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Mini Vegan Chocolate Chip Berry Pies + Coconut Milk Whipped Cream

27 Oct

image (1)

I am so tired. Oy. Vey. It has been a week. I think it’s been like two weeks in one, no? You ever have that feeling? I don’t even really have the energy to write anything witty. I am, however, so excited about this recipe so I’ll spare you the usual exceptionally long post and share a few short things:

1. My first blog post for The Huffington Post was published on Friday. I am very proud of the work it took to get there, much less the post itself, and the amazing feedback I’ve gotten from friends and strangers. Thank you to all who posted it on various social media outlets and most especially, to those who actually read it! I am so grateful. Find the post here.

2. Buzzfeed stole my picture! So there I was coming back online from a restful (slept 10 hours Friday night and took two naps on Shabbat. HOLLER!) and quiet Shabbat when I notice that I’ve got 20 text messages waiting for me. And then I notice that I have an exceptional amount of notifications on Facebook too. Well, turns out Buzzfeed posted a hilarious round up of 50 Things Only 90s Girls Would Understand and they used a picture of me from my high school days (circa 1996) I had posted on a blog post I wrote way back in March. Yep. Just me and Drew Barrymore and all our choker-wearing glory. My friend, Ali, thinks I “won the Internet”. Well, if winning the Internet means having your non-professionally edited and enhanced Sophomore (?) yearbook picture splashed right next to an uber-vamped Drew Barrymore, well, I’d like to ‘lose’ the Internet next time. please. Oh, and to top it off, they dubbed me “WordPress”. No name. No permission asked for usage. Just a picture of me from almost 20 years ago with “WordPress” on it. Awesome.

3. Decisions have been made. The next step is upon us. More to come.

In the meantime, I had this recipe in my head for quite a while but knew it needed something. And then my girl, Samantha, from The Little Ferraro Kitchen posted her delicious sweet potato pie with coconut milk whipped cream and I thought, “That’s it!” Since we are exactly one month away from Thanksgiving and my kosher-eating self will need a parve (a.k.a vegan) dessert on hand (plus a grain-free dessert for my grain-free family members who I hope will be visiting us again for Thanksgiving this year), I wanted to adapt my versatile grain-free brownie recipe into a fresh and delicious pie. The recipe turned out to be so delicious and so easy. It has a little bit of sugar in it but other than that, it’s a pretty healthy dessert. I let my 14 month-old go nuts on some of the ‘crust’ mixture with minimal guilt and that’s saying something!

If you do decide to try this recipe, and I hope you do, the trick with the whipped cream is to chill EVERYTHING before whipping. EVERYTHING. Take that can of coconut milk and put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours. Grab your mixing bowl and your mixing attachments and put them in the refrigerator as well. It will be the difference between actual whipped cream and frothy coconut milk. There are further instructions where the recipe is listed so make sure you read through before starting.

I used regular-sized muffin tins + parchment paper to make pie 'crusts'.

I used regular-sized muffin tins + parchment paper to make pie ‘crusts’.

Tiny pie crust - No grain, all glory.

Tiny pie crust – No grain, all glory.

Bring on the color.

Bring on the color.

Add a dollop of coconut milk whipped cream.

Add a dollop of coconut milk whipped cream.

It would be delicious even without whipped cream.

It would be delicious even without whipped cream.

One last look at the yumminess.

One last look at the yumminess.

Mini Pie of Deliciousness

Mini Vegan Chocolate Chip Berry Pies + Coconut Milk Whipped Cream

Ingredients for Crust:

Adapted from my own recipe for Raw Brownie Bites (Make sure to omit the oats for a grain-free version. Keep them if you don’t mind a grain or two).

  • 2 Cups of dates, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup oats (I used gluten free)
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp milled flaxseed
  • 3 Heaping TBSP of vegan cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp organic maple syrup (depending upon your taste—start with 1 and if you make it again, up to 2 if it wasn’t sweet enough for you)

**Extra cocoa for rolling the bites in afterwards if want an extra chocolate punch.

Coconut Milk Whipped Cream (Recipe straight from my girl, Samantha, at The Little Ferraro Kitchen)

  • 1 can coconut milk, chilled
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Mixed Berry Filling:

  • 1/2 Cup Strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1/4 Cup Blackberries, chopped
  • 1/4 Cup Raspberries, chopped
  • 1/2 Lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 Tbsp Demerara Sugar

Crust How-To:

I used regular-sized muffin tins to shape the crusts but a ramekin will work just as well.

Cut pieces of parchment paper into squares about 8 in. by 8 in. or large enough that when placed into the muffin tins there is an excess of paper sticking out.

