Gingerbread Bonbons

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If you’ve been doing the seasonal thing lately, this month has already brought an onslaught of cookies and holiday treats to be baked, eaten, and shared. Making cookies is my favorite December tradition but I definitely prefer making to eating them. This is because inevitably after eating cookies and all the other traditional baked goods, I feel bogged down, lethargic, and mentally all over the place. This is often true even despite my bent towards making goodies that are leaning towards healthier over traditional.

Late in the summer, I decided to buy myself a new cookbook for the year and I chose the one I had been eyeing for quite some time, Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. The first 100 or so pages are actually about ayurveda and the energies in the body that contribute to wellbeing, as well as everyday practices for living a balanced, sattvic lifestyle. Even before getting to the recipes, this information is an approachable guide to how to truly promote one’s health. There are also a ton of recipes of course, but what I’ve made again and again, both following the recipe and deviating sharply, are the No Donut Holes. Despite making and eating them nearly weekly for months, this after dinner treat has never once left me in cookieland feeling less than thriving.

In annual tradition, The Recipe Redux challenge for December is a recipe remake from a cookbook, and so naturally I decided to put a festive spin on those no donut holes with a molasses and gingerbread infusion–flavors I love this time of year.

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When it comes to molasses, there are several different types. I grew up with Brer Rabbit Full-Flavored, which is the second boiling formed as a by-product when sugar is processed. Molasses from the first boiling is the lightest and sweetest, often called mild molasses. Beyond these two, the third boiling results in blackstrap molasses, which is the darkest, least sweet, and most mineral rich type. It is the type I favor now. Blackstrap is a great source of dietary iron and sometimes recommended as a food source iron supplement (1) since one tablespoon can contain as much as 20% of a woman’s daily needs. Additionally, it contains considerable amounts of manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, selenium, copper, and calcium. Even though it is still a sugar and should be treated as such, there is actually evidence that adding molasses to carbohydrate-rich meals results in a lower blood sugar rise compared to the meal without molasses (2).

When purchasing, look for unsulfured and pure full-flavored or blackstrap molasses. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes added as a preservative and can make the taste bitter, and some companies dilute their bottles down with corn syrup.

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Before I get to the recipe, Kate says on the no-donut page: Pastries are an instigator of tamas in the mind. [Tamas is heavy, slow, sleepy, stubborn, and unmotivated and can lead to sadness, pessimism, low self-esteem, hopelessness and fear.] The combination of white flour, white sugar, and butter or questionable oils makes a trifecta of heavy, indigestible qualities that gunk up the gut. For most, a daily habit of eating pastries is a ticket to slow, dull qualities.

Now, I have nothing against the occasional full blown refined-everything treat, especially this time of year. But I’m also simply glad to add these as an option to the holiday cookie tray.

Gingerbread Bonbons, makes about 12
Though I use blackstrap molasses, regular ‘full-flavor’ molasses works great too. Additionally, finely ground oatmeal or oat bran are great alternatives to the oat flour.
These can also be made as squares instead of bonbons. Simply press into a square container and chill for about an hour before cutting.

60 g / 1/4 cup cashew butter
40 g / 2 Tbs. molasses
40 g/ 2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
55 g / 1/2 cup almond meal
140 g / 1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
dash of cloves

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the cashew butter, molasses, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the almond meal, oat flour, and spices and mix until it all comes evenly together. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Roll heaping tablespoons of the dough into balls, and then place them on a plate or in a storage container.
  • Store in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for longer term. Allow them to come to room temperature before enjoying.

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References:
1) Jain, R. and Venkatasubramanian, P. (2017). Sugarcane Molasses – A potential dietary supplement in the management of iron deficiency anemia.
2) Ellis, T.P., Wright, A.G., Clifton, P.M., and Ilag, L.L. (2016). Postprandial insulin and glucose levels are reduced in healthy subjects when a standardised breakfast meal is supplemented with a filtered sugarcane molasses concentrate. 

Blackberry Crumble

Blackberry Crumble

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If there is one thing I love to learn about others, it is their preferences for and memories involving food. I’ve shared much of my history with food and cooking in this space already but this month, The Recipe Redux asked us to stir up some of our earliest culinary recollections.

Instead of rehashing how it all began, I’m reposting a very slightly edited version of what I wrote then with a little note about this month’s recipe at the end.

