Party Idea: “We’re Not Pregnant” Celebration

It all started with a pregnancy, and then somehow, curiously enough, a pregnancy induced a non-pregnancy party.

On a late summer drive to Berry Patch Farm, my friend Sareena said she couldn’t wait to have her baby, Lydia, who’s now as sweet, wonderful, and healthy as can be. She said this because pregnancy is hard work topped with a lot of changes.

And the girl just wanted some wine, chocolate cake, and a girls’ night. Not too much to ask for after 9 months of pregnancy, right? Later she approached me with the idea of a “We’re Not Pregnant Party.” What?! That’s not something you expect to hear from most pregnant women. Maybe they’re all thinking it, but how many are brave and honest enough to actually say it?

We’ve all heard how challenging pregnancy can be. Fortunately for Sareena, her pregnancy went relatively smoothly. Nothing at all like some of the traumatic experiences had in the recent movie adaptation of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which we did view together. We loved it, commenting on almost every minute of script.

But not all women are so lucky, and even though Sareena’s pregnancy went swimmingly well, she still had her fair share of changes to adapt to, physical sacrifices to make. But I find that strong women don’t bemoan discomfort, physical or emotional, and neither did Sareena. She handled everything with so much grace, and today as she continues to re-adjust, she continues to stay positive about all the post-pregnancy changes she’s encountering.

And not all women are so lucky in getting pregnant. So to be clear, this was in no way an anti-pregnancy party. As I write this post, I keep wanting to use the word anti-pregnancy, but it doesn’t capture the celebratory sentiment we had. None of the women attending this celebration were, to the best of my knowledge, anti-pregnancy or childbirth. Rather, we were happy to celebrate our individual situations, with child or not.

Really, this party was a celebration of all women’s reproductive situations. Those who can have children, and those who can’t, and those who choose not to. I think this is particularly important to my friend circle because in academia it’s not uncommon for women to miss their “fertility window” while attending to other priorities–i.e. grad school, gaining tenure, writing articles, and running writing programs. But this doesn’t mean that pregnancy is or isn’t desirable. It’s about accepting and celebrating where you’re at in life. Appreciating how you arrived at that place and the other little wonders that came your way–be they children or something else.

Here’s to wonderful friends.

Here’s to my party-themed contraceptive cake! (Recipe here.)

And here’s to whatever comes next.

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The Pumpkin Cake Trick: Success or Failure?

Success!

I’ve seen it pinned quite a bit that one can add one can of pumpkin to one box of regular cake mix, and yield excellent results.

While I love pumpkin, I know that many find it bland. And without eggs to help it rise, I found myself questioning the quality of such a cake.

But I went to work with 9 of my nearest and dearest as the guinea pigs. (This cake was made for a “We’re Not Pregnant” Celebration. Read more here.)

I’m not a big fan of most generic cake mixes because a lot of them feature preservatives and other undesirables, but according to the ingredient list this yellow cake mix box from Trader Joe’s seemed innocent enough.

The mix instructions called for either one cup oil or one cup water + three eggs + 1/2 cup oil. Okay, the truth has to come out here a bit. I did not just add in pumpkin. Why? Because there’s no harm in water and a little choline from egg yolk does a body good, too. I did add in 1 cup of pumpkin as planned and the results were pretty impressive.

The cake was big! I ended up having to shave a lot of the very rounded top off. It rose quite a bit and it was incredibly moist. I actually brought the leftovers to my writing center tutors the following day and they commented on how moist it was.

Success? Yes. I think so. I could try this again with only pumpkin, but I think I already know the results: a fairly soft cake, but a dense one that will dry out a bit faster than usual. I think this trick would work well if you aren’t trying to please a crowd. You could even keep it as a single serving standby by having a box and some puree always ready, like I do with my favorite No-Pudge Brownies. But to impress a group, I recommend adding in the extra ingredients so long as they are healthful.

And to top it all off I went with a marshmallow creme from my local health market.

Yes, this was a non-pregnancy celebration, so the cake had a theme. See that little ring of 28 dots? Seven are a different color. I call it “Contraceptive Cake.” Read more about this party theme by clicking here.

Zucchini Cakes

Remember my cheesy zucchini tots? The ones I posted this past May?