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process until well combined—to about the count of 30 or until the ingredients have a dough-like consistency. If you feel like it’s a bit dry due to too many walnuts or oats, just add a bit of water, about 1 tbsp at a time, until you get that doughy consistency. Once you’ve attained your desired consistency, scoop out enough ‘dough’ to form a ball about the size of a tennis ball. Gently press the dough ball into the parchment paper-lined muffin tin and shape to the entirety of the tin so that a ‘crust’ forms. Your crust should be thick enough to hold the filling but thin enough so that it doesn’t take over the pie flavor. Do this until you run out of ‘dough’. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 30 minutes.

Coconut Milk Whipped Cream:

If you haven’t already, open the coconut milk can and pour out the water in a separate bowl (Save it and use for smoothies, soups, etc). If you’ve been chilling your coconut milk in the refrigerator for several hours in prep for this recipe, the watery part of the coconut milk will be at the bottom of the can so pour slowly and make sure to omit the watery part at the end.

Pour the thicker coconut milk in your chilled mixer and begin to whip starting on low and gradually moving to medium-high setting. As soon as it begins to thicken, add powdered sugar and continue to beat. Check every so often for desired consistency.

Fruit Filling:

Place all your chopped fruit into a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice and sugar and mix until well combined.

Assembly:

Once your crusts have refrigerated, scoop fruit filling into each pie; enough so that the is a ‘mound’ of fruit filling. Top with a dollop or two (or three) of whipped cream. Enjoy!

Mexican Quinoa Salad: A Recipe for Love from a Non-Cook

9 Sep

Hello Dear Readers,

Shanah Tovah, happy new year and happy Monday.  I hope everyone is feeling well.  Today’s guest post in the Love Series comes from a tiny bundle of energy and talent all rolled up into a Sarah Jessica Parker look-alike package known to me as my cousin, Ayelet.   I have two cousins, many distant cousins, but two first cousins—-Ayelet and her brother, Michael.  Ayelet and Michael (known to the family as Micki) grew up in Israel and emigrated to the US in 1989 to live their American dreams, which at the time, consisted of listening to Billy Joel and Vanilla Ice on rotation while wearing an obscene amount of neon.  Ayelet is one of the most passionate people I know, who about 3 years ago, left everything she knew to fulfill her dreams of becoming a certified dog trainer.  Below is the story of how she met her partner, Alex, and how, thank Gd, they finally wised up to decide to share their lives together, which works out really nicely for me because now we have another incredibly talented musician in the family.  Enjoy. Love, Whit xoxo

P.S. For a sample of Alex’s music and for purchasing information after you fall in love with his music, go here.

My husband and I met in 2006, but the stars took a few years to finally align for us.

On Our Wedding Day

On Our Wedding Day

In 2006, Alex and I were cast opposite each other in a 10-minute, 2-person play as a couple who lived together. At the time I was in a serious relationship so I just thought of him as a sweet guy from London. Once the play ended we loosely kept in touch for a few months and because he only had a Visa to stay in New York for a year he eventually moved back home.

However, while he lived in London, he was always coming back to New York for visits, and about every 6 months I would run into him on the street in random places. It was as if [insert your preferred Higher Power here] kept putting him in my path saying “What about this guy?,” “Hey, remember this guy?,” “HELLO! THIS is the guy.” But I was still in that relationship and so would say a quick hello and keep walking, never giving it a second thought. The last time we happened to run into each other was in the fall of 2009 when I was with said boyfriend and he was with his producer. After introductions the conversation went a little bit like this:

Me: What are you up to these days?

Alex: I’m recording an album and playing a lot of shows in this neighborhood. You should come some time.

Me: Sure! We’d love to!

When we parted ways I said to my boyfriend “We’re not going to see his shows. Everyone’s a musician or an actor here. Between all of the friends I go to support and my own stuff I don’t have time to start supporting someone else.” It was callous, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I said that, but there it is. We did, however, become Facebook friends.

Loving Life

Loving Life

A few months after that I broke up with the boyfriend, moved out and starting living the proper single New York City life. A few weeks into my Singledom I got a Facebook invite from Alex to a benefit concert for Haiti Relief. Since it was a fundraiser I knew I should go and support the cause, but before confirming that I would come I decided to check out his music to make sure I wasn’t committing to a night of terrible music. I found his MySpace page (remember those days?) and was blown away. I felt like such an ass for not supporting his music before. His music was brilliant. I was transfixed. A few weeks later I showed up to the show and it was sold out! I was so disappointed. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He had also invited me to his first record release show, which was a couple of weeks later, on Valentine’s Day. I got my dear friend Hannah to go with me and that’s when everything changed.

