Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Comforting Coconut Cupcakes...

Vegan Coconut Cupcakes with Cocnut Buttercream Frostsing

You never think this day will really come.  But it does.

You spend 18 years preparing for it, and you know it's the right thing.  You know you've done a good job because he is so confident.  But it still hurts.

My baby went to college last weekend, and he didn't look back.  He gave me a quick hug after we put his room together and tossed a "Thanks mom!" my direction.  "I'll text."

And that was it.

My heart split as I stoically turned, threw him a kiss and told him "Make good choices... I love you!".

He picked up his phone and answered a text as he smiled and returned an "I love you too."

Neither of us are good at goodbyes.

I made it half way down the hall before the tears started.  My husband comforted me on the elevator ride down and into the car.  Then he cried too.

We started the car and slowly made our way through the incredibly beautiful UCSB Campus, and I know he'll be happy.  He's so ready for new challenges, new people and new found independence.

But I'm not.

Today I'm alone in the house for the first time in years.  I needed to bake.  But with Liv out for the entire day, my son at college and my husband on a trip, today I baked for me.

I love to bake, but part of the love of baking is doing it for others.

These cupcakes remind me of the luscious Coconut Cupcakes we had in Santa Barbara at Crushcakes during the college orientation visits and again after dropping him off.

It's not quite like sharing them with him.  But almost.

Vegan Coconut Cupcakes with Cocnut Buttercream Frostsing

Monday, September 29, 2014

Black Bean and Butternut Squash Ragout

I'm still not openly embracing fall, but I'm admittedly happy to be seeing my beloved butternut squash at the local farmers markets.  Appearing in earnest just a few weeks ago, my pantry now always has a few hourglass shaped squash stashed away and ready for a quick supper.

Then along came the most recent Vegetarian Times Magazine in addition to a fabulous Facebook photo with a version of this Black Bean and Butternut Ragout, and I planned this must make meal featuring my butternut.  Simple ingredients mix together in less than half an hour, and spooned over prepared rice or quinoa I had a fairly quick, super flavorful meal that appealed to my entire family.

Low in calories and with no saturated fats or cholesterol, butternut squash is a rich source of dietary fiber.  With more vitamin A than pumpkin, the brilliant hues of the butternut bring high levels of beta-carotene (noted as a deterrent against breast cancer as well as macular degeneration) and a 1-cup serving will give you nearly half the daily recommended dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.  Add to the mix the fact that the butternut earns its name with its luscious, buttery texture, and we have a true winner.

Combined with black beans, onion, and summer squash, then spiced with adobo, a squeeze of lime brought a lovely brightness to this dish.  A cilantro garnish tops off the fresh flavors and has this beauty of a bowl just as good the next day for lunch.

While fall may or may not be what you are craving now, I can guarantee this butternut dish will ease you into the season.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Soft Oatmeal Bread with Oat Flour, Steel Cut Oats, and a Dose of Love.

Oatmeal Bread

Nothing says love quite like warm oatmeal bread fresh from the oven.  Soft, slightly sweet and slathered with a pat of butter, oatmeal bread brings a sense of balance to nearly any moment in your day and fills the recipient with a dose of needed love.  And this week as I prepare to send my baby boy off to college, I'm looking to fuel him with lots of love and good food, hence... we have our favorite oatmeal bread.

The bread has a history though, and I'm excited to be a link in its story.  You see a few months ago a girlfriend moved her aging mom from their family home and began the process of cleaning out decades of life.  As world travelers Cindy's parents had accumulated artifacts, souvenirs, and books from nearly every corner of the earth, and knowing my love of books she invited me to peruse the collection before they donated the leftovers.

Our Daily Bread, Copyright 1970
Immediately my eye touched the stacks of cookbooks, and the first one my hand touched was a yellowed, paperback version copyrighted 1970 of Our Daily Bread, by Stella Standard.  Picking the book up a few handwritten recipes fluttered from the pages, but it was the notes carefully taped to the front cover that led me to the recipe on page 187.  A few recipe tips along with a water stained page had us making the recipe titled Cracked Oats and Oatmeal Bread the very same day.

Adapting the recipe for our dairy-free needs proved an easy task and our leftover steel-cut oats had the ingredients already one step ahead of the game.  Filled with the aforementioned prepared "cracked oat porridge" along with oat flour and whole wheat flour, the bread packs a healthy dose of whole grains.  A small scoop of coconut sugar serves to enhance the sweetness of the oats, and fresh from the oven our loaf lasted only a mere 20 minutes before satiated eyes begged for more for the next day.