Well I rediscovered them again, and this time they’re all grown up.

From Shape.com, I found a recipe for 12 zucchini cakes. They’re like crab cakes, albeit vegetarian friendly.

Shape.com was promoting them for St. Patty’s Day, but I think they’d be great any time of year as a side dish to most entrees.

But if you’re single and want just one zucchini cake, that’s okay, too!

Here’s the bad news: I didn’t make a recipe for just one. They looked too good and the divisions I calculated yielded far more than expected.

Here’s the good news: It’s zucchini, folks! It’s so low in calories that you should allow yourself to have a couple. Trust me. Unless you hate zucchini, you won’t regret it.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup zucchini, grated
1/2 large egg (mixed up)
2 T panko bread crumbs
Pepper to taste
1 T Cajun spices
1/4 c. Parmesan or cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a broil-safe pan. Set aside.

-Remove excess liquid from freshly grated zucchini by microwaving on high for about :45 seconds. Let cool.

-Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine all the other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Then mix in zucchini. Shape into patties (press firmly).

-Place on baking sheet. Cook each side for about 7 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown. Finish the cakes off with a nice crispy layer by broiling for 1-2 minutes.

-Serve hot.

Apple Sammies with Peanut-Butter-Yogurt Spread

Any women’s health and fitness mag will tell you, the best pre- or post-workout snack features healthy carbs and protein. A favorite go-to is the apple-peanut butter combo, but your refueling snack need not be so simple or boring.

So sandwich it!

And make the spread a little fluffier and sweetener.

Ingredients

1 apple, sliced into large rounds

1 T all-natural, salt- and sugar-free nut butter

1 T organic vanilla yogurt

dash of cinnamon

toppings of your choice (granola, dried fruit, coconut shreds, etc.)

Directions

Simply lay out the apple rounds and spread with the nut butter spread, which is just ingredients 2-4 mixed into a smooth, fluffy spread. Top however you like!

I like my apples sliced so that you can see the star in the middle. “Did you know it was there?”  That’s what my Grandma Betty would always ask when she’d slice my apples this way.

Perhaps that’s why I’m sort of partial to this recipe. It could also be the fact that the spread also makes a delicious dip for a group!

To make enough dip for a group, combine 1 cup peanut butter with 1 cup yogurt and 2 T cinnamon. Chill and serve with apples, pears, or banana slices.

Mug’O’Mac

Do you want classic shell mac-and-cheese fast?

Well, this recipe is no Velveeta or EasyMac (thank goodness), it’s better.

If you use a rich enough cheese, hearty wheat noodles, and a dash of mustard, you will not be let down.

In fact, I think you’ll be scurrying to make another bowl.

I’d recommend using a huge mug, like the one I used.

Ingredients

1/3 cup whole-grain pasta

1/2 cup water

splash of milk (about 1 T or less)

1/4 -1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

dash of Dijon mustard

Optional: 1 cup steamed cauliflower

Directions

-In a large mug or other microwave-safe bowl, add in pasta and water. Microwave the pasta on high for about 2 minutes; then stir and microwave for 2 more minutes. Note: The water may overflow in the microwave, so to prevent this, add a little less. Or if you lose too much, add a T or so more.

Into the microwave!

-If the shells still aren’t soft, repeat microwaving and stirring until they are. Mine were ready after only 4 minutes.

-Drain any excess water very well.

-Mix in cheese, milk, and mustard. You can omit mustard if you like, but I think it gives a really nice flavor. Blend well. If you want to incorporate cauliflower–which is so good for you and so much like a noodle you probably won’t even notice it!–add in steamed cauliflower now and mix.

-Place back in microwave and cook for 1 more minute. Mix again, and serve warm.

I really love cauliflower with my noodles–probably because it’s so similar to noodles that you almost forget it’s a healthy cruciferous vegetable…

A little cauliflower for health…

So I added in 1/2 cup of cauliflower, too.

Hey, a healthy girl has got to get her vegetables in somehow. I think this is the perfect way to do that, and you don’t have to feel like you’re tricking yourself because it tastes that good!

Chewy Lemon-Coconut Candy Balls

If you’re ever in the mood for a sweet and tangy, candy-like dessert, I highly recommend this one.

