I'm sure you have heard of Gingerbread Men, but let me be the first to introduce you to Swedish Pepparkakor People (posting politically correct).  I am very proud of my Swedish heritage, and always remember hearing stories about my paternal great-grandparents who came over from Sweden.  It was fate's design that they both started working for the same employer after coming to America, and the sweet discovery of their love for each other is the stuff that movies are made of.  I remember as a child I loved hearing stories about my heritage and I wanted to learn about the places that my ancestors came from.  One Christmas my mother gave me a Swedish recipe book, and at the time I was most intrigued with these yummy looking cookies with a very funny name that I couldn't pronounce.  I later came to understand that Swedish Pepparkakor cookies are a traditional Christmas cookie that is very similar to the gingerbread cookie.  I never liked gingerbread cookies and I now know that my aversion is really toward molasses rather then the gingerbread cookie as a whole.  Pepparkakor cookies, however are made with similar spices but use maple syrup instead. 

    These spicy crisp cookies became one of my all time favorites to make at Christmas, and I have been making them every year since that first batch years ago.  This year, with my new gluten-free lifestyle, I decided to attempt changing this traditional classic.  The recipe you will find below is for a gluten-free cookie that is without a doubt, indistinguishable from the regular classic I have come to love over the years.  These have even become my oldest son's favorite cookie too, and if he knows there are some around they don't last very long.  In the corner of my eye I see little hands creeping up the side of my counter tops fishing around for a cookie and then quickly dashing away when he has caught one in his grasp.  If my son doesn't manage to eat the rest of these cookies I plan on setting out a few for Santa Clause this year.  If I'm lucky he'll leave a brand new food processor under the tree for me!

* The absolutely beautiful red and white Swedish Dalahäst linen kitchen hand towel featured above was handmade by lilleputt studio.

Swedish Pepparkakor People Cookies (Gluten-Free)

makes 6 dozen small cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup pure cane sugar (unrefined)
1 egg
2 tablespoons pure Maple Syrup
1 1/4 cups organic brown rice flour + extra for rolling out dough (bob's red mill brand)
2/3 cup 'sweet' white sorghum flour (bob's red mill brand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional)

    Preheat oven to 350° F.  In a electric mixer with a paddle attachment or a large bowl with hand mixer, blend the butter, sugar, egg and pure maple syrup until it is well combined and fluffy.  In a small bowl whisk together the brown rice flour, sweet sorghum flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground cardamom and ground nutmeg.  Slowly blend the flour mixture into the wet ingredients about a half cup at a time, making sure to mix well after each incorporation.  Gather the dough into 1 large ball (if you feel the dough is too wet then add a little more brown rice flour).  Wrap the large dough ball in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to firm up.  On a large clean surface, sprinkle down some brown rice flour and coat a rolling pin as well.  Using a quarter of the dough at a time, roll out the dough really thin, about 1/8 inch thick and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  Place cookies about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.  Bake the cookies for about 6-8 minutes (watch them carefully because they can burn quite easily).  Transfer finished cookies to cool on a flat surface such as a piece of wax paper on a counter top or a large plate.  Store cookies in a sealed container.
    We all know that it is important to eat a variety of foods with "color" for good health and to prevent cancer.  There is also something to be said about eating the "non-colors" or white vegetables (even Dr. Oz recommends it).  One random night for dinner I grabbed what I had in my refrigerator and root box to prepare some roasted vegetables.  The only vegetables that I could gather were lacking in a little of that "color" that we are all supposed to look for when preparing meals.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the combination of all these ingredients came together quite perfectly.  My husband, who loves when I make roasted vegetables, took his first bite of this combination and quickly changed his gaze toward me.  He asked, "what did yo do?" "why is this so good?"  I really don't know why it is so good, perhaps these vegetables are ideal for roasting, or maybe they ban together to support each others' neutral complexion.  Whatever the reason, now is the time to be roasting vegetables.  I look for any excuse to fire up the oven and leave it on for hours during the cold winter months.  This just happens to be a more healthy reason to turn on the oven and keep your home toasty warm and smelling wonderful.  Roasting vegetables is also a great way to cut down on dishes to wash because you can do everything in one large roasting pan.  Next time when you are at your grocery store as you survey the produce isle look past the bright oranges, reds, yellows and purples, for the knobby roots and plain hues of white, green and brown.