As I wash that final load of clothes for my son and help him pack up those few last minute items before he heads out the door, I tell him I'll have a loaf ready for him to take to college with him.  He assures me there will be bread in Santa Barbara, but I know even he, my stoic and non-emotional son, may need a little dose of love that first day in a new dorm.  I'm sending it along.

Oatmeal Bread

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Foodie Friends... a few days in Seattle at #IFBC #GirardsCC

Girard's Culinary Collective: Kim, Ruthie, Becky, Amy, Julie and Danelle
The food blogger world spans far and wide, but last weekend the International Food Bloggers Conference saw hundreds of bloggers converge in the glorious city of Seattle, Washington. Toting cameras and phones, fabulous photos of food hit the internet with blazing speed, but even more fun were the "selfies" that followed as new relationships formed and old friends met in person for the first time. Today I want to introduce you to a few special bloggers who touched my life last weekend, and I think you will enjoy a visit to their blogs if you don't know them already.

Joining a group of 6 bloggers representing the Girard's Culinary Collective (more on that soon!), my world expanded across the USA. From Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arkansas, the six of us met over cocktails at Miller's Guild, bonded over food and wine, and became fast friends.

Girard's Culinary Collective

Quick with a heart-warming smile, Amy James hails from Northwest Arkansas and writes Our Everyday Dinners.  As every busy mom knows, feeding a hungry family can sometimes be trying.  But, Amy shows you not only how, but what to make for a family pleasing plate.

From Colorodo, I met the lovely Danelle, of Let's Dish, who also makes feeding a family of 5 look easy.  With down to earth recipes and Farmer's Market Specials when possible, the conversations in her posts will leave you feeling like you've just made a new friend... Which is exactly how I felt mere seconds after meeting her.

Ruthie and me
Next we have Ruthie, from Cooking with Ruthie.  With a positively infectious giggle, Ruthie exudes fun at every turn.  A culinary school student, she entertained us with stories of her days, and her posts will motivate you to get into the kitchen.

Julie Cohn, of A Little Bite of Life, also brings a bright smile.  Bonding over our similarly aged teen boys we never found ourselves at a loss for conversation.  Writing about food, travel, entertainment, tech and lifestyle, Julie pretty  much covers it all!

And last, but not least, we have Becky from Utah.  Writing two blogs, Vintage Mixer and SLC  Foodie, sweet Becky has her hands full.  Add a 16-month old baby and husband to the mix and she has me in awe.  With gorgeous photography, Becky brings real food to the table that takes you back to the way things used to be made.  A truly beautiful person inside and out, Becky will warm your heart.

Instagram of our day at Pike Market

Virtual Friends Made Real

Beginning Liv Life some 4 years ago I had no idea the friends I would make.  Visiting their blogs, keeping up on Facebook and Instagram, and occasional emails keeps me up to date on their lives, and my husband is constantly surprised at the love and support that comes from people we haven't actually met in person, but whom we call special friends.

Last weekend made a few of those special friends very real for me, and I'm blessed to have them in my life.

Dionne Baldwin, of Try Anything Once, won my heart years ago when she wrote a fabulous post about burnt chicken.  Anyone who can take a kitchen disaster, make a fabulous dish out of it, and then write a keeper of a post is a girl after my own heart.  And speaking about hearts, Dionne has one of the biggest hearts I know.  Active in her Washington community she helps people who need a hand and is a supportive member of the food blogging world as well.  Dionne is the real deal and will have you laughing as you try new dishes along with her.

Dionne, me and Liz... virtual friends for years, now friends in real life

And then we have Liz, That Skinny Chick Can Bake.  Yep... she is skinny, and yep... she can bake!!  Be prepared with a recipe in hand when you make any of her recipes for gatherings as requests will follow.  She made a Biscoff Toffee Cookie for our blog as a guest post and it's become a regular in our cookie rotation (I have Liv's friends ask for Liz's cookies every so often!)  A true pleasure to meet in person, Liz's personality shines through her posts.

San Diego represents!!

San Diego has a lovely food blogging community and we represented well at IFBC!  

My dear friend Priscilla, of She's Cookin, (she's actually OC) brings a number of heart healthy recipes to her blog in addition to restaurant reviews of the greater Los Angeles area.  Often found traveling the world I look forward to and live vicariously through her photos.  She motivated me to tour Seattle and brought me on a wonderful walk through Pioneer Square as well as up the Space Needle.

Laura Bashar, of Family Spice, another busy mom who brings Fresh Family recipes - this time with a Persian Flair.  Quick with a smile and laugh, Laura always brightens a room and her easy going personality will have you at ease and smiling along with her in moments.

