And the second place winner is…

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ll know that the Oregon State Fair always features prominently in my goals. I’ve submitted baked goods like homemade marshmallows and cookies, craft items like a dollhouse and dollhouse furniture, and last year I really went at it with the table decorating competition.

This year, I wanted to mix it up and instead of submitting, I would see things from a different point of view and volunteer for the fair. I pictured myself with a push broom in the barn, or maybe directing people to the jam table. But after teaching two full (and condensed) college classes, the last thing I wanted to do in August was doing anything that resembled work. I made a tough decision not to volunteer, and on a whim to instead submitted a gingerbread house for fun.

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Could I have done better? Definitely. Thor was out of town and after hitting the gym that morning, I said to myself, “I could watch Mad Men all day, or I could make a gingerbread house,” and chose the latter. It was a scramble to buy supplies, bake, and decorate a house in one afternoon. The next day I dropped it off in a rush with some friends, and then headed to the nearby casino (because why not?).

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Ironically, the one year I could care less about winning a ribbon, I won second place.

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I had completely forgotten about the whole thing until today when I checked the mail and had a package from the Oregon State Fair, complete with my ribbon, a detailed judging sheet, and a bunch of votes for my gingerbread house as “People’s Choice.” It also included a knife…? (Did I miss something? Is it a special gingerbread knife?)

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I’m pretty sure that’s my mom’s handwriting on the People’s Choice vote.

I learned several things about gingerbread decorating from the judging sheet: for instance, you should use tweezers to affix items so it’s less messy or the “pressure” of the piping should be the same all over the house. Personally, I wanted to piping to be visible, but I got graded down for that. More landscaping should have also happened, but at that point my hand was cramping up and all I wanted to do was get back to that Mad Men marathon I had been planning.

So even though I didn’t get to volunteer for the fair as I had initially hoped, I still participated, and now there’s something to show for it. For next year, I have several creative (and much more exciting) ideas for how the fair will factor into my bucket list. Stay tuned…

 

My Three Guilt-Free Recipes

Alright – this post is by request. Yesterday I wrote about my year of nutrition coaching so today I will share some of the recipes that saved me as I learned to phase out sugar and all the other junk.

*DISCLAIMER* Even before working with a nutritionist, I never ate bread. IMHO, it’s not worth the empty calories and it makes me hella tired, so if you’re a bread person, maybe this won’t solve your problems. That being said, I am definitely a sweets person; candy, cake, tapioca pudding – everything.

PROTEIN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I stole this one from another blog, Simply Taralynn, and have made small modifications to try out different versions, but I think these are great and Thor thinks they are at least satisfying.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix two scoops vanilla protein powder (Quest protein powder worked the best for me), 1 mashed banana, 1/4 cup ground flax seeds, and 1 scoop powdered peanut butter (I use PB2). If you want to get crazy, add a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and/or try chocolate powdered peanut butter. Fold in 2 tbsp of dark chocolate chips (get the highest % cocoa you can find). Drop them onto a greased cookie sheet once you have a cookie batter consistency and bake for about 12 minutes.

My Lose It app calculated this recipe to 3 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, and 8 grams protein for two cookies.

(Versus a serving of Nabisco chocolate chip cookies: 10 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein)

KYLE’S (mostly) SUGAR FREE ROOTBEER FLOAT

I stole this one from my former student teacher and reigning bodybuilding champ, Kyle.

Get yourself some Zevia root beer and Arctic Zero (I’ve found it at my fancier grocery stores). Make a float.

Unknown155166-332x425-Arctic-Zero-Pint---Cookies-&-Cream0 grams fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein.

(Versus a small root beer float from Arby’s: 5 grams fat, 70 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein)

GRILLED TOMATO PALEO BURGER

I know I stole this one from somewhere, but for the life of my I can’t remember – so I’m sorry I can’t give credit where it’s due.

Mix your ground protein of choice (I prefer super lean beef or water buffalo, but paleo fans might prefer lamb) with some chopped green onion, salt, pepper, and garlic. Grill your burger to desired doneness. Slice a beefsteak tomato in half and carve out the seeds and inner parts. Grill it or bake it face down for about 4-5 minutes along with some sliced onions. Use the tomato in place of a bun and top with the grilled onions. Throw some sweet potato fries on the side if you got ’em.

