Blood Beans

 

I work in the kitchen of a coffee shop, and my fellow coworker, Jess, (the primary baker at the Brew), and I tend to routinely talk about food while we busy ourselves making sandwiches for customers. A few months ago she brought up in conversation a fact that I knew but hadn’t really given great thought, or at least a place in my value system until recently.

We discussed how the majority of the chocolate we use in America is produced by slave children in the West Africa.

I won’t go into specifics of what is going on with the cocoa industry in Africa right now, because so many other people explain it better (links to valuable resources at the end of this post), but I will list a few major points:

  • 69% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa; 35% in the Ivory Coast alone.
  • 2/3 of the American chocolate market is dominated by two companies – Hershey’s and Mars, both of which purchase a large majority of their chocolate from the Ivory Coast, where tens of thousands of children are enslaved on cocoa farms.
  • In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was established by the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association as a commitment to end the problem of child slavery in cocoa-producing nations by 2005. Unfortunately, efforts and funding on this plan have since fizzled out.

So how does this affect me?

Well, first, I’m sharing this with you all. I’ve also decided to seek out and use only fair trade chocolate in my house. Unfortunately there is no fair trade baking chocolate in Plainview, so I’m limited to what I can find an hour away in Lubbock and the internet. I haven’t totally figured out white chocolate yet, but it will probably involve scouting out some cocoa butter and making my own (which would be healthier anyway).

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For me, I have decided that it isn’t worth it to knowingly perpetuate the concept of unfair labor practices for the sake of a confection addiction or a more flexible budget. As someone who regularly spends a few dollars extra for grass-fed, local, humanely-raised meat and poultry and touts the importance of buying local and organic for the ultimate good of the economy, the environment, and humankind, I cannot in a sound mind and heart continue to turn a blind eye to problem bigger than anything we face here in the United States. I cannot make sacrifices for animals that I am not willing to first make for mankind.

 

And chocolate isn’t the only problem. Coffee is another export that is known to use unfair labor practices in production. I am so proud that the Broadway Brew, my employer, serves only fair trade certified and organic coffee to our customers.

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Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate?

Global Exchange

Children in Cocoa Production

TED Case Study

Stop Chocolate Slavery <—Great list of slave-free brands!

The Most Important Meal of the Day

 

Ever since I graduated college I’ve pretty consistently made it a point to have breakfast every day. Some days it was bacon, eggs, and a homemade muffins. Other days it was a bowl of cereal, or a bag of trail mix as I walked out of the door. It may not have been much, but it was always something. I don’t think I really understood what a difference a good breakfast made until I began working with my holistic doctor. I knew that having breakfast would help me not be so starved and would pave the way for healthy choices throughout the day. But as I took my doctor’s orders in making sure every breakfast was high in protein and fat and devoid of grains, fruit, and sugar, I began to notice that on the days I ignored these rules I found myself sleepy and unfocused more often than not, and on days I did follow his orders, I was more likely to feel satisfied and alert most of the day.

Over time, though, I’ve adjusted these rules somewhat for the sake of variety and balance (and the demands of my more-active job), but not much. I still try to focus on protein and fat, but I do tend to include a small bit of whole (gluten free) grain or fruit. And since my work rarely requires me to be in before 10am, this usually gives me a good amount of time to prepare a quality, filling breakfast!

Here are some of my breakfasts from the last week or so. All taken on my iPhone, because I’m still nerding out over the fact that I can now take a photo on my phone and within 1 minute have it tweeted! (I’m aware that I’m grossly behind the times)

 

Omelet with goat cheese and spinach with a side of sweet potato hash and ice mint green tea…

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Scrambled eggs with salsa verde, leftover GF cornbread (Ashley’s recipe!), pomegranate arils, and more mint green tea (I love the tea pot Ed got me for Christmas!)

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Scrambled eggs, small green smoothie (banana, spinach, and Amazing Grass), and more mint green tea…

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Ed brought me breakfast in bed! Fried egg and apple slices… (and unpictured Tazo black tea)

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Blue corn tortillas with eggs, nutritional yeast, and salsa verde, with a side of orange and chai green tea with almond milk

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And for a change of pace… plain Greek yogurt with pomegranate, crushed almonds, and a little honey, plus a muffin on the side (made with mostly almond meal and a little teff flour and molasses—for iron and gingerbread-y goodness!). I don’t like to eat much yogurt because it doesn’t always agree with me, but it was on crazy-sale and I knew it would provide a bit more variety to my breakfast options.

