Menu Suggestion: Oatmeal Pancakes

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“What do you mean it’s blue and black?”

There’s an experiment making it’s rounds on the internet these days which is a picture of a striped dress, partially in shadow and partially in light. The question asked is “What color is the dress?” What’s interesting is that a percentage of folks will say the dress is white and gold striped, while another percentage will say it is blue and black striped.

According to the explanation given, the two different answers represent how people’s brains process information. If your brain sees the dress only, regardless of the shadow or light around it, you will see the dress as blue and black (which it actually is). If your brain looks at the picture as a whole, incorporating the shadows and light around it, then you will see the dress as white and gold.

Interestingly enough, my husband and middle child, who lean toward more big picture, conceptually-minded thinking, see the dress as white and gold, while my oldest and youngest and I, who are extremely detailed-oriented thinkers, see the dress as blue and black. And of course, both sides think the other is nuts for seeing as they do!

I was reminded of this experiment when my son asked yet again for chocolate chip pancakes. Whereas I view food as fuel for my growing son which needs to be healthy and thought out, my son sees food only as an opportunity for gluttonous pleasure. On this particular occasion he and my middle child both had friends sleeping over, and my son thought it would be a valid argument in favor of chocolate chip pancakes – “But mama, don’t you want to serve our guests something they’d like to eat?”

I personally thought the kids wouldn’t care what I served them, but I decided in the interest of the dress experiment, that maybe I should work out a compromise with my son. Yes, to chocolate chip pancakes in deference to his view of food, but also yes to the pancakes being healthy to stay true to my food views. The result was a gluten, dairy, egg free oatmeal pancakes with both blueberries and mini chocolate chips.

Below is the recipe for folks interested in trying them out. You can make them without the chocolate chips and only blueberries; you can omit the blueberries and make them only chocolate chip; you can omit both. Your choice.

Gluten, Dairy, Egg Free Oatmeal Pancakes

(Makes a lot; may want to half the recipe for a small family)

Ingredients:

4 cups “milk” of choice (soy, flax, rice, cow, etc….)

4 tbsp lemon juice

2 cups gluten free quick oats

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

2 cups favorite Gluten Free flour blend (I used a garbanzo and fava bean blend for the protein and fiber)

1 cup sorghum flour

1 cup gluten free oat flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips (can use regular mini chips if you aren’t allergic to them)

1/3 cup melted “butter” of choice (vegan, soy-free, or cow)

1/4 cup Agave

1 tbsp safflower oil

12 oz frozen wild mini blueberries

Cooking Instructions:

1. Mix the milk with the lemon juice. Add the quick oats, blending well, and let sit.

2. Mix the flaxseed with the water, and let sit.

3. Combine the gluten free flour blend, the sorghum flour, the oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chocolate chips.  Set aside.

4. Mix the melted butter, agave and oil. Combine this with the milk/oat mixture and flaxseed mixture, and add the blueberries.

5. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry until everything is well blended. Let sit while the griddle or pan heats.

6. Heat a pancake griddle to 350 degrees or a pan over medium heat. Grease with favorite method (oil, spray, butter).

7. Ladle pancake batter by 1/4 cups and let cook until the pancakes begins to bubble and get dry around the edges (usually just a minute or two). Flip and cook on the other side another minute or two.

8. Serve and enjoy! (I found them to be sweet enough without anything, but the kids still poured maple syrup on top!)

Creative Cooking: Using Baby Food

“If you could choose one superpower, Mommy, what would it be?”

My son is always asking me questions which cause me to think. When he asked me about which superpower I’d like to have, I had to take few minutes to consider my answer. I finally said, it would be difficult for me to choose between supersonic hearing so I could catch what my children were whispering about and the ability to fly, just because, well, that would be cool.

In response, my son said that he would choose the ability to change into different animals because then he’d have lots of powers. If he wanted to fly, he’d become a bird; if he wanted to be invisible, he’d become a chameleon; if he wanted to be fast, he’d become a cheetah; if he wanted to be strong, he’d become an elephant. (These are the examples he gave me.)