*Yes, you do see some BBQ and mayo in the picture; they are homemade from scratch and I’m good with that. I’m not officially ready to give up condiments.*

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4 oz buffalo patty: 16 grams fat, 0 carbs, 34 grams protein

(Versus a Burger King Whopper without cheese: 37 grams fat, 54 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein)

Got any good recipes or replacements for naughty foods? I’d love to have more.

Homemade Toasted Coconut & Cocoa Hazelnut Marshmallows

I’ve noticed that at a lot of the fancier grocery stores in our area having been selling “gourmet marshmallows” next to all the other candies. Since I learned to make marshmallows a couple years ago, I’m always checking them out – looking at color, texture, size, packaging…and price. I admit I recently spent $8 just to try four large coconut marshmallows. It’s 20% enjoyment, 80% research.

And on my recent visit to Paris, I saw tons of parisienne “chamallows” (pronounced shaw-mel-o) in the patisseries. Unlike the marshmallows here in the USA, they were multi-colored and crudely square (a lot like mine turn out!). However, once I tasted them, I instantly felt like mine are far better. They had multiple flavors (like lemon, strawberry, and blackberry) but the fruity flavor was super artificial. They were also drier than I prefer. (To be clear, I purchased these at a fancier confectioner – not a cheap market).

Anyway, even though I’m not planning on submitting my marshmallows to the state fair for judging this year (I can’t handle the rejection), making them has become a summertime tradition for me. My batch today blew those frenchy marshmallows away.

If you want to make your own, I always follow the recipe from A Beautiful Mess, but I’ve learned a thing or two on my own.

Today I took a shot at Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. Instead of dusting the inside of the pan with a powdered sugar/cornstarch mix, I also added toasted coconut (just bake regular coconut at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes). Instead of light corn syrup, I used coconut nectar (found in the baking section of your local fancy grocery store) which has far less sugar than regular corn syrup, and is far more expensive. During the last minute of mixing, I added a good amount of coconut extract. The toasted coconut also got sprinkled onto the top of the marshmallow when it was poured into the dish.

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THEN I made Cocoa Hazelnut marshmallows. For this one, I dusted the pan with the powdered sugar/cornstarch blend plus some cocoa powder mixed in. During the last minute of mixing, I added 1/3 cup cocoa powder and a good pour of hazelnut extract. So easy!

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The trick with marshmallows is to not dilly dally. Get it mixed and get it poured – otherwise it will set before you even make it to the pan. Once you do that, you can lick the beaters all you want.

Sadly, my coconut marshmallows look a little hideous – but since I’m not sending them to the fair, all I care about is taste. Thor preferred the coconut whereas I much prefered the hazelnut – I guess we will need a taste tester to break the tie.

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You can also check out my Top 5 Tips to Making Homemade Marshmallows.

Vegan Banana Bread

This year, I didn’t make a submission to the Oregon State Fair as part of my annual list – but fear not, I fully intend to enter a couple items for judging (can you imagine a life without me participating in the state fair? Perish the thought!). For 2015, I am entering vegan bread and the infamous table decorating category.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my theme for table decorating (and I’ll post plenty about it in the near future), but today I’m going to talk about my vegan bread recipe.

When Thor and I first got married, he was strictly vegan. So much so, the food at our wedding was mostly vegan and we pretty much had a circuit on the only four restaurants that served good vegan dishes in town (can you believe that only 10 years ago it was really hard to find vegan food in Portland?!). I considered his dietary restriction a challenge, and made masterful attempts at transforming normally delicious foods into some semblance of their vegan-version. Some recipes didn’t go so well (damn those brownies!), but I discovered many awesome ways of cooking healthier without losing flavor (frosting made with avocados!).