Roasted White Vegetables

Serves 4

1 knob of Celeriac (aka celery root or knob celery)
small bunch of parsley root (about 5 or 6 roots) *Not parsnips, these are a different vegetable
1 small head of cauliflower
1/2 head of green cabbage
1 whole bulb of garlic
1 white onion
1 bulb of fennel *reserving some of the fronds for garnish

4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
roasting spice mix (seen below)

Roasting Spice Mix
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered lemon peel (see note below)
pinch of ground cloves (for a pinch grab a tiny amount of the ground cloves between your thumb and index finger)

    Preheat oven to 375° F. Peel and roughly chop the celeriac and parsley root.  Cut the cauliflower into small bite size pieces.  Shred the half a head of cabbage.  Peel the cloves of garlic and leave the small ones whole and slice the larger ones in half if you prefer.  Quarter and roughly chop the white onion and fennel bulb.  Reserve some of the fennel fronds to use as a edible garnish before serving.  Place all the vegetables in a large roasting pan and drizzle the olive oil on top.  Combine all the ingredients for the roasting spice mix in a small bowl and sprinkle on top of vegetables and toss well, making sure all pieces are coated.   Roast in a 375° F oven for 45 minutes, tossing the vegetables once, half way through the cooking time. 

Powdered Lemon Peel:  I get my powdered lemon peel from Penzeys Spices.  This is an important staple in my kitchen because this product gives a dish a strong bright lemony flavor without having to grate a fresh lemon.  It saves on time, and I like to use it when I want a strong lemon flavor without the small chunks of peel.  It is really great for baking and I'll even use it to supplement fresh grated lemon peel in things like lemon bars, cookies and cheesecake.  If you don't have access to a Penzeys Spice Store (I used to drive 3 hours to get to one, now they are only 20 minutes away) you could order it on their website or just stick with the regular fresh grated lemon peel.  If you choose to stay with the fresh lemon peel I would increase the amount used to 1 teaspoon.    
    Thanksgiving for me is an easy holiday to prepare for.  It normally includes getting in our car and showing up to a house where a beautiful and delicious dinner has already been cooked and served.  Every year I look forward to this gigantic meal placed before me, because I understand the amount of preparation and work it took to get it there.  It will be a very long time, if ever, before the charge of a Thanksgiving dinner will be placed in my hands.  So in the meantime I always look forward to the chance to contribute a dessert to our yearly celebrations.  This recipe was my first challenge at making one of my favorite desserts gluten-free and healthy.  It turned out way better then I expected, and it instantly became my new favorite dessert.  This is why it will make an appearance at this year's banquet.  Crisps like this one are fun and easy to make.  You could make the dish the night before and on Thanksgiving just pop it in that already warm oven for a few minutes before serving. 
*All the flours and oats that I use in this recipe are Bob's Red Mill products.

Pear Apple Crisp (Vegan & Gluten-Free)

4 ripe bosc pears
2 sweet apples (macoun, honeycrip, or braeburn work well)
3 tablespoons gluten-free oat flour *
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (Grade B for vegans)
Juice from 1/2 a small lemon (I use a Meyer Lemon)
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

5 tablespoons gluten-free oat flour *
5 tablespoons quinoa flour *
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups gluten-free old fashioned oats *
1/2 tablespoon raw almond butter
1 tablespoon almond oil (or your choice of cooking oil)
3 tablespoon pure maple syrup (Grade B for vegans)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350° F

For the filling:  Peel, core, and chop the apples and pears and put them into a large bowl.  Add oat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt to the apples and pears and toss to coat them.  Whisk together the maple syrup, lemon, lemon zest, and balsamic vinegar.  Drizzle over the apples and pears and toss to coat.  Pour mixture into a pie plate or baking dish with high sides.  The mixture should fit comfortably in whatever you use with room to fit the topping on.

For Crisp:  Add all ingredients together in a bowl and use your fingers or a fork to mix until it clumps together and gets crumbly.  (It should be moist feeling, almost like a cookie dough)  Sprinkle on top of apple pear mixture and bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes.  The mixture should be bubbling and the topping should be browned. 