That night, as I was listening to him sing, I was blown away. Not just by his talent (of which there is an endless supply), but by his honesty. Besides my brother and father I had never met a man who was emotionally expressive. And here was Alex, pouring his heart out in the most beautiful way. It was like finding the holy grail y’all. Hannah looked at me, watching him perform, and she said “You like him!” to which I promptly and maturely answered “Shut up, no I don’t.” But she knew better and so did I.

That's my awesome cousin, smack in the middle, leading a flash mob at my wedding.

That’s my awesome cousin, smack in the middle, leading a flash mob at my wedding.

After the show we went to his after-party and briefly caught up. He asked me if I was married yet to which I said, “no, quite the opposite. I’m single.”

“In that case,” he said “I’ll be back in New York in October. We should go on a date then.” “Sounds good” I answered, totally blown away by the lack of games; and then late into the night, as I was leaving, he kissed me.

I was almost relieved he was leaving New York the next day because I was in no place to get into a relationship so soon after a serious one ended. The problem was, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Constantly. Being with him felt like I was home. I was so thrown by this that I actually started practicing yoga to find my center. (For those of you who don’t know me, I really don’t like yoga, but I was desperate).

About a month after his departure I got a call from an international number. My family is all over the map so I thought it could be one of them. But the second I heard his voice say “hi” I knew it was him and my heart soared. He said he had been thinking about me. That was the first of many long conversations we’d have over the next year and a half.

He would come back to visit every now and then, but we both knew he didn’t have his Visa to stay, and we didn’t know when that would happen. Though we spoke a lot and we’d see each other when he was in New York, we both wanted totally different things. I was coming to the point where I was ready to date, settle down, and as I put it “find my person and make little people together.”

Alex was not there at all. On New Years Eve of 2010/2011 we had a frank conversation in which I told him it was clear we wanted different things, and that I would never ask him nor expect him to change, so we should call a spade and spade and stop pretending that this was going to be a relationship. I had joined J-Date to find the person I was going to marry and he was seeing someone casually back home because his plans were so up in the air, so why draw this out? I had no idea that being so bold, honest and willing to walk away would result in us actually becoming closer.

You know the whole “if you love someone let them go…” saying. Well I’m here to tell you it’s true. The phone calls started coming more frequently and the conversations became longer. I remained guarded and continued to date, but there was this inexplicable thing that was happening. It took a hold of me. Getting to know him was magical. He would listen and care about everything that was going on in my world. He would text me “Shabbat Shalom” on Fridays (something I discovered his mother does too, which I love so much). He loved his family and friends unabashedly. He was hilarious. He was honest.

It was a difficult balancing act: I couldn’t stop getting to know him, but I couldn’t allow myself to be drawn in if he didn’t want what I wanted. On his end, without my knowledge, he had been doing some serious soul-searching. He later told me that he wasn’t prepared to lose me and started talking to his friends in successful relationships to get advice. Then one late night he told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too.

A few months after that he came back to New York and we went on our first official date. That was October of 2011. In February of 2012 I went to London to meet his family. A few months later, in April, I went back again for another visit, during which time he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Seven months after that we were married.

Celebrating Alex's Album Release

Celebrating Alex’s Album Release

I wake up every day thanking G-d for bringing me the most caring, loving, kind, generous, understanding, supportive man I have ever met. I have no idea what I ever did to deserve such love but I am thankful for it with every breath I take. I had no idea that love could be this good and that true partnership was a real thing.

The recipe I’m sharing with you is the first dish I ever made for Alex. In February of 2012, I turned 30.  Alex knows I like a good party and he went all out. The entire weekend was full of celebrations and surprises. I had never felt more loved. As a “thank you”, I wanted to give him something extra special. I decided the most special things are the ones that take time, effort and thought. For me, that was cooking. From the beginning of our relationship I told him I don’t cook and never will. I am terrible at cooking and I don’t enjoy it. He said that was fine because he would cook but I could see a tiny light go out in his eyes. So as a special thank you, what better way to show my appreciation than going out on a limb and cooking?!

This recipe is SUPER easy and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!

Quinoa from the "non-cook".  Looks good to me!

Quinoa from the “non-cook”. Looks good to me!

Mexican Quinoa Salad (Vegan/Parve)

What:

1 cup quinoa (I use multi color or red or a combination of whatever is around)

2 cups water

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of 2 fresh limes (3 if they are small)

3/4 tsp cumin

pinch of red pepper flakes (optional – I don’t use them but it’s great for a kick)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters

5 green onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 avocado, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

The 'Players'

The ‘Players’

How:

Add quinoa to a saucepan with the water, cover, bring to boil and reduce to simmer – cook until all water is absorbed. 10-15 min.

Turn off the heat and leave it alone for 10-15 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork and pour into a large bowl. Add black beans,tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and avocado. Separately, whisk together extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, cumin and red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper. Toss dressing with quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

This salad can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two because the lime juice will preseve the avocado.

