Springtime joy and carrot cake baked oatmeal

I am thrilled that Spring has finally arrived. My desert-loving bones really felt the chill of winter this year, as we had a lot more snow than usual here in the Midwest. Since I grew up just south of San Diego (I could see the hills of Mexico from my second-story bedroom window), I really had no idea about what winter was all about in the rest of the country. It gets very frosty and even freezing overnight in the desert, but still warms up to a pleasant shorts-and-a-tshirt temperature during the day, even in the middle of winter. I remember that we got a very rare hail storm once and I naively thought it was snow and tried to make a snowman out of the tiny pea-sized pellets. You can guess how that turned out.

My son was born in the middle of winter two years ago, and we snuggled up and hibernated indoors for a few months after his birth. We were so excited to bask in the warm sunshine after months of blankets and heaters! He gets very excited by the coming of Spring now, and begs to eat almost every meal outside on the sunny back deck. He even asked to nap outside the other day, and simply laid down on the deck and said “Marlon sleep outside,” so I got his pillow bed I made him and a blanket and we camped on the deck. He slept so well, and it was so refreshing to drift off to sleep (I sleep during his naps too when I can) with the cool breeze blowing over our faces, gazing up at the yellow buds of the maple tree glowing in the sun against the deep blue sky. We even saw two flocks of what looked like white geese flying North, so far up they were barely pinpricks, their formation undulating like foamy, rippling water. It was a sight I would have never noticed if I hadn’t been laying on my back, looking directly overhead with not a thought in my head. It’s wonderful to slow down and have simple moments like these, especially during the season changes, to mark the transition points in the year. That’s a huge part I love about having kids; if you listen, they get you to slow down and enjoy all your senses and the wondrous experiences around you.

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If anyone is interested in making this cute little pillow bed, I can definitely post a tutorial. It’s basically a long piece of fabric sewn into four or more connected pillowcases. I need to make myself one now, they’re so comfortable for naps!

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(It usually lives in the tent my husband and I made for Marlon, but it typically gets commandeered by Remington, as you can see.)

One of our recent meals that we have eaten outside was this lovely carrot cake baked oatmeal from Oh She Glows. I had never baked oatmeal before, but it looked pretty simple as well as delicious, so I had to try it. I made a few modifications from Angela’s recipe; first of all, I prepared everything except the raisins and walnuts the night before and stuck it in the fridge in a covered bowl. (I like to soak my grains overnight for easier digestibility.) The next morning I put it into a baking dish, topped it with the raisins and walnuts and about 1/2 a cup or so of fresh pineapple that I happened to have cut up already. I love pineapple in carrot cake, so I knew this will taste great! I should have let it come up to room temperature before baking, but I couldn’t wait that long so I threw it in the oven and baked for about 25 minutes or so. The top was golden brown when it looked done, so I served it up with a scoop of plain yogurt (I was craving whipped cream so bad, but didn’t have any) and a healthy glug of maple syrup. I go through so much maple syrup when I’m pregnant. Here it is fresh out of the oven and all plated up:

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This was absolutely delicious! It tasted so much like carrot cake, especially with the creamy yogurt, and completely satisfied my sweet craving with no refined sugar. I must also add that I just recently started reacting to cinnamon, so I had to leave that out as well, but I subbed in some nutmeg and I really didn’t miss it! I have been staying away from some of my favorite desserts like carrot cake because of the cinnamon ban I’ve been under. No fun! So if you are allergic to cinnamon, know that you can still have your carrot cake and eat it too!

Marlon loved this so much, especially the reerees I put in it (raisins). And I was impressed he got a lot of carrots into him, as he hasn’t been a huge fan of those yet. Here’s my little stylish dresser (he picked out this colorful outfit) enjoying his oatmeal in the sunshine:

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Go see Anglea’s delicious recipe on her site and check out her new cookbook! I’ve just ordered mine, and I can’t wait to try more of her recipes.

How are you all enjoying the beginning of Spring? What are some of your favorite meals to eat outdoors? Is it just me or is anyone craving watermelon yet? I can’t wait!
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Easiest oven cleaning technique ever and my favorite new cookbook

As I am preparing for my son’s second birthday party in a few weeks, I’ve been making test batches of treats that I’m thinking about serving. I recently picked up a copy of Shauna James Ahern’s Gluten-Free Girl Every Day from the library (I love giving cookbooks a test run this way) and discovered some really amazing recipes. First I made her lemon yogurt cake, which was divine, and I completely devoured it during a few middle-of-the-night snacking sessions. Did I mention I’m pregnant? Shauna writes that this recipe is inspired by a lemon yogurt cake that Bill Yosses makes, who is the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House. I love it because it’s tart and not cloyingly-sweet like most cakes, but it was a little on the small size and I’d probably have to make about ten of them to feed everyone at this party. But I’ll be making it again for myself, that’s for sure!

