Very Special Baby Gifts

As I mentioned a few days ago I went down to Southern California to celebrate baby Greene with friends and family. On Saturday my mom hosted a brunch baby shower at Mimi’s cafe. For more on this see: SoCal Baby Shower

I received many wonderful gifts at the shower, but the most significant gifts were from my mother. If you have been reading my blog since the very beginning you would know that at my bridal shower I received an unexpected gift of a  handmade intricate red and white queen sized quilt from my mom. For more on this see: Happy Mother’s Day

Since then she had also made us a beautiful nature themed quilted Christmas tree skirt. For more on this see: Christmas review

Well  I knew before we even planned on having a baby she would make us a baby quilt, as she had already made a few for my cousin’s first kids. So in November I took my mom to the quilt store in Chehalis Washington. After wandering the store for awhile I asked her if she was ready to make another baby quilt . . .  this time for us. It was a wonderful moment as I shocked my Mom with the news of our pregnancy, her first grand child.

Little did I know, just like she started the wedding quilt before I was engaged, she had already started a baby quilt before I was pregnant.

She took my color preferences of orange, green, and yellow and choose nursery rhymes as the theme.  Once I heard my mom was including embroidery in the quilt I knew this would not be put on the ground for baby to pull out the stitching. I decided that nursery rhymes and lullabies would be a great gender neutral theme for the nursery itself and the quilt would be displayed proudly.

But boy was I in for a surprise when I opened the quilt at the shower. I expected some embellished border or flowers in embroidery.

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Instead I opened the quilt to see twelve intricate picture panels of different nursery rhymes: all hand stitched.  It was overwhelming and wonderful.

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When my mom found out I would display this quilt she decided we could do a gender specific baby quilt for everyday use.  Mom and I worked together to choose bright yellow and turquoise, combined with charcoal grey using geometric prints and a tumbler shape.

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I wasn’t expecting to even see this quilt until the baby was born, knowing how busy my mom was planning for the shower and finishing the other quilt. So again to my surprise I open a gift bag to a completed quilt top. it was awesome to see the colors and designs work together.

As you can imagine both of these gifts a very special to me. I can’t wait to put them in the nursery in our new home.

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Thank you mom for taking so much time, thoughtfulness, and prayer as you not only put together such a wonderful baby shower for me but also two beautiful and creative quilts that I will always cherish. I know how much this little one is already loved.

Lemon Cream Scones

As I mentioned in my Birthday Fun post I decided to make myself several bday treats. I have often used, as some of you may know, the Bread Bible as my guide for new recipes or new forms of baking.

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Since this was my first time making scones I thought I’d use their recipe to get me started. It didn’t hurt that it was for lemon scones.

Also, not so surprising I made a few changes. The original recipe called for putting a little cinnamon sugar on top of the scones. I opted for a glaze instead. I also added more sugar and lemon to make these more or a treat and less of a mild breakfast.

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Lemon Cream Scones

Ingredients

2 C all purpose flour

1/2 C white sugar

Fresh Lemon Zest of 4 lemons

1/4tsp salt

5 Tbs cold unsalted butter

2 large eggs

1/2 C cold heavy cream

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Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. I put my down to 375F because my oven runs hot. 1-2 baking sheets.

2. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt.

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3. Cut in the cold butter with a knife and mix together until it crumbles.

4. In a separate bowl combine eggs and cream then add it to the dry ingredients slowly

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5. Put the dough on a floured surface and lightly knead.

6. Cut the dough into three equal parts.

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7. Use your cupped hands on the sides of the dough to turn the equal parts around in a circle until they form domes.

8. Cut these domes into 4 equal pieces and place them on the baking sheet about an inch apart

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I found my baking sheet could fit about 6 pieces

9. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the sides/top is slightly brown

I made my glaze and cleaned up while they baked.

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10. Glaze and put back in for another 1-2 minutes. (see below for glaze)

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Glaze Ingredients

1 egg white

zest of 1 lemon

juice of lemon

3 TBS white sugar

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Instructions

1. Separate egg white, combine with zest and juice, and add in white sugar

2. After scones have baked, while they are still warm brush the tops with the glaze 1 or 2 times

3.  Put the scones back in the oven for 1-2 minutes to let glaze set

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I found these scones to be a wonderful treat. They were especially good with a little goat cheese and strawberry rhubarb jelly (more on the jelly to come).

