Sunday, September 29, 2013

DIY Homemade Pancake and Waffle Mix

DIY Homemade Wholegrain Panceake and Waffle Mix

High School is harder than I remember.  With all this extra homework, dance practice, hospital volunteering and now college application season approaching in addition to my other "Mom Duties", I'm completely and utterly exhausted.  Making my last round of kid pick ups at 9:30 on some night, lights out isn't happening until well beyond what I consider a "decent" bedtime.  And I'm the first to admit that the alarm getting me up again before the sun rises is leaving me a little grumpy.

The school year started some 6 weeks ago with me jumping out of bed before the alarm even went off, grabbing a shower and then happily popping downstairs to get a hot breakfast on the table before the kids headed out the door.  We had pancakes, waffles, French Toast, etc, lunches were packed with imagination and the kitchen was cleaned all before 8 AM.

However, these last few weeks have seen me lose my morning perk.  The alarm blares once, if not twice before I slide out of bed to get Liv moving.  My shower may be lasting a bit longer, and breakfast has been reduced to a bowl of cereal because I didn't had time to get all the ingredients for pancakes together and mixed as well as get lunches ready before the kids head out the door.

Hence, I've been working to streamline the morning breakfast routine by doing as much as I can the night before.  And last week I took that even one step further as I put together a wholesome pancake and waffle mix that had me whipping out hot breakfasts for an entire week in no time flat.

Enhanced with spelt and oat flours in addition to ground flax meal, the batter is then mixed with protein-filled eggs and and calcium-rich milk all combining into light and fluffy pancakes or nicely crisped waffles.  Adding fruit and nuts either to the batter or over the top brings a rounded meal that I feel happy sending the kids out to start their day on.

Scaleable to whatever quantity you are looking for, making your own baking mix is cheaper and healthier than store bought, and you can mix it up at your convenience (like after your afternoon nap!) to have you looking like Super Mom in the morning.  Have a sick friend? or perhaps a neighbor with a new baby?  Make up a cute mason jar filled with the mix, toss in a recipe and a bottle of pure maple syrup to ease their day.

DIY Homemade Wholegrain Panceake and Waffle Mix

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Captain Greg’s Ghirardelli Mocha Chip Gelato

Living in my little neighborhood close to the sea comes with more benefits than the beach.  I have neighbors who get the mail when I'm gone, friends who walk with me in the mornings and dads who lend helping hands with leaking pipes when my husband is out of town.  Most importantly though, I have neighbors who bring treats.

You may remember my gelato-making neighbor and good friend, Captain Greg (he tirelessly coaches for Team in Training), of Plum Perfect Gelato fame?  Or perhaps it's his Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk version that caught your eye?  Well, in my opinion, today's Ghirardelli Mocha Chip Gelato takes the cake.

Bringing us his fifth Liv Life Guest Post (and my personal favorite!), I hereby give you... Captain Greg!


When I was just 4 years old, my Granddad would sneak my brothers and me into his kitchen for a treat that drove my Mom nuts.  He would pour us each a cup of coffee, then add lots of cream and sugar until it was a crazy delight that little resembled the “cup of Joe” that got me through college. Mom was not happy… “Oh Dad”, she’d say, “Coffee is terrible for the kids!”  And he’d chuckle and ask “Who wants a refill?”  So my love affair with coffee got off to an early start, and when it collided with a passion for chocolate there was no looking back. 

Mocha, that magical blend of coffee and cocoa, owned me from the first time I tried it.  Growing up, Wednesday was Baskin Robbins night, and one of my two scoops was always Jamoca Almond Fudge.  And at 16 my first job was a soda jerk at the Carnation Ice Cream Restaurant.  My first day, the Manager handed me a 2-gallon tub of Mocha Chip -- and a spoon.  Big mistake.  2 hours later, what wasn’t inside me had melted into a delicious drink that made milkshakes for a week!

So fast forward to now.  I’ve fallen in love with gelato.  Crisp, sharp flavors that far surpass their heavier confectionery cousin -- ice cream.  And it’s a passion that takes little more than patience, great ingredients and a trusted ice cream churn.  And like I needed an excuse!  My Team in Training runners preparing for a marathon in San Francisco challenged me to whip up something with a taste of the City by the Bay.  Too easy… for a guy that pounded 2 gallons of Mocha Chip as a teen?  What says San Francisco more than Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square and that silky blend of cocoa and sugar that draped many a sundae at Ghirardelli’s?  Way too easy.

