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Posts Tagged ‘low sugar’

This delicious, holiday breakfast cake is full of fiber, protein and pumpkiny goodness that won’t spike your blood sugar or cause you to gain weight. (We’ll leave that job to Grandma’s sugar cookies and fudge.) Nicely spiced with cinnamon and vanilla, there’s just enough sweetness (from only 1/2 c. honey!) to compliment the tartness of the cranberries. If you don’t care for fresh (or frozen) cranberries, you can substitute dried cranberries, although they are heavily sweetened with sugar.

Using a half coconut flour, half almond flour blend delivers a wonderful texture and moist crumb that lasts for over a week in the fridge, which makes this a great make-ahead recipe for your gluten free or dieting guests.  (Check with strict Paleo guests to make sure they’re okay with the xanthan gum and baking powder; everything else is Paleo. You can omit these ingredients, but it will affect the texture and rise.) If you’re not a fan of coconut, rest assured that there are so many other flavors going on in this recipe that you’ll get all the health benefits of coconut flour without tasting it!

Although this resembles a muffin more than a cake in terms of sweetness, baking it like a cake in a 9″x13″ pan makes the equivalent of 2-dozen muffins without all the scooping (and yes, I’m just that lazy). This is one of my daily breakfast choices that helps me maintain my weight loss, but if you’re looking for a holiday treat to please your sweet tooth, check out my gluten free caramel sticky buns and bacon-wrapped smokies. However, with the guilt-free breakfast below, you can have your (breakfast) cake and eat it too!

Pumpkin Cranberry Cake

Grain-Free Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cake

1 very ripe medium banana
½ c. pumpkin puree
6 eggs
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. xanthan gum, slightly rounded
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ c. almond flour (fine flour, not coarse almond meal)
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ c. fresh or frozen cranberries

Break banana into chunks and place in a large mixer bowl. (The riper the better; just cut out any black parts.) Mash using the paddle attachment until the banana is pureed and smooth. Mix in pumpkin puree. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well on medium speed after each addition. Add salt.

Pour the coconut flour into the mixer through a sifter or sieve to separate the coconut flour clumps. (You may have to press some remaining coconut flour balls through the wires.) Add the baking powder and xanthan gum, then mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides, until the batter is smooth.

Melt butter in a glass liquid measuring cup. Add honey until you have 1 c. total liquid; stir a little to soften honey. Add to the mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Add almond flour, cinnamon and baking soda to mixer and mix until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in cranberries.

Spread mixture into a greased, 9”x13” baking pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (if using a glass pan – less for a dark, nonstick pan, and possibly longer in a disposable foil pan) or until the top springs back when pressed in the center of the cake. This will get pretty dark because of the pumpkin and almond flour, so don’t worry if it looks overdone!

Serve warm. Store cooled cake tightly covered in the fridge for up to 10 days. Serves 12.

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A year ago, I was struggling with overwhelming cravings for sweets and carbs, bloating every night, and frustration over having gained 20 lbs. (welcome to middle age), among other things. It was a relief to discover that grains – including gluten free grains – and refined sugar were the main culprits behind most of my issues. My digestive distress has actually been a blessing because it motivates me to eat healthy or suffer the consequences. However, for those who don’t have obvious digestive issues, but still want to lose weight and be free of cravings, a substantial diet change can be daunting. (Can I get an “amen” from the gluten-free choir?)

Why is it that we get motivated to eat healthy, and perhaps even attempt a “Whole 30” diet cleanse in January, but at the end of the month go right back to eating processed foods and all the junk we know we shouldn’t eat? There’s a reason they call processed foods “convenience foods.” If you look at the typical Paleo blog there is just nothing convenient about all the prep necessary to rely on fruits and veggies for your carbohydrates. Those of us juggling the demands of busy schedules and kids need to be able to balance nutrition with time constraints and different eating requirements. (No, my skinny-as-a-rail son does not need a low-carb diet!) However, there is a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off without spending hours (and money) at the gym or making weight loss the only priority in your life.

The “Mostly” Principle
I’ll spare you the details of my personal saga (because you and I both know there will already be many words in this post – if not, welcome to my blog), so to sum up:

  • Over the last 9 months I’ve lost about 20 lbs. and have kept it off, even through the holidays (while still enjoying small amounts of our favorite goodies).
  • I’ve mostly gotten rid of cravings for sweets and carbs (as long as I don’t eat grains or sugar during the day – if I do, it’s Hello Kettle Chips!).
  • I’ve mostly said good-bye to bloating and digestive distress that had become the norm over the past few years (caused by the above foods and legumes, including peanuts).
  • I’ve managed to do this by eating a “mostly Paleo” diet.