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So obviously we have an egg lover in the house. Really, eggs and I have gotten real comfy. No, I do not dispose of the yolks. Contrary to what nutritionists have been trying to tell you for years, dietary cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol. Saturated fat does, and eggs really don’t contain much of that. It’s so chock-full of other nutrients (and flavor!!) that it’s a shame to discard them. I frequently eat about two eggs a day.

 

This is what works for me for now. I don’t like to eat carb-heavy breakfasts because I get sugar highs and lows all day if I do that (even if it’s 100% whole grain!), and I usually will get a blood sugar headache (PCOS thing. Hypoglycemic symptoms.)

 

Do you like carb-centered or protein/fat-centered breakfasts? I honestly do miss the options in a carb-centered one, but I usually regret it later. Winking smile

 

IN OTHER NEWS! I begin teaching ZUMBA at my local YMCA next month! SO EXCITED!

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

 

Today I received a box from UPS containing THIS!

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And that’s not even the best part…!

 

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It’s signed!

 

This moment of excitement brought to you by my dear friend, John, my unofficial webmaster and fellow food freak. He lives in Houston and sometime last month Alton Brown was visiting the Houston area for a book signing, so John picked me up the second Good Eats cookbook and had AB himself sign it for me. Smile He actually gave me the first volume of the Good Eats trilogy last year, and Edgar gave me the third volume for Christmas. Now my collection is complete!

 

It’s no secret that Alton Brown is my favorite food inspiration. Most my recipes are based off of his, and since my food education really began with Good Eats, my approach of cooking tends to be, “know the rules so you know how to break them!” Which is honestly how I approach painting, drawing, and photography too…

 

Do you have a particular foodie inspiration?

Twenty Eleven

Another year has come and gone, and honestly I consider it to be a fairly tame year. Perhaps because, for the first time in several years, I did not move! Winking smile

But when I really look at it, there have been several important and exciting things that happened this year.

* I went to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria with the Wayland School of Music. A trip I’ll never forget!

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* I spent a weekend in Santa Fe and Glorieta, NM with several of my closest friends in a cabin. An unforgettable weekend with irreplaceable people.

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* I finally sought a professional opinion about some hormonal imbalances I’d been having the past few years, and after battling several ridiculous doctors I finally discovered that I have mild Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. In the process I identified my gluten intolerance and have shifted my dietary focus away from calorie-limiting and more toward endocrine-supporting.

* After three years of Zumba participation, I finally received my Zumba Instructor Certification!

* After a year of planning I built up the courage to quit my full-time desk job to work part-time at a coffeeshop and make myself more available to my home, my health, and family (and blog—still need to work on that one)

 

 

 

I am not typically one for New Years Resolutions. I figure you shouldn’t wait for January 1st, or Monday, or any particular date to work toward a goal. I do, however, believe if that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I knew that there were things I wanted to accomplish and the only thing keeping me from accomplishing those goals was my lack of focus. So on January 1, 2011 I wrote down a list of goals I wanted to tackle for the year. Some are too personal for the blog, but here are a good majority of them:

* Go to EuropeCHECK!
* Get Zumba certficiationCHECK!
* Go to one food blog conference – didn’t happen this year due to unavoidable obstacles, but this year Edgar and I are planning to make the trip to San Fran and Wine Country together!
* Get new phones with data – Edgar’s phone with his prepaid plan bit the dust suddenly and unexpectedly in May so he was the first to upgrade to a smartphone. I was actually 1.5 years overdue for an upgrade and completely without even text messaging capabilities until this past month. We were planning to add me to Edgar’s phone plan on Verizon until over Christmas we all decided it would be smarter to remain on my parents’ family plan with Sprint. I came home with an iPhone!
* Consistently save something every month – Mostly done! We flacked a bit at the beginning of the year, but my job change became a definite possibility, we became super-vigilant about it, even if it was just a few dollars. I tell you want, it really adds up! And while I got a significant pay cut with my job change, we have actually been more financially stable than we were before, and we haven’t noticed the reduction in available money for our quality of life. Food for thought.
* Get home organized – HAH! I’ve done a little of this, but there’s plenty more to tackle for 2012.
* Get laptop – Edgar and I only ever had desktops until this year. We decided it would be best for me to take a laptop with me to Europe, so we budgeted and made it happen. 🙂
* Run in the Race for the CureCHECK!
* Cut back on diet sodas – CHECK! However, this only happened after I stopped working at a desk job and started working at a coffeeshop. Hehe…
* Kick sugar habit – Amazingly enough, cutting back significantly on gluten has done wonders to curb my sugar addiction! While I do still love my sweets, my tolerance has greatly diminished, and my cravings are rare.
* Get back to Happy Weight – For me, this involving redefining my Happy Weight. Being diagnosed with PCOS and gluten intolerance has reshaped the way I look at my body. I’m more concerned about what my body is capable of accomplishing than what it looks like. My clothes still fit (actually they fit better since reducing the gluten) and I haven’t looked at a scale in months. I see no point. I consider this an accomplished goal.
* Get my blog self-hosted and on its own domain – CHECK!
* Increase blog traffic – Uh. I don’t think it changed much. Oops. This is totally my fault.
* Redesign blog – Did this when I started self-hosting!
* Diversify blog – This was an unrealistic goal for my circumstances. I’ll see how far my blog can go this year before making this ambitious leap.
* Quit my desk job – this wasn’t officially on the list I wrote, but I knew it was something I wanted to accomplish by fall of 2011. My last day was one week before the Autumnal Equinox. 😉

 

I would consider this year largely successful as far as my yearly goals went. 🙂

This year, I suppose my goals are a bit simpler. Many are rehashed from last year. Many are still personal. But here are some to share…

* Go to FoodBuzz!
* Get a confirmed diagnosis or non-diagnosis for Celiac (may be easier said than done) 
* Follow up on health changes
* Invest more time and creative energy into the blog
* Declutter house – I have the advantage of having a huge-ish house with a good amount of storage, but we really have more than we need or want to try to move around with us, which brings us to the next goal…
* Find out where we are going from here. We have never wanted to stay in Plainview long-term, and we know that by the end of the year circumstances will easily dictate our next direction, but having it as a “goal” gives us something to look forward to.
* Teach Zumba!
* Get an advanced Zumba certification (Basic 2 or Toning)

 

I suppose that’s it for now.

Do you believe in resolutions? Any goals for the new year?

Three and a Half Weeks

*blows dust off keyboard*

It has been three and a half weeks without posting. I assure you, it’s not without good reason. If you attempted to visit this site in the past week or so, you probably noticed that my URL lead to the great internet wasteland. Yes, this discovery put me into such a mixture of panic and confusion that my only consolation was cleaning the house in a frenzy in attempt to suppress and deny the fact that my blog disappeared and I had no idea how to get it back up. Thankfully, my unofficial webmaster, John, came to my rescue, thumbed through my files, played advocate to my host, and managed to get the site back in the air. I owe him so much!

But enough of that. What have I been up to since I last posted?

Well, I hosted two separate Thanksgiving dinners!

The first one was with my local friends, Justin, Aubrey, and Kris. You may remember that last year I also celebrated a Thanksgiving dinner with them. It was so exciting this year to have a more pot-luck dinner! Edgar smoked a turkey (first time ever! I’m a convert.)

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It was so fun having everyone contribute!

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Justin made sweet potato pie! It’s been several years since I’ve had sweet potato pie, but his may be the best one yet. Winking smile

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My plate. See the gluten on the top? Heh… yeah. Bane of my being. But the turkey! And the green beans! Oh my! The green beans were sauteed simply in garlic, butter, lemon, and red pepper flake. LOVE.

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Of course, we all ate too much and had to roll ourselves to the living room, find a place to unfold, and moan and nap our stomachaches away.  I will admit that this was my first experience with obvious GI gluten poisoning, but other than that, it was totally worth it!

The second Thanksgiving dinner was with my family and my in-laws. They all came in town and we had WAAAAY more food than could possibly be sampled on one plate, but it was all (that I tried. I was good about avoiding gluten by this point, since up to that point I’d effectively and regrettable gluten-poisoned myself twice in one week) wonderful! I also loved having my family in town. It was the first time my youngest sister had even seen my house, and I’ve been living here for over a year!

Baked goat brie with Crofters, Glutino crackers and pecan nut thins! My mom brought me a WHOLE BUNCH of gluten free boxed goodies she found on sale for me! Thanks Mommy!