So today’s recipe is a flavor sensation that’s straightforward and simple.  Start with a sweetened custard base, combine it with the essentials of any fine mocha, and amp it up to another level with Ghirardelli chocolate chips and slivered almonds.  Then join me back in Grandpa Rathel’s kitchen for a celebration of coffee and chocolate!  Give it up Mom…  I’ll take another scoop please!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

DIY Vanilla Extract (Essence)

Vanilla, most likely the world's most recognized and universally loved flavor, finds its extract, or essence, as a staple in nearly every pantry.  Bringing floral notes reminiscent of swaying palms and tropical islands, vanilla enhances sweet and savory recipes in addition to perfumes and household aromas.  The scent of vanilla is said to have calming and soothing effects and has even been used to combat mild sleep disorders.  But for me?  Vanilla just smells happy.

Dating back over 1,000 years, we have the Totonac Indians of Mexico to thank for the actual "discovery" of the vanilla orchid and its treasured pods.  In the 1500's, Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortés brought the precious beans back to Spain where they gained favor throughout Europe, particularly with the upper class including Queen Elizabeth l (who is known to have had an incredible sweet tooth).  Then, nearly 150 years later we can thank our own Thomas Jefferson for returning the beans to the Americas where his great love of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream brought a recipe that is currently stored in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Tongan Vanilla Beans

Sharing the vanilla love with Queen Elizabeth and Thomas Jefferson, vanilla beans and extracts are often my souvenir of choice when traveling.  Beautifully plump and fragrant Tahitian beans came home with me from the South Pacific while extracts of all sorts have found their way into my suitcase from all over the Caribbean as well as Europe.

DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract
Extract- minutes after filling bottles
Unfortunately, my current budget doesn't allow a quick trip to Tahiti every time I run out of beans, and frankly, pure store bought extracts can be fairly expensive and don't always taste good.

Hence, we've been making our own extract for years.  Extraordinarily easy to put together, homemade Vanilla Extract makes a special hostess or teacher gift for the holiday season or simply any special occasion.  By starting now, you too can have Homemade Vanilla Extract ready in time for this year's holiday season or for your own baking.  We'll show you how!

DIY Vanilla Extract requires only a few items, vanilla beans, bottles or jars, and some sort of alcohol.  Over the years (and since I can't fly to Tahiti to refill my pantry), Beanilla has become my vendor of choice.  With numerous varieties of vanilla beans, there is a favorite for everyone.

Vanilla Beans from Beanilla
Personal favorites for me include my beloved Tahitian Vanilla Bean known for its dreamlike floral fragrance and ability to pair wonderfully with my other love... chocolate.  In addition, the Madagascar, or Bourbon Bean  (probably the most widely available vanilla bean), brings the rich, creamy, sweet and almost buttery flavor that most people have come to associate with vanilla.  Note that the Bourbon (Madagascar) vanilla beans are named for the island from which they originate, not the alcoholic beverage with the same name.

This year I've branched out and am adding a few new varieties to my repertoire.  Most intriguing is the Ugandan Bean which is said to have a bold, rich flavor that I am anticipating will make a fabulous extract.  Also new on my list is the Mexican Bean, whose extract I've purchased in the past but have never made my own.  Just a few days into our 2013 vanilla extract project, I'm finding both beans making lovely amber extracts which are beginning to take on heavenly aromas.

Jars for Vanilla Extract
Once you have your beans, you need bottles or jars.  For my home pantry, I sometimes use a plain, large jar that's easy to refill, but for gift giving I'm always on the lookout for something a little prettier.  This year Beanilla has a lovely selection of glass bottles and jars with either corks or clasp tops and I've indulged in a few of each.

Next, you need the alcohol.  Pure vanilla extract has two ingredients, vanilla beans and alcohol, and I've found the most popular alcohol used in extracts is vodka.  With its lack of flavor, vodka works as a blank slate and is ideal to pick up the nuances of each variety of bean.  That said, I also love a vanilla extract made with bourbon, Maker's Mark being my bourbon of choice.  With its light, sweet taste, Maker's Mark enhances the sweetness and floral notes of the vanilla creating a rich and fragrant extract.

DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract
Pour alcohol of choice over the beans  (about 5 beans to 8 oz. of alcohol) to cover.  Close the bottle and allow to sit for about 8 weeks, giving it a shake ever so often.
To make the extract I slice the beans in half to fit into small bottles, then run the tip of a sharp knife down the side (lengthwise) of the bean but not cutting all the way through.  Place the beans into the jar and cover with your alcohol of choice.  At this point I love watching the clear liquid slowly take on a lovely amber hue which will continue to darken over the next few weeks.

