Saturday, December 29, 2012

DIY Simple Wood Child's Chair

So, if you've been following along this holiday season, you'll recall that we've been talking about making more Christmas gifts and buying less. Now that the holiday is over and I'm not spoiling any surprises, I can tell you that it worked out pretty well. For adult friends and family, we made beef jerky (hubby's specialty, eagerly anticipated by several friends), homebrewed beer (again by hubby), jars of apple butter, cinnamon swirl bread (to go with the apple butter), assorted candies (peanut brittle, toffee, chocolate fudge and brown sugar fudge), and a cloth log tote (instructions will follow sometime in the next week or so....).

In addition to all of that, we also decided to handmake one "big" gift for each of the boys. I am particularly pleased at how close each of the finished products matched up our plans AND that both myself and my hubby had a hand in completing them.

Before I give you the outline of what we made for the littlest dude, I have to give you a little background: Growing up I had a favorite rocking chair. Sized just perfectly for a child, I used it from the age of 2 until probably I was 7 or so (and had totally outgrown it) and was forced to hand it down to my younger brother. He enjoyed many years of use and then it ended up in the attic of my parents' garage. My brother and I cleaned that garage shortly after my oldest had turned 1. I reclaimed the chair and promptly took it home. I sanded, refinished it and recovered the seat-- repairing some damage and updating it to match our modern black furniture. I gifted the chair to the little dude for his 2nd birthday.

As a smaller sized child, little dude is still quite comfortable in this chair and not quite ready to do a hand-me-down. On the other side of the story, our littlest dude is in love with chairs. He hasn't met a chair he didn't want to climb up and explore. I thought it was about time he had his own. Now, we certainly could have just bought him a chair. But, in addition to wanting to spend time making something special, we really wanted this chair to match his big brother's. Not easy considering the original was crafted in the early 70's. Using the original as a guide, we did our best to duplicate the chair. We made one or two changes, most notably changing it from a rocking chair to a static chair since littlest dude still has some balance issues.

On the left is our NEW chair. On the right is the original rocking chair.

Basic Materials Required:   (note: all lumber is ACTUAL size, not labeled size!)
sheet of 3/4" plywood, approximately 24" x 24"
4' long piece of 3/4" x 1.5" pine board
2' long piece of 3/4" doweling
12" x 12" piece of 1/4" plywood (for back)
12" x 12" piece of 1/2" plywood (for seat)
1/2 yard cotton or poly batting for seat cushion
1/2 yard fabric for seat cover
quart of paint + brushes
wood glue
wood screws, assorted sizes but 1- 1 1/2" work well
Tools needed:
circular or table saw
router or dremel tool
sand paper or sanding tool (we used the black and decker mouse)
phillips screwdriver (hand or electric)
heavy duty stapler (not office)
tape measure

Step by Step: (these will be for a static chair but can easily be altered at step one for a rocking chair)
Part 1: Cutting your pieces
1) On your 3/4" plywood, draw out your plans using your square & tape measure: We used the original chair as a template but this plan uses the same measurements and *should* get you something pretty much the same. In this design, I have removed the feet for simplicity, since we added them to get continuity with the original chair.
Note: In our finished chairs all corners, inside and out were rounded off. I have shown both below. If you are going to round be sure to mark new corners BEFORE cutting!
2) Cut out chair sides with jigsaw. Sand both sides and all edges well! Remove dust with a rag or tack cloth. Set aside.
3) From your plywood scraps, measure and cut out 2, 12" x 2" rectangles and 2, 2" x 1" rectangles. Sand & remove dust. Set aside. These are your seat supports.
4) Measure and cut doweling into 2, 12" pieces. Sand & remove dust. Set aside. These are the lower cross bars.
5) Measure and cut the 3/4" x 1.5" pine board into 4, 12" pieces. Set 2 aside. On the remaining 2, you will be cutting notches and rounding edges as follows to make the arms of the chair: remove 2"x 3/4" notch from inside back edges of both arms. Round remaining back corner. Round top edge of both arms. See diagram below, cut on red lines. This can be done by sanding, using your jigsaw or router. Sand edges, remove dust & set aside.
 6) Take the 2, 12" pine boards you did not notch in step 5.  These are going to be the top and bottom of the seat back. Use your router and a 1/4" bit to make a 1/4" wide groove, 1/4" deep in the center of the 3/4" side, down the complete 12" length of the wood. Repeat on the other piece of wood. Mark the center (6") of both pieces of wood.
7) Cut your 1/4 inch plywood into a rectangle 10" x 8".  Mark center (5") on each 10" side (top & bottom of chair back).
8) Slide the rectangle into the groove you cut in step 6. Placing one on the top 10" side of the plywood and one on the bottom 10" side. When you are satisfied as to dry fit of pieces, remove top and bottom boards, place a small bead of wood glue into the router groove and replace plywood. Be sure to align center marks so all pieces are centered. Lay on a flat surface and secure with clamps overnight or until glue is completely dry.
9) Cut a 12" x 11.5" rectangle out of the 1/2" plywood. This is your seat bottom. Sand edges as necessary.
10) Prime and paint or stain and seal all pieces. Let dry. Repeat with 2nd coat if necessary.
Part 2: Assembly

1) Predrill all screw holes. At the same time, I recommend making a countersink hole, so that the screwhead will be flush with the rest of the wood.
2) Working with one chair side only, we will be drilling and screwing the front and rear dowels. Measure 5" up from the bottom of the front and rear legs. Mark and pre-drill hole in center of leg (1" from both sides). Drill and screw one dowel to front leg. Repeat for back leg/dowel.
3) Measure from the bottom of the leg to 8". Mark and pre-drill hole in center of leg. Drill and screw one seat support (from step 3 in cutting, the 12" long one). Repeat for back leg/seat support.
4) Measure from top of seat back 2".  Mark and pre-drill hole in center of side. Measure length of pre-glued chair back-- from center of top support to center of bottom support. Transfer measurements from top drilled hole down on side of chair. Pre-drill hole. Screw through chair sides into top and bottom chair back supports.

