Mini Banana Muffins Made Better

I am notorious for not being able to follow a recipe because there is always something I want to do to it, whether it’s using whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, trading in plain yogurt or applesauce for some of the butter, or taking down the sugar a notch. Thankfully, with muffin recipes, it’s really easy to make those sorts of tweaks to turn out a more balanced and healthful snack option. I have a post up on today that takes you through the process of a recent batch of banana muffins. The recipe made a ton, so the freezer is stocked, and I love that they have a good dose of protein and whole grains to help us all stay fueled through long afternoons at the playground!

Image copyright

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Sugaring Off in the Front Yard

I have a few friends, both locally and blog-wise, who regularly tap trees for maple syrup, so when we moved into a house last year with a big maple tree in the front yard, I knew that I would need to give it a shot.

I borrowed taps and buckets, had help setting them up from a veteran maple maker, and waited…the weather hasn’t been perfect for collecting syrup this year—it needs to be below freezing at night and not too warm during the day. But we finally had a few good days last week and I collected about 5 gallons of sap. I set up a makeshift boiling station in my kitchen, which is not recommended but I figured it was worth a shot since my total volume was so low. I did my best to protect my cabinets and wiped the vent every so often and all in all it was totally fine. It took about 5 hours to reduce 5 gallons down to 1 pint, but we wound up with incredibly sweet and very maple-y syrup. We could have reduced it more, but it’s so sweet that I didn’t want to risk that it would become cloying.

I’m hoping for one more batch before the season is over and I must say that this is by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in the kitchen! And it’s a heck of a lot easier, once you have the equipment, than canning, so this is definitely going to be part of our early spring routine for years to come.

(This site has great info on the specific how-to steps for turning sap into syrup. As does this post.)

Posted in Food, Life in Iowa | 2 Comments

How I Avoided Weaning-Induced Depression

Little peanut Linden circa summer 2012

Just a quick note to share that I have a post up on Momtastic right now sharing a little of the deliberate steps I took during our weaning process last summer to avoid weaning-induced depression—which is a very real issue related to the sometimes sudden hormone shift. As I mentioned closer to the time that I actually weaned Linden, I found the whole topic to be remarkably undiscussed, so this is my attempt to help continue the conversation and to let other mamas know that there are things they can to do guard their mental health (even if we aren’t ever able to prevent depression entirely).

P.S. Rather have an awesome recipe for granola? Check out this post on with Megan Gordon, the author of Whole-Grain Mornings, one of my favorite new cookbooks. There’s a killer recipe for Apricot Pistachio Granola that might just make the idea of going out for breakfast moot!

Image from Whole-Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon (Ten Speed Press, © 2013). Photo Credit: Clare Barboza.

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Recent Eats

I thought I’d share some of the best things that I’ve made in my kitchen lately, just in case you are in need of a little kitchen inspiration.

Muesli Bars
I am somewhat obsessed with this granola bar recipe. I’ve made it twice, both times with dried mango and coconut for a tropical take, and it’s come out perfectly both times. The bars are very flavorful, they hold together well, and they store really well for weeks in the fridge when wrapped tightly.

Animal Crackers
These cookies don’t actually taste like animal crackers at all, but they are buttery and nutty from the oats, so in my book it doesn’t matter what they are called. I had to add a little water to the batter to get it to come together (which has actually happened with every roll out cookie I’ve tried from Weelicious), but otherwise they are dreamy. Note to self: Buy animal cookie cutters!

No-Knead Sandwich Bread
I’ve been making the Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread from Good to the Grain for a few years, but I consistently have issues with it rising too much and therefore being tricky to slice (because the loaf is so tall). I decided to try a new recipe and this one from Food 52 is a total keeper. I did mine with half whole wheat flour and we’ve already almost eaten the entire loaf after just 3 days.

Black Bean Burgers
I’ve been trying to make new recipes with beans outside of my usual rice and beans and while I had to adjust the method of this recipe to be baked instead of cooked on a pan (there was no way those patties would have stayed together) the result was a hit. They were an awesome lunch the day after as well.

Slow Cooker Mexican Beef Stew
We’re almost out of stew season but I hope that we get more beef in our meat CSA so that I can make this one again before it’s too warm. The meat was tender, the broth was flavorful, and it was a hit with the whole family.

Related: I’m back to blogging over on so check in often to see what I’m cooking—and what some of our awesome contributors are up to as well!


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I paired up with Do It Yourself magazine last week to teach a project from So Pretty! Felt to a group of super sweet and very talented ladies. It was so fun to spend an afternoon making jewelry, chatting, and snuggling one very sweet babe who happened to join us. I wish this sort of event happened every week!



