Showing posts with label pumpkin bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pumpkin bread. Show all posts

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Paleo Pumpkin Bread (Grain, gluten, and sugar-free)

Image credit: Gaia Online
Several days after my last blog post in October, I woke up with my eyes nearly swollen shut and feeling extremely dehydrated.  I managed to drink several glasses of water but the skin around my lids remained pink, almost as if I were a stuffed panda toy made for a little girl with pink rather than black patches around my eyes.

It was a dry fall and I used to have allergies to tree pollen so I assumed that the excessive leaf dust and leaf blowing in the area was aggravating my hypersensitive immune system. I was busy at work and not sleeping very much. I'd experienced unusual eye swelling before throughout my life, usually in the fall, and it always subsided after a day or two.

However, the pink didn't go away.  It remained and the skin around my eyelids grew thick and leathery--like pink plastic pleather.  I was too busy to go to the doctor at the time, plus I am completely petrified of legitimate members of the medical profession (although not, alas, WebMD).  The last time I went to a dermatologist before the Pink Panda incident was when I had to have a mole looked at--the mole was nothing and faded away, but the memory of the blonde Russian doctor with the Betty Boop figure remained fresh.

My eyelids began to take on a character of their own. I tried every home remedy on the Internet--washing with baby shampoo and dandruff shampoo were popular suggestions. Not eating dairy. Taking antihistamines for allergies; taking a decongestant for a cold. But mostly, I just applied hot compresses and hoped for the best.

People began to notice. "Your eyes are REALLY red."  "What the hell happened to you?" Eventually, I began to feel extremely self-conscious about my appearance. I don't consider myself a particularly attractive woman, but at least I aim for a 'normal' and a 'not particularly offensive and scary look.' Weird rashes definitely put someone in the category of 'someone you don't want to get really close to.'

And of course, I played Dr. Google. Even though I know I shouldn't.  Even though I should totally block WebMD from my computer FOREVER AND EVER. Skin cancer?  Blepharitis?  I kept getting pink eye links even though my eyes were fine, it was just the skin around the lids that was giving me hell.  "What is this creeping...crud?"  was the phrase that kept going through my mind. 

So I analyzed this...why DID the words creeping crud seem to pop up in my brain?  I remembered it was the weird skin condition of a girl in a Judy Blume book I loved as a kid.  And I always feared I would have scoliosis like Deenie.  Instead, I ended up the the girl the tragic beauty queen Deenie befriends after Deenie is forced to wear a brace to correct her deformity...the ugly girl with the 'creeping crud' called eczema.

Sometimes my eye skin would exfoliate, shedding repulsive flakes of skin despite my best efforts to moisturize. Sometimes the roughness would seem to go away, only to return.  After a month, I finally made an appointment.  I selected the dermatologist mainly because 1. he took my insurance and 2. he got his medical degree from a school in Israel, which I have heard has some of the finest dermatological treatment in the world (all the burns they deal with over there, you know). I figured he must have seen some pretty crazy shit over there and so he can certainly fix my face.

This dermatologist was a rather odd combination of brusque, efficient, and flamboyant: his lack of interpersonal skills, intelligence, and theatricality struck me as an odd combination of House and Lady Gaga.

"Eyes?"  he said, by way of introduction.
"Yes, I--"
I smiled.  I felt so vindicated--for once, I diagnosed myself correctly.
He spent about two minutes with me. With laser-like precision he grilled me about possible changes in the products I used and my cosmetics.  Fortunately, the rash afflicted me at a time when I was so busy I hadn't even had time to dye my hair, so there were no obvious culprits and I don't wear makeup.

At first, the doctor seemed a bit suspicious of me, as if I might be 'forgetting' to mention I was using mascara from 1996, but seeing my obvious low-maintenance style, he  prescribed a miracle cream that cost more than a designer handbag but miraculously restored my skin within three days.