5) Repeat steps 2-4 for the opposite side of the chair.
6) Next, we'll be placing the arms. Lay the first arm on the arm support so that the notch fits the back of the chair and the top front is rounded (for hand rest). Use a level to insure that the arm is completely horizontal (or use your square if you don't have one). Pre-drill and screw one screw from the inside back of the chair through the chair side into the arm. Watch your depth so as to NOT pop through the wood. Pre-drill and screw through the top of the chair arm into the chair support (one or 2 screws). Note screw positions in red in the diagram below and arm position in orange.

7) We will now upholster the seat. Cut 2 squares of batting about 1" larger on EACH side than the seat wood (cut in step 9 above). Cut 1 square of fabric about 2" larger on EACH side than the seat wood. Lay your fabric RIGHT side down on your work surface. Lay both pieces of batting on top & center. Lay seat wood on top of materials and center. Gently pull the center of one side of fabric up and around batting and wood. Secure on top of wood about 1" from edge with staple. Pull opposite side of fabric up and around, pull taut before stapling. Repeat on other sides. Continue to pull fabric and staple. At corners, fold as a gift, tuck under edges and staple. Trim any excess fabric.
8)On the inside of the front seat support, screw in one 1" x 2" seat block you created in step 3 of cutting. Be sure to center it and make sure it is flush with the top edge of the seat support beam. As you are screwing from the inside of the seat into the seat support, watch your depth to avoid screw tips coming out the front of the chair!! Repeat with the rear seat block and rear support.
9) Place upholstered seat on top of seat supports with narrower side as width and longer side as front to back. Seat should have a small amount of space between uphostery and chair sides. Make sure seat is centered and screw from bottom-- through screw blocks into seat wood. Pre-drilling recommended!
Your chair is now complete! Congrats!
Please feel free to comment below and let me know what you think of this project or if you have any questions about the instructions.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

While the holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, many of us are still holding on to a fair amount of sadness and grief from the recent events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. While I have chosen not to discuss the recent events with my very young children (and probably won't unless the kindergartener brings it up) many of you do have school age children who have heard about the events and might like to do something small to help.

The remaining students of S.H. will not be allowed to return to their campus and instead will be returning to an unused school nearby. While all efforts are being made to prepare the campus on time for end of winter vacation, most efforts will be in cleaning and refurbishment. The national PTA council is calling on all the PTAs from around the nation to each have their students make a snowflake. The idea is for the children to see all the beautiful snowflakes decorating their rooms and campus and know how many people really do care and love them.

Paper snowflakes are a fun winter craft and they can be done quickly in minutes or you can really jazz them up with glitter or other embellishments. If its been a while since you've made one (like me) you will find a helpful tutorial at:  or (provided the image below) That will get you a step by step on how to get the folds right so it turns out. If you are looking for more complicated patterns or ideas you can also try .

Completed snowflakes are requested to be sent by 1/12/13 to :

Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514
(203) 281-6617

There are also some suggestions on fundraisers or how to donate money on the main PTA website:

Here's to a happier 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers

I don't know about other people but 90% of my social life for the whole year seems to take place during the month of December. Sometimes this involves people coming over for a simple game night with snacks or it might be a more elaborate holiday dinner. There are also potlucks, cookie exchanges, open houses and more.

Sometimes its hard to figure out what to bring or make, especially if the event is very casual (like an open house or game night) or already has all the food covered (like a dinner party). If you are tired of bringing the same old bottle of wine, you might consider giving crackers and cheese a try. I know, I know. How can crackers and cheese be exciting? Well, how 'bout if you HANDMADE the crackers?

Its a simple and elegant solution. As an appetizer or dessert course, it is light and goes with any event. Plus, you'll be sure that at least ONE thing you are eating has some nutritional value (this is pretty much 3 ingredients: 100% whole wheat flour, olive oil and sesame seeds with a little salt & water). See? So fiber, healthy fats AND some key trace minerals, to boot! Plus its pretty easy to make, not much more difficult than holiday cookies AND if you are trying to keep the sugar consumption low, this could be a great substitute for those little sugar bombs!

Now, these aren't dainty and do well with stronger cheeses, either sliced or spready. I'm sure that like me, you'll appreciate having something sturdy that doesn't keep snapping off or crumbling all over! We've paired this up with blues, sharp cheddars and a wonderful cranberry goat cheese log.

For the crackers pictured, I've simply cut the dough into rough squares/rectangles BUT if you want to be more festive, any kind of cookie cutter would work well here and really give your crackers a professional appearance. Remember when rolling out the dough, you can NOT go too thin. When you think you have it as thin as you possibly can, make another pass and try again!
Recipe: Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers
adapted from this NY Times recipe

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted (black or white will work equally well)
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
4-8 Tbs water

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
2) In bowl of food processor, combine flour, sesame seeds & salt. Pour in olive oil and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Add water, 1 Tbs at a time until dough can be pressed into a ball. Amount will vary depending on your flour and weather. I typically use around 6 tbs.

3) LIGHTLY dust work surface. Divide dough into 2 even portions. Roll out and cut one portion at a time. Roll as thin as possible. The thinner the dough, the crisper (vs. crunchier) the final cracker will be.
4) Cut into desired shapes (use sharp knife, cookie cutters or biscuit cutter). Repeat for 2nd half of dough.
5) Place on prepared baking sheet, close but not touching.
6) Bake 15-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Time will depend on how thick your final cracker dough is and how full your tray is. Mine are typically done around 23 minutes with a medium thick dough (I'm working on getting it thinner!) and a very full tray.
7) Remove and allow to cool on wire racks.
8) Keep in airtight container approximately 1-2 weeks. However if you find them getting a bit stale, just pop them back into the oven for 2-3 minutes.

As always, feel free to comment below! I'd love to hear how this worked out for you!
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto

This time of year always seems to be the busiest, doesn't it? Between end of year projects that need finishing up, holiday preparations & all the holiday celebrations themselves, sometimes it seems like we are always go-go-go-ing! I don't know why but this time of year always makes me think of pesto. Maybe its the green? In any case, this would be a great item to take to a get-together, party or pot luck. Its very festive and by virtue of being nut-free is a great dish to share with people who may have nut allergies!

This recipe is an easy prep-- especially if you have a food processor. You can still do it in a blender, but it might take a few batches (those leaves are very fluffy!) You will be amazed at how quick it really is AND you will have enough leftovers in the freezer for SEVERAL meals. Plus, have you seen the prices for premade pesto??? Do those people think its made out of gold or something?? Sheesh!

