(Becky, the Mama.)
Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color. I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?
I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises. I narrowed it down to six recipes. In the end, I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter. Then I thought, “Why not?” as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels. Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited. I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster. I worried I might have tweaked this recipe to death.
Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans. The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.
But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?). Use nuts you prefer or have on hand. I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe. Go with what you’ve got, what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.
Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. almond extract (optional)
1 1/2 t. salt
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 T. maple syrup
2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin
2/3 cup light oil (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand. Worked beautifully.)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)
1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)
whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)… about 1/2 to 2/3 cup
1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels, as are sliced almonds.)
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil. Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well. Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.
Grease and flour two loaf pans. Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly. Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.
Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly before serving. I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools. Freezes beautifully.
Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem. Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky soda aftertaste…
Teachers around the U.S are counting down those last few days of school. Christmas break is just a couple of days away. They made it. And you know what they deserve? To CELEBRATE!
My son is 2 1/2. His Mother’s Day Out teachers may not have to deal with testing or teenage attitudes…but they help potty train eleven children…and they are better at it than I am with one child. They do pinterest worthy activities EVERY class day. They taught my child his colors, when all summer long EVERYTHING was blue. I seriously thought he was color blind…but no. They text me pictures of my son at sensory stations and my mother-guilt for not doing enough of these activites at home is lessened. They are my Pinterest arms and legs. My son will not grow up in a generation of Pin Kids and be the only one who never played in a “sensory bin.” Thank you Mrs. H and Mrs. T!
So cheers to teachers everywhere. If you are a teacher, I hope someone is celebrating you this week…and if not, I raise my glass to you. Here’s what my son’s teachers and his school’s director are getting from The Randolphs this year. It’s not expensive, but I hope it expresses how grateful we are for them…because we totally are!
The makings of pomegranate spritzers and some delicious dark chocolate covered almonds (I bought the Archer’s brand from Target. They are dairy-free and dangerously tasty). I had these little gratitude stones from one of my old clients Michele Wahlder. She had them made up to go with her book Alphatudes: The Alphabet of Gratitude, which also makes an absolutely beautiful gift or addition to a gift basket.
Homemade Simple Syrup is so easy and CHEAP, but adds a nice homemade touch to this gift. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. I did one cup of each and filled three medium sized baby food jars. (If I’d thought ahead, I’d have bought small mason jars–so much cuter–but I went with what I had). You can sweeten any drink (iced tea, cocktails, coffee) with simple syrup without leaving undissolved granules of sugar in the bottom. It’s also the perfect stocking stuffer for the sweet tea lovers in your life.
You can also make all sorts of flavored simple syrups for a special touch by adding things like peeled ginger, jalapeno, orange peel, mint, or basil. Unflavored syrups will keep for about a month in the refrigerator. Most flavored will keep for 2-3 weeks. Just toss it when it gets cloudy.
I took the pictures of the finished boxes in a hurry before school. Of course, I take pictures of the one where I ironically misspelled “simple.” Maybe I shouldn’t have been sampling the recipe as I made up these cards. 🙂
Makes one drink
2 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces sparkling water
.5 – 1 ounce simple syrup (see below for recipe)
Optional: 1.5 ounces of white rum or vodka
Wedge of Lemon
Pour all ingredients into a martini glass. Squeeze in lemon wedge. Give it a gentle stir. Add some ice cubes if needed. Serve. (You can shake the pomegranate juice, optional rum or vodka, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and then top with sparkling water and lemon if you’re bothered by a few cubes of ice in your martini glass.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Put sugar and water in a pan. Bring to boil. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Only takes a few seconds. Remove from heat. Let cool. (You can also just put sugar and water in a jar and shake, shake, shake until it dissolves.) Store in refrigerator for up to one month or until it gets cloudy.
We have had several friends ask if they could get an autographed copy of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook as a Christmas gift. Why, we would love to….thank you for asking!
And since you asked so nicely, we’ll even gift wrap it if you like.
Autographed, wrapped copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook make the perfect Christmas gift for teachers, family members, girlfriends, or cooks. Funny, uplifting and warm-hearted memoir with recipes at the end of each chapter.
