Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Lesson in Bread

Two months ago, I went to the Livonia Recycling Center and filled my car with five tubs of compost, hauled it home, went back and did it again. I dragged the tubs over the fence and pulled them to the tiny patch behind my kitchen window that we call our family garden. With dirty hands and knees, I spread the compost. I planted the seeds. I weeded. I watered. I pruned. I waited. Finally, after this last week's worth of wonderfully rainy weather, my children harvested the plump, ripe zucchinis from their tender vines.
I scrubbed, trimmed, and grated the earthy green vegetables. I mixed and poured and baked. I cleaned the kitchen and made some coffee. And finally, at long last, I enjoyed delicious zucchini bread. My children enjoyed delicious zucchini bread. My husband enjoyed bread, and some of my friends enjoyed it, too! Bread for everyone!
Do you remember the story of the little red hen? She harvested the wheat, she thrashed the wheat, she ground the flour, she baked the bread, and she didn't share the bread... (well, some versions say she shared with her chicks.) I'm not sure that I agree with the moral of that tale.
I think that working hard at something, and SHARING the outcome of that labor, is one of the greatest gifts you can give... and one of the greatest feelings you can give yourself. Giving without expectation, simply to see the smiles on the mouths of your friends, fill their bellies with warmth and their hearts with joy.
...Because breaking bread that was a labor of love is even more rewarding than simply breaking bread!
Zucchini Bread Recipe:
Grate one medium washed and trimmed zucchini into a large bowl. To the bowl add two mashed bananas, three eggs, 1/3 cup oil, one teaspoon cinnamon, one teaspoon vanilla, and one teaspoon stevia (or 1/2 cup sugar or honey). Blend well. Add one cup unsweetened shredded coconut. Mix well. Add three cups flour (I choose one cup brown rice flour, one cup oat flour, and one cup whole wheat white flour) mixed with one teaspoon baking soda and two teaspoons baking powder. Begin mixing and add 2/3-1 cup milk (soy, cow, or almond). Pour batter into four small or two large, greased baking pans. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until loaf springs back when touched. Enjoy warm with butter. Enjoy any way with friends!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Peanut Butter Biscuit with Strawberry Whipped Cream

I did it! I have gone sugarless, and artificial-sweetener-less. Well, I have been cheating a bit with my morning coffee by putting just a tad of stevia in it, but that's a nutrititional suppliment right? ...and the coffee is another story. One addiction at a time.

Anyway, I haven't had cake, pudding, ice cream, cool whipped topping, cookies, brownies, cheesecake, sodas, sugary cereal, syrup, or any of those other things with hidden added sugars. I have had a little bit of white pasta and some pizza at a friends' house.... my dad always taught me to eat what you are offered when visiting someone's home. Manners, manners! But I was careful not to overindulge (usually I would have scarfed down several servings of those delicious egg noodles with butter.).

I have also increased my protein intake, eating low fat protein packed snacks like almonds and cashews, and using oat and brown rice flour in my home-made pizza dough and coffee cake. My kids have been loving egg-white omelettes with sprouted whole grain toast for breakfast! And they aren't missing their sweet cereals at all! (well, not usually)

So the result is that I feel much more in control emotionally. I am not experiencing the sugar cravings, wolfing down a couple of cookies, then feeling guilty. And I don't have to suffere through the sugar-crash. Ya' know, the yawns, the fatigue, the short fuse and bad temper. And a great side effect is that I lost five pounds and haven't even been dieting!

I've been trying a bunch of recipes for dessert items that my kids might like... because they are still craving sugar as I haven't taken my whole family along for the ride... YET! Hmmmm, I've noticed my hubby a little cranky lately, ransacking the cupboard for something sweet, too. I bet he's jonesin' for a sugar fix!

Anyway, I've hit the jackpot with two desserts... One is a cinnamon-apple cheesecake with an almond crust (recipe soon to come), and the other is the peanutbutter biscuit with strawberry cream. I'll give you the recipe for this second one... let me know if you like it!


One pint of whipping cream (I use organic)

One quart organic strawberries

two bananas

To make the cream, puree the strawberries and bananas together in the blender until smooth. Beat the cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the fruit puree into the cream until mixed. Set in refrigerator until ready to serve.