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Bread of the Month: Swedish Rye

With most of my bread making experiments so far I have stayed safely close to the normal flours and grains so I decided this month it was finally time to branch out to the more hearty and interesting grains starting with rye flour.

Rye flour on it’s own can be extremely dense and so it is often used in combination with wheat flour so the dough is easier to work with and rise. It also tends to require longer rising times and more liquid for the dough to rise; sounded like a fun challenge to me.

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I decided to make Swedish Rye loafs; this round-loaf rye bread has a hard exterior but a soft almost buttery texture inside. Although it uses molasses and brown sugar it has no milk and very little butter in it. Even though it is a little denser/heartier of a bread for summer-time; we had no problem working our way through a loaf in no time. As per usual the original recipe comes from the Bread Bible; with some of my variations.

To make the dough I started as usual by proofing the yeast; but because the rye flour is more dense it takes more liquid for it to rise properly so 3/4 C of liquid was used to proof the 1 packed of yeast instead of the usual 1/4th C.

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The trader joe’s coffee container is holding my rye flour

While this yeast proofed I combined in one of my large kitchen aid metal bowls 1 C warm water (see even more liquid), 1/4C unsulfured molasses (I chose dark), 1/4 C light brown sugar, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted (original recipe only called for 2 but I wanted a more buttery texture), 1 tbls salt, 2 teaspoons (or more) caraway seeds, 1 large orange worth of orange zest (you can use lemon but I think the orange works better with the molasses and brown sugar), and 2 1/2 C rye flour.

After all of this was I mixed together until creamy (well as creamy as rye flour will get). Then I stirred in the yeast mixture after it had proofed for 10 minutes.

Next slowly I added about 1 C at a time of the 2 1/2 C  regular flour while the kitchen aid continuously mixed the dough. I then switched my mixing handle for the dough hook and let it knead the dough for 2-3 minutes.

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As with many other recipes from this book, I then placed the dough in a deep container that was greased with butter on both sides then covered it in plastic wrap. Then comes the hardest part of this recipe . . . waiting: it took 2 hours to let the dough rise to double in bulk! Rye flour takes a longer rising time and all the while I was uneasy weather the dough was getting dry or if it over-fermented.

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After the long wait, I took the dough out of the deep dish container and divided it into two. Using a little flour I shaped two loafs. I brushed both loaf-tops with butter than again covered it loosely in plastic wrap to rise again at room temp for another 2 hours.

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Finally, I turned the oven to 375, covered the top of the the loafs with flour and  used a serrated knife to create 1/4 inch cuts into the tops of the dough. For our loaf I did a basic three slash cut with a bread knife. For the other loaf I marked an H for Halvorson (my maiden name) since I was giving that loaf away to my grandparents. The loafs went in the oven for 25 minutes. I knew they were done when they were golden brown on the outside and sounded hollow when I tapped on them.

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Although they took long rising the bread was worth the wait. It was sweet enough to eat on it’s own or with a little butter but not too sweet that we couldn’t use it for sandwiches. You could definitely make it into a sweeter bread by adding more butter, orange zest,  and brown sugar and possible adding some cranberries. Maybe for a end of summer/ fall treat?

 

Bread of the Month: English Muffins

This year I decided I am picking one new bread item per month to home-bake. If you have followed my blog for any length of time you will know that I love to bake but my baking had been mostly limited to desserts. It’s only within this past year I began to feel comfortable making dough items such as buns, rolls, pastries and our everyday lunch bread at home.

But Luke borrowed The Bread Bible from a co-worker and I was inspired. Although there are  many wonderful baked goodies out there many of them I cannot eat because of an allergy to barley for more see: Why I am barley free Part One . Much of the time I do not mind eating gluten-free even though I am not allergic to gluten. Still availability of gluten-free breads and baked goods is limited here in upstate NY and even if it is available I never know when/how I can get them.

This Bread Bible provides great fun new dessert to try but also includes easy recipes for basics I have not eaten in over a year like bagels, hamburger buns, sourdough bread, and english muffins.

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I have always loved english muffins they are so crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. That is why they are great for toasting served with a little butter and jam or peanut butter and bananas. I  also think they make for great PB and J’s, breakfast sandwiches with fried eggs, or for eggs benedict. So for as you may have guess for January’s bread of the month I chose to make homemade English Muffins!

