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…)
Ideas hatch in my brain, leaving a chaotic scattering of shells. Long after I should be asleep, I stare at the dimly lit, bedroom ceiling and walls, with the orangish, city light filtering through the curtains. My racing mind schemes and plots- picnics, party ideas, flower garden dreams, how to acquire an historical home without a huge life’s savings, etc, etc, ETC! Some of these ideas are fleeting, and they fade into the dimly lit night, but others… Others are BIG! They burn with such an intensity, until the neurons fire signals to my heart, and before long, my whole being is set on an idea.
As an “idea person (i.e.: an obsessive person),” I’m sorely in need of a structural counterpart in my life. He or she would line up the roadmap and the checkpoints to send me on my way to the end result I want so intensely. Luckily, for all my grandiose, time-intensive, layer cakes and sky-high dreams, there are blondies. These peanut buttery blondies, with their rich simplicity, are blank canvases for creativity in their own right. Yet, from the intense craving to the first, gooey bite, the commitment is minimal, leaving this girl to obsess over Scandinavian bungalows, vintage camper renovations, ice cream socials, farm dinners….etc, etc, etc!
Here’s to the simpler ideas!
Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. ~Stephen Vincent Benét
Like a child, I approach bedtime with resistance. I hate to admit the day is through when there were moments squandered and so much more I wanted to do! Rather than ready myself for bed properly and face the next day with more intention, I curl into a ball on the corner of the cozy couch. I burrow under blankets and fall asleep to a program whose ending I will inevitably miss, no matter the length of the show. As with most bad habits, this vicious couch-sleep cycle wrenches me further and further from what I want in the first place: to make the most of each day. I’m working on it.
As much as my sleep habits fight the looming night, my dessert tendencies celebrate the day’s conclusion. Sure, I like a nib of dark chocolate with an afternoon espresso drink, or a morning pastry here and there, but concluding a day with your sweetest bite is like a firework finale- you saw it coming the whole time, but the awe inspiring display lessens the blow of the show’s end. Ignore the diet guides against eating late with me, bake wholesomely, and allow yourself a moment to delight and relish. Then, hopefully, relax, read, drink tea or do something that proactively transitions into bedtime. Then tell me how to do it.
Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Peppermint Brownies with Cocanú Craque (Candied Cacao)
About this Recipe: I recently started reading chocolate labels more carefully, and was disheartened to discover even many of the expensive dark chocolate brands I had been using list Soy Lecithin as their emulsifier (helps fats and liquids to stay blended smoothly). Most of this soy is genetically modified, a practice I do not wish to support. I eagerly discovered Guittard uses a non-gmo sunflower lecithin and real vanilla, in addition to sourcing their beans from small, family-owned cacao farms. Top that responsible chocolate base with the crunch of Cocanú Craque, a candied cacao, and you have one very memorable brownie. Cocanú was founded by Sebastián Cisneros “as a vessel to shake the imagination through tasteful chocolate ideas produced with fine ingredients, technique, and whim.” I’m into it, and I hope you will be too!