Are you catching a theme, here? The “Mostly” principle is what keeps me on track with healthy eating because I strive to eat grain-free, refined sugar-free most of the time. I try to consume mostly whole foods, but I do take advantage of some convenience foods. (Call me lazy, but I’m NOT making my own mayo or ketchup.) I cook from scratch most nights, but give myself the freedom to heat up a frozen GF pizza on nights when I just can’t bear to cook (like every Friday night). I don’t obsess over whether there is a gram of sugar in my salad dressing or turkey bacon, but focus on choosing the most healthy options that fit into my budget (because I live in the real world where organic foods are mostly too expensive). This is why my recipes are tagged as “Paleo-ish,” because I’m not a strict Paleo guru.

The freedom found in the “Mostly” principle is what has made my eating plan realistic for long-term success because the requirement of perfect adherence to a strict diet is often the enemy of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. The meal plan that has evolved is one that is sustainable for life in a busy, gluten free family of four who likes to travel, throw parties, and occasionally eat out.

The Weekly Meal Plan
What makes my eating plan sustainable is the simplification of menu planning by designing a 2-3 week meal rotation that allows me to fix the same food for myself as for my family, with just a minor tweak; I omit the carbohydrate side dish for myself and eat a larger portion of veggies. So simple! If I get bored and want to swap in another diet-friendly recipe, I just find the slot that matches the side dish I’m using and plug it in to that week’s menu. I can’t begin to describe what a huge time-saver this has been! It’s even become the framework for the cooking lessons I’m giving my son this year, since repetition of the same menus will allow him to watch and learn, then assist, then prepare each meal by himself. Score!

When you look at the meals on my menu you’ll probably be a bit surprised that this has been my “diet” because we eat normal, kid-friendly food. Each night has its own theme, and I’ll move the nights around to fit my schedule as needed (like switching a crock pot meal to a busy night). My menu is simplified because I keep any grains separate and low-prep, so my family can help prepare that side dish while I focus my efforts on the vegetable side instead. (Initially, you might want to skip the potatoes for weight loss. Doing so, I lost about a pound per week. Now that I don’t want to lose any more weight, I try to eat a serving of potatoes or yams each day.)

As always, all my menus are gluten free! So even if you’re not looking to lose weight or curb cravings, you can still simplify your menu planning with the easy-to-prepare, “normal people” meals at the end of this post! Since too much dairy can also cause digestive distress, most of my meals are also naturally dairy free, with the exception of a few made with butter or topped with a little Parmesan cheese. However, I use coconut oil or olive oil in most of my baking, unsweetened almond milk when needed, and cheese is usually optional.

Breakfast
Changing the way I eat breakfast has been the key to eliminating cravings. I can occasionally eat pizza or a small amount of grains and refined sugar for dessert in the evening as long as I avoid them for breakfast. The good news is that grain-free muffins taste great (especially the day after they’re made) and fill you up because coconut flour is high in fiber, as well as really good for you (and does not taste like coconut, although it does lend a distinct flavor to baked goods, which is why I blend it with almond flour). Sweetening baked goods with fruit and honey is not only more natural, it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar like refined sugar, so my energy level stays steady throughout the day. Plus, shopping is simplified because you only need 2 flours as opposed to half-a-dozen needed for gluten free baking! 

Grain-free Muffins

I make enough grain-free muffins or pancakes for myself on Monday morning to last for the week, then just reheat them for stress-free mornings. I usually have 2 muffins or pancakes with an egg or piece of nitrate-free turkey bacon (or both) and a small serving of fruit, like an orange wedge or handful of berries. If I’m fixing hashbrowns for my family, I may just have one muffin and a small serving of hashbrowns.

Lunch
The key to eating a satisfying, low-carb lunch is to fill up on veggies and fruit, and make sure you have some sort of fat if consuming a low-fat meat like chicken or turkey (i.e. olive oil, avocados, nuts or cheese, if tolerated). During the winter, I like to make a big pot of hearty soup once a week that’s full of veggies and meat with no grains, corn or beans. If you chose a canned soup, which tends to be mostly broth and not filling, toss in some frozen veggies and leftover meat when you heat it or just round it out with some raw veggies.

Turkey Vegetable Soup

In the summer, I ate lots of salads for lunch with leftover roast chicken, canned salmon, taco meat, etc. Cucumbers add a nice crunch as a substitute for croutons, and you can load up your salad with whatever veggies you like. I quickly grew tired of salads, though, and ended up preferring lettuce-wrapped burgers or leftover meat and veggies. For a quick and easy lunch, I’ll heat up a Jennie-O turkey burger patty with some taco seasoning, then top it with guacamole and chopped tomatoes or salsa.

