Making Muffins (aka Inspired and Missing my Kitchen)

I’ve been lucky to spend the past month traveling and spending lots of quality time with family and friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. Living a vagabond life has been fun but one thing I’m missing? My kitchen.

I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen to start cooking (and eating!) healthy food and this article in today’s Washington Post has me inspired: How to make a healthful muffin that doesn’t taste like one.

Making Muffins

I’ve eaten a lot of very unhealthy (though very tasty) muffins on this vacation and love the idea of a homemade recipe that is actually good for me. Better yet? One that my two and four year olds will both eat without complaining. If you have a healthy version of a pain au chocolat, send it my way…

From the Washington Post:

Whole-Grain Apple Crumb Muffins

12 to 15 servings

INGREDIENTS

For the topping

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon canola oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the muffins

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large eggs

3/4 cup unsweetened plain applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 medium Golden Delicious apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch chunks

STEPS

For the topping: Whisk together the brown sugar, pecans, whole-wheat pastry flour, oil and cinnamon in a bowl.

For the muffins: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-well muffin pan with cooking oil spray.

Whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the brown sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl until well combined, then whisk in the applesauce and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture in two additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until just combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the muffin pan, then sprinkle with the topping mixture. (If you have batter left over, cover it and bake a second batch.) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then run a round-edged knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool them completely on the rack before serving or storing.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 15): 190 calories, 3 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

Advertisements

Sweet Potato Recipe from Kimberly Snyder – Yum!

Dreaming of Sweet Potatoes

Can’t wait to try this delicious-sounding Sweet Potato Red Onion and Jalapeno hash recipe from nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. Love the combination of healthy and delicious…this might be my new go-to lunch.

Anyone know where I can get real sweet potatoes in Hanoi?!

Shine on!

Cupcakes for Idiots (i.e. How to Look Like a Super Mom at Your Daughter’s 2nd Birthday Party)

IMG_7813

I love to cook but I’m no baker. I don’t like exact measurements. I’m not very good at remembering to set the kitchen timer. Needless to say, my attempts at baking usually end up misshapen, burned, or raw in the middle (or some combination thereof). I’m usually pretty impressed with myself if I can successful make brownies from a Duncan Hines mix. But this year, for some crazy reason, I decided I was going to be a super mom and make homemade cupcakes for my daughter’s second birthday. And not just any cupcakes. Elmo cupcakes!

So what is a non-baker to do?

Step 1. Order Elmo baking cups and icing decorations from Amazon.

Step 2. Order even more obnoxious Elmo-themed decorations to distract from the quality of homemade baked goods.

Step 3. Google “perfect simple vanilla cupcakes.”

Step 4. Buy ingredients in advance to avoid winging it the day of (“Do I really need baking powder? Baking soda’s fine, right?”

Step 5. Try not to swear too loudly in front of children while baking cupcakes.

Step 6. Listen for kitchen timer and don’t get creative.

Step 7. Actually let cupcakes cool before impatiently spreading frosting on top.

Step 8. Put Elmo icing decoration on top to look like Super Mom-professional baker.

Step 9. Serve bubbles to parents (kids don’t care as long as there’s lots of sugar).

IMG_7814

Seriously though, this Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from Glorious Treats ROCKED. And the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting was to die for.

At the end of the day, all that matters is my little pumpkin liked her Elmo birthday party and blew out her two candles. And for now, she thinks I’m a super mom no matter what.

IMG_7821         IMG_7823

Shine on!

Living it Up in Luang Prabang: Part 3, Food

I’ve already set the scene and shared my favorite frolicking adventures, but now it’s time for my favorite: the food.

Having spent the past two years living in Southeast Asia, I’ve eaten a lot of good food, but I have to say, the food in Laos is some of my favorite. Hanoi has some good go-to food options (namely bún đậu and chả cá) but by and large food in Hanoi can be a bit lacking in punch. I’m a spicy kind of girl – I like my food to have a little kick. And after 18 million nem ran (spring rolls), I was ready for something different.

Enter Laos.

Best snack? The crispy, sesame coated Mekong River Weed. Frankly, I’d rather not think about the source of this delicious snack. But suffice it to say, it’s similar to a crispy seawood, lightly fried then sprinkled with sesame seeds and a dash of spicy goodness. And you can dip it in an array of tasty dips (jeow).

Best staple? Sticky rice. White or brown – both delicious. And cooked in beautiful handmade baskets – it’s like opening a little gift every time you sit down to a meal. Appropriate for early morning alms-giving to the monks and pairs great with just about everything. My husband’s favorite main accompaniment: lemongrass stuffed with seasoned pork or chicken.

