Fruitful Flavors: Peach Pie

“It won’t come off the pit….”

One of the many enjoyments of summer is eating a freshly picked, sweet and juicy peach. We have a farm down the road which grows peaches, and it is always a highlight of our summer when the peaches are ripe and ready for us to purchase and eat. The other day, though, someone asked me how I get peaches off their pits for making pies and cobblers, and I explained that I didn’t.

Peaches come in two varieties, clingstone and freestone. Both yellow and white peaches can be either. The irony is that the variety which is most difficult to remove from the pit, the clingstone, is the sweeter and juicier of the peach varieties. The peaches which fall off their pits, the freestone, are not as sweet and juicy. Most of the peaches one finds at the grocery stores are the clingstone variety because they are sold for taste. Hence, my friend’s frustration with removing the peach slices for baking.

If folks want to make peach pie or cobbler or crisp or muffin or cake using fresh peaches, the best option is to purchase freestone peaches which easily twist off the pits if the peach is ripe. If using clingstone peaches, then folks need to resign themselves to cutting the peach slices off the pit which means the slices won’t be pretty.

I don’t tend to do either, because as anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, I am lazy and like to cook food as easily and quickly as possible. So I keep frozen, no sugar added peaches in my freezer and just pull them out when I have a hankering to bake with peaches. The fresh peaches, I just eat as a snack, enjoying their flavor as is.

The conversation with my friend of course gave me a craving for peach pie, so I went ahead and baked one yesterday which I’ll share below. You’ll note that there’s no sugar and very little sweetener at all because the flavor and sweetness comes from sauteing the peaches to concentrate the flavor and sweetness. Folks can also switch up the spices to your own tastes. Sometimes I like to use cardamom and ginger instead of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Some thoughts on pie crusts, too.  I made my own, but folks can use a store bought pie crust, whether gluten free or wheat. If you choose to make your own, you can follow a favorite recipe. Otherwise, some information for your use to to make your own pie crust.

Pie crusts are basically flour, fat and water. For every one cup of flour, whether wheat or gluten free, you will usually use 3 to 6 tbsp of a fat, whether butter, shortening or oil, or a combination of the three, and for every cup of flour you usually need 1 to 3 tbsp of water. Depending on tastes, some recipes call for a little bit of salt; others call for the addition of a little bit of sugar. I tend to use neither, opting instead to flavor my crust with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc….

Tips for making “from scratch” crusts:

  1. If using solid fats, the colder the better: Put your butter and/or shortening into the freezer for ten minutes before cutting it into your flour. This is especially good for dairy free versions of butter which tend to be softer in texture. You want the fats to slowly melt in the oven while cooking, not become soft while you’re still preparing the crust.
  2. If using oil, the milder the better: Plant oils are great for crusts because they have healthy fats and you don’t have to cut the fat into the flour. You can simply stir the fat into the flour. You want, however, to use mild tasting oils like safflower, sunflower, canola, etc… because otherwise the oil flavor overpowers everything else. If you are using an oil for the fat, be sure to decrease the amount of water because you only want enough liquid to moisten the crust enough to hold together.
  3. The colder the better for the water: Recipes for crusts will call for ice water. This means literally putting ice into the water, because you want to prohibit gluten development. Now, if you’re making a gluten free crust, that isn’t an issue but if you’re using solid fats, the cold water will help keep the fats cold until the pie goes into the oven. Use just enough water, though, to moisten the flour enough to hold together.
  4. If you want tender, flakier crusts, use acids or alcohol: Acids like lemon juice or vinegar or an alcohol like vodka cook off in the baking process but react with the other ingredients to make for a flakier crust by tenderizing the dough. You only need to replace one to two tablespoons of the ice water.
  5. If want tender, flakier crusts, use lower protein flours: The lower the protein, the flakier the crust, but of course, that makes for a more delicate crust and one which is more carb intense. Find a balance. For example, use a whole wheat pastry flour which has less protein than 100% whole wheat flour but which is a sturdier flour than all purpose white flour. If using gluten free blends, choose a combination of brown rice flour and sorghum or oat which combines a lighter flour with a protein flour.
  6. If you want a crust that is easier to handle: Adding an egg yolks makes for a more pliable, sturdier dough to work with. It also makes for a richer tasting crust.
  7. For easier rolling and handling, cold is better: It is a good rule of thumb to put your crust into the fridge for half an hour to an hour because rolling soft dough makes it more likely that the dough will stick, causes the fats to melt before their time, and will be harder to transfer to the pie plate.
  8. For easier rolling and handling, paper is better: When rolling out the dough, if you don’t want the crust to stick and want an easier way to transfer the crust, use wax paper or parchment paper which you sprinkle flour onto. After putting the dough down, sprinkle it with flour and top with a second piece of wax or parchment paper. Then roll. The papers prevent sticking, and when you’re ready to transfer the crust, you can just pick up the paper and flip it onto the pie plate.