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“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.”
                                                     – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke 
 
 
 
The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, scrunching my eyes into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do.
 
It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind:  elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions.
 
 
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From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a medicine to heal, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us.
 
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In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls,  my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow.

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 In this new season and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create.
 
Though I no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this season to come, and the creations it will bring.
 
 

 Now tell me, what is one of your first memories in the kitchen?

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Blackberry Crumble, serves 4-6
As I indicated above, I began creating with baked goods, and having grown up in an area rich with agriculture and with grandparents that often brought fruit from their own or nearby orchards, baking frequently involved fruit. Crumbles or crisps were an often chosen and easily made dessert that were devoured in a matter of spoonfuls. This one involves blackberries because today happens to be a special someone’s birthday and William requests blackberry desserts annually (or one of its many cousins in the form of boysen or marionberries). Hence, a late September blackberry recipe makes its way into this space nearly every year.

For this recipe, there are a couple options in the way of sweetening and using the oil. For the berries, opt for one tablespoon honey if you’re working on limiting sugar consumption, or don’t tend to eat much sugar, like me. If on the other hand, you do eat sugary sweets regularly, like William, opt for two tablespoons honey and you’ll likely be a little more satisfied. Likewise, we tend to find coconut oil a bit too overpowering in crumbles and pies (even refined coconut oil), and prefer a more neutral flavored oil like canola instead so the blackberry flavor can shine through. I know some particularly like the coconut flavor, so if that’s more your speed, opt for coconut oil instead.    

4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbs. honey (see notes)

Crumble Topping:
2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary
6 Tbs. sorghum flour
1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (see notes)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the berries in a baking dish and toss with vanilla, lemon juice and honey.
  • Prepare the crumble in a separate bowl. Start by mixing oats, sorghum flour, salt and vanilla.
  • Then add the canola or melted coconut oil and honey. Use a spoon or your hands to mix until combined. With your fingers, crumble the filling evenly over the berries.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown.

aged cheddar, brown bread + spiced tomato chutney

aged cheddar, brown bread + spiced tomato chutney

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I have a memory of eating a cheese sandwich on the patio at Ballymaloe, the famed Irish country house and restaurant, on an August day many years ago. William and I were staying at Ballymaloe over the bank holiday weekend while working in Ireland that summer and it was a trip we saved up the bulk of our travel budget to experience. We took the bus to get there and without a car and miles from any town, lunch was kind of an interesting affair. The day I ate my cheese sandwich, lunch was not being served. But they knew we were young and hungry twenty-somethings and the place is known for service beyond this world, so we were offered a choice of a couple sandwiches. Even then I wasn’t overly fond of meaty meals and though none of the options sounded particularly like what I was craving, I opted for cheese. I expected something of the sort of cheese sandwich we might be served in America, either with processed cheese or a sandwich of the grilled affair.

 

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What came from the kitchen was neither. It was homemade brown bread covered in big, thick slices of Irish farmhouse cheddar, the kind that’s been aged for quite some time. I stared at the sandwich, at first thinking to myself, there is no way I need to or am going to eat that much cheese. Hah. Once I began I realized how good it was and before I knew it I was polishing off the plate, satisfied and completely guilt free. I’ve thought about that cheese sandwich often over the years, not particularly desiring to reinvent it again but thinking instead how it encapsulated that perfect weekend in which we had no plans beyond how to get there and no cares other than exploring the farm, the cookery school gardens, and the surrounding countryside with the wheat and oats ready to harvest and a few combines out doing so. We don’t have a single picture of that weekend because we deliberately opted to truly live in the experience instead. It was my first time in the countryside of County Cork and even though I have a deep fondness for Ireland, I really felt at home, truly like there must be history here in the far southwest countryside and rolling hills. Either that, or my foodie nose sniffed out the real farm to fork food-centric part of the country and just wanted to stay in it forever.