Laura and Mary working #IFBC!
Mary Platis of California Greek Girl brings Coastal Living, Gardening and Cooking all with a Greek Twist.  Warm and genuine, Mary knows her olive oil and working with Laura has put together the must have cookbook, Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil.

Next we have the beautiful Lisa of Whisk and Cleaver.  Blogging about Gluten-Free California Cuisine and San Diego Lifestyles, Lisa brings wonderful recipes with a little travel thrown in on the side.

 Not at IFBC, but blogs you should know...

With friends all over the world our travels often leave us opportunities to meet blogger friends along the way.  Last year my travels included stops in Pasadena and Florida which brought me to two more special bloggers whom I feel blessed to call friends.

Have you visited the Cafe??  Chris from the Café Sucré Farine just happened to be in Pasadena a few months ago on the same weekend as my family, and my husband and I spent a lovely morning chatting with her and her husband Scott.  Sweet and welcoming, Chris is a mother and grandmother and left me wanting to be adopted. Scott is her amazingly talented photographer, and they love avocados.  She is one of my go-to sources when I'm at a loss of what to make for dinner.  Take a moment and stop by the Cafe!

And lastly, Dennis Littley of A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis.  I don't think anyone has helped the food blog community more than Chef Dennis.  I "met" Dennis back in the FoodBuzz days where he taught me along with so many other bloggers tips and tricks of the trade.  He continues today with his Good Day Google+ series of videos and his bright personality shines through from the first moment.  Meeting Dennis and his lovely wife Lisa on a warm Florida morning was a day I will always treasure.

And there you have it!!  Some of my favorite bloggers, people I've recently met and those I've known virtually for years who are now real life friends.  Take a moment and visit my friends... they'll soon be your friends too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pumpkin-Banana Blender Waffles #vegan - but you'd never know it!

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

Apparently its pumpkin season... at least according to trending internet searches and the calendar.  However my backyard thermometer tells a different story.

It always happens, doesn't it?  The kids go back to school and the mercury rises... a record breaking rise in this case.  Southern California has been enduring a heat wave of unimaginable sorts the last few weeks, and even I, the self proclaimed "I love the heat!" girl, have caved.  It's hot.

As we live close to the coast here in San Diego and "It doesn't really get that hot here..." we don't have air conditioning.  It's never bothered me in the past as I would only have used it a couple of days a year, but this year??  Goodness... I'd have used it consistently for last few weeks.  I may or may not actually be guilty of visiting the mall on multiple occasions, sitting in the car longer than I needed to, or peering into the fridge a just little longer than necessary to cool off.

Cooking has either been outside on the grill or something salad-like that doesn't require heating.  Breakfast, however, is a different story.  I've always fixed a real breakfast before the kids head off to school. -  Waffles, pancakes, ebilskivers, frittatas, - Breakfast is a must.

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

However sophomore year homework has had my girl up later than she has been in past years, and with recent lights out around midnight and an alarm blaring at 6 AM, I'm tired, and my "get up and make breakfast for everyone" motivation is waning.

Enter blender waffles.  These guys are a lifesaver when looking to shave a few minutes off the morning routine.  Plugging the waffle iron in as I begin to toss ingredients into the blender (we use a Blendtec with the wildside jar), by the time everything is mixed the iron is hot.  Waffles pump out every few minutes and within 20 minutes I've got fresh, crispy waffles on the table with an few extras leftover for a waffle pbj for the lunchbox.

Filled with banana, pumpkin, and whole grains, I feel good about the start the kids are getting to their day, and not guilty at all when I happen to slather my own with almond butter and a drizzle of honey.

Pumpkin season?  We say that's all year round, but blender waffles are definitely a good thing for back to school.

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mexican Chicken Tortilla and Rice Soup

Chicken soup... it's good for the soul, right?  Liv completely agrees.  A year or so ago she found her love of chicken soup (she prefers potatoes and noodles usually) and has now (finally!)  branched out to flavors beyond the norm.

Her request last night to "make something with cilantro" led me to this spin on one of our favorites, Tortilla Soup.  Filled with her chicken soup faves - carrot, onion and chicken - we thickened the mix with a chopped tortilla.  Substituting rice for the noodles and potatoes, and adding beans and tomato, we had a Mexican flavor of her favorite comfort food.

Topped with avocado, a sprinkle of crushed tortilla chips and handful of the requested cilantro, I pretended not to watch as she hesitantly took her first taste.  Her quick smile told me we'd found something good, and the empty bowl moments later proved it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles

Being a Food Blogger comes with perks.  My favorite?  Mail days that bring new cookbooks filled with gorgeous photos right to my door.  Such a day usually calls for an afternoon at the beach or an early stop in the pickup line as I simply can't wait to get my nose into the book.

