How Sweet It Is: Baking Treats for IOS Customer Appreciation Day

Steve’s store held its annual customer appreciation day on Saturday and I was asked (and paid!) to make a few different treats for the festivities.  They had a hotdog/hamburger cart (which had the best veggie burgers ever), as well as a bouncy house for the kids to go crazy in.

I usually experiment in the kitchen trying to make indulgent treats like cakes and cookies into something a little healthier, and the people at Steve’s store are always happy to taste test some on my creations.  So, when I was asked to make the treats, of course I knew that they had to be a healthier version of your average dessert.  I came up with a list of options for Steve’s boss to choose from, and she ended up picking out five things to be served on Saturday.  I was super excited because I was getting paid to play in the kitchen, but I was also incredibly nervous because my tiny little kitchen was supposed to turn out about 300 tasty treats in one night.

I got home around 5 o’clock on Friday and savored the sight of my clean kitchen for a few minutes before starting to work.  I knew that with all the stirring, whisking, and baking action that would be going on over the next six hours, my nice and sparkly kitchen would be replaced with something that looked like a tornado just spun through it.

And I was right.  I snapped this picture after I had loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up a little, so it definitly doesn’t do the extreme mess much justice.

Overall things went pretty smoothly and I was able to make delicious treats for 200ish people and thankfully everything was eaten by the end of the day.  I didn’t see anyone gag as they took a bite of my whole-wheat, semi-healthy treats, so that was a plus in my book.

I used recipes from some of my favorite blogs, but did a bit of healthy editing by using whole-wheat flour, reducing the amount of sugar called for, or adding a bunch of cinnamon because let’s face it, cinnamon makes everything better.  I normally replace refined sugar with honey or maple syrup in baked goods, but since I was making a ton of treats and on somewhat of a budget, that wasn’t really feasible.  I think my kitchen saw more sugar being used in a six hour period than it has in an entire year, but I tried to at least cut the amount of sugar the recipe called for in half so it didn’t make me feel too terribly.

So, here’s what I made!

Snickerdoodle Blondies (Vegan and made with pureed chickpeas instead of flour)

Whole Wheat Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats with Sunflower Seeds (Vegan)

Whole Wheat Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Cinnamon Honey Popcorn

You can find the recipes here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Once I got everything set up on Saturday, I was happy to hang out with Socrates and secretly observe the people gathering around the food table.  Everything seemed to be a hit, and having a couple of vegan options proved to be much appreciated.

We went for dinner at Zucca Pizza, a new restaurant that opened up a couple weeks ago beside our regular farmer’s market.  They had a guy playing James Taylor and other relaxing music, so it was a pleasant surprise to dine outside and enjoy the music.  Later that night Steve watched a movie while Socrates and I crashed from our tiring day.

First solo baking gig = success!

Pretty In Pink

I love Saturday mornings, especially in the spring and summer.  Going to the farmer’s market, seeing all the people and cute dogs, the fresh veggies and still warm bread, and finally getting it all back home and getting to unpack all your treasures and sit down for a nice and relaxing breakfast.

The weekdays usually consist of Steve throwing breakfast together for me while I finish getting ready.  There’s usually no time to sit at the table and enjoy the morning, and eating breakfast on the 5-minute car ride to work really isn’t that ideal for my slow-eating self.  Saturday mornings give me the opportunity to make what I want and actually sit down, take it easy, and enjoy the morning (usually with a little puppy dog sitting in my lap giving me cute/sad/begging eyes).

Normally I have eggs or waffles, but since it was already 80 degrees at 9 am this morning, I decided on a strawberry-banana smoothie with granola and some whole wheat toast with strawberry jam that we bought at the market this morning (it’s made with honey instead of sugar, score!).  It was so yummy and of course pretty because of all the pink.  Socrates wasn’t afraid to embrace his feminine side and proceeded to inhale his portion of our pretty pink breakfast.

Play Time With Jake + Whole Wheat Banana Nut Doughnuts Recipe

Steve was in Texas all last week/weekend so it was a perfect time for me to head back to Snow Hill to visit the cutest toddler on the planet (with some work mixed in, of course).  I had to help my mom cater a wedding, but I took the day off on Monday so that left plenty of time to play with Jake and bond with the fam.  I actually took a few pictures of the days adventures, and the pretty weather definitly helped to capture some good shots.

