The family you adopt along the way

 

Today I was able to spend a pleasant evening with a dear friend and her sweet family.

 

I haven’t seen Sarah since my wedding—almost two years ago. She was one of my very first friends when I came to college, and she became one of the closest and dearest friends I’ve ever had.

Sarah has spent the last two and a half years living in South Carolina with her husband and in that time she gave birth to Abbie, who is a sweet little miracle in so many ways. Her husband, Sean, received orders to be stationed in California, so the three of them packed up and embarked on a long trip through the southern United States, visiting family and friends along the way.

Tonight we met at a restaurant we absolutely loved during our college days—Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse. For most of us, this is our first (and for some—only!) experience with a hibachi-style Japanese restaurant!

 

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But the real experience is in the time shared with old friends.

We spent several hours reflecting on how much Plainview has changed since we each moved here years back, as well as sharing our new adventures in marriage, kids, careers, and health diagnoses.

I remember discussing marriage with Sarah in our dorm suite in 2007. She used to predict that she would be the last in our group of friends to marry. She is now a military wife and stay-at-home mom to little Abbie. She was the second in our group to marry!

Sarah and JennyBeth. 2007

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Sarah and JennyBeth. 2011

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Sarah and me. 2007

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Sarah and me. 2011

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I honestly really love the changes we have all experienced. Four years ago our biggest concerns were petty interpersonal drama, insecurity, grades, college finances, homework, annoyances with school rules.

 

Mariah, Edgar, me, Greg, and JennyBeth. 2006

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Today we have things more… beautiful and eternal on our minds.

 

Mariah. 2011

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This is the true test of friendship, I think. This is what I looked forward to when I came to college—the times I would be able to spend with my college friends years after we graduated.

It goes to show how no matter how far away we travel, how long we have to go between visits, we are always in each other’s minds and hearts, mourning together in our sorrows, and rejoicing together in each other’s lives, loving every change along the way, as family.

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No Tricks to make these Treats!

 

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Can you believe it’s only one week to Halloween??

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love Halloween! And I’m pretty sure I love it more every year!

As a kid, Halloween served as a day where I was permitted to prance around in abnormal garb and eat copious amounts of candy. Today, it’s all that and more! But now that I’m older and savvier in the kitchen, I’m even more excited to make my own Halloween treats!

Before today, I’ve never had a popcorn ball in my life. Is that weird? I’ve never been crazy about popcorn—unless it’s covered in sugar! I always liked caramel corn.

This is something like caramel corn. But in spherical form and with hints of chocolate and peanut butter. I first thought that anything that required the use of a candy thermometer would be fussy, time-consuming, and far from fail-proof, but I was wrong. This was simple and fairy quick to make!

 

I used Alton Brown’s recipe for Popcorn Balls, but I adjusted some of the ingredients. Instead of corn syrup I used light agave nectar, and instead of cocoa nibs I used mini chocolate chips and peanut butter chips! I also used olive oil instead of peanut oil and butter.

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I started off making a normal batch of popcorn (according to the Alton Brown recipe), sans butter. Actually, I started off putting all the popcorn ingredients in a bowl, turning on the stove, and having Edgar take over because I just can’t handle popcorn. Lame.

Afterwards I put popped popcorn, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips together in a large bowl.

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Hehe… Maggie is never far away when I’m cooking.

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Next, I mixed the agave nectar, molasses, sugar, salt, vanilla, and water together in a large pot and allowed it to boil for two minutes with the lid on. Then I took off the lid and added the candy thermometer.

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I let the mixture do its thang over medium heat until the candy thermometer reached 250 degrees.

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Then I poured the sweet tar immediately into the bowl of popcorn + candy and mixed with all my might!

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When thoroughly mixed and cool enough to touch, I oiled my hands and formed balls of the popcorn mixture and placed on a sheet to cool.

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After allowing to cool for about two hours, they are ready to eat!

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See here for original recipe

 

I really look forward to trying more Halloween treats this week! In fact, I expect my candy thermometer is going to get a workout this season!