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On Newsstands Now: Pantry Recipes

The magazine that I worked on during the fall—Pantry Recipes from Better Homes and Gardens— is available on newsstands now, so if you’re in need of a little late winter cooking inspiration, do check it out. We provide a master pantry list and then 120 delicious recipes to make from that list. There are soups, salads, casseroles, weekend meals, and awesome snack recipes that your whole family will love—I sure know mine loved the samples we were lucky enough to try after a few photo shoot days! (Plus, every single recipe went through the BHG Test Kitchen, so they are guaranteed to work.)

Look for it in check out aisles of grocery stores, big box stores, and in the magazine aisle of your favorite bookstore. It might be just the thing to tide you over until spring…

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Life with Linden: 21 Months

I know all parents bemoan how quickly time is passing, but absolutely cannot wrap my mind around the fact that L will be TWO in three months. It’s astonishing to me. So now that that’s out of the way, here’s a little look at life with our 21 month old.

She is a chatter box, but there’s still a large portion of it that’s understandable to only her (this is especially true when she’s talking to herself). But she has started to tell little stories, often about going outside, squirrels, or dada going to work with his shoes on. She is still picking up new words really quickly—she learned bracelet, moon, STOP (for the stop hand at crosswalks, and then “guy” for the white walking man), ketchup, alligator, turtle, cut, circle (as in circle time), pigtail, coffee, smoothie, and more this month. Most words are still said with an energetic Italian accent. She says “share” whenever she wants a toy that another child has.

Linden likes to color, paint, and play with playdough. These activities usually last about 10-15 minutes before she either starts coloring the chairs or eating the playdough.

She wraps up her baby, who is never far from her side (we now have two, just in case we ever lose the original), in anything resembling a blanket, so you are warned if you wear a scarf in her presence. She will feed them a bottle and pat them on the back.

She loves books and is able to listen to longer books now.  Her current favorites include Blueberries for Sal, Goodnight Moon (she loves the moon right now), Zen Shorts, the Boy with the Drum (known as “tat tat” in our house), and a chicken book that her grandmother made her.

We often have music time with daddy on the guitar and Linden and myself on her various shakers, bells, and tambourines. She likes to sit in a circle with her friends at daycare and sing songs.

She loves to watch football and hockey (or to at least talk about watching them).

She loves to help around the house, whether it be vacuuming, preparing food, or pushing the buttons on the food processor. This little slicer was a wonderful investment since it allows her to safely help me to cut up veggies or fruit with her.

Most days she’s down to one nap in the afternoon- immediately after lunch since she can barely stay awake any longer- that’s about 2-3 hours. If she’s not feeling well, didn’t sleep well the night before, or we go somewhere in the car in the morning for more than 20 minutes, she’ll take a morning nap as well. At night her bedtime is around 6:45 and she usually sleeps for 12 hours.

On the whole, L is a good eater. We all eat breakfast and dinner together 99% of the time and she eats what we eat. I sometimes have extra fruit or cheese for her with dinner, but otherwise it’s family dinners all the way. She still adores pasta, pizza, chick peas, O’s, raisins, and crackers, but lately has also enjoyed beef chili, quesadillas, roasted cauliflower, pork chops, shrimp, almond butter and peanut butter by the spoonful, peas for breakfast (her idea), loads of mango, and kefir. The girl also loves anything related to chocolate or salsa, is mildly obsessed with toothpaste, and would much rather use adult-size utensils.

She’s becoming more and more fun every day and I’m really enjoying how much more affectionate she is now than when she was smaller. We haven’t had too much of an issue with tantrums or a need for discipline lately, though sometimes it’s really hard to get her attention and she often gets fixated on something that almost makes it seem like her brain got stuck…. But if she’s rested and not hungry, she’s usually pretty happy—especially if she can go outside.

Soon enough, sweet Linden, spring will be here.

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Toddler Food: Yogurt Berry Pancakes

I posted this photo on Instagram last Friday as I was making Valentine’s Day pancakes. I know that Linden won’t remember what she ate on that particular day, but there’s something about celebrating smaller holidays with little ones that just makes me feel good. Plus, I knew that she was having a party at daycare that was going to feature sweets, so I wanted to make sure to fill her tummy with a balanced and protein-packed breakfast to start the day.

Pancakes, as you probably know, are incredibly versatile. While there is a time and a place for straight up fluffy pancakes and syrup, the ones I make at home more often feature whole grains, nuts or seeds, fruit, and protein-filled dairy—and get topped with applesauce, yogurt, or nut butter. For this batch, I used whole milk yogurt in place of all of the milk to amp up the goodness factor, oats in place of half of the flour, and flaxseed for healthy fats. The result was a delicate, slightly tangy cake that was bursting with berries that gave us all a nice dose of long-lasting energy. Miss Linden and I both ate two!