Bunless Guacamole Burger

We drove across the country on a 2-week trip last spring, and survived on turkey “sandwiches” made with thick slices of oven roasted turkey (from Costco) as the “bread,” filled with guacamole (squeezed out of single-serve packets) and sliced tomatoes, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. These can be made ahead of time for lunch on the go. With a handful of carrots and an apple (plus a bag of chips for my family members), this lunch sustained us for hours of walking around Washington D.C. Another variation is to spread some Dijon mustard on one turkey slice, top it with sliced avocado and tomato, then put another turkey slice on top and wrap the whole thing in a lettuce leaf.

Snacks and Sweets and Feeling Satisfied
The key difference between the way I eat now and the way I used to eat is that I used to eat until I was “full;” now I eat until I’m “satisfied.” When you cut out grains (and initially, starchy veggies like potatoes) you’ll notice that you don’t feel full, in the sense that you’re stuffed and can’t eat another bite. But by filling a third of your plate with veggies, a quarter to third of your plate with meat, and a quarter to third of your plate with fruit, you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll walk away from the meal feeling like you’ve had enough to eat to sustain you for the next 3-5 hours, but you won’t feel uncomfortably full.

Chimichanga Beef, Zucchini and Pineapple

Chimichanga Beef, Sauteed Zucchini and Fresh Pineapple

If you do get hungry between meals, a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit or handful of carrots should get you through to the next meal. Lara bars are great, sugar-free, all-natural bars you can throw in the car for running errands. Now that I’m not trying to lose weight, I also snack on sweet potato/root veggie chips (from Trader Joe’s) because the inherent sweetness naturally limits my portion size. For dessert, I usually enjoy a handful of salted almonds with about a tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips, since a little dark chocolate is good for you! If you crave ice cream, try the Dole frozen chocolate covered banana slices that come in convenient 4-packs. (When I serve the family ice cream, which was my go-to easy dessert for them over the summer, I sometimes pull one of these out for myself – and the kids get jealous!) But as I said, once you’re free from cravings, a little dessert with the family from time to time should be fine.

Dinner
I’ve linked recipes that are already on my blog, and will come back to this post in the future to add in links as I post more recipes. My plan is to post recipes for all the options below. If you don’t like a particular vegetable on my list, substitute one you do like! (Although I’d encourage you to try the roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts before you dismiss them. Roasted veggies are amazing!) If the veggies listed aren’t filling enough at first, add a side salad to your meal and remember to include a serving of fresh fruit. During the winter, pineapples are reasonably priced where we live. A fruit salad made with pineapple, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds will end your meal on a sweet note. Diced pears with fresh blueberries or a mango/kiwi/blueberry combo also make good winter fruit salads.

2-3 Weeks of Meals Designed for Weight Loss for 1 in a GF Family of 4
(Serve with fresh fruit. Serve the carb listed to your family only.)

Day 1: Italian

  1. Spaghetti squash with meat sauce (ground turkey or beef in a homemade sauce or one from a jar)
    • Salad
    • Family Side: Brown rice spaghetti noodles (if your family doesn’t like spaghetti squash)
  2. All-natural Italian sausage (like Falls brand Hot Italian) with optional marinara sauce
    • Option 1: Serve meat sauce over thinly-sliced, grilled eggplant, topped with Parmesan cheese
    • Option 2: Serve sausage link with a side of yellow squash sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family Side: Garlic toast (buttered gluten free bread, sprinkled with garlic salt, cooked butter-side-down on a griddle or frying pan)

Day 2: Seafood

  1. Garlic shrimp stir fry
    • Frozen snap pea stir fry blend sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper, and McCormick’s Garlic and Herb Seasoning; add thawed, frozen salad shrimp just before serving 
    • Family Side: Heat-and-serve rice or Seeds of Change Garlic Brown Rice and Quinoa
  2. Salmon burger patty (like Trident salmon burgers from Costco) or baked salmon (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
    • Buttered peas and carrots or snow peas sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family side: Rice or quinoa

 Day 3: Chicken Comfort Food

  1. Homemade or Costco roast chicken
  2. Baked, grilled or sautéed chicken with olive oil & herbs
    • Roasted broccoli or asparagus
    • Family Side (optional for you): Mashed potatoes or yams (mash microwaved yams with butter, unsweetened applesauce, salt and a dash of cinnamon, and top with dried cranberries or chopped pecans)

 Day 4: Mexican 

  1. Taco salad made with leftover roasted chicken and salsa or ground turkey with taco seasoning (and whatever veggies you like)
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips
  2. Beef Chimichanga filling (made with leftover roast from day 7), crock pot pork taco meat, or fajita meat with zucchini, salsa, and guacamole
    • Serve Chimichanga or taco meat with sliced raw zucchini “chips” for scooping up meat
    • Serve fajita meat with zucchini, bell peppers, and onions sauteed in oil with salt and pepper, topped with salsa
    • Family Side: Heat corn tortillas on a griddle with shredded cheese and fill with meat, salsa, and guacamole (optional); for fajitas, fill tortillas with meat, veggies and salsa

Day 5: FREE NIGHT!