Now, I know traditionalists would argue that a pesto isn't really a pesto without the nuts (either pine nuts or walnuts or something) but I've found that the nuts aren't really necessary for a great pesto-y flavor. In removing them from the recipe, the costs are cut DRAMATICALLY and as mentioned above, many of us have family members & friends with nut allergies. This is a painless way to make a great dish that everyone can eat!

Recipe: Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto
(makes approx. 6, 4 oz servings)

6 oz. baby spinach leaves
4 oz. fresh basil leaves (stems and flowers removed)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic (2 1/2 Tbs jarred crushed)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1) Add leaves, cheese, garlic and salt to work bowl of food processor. Pour in 1/4 cup of your olive oil.
2) Whirl mixture until nearly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3) Pour remaining olive oil into the mixture, while processing, until completely smooth.
4) Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
5) Package pesto in 4 oz tupperwares, jars or plastic baggies & freeze for future use! Each 4 oz package will cover 8-16 oz of pasta depending on how pesto-y you want your dish!

Things to do with your pesto:

1) Use it as a pizza sauce on a homemade pizza. Just spread over prepared crust and top with cheese and toppings as usual. Makes for a nice change of an everyday food!

2) Mix a little with mayonnaise for a sandwich spread that will perk up the boring-est of chicken or turkey sandwiches! Add in a little tomato, sliced mozzerella or provolone and its even better. For total insanity, try grilling your sandwich or cooking it in a panini press!

3) Toss with cooked pasta (I particularly like penne). My preferred mix is about 4 oz of pesto to 12 oz of pasta. Be sure to leave a small amount of cooking water  (like 2 Tbs max!) to help spread the pesto evenly. If you forget to save some water, you can also use milk or cream for a richer dish!

Here is my favorite wintertime pasta dish, its very hearty and with your ready made pesto, it will come together in a flash!

Recipe: Penne with Shrimp & Cherry Tomatoes

12 oz penne pasta
4 oz prepared pesto
1 pint cherry (or grape or miniature plum) tomatoes, sliced lengthwise (see tip below)
1 lb peeled & cooked shrimp

1) Cook pasta as directed on package.
2) Defrost pesto (if frozen)
3) Slice tomatoes-- here is a trick I got from watching the Rachel Ray show-- use 2 deli tub lids (I had yogurt & sour cream, I think?) Put your tomatoes on one lid (edge up) and place the other lid over the tomatoes edge down. Holding the lid firmly (but not squashing the tomatoes) run your knife in the slot between the 2 lids. Voila! Lots of evenly sliced tomatoes, all done at the same time!

4) Cook or defrost precooked shrimp as necessary.
5) Drain pasta (remember to reserve cooking water or use milk/cream).
6) Toss pasta, shrimp, tomatoes and pesto together. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed and warmed throughout.
7) Serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan!

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey & Rice Soup

Its leftovers time!!! By now, I'm sure you've worked through the turkey sandwiches, turkey enchiladas and turkey pot pies -- or whatever your favorite leftover recipes are. And..... you should be left with a beautiful set of bones. Let's make something awesome out of that!!

I made this yesterday-- it took me about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. I packaged up most of it for Hubby's lunches (that's technically what I made it for to begin with....) but kept a serving out for me. I had that today for lunch and not to be too conceited about it, it was the best turkey soup I've ever had! Probably had something to do with the fact that its the first time I also ever made my own stock instead of cracking open a box or can......

Of course, if you've already picked that bird clean or didn't get any bones in your take home bag from Grandma's house, you can easily do this with a chicken carcass (even from a grocery store rotisserie chicken-- we don't judge here!)

I used my ~4 1/2 quart soup pot but any good size pot will do! If yours is smaller, you might end up with a higher tidbits to broth ratio and vice versa for a larger pot. I got about 14-15 cups of soup out of this.

Recipe: Turkey & Rice Soup

1 turkey carcass (preferably with bits still on it)
2 stalks celery, chopped coarsely
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 small or 1/2 a large onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 bay leaves

1 cup uncooked rice (white, brown, wild or a mix, your pick!)
up to 2 cups extra turkey bits (if your carcass is particularly clean....)
extra carrots, celery & onions if you are squeamish

1) Put carcass into pot, fill until bones are covered with water (pretty much right up to the top). Toss in celery, carrots, onion and bay leaves.
2) Adjust heat to keep soup at a low boil/simmer.
3) Add water as needed to keep level near the top of your pot.
4) Cook for 2-3 hours (2 hours got me a rich, deep flavor & nice soft veggies)
5) Using a spider strainer or mesh collander over a bowl, strain all bones, veggies, bay leaves out of your soup-- KEEP THESE!!!!  Return strained stock to soup pot.
6) Pick through all the bones for edible, usable meat chunks (chop or shred if necessary). Discard all bones, gristle or skin. Return good meat to soup pot. I had a pretty meaty set of bones and didn't actually have to add any extra.  If you don't have enough turkey for your taste, add in some chopped turkey meat (no skin or gristly bits, please!).
7) If you aren't squeamish, continue picking through your strained bits and take your soft cooked veggies and chop them into bite size pieces. Return to soup pot.
  •  If you don't wish to use the pre-cooked veggies, finely dice new celery, onion and carrots. In a separate pan, cook the onion and celery until softened. Put veggies into soup pot and cook until soft. (This could add up to an hour!)
8) Stir in 1 cup of uncooked rice. Simmer soup until rice is fully cooked (about 10 minutes)
9) Taste soup and add salt and pepper to taste (I'm not gonna lie here... its gonna take a pretty amazing amount of salt -- like 2 tsp or more!)
10) ENJOY!!

So the time breakdown for me was 2 hours of occasional minding while the bones simmered. About 20 minutes of carcass picking and cooked veggie recutting. A final 10 minutes for the rice to cook. Honestly the process was so painless that I'm embarrassed I've never done it before. This is probably the 3rd Thanksgiving that the Hubby has brought home the bones and they've always ended up at the bottom of the freezer for months until I finally threw them out. This year the in-laws made 2 turkeys so I have another complete set of bones to cook! Yay!! As an added bonus, if you are of a cheap thrifty nature, like myself, the total cost of this entire POT of soup was under $2. If you compare that to a can of Progresso, you are looking at $3 a can and this made 6-7 cans' worth. Nice!