1/2 cup natural peanutbutter

1/2 cup cream cheese

one egg

one teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (or a tad more) oat flour

Crack the egg in a large bowl. Beat in baking soda with electric beaters until dissolved. Add peanutbutter and cream cheese. Beat until smooth. Add oat flour and beat until you get a cookie dough consistency (add more flour if necessary). Make tablespoon sized balls of dough and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (You can make a dent in the center and add a dallop of strawberry all-fruit-spread if you like.) Flatten slightly and bake at 350 degrees for about 9 minutes or until slightly puffed and firm to the touch. Cool on wire rack.

When cool, drop cream on top and garnish with a strawberry. If you're not expecting these to taste like cookies and ice cream, they're delicious!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Twix Fix

Apprently Twix bars are like crack.

My son was begging and slobbering all over me for a dollar to slide in to the vending machine. "Just one dollar mom. I'll pay you back, I swear. I'll do chores for it. I won't have a snack later. Pleeeeze mom. I just want a Twix bar. Pleeeeze."

"No," says I.

"I hate you." The smacks on my arms. The stamping feet. The rage in his sparkling and innocent blue eyes made me fear thirteen (just a short four years away). He crossed his arms and turned his back on me.

Moments later, I turn to see him checking for change in the bottoms of the machines. He's finding his drug money wherever he can get it, still hoping for that Twix.

I tried hard to stay an observer, to mentally record his behavior. You see, my friend Mary recently gave me a book called "Little Sugar Addicts" which discusses the addictive nature of sugar... especially in children who are genetically predisposed to addiction.

Hmmmm, I thought I'd try a little experiment. I gave him a dollar. His eyes lit up, eyebrows raised, and through a smile he thanked me just like a loving nine year old son should. He went to the machine and came bouncing back to the table with the Twix bar in hand.

I swear, within thirty seconds it was peeled and gobbled down, fingers licked. He looked at me and said, "I'm still hungry. Mom, can I get another one?" Face happy, eyes aglow! My angel.

Still, my answer had to be, "No." We had a plethora of healthy snacks in the cooler. He turned heel and stomped away from me. About thirty minutes later (which he spent wandering around the foyer, waiting for his friends to finish lunch), it was time to go to the pool.

That's when the tirade began... because all of a sudden my little fish-boy didn't like to get wet and absolutely refused to go to the pool. I am standing there with all the bags and coolers, four other kids that want to get to the water, one kid screaming at me, and about five million heads turning to cast shame in my meager direction.

What could I do? Well, I took the other kids to the locker room and made sure to tell Chailyn exactly where we were going, so he could tell the security guard when he came around to find an unsupervised child crying on the loveseat.

He followed us about twenty paces behind, pouting and dragging. I knew he would. When we got to the pool he was distracted enough to be okay, but still oversensetive and whiny. I recongnized the pattern, nothing new.

But what was new for me was that someone else had already recognized this pattern, written it down in a book, and given us moms of possible sugar addicts a course for weaving the pattern into a more tangible peice of art. After seeing it first hand, I am thirsty to learn more about the biochemistry of nutrition... and I'm hungry for a Twix.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Food" for Thought

My day starts and ends with food. I guess that's not so unusual... people wake up, they eat. They have a snack before bed. I get it. But, ironically, my relationship with food is more consuming than the triviality of eating.

I often wake up thinking about what I need to prepare for the evening's meal. I run a grocery list through my mind like an electronic message board running arrivals and departures at the airport. I peruse cookbooks instead of the morning paper. Food is such an integral part of my career as a full-time mom-wife, that I actually feel guilty if I can't fulfill my kitchen duties. Ahh, but guilt is a whole different chapter, now isn't it?

I think that perhaps my obsession with making the perfect dinner for the play date, or the scrumptious pie for the baby shower, has something to do with my childhood. I think that my dad, as a single father of two small children, felt like it was his duty to learn to cook and do it well as a mark of being a dual parent figure. He suddenly had to fill the mom-role on a daily basis, and to him that meant to cook, bake, clean, and launder. Of course, this is a gender-bias, but I'm just callin' it like I see it.

If there were delicious home-made pies on the Sunday dinner table, a pot-roast in the oven, and fancy hor d'ovres at the annual Doan family Christmas Party, there was absolutely nothing out-of-sorts about our family. Delicious smells wafting from the dining room table gave the impression of mom in the kitchen. But it was indeed, dad in the kitchen. He struggled for the first few months, through burnt frozen pizzas and sausage and sour kraut soup (uck), to reach his homestyle culinary perfection. He still prides himself on his delicious mandarin orange and pineapple cake, re-creates the same ham and twice-baked potatoes Christmas Eve dinner each year, and we share recipes practically every time we talk on the phone.