To order a signed copy, simply send us payment via paypal. Each book is $12 + $4 each for taxes and shipping & handling. (If ordering more than three copies to one address, send us an email and we’ll work out a lower shipping rate for you.)
Go to www.paypal.com >> Send money >> Send money online>>Buy something>>Fill in amount ($16 for one book, $32 for two)>>Send to laughcrycook (at) yahoo (dot) com (write in email format). Make sure the from email is an account you check regularly. You will be prompted to log in or create a free account if you haven’t done so already.
Once you send payment, we’ll send you a confirmation email within 12 hours to coordinate personalization, gift wrapping, and shipping instructions. If you don’t hear from us, check your spam folder or send us an email at laughcrycook (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Thank you so much to those who have asked us to sign a copy of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook for their friends and family (or themselves). That is the highest compliment and greatest gift to us!
Trying to shop for a foodie friend or just planning your own list and not sure what kitchen item you might want or need next? These are some of my go-to, use almost daily, wouldn’t want to be without them items.
Trader Joe’s Olive Oil with Pour Spout – I have bought at least six olive oil pour spout jars over the years and every one of them has failed me. The cork crumbled into the oil, the plastic spout slipped out every time I poured, the handle broke, the spout clogged… Recently, I tried the $7.99 bottle of Trader Joe’s olive oil. At 32 ounces, that’s a fantastic deal. And the best part–the spout that comes with it stays put, doesn’t fall apart, doesn’t slip out! It isn’t as pretty as my others, but it’s not an eyesore either. And at that price, I don’t even have to mess with refills. I can just buy another bottle.
Cute Easy Pour Spice Jars – I found these jars at a closeout sale at the container store Outlet. Of course I did. And of course, I immediately regretted not buying more. I love the three generous pour options on this set. It’s too generous for the table, but when I’m cooking, I can pour a teaspoon or two of salt easily without breaking out the big carton of Morton’s like I used to. I keep salt, pepper, and seasoning salt in them because I tend to reach for those most often when cooking. But I’d love one for my nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder. I have a lot of favs! I found this set from IKEA that while not quite as easy because you have to pop open the top, they are cute enough to leave on the counter and cheap. These are pretty too. I might have to snag a set of them for the seasonings I tend to measure out, like cumin and chili powder. Oh and these are nice as well but pricier. They have the twist lids I prefer, so if you don’t close them, they don’t look sloppy.
Come Apart Kitchen Sheers – I use these every day for cutting up toddler food, to clipping flower stems, to cutting pizza. I have a red pair and black pair. I used to designate the red ones for meat (great for cutting chicken into strips and such) and the black for everything else–just so I never accidentally cross contaminated anything. Now I don’t need to do that since we don’t eat meat, but I still love having two pairs because I use them so often.
Ikea Stainless Mixing Bowls – I have a lot of pretty (and pricey) mixing bowls, but I reach for these 95% of the time. They are lightweight, easy to clean, easy to store, unbreakable. Love them!! I have two really big ones, two medium ones and four small ones. The really big ones are wonderful for kale salads or kale chips. Plenty of room to toss a head or two of kale around in some seasoning or dressing.
Pampered Chef Cutting Board – I’m sure there are other great cutting boards out there, but of the ones I have, this is my favorite. It’s simple, dishwasher safe, grips well to the counter so it never slides out from under me. This cutting board by Cuisinart looks like a good option with a similar size and feel.
Old Fashion Popcorn Maker – I wish we didn’t love this little guy so much…but we do! Jared’s mom bought him this for Christmas last year. I never liked popcorn and didn’t understand why Jared’s family loved it so much. But I’d never made fresh popped popcorn. Sprinkled with a little nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, onion powder, and seasoning salt…it’s so good. (Note: since writing this post, we’ve upgraded to one with metal gears after the nylon gears broke on us. If you make a lot of popcorn, go with the Whirly-Pop with metal gears. We have the red one and it’s super cute!)
