Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oh Pumpkin, My Pumpkin!

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I love most pumpkin-related foods: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, roasted pumpkin seeds, and even plain baked pumpkin with a bit of salt. And I love saying the word pumpkin. Pumpkin. Pumpkin. (Okay, now it’s starting to look weird. Gourd grief!)

And yes, I’m baking pumpkin bread (or cake, I haven’t exactly decided how sweet to take things) for my book club tonight. We’re discussing Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which I highly recommend, and I think something pumpkiny will be very comforting.

So, from whence comes this lovely gourd?  And is it more than just a beautiful, orange, carved face? 

First of all, pumpkins, like all squashes and cucumbers, are actually fruits masquerading as vegetables. Pumpkins are 90% water and packed with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein — nutrients which give them their lovely hue and magically turn into Vitamin A in the body.  In case you’ve forgotten, you need Vitamin A to (among other things) create new blood cells, keep your immune system strong, and improve your eyesight, including night vision (trick-or-treating? A breeze!).  Other awesome sources of Vitamin A include sweet potatoes and carrots.  Don’t throw out those pumpkin seeds when you’re done carving, either – they are full of zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, iron, copper, and protein (and they’re mighty tasty, too).  Here’s how you can roast them to perfection: scoop them out of said pumpkin, wipe off excess pulp (don’t rinse), spread on paper towels and let them dry overnight; the next day, place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, add salt or a little oil for flavor and bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Store them in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container and add to salads, baked goods, oatmeal, or curries for an added crunch.  (I found this picture at thymebomb.com and couldn’t resist – look at the broom next to the roasted pumpkin seeds? Too perfect!)

How did this humble squash become an edible mascot for all things fall?  The Irish are credited for bringing pumpkin carving to the United States in the mid-1800s. (In Ireland they carved turnips, but found pumpkins easier to grow and carve.) Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first American to use the term “jack-o’-lantern” in his 1837 collection of stories, Twice-Told Tales: Pumpkins from the Crypt (sorry, I added the subtitle).  Legends of “Jack of the lantern” — a farmer too evil to go to heaven and barred from hell after winning a bet with the devil–had been around for a long time.  Irish children used to carry jack-o’-lanterns door to door on All Saints Day (November 1) to represent the souls of the dead and beg for “soul cakes.”  (Remembering a soul wandering with only a satanic, ember-filled gourd by dressing up and eating loads of candy?  I’m IN.) 

I’m trying out a new recipe for pumpkin bread tonight, and I’ll certainly post the recipe later.  In the meantime, carve those pumpkins sitting in your kitchen (or outside looking “natural” – yes, we have those too), roast those seeds, and blend up some pumpkin curry soup to ward off any evil cold-inducing spirits.  Happy Halloween!

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Press This: Garlic Rocks

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Everyone knows garlic repels vampires, wards off envious nymphs, and protects against the Evil Eye, so I thought it might just be an appropriate topic for this time of year.  (If you really want to do this right, wear a necklace of garlic cloves, hang a head of garlic with chili peppers and lemons in your kitchen, or rub fresh garlic on your chimney and keyholes. I guarantee this will keep questionable spirits at bay!)

I adore garlic, but we have not always been on such cozy terms.  In fact, I used to think garlic was just weird and stinky and I had no idea how to cook with it (oh, the naivete! The missed opportunities!).  A man who attended the church I did as a kid ate raw garlic every single day, and boy, did we know it. (I didn’t realize at the time what a total bad-ass he was.)  When I was a sophomore in college and had just moved into my first off-campus apartment, my roommate Jenn and I invited friends over for dinner.  I decided to make a creamy spinach garlic dip as an appetizer; delicious and easy, right?  All I remember is people stepping away from the table, clutching their throats, and grabbing drinks.  I realized with horror that instead of adding two cloves of garlic as stated on the recipe, I had added two heads of garlic.  (My boyfriend was the only guest who “enjoyed” the spinach dip, and even he had to make an early, garlic-induced departure.)  Clearly I lacked exposure to, and experience with, this beautiful little vegetable.  

Neither herb nor spice, garlic truly is in a class of its own. I’ve read that garlic is a member of the illustrious onion genus, an allium vegetable and flowering root plant (other relatives include leeks, scallions, and chives). Any way you mince it, garlic plays an integral role in cuisines around the world.  Originating in Central Asia about six thousand years ago, garlic has been revered and used as both food and medicine over the centuries.  There is an Islamic myth that when Satan was thrown out of the Garden of Eden, a bulb of garlic grew up in his left footprint and an onion in his right.  (I’m not quite sure how to take this.)  The Egyptians considered garlic sacred (they never disappoint!), and I’m totally with them on this. I sincerely hope to find garlic in the hereafter. 