 

Have you ever eaten popcorn balls?

What’s your favorite Halloween treat?

Nutella Cookies!

Sorry this is a day late for my weekly Thursday editions of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets, but I was sick with the plague on Wednesday and Thursday, but today I am better and I have a real treat for you!

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This recipe takes the flourless peanut butter cookie to a whole new level! These are flourless Nutella cookies! And they are so simple to make!

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Toss all the ingredients in a bowl…

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…stir well…

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Portion out onto a cookie sheet and smoosh with a fork al la peanut butter cookie.

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And bake!

Allow to cool and enjoy!

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I also love that because they are flourless, they are naturally gluten-free! My tummy thanks me tremendously! Smile

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Flourless Nutella Cookies
Recipe from St Petersburg Times

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, like Nutella (you could use Justin’s brand of chocolate hazelnut butter, but it probably wouldn’t be as sweet)
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (I’ve used “peanut butter spread” types like Peter Pan. OMG. Stay away unless you want fail cookies that taste totally off!)
1 heaping tablespoon natural cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Then portion out dough into 1 tbsp-size balls and place on a cookie sheet. Mash lightly with the prongs of a fork in a criss-cross fashion. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake! You want them to still be soft when you take them out, because they will set outside the oven.

Allow to cool/set.

Enjoy!

Makes about two dozen cookies

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Dustpocolypse

 

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when your area goes a full year with less than five inches of rain, this video (shot yesterday. not by me) will give you a little taste (albeit a little gritty. Winking smile )

 

12 Weeks of Christmas Treats: Gingerbread Truffles

This recipe requires a little somethin’ special.

So turn on some Christmas music (October, Schmocktober).

Put on a frilly apron (heels optional).

Pour yourself a glass of wine? tea? coffee? cider? any choice beverage.

Pretend it’s cold outside. (It’s 80 degrees here)

And light the fire (or a candle) if it really is!

This recipe, while remarkable and completely delicious in its own right, loves a little ambiance.

And while Christmas may still be a little more than two months away, you can consider this practice for a low-stress, high-love holiday season.

Friends, we’re making gingerbread cookie dough truffles.

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I first made “cookie dough bites” about a year ago. My original recipes were basically a traditional cookie dough recipe with a few changes to make them safe to eat raw and then refrigerated until firm. This wasn’t a problem until I made a chocolate chip variety and they got really soft sitting in the warm dining room at a Christmas party. And shuffling them back and forth from the fridge to keep the right texture was far too much of a hassle.

So I changed up my recipe! Instead of depending on butter to be the stabilizer, I used dates!

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I played around with the food processor until I found the combination of ingredients I liked.

And drizzled them with sweet icing!

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Unlike the butter-based varieties, these stay at the same relative texture at room temperature. Sure, they do firm in the fridge, but they do not become the rocks that the butter kind did, nor do they become sloppy and droopy in a warm room. And this is a major plus, because who wants to babysit the dough balls and the fridge during a party? No one!

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Another plus for these is that despite being drizzled in icing, these are not cloyingly sweet like the original cookie dough recipe. I think they have the right balance of spice, sweet, crunch, and chew without leaving you with a toothache. Smile

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Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookie Dough Truffles

Makes 20 truffles

12 pitted dates
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (or other coarse sugar)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp blackstrap molasses
1 tsp vanilla

Grind the oats as best you can in a food processor, blender, or coffee grinder and pour it into a separate bowl. Set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the pecans until you get a coarse meal, but be careful not to blend is so much that it turns into pecan butter. That’s another show! Winking smile Add the pecan meal to the bowl with the oat flour.

In the food processor, chop the dates as finely as possible. Then add the oats, flax, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and salt and process until well-incorporated. It will look pretty dry.

Add the molasses and vanilla and process again until well mixed. The mixture should be a little sticky but not wet. If you squeeze a bit of “dough” in your grip, it should stick together without leaving a molasses-y streak all over your palm.