Rice Maker – I actually have a cheaper model, a $15 Rival model from Wal-Mart I think (probably on par with this less expensive rice cooker Amazon). It is fine. It would make a great under $20 gift. I use it all the time…but it’s not perfect. It sticks some and doesn’t have different settings for brown rice, so it’s a bit of a guessing game. If I were to buy one now, I’d buy this model. I mostly use it for quinoa and brown rice, but apparently you can cook all kinds of things in a rice maker. Who knew? (Update: I have an Instant Pot now too and I have made rice in it, but honestly, nine times out of ten, I still reach for this little white workhorse. It’s easier to pull out and tends to make just enough rice for our family.)
Salad Spinner – Every healthy kitchen needs a salad spinner, in my opinion. Washing and drying lettuce without it is a pain…and when something is a pain, you’re less likely to do it (and therefore eat it). Bagged lettuces have their place, but other than delicate lettuces like baby spinach, I generally prefer buying heartier lettuces like kale or romaine by the head. A salad spinner makes it a cinch to wash, dry, and store for later use. It’s also perfect for washing and drying herbs like parsley and cilantro. The OXO brand is my favorite. If you shop sales, you can find a good deal on it. I found one last year at Kohl’s for $20 with a sale and a coupon.
Cuisinart Stainless Steel 3.5-quart Saute Pan – I wanted a set of heavy-bottomed stainless steel pans last year for Christmas to replace my old warped pans that heat unevenly on my glass stove top, but I couldn’t decide which set to buy so I bought this one pan at a steep discount from Home Goods to see if I liked it (and stainless in general). I could not love this pan more. I use it every day. I plan on completing the set at some point, but if you just want to add one good pan to your collection this year, this is a great starting point. Mine is a different model number and came with a glass lid, but I think this one is basically the same thing.
Baby Bullet or Magic Bullet – I received this as a gift for a baby shower. I already had the Cuisinart food processor and a blender and thought I wouldn’t need a little one. Plus, I had a Magic Bullet years ago and the motor burnt out and I just never felt like it did a good job at blending. I think I had a dud…or I just expected too much out of it as it was my only blender at the time. But I use the Baby Bullet all the time now. I blend up a can of black beans to make quick refried beans, make quick small batches of white bean dip or hummus in it, blend salad dressings, and of course, you can blend up a little bit of dinner to make a quick meal for baby too. I underestimated this little guy. We even bring it with us on vacation. (I will say that I hated the baby food freezer system. I much preferred regular ice cube trays, but Jackson has fun playing with it, so there’s that.)
Vitamix – I finally got a Vitamix…and I’m a believer! Smoothies and soups and cashew queso and banana soft serve…oh my! I could do all of these with my blender and food processor…but Vitamix does it better and faster. I bought the refurbished model during their November sale. Today is the last day for that sale. If you use my affiliate promo code 06-009318, you’ll get free shipping anytime. I believe they are doing free shipping right now on all orders for the holidays, but if you use my code anyway, I’d be super grateful as I’ll earn a little kickback to put toward expenses related to running this blog.
Luca and Company’s Little Helper FunPod – I talk about the FunPod all the time. As a mom, this is my absolute favorite kitchen product. I could never get all the cooking I do done without it. It safely elevates children to counter height so they can help in the kitchen or watch you cook, or play in the sink independently while you make dinner. Total lifesaver for toddler moms and dads (and Grandmas too).
What are your favorite kitchen items?!
I’m on the lookout for a better set of measuring cups and spoons and a go-to water bottle for sipping on around the house and throw in my bag or purse when I’m out and about.
I was thinking of doing a favorite things for little boys post too. Would anyone be interested in seeing some of Jackson’s favs (or my favs for him)?
Last week, we went on a long beach vacation to our favorite place in the world, the quaint little Island of Little Gasparilla. I wrote about it in our food memoir We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook (in stores next week.) It’s where Jared and I got married, where we took Jackson for his first beach experience, and where Jared’s family has been vacationing for twenty years. To put it mildly, it’s a special place for our family.
