Monthly Archives: October, 2013

Be a Maker: Rockin’ Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola with peanut butter chips

As with all holidays, everyone has a different outlook on Halloween, and a slightly different approach to participating (or not) in the festivities on the 31st of October. The basic aspects of the occasion, which pretty much everyone conforms to, are a) candy and b) some sort of costume. In general, I’d say I can categorize my immediate family into two major groups when it comes to the costume: the makers and the buyers. Makers, i.e. the feminine side of the family, will rummage through the back of the closet and throw together something creative and unique. Buyers, i.e. the guys, prefer to just head over to the party store and grab the first costume that catches their fancy. Being a maker, I simply cannot fathom why anyone would want to wear a mass-produced costume that thousands of other people will surely be sporting ON THE ONE DAY YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO CONFORM. But to each his own, I suppose.

Though I am mostly a maker, I must confess I have some buyer at heart. That is to say, I will create, but I prefer to do so with all new materials. After all, it is a special occasion, so why not splurge on a bunch of cute new accessories that will be so much fun to inaugurate on Halloween? Still, I prefer to buy real clothes and accessories, not costume pieces that some marketing department in a big skyscraper projected would be popular two years ahead of time. I feel that transforming regular clothes into a unique costume is what really makes my Halloween creative. Yes, in theory this could be done with old clothes…but I can never resist the urge to shop!

So my plan for this Halloween was to drop no cash at the costume store, but splurge on real clothes that would all come together to create a surreal costume. On Friday, I told my dad I wanted to go to the craft store to look for supplies for a Halloween costume. He supported me wholeheartedly. We hopped in the car, sat in traffic for a million hours, and arrived in the parking lot of Party City.

“This is a costume store,” I protested helplessly, but to no avail.

“You wanted to do your Halloween shopping, so here we are,” my dad said cheerfully. Ugh. Buyer. Disgusted, I trudged into the store. My dad insisted upon buying me a Greek goddess costume I didn’t want. I told him eleventeen times “I want to be unique. I don’t want anyone else to have the same costume as me.” But he just didn’t get it, and probably would have spent the $49.99 on the costume if I hadn’t gotten us out of that store at once. I swore to myself I would never return…

The next day I returned. My brother wanted to buy his costume, as buyers do, and I tagged along to see if there was anything of interest. I found a couple minor accessories, and some inspiration: I decided to be an ancient Egyptian goddess. My brother excitedly showed me a “Toga” he found in the costume aisle, but I turned up my nose. He just didn’t get it…buyer.

Finally I figured out the way to a buyer’s heart: the mention of saving money. Just because my dad is a buyer doesn’t mean he’s a frivolous one. When I uttered, “I want to buy clothes for my costume I can wear over and over again,” I instantly had full support, both from the buyer and the maker sides of the family. A generous grant was awarded to me, which I pocketed with a grin brighter than a jack-o-lantern.  At last I was understood! (Sort of.)

Finally, on Sunday, my dreams came true. I spent all day shopping, without the influence of buyers pushing factory-made costumes at me. I flitted from an Indian boutique to the local craft store to some clothing stores by the mall. By mid-afternoon, my creative spirit was finally at rest. I had gathered the supplies to breathe life into this Egyptian goddess. And with the exception of a couple things, nothing came from the costume store.

Buyers will be buyers. Makers will be makers. And girls will be girls, I guess. All it takes to put me in a good mood is a weekend of successful shopping. And to put the cherry on top of this Halloween sundae, I got a chance to make some granola this weekend as well!

pumpkin peanut butter chip granola

I knew I couldn’t call myself a food blogger if I didn’t at some point make pumpkin granola. And with Halloween fast approaching, now seemed like a perfect time to do it! Try snacking on this healthy delight, rather than candy. The granola is crunchy and satisfying, with just enough sweetness from the maple and pumpkin flavors. Pepitas add a seasonal crunch, and tart cranberries contrast with sweet golden raisins for more fun flavor. In the spirit of Halloween, I threw in some Reece’s peanut butter chips. Hey, they do have 3g of protein to the tablespoon!

Whether you’re a maker or a buyer, make this granola. It’s sure to please!

Click here for full recipe!

Happy Halloween!

Pear and Chocolate Smoothie

pear chocolate pinecone pear and chocolate smoothie

In the crazy rush of life, always being pushed to do this and that, it’s nice to treat oneself every once in a while. In fact, it is necessary to slow things down from time to time for the sake of sanity. Everyone needs to unwind, or else we risk suffering a nervous breakdown!

How do you chill out? Maybe you take a spa day, or spend a weekend watching brain-draining t.v. OR… you could spare your wallet and your brain cells, and make this easy, delicious smoothie instead. Take a sip of icy pear and chocolate serenity, and let it wash over you, bathing you in calm. Ahhh…this must be the real meaning of “chill out.”

While you’ll find tons of super-healthy smoothie recipes all over the internet, bursting with leafy greens, premium seeds and esoteric fruits only to be located at the exotic goods auction miles away, and all that stuff is great, sometimes you just need something sweet and simple. Something that maybe doesn’t require you to dole out your life’s savings to an auctioneer in exchange for a little bag of fibrous seeds. (You might as well have spent the money on that spa day!) This smoothie is inexpensive, tossed together with ingredients you probably already have lying around at home.

And the results? Scrumptious. Pear and chocolate make an unusual, but amazing duo. To make this smoothie even more indulgent, I topped mine with a little squirt of whip and a sprinkling of chocolate chips. So it may not be as healthy as some of my other smoothie recipes. But sometimes it’s okay, necessary even, to take a break from obsessing over the nutritional quality of one’s diet. Just enjoy something that may be a little less healthy! It’s still relatively nutritious, what with the protein and calcium from the yogurt, and fiber from the pear.

And get this: people who are super-duper strict with their “healthy” eating plans, are more likely to give up completely at some point and start eating a crazy amount of junk food. On the flip side of this, those who allow themselves to “cheat” a bit, with planned transgressions which are truly minor, will stick to their healthy eating plans in the long run. I consider this smoothie a “minor” offense, as it is nearly as healthy as some of my other smoothies. Enjoy as a dessert, snack or even a super-indulgent breakfast treat. I won’t tell anyone.

Pear and Chocolate Smoothie

serves 1

pear chocolate smoothie with choc chips and whip

Ingredients:

smoothie

  • 1 banana
  • 1 medium pear, chopped roughly
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 Yoplait brand chocolate mousse style yogurt
  • 3 small ice cubes

optional topping:

  • handful of semisweet chocolate chips
  • dollop of whipped cream (I used 365 organic)

Directions: Place all smoothie ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth.

Pour into a glass, and embellish with whip and chocolate chips, or personalize with your own toppings!

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Seventh Heaven Secret Ingredient Smoothie

chocolate peanut butter berry secret ingredient smoothie

Sweet and Savory Pizza

Sometimes it is great to put polar opposites together. Not always: I totally DO NOT recommend introducing your pet cat to the family mouse, or spinning a delicate tune on an authentic Stradivarius while waterskiing tied to a Mako shark in a thunderstorm. But some opposites can be brought together to reveal an unexpected match, like denim and lace. Complementary colors look so good together because they are situated on opposite ends of the color wheel.

In life, opposites attract. (Sometimes.) For instance, a few days ago my school had an earthquake drill and we all had to sit on the parched field under the full glare of the sun. All the classes roasted in the heat while the choir class continued their rehearsal on the grass nearby, singing “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!” Yeah, right. Snow in October in SoCal. I guess that’s what makes it SoCal – wintery melodies broadcast over a temperate desert throughout the late fall and early winter months. And I really don’t mind getting the best of both worlds – festive seasonal cheer and the beach!

In food, very different flavors can combine to create something wonderful. One example is the sweet/savory combo. Pears and cheese are a classic manifestation of this charming combination. I incorporated these two different flavors into one flatbread pizza. The savory flatbread and Provolone cheese work wonderfully with the sweet, juicy pear, tart cranberries and a drizzle of honey. Enjoy!

Pear and Provolone Pizza

adapted from flatoutbread.com

Makes 1 pizza

pear and provolone sweet and savory flat out flatbread pizza

Ingredients:

1 Flat Out brand Italian flatbread

1.5-2 slices provolone cheese

1 pear, sliced into bite-sized pieces

1-2 tbls dried cranberries

1 tsp honey

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and spray with nonstick spray.

When oven has preheated, bake flatbread on prepared cookie sheet for 2 minutes.

Remove from oven. Add cheese, cranberries and a drizzle of honey. Return to oven to bake another 3-4 minutes.

Crispy crust…sweet pears…savory Provolone…mmm…

sweet and savory pear and cheese flatbread pizza

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Maple Banana Crêpe

banana and maple syrup crêpe no egg

Seeing pictures of this heavenly crêpe bring tears to my eyes. (Well not really, but you get the picture.) Not only was this delicious, maple-infused crêpe one of the best breakfast treats I’ve ever made, it was the best and only good point of my day. Since breakfast, my Sunday basically just deteriorated until what could have been a rosy blossom of weekend glory was reduced to a gritty clump of bitter weeds.

I was in the middle of breakfast, minding my own business in the solitude of the kitchen, when suddenly certain members of my family barged into the room, arguing. I tried to get my word in to help someone understand that yes, you do write thank you cards to everyone who gives you a gift, even if you thanked them in public. I was bestowing my wise sisterly advice on the little bro in a time of need. And what reception did I receive? Let’s just say I’m now short a few eardrum cells as a result.

I had wanted to go shopping this weekend, but everyone was busy. Too busy to care about their poor bored daughter whose only wish was to go to a thrift store, no less, and drop a few bucks for the potential makings of a unique Halloween costume. So I moped around for a while until my dad dragged me to the mall with some male family members. You can guess how much shopping I got done under those circumstances.

Oh, and my perfect record of never being pooped on by a bird (or other animal) was soiled today (excuse the bad pun.) I spent some time on the pier with the three guys, and apparently we were sitting right under the waste-release vault of a seagull perched directly above us. (At least one of my relatives got bestowed with the honor as well.)

I got home from the mall/pier/poo excursion, only to find my home at least half as noisy as before.

Later I ventured to try and make some ice cream sandwiches, but I think I messed up on the recipe because they don’t look right. I hate when a recipe doesn’t work out, because I lament the wasted time that could have been spent on something else.

I ate some “seedless” grapes that seemed to be full of seeds.

I took a walk and was stuck behind a couple who walked SOOOO SLOWLY…

By the time I made it home it was nearly time to leave for the restaurant. We went to Pat’s Italian Restaurant to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. I was sure I’d have a horrible time.

Actually, I had a nice time talking to my younger cousin and some of our other relatives. The restaurant was one of the fanciest I’d ever been to. It made me think of the restaurant in the bottle that Spongebob goes to sometimes in Bikini Bottom (that’s how fancy I am!)

By the time I got home, my bad mood had mellowed out somewhat. But I was still sure I was in for a rotten evening. Just cuz.  When I have a rotten day, it kind of carries over into the night, and the next day, and the next… unless a miracle happens.

And suddenly, one did. I was uploading the pictures of the maple banana crêpe to my computer, glumly staring at the images of a better time, when I noticed a bunch of photos I didn’t remember seeing. It turns out, they were the pictures of a particularly detailed nail design I did several weeks ago, spent ages on, and thought later I’d lost the pictures somehow. Seeing those precious images, which I can now upload to my blog and share with you all, my mood climbed several steps.

Now I know I wouldn’t have had time to go shopping anyway. I’m glad I did spend some quality time with my extended family, and celebrated with my grandmother. Having the bird poop on me was not pleasant, but at least now I had some fodder for a blog post. And as for the ice cream sandwiches, I ended up putting them in the freezer anyway…stay tuned for (hopefully) a post on those if they do turn out okay!)

Was it a rotten day, or a good day? It all depends on how you look at it. Usually days feel better if they begin on the right foot – so start out with a good breakfast to put a smile on your face. Like this maple banana crêpe. And hopefully if you eat any grapes later on, they will really be seedless! 🙂

No guarantees though.

Enjoy!

Maple Banana Crêpe for One

based on this recipe on about.com

banana maple crêpe

Ingredients:

crêpe

  • 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbls nonfat milk
  • 1-2 tbls water
  • 1 1/2 tbls organic maple syrup

filling/topping

  • 1/2 banana, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp maple syrup

Directions:

Spray a pan with non stick spray.

In a small bow, combine crêpe ingredients and mix well.

Pour into pan. Heat to medium and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip, cook the other side.

Remove from heat. Top crêpe with banana slices. Fold over, add additional banana slices and a drizzle of maple syrup. And you’re good to go!

Good morning, and have a splendid day!

maple banana crêpe egg free

Fall Fantasia Smoothie

caramel pretzel apple smoothie with dried fruit "fall fantasia"

The word “fantasia” has always appealed to me. Before I knew it meant a type of musical piece, I thought it would be a great name for a magical land. Imagine residing in Fantasia, among the faeries and sphinxes, in an extravagant mansion atop a lily-pad in the lavender oasis where the toads play the banjo and sing folk-songs.

As a young kid, I used to watch this film called “Fantasia,” which was basically a bunch of pieces of classical music played as animated stories took place to go along with the music. I watched this film over and over…it probably ranked higher on my charts than Cinderella!

I am currently reading a biography of Franz Liszt, the pianist and composer. The biography, originally published in the 1955 by Sacheverell Sitwell is mostly an interesting read. However, there are long-winded passages listing each composition written by Liszt, and in what order, and how popular they were at the time relative to now and what a shame it is that people today don’t appreciate classical music enough, which I must exert a lot of restraint not to simply skim over.

Much more interesting to read is when the author actually describes the pieces. I enjoy his descriptions of the different études, airs, and especially fantasias. He transcribes pleasure to the ears into words in such a way that they still retain at least some of the audible resonance of the music, if this is possible to do on the printed page.

As you can see I have a lot of music in my life. A lot of beautiful fantasias. In fact I was just playing my violin at a school orchestra rehearsal…but that didn’t sound like a fantasia.

Anyway, the reason I bring up the fascinating fantasia is that when I took my first sip of this smoothie, I knew that was the perfect word to describe it. It was smooth, sweet and complex. The flavors of pumpkin, apple, and caramel harmonized beautifully together to create a characteristic fall flavor symphony. Cinnamon was the treble of the flute, quivering on bright soprano tones. Occasional percussion provided by the chewy dried fruit added excitement to the music of the smoothie. And of course the irresistibly crunchy pretzel dippers were the brilliant glissando of a harp, infusing the smoothie with that magic touch that makes it a fantasia.

Unlike Sacheverell Sitwell with his music descriptions, I’m not all that good at transcribing flavor into words. You’ll just have to try the smoothie yourself, if you wish to experience its fantastic-ness. And why wouldn’t you? Without further ado, I present the recipe for your tasty fantasia:

Fall Fantasia Smoothie: Pumpkin Caramel Apple with Dried Fruit and Pretzel Dippers

Serves 1

"fall fantasia" caramel apple pretzel date raisin smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix
  • 1 medium Gala apple, chopped
  • 1 tbl King’s Cupboard brand Cream Caramel Sauce
  • generous dash of cinnamon
  • 3 small ice cubes
  • 1 tbl raisins
  • 2 dried dates
  • handful of pretzels (for dipping)

Directions:

Place banana, milk, pumpkin pie mix, apple, caramel sauce, cinnamon, and ice cubes in blender. Blend until smooth. Add raisins and dried dates. Blend for another few seconds.

Pour smoothie into glass. Enjoy with pretzels.

I’d bet my baton you’ll be wanting an encore!

"fall fantasia" smoothie apple caramel pretzel

Autumn Bliss Cupcakes: Pumpkin Caramel Peanut Butter

pumpkin peanut butter caramel whole wheat cupcake with caramel candy topping

Can you believe it’s already October? This is a busy month for me. School’s getting harder, and I have a billion other things going on this month, including my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, the uncanny number of birthdays among my family and friends, and planning a Halloween costume. Don’t you feel like everything’s kind of sleepy up until October, and then people just go into a frenzy? Maybe it has to do with our evolutionary roots: back when we were some race of early mammals, hiding from the last dinosaurs and scampering around frantically gathering nuts for the coming winter.

I may not be gathering nuts, but I sure am gathering a huge stash of fall recipe ideas. Before the next season ends I must make pumpkin scones, pumpkin granola, pumpkin smoothies…yes, most of the things I’ve been aching to make include pumpkin.

Pumpkin is such a cool plant. It can be so many things: a child’s climbing apparatus, a Halloween jack-o-lantern, or whatever else a pumpkin enthusiast dreams up. In terms of its edibility, the seeds are great for toasting. And of course, pumpkin purée is amazing in so many sweet and savory eats. My favorite use of pumpkin is in baked goods. Though it did make its way onto my nails last week:

pumpkin jack-o-lantern face thumbnail

(To see more of my nail designs click here)

It seems the pumpkin craze has taken over me, as well as so many others in the blogging world. I would love to make every pumpkin recipe on my wish-list, from the pumpkin quinoa to the pumpkin salad dressing.

But realistically, I’m not going to have time to make everything before a) fall is over or b) we’re all finally sick of pumpkin. So I have to pick and choose. And I must say, I made the right choice last weekend when I made these pumpkin cupcakes.

These were just a perfect blend of flavors brought together to create one unique taste that struck me as almost blissful. Taking a bite of one of these straight from the fridge, with the cold peanut butter yogurt icing gracefully adorning the earthy pumpkin cake, and the center oozing with salty peanut butter and sweet caramel…was like heaven in dessert form. I topped the cupcakes with chocolate-covered caramels, but I can also see pretzels as being a cool topping. Maybe even go crazy with chocolate-covered pretzels!

Pumpkin Caramel Peanut Butter Cupcakes

based on this recipe from the Food Network website

makes 6 regular sized cupcakes

whole wheat pumpkin caramel peanut butter cupcakes

Ingredients:

for cupcake batter

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 egg (I used egg substitute)
  • 1/2 cup Libby’s brand pumpkin pie mix
  • 1/4 cup pure organic maple syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

for filling

  • 1 tbl peanut butter
  • 1 tbl King’s Cupboard brand Cream Caramel sauce

for frosting

  • 1/2 cup Chobani brand plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Reece’s chips
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

optional topping

  • 6 pieces Weight Watcher’s by Whitman’s candies brand bite-size caramels

Directions:

For Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line half of a regular sized muffin tin with 6 paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Mix.

Beat and add egg. Add the pumpkin pie mix, vanilla, and maple syrup. Mix just until combined; do not over mix.

Fill each of the six paper liners with about half of the batter, reserving the rest. Add a bit of the peanut butter and a bit of the caramel to the center of each cupcake; this will create the filling. Top the filling with enough batter to completely cover it.

Bake cupcakes in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

For Frosting: Fill a large saucepan with one inch of water. Place this over medium heat and cover with a bowl until water begins to simmer. Place the Reece’s chips into the bowl. Add a teaspoon of water. Stir this mixture constantly until Reece’s chips have fully melted.

Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine the melted Reece’s chips and 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. Blend thoroughly. Add one tsp brown sugar and mix well.

Frost completely cooled cupcakes with yogurt frosting. If you like, top with caramel candies like I did. Or come up with some other fun topping!

I enjoyed a few of these cupcakes within a few days of baking them, and squirreled away the rest in the freezer for winter. (Must be my prehistoric mammal instincts in action!)

pumpkin caramel peanut butter cupcakes with caramel candy topping

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