Peach Pie

Ingredients:

3 pkg 16 oz thawed frozen peaches, no sugar added or 6 to 7 cups sliced fresh peaches

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup agave

1 to 2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch or tapioca starch

Pie Crusts

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a shallow pan mix the water with the agave, cinnamon, nutmeg and starch.
  3. Add the peaches and stir to coat well.
  4. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a slow boil and begins to thicken.
  5. When the mixture has become glutinous and is sticking to the peaches, turn off the heat and let the peaches cool.
  6. Line the bottom of a 9.5 inch glass pie plate with a pie crust.
  7. Fill the crust with the peaches, layering the peaches individually into the crust, using your clean fingers.
  8. Top the peaches with the top crust and make slits or create a lattice crust to cover the peaches.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes. Cover the entire pie with aluminium foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the peaches are bubbling.
  10. Remove the pie from the oven to a cooling rack and allow it to cool at least an hour before slicing into it.

 

Recipe Makeover: Butter Birthday Cake

“I just want to make her happy.”

Many of my friends are in what folks refer to as the sandwich generation. They’re “young” enough that they still have children at home but they’re “old” enough that their parents are aging and in need of care. One of my friend’s mother has begun experiencing dementia symptoms which complicates my friend’s care of her mom because the mother keeps forgetting she has diabetes and that she now has adverse reactions to gluten and dairy.

The mother’s 80th birthday is coming up, and she apparently is fixated on having a butter birthday cake with chocolate frosting the way her mother (my friend’s grandmother) used to make. So, my friend reached out to me, asking if I might be willing to play around with the recipe which her mother had written down in an old journal of recipes.

The original recipe called for 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 3 cups all purpose flour, 3 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1 1/4 cup whole milk.

The butter: Substituting for the butter is easy. I simply used Earth Balance’s vegan butter. I did cut the amount to 3/4, though, which would cut some of the fat and calories but not diminish the butter taste.

The sugar: Since there were no nut allergies present, I opted to switch out the sugar in favor of a one to one ratio of coconut sugar. With diabetes, one has to be careful not to have too much sugar. While coconut sugar will still affect the system as a sweetener, it has a lower glycemic index than white refined sugar. If I had been making it for myself, I would have used one cup of coconut sugar, but I figured the mom would want a sweeter cake like the one of her memories.

The eggs: Three eggs are a lot, so I chose to decrease the eggs to two eggs and increased the milk by 1/4 cup to make up for the loss in liquid ingredients by the one egg. I could have used just egg whites but then it would have been a white cake we were making and not the traditional yellowy butter cake, which again, I figured would be what the mom remembered.

The vanilla: Since I reduced the butter and eggs, I increased the vanilla to 2 tsp to enhance the flavor and give the cake more of that browned butter taste.