We took along the Mimi because we love her and Jackson loves her…and well, we knew it was the only way we’d get any alone time. Thanks to her, Jared and I enjoyed an amazing all vegan dinner at Vino Loco Tapas and Wine Bar one night to celebrate our sixth anniversary. We were the only diners (it’s off season right now), and we got special treatment from the chef, who hand delivered each organic, well-thought out plate to our table. Simple flavorful food made with quality organic ingredients that let the veggies be the star. My kind of food! And then there was vegan gelato made out of almond milk. Oh my. The gelato was so amazing, we swung by on our way home to get more for the long road home…and to share with Jackson and Mimi who missed out the first time. I ate my scoop with one of Jackson’s leftover chocolate birthday cupcakes. I can’t remember the last time I had cake and ice cream. It was like a party in my mouth.
Did I say chocolate cupcakes up there? Oh yes! My sweet Jackson turned two on Saturday….and my usually healthy little eater has a dark secret. He loves nothing more than chocolate cupcakes. I used my go-to Chocolate Cupcake Recipe from Chow.com. They are quick and easy and don’t call for any weird ingredients. I subbed almond milk, whole wheat flour, and coconut oil this time (working with our limited pantry on the island). They didn’t rise quite as much as the first time I made them with canola and white flour, but they were still fluffy and delicious…and healthier. 🙂 We skipped icing in lieu of a dusting of powdered sugar. We aren’t much of an icing family…and it’s usually just fat and sugar anyway. We let him blow the powdered sugar on his cupcake instead of blowing out a candle. He thought that was WAY fun!
Happy Birthday Jackson! I have a feeling we have an adventurous year ahead! Twos = double the fun, right?
In honor of Jackson turning two, we’re giving away TWO early release copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook! Jackson just so happens to be a pretty big star in the book….so it seems fitting. To enter the giveaway, simply like our facebook page and leave us a comment HERE ON THE BLOG telling us you’ve done so. A birthday wish to Jackson would be like powdered sugar on the cupcake though. 🙂 Be sure to include the name that you use on Facebook so we can verify your entry and fill in the email section of our contact form so we can contact you if you are a winner.
Giveaway ends on at midnight central time Friday, August 2nd, We’ll pick the winners using a random number generator. Winners will have 24 hours to contact us before we choose another name.
Jackson, now 18-months, has discovered chocolate. This morning, Jared brought him from his crib to our bed where I was still sleeping. Jackson pushed my arm off my face and pulled and pulled until I finally rolled out of the bed. He led me by hand straight to the pantry, pointed up to a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips and proclaimed “Choc!”
I should probably be worried that his first waking thought is chocolate, but truthfully, I’m a little excited that I have another chocolate lover in the house. Jared doesn’t eat it, so I rarely make decadent chocolate desserts. There is just something depressing about eating chocolate alone. Soon, though, I’ll have a buddy to split a piece of chocolate cake with or to make brownies for!
In the meantime, as fun as it will one day be, I’m not encouraging my toddler’s chocolate eating habits just yet. Valentine’s Day is Thursday and I’m sure he’ll have encouragement enough from everyone else between now and then!
Besides his new word “choc,” he also learned the word “pouch” this week, as in fruit and veggie squeeze pouches. He loves them just as much as chocolate. It’s so funny, the words he picks up on. I put together these cute valentines bags for his Mother’s Day Out class tonight. For the girls, a bright red Ella’s Kitchen Organic Strawberry Apple squeeze pouch with a “You’re My Main SQUEEZE” tag. And for the boys, a Peach & Banana one with a “You’re My Main Squeeze, Man” tag. That’s tough right? 🙂
If you’re looking for healthy Valentine’s Day gifts for babies and preschoolers, this is so easy! It may be a little pricy for a big class, but at this age class sizes are usually quite small. We just had five classmates to buy for, so the whole project was $12 including the bags and tags.
I know some of the mama’s of the kids in Jackson’s class and I know they’ll be glad to see at least one treat they can gladly let their kiddo have from their Valentine’s Day goodie bag, no guilt, no arguing, no “you can have one piece after dinner” negotiations.