The girl at the pharmacy even had the same dermatologist.  "He's great!  He spent like five minutes looking at me and totally cured the acne I had been suffering for YEARS. AWE-SOME"

For a bit, I was confident and hearing angels in the background but then the rash started to return.  I reapplied the cream but I was scared enough when I went back to the dermatologist for the follow-up visit to ask for the 'patch' test he had suggested.

A skin patch test involves wearing three large pieces of tape that are studded with pinpricks of various substances which are common allergens.  It's like wearing a piece of clothing with three, giant itchy labels you can't take off.  When he slapped them on I thought I might have unintentionally found my own, personal version of dermatological hell.

"Does anything seem inflamed?" I asked him when I returned to have the patches removed and 'read.'  A brief beat--he seemed amused by my word choice. Then he told me I was allergic to nickle. More grilling: no, I don't have piercings or use glittery makeup. Which means: may be a false positive or 2. I am allergic to nickle but it had nothing to do with a rash.

So if I really want to find out what caused the Creeping Crud, I have to go see an allergist.

Desperate times call for crazy desperate measures so right now I'm pretty much avoiding anything even associated with triggering an allergic reaction. Even dairy.

I've made two versions of this bread: both are sugar-free, grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free and despite that long list of 'freebies,' they are surprisingly good. Both versions also relatively low in calories and carbohydrates.  So even if you haven't been suffering from freakish skin conditions recently and are looking for something a little healthier to 'detox' from your holiday sugar cookie, wine, and cheese consumption, this is a good place to start.

Paleo Pumpkin Bread

(adapted from Elana's Pantry)
--makes 1 mini-loaf, approximately 3 generous servings--


1 cup almond flour (approximately 3.5 ounces--I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Elana used a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cloves--I replaced the nutmeg with ginger and the cloves with allspice.  You could also use a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Some of the reviewers found the bread to be too spicy so you might want to 'adjust to taste,' depending on the potency of your spices

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (slightly over 4 ounces)
3 large, beaten eggs


1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Sift  almond flour, salt, baking soda, spices in a bowl.  Mix pumpkin and eggs.

3. Pour into a MINI loaf pan lined with parchment. Bake for 35-45 minutes.


*This bread does NOT rise.  Fill the mini pan to the top.

*This is a pretty forgiving (i.e., idiot-proof) recipe.  The second time I made this bread and got nearly identical results using less almond flour  (approximately 2 ounces or slightly over 1/2 a cup) and only 2 eggs

*The bread is best after being allowed to cool for at least an hour or better yet overnight. The first slice of the first version was slightly eggy, but the day after this flavor subsided.  I still liked it in all its incarnations.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

 It's that time of year.  The kids are going back to school and you don't feel guilty buying the big bags of candy corn that have been sitting on the shelves since mid-August.  It's pumpkin season.  Perhaps not picking pumpkin season yet, but you can definitely justify baking with pumpkin.

 Because it's so easy to use canned pumpkin, I've always considered pumpkin to be more of an all-year-round food, but there is no doubt that interest in pumpkin-based desserts begins to grow in September.  At this time, most people aren't willing to make a full pie, but pumpkin breads and muffins somehow feel more acceptable once days are in the 80s rather than the 90s and Starbucks begins selling its pumpkin spice lattes and muffins.  I don't even drink Starbucks coffee but I still know that they have begun promoting their fall-flavored menu items.  I have picked this up through some form of cultural osmosis, just like I learned that everyone has to have pumpkin pie and turkey on Thanksgiving.

It actually wasn't until I started reading food-related blogs and message boards online that I learned that not everyone likes pumpkin. I loved pumpkin pie as a kid but pretty much the only desserts I didn't like were Smarties, Jell-O, those little dots on wax paper, and strawberry ice cream. Because it was an integral part of the Thanksgiving meal, pumpkin pie was a reliable dessert. No one could deny me pumpkin and call themselves an American.  I had a right to expect pumpkin pie. Truly, pumpkin pie is a far more all-American dessert than apple pie, and if you've ever gone to Europe and tried to order pumpkin pie, you know what I mean.