Needless to say, Socrates thoroughly enjoyed his play time outdoors.  It’s rare that he gets to run around freely in the city since he’s not smart enough to not run out in front of the oncoming traffic (silly puppy).  He’s slowly warming up to Jake after over two years of meet and greet sessions, but I still think he holds a slight grudge since Jake stole the love of his Grandma Doris and everything (who could blame him?) 🙂

I scrambled around in the kitchen before I left trying to use up all of my food that may spoil before I returned.  I ended up freezing a bunch of my almost too ripe bananas to make ice cream a little later on this week, but I also decided to try out a banana doughnut recipe that I’d been eyeing for a while (and to finally use the doughnut pan that has been sitting in my kitchen all lonely for the past 6 months).  These were really delicious right out of the oven, especially when coated in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Doughnuts

recipe adapted from Naturally Ella

Yields: 6-8 regular sized doughnuts

Ingredients: 

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup milk

3 tablespoons coconut oil (melted so that it’s liquid)

1 egg

1 banana

2 tbs maple syrup

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease the doughnut pan with butter

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, nuts)

3. In a separate bowl, mash the banana.  Whisk in the milk, oil, egg, and maple syrup.  Pour the liquid into the dry and stir until just combined

4. Using a pastry bag or ziplock bag with the corner cut off (I used a pancake pen), squeeze the batter in even circles around the doughnut pan

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes until doughnuts spring back to the touch.  Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, and then flip onto a wire rack to cool.

Once the doughnuts were cooled, I sprayed them lightly with olive oil (butter would also work, I just didn’t have any) and then dunked them in a mixture of 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.  These are sweet enough on their own but I think the cinnamon sugar topping really gave them an extra boost.  Either way, Socrates and I couldn’t keep our hands (paws) off of them!

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Happy Monday Everyone!

I’m kind of dragging today so I’m glad the first day of the work week is over and done.  I had a nice and relaxing weekend, so I should have been a little more upbeat today, but that just didn’t happen.  Steve and I spent most of our weekend watching Dawson’s Creek episodes and enjoying the nice weather.  We actually never watched the show when it came on over a decade ago, so it’s been fun jamming along to the awesome ‘90’s soundtrack and reminiscing about our middle/high school dances and generally just feeling very old.  I’ve also learned that I definitely want to name my first born son Pacey.  Not only does it rhyme with my name, but I (and dare I say Steve too) have a major crush on Joshua Jackson’s cute-as-a-button character, and the name Pacey is just so fun.

We got our CSA from Atherton Market on Saturday and along with the usual veggies, we picked up some homemade butter and a gallon of strawberries.

I haven’t used the butter yet but I’m interested to see how differently it tastes than the much less expensive butter we normally buy from the grocery store.  I’ve been eyeing the butter for a while now but have been put off by the $4.50 price tag for a half pound since that’s what we normally pay for a full pound of organic butter at Earthfare or Trader Joe’s.  I like that I can talk directly to the farmer and find out about the cows environment and diet, and I was finally swayed to try it out when the farmer told me about how the cows were grass-fed and led a super happy life.  I admit it, I’m a sucker for buying eggs/milk/butter, even if they are more expensive, if I can know for sure that the animals are happy and treated well.  I’ll probably continue to buy butter from the farmer’s market regardless of the cost.  Maybe it will encourage me to use less butter and voting with my dollars and supporting local businesses is always a good thing in my book.

On Sunday afternoon, Steve and I went to see The Five Year Engagement so that we could snatch up the cheaper price of the matinee ticket.  I remember when movies used to be $7, and now a regular showing at our local movie theater is $10 or $11 (hey, that’s over a pounds worth of farmers market butter!).  Being the poor couple that we are, we went to the 1:00 showing and got in for $7.50.  It’s always a bit odd coming out of a movie theater in the middle of the afternoon.  There’s just something inside my brain that expects it to be night time when I leave so I wasn’t ready for the blinding sun when I stepped outside.  The movie was awesome, but then again, we both love anything with Jason Segal in it.  I generally love going to see a comedy with Steve because he pretty much laughs at everything and always laughs significantly louder than anyone else in the theater…yeah, he’s that guy, and I love him for it!

