Category Archives: Breakfast

Maple-Oat Scones with Pecans

First, my apologies. Apparently, the latest version of WordPress has a bug and does not allow media files to be uploaded. Therefore, this will be a picture-less blog post. But I hope you can envision the scones after reading about them!

I went to the dr. recently and discovered that I have hypothyroidism. I knew something was wrong, but I had my TSH tested a year ago and it was normal. It wasn’t until I pressed my dr. to do more thorough tests that my thyroid appeared to be abnormal. It was both a relief and an added stress to find this out. A relief because now I am on medication and hopefully it will help my thyroid, and an added stress because from what I know about thyroid disease, it is extremely hard to treat, and people often times end up taking medication for life.

Because of my hypothyroidism, I’ve gained 10 lbs. in the last 6 months. It’s been very difficult emotionally. I had a very dysfunctional relationship with food throughout most of my life. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I started educating myself on how to eat healthier while still enjoying sweets and higher calorie foods in moderation. As a result, I lost 25 lbs. Even then, it took several years not to feel anxious when I would allow myself dessert. I was always scared that I would gain back the weight I worked so hard to lose. Now, over ten years later, going through this has triggered all those old feelings of self-loathing and negative body image. It has affected my self-esteem and the way I carry myself. What’s more, it has severely impacted my relationship with food. I have regressed back to seeing food as the enemy much of the time. I am working very hard on eating healthy as much as possible, while still allowing myself an indulgence when I want it. But I have days when I want to just say, “F*** it. What’s the point if I am going to gain weight regardless of what I eat!” It’s an uphill battle.

I have been on thyroid medication for one week now, and am hopeful that it will treat my hypothyroidism. If not, this may have to be my new normal. I know a lot of women struggle with acceptance surrounding their bodies and weight, so I am not alone in this. It’s just hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On a more positive note, I made scones! And delicious scones they are. I am a big fan of the maple-pecan combination in sweets, so I tweaked one of my favorite scone recipes. It’s from Amy’s Bread, where I currently work. We carry these oat scones every day of the week, but the fruit/nut mixture changes every day. My favorite is the almonds/currants combo. My sister is visiting this weekend, so I thought these would be good with brunch.

Maple-Oat Scones with Pecans
Adapted from Amy’s Bread

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, cold, 1/2-inch dice
2 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup, pecans, toasted, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top

  1. Position one rack in the top third of the oven, one rack in the bottom third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line the sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the 2 flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda, and process them for 5 seconds, until they are just combined.
  3. Add the butter and process again for 10 to 15 seconds, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. The largest pieces of butter should be about the size of tiny peas. The butter should be suspended in tiny granules throughout the flour, not rubbed into it to make a doughy mass. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and stir in the oats and pecans until they are evenly distributed.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, maple extract, and vanilla extract. Remove 1/3 cup of this mixture and set it aside. Pour the remaining liquid over the dry ingredients and lightly and briefly stir them together, just until everything is barely moistened.
  5. Using your hands, drop free-form portions of dough about 3 1/2 inches in diameter onto the prepared baking sheets. Evenly space 6 scones on each sheet. Using a pastry brush, dab the reserved buttermilk mixture generously all over the tops of the scones and sprinkle them lightly with turbinado sugar (white sugar will work fine if you don’t have this on hand).
  6. Place one pan on each oven rack and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and rotate the pans from top to bottom. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the scones are a deep golden brown on both the top and bottom. A tooth pick inserted in the center of a scone should come out clean. Remove the scones from the pans to cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas

L1050516A dear old friend visited last week. We had not seen each other in over 15 years.  15 years. It’s pretty astounding that we’ve kept in touch all these years, seeing as that we initially only spent a few months together back in 1997. I studied abroad in Lancaster, England the spring semester of my junior year. I had no idea what a pivotal experience that would turn out to be for me. College is usually a time of growth and self-exploration for a lot of people, but there is something more acute about living in a foreign country by yourself when you are 20 years old. It’s almost like starting all over again, like the first day of college, except you stand out so much more because you’re a “yankee” and you have to learn new words like “snog” and “bollocks”.