  1. Pizza – Seriously, take one day off and eat a REASONABLE portion of whatever you want with a side salad or raw veggies, or keep it low(er) carb with my homemade pizza crust/bread stick recipe that replaces 2/3 of the flour with almond flour.
  2. Visit a buffet restaurant (like Golden Corral or Tucano’s Brazilian Restaurant) and load up on meat, fruit and veggies. If you’re super serious about weight loss, make your soup for the week on this night, and make enough for dinner with leftovers for lunches.

Day 6: Burger Joint Food

  1. Jennie-O turkey burger patty or beef patty with whatever condiments you like, wrapped in lettuce (optional – this is just too messy for me, so I prefer to eat it with a fork)
    • Sweet potato fries and salad or raw veggies
    • Family Side: Bun (we use the heels of our gluten free bread for buns)
  2. Buffalo chicken (cubed chicken breast sauteed in olive oil with Lowry’s seasoned salt, pepper and parsley, served with buffalo ranch dressing)
    • Baked fries or sweet potato fries, salad or raw veggies
  3. Optional Party Food: Buffalo Chicken Dip with celery sticks for dippers (FYI, I now cut back the ranch dressing in the recipe to 1/4 c.)
    • Carrot sticks
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips (for scooping up dip)

 Day 7: Meat and Potatoes

  1. Crock pot roast cooked with onion, celery, garlic clove and carrots (discard celery and garlic)
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Potatoes in the crock pot with homemade gravy
    • Family Side Option 2: GF sub rolls for French Dip with cooking juices
  2. Grilled steak or pork chops with Monterey seasoning
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Baked potatoes

As promised in my Pledge to Blog the Truth, here’s a snapshot of our menu this week. You’ll see that it’s been tweaked (because of ingredients that needed to get used up) and is yet another variation on the menu above. The possibilities are endless! 

This Week's Meal Plan

Remember to check back for detailed recipes to go with my menu plan. In the meantime, just remember the “Mostly” principle and enjoy a happy, healthy new year!

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Turkey Vegetable Soup

This hearty, flavorful without being spicy, soup is my go-to lunch most days during the winter.  It’s a dieter’s friend because it contains no starchy veggies or grains, but fills you up when served with an apple or other piece of fruit. Most canned soups are full of broth (and scary ingredients!), but this soup actually satisfies because it’s full of meat and veggies with just enough broth to call it soup.

It only takes about 25 minutes to prep, and 15 minutes to cook, but makes enough to last throughout the week.  I love cooking once and having lunches taken care of for the week!  I can pull this together for under $6 – local friends, ask me and I’ll tell you how – so it’s very economical.  If you don’t like or have on hand the veggies I use, just substitute your favorite veggies.  To save time and add variety, I’ve substituted frozen peas and carrots for the fresh baby carrots.  I’ve also used yellow summer squash instead of okra.  If you’re not carb-conscious, you can toss in some frozen corn or white beans.

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You're so impressed., right?

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You’re so impressed, right?

Hearty Turkey Vegetable Soup

1 T. olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped
8-10 large baby carrots, chopped (or frozen carrots)
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and diced
1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat is perfect)
1 1/2 T. chicken flavor Better Than Bouillon
2 c. hot water
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes with onion and garlic*
1 can (10 oz. or 15 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 c. frozen green beans
3/4 c. frozen chopped okra, summer squash, or a second zucchini
1/4 c. diced mushrooms, optional (fresh, canned, or freeze dried)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

*If you can’t find diced tomatoes with onion and garlic (mine are from Albertson’s), just use 2 cans of diced tomatoes and saute 1/3 c. chopped onion with the zucchini, adding 1 T. minced garlic for the last minute.  If you can find the canned version, though, it’s a huge time saver and has wonderful flavor!

Directions:
Heat a large soup pot at one notch past medium heat and add olive oil.  Saute celery and carrots (if using fresh carrots), and onion (if you can’t find the diced tomatoes with garlic and onion) for about 3 minutes.  Add zucchini and saute for about 4 minutes, until zucchini is lightly browned.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  (This step seals in the flavor and helps the zucchini keep its shape instead of turning mushy.)  If you’re adding minced garlic, saute it for about 30 seconds.  Remove veggies temporarily to a bowl.  (I just use the bowl I’ll be eating out of.)