The next recipe I tried was her chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts, although I left the hazelnuts out because one of the kids coming to the party has nut allergies. These cookies recommend using teff flour, which pairs with chocolate oh so well. Marlon absolutely loves these, even though mine were a tad overbaked, and enjoys riding around the house on his push-car, happily crunching on half a cookie. They were a hit with my husband as well, so they’re definitely going to be our birthday party treat. Especially because you can whip up a few batches of batter the night before and bake them up in no time the morning of the party. That will save tons of time, and the flavors will have a chance to really develop while the batter is chilling. Everything improves with a chill in the fridge in my opinion. Especially pies. Mmmm, pumpkin pie… Did I mention I’m pregnant?

Even though I had my birthday party treat already picked out in two recipes, I had to sample a few more; so many in this cookbook look delicious! Last night I made a batch of coconut-cashew panna cottas and let them chill overnight (okay, one of them might have been eaten in the middle of the night), and we made the blueberry compote this morning and spooned some over it for a morning snack. Here’s the first one we ate:

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Marlon absolutely devoured this; he’s on a real blueberry kick but he loved the pudding as well. I’d never made anything like this before, but it was super easy and was basically a creamy gelatin pudding, this one being dairy-free with homemade cashew cream and a can of coconut milk. Homemade cashew cream or milk is also much easier than it sounds. You simply soak some cashews in water for a few hours then blend them with some fresh water and ta-da. This was flavored with a vanilla bean and definitely satisfies my creamy dessert craving.

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We also made the best pizza crust ever from this book, and it was so light and crispy I couldn’t believe it! I’ve made two of these so far and I just can’t get enough. Here’s the beauty right after coming out of the oven:

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It was promptly consumed. The crust is so easy and quick to make, and only rises for an hour or two, and I couldn’t believe all the beautiful yeasty bubbles!

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Marlon photobombed in this one. What a cute face. I topped mine with a smear of tomato sauce, a few slices of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and some red pepper flakes and fresh basil at the end. Perfect.

I just started getting back into baking after a month-long break after the holidays (burn-out), and was aghast to discover the state my poor oven had gotten into. Between all the pies and the enormous turkey we had on Thanksgiving, the bottom of my oven was a charred mess. I looked into easy oven cleaning tips, and read that spraying a mixture of baking soda and water all over the blackened mess a bunch of times would eat away at it, doing all the work for me. Score! Sounds perfect to me, since this mixture is completely edible, as I’m not into chemical fumes going into the place where I’m cooking my pizza crust at 500 degrees. In case you’re wondering, this is why I don’t put a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom of the oven like a lot of people do: fumes. I like to steer clear of heavy metals, so I avoid this simple trick.

This was seriously the easiest, greatest oven cleaning technique I’ve ever tried. I got a cheap 12-oz spray bottle (one that I bought at Lowe’s that was empty, not an old bottle that had chemicals in it before), spooned about 3 or 4 Tablespoons of baking soda into it, and filled it up the rest of the way with warm water. I put the cap on, shook it up real good to mix the two together, and sprayed the entire interior of my oven with it. The thing about this method is that you have to spray multiple times, about once a day or whenever you think of it, and let it build up. The baking soda reacts chemically with the carbon (the black stuff stuck to your oven) and simply eats away at it, reducing it to powder. After about a week or two, the black stuff that I thought was stained permanently onto the sides and bottom of my oven started to just wash off with the squirt of my spray bottle. That’s when I knew it was ready to wipe. I took a damp cloth and wiped all the powder and baking soda residue off the entire oven, and was left with this:

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This might not be impressive to those of you who have ever bought your oven brand new, but I have always inherited VERY ancient ovens (every one has been that lovely “almond” shade that was popular in the seventies, but just looks like a white oven got kinda burnt), and I never thought I’d see it look like this. Especially with no toxic chemicals or back-breaking work! I must say the most impressive part was those two racks, which were completely black before I started this treatment. I actually didn’t know they were supposed to be silver, they were so stained.  And I must say, I always clean up spills in my oven, and have tried scrubbing and soaking and scouring every surface, but was always left with those blackened, charred spots that I had always thought were permanent. Especially those racks! I only wish I had taken a before photo to see the comparison.

You can do this treatment on any of your bakeware that has those carbon stains, too, and I think I’ll try it on my cookie sheets sometime. My next goal is to get our drip pans on the stove looking as good as the oven, so I did take a before shot of those to see how dramatic the restoration is. Here’s one of my drip pans right after I soaked and scrubbed them:

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Not that impressive for all the scrubbing I gave them! I hope the baking soda works wonders on these too. I have high hopes; that baking soda treatment was quite impressive.

Let me know if any of you try this treatment for yourself, and be sure to take before and after photos. It’ll blow you away!