My time in England was where my inner-feminist blossomed, and I’m still not completely sure how or why. While there, I met several smart, interesting young women who would have probably defined themselves as feminists, but it wasn’t something that I remember us specifically talking about. Rather, it was in the subtle ways they lived their lives. They made certain assumptions about being a woman that I found very refreshing. Until then, I had always struggled with my female identity – what it meant to be a woman. I remember coming back home after six months and feeling transformed in so many ways.
L1050505Because it was such an intense inner-growth period for me, the friends that I made during that time are still very dear to me. Stephanie is one of those friends. She now lives in Australia and has a beautiful family. They all came to NYC last week for a visit. I was super excited to see my friend after such a long time, but I surprised myself by getting choked up when we hugged. It was like no time had passed at all, and we picked up where we left off all those years ago.

In my never-ending quest to make healthy recipes (I promise there will be gluttonous recipes to come) I found this one recently and thought it sounded both easy and delicious. Weekday breakfasts can get a bit boring; I’ve been trying to eat more eggs for breakfast during the week, but I was getting tired of scrambled eggs every day. Frittatas are a nice way to change it up. You can essentially add anything you want to them. This recipe calls for bacon, but I substituted hot dogs since we had some in the refrigerator. The frittatas even make a quick and healthy lunch!
L1050518

Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas
Adapted from Shape

Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped, stemmed kale
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices bacon, chopped
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Over medium heat, pour the olive oil into a medium-size pan. Add bacon and cook for 5 minutes, or until desired level of crispness.
3. Add kale and tomatoes and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, beat together 4 eggs and 4 egg whites. Add Greek yogurt and mix until fluffy.
5. Add bacon, kale and tomatoes to egg mixture.
6. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
7. Divide among 6 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Healthy Gingerbread Muffins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently learned that my cholesterol is dangerously high.  In lieu of going on medication, I decided to actively try and cut out a decent amount of sugar from my diet.  Of course, there will still be plenty of dark chocolate.  I mean, I haven’t lost my mind.  There will ALWAYS be dark chocolate in my life.  What’s more, I have a huge sweet tooth.  Therefore, dessert will always be a part of my life as well, but I needed to find some recipes that incorporate sugar substitutions.   Turns out, there is a lot out there.  For the most part, bananas and dates are the healthiest options when substituting sugar in a recipe.  Although they still contain a decent amount of sugar– like fruit– they also contain fiber, which slows down the rate at which the body absorbs the sugars from the fruit.  Therefore, I have been making A LOT of (healthier) desserts lately to try and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my favorite things to eat around the holidays is gingerbread-flavored anything.   I love the spices, along with the deep, complex flavor of molasses.  I had a deliciously spicy slice of gingerbread loaf last week from a bakery in Manhattan.  It inspired me to try and give gingerbread muffins a go, but with no sugar (other than the molasses, which I made an exception for).  They turned out really well.  My only complaint is that they are not quite spicy enough.  Therefore, if you really want that bite that you get from a gingersnap cookie, feel free to double the amount of ginger in this recipe.  If you are ok with a milder flavor, these will be perfect for you.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHealthy Gingerbread Muffins
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Yield:  22 Mini-muffins

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (sub 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
11/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Candied ginger, roughly chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the molasses.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream, yogurt, milk, ginger, vanilla extract, and orange zest.
  3. Add the olive oil and molasses from step one.
  4. Add the flours, baking soda, salt, and dry spices. Stir a few times until just combined. Scoop into a mini-muffin tin and place a piece of candied ginger on top of each muffin. Bake for 10-12 minutes (if making full-size muffins, bake for 17-20 minutes) or until the tops are puffy and firm to the touch. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