I was surprised at how easy the process was. Very similar in steps to our homemade bread recipe, all ingredients are combined after yeast has time to proof then the dough rises in a deep dished oiled pan for an hour.

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After the dough has had time to rise, it is rolled out to about a 1/2 in thick. To cut the muffin rounds I used one of our glasses.

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Once all the dough was cut into rounds I got out the large electric skillet and cooked/fried them on the oiled surface for about 10 minutes on each side then let them cool on a wire rack. I was surprised at how quickly the dough rose as it baked.

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So there you have it: homemade english muffins. They are crispy on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside. If I was to make them again I may try to work the dough less to add more fluff or rise. I would also probably add 1/2 C cornmeal to the dough recipe.

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I made a double batch and put most of them in the freezer; the rest went in the fridge. They serve as a great breakfast option along side our Greene’s gluten-free granola bars.

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So what is your favorite carb? Do you have a love for baking?

2013’s low calorie and healthy meals

Luke and I exercise at the Y twice a week and try to get out at least once on the weekends for a walk, hike, snowshoeing, . . .something. But we also count calories, this way we don’t feel like we are truly on a diet but we portion what we eat and how much of it we have. For this reason and for allergy health reasons (see barley-free living ) many of the meals that we plan are gluten-free, high protein, and/or low calorie.

As  we start this new year and try to get back to those oh so necessary routines, diets, and exercise I thought I’d share some of last year’s low calorie and healthy eating highlights. So here are some of the top hits from this past year that you might find worth trying out for your new (returning to old) diet and routine.

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1.  A Vegetarian Mediterranean meal. This is my most popular food post ever. It is an easy dump recipe into the crockpot that I adapted from a recipe I got while in Egypt. The base of this recipe is what I call a lentil stew, although it has no vegetables or grains in it, the lentils ,if cooked over time, create a consistency of stew more so than a soup. It’s great for lunches or dinner with a salad or pita bread an hummus.

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2. Stuffed Bell Peppers: This is my second most popular dinner item. These peppers are nice and basic with plenty of room for variation. They requires a little prep. but nothing complicated. Once the peppers are stuffed you can stick them it the oven on low heat and leave them. We often make this on an exercise night where we can put the oven on a low setting, go exercise, and when we are back dinner is ready with minimal mess to clean up afterward. It’s a great all-in-one meal  packed with protein and veggie goodness.

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3.Gluten-Free Low-Cal Marsala. This is a great delicious meal that takes an Italian classic and cuts out calories by using two key substitutes. First I use steamed zucchini instead of pasta. For most Italian meals zucchini pairs perfectly with the meat dish; plus you get a filling serving of veggies for the night. Second I use Parmesan as a substitute for bread crumbs. Parmesan if dry enough if seasoned like Italian bread crumbs it works perfectly for coating chicken and it’s lower in calories.

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4.Gluten Free Low Cal Meatloaf:  I am not a huge fan of traditional meatloaf in the sense of dense bread and meat slices with a sweet sauce on top. This light loaf is extremely low calorie and tastes amazing. Ingredients including rice, and zucchini, with a zesty tomato topping give the loaf a great texture and taste that make it a true all-in-one meal. For both this recipe and the stuffed peppers I make ground beef go further by adding minced mushrooms. Mushrooms are a great away to cut calories plus they have a similar texture and consistency as ground beef when cooked.

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5.BBQ Teriyaki Bowl: Another great easy low-cal recipe. I actually got the teriyaki marinade recipe from a good friend and old tutoree from Japan. The longer the chicken marinates the better the flavor/texture when grilled. For a lower calorie meal you can use greek yogurt instead of mayo as the thickening/cream base of the marinade. Just know the mayo the fat layer in the mayo keeps the chicken very moist. Recently I have added ground ginger to the marinade as well. Once again this recipe is gluten free! No flour in this marinade!

So how are you doing trying to get back into the normal routines?

What are your favorite healthy homemade meals?

Greene’s Gluten-free Granola Bars

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On weekday mornings it’s just easiest to grab a breakfast bar and a cup of coffee when starting the day. But because I have food allergies to barley and tree nuts, finding a breakfast/granola bar that I can eat can be a challenge. Usually gluten-free bars create texture with tree nuts and bars without tree-nuts often have barley in them.