One such recipe is my banana bread. Ok, it’s more like Betty Crocker’s banana bread, but with my vegan substitutions I consider the recipe my own. I know you’re probably not thinking about cranking up the oven when it’s 92 degrees outside, but this morning Thor left the house saying, “Your job today is to eat some bananas – we have way too many and they are going to go bad.” Considering the fact that I haven’t had carbs for, like, two months, I figured it was a good excuse to make a practice loaf.

It came out PERFECT. Like seriously – I’m giving it my own blue ribbon.

VEGAN BANANA BREAD

2 cups flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup granulated sugar (sometimes I swap for coconut sugar, but you will lose sweetness)

2 tbsp powdered egg replacement (I use Ener-G)

1/2 cup vegetable oil or vegan margarine (I use the vegan Smart Balance)

1 1/2 cups pureed bananas (I just throw mine in a food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (I usually sift it). In another mixing bowl, whisk the egg replacer with 2 tbsp water until it’s frothy. Then add sugar, oil, and pureed bananas. Mix well. Add the banana mixture to the flour and fold until just moistened. Scrape the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes (depends on the size of your dish). Insert a toothpick and when it comes out clean, your bread it ready.

Every recipe always says to let it cool, but I’m too impatient for that – so I just have at it. 

I’ve had sooooooo many people recommend vegan products, claiming how you’ll never know the difference, only to find out that it still tastes like crap. You know that saying about never trust a skinny cook? Well, I’m in favor of never trusting a vegan-only palate. Since I eat everything under the sun, my tastebuds are reliable. I’m sorry – but sometimes you just have to own up that your vegan BLT takes like cardboard, or your vegan brownies are not at all brownies, but more of a dry cake. My vegan banana bread, however, tastes like the real thing.

Judging-wise at the fair, they have a lot more than taste as a criteria. Something about the uniformity of the “dome” on your loaf, and the texture and color. I’m not a professional baker so if I don’t get those things right, I’m ok with that, but you can’t win if you don’t try.

On my way to being a Roast Master

I literally had to Google, “What is a master coffee roaster called?” Answer: a Roast Master.

It has now been a solid couple of months of roasting my own coffee beans. Initially, I was totally rocking amateur hour by sticking my arm into a 500 degree oven to constantly stir the beans, but luckily my friend, Amanda, bequeathed me her air popper to make the far job easier.

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I’ll admit the first time I used it, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Coffee beans were flying everywhere, and I let the popper get so hot it turned itself off. I yelled, “This SUCKS!” and even considered going back to my primitive cave roasting in the oven. But with several more tries, I’ve definitely gotten a rhythm down. I can’t believe I never learned how to do this before!

Here’s my process:

First, I buy raw coffee beans on Amazon (I can get 3 lbs of organic for about $25). If you know a better or more economical route – LET ME KNOW.

Then, I carefully use the measuring cup on top of the air popper to scoop and then add my raw beans into the air popper (trust me – that measuring cup is there for a reason). Before turning it on, I have a big bowl held up to the popper.

Once it’s on, it gets HOT…and FAST. A few red hot beans and a lot of the bean husks get spit out the popper so having a BIG bowl is critical to clean freaks like me.

The beans begin to crackle or pop, and once I see that the husks are pretty much done being spit out and the beans are beginning to smoke, I quickly unplug the popper and stick it under the stove vent and dump the beans into a bowl.

The beans are supposed to “rest” for one to three days, and I can definitely taste a difference when they have had a chance to sit for a couple of days.

All in all, I can roast about a pound of beans in 10 – 15 minutes.

And that’s it!

Yesterday, we made coffee with my Costa Rican blend. This morning, it was freshly ground beans from Vietnam. At least from my newbie perspective, my roasted beans are legit:

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I’m still fine tuning this process; it’s annoying that some of the beans are getting spit out amidst the husks, and I’m either leaving them to be totally wasted or picking them out like hot coals to throw back into the machine.

While I understand that some coffee snobs may be reading this thinking, She’s using an air popper? Oh please! I’m ok with that. I’m totally new to this whole “roasting coffee beans” thing and not only is it more economical, it’s also fun. And to me that’s all that really matters.

That being said, Amanda gets to be my first outside taste tester (other than my husband, Thor) since she provided me with the tools to make fire. (Cue the Strauss).

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