Dark Chocolate, a swirl of creamy peanut butter, and a generous sprinkling of sea salt check all the boxes for comforting flavors, but these rye flour brownies are whole grain and layered, so they feel fancy enough for sharing this holiday season.
These days, I tend to err on the side of gluten-free baking when it comes to baking for larger gatherings. The chances that someone has a gluten allergy or sensitivity seem to be high these days. Plus, as a grain nerd, these recipes are a chance to explore a wider variety of flavors, textures and health benefits, so let me introduce you to Teff via chocolate and pecan blondies.
The weeping willow has shed so many of her tears, blanketing all but a tiny, undulating trail of sidewalk for my pup and me. Our routine walk has taken us past all her emotions- from full and boastful to drooping sorrow. Half cloaked and half unveiled, her in-between state reflects the season- not quite fall, not quite winter, all over gray with a tinge of the somber.
If only the willow knew of sunny pumpkins and gourds, with their brilliant orange colors and comforting flavors. Or maybe she does, and the descent of her leaves is more like a sweeping embrace than an ugly cry.
Like the scantily clad willow tree, these bars mark the transition of Thanksgiving to winter holiday baking. Pumpkin bar meets a gingerbread crust with a snowfall of pumpkin streusel and a garland of molasses. Though the willow may be submitting to the coming of the cold season, the fiery red trees seem to defy it, so channel them if you need a little warmth in these gray months. Or bake these, and serve with hot tea.
Whole Grain Pumpkin Bars with Gingerbread Crust & Pumpkin Streusel
Yield: 9×13 pan/about 24 bars
About this Recipe: Pumpkin + Spice on a gingery crust. The molasses drizzle made eaters think the streusel had raisins, so if you’re not a raisin fan, skip the drizzle. I used turmeric in the filling for color and nutrients.
People ask me if I am from Pittsburgh? No, I moved here. Then I left. Then I returned. It was cheap, and my stuff was here, and it was no fairy tale. I returned to Pittsburgh for two major life tracks that both fell through. They fell hard, like coins falling through ripped jeans and clanking on the pavement.
It was a sour moment. Yet, I don’t think I shed a single tear (I’m all about regrouping). Turns out, those plans clanked to the sidewalk for a reason. The universe had something way sweeter in store for me (mainly, the Urban Farmer and a lil’ lass with punkin’ seeds for eyebrows). Sweet, sour, beautiful on the surface, then sticky, sludgy and messy, and yet, so damn good! That’s life, and that’s lemon bars!
So when life hands you life, make lemon bars!
Gluten Free Lemon Bars
yield: 24 bars & a sticky mess
Most nights I harbor a little guilt for our dinnertime tv habit. I was raised at the dinner table. We conversed. We listened. We passed plates. Now, we pass judgment on the Underwoods while trying to understand Doug Stamper’s self-loathing.
Yet, as I balanced my dinner plate in one hand and pressed the projector power button with the other, a feeling of gratitude defeated the guilt. It was a time-pausing feeling, similar to déjà vu, but unlike déjà vu, this feeling of “been here before” was very identifiable.
Night after night, one of us carries out the plates or the wine glasses, and the other hits the power button. As I turned on the projector, our guilty habit filled me with comfort. This was our routine, our normal, our guilty habit (well, I may be alone in the guilt factor). Powering the projector made me realize just how intertwined we had become, how comforting normal can be. Some might cast self judgment and bemoan, “oh god, we’re getting so old,” but if age is what snaps us into the little moments worth appreciating, then let’s be old souls with a few routines!
Or, better yet, let’s have the chocolate snap us into the moment! Chocolate and cheesecake swirls take me back to elementary school, when my mom would ask me what I wanted to bring to school for my birthday. Year after year, my answer was the same- self-filled cupcakes!
Those swirls were my tradition, so when it came time to share an extra birthday treat back in January, the choice of what to make was an easy one!
Here’s to the comforts of repeated routines and recipes!
Self-Filled Mint Brownie Bars / Mint Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
About this Recipe: I grew up calling the cupcake equivalent of this a “self-filled cupcake,” but the bar form adds a more grown-up feel and really showcases the swirls. Pure mint extract adds that coveted thin mint flavor, and sprouted spelt flour makes these a whole grain indulgence! They taste just like childhood only better for you!
David lifted Didi into the air, and her satiny blue skirt’s ruffles erupted like a firework beneath his grip. They were now husband and wife, and this dance floor embrace was the moment I wanted to preserve in my memory- nothing but satin, lace and love! In the same weekend, a mere bridge away, I watched Chris and Dana embrace their 10-lb bundle of puppy joy, feeling the slipper like warmth of her fur brush against their ridiculously happy, tired faces.
These satin, lace, and puppy joys emerged from times of illnesses, deaths and heartaches, which only heightened these highs. In its ebbs and flows, this life can feel like one big sine curve- an alternating act of “all” or “nothing.” My kitchen corroborates these intense swings- the oven will warm, churning out fancy cake after fancy cake, for back-to-back birthdays, dinner parties and holiday gatherings, followed by the cold oven periods and slim pickings.
During the “all” times, we swim in desserts. The refrigerator bursts with an odd assortment of frostings, fillings and cake scraps, and even my intense sweet tooth feels overwhelmed. I give desserts away right and left, but shamefully, I’ve yet to hit the sweet spot of zero waste, and of all the morsels to hit the compost bin, dark chocolate pains my sensibilities the most.
In fear of a half-frosted cake, I always seem to make too much chocolate ganache- a good problem in the chocolate sense, a bad problem when it ends up as compost. As I whipped up a mid-week dessert-craving cure- my trusty nut butter blondies– I eyed the leftover ganache in the refrigerator. Sure, it could be frozen and maybe be enough for the next cake, but in the end, I’d probably end up stuck in a leftover cycle. Wanting an immediate solution, I broke off chunks of the pliable chocolate and stirred it directly into the batter. Out came an even better blondie- a brownie.
I’m still figuring out how to extend the grin-until-your-jaw-hurts moments through the sadder/stressful swings, but in the meantime, at least I am finding more ways to stretch dessert abundances more and waste less. What are your tricks?
Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (Gluten Free)
yield: 9×13 pan
About this Recipe: If you have leftover ganache after baking a cake, save it for these brownies. If you don’t have ganache to add, simply omit it and follow the rest of this recipe to make my go-to blondies. I used approximately 1 cup of soft ganache (not liquid), but as a chocolate lover, I imagine the more, the better, so experiment! (more…)