I have to say that I was quite impressed. My limited linear thinking brought a quandry, forcing me to have to choose between superpowers I wanted.  My son, however, had thought outside the box and found an answer which would give him the opportunity to have all the possible powers he could want.

When it comes to cooking, I think we can sometimes get caught in the same trap. We think about how to cook and what to cook in only one way, whether it’s only cooking the way we were taught or sticking to only traditional methods and ingredients or  being afraid to ever experiment. We don’t consider that maybe there’s an “outside of the box” approach we can take to both ingredients and process.

Recently I received a question from a mother which made me think about an “outside the box” cooking option which I use. Baby food. A mom wanted to use bananas in muffins but her daughter didn’t like the chunkiness of the banana, which is the consistency she got when she mashed them, or the little black specks, which showed up if she pureed them in her food processor. (It occurred to me that this mother must have children on the spectrum like I do!)

My response to her was to use baby food. Nowadays, at least at my grocery store, you can get all natural (only fruit or vegetables and water), jarred baby food, and there are many benefits to using the baby food: 1) They keep well in your pantry so they’ll be on hand when you need them; 2) when on sale, you can get them at a really low price which is more affordable than fresh fruit and vegetables; 3) they provide a concentrated flavor without the work; and 4) the jars are wonderful to have on hand for those craft projects your kids are required to do for school or for those cute little holiday gifts you always see in the “make your own” magazines but which you never do because you don’t have those little jars!

Some uses for baby food:

1. To make muffins, breads, pancakes, waffles, cakes, etc…: Use the baby food version in your recipes instead of having to cook and puree or mash the fresh equivalent.

2. As a thickener: Vegetable baby food is great for thickening your gravies, soups, pasta sauce, casseroles, stews, etc…. They add flavor and thickness without adding anything else.

3.  To add nutrients to your recipes: Add vegetable baby foods to your meatloaf instead of that sugary condensed tomato soup. Make a glaze for your chicken with a fruit baby food. Use baby food as a binder for your bread crumb coated baked fish or for your meatballs. Create your own fruit or vegetable butter for spreading onto toast.

4.  As a mix-in: Mix in baby food to store bought yogurt or cream cheese or cottage cheese to create a flavorful treat. Add baby food to the smoothie you make for breakfast. Mix in baby food to your favorite dipping sauce to create a new flavor.

Chocolate Chip Muffins

(makes 24)

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Four 6 0z jar containers of banana baby food

3/4 cup liquid egg whites

1/2 cup Agave

1/2 cup safflower oil

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners.

2. Mix the flour, powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together. Stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside.

3. Mix the baby food, egg whites, agave, and oil together.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and very quickly mix the batter up just until the dry ingredients are moist.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the 24 cups. The cups will be filled to the top.

6. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool in the muffin tins for five minutes. Remove the muffins to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

Handling Holidays: Truffles and Fudge

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“You’re a chink!”

I was sitting by myself at recess on my first day at a school in the United States when a older middle school, Caucasian boy welcomed me with those words. It was the aftermath of the the Vietnam War, and though the gene pool had actually given me more of my father’s Caucasian features than my mother’s Asian ones, folks back then were more cognizant of facial differences than today. (Today, no one believes me when I say I’m Korean. I have to show them pictures of my mom. So, times do change!)

Unfortunately for that gentleman, though I was  younger than he, I wasn’t so easily intimidated, and he didn’t expect my response. “Shows how much you know,” I said. “Chink is a derogatory term for Chinese people, not Korean. I believe you meant to call me a ‘Gook’, but instead you’ve only revealed just how ignorant you are. So, please just go away and leave me alone.” To his credit, he walked away as the crowd around him snickered.

My victory didn’t make me feel any better, though, about such a “welcome” to my “home” country and new school, and at the end of recess my new teacher, Mrs. Petruska found me sitting in the corner of the yard, crying. She didn’t ask me what was wrong, so I presumed she must have heard from one of the other students. Instead, she handed me a small piece of chocolate (this was long before the day of food allergy awareness), patted my back, and said,”Take your time eating this, and when you’re done, I’ll see you back at class.”