Aside from adding incredible depth of flavor to your favorite recipes (99.9% of them, anyway), garlic provides your bod with antioxidants, detoxifies your blood, aids in circulation, helps fight inflammation, stimulates the immune system, and reduces plaque in your arteries, thereby lessening the chances of having a heart attack when you encounter that vampire. Garlic has long been used to battle colds and respiratory problems, warts, ear infections, and athlete’s foot, among countless other ailments. Even better, fresh garlic has been shown to kill certain harmful bacteria (E coli and Salmonella, thankyouverymuch!) and may also help fight the development of prostate cancer and colon polyps. Serious nutrient smack-down! If you’re concerned about getting enough fresh garlic love in your diet, don’t pick up pills totally devoid of garlic taste or aroma; the process of aging garlic destroys many of its health benefits. If you are going to supplement, go for garlic oil or a coated pill that dissolves in the intestine rather than the stomach.

Two teaspoons of garlic are what we should aim for daily (Is that all, you ask).  I happen to love fresh minced garlic in salad dressing or on vegan pesto pizza, but yes, it does leave my mouth zinging, the taste lasts for hours and I have few friends.  I was happy to discover that cooking does not diminish the heath effects of garlic, so you can add its subtle flavor to soups, roasted or sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, curries, and scrambled tofu without fear or regret.  

This garlicky goodness is not for wimps. Proceed with caution.

Delicious Kick-Your-Cold-To-The-Curb Soup (kudos to Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups

  • 4 cups chopped green cabbage
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced (oh really, not left whole?) 
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced and diced in fancy shapes
  • 12 garlic cloves, 6 sliced and 6 minced (I told you I wasn’t messing around)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 green chili, seeded and diced
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/3 cup white miso
  • 12 oz extra firm tofu, cubed (optional)
  • 1 package somen or soba noodles (optional)
  • Several drops of roasted sesame oil (optional)

  1. Boil 6 cups of water in a large pot. Add cabbage, celery, carrots, sliced garlic, and onion. Cook (covered) for about 15 minutes.  If you’re adding tofu or soba/somen noodles, add them in and cook for another five minutes. (Or, you can cook noodles separately and add in at the end if that’s how you roll.) 

2. Stir in minced garlic, ginger, and chili and turn off the heat. Add lime juice and miso, making sure it’s completely dissolved. You’re done! You can add a few drops of oil to jazz up your bowl, but I like it just fine without.  This soup is restorative if you’re sick, and a preemptive strike if you’re not. Enjoy!

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Let’s Go Bananas!

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This week, in preparation for lecturing on American imperialism (and food, of course) around the turn of the last century, I read up on the traditional and religious practice of “kapu” in Hawaiian culture.  Kapu was a series of regulations that structured daily life and relationships; it means “forbidden,” and to keep kapu one had to observe various rules – one of which was a strict injunction against women eating certain foods, including coconuts, several kinds of fish, pork, and (gasp! sob!) bananas.  In fact, if a woman was caught eating one of these off-limits items she was immediately put to death. They weren’t messing around. The first American missionary women on their way to Hawaii in late 1819 were nervous they might unwittingly break kapu and meet an untimely end — a fear they described in letters written during a 5-month journey of sea (and home) sickness on a crowded, dilapidated boat. The missionaries were understandably relieved when, upon arrival, they heard that kapu had recently been abolished. King Liholiho, son of Kamehameha I, surprised his royal guests at a feast in November 1819 by eating at the women’s table, a move that broke kapu and led to an islands-wide crumbling of tradition. Bananas probably weren’t the most important item on Hawaiian women’s kapu list, but I can only imagine the joy of being able to eat bananas!  I wonder how many risked their lives to taste this incredible fruit?  