Feel free to comment below!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pumpkin Cream Cheese (Coffee) Cake

Happy Thanksgiving!!

If you don't have enough on your plate (or perhaps you need something to use up a leftover cup of pumpkin puree) or you are looking for an easy themed breakfast to feed the family-- here it is!!

I made this recipe last night for the first time and while I like it, it was supposed to be a dense cheesecakey type of dessert. It came out so light and fluffy I decided it was much better suited for a cake. I'm thinking that it is light enough to serve as a breakfast but you could go ahead and bake this off as a dessert for Thanksgiving. It's super easy and quick and much less effort than making a pie. And, I think it'd be AWESOME with a nice dollop of whipped cream on top.

In the end, I think its probably better it came out lighter than I intended as Thanksgiving, in general, tends towards pretty heavy foods. This cake was made specifically for the hubs to take to work and share with his other coworkers stuck on the job today (an unfortunate consequence of working in an emergency related profession). Since people will be snacking on it at all times of the day (from 5 am on...) I think it will actually end up a better dish than the bars I set out to make!

This recipe makes a large (24 ish) amount of servings. If you are looking for something smaller, just halve the recipe and bake in an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Cake
(adapted from this recipe at

6 Tbs melted butter
1 1/2  cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (more like 1/4 if you do fresh grated)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vanilla
1 egg

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a large (13 x 9 or better) cake pan
2) In a medium mixing bowl,  beat butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and pumpkin until completely blended.
3) Stir dry ingredients together in a separate bowl: flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg.
4) Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix well.
5) In a separate bowl (go ahead and use that one you just emptied the flour out of...) beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Mix in egg.
6) Pour 3/4 of pumpkin batter into prepared pan. Drop tablespoons of cream cheese mixture over top. Drop remaining tablespoons of pumpkin batter over top of cream cheese mix. Drag butter knife through mix several times to make swirl pattern.
7) Bake for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of your pan-- my 13x9 took 37 min.) Top should spring back when touched. Cool for 10 minutes & serve!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quick and Easy Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Okay, I know I've been promising these for awhile. They are SUPER easy and this week is the perfect week to enjoy them. Nothing says "Thanksgiving" like pumpkin!!

To start with, you will need some pumpkin puree--- NOT PIE FILLING!!!! You can either crack open a can (I like the organic pumpkin puree by Farmer's Market with a bpa free lining) or you can make your own (especially if you are baking off some pumpkins for pies this week anyways....)

For a full batch, you will need 1 cup of puree but I usually make a half batch. That will get you about 12, 4" pancakes. For our family (2 adult eaters and one small child eater) that is usually plenty. Especially if its a side dish to eggs or fruit. If you have a bigger family or want leftovers (they freeze beautifully!) go for the full batch!

To make these, we are starting with our homemade whole wheat baking mix (or Bisquick if you haven't gotten around to it yet)

Recipe: Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes (full batch)

2 cups whole wheat baking mix
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie or apple pie spice mix (or just plain ground cinnamon)
2 Tablespoons sugar

1) Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs and milk. Stir to combine. Mix will be slightly lumpy. Stir in pumpkin puree.
2) Heat griddle and grease w/butter or coconut oil. Cook on medium heat until bubbles on top surface of pancakes pop and stay open briefly. Flip and continue cooking until second side is golden brown.
3) Top with butter and maple syrup.

If you are looking for a little extra something to fancy these up, stir into the batter 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts would be nice) or flavored chips (chocolate actually goes well here but I happened to find an unused bag of cinnamon chips in the bottom of my baking supplies and they were AMAZING).

As always, your thoughts or comments are always welcomed below.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Being a Who for the Holidays

I've been spending a lot of time thinking lately-- about stuff. You know-- STUFF. Our house is full of stuff. The boys' rooms are full of stuff. Our closets, garage and yard are bursting with stuff.

A little over a year ago as we were prepping our house to be put up for sale (and the subsequent move) we did a lot of paring down. Really spent some time considering whether individual items were really necessary, useful, or important. It felt really good to be able to look around our house and see that what we had really contributed to the home instead of just being more clutter. Unfortunately, about 18 months have passed since then. And the stuff monster has been hard at work.

Starting in October (for crying out loud!!) the big HOLIDAY machinery has begun to wind up-- Buy this! Buy that! BUY! BUY! BUY! Quite frankly, I've about had enough of it. I love the winter holidays. Its a special, magical time where we focus on our family and friends and giving to others. What could be better than that?

Unfortunately, the spirit of giving has been greatly overshadowed by the spirit of having. Giving stuff and getting stuff has become the end-all be-all of the holiday season. I don't need more stuff. I don't need to clutter up my friends' and familys' homes with stuff. I don't need to buy the boys so much stuff that they can't possibly fit it in their rooms. Its time to say, "ENOUGH!!  ENOUGH WITH THE STUFF!!!" 

Here's my plan for cutting down on the consumerism of the season:

1) I'm not going out on Black Friday. I appreciate the need of businesses to make money, however I do object to them requiring employees to give up their family time to come in at 8 pm or midnight or 3 am or whatever on Thanksgiving weekend.

2) I'm going to try to get my adult friends and family to exchange homemade (food or crafts or services or whatever) gifts instead of store bought ones.

3) I'm going to try to spend more time doing things as a family-- baking cookies, watching holiday movies, going to see holiday lights, playing games.

4) I'm going to find an opportunity to volunteer or help in my community.

I'm sure there is a lot more that I could do but I think this is a good place to start. I want my kids to look back on the holidays of their childhood and have a warm cozy feeling.  I want the holidays to be about family, love, and peace.... not STUFF! I want to raise 2 Whos in our own little Who-ville who would still have an awesome holiday even if they had NOTHING--not even a can of who-hash.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Making the Most of your Pumpkin: Seeds & Puree

DIY Pumpkin Puree: A Beginner's perspective

Next up is roasting one of my pie/sugar pumpkins. I ended up with 2 as I bought one at the pumpkin patch and then got another one in our farm box last week. I have a couple of experiments to try as I've never attempted to make my own pumpkin puree before-- you have to admit, its pretty easy to just crank open a can..... so I'm following the directions from this page:


First Experiment-- Can you cook/eat a carving pumpkin?? If yes, what does it taste like??:

I cooked up the smallest  of our regular pumpkins -- it was little dude's Halloween pumpkin but we just did those push in decorations-- kind of like Mr. Potato Head, so its not been exposed to dirt & bugs. This was a pretty small pumpkin-- about 3.5 lbs. I prepped and roasted it the same as the directions above, adding time to get it completely cooked. I was pretty easy to get all the guts and seeds out.

