Curious About Quinoa

Riding the wave of increased interest in quality ingredients and foods in general, it’s such a pleasure to sneak less common grains and vegetables into everyday meals without them being considered so “crunchy granola” that not even a hippy would touch it. One of my newest and most curious friends in the exploration of wholesome edibles is the humble grain by the name of quinoa. Fluffy and slightly nutty-tasting when cooked, the tiny little spherical grains certainly give standard rice a run for its money. Just as easy to cook and even more nutritious, touting a serious serving of protein, iron, and calcium in every spoonful, I think that quinoa could easily become a staple on the average American’s table if only it were given half a chance. Sadly, this pseudocereal is still dreadfully underutilized even in the growing whole-foods revolution. I suppose you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, right?

Still, I’m not one to give up on such a great grain, and the best way to slowly ease it into the more conservative consumer’s diet is to introduce it in a recognizable form. This is why I immediately set my sights on Mary’s Gone Crackers, simple flat crackers that seemed agreeable to any palate, but utilized quinoa instead of wheat. An additional benefit of excluding glutinous materials is that these snacks are even suitable for those with celiac disease.

Touting 5 flavors in all, there is sure to be something for everyone. They all look pretty much alike. Dark brown disks in a large array of sizes, from the size of a quarter to the palm of your hand, allow you to pick just the right sized bite every time. Peppered with small seeds, but still flat enough to rival a sheet of paper, I was quite impressed by how sturdy they actually were. My first thought was that they would break instantly upon entering even the thinnest dip, but not a single one cracked under the pressure. Even arriving through the mail, hardly any broke in transport!

Starting with the most neutral of the bunch to get a good baseline on these circular snacks, I opened up the package of Original to be greeted by a most appetizing aroma. Not a specific, identifiable smell, but just the scent of hearty grains that I so crave. Crunching through the first few crackers, my mom actually came over from the other room to ask what that loud sound was! Seriously crisp and audibly crunchy, it was so satisfying to dig my teeth into something I might have previously imagined unsubstantial. As for the flavor, it was just your everyday, simple chip with a slightly toasted, nutty flavor, sure to please any party guest and get along just beautifully with any spread. If you’re looking for an easy way to get wholesome foods into a picky eater, a sure-fire strategy would be to serve these agreeable munchies.

Upping the ante a bit with the Herb crackers, my first bite was a bit shocking, like an herb garden had just exploded in my mouth. Once I got over the initial intensity and adjusted to the taste, I did find them quite enjoyable. For some reason, the package doesn’t actually state exactly what herbs are included in their blend, but it tastes similar to Italian seasoning; oregano, sage, and perhaps some parsley? I’m not entirely sure, but the earthy flavors that they impart immediately strike me as a match made in heaven with a pesto. Otherwise, the pizza-esque seasonings make me think that a contrasting tomato-based spread would really be fantastic, too. My only reservation about this flavor is that with such mature, sophisticated nuances, I don’t know that it would be such a hit with the kids.

Proceeding right along to the Black Pepper variant, I was a little bit disappointed at first to discover only a mild peppery taste, especially after such a powerful experience with the herb crackers. Munching onward, it slowly began to creep up on me though; starting as a tingle on the tip of my tongue, and moving to the back of my throat as a quiet after-burn between bites. Still, it wasn’t so spicy that it would be difficult to eat more than a few in a sitting, making it just the perfect amount of pepper. Each bite is a little bit different to give you some heat and then a break, too, due to uneven distribution. Overall a fairly benign chip, excellent with a creamy sort of dip to contrast the spice, these are still a fine option even if they weren’t my favorite cracker.

Feeling quite full at this point but continuing with just as much gusto, I was terribly curious to find out what the Caraway crackers would taste like. I never use caraway in cooking, so I had no idea what to expect. At first it was difficult to discern any individual flavors as there was so much going on at once. It was like a traffic jam on my tongue and I couldn’t taste any of them! Pursuing this elusive flavor, it began tasting more like an everything bagel, but only after really focusing my taste buds to get to the bottom of this mystery did I taste the cracker’s namesake. A very faint aftertaste of anise or licorice lingered in my mouth… and quite honestly, it wasn’t all that appealing. I’m just not a fan of either of those flavors, and I really don’t know what you might serve these with. You might favor this taste all the same, but it was one of the less successful varieties in my book.

Hoping I had saved the best for last, I couldn’t contain my excitement as I dug into the Onion crackers. Taking in a deep whiff, barely a hint of onion could be detected, but I still remained optimistic about the flavors locked inside. Although they weren’t strongly flavored as the smell suggested, there was still a vague but pleasant taste about them; not so much onion that you might ruin your date, but enough to add a bit of interest to an otherwise ordinary chip. Definitely munchable with or without a dip, these crunchy snacks would probably be the ones most likely to make numerous appearances at my parties again.

Overall I found these crackers quite impressive, and they definitely live up to the good name of quinoa. They make a good case for welcoming these unique grains into you home, whether you serve them whole or disguised as innocuous, delicious snacks. Don’t tell your guests that these enticing crackers are gluten-free – They’ll never guess!

[Written for Go Dairy Free]

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I Scream for Ice Cream

If you’ve been keeping an eye on my Flickr photostream, you may have started to notice a recurring theme lately: Ice cream. Ever since first discovering that delicious vegan ice cream really exists, I simply can’t get enough of the stuff. Whether purchasing new flavors on the market, trying new brands, churning my own, or dreaming up recipes to use it in, (milkshakes, ice cream cakes, frozen pies!) I am just entirely enamoured with this chilly delight. Guilty of consuming about a pint a day, including some amazing ice cream sandwiches, I think I’m making up for all the years of lacking this particular dessert in record time.