The flour: With diabetes, one has to be careful about carbs, too. Cake is going to have a lot of carbs no matter what you do, but I tried to make them healthier carbs. I decided to use a Krusteaz gluten free blend which is a blend of sorghum, millet, and quinoa flours with brown rice flour which added a bit more protein and fiber than one would find in just a white rice flour blend.

The baking powder: Because we were making a gluten free cake, I needed to increase the leavener a bit. Instead of just adding more baking powder, though, which could give the cake a metallic flavor, I decreased the baking powder to 3 tsp and added 3/4 tsp of baking soda.

The salt: The mom has a bit of hypertension, so I decreased the salt to 1/2 tsp.

The milk: Since the mom couldn’t have milk, we needed to substitute. The recipe called for whole milk, though, which means we needed the milk to be thick. I opted to make a homemade butter milk, using soy milk and vinegar. Another good substitute would have been flax milk which has the texture of a whole milk, but flax milk doesn’t have any protein which I wanted to make sure was in the cake. Since I had reduced the eggs by one, I increased the milk to compensate not just for the egg but for the fact that gluten free flours can make for a drier cake.

The frosting: The recipe in the mother’s journal called for 1½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa, 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, ½ cup milk, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract… which was a lot of sugar and butter and also contained the milk the mother could no longer have. As such, I decided to make the frosting which my family loves because of it’s creaminess, which is just a combination of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and avocado oil and vanilla.

Butter Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients:

3/4 cup Earth Balance vegan soy free butter

2 cups coconut sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups gluten free flour

3 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups “milk” of choice (soy, flax, almond, etc…)

2 tbsp white vinegar

2 cups Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 cup avocado oil

1 tsp vanilla

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by lining them with parchment paper.
  3. In a mixer cream together the butter and coconut sugar until a paste forms. Only takes a minute or so.
  4. Mix in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add vanilla. Set aside.
  6. In a bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  7. Stir the milk and vinegar together and let sit for a couple of minutes to thicken.
  8. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix well.
  9. Divide the batter evening among the three cake pans.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until the cake is puffed and golden, pulling from the sides, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Put the pans onto a wire rack to cool for ten minutes. Then remove the cake layers from the pans and allow them to cool completely on the wire racks.
  12. In a large microwave safe bowl put the chocolate chips with the avocado oil. Heat for a minute. Then stir until the chips have completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
  13. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  14. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and put into the freezer for 15 minutes.
  15. Check the chocolate. It should have begun to harden around the sides but still be sloshy in the middle. Scraped down the sides and put the mixture back into the freezer for 10 more minutes. (If your pan is very shallow and the mixture is hardening in the center already, then you don’t need to put it back into the freezer.  Just scrape down and follow the next step. My bowl is deep and requires almost 25 minutes in the freezer.)
  16. After the second time in the freezer, if needed, pull out the bowl, and scrape down the sides. The middle should no longer be sloshy but a soft hardening, not a completely solid hardening. Use the mixer to begin to whip the chocolate.
  17. Begin on low speed and slowly go to a higher speed, making sure to occasionally scrape down the sides. The chocolate mixture will become lighter in color and fluffy and creamy in texture.
  18. When the cake layers are completely cooled, frost the cake in between the layers and around the sides and top, and enjoy!

 

 

Recipe Makeover: Hummingbird Cake

website Hummingbird cake

“Do you know what a hummingbird cake is?”

If it weren’t for the fact that I had just learned about the hummingbird cake a few months ago, I might have answered my friend with, “Huh?”

As it was, though, Southern Living had just included that cake in a special collections magazine last Spring which I had read, so I responded with a more intellectual, “Actually, yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

Apparently my friend needed to make a hummingbird cake for a reception, but it needed to be dairy, gluten, and nut free, and she needed it for the evening of her phone call to me.

For anyone not familiar with this delectable cake, it is essentially a banana-pineapple cake, first introduced in 1978 by a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins who had sent it to Southern Living. The original recipe called for 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 beaten eggs, 1 1/2 cup salad oil, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, one 8 oz can of crushed undrained pineapples, 2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, and 2 cups bananas.