My mother, also, is an excellent cook. And I always felt like I was dining out on vacation at her house. Her fair was more upscale restaurant and cafe style. Sandwiches on kaiser rolls dripping with tomatoes and deli meats, and steaks with the juices running into the baked potato, fresh salads with lettuces that looked like leaves, cheesecakes and wine for the adults with dinner. These were fancy things that I loved to eat when I was staying with my mom as a pre-pubescent girl on summer vacation. It added to the admiration I felt for my mom. She was classy in a way that I wanted to be, the adult version of the popular girl. It seemed to come naturally for her, but was something that I couldn't seem to manufacture for myself.

At my mom's house mealtime was grand, but I don't remember cooking as being an integral part of the family's life. It wasn't essential to the core essence of family. Not like in the yellow house that I grew up in on Arbor Street, in a cozy little town that epitomized apple-pie America. In my home now, the kitchen is where mom works, where mom talks, where she gathers with friends, where she panics and tires and laughs, the kitchen is where mom glows.

Today, as I awoke and made my mental grocery list, I decided that home-made mac and cheese would be the fare for our five-kid sleepover tonight. Every kid (and adult) loves it for it's creaminess beyond what Kraft ever boxed. I love it for it's simplicity and protein-packed tummy-filling properties. I think it's the perfect play date food!

Melinda's Mac N' Cheese:

1 16 oz box or bag of your favorite pasta (anyting twisty or with a hole in the middle)

1 16 oz container of small curd cottage cheese

1 8 oz bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or block, hand shreddded)

a splash of milk

1/2 stick of butter

a shake of flour (about two tablespoons)

Boil your pasta according to package directions. While pasta is boiling, in a LARGE skillet or pot, melt the butter over low heat. When it is runny, add the flour and whisk it into the butter completely. Quickly add some milk and stir until it's a "sauce" texture. Add the cottage cheese and whisk continuously until the curds are melted. You can raise the heat up to medium for this. Add the shredded cheese and whisk until melted in to the milk mixture. Pour over drained pasta, or pour pasta into the sauce and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste. Viola, perfection!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

French Pressed

July 1st, 2009
I have recently discovered the heavenly delight of French pressed coffee. It's simplicity is only striking because of it's rich flavor and deliciously smooth krema that give it the mouthfeel of good quality espresso. Of course, I drench mine in cream and raw sugar until it drips with the decadence only a housewife in her pajamas, savoring the early morning solitude before her children awake, can truly apreciate.

The contrast of this seemingly uppercrust drink against the pathetically average appearance of me at my desk in my raggy gray Renaissance Festival t-shirt and faded black yoga pants is what makes it the perfect morning drink by which to type my thoughts, my memoirs if you will.

My life is full of contradictions, of false facades, of expectations that blossomed but never fruited, like an apricot tree left abandoned in the backyard of a nice comfortable home in a middle class neighborhood. The family thought it was a dying peach tree with puny and dry fruit. They didn't know it was an apricot tree, nor did they have the time or ambition to study and nurture the tree, so they let the apricots fall to the ground and rot.

I sigh in honor of French pressed coffee, a good heavy mug from which to drink it, the pungent, sweet smell of overripe fruit, and peaceful morning solitude.

French Press Coffee Recipe:

A French Press Coffee Maker

Two Scoops Medium-Coarse Ground Coffee

Hot Water

Cream, Sugar, and Whipped Cream Optional

You can purchase a French Press at places like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond. It isn't important where it is purchased, but what is important to think about is the size that you purchase. I like to use the single-serving, smallest press, because to me it is more personal. This cup of coffee is not to be shared, it's like a private love-affair with my dark, hot, and smooth beloved. Nothing left for visitors, to be consumed thirstily in one sitting.

So drop your two scoops into the press. Boil a pot of water. You could conceivably use the microwave or instant hot water from your high-tech sink for this, but I prefer the ritual of the tea-pot... it feels ancient and profound. When your water boils, pour it over the grounds and let it steep for four agonizing minutes. Then, get ready.... place the top on the press and very slowly press the grounds to the bottom, watching the curly krema swirl to the surface.

Pour the drink into your favorite mug. Drink black (as my soul), or add cream and sugar. For extra indulgence, as if you need more... add a spoon full of pre-whipped heavy cream to the top and watch it melt into a perfect latte froth.

Savor this affair alonside a toasted Enlish muffin topped with marscapone or cream cheese and apricot preserves, just to remind you of reality and bring a little earthly sustenence to your morning.