DSC_6087I ran a 10K a few weekends ago.  It was the first one I’ve run in 2 1/2 years.  A friend of mine gave me her spot in the race, so I took it as an opportunity to try and push myself.  My workout routine became very slack over the summer months– that and perhaps too many sweets­­– which resulted in my pants being tighter than they should be.   So it felt good to have a goal to work towards.  I did a lot of running intervals on the treadmill at 6 a.m., and subsequently, remembered what it was like to feel euphoric after a good workout.   Things went along pretty smoothly over the course of my 4 weeks of training, even though I knew I might be pushing myself more, and faster, than I should be.   However, on my last long run before the race, I hit a wall.  I don’t know what happened, but I had to stop and walk several times.  My legs felt like lead.  It was a horrible run, and I felt really shitty about it.  In retrospect, I might have been focusing too much on my speed.  Afterword, I tried to reassure myself that a less-than-stellar run was o.k.  Despite my anxiety about the upcoming race, I told myself to focus on going slow and running the entire 10K, and not worry about my finishing time.
DSC_6078I woke up at 5:30 a.m. that Sunday morning and headed into Manhattan.  I tried to shake off any lingering doubts about my recent running performance.  I repeated a mantra:  Slow and steady; just finish.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was just coming up, and there was a cool breeze coming off the Hudson River.  I ran what I thought was a super-slow pace.  Many, many people passed me.   I just put my head down and kept running.   I felt really good for the entire race.  I figured if I had enough energy towards the end, I would pick up my pace a bit and try to finish strong.   Indeed, I did.  I ran an 11-minute mile, which is a personal best for me.   I was incredibly proud of myself, and my feeling of euphoria lasted the rest of the day.  I remember thinking that I wanted to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.  If only we could retrieve feelings the way we can pull up a song to elicit a memory.  I hope to remember that feeling when I’m having a crummy day.  As a reward for the 10K, I treated myself to my favorite pancakes in the city at Johnny’s Luncheonette.
DSC_6081Speaking of pancakes (I didn’t even plan that transition!), these zucchini bread pancakes need to go on your Make Immediately recipe list.  Light and healthy, they also scream, “Fall is finally here!”  And the maple yogurt is the perfect topping on these, as straight up maple syrup would be too sweet for these beauties, in my opinion.  Instead, the tang of the yogurt provides a nice complement to the sweet spices.
DSC_6089Zucchini Bread Pancakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield:  10 to 12 pancakes

2 large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons light brown or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or 2 tablespoons each of milk and plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 1/2 medium zucchini)
1 cup all-purpose flour (half can seamlessly be swapped with a whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
Butter or oil, for coating skillet

1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in zucchini shreds.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
3. Preheat oven to 200°F and place a baking sheet on a middle rack.
4. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, melt a pat of butter in pan and swirl it around until it sizzles.
5. Scoop scant 1/4-cup dollops of batter in pan so the puddles do not touch. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two, until golden underneath.
6. Transfer pancakes to prepared pan to keep warm as well as ensure that they’re all cooked through when they’re served. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm.

Orange-Raisin-Rosemary Scones

DSC_5232I think I figured out the key to having a truly enjoyable Christmas:  no expectations.  That may sound cynical, but it’s really not meant to be construed that way.  It’s more of a “less is more” approach to the holiday.  Mr. K and I decided to stay home this year and not make any plans.  I decided to forego even making us a special meal.  Instead, we stayed in our pajamas, watched a couple of movies, I made us a hot dish that was reminiscent of my childhood, and then while Mr. K took a nap I did some baking.  All in all, probably our best Christmas yet.
DSC_5256DSC_5223I have been making anything and everything with rosemary these past few months.  I accidentally bought large bunches of rosemary (twice!) only to come home and discover I already had a large bunch in the freezer.  Therefore, I was saddled with three large bunches of rosemary and determined to not let them go to waste.  I’ve made lemon-rosemary chicken, rosemary shortbread cookies, rosemary focaccia, and these scones.  If you are looking for a scone recipe that balances sweet and savory, try this one.  You can savor them in the morning with a cup of coffee, or make them the accompaniment to your next bowl of soup.

Happy 2015, Everyone!