Best drink? The awesome fruit shakes sold from the stands near the night market. And, of course, Lao Dark beer. Lots of Lao Dark Beer.

The local food is certainly a highlight but we found a few good international restaurants too. Here’s a summary of our favorite Luang Prabang restaurants:

Coconut Garden

Our first stop was a return trip to the Coconut Garden, sister restaurant of L’Elephant–a beautiful, tasty, but less kid-friendly spot. We’d eaten at Coconut Garden twice on our last trip and had loved the chill, outdoor garden vibe and mix of local and western food options.

Tamarind

This meal was the highlight of the trip. We got there early in order to avoid ruining others’ meals with our loud children. The TripAdvisor recommendations were great and highlights were the watermelon chilli granita aperitif, Laos sampler, stir-fried pumpkin, and lemongrass skewers. Bonus? Great gourmet Laos goodies to bring home, like coconut tamarind spread, ginger tea, and chilli salt.

IMG_1916             IMG_1919

          The spread at Tamarind

Ock Pop Tok

Don’t miss this delightful oasis a few miles outside of town. On the banks of the Mekong, with freshly died silk blowing in the breeze, you can’t beat the vibe. I had the Living Land Salad – lettuce with beetroot, apple, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and a creamy balsamic dressing. It was delicious and definitely not something I’d find in Hanoi. The Lao Dark was delicious (as always), as was the post-meal cappuccino.

IMG_7609Enjoying a quiet moment on the banks of the Mekong

Indigo Cafe

My daughter and I stumbled across this gem of a cafe as we were trying to escape the heat. What a find! Cute cafe vibe with good coffees, smoothies, and an extensive menu that includes lots of veggie and vegan options. A good sandwich can be hard to come by in Southeast Asia and I was pleased to enjoy a veggie sandwich on good, fresh bread. The cafe is on the bottom floor of a hotel of the same name, and attached to an adorable store. I found a cute, reasonably priced locally made indigo pillow case and this awesome hat ($3!).

Pizza Phan Luang

Don’t miss this off-the-beaten path restaurant. And by off-the-beaten-path, I mean you have to cross the Nam Khan River via a creaky bamboo suspension bridge (see photos below).

IMG_7648IMG_7649

Once you cross the bridge and climb the steep staircase to the top of the river bank, walk about 1/4 mile and you’ll find Pizza Phan Luang on the left hand side, down a narrow corridor. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a quaint garden pizza cafe, complete with a wood fire pizza oven, romantic candles, and relaxed outdoor vibe. The pizza was the best I’ve had in Southeast Asia (although, admittedly, this ain’t Manhattan).

Have I whet your appetite?

Shine on!

Living it Up in Luang Prabang: Part I, Setting the Scene

IMG_7571

The Laos flag, flying high

Just got back from four days in lovely Luang Prabang, Laos. I loved it just as much the second time around. Highlights? Beautiful wats (temples) and saffron robes, peaceful Mekong breezes, the best night market I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, fabulous food, elephant rides, local artwork and handicrafts, and an exceptional hotel.

Luang Prabang’s town is a UNESCO world heritage site and boasts a delightful mix of historical buildings, quaint shops and cafes, traditional houses (many now guesthouses), and – of course – dozens of temples. As UNESCO explains: “Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.”

Luang Prabang Monks almsgiving

Early morning almsgiving, February 2014

Again, this trip was a combination of my favorite things: family, fitness, and frolicking, (with Lao Dark beers sprinkled throughout). To be honest, there was a bit less straight-up fitness than I would have liked, but I figure when you’re carrying/pushing two young children all over town in 90 degree, humid heat, that’s equivalent to a workout (or four).

IMG_7488

Getting there

Luang Prabang as an easy one-hour flight from Hanoi. We flew there on Laos Airlines on a packed prop plane and back home on a similar plane operated by Vietnam airlines. Not the most spacious airline experience but thankfully the flights were quick and on time. (I recommend dressing for warm weather, as it took half the flight for the aircon to get kicking.) The best part is that, not only is Luang Prabang a quick flight from Hanoi, but once you arrive at the small airport tucked among the hills, the car ride to town is ten minutes tops.

IMG_1540

    “We’re getting on this little plane?!”