Recipe Round-Up – 12 Gluten-Free Sides and Salads — Holiday Menu-Planning

27 Aug
Gluten-Free Holiday Menu-Planning

Gluten-Free Holiday Menu-Planning

So . . . don’t panic, but Rosh Hashanah is a week away! AHHH (insert panic here)!!! Thank Gd, we will be traveling to Asheville, NC to spend the week and the holiday with my mama. And, as a special treat, my brother and his family will be joining us as well. I’m so FRIKKIN’ excited. Anywho, my sweet nephew has been on a gluten-free diet for roughly a year now, give or take a few months. He was having some behavioral struggles that were uncommon for him so after doing analysis of his behavior, keeping food charts, and trying various diets, etc., what my sister-in-law and brother realized is that gluten was having a really negative effect on him. The results of taking gluten out of his diet has been pretty phenomenal and therefore, we want to accommodate this in our very first gluten-free Rosh Hashanah! So, since I was on the hunt for delicious gluten-free recipes that could either be made on the spot or defrosted for the holiday, I bring to you a gluten-free recipe round-up of salads and sides. You’ll find 12 delicious and drool-inducing recipes in the list below. Of course, these recipes could fill the menu for any occasion but in the meantime, I hope they help you in your own holiday menu-planning, for whatever that holiday may be. I wish you a L’shanah Tovah (Happy New Year), a happy Tuesday, and a happy week!!

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara from Jewhungry

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara from Jewhungry

Spaghetti Squash with Veggie Marinara

Apple Butter Nut Squash Gratin from Kitchen Treaty

Apple Butter Nut Squash Gratin from Kitchen Treaty

Apple, Butternut Squash, and Leek Gratin

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash by the Gluten-Free Doctor

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash by the Gluten-Free Doctor

Chutney-glazed Stuffed Acorn Squash

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad from Wine and Glue

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw from Healthy Slow Cooking

Mango Lime Confetti Slaw

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad from Alida's Kitchen

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad from Alida’s Kitchen

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Salad

Zucchini Tater Tots from Cupcakes and Kale Chips

Zucchini Tater Tots from Cupcakes and Kale Chips

GlutenFree Zucchini Tater Tots

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios from What Jew Wanna Eat

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios from What Jew Wanna Eat

Red Quinoa and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar from Everyday Maven

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar from Everyday Maven

Grilled Cauliflower with Basil and White Balsamic Vinegar

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe from The Hungry Goddess

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe from The Hungry Goddess

Fennel, Orange & Avocado Salad with Carrot Dressing Recipe

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce by Farm Fresh Feasts

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce by Farm Fresh Feasts

Roasted Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche Sauce

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes from The Overtime Cook

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes from Tales of an Overtime Cook

Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes

August Love Stories: Love Goes Gluten-Free

19 Aug
Getting goofy with my Misty Dawn.

Getting goofy with my Misty Dawn.

The third guest post in our August Love Stories comes from my beloved sister-in-law, Misty.  I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when Misty wasn’t there.  She’s been in my brother’s life since he was about 22 and I was 19.  She’s a constant in my life; I rely on her for every piece of advice I could ever need.  She’s my first call when I have a baby question.  I think I must have texted her about 20 times a week when my 1 year-old was first born.  Lucky for her, that’s gone down to at least five or six times a week now.  Her relationship with my brother was the first healthy relationship I ever really had the privilege of watching grow and mature.  Truth be told, I looked up to the relationship Misty shared with my big brother as something to aspire to.  It’s a relationship filled with love, communication, respect and loads of laughter.  Also, my brother is an entire foot taller than Misty.  Now that’s just too dang cute.

From Misty  . . .

I never said yes when he proposed.  I didn’t go wedding dress shopping.  Not even one time.   I was 24 years-old when my husband proposed and although we had been dating for three years at the time and I KNEW he was the ONE, it felt surreal.  I had just turned 21 when we met.  We had a very tumultuous dating relationship.  Now, if you go to “Uncle Google” you’ll see the definition of tumultuous is exciting, confusing, disorderly.  I can guarantee you our relationship was all three of those adjectives with a whole lot of love in between.