I did a bit of baking and ice cream making this weekend too.  I made whole wheat snickerdoodles, which were okay, but not nearly as delicious as they look in the picture.  I need to try them again before the recipe is post worthy.

I also made some whole wheat banana nut muffins since my bananas were about to go bad.  The most delicious item of the weekend was the strawberry ice cream that I made from the gallon of strawberries we bought at the farmer’s market.  A gallon is a lot of strawberries, so we’ve been in strawberry heaven all weekend, and I’m actually munching on a few as I type this (my keyboard is turning a nice shade of pink).

This is the first time I’ve made strawberry ice cream, so I do have a few changes I’ll make next time around.  This ice cream was really good right out of the ice cream maker, but once we froze it overnight it was frozen solid and nearly impossible to eat without sitting it out on the counter to thaw for 15-20 minutes.  Steve says that it’s probably due to the water content in the strawberries, so next time I’m going to drain the juice from the chopped strawberries and just pour in the actual strawberry pieces.  We still have some strawberries left so I think I’m going to try out a recipe I found that uses coconut milk and roasted strawberries (this should take care of the water excess issue).  I’ll let you know how it goes but in the meantime, here’s the recipe I used for my first shot a strawberry ice cream.  You’ll notice that the recipe uses maple syrup instead of a refined sweetener like sugar.  I used this Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker where you make the ice cream in a freezer bowl.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

Adapted from 100 Days of Real Food

Ingredients:

– 3/4 cup heavy cream

– 3/4 cup full-fat milk

– 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (add a tablespoon or two more if you like your ice cream on the sweeter side)

– 15-20 fresh strawberries

Directions:

1. Combine the heavy cream, milk, and maple syrup in a measuring cup and mix together

2. Chill in refrigerator for at least a few hours

3. Chop strawberries according to how chunky you like your ice cream

4. Pour the milk mixture into your ice cream maker, then add the strawberries (if you’re eating your ice cream right away, pour it all in.  If you plan on freezing some for later, strain some of the excess juice out of the strawberries)

5. Once the ice cream reaches your desired consistency, turn off the machine and enjoy.  For me this took about 15-20 minutes

I was too excited about the yummy ice cream to try to snap a good picture, so hopefully this picture will entice you enough to give it a try!

I think that’s all for the day, especially considering I came home to this note:

And here’s what I found:

Stacy Eats: Tales of CSA Cooking

One of my favorite blogs is Kath Eats Real Food where she basically takes pictures of her breakfast, lunch, and dinner and blogs about it three times a day.  As silly as it sounds, it’s actually given me a lot of inspiration in the kitchen, and good for Kath because she gets paid to do it (seriously, her blog is her job, how awesome!).  Our dinners were pretty simple this week so instead of blogging about the recipes, I thought I’d just share pictures of some of our eats for the week.  We’ve been getting a huge bag of veggies each Saturday from our CSA, so it’s fun to open the fridge and make dinner out of unique local veggies that we normally wouldn’t buy at the grocery store.

Mixed Green Salad with Homemade Croutons, Candied Pecans, Sunflower Seeds & Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Sauteed Kale, Onion, & Scrambled Egg Sandwiches/Pitas

Lemony Swiss Chard Pasta with Parm & Toasted Walnuts

Veggie Fried Brown Rice

Strawberry Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

We still have some beets and kale to use before we get our fresh bag of produce tomorrow, so I’m thinking of trying to perfect kale chips and maybe making some red velvet cupcakes with the beets (you can’t taste them, it’s just a way to make the cake red with using food dye).

My favorite dinner of the week was definitely the strawberry salad.  I’m so happy it’s finally strawberry season, and even though I’m going broke buying an extra pint or two a week, they were certainly a tasty addition to the salad.  I figure this salad was too delicious not to share, so the super simple recipe is below.

Strawberry Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

Mix 1/4 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon mustard, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and a clove of minced garlic in a bowl.  Slowly stream in 1/2 cup of olive oil and whisk until the mixture thickens.  Add salt and pepper.  Store any leftover dressing in the fridge.

For the salad:

Toss the dressing with the salad greens.  Top with toasted walnuts and strawberry slices and enjoy!