After it was cooked and cooled, I peeled both halves. This was a bit of a slow job and pretty messy too. The peel just didn't want to come off easily. Then I pureed half. The result is a very light yellow orange color and is a little bit grainy -- almost like applesauce. The flavor is not very pumpkin-y. It tastes a lot like yellow summer squash to me. I chunked up the 2nd half and I'm deciding if I'm gonna eat it now with a little butter and salt or try to freeze it for later. While seeming perfectly edible as a squash, it's not coming across with any kind of pumpkin color or flavor. Perhaps I'll mix it with some applesauce and a sprinkle of cinnamon to make some new baby food for the little dude!

Edited: I did add in about 1/2 cup or so of unsweetened applesauce and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon to the puree. It tastes like chunky applesauce to me. Seems like a good way of hiding extra veggies...

Second Experiment-- Does a pie/sugar pumpkin really taste sweeter?? How does homemade puree compare to canned??:

After the regular pumpkin, I cooked up the pie/sugar pumpkin. I found the prep/cleaning a bit more difficult than the regular pumpkin. The seeds were really stuck in the guts and the guts were really tightly stuck to the walls. It took probably twice as long to clean and prep as the other pumpkin (maybe the regular ones are bred for easy carving??). However, that being said, after it was roasted the skin came off like a breeze. I just scooped out the pumpkin like I would if I had made baked sweet potatoes.

After pureeing, the texture, color and flavor of the pie pumpkin is MUCH different. The puree is significantly more orange and thicker/smoother in texture-- again very similar to baked sweet potato. And the flavor is much more pumpkin-y.

I can definitely see/taste the differences and I probably won't bother roasting off a regular pumpkin again. But it sure was interesting to do the experiment!

Regular pumpkin---------Sugar/pie pumpkin

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds!!

I finally got around to cooking the pumpkin seeds from our Halloween pumpkins yesterday. We didn't carve the pumpkins until Weds. afternoon but then were so busy with trick or treating that we didn't have time to bake them off that night. I'm happy to report that letting them sit out in a collander overnight didn't hurt them one bit!  If you haven't gotten around to doing yours yet either or have the seeds saved from making the puree above, I'd recommend following the instructions on this page:

She has it step by step and the only thing I did differently is to have baked them for much, much longer. Maybe I had more seeds? Maybe because they sat overnight? Which ever it was, they seemed to take FOREVER to dry out properly. But now I have a nice jar of crunchies. We'll just have to see if they last more than a day this time!

As always, feel free to comment below!!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DIY Whole Wheat Baking Mix


Growing up, weekday breakfasts generally meant a bowl of cereal or piece of toast. But Saturday meant pulling the Bisquick box out of the cupboard, scooping some into a bowl, adding a dash of milk and an egg or 2 and cooking up pancakes or waffles or some other yummy carbohydrate coma inducing breakfast. If I'm brutally honest, pancakes made from scratch just don't taste the same to me..... which is kind of sad.

With the family's switch to real food, one of the obvious things to go was the box of Bisquick. I didn't throw out the old box but I really only saved it for "emergencies". So my Jumbo Box Store size package had actually managed to last me for the last 6 or so months. Sadly, we are down to the last scoop or so. I figured it was about time to really work on a good substitute. I had tried several 'from scratch' recipes for whole wheat pancakes (what's the point of redoing a recipe if you don't healthy it up a bit?) but I hadn't made any that seemed quite right to me.

Recently I had been put on to the King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour-(they are NOT a sponsor, I swear!)-- its a 100% whole wheat flour but naturally lighter in color and flavor. I've been using that in all my baking and its been a GREAT way of coverting all-purpose flour based recipes. So I thought I'd try to find a DIY Bisquick recipe and swap out the flours and see how it went. Unfortunately, most of the recipes call for shortening, which to me is about the MOST unnatural substance in the food industry. Certainly it is nothing I want to eat or feed my family. Luckily I found this base recipe that was 50/50 white/wheat flours and used butter! Score!!

So, I put together a half batch using 100% whole wheat flour. It came out great! I made a few plain pancakes and the rest of the batch became pumpkin pancakes (I promise I'm posting that recipe next!). The plain pancakes had all of the flavor of Bisquick that I really liked. They were soft, fluffy, buttery and deeeeeeeeeelicious!

I will say that a few years ago I had tried to do a home Bisquick mix and I had followed the directions and used shortening. I hated it. I never got the flavor or texture I wanted out of it. Using butter seems to be the key here, at least for me. As it does contain butter, I'd recommend keeping it in an airtight container inside the fridge. Some people keep it in the freezer.  In either case, unless you house is pretty consistently cool, it'd probably do best in the chill box somewhere.
100% Whole Wheat Baking Mix
  • 5 cups whole wheat flour (see note above)
  • 6 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (only if using unsalted butter!!!)
  • 1 cup butter (salted or unsalted), cold
1) Add dry ingredients to work bowl of your food processor.
2) Divide butter into 1 Tbs sized chunks.
3) Add to food processor.
4) Pulse until combined-- it should look like and feel like a dry mix. Resist the urge to over process or hold the button down, you'll just melt your butter and make lumps!

                        Use as you would standard Bisquick:

Pancakes: 2 cups mix, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs

Waffles: 2 cups mix, 1 1/3 cups milk, 2 Tbs cooking oil (coconut), 1 egg

Biscuits: 2 1/4 cups mix, 2/3 cup milk, drop or roll out/cut, bake 8-10 min @ 450 F on ungreased cookie sheet.

As always, due to flour variations (especially amongst whole wheat types) you may need to add additional milk or water to achieve desired consistency!

Please feel free to comment below and let me know how this worked out for you!!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall Flavors: Pumpkin Muffins!!

So last week we had 2, that's right 2!! whole days of rain and clouds. The whole city rushed to unpack our coats, boots and umbrellas. I dug out the soup pot and made a nice big batch of cheesy potato soup. Then Saturday came and so did the sun. By Sunday we were back to mid 80's heat and it peaked today at low 90's. Nevertheless, it was too late. Those 2 days of cool, wet, autumn weather have me thinking apples, pumpkins, squash, soups, and other fall yummies.

