Baking together: quick & easy take on Wacky applesauce cookies

applesauce_cks2I’m worried I’ve been a little bit of a downer lately on this blog. Eventually, each post gets around to being uplifting–or so I hope at least–but I do persist in dwelling a little too much on time passing, far too fast. It’s not all I think about, but I am always thinking about it nevertheless. One thing about a toddler’s speedy, continuous evolution, it forces an inevitable recognition that nothing ever stays the same. Friendships, routines, feelings– all subject to ebb and flow, seasons and transformation. From there it’s just the littlest leap to face the close-up in the mirror and acknowledge that growing up has faded into growing old. And really, where’s the fun in facts like that?!

But that’s  why, that first paragraph aside, I’m determined to drop Debbie Downer for awhile. I’d rather share examples of how this sometimes frightfully frustrating toddler stage  is also SO MUCH FUN.  Little Monkey is my “happy apple” ( a recent nickname coined by both his love of apples and delightful habit of announcing himself as “APPY” when he’s in an exceptionally good mood, which is often). When it comes to getting things done, I’m stretched too thin, and I do long for more windows in the day for work. But I am reveling in the fact that, for now, I’m still “cool”, and what’s more, we can get a lot done together these days.

Of course the best fun with my little one, outside of plain old play, is cooking side by side. It’s messy, but not as much as one might expect. It’s often sprinkled with questionably germy moments…but those moments are baked to bits and all is good. Little Monkey loves to mix and mash, and we’re discovering more and more creations together that can be shared from beginning to nearly the end, with mama taking over just for the quickest of motions, like sliding a tray into and out of the oven.

applesauce_cks3When Little Monkey was a much littler monkey, I went wild working on a boatload of sugar free/dairy free/oil free, etc snacks in cookie and cake shapes only to discover that, to him, a grape was far more fascinating. Now, though, Flix has become much more conscious of the existence of cookies and treats, and with less time and available amid more work, it’s so gratifying to have a reservoir of options started that satisfy his cookie cravings and curiosity. This variation of a Wacky Applesauce cookie has is gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, and can be made nut free with sun butter. To look at the batter, you might not expect to bake a firm enough cookie shape to hold, but it works. What I love the most, besides the whole process of working together, is how proudly Happy Apple shares his cookies with friends. We’re entering a stage full of possessive awareness now, so sharing he initiates is all the more beautiful. Makes me feel happy apples happy. 🙂

Wacky Applesauce oatmeal raisin cookies (adapted from Wacky Applesauce Chocolate Chip Cookies)

  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup natural almond butter or peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2  teaspoon sea salt
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with coconut oil or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, stirring to combine.

Spoon rounds onto the baking sheet, leaving an inch or two between each, and flattening slightly. Bake 20-25 minutes. Allow a few minutes to cool before serving.

**These also work baking at 400 F for 10-15 minutes! Handy when short on time!

Crockpot coconut veggie chili, vegetable stew, and cooking & tossing with toddler

It’s a most wonderful, wild, stressful and sweet, fantastic and frantic time of the year, and there’s really no time for anything. Certainly not for quick and slapdash posts like this one. But I love and rely on recording recipes, even the not-really-recipes lists, because my crowded brain is in danger of forgetting meals to make in minutes if I don’t write them down. (Is that Mommy brain, still? Fingers crossed it is–I’d much rather that than any alternative explanation I can think of right now!) Most of all, though, I wanted to share my favorite–for now–new cooking technique: it’s called throw and toss crock, and it’s a most productive game.

10628457_10205027538267811_5206536669682973371_nFor months we’ve been working on trying to find that balance of encouraging, informing, and ok, attempting to control and limit Little Monkey’s fascination and growing skill when it comes to throwing. What used to be harmless has increasingly become borderline dangerous…he has AN ARM! He can hurl rather heavy objects with impressive force, gaining startling height and distance. Luckily the aim isn’t completely precise yet, but it’s getting there. We’re a bit in awe…and while proud of our beaming little joyball’s strength, there’s ultimately some management that has to happen. The tough part with the throwing phase is, there are so many rules, and even if the logical mind was developed enough to fully receive, how could they be anything but confusing? Throw this, not that, here not there, with me not at me,  at us not at doggie, soft not hard…

This week, oh how it brightened my morning when, running behind already, we were able to channel throwing into creating dinner. The key is: first to employ a learning tower or similar where toddler is safely stationed. Next, quickly chop assorted veggies that can be quickly chopped without trying the patience of the most important sous chef (gather these prior to bringing little one on board). Engage sous chef in systematically (or not) tossing/throwing chopped vegetables into crock pot with formidable sound effects as you complete whatever needs to be done with rapid, flowing movements. Turn crock on, clean up as is feasible, done until dinner.

