humorous and heartfelt stories ~ healthy recipes made without gluten, dairy, or eggs ~ ideas for living well

My youngest son Will has an endearing little habit of filling his pockets with the many "treasures" he encounters in his daily adventures. I don't always understand the value he sees in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks can one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one is beautiful and important. His habit got me thinking about how life is just like that on a larger scale; we gather up the precious bits of our many experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. My life is not a particularly remarkable one, but it is full of cherished people, moments, and ideas that I'd like to share. Perhaps you will find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pocket. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies (gluten-free, vegan)

It snowed here today. (Don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of that on April 15th, although this post reminded me recently that the weather was equally ridiculous in April last year.)  It seemed like a good day to spend some time in the kitchen baking and doing some advance prep for our Easter celebrations this coming weekend, because then I could ignore the fact that I needed winter boots and a parka to properly go outside.  I made our family's famous sweet potato casserole to freeze for Sunday's dinner, and then for some reason I got carrot cake on the brain.  Rather than baking a cake, I decided to create some almond flour and oatmeal cookies that had all of the delicious flavours of carrot cake in them.  The cookies turned out wonderfully -- they are chewy, cinnamony, lightly sweet, and cheerfully decorated with a coconut butter and maple syrup icing that makes them especially fun for kids.  Yum!

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies

For the cookies:

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1 1/2 cups certified pure gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

For the icing:

3 tbsp raw coconut butter
3 tsp coconut oil
3 tsp pure maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, rolled oats, coconut sugar, chia seeds, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil and vanilla extract.  Stir the grated carrot into the oil mixture, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir well until a uniform dough forms.  (The dough will be somewhat dry-looking, but it should stick together nicely when you press it between your fingers.  You may want to knead it a little with your hands.)  Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using your hands, roll the dough into balls that measure approximately one and a half inches in diameter.  Place the balls in rows on the parchment paper lined baking sheets, and press them down with the palm of your hand to make flat circles measuring about half an inch high.  Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, until they are lightly golden.  Cool the cookies completely.

To make the icing, combine the coconut butter, coconut oil, and maple syrup in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until a smooth icing forms.  Place the icing in a piping bag with a small round tip and pipe the icing across the tops of the cooled cookies in a zig-zag pattern.  Serve and enjoy!

These cookies are fun and easy to make with kids, who might want to leave some for the Easter Bunny this weekend.  (After all, why should Santa get all the goodies, right?)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sixth sense

We were engaged in some usual dinner table conversation one evening last week, and I was suddenly distracted by the sight of Noah's glasses, the lenses of which were covered in smudges.

"You should clean your glasses after dinner, Noah, " I suggested.  "I'm not sure how you can even see through those."

The dirty lenses reminded me of the fact that we had ordered a pair of replacement ones from Lenscrafters for Noah the week before, and that the store was supposed to call when they came in.  We had forgotten all about that in the bustle of the week that had since passed.  I glanced at Matt questioningly.

"Hey, the Lenscrafters people haven't called yet, have they?"

Matt confirmed that they hadn't as far as he knew, and we all started back to eating and thinking about other things to talk about.

Not three seconds later, the phone rang.  The four of us looked around at each other in wide-eyed silence, each of us having the same thought as we remembered the last thing I had said.

"I bet you that's Lenscrafters," I declared with bright confidence as the phone rang a second time.  Matt got up from his chair and walked into the family room where the phone was, and he laughed incredulously when he looked at the call display.

It was Lenscrafters.

If the boys were previously unconvinced that their mom had superpowers, they had no doubt in their minds in that instant.  We all shrieked and laughed in disbelief, and my two sons stared at me with a mixture of awe and fascination. I was suddenly even cooler than the time I had shown them I could turn my eyelids inside-out.

I would chalk this up to some extra-freaky coincidence, except that this type of thing seems to happen frequently where the women in my family are concerned.  We somehow have an uncanny ability to "know" about situations before they happen; there are many stories of vivid dreams predicting events that occurred shortly afterwards, and "feelings" about things that very soon proved to be true.  Just a few weeks ago, my mom told me that she had recently encouraged my dad to start working on a crocheting project for the next grandbaby, though there was no actual next grandbaby to speak of as far as any of us were aware.  That same week I was talking to her, my brother Frank and his wife Meg surprised all of us with the wonderful announcement that they are expecting their second child in October.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.

I'm not in need of any more proof that I've inherited some kind of sixth sense.  Now if only I could channel those superpowers into predicting the next big winning lottery numbers....  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Doll Sweater

When I was a young girl, my creative mom made playtime especially fun for me by knitting and sewing an impressive collection of clothes for my favourite dolls.  I used to spend hours dressing babies and little ladies and men up in different outfits and creating imaginary worlds for them.  My mom saved all of those clothes when I finally grew too old for playing with them, and she passed this special piece of my childhood on to me, stored carefully in my old toy box, years later.