I found this No-Bake Lemon Ball recipe on Snack Girl’s site. Originally, it made 14 or more.

I’ve refigured and resized, and now you can have three super sweet candy balls anytime you want.

Ingredients

-2 T sliced almonds

-2-3 T pitted dates (about 5-6)

-twist of lemon juice

-1-2 T shredded coconut

Directions

-Toss the dates and almonds in your food processor. Process on the “shred” setting for a minute or so. Then squeeze lemon juice over the top. Process once more.

-Scoop out the mixture and form into little balls. If they aren’t sticking enough, you can can squeeze more lemon over the top or a few drops coconut oil.

-Roll the candies in the shredded coconut.

I dropped these atop a bowl of frozen vanilla yogurt, and it made for a phenomenal pairing! I’d be interested to hear what serving ideas others have.

Pretty-in-Pink Raspberry Cupcake

It’s never been my favorite color, but there’s just something so lovely about pink. In food especially, brightly-colored treats are hard to resist.

Likewise, I’ve never been fond of raspberries. They’re not my style of sweet.

But when I saw this raspberry cupcake recipe from Eating Well, well, it was just too pretty to pass up.

I headed to the fields, Berry Patch Farm’s fields, which you’ve heard me discuss a million times now, and picked away. I have to say that raspberry picking is nothing like blueberry picking. It’s much harder. The raspberries are so delicate that they practically crumble when you pick them, and they’re much harder to locate.

Even so, I went home with 4.5 ounces of raspberries, and that was all I needed for this lovely little single-serving treat.

Ingredients

2.5 T raspberries (fresh or frozen) plus a few for garnish

1 T stevia

2 T flour ( I used coconut flour for a very soft cupcake with a nice sweet flavor, but some might find coconut flour too soft.)

pinch of baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, vanilla, and a few salt granules

1 t coconut oil

1/6 of a large egg (mixed)

2 t buttermilk (or regular milk + a drop or two of lemon juice)

Optional: preserves or other frosting

Directions

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin. You can use a muffin liner if you like, but if you’re using coconut flour the dough probably won’t stick to the liner once removed.

-Mix together all the dry ingredients. Push to one side of the bowl. Add in raspberries on the opposite side and mash with a fork until puree-like. Then mix the remaining wet ingredients. Combine wet and dry ingredients gently. You should achieve a pretty pink batter.

-Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for between 10-15 minutes. Remove and let cool before garnishing with strawberry preserves or frosting.

 This cupcake could also pass as an adorable muffin addition to any brunch, especially if topped with preserves. You could also get creative and form the dough into cookies.

Final creative thought! You could take this dessert from day to night by warming a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square over the top for a very pretty, polished topping. Just a thought though… When it comes to decorating baked goods, I’m too full of them for my own good.

Savory Everything Bagel for One

I do some of my best thinking on my long, weekend-morning runs. I just space out. I give myself time to think through decisions and issues I’ve been putting off all week because my mind has been too focused on work. I take time to reflect.

This past Sunday morning I had another good idea.

Okay, this one isn’t very deep, but it was an ah-hah! moment for me.

Bagels.

Yes, bagels, which I smelled baking toward the end of my run as I rounded the corner of 4th and S. Duff Avenue. They smelled so good, but most nutritionist recommend avoiding them at all costs. The ones made in cafes are a simple carb nightmare, and in no way to they fuel you effectively so you can power through your day. Instead, they leave you feeling hungrier sooner, and spike your blood sugar levels to the extreme.

But as a distance runner, I need carbs desperately. Bagels are a good source. I just needed to figure out a way to “healthify” them.

So I ran in the door and pinned for a bagel recipe. With a few healthy tweaks and a little portion refiguration, I had the perfect savory bagel–similar to the everything bagel I crave from Panera.

And as you can see, I didn’t stop there.

I fried up a few egg whites and tomatoes sauteed in cumin. Then, I topped with a slice of soy cheese. (Yes, I genuinely love Veggie Slices American Cheese. It really is delicious! And it doesn’t bother my lactose allergy.)

Carbs, fresh eggs, and melty cheese. A match made in Heaven, to be sure.