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In between these two dinners, Edgar and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary! We decided to take a trip to Palo Duro Canyon to finish hiking that trail we started but never completed last year, then spend the night in the cabin where we spent our wedding night.

 

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It was wonderful seeing familiar places with fresh eyes. I feel like Edgar and I have grown so much in the last two years!

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Then the weekend after Thanksgiving we visited Edgar’s parents in Canadian since they wanted to take us out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant just inside the Oklahoma border. I don’t recall the name of the place (sorry), but I was excited that they had a vegetarian menu! I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t like depending on meat so much in my diet, especially from sources that are not guaranteed responsible or sustainable, and I usually find vegetarian dishes to be more culinarily creative. My spinach enchiladas with avocado cream sauce were pretty delicious! Winking smile

 

Since then the school of music wrapped up its season with the American Family Christmas concert, where I sang a nerve-wracked solo that I feel was sub-par in my usual tonal quality, but Kris, a vocal music education major and my harshest musical critic, was very positive with me in his review (though admitted proper breath control would have corrected my tone). So I probably shouldn’t beat myself up over it. After all, it’s only the third vocal solo I’ve ever done, and it’s certainly better than my first! Winking smile

 

Not long after that concert my computer started acting up, and Edgar had to do a full wipe of the hard drive. This of course meant that he moved all my photos to his external hard drive which I had no idea how to access until last weekend. My bad luck with computers never ceases to amaze me.

 

So there you have it! That’s been my life as of late, in addition to the norm, y’know. Winking smile I look forward to finally getting back in the blogging groove after a busy month!

Togetherness

 

Today, we prepare.

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This year we are playing host to two Thanksgiving dinners. The first, which is scheduled for this evening, is my annual dinner with friends. It was a tradition we started in 2007 and have held in some fashion each year since. The guest list has been shifted some, as friends have moved away and new relationships have been established. But it’s still special every year. This year I’m particularly excited because last year, due to understandable circumstances, the whole burden of preparing and serving food was upon me. This year, we share the load.

And for that I am thankful. I think there is more joy in preparing together. To bring all your gifts and strengths to the table to share with others. It’s beautiful. And that means I only have to make one pie!

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Next week we are also hosting my family at our house on Thanksgiving Day. When I moved in my house I wondered what it would be like to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my living room. It looks like I’ll be able to find out this year! This one will be all on me as far as food goes, but that’s okay. My family is wanting a lighter meal and I would like to make the meal entirely gluten-free. I like the change of pace. New venue. New menu. I’m all for tradition (I’d work for Hallmark if I could), but I think we were stuck in a rut. Time to create new memories.

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I’ll admit—the ideal of hosting two full Thanksgiving meals within one week does make me anxious. That’s two (slightly different) menus, two turkeys to brine and cook, many pies to bake…  but I’m not nearly as stressed as I would have been if I’d been doing this last year. I must be daft or something, considering I’ve actually planned and prepared very little for either event, but I’m slowly learning that this is part of the joy! What’s the point in stressing out over making everything perfect? It’s not going to be how I could imagine it in my ideal, but if I go in without preconceptions, I always have a wonderful time and everything works out. Who cares if the turkey is dry or the dishes don’t match? If I worry about that, it will detract my attention from the people I love, and the gathering of loved ones is the point, my friends.

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See you on the other side!

Chai Cupcakes

I consider cooking and baking to be something of an art. Naturally, I am often asked why I got an art degree and what am I doing with it now (or why I’m “not using my degree”). I tell them exactly what happened. In my second-to-last semester of college I essentially discovered my love of cooking and baking. I found it to be a creative outlet in a very practical form (and I am a very practical person. Win-win!). What am I doing with my degree now?

I write, design, and photograph for this blog, for one.

I also experiment with things like… gluten free chai cupcakes.

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Part of being an artist involves being resourceful. Know what is available to you and turn what you have into something beautiful. A sculptor may not have access to the finest marble, but he may have clay, an old cookie jar, and some branches. Instead of bemoaning how he can’t use marble, the artist will turn what he has into something that, in the end, perfectly fits the ingredients of which it is made. One who views the sculpture would never know that what is displayed before them was anything other than the artist’s perfect, initial intention.