Now, some may wonder what sort of teacher would handle such a situation by giving a child a piece of chocolate, but whether you agree or disagree with her actions, I have to say that I learned that day that if savoring a piece of chocolate can make you feel better, than life is not going to end from whatever situation you feel devastated by.

And strangely enough, as I’ve grown into adulthood, the only time I even eat a piece of chocolate (allergen free variety, of course!) is when I need a reminder that I will survive whatever “mess” I’m currently dealing with in life, and the only time I make chocolate truffles and fudge is for the holidays – and it’s always for giving away.

Chocolate, though, is one of those ingredients that can be deadly if you’re severely allergic to dairy or nuts. Fortunately for me, however, Enjoy Life makes wonderful chips, chunks, and bars which are everything free, so I can continue to make, give away and enjoy chocolate truffles and fudge when I want – and so can you.

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients:
1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
2 tbsp Polaner’s all fruit of choice*
Cocoa powder/coconut flakes/chopped nuts/crushed candies/dried chopped fruit

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Melt the chocolate with the all-fruit over a double boiler, stirring constantly. (I put a small pan filled with water halfway on the burner and then stack a larger pan on top.)

2.  Pour the melted mixture into a shallow pan and cool in the fridge until the chocolate is solid enough to shape. (It needs to be a rollable, fudgy consistency, not hard.)

3.  Use a teaspoon sized amount of chocolate and roll into a ball. Roll the chocolate ball in cocoa or flaked coconut or chopped nuts (if you’re not allergic) or crushed candies or dried fruit and stored in a covered container in fridge.

4.  Serve at room temperature.

*Note: You can omit the all-fruit flavoring and just make the chocolate plain. You can also substitute flavoring like mint extract (use a small amount like 1/8 tsp first and taste; add in increments to the strength of flavor you want).

Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge

Ingredients:

3 cups Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Equivalent to 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk*

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups mini marshmallows

2 tbsp melted vegan “butter”

Cooking Instructions:

1. Line a pan with aluminium foil or parchment paper or wax paper, leaving flaps overhanging on all four sides so you can pull out the fudge.

2.  Mix the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk and the salt. Melt slowly over low heat, stirring constantly, until all the chips are melted.

3.  Stir in the melted “butter” and one cup of the marshmallows.  Stir until those have melted into the chocolate.

4.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and the remaining two cups of marshmallows.  Stir just until the marshmallows are incorporated but still firm.

5.  Scrape the fudge into the prepared pan with a rubber scraper and smooth the top of the fudge flat.

6.  Cool in the fridge for several hours until hardened.

7.  Use the flaps to remove the fudge from the pan, turn it over onto a cutting board, and peel away the foil or parchment paper or wax paper.

8. Cut the fudge into size and shape wanted and store in a container or individually wrapped in the fridge.

*If you don’t have milk allergies, use the canned sweetened condensed milk, but if you do:  You can also try making homemade sweetened condensed milk by mixing about 2 1/2 cups of your type of “milk” (rice, nut, coconut, soy) with 8 tbsp sugar or agave.  Stir well and simmer over low heat until the “milk” has reduced and thickened.  This will take a couple of hours.  Keep the heat low and stir frequently.  When it’s thickened, you can add 1/8 tsp of salt and/or 1/2 tsp vanilla, if you’d like. Put a clear plastic wrap up against the mixture before cooling in the fridge to prevent a “skin” from forming. When you need it, use the sweetened condensed milk to substitute for a 14 oz can.

The American Love: The Chocolate Chip Cookie

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“But I want chocolate chip cookies!”

Growing up, my life was a collision of two worlds, even when it came to food.  On the one side was the traditional daily Korean fare of rice, fish and vegetables for all three meals.  On the other side was the American eating of the 1970’s – cheese in a can on Ritz crackers, Chef Boyardee, and Nestle Toll House cookies.

Even my non-baking, non-sweet eating Korean mother baked Nestle Toll House cookies on occasion.  It was what everyone did and still does.  Biting into a fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie is high on the list as one of many people’s little joy’s in life. Chocolate chip cookies even became the state cookie of Massachusetts in 1997.