Southern Living recently posted the recipe again in the special collections magazine I mentioned where they made two versions: A layer cake recipe which was the same as the above only they decreased both the nuts and oil to one cup; and a bundt cake recipe which cut the oil from the original recipe in half but only reduced the nuts by 1/2 cup and interestingly decreased the bananas by 1/4 cup and the salt by 1/2.

My friend wanted to make the new bundt cake version, only allergy friendly. Since I happened to have ripe bananas which I’d been hoping to use anyway, I set to work creating a cake for her to use.

Original Hummingbird Bundt Cake from Southern Living

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 3 cups all purpose flour, 2 cups sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 large beaten eggs, 1 3/4 cups mashed bananas, one 8 0z can crushed undrained pineapples, 3/4 cup canola oil, and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Hummingbird Cake Makeover:

1. Pecans: Since this version needed to be nut free, I opted to use Enjoy Life’s allergen free mini chocolate chips. It seemed like the recipe needed something to add, and my personal theory is that you can’t go wrong with chocolate chips. If folks don’t want chocolate, I would suggest chopped dates which would give the cake the same texture as if adding nuts.

2. Flour: Since the cake needed to be gluten free, the question was what type of flour. For a bundt cake, you don’t want a flour which is too heavy, but at the same time you need some structure to the batter, so I opted to use half of the Authentic Foods gluten free blend which is made of brown and sweet rice flours and half Bob’s Red Mill gluten free blend which is made of garbanzo and fava bean flours. Folks can use whichever gluten free flour blend most liked, though. Next time I might try Cup4Cup’s whole grain blend which I like for a flour blend which I haven’t made myself.

3. Sugar: My friend didn’t say anything about sugar, but since I don’t even have sugar in the house usually, except just enough for my husband’s coffee, I chose to use Agave, half the amount needed of sugar. Since I was using the Agave, I knew that I’d need to think about a way to balance the wet and dry ingredients so I reduced the oil which I’ll talk about in a moment. For folks who would rather use something similar to sugar, I’d recommend coconut sugar, if there are no coconut allergies, but then folks should keep the oil as is and not decrease it.

4. Oil: It was a great relief to see that Southern Living had decreased the original 1 1/2 cups of oil to 3/4 cup, but I was thinking we could do even better. Since I was using the Agave, I decreased the oil to 1/2 cup, and instead of using a canola oil, I opted for safflower oil.

5. Eggs: Since three whole eggs are a lot, I used one whole egg mixed with 1/2 cup of liquid egg whites. For folks who may need this recipe to be free of eggs, I suggest mixing 3 tbsp of golden ground flax seed with 9 tbsp of water and letting it sit for five minutes to thicken. Since the flaxseed won’t provide the rising eggs afford a recipe, I would also add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar to the recipe to create a chemical reaction with the baking soda.

6. Bananas and Pineapple: Because both bananas and pineapples have good nutrients, I simply kept those as they were in the original recipe.

7. Flavorings (salt, cinnamon, vanilla): Since Southern Living had decreased the salt already to 1/2 tsp, I kept that as is, but I added ground ginger and nutmeg to the cinnamon for added flavor, decreasing the vanilla by 1/2 tsp so the flavors wouldn’t be competing but complementing.

8. Baking soda: Since the cake would be a gluten free cake, I increased the baking soda by 1/2 tsp to make sure the bundt cake wouldn’t be too heavy and dense, and I added vinegar to create a chemical reaction to help with the rising of the cake.

