Recipe Friday: Celebration Cake

MS//Mommy is reaching a milestone this weekend: on Sunday we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary. In honor of this milestone, we asked Michelle Melton to share with us a sugar-free cake recipe – perfect for all sorts of celebrations.


frostedcake

One of my favorite lines from Ray Romano’s early stand-up routine was about his, then 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra. As they were driving along, he noticed that she stared out the window smiling at nothing in particular.  When he asked her what she was thinking about, she replied “candy!”

Even at 60, I remember clearly the joy as a child that was candy, ice cream, and other sugary treats.  My friends and I would walk to the drug store clutching our quarters and stand in front of the rows of candy trying to decide which choices would yield the most pleasure for our money.  Our neighborhood was visited by three different ice cream trucks each day during the summer and though my mother would limit the purchases to occasionally, the sound of bells or a music box-like jingle would send me running home with the hope that, perhaps today, might be the day. A few years later, when a candy company introduced a large-sized lollipop with a sweet side and a tart side, bringing it to school, became the cool thing to do in sixth grade.

With such a long-standing and deep-rooted love of sweets, one would imagine that once I became a mother, I would be sympathetic to a child’s love of candy and desserts.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

As I watched those beautiful new teeth emerge in my infant daughter’s mouth I vowed (successfully) that she would live life cavity-free.  Since sugar-filled treats had been the source of my numerous dental fillings, I chose to limit the introduction of candy and other treats into her life.  If we did indulge, I chose high-quality or homemade confections and desserts.  We enjoyed candy on special occasions and holidays but rather than using candy as a gift or reward, I would instead choose small toys or other useful items like pens and pencils, especially on the annual homemade advent calendar.

It was by coincidence last year when my daughter decided to remove cane sugar from her diet that I had been investigating the idea at the same time.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I was already living gluten-free off and on so the concept of removing sugar seemed daunting. I decided to postpone going entirely gluten-free until after the first of this year and instead joined my daughter in her effort to use sugar alternatives (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol) in place of cane sugar.  With birthdays and the holidays approaching at this time last year, the effort to convert favorite recipes to these substitutes was going to be difficult enough without the added trouble of trying to use gluten-free flours.

My first sugar substitute of choice was coconut sugar.  It is readily available at most grocery stores and it is also the least expensive.

It could be substituted one-to-one for the sugar called for in recipes.  However, one of the drawbacks is the brown color which, when combined with foods like fruit give the mixture an unappealing look, though it works well in recipes as a replacement for brown sugar.

The last drawback is one I haven’t read about so I am guessing few people have noticed this but coconut sugar is oily.  It seems to retain some of the oil found in the coconut and therefore, can interfere in the finished product.  For example, when I tried to make homemade chocolate chips, the final product would not solidify properly because of the added oil.  Coconut sugar is a great substitute as long as these characteristics are taken into consideration.  If appearance, taste and setting up isn’t an issue (as when making chocolate syrup for milk) then I use coconut sugar.

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Recipe Friday: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

For the first Friday of Foodie month, I asked Michelle Melton, of Michelle Melton’s Photography, to share one of her favorite weekend recipes. She graciously shared her thoughts and recipes for gluten-free pizza packets (for convenience) and a favorite gluten-free pizza recipe.

Enjoy!


Mixes: Convenience in a box

When baking, there is nothing like a box mix for convenience.  Even after I had mastered more complicated baked items from scratch such as pies, yeast breads, and pizza crust, I still enjoyed the results I achieved from box mixes. If I was short on time, the helpfulness of just adding a few wet ingredients to the mix and then popping it in the oven was always tempting.  Whether it was pancakes for breakfast or a cake for a celebration, if I was in a hurry, I’d reach for a mix.   And mixes can make the gluten-free diet easier to manage.

My first exposure to a gluten-free diet was about 10 years ago.  Although I was familiar with celiac disease from textbooks and nutrition classes, I never knew anyone who had it. Celiac seems to be like other diseases that don’t have outward or visible symptoms; the casual observer would never know that a person has it.  This was not the case, however, for my friend of mine.  From the time I met her several years before, the one thing you could not avoid noticing was her dermatitis-ravaged skin.  Her face and neck were especially affected; she was constantly scratching.   Doctors assumed it was eczema and prescribed medications to soothe the symptoms but nothing rid her of the flare-ups completely.  Then in the spring of 2008, when we met for lunch,  the woman sitting across from me was not the friend I had previously known.  Clear-skinned and relaxed she explained that a doctor diagnosed her with celiac. It wasn’t eczema at all but a flare-up of the disease.  Once she became gluten-free, her dermatitis was under control. Needless to say, I was amazed.

I began to investigate (sort of toe tipping into the water) gluten-free recipes to see if a diet change would make managing my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis easier.  Since gluten sensitivity causes inflammation, I was curious if at least reducing gluten in my diet would ease the stress on my thyroid. Ten years ago, however, the problem was every gluten-free recipe called for a different flour blend.  There was little overlap; one blend would not give the same results when used in a different type of recipe.   At the time, I tried making the flour blends that the cookbooks recommended but they required so many ingredients and the taste left a lot to be desired so eventually I gave up.

In recent years, it has become economically advantageous for some companies to cater to the gluten-free diet.  First, only specialty grocery stores carried mixes and already baked products but now major chain stores carry them as well.  I liked the convenience of mixes because I no longer needed a specific flour blend for every item I wanted to bake.  In some cases, the taste was still an issue but I found my favorites and used those often.  While we were not totally gluten-free, these new offerings made it easier to include gluten-free snacks and baked products in our diet.

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Simple 3-Ingredient Fruit Leather

Jai and I went strawberry picking yesterday, our first of the fruit season. It was his first-time strawberry picking, though he went peach picking with me last year. He seemed to enjoy himself, although he stayed in his carrier the whole time which isn’t a bad way to spend the time: comfortable transportation AND food service? Yes, please.

This bodes well for blueberry picking because the farm we go to has tall bushes that are out of reach for little ones. He may be able to grab a few while he’s on my back and if he doesn’t, he won’t be bored while I pick.

I snuck a couple of (rinsed) berries to him while he was back there and he seemed to be a fan, though he was more into eating them once we got home.

Strawberries have an extremely short shelf-life, so I had to come up with some ways to preserve them beyond a couple of days. We got huge bucket-full so I needed to think of something quick.

Jai is on a fruit leather kick so I decided to make some from the fresh strawberries. I hunted around for some recipes and settled on this one, but I made my own modifications to veganize and help naturally sweeten the leather some more.

I’ve written up my modifications below, but do check out Momables for other great healthy eating ideas for little ones.

berrypicking

Jai’s first berry-picking experience. He was the official quality control agent: my shirt-back can attest with all the strawberry stains.

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“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

LeftoverQuinoaPepperspin

 

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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