Go out to eat at a restaurant, and you’ll find chocolate chip cookies in some form worked into a dessert.  Go grocery shopping, and you’ll see 101 variations of the chocolate chip cookie with a handful of sugar cookies, macaroons, and oatmeal raisin cookies on the periphery.  Buy ice cream, and you’ll find the chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and broken up chocolate chip cookies to use as a topping.  You can even purchase chocolate chip cookie scented candles, soaps, air fresheners, and hand sanitizers.

Americans have a love affair with chocolate chip cookies.  And when dietary restrictions or allergies limit your ability to have dairy, wheat, sugar, nuts, soy, and/or sugar and fats, you can suddenly find yourself living a life without one of your food loves.

The good news for most folks these days is that you can get just about any type of chocolate chip cookie you need:  fat free, sugar free, gluten free, dairy free, you name it, it’s out there.  Unfortunately, they don’t always quite “hit the spot” for whatever reason.  Many that I’ve tried just simply have a strange aftertaste that I can’t quite get over.  Others are too pasty or way too hard.  Sometimes it’s just not “right”, meaning it’s not what you expected out of your chocolate chip cookie.  And even when you do find a type that you like, sometimes you just want a homemade, fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie.

Until very recently, I never tried making a chocolate chip cookie at home, though. Why be disappointed?  But the other day, my middle daughter said that she wanted to make cookies, and she wanted them to be chocolate chip.  What was a mother to do?  I bit the bullet and worked out a recipe for my daughter.  Because that’s what a good mommy does, right?

So, below is a recipe that my daughter and I concocted for chocolate chip cookies which are dairy free, soy free, nut/peanut free, gluten free, and made with a heart healthy fat and little refined sugar.  We decided we wanted them to be like the bigger, chunkier cookies you buy fresh from the bakery, and I have to tell you that the group we served them to the evening we baked couldn’t believe they had none of the above ingredients.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups gluten free whole grain oats (quick cooking or regular, either is fine)

2 cups gluten free flour blend (we used Bob Red Mill’s which was garbanzo bean flour and brown rice flour mixed)

1 cup coconut sugar (we used the Madhava brand found at the grocery store)

1/2 cup gluten free ground flaxseed meal

1/2 cup tapioca starch

1 tbsp xanthan gum

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sea salt

2 to 3 cups Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips*

1 1/2 cup safflower oil

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup Agave

1 tbsp gluten free vanilla

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare your cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2.  Grind the oats in a food processor to make 3 cups of oatmeal flour.   Measure the 3 cups into a large bowl.

3.  Add the gluten free flour blend, coconut sugar, flaxseed meal, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

4.  Stir in the mini chocolate chips.  Set aside.

5.  Blend together the oil, applesauce, agave and vanilla.

6.  Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Mix the batter until all ingredients are well mixed together.  (Note:  With gluten free batter, the chips will seem like they aren’t incorporating well.  When you form the cookies, you can just use your fingers to make sure the chips are in the dough.)

7.  To form the cookies, take two level tablespoons of cookie batter and roll them with clean hands into balls.  Place them on a cookie sheet with enough space to flatten the cookie with a fork in a crisscross pattern.

8.  When your cookie sheet is full, bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 8 minutes.  Turn the cookie sheet around and bake for another 8 minutes.  The cookies will be nicely browned.

9.  Cool on the cookie sheet for at least two minutes before moving the cookies to a wire cooling rack.  Cool completely.

10.  Enjoy!  Makes 36 large cookies.  You can always choose to make one tablespoon sized cookies, but you should then reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes or so.  (Note:  We discovered that these were absolutely great for making a homemade nondairy frozen dessert “ice cream” and chocolate chip cookie sandwich!)

*My son likes a “more cookie to chips” ratio, so 2 cups of chocolate chips is good for his batter, but my daughters prefer a “more chips to cookie” ratio, so they put 3 cups in their batter.

Practice Makes Perfect: The Muffin Strategy

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“Finally!  I’m a girl!”

High school drama clubs are known for their shortage of boys, and as such, time after time I was cast in male roles for the plays I auditioned for at my high school.

