upped the coconut to make it an even 2 cups.

Gluten-Free Banana Coconut Muffins

8.4 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use this one)
2.9 ounces almond flour
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces honey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups with liners or grease.

Whisk together flour, guar gum, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together bananas, butter, honey, egg, vanilla, and coconut in a large bowl until combined well, then fold in flour mixture until flour is just moistened.

Divide batter among lined muffin cups. Bake until muffins are puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer muffins to a rack and cool slightly. 

Yields about 16 muffins.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Let's go fly a kite!

Finn received a kite as part of his present from Auntie Yola.  Everyday afterwards, he asked to fly it.  "Today looks like it would be a good day to fly a kite," he would tell me.  I would look out the window to find it overcast and drizzly.  Another time after this pronouncement, I saw that it was sunny but deathly still.  This obviously led to a discussion about appropriate kite-flying weather.

Finally, this past weekend, the weather gods smiled down on us.  The weather was mild, there was a brisk breeze, and sunny skies.  We packed up the kids and the kite and drove to a local park.

And......Finn was terrified.  He has never seen an actual kite in action so the uncontrolled nature of its movement accompanied with its loud flapping was a bit overwhelming.  Now that he knows what to expect, I think he might do better......if I am successful in convincing him to try again.  In either case, the rest of the family had a jolly good time.  Such a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finn's Fourth Birthday

Finn started counting down the days until his birthday right around Christmas.  (Perhaps even before Christmas had past.)  Frequently, he discussed what presents he wanted to receive on his birthday: Trains that can move on their own!  Front loader for the sandbox!  Well in advance of the actual date, he made sure I knew what kind of cake he wanted.  (Chocolate.)  I started to feel some pressure.

If you have been around these parts long enough, you have no doubt concluded (rightly) that we are pretty laid back when it comes to celebrations.  (Another description could also be "hastily thrown together at the last minute.")  I started to think that this M.O. wasn't going to fly this year, so I did a little advance planning.  Now, before you think that you are going to see some Pinterest or blog post worthy ideas come forth, let me disabuse you of that notion right now.  This is still *me* we are talking about.  What I was looking for were some really easy birthday traditions that could make the day special and were simple to repeat year after year.  I polled friends on Facebook and searched the internet.  Here is the list I came up with:

  • Decorate door (this is something my roommates always did to me on my birthday, and I loved it.  It included pictures of things I was really into at the time (Mr. Knightly) and funny quotes that I had said.  I love the idea of doing something similar.  However, this idea will have to wait until my children stop waking up multiple times during the night, which may be never.)
  • Birthday balloon on child's chair*
  • Birthday banner*
  • Special meals*
  • Special birthday plate*
  • Skype/Facetime with family*
  • Treasure hunt for presents
  • Find all the hidden 4's (or birthday year)

The stars indicate the ideas I actually implemented.  I conned politely asked my sister in-law if she would be interested/available in making a birthday banner, which she did.  It turned out wonderful, and I am excited to have something that we can use over and over again.  I ordered a special birthday plate off of Etsy--a generic one that we can use for everyone's birthday.  I made special birthday pancakes (with chocolate chips!) and made a the requested dinner: quesadillas.  And of course, we had chocolate cake**.  The best part of the birthday however was the extra time Finn got to spend with his dad.  Mr. F. took the afternoon off so that he and Finn could spend the time playing with his new train set.

In the end, I think we did a decent job of making the day special.


**A note about the cake.  The cake is a chocolate loaf cake from Smitten Kitchen.  I served it with fresh berries and whipped cream.  However, I imagine Finn looking at the picture of this cake in 10-15 years time and saying, "Really mom? You couldn't splurge for some decoration on that cake?  Didn't I even merit frosting?"  And honestly, I wouldn't blame him.  Especially as I used to, in the not-so-distant-past, make cakes like this.  I was the resident birthday cake baker for my lab group.  To be completely honest, I have never been a fan of frosting.  It is too sweet.  Also, you have to put a lot more on than what I actually want to eat so that the cake looks nice.  I actually prefer plain cake with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.  Unfortunately, what I prefer looks lame.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crypt Babies

Oh daylight savings!  You murderer of sleep schedules and carefully orchestrated sleep routines!  I used to love you.  I, like many others, rejoiced at the lengthening of the days and the return of the sun.  Now, I shake my fist and curse.

Finn's room over time, has evolved to be the perfect sleep environment.  It is a hand-crafted cave, complete with blackout shades followed by blackout curtains so that nary a beam of light can been seen.  To add to the womb like environment, we have added white noise, and try to keep it at a perfect temperature.  We have tried anything and everything to encourage and promote sleep.  Our endeavor has been only partially successful.

I was really hoping to avoid such extreme measures with Enna.  I dreamed of having one of those kids whose pictures I see peppering the feeds of Facebook--the ones who nod off and face-plant in their dinner.  Or perhaps fall asleep trying to take off their shoes.  That would be cute.  And such a change of pace.  Ultimately, I would settle for a child who could fall asleep in a normal, dim, familiar room.  That would be cool, too.

I started noticing a troubling tendency with Enna months back, when she was sleeping in our room.  She wouldn't fall asleep until the room was sufficiently dark (meaning almost completely black).  The shortening of the days in addition to switching rooms and adding some blackout shades made this a moot issue.  Now with the extra hour of light that will only increase as the year progresses, this proclivity has again reared its ugly head.  It turns out the exhausted, tired Enna won't fall asleep unless her room is crypt-dark.  The blackout shades are not 100% effective in banishing all light.  Little slivers of sun sneak their way through the crevices.  It doesn't help that her room gets all the afternoon and evening light.  If the last two nights are any indication, it looks like we will have to double up on the light banishing features in her room as we did in Finn's.

Enna is actually my "good" sleeper.  If given a completely black room, she will put herself to sleep, happily cooing to herself as she rolls around in her pack-n-play.  This is completely awesome and new territory for me.  Like I said however, this only happens if the room is completely black.  Otherwise we just want to see mommy and play.  She also *only* wakes up 2-3 times to nurse/night.  Probably due to some protective defense mechanism or lack of sleep that interfered with memory capture, I have forgotten how often Finn woke up at this age, but it was more.

I feel, as a parent, that I have been very reactive.  I proceed in a normal fashion until I recognize a change is necessary.  My child obviously is tired but can't fall asleep due to insufficient darkness? I try to accommodate that need.  Not because I want to (obviously doing nothing is preferable), but because that is what is necessary for my child's health and my sanity.  That is why I get rather incensed when I perceive criticism.  For example, I was at church and a woman with a newborn a few months younger than Enna gave me an invitation for an activity, an activity that was held at 6:30 or 7.  The time automatically precluded me from attending as it was Enna's bedtime.  I mentioned that fact to the woman, apologizing for my decline of the invite.  "Can't you just bring her with you?" she asked.  I said no, and explained that Enna only fell asleep in her room.  She replied, "I know that every child is different, but [why must there always be a but?] we just haul our children around with us, and they learn to fall asleep anywhere."  Change the specific details, and I think I have heard this parenting gem hundreds of times.  I always want to say to them, "I am really glad that has worked out for you and that your children are so obliging" and perhaps follow that with a punch to the face.  Because seriously people, do you think that I want to be so dictated by my children's schedule?

My children.  I love them, but they will never be considered low-maintenance. *Off to search for acceptable blackout curtains so that I can have my evenings back.*


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