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island (okay, wait, maybe even then), you have probably heard that bananas are chock-full of potassium.  Why is potassium necessary, you ask? Well, you only need it if you’re interested in, oh, I don’t know .  . . your heart continuing to beat.  Potassium also helps stabilize your blood pressure and keeps you alert. But, wait, bananas aren’t called a super-food for nothing!  Besides respectable amounts of fiber, vitamin B6, and pectin, the tryptophan in bananas helps fight the funk (depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder) as it is converted into seratonin (bam!).  That’s not all. (Do you feel like you’re watching an infomercial yet?)  Bananas are the only fruit you can eat raw that won’t exacerbate ulcers and actually soothes your tummy after indigestion or the flu.  Some banana enthusiasts claim this fruit can lessen the pain of bug bites (rub inside of peel on the bite), eliminate warts (simply tape a piece of the inner peeling on the wart – not at all awkward), and even lower your risk of contracting kidney cancerHoly banana bread, Batman!

Because bananas are grown in tropical climates, it clearly takes a lot of energy (think carbon footprint) to get them to most parts of the United States. Produced on huge farms, banana production has seriously impacted native environments and populations. Always make sure you’re buying fair-trade, organic bananas and not those packaged in plastic. Even better, if your geography supports it, plant your own banana tree. Wouldn’t this be lovely?

One of my favorite ways to get my banana fix is in a simple smoothie Genevieve calls “Banana Twirl:”

  • 1 cup (approximately) frozen banana chunks
  • 1 T smooth peanut butter (optional)
  • 1 T cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1 cup almond/coconut/soy milk
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • few pieces of ice
  • 1 t. cinnamon

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth and ice-cream like. So delicious. Of course you can add any other fruits, ground flax seeds, or nuts you have on hand, too.  Try presenting this as dessert in fancy cups with straws for your kids, they may be convinced it’s a real milkshake!

Best. Banana. Bread. Ever. (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen) ❤

*Makes 2 large loaves (yes, you’ll want extra!)

  • 1 1/2 cups margarine (Earth Balance sticks are the best)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup almond/soy milk + 3 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 t. cinnamon
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 9 ripe bananas, smashed and smooshed
  • 1 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two large loaf pans. Put milk and vinegar in a measuring cup, set aside. 

2. In a large bowl, mix margarine and sugars, add in vanilla, milk/vinegar mixture, and bananas. Stir in flours, salt, and baking soda. (Don’t over mix, but make sure you aren’t leaving swaths of flour and baking soda throughout, either.)  Add in nuts and/or chocolate chips. 

3. Divide batter evenly between loaf pans, lick beaters and bowl (come on, you know you want to), and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

(You can also make this lower fat by using 1/2 the amount of margarine or oil and adding 3/4 cup applesauce.)

Warning: This bread is addictive. Make sure you have others around with whom to share! 🙂  

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Toddler Approved: Sweet and Sour Tofu Stir-Fry

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I am a huge fan of one-dish meals.  Soups, stews, curries, stir-fried vegetables — any of these can simply be topped with whatever goodies (vegetables, greens, nuts and seeds, let your mind run wild) you have on hand, or just ladled lovingly over a pile of brown rice. Viola! Dinner, done.

I may be a fan of the ever-versatile vegan bowl, but my children are still, well, processing. (Perhaps it is time to get rid of their monkey and ladybug themed cafeteria style partitioned dishes. You think?)   They’re squarely in the developmental stage of having a complete conniption when a piece of pasta comes into contact with its sauce or a pea tragically wedges itself betwixt a carrot and a chunk of potato.   I’m more of the mindset that they should eat what we eat, not bits of food morphed into tiny race cars, goldfish, or unicorns. 

No matter. I press on, sitting expectantly beside them at the table, cheerfully (at first) describing all of the once-familiar ingredients that have gone into the hodgepodge before them.  They usually take a quivering bite – perhaps gagging for dramatic effect — and wash it quickly down with a drink or bite of bread.  Then the complaints begin, which can range from critiques of texture or taste to tantrums over temperature.  (Serious Goldilocks situation going on here.)  I, pathetically, start bargaining: “If you take another bite you can have some watered-down juice! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Or, if you eat 3 more bites of broccoli, Daddy will let you cut his hair – doesn’t that sound fun??”  Once in a while there is a success and they eat 28% of what is on their plate; more often, they win the standoff by either resolutely refusing to eat, or they squeak under the radar, ingesting the minimum required bites to obtain more noodles, rice, bread. . . or unicorns. Oh, the joy of cooking for one’s family. 

I flipped through some old recipe books this afternoon and decided to rework a  tofu stir-fry.  It turned out quite well, though I think next time I won’t add as much pineapple to lessen the sweet factor.  However, Everett (my cars-obsessed 3 year old) ate almost his entire serving.  Which means I’ll be making this again.  (If Genevieve had enjoyed hers I probably would have done a jig with tears streaming down my face!)