 

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Since then, too, cheddar hasn’t been in my diet and neither has that sort of brown bread. Truly, travel in general has changed a lot for me since those days when I didn’t worry about food allergies and could eat exactly what I was craving without making someone else sacrifice their own food desires. I didn’t have any tomato chutney during that Ballymaloe weekend but their tomato chutney business began before the restaurant and guest house did and I came home with a jar of their famous recipe. I hadn’t given tomato chutney a thought since until a quick weekend in Seattle this past June. I always travel with at least my breakfast these days but William woke up a little later than I and wanted to go out for a quick brunch. We somehow got in to Morsel, a popular Ballard breakfast spot, before the line got too long. While I sat at a little table in front of their biscuit case, I noticed their tomato jam was a staple and seemed to be quite popular. Even though I only had a pot of tea at Morsel, I was reminded again of a time when traveling and eating nice bread and cheese and tomato jam because it sounded good was second nature.

I was also reminded that travel memories are what we make of them and though food is an intricate part of those memories and I love getting inspired to make new things because of travel, the memories really aren’t about the food. They are about the experience, the atmosphere, the kind way a stranger becomes a connection, the quiet and deep catch-up chat in a packed coffee house on a Saturday morning, the way we’re put at ease by a conversation in the library after dinner, the thrill of riding rickety bikes up quiet country lanes with no one else around save a few cows, and the deep satisfaction of sitting in the sun on the patio of a house that has more years of history than any building in this country, thinking of absolutely nothing other than how perfect the moment at hand actually is.

 

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Aged Cheddar, Brown Bread + Spiced Tomato Chutney

The Recipe Redux theme this month is meals inspired by our travels. This one has been a long time coming but is inspired by that weekend at Ballymaloe, by a lunch platter/plowman’s lunch recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, and by that little tea and brunch at Morsel in Seattle. I’ve been scheming up ways to make really nice bread and vegan cheese into a meal for a while now. When I initially began eating gluten and dairy-free, I avoided all processed foods–like cheese and gluten-free bread–as much as possible. Since then, the offerings have much improved and there are reasonable substitutes without questionable ingredients–especially when it comes to cheese. I used Vtopian Aged Cheddar and much to my surprise, the flavor was very much in line with a nice farmhouse cheddar. As you can see from the pictures, it has a cashew base and so becomes quite spreadable when warm. If you’re not adverse to cow’s milk cheddar, William’s current favorite is Kerrygold Reserve.

For the meal to serve 2:

nice aged cheddar of choice, thickly sliced

2-4 thick slices bread

tomato chutney

a little side salad for balance, optional

 

Tomato Chutney, makes 4 cups, adapted from Ard Bia Cookbook

3 cloves

1/2 a cinnamon stick

1 star anise

1 bay leaf

a good pinch of ground cardamom

1 tsp. canola oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. brown mustard seeds

1 quart canned tomatoes (or 2 14-oz. cans)

1/4 cup currants

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup brown sugar

salt and pepper to taste

  • In a hot pan, toast the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, and star anise until they start to release their aromas. Then remove and wrap them in either cheesecloth or put in a tea ball.
  • In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the onion and ginger until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and mustard seeds and cook for another minute or so.
  • Add the tomatoes, the spice parcel, the cardamom, and cook uncovered over a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes. Then add the currants, raisins, vinegar, and sugar.
  • Cook for an additional 45 minutes until it has thickened up and and most of the liquid has cooked off.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove the whole spices, and then cool before transferring to a jar.

 

Gluten-Free Struan Bread, (here’s a quick history of struan bread)

2 Tbs. chia seeds

1/2 cup water

1 cup teff or millet flour

1 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup leftover cooked grain such as brown rice, oats, or millet

1/4 cup amaranth or quinoa flour

1/4 cup almond meal

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1 1/2 tsp. yeast

3/4-1 cup water

2 Tbs. canola oil

2 Tbs. maple syrup

  • Soak the chia seeds in 1/2 cup water for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare an 8 1/2 x 4-inch loaf pan by either lining parchment or rubbing the bottom and sides with oil and then flour.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, almond meal, flax, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.
  • In a liquid measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup of warm water. Allow the yeast to begin to foam and then add the oil and syrup. Mix the yeast mixture into the chia mixture and make sure the chia seeds have no lumps in them, and then add the liquids to the dry mixture. With a wooden spoon, mix well, just until the dough is soft and holding together. It will be fairly wet. If it seems more like a drier dough that can be picked up in the hands, add additional water so it is looser.
  • Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, and smooth the top. Take a serrated knife and score a line running the length of the loaf, just off the center. Then place it in the oven and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees F.
  • Bake for one hour at that temperature and then turn down the oven to 300 degrees F. Bake for an additional 40 to 60 minutes.