And of course a food post wouldn’t be complete without a couple Socrates begging photos:

The Chicken or the Egg

Work has been quite slow this week, so while my co-workers were playing online basketball and Facebook stalking, I was catching up on my not-so-guilty pleasure of blog reading (my guilty pleasure is spending hours upon hours on Pinterest, but unfortunately, the big bosses at my company got smart and blocked the site).  While perusing my RSS feed, I came across a post from one of my favorite blogs, Food Renegade, about marketing ploys that egg companies use to advertise their “free-range” and “cage-free” eggs and what those terms really mean.

Check out this awesome short video made by Douglas & Laura Gayeton.

Looking at myself as a consumer a few years ago, I would go to Walmart or Harris Teeter and buy eggs for about a dollar a dozen, never thinking about the alternatives of “cage-free” or “free-range” that were priced a tiny bit higher.  Eventually my husband talked me into buying these eggs that he viewed as “better,” and there are still many consumers today who (logically) assume that they are doing their bit to help animal welfare by buying these cage-free and free-range options.  Knowing what I know now, it really frustrates me that these big corporations are allowed to fool us into thinking that these eggs came from happy chickens hanging out with their other chicken friends while they all munch on plants and peck their way around a big lot of beautiful farmland.

Granted, these options are better than the other factory farming method of having multiple chickens living in a cage the size of a folded newspaper, with their beaks cut off, and being denied food and water for days so that their production will increase (hello, $1 a dozen eggs).  But should these “free-range” and “cage-free” egg companies be able to fill their cartons & advertisements with misleading pictures of healthy looking chickens grazing on farmland while in reality they live packed together in a warehouse so tightly that they can’t grow properly (don’t even get me started on the hormones that they are fed) and maybe have access to a closet sized outdoor area a couple times a week?

So, when you ask me the question of “the chicken or the egg?,” my answer will always be the chicken.

Does this mean that I don’t eat eggs?  No, it absolutely does not, I love eggs!  I’m fortunate to live in a city where CSA’s and food from sustainable and ethical farmers is pretty widely available, and I even posted last week about getting our eggs from Bell’s Best Berries where you can go visit their chickens to see the happy and comfortable environment they live in.  Of course, if you don’t want to make the trip, you can see sweet little Rhubarb and her friends below:

I’m sure an attempt to call up Eggland’s Best Egg Company and try to schedule an appointment to visit one of their farmers chicken houses would be a major fail.We purchase our eggs for $3 a dozen from Bell’s, they are $4.50 a dozen from some farmers at our market.  I’ll gladly pay the extra few cents to know the chickens are being treated well and fed a natural diet of plants, grains, and insects they find while out and about (factory farm chickens are fed a soy-rich diet with antibiotics, hormones, and recycled slaughtered animal meat and bones mixed in, yum).

Not only are pastured eggs more fresh tasting, but they are also a darker yellow, almost orange color, since the chickens were allowed to roam around and eat green grass and plants.

Science lesson: the darker color comes from the beta-carotene in the plants, which is also the same thing that makes carrots orange.

"One of these eggs is not like the other" - the lighter colored yolk is from an organic egg bought at the grocery store. Notice how much darker the farmer's market egg yolks are. Image courtesy of 100daysofrealfood.com

My only conundrum (fun word, right?) about eating eggs is when it comes to eating out.  I love my piece of chocolate cake just as much as the next girl, so it’s been hard weighing my desire to indulge in sweet treats versus being realistic about where the eggs in that cake came from.  Fortunately for me and my sweet tooth, Charlotte is home to one of the only bakeries in North Carolina, maybe even in the Southeast, that bakes with local eggs only (sourced from Cackelberry Farms in Concord).  So, if you’re ever in the Charlotte area, be sure to visit Sunflour Baking Company, where not only will you gain a few pounds before you leave, but you’ll also be able to enjoy treats made with local ingredients including honey, jam, eggs, butter, and flour.

While it’s not possible for me right now, having my own chickens is definitely an item on my bucket list.  I know that if my parents are reading this, they are probably snickering at the thought of me cleaning poop out of a chicken coop, but what can I say, I’ve evolved.  I’ve always loved dogs, but I’ve become more of an all-animal lover over the past couple of years, and I think it would be awesome to have my own hens (not to mention the tasty eggs they would provide).  I have a very silly picture in my head of my dog, Socrates, playing with his chicken sisters in our yard, which, by the way, I am aware is probably not realistic.