So on that wet and rainy Friday, with my hubby finally succumbing to the very nasty head cold making its way 'round the family, I decided to make breakfast for dinner. To spice things up, I made pumpkin flavored pancakes. They were pretty darn good and I will get around to posting that recipe-- some other time. But, after making those pancakes, I found myself with 1/2 a can of pumpkin puree left over. I also ended up running out of zucchini muffins from the freezer (finally) early this week.  As I needed to make a new batch of muffins (the little dude has been enjoying them as his morning snack at school), the answer seemed clear: Pumpkin Muffins!!!

I have done a few different variations of pumpkin muffins in the past and I have to say this is one of my favorite. I also "real food" revised the original recipe (as it appeared in the Better Homes & Garden red checkerboard cookbook) to get it up to speed. Once again I am using a quick bread recipe as the base, so expect these to be a little denser than a typical muffin. However they are still plenty light and chock full of flavor. They also freeze beautifully-- I send them to school frozen for durability. When at home, I've found that about 35 seconds in the microwave reheats/defrosts a single muffin perfectly!

While I'm disappointed that we still haven't gotten into true fall weather (and probably won't for 3 or 4 more weeks) at least I can enjoy the flavors of fall!

Recipe: Pumpkin Muffins (yield 12 muffins)

1 cup + 1 cup whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur's white whole wheat)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh if you can get it!)
1/8 tsp ground ginger

1 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling!!!!!!!!)
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup softened butter

Optional add ins: (original recipe includes these but I didn't bother)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour with the remainder of the dry ingredients (reserve the 2nd cup of flour).
2) Add pumpkin, milk, eggs and butter. Beat with mixer on low speed until combined. Add reserved cup of flour. Beat until mixed thoroughly. Fold in nuts & raisins if including.
3) Distribute into 12 prepared muffin cups (use either silicone liners, paper liners or grease liberally)
4) Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
5) Cool on a wire rack. Remove liners before freezing.

Feel free to comment below and let me know how this recipe worked for you!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

DIY All Natural LemiShine Substitute

Sorry to be gone for so long. Between fall break (where we had an awesome family vacation) and being sick, its been a few weeks since I've posted but it's good to be back!

This is one of the green & clean projects I've been working on around the house. As you may recall, many many posts ago, I put up this recipe for a powdered dishwasher detergent. It worked okay but honestly with the super duper hard water we have out here (I once did a test kit and the result was higher than the enclosed scale :P) I wasn't convinced it was a total winner. When you add in the fact that my rinse agent dispenser (filled with vinegar, of course!) is a bit haphazard about dispensing at all, I was having some fairly regular problems with films & spots left behind on my dishes.

I had done some research and found that for hard water, gel detergents are recommended the highest. I guess since they are pre-dissolved they have less of a tendency to leave undissolved detergent behind???  My first batch of homemade gel detergent never gelled. Still not sure what happened there but it wasn't much thicker than pure water. Definitely NOT what I wanted. I'm on my second batch (different recipe) and it sort of gelled. It more resembles gel curds and whey. All the gel curds float to the top and clump up, so I have to shake it up before I use it. When I pour it out, it kind of looks like curdled milk (and splashes a bit when a big chunk blops out). So while its doing an okay cleaning job, I'm not super happy with the consistency of it. I will eventually get something worth sharing with you guys. In either case, whether I was using the powder or gel homemade dishwasher detergents, they definitely worked MUCH better when I added LemiShine to the other detergent compartment.

I discovered LemiShine when they changed the formulations of branded dishwasher detergents a few years ago. I had noticed that I was having a LOT of reside on my dishes. I thought maybe my detergent was bad, so I bought a new box. Same thing happened. I tried rinse agents, no change. I starting reading online to see if my dishwasher might be broken when I found some board posts about this very problem. The solution everyone recommended was LemiShine. You find it in the dishwasher detergent aisle at WalMart. You put it in with your soap and voila!! no more spots or residue. I fell madly in love.

Unfortunately, as I've been removing more and more chemicals from our food and cleaning products, I was a little bit uncomfortable still using LemiShine. It says that it's "all natural" but you know how misleading that can be. Also, they don't list ingredients. I finally stopped using it altogether when I started making my own cleaners around the house. But, boy was it sorely missed!!

In searching for a substitute or replacement, I scoured the internet. The only consensus I could find is that it likely contained citric acid (used in ethnic cooking and canning) and salt. I decided to start with a simple formula with just those 2 ingredients in a 1:1 ratio and see how it did. And, it worked wonderfully well! Sparkling glasses and no spots!! So, I upped the salt and did a 2 parts salt to 1 part citric acid. (Since citric acid is the "expensive" part of the formula) It still did great! I upped the ratio again to 3 parts salt and 1 part citric acid. This time it was okay. A few spots. Not horrible but not really sparkling either. So for me, I stick to a 2:1 ratio but if your water is softer you can probably get away with 3:1 ratio. I'd recommend starting at the lower ratio and seeing if it has enough power for you. If you're happy, then increase the salt to citric acid ratio-- stop when it gets ineffective!

As a note here, this is NOT an attempt to "break" the formula of LemiShine. But if you would like to cut costs or only want to use products that you know EXACTLY what's in them, this recipe will work well for you!

After using this regularly (probably 10+ loads of dishes run) in the last 2-3 weeks, I am confident that this should work consistently for others as well. I'm super excited to get this out here and see how it works for different city waters/different detergents.

Lemi Shine Substitute:
1 cup citric acid (find in ethnic markets OR in the canning aisle of Mart stores)
2 cups non iodized salt (usually right next to regular salt or near pickling supplies)

1)Place in an airtight container (a washed & dried recycled yogurt tub works great....) and shake to combine.
2) Use 2-3 Tbs in the detergent compartment of your automatic dishwasher (I put it in the open one and the soap in the closed one but you can do it the other way as well. See what works best for your machine!). If you only have one compartment, add 50/50 with your detergent.

Cost Analysis:
Salt: .59 for the whole tub.
Citric Acid: 2.97 for this 7.5 oz jar at WalMart. I used  a small amount of this for canning tomatoes. I've since made 2 half batches plus smaller "single serving" size testers of this mix and still have powder left. So you can expect 1- 1.5 batches maybe? per jar.