Yogurt Berry Pancakes
This makes a small batch of about 6 regular size pancakes. Double it if you have more people to feed! Note: These pancakes are a bit more delicate than traditional batter, so be gentle when flipping them.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 – 1 1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries, such as huckleberries, blueberries, chopped strawberries, or raspberries

1. Mix the oats, flour, salt, flaxseed, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the vanilla, egg, and yogurt. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry and stir in the berries just to combine.
2. Warm a medium cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add a sliver of butter to coat the bottom of the pan or cover with non-stick spray. Spoon batter onto the warm pan, spread out gently until it’s about 1/4-inch thick, and cook for 3-4 minutes per side (adjust if you vary the size of your pancakes). Carefully flip and cook on the other side for 3-4 minutes or until done. Repeat for additional batches, adding more butter as needed.
3. Serve with honey-sweetened yogurt, applesauce, peanut butter, or any topping that you particularly love!

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Choco Date and Seed Cookies

On Wednesdays I take a break from working and Linden takes a break from daycare and we spend the day together. More often than not, our day features at least one cooking-related activity because A.) I like to cook and we need to eat, and B.) Linden does too, which means it’s a productive and fun use of our time. She likes to help me add ingredients to the mixing bowl—though yes, sometimes that does mean that oats wind up all over the floor…we’re working on her accuracy—and she loves to stir everything together and taste test batter. And just to properly set the scene, if I mention cooking to her, she goes to the pantry that has our aprons and yells “watch!”, which means that it’s time to put on our aprons and get down to business. (The word “cook” is usually only used by her if oven mitts are involved.)

The girl also has a serious soft spot for chocolate, so I often try to incorporate a touch of it into otherwise balanced treats. Which is where these cookies come in.

I regularly turn to my Weelicious Lunches cookbook for both recipes and inspiration and that’s where this recipe started. We planned to make the “My Kind of Candy” recipe, which are little balls of date and chocolate dough, only I changed up the ingredients slightly based on what I had on hand. And about halfway through, I had to change the method of the recipe since the one in the book was a total failure. I don’t know if most food processors are strong enough to puree chocolate chips, but mine sure as heck wasn’t…

I admit that cooking with a toddler isn’t always easy or relaxing. In fact, it’s often messy, flustering, and it can very easily veer off course. I was a little stressed when I had to figure out how to save this recipe and keep her engaged at the same time, but I felt a lot better when I realized that the only thing that Linden really cared about was pushing the button that makes the blade of the food processor whirl. So we did that for a lot longer than we needed to! And once the dough was mixed and she could sample it while I formed the cookies, she was a totally happy kid.

I love that these cookies provide a dose of healthy fats and protein, along with some chocolate, and that they are as satisfying for mama (or daddy!) and little ones alike. I bet these could even be shaped into little heart cookies for Valentine’s Day if you were so inclined!

Choco Date and Seed Cookies
You can vary the nuts and seeds in this recipe. I like the flavor of sesame with chocolate, but you could use all almonds or half cashews or even all peanuts.
Makes about a dozen 1-tablespoon-size cookies

1/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
10 large dates, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Grind the oats in a food processor until they resemble a powder. Add the nuts and seeds and pulse until ground into fine pieces. Add the dates and pulse to chop. Set aside.
2. Place the chocolate in a medium glass bowl over a double broiler and slowly melt the chocolate. (You can also melt the chocolate in short bursts, stopping to stir, in the microwave.) Stir in the vanilla. Use a wooden spoon to mix the oat-date mixture into the chocolate and stir to combine thoroughly.
3. Portion out by 1/2 or 1 tablespoons, roll into balls, and flatten into cookie shapes. (I find the slightly flatter shape to be easier for toddlers to eat than balls.) Place onto a glass baking pan or a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or at room temperature (depending on your preference).

“Choco” is what Linden calls chocolate:)

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Kid Craft: Valentine’s Day Suncatchers

L and I did this project together a few days ago, and these heart-shaped suncatchers have totally helped to brighten my mood during this cold and snowy week.

They are made by simply cutting heart shapes from coffee filters and painting them with watercolors. Linden did a really good job of painting a few hearts before generally smushing the paint around with her fingers.

These would be pretty as a garland strung onto twine, or pasted or taped onto cardstock for Valentines. We hung them in one of the front windows and by our breakfast nook so that we get a dose of cheer whenever we look out at the snowy yard.

Find the full tutorial here.

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