Store the bottles in a cool, dry and dark place for about 8 weeks and your extract will be ready to share.

DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract
DIY Vanilla Extract (Essence) - 24 hour after covering with alcohol

Monday, September 16, 2013

Banana Apple (Banapple) Spice Cookies

Banana Apple (Banapple) Spice Cookies | Liv Life
The last remaining cookie....
What's the sign of an exceptional cookie?  Texture?  Taste?  Or maybe the two combined?  For these Banana Apple Spice Cookies, the sure sign of awesomeness became the speed at which they vanished.

With two batches baked in the last 3 days, I have only this lonely, single cookie remaining to show for my efforts.  Well, the proper word is "had".  I ate this one within mere minutes after confirming I had decent enough photos to publish, and I now have a shopping list of ingredients to fulfill the requested 3rd batch.

Soft and with a delightful crumb, no one knew these apple studded beauties included spelt flour or that much of the fat was cut out with the use of mashed bananas and apple sauce.  Easy to whip together with a stand mixer, a good wooden spoon and a bowl will also do the trick.

With such a wonderful response, I'm thrilled to submit these cookies to the first installment of the new monthly Creative Cookie Exchange.  Created by Laura, of The Spiced Life, my kids are more than excited about my participation in this group, and this month we kick off with "Back to School Cookies", or in our case, Banapple Spice Cookies.

Creative Cookie Exchange
Lately I've been all about healthy eating, and cookies and baked goods have been sparse in our household (hence the constant drone, "There's nothing good to around here!").  However, working with the ingredients in these irresistible Back to School Bites, I've managed to do both - low fat cookies filled with fruits and a bit of whole grains that are positively irresistible.  Everyone wins with these guys.  Enjoy!

Banana Apple (Banapple) Spice Cookies | Liv Life

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blueberry Cucumber Smoothie... 30-Day Juicing Challenge

Blueberry Cucumber Smoothie
Get the recipe at Eat. Drink.  Be Skinny
Has someone ever crossed your path in life at exactly the right time?  Just a few weeks ago that happened to me when someone I follow retweeted Teresa's (from Eat. Drink. Be Skinny)  30-Day Juicing Challenge.

Looking to eat healthier by increasing fruits and veggies, drop a pound or two before my 30th High School Reunion, and shape myself up before a fast approaching October anniversary trip to the Caribbean, Teresa's challenge couldn't have come at a more opportune moment.

Since September 1st, my husband and I have taken Teresa's challenge as we enjoy juices and smoothies each morning.  My somewhat green food averse husband has even been heard to request "add more spinach!" to some of our concoctions as we truly look forward to these fresh, bright starts to our day.

Today, we're starting our morning with Teresa, who I've since learned is my neighbor here in San Diego.  Won't you join us for a sip?  Pop on over to Eat. Drink. Be Skinny where today we're going blue as we share another new favorite, The Blueberry Cucumber Smoothie.

30th High School Reunion?  I'm ready!

Blueberry Cucumber Smoothie

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Super Coconut Quinoa Granola with Hemp and Goldenberries

Super Coconut Quinoa Granola with Hemp and Goldenberries
I'll admit it... I can't live without granola!!  If you had asked me three years ago to even try granola, you'd have been met with a big, "Um... no thanks. I don't do granola."  Fast forward those three years and I can't get enough of the crunchy, oaty goodness.

As we've all read, making granola at home is so much cheaper (and better!) than many you will find in stores, but my main fascination is with the ingredients I can put in it.

Filling our versions with all sorts of healthy ingredients while maintaining an aura of sweetness has sometimes been a challenge.  Not so with this Coconut version though, first try and it was good to go.

Oats and ground flax have been staples for my granolas, but lately I've been seeing granola versions with quinoa.  Quinoa in granola?  Oh, my yes!!  Personally, I love a good crunchy granola, and toasted quinoa adds just that.  Bringing me to my next thought, "What about Hemp Seed?"

Hemp is new on my nutritional radar, but being an easily digestible high protein seed containing all nine of the essential amino acids (just like flax), it's quickly rising on my favorite ingredient list.  A source rich in phytonutrients, hemp is thought to bring disease-protective elements including boosting and protecting the immune system, bloodstream, tissues, cells and organs.