Once I had young children of my own, I opened up that treasure trove of memories and fondly pulled out some of my old dolls' wardrobe to share with my two boys.  It was sweet to see them clothe their favourite stuffed rabbits and monkeys and elephants in little sweaters that had been made by my own mom's loving hands so long ago.  The woven strands of those clothes were a tangible reminder of the fact that I, too, had once spent hours happily lost in the creative and innocent pastimes of childhood; having them around me again brought a wonderful feeling of familiar comfort.

A few months ago, Will came to me with a worried look on his face and confessed that there had been an incident involving one of the handmade sweaters.  He had left it on his desk near a blob of sticky pink putty, and the putty had slowly expanded overnight until it overtook the sweater and oozed itself intricately into the very fibres of it.  The poor sweater looked like it had just emerged from a very unfortunate encounter with an entire package of chewed up bubble gum.

I Googled several variations of the phrase "How to remove sticky goop from a sweater", and tried a number of different tricks involving ice cubes and salt and soaking and such, but none of them worked to completely loosen the pink stuff's grip on the yarn.  The sweater is still sitting in my laundry room because I haven't been able to decide exactly what I should do with it next.

I was initially upset by this sweater versus putty incident, even though I knew it was an accident.  I felt like the damage to the sweater was somehow an unravelling of my own story, that changing the way it had always looked took something special away from me.

It's interesting how we become so attached to physical objects that remind us of important moments from our past.  We cling to them as proof of experiences and feelings that have passed us by and that we can no longer recreate; they reassure us that what we remember was real.  Old photographs and treasures wrapped carefully in crinkled tissue paper keep us firmly rooted in our sense of self, when the constant ebb and flow of life makes us feel sometimes as though we're drifting off into the unfamiliar.

But physical objects like a handmade doll sweater are not the only testament to the moments of our past. The experiences represented by those things we've saved are woven into our very selves; their effects on us are displayed in the complex patterns of who each of us is at any given time.  Photographs fade, fragments of delicate mementos are lost, and even our own bodies change in ways that are sometimes unrecognizable to us as we grow older, but our very essence is made up of our cumulative history:  the events, people, thoughts and feelings that shaped us and made each one of us unique.

Over time, seeing the pink-goop-riddled doll sweater day after day in my laundry room has somehow shifted my perspective on its significance.  The sweater, like everything in life, could not stay the same forever. Rather than seeing the pink stains as a symbol of something lost, I now see them as another meaningful layer added to my life's story.  Some day in the future, when I am the mom of two men, I will come across that sticky sweater carefully packed away somewhere and will be reminded of a much loved boy whose vivid imagination used to spill out in colourful collections of random objects all over his desk.  There will be no doubt in my mind then that what I remember was real, and wonderful.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Fruit Pizza (gluten-free, vegan)

This afternoon's gray and gloomy skies had me wishing for a little bit of colour to brighten things up around here, so I popped into the grocery store to pick up some fresh fruit in a rainbow of colours.  The fruit was just the inspiration I needed for a creative afternoon project:  I decided to make a fruit pizza that our family could share together after dinner this evening.  I baked an almond flour crust, adapted the filling for my lemon and raspberry cheesecake blossoms from last spring to spread on top, and finished it off with an arrangement of vibrant fruit pieces and a sprinkling of coconut.  This simply delicious and appealing dessert was a nice Friday evening treat that all four of us really enjoyed!

Fruit Pizza

For the crust:

2 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:

3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked for one hour, then rinsed and drained
the juice of half an orange
the juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
the zest of half an orange
the zest of half a lemon

assorted fresh fruit (I used strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, mango, and pineapple)
unsweetened shredded coconut for sprinkling on top of the pizza

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  To make the pizza crust, combine the almond flour, sea salt, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.  Whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla in a smaller bowl, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Stir well, then spread the crust mixture out across a standard sized round pizza pan. Firmly press the mixture down with your hands, making sure you have a nice even crust.  Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the crust from the oven and let it cool completely.

To make the filling, place the soaked cashews, orange juice, lemon juice, vanilla, melted coconut oil, and maple syrup in the bowl of a food processor.  Process the ingredients at high speed, stopping as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, until you have a smooth mixture.  Stir in the orange and lemon zest, and place the filling in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up a little.

Spread the filling out smoothly across the entire top of the cooled pizza crust.  Arrange an assortment of fresh fruit on top of the filling, and sprinkle a little unsweetened shredded coconut over everything.  Slice the pizza into triangles with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife and serve.  (Any leftover slices can be stored in the refrigerator.)

This fresh fruit pizza, with its pretty presentation and pleasing flavours, makes a lovely dessert to follow any spring dinner.  It would be a perfect treat for Easter, too.  Enjoy!

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Amazing 'Mum'ford

I think I may have somehow convinced my children that I am a magician.  There is no other way to explain the absolute trust they've shown in my ability to produce random items out of thin air, with no advance warning or preparation.

This morning, for example, Will told me over breakfast (in an "oh and by the way" kind of voice) that he needed to bring a snowboard to school for a presentation he was doing in French class.  Luckily a snowboard is something that Will actually has and so there was a hope that we could realistically produce it in a last-minute fashion; however, he hadn't used it in awhile and neither one of us was exactly sure where it was. There were about thirty minutes left before the time he usually leaves for school, and I knew that if he followed his usual course of action for the morning, which typically involves him talking instead of eating, trying to drive Noah crazy instead of getting dressed, and making brains and things in the bathroom instead of brushing his teeth, that those thirty minutes were already more than accounted for.  I wanted Will to be responsible himself for having what he needed for school, so I told him if he wanted to bring a snowboard, that he would have to hustle through his routine to leave himself enough time to find it somewhere out in the garage.  (I also reminded him that remembering and taking care of this last night would have been an excellent idea.)

The snowboard must have been important to Will, because he managed to be ready on time this morning. He went out to the garage to search for it, but he came back empty-handed, and I could hear in his wavering voice the anxiety he was then feeling about not doing what he was supposed to do for his presentation. When I thought about the high levels of stress that this would cause my rule-following perfectionist boy all day, I caved and dashed out to the garage to look for the thing myself while he got his coat and boots on. (I know, I know -- it's my own fault that the boys have come to believe I'm a magician.)

With about 13 minutes left before the school bell time and a 10 minute walk ahead of the boys still, I managed to reach Matt on his phone, found out that the snowboard might possibly have been stuffed way back on the very top shelf of the garage, and completed the daring physical feat of balancing on one foot on top of a tippy storage bin and blindly reaching for something that felt like a snowboard while fishing rods, beach umbrellas, and curling brooms tumbled down on my head.  I think I was as glad as Will was when a snowboard suddenly appeared in my hands amid a bang! and a pouff of smoke.  (Okay fine, there was no bang! or pouff of smoke.  I added those for dramatic effect.)

It's tricky sometimes as parents to find the balance between not doing too much for our kids so that they learn to be responsible, and helping them when they're struggling (because we want them to be successful and we recognize that learning tricks like planning in advance can take time).  I take comfort in the fact that I've seen both boys discover from past experiences how they can be better organized so we can avoid last-minute stresses: Noah understands now not to tell me again on a January school morning when the ground is completely covered in snow that he needs a dozen rock specimens that day for a school project, and Will actually gave me a very reasonable few days' notice last week that he needed to dress like a hippie for a school assembly.  Despite the fact that I had to make a snowboard magically appear at the last minute this morning, I'm hopeful that my two apprentices are figuring out how to be masters of their own successes, one trick at a time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Worth Keeping In Your Pockets -- March 2014

Today something very exciting happened, something that we haven't seen around here in a really long time: outside it was actually both sunny and warm(-ish)!!!  The snow mountain at the end of our driveway is slowly but surely starting to melt away, and Matt and the boys and I even managed to dig our Christmas lights out of the ice that has kept them buried in our trees for much longer than is acceptable, so that today we were finally able to put the last of them away. These are simple little pleasures, certainly, but they're very welcome ones after the long, cold winter we've experienced this year, and I think all four of us are feeling much more cheerful now that it seems spring might actually come.

With change finally in the air, it feels like a good day for a spring-themed edition of Worth Keeping In Your Pockets.  Here are some fun, useful, or interesting things I've discovered that I think you might enjoy, too.

A new favourite cookbook:  I pre-ordered Angela Liddon's Oh She Glows Cookbook just after Christmas, and I was so excited when her beautiful book recently arrived in my mailbox that I actually sat and read it cover to cover that evening (something I don't usually do with a cookbook).  The book is filled with delicious-sounding recipes and gorgeous food photographs that will inspire you to get in your kitchen immediately and whip up one of her tasty and good-for-you creations.  Angela's recipes are all vegan, but you don't need to be vegan to appreciate them; her book (and her blog, which I refer to often for food ideas) appeal to anyone who wants to enjoy vibrant and healthy meals.

Getting organized:  The transition to a new spring season always puts me in a cleaning and organizing mood.  I suddenly notice areas in our home that have been a certain way for a long time but could be done better, and I find it very satisfying to transform them.  Recently I got fed up with the metal bin we had on our kitchen counter that was being used to hold things like notepads and forms from school, pens, and other miscellaneous stuff.  We have limited counter space in our kitchen as it is, and that bin was often crammed to the point of overflowing, which was making me feel claustrophobic when I was cooking.  I finally got rid of the bin, and replaced it with a wall-mounted letter holder which we tucked away in an unused sliver of wall between a tall cabinet and the kitchen window.  (The letter holder was a great deal from Sears, and looks very much like the more costly version I'd been admiring in the Pottery Barn catalogue.)  All of the papers we need to keep at close reach are now neatly organized in there in some pretty file folders I found in the dollar bins at Target, and my kitchen counter suddenly seems bigger and less cluttered.  Hooray!

A pop of colour:  One of the easiest ways to bring the feeling of spring indoors this time of year is by switching out some heavier winter home accessories for some brightly-coloured, lighter ones.  I recently replaced some tired-looking old throw cushions on our living room furniture with some fresh new ones, and the room suddenly looks much more cheerful and inviting.  (Maggie the cat approves, too, as she now spends most of her day curled up with these new cushions, sleeping.)  I found many great spring patterned pillows to choose from in stores like Pier One, Bouclair, and HomeSense.

Natural laundry soap:  Our family switched to using all-natural laundry soap several years ago.  We all have sensitive skin, and some of us are also sensitive to scents, so it was important to me to find a chemical- free soap that would be gentle and still do a good job of cleaning our clothes.  Nellie's All-Natural Laundry Soda is my hands-down favourite now (although for some reason, Noah calls it "Margaret Soap".)  It's a powder that dissolves well, cleans effectively, and rinses thoroughly out of our clothes so there is no residue left behind.  I love that a relatively small tin of Nellie's does 100 loads of laundry and is good for both our sensitive skin and the environment.  You can find Nellie's products at health food stores (I also buy the Oxygen Brightener, which is great for keeping whites white and for removing stains), or sometimes at Winners or HomeSense (where you can get it for a very good price when they have it).

Photo credit:  FamilyFun Magazine

April Fool's Day fun:  April 1st is just a couple of days away, and if you have kids who love getting pranked, you might have some fun with this cute idea I used to trick Noah and Will a few years ago.  Simply print out this little doughnut seed packet and assemble it, then fill it with an O-shaped cereal.  When I gave these little seed packets to the boys at breakfast, telling them I had found the perfect thing to plant in our garden that summer, their faces were a priceless mixture of disbelief and delight.

A homemade sports drink:  With warmer weather in sight, kids will soon be running around playing outdoor sports again and training for the school track-and-field season.  Here's a great idea for keeping them hydrated, suggested to me by our ND, Anita Kieswetter:  You can make your own sports drink by simply mixing eight ounces of water, one tablespoon of orange juice, and a pinch of sea salt.  This natural version does all the work of a store-bought sports drink, without all of the added sugar and artificial colours.

Signs of spring:  There is grass outside in some places once again; a sweet pair of mourning doves returned to our yard last week, and I recently heard the unmistakable laugh of a robin.  The boys have swapped out hockey sticks for tennis racquets in the driveway, and the sun feels wonderfully warm upon our faces, even though there's still a chill in the air.  If winter hasn't let go of its grip where you are yet, have hope... spring really is coming.

That's all I've got in my pockets for today!  Wishing you all a happy week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Homemade Fruit and Nut Butter

I really enjoy the kitchen adventure of creating my own homemade versions of foods that we regularly buy at the grocery store.  It's often a pleasant surprise to discover how delicious an everyday staple can become when I experiment with my own ingredients and come up with goods that are a little more special than usual.

This morning I decided to put together a jazzed-up version of nut butter, which is something we all eat often in our house.  I toasted a variety of shelled nuts and whirred them around in my food processor with some shredded coconut and a couple of dates, adding a bit of cinnamon and vanilla extract at the end to give it an extra flavour boost.  The result was a creamy, tempting combination of  lightly salted nuttiness and natural sweetness --  nut butter at a whole new level!

Homemade Fruit and Nut Butter

1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
a pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 large pitted Medjool dates
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle the melted coconut oil and sprinkle the sea salt over top of the nuts; stir to coat them well.  Spread the nuts out on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast them in a preheated 325 F oven for 8 minutes, stirring once half way through.  Let the nuts cool.

Place the cooled nuts in the bowl of a powerful food processor along with the shredded coconut and the dates. Process at high speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  (This took about five minutes in my machine.)  Add in the cinnamon and vanilla and process the mixture briefly once again to blend them in.

Spoon the finished fruit and nut butter into a glass jar with a lid and store it in the refrigerator.

This homemade fruit and nut butter is delicious spread on toast (no need for any jam or honey!) or rice cakes, as a dip for apple slices and celery sticks, or drizzled over a morning bowl of oatmeal.  I'm sure we'll find other great ways to use it, too; it was simple to make and I'm pretty certain we'll be enjoying this recipe often!