I even found the cutest chicken coop ideas for my future babies, who says hen houses can’t be stylish?

Since I don’t have a backyard right now, little Colleena and her friends will have to wait.  For those of you who watch Portlandia, my inspiration for Colleena’s name came from this clip.  For the longest time I told people I wanted to name my future chicken Collin, until someone told me that only girl chickens, or hens, lay eggs (yes, that was a sad day for my intelligence).  So anyway, naturally, Collin became Colleena.

My husband and I seem to be the go-to recipients when our friends have extra eggs from their CSA’s, so hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow to bring you a recipe that uses some of the eggs that we seem to have coming out of our ears.

In the meantime, what about you, do you choose the chicken or the egg?

Life of a Locavore

Hello again,

Like the majority of the world, Saturday is my favorite day of the week.  For obvious reasons, of course, like being off of work and having a lazy day to do whatever I’d like, but also because it’s the day Steve and I get to stock up on local produce and goodies at our farmer’s market, Atherton Mill & Market.

Image courtesy of Atherton Market Facebook page

We started our journey to eat local and support area farmers about two years ago, shopping at the Kings Drive Farmers Market in Charlotte.  We were super excited and our “green” attitude was bursting all over the place as we stocked up on lots of berries, pineapple, and veggies.  One day, while enjoying our weekly loot, I was browsing online and little did I know that the proud “green” bubble I had put myself into was about to burst.  While doing some research to find out more about our local markets, I learned that those delicious local berries I was enjoying actually came from Brazil, and the pineapple that was sitting on my counter waiting for me to make a mess while Steve watched in horror as I hacked into it with an oversized knife, actually traveled all the way from Costa Rica.

Image courtesy of Energy Smart Charlotte

So, as it turns out, we weren’t enjoying produce that was just picked the day before and we weren’t supporting our local farmer’s at all, we were basically eating the same produce that they sell at the grocery store, we were just buying it outside and being tricked by our logical assumption that food at the farmer’s market was actually grown and sold by local area farmers.

So, here we are, two years later, still soaking up all the information we can learn about what eating local, or being a “locavore,” actually means.  Produce that you purchase at your grocery store travels about 1,500 miles to get from the farm to your plate.  Obviously, the environmental impact of eating carrots from Harris Teeter versus eating carrots from a local farmer is significantly different.  Not only are those local carrots more fresh, tasty, and environmentally friendly, but we are also able to speak directly to the farmer who grew them, and be assured that they weren’t treated with any chemicals or pesticides that I don’t really want to put into my body. I know that eating local 100% of the time is unrealistic, but we do what we can to eat with the seasons, spend our money so that it supports our local farmers and economy, all the while enjoying the sense of community and good nutrition that comes from incorporating local foods into our diet.

So, back to today!  After a long few months of greens, greens, and more greens, the milder weather has finally stocked the market with a little more produce variety.  We still bought our kale and spinach today, but we were also able to bring home some carrots and sweet potatoes too. We also bought some eggs from the farmers that we’ll be getting our CSA from in the spring, and a couple of the eggs are blue.  Check out the sweet little chickens who provided us with the eggs here.

Veggies from Atherton Market

Eggs from Bell's Best Berries, one of the hens is named Rhubarb!

Another thing I love about our farmers market is the non-food vendors who bring local made soaps, jewelry, and even the sweetest little kid aprons made out of green materials. I’ve had my eye on some bath salts for the past few months, so today I finally picked up a bottle and I can’t wait to try it out.  We also stopped by Savory Spice Shop next door to pick up some ginger and nutmeg so that I can make Steve’s favorite granola.

I’ll be incorporating the veggies that we got today into spinach pockets with marinara sauce, carrot pancakes or carrot breakfast cookies, and probably some sweet potato granola to use as my breakfast cereal, that is, if I ever get out of the relaxation coma that I’m sure will be brought on by my salt filled bath tomorrow.

If you’re interested in eating local, check out localharvest.org to find options near you.

And that’s a wrap for today, have a great rest of the weekend!