I've since learned that some people dread pumpkin season.   I don't quite understand that. Not only is pumpkin a wonderful vehicle for graham crackers, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, allspice, and other homey flavors, it's also one of the few dessert ingredients that is high in vitamins and low in antioxidants.

But then again it's almost impossible to understand how other people experience taste. I could never understand as a kid how anyone could truly not want dessert--and the more frosting on the cake, the better.  Now I don't understand how people can hate vegetables--pumpkin included. I suppose that's why picky eaters, people who are gluten-free, vegetarians, vegans, teetotalers, and people with food allergies and intolerances are viewed with such hostility. No one can REALLY believe that you don't care for their particular passion.  It's like saying you hate someone's favorite kind of music.

One thing I have noticed about pumpkin recipes are their variety.  While most muffin recipes have a certain homogeneity to them, pumpkin recipes are like snowflakes. Every one is slightly different. Because pumpkin is so moist, it's very forgiving and brings out the creativity in cooks, from the standard Libby's pumpkin recipe off the can to take-your-pick from the All Recipes database.

This is just a good, easy pumpkin recipe. One of its great virtues is that  it uses a whole 15-ounce (small) can of packed pumpkin, so you aren't irritated by any 'leftover' that you have to freeze. (Who really uses the half-cup of leftover pumpkin puree when making pumpkin muffins?).

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins 

--yields 18-24 large or 24-30 small muffins--


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 small can (15 ounces) of pumpkin puree
2 large, beaten eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line muffin tin with desired number of liners.

2. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt together.

3. Incorporate pumpkin, eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla.  Fold in dry mixture, followed by raisins.

4. Bake 30 minutes for small muffins, 35-40 minutes for large muffins, until toothpick can be extracted clean.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf (Vegan): Darkness meets light

The winter solstice is the darkest day of the year, scientifically speaking. If you are a parent, of course, the darkest day of the year is the first full day of Christmas vacation.  For some, tax day, April 15th looms large and dark.  For me, Thanksgiving rates high as the darkest day of the year (and I am sure many turkeys feel the same way).

However, today is also the first full day of Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates the persistence of light even in darkness.

The weather outside is warm, and pleasantly spring-like, but the coming solstice is inescapable. So celebrating with some dark, dense chocolate bread seems appropriate. I'm not a big fan of the 4pm darkness, not since I was a tot and found it vaguely exciting to see my digital clock illuminated for as long as possible before being forced into bed.

However, in the region where I live, it's pretty much solstice 'lite.' I had a friend who was from a rural area in Finland, and she always talked about the oppressive darkness of the country when she visited her relatives for Christmas.  "Basically, we drink to forget that we can't see the sun," she said. She was almost translucently pale, the only person I've ever met whom I would describe as having a strawberry-and-cream complexion.

I've always felt an affinity for literature written by Scandinavians and Russians.  I even took Russian for a semester in college, but at the time, the brooding, self-loathing introspection that I affected which made me so much like the characters of Chekhov didn't really lend itself to learning a dense, difficult language.

I'd like to think I'd have the discipline to learn Russian now, if I didn't have so many adult obligations, but to make this bread doesn't take a lot of discipline at all.  I made it for a vegan friend of mine. But because it's so easy and made with no dairy and oil, you could even pass it off as something nice to have on Hanukkah.  To be really traditional, of course, you'd have to deep fry it.

But I don't suggest that, because this is one of my healthier holiday recipes. Pumpkin and unsweetened cocoa are actually full of antioxidants (and Vitamin A).

Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf

1 15 ounce (small) can of pureed pumpkin
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons boiling water (measure the water after boiling to avoid loss of volume by steam)


1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Oil and flour a 8x4 or 9X5 loaf pan.
2. Mix pumpkin, oil, and vanilla in one bowl.
3. Sift flour, cocoa, sugar, spices, and baking soda together
4. Bring water to a boil. Alternate spooning in boiling water, dry mixture, and pumpkin mixture, as outlined here, in my original 'inspiration' for the recipe (I changed quite a bit)
5. When mixture is incorporated, pour in loaf pan and bake for 70-90 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean.  Cool for at least an hour before extracting from the pan and slicing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Black Friday!