Using a disher or a spoon, roll the mixture into 1/2-ounce balls and line on parchment paper. Can be enjoyed at room temperature or chilled! Or drizzled in icing!!

Simple Icing

1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk-type drink of your preference (I used unsweetened plain coconut milk)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Mix the vanilla and “milk” until well combined. Gradually mix in the sifted powdered sugar until smooth. This will take time. And don’t forget to sift or you’ll get clumps that look like curdled milk. Yum.

Check out the other awesome recipes for this week’s blog hop!


What is your favorite flavor of cookie?

Apple Inspirations

Do you ever feel too inspired?

For the past several weeks I’ve found myself exponentially more inspired every day. To read. To paint. To cook. To write. To dance. To decorate. To travel. To love… To sleep.

I find my synapses firing so rapidly that I can’t really sit and formulate any particular thought. My thoughts are a runaway stream of consciousness.

So forgive me if my writing seems disjointed or rudimentary.

But I do manage to find some success in the madness.

One of my inspirations has been this tart.

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It was meant to harken the images of New England in the fall. Apple, pecans, maple, and oats… Colonial style inns, headless horsemen, and ghost stories…

Perfect for October, right?

I also wanted something that I could eat for breakfast and feel good about. Nothing too sweet.  But perfectly satisfying. I want to wake up, eat a piece with a cup of tea and feel like it’s a special morning. Every day.

Or at least until the tart is gone.

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I first tried this recipe simply. Just the apples and brie with the sweetness and warmth from the maple syrup and spices. But I felt like it was missing another dimension.

So I tossed in some rosemary…

and it became perfect.

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Apple-Brie Tart with Oatmeal-Pecan Crust
Feeds 4-6

For the filling
2 medium-large apples
2 oz brie (I used goat brie)
2 tbsp real maple syrup (grade B if you can find it!)
1/8 tsp each ground clove and fresh grated nutmeg
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary

For the crust
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup butter, diced small, and chilled very cold
1/2 cup oat flour (I pre-measured a 1/2 cup of oats and ground them in my old coffee grinder)
1/4 cup pecans
1 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tart pan.

In a food processor, combine the oats, butter, oat flour, pecans, and sugar. Process until you have a fine meal that will hold together if you squeeze a bit in your hand.

Press the “dough” into the tart pan. Try to cover as much of the bottom and sides of the pan as possible.

Prick the dough with a fork and bake the crust for 12-15 minutes. This is called blind-baking, since there is no filling in it right now.

Meanwhile, slice the apples using a mandolin slicer, a food processor with a slicing blade, or fantastic hand-eye coordination with a knife. You want each piece as thin and evenly-cut as possible.

In a separate small bowl or saucer, combine maple syrup, clove, and nutmeg. Dip each apple slice into the syrup and drain off any excess. Place each apple slice in the crust in an even layer covering the bottom of the crust. Repeat with 1-2 more rows, or however many apple slices you have left.

Cut the brie into small chunks, preferably also evenly cut widths. Lay over top of the apple. Sprinkle with rosemary.

Bake until crust is golden, apples are crinkled, and cheese is melted.

Serve alongside coffee, raspberry tea, or apple cider. Winking smile

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What are your plans for this fall? Any fun recipes or activities?

On an unrelated note, who’s going to FoodBuzz?! I may or may not be. If I can figure out lodging arrangements, I have a pretty good chance of being there!

11 Weeks Left: Get your swirl on!

It’s Thursday again! That means it is time for another installment of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets!

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This week, I moved away from the cookies and made something extra special.

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The idea for this came out of a happy mistake. Last January I was baking and selling cupcakes for a fundraiser, and one of my flavors was red velvet. Well, one day I was testing a red velvet recipe and I accidentally used baking powder instead of baking soda. The result was an dense, fudgy, red velvet brownie.

I never served those to the public. I’m not sure they ever left our kitchen. They were swallowed practically whole with its equal weight in cream cheese frosting. But they have never been made since.