DSC_5240

Orange-Raisin-Rosemary Scones
Adapted from The New York Times

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Freshly grated zest of 1 orange or tangerine
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1/4 lb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup raisins
Egg wash (2 large eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, for sprinkling

1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, or use a nonstick pan.
2.  Toss dry ingredients, zest and rosemary together in a large bowl.  Using your fingertips or  pastry cutter, rub butter and flour mixture together just until butter pieces are the size of peas and covered with flour.
3.  Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in egg and cream.  Mix ingredients together by hand until a shaggy dough is formed.
4.  Turn out onto a floured surface and gently mix in raisins, kneading dough and raisins together just until incorporated.
5.  Pat dough into a 3/4-to 1-inch-thick rectangle.  Using a round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out rounds and place them on baking sheet, spaced out.
6.  Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar.
7.  Bake until light golden brown, about 22 minutes; rotate the pan front to back about halfway through.
8.  Let scones cool slightly on the baking sheet.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutella Scones

DSC_4843I was feeling very discombobulated last week.  Serving on jury duty in the middle of Long Island meant I had a two-hour commute every morning and evening.  I would leave home at 7 a.m. and not return until almost 7 p.m.  For some people, this might describe a normal day.  Regardless, it is a long day and doesn’t leave much time, if any, for self-care, exercise, etc.  Up until my first week of jury duty, I had been cherishing the fact that I was finally making self-care a routine part of my day.  I recently experienced a mental shift:  instead of dreading yoga, I was looking forward to going to classes twice a week.  So two weeks of not having time for this (or any exercise) left me feeling very frazzled and anxious.

By the time I got home at the end of last week, I realized I was experiencing emotions I hadn’t had in almost 6 weeks.  Nothing seemed to sate my overwhelming feelings—I wanted to eat garbage and didn’t care what it tasted like.  I tried a few bites of several different things but nothing seemed to fill the void.  That should have been my first sign that something was off.  I felt like a foreigner in my own body.  I thought some mindless television might do the trick, but I tried a few of my favorite sitcoms and that didn’t numb the pain either.  It’s a very helpless sensation when you can’t figure out what it is you need in a specific moment.  It’s like trying to figure out what a crying baby needs, but you’re the baby and you feel like you should know what your 38-year-old self needs or wants.  I eventually curled up in bed with a book and decided to take some deep breaths to quiet my mind.
DSC_4819I reminded myself that the crazy two weeks were over and that my normal schedule would resume next week.  I really wanted to beat myself up for feeling so thrown-off after just two weeks of not having any free time.  But I stopped myself.  Given the circumstances, I think I did a pretty good job of staying centered.  I ate healthy and focused on maintaining a positive outlook despite the horrible things I was listening to every day in the courtroom.  I went to yoga class Saturday morning and, man, was it hard.  I felt a lot of anger doing many of the poses, but I told myself I was detoxifying all of the feelings from the previous two weeks.  I let the anger rise to the surface and then watched it disappear.  And that is one of the things I love so much about yoga:  it forces you to stay present and not react to feelings as they arise.  By the time class was over, I felt reset and ready for the weekend.
DSC_4824I love Nutella, and believe it would taste good on or in almost any baked good, so I was eager to try this recipe.  It’s another one from the Baked cookbook.  I’ve had much success with the recipes of theirs I’ve tried thus far, so I was confident that this would be yet another recipe victory.  However, I thought these were just mediocre.  Although, my disclaimer is that I’m not a huge scone fan so that might be part of it.  Mr. K, on the other hand, loves these scones.  He thinks I am crazy for giving them a so-so rating.  Perhaps they just needed to be slathered with a bit more Nutella and I would have come around on these.  Let me know what you think!
DSC_4827Nutella Scones
Adapted from Baked Explorations

Yield:  6 to 8 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Nutella

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place the rack in the center.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until combined.
3.  Add the butter.  Use your fingertips to rub it into the flour until the butter is pea size and the mixture is coarse.
4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and cream.
5.  Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together.  Gently and briefly knead the dough with your hands.  Add the toasted hazelnuts and knead gently  to incorporate.
6.  Flatten the dough into a rectangle approximately 6 to 12 inches and spread 1/4 cup of the Nutella on top in a crisscross pattern.  Roll the dough up to make a cylinder about 6 inches long, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4 inches high.  Do not overwork the dough.
7.  Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
8.  Bake the scones for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.  Do not overbake.
9.  Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely.