Hummingbird Bundt Cake

Ingredients:

1 whole egg with 1/2 cup liquid egg whites or 3 tbsp golden ground flax seed mixed with 9 tbsp water

1 3/4 cups mashed ripe bananas (about four medium bananas)

8 oz can crushed pineapple, not drained

1/2 cup safflower oil (if using Agave; 3/4 cup if using coconut sugar)

1 cup Agave or 1 cup coconut sugar (can use up to 2 cup coconut sugar if someone has a sweet tooth)

1 tsp vanilla

3 cups gluten free flour blend

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips or 1 cup chopped dates

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

2. Whisk the ground flax seed with the water and set aside if using that. Otherwise, follow the next step with eggs.

3. Mix the bananas, pureed pineapple, oil, agave and vanilla. Add the egg mixture or flax seed mixture, and blend well.

4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. Add the chocolate chips.

5. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients with the tablespoon of vinegar, and whisk well.

6. Scoop the batter carefully into the prepared pan. Tap the pan on the counter to even the batter out.

7. Bake for 60-70 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean. I would suggest checking the cake around 45-50 minutes and then gauging how much more time is needed.

8. Cool for 15 to 25 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

9. After the cake has cooled, drizzle your favorite topping over it to make it pretty. Southern Living used a glaze of cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. I opted to keep the cake plain but my children suggested that next time I drizzle it with melted Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortcut Cooking: Oatmeal Date Cookies

“We haven’t made cookies in a while….”

My husband had some errands to run, and my high school daughter was playing with the band at an event. So, this left my son and I to occupy our time together. Since I had a workshop coming up, I suggested that we do some baking.

The problem was deciding what to bake. I’d had a series of workshops recently and done a lot of baking so I was a bit tired of the same ol’, same ol’, which were a stock series of recipes which I usually make for the workshops because they’re quick and easy in addition to representing the various different substitutions I teach about in the workshops.

My son’s suggestion was that we make cookies because we hadn’t made them in a long, long time.

There was a reason for that…. I have found that cookies take longer to make, both in the assembling and in the baking. But my son was correct, that we hadn’t made any in a while, and they would be something different. So, we went to work creating a recipe.

I decided that if we were going to bake cookies, I wanted to make something that would be quick. This meant beginning with what we had in the pantry and not creating everything from scratch. So, we opted to use a gluten free flour blend that I had already made up for another item and had leftovers of in the pantry. We also decided to use pre-chopped, store-bought dates which we found in the pantry as well. Because I’m always trying to be healthy, we chose to make oatmeal cookies with whole rolled oats, also in in the pantry, and to use coconut sugar instead of white sugar so I could use half the amount I’d have to use of white sugar.

Using the mixer sped the assembling process up, and because we decided to make oatmeal cookies, we could simply drop the batter onto the parchment paper and flatten them without any rolling or forming. By using vegan butter, I minimized the spreading so I could put 16 cookies (the 1 tbsp size) instead of 12 to a cookie sheet which meant all the cookies fit onto just four cookie sheets, so I could bake two sheets at a time in the oven, resulting in only 20 minutes of baking time.

The result was that from when we started rummaging in the pantry to when the second batch of two cookie sheets came out, it was less than 45 minutes. Now, those are cookies worth making!

Oatmeal Date Cookies

(These make about 60 small cookies or 30 large cookies.)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup Gluten Free flour blend (I used a homemade blend of garbanzo bean and sorghum flours mixed with tapioca and potato starch)

3 cups Gluten Free whole rolled oats

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

8 oz pkg pitted, dried, chopped dates

1 cup vegan soy free butter or coconut oil or natural shortening

1 cup coconut sugar

2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp water (Mix ahead of time and let it sit)

2 tbsp additional water

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together in a bowl the flour, oats, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in the dates. Set aside
  3. In a mixer, cream the butter with the coconut sugar.
  4. Add the flaxseed mixture with the dry ingredients and the additional water. Mix until well combined.
  5. On the prepared cookie sheets, drop the cookie batter by 1 tablespoon-full for smaller cookies (2 inch diameter) or 2 tablespoons-full for larger cookies (4 inch diameter). Leave about an inch in between the cookies.
  6. Press the dough down with a fork in both directions and bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes for the small cookies until the cookies are puffed, golden and stiff to the tough. For the larger cookies, turn the pan around after 8-10 minutes and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes on the cookies sheets before moving them to a wire cooling rack with a spatula to cool completely.