And to satisfy my notorious sweet tooth, I added some fresh apples on the side, picked from my favorite apple tree on 8th & Grand Avenue. I’m really going to be bumming once all the apples are gone.

Fall runs, fresh apples, and hearty breakfast sandwiches. Does life get any better than this?

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour

1/2 T stevia

dash of salt

3/4 T olive oil

1/2 t instant yeast

1/2 cup warm (but not burning hot) water

1 t onion powder

toppings of choice: I used poppyseeds and sesame seeds

Directions

Mix all dry ingredients, except toppings, and then blend in oil and water. Knead for a few minutes, and then let rest for about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Set aside.

Once dough has rested, pick it up again and easily knead a bit, adding in a few more t warm water if it has dried out too much.

Roll dough into ball and set aside. Sprinkle your toppings into another bowl.

Pick up the dough ball and use your thumbs to gently puncture a hole in the center. Mold into one bagel-shaped O, and once ready, press the top of the bagel into toppings bowl. Place on cookie sheet and bake for about 13-15 minutes.

Baked Egg Tomato Cup

Late last summer I was bored with my regular breakfast routine (whole-grain cereals mixed with peanut butter, cinnamon, banana slices, and almond milk), so I decided to experiment on a very small, runt-like tomato from my grandfather’s garden.
In this tomato, I tested an egg cup recipe I’d seen popping up on Pinterest.
It turned out pretty good. The combination of garlic, dill, and Parmesan mixed up my tired old breakfast routine, and it was fun to bake an egg in a “tomato cup” instead of frying in a pan or microwaving in a mug.
Listed below is the very small recipe I experimented with, but simply double or triple the ingredient amounts for more tomato cups, which, by the way, I think would make an interesting conversation-starter side dish to any brunch party.

A little tomato for a little experiment.

Ingredients
1 medium-sized tomato
Seasonings, to taste (I used black pepper, dill weed, and a little garlic-onion blend)
1 T fresh corn kernels
1 large egg (or two egg whites)
1 T onion or chives, chopped
1 t grated Parmesan cheese
Directions
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a pan. Set aside.
-Approaching the carving process like you might a pumpkin, slice off the top part of the tomato. Set aside. If you have a melon baller, I recommend using that to carve out the pulp, but a small sharp knife will work just as well. Be careful not to poke through the walls of the tomato or else the egg mixture may seep out.
-Once you’ve carved out a sizeable hole, drain any excess juice by setting the tomato upside down.
-In a small bowl, mix all remaining ingredients ’til well-blended. Pour the egg mixture in the drained tomato. Place on greased sheet, leaving some room at the top because the egg mixture will expand while it cooks in the oven.
-Bake for 30-35 minutes or until egg mixture is no longer transparent.
For a crispier egg cup, I broiled mine for a few minutes. Very tasty.

Cantaloupe-Yogurt Sundae Bowl

I got this idea from one of my favorite foodie bloggers, Snack Girl.

I didn’t make many modifications to her breakfast version of this cantaloupe bowl.

Ingredients

1/2 to 1/3 cantaloupe, filled with your favorite yogurt and topped with blueberries or other fruit.

But I have a frozen little secret I’ve been sharing with friends for quite a while that turns this breakfast bowl into a sundae one!

A few nights a week, I pop a cup of Greek yogurt in my freezer, churning it with a spoon every 20 minutes or so until it reaches a frozen consistency similar to ice cream.

Pretty smart, right? It’s lower in sugar than most frozen treats you’d buy in store, plus it’s got more protein, too!

I often mix in fresh fruit as a topping. Blueberries are a regular feature in this frozen yogurt design.

But if you go for this sundae bowl, you could have a bit more fun with it…

Idea: Freeze the bowl (the cantaloupe bowl), too!

Idea: Add in a frozen banana for a real sundae effect.

Idea: Freeze into several chunks and mix with frozen fruit in a blender for a smoothie-like consistency.

Idea: Ditch fresh fruit and indulge in richer toppings (think chocolate…)

Idea: Try other frozen fruit bowls by carving out all or part of the center (of apples, oranges, pear, peach, etc.)

Fruit really does make for a delicious dessert. It’s naturally sweet, naturally the best choice.