Super Coconut Quinoa Granola with Hemp and Goldenberries
But is hemp safe??  My husband's first question wondered why I was bringing marijuana into our pantry, but my prior research put his mind immediately at ease when I explained that hemp is THC-free, and while it is indeed part of the cannabis family, it is safe and drug free (I found this article from The Nourishing Gourmet to be great source of information with links to even more info).

But back to our granola... now filled with oats, flax, quinoa and hemp, we needed sweetness, or what I call "the goodies".  The goodies are sometimes my favorite part of the granola as they lend a burst of flavor and sweetness to each bite.  Another new to me ingredients, the superfood Goldenberries, made its bursting with flavor way into this concoction.  Filled with vital nutrients including beta-carotene, protein, bioflavinoids and vitamin A, Goldenberries are my new "grab and go snack".  With their sweet/tart flavor, the chewy dried berries became the perfect finishing touch to our mixture.

Super in taste as well as nutrition, granola is here to stay.

Super Coconut Quinoa Granola with Hemp and Goldenberries

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

DIY Homemade Apple Pie Spice

My well stocked baking pantry covers nearly every spice imaginable... but throw in an spice mix like Apple Pie Spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice and I don't have it.  Hence, I find myself skipping over fabulous recipes simply because I don't have the required spice mix on hand.

Last year's successful creation of a DIY Pumpkin Pie Spice mix though, (which I found myself actually using all year round) has led me to put together an equally fragrant and wonderfully cinnamony Apple Pie Spice Mix.

With a few simple ingredients you most likely have in your baking pantry, a last minute run to the store is eliminated when the ingredient "Apple Pie Spice" is called for.  Easily altered to your taste preference, this mix is nice to have a little jar on hand ready for baking.

Whisking the 5 ingredients together sends hints of baked apple goods through the kitchen, and although I'm in no way ready for fall, I'm ready to use those fresh apples that are beginning to show up at our local farmer's markets.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Coconut Lime Detox Drink and a Caterpillar Invasion

Coconut Lime Detox Drink
From my morning Coconut Lime Detox drink to the brilliant green and orange caterpillars who have single handedly demolished my year old parsley plant, life here in San Diego has been all shades of green the last few days.

Parsley is an herb I use infrequently, hence I have (had) a gorgeous plant that has been left to grow somewhat untamed over the last year or so.  Needing a sprig or two the other day I sent Liv out to pick and moments later heard a not so happy yelp followed by, "Mom!!  Your parsley plant!!  It's been invaded!!!".

I have to preface this with the fact that Liv also has claimed tarantulas were crawling in her room one night, however what I found was a pencil eraser-sized, teeny tiny, spider on her screen... outside.  As such, I didn't really rush to her rescue regarding the invasion of my parsley plant.

In this case though, she was right.  An army of various sized green caterpillars, brilliantly marked with brilliant orange dots, has indeed invaded my parsley plant.   An internet search informed us that these beauties will become even more beautiful as they transform into Black Swallowtail Butterflies sometime in the near future.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on parsley

I have no idea how long the caterpillars have been there, but we've been watching them closely over the last few days, and I'm positively amazed at the amount of parsley they are able eat.  Apparently they enjoy host plants in the carrot family, including carrots, dill, parsley, fennel and a few others.

Eggs laid by an adult female hatch into the caterpillars who take a few forms before entering the chrysalis stage, and my first hand experience tells me that they can eat an incredible amount of parsley as they grow.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on parsley

Today one of our caterpillars seems to be entering that chrysalis stage, and we are eager to watch what happens!  I only hope we get so see one of the butterflies before they all fly away.  We'll keep the photos coming over the next few days/weeks.  

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on parsley

In the meantime, how about a lovely green detox drink?  Featuring some of my favorite flavors, lime and coconut, I'm joining Eat. Drink. Be Skinny's 30-Day Juice Challenge.  Teresa, a local San Diego Girl like me,  suggests substituting a nutritious juice or smoothie for one meal a day, which I can see valuably increasing the veggies and fruits that I'm sorely in need of.  Want to join me in the challenge?  Check out her Facebook page for more info.


Perusing the counter my fruit stock proved fairly low this morning, but a bowl of limes called to me.  Working with our Lemon and Kale Ice as a guide, coconut water became our base enhanced with freshly squeezed lime juice and a squeeze of lemon.  Spinach added the rich green color and a dash of pure maple syrup brought a delightful sweetness to balance the sour.

So, joining our hungry caterpillars, here's to a green start to the day... Enjoy!

Coconut Lime Detox Drink