But that is never the case, is it? I started off drawing and painting in photorealism. What I created had to look EXACTLY like the original. But one thing that school, and time, taught me is that sometimes it is better to loosen the grip and allow the creative flow to take over. Now when I create, I don’t have exacting expectations of how my project will turn out. I instead take an idea, set it in motion, and see where it leads me.

During my elimination diet several months ago, I did my fair share of whining about my restrictive diet. But eventually I realized that it was far healthier (and tastier) to see this “obstacle” as more of a challenge. I began learning the complexity of gluten-free baking. I’d already become well-seasoned in conventional, low-calorie, and vegan baking, and I decided to use my diet change as an excuse to broaden my culinary horizons, if you will. A new frontier. I picked up my whisk and began to play.

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Very quickly I noticed how tricky gluten free baking could be. I also learned how overly-complicated many gluten-free recipes are. In my quest toward “real food” eating, how could I justify ingredients such as gums and pure starches making permanent residence in my baking pantry? I understand their place, and I have them sitting in my pantry right now, but these ingredients are not cheap, nutritious, or very easily accessible. But for some reason, every gluten free recipe I found seemed to rely on them. Since “gluten-free” is a big part of my current diet vocabulary, it can be understood why I would have such ingredients on hand. And they do come in handy! But then I had a realization. What about those who wish to bake for their gluten free friends and family? Is it fair to expect them to spend $50 on a cart-load of gluten free flours, starches, and gums just to have on hand when their gluten-free guest visits? How can I make gluten free baked goods simple, effective, accessible, and delicious? How can I relieve the anxiety surrounding gluten free baking? How can I make gluten free baking as fun and seemingly effortless as conventional baking?

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Well, I’m not there yet. There is still much to learn, and I’m by no means an expert. But I’m experimenting and discovering along the way what happens when you mix two or three colors, or ingredients, together.

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Chai Cupcakes
Adapted from Alton Brown’s Chiffon Cupcakes

I spent many an hour trying out recipes, adjusting ingredients, baking disasters, eating rogue unfrosted cakes, researching baking science, running out of ingredients, running to the store for more ingredients, trying, failing, trailing, flying (what?), and eventually…success on the fifth attempt. Through it all I found that yes, it is possible to get a moist, delicate yet structured, cupcake, sans gluten, gums, pure starches, or other strange texturizers. But it’s also not necessarily fool-proof or forgiving. After my third try, I finally secured my ideal pastry flour ratio (2:2:1 sorghum/brown rice/flaxseed) and decided that a recipe with whipped egg whites folded in for structure would be ideal.

I made it my personal mission not to give you cupcakes that were good for being gluten free. I didn’t want to show you cupcakes that were too dense, too gummy, too crusty, too cratered, too loose, etc. etc. and try to cover up the mess with frosting and say, “oh well. they’re gluten free.” No. Gluten or no gluten. These are some dang good cupcakes.

  • 5 1/4 ounces gluten free whole grain pastry flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp chai spice mix **
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 6 ounces brown sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

*Gluten Free Pastry Flour—It’s a 2/2/1 ratio of sorghum flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Sorghum Flour)/brown rice flour (Arrowhead Mills)/ground flaxseed (Arrowhead Mills, ground at home), measured by weight.

**6 parts cinnamon, 6 parts cardamom, 2 parts ginger, 1 part cloves, 1 part nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and chai spice mix.

Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks together with 5 ounces of the flour for several minutes until creamy and smooth. Then add the water, coconut oil, and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Then slowly add the flour mixture, beating well as you add in the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl (this is where having both a stand mixer and a hand mixer come in handy), whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar into a frenzy. When foamy, add the last 1 oz of brown sugar and mix until firm peaks form.

Gently fold the egg white foam into the rest of the batter in three parts, being careful not to overmix and destroy the air bubbles in the egg white foam.

Portion out into muffins tins, filling most the way full (since most the structure comes from the egg white foam, they really won’t rise much). Or you could use greased mugs! Your choice.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

For frosting, I tried several different options.

I initially tried this recipe for chai buttercream, but I honestly found it too heavy and cloyingly sweet for such a subtle cupcake.

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Personally, I found that I preferred a simple whipped cream adornment with just a sprinkle of leftover chai spice on top. It seems to harken more the idea of a chai latte, don’t you think?

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets. See you again next week!