With numerous pints of the stuff taking up real estate in my freezer and occupying prime space in my mind, it was inevitable that my new-found love for the creamy treat would translate itself into yarn. What I didn’t expect, however, was that it would happen by accident. Beginning with the pattern for the “Sundae Oh La La Cheesecake,” (scroll down to the bottom) I had absolutely no intention of making an ice cream replica… But somehow, when it was all said and done, it was undeniable that this was no “cheesecake” but my frozen fixation manifesting itself once again.

And who am I to fight such an obvious fit? Nestled into a waffle bowl, it is right at home next to the a real container of dairy-less delight, begging only for a spoon. Although this version might leave a fuzzy taste in your mouth, at least it is guaranteed not to melt, even on the hottest of summer days!

My Own Rocky Road

By no accounts have I ever heard of high school being an easy, enjoyable time through and through, but who knew it would ever be so difficult. No, I’m not talking about the school work or tests, but everything that happened in between; The last thing that you learn from this establishment is math and english. These past four years stretch out endlessly in my mind, making a time line that is so immense, it sounds positively absurd that so much could change in only a handful of months. I’m sure everyone reaches a this point at one time or another, but to actually experience it and be able to say for myself that know what if feels like… It’s just wild.

Honestly, for so many years I thought that life would not happen to me. All of the inevitable life events would somehow look the other way while I crept out the door and I would be exempt from all the baggage they bring. Relationships, jobs, driving, applying to colleges- For some inexplicable reason, I felt certain that these worries could never actually happen to me. Clearly, adolescence spared me no amount of naivety. Through car crashes, both figurative and literal, I’ve blindly felt my way through all of these complicated things that I was in no way prepared for. I can say with relief that ultimately I made it out in one piece, but in no way am I the same as that bright-eyed 14-year old who first marched in the doors of that decripit urban school I would come to know as my own.

I’ve learned a lot, more than I would have liked to about some things, but none of it was taught in class. All the same, I owe a lot to that place; Without the bitterness that counterbalances my timid optimism, there’s no way that I would have ever found myself in the bittersweet state of mind.

On that note, with such a bitter taste left in my mouth after recounting all those horrific highschool blunders that I hope to bury in the farthest corners of my brain, the only thing that I could find as an appropriate way to commemorate the end of this era would be to bake.

And what could be more appropriate than a rocky road bar? Lumpy, bumpy, and not exactly a beautifully sculpted dessert, this is one where you can rest assured that it will taste far better than it looks. Including just a little bit of everything and even some rather unexpected ingredients, the mixture of flavors and textures is surprising at first but completely enjoyable. Somehow it all manages to work together without creating a harmony that sounds like our highschool band [aka, banging two trashcans together repeatedly] and makes any rocky road seem like a worthwhile path to venture down.

I know that although I may have made it through the mire and muck of compulsory education, I still have a long, rocky road ahead of me… But if it’s anything like this bar, then I think that life will be a whole lot less bitter, and a lot sweeter instead.

Rocky Road Bars

Base:
1/2 Cup Margarine
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup AP Flour
3/4 Cup Rolled Oats
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Mixed Nuts, Chopped

Topping:
1/2 Cup Vegan Caramel Sauce

1/2 Cup Mixed Nuts
1 1/2 Cups of Vegan Marshmallows, Store Bought, Cut into pieces
4 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Chopped into Chunks

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.

In a stand mixer, beat the margarine until softened and then cream in the sugar. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, salt and chopped nuts, stirring to combine. Once all of the ingredienlts are evenly dispersed and you achieve a crumbly mixture, remove 1/2 cup and set aside. Dump the remainder into your prepared pan and press it in with your fingers so that it fully covers the bottom in a level layer. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Meanwhile, combine the crumb mixture that you saved with the whole mixed nuts, marshmallows, and chocolate. Have this ready when the pan comes out of the oven.

Once baked, pour the caramel over the warm bars and spread to cover. If your topping is a bit too firm to spread, microwave it for a few seconds before pouring it on. Sprinkle the mixture of sweet morsels over the top and disperse evenly, pressing them in very lightly. Bake for another 15 – 20 minutes, until the marshmallows are puffy and nicely browned. Let cool to room temperature, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before cutting or you will end up with one sticky [albeit delicious] mess!

Printable Recipe

Make Way for Ducklings, and Dads

Why is it that all around the world, in nearly every culture and creed, father figures are so quickly discounted as doing less than their share? It’s impossible to any accurate blanket statement that would either condemn or praise all male parents across the board, but in all fairness, I think that they at least deserve a bit more credit for their efforts; It’s no easy role to fill in the first place. In fact, it was just the other day that I spotted an extraordinary sight of a father going above and beyond the call of duty, leading two young daughters away from a busy road and out of harm’s way.

Sure, this may seem like a mundane event to most people, but in the duck world, such an act is unheard of. Males in this species are usually completely uninvolved in child care, concerned more about their next meal or mate than those tiny squawking fuzz balls. But no, not this determined duck- Waddling at a moderate speed, hat bobbing up and down like a dashboard knick-knack, it would have been easy for him to outrun his spawn, and yet he slowed his pace instead. Distant at times but always keeping an eye on his two daughters, it was clear that he would have been close to them no matter the physical distance.

Pausing for a heartbeat, the two little ones saw their opportunity and huddled in close, seeking the warmth and protection that only this parent could provide. Seeing them meander slowly to a safer patch of green field together and disappear within the long grass, I realized how lucky I was to have a dad who was just as dedicated to his parental duties. Not a trained seal who can act on command, these men simply follow their heart, and it’s often in the trivial, everyday occurrences that many show their love.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone out there. I just hope that you have someone just as special to celebrate as these myself and these little ducklings.