Healthy Habits: Quinoa Black Bean Salad

“It’s a bit difficult to avoid all of nature….”

Recently my health insurance provider decided that they wouldn’t cover allergy medications any more which is a big blow to my health. When one goes to an allergist for the first time, the allergist will test you for 80 most common allergens. I am allergic to 78. Have been since I was a child, and they haven’t changed in over 40 years, despite repeated testing every seven years.

For the first thirty years of my life, I coughed, hacked, and sniffled my way through life, never without huge wads of tissues in hand and rarely able to breathe through my nose. The advent of new medications, specifically nose sprays, seemed an opportunity for relief. True to my life, though, it turned out I was allergic to most of the new medications. Go figure! But there was one which actually worked, and for the past 15 years, I was able to breathe through my nose, divest down to one tissue a day, and only hack, cough and sniffle two or three times a year when the allergy seasons were at their worst.

Now, though, I’ve slowly begun a descent back to what I had forgotten, not being able to breathe unless completely upright, blowing my nose so often that it’s red and raw, once again needing to invest in my own tissue company, and finding myself at the doctor’s more than I’d like to be for antibiotics for sinus infections.

On the plus side, I’ve been so sick at times that I’ve been forced to stay at home which is an unusual opportunity for me because I suddenly have time which I wouldn’t have had if I were out at my usual meetings and running of errands. It has also meant I can see firsthand which parts of my life really must be attended to and which can survive without me.

On the downside, feeling unwell makes me tired which stimulates cravings for food which aren’t always the healthiest of choices. Since I always have to watch my weight and my sugars, I have been trying to create comfort foods which curb my cravings but which are healthy.

One such recipe is for a quinoa salad. If you are unfamiliar with quinoa, it is essentially a seed which is a good protein source.  Because it cooks similarly to rice, folks tend to eat it like a grain, and folks who are diabetic or needing to watch carbs should know that quinoa is high in carbohydrates. Since quinoa is also high in protein and fiber, though, eaten judiciously, quinoa is a great comfort food.

I make a quinoa salad which I and my family really likes which uses multi-colored quinoa, black beans, kale and carrots. The quinoa and black beans provide the carbs which are filling but also fiber and protein. The kale and carrots provide nutrients gained from vegetables and cuts the amount of quinoa (and hence the carbs) in a cup serving.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1 cup multi-colored quinoa

2 cups frozen, chopped kale

1 cup thinly sliced baby carrots

16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added black beans, rinsed well and drained completely of all water

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

1-3 tsp honey (optional; use desired amount of sweetness if using; if making for just the family, I omit; if making for company, I use 2 tsp)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the water and add the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the quinoa has plumped, is showing white rings, and has absorbed all the water. This will take anywhere from five to 15 minutes, depending on how vigorously you are simmering the water. I find that it’s helpful to stir the quinoa every so often.
  2. Once the water is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat, cover the quinoa and let it sit. You want the quinoa to be completely dry before you mix it with other ingredients. This can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how much of the water was actually absorbed into the quinoa before you removed it from the heat.  When it’s completely dry, you will be able to fluff the quinoa with a fork. If the quinoa clumps together when you try to stir it, then it’s still a bit damp.
  3. While the quinoa is drying, thinly slice baby carrots to make a cup. You can use regular sized peeled carrots but then you’ll want to cut the thin slices in half because you are only cooking the carrots a short amount of time in the microwave with the kale, and you don’t want the carrots to be hard. Once you have a cup’s worth chopped, put it aside for the moment.
  4. Put 2 cups of frozen, chopped kale into a microwave safe bowl.  Follow the instructions for cooking, only halfway during the cooking time, remove the bowl, stir the kale and add the cup of chopped carrots. Finish cooking the kale in the microwave.
  5. Add the kale, carrots and black beans to the quinoa and mix well.
  6. In a measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin and honey, if using.
  7. Drizzle the dressing onto the quinoa salad and use a spoon to incorporate the dressing into the quinoa salad.
  8. Salad can be served warm or cold. Can store in the fridge for a long time.