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Orange-Cranberry Scones, Gluten-Free!

Welcome to this week’s edition of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets!

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I started this week with an idea of making a cranberry-pear tart. Which I attempted. And while it was good, it wasn’t… finished. But then I woke up yesterday morning no longer inspired by a tart. Instead, I wanted to make muffins! No. Muffins are too breakfast-y. Scones? Yes! Scones! Yes, they are a breakfast food, but they also double as a sweet treat, especially drizzled in sweet vanilla icing! In fact, you can serve these for Christmas morning for your extended family, AND make some for a Christmas potluck!

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I love the combination of cranberry and orange. Sweet, tart, citrusy, fresh, and fruity. Perfect for the holidays!

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Gluten Free Orange-Cranberry Scones
Adapted from All Recipes

400 grams (roughly four cups) gluten-free flour mixture of your choice (I use a 2:2:1—by weight—ratio of GF oats, brown rice, and flaxseed flours)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled and diced
1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1 grated zest of one orange
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup orange juice
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

In a large bowl combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt with a whisk. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until you achieve a fine meal throughout. Stir in the chopped cranberries and orange zest.

In a separate, small bowl, mix together the half-and-half, orange jusice, and egg until well mixed.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

Dollop the batter into to two circular mounds on a greased sheet pan. Using a wet knife, “cut” the batter into wedges.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and firm.

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Serve with orange juice or a nice steaming mug of coffee! Smile

All Hallow’s Weekend

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I had an action-packed weekend!

 

On Friday Edgar and I attended a costume party at some friends’ house. It has become a sort of tradition!

I brought Halloween Candy Bark (like peppermint bark, but with bittersweet chocolate, butterfinger, snickers, peanut M&Ms, peanuts, and butterscotch drizzle). It was devoured!

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The costumes were hilarious! David was sort of forced into dressing as the Mad Hatter, but Cody dressed as a woman completely by his own accord!

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Chris (mobster) and JennyBeth (samurai princess) involved in a brawl.

Would you say that JennyBeth brought a knife to a gun fight? Or does wielding a samurai sword somehow trump small artillery?

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I dressed as Rita Hayworth. I really wish I’d gotten a picture while my hair actually looked Rita-ish. I got a lot of Jessica Rabbit references. I did end up changing into my spare set of clothes I brought with me shortly after this photo was taken. I learned from last year!

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The next day, Edgar, Justin, Aubrey, Kris, and I all visited the Corn Maze in Shallowater!

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None of us had ever been to a corn maze. The maze had these clue checkpoint things. At the starting line, you could pick from a variety of categories that have quiz questions that lead you either the right direction when you get to these checkpoints…or the wrong way if you get the questions wrong! We also had the option of carrying a map. But we’re ruthless vagabonds. We’re too awesome for maps! (I did, however, grab the Halloween and Texas History category quiz cards. I thought they were fun!)

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It looked like this for roughly the first half of the maze. Then it got dark and the real fun began!

At one point in the dark, most our group was sort of split into several areas, but we easily found each other. I mean, Justin is is 6’5” and the only white man there with an impressive afro. And Kris was turning the maze into a musical, singing selections from his choir performance at mezzo-forte volume. It didn’t take long before other parties fluttering around the maze started singing various songs as well…

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As a side note, I’ll say that this past weekend, I also harvested carrots from my garden! Plus several pumpkins! I’ll show them in a bit…

 

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On Halloween night, I made tamales! It seems to be a bit of a tradition as well. Last year I made Alton Brown’s recipe for turkey tamales. They were good, but they weren’t the warm, spicy tamales we’re used to. So this year I made his Hot Tamales recipe using masa harina and bacon grease in the masa dough instead of cornmeal and lard. Winking smile They turned out fantastic!

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One of the things that was on our bucket list for this season was to carve pumpkins. Neither Edgar nor I had ever carved pumpkins in our lives! So I pulled out my old art supplies from college days and grabbed two of the pumpkins we harvested and went to town!

 

I got a little complicated with my fall leaf patterns, while Edgar went with a fairly standard Jack O’Lantern.

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We lit them with Christmas lights since it was far too windy for candles!

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I will find a use for those ugly Halloween lights, dangit!

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Inside, we enjoyed a nice fire, apple cider, and the tamales in between feeding hungry trick-or-treaters loads of candy (Justin actually had to run to the store to buy more candy because we ran out prematurely!!)

