Chocolate, Dessert, Feeding Babies, Gluten Free, Snack

CHOCOLATE CRISPY SUNFLOWER BUTTER HEARTS

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I love when Curran brings crafts home from preschool. I do not hang them or keep them, but I love that someone else is doing crafts and artsy things with him so I don't have to. I don't like junk or tchotchkes and I suppose crafts feel like a waste of materials and money. No offense, personal opinion, and I appreciate that other people love them but one cannot be good at all of the things. HOWEVER. My heart is not completely made of stone and I love my children so I went to Michaels (a store specifically for crafty people) last week to pick up Valentines supplies. Cards, stickers, glitter hearts, paint, heart cookie cutters, we're going for it. I really wanted to buy that $4 box of pre-made Minion cards, staple a bag of mini pretzels to it and call it done but my parents always made Valentines really special for my sister and I, so I'm going to do crafts for a minute in the spirit of family tradition. My (crafty) mom still sends us homemade Valentines. Where I do fail them in enthusiasm for crafts, I make up in cooking projects. They like to bake because they've caught on to the outcome. These sunflower butter hearts fit within all the allergy rules at preschool and my kids think cookie cutters are magical. They make a mess and push each other and the whole of it is harder and slower, but I think that is the refinement happening in me at this stage of parenting. Everything is harder with them. It just is, and when I quit fighting it and resign to things like Cleo never sleeping in the car no matter how far the drive or Curran being highly sensitive and crying easily, I give up the loosing battle for control. Instead of trying to fix it or solve it, for their sake or mine, I'm better for all of us. I'll be damned if they look back and think I didn't let them in on being in the kitchen, a place I love, because it made it harder and slower for me. Our food will be our crafts if that's how I need to do it. 

So. I applaud you if you have mini bags of pretzels or conversation hearts, but if you're up for a pretty simple, two dish cooking project, these could not be easier.

/// EVENT! ///

Hugh and I are hosting a food photography workshop in Seattle, WA on April 28+29. Tickets and a few more notes are available on the shop page. This will be our third workshop at Aran's beautiful studio and the whole experience is so refreshing for us and what we do for work. Hugh will go over light and composition and editing and I'll jump in for some styling and prep food with Aran and we get to bounce ideas off each other and learn how to be better at our craft. Basic understanding of your camera is recommended but you could just use your phone too, it doesn't really matter. We'd love you to come. Feel free to contact me with any questions at all. 

CHOCOLATE CRISPY SUNFLOWER BUTTER HEARTS // Makes 12ish

Because I know someone is thinking, "can I use all maple?", the answer is not really. Brown rice syrup is thicker and sets better than maple. It's the sweetener used in most packaged protein bars. I cut it here because I like the flavor of maple better and I wanted the hearts to be a little more tender. In short, you can go all brown rice syrup for the liquid sweetener yield, but not completely maple. They sell it at all health food stores, some conventional grocery stores or more conveniently, albeit more expensive, here
These are mildly chocolatey. If you want more, add a generous handful of chocolate chips to the mixture. 

1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup sunflower butter
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup rice crisp cereal
1 cup quick cooking oats*

* the quick cooking ones have a softer texture. The old fashioned sort will work, but have a bit of a raw taste in context as they're thicker. I'd suggest pulsing them in a blender or food processor if you go this route. 

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Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper. 

In a large saucepan, warm the rice syrup and maple. Add the sunflower butter and coconut oil and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and let it cool a moment. Add the salt, cocoa powder, rice cereal and oats. Stir to mix. 
Tip the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth down the top with damp hands. The mixture will be sticky, damp hands will help. 
Let it set in the fridge for a couple hours before cutting them into squares or using a cookie cutter for shapes. 
They are best kept in the fridge, and will keep covered for 3-5 days. 

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Breakfast, Gluten Free, Snack

NUT'NOLA

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Months ago, I may have mentioned that Hugh was doing the ketogenic diet? Surely you've heard of it. Most of the cookbooks at my local Costco are keto books so you know it's mainstream. He humored me and went off it for the holidays and is back to it these days. I refuse to make a third version of whatever I'm cooking, but I will compromise. How saintly of me, right? I have my current granola recipe pretty nailed down, but I gave it a spin with less sweetener and replaced the oats with more nuts. It replaces the carbohydrates with more fat, so I don't know where your nutrition paradigms lie, but it tastes good either way. You can use this as a topping for plain yogurt, oatmeal, as a snack or I used it as a crunchy bit for a green salad with arugula, red onion, and roasted butternut chunks and thought it worked perfect. I made a few notes below on seasoning options. 

NUT'NOLA // Makes about 5 cups

You can find the coconut flakes (the wide shards, not the same as shredded coconut) at Trader Joes, larger conventional grocery stores or Amazon. The kind of nut isn't as important as the yield. Swap in pecans or macadamia nuts, whatever you prefer. We use this as a breakfast sort of deal, if you want a more savory route, a dash of cayenne and some fresh chopped rosemary is a great swap, or that Everything But The Bagel seasoning from Trader Joes is pretty amazing here too, especially if you want to use these as a crunchy salad topper. 