Changing Tradition: Dairy Free Pumpkin Cheesecake

“What exactly is traditional?”

This year, for the first time in eight years, I did not coordinate the parades and barbecue for the high school band which signifies the end of a “tradition” for our family. Every Memorial Day for these past few years, we’ve woken up early as a family and headed to the high school to drop off a high school child and to receive all the food parents were donating to the barbecue. Then, my remaining children, husband and I would head over to the local camp to set up for the barbecue. After cooking and serving hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers to 70 people, we’d clean everything up, unload at home, and head back to the high school to pick up our child from the second of the two parades marched in on Memorial Day.

What’s varied over the years is the number of my children who helped at the barbecue. First there were two while my eldest marched with the high school band; then there was one as my middle child marched. What didn’t change was the fun we had serving as a family, and the expectations of my youngest who from his youngest years loved going to the camp on Memorial Day. Last year, however, I resigned from 15 years of school volunteer work to focus more on other opportunities.

For my youngest, who is on the autism spectrum, he was torn between wanting to support his mother and what he saw as a loss from participating in our “traditions” for Memorial Day. As it is, this year would have marked a change whether I had continued or not because my husband’s father passed away a couple of weeks ago, and though we spent a week with my mother-in-law for the funeral, my husband and youngest went back this weekend to help her sort through my father-in-law’s office materials.

Before my father-in-law passed away, though, I reminded my son that traditions are what we make, not what make us and that this could be a year to do something slightly different. For some of us, our foods are very traditional… foods we’ve always had and therefore must continue to have. This can make it difficult if we’re trying to eat healthier or suddenly have food allergies altering our food needs.

This week I received an email from someone who has always loved pumpkin cheesecake. It’s apparently been a “tradition” to make it for Memorial Day, a tradition that dates back to his childhood when he wanted pumpkin pie for Memorial Day and his mom wanted to make a cheesecake, and they compromised. This year, however, his mother can no longer eat dairy and has to be careful of her total carb intake due to diabetes, and he feared their tradition would have to end. Instead, he learned that the tradition simply need to be modified.

I used tofu versions of the dairy for the cheesecake, reduced the “sugars” by using a smaller amount of agave instead of a larger amount of sugar, and reduced overall carbs by opting to not have a crust for the cheesecake. The gentleman said his mother enjoyed the cheesecake immensely, so for those of us wondering if change can be good, this cheesecake says, “Yes.”

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients:

3 (8-ounce) packages tofu cream cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup Agave (If you like your cheesecake sweet, you may want to increase this to one cup)
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin or two cups cooked, pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup tofu sour cream, at room temperature
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
4 eggs, at room temperature

Topping: 12 ounce tofu sour cream, 2 tsp agave, 1 tsp vanilla

Cinnamon

Cooking Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and wrap a 10 inch springform pan with aluminum foil around the bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a mixer, beat tofu cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add the agave with the mixer on low, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the pumpkin puree, sour cream, and the spices. Beat together until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition.

Pour into the prepared pan. Spread out evenly and place in a large pan that will hold the springform pan and water. Pour boiling water into the larger pan until it’s about halfway up the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the oven for about an 1 hour or so. The cheesecake will be slightly jiggly in the center but a knife inserted near the edge should come out mostly clean.  Mine took an hour and ten minutes. This made a creamy, less dense cheesecake. If you like your cheesecake to be more solid, bake longer until the center is more firm.