The first responsibility of a good food blogger to her readership is to post new recipes.

This creates a dilemma around the holidays, given that the cardinal rule of special occasion cooking is thus: NEVER try a new recipe the day before an event.  So for Thanksgiving, I decided to bake three 'tried and tested' loaves, and to try only one new, but safe-ish pumpkin bread recipe as a compromise.

I made some of my foolproof buttery cornbread and sweet potato bread.

The pumpkin bread is in the foreground, and my easy molasses bread is strewn behind it.

I suppose that the Hollywood ending to my Thanksgiving tale of baking should be that my audience rolled on the floor in a cornbread-laced ecstasy.

But truly, my family has never 'done' Thanksgiving well. Thanksgiving is supposed to be this (overheard at my yoga studio): "I can't wait to have Aunt Tillie's stuffed mushrooms!  I only get to eat them once a year!"

My Thanksgiving memories are more random. Getting a chocolate turkey-shaped lollypop after leaving my favorite restaurant with my mom, dad, and grandmother as a child (only my grandmother ordered turkey, which I attribute to her heavy smoking).  I did, uncharacteristically order a traditional turkey dinner one year at another restaurant, the West End Manor (a darkly-lit Italian restaurant with red vinyl seats, Broadway tunes playing in the background, and smoky, from-scratch tomato sauce I couldn't appreciate at age seven). I didn't eat the turkey but I felt I had 'pulled one over on my mother' because the dinner contained sweet potatoes with marshmallows and real, crunchy cranberry sauce.  Like eating s'mores and pie, even before dessert! Eating out was way cooler than going to my aunt's or uncle's, which meant mandatory turkey and weird, hard Pepperidge Farm cookies rather than pies baked on-premises at the restaurant.

I also remember wearing a crushed brown velvet dress that made me feel both seasonal and beautiful one year to Thanksgiving dinner, and finally learning how to 'latch-hook' a rug from a kit while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Of course, the rug's design was of a rainbow spiraling from a bright red heart.  I am a child of the 80s, after all.

I did ride earlier in the day on Thanksgiving, and I firmly believe that every day one rides is a good day. So, while you won't get any traditional, perfect Thanksgiving memories on this blog, I can offer this recipe for
pumpkin bread.

Of course, Thanksgiving is over and you may be pumpkin-ed out.  But you can always bake a loaf for a quick breakfast before you camp out in front of a Wall-Mart.  Or perhaps Wall Street, wherever your political proclivities may be.  Like I said, it's a very forgiving recipe.  Unlike the baker.

Although I am genuinely thankful that my problems are so minor and that my angst about my family is so mercifully trivial.

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large beaten eggs
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil or butter and flour two 8x4 inch loaf pans
2. Mix sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin and vanilla together. Sift flour, spices, salt, and baking powder. Spoon the dry mixture into the wet.  Fold in nuts and raisins.
3. Bake for approximately 1 hour until a toothpick can be extracted clean.  Cool for 10-15 minutes before removing from pans.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prize-Winning Whole Wheat Pumpkin Crumb Bread

The guy who runs my NCAA basketball 'pool' is an alumni of the University of Kentucky, and he likes to point out that his school only hangs the titles of its winning banners from the tournament. By his logic, if you're not number one, you are second best. And I can understand that sentiment.  Because nothing feels worse than 'winning' a crummy little ribbon that honors your participation in a sporting event. Those little ribbons just scream: "you're such a loser we don't even think you can take losing like a champion, so we're giving you this bookmark ribbon to assuage your fragile little ego." As the recipient of many such ribbons, I know what I'm talking about.

I've won a few small academic scholarships in my life, first prize in a magazine poetry contest when I was thirteen, some Broadway tickets in an Internet competition, but I wouldn't describe myself as particularly skilled or lucky.  I've had some good luck at local fairs--as a kid I won some of those medium-sized stuffed animals by putting my coin (back then it was a quarter or a dime) on the right number, name, or letter.  But the best thing I ever won wasn't for myself.