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The leftover tamales I am now eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Love tamale season! Winking smile

All in all, even though it was a rather action-packed weekend. It was more laid back than I anticipated, which I really loved. I’m finding that I enjoy things more when my agenda isn’t too structured or overfilled. Simple celebrations really are better sometimes. Sometimes we need to step back and realize that many of these little “details” are just distractions from the people you’re trying to spend time with.Smile

 

How was your holiday weekend? Have you ever carved pumpkins or visited a corn maze?

Aztec Brownies

Living in Texas, Christmas often makes me think of…Mexican food. Yep. Not ham. Not green bean casserole. Not sweet potato pie. Mexican food.

Growing up it was not unusual to go to a Christmas party and be served tamales. I know many people who opt for a Mexican feast on Christmas day, rather than ham, dressing, and all the fixin’s. And no, these people are not of hispanic descent!

It’s a regional thing. Mexican cuisine is a major contributor to the overall Texan culture. And this love of comforting Southwestern cuisine is what led me to Kakawa, an artisan chocolate house, this past August in Santa Fe. And while I was there I tasted and was entranced by the “Aztec Brownie,” which is a gluten free variety that included spices, chilies, and a combination of authentic Mesoamerican flours. I thought the combination of whole food ingredients they used was very creative and inspired me to make a variety of mine own!

Well let me tell you, there is something of a trick to making something really good with a just a few quality ingredients. Technique is key. And technique is the reason I’m posting this week’s 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets edition so late. I kept failing on this! Then I realized it was my technique that was all wrong. So several trials, tribulations, and trips to the grocery store later, I finally have a really amazing recipe for you all.

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What you get from this recipe is a dense, fudge-like, rich brownie that isn’t too ridiculously sweet, but leaves you with a lingering tickle of chile and spice on your tongue. No, it is not “hot” and it is gentle on even sensitive palettes. The combination of spice and heat work very well mixed with this deep chocolate. Just try it!

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Aztec Brownie
Inspired by Kakawa

Makes 8-12 brownies

4 ounces butter
8 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 ounces agave nectar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 ounces almond milk
1.5 ounces almond meal/flour *
1 ounce blue corn meal
1/2 ounce quinoa flour **
1/2 ounce millet flour ***
1/2 ounce amaranth flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ancho chile powder ****
1/2 tsp ground arbol chile powder
4 tbsp cocoa nibs, divided (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

In a double-broiler (or a glass bowl sitting on top of a pot of simmering water), melt butter over medium heat. Once melted (don’t rush this), add the chocolate pieces and stir until just melted. Do NOT turn up the heat. Allow it to take as much time as it needs. Once melted, take the chocolate off the heat and add in the agave nectar, eggs, vanilla, and almond milk.

In a separate, medium sized bowl, combine the flours, cinnamon, allspice, and chile powders together and mix thoroughly.

Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients and stir well. Fold in half the cocoa nibs.

Pour the batter into a baking pan (11×7 or 10×10 may work best). Sprinkle the remaining cocoa nibs on top of the batter and lightly press them in. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely. Then cut into 2-inch square servings.

Tastes amazing served with cold homemade almond milk. Smile

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* I like to make my own almond milk, and I repurpose the leftover grounds into almond meal/flour by dehydrating them in the oven for several hours at the lowest temp possible with the oven door ajar and quickly grinding them finer in a coffee grinder. Worked like a charm in this recipe!

** I grind quinoa in my coffee grinder, as I cannot find quinoa flour within an hour of my house. Plus, it’s cheaper.

*** You may use any combination of flours you have on hand, as long as you substitute one-for-one BY WEIGHT. The original Kakawa recipe contained mesquite flour, which I do not own, so I omitted it and used more of a different flour. I ground my quinoa, millet, and amaranth in my coffee grinder I dedicate exclusively to spices, grains, and chilies.

**** I’m sure somewhere you can find distinct “ancho chile powder,” but I actually buy dry ancho chilies, roast them a few minutes in a hot oven, pour out the seeds, and grind them in my coffee grinder. Same for arbol chilies. And for the love of all that is holy, do NOT use “chili powder!” That stuff has onions, garlic, and mystery ingredients in there that you do not want in your brownies!

Also, check out the other great recipes for this week’s blog hop!

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