Five months before our engagement

Five months before our engagement

My husband, who also happens to be Whitney’s older brother, and I met in college.  But, of course we didn’t go to the same college.  That would be way too simple, and honestly we probably wouldn’t have stuck together if we did.  Our dating relationship was a long-distance one.  Our respective colleges were roughly a three-hour drive from one another.  This was also fourteen years ago, before the entire world thrived on cell phone usage and text messaging, so we actually had to really communicate with one another.  I would check my Hotmail account once a day praying an email from him would be there.  We would try and call each other as often as possible, but we were college students and long distance phone calls where you spent an hour on the phone weren’t cheap, ya’ll.  To say we had many ups and downs would be an understatement.  Long distance relationships are NOT easy, especially when you’re in college.  There were lots of road trips.   I honestly believe though, that because our relationship was long-distance and based on honest open communication while learning HOW to communicate with one another, we figured out some of the hardest parts of a partnership those first 3 years.

Eleven years later . . .

Eleven years later . . .

During one of those trips that he drove from Athens late at night, he started to run out of gas.  His car at the time constantly needed oil added, and he kept a case of oil in his trunk.  When he  realized he wasn’t going to make it all the way without adding fuel, he pulled in the gas station and quickly realized he didn’t have a single penny on him.  Luckily, he was in South Georgia and the gas station attendant let him trade the oil he had in the trunk of his car for gas!  When he finally arrived at my house, he retold the story with me laughing and feeling terrible all at the same time.  It was really late, even in college terms,  and we didn’t have a lot of food in the house. I knew he must have been hungry, so I went in the kitchen and made biscuits, he must have eaten four or five.

Our little family about 4 years ago (you can't see our baby girl.  She's strapped to my front).

Our little family about 4 years ago (you can’t see our baby girl. She’s strapped to my front).

When I graduated college I moved home to Atlanta and 5 months later he proposed.  We were engaged for exactly one year before we married.  Three years later we had a little boy, and two years after that a little girl.  Ten years of marriage and fourteen years after we met, life is wonderful, hard and busy.  Both of our kids have dietary restrictions, mainly gluten and dairy, so when it comes to cooking I have to get creative.  When we first went gluten free, the thought of not having biscuits terrified my husband.  One evening, I decided that we could have them and set out to make almond flour biscuits.  Now, these biscuits aren’t the biscuits my grandmother makes, but they are an amazing substitute for those with dietary restrictions and they are gluten and dairy free!  Every time I make biscuits, I think of my man and that long drive in the middle of the night.  It makes me smile and remember, just how far we’ve come.

Biscuits ready to be enjoyed

Biscuits ready to be enjoyed

Almond Flour Biscuits

adapted from Elana’s Pantry

What?

5 cups of blanched almond flour

1 tsp of celtic sea salt

1 tsp of baking soda

½ cup of Earth Balance natural buttery spread (soy free)

4 eggs

2 tbsp honey

How?

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium bowl combine almond flour, salt and baking soda.  In a large bowl combine Earth Balance, eggs and honey. I found it easier to mix the wet ingredients if I melted the earth balance a little.  Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until a nice dough forms.  Line 2 baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.  Proceed to drop biscuits onto baking sheets using a large spoon, mine are about 2 ½ inches wide and 1 ½ inches tall.  This gave me 17 biscuits total.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until biscuits are browned on the bottom edges.  Enjoy!

A biscuits best friend? Coconut-milk soaked fried chicken!

A biscuits best friend? Coconut-milk soaked fried chicken!

Flamingos + Pizza + Babies. Now That’s a Party

13 Aug
Someone was bound to get naked.  Oh, also celebrating one of the few pictures where I'm not DROWNING in sweat. Dang Miami.

Someone was bound to get naked. Oh, also celebrating one of the few pictures where I’m not DROWNING in sweat. Dang Miami.

I survived my child’s first birthday. I survived and I thrived. And let’s be honest, the only reason it was a little bit stressed was me. I can’t do ‘simple’. I really can’t. It’s not in my DNA. Gd bless you if you can do simple. I admire and salute you but I just can’t do it. I mean, you should have seen my Bat Mitzvah. Of course there was a theme (Hollywood). Of course there was a color scheme (black, silver and magenta) and of course, there was a DJ who dressed up like Michael Jackson and did an entire choreographed dance to a medley of Michael Jackson through the years. I mean, this was THE Bat Mitzvah to end all Bat Mitzvahs. So you see, the daughter raised by a mother who bought life-size cut-outs of movie stars and a hot pink sequenced top hats and feather boas as decoration for her daughter’s Jewish coming-of-age party wasn’t going to grow up to tread lightly into her own child’s birthday parties. Oh no. Not a chance.

Grain-free peppermint chocolate chip brownies. One of my most requested recipes.

Grain-free peppermint chocolate chip brownies. One of my most requested recipes.