I was seventeen and it was the last time I would attend my local fair before leaving for college. It was also the last day of the fair, so many of the booths had pretty poor pickings when it came to prizes--I put a coin, without thinking, on the table of a booth that was showcasing t-shirts for sports teams.  The ticker of the wheel spun wildly, then slowed and slowed...

"I won," I said, not even caring that I didn't see the names of any of my favorite teams on the shirts. I picked a Duke basketball t-shirt, because a friend of mine loved the team, and that was better, I thought, than selecting the shirt of a rival of one of the teams I did root for (even then, when I cared much less about sports, I wasn't going to pick a Red Sox or Mets shirt).

Like most New Jersey teens of that era, my friend and I naturally gravitated to the Inkwell after the fair.  The Inkwell is a coffee shop located by the Jersey shore that used to sell mugs of oddly sweet and spicy yet weak coffee festooned with piles of real whipped cream.

Its main attractions were that it was so dingy and unsanitary no adult would ever set foot in it, and it was open all night.  I saw my friend, the Duke fan, on her way out, as I was walking in.  She told me that her father had died, after a long struggle with lung cancer.

I knew of course, immediately why I had won the shirt and gave it to her.  It obviously isn't a traditional thing to give to someone who has experienced a loss, but it felt right--especially since her father was a teacher and a coach, a limber and athletic man, the kind of dedicated and generous coach who could actually do the things he asked his team to do on the field himself. (Today, incidentally, is the anniversary of his passing).

So you understand why I love fairs, and when the Monmouth County Fair had a baking competition this year, I just had to enter.  I won third place in the 'quick bread' category for this entry.  I guess that makes me the 'second best loser' according to University of Kentucky logic.

But if that cute little bunny is second-best of the bunnies, I don't want to be first!

I feel that to call this 'prize-winning' pumpkin bread, it should have some secret ingredients, like ketchup or ginger ale.  But it doesn't.  It's just good bread, and sometimes that is enough.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Crumb Bread


2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 large beaten eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
15 ounce canned pumpkin (1 small-sized standard can)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 8 or 9-inch loaf pans
2. Mix the ingredients together for the topping until crumbly, set aside
3. For the bread, sift the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and sugars together
4. Mix the eggs, melted butter, pumpkin, water, and vanilla extract together
5. Slowly spoon the dry ingredients into the wet, until fully incorporated
6. Lightly flour the walnuts and cranberries to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the bread
7. Fold in the dried fruit and nuts
8. Pour the batter into the two loaf pans, top with the crumble mixture (there may be some left over)
9. Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted, clean. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from loaf pan and transferring to a cooling rack.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vegan, gluten-free pumpkin bread for everyone

My job as a camp counselor for an academic camp was not the worst job I ever had.

However, it was surely my lowest-paid labor, on a per-hour basis. 

I know if you're a middle management type with an MBA you believe that only inspiring mission statements really motivate drone-level workers to perform at a high level, not extra pay.  But I beg to differ.

As the camp was 'academic' rather than sports-oriented, as well as taking care of a tribe of eleven 12-to-13-year-old hormone-addled girls, I also had to teach creative writing classes to groups of about 20 campers at a time. I was nineteen. My schedule at Camp Smartypants was something like this:

6:30am: Get up.  Review morning lesson plans.  Make myself look presentable.
7:00am: Rouse charges. Realize the sad wisdom that teenager's brains are oriented on a later time frame than adult's brains.
7:30am: Pry hairdryer from the last teenage girl's white-knuckled hands.
8:00am: Supervise breakfast. Make sure quasi-anorexic teenage female charges eat said breakfast. Watch the rest put a mixture of grape juice and orange juice in their Lucky Charms or pour mountains of powdered sugar on cartoon-shaped pancakes.
8:30am-9:30am: Office duties. Make coffee for camp directors (they always complained that it was too strong when I served it). Sort mail (pre-Internet, there were lots of pink envelopes encrusted with stickers for various campers).
9:30am-10:30am: Supervise study hall. Listen to daily recitation from angelic-looking mildly autistic boy who tells me that he can read an entire Lord of the Rings book in an hour, and does so every study hall. (Not that my social skills were any better when I was his age, incidentally). Prep for the class I was teaching.
10:30am-11:30am: Teach writing class. Try to explain to students that not everything they write is genius and revising is a Good Thing.
11:30am-12:30pm: Lunch.
12:30pm-1:30pm: Teaching second class.
1:30pm-2:30pm: Free period, usually spent getting supplies with my own money for camper's birthday celebrations, organizing materials for my classes, or doing laundry.  Occasionally running on my pale, pasty legs around the river.
2:30pm-3:30pm: Campers' supervised free period. Of course, I got to supervise the snack bar, which meant I was basically selling the sugary fuel that would make my life a living hell for the next hour.
3:30pm-4:30pm: Second supervised study hall.
4:30pm-5:30pm: Make sure my charges were ready for dinner.
5:30pm-6:30pm: Dinner.
6:30pm-7:00pm: Get ready for evening activity.
7:00pm-8:30pm: Evening activity and 'decompression' (for kids).
8:30pm-9:30pm: Get ready for bed.
10:00pm-1:00am: Sit in the hall making sure kids don't bust out and have sex with campers of the opposite gender in the nearby dorms.

This was the schedule 7 days a week. Every 10 days I would get a day off. Because I am not a 'team player' I immediately left the campus on those days.  However, counselors who were 'team players' would stick around just in case they were needed.

Although I have a half-sister, I was raised as an only child. I selected my college specifically because I could have a single room. (I shared my personal room with another counselor, but at least I had the bottom bunk).

After about 2 weeks of this schedule, I looked like Christopher Walken at the end of The Deer Hunter.  I actually saw an interview with Walken who said he used his camp memories as the 'dark place' within himself when shooting the Russian Roulette scenes. Ah, Christopher--you are a kindred spirit.

The one 'comfort place' in such situations where you don't have a moment to yourself, and you know that one of the other counselors--a former counselor at Camp Smartypants--lost his virginity there at age 12 and you will be strung up if this happens if one of your girls sneak out and do the same--is food.  

However, camp food, despite the high cost of tuition and the low rate of pay ($1,200 before taxes for every three-week session back in the go-go 1990s) was beyond abysmal. Microwaved pancakes, vats of sugary commercial cereal for breakfast, square tater tots and hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch, and mystery chicken for dinner with iceberg lettuce was the daily fare.  One healthy and athletic girl said: "I can't LIVE like this, I will be 300 pounds on this crappy food." I hate to use gender stereotypes, but the male teenage counselors merely complained that the portions were too small.

After a week living off of Special K, white hot dog buns spread with mustard and tomato slices, and undressed iceberg-laden salad--and store-bought, pre-warmed cookies (of course)...I was a desperate woman.  

I should note that Camp Smartypants was held at a university, and another camp was held on the same premises--a ballet camp. Waif-like reeds wafted through the trees, along with Camp Smartypants' sturdier campers lugging backpacks filled with textbooks and angst.

The section for the ballet camp in the cafeteria was roped off, and one day, I blundered in.

For breakfast, there were individual berry salads, topped with a dusting of granola, chilled Light n' Lively yogurts in unusual flavors (like Pina Colada) and enormous bran muffins stuffed with raisins. Of course, being dancers, all of the girls were simply drinking tea and sharing an orange amongst themselves--one per table.

I love bran muffins!  And trust me, after living off of white bread, they were necessary!

Lunch was mozzarella and basil salad, in a delicate, ballerina-sized portion, coupled with a light whipped chocolate mousse and raspberries. I've always believed that if you act like you belong somewhere, no one will notice you, so I confidently selected my chef's salad with chopped eggs and rosemary-toasted croutons with flaked tuna salad for dinner.