Sweet & Sour Tofu Stir-Fry (adapted from The Broccoli Forrest –remember this one? I think someone gave it to me for my 18th birthday.)

  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 3 t. sesame oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 can pineapple chunks, in juice
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 t. fresh ginger
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 2-3 T. soy sauce
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Toppings: green onions, roasted cashews, fresh basil

1. In a small sauce pan, mix fresh squeezed orange juice (or some from the fridge if your orchard is just plain out!), pineapple chunks and 1/2 cup of juice, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger.  Add water so you have about 2 cups altogether. Simmer on low heat.  

2. In large pan, saute onion in sesame oil over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Add carrot, tofu cubes (or tempeh would be lovely, too) and pepper, cook for another 3-5 minutes, then add tomato. Turn off heat.

3. In a cup, mix cornstarch with 1/2 cup water until dissolved (everyone loves a big blob of starch in their dinner!), then add this mix to the pineapple concoction.  Stir over low heat until thickened a little, then add to tofu mixture and heat through.  

4.  Serve topped with green onions, cashews, and fresh basil over brown rice.  Delicious!

I wish you much success in the kitchen! 🙂

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Vegan Hot Cocoa

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The car was covered in frost this morning.  What clearer sign could there be from The Universe that I should be chain-drinking hot beverages?  (Although, to be honest, I consider all seasons appropriate for coffee, hot chocolate, and tea!)

Here’s my simple go-to recipe for my evening mug o’ cocoa. I like to whip this up after the kids are in bed; it makes the next several hours of work (and various child interruptions) more enjoyable. (Oh, I do know how to spoil myself, don’t I?) 

Joy in a mug

  • 1 heaping teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 cup soy/almond/coconut milk (my fave lately is an unsweetened almond-coconut blend; I’ll let you know when I start making my own nut milk. Don’t hold your breath.)
  • 1 T raw sugar/maple syrup OR 1 packet truvia
  • dash of salt
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

1. Mix cocoa powder into hot water to dissolve.                                                                               
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and heat over stove (or in microwave) to desired temperature.                                                                                                                                            
3. Pour into your fanciest, most delicate heirloom mug – enjoy.  Mmmmm. 

ps: I am going to try making vegan marshmallows this weekend. I think this just might propel this cocoa into the stratosphere! 🙂 

 

 

Pinto Beans: They’re What’s for Dinner

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Any vegan worth her sea salt relies on beans to anchor a meal, right?  As part of my renewed (and weak) budgeting efforts, I’ve been trying to purchase whole foods and utilize more bulk goods.  So, in this fiscally-responsible spirit, I asked Ryan to pick up brown rice and dried beans on a recent run to the store. (I believe my exact words were “some dried beans.”)  So imagine my surprise and delight when he returned with a 25-pound bag of pinto beans! Wow. That’s love. After clearing out an entire kitchen cabinet for bean storage, I realized I needed to figure out some new recipes for this humble, beautiful little bean.  (Did this just conjure images of me happily frolicking in a large leaf-like pile of pinto beans, throwing them in the air? I hope so.)

Pinto means “painted” in Spanish, and refers to the lovely splashes of color on the bean, which turn brownish-pink upon being cooked.  Pinto beans, which originated in South America, are the highest-consumed beans in America, though much of this consumption is in the form of refried beans at Taco Bell and other Mexican fast food restaurants.  Taco Bell beans are high in sodium and made with vegetable oil, so their burritos should probably not be your daily go-to lunch, but hey, they aren’t the worst option for an inexpensive, quick meal.  (Here’s a tip: ask Taco Bell to grill your burrito. Quite fancy.)

Let’s get to the nutritional power punch that is one cup of cooked pinto beans: high in protein (30%), folate, magnesium, potassium, as well as 62% of daily recommended fiber. . . these beans just may confer superpowers upon you!  (I can’t help pointing out, once again, that a serving of meat – any meat – contains 0% of your daily recommended fiber. Just sayin’.)  Irritable bowl syndrome? Diverticulitis? Yep, these and other lovelies are caused, at least in part, by a lack of healthy fiber in your diet. In short, the nutrients in beans are great for intestinal health and also significantly lower your risk of heart attack, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.  Get your bean on!  