Assemble the Nutella Scones
1.  Heat the remaining 1/4 cup Nutella in a microwave until pourable, about 10 seconds on high.
2.  Pierce the tops of the scones a few times with a fork.  Use a spoon to drip the warm Nutella in a zigzag pattern over the tops of the hot scones.
3.  Transfer them to a refrigerator to set for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.

Savory Ham and Gruyère Muffins

DSC_4211I’m enjoying silence more.  Just a few months ago, the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts scared the living daylight out of me.  I was the person who constantly had a podcast going, music on, or the television on at any given time when I wasn’t working.  I was desperate to constantly distract myself because the fear of listening to the negative self-talk in my brain was just too painful.  At some point, I think I just decided that the constant distraction was exhausting in and of itself, and I found myself wanting to sit quietly with my thoughts and see if I could learn to not beat myself up.

I have been allowing myself to do more things around the apartment without distractions.  I get ready in the morning in silence, I wash the dishes steeped in quietness, and I cook quietly more times than not, encouraging myself to enjoy my own company.  Does that sounds strange?  Maybe it does for those of you who are fortunate enough to not know what it’s like to have a ruthless foe in your head.  But I think most people can relate.  We are our toughest critics, and sitting alone with my thoughts used to feel daunting.
DSC_4187I feel like I’ve taken a giant leap forward.  Of course, I’m sure at some point I will take two steps back.  But knowing I don’t have to have my nose buried in a book or have ear buds in my ears at all times feels very liberating.

I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately and so I figured it was time to add some carbs to my plate.  I’m a sucker for ham & cheese melts/paninis, so I thought this would be a good recipe to try to change things up a bit.  Although they are technically muffins, I would label them as a cross between biscuits and muffins.  They would make a great accompaniment to any soup or salad.  It’s a dreary rainy day here in NYC today, so treat yourself to a warm savory ham and Gruyere muffin.
DSC_4188Savory Ham and Gruyère Muffins
Adapted from The New York Times

Yield: 12-15 muffins

Unsalted butter, softened, for brushing pan
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil
6 ounces baked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

1.  Center a rack in the oven and heat to 350 degrees.  Generously brush a muffin pan with butter.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk flour with baking powder, salt and pepper.
3.  In a medium bowl, lightly whisk eggs, then whisk in milk and olive oil.
4.  Using a rubber spatula, fold wet ingredients into dry until barely mixed.  Fold in ham and cheese.
5.  Using large cookie scoop, place a scoop of batter into each muffin cup.
6.  Bake until golden, about 15 minutes,  and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs attached.
7.  Transfer to a rack to cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Release muffins from pan to continue cooling.

Homemade Nutella

DSC_4451Mr. K and I have been trying to conceive for almost a year now.  Anyone who has struggled with this knows that it can be an emotional rollercoaster.  At our highest point, we were ecstatic with the news that I was officially pregnant (I miscarried six weeks later), and our lowest point was my 3-day hospitalization from a procedure that went horribly wrong.  And there have been many numb days in between.  When we first started trying, we were extremely confident that it wouldn’t take us long to become pregnant.  I’m sure that’s what everyone thinks in the beginning.  And although we remain cautiously optimistic (my husband likes using that phrase), we have had many discussions about what our lives might look like if we aren’t successful:  We’ll travel more!  We can move to another country!  We’ll get a dog!  Or a cat!  And yet.
DSC_4415And yet I can’t help but wonder about everything we will miss out on if it turns out we can’t have kids.  I know, I know, there are pros and cons to both lifestyles.  And part of me is still scared to death to have children.  I have read so many articles about parents being less happy than childless couples, marriages being strained due to kids, and financial stress due to all of the added expenses of raising a child.  And yet.  You can’t fight biology.  I want to have a child.  I was listening to a Slate podcast on parenting last week (iTunes started downloading this podcast onto my computer a few weeks ago and I didn’t question it) and one of the hosts was talking about her nightly routine.  She stated that between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. it was complete chaos in her house.  Dinner has to be made, homework has to be supervised, baths have to be given, stories have to be read, and then bedtime arrives.  As stressful as all of it sounded, I found myself wanting that chaos in my life.  I thought to myself, “What are all of us childless adults doing with our time?”  It all just seemed so pointless without kids in the picture.  Ok, maybe not pointless.  But I definitely have days when it all feels meaningless.  There’s just something about living for another human being that sounds so freeing.  You can’t be stuck in your head all day long when you have a child to take care of.  As Louis C.K. once said, “There’s no time for depression when you have kids.”  Ok, there must be a little time.
DSC_4419Why have I never made homemade Nutella before?  It’s sooooo easy, dear readers!  I have loved Nutella ever since first discovering it while studying abroad in England.  I think I’ve eaten my weight in banana-Nutella crepes over the years.  But guess what?  This version is EVEN BETTER.  Without additives and chemicals masking the flavor, the milk chocolate and hazelnuts are much more intense.  And it doesn’t have that waxy residue that the store-bought stuff has.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, this would make a nice homemade gift.  Your Valentine will be forever grateful.
DSC_4432Homemade Nutella
Adapted from The Splendid Table