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I got accustomed to buying Luke a box of Cliff bars and myself a box of (one of the few “safe” flavors) Luna bars once every  two-weeks. But then Luke realized his Cliff bars were almost 300 calories each and loaded with Caffinene. Plus these boxes could cost upward to 11-12 dollars for only 10 bars (that is more than a dollar a piece!)

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With all that in mind I decided it was time to experiment with my own homemade gluten, barley, and tree-nute free granola/breakfast bars. The first batch was a little sugary and too sticky but by round three I had adjusted the ingredients and felt confident this was worth the time.

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This recipe will make approximately 20 bars (depending how you cut them). If  your recipe yields 20 bars then they will be only around 150-160 calories each!! Plus a whole batch will cost you less than five dollars! That is 25 cents or less per bar versus my 1.25 each from before!! It does create a few sticky dishes but I have been finding it is well worth the mess.

Even better this is a good basic recipe with plenty of room for changes and subsitutions. In the ingredients list I will mention some potential changes you can make, but be aware that substitutions may not change your portions but they are apt to change your calorie count.

Here’s how:

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Ingredients:

½ C honey

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1/3 C peanut butter

substitute: (you can use coconut oil, sunflower oil etc. or add more honey and remove the peanut butter if necessary)

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1 and 1/4 C rolled oats

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1and 1/4 C rice cereal

substitute: (you can use flavored chex, corn chex, crispix, etc. based on your allergies or lack there of)

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3/4 C peanuts

substitute: (you can use different tree-nuts if you not allergic, or seeds)

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3/4 C dried cranberries

Subsitute: (you can use any wide variety of dried fruits)

1/2 C white chips

Substitute: (you can use carob, semi-sweet, peanut butter, butterscotch-you name it)

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Instructions:

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-Heat the honey and peanut butter (or other liquid ingredients) in a small saucepan until combined. Here also you can add any spices or powdered protein etc.

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-While the honey and peanut butter heat, put oats, nuts, cereal, & cranberries in a large mixing bowl.

-Remove saucepan from heat.

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-Slowly add the honey PB mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. (It is easiest with a mixer but it can be done by hand).

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-Once all ingredients are incorporated and cooled a little mix in the chips.

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-Spread mixture evenly in an 9×11 square pan pressing it down with the back of a spoon or spatula.

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-Let it cool (fastest to clear room in the fridge to place the pan).

-When cooled it will harden, cut into squares or bars.

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-Store in fridge.  I layer them in tupperware with foil between layers.

Then Enjoy!

As I mentioned before there is plenty of room for variation. How about a fall recipe: replacing peanut butter with pureed pumpkin, tree nuts with pumpkin seeds, and cranberries for raisins? Or what about winter recipe: replace peanut butter with a little nutella or chocolate syrup and mint extract?

Be creative! And let me know how your own recipes turn out!

What are your favorite granola bar ingredients? Flavors?

Cookies n’ Cream Pudding Pops with Blueberries

It’s been almost a month since my birthday and I just realized haven’t shared with you any of my b-day presents. One small gift was to buy popsicle molds they have blue tips (match kitchen) for the popsicles into sail boats (a little something fun for my husband who one day wants to own a sailboat).

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After looking around online, my first experiment with my new summer kitchen toy: cookies n’ cream pudding pops with blueberries! And the great thing about these are: they are each only 90 calories!!

Makes 6-8 pops (if recipe yields 6 pops then each are 120)

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Here are the ingredients:

1 pack sugar and fat free white chocolate Jello pudding mix

3/4 C. Plain Greek yogurt

1/2 C. low Fat Milk

3/4- 1 C. fresh blueberries

5-6 Oreos or off brand version

Instructions:

-Mix together the dry pudding mix, greek yogurt, and low fat milk. You can do this by hand or with a mixer.

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-Add in the cookies. You can crush them with a whisk, put this mixture in the blender, or send the mixer on a high setting. Here is where you need to decided if you want large chunks of cookie or a more blended texture (we did the latter).

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-Next fold in blueberries. Do not use the mixer/blender if you want your berries whole.

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– Fill the molds to their full line. Remember to push out any airpockets.

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-Let the pudding pops freeze for at least 5-7 hours. Because they are so thick they will take time to solidify.

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Then enjoy!!!!

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They are rich, creamy, and full of antioxidant blueberries with that hint of chocolate we all love. If you only have a 6 pop set like I do the great thing it saves in the fridge just fine until you have eaten one (or two) and can fill up the mold again .

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What is your favorite frozen summer treat?