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the whole “gas” issue (sorry, ladies, so indelicate!).  First of all, your body can and does get accustomed to eating more legumes, so be patient (and spend more time outside).  Secondly, there are a few ways you can lessen the flatulence factor when preparing beans.  Always rinse canned or soaked beans thoroughly, and when you’re cooking beans, skim the foam off the top of the water. Further, if you have access to such exotics, pick up some seaweed called “kombu” and place a piece in with your cooking beans. Not only does this add a salty, delicious flavor, it is also supposed to help with, ahem, digestion issues. 

Here are a few suggestions for what to do with that gigantic bag of beans burning a whole in your pantry.

Simple Pinto Pate: simply puree cooked beans (soak them overnight, then drain, rinse, and simmer for 90 minutes in plenty of water – I’ve never met anyone who loved burned beans)  with sage, oregano, salt and pepper, and fresh or sauteed garlic. Serve with fancy crackers, pita bread, corn chips, baguette, or raw veggies.  On the puree note, dig that immersion blender out, my friend, because we’re officially entering soup season, which lasts for the next 8 months here (we don’t mess around with spring!).  

Refried Beans (adapted from Appetite for Reduction)

  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely (yes, it’s worth the tears)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic (depending on how much you love garlic. I use at least 4.)
  • 2 t. coriander
  • 2 t. cumin
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pinto beans, cooked to perfection
  • 1 can tomato sauce or crushed/diced tomatoes (both are good)
  • pinch cayenne pepper

1. Saute onion for 3-5 minutes, then add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add water if it seems dry enough to ignite.

2. Add beans and tomatoes/sauce and smash with a potato masher. (This also works great for dealing with latent, misguided aggression – give it a try!) If you are feeling passive aggressive, go heavy on the cayenne.   

Simple Bean Soup

  • 2 cups dry pinto beans
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (oh, didn’t have time to make your own vegetable stock this week? where are your priorities?! 🙂 don’t stress, use water)
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 t. salt, pepper to taste (you know I put pepper in everything)
  • 1 t. chili powder (I like chipotle chili powder, too)
  • 2 t. cumin (you may see this as “comino” when people are using very selective Spanish)
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients, and cook, like, forever (actually 3-4 hours) over low heat.  When beans are soft, remove from heat and let cool for a bit, then use your trusty immersion blender (seriously, who invented this thing?!) to, well, blend.  Top with adorable dollops of vegan sour cream, crushed blue corn chips, avocado, salsa, toasted sesame seeds, and/or fresh herbs, enjoy with warm tortillas, or serve over rice. . .  this is, clearly, a very versatile – not to mention healthy — dish.  Enjoy!  

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Baking with Sparkling Water: Who Knew?

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I heart waffles. And pancakes. And crepes. And muffins. And scones. You get the idea. 

When my stepmother was on bed rest years ago expecting my sister Caitlin, for some reason I got it in my 12 year-old mind that she needed to be fed home-made chocolate chip cookies every single day.  I still often remind Caitie that she’s about 73% cookie dough!  I’m not sure how many weeks this baking frenzy went on, but I don’t recall anyone asking me to stop (with the exception of the time I was too lazy to actually form cookies and smashed the entire bowl of dough into a casserole dish). The moral of the story is, even though I went off to boarding school a couple of years later and entered almost a decade of cafeteria food, I have always loved to bake.  

When I stopped eating dairy I thought I might have to (gasp, choke) give up my beloved baked goods, too, but of course that fear has been repeatedly vanquished via successful baking endeavors.  In place of eggs, I have generally used apple cider vinegar mixed with almond or soy milk or flax seed meal mixed with water.  Recently, however, I discovered that using sparkling water actually provides baked goods – particularly quick breads such as waffles and pancakes — with an extra lightness that is just scrumptious. 

Here’s a variation on a waffle recipe from Candle 79 (please do visit this incredible vegan restaurant the next time you’re in the Big Apple!).      

Sparkling Waffles (serves 2 very hungry small people, or 3-4 normal appetites)

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 3 t. flax seed meal
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water (I used lemon essence, because I’m fancy and that’s all I had)
  • 2 T melted Earth Balance buttery spread (or coconut oil, of course!)

1. Combine all dry ingredients in medium sized bowl.

2. Add vinegar to milk, then stir in the sparkling water, vanilla and melted buttery spread/oil.  Add to dry mix and whisk like it’s the last whisk of your life!

3. If you want to be seriously gourmet, add 1/2 cup chopped nuts, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, and/or fresh fruit such as blueberries or bananas. 

Yummy. I may make these again for dinner. 🙂

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