But just the other day I asked Edgar what his favorite dessert I ever made was.

“Those red velvet cupcakes you messed up on.”

Er. What.

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I resolved not to purposely repeat my mishap in hopes of more brownie-ish goodness. Instead, I was inspired to try something new with this week’s treat!

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies!

Most the recipes I found for this varied very little between them, but I took the advice of several different commenters on the original recipe I tweaked it to my liking. I also used spelt flour because I can’t leave well enough alone.

The best part is swirling!

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Well, not really. The best part is eating. Fresh out of the oven, these feel lighter than air in the mouth, but if you let them completely chill in the fridge, they become rich, fudgy, and the red velvet flavor really comes through!

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Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies
Adapted from Sonny Anderson

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp red food coloring (Um. I ran out and didn’t have enough to really get a rich red. But it still worked. Used as much as you want!)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (you use white distilled or apple cider vinegar if you wanted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, pour in a separate, medium-sized mixing bowl. Add sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring, and vinegar, stirring after each addition. In a separate, small bowl, beat the eggs with a fork lightly. Then mix the eggs into the batter. Mix well.

Gently fold in the flour. Do not overmix.

Pour batter into baking pan, but try to reserve about 1/4 cup of the batter for later.

In a mixer, blend the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the pan on top of the red velvet layer and smooth.

Take the reserved batter and dollop on top of the cream cheese layer. It doesn’t have to look pretty.

Take a knife and hold it vertically, point-down into the batter and swirl. Have fun with it! But don’t go nuts or the top will look more pink than marbled. Less is more!

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until brownie and cream cheese are firm and edges start to lightly brown.

Let cool completely before cutting.

In fact, let chill completely before eating. Your patience will be rewarded. Winking smile

In the meantime, check out the other great recipes for this week’s episode of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets!

Fight Like a Girl

This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Lubbock Race for the Cure.

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I’ve said before that I don’t like running, but I do enjoy 5K races. And of all the 5Ks I’ve “run” (Okay… like.. 4), this one was easily my favorite.

The atmosphere of hundreds and thousands of people all gathering together in shades of pink, with smiles, with pride, with signs on their backs stating the name and/or relationship they have with the “1 in 8” they are running for…

“I’m running in celebration of the best grandma in the world!”

“I’m running in memory of my sister…”

 

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On Saturday we ran/jogged/walked/congregated for something bigger than burning calories. There wasn’t an attitude of athletic competition. It was about coming together for the greater good. It was about raising money for the cure as well as implementing those habits that help one heal. There were many survivors at the race. There were many who will face cancer themselves someday.

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I didn’t wear a sign because I didn’t see that particular table in the registration room (oops). But if I had, it would read, “I’m running in celebration of my super-mom, Linda Sanders!”

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of last year. Several months later, after a double mastectomy, she became a cancer survivor. She has since changed her life and her health for the better.

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My mom with part of her surgical team

She has also documented her cancer journey in a series of photographs, which she has presented to various audiences in hospitals and otherwise.

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As long as I’ve known my mom (hah!) she’s always been an adamant about patient advocacy. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she wasn’t given many options, but she wasn’t satisfied with what she was told. She did her research and found a doctor who would perform a different operation—one that wasn’t widely performed. She had to travel to San Antonio (roughly five hour drive) for her surgeries and doctors visits, but she got what she wanted. And she is now cancer free.

I may also say that I was running for myself.

Yesterday I was officially diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). While this endocrine disorder itself is not that dangerous, ignoring it (and the lifestyle habits that exacerbate it) could cause a snowball effect of other more serious health problems, such as infertility, diabetes, heart disease, and different cancers. I am blessed because my healthy habits over the past two years have reduced my symptoms to the point where I am a mild case. I visited my OBGYN for my annual checkup and presented my symptoms and they were brushed off as ‘nothing’. I wasn’t satisfied. I visited a holistic practitioner who strongly suggested that I may have PCOS (which I doubted—until I did my research and compared it with my own symptoms and medical history). I went back to my OBGYN insisting that I be screened for it. Turns out my holistic doctor was right!