Total expenses: $3.56

If you get 2 batches out of it, this would be $1.78/batch.
If you get more like 1.5 batches then its $2.37/batch.
Typical WalMart LemiShine price (about the same volume as a 1/2 -3/4 batch) is around $4.00. So somewhere around 1/2 the price of the original (depending on where you source your citric acid...)

I'd love some feedback on how this worked with your water (hard or soft!) and your detergent (store bought or homemade!) Please comment below!!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Real Food, Real Easy: Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup

As things have gotten a bit busier and more stressful around here with the big guy starting kindergarten and the hubby having been on nights at work,  I admit my meal planning and recipe excitement has suffered quite a bit. There have been a lot of grilled chicken or fish with side of pasta, rice, salad, etc. type of meals and more pick up food than we've had in a good long while as well :(   

Thankfully, my hubby has been back on day shift for 2 weeks now! Its great to be coming out of the restrictions that come as a result of having a partner who sleeps when everyone is awake and away at work when everyone else is sleeping. Even his days off were messed up because his sleep cycles had to be maintained.

Now that he is back on days, I've got to get my act back together!! He doesn't really like to take sandwiches and I don't want to buy him things from boxes so that means that he either has leftovers or premade/prefrozen meals-- either of which he prefers to trying to cobble something together while getting ready in the morning (did I mention he leaves for work at a ridiculous 4:15 am???) Needless to say, I am not up at that time to make him something to take. So all of his food has to be ready the night before and withstand both travel and reheating.

I've been going over some of my favorite convenience foods and sorting out those that can be real food adapted easily and also finding some fun/easy freezer meals & grab and go items to help keep us more on track (and less likely to be picking up the phone to place an order at 5:15.....) So, I'm creating this new category-- its especially for things that either come together very quickly (like 30 min or less) or can be premade & frozen or thrown in the crock pot. 

This particular recipe is one of our long time family favorites. I got the recipe from my bestie and adapted it for my personally picky eating. It's a dish that gets a lot of appreciation as it hits all of the key cooking categories: 1) little to no prep  2) little to no supervision while cooking 3) tastes great   4) adaptable for a variety of tastes/allergies  5) freezes well!  6) high in nutrient density/low in calories.  7) uses mainly pantry staples.

To make this a real food recipe, very few swap outs were needed. For each of the canned items, I am using organic with no added sugar and low or no salt where possible. You can also use your own prepared beans or frozen corn. For the chicken, I am using a free range chicken. This is a great application for some of these tougher free range/pastured meats that do well after cooking on low heat for a long time. Instead of using the packets of pre-prepared taco seasoning, I am using a homemade blend of spices from this recipe. Finally, for the tortilla part-- you can purchase store bought tortilla chips (watch your ingredient lists) or simply fry up a few shreds of corn tortillas you have at home or omit them all together (as we often do).

Recipe: Chicken (Tortilla Optional) Soup

1-1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts (still frozen okay!)
1 15 oz can kidney beans
1 15 oz can pinto beans
1 15 oz can whole kernel corn (frozen okay)
1 8-15 oz can tomato sauce
1 packet taco seasoning (or 2 TBS homemade)

Sour cream
shredded cheese
diced green chilies
tortilla chips or strips

1) Put chicken breasts into crock pot.
2) Open all your cans and dump into pot on top of chicken.
3) Add in seasoning mix. Stir. For a thicker soup, use only those liquids from the canned food. For thinner soup, add water to top off the crockpot.

4) Turn your crockpot on high and walk away for 6 hours.
5) Remove cooked chicken breasts. Using two forks, shred chicken. Return to crockpot. STIR.

6) Serve soup with personal add ons. I like to set up a buffet style bar with shredded cheddar, sour cream, tortilla strips, and diced green chilies.

Leftovers do freeze well or you can strain out the soup solids and make burritos or other dishes with them (like the quesadillas shown below!) to get some distance out of this one dish.

As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts on this recipe!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

DIY Fruit Roll ups

And now...... a break from zucchini posts!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!

As we've been getting pounds and pounds of fruits and veggies in our every-other-week farm box, I admit that I've lost track of some produce from time to time. These are the things I set on the counter to ripen up a bit or put in the fridge and then promptly forgot about. For veggies, this is the kiss of death-- straight to the compost bin for sure! For fruit, not so much. It really depends. Anything short of absolute mold is probably salvageable as an ingredient in something-- bread, muffin, smoothie???

I received my new electric food dehydrator as a gift for mother's day, since then, I've also been experimenting with drying. You'd never believe that picture below represents a big bucket of fruit that most people probably would have sent straight to the bin!

We've especially been over gifted with stone fruit. Plums, plums and more plums. I do like plums but I can only eat so many of them. Also, we've gotten mostly reds and I prefer the black/darker variety--sweeter, less tart. I have worked out a great plum coffee cake/muffin/sweet bread recipe that uses lots of plums but it also has a fair amount of sugar so I can't be making that every week. We do eat the plums out of hand at lunch or for snack but we've also got bananas, pears, apples, oranges, strawberries and usually a melon of some kind as well. So we can't really afford to focus in on just one kind of fruit.

A few weeks ago, I found myself with better than a dozen plums. Some red, some black. Some under-ripe, some over-ripe. There were a few wrinkly peaches as well that had begun mummifying themselves in the back of the fridge. I peeled and chopped the whole lot (being sure to cut out any bad spots) and dumped them into a sauce pan. I added just a few tablespoons of water (less than 1/4 cup) and absolutely nothing else-- no sugar, no pectin, no gelatin! I cooked the mixture on low until the harder, unripened fruit had softened and most (but not all) of the liquid had evaporated. I had a chunky, bubbly, syrupy kind of mix. I took that and dumped the whole thing into my food processor and whirled until it was a smooth, thick liquid.

I poured the liquid onto the special fruit leather trays of my food dehydrator (that I had previously LIGHTLY rubbed with coconut oil). I tipped, swirled and spread the mixture until it was evenly distributed over the tray. Not too thick (but you could if you were going for more fruit leather consistency) and not too thin as it would likely rip too easily. This amount of fruit (approx 12 plums peeled & seeded and 3 peaches) made 2 full trays PLUS a bit of extra puree (that I used as baby food). I set my dehydrator on 135 F and walked away for about 6 hours. Most of it was dry and ready at that time. There were a few spots that had been a tad thicker that took longer to finish. You'll know the fruit is done when you can easily peel it up and the surface looks matte and there are no sticky spots. It should feel leathery.

