Monday, May 30, 2016

Dear Oregon: On Change

Dear Oregon,

Why did your western side have to be so green and wooded? Why did Portland have to become this beautiful food mecca, full of insane donuts, ridiculous ice cream, and white truffle oil fries? Why does your cost of living have to be comparable to here? Why do your jobs have to pay so much more?

In short, why did you have to be so wonderful that my best friend decided to move there?

I understand, Oregon, that in writing this I may alienate some of my other friends. That's not my intention and it isn't about that. It isn't like I don't have other amazing friends. I have friends that have moved away before, and we friendship other from afar. We visit, and call each other, and the distance doesn't make a difference. Really, I'm so blessed.

And I know, Oregon, I know, that life is about change. I know, how many people live within 20 minutes of their best friend from high school for 15 years. And while we're on the subject, how did that happen?

15 years? Really? Indulge my sentimentality, but we were just there dropping Peeps on doorsteps, being disruptive in AP European History (which we still cringe about because we were never disruptive in any other class). All those drawings about putting our eggs in one basket, and eating hamburgers until we're fat as we want to be!

We started college together. We've started and quit jobs. We've been through three weddings, one divorce, and six babies. We've discussed the ridiculous political scene, the regrets and joys of being a working mom, the regrets and joys of being a stay-at-home mom. There's all the stories about the ridiculous people she meets, or the new shows that I should watch on Netflix that I'll never watch because I still don't have Netflix.There's been races run, shameless dressing up for free Chick-fil-a, baby blessings, birthday parties, and so many conversations about the virtues of baking with butter.

And Oregon, it isn't like our friendship is something from out of a movie, at least a chick-flick. It is more like a B-rated student film festival movie. We don't have girls' weekends, or stay up late painting our toenails and eating cookie dough. (If we eat cookie dough, it is during the day, thankyouverymuch.) We don't go shopping together and we rarely discuss fashion. Instead, we discuss food...a lot. There have been moments of annoyance and insecurity. There have been months where we don't see each other or talk, and then one of us pops out of the abyss and we don't say anything about the absence because these 'breaks' are part of our normal, comfortable cycle. You know, like, whatever.

At first I thought I didn't have pictures of the two of us since high school. I was wrong. I just had to check her Facebook feed. I still don't have a smartphone and rarely carry a camera. If the event was documented, it is because Alicia took the pictures. But some of the most beautiful pictures are the ones she took of my kids on the slip n' slide, or at the park, or as a newborn, so neither of us make it in the shot.

And Oregon, the significance of that absence is real. She's usually the one behind the camera because she's better at the photo thing. So when major life events come, she takes the pictures. Every baby blessing, all the over-the-top birthday parties in my backyard which end up following the same essential pattern (themed food, a few relay games, and the trampoline).

So, she's not in the picture because she is taking the pictures. The fact that there are pictures proves that my best friend was there. So, in a way, she is the picture. And I am terrified of the day that we will finally, purposefully, take a picture with the two of us in the same frame, with our hair done, not dressed as cows, not at a child's birthday party, because the only reason we would take a picture like that would be because one of us might not be there for the next major event. And I don't really want to think about that.

And soon everything we do will gain significance because it might be "the last." The last lunch date/blog planning/catch-up session, the last play-date for the kids, the last game night, the last time we share a baking success or excess of treats. Soon I'll make that last horrendous hike from the parking lot to her apartment carrying a heavy baby. What do I do with that responsibility- of marking "the last time"? I don't like that kind of weight on everyday occurrences. Probably we won't do anything about it, and we'll downplay the fact that these little things are important. I'll cry at my house, she'll cry at hers.

But what in the world do you do to celebrate the end of an era? How do you appropriately mark it? Maybe in all your wonder, Oregon, you have a good idea? Pass it along if you do, because I'm at a loss. That's really the problem. And I'm filled with this sense that I haven't given as much as I've received. Do you know what I mean?