The recipe that works best for this isn’t really a recipe, but a guide is always helpful and you can be sure I’m using this again. It is basically this: chop and combine a whole bunch of vegetables (I used a turnip, butternut squash, sweet potato, onion, a couple gold potatoes, pre- chopped turnip greens on sale, about a cup worth of chopped mini carrots, a pepper and a zucchini) with a can of crushed and a can of diced tomatoes; add a shake of Italian seasoning, chili powder, cumin powder, garlic powder, and a dash each of salt and pepper. Add 4 cups water or broth. Slow cook on high 4 hours or  low about 8 hours or however long until you can get down to dinner. Include beans or lentils if you like (I used chick peas). I know, not too interesting, but tasty and adaptable, and turning out something like this:

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Since time is at a premium, however, and the above isn’t exactly unique, I’m making this a twofer, and including a stew I made last week that I hope we will make (Little Monkey and I) together soon. It’s a little more ambitious, but it’s good, and we may get to play a little with shaking and rinsing beans, as long as we can keep them out of the mouth. Bonus, the coconut and other flavors meld together more the next day, so much so that you kind of get two dishes for one, kind of like this post. Happy busy days! 🙂

coc_vege_chiliSlow cooker coconut veggie chili

  • 2 cups dried beans, rinsed and sorted (I used black, red kidney and garbanzo)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 1/2  cups water
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on high heat for 4 to 6 hours (or on low for 8 hours).

Sugar free toddler top 5 (for today)

I’ve been feeling this uncomfortable need to apologize…only I don’t know to whom or why. I guess the awareness of a sort of manic inconsistency is a little discomfiting, and I wanted to acknowledge it. Last week I was spitting out blog posts, relative to my usual old faithful once weekly, and even stashed some starter posts in drafts that may well be destined as forever drafts. This week we’re back to a place that lacks space for free focus like that,  and a return to the quickest little shares. They’re still shares, however, and if sharing of all emotional levels and haphazard planning isn’t acceptable the week of Thanksgiving, then when?

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Parenthood sure has forcibly helped me make enormous strides in the quest to learn to relax and go with the flow of things. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to quietly obsess sometimes, though. And I do love obsessing about exploring sugar free healthy snacks for Little Monkey. (I know, sugar is sugar, and everything breaks down eventually into sugars, but you know what I mean.) I’m far from alone in this preoccupation, so in the spirit of Thanksgiving I wanted to share our current fab favorite portable, easy-to-make refined sugar-free treats of the moment. I’m a little chagrined to be posting, when only 3 of the 5 on my list are actual recipes, and of those, I can only take credit for two, if that. But I do love these treats as much as Little Monkey does.

monkey_treatsToddler Time is a whirlwind like none other I’ve ever experienced. Everything changes lightning-quick, and who knows what we’ll be eating tomorrow. But today, here’s a sample of what we like best. Before you read on, I should probably divulge: 1) This list is heavy on the nuts and dried fruits for the most part. Maybe next week we’ll veer more into nut-free veggie territory. 2) As much as I love that Little Monkey loves these treats, I confess I probably love them more. And I do love even MORE, his real favorites are too basic to list–halved grapes and clementine segments still trump cookies. That’s one thing that doesn’t seem to change at breakneck speed. I hope it stays that way a long, long while.

5. Pecan date flax cookies. These have been an easy favorite with taste testers from the teens and up. Toddlers like them, too, but aren’t as wildly enthusiastic as their older counterparts, who adore the sort of velvety richness of them. This is about Toddlers, though, so this one trails the others, but just by a hair.

4. Pumpkin raisin cookies. I posted about these awhile back, and how thrilled I was upon finding that accidentally omitting sugar didn’t detract from taste at all. I’m even more thrilled to report, swapping chocolate chips for raisins is equally successful, and my Little Monkey’s eyes light up at the results.

3. Quinoa banana muffins. Oh my gosh, I LOVE these muffins from the Ancient Harvest collection! I only wish I could take credit for them. Dairy, nut,oil and gluten free, quick and easy to make, and DELICIOUS. And Little Monkey loves them, too. The tough part is holding back from gobbling up the pan. I will for sure be working multiple variations of these, including pumpkin, zucchini, carrot, apple, and who knows what else. I’ll keep you posted. 😉

2. Almond butter coconut balls. Some moms told me about these, and they are exactly what they sound like–balled up almond butter rolled in unsweetened shredded coconut. I admit I sometimes wish these weren’t quite so yummy or easy to pop into one’s mouth while making them for another who could make better use of the calories.

1. Almond butter stuffed dates. Simplest wins! These are as easy as they sound, less messy than the aforementioned ball (no mess at all, really), and how can you beat the winsome sounds of “mmmmm…mmmmm….mmmm” that accompany them?!

Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

Rim Rock Marathon: Learning to relax and race

What’s a race, project, or otherwise big endeavor without a whole bunch of built-in excuses? You don’t have to be elite, or stake a lot on the line, to have a hefty list. They’re padding my back pocket when nervously anticipating most races; this one was no exception, despite the fact that it was very purposefully meant to be “just for fun”.

rim_rock

The thing about excuses, though, is oftentimes they also happen to be facts. The excuse part of the equation comes into play depending on how much those facts are shared, and with what attitude and/or whining. We often forget them once our goals are achieved, unless the ego insists on a little extra stroking along the lines of, “And it would have been even better if…”. This time though, I want to remember and share my excuses post-completion while happy with the results. Because this time, it feels like all the factors that seemed to go against a good performance strangely ended up opening my mind to a really good day–one of the nicest, purest race experiences I’ve yet had, and I’d love to repeat the feeling.

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Rim Rock Marathon is described as “one of the most scenic marathons in the world”. It is absolutely stunning, winding up and over the Colorado National Monument. What an opportunity, to run through a national park! It’s also pretty darn hard. Climbing 2,000 from the start to the halfway point, it offers views that are both spectacularly dramatic and serene. Sheer red rock walls, sweeping canyons, gorgeous contrasts, twists and turns. Running along such splendid vistas, how can you help but tap into a deep source of inner peace and personal strength?

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Nevertheless, the run/race nearly didn’t happen. I forced myself to get on the bus that shuttled runners to the start line, trying not to inwardly curse Dave too hard for being so encouraging. Excuses? I had miles of them, including:

  • I hadn’t trained on hills. Still nursing, and navigating tight schedule constrictions, my runs tend to be from the house, with one quality session with inspiring Masters’ runners on the weekend.
  • I hadn’t slept more than 2 consecutive hours in two days, and was generally sleep deprived before that, anyway. (Once again, nursing. Little Monkey is weaning on his own, but since taking off walking and running at one year, and now suffering another raging bout of teething, he’s been waking up numerous times at night again, bringing on lots of deja vu to this time last year.)
  • We all caught a stomach bug a week before, which cleaned us out. I still felt utterly drained.
  • I’ve been managing plantar fasciitis for some time, and nagging heel pain was aggravated by compensatory and related issues, mainly a tight back, glutes and hamstrings, especially on the right side and connected to how I’ve been holding my strong and solid little tot.

There are more…but they are truly excuses more than valid. When race morning dawned, I was practically delirious for lack of sleep. I would have had us pack up and drive back home, if it weren’t for the fact that driving is exhausting. I could not wait for the race to be over, and berated myself for putting Little Monkey through a long drive, a dull hotel room, and pack-and-play nights.

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The funny thing is, all the things that stacked against a good day forced a mental choice: wallow and weep and probably bail; or, accept, relax, and see what was possible. I won’t lie…I did spend some time wallowing, petulantly, and nearly even wept. But I’m so glad, even proud of myself,  I was able to step into a more peaceful acceptance in the nick of time.

Stepping off the bus on Rim Rock Drive, I was struck by the casual, laid-back atmosphere and easygoing nature of the small crowd assembled. Lots of ipods didn’t convey lack of friendliness, just a shared expectation of some relatively solo miles and a goal of getting in the zone and enjoying the views. Stretching and chatting with a few other racers, I felt my body shrug off fatigue and start to look forward to a beautiful run.

Set off by a simple whistle, I took things really easy, having no idea how my legs were going to react to 13 miles of consistent, often sharp, uphill. I was amazed to find myself near the front of the pack, and fully expected to be steadily passed. Only I wasn’t. I won’t wax on about too many details, but just as I’ve bulleted the bag of excuses, here are a few notes on what worked:

  • Nutrition: The volunteers were wonderful–so kind. Aid stations, which were every 2 miles or so after the initial 4 steepest miles, were stocked with water, Gatorade, Honey Stinger gels, bananas, pretzels, chocolate.  I alternated water and gatorade and faithfully took a gel every aid station. Normally, I don’t take much but fluid during a race. The energizing burst was awesome.
  • Entertainment: The incredible vistas should probably have been enough, but for the first time ever I wore an ipod in the race, on Dave’s suggestion. He had loaded me up with the perfect playlist. Two really engaging Marathon Talk podcasts were like reflective and fun conversation in the first 20 miles; a shock wave of super charged songs were perfect for the last 10K. One of the podcasts featured amazing British runners Liz Yelling and Jo Pavey discussing motherhood, running in your 40s, family. To hear Jo, a four-time Olympian who is still a competitive elite, talk with such a relaxed and grateful approach was especially grounding, motivating and relaxing.
  • Alone time: I don’t get that much time to myself these days, and typically I don’t crave it. That said, when I get it (usually on a run), it can feel oh so good. Up there, running along the rock walls, I felt this zen flow of being whole, and being just me for awhile, and it was blissful…in spite, or even more because of running a marathon.
  • Love: This will sound oh so sappy, but I was overflowing with it. I felt swept away with loving thoughts for my dear husband and Little Monkey. Flixy’s beaming grin and rosy cheeks after keeping me awake all night before a race took the edge off pain. At one point (towards the end of the race, when I’ll admit there was probably a little bit of light-headedness setting in), I felt like Harry Potter, protected by love. My thoughts kept racing while racing, centering on how much Dave did to help me get to this place, able to relish this race despite all the obstacles. From nightly massages to persistent positive thoughts, packing, packing, planning and driving, he did everything he could. I also felt bolstered by mommy love. One unexpected bonus of being an old new mom–I am consciously grateful for him every single day. Not that other, younger moms aren’t…but I know I have constant awareness of how lucky we are pinned to how very nearly parenthood didn’t happen.