In the same pot, brown the turkey until no longer pink.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Don’t drain the juice that’s released by the meat – it’s not fat. Push the meat to the outer edge of the pot and let the juice pool in the middle. Add the Better Than Bouillon to the juice and stir until it’s dissolved.  Add water and canned tomatoes.  Throw in the bay leaf and bring the soup to a boil.  Stir in frozen veggies, mushrooms (if using), and the sauteed veggies.

Simmer 15 minutes, covered, or until veggies are cooked to your preference. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.  Serves 6-8.

 

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The holidays are often the toughest time of year for those with gluten intolerance, especially if you have multiple food sensitivities in your home.  The one menu item that’s, perhaps, the most stressful to replicate is a gluten free, dairy free roll.  Personally, I hate baking yeast breads because they’re so time-consuming, and they end up grainy or crumbly when made ahead.  So I modified my popover recipe for those times when I want a roll without all the fuss.

GF, DF Popover Rolls

Mmmm…no fuss bread.

If you’re not familiar with popovers, they traditionally have a big hole inside the crusty exterior, and the roll is very moist and spongy.  Gluten free popovers do not “pop,” so I added some baking powder to give mine a little rise.  The result is that instead of a big hole in the center, these have several holes throughout, which give it a more roll-like appearance.  But once you taste them, you won’t care if it’s a true roll or not because they have a wonderful flavor!

The key to a tasty, gluten free roll is a little cornmeal.  You won’t taste the corn, but it helps the flavor and texture to resemble wheat rolls.  If you can’t tolerate corn, just substitute an equivalent amount of your GF flour blend.  Likewise, I used almond milk because I like its texture for baking, but you could use rice milk if you can’t tolerate almonds (although you might want to increase the fat by 1 T. and decrease the milk by 1 T., since rice milk is pretty watery).  For this recipe, I used the Namaste flour blend because my Costco is carrying it for a reasonable price, but I imagine you could substitute the flour blend of your choice.

These rolls come together in a snap – just the time it takes to preheat the oven – and are very tasty with honey butter, jam, or our new favorite spread, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter.  They can be made ahead of time, since these will never get crumbly, and they will last for several days in the fridge.  If you have leftover rolls, try slicing them horizontally (with a sharp, serrated knife to keep from mashing the insides) and filling them with leftover turkey or your favorite sandwich fillings.  My family enjoyed them for breakfast, filled with scrambled eggs, sausage, and melted white cheddar (which you can omit, if cheese is not tolerated).

For more gluten free holiday recipes, check out my Green Bean Casserole and Pumpkin Pie Crunch.  For a special holiday breakfast, try my Orange Cranberry Scones and Bacon-Wrapped Smokies.  Happy holiday baking!

Gluten Free, Diary Free, Popover Rolls

1 1/2 c. minus 1 T. Namaste GF flour blend*
1 T. cornmeal (put this in the bottom of your 1/2 c. and fill with above flour for easy measuring)
3/4 tsp. salt (reduce to 1/2 tsp. if using salted butter or margarine instead of coconut oil)
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. + 6 T. original almond milk (NOT vanilla sweetened)
3 eggs
2 T. refined coconut oil, melted (or substitute DF margarine with salt note above)

*If using a different flour blend that doesn’t already contain xanthan gum or guar gum, add 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum to the dry ingredients.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  (You’ll turn it down to 400 when you put the batter in, but you want the oven really hot.)

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together until the batter is smooth.  Stir in the melted coconut oil or butter.

Pour batter into 12 greased muffin cups.  Turn the oven down to 400 degrees, then bake for 30-40 minutes.  (I baked mine for 33 minutes, but they could have gone a little longer to brown more.)  Serve warm from the oven or reheat in the microwave.

Just so you know…
As I promised in my pledge to blog the truth, here is – literally – the rest of the picture that you didn’t see in my photo above.  I had to shove my daughter’s spelling book out of the picture, brush crumbs off the table, and straighten the tablecloth for the kajillionth time before snapping my photo because my family is physically incapable of sitting at the table without pulling the tablecloth askew.  Please also notice the Legos on the stairs in the background because there are ALWAYS Legos everywhere.  Always.  And it’s laundry day, so as I type this, my laundry basket (also in the background of the picture) is waiting to hold the clean – but now incredibly wrinkled – clothes from the dryer.  Be blessed.