Where to Lay Your Head

Our first time in Luang Prabang we stayed in a quaint riverside boutique hotel, The Belle Rive Boutique Hotel – a quintessential French colonial style set of buildings. The lobby feels like stepping back in time to a much earlier Indochine experience. The location can’t be beat. Right in town and only a block away from almsgiving (more on that later). Our room was simple but comfortable, the food was delicious, the hosts were warm, and the room rate included a cocktail cruise. We loved it and would recommend it enthusiastically.

Belle Rive Luang Prabang Door         Belle Rive Luang Prabang

The beautiful Belle Rive

This time, we opted for a hotel with a pool (it’s HOT in Laos in April). In Luang Prabang, this means you have to stay a bit outside of town, as pools aren’t permitted in the historic district. We stayed at Hotel de La Paix, a boutique hotel managed by Accor (soon to become a Sofitel property). A fabulous decision, it turns out. Thanks to our Accor Advantage Plus card, they upgraded us to a large, open poolside room, complete with a huge bathroom, an outdoor garden with lounge chairs, a stocked (complimentary) mini bar, an iPod with local music, and a ridiculously comfortable bed.

IMG_7471

View of our room from the breakfast table

Bonus? A free baby crib and a small sofa perfect for a four-year-old’s temporary “bed” with no extra charges!

IMG_7491

Getting Around

Most hotels include round-trip airport transportation. Once you unpack your bags, take a stroll along the Mekong and Luang Prabang’s main street. Most hotels offer free bikes and tuk tuks are plentiful, cheap, and fun!

Luang Prabang Bike

IMG_7641

Elephants are another great option (more on that later!).

IMG_1848

Riding in Style

Avec Les Enfants

Luang Prabang is one of the more child-friendly cities I’ve visited in Southeast Asia. There are plenty of fairly wide and obstruction-free sidewalks, making it (relatively) stroller friendly. Most of the restaurants we visited (more on this to come!) had high chairs and were kid-friendly. Additionally, the tourist activities – riverboat cruise, night market, elephant rides (more on these to come too!) – welcomed kids, (although if you’re safety–minded, I recommend bringing life jackets from home).

IMG_1923

Stay tuned for Living it Up in Luang Prabang: Part 2, Frolicking!!!!

On a side note, this is my go-to travel highchair. It’s light and folds flat so I can keep it under the stroller with no problem.

Just Beet It

Looking for ways to integrate more vegetables into your diet? Check out this Washington Post article “The unexpected value of beets.”

Beet ImageImage courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What makes beets so healthy? This power food is chock full of antioxidants, probiotics, folate, and betaine. According to Jonny Bowden, PhD (aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”) in this Men’s Health Article, “These two nutrients work together to lower your blood levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory compound that can damage your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Plus, the natural pigments—called betacyanins—that give beets their color have been proved to be potent cancer fighters in laboratory mice.”

Beets are not only healthy, they’re delicious. And they’re pretty. They make a great natural food coloring and are the perfect vegetable to integrate into existing recipes, like applesauce, greek yogurt, roasted vegetables, salad, pizza, smoothies and even chocolate cake.

My family loves Jessica Seinfeld’s Chocolate Cake with Beets. and you can transform them into delicious muffins. I’m not a huge sweets person but this recipe is a good way to indulge while still getting in some powerful nutrients. I’d skip the frosting and use 100% raw cacao powder instead of bittersweet chocolate.

When cooking with beets, raw is best to get the most nutrients. The longer you cook them, the fewer antioxidants. Also, be sure to heed the WaPo author’s full disclosure!

Eating beets is often followed by a phenomenon called beeturia, in which urine and feces are tinted red. So before you rush off to the doctor in alarm, check to see whether anyone has slipped you a beet.

Bon appetit. I’m off to try this Beet Cucumber Cleanse Juice!

Shine on!

Kicking the cold (even when it’s warm outside)

Even though the sun is finally shining in Hanoi, everyone around me is sick. Husband, kids, co-workers: coughing, feverish, and contagious. And here’s me, Doña Purell, using antibiotic hand gel like it’s going out of style.

In an effort to stay healthy, I’m chugging vitamin C like it’s my job. Watermelon and apple smoothie for breakfast, lemon ginger tea, and apple/ginger/carrot juice for lunch. Which got me thinking, maybe y’all could use some Vitamin C and comforting recipes in your life.

Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite cold-fighting potions. Achoo!

  • Fresh ginger tea – slice fresh ginger, add fresh lemons and local organic honey. Steep. Enjoy!
  • Emergen-C – chug this stuff the minute you start feeling sick.

pho gaHanoi style phở gà

Feel better soon. Shine on!