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In the end, I placed 4th overall female and 1st Master’s female (I told myself there are some perks to getting “old”, but prefer my uncle’s take on things: growing older is inevitable, growing old is not an option). The time wasn’t anything close to a PR (3:42), but I’m pleased with that for the tough course, with the winning time just 20 minutes faster. It was a beautiful day, and so very gratifying to finish knowing I’d been able to shake off my own negative energy. Best part, the special little cheering squad that waited at the finish, and the active recovery playing on the grass and kicking leaves all afternoon.

rim_rock (1)What it all comes down to, always, though, is Attitude. It’s the most important thing, in everything. All the bullets helped shape a positive mental approach. So too did all the things that went wrong. Ironically, having a crappy lead-up to the day was what really forced me to choose, finally, to have fun, tune out others’ posturing and focus on what I could do in the moment. Which is without fail how I reach my personal best, proved time and again. The races, projects, even relationships I work for are always most successful when I relax, enjoy, and challenge myself without fear of failure in relation to others around me. Why do I need to take so many classes to learn this lesson? I’m hopeful that writing it down this time, a takeaway may be that I don’t need lots of things to go wrong to get it right.

 

 

 

Easy, refined sugar free pecan date cookies

I’ll be honest. Week to week, we mostly eat like my last post (slow cooker baked sweet potatoes) and not so much like the pictures on my blog page might suggest. All my culinary creativity goes into recipe development for Ancient Harvest (which is oh so much fun!) and brainstorming and experimenting with easy, portable toddler treats. I’m starting a compilation of grab-and-go good-for-you snacks (more on that later), including this one.

 

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In general, when it comes to scheduling around a toddler, the simpler the plans the better. Creating these cookies comes with a little fuss, but not too much, just enough to warrant their own post but not enough to make a toddler top two in easy treats. Still, five minutes  lining a baking sheet and measuring into a food processor followed by twelve minutes baking is not bad.

These cookies originated with this delicious looking recipe from The Detoxinista  , which use walnuts, only I simply can’t resist the lure of the pecan pie-like combination of dates and pecans. I also threw in half a banana–mainly because I was a little low on dates.; I had a cup, but a loosely packed one. I increased flax meal, subbed in orange juice for water, left out chocolate chips (which I NEVER do, only now I’m baking as a mom!), and included unsweetened coconut shreds. The other change was I carelessly threw everything together in one step because, chasing a toddler around, I don’t have time.  I’m pretty sure you could eschew the baking soda and make these no-bake energy balls if you wanted, too, cutting out yet another step.

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Little Monkey keeps me on my toes these days…to say so is an understatement. I LOVE chasing after him, but at the same time it’s easy to admit it’s tiring. Lately though, with the neighborhoods glowing and bursting with Halloween happiness, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how this has got to be the easy part of parenting. We can go to a Halloween parade, and completely ignore the candy. It’s still so foreign, it goes completely unnoticed. What happens when it becomes the norm? My Snacktivist mom friends with older kids, I’m learning from and will soon be turning to you!

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I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, micro-managing parent. I don’t want to put blinders up for the sake of sentimental accepted tradition and fitting in, either…yet at the same time, it would break my heart for a bigger Little Monkey to feel hurt, left out and irritated by his crazy opinionated mom. *Sigh.* We have time (phew). Right now, I’m resting hopes in nutritious options, honest talks and exposure down the road. These cookies are sweet, chewy, and adult, teen, and toddler approved. That’s a good enough start for me.

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Client approval!

Easy sugar free pecan date cookies
Yield: 18 medium cookies or roughly 2 dozen mini toddler bites

Ingredients
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or pecan halves
  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup ground flax/flaxmeal
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor combine all ingredients into a batter (will be fairly smooth but with crunch).
  3. Spoon the batter onto baking sheet and gently flatten with fingers.
  4. Bake at 350F for 12 minutes, or until the edges are slightly golden. Allow to cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.

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