There was a theme (retro-Palm-Springs-tacky-chic). There was kind of a color scheme (pink, yellow, green). I had made all the decorations, from the “Happy Birthday” sign to gluing about 50 individual sea horse cut out onto toothpicks for cupcake toppers. Part of the reason I made everything is because I can’t in good conscience pay $10 for a happy birthday sign when I can pay less to make my own. Same goes with the cupcake toppers. Paying for things I can make hurts my insides a little so, of course I had to make that stuff. And of course, I made the food. Oh the food. The baking/cooking started at 8:45 on Saturday night and didn’t stop until 1:55 on Sunday afternoon (the party started at 2PM). My husband and I went back and forth with what to serve folks for a late afternoon party — I wanted to go dairy so that I could do dairy cupcakes. We settled on homemade pizzas of varying fun flavors coupled with your usual hummus, veggies, fruit, etc. I also made mini strawberry cupcakes using the Sprinkles Cupcakes recipe, which I highly recommend. And since we have a few loved ones with a grain-free diet, I ended up making mini grain-free pizzas using roasted eggplant and zucchinis as the ‘crust’ as well as grain-free, vegan peppermint chocolate chip brownie bites (I used my own brownie bites recipe, found here, and took out the oats and added a few drops of peppermint oil and vegan chocolate chips). All-in-all, I felt really proud of the party we created to celebrate the first year of life of our sweet girl. But honestly, I do love the planning and the arts and crafts and whatnot but that’s not why I do it all. I go through all this big planning because I also want to celebrate the people who helped make her first year of life so frikkin’ wonderful. Yes, I do love a good theme party and yes, I love cooking for people but more than anything, I love showing the people in our lives my ever-lasting appreciation through food and through taking care of them, even if it is for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. My hope is that they walked away knowing that I love them for loving our girl. And if they happened to take a few dozen extra mini cupcakes away with them as well, that’d be OK too.

Below is a photo journal of the party as well as a few recipes I created for our dear friends. I hope you enjoy!

Grain-free Pizzas

Ingredients:

1 large roasted eggplant OR 1 large, thick zucchini cut into 1.5 inch thick rounds
Marinara Sauce
Cheese of choice
Fresh basil
Oil for baking sheet

How:

Cut eggplants into 1.5 inch rounds and dust with coarse kosher salt. Leave on for an hour to draw out moisture. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat down with paper towel. Place on greased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for roughly 30 minutes – keep eye out for over-browning. Once roasted, top with sauce and cheese — I used a standard marinara and topped some with sheep’s milk feta and some with mozzarella. Top with chopped fresh basil.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

So. Much. Cooking.

So. Much. Cooking.

I made 3 different kinds of pizzas using puffed pastry dough as the crust — I couldn’t make the crust too. I wasn’t that much of a glutton for punishment. Anyway, the toppings were as follows:

1) Tomato sauce with mozzarella, roasted eggplant, roasted garlic and fresh basil

2) Tomato sauce with mozzarella, sheep’s milk feta and corn

3) BBQ Sauce, black peppercorn Monterrey Jack with caramelized purple onions

Roasted eggplant and garlic pizza.

Roasted eggplant and garlic pizza.

My 1 year old

My 1 year old

We still have 30 of these in our refrigerator

We still have 30 of these in our refrigerator

My Queen

My Queen

Just a bunch of moms being awesome by the pool

Just a bunch of moms being awesome by the pool

They really have no clue what's going on

They really have no clue what’s going on

Ice-cold beverage, anyone?

Ice-cold beverage, anyone?

After an hour in the pool, she was ready to party.

After an hour in the pool, she was ready to party.

Aunt Misty was there too! I bet she didn't even know it.

Aunt Misty was there too! I bet she didn’t even know it.

Seriously, Uncle Mo, do my shades make me look too ironic?

Seriously, Uncle Mo, do my shades make me look too ironic?

Cupcake ecstasy

Cupcake ecstasy

I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's the beard, but Siona is captivated by Zak.

I’m not sure what it is, maybe it’s the beard, but Siona is captivated by Zak.

One of those people I hope I can at least make half as happy as she makes me.

One of those people I hope I can at least make half as happy as she makes me.

{Guest Post} My Jewish Journey – The Joy of Caitlin

18 Jul

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Hi Lovely Readers,

I am currently enjoying a trip of a lifetime with my family in Blue Sky, Montana so I asked two trusted foodies to fill in for me while I’m gone. The first post is from my talented sister-in-law, Caitlin, author of the parenting blog, The Joy of Caitlin. The second will be from one of my most favorite people in the world, Jackie. Jackie is THE person who introduced me to the concept of food as art, as something more than just to eat but something you can be passionate about. I am so excited to reflect on this Montana experience next week (gang, there was a food festival. It was epic). In the meantime, please enjoy the guest posts and I wish you a wonderful shabbat,

Whitney

I was on a first date with Mo, the cute guy from my public speaking class. I had been working at a natural bakery in our college town and I was telling an anecdote about a customer asking for some challah. I pronounced it the proper way, with the hard “ch” from the back of my throat, and I think that’s when he knew I was the one. The blonde, Irish, hippie girl could stick around. In a funny way I think Mo’s reaction to the correct pronunciation was the very beginning of my Jewish food journey. I realized soon that the cute guy I was interested in wasn’t just casually or culturally Jewish like my other friends, he was “Orthodox,” raised in a fully observant home, he kept Kosher, and didn’t drive on Shabbat. Mo was fully engaged in the secular world, wore regular clothes, baseball caps, and went dancing in clubs. Yet beneath that surface was a deep faith and commitment to values that I had never experienced before.