 The Rest of the Picture

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These Paleo-friendly muffins are moist and soft with a mild pumpkin flavor, and taste even better the second day (which, I’ve noticed, is common among baked goods made with coconut or almond flour).  For a stronger pumpkin flavor, substitute another 1/2 c. pumpkin for the banana (although this may affect the sweetness). You can vary the flavors by substituting a different fruit puree for the pumpkin, like applesauce or one of the many unsweetened flavored applesauce squeeze pouches available now, and swapping in frozen blueberries for the cranberries.

Oct 2014 019

These look and taste yummy, but scroll to the bottom to see my latest cooking flop. Seriously, it’s an epic fail.

This time of year, when fresh cranberries are available, I love the tart burst of flavor they add to muffins.  (Helpful Tip: Stock up on cranberries in November when they usually go on sale for $1, then put them inside a gallon-size freezer bag and throw them in the freezer for later use.)  These would make a great holiday breakfast because they’re low in sugar and loaded with protein and fiber, so you’ll at least start the day with a stable blood sugar level – even if you plan to indulge later!

Also, if you want to save money by roasting your own pumpkin, hang on to any leftover uncarved pumpkins you may have bought to decorate your doorstep.  Don’t listen to the fancy-pants food blogs that insist you can only bake with a special “pie” pumpkin (which is code for “expensive” pumpkin).  Lean in, because I have a secret to tell you:

Pumpkins are food.  Food can be eaten.

My grandmother made pies out of our leftover uncarved pumpkins for years because people who lived through the Depression survived by not throwing away food.  I know, shocking.  Some jack-o-lantern pumpkins may be a little more watery, but you can strain out the water with a coffee filter or just adjust the liquid content in your recipes, if needed, although I’ve never had a problem with mine.  I’ve followed these pumpkin roasting directions and simply cut my big pumpkin into chunks that will fit on my baking sheet.  (You may need to do it in batches or extend the roasting time if using big chunks.)

The best part about roasting and pureeing your own pumpkin is that you can freeze it in portion sizes that fit your favorite recipes.  I like to put 1/2 c. portions in quart-size freezer bags, press it into the bottom half of the bag, then press out the air and stack them in a loaf pan to freeze.  To thaw, simply pop one in the microwave for 30 sec. on 50% power, then flip over and repeat.

Now you’re ready to make these delicious, grain-free muffins all winter long!

Grain-Free Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

1 very ripe banana (the more ripe, the better – just cut out any bad spots)
1/2 c. pumpkin puree (canned is fine, just make sure it’s plain pumpkin)
5 eggs
1/3 c. melted butter or coconut oil (I prefer butter, but have used both)
1/3 c. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. coconut flour
1/2 c. almond flour
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. cranberries, preferably chopped (frozen works)

*If substituting applesauce or a different fruit puree for the pumpkin – I’ve enjoyed using peach puree – omit the pumpkin pie spice, increase the cinnamon to 1 tsp., and use blueberries or whatever fruit you like instead of the cranberries.

Directions:
Mash the banana or break into chunks and mash in your mixing bowl with the paddle attachment.  (Just be sure to place your hands strategically over the bowl to prevent chunks from flying out of the bowl when it first starts.  Ask me how I know this…)  Mix in pumpkin puree.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each one.  Mix in melted butter or coconut oil, honey, and vanilla.  Add remaining ingredients, except cranberries, and mix well.  Stir in cranberries.

Divide batter evenly among 12 greased muffin cups.  Smooth the batter on top, if you can, to avoid crunchy ridges on top of the muffins.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden and the top springs back when you press down on one.  Again, these taste better the next day (and the next day, and the next day), so bake them the night before to make your morning go smoothly.

The Good, the Bad, and the “What is THAT?!!”
As now, as promised, here’s the flip side to my baking success.  I am most definitely NOT one of those artsy-craftsy bakers who makes Pinterest-worthy decorative cakes and cookies.  My idea of decorating a cake is topping it with the sprinkles that come with the can of Pillsbury Fudge Frosting (and God bless the folks at Pillsbury for making the BEST gluten free, dairy free chocolate frosting).  So when my son wanted to turn peanut butter balls into cute little owls, we came up with this:

Nailed it.

As my son put it, “I saw that turning out differently in my head.”  The good news is that when you’re baking with an almost-13-year-old, having your cute little owl morph into a spawn of the underworld is still a win.

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“Mmm, banana bread,” said my husband after taking a bite of these soft but hearty, gluten free, dairy free, banana pancakes.  These come together quickly using the Bob’s Red Mill GF pancake mix, although I also added some oats that I ground in my little Magic Bullet blender, along with some flax for extra fiber and nutrition.  This is a tasty way to use up a banana that’s about to go bad, or sneak some fruit into breakfast for the kids.  (It also contains applesauce!)