So, Oregon, this isn't just about you. You're the unfortunate scapegoat. And this isn't just about my friend and me. It is just the beginning of summer and people are graduating, moving on. This is about losing a bit of what is good and familiar to something unknown. This is about marriage, divorce, death, and birth. This is about parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends, and neighbors. This is about the fact that in 6 years my daughter will be 18 and ready to do all the "grown-up" things that my friend and I have done. Ultimately, I think it is about the assurance that change is the right thing for someone you care about, but not seeing clearly how it is right for you because it isn't about you. So it hurts a little bit.

Maybe things won't change at all. But some things will. I know it. I can call her. I know there's still Facebook. I know I can come visit. Maybe a visit will be best because she's promised to show me all the reasons why she loves you, Oregon. So, maybe then I'll have a reason to love you, too.

You know, new memories with an old friend.

Cheers, Oregon.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Healthy Chocolate Banana Bread

You won't miss the sugar in this easy-to-make, naturally sweetened bread!

chocolate banana bread no dairy no sugar coconut oil

My 6-year-old tells me this tastes like a chocolate donut, and I absolutely agree. I don't know if you are familiar with Dunford Chocolate Donuts, but this bread is like that donut's attractive, more athletic cousin. So really, maybe this is better, because there is no guilt involved with this Healthy Chocolate Banana Bread, whereas the donut tends to leave me wishing I'd spent more time on the treadmill. 

I really wanted to create a treat that was less treat-ish. Something with which I could trick my family, and my sweet tooth. My banana bread recipe rules, as does my Healthy Coconut Banana Bread, so I decided to experiment. Dark chocolate cocoa powder is one of my favorite kitchen staples, and I had all this Quest protein powder, so I created some magic. The recipe below is the result of multiple test batches, and has been tasted by rigorous testers, and it has handled the pressure beautifully! Did I mention yet that this bread has no added refined sugar?
chocolate banana bread no dairy no sugar coconut oil

OK. Let me clarify before anyone freaks out. I added no white or brown sugar, or honey, or agave. None. I did  add semi-sweet chocolate chips. You can check the ingredients of your preferred brand to see what they use to sweeten their chips and choose accordingly. Also, I recognize that the yogurt I used, Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Vanilla Yogurt, has some sort of sweetener, and that the Quest Vanilla Protein Powder has a minimal amount of sweetener. All that said, most of the sweetness comes from the ripe bananas, and the miraculous thing is that the dark chocolate flavor from the cocoa and chocolate chips justifies the lack of sugar. You don't miss it. 

chocolate banana bread no dairy no sugar coconut oil

I know that many people, (well, I say many, but...) may read this and think, "I don't have all of these ingredients and I don't want to buy them." That's fine with me! Substitute all you want.  Use regular yogurt, or sour cream for the high-protein Greek stuff. Or, you could easily make this bread dairy-free by subbing coconut or soy yogurt for the Greek yogurt. Skip the protein power if you don't have it. You have my permission, not that you need it! 

I knew I would change all that stuff if my kitchen wasn't stocked that way. So, I also made a batch of Healthy Chocolate Banana Bread without the special ingredients, just cutting way back on sugar and using regular cocoa powder, regular yogurt, no protein powder. I even used milk chocolate chips. Amazingly, I couldn't really tell that the loaf with sugar was sweeter.  That's with adding 1/4 cup of sugar! What!?!

Amazingly, the dark chocolate "healthier" version was richer, moister, and better. My Stella likes it more, and so did my other guinea pigs. (Thanks BoTS friends!) Plus, I think it is prettier. See how dark it is? So intense. I love that color. And the fact that this bread tasted delicious made me do a dance. Several times. And I ate it for dinner the night I made it, which perhaps defeated the purpose of healthier chocolate banana bread, but there is over 40 grams of protein in one loaf! So I was like, "It's fine."

chocolate banana bread no dairy no sugar coconut oil

One final note: this bread doesn't taste super banana-ish. And if you use coconut oil, you'll get a hint of that too. Mostly, you'll just be tasting wonderful, wonderful chocolate. I'm excited for you to try this! Whenever you do, in no time you'll be left with this:

Healthy Chocolate Banana Bread

Recipe by Little Red Hen
Chocolaty, moist, delicious bread sweetened with bananas. No added sugars, easily non dairy, and packed with protein.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 60-90 minutes
Total time: Under 2 hours
Yield: 1 loaf
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 cup Greek vanilla yogurt, I used Oikos Triple Zero
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup white, 1 cup wheat)
  • 1 scoop Quest Vanilla Protein Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 small bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a 9" loaf pan with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix melted coconut oil with cocoa powder. Add dry ingredients and yogurt. Beat in eggs, mashed bananas, and milk. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Bake for 60-90 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Bake the bread. Share the slices.

chocolate banana bread no dairy no sugar coconut oil

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pennsylvania Dutch Pies

Delicious, flaky and meaty, these pies are a sure family favorite!

It kind of feels like the wrong time of year to make these Pennsylvania Dutch Pies, but it is rainy and cloudy again here, so I think it is still a good idea to eat them. Plus, they taste really, really good. Is there ever a bad time to eat something that is really, really good? I can't think of one. At first I thought, "A funeral is a bad time to be eating really, really good food," but then I remembered you always have a good luncheon and talk about happy memories at funerals, so that's out. Then I thought maybe standing in line at the DMV would be another inappropriate time, but then that is such a miserable experience that really, really good food could only improve the situation. 

Perhaps during the second act of an opera would be a bad time, (although I do have a story which involves a symphony, my little brother, a large leather jacket, and the smell of chicken fingers wafting through the air, but that story is for another day.) Of course, the bathroom is the obvious bad place to eat really, really good food. But let's not go there...figuratively.

These Pennsylvania Dutch Pies are easy, delicious, and an easy freezer meal. Ground beef, cheese, and cabbage may sound kind of boring, but the dijon mustard makes them taste awesome. The first time I had these Dutch Pies was my birthday a few years ago. I thought we would go out to dinner, but our night was running late and my best buddy, Alicia, had gotten my husband and I tickets for Peter Breinholt's Christmas concert. There was a huge snowstorm, so we crawled downtown,  parked, and got to the concert in plenty to time to sit, but not in enough time to eat dinner. The concert was amazing- I got to be with some of my favorite people and listen to my favorite music in a beautiful place- but by the time we got home it was WAY late. I'll admit, I was a little grumpy that my birthday dinner was a lame ol' freezer meal until I took a bite. Happy birthday to me! Pennsylvania Dutch Pies are tasty! And now you can make them too, even if it isn't your birthday. 

Pennsylvania Dutch Pies

  • 1 onion, chopped 
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 3 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 premade pie crusts
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp water
  1. In a large skillet, cook ground beef, onion, and garlic until juices run clear and beef is thoroughly cooked. Drain grease, if desired.
  2. Add cabbage and cook until wilted, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and add mustard and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out pie crust. Cut into 4 pieces. Lightly fold each piece of crust in half, so there is a gently crease.
  5. Put about 1/2 cup beef onto each piece of pie crust. Fold in half and use a fork to seal the halves together. Repeat until all filling is used.** Refrigerate pies for 30 minutes.
  6.  Preheat oven according to pie crust instructions, or 450 degrees. Place pies onto prepared cookie sheet.
  7. ***Mix egg white with 1 tsp water. Whisk with a fork and spread onto each pie. 
  8. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until pies are golden brown. Serve immediately.
**3 crust are needed for 12 pies. 2 crust will make 8 pies and the additional filling can be frozen, or it is pretty tasty in a warm tortilla with extra cheese. Yum...

***To prepare pies as a freezer meal, once pie crusts are filled, wrap individual pies in freezer paper and seal in Ziploc bags. Do not do egg white wash until ready to bake. To bake, unwrap frozen pies, brush pies with egg wash, and bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until pies are cooked through and golden brown.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Healthy Coconut Banana Bread

I love eating treats for breakfast. Cookies, bars, breads. Waking up knowing there is something awesome upstairs waiting for me in the kitchen makes me so happy! It is something to look forward a little private holiday that only I am celebrating. Sure, I could wait until lunch to indulge, but I don't. It is a bad habit. Recently though, I read that having something sweet after breakfast can curb cravings later in the day. Now that is a healthy eating tip I can get behind! So, I had to come up with something I could feel good about eating in the morning. Enter Coconut Banana Bread!