My hair was long then, so just to be safe I'd tie my hair into a bun before heading into the cafeteria when I took more food--day after day.

Eventually, Camp Smartypants' director, huddled and miserable over his cheese whiz burgers and 'tots' noticed the Bad Example I was setting.

So you know my terrible secret, dear readers, I once stole food from the tribe of the Black Swan and didn't feel particularly guilty about it.  I am the blackest swan of all.

But just to show that I am generous of spirit, here is a gluten-free vegan pumpkin bread that is so delicious my yoga studio decimated it when I brought it in to share with everyone. It's adapted from Joy the Baker's version, but I substituted orange zest for some of her spices.  I realize that pumpkin is not seasonal, so forgive me that, at least, dear readers.

Vegan, gluten-free pumpkin bread

Makes 2 loaves 


3 1/2 cups oat flour
2 1/3 cups light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest1 15-ounce can of pumpkin (the contents of a small can)
1 cup canola or other neutral oil
1/3 cup honey (for less stringent vegans) OR golden syrup (vegan) OR (maple syrup)
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
 3/4 cup dried cranberries


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8x4 pans with parchment paper.

2. If necessary, briefly plump the cranberries by soaking them for about a minute or so in warm water. Don't put them in boiling water, as they are more fragile than raisins. Drain immediately.

3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon together.

4. Mix together the rest of the wet ingredients (pumpkin, oil, honey or syrup, water).  I used organic pumpkin because I couldn't find the regular (cheaper) version, to be perfectly honest, but because I did, this bread is even more PPC (pumpkin politically correct)!
5. Fold in the nuts and the cranberries, lightly flouring them if desired to minimize sinkage. However, I did not and the bread was still 'spackled' nicely.

6. Pour mixture into the two loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour to1 hour and 15 minutes. My loaves took about an hour before a toothpick could be extracted 'clean.'
Despite my unequal batter distribution, both loaves browned nicely

7. I had to cool the bread for at least an hour before removing from the pan and slicing--it seemed to 'retain' its heat for a long period of time.

8. Slice, serve, and immediately share with others to prevent yourself from eating too much of this incredibly delicious bread!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet" Pumpkin Bread