I am not afraid of PCOS, cancer, diabetes, or any other malady of the body. There is no reason for me to feel anything less than empowered by it! My mom didn’t shrink and shrivel when she was diagnosed with cancer. She did something about it! She got rid of the bugger and has been doing what she can in order to prevent cancer from returning! She has been spreading awareness of both breast cancer itself and being your own health advocate. She effectively fights not only for herself but for her family, friends, and strangers she meets on Facebook. Winking smile

I now fight a similar fight. Maybe not as presently dangerous, but a threat nonetheless. In a way, I fight for stability. I fight for balance. I fight for awareness. Simply being aware of my PCOS helps me in the future. It helps me be more conscious of how food, exercise, and stress affect me. It helps me make others aware. PCOS affects about 10% of women of childbearing age and is the most common cause of subfertility/infertility in women in the United States. It is often a precursor to heart disease and diabetes, and if left ignored can also lead to endometriosis, uterine cancer, and to some extent (in the case of estrogen dominance, which occurs frequently with PCOS patients, including myself) breast cancer.

We fight for the future. That way we can show others that illness can be reversed, prevented, and controlled. We don’t have to be crippled by it. It cannot and should not get in the way of living a full, happy, and loving life.

 

Who do you fight for?

Twelve Weeks of Christmas Cookies

Welcome to the 12 weeks of Christmas Cookies! I know, it’s not even October yet. But it’s just about 12 weeks until Christmas, can you believe it?

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The 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies is an annual blog hop series hosted by (this year) by Brenda at Meal Planning Magic, and at last count about 25 other bloggers are participating this this year’s series!

Every Thursday for the next twelve weeks, all we bloggers who have thrown our hats into the ring will share a new cookie/bar/brownie recipe for the quickly approaching holiday season! I understand today’s Friday and not Thursday, but better late than never, right? Winking smile

 

For this week’s installment, I’ve built upon the apple theme for this week and made Oatmeal-Apple Cookies!

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These cookies are granola bar meets apple pie meets cookie! And they’re vegan and gluten-free to boot! A tasty treat you can feel good about! And this recipe is perfect for the entire fall+Christmas season, so don’t feel like you have to wait!

 

Oatmeal-Apple Cookies (Vegan + Gluten Free!)

Adapted from Food.com

3/4 cup coconut oil (at room temperature)
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 “flax egg” (1 tbsp flaxseeds, ground, mixed with 3 tbsp hot water, and set aside)
1/4 cup rice milk (or whatever milk-type drink you prefer)
1.5 tsp vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste!)
100 g (roughly 1 cup) oat flour (I use an old coffee grinder to grind organic oats because I tolerate them better than gluten-free oats, but non-GF oats are heavily contaminated with gluten, so if you’re on a strict GF diet, use the certified gluten-free oats)
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg (the pre-ground nutmeg tastes and smells NOTHING like actual nutmeg! If you don’t want to use a whole nutmeg and grate it yourself, use pre-ground mace. It smells and tastes exactly like fresh nutmeg)
3 cups oats (I used organic rolled oats, but if you are on a strict GF diet, go for certified gluten-free)
1 cup finely diced apple

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, beat the coconut oil (which is more like a soft butter at room temperature) for about 10 seconds. Then add the sugar and mix that for about 10 seconds. Then add the “flax egg,” rice milk, and vanilla. Mix for an additional 20-30 seconds.

In a separate, medium-sized bowl, combine the oat flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mix until well incorporated. You will probably need to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl on occasion.

Using a spoon or spatula, fold in the oats and finely diced apple into the batter.

Spoon roughly two-tablespoon-sized mounds onto a cookie sheet, leaving about two inches between mounds. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown and the cookies are moderately firm.

Enjoy!

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Um… BRB.

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