Mix the sour cream with the agave and vanilla and spread over the top of the cheesecake. Bake for about another ten minutes. You just want the topping to solidify a bit.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until the cheesecake is set. Remove from the springform pan and sprinkle with cinnamon on top before serving.

Vegan Veggin’: Chickpea Curry

“Life should be more than simply surviving successfully….”

For anyone keeping track, my usual every two to three weeks posts have not appeared for the past six weeks. Unexpected events pushed aside time I might have used to post. Some were unplanned but pleasant surprises such as an opportunity to write a song and create a video, a blast of inspiration for a new play, a push to apply for a writing fellowship, bookings for eight workshops in eight weeks, trips to see family and do college touring with my middle child. Others were not as welcomed occurrences. Friends and friends’ children struggling with depression and needing support, making time to visit a special family friend who may not be with us on this earth much longer, our oldest wrestling with issues requiring parental wisdom, extra responsibilities because of difficulties in the lives of others, our middle child being in a car accident.

Last night, a friend asked if I wanted to cancel and reschedule a get-together we had planned a couple of months ago for this coming week with a group of moms I know.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there’s so much going on for you right now. You’re just trying to survive, aren’t you?”

“No, no I’m not,” I said.

And it’s true. I don’t believe in survival mode. The more difficult life is, the more likely I am to get together with a friend for lunch, take my son on a trip to a museum, go out to dinner as a family, dance with my daughter in the living room, or help a friend with a book edit even though someone might argue my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Life is short, and life can turn on a dime. I’ve been to enough funerals to attest to both facts, and I have now had two of my three children in car accidents which could have taken them from me without any warning. Life is not meant to be survived. It is meant to be lived. Every minute, every day, because you don’t know what you’ll have for time.

And that may be why I invest so much of my time helping people with their food issues. Physical necessity dictates not only that we have to eat but that we need to do so at regular intervals throughout the day. This means part of our “living” time is thinking about what to eat, making what we’ll eat, and eating. So, food, too, should not just be about surviving but about enjoyment and benefit, just like everything else we do in and with our lives.

This year my oldest decided she would become vegan, and recently my husband’s sister’s family decided to do the same. For my daughter, eating vegan means doing her part to make the world a better place to live. For my brother-in-law and nephews and niece, it’s about embracing a better, healthier lifestyle. For both, they are making choices to live lives which are not just about surviving but about being happy with the decisions they make about what to eat.

Given my dairy allergies and my son’s egg allergies as a child, a lot of what I make was already vegan, but I’ve begun experimenting with more recipes of late to expand my repertoire. Last month I made a vegan chickpea curry which the family really liked and which is so easy because it just cooks in the crock pot. I will share it below.

Chickpea Curry

Ingredients:

Two 16 cans no salt, no sugar chickpeas, drained and rinsed (you can save the liquid and use the aquafaba as an egg substitute or to make meringues or mousse or another recipe)

16 oz package thawed frozen cauliflower

16 oz package thawed frozen carrots

20 oz package thawed frozen chopped butternut squash

16 oz package frozen chopped kale

10 oz package frozen chopped red peppers

1 tsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced garlic

1-3 tbsp curry powder (if you like your curry very mild, use the smaller amount; if you like a stronger flavor, use 2 or 3 tbsp)

2 tsp paprika

one 14 oz can of petite diced no salt no sugar tomatoes

one 14 oz can of coconut milk or 1 1/2 cup preferred other type of vegan milk

1/4 cup gluten free flour

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a 6 quart crock pot mix together the chickpeas, cauliflower, carrots, squash, peppers and kale.
  2. In a shallow pan, heat the olive oil for a minute, then add the garlic, curry powder, and paprika. Heat for a minute, stirring continually.
  3. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the “milk” and bring to a slow boil.
  5. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and whisk well, stirring continually until the mixture is smooth and begins to thicken.
  6. Pour the sauce over the ingredients in the crock pot and blend well.
  7. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4.
  8. Serve by itself or with rice or with bread.