2 Tbsp. coconut oil, warmed
1/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 tsp. sea salt
heaping 1/2 tsp. cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

1 cup raw whole almonds
1 cup raw whole cashews
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp. raw sesame seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes/chips

Preheat the oven to 325' and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
In a large mixing bowl, combine the warmed coconut oil, maple, salt and cinnamon/spice. Stir to combine. 
Give the almonds, cashews and walnuts a rough chop. Add them to the maple mixture along with the pumpkin seeds, sesame and coconut flakes. Stir everything to coat. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the baking sheet and pop in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, bake another 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cool completely. The nuts will crisp up as they cool. Store in an airtight container for a couple weeks. 

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Fall, Gluten Free, Winter, Side

CREAMY BAKED BRUSSELS

He made me cry the first day I got there. I had been on crowded planes with long layovers, crossed time changes and spent the night in some run down hostel with way too much luggage to be schlepping between all modes of public transportation that take you between small Italian towns. I was tired and emotional and I run shy-ish/self-conscious in meeting new people so when George was yelling at me over how stupid it was to be a vegetarian, I cried right there at the table. 

After I graduated college, I made up my own internship of sorts to work at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy. It was run by a couple who used to own an Italian restaurant in my hometown. Lucy, the wife, had a full Italian mother but she lived most of her life in America. Lucy and George owned the place. She was a super friendly, petite, hard working, full of energy, warm and spunky woman. George was there for her. He was along for her golden years dream project and drug his feet and rolled his eyes often along the way. He was a retired surgeon; very smart and attracted to controversial conversations. He hated waste, he hated it before it was part of the green movement to hate waste, and although he scared me most of the time I lived there, I am a more careful consumer because of his staunch stance on the issue. A solid fellow, a great cook, he grew up in Argentina and must have told me three dozen times that his mother was in her late 90's and very healthy from a diet of mostly meat and potatoes. 

For some perspective to the story, I was in my early 20's, fresh off a new definition of what "healthy" meant. I had transitioned from years of eating fat free and sugar free this and that and got really into cooking and produce and working on a farm and now believed my very vegetable centered life was the answer to all things health.

So, Hugh (my super cute then-boyfriend who came with me for a month and worked mostly as a gardener) and I show up for the first time to this completely new place with all new people, super exhausted and jet-lagged and nervous. They were just sitting down to a lunch to welcome us and it was platters of cured meats, grilled bistecca, oven roasted potatoes and arugula drenched in olive oil. It didn't take long for George to notice that I wasn't eating much and he asked me why, at which point I told him I was a vegetarian. Might as well be honest if I was going to be eating all of my meals with this guy for the next 6 months. He then proceeded to berate me - intensely, angrily, loudly - on why I'd made that choice, asked me to cite my research of why it was healthy, asked if I'd spoken to doctors, listed all the nutritional values of the meal he'd prepared and I'm pretty certain he was standing up and pacing by the time I couldn't hold it in anymore and the tears started coming. I had said nothing in response. Hugh was squeezing my leg but he was in no place to defend me because I'm not sure I honestly had answers to his questions. I came to learn this was par for his course, but couldn't help how personally I took it seeing it was the first time I met the guy. Poor first impressions on both ends I suppose. We had a few more chats about it, he eventually added a few meals to the rotation without meat and let me make the salads. I grew a soft spot for George over time, more clearly seeing how he still craved the authority and leadership he had as a doctor and now was in a circumstance he didn't exactly care for. I think they call that displaced anger. That memory was from a decade ago now, but it popped back in my mind amidst the reel of New Years diets having their spotlight season. Vegan, keto, whole 30, non-dairy, paleo... so many perspectives and so many people looking for the answer with a capital "A." I've come to think healthy can mean different things for different people and it's absolutely ok for those definitions to change over time.
 
If I kept in touch with George, I'd tell him I don't really have a name for how I eat and I'm super ok with that. It's mostly from scratch, heavy on the vegetables. I eat eggs, a small amount of animal protein when I need it or want it. I try to limit dairy because I have finicky skin and it's supposed to help overall inflammation and also because I actually like almond milks and coconut coffee creamers. I make most of our baked goods with almond flour or other whole grain flours but we eat classic pizza dough in between so I figure I've got to be breaking even. And yes! I do consult doctors, my blood work is near perfect. I'm loosing a ton of hair but hey, can't win them all. If I was at your lunch table today, I'd eat whatever you were making because I understand how as the host and cook, you just want people to enjoy what you worked hard to serve them. Sorry I didn't understand that then. I won't forget your hospitality, spicy as it was. Big hugs. 

It's a new year, hooray, resolve to take good care of yourself. Eat more food from plants than packages and I think you'll be heading in the right direction. Long term changes over short-lived diets, and if cream fits into your January plan, these brussels are so easy and Hugh made you a sweet little video for a visual this week for a change of pace. 

CREAMY BAKED BRUSSELS // Serves 4

These work as a warm side, smashed into toast or tossed with your favorite noodles with a splash of pasta water and a bit of fresh citrus juice to make an easy meal of it. 

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. dijon mustard
dollop of creme fraiche (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350' and grease a shallow, ovenproof baking dish. Steam the brussels for 4 minutes, drain and let them cool to the touch. While the brussels steam, mix together the cream, dijon, creme fraiche if using, salt and pepper. 
Chop up the sprouts, use a food processor if you prefer but I'd rather not clean another appliance. Tip them into the prepared dish and pour the cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and bake them for 15 minutes, turning the broiler on for an extra minute or two at the end to brown the top. Garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy warm.



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