To simplify busy weekday mornings, I like to make a large batch of pancakes on the weekend and reheat throughout the week.  These also freeze well.  For best results, put a serving size (2 pancakes) in a quart-size freezer bag, then press out all the air (or suck it out with a straw, like I do) and freeze.  This recipe also makes tasty waffles.

Banana Pancakes

Since syrup is loaded with sugar, I prefer to make flavorful pancakes with just a hint of sweetness, so all you need to do is butter these pancakes.  If you prefer sweeter pancakes, just sprinkle them with a little powdered sugar.  For an extra special breakfast treat, drizzle them with caramel ice cream topping, then sprinkle with chopped pecans and top with canned whipped cream.  Yum!

Banana Bread Pancakes

Makes 20 5-in. pancakes

Wet Ingredients:
1 med. ripe banana (the riper the banana, the sweeter it is)
3 T. brown sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce (or a single-serve cup)
2 eggs
3 T. melted butter or dairy free margarine (if substituting oil, add a dash of salt)
1 1/2 c. original almond milk (or milk of choice, but I like the creaminess of almond milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:
2 1/2 c. Bob’s Red Mill GF Pancake Mix
1/2 c. GF oats, ground into coarse flour
1 T. ground flax, optional
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Bacon grease (preferred) or coconut oil for frying
Butter and powdered sugar for topping
Optional – caramel sauce, chopped pecans, and canned whipped cream for topping

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, place banana that’s been broken into small chunks.  Add brown sugar and turn mixer on low, holding your hands over the top of the bowl to keep in any chunks that might go flying.  (The brown sugar acts like glue to help the banana stay in the bowl, but sometimes the little buggers still go flying.)  Increase to medium and mix until you have a slightly chunky banana puree.  (If you don’t have an electric mixer, just mash the banana by hand.)

Add remaining wet ingredients, beating well after each addition.  Add dry ingredients to bowl of wet ingredients and mix well.  The oats will absorb some of the liquid while the griddle heats, but you can add more pancake mix or almond milk until the desired consistency is reached, if needed.

I prefer to cook 4 pieces of nitrate-free bacon on my griddle, saving the grease in the drain cup, then cook my pancakes in the grease.  It affects both the taste and softness of the pancakes.  However, I ran out of grease for my large batch, and substituted coconut oil with good results.  Just drop a spoonful of the solid coconut oil on the warm griddle and spread around with the spatula as it melts.

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Cancer.  That one word can stop you dead in your tracks and change your world forever.  Four weeks ago we found out that my mom has sinus cancer, her second cancer battle, so not only am I concerned for her well-being, I’m aware that my risk of getting cancer is higher.  Of course, there are lots of things we can do to prevent cancer, like avoid smoking, avoid toxins, and eat all-natural whole foods.  Right?

Obesity.  We’re bombarded in the media by all kinds of dismal reports on the alarming rise of obesity and obesity-related diseases in our country as a result of the typical, nutrient-deficient, American diet.  We’re told that we can live longer, healthier lives if we exercise and follow certain food rules.  Role models who have beat their bodies into submission preach the gospel of a slim, fit body as our salvation from illness and poor body image.  They flaunt their “before and after” pictures as proof that you too can be beautiful if you follow their rules.  Self-discipline is all you need to have the perfect body.  Right?

Like most people, I’ve bought into the claims that the “wrong foods” will hurt us, but the “right foods” can cure us.  I’ve even had success on this blog perpetuating this same information.  The highest number of hits has been on my “Breaking Free from the Sugar Addiction” post.  When my husband and I decided to drastically decrease our sugar consumption 3 years ago, it was partly to lose weight and reduce our risk of cancer, but it was mostly because we had out-of-control sugar cravings and did not want to be a slave to food.  God honored our desires, and gave us success.   Since then, my husband has kept off the weight, but I’ve put it back on and have tried unsuccessfully to lose it the same way I did before.

(Now, before you go hating on the skinny girl who thinks she’s fat, let me clarify that I do not think I’m fat.  I simply happen to gain all my weight in my belly, which means a couple pounds weight gain not only makes me have to buy new jeans, it makes me look like I’m pregnant.  No woman who is not pregnant wants to look like she is, so please don’t judge.)

After several unsuccessful attempts to take off those stubborn pounds, I began to feel uneasy about it, and finally asked God if there was a reason why it was so hard.  Was I still a slave to sugar and needing to be more disciplined in cutting it out of my diet?  Was wheat the problem, since my husband has kept off the weight on the gluten free diet while I still eat wheat?  Should I just accept my body the way it is and be focusing on eating the right foods to prevent cancer?  I had so many questions for God, but I was not expecting the one he had for me.  At the end of a daily devotional by Beth Moore, I read this question:

“How can freedom in Christ coexist with a zealously disciplined lifestyle?”

