Holidays, Recipes

Holiday Treats: Sorta-Healthy Spice Rolls

As I mentioned earlier this week, my one concession to the holiday season was preparing a special breakfast for Christmas morning. Christmas breakfast has always been a thing in my family. When I was very young, we would usually have Christmas brunch with my dad’s family, and as we got older, and our family circumstances changed, Christmas breakfast with my mother became a firm tradition. Our favorite Christmas breakfast was panettone french toast.

But first, every morning, before we could open our gifts, someone would have to make my mother a cup of tea. As it turned out, I was the one who remembered best how she liked it: Earl Grey, steeped for just a minute or two, with a quarter teaspoon of sugar. Then, we could coax our parents downstairs to open gifts (my father was very much a morning person, but my mother needed her cuppa before she was willing to rise so early on a holiday).

These days, I’ve tried to move from food being a preamble or postscript to gift-opening to more of the main event. As my relationship with Dan has evolved, we’ve started spending more time together in the kitchen and eating together as a part of our holiday traditions, rather than spending our time on material gifts. This year, as I mentioned, we didn’t exchange gifts between the two of us at all. But we still had a nice breakfast.

This recipe is based on the Molasses & Cranberry Cinnamon Rolls from Nourished Kitchen. Jenny’s recipe uses unrefined sugars and sprouted whole-grain flour to create a treat that is delicious and yet not as full of sugar and white flour as the average cinnamon roll. Then, I used Alton Brown’s overnight cinnamon roll method to proof the rolls because I like the texture it yields. I’ve tweaked the recipe just a bit to fit what I keep in my kitchen and what I wanted from the recipe (and to allow for Dan’s dislike of cranberries). And I made them with a mix of spices because I didn’t check how much cinnamon I had on hand, but they would also be delicious as just cinnamon rolls.

Christmas Morning Sorta-Healthy Spice Rolls

Dough:

2 cups of einkorn all-purpose flour
3 cups of sprouted spelt flour
1 packet of yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup of dairy-like liquid (the original recipe calls for whole milk, but I used a mix of plain yogurt and cashew milk)
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs

Filling:

1/4 cup butter, very soft
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sucanat
1 Tbsp. Ceylon cinnamon
2 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. powdered ginger

Glaze:

1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp. butter

1. Make the dough: Mix together the flours, yeast, and salt. Warm the milk, butter, and honey until the butter melts and it comes to about body temperature. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and stream in the warm milk mixture, beating constantly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until a dough forms.

2. Grease your hands and work surface and knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and doesn’t stick to things (about 5-10 minutes). Put in a greased bowl, cover, and set aside to rise for an hour or so.

3. Make the filling: Beat together the butter, salt, sucanat, and spices until they make a smooth paste.

4. Roll the dough out to about 1/3” in thickness, and roughly 12” square. Spread the filling on the dough and roll. Slice into nine rolls and place into a 10” square pan that’s been greased and lined with parchment.

5. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

6. The next morning, place the pan in a turned-off oven along with a pan of boiling water to proof for one hour. Remove the pan and the water and preheat the oven to 375F. Bake for 30 minutes or until they read at least 190F internally.

7. Make the glaze by melting together the butter and honey and brush over hot rolls. Enjoy!

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Food and Drink, pregnancy, Recipes

Pregnancy Cravings: Date Nut Bread

Last week, I talked about how I’m trying to eat dates every day to help potentially help with childbirth. Well, as soon as I heard that dates were good for pregnancy women, I immediately thought about one of my favorite childhood snacks: date nut bread with cream cheese and strawberries. When I was a kid, my mother used to have tea parties with me for my afternoon snack. It not only instilled in me a deep love of tea, but also helped me learn how to behave at the table in polite society. One of our favorite tea-time treats were little sandwiches of thinly sliced date nut bread, smeared with cream cheese and topped with thin slices of strawberry.

We got our date nut bread from the grocery store, where it was sold in dense, dark brown, round loaves in the bakery section. I haven’t seen it in years, though, and I knew I would want to make it from scratch anyway, so I could know how many dates were in each slice. So I went looking for a recipe and tinkered around until I came up with the recipe below. Now, the recipe I based this on calls for coffee and explains that the acidity of the coffee is important for the leavening, so I used decaf coffee. Personally, I feel like I do in fact taste the coffee, though I don’t dislike it. This recipe yields the same firm, dense, dark loaf that I remember as a child. If you let it cool completely, it will easily slice into very thin slices and hold up under the application of cream cheese. Strawberries are massively out of season right now, but I will definitely have to make this again in the summer. I divide this loaf into 8 portions, which can be further divided into two thin slices and each of which has about 1 oz. or 28g of dates in it.

Old-Fashioned Date Nut Bread

(based on this recipe)

Ingredients:

8 oz. pitted dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup of sucanat
1/2 stick of softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of hot brewed coffee
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup of einkorn all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sprouted spelt flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 8.5″x4.5″ loaf pan and line it with parchment.
  2. Combine the first six ingredients and stir until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes (this will also soften your dates).
  3. Add the egg and the vanilla to the mixture and mix well. Add in the flours and baking powder and stir to combine. Fold in the walnuts.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. Tent with foil after 30 minutes to prevent over-browning. Test for doneness by taking the internal temperature, which should be about 200F. Let cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove and cool completely on a rack before slicing. Keeps for about a week at room temperature in an air-tight container, or freeze for longer storage. I get about 8 servings out of this.

Recipe Notes:

Dates are sticky and do not chop in the food processor. I tried for too long, but ultimately had to chop them by hand. This will take longer than it takes for the oven to preheat (longer still if you don’t get pitted dates).

The original recipe calls for 2/3-3/4 cup of brown sugar. I used sucanat, which is an unrefined sugar with a pronounced molasses flavor, and I cut the sugar back to 1/2 cup. I still find the finished bread quite sweet, so I think this should be plenty of sugar for most people, but if you really like sweets, maybe try it with 2/3 cup brown sugar.

I used einkorn and sprouted spelt flours to keep it healthier, but feel free to use all-purpose flour for the whole thing, or mix all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour.

I chopped my walnuts a bit more finely (I used the food processor for this since I’d already gotten it out to fruitlessly chop dates, pun intended) because I don’t like large chunks of walnut in my breads, and it makes it easier to slice a bit more thinly.

pregnancy, Recipes

Pregnancy Cravings: Cranberry-Date Oatmeal

As I mentioned earlier this week, there is some evidence that eating dates just before childbirth can make things go more easily. This comes from studies that followed women who were either encouraged to eat a certain amount of dates in the last four weeks of pregnancy, versus those who were asked not to eat any dates. This post is a good overview of the research, but the upshot is that eating 60-80g of dates per day could be helpful.

I’ve decided to try to eat around 75g of dates per day. But, unlike my husband, I’ve never actually eaten plain dates. I find them a bit sweet, plus they look a little bit like a cockroach and an olive had a baby. So I’m consuming my date in recipes. Of course, a Larabar will give me about 20-25g of dates, but I can only eat so many Larabars before I get utterly sick of them and start to worry about the cost. I did get a few cases of them from Vitacost, though, during their recent promo, to keep on hand for snacks.

But I thought I’d share some recipes I’ve been enjoying that use dates. The first is an easy breakfast that is an absolutely delicious way to enjoy some autumn flavors, especially since fresh cranberries are readily available in the grocery store right now! I haven’t tried it with any other kind of cranberries, but it might also work with frozen.

Cranberry-Date Oatmeal

Ingredients:

1/3 cup fresh cranberries
25g pitted dates, chopped fine
1 cups water
1/2 cup rolled oats
pinch of salt, cardamom, and ginger
1 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds

  1. Combine the water, cranberries, dates, salt, and spices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, until the cranberries start to burst.
  2. Add the oats to the simmering water and stir. Cook, stirring constantly, until the porridge is thickened.
  3. Serve topped with pumpkin seeds.

Makes one serving

Note: Can also be made in the microwave by combining everything except the pumpkin seeds in a microwave-safe dish, microwaving until cooked, and topping with pumpkin seeds.

Recipes

Pregnancy Cravings: Tea and Cake

This weekend I had my in-laws and my mother over for tea after a lunch to make up for the fact that they couldn’t come to my baby shower. I wanted to do something a little special, and I’ve been craving an autumn-spiced cake, so I thought I’d make a cake. No sooner had I had this thought, than I received an email from the Nourished Kitchen with this beautiful recipe for a maple-sweetened harvest cake with a maple frosting. Unfortunately, I don’t have an electric mixer, so making a Swiss meringue buttercream was out of the question. I discussed it a bit with Jenny on social media and decided that the best course would be to make a whipped maple cream cheese frosting.

Because my mother-in-law and my mother are both careful about caffeine intake, and my mother-in-law loves the spices from masala chai, I thought I’d make a home-blended spice tea to go with the cake. The afternoon was lovely and everyone enjoyed the cake. In fact, as soon as my in-laws left, my mother-in-law text me asking for the recipes for both the tea and the cake. While I gave her a general idea of how I made both, I thought I’d post the official recipes, with my substitutions and alterations for the Nourished Kitchen recipe, for posterity.

Harvest Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

(based on this recipe from the Nourished Kitchen)

For the cake:

1-1/4 cup of einkorn all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 eggs

2 Tbsp. melted butter or ghee

3/4 cup maple sugar (or 1/2 cup maple sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, if you run out of maple sugar like I did)

6 oz. container of plain yogurt

4 oz. grated butternut squash

2 oz. grated apple

2 oz. grated pear

For the frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup of dark maple syrup

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8″ square pan and line it with parchment.
  2. Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and maple sugar until light and fluffy, then stream in the melted butter slowly, whisking constantly to emulsify.
  4. Add the flour mixture in thirds and the yogurt in halves, alternating and stirring after each addition. Fold in the grated fruit and veggie.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until a cake test comes out clean.
  6. Cool completely, and then frost.
  7. To prepare the frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy, then add the maple syrup a little at a time, beating until combined and fluffy. If you aren’t using it right away, store in a covered container in the fridge, and let stand at room temperature for half an hour and beat again until fluffy before using.

Masala Spice Tea:

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

6-8 cardamom pods, crushed

8-12 allspice berries, crushed

1.5″ piece of fresh ginger, sliced

3-4 pieces of fresh orange peel

Instructions:

  1. Crush the cardamom and allspice, just until cracked and the pods inside the cardamom are exposed. Break up the cinnamon.
  2. Add spices and peel to a saucepan and add 4 cups of water.
  3. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and steep for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Strain into a teapot and serve with honey.
Food and Drink, Recipes

Pregnancy Cravings: Make-Ahead Easy Bean Soup

So in my “eat like a hobbit” post, I mentioned that lately I’ve been eating a lot of soup for lunch. I find that soup is easy to make, keeps for a good amount of time, is easily transported, and is a satisfying meal, especially when served with some fresh bread or cornbread. I’ve been relying on soups for my lunches for years now, and I thought I’d share the really easy version I’ve been making lately.

Since I have no problem eating meat and eggs, I don’t feel the need to eat meat every time I have a meal, but I realize I need to push more plant foods, especially beans, which are rich in the potassium, iron, and folate that I’m certainly in need of lately. I recently discovered that chickpeas have a phenomenal amount of folate. So, while this originally started as a copy-cat recipe of a bean-and-chorizo soup I had in Barcelona, I decided to change it to have more beans and no actual meat (though I do use bone broth for more protein).

This version uses a combination of black beans and chickpeas, since that’s what I had in my cabinet, but you can use any beans you like. I like it a lot with navy beans or black-eyed peas. If you’re not vegetarian, I highly recommend using the bone broth, as it adds a good amount of protein. I like Kettle & Fire brand, since it comes in shelf-stable boxes, but I’ve also used Bonafide Provisions frozen broth. Bonafide comes in 3-cup pouches, so you can stretch the soup a little bit if you use the bigger amount of broth.

I store this soup in 16-oz. mason jars in the fridge if I’m going to eat it within a couple days, or else in the freezer. Do make sure you leave headspace in the jar if you’re planning on freezing them. They defrost pretty readily overnight in the fridge, although I have forgotten to defrost one in the past, and just dipped the jar in hot water until I could release the frozen block of soup into a bowl. I simply reheat in the microwave until it’s bubbling. Typically, I can make a batch of soup on Sunday or Monday, and bring them to work to store in the office fridge or freezer for the rest of the week, which is nice. Anyway, on to the recipe.

Quick and Easy Bean Soup

Ingredients:

1-2 Tbsp. ghee or oil
1 small onion or leek, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp. good Hungarian paprika
1-2 tsp. garlic powder/granules
1 can of Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Roasted Garlic
2 cans of beans, drained
2-3 cups of bone broth (I used one container of Kettle & Fire chicken broth)

  1. Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Add the ghee/oil, and then saute the onion, carrot, and celery in the fat until they’re starting to soften. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Add the paprika and garlic, and stir to combine with the veggies and oil.
  2. Add the tomatoes, drained beans, and broth. Cover and bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed, then package or serve. Makes about 4 servings.
Food and Drink, Recipes

My Herbal Pregnancy Tea Blend

NB: I am not a medical professional or a licensed herbalist. Please do your own research and consult your doctor about any herbal supplements you take, especially during pregnancy. What follows are what I have chosen to use during pregnancy, not recommendations for anyone else.

Herbal teas can be tricky to navigate while pregnant. There are all sorts of restrictions and recommendations, and even conflicting information about what’s safe and what’s not. Then, there’s the fact that some of the teas that are specifically supposed to be beneficial for pregnant women are, well, not terribly tasty. Now, most wisdom is that herbal tisanes (i.e., not tea, which comes from the camellia sinensis plant) that are drunk for flavor contain such a small amount of active constituents that they’re unlikely to cause harm. But there are still proscriptions. Pregnant women are advised to avoid licorice root and certain hormonally-active herbs.

Then there are the total surprises. When I was in Barcelona, I learned that the standard mint blend that is served in cafes isn’t just peppermint or a blend of peppermint and spearmint, but also commonly contains the herb called “poleo” in Spanish. Since it smelled a little licorice-y when I was steeping up a cup of Mentha-Poleo tea one afternoon, I did look it up and found out that “poleo” is the Spanish word for pennyroyal, an herb I certainly didn’t want to consume while pregnant (it’s used in large amounts as an abortifacient).

So once I got home I decided I was going to make my own herbal blend, partly to have a more enjoyable way to drink some more red raspberry leaf (now that I’m solidly out of the first trimester, the warnings against it are less dire), and partly to have a caffeine-free hot drink to enjoy in the afternoons, especially after yoga sessions that I finish rather late in the say. So I started doing my research, as well as looking at some commercial “pregnancy teas” at the store and online. Obviously, a very common pregnancy tea ingredient is red raspberry leaf, for its supposedly uterus-toning abilities, but commercial pregnancy teas also commonly contain nettle. Personally, I don’t care for the taste of nettle tea (if I’m being totally honest, I think it tastes like overcooked spinach that has been boiled in urine), so I thought I’d make my own blend.

A side note: I will say that I’m rather enjoying Yogi Tea’s Mother-to-be tea, despite the inclusion of nettle. Although that’s probably because they tend to be rather heavy-handed with the flavoring herbs, and I find it tastes more of mint and cardamom than anything else.

While researching herbs to include in my personal blend, I decided that flavoring-levels of lemon verbena, rose petals, and citrus peels were probably safe. I stayed away from mint, although I might add it to a future batch, mostly because I find that the peppermint from Mountain Rose Herbs is often so potent that it overpowers any other flavor, and I wanted something a bit delicate and floral. And then I made the base of the tea red raspberry leaf. Interestingly enough, I get a strong hit of rose aroma and floral flavor from the rose petals, which blends rather nicely with the herbal citrus notes of the lemon verbena and peels, plus the slight tannic bite of red raspberry leaf.

Loose-Leaf Pregnancy Herbal Tea:

(A note about amounts: I used parts by weight, so the citrus peel will be a much smaller volume than the fluffier herbs. Using 1/2 oz. as a part, I got enough bulk tea to fill one quart-sized jar and one 8-oz. jar)

4 parts dried red raspberry leaf
1 part dried lemon verbena
1 part dried rose petals
1 part dried and cut orange peel
1 part dried and cut lemon peel

Mix all herbs well in a bowl and then store in an airtight jar in a dry place. To prepare, brew about 1 tablespoon of dried herb blend in 8-12 oz. of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. It’s particularly nice with a slice of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

Recipes

My Body and Belly Skin Care Routine, plus DIY Belly Butter two ways

One of the things you hear about constantly on pregnancy-related websites and forums is how to prevent stretch marks. Now, from what I’ve read, developing stretch marks is largely genetic and just has to do with the structure of your skin. But, the pressure and damage to your skin that stretching causes can also make your skin feel very, very uncomfortable, so it can help if you keep your skin well-moisturized during pregnancy, if for not other reason than it’s more comfortable that way. Also, rubbing things on your belly feels like a nice way to connect with your baby, especially in that limbo period when you haven’t really started feeling movement regularly.

I started out my pregnancy with the best of intentions. I did a lot of research and looked up what ingredients are the best for possibly preventing stretch marks and skin damage. And I came up with a great three-step belly skincare routine that I did religiously every night… for about a week, until my nausea started kicking in. Since my nausea was worse at night than in the morning, and I was super fatigued most of the time, I found that I barely had it in me to wash my face every night, let alone apply a three-step routine of hydrators, oils, and creams to my mid-section. So I generally opted for a quick slather of my go-to body lotion (Eucerin Skin Calming Cream, if you’re interested). But, as I emerged from my first-trimester fog, I found myself with more time to devote to my body skin care.

I also noticed that my body skin in general was just starting to get really, really dry, and since I hate apply lotion right after getting out of the shower, I limit myself to a quick slather on my arms and legs before grabbing a robe in the morning, and then I devote time in the evening to more thoroughly moisturizing and treating my body skin in the evening. Because centella asiatica extract and hyaluronic acid are supposedly really good at keeping skin supple, and therefore more able to stretch without damage, I start my belly skin care routine with a liberal spritzing of COSRX Alcohol-Free Centella Toner. This is a facial toner, but it comes in a pretty generous bottle for about $16 and is basically just water, centella, and hyaluronic acid. Plus, it’s in a spray bottle, so I can just spray myself down. It’s actually kind of refreshing in the summer heat. Then, I originally applied a layer of sesame oil, before following with a layer of my Eucerin cream to seal every thing in.

But as time went on, I decided I wanted something a little heavier to really treat my dry skin, so I started experimenting with some DIY body butters. I especially like these DIY recipes because they combine nourishing oils with a butter and a wax to really seal in all the hydration and emollience of previous steps. I like my semi-solid jarred body butter for every-day (or every-night) use, but I also made a solid version to take with me on vacation to get around TSA’s liquids restrictions. The solid bar is based on this recipe from Humblebee and Me (my favorite DIY blog), after a bit of experimentation. I actually made a first batch that I didn’t like quite as well, but I shared it with a coworker whose sister is also pregnant, and she reported back that it was well-loved. The solid bar served me well on my two weeks of travel.

The semi-solid, jarred body butter is my preference, however, and I’ve tweaked my recipe to really make it lovely for nourishing stretching skin. I actually just winged it a bit on this one, starting from a mental assumption that I wanted something that was roughly 50% solid butters/wax and 50% liquid oil. I use a combination of mango and cocoa butter because I like the rich smoothness that cocoa butter gives to it, but the softness of mango butter makes it a bit softer of a balm. I add a little beeswax to make a proper balm of it, as butter-only balms can be tricky and unstable. And then, for the liquid portion, I used rice bran oil and hemp seed oil, both of which are highly recommended to both prevent and heal stretch marks. I finish it off with a healthy dose of vitamin E, to both help prevent rancidity, but also to boost the skin-healing properties.

The whole effect has a beautiful olive green color from the hemp seed oil, and an earthy warm scent from the smells of the natural oils. It has a buttery-smooth texture, and melts in my hands so I can smooth it on with very little tugging. It is all oils and butters, so it does feel a bit greasy on initial application, but I apply it before bed and wake up with soft, nourished skin. When I feel my skin stretching more than usual, I’ll also do the three-step routine of centella toner, body lotion, and then a layer of body butter, to keep everything nice and soft.

NB: I do weigh all my ingredients, and I can’t convert my recipe into volume measurements. If you’re interested, I use this digital scale. Also, I like to get most of my butters, oils, and waxes from the Wild Herb Soap Co. on Etsy because they strike a good balance between convenience and price for the home formulator who doesn’t need bulk quantities.

Homemade Belly Butter:

20g cocoa butter
20g mango butter
10g beeswax
25g hempseed oil
20g rice bran oil
5g vitamin E oil

Instructions:

  1. Melt the first three ingredients by placing them into a heatproof bowl or cup (I use a Pyrex measuring cup) and placing that over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until completely melted. To avoid graininess from the cocoa butter, leave the bowl over the hot water for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and add in the liquid oils, stirring to incorporate. If the mixture looks cloudy or like it has started to congeal, return it to the heat, briefly, just to melt it down until it is clear. Stir well.
  3. Pour into a 4-oz. clean, dry, sanitized jar, cap, and put in the fridge to harden for at least an hour.

Solid Belly Butter Bar:

14g cocoa butter
9g mango butter
10g beeswax
15g sesame oil
2g vitamin E oil

Instructions:

  1. Melt the first three ingredients in a cup/bowl over simmering water, leaving over the heat for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and pour into a mold (I found that a single standard muffin cup worked perfectly).
  3. Allow to harden for at least an hour, and then remove from mold, wrap in parchment paper, and store in a small tin.