1 cup hazelnuts
12 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they’ve browned a little and the skins are blistered a little.
3.  Wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove as much loose skin as possible. Let cool completely.
4.  Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over gently simmering water.  Stir until smooth.  Let cool completely.
5.  In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they form a paste.  Add the oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and continue processing until the mixture is as smooth as possible.
6.  Add the melted chocolate and blend well.
7.  Place into airtight container.  Mixture will keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Banana French Toast With Streusel Topping

DSC_4409It was inevitable.  I finally contracted the winter cold/flu that’s been going around.  I forgot how much an illness can really put you out of commission.  I might actually make it out of my pajamas today, but don’t hold me to it.  Besides the usual muscle aches, chills, and runny nose, I’ve also had a nice low-grade headache for the past few days.  It’s all very manageable as long as I allow myself to lay down every few hours and regroup.  The one plus side to all this is that I’ve noticed my brain has cut me some slack.  Things appear to have slowed down the last few days.  My anxiety has quietly tiptoed out the door for the time being, and I don’t feel nearly as distracted as I usually do.  Have you ever juiced or fasted for several days?  If I remember correctly, the same feeling envelops you when you partake in a multi-day cleanse; it’s almost trance-like.  Of course, I’m also very low energy, so there’s that.  But this illness-induced-Zen-state feels kind of refreshing (if you don’t count the constant nose-blowing).  Being as that January is my least favorite month, this isn’t a bad way to go out.  But let’s not kid ourselves, I eagerly await February’s arrival.
DSC_4390I’m not nearly as obsessed with French toast as I am with pancakes However, I do still enjoy French toast, albeit usually stuffed or topped with something.  In other words, it needs a lot of bells and whistles in order for me to enjoy it.  I once made a cranberry cream cheese-stuffed French toast on Christmas morning.  It was rich and decadent, and received my stamp of approval.  I dug around for a recipe that was similar to the phenomenal banana-stuffed French toast I used to always order at Zoë in SoHo.  The restaurant is long gone, but that French toast would cause me to roll my eyes and moan with every bite.
DSC_4398Of course, you can swap out the bananas for your favorite fruit, but I think bananas pair really well with French toast.  And the caramelization that you get on the bananas is key.  If you’re feeling festive, add a splash of rum to the bananas when you caramelize them.  This will enhance the flavor.  Likewise, if you don’t have almonds on hand, you can always use pecans, hazelnuts, etc.  In fact, I think pecans might be a better pairing with this dish.  Let me know if you try it!
DSC_4400Banana French Toast With Streusel Topping
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  6 servings

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large ripe bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 1-pound unsliced loaf egg bread, ends trimmed, bread cut into 6 slices (each about 1-1/2 inches thick)
2 cups milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
6 large eggs
2-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water and stir until sugar dissolves.  Continue stirring until mixture is foamy, about 2 minutes.
2.  Add bananas; cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to small bowl; cool.  (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead.  Cover and chill.)
3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk milk, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl to blend.
4.  Pour into large glass baking dish.  Place bread in egg mixture; let soak 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
5.  Place almonds in shallow bowl.  Carefully remove bread from egg mixture and coat both sides with almonds.  Place bread on heavy large baking sheet.
6.  Place cooled, sliced bananas on top of bread slices.
7.  Mix brown sugar, oats, flour and remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon in medium bowl.  Add remaining 1/4 cup butter and rub in, using fingertips, until moist clumps form.  Sprinkle topping over bread.
8.  Bake French toast until topping is golden brown and filling is hot, about 25 minutes.  Transfer toast to plates.  Serve hot with maple syrup.

Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins

DSC_4057Now that we are deep into the throes of winter, I have to force myself out of my apartment in order to stave off depression.  Some weeks are better than others, and when I do force myself out, I am usually glad that I did and try to make a mental note of my high spirits afterwards.  Friday night was one of those nights.  Mr. K and I were invited to dinner and an Off-Off Broadway play by some friends of ours.  It was a rainy night but I was actually excited about leaving the apartment for once.  I figured even if the play was subpar, I could get out of my head and we would enjoy our friend’s company.

We had a fantastic time.  The couple that we went out with just got married a few months ago; it’s great to see people so in love.  The pizza joint (that I chose) was pretty bad but we all had a great time sharing stories.  Mr. K and I are pondering moving to Southern California in the next few years, and since this couple grew up there, we got some good pointers about the best places to live.  The play was excellent.  If any of you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  Grounded is the name of it and it’s playing at the SoHo Rep.  It’s about a female fighter pilot who goes back to work after having a baby only to discover that the rules of war have changed.  Fighter pilots now fly drones remotely from a location in Las Vegas and work 8-hour shifts like most Americans.  The play highlights the complexities of modern warfare and how it affects soldiers.  A remarkable but sad fact I learned was that the rate of PTSD has actually increased with pilots that operate drones.
DSC_4036Walking home Friday night, I took inventory of how I felt mentally.  Although tired (Mr. K and I are not usually out later than 11 pm on any given night), I felt invigorated and joyful.  Someone once told me that they liken the importance of sleep to charging your phone every night.  Your brain needs a break and a recharge at night in order to operate fully during the day.  My brain must operate the same way when it comes to intellectual and emotional stimulation.  Without it, I seem to operate at 50% capacity.

The tricky thing about depression, though, is that even though you may know intellectually that you need stimulation from the outside world, your emotions will try to convince you otherwise.  Vitality and liveliness appear to be unreachable when depression rears its head.  And yet, vigor and energy is exactly what you need.  I remember my therapist once telling me that the secret to managing depression was to simply force yourself out of the house and the happy endorphins would follow.  If you wait for joy and enthusiasm to appear in order to leave your house, you will wait indefinitely.  The cart needs to come before the horse, essentially.
DSC_4043 A friend gave me the Baked cookbook several years ago and I am slowly working my way through it.  Baked is a popular bakery in Brooklyn and they make insanely good desserts.  I thought it was time to try another recipe from their first cookbook, so I chose  Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins.  I haven’t tasted too many savory muffins over the course of my life, but of the ones that I’ve had, I’ve liked.  Liked, I say.  Not loved.  However, I am a sucker for all things pumpkin (except pumpkin pie) and I thought the combination of pumpkin, cheddar and black pepper sounded curious.  After taking my first bite, I was flabbergasted by how delicious these muffins were.  They are definitely on the sweeter side because of the pumpkin, but the cheddar and black pepper are nice foils for the sweetness and add an interesting level of flavor.  I immediately had visions of eating these alongside every future pot of soup I made throughout the winter.  And so far, I have.  Don’t be scared of the black pepper.  It’s not too strong by any means.  The muffins have a very similar texture to biscuits, which made me love them even more.
DSC_4048Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins
Adapted from Baked:  New Frontiers in Baking

Yield:  12 Muffins

1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1-1/4 cups (about 4 oz.) grated sharp cheddar
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Spray each cup of a standard 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray and use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly along the bottom and up the sides of each cup.
3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sour cream/yogurt.
4.  Add the eggs and butter and whisk until combined.
5.  In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and brown sugar.
6.  Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the well, and fold until just combined.  Fold in three-quarters of the cheese.
7.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups.  Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and the pumpkin seeds on top of the muffins.
8.  Bake them for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let the muffin pan cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out the muffins.  Serve them warm.