For the most part, I actually enjoyed the roles I played.  Not every high school girl gets a chance to be a maniacal Captain of Inquisition (Man of LaMancha) or a foul-mouthed military pilot (South Pacific).  (My father wasn’t too thrilled by this latter role!)

What was difficult about those roles, though, was that it didn’t come naturally to me to be a boy.  While others simply had to become their characters, I had to take on a persona AND remember to walk, talk, and gesture like a boy, too.  I’d be saying a line, and the director would yell, “Stop walking like a girl!”

“But I am a girl!” I’d wail, and he’d reply, “No, you’re a crazy inquisitor!  Now walk like one.”

And in time, I did.

With time and practice and a lot of thought, I learned how to become the male characters and eventually any character I needed to be — so much so that a couple of years ago I was showing several children how I wanted them to act in a scene I was directing, and one of my assistants said, “You know, you could do this as a one-woman show!  You’re switching roles without even thinking!”

Becoming any character, whether it was male or female, had become second nature to me.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t thrilled when I was finally given a female role as Bess, the wife of Scrooge’s nephew, in A Christmas Carol, but it does mean that something I initially thought too difficult to ever do actually wasn’t.

Cooking with Non-Traditional Ingredients

In the same way, it can seem awkward and uncomfortable when people suddenly have to cook or bake in non-traditional ways.  It can seem “unnatural” to cook without wheat, dairy, sugar, or eggs.  Figuring out how to adjust dry and wet ingredients for a “substitute” ingredient can be frustrating.  You’re being told to stop cooking the only way you’ve known how to in favor of a method you’ve never tried before.

As with my acting, practice is important for learning how to cook with non-traditional ingredients, but it can be a pain to practice. Practice takes time, money and energy, and you may invest all three and have a disaster which is completely inedible and a waste.  It’s helpful that these days you can find many cookbooks and online sites with recipes and tips from people, but sometimes, you try a recipe, and it doesn’t work for you or it’s not to your liking.

I remember when I first learned I had a dairy allergy.  I went to a bunch of vegan sites to get recipes, and I was disappointed by the taste of the food.  I asked a vegan friend whether being vegan meant having no taste buds, which obviously could have been very offensive to her, but knowing me, she simply laughed and told me that it wasn’t them but that I was a food snob, which in many ways I am. She did follow up her comment, though, with some advice.   “Learn what you can about vegan cooking, but create your own recipes using the tips you learn.”

Muffins for Practice

It was great advice, but you still have the problem of needing to practice in order to create those recipes. And here’s my tip for you:  Start with something like muffins and work your way to other foods.  Muffins are great for practice, because they don’t require a lot of ingredients that you wouldn’t already be using or have in your house, which saves on money. They’re quick to make up, which saves you time; and you don’t have to make a large batch of them, so they’re not wasted if they don’t come out the best. In addition, who doesn’t like a good muffin?  Even if you have to practice almost daily for a week, your children will still be willing to eat them again and again.

Years ago I found a basic muffin recipe in a cookbook which I have simply modified over time as the number of foods I’m allergic to has increased. The recipe is:  2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 beaten egg, 4 tbsp sugar, 1 cup milk, and 1 tbsp melted butter.  The original recipe explained that you could add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any chopped or mashed fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc… to the batter. Then you bake them for 20-25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

You can use that recipe or another recipe that you find in a favorite cookbook to practice for whichever ingredients you need to substitute, and you can go the earlier posts on this site about substituting for dairy, eggs, sugar, wheat or nuts to help you.

Meanwhile, a favorite recipe of my children’s is posted below.

Blueberry Banana Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 2 cups Authentic Food Gluten Free Flour Blend

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life Allergen Free mini chocolate chips

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1/2 cup egg whites

2 tbsp Agave

1 tbsp safflower oil

3/4 cup soy milk

1 cup frozen wild blueberries

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line 18 muffin cups with liners.  (I use “If You Care” ones.)

2.  Combine the flour, powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

3.  Mix the bananas, egg whites, Agave, oil, and milk.  Add the blueberries.

4.  Quickly stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing only until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups.

6.  Bake for abut 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.