Dried fruit puree on dehydrator tray

I peeled off the fruit in one giant ring and placed it onto a piece of waxed paper. I opted to divide each ring into 6 portions-- so with 2 trays this equals 12 servings total. I found kitchen scissors to be a fast and easy tool for the job. From there, I simply rolled them up from center out, securing the roll with a small square of transparent tape. I keep these in a zip top baggie in the fridge and so far they've held up beautifully. Barring any exposure to water or other liquids or leaving the bag open for them to get too dried out, I'd expect the shelf life here to be pretty indefinite.

Dried fruit on wax paper. Halve, then divide into thirds.

Leave wax paper on for rolling to minimize sticky problems!

I've since repeated this with a slightly different mix of fruits. This time only maybe 8 or so plums and the rest was extremely mushy, very over-ripe pears. From reading my dehydrator's instruction manual, you can use basically any kind of fruit that has a good amount of pectin in it and it will set up nicely for you with no additives. Not sure about your fruit? Mix it 50/50 with unsweetened, organic apple sauce for extra insurance.

Yes, you absolutely can do this without a food dehydrator. BUT you will need to have an oven that will get below 200 F (or keep the door propped open) and plan to be home ALL day. Because a dehydrator has a fan, the food is getting heat AND air. As most ovens do not have a fan, the overall drying time can be much, much longer-- you may even have to do it over 2 different days!

 The family loves that they get a sweet treat that really looks, feels and tastes like the store bought stuff.  I love that I get to use up dodgy fruit that would (likely) be heading off to the compost bin and I know its been made with 100% fruit and no nasty artificial colors or added sugar!!

Feel free to comment below and let me know if this worked for you!

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Friday, September 14, 2012

For the Love of Zucchini, Part 4: Muffins!!

I know I haven't been around as much lately-- just busy around here. You'd think with the big guy starting kindergarten, I'd have all this extra time. It just hasn't worked out that way. First I overloaded my to-do list and got a bit bogged down there. Next I got involved in a bunch of procrastination projects that had been put to the side while hubby was working nights (thank goodness that's over!). Finally I've gotten a few extra minutes but -- so classic-- I've ended up with a terrible head cold. Sheesh. Anyways, it's not that I haven't been doing anything or that I didn't want to write. Hopefully I'll manage to get this finished up without sneezing all over the keyboard (again). Perhaps next week we'll work on some homemade sanitizers??

I really thought I was done with all the zucchini several weeks ago but then I was at Trader Joe's and they had packages of small organic zukes that I just couldn't resist! So once again, I was finding ways to eat them up. I ate a few myself, just boiled, buttered and salted (my favorite easy prep) but that left me with 5  that I still needed to use up! I threw one into a crustless quiche that I sometimes make for dinner and then there were 4.

I decided I really needed to make some zucchini bread. But instead of baking it up in large loaves, I like to take these quick breads and turn them into muffins. It's something I've found works well for banana nut bread so I thought I'd give it a try here, as well. It makes the bread into nice, easy-to-grab single servings. Because this is from a quick bread base instead of a muffin base, these are quite a bit denser than a typical muffin (slightly shorter as well, but not stumpy). Think of these more like "mini loaves" instead of muffins and you won't be disappointed!

Spiced Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

Since I had so much zucchini, I opted to do 2 batches. I did one as a fairly traditional spice cake flavor and decided to try out chocolate for the other. I'd never done a chocolate zucchini bread before but it ended up being a big hit with the hubby. I also made these with 100% whole wheat flour. I used King Arthur's white whole wheat (which I've started using in my bread baking). It's NOT bleached or lightened in any way, it just comes from a lighter colored white wheat. This gives it a milder, less "branny" kind of flavor. Its definitely my go-to flour of choice right now!

As I converted this recipe (originally from Better Homes & Gardens checkerboard book) to be whole wheat, I had to add some liquid into the recipe to balance the dryness of the fiber. I've opted to do that with unsweetened applesauce. If you use a more traditional whole wheat, you may need to add more liquids or applesauce to get the batter to the proper consistency. If you use a white (not whole wheat) all purpose typical flour, omit the applesauce all together. Also, be sure to drain your zucchini well before adding it to the batter!

Chocolate Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

We ate a few of the finished muffins, then I set them out on baking sheets to freeze individually overnight. I'm storing them in the freezer in a large gallon ziptop baggie. This has worked amazingly well to keep the muffins from sticking together. I've been sending one to school with the little dude for snack time and as I've been sending them frozen, they've managed to hold together long enough for him to eat (at least according to him...).

If you don't have enough zucchini to do both kinds but want to try them both out, the base is the same for each. Simply omit the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg/cocoa) during mixing. Separate the batter in half and then add the respective spices to each batch (remember to halve the amounts!).

Version 1: Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread-Muffins (yield 12 muffins)

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat (see note above)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini (about 2 small)
1/4 cup cooking oil (I used refined coconut oil)
1 egg
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1) Grease or line all 12 standard size muffin cups. (Silicon liners need not be greased) Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Combine dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder). Set aside
3) In a medium mixing bowl combine sugar, zucchini, oil, applesauce & egg-- mix well.
4) Add dry mixture to zucchini mixture. Stir until just moistened. Fold in nuts (if using)
5) Spoon batter into prepared cups. Fill approximately 2/3 full.
6) Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes (wooden toothpick inserted in center should come out clean).
7) Cool on a wire rack. Remove liners if using silicon. Keeps in a sealed container for 2-3 days (in refrigerator) or freeze individually.

Version 2: Whole Wheat Chocolate Zucchini Bread-Muffins

Follow directions in above recipe EXCEPT:

1) Omit cinnamon & nutmeg
2) Add 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. (This will be lightly chocolate flavored, feel free to increase this if you LOVE chocolate)
3) Optional add in: 1/2 cup chocolate chips. (I didn't do this the first time but probably will the next time, to up the chocolate factor!)

Mix and cook as directed above!!

Feel free to comment below and let me know if you liked this recipe or thought it was interesting or had a suggestion!!

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