“Hey, Di! Remember me?”
“Um, are you the chick that wipes down the yoga mats at my gym?”
“Noooo…..Dionne, c'mon!”
“The girl that I pay to do my daughter’s homework so she’ll get into Harvard? My Shiba Inu walker?"
“We went to high school together!”
“Oh yeah, you were one of those complicated chicks who used to hang out in the band room, listening to Meat is Murder by the Smiths and playing ‘EZ arrangements’ from Les Miserables on the trombone.”
“Have you been in touch with Cher? She wrote a book—The Kind Diet!  I’m totally buggin’ that she’s become vegan.  You know, I’m a vegetarian.”
“That’s no excuse for not getting a manicure, Mary.”
“Have you tried any of her recipes? Now, I am totally loving the first half of the book. I loved reading about her journey to veganism and trying crazy celebrity diets before going vegan—like her story of going raw in the middle of a freezing New York winter. I can totally relate to trying to live on mango smoothies when it’s zero degrees out, just because you're on some crazy, obsessive diet. Vegetarianism seems so sane by comparison. And some of her nutritional info is pretty sound—like the fact that Americans drink more milk but have higher rates of osteoporosis than anywhere else in the world. Other parts of the book, like saying if you don’t brush the dirt off your vegetables, you can use that as a source of B-12 and coffee gives you wrinkles, not so much. (She does, however, suggest that you use a supplement given the depletion of natural bacteria with B-12 in the soil, due to commercialized agriculture.) Still, as celebrity diet books go, it’s way better than most.”
“Wait, are you still talking to me?”
“But back to the recipes, Di—some look really good. But the first one I tried—the macadamia nut pumpkin bread, I had some problems with. First of all, Alicia says that maple crystallized sugar is way better for you than other types of sugar, even unrefined raw sugar.  And maple sugar costs $6.99 for a tiny little package.  For the 2 cups of sugar I’d need to make the bread as written, I’d have to pay more than thirteen bucks even BEFORE I bought the nuts.”
“Girl, you sound like one of those poor people who call Whole Foods ‘Whole Paycheck’ and buy supermarket sushi.”
“I had some other problems too—the recipe calls for FIVE cups of canned pumpkin. Five!  Well, okay, Cher says fresh is better, but she does say you can still used canned. The bread took an hour and a half to cook because the mixture was so wet and sticky. And even then the bread was pretty  unremarkable, and totally overwhelmed by the macadamia nuts. I mean, one cup of WHOLE macadamia nuts—eating this bread was like eating a handful of nuts on top of a really, really super-sweet not very pumpkin-y loaf.”
“Maybe you should give it another try.”
“I did—I tried making banana bread, subbing banana for the pumpkin. That was better, using the five cups of banana, because it was a bit drier and cooked within 45 minutes, like the recipe was supposed to, but still the result was way sweet. Like Hello Kitty meets Betsy Johnson from the 80s-type sweet. And then there is the caste system.”
“The what?”
“Well, Cher divides the book into three levels of veganism. On the bottom of the totem pole are flirts, people just ‘flirting’ with veganism and reducing their use of meat-based products. There are recipes for them like vegan waffle, sausage, and cheese paninis. Next in the caste system are the vegans who avoid animal-products entirely. But the superheroes are supposed to be the best, the people who go totally macrobiotic, no more than one piece of fruit a day, no vegan convenience foods, and no sugar. They eat stuff like dandelion, bok choy miso soup.  I mean, I’m not sure I dig this rating system. You could be macrobiotic and still drive a Hummer, ya know?”
“Mary, you didn’t even 'get' the caste system in high school, so this is way over your head, girl. I'm outtie! And if you see anyone I know (which I highly doubt), don't let anyone know that I was shopping at Wegmans. I only come here to shop when I'm on the East Coast because my kid has developed an addiction to Frosted Flakes.  Stupid nanny."
The Kind Diet Pumpkin Bread

5 cups (!) canned pumpkin

2 cups maple sugar (I admit I used vegan, unrefined organic 'regular' sugar because of the expense of granulated maple sugar. I apologize if this makes the difference between the recipe 'working' and not working to Ms. Silverstone.)

2 tablespoons of flaxseed mixed in 6 tablespoons of water

1 cup nondairy 'nut' milk of your choice

3/4 cup safflower or other non-hydrogenated oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups spelt flour

3 teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup grain-sweetened nondairy chocolate chips (I admit I left these out. Although I'm not vegan, I wanted to make sure that the recipe was 100 percent animal free, and even the vegan chocolate available in my area has a note on the package that it is processed on machines that also manufacture chocolates with milk solids).

1 cup whole (!) macadamia nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two 9X5 (large) loaf pans with nondairy butter, spray, or parchment paper to avoid sticking.
2. Combine the canned pumpkin, sugar, flaxseeds in water, oil, milk and vanilla in one bowl (your 'wet' bowl, and it will be very 'wet' indeed!). Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together. 
3. Gradually incorporate the dry mixture into the wet, then fold in 3/4 of a cup of the nuts (and chocolate, if you are using chocolate).  Pour into the two loaf pans. Top with the remaining  nuts and chocolate. Try to avoid tripping on any small, hungry dogs in your kitchen at this point, given that macadamia nuts and chocolate are toxic to the species. (Spilling either in your kitchen would be a very 'unkind' way of cooking from The Kind Diet).
4. Bake until the top is firm and a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.'  Alicia Silverstone suggests this takes about 45-60 minutes, but it took 90 minutes for my loaves to cook, and my oven doesn't 'run cold.'
Even to long-term vegetarians like myself, flaxseed in water always looks pretty gross.

Option: I also made two loaves with 5 cups of mashed, overripe bananas. This recipe was actually more successful but still I wasn't that pleased with the taste. I still found the bread overly sweet and overwhelmed by the nuts.  It did, however, only take 45 minutes to cook.