Wait, is she saying that it’s bad to live a zealously disciplined lifestyle?  Doesn’t the Bible say being disciplined is a good thing?  After wrestling with this question, God opened my eyes to the truth regarding my food issues, in much the same way he opened the Apostle Peter’s eyes.  In Acts 10, we read that God gave Peter a vision of all kinds of foods that were off limits to Jews and told him to eat.  When Peter protests that he would never think of eating something unclean, God responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  In The Message, the same verse says, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”  God was about to send Peter to the home of a non-Jew, and did not want Peter to take offense at the food that was offered to him.  God was more interested in Peter building relationships and spreading the good news of the gospel, than in enforcing a rigid set of food rules (which God wrote, by the way).

So what does this mean for you and me?  I believe that the same zeal for purity in food that Peter experienced has resurfaced in our culture today, and if we’re not careful, we’ll end up no better than the Pharisees Jesus spoke against who were trying to be righteous by eating the “right” foods and doing the “right” things.  Those of us who are Christians and have freedom in Christ need to be careful that in our zeal for healthy living that honors God, we do not unwittingly place a yoke of slavery to healthy eating on our brothers and sisters in Christ by insisting that only things that “God made” are okay to eat.  “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

The day before my mom started chemo and radiation, I read a lengthy article on all the things that can cause cancer, and how we should avoid all these “bad foods” at any cost.  It’s no coincidence that I had already promised my daughter I would make corn dogs for her that same day, since she’d been asking for them for awhile.  After reading that scary list, I practically begged my daughter to let me make anything else, but only corn dogs would do.  I was about to launch into a lecture on the evils of corn dogs when God whispered, “If I say it’s okay, it’s okay.  Relationship matters more than food.”  So I invited my daughter to make corn dogs with me, and had a great time in the kitchen with her.  I even threw in some tater tots to bless my husband.

When we sat down to pray for the food, like we always do, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit.  God was asking, “Are you really thanking me for the food I’ve provided for you?  You ask me to ‘bless the food to the nourishment of your body.’  Do you believe that I can bless you with a nitrate-filled corn dog?  Do not call anything impure that I have made clean.”

I can get uptight about not being able to afford organic meat and produce – or worse, make my family sacrifice in other areas so we can spend all our money on expensive food – or I can thank God for the food we can afford and trust him to bless it to our bodies’ use.  I can fret and worry about arsenic in our rice and GMO corn in our tortillas, or I can thank God that these inexpensive foods allow us to live within our means, and trust God to make them clean.  My faith is in God, not my food.

That’s the real issue, the answer to my question of why I couldn’t lose the weight again.  God would not bless any effort that would lead me to put my faith and trust in an eating plan.  He did not set me free from being a slave to sugar so that I could perpetuate my ideology and make others a slave to my way of eating.  God will not allow me to put my hope of salvation in anything but Him.  Whether we’re trying to save ourselves from cancer and disease, or are trying to pin our self-worth on a thin body and zealously disciplined lifestyle, our efforts to find salvation from food are nothing more (or less) than idolatry.  

I find it interesting that there’s so much emphasis today on “cleansing” foods.  Eating the “right” foods will not “cleanse” you; only the blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior, will.  He died for you to set you free from bondage to sin and anything else – however good and noble a cause it may be – that would enslave you.  Only He can satisfy your longings, heal your diseases, and make you whole.

So does this mean we’re free to just eat whatever we want?  Yes and no.  I’ve been mostly eating even healthier than I used to because one of the “fruits” or blessings of the Holy Spirit is self-control.  When I submit my eating habits and attitudes to the authority of Christ, he gives me peace and self-control in return.  Because I love God, I want to take care of my body in a way that honors him, and he blesses me with self-control to help me accomplish his good purpose for me.  But if his good purpose includes eating “impure” foods from time to time for the sake of relationship and living within my means, then he will give me peace as I trust in him.

It’s not easy retraining myself to seek God’s input in my food choices, but it’s so worth it.  Last  week, my son suddenly announced that he wanted to make cookies with me.  And because he loves me, he wanted to honor me by having me take the first bite.  I could have said no to his requests, reminding him that sugar is bad for us, but I would have been serving my belief system instead of serving my son.  I’m so glad God gives me freedom in Christ to eat the healthiest food I can afford without worrying when relationship requires my food choices to be subject to the law of love.

Let’s take food off the altar of worship and put it back where it belongs, on the table.  “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

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