On our first road trip together, to visit my Grandpa in northern Vermont, Mo pulled over just as we left town. He had packed his siddur (prayer book) in the trunk and wanted to say the Tefilat HaDerech, “Wayfarer’s Blessing” as we embarked on our journey. I felt so special, so cozy in the thought that he had a blessing to say for this occasion. I looked through his bilingual prayer book to discover that there were blessings for literally everything. Every kind of food and drink had it’s own special words of gratitude. There were blessings for natural phenomena, for healing, I was amazed and smitten. I wanted these secret words woven in my life too. I began to learn about Judaism without discussing it with Mo, afraid he would be worried that I was just doing it because of him, unsure of what he would think.

I finally admitted to him that I was surreptitiously studying Judaism and he was both excited and wary. We went to a few Jewish Renewal services in New York together, and while I was enamored with the guitar playing and Bob Marley songs, he was a bit underwhelmed. We began to occasionally spend Shabbat together, and when Passover came I was sure that I needed to attend a seder. He still hadn’t told his family about our relationship, and to arrive in a car in the midst of the two day holiday would have been disruptive and fodder for much disapproval.

I went to a friend’s family’s seder instead, and I felt a deep sense of purpose, with an underlying sadness. I was sure that I belonged there, yet pained not to be with Mo. For some reason I decided that night to eat the chicken soup. I hadn’t had any meat in seven years, I had been raw vegan on and off for the past three. Something about the occasion, about my longing to belong, made me want to join in fully. It was the same cozy feeling I had experienced when I discovered all the blessings. That one bowl of matzoh ball soup brought me more into the world of Judaism through food, and kick started my interest in the possibility of really creating a Jewish life for myself.
A few months later Mo had decided to travel to Israel for a scholarship in a Masters program in Jerusalem. I was graduating with a degree in English literature and a major itch to get as far from New Jersey as possible. He left in July, I booked a ticket to visit him in October, and spent the summer roaming the east coast, visiting friends, preparing for my first trip overseas. When I finally boarded that plane I left my mom in the terminal with many tearful goodbyes, and set off for the unknown.

The first thing I saw in Israel were the orange trees, the first thing I felt was the heat as I walked through the bridge from the plane to the airport. I heard the guttural sounds of Hebrew and felt excited and lost. I found Mo outside of customs and we loaded my two bags with all my earthly belongings into the back of the airport shuttle. I felt nauseous on the winding ride, amazed at the sprawling rocky hills covered in gnarled olive trees and stone fences I imagined to be ancient. When the van dropped us off at Mo’s apartment I was surprised at the dirty dusty streets and the unfamiliar street signs, then felt nothing but gratitude as we descended into his tiny basement apartment where I collapsed on his futon bed and slept dreamlessly.

When I woke hours later it was the afternoon. I was hungry, thirsty, disoriented. I drank some water, threw on my sneakers and we headed out to meet Mo’s friend downtown to get something to eat. I will always remember my first meal in Israel, at a tiny cafe called Timol Shilshom (http://www.tmol-shilshom.co.il/en/home/default.aspx). We ordered bread with pesto, olives and labane, everything was fresh and bursting with flavor. Then came the shakshuka, the quintessential Israeli dish Mo and his friend decided I should try, eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce, eaten with crusty bread. I had spent my college days eating out in Manhattan, trying all different ethnic cuisines from Thai to Ethiopian, but this was a brand new experience for me. It was homey, bright, filling, surprising, and comforting, all at once. From that moment on I was in love with Israeli food, and my Jewish food journey began in earnest.

Read more of my story soon on The Joy of Caitlin!

Mo’s Famous Real Israeli Humus

Anyone who has joined us at the Shabbat table has savored the delicious, authentic humus that Mo makes every week. He developed this recipe after extensive tasting in Israel, and testing here in the states. It is one of the few dishes when I willingly give over the kitchen, and just get to enjoy. I hope you like it too!

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup Israeli tehina (can be found at Kosher stores or use regular tahini from any supermarket)
1/2 cup cold water
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt to taste
Cumin if you like!