This Healthier Coconut Banana Bread is roughly based on my Best Banana Bread. However, I switched it up and I feel great about it. Coconut oil replaces the butter and gives great flavor. I added desiccated coconut, (that stuff you see sprinkled all over smoothie bowls), that I got at Sprouts. I used a combination of white and whole wheat flour to prevent the bread from being too heavy. But the best substitution is getting rid of the sugar! No white sugar in this bread! Just 1/4 cup honey, combined with ripe bananas and some yogurt, is enough to keep this bread sweet. Scoff if you will, but I'm being honest!

Tasty and moist, this Coconut Banana Bread has a great texture and is just sweet enough to to start my day off happy. Or to stave off my late-afternoon sugar cravings. I like to top it with Earth Balance Coconut Peanut spread at breakfast. I love happy, healthier mornings!

Healthy Coconut Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups wheat flour (or 1 cup white, 1 cup wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup desiccated coconut (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare an 8" loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl cream together the coconut oil, honey, mashed bananas, eggs and yogurt. 
  3. Mix in flours soda, powder, salt and coconut until just combined. Pour into loaf pan.
  4. Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes. 
  5. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan continue cooling on cooling rack. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Citrus Pound Cake

Happy Mother's Day week! Happy May! Happy better-bust-out-the-razor-and-shave-because-it-is-shorts-weather! It is beautiful outside today. So beautiful that I'd honestly rather be outside watching my kids play in the yard than writing, but it has been a long time and I found a little pocket of time. It was either post, or take a nap, and today the post won. So I guess I win too! But you definitely win because you are looking at a perfect spring and Mother's Day pound cake.

Light and bright with citrus flavors, this pound cake doesn't feel like a pound cake. I mean, it is still loaded with butter and sugar as all self-respecting pound cakes should be. But, orange, lemon, and lime juices,give this pound cake a springy lift. After eating a slice you feel happy and satisfied. No heavy weight of regret. That's a Happy Mother's Day right there!

I also made a citrus simple syrup to pour over the cake. The lemon and lime juice, water, and sugar combine to add a slight crunch to the cake before icing. Plus, the syrup intensifies the pound cake as the citrus flavor in the cake is fairly subtle.

I topped the cake with a pourable cream cheese icing because I thought it would look pretty. I did a fine, not incredible, job of pouring it. More important was the flavor! The tang of the cream cheese really paired well with the sweet citrus of the pound cake. Add some fresh lemon, lime, and orange zest for color and voila! You've got the perfect end to your Mother's Day brunch or dinner. The only thing that can make this cake better would be a guarantee that someone else will do the dishes!

Citrus Pound Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt or tube pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon extract. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.
  3. Add flour and baking powder. Slowly stream in milk and orange juice. Mix until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. (If cake is browning too quickly, use foil to cover edges.)
  5. Cool upside down on a cooling rack for easier removal from bundt pan.
  6. While cake bakes and cools, make Simple Syrup.
  7. Pour syrup over cake.
  8. While syrup sets, make Cream Cheese Icing.
  9. Pour icing over cake and top with fresh citrus zest.
Citrus Simple Syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • zest from 1 lemon 
  • zest from 1 lime
  • juice from 1 lime
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  1. Heat sugar, zest, and water in a small pot over medium-high heat, stirring consistently, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil.
  2. Pour through a sieve if desired, and cool completely before pouring over cake.
Pourable Cream Cheese Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature (really important if you don't want lumpy icing!)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or milk)
  • 3 tbs water or orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • lemon, lime, and orange zest
  1. In a large bowl or food processor, combine powdered sugar, cream cheese, cream, orange juice and extracts. Beat until smooth, adding additional water if necessary, a teaspoon at a time. Pour over cake.
  2. Let set 20 minutes before slicing. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices.