Cultivating Kindness · Dairy Free · Family Life · Grain Free

Snow Again, Kindness Always,and Double Chocolate Banana Bread

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”

-1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIRV)

Dear Joey,

The Goobie girls had another Snow Day this week.

They went from cheering for them and luxuriating in the low pressure days at home to groaning at the mere possibility of them. They tire of each other quickly when we are all cooped up inside, stepping on each others’ toes for days on end. They love each other, of course, and they even get along beautifully most of the time, going out of their way to be thoughtful and considerate of each other’s feelings. Lately though–yikes. I wish the snow would melt away so I could send them outside for some much needed space.

IMG_0389

Snow days and so much togetherness has given us lots of opportunity to train them on other important life skills, things we harp on all the time but tend to ignore because of lack of time, things like loading the dishwasher after dinner and putting dirty clothes in the hamper every time, things we tell them about extensively, things they know they should do, and things they get very lazy about. Snow days gave us the perfect opportunity to examine the difference between knowing and doing, and how effort bridges the gap between them. Turns out, with so many days at home, dirty laundry left on the floor is the least of my worries: the way they treat each other stinks. Specifically, Addie knows how to use kind words to communicate her need for personal space; Mia knows how to leave Addie alone when she has had her fill of company. (And while we’re circling the point, Emery knows how to push his sisters buttons and nudge them toward hysteria, no matter what the situation.)

IMG_0364

Knowing how to use kind words matters little until they make an effort to actually use them. Addie knows how to speak kindly in tense situations, but she rarely does. Mia knows how to leave Addie alone, but she gets in Addie’s face, pleading with her sister to play with her, anger escalating as she does so. They ignore what they know they should do and end up snapping at each other, hurling harsh words and bad feelings over small injuries when they could have put in a little effort to maintain peace. Being stuck inside makes it worse. After last Friday’s snow we braced ourselves for another weekend spend largely inside refereeing the three of them, but we woke up to find a blue sky smiling, like an excited neighborhood friend calling us outside to play after a long, hard illness.

IMG_0456

We seized the chance to get outside while we could, so we piled the Goobies into the truck in hopes of airing out the attitudes. In search of adventure, we ended up taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride at a local historical farm and poked around the grounds for a bit, stomping through the snow and dragging our heels at the idea of heading back into the confines of home and the chores that waited for us there. Miraculously, they got along beautifully. (Fresh air and sunshine are miraculous.)

IMG_0383

When we finally pulled back into the court, we noticed our driveway was cleared of the previous night’s snow, and we knew instinctively what happened: our neighbor cleared it for us. He was out with his snowblower clearing his own driveway when we pulled out of the court that morning; the lines criss-crossing our own driveway (the kind I now can easily recognize as left by a snowblower and not a shovel) told us right away he cleared our driveway too. We were surprised that anyone would spend extra time out in the cold doing such a loathsome job on a rare beautiful Saturday morning. Whether our driveway is clear or not makes no difference to him, really, but he sacrificed his time and comfort to clear it for us anyway.

IMG_0367

It was a kindness we couldn’t ignore. “We ought to bake something and take it over there later,” you said as we lifted the Goobies out of the truck. I agreed. It was the right thing to do, and what a perfect opportunity to show the Goobies what being kind looks like in a practical sense. No, we are not feuding with our neighbor, but I imagine the folks next door are just as tired of winter as we are, so clearing one more driveway was a sacrificial gesture of goodwill indeed. We could not ignore it, so we trooped inside and clicked on the oven and lined up the ingredients for our favorite double chocolate loaf. After it cooled and the afternoon faded into evening, you pulled on your boots and walked back out into the cold and delivered our thanks along with a freshly baked treat.

IMG_0369

The Goobies were not on board with this decision. They were pretty peeved the driveway was cleared at all because it foiled their plan to go sledding down the driveway later that afternoon. Parting with their favorite double chocolate banana bread made the whole thing worse. Tears ensued, of course. And complaining. And bad attitudes. I knew that would happen because they are nutty about that chocolatey treat. You got ready to tromp through the snow to deliver it to the neighbors anyway, and I am sure the our children wondered how something that felt unpleasant to them could be a kindness at all.

IMG_0370

We want our kids to know how to be kind, but we also want them to practice doing kind things. It is tough for them to actually do what they know they should do (it is hard for us too) because being kind often requires sacrifice. Kids are not born with a natural inclination toward giving up something they really want for themselves (time alone; the sharpest pencil in the cup; the biggest slice of pizza; the top bunk), but they learn to do these things over time–particularly when we help them (force them?) to practice. Giving in to the Goobies’ protests would have been easier than walking it over to the neighbors on a cold winter evening, but we want our children to grow up to be the sort of people who would haul their snow blower next door to clear the driveway for a neighbor without giving it a second thought, people who will gracefully accept kindness from other folks and respond with gratitude and reciprocate the gesture. We want them treat all people with kindness, always.

IMG_0434

And so, I wrapped that still-warm chocolatey loaf in wax paper, tied it up with string, and slipped a simple note of thanks on top. The Goobies begged me to make a second loaf that day. I refused, but I did promise to make it again in the coming week. More snow was in the forecast anyway and I knew we would need the oven on again soon enough. Four days later, another round of snow made its way to our doorstep, giving those girls another snow day (and another chance to practice being kind to each other), and an opportunity to make good on my promise. The loaf is not gone yet, but it will not stick around forever (neither will the snow, so I hear), but kindness has staying power. I hope the Goobies choose it always.

Love,

Scratch

Grain Free, Dairy Free Double Chocolate Banana Bread (GF/DF)

IMG_0372

It’s no secret my kids love banana bread. This version, though, is different: they actually go a little nutty for it. I can’t blame them. “Banana bread” is almost a misnomer for this loaf because it’s so moist and tender it fools me into thinking I’m eating cake (and really, perhaps that’s a better name for it, but “banana bread” makes  me feel a little less guilty for giving it to them for a snack). While it is based on my more classic gluten free version of banana bread, a few simple swaps make it grain free. In fact, our family actually prefers banana bread made with almond + tapioca starch + coconut flour these days, so I rarely make it with gluten free flour anymore. Do not let the idea of using “substitute” flours make you cringe. I promise this loaf is delicious and distinctly not weird. (How do I know? My picky-about-everything-won’t-eat-anything-remotely-unpalatable six year old pouts when we run out of this stuff.) If this loaf doesn’t convince you that grain free foods can be just as decadent–or perhaps even more decadent–than their grain-based counterparts? Well, I guess you are set in your ways and nothing could convince you. If you don’t like bananas, or are allergic to them, try using pumpkin puree instead (but increase the brown sugar to 3/4 cup and give the batter a taste before baking. If it doesn’t seem sweet enough, adjust accordingly).


Ingredients:

3 large ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 cups of mashed bananas)

1/2 cup oil (melted and cooled refined coconut oil, canola, or even “vegetable” oil (whatever that is)–as long as it’s neutral tasting, it will do the trick)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark–both work well)

1 large egg (or add another 1/4 cup of mashed banana to make an egg-free version)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon vinegar (apple cider or white)

1 cup blanched almond flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons tapioca starch

2 Tablespoons coconut flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips (We use Enjoy Life brand)

crystal sprinkles or pure cane sugar, for topping

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a regular loaf pan with nonstick spray (coconut oil spray works great!).

First, let’s talk about the dry ingredients. Scoop and level off the almond flour, tapioca flour and coconut flour and cocoa powder just as you would all-purpose flour. Aerate the flours by stirring them with a spoon before scooping, then scoop and level off just as you would all-purpose flour. This will help prevent the loaf from getting too dense from inadvertently adding too much flour to the batter.) Measure the flours into a medium mixing bowl, followed by the baking soda and salt. Whisk them all together, then set the bowl aside.

Next: bananas: remember, the more little brown spots they have, the sweeter the batter will be. Using a stand mixer, mash the bananas well. Once they are mostly smooth, add the oil and mix on medium high until the bananas and oil have emulsified (smooth and well combined). Then add the egg, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk well for a minute or two, until the mixture is velvety and smooth.

Move on to the dry ingredients: scoop them into the batter gradually, whisking between additions. Scoop and whisk, scoop and whisk, scoop and whisk. With every addition, stir until the flour mixture is moistened. Once all the dry ingredients are added, turn the mixer on high and give it a whirl. 30 seconds or so at this speed should do the trick. Finally, gently stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. To make it really sparkle, sprinkle the top with crystal sprinkles or pure cane sugar.

Pop the pan into the preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the pan sit for about 3 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Let the loaf cool almost all the way before slicing (if you can wait that long).

Baking · Breakfast · Dairy Free · Grain Free

A Quiet Morning, and Grain Free Pumpkin Muffins

Dear Joey,

You were on call this morning, so you were at the hospital before the sun woke up. And I’m so sorry you missed it: a miraculous combination of cooperation and quiet that yielded me a chance to try out a new recipe. After stumbling downstairs with three hungry Goobies in tow; after digging through the freezer to find something other than cereal and bananas to feed their empty bellies; after settling on a combination of sliced strawberries, frozen waffles and hash browns (and letting them each choose whatever they wanted), they were full and happy and ventured off on their own to unleash their creativity before the sun was all the way up. There wasn’t any squabbling or pestering, either–just the happy sounds of happy kids. In the quiet, I was faced with a dilemma: sit and drink my coffee in peace, or take the opportunity to make a batch of muffins?

I chose muffins, of course.

Muffins

While I was stuck on the couch nursing a silly shoulder problem the past few days, I saw an intriguing idea for making pumpkin muffins without flour, using almond butter and eggs. Admittedly, it didn’t immediately sound amazing because pumpkin and almond don’t always go hand in hand, in my mind. But finding excuses to test recipes for grain free food is a top priority these days, as (again) being just gluten free isn’t cutting it for me. Finding ways to be more grain free is challenging, and often I find myself eating cold leftovers for breakfast, straight out of the fridge, because oatmeal and gluten free banana muffins the Goobies and I usually reach for just don’t agree with me anymore. This is why choosing to use my time to make a batch of muffins was wise. It was either that, or eat cold hamburger soup for breakfast.

About two weeks ago I used my experience and good sense and decided to transform my go-to gluten free banana muffins into grain free version using almond flour, tapioca flour and coconut flour. The result was so delicious, we even think they’re better than the original. Armed with the confidence that comes from delicious successes such as that, I tried that magical combination of alternative flours in these pumpkin muffins too, and wouldn’t you know? It worked again. With their fluffy, crispy outside and tender crumb inside, you wouldn’t know there’s no grain in them. I’m not even kidding. They are not gummy or overly dry either. Perfectly moist and full of flavor.

So no, I didn’t drink my coffee in peace today. By the time I got around to pouring my cup of it, the Goobies were rushing in and out of the back yard, needing jackets and tissues and cups of water and snuggles from taking a tumble. I’m pretty sure half my cup is still sitting in the kitchen somewhere, cold and untouched. I think I’ll go find it. Maybe I’ll snag another muffin as I go, but I’ll make sure to leave plenty for you, too.

Love,

Scratch

Grain Free Pumpkin Muffins

muffins-2.jpg

Again, I took the lead from Laura over at Heavenly Homemakers, whose original recipe called for mainly eggs, almond butter and pumpkin (along with some brown sugar and pumpkin spice), but I cut the amount of almond butter in half and added in my magical combination of alternative flours, along with a few other ingredients to make sure the muffins rose properly, and voila–our own new go-to grain free (and dairy free, too!) pumpkin muffin recipe. Thanks for your inspiration, Laura!

Ingredients:
  • 1-15 oz. can pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup creamy almond butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup blanched almond flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees farenheit. Line a standard muffin tin with muffin cups, or grease very well.

Next, combine all the ingredients together in a stand up mixer; beat until smooth and creamy. Scoop about 1/4 cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar, then pop the pan into the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.