How?
Place garlic in bowl of food processor, followed by chickpeas (reserve a handful to put on top at the end) and the rest of the ingredients. Process until very smooth, adding a little more olive oil or water if needed, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve topped with chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of paprika. It makes a great dip for pitas or fresh veggies. B’teyavon!

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Loosing My Hair + A Raw Banana Split Smoothie (together that’s just yum)

18 Jun

One day, in 2006, I was at my desk at work in Chicago, loving life and having fun when I got a phone call from my Dad. It’s rare that my dad calls me in the middle of the work day so I picked up to say “hi”. As soon as he said ‘hi’ back I knew something was up. He had that thing in his voice that lets me know that what he’s about to say is no joke. And, what he said was, unfortunately, no joke. He had called to tell me that his father, my Caw Caw, had died. It was sudden. He was dancing when it happened as he had gotten into ballroom dancing late in life. (He was also an avid cake-maker and took mile long walks every morning. He was amazing). Regardless, it was shocking and I wasn’t prepared. It just so happened to be the week of Thanksgiving and I had plans to drive to Louisville, KY with my cousins that week anyway, but unfortunately, the trip wouldn’t be as lighthearted as expected.

The thing is, I don’t have horrid memories of that week. In fact, I have some really lovely ones. I remember driving with my cousin, Mike, and his wonderful girlfriend (now wife), Dana and my dog, Ted, through a blizzard in order to get to Kentucky. I remember pulling into a Burger King in the midst of that snow storm to get something to eat (this is B. K. — Before Kosher). I remember asking if I could bring Ted in there so he could stay warm and I also remember feeding him chicken fries (sorry Ted) under the table. I remember joking with my step-mother about something that we thought was so funny it’s possible I may have tinkled my pants a little (I’m known to do this from time to time. I own it. What can I say? I’m a hardcore giggler). However, apparently, the stress of that week was more intense than I realized because several weeks later, while at the salon, my stylist noticed something. I had a few bald spots; spots that weren’t there 6 weeks before. This led me to make an appointment with a dermatologist, who subsequently diagnosed me with Alopecia Areata. Alopecia Areata is a common immune disorder that results in the loss of hair in various parts of the body, not just the head. However, for me, it’s the head. My mom, being the incredibly supportive mom that she is, found out everything she could about Alopecia. She also invested in all sorts of hair-growth products to help me get back on track.

Me with My Dad, Grandma Viv and Caw Caw circa 1988

Me with My Dad, Grandma Viv and Caw Caw circa 1988

The irony of an autoimmune disorder is that it gets exacerbated by stress. My dermatologist suspected that the stress of my grandfather’s death kicked my Alopecia into high gear. She told me I would need to be vigilante about my stress levels for the rest of my life while also keeping a close eye on my scalp to make sure I don’t have any bald spots. There’s really nothing I can do if there is one. It’s more like an indication to take a deep breath and slow down. Here’s the thing though, that’s like, really really really hard. I’ve been noticing a lot of hair loss lately and the even greater irony is, of course, that this stresses me out. It’s been really bad lately so I took this week off and have plans to get out of town for two days with a very dear friend. I’m so blessed with a wonderful family, fulfilling job, a creative outlet in my cooking and this blog, but it’s been hard to balance it all and I’m not sure I’ve been good at destressing lately. Part of that de-stressing also involves eating healthy and exercising. I’m also trying to be conscious of eating foods that supposedly help build healthy skin and hair. A lot of research shows that omegas and all those good fats are great for building healthy skin and hair and since it’s summer time and I’ve recently fallen back in love with my Vitamix again (shalom lover), I’m been getting those happy omegas through delicious smoothies. I’m also trying to balance sugar intake while still giving a little, ‘What’s up’ to my sweet tooth so there have been a lot of trial and errors with the sweet smoothie. Below is my ultimate, most favorite recipe so far. You don’t have to have a Vitamix to make — any blender will do. Enjoy!

Sweet Decadence

Sweet Decadence

Raw Banana Split Smoothie

Ingredients

1 Ripe Banana
1/2 Cup, Frozen Strawberries
3 Tbsp, Raw Cocoa Nibs
1/4 Cup, Raw Walnuts*
1 Cup, Almond Milk
1 Tsp, Vanilla Extract
Chia Seeds

Getting Started

Getting Started

This is Getting Good

This is Getting Good

How?

Combine all ingredients into your blender and blend away! I was a naughty girl and topped mine off with some whipped cream but come on guys, it was organic! And I topped it with chia seeds! And raw cocoa nibs! That’s super healthy, right?!

*If you are someone who does not like texture in your smoothies, feel free to omit the walnuts.

Bring It On

Bring It On

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