Many times a certain recipe jumps out and I know right away what I want to make for our review, but with this latest book, Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking
 by Cara Reed, I couldn't decide.  Hence... this is my second recipe (with permission!!) from this book, and to be honest, I'm wishing I could just start at the beginning of the book and simply blog my way through.

Baking is my fist love in the kitchen, but I have to note here that I'm not a gluten-free baker.  As I mentioned in our last post (Cara's Ginger Wafer Thins), Liv thought she didn't like "gluten-free stuff", but this book is quickly changing her mind.  My son is severely lactose intolerant, and as such I'm are always looking for dairy-free recipes, hence I often turn to vegan sources and this book has become a new, highly praised source for me.

Research.... ;)
Seriously... Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles??  My family is swooning, and I actually had to make a second batch to get a photo shoot in.  Luckily, they are all at school and work this morning, and I'm continuing the taste test portion of this post as I type.  All in the name of work of course... I want you to know how these snickerdoodles taste right from the oven, then an hour after baking, 2 hours after baking, and so on.  (Note: So far every hour is simply fabulous, however I will keep trying just to be sure.)

Tender and with a perfect snickerdoodle texture, these cookies bring what I think of as a Mexican Hot Cocoa flavor with the added cinnamon and chocolate.  Perfect for an after school treat (if there are any left by the time the kids get home), I can also see these cookies on my holiday trays or wrapped in a little bag for a hostess gift.  How perfect would a holiday gift of the book along with a bag of these cookies be??!

Thanks Cara for letting me post two recipes from your book.  I've got my eye on those Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes next!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ginger Wafer Thins from Cara Reed's Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking

"Hey Liv... I'm making cookies today from the cookbook I got in the mail a few weeks ago.  So I'll have some when I pick you and Taylor up from dance and you guys can be my taste testers, OK?"

"Sure!!  Oh wait... is that the gluten-free book you got?"


"Oh... never mind then.  I don't like gluten-free stuff."

So went our conversation this morning, and apparently my daughter thinks she doesn't like gluten-free goods.  Funny, because she's been eating some pretty darn spectacular treats all week, and... they've all been gluten-free recipes from Cara Reed's new book, Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking.  And... she liked them so much she's even been asking for extras so she can share with friends.

Our mail day Instagram!
Today I made Cara's spicy Ginger Wafer Thins (gluten-free AND vegan) and brought Liv what I had left over after performing my own taste test (which may or may not have had less than half the batch remaining...).

She and her girlfriend, hungry after 5 hours of dance rehearsals, gushed as they finished the rest of the gingery crisps, and her face was positively priceless when I told her the cookies were gluten-free.  Her comment of, "Well... I guess I do like gluten-free stuff!" made us all laugh.

While our family isn't particular to gf, I do tend to stick to vegan foods as I can guarantee a dairy-free meal or treat for my severely lactose intolerant son.  Cara Reed's beautiful new book opened our world even further with some 180+ pages of incredible baked goods my whole family can enjoy.

From cookies to scones to cupcakes and even donuts, every recipe we tried met or exceeded the "awesomeness" expectation we had after reading the descriptions that introduced them.  Cara has taken all the guess work out of swapping ingredients to remove gluten, milk and eggs from recipes, and her recipes work.  And she doesn't use "weird" ingredients that are meant as substitutes, just real ingredients using the right techniques.  Once you put together one of her Gluten-Free Baking blends (I did need to buy ingredients I don't usually have on hand for those), you're good to go.

If you are switching to gluten-free or vegan goods, you will definitely have predisposed ideas of what you are looking for in a cookie or cupcake, and I have to admit many times I'm disappointed with the finished products I find in stores or bake myself.  Not so with Cara's recipes.  She's done the research and testing for you, and you can count on consistently fabulous results from her recipes.

With a chapter on Childhood Favorites, Cara brings special treats like Girl Scout's Thin Mints to everyone's plate, and now no one needs to go without due to an intolerance or allergy.  We haven't tried the Strawberry Frosted "Pop-Tarts" or Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles yet, but they're next up on our list and I'll definitely keep you posted.

Cara... thank you for bringing baked treats back into our house that my whole family can enjoy.  Your book is a treat to read with its gorgeous photos and your recipe descriptions make me feel like we're old friends simply chatting about what we're going to make.  The book is already splattered with batter and has pages turned down for future dates, definitely signs of a new favorite.  Thank you!