Serve your crisp warm out of the oven or reheat in a warm oven the next day for a few minutes before serving.
    I run around after two young boys all day long and don't indulge in a morning coffee.  Needless to say that I occasionally need a quick pick-me-up to work my job at home as a full time cook, referee, nurse, teacher and housekeeper.  Smoothies are a great meal replacement for the busy individual with no time to sit and eat.  There are many days when I opt to turn on the Vitamix and whip up a smoothie instead of skipping breakfast or lunch due to a lack of time. 
    I am not a nutritionist nor do I know why all the ingredients in this smoothie are good for you.  What I do know is that whenever I drink this smoothie I feel like I have all the energy of a little pink mechanical bunny.  Bee pollen is one of those weird ingredients that is very hard to find outside of the expensive health food stores, but fortunately for me there is an apiary in the town over.  The couple that runs the apiary are regulars at my local farmers market and they sell large jars of bee pollen along with all their raw honey.  The bright yellow and orange granules in a pretty glass jar were just too interesting to pass up, and after learning about the health benefits of bee pollen I decided to give it a try. 
    The best way I could find to incorporate bee pollen into food is through smoothies because the taste of bee pollen on it's own is less then desirable.  You are also not supposed to heat bee pollen, so it makes perfect sense to throw it in a smoothie.  Below is a combination of ingredients that taste great together and will give you a kick of energy to get you through the day.  Read more about the Glass Straw pictured above!

Bee Energized Smoothie

makes 1 (8-10oz) smoothie

1/2 cup Hemp Milk (recipe below)
1/2 cup young Thai coconut water (I use Taste Nirvana)
3-4 rounded tablespoons of cooked quinoa
(use directions on the box to cook)
1 tablespoon homemade peanut butter or natural peanut butter with no added salt
1/2 teaspoon ground bee pollen*
1 teaspoon raw organic rice protein powder (I use Growing Naturals)
1 large frozen banana, cut into chunks

Place all ingredients into a blender, and blend until consistency is nice and smooth!

*Bee PollenAs seen above, it comes in a granular form.  Most recipes say just to add the granules to a smoothie and let the blender grind it up.  I found that using a coffee or spice grinder works better at grinding up the pollen, but if you don't mind the occasional chunk in your smoothie you can add them as is.  It is recommended to incorporate bee pollen into your diet in small amounts to start.  Some people have been known to have allergic reactions to bee pollen, especially if they are allergic to honey or bee stings. Use your best judgement when deciding whether or not to add bee pollen to your diet. 
Hemp Milk

1 cup hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
5 cups of water
sweetener (optional)

Place the hemp seeds and water into a high speed blender and blend for a few minutes until the mixture looks smooth and milky.  You can strain the milk through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth if you want (I find that is it great without straining it).  You can add a small amount of sweetener such as agave or maple syrup, but if you are using your hemp milk in a smoothie you probably won't notice a difference if you leave it out. 
Keep your hemp milk in a sealed container in the refrigerator.  If you notice it separating just shake well before using.

    We find winter quickly approaching us in the state of New Jersey as we are now sitting in the middle of a snow storm.  Instead of watching graceful falling ice crystals, we are worried about our loved ones that still do not have power, heat or a home to return to.  For me it is just a further reminder at how lucky I am to have a beautiful home with electricity, heat and internet.  The destruction and chaos in this last week will be forever ingrained in my memory.  Along with the unending gas station lines, I also took for granted the fresh food in my grocery store.  Anything that needed refrigeration was either wilted, shrived up or just not available.  Along with most every other New Jerseyan, I had been playing the game "eat everything in your refrigerator as fast as you can."  Doing this for a few days has left me craving a nice fresh salad, but I knew I wouldn't be finding any fresh tomatoes or homegrown cucumbers. 

    I decided to try some more seasonal items like acorn squash and cranberries.  Fresh cranberries can now be found in most grocery stores and seem to be either very well stocked or extremely ignored for lack of tasty things to do with them.  Roasting the cranberries made them soft but still bright and tart.  For the greens part I was lucky to find some organic baby arugula still looking fresh in their little plastic box.  If you enjoy the taste of pumpkin seeds I also recommend keeping the acorn squash seeds and roasting them along with everything else. 

    To top off the salad I included some homegrown daikon radish sprouts to give a spicy freshness you probably won't ever find at any grocery store.  However, sprouts are easily grown in a small little corner of your kitchen.  They give you the satisfaction of having a fresh homegrown ingredient at any time of the year that can be thrown onto or into almost anything (probably not ice cream...keep them away from ice cream!).  The only requirement for sprouts is patience and constant rinsing.  This is how I grow my sproutsOverall I try to cook as seasonably as possible because it makes me feel more connected to my environment, but sometimes you just have to go with what's available in your grocery store.

Roasted Acorn Squash Salad

serves about 4 people

1 large acorn squash (you can include the seeds if you like*)
1 bulb of fennel
3/4 cup of fresh cranberries
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

fresh grated nutmeg
4-5 oz baby arugula
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
radish sprouts - How to grow sprouts
honey citrus rosemary vinaigrette (recipe below)

    Quarter the acorn squash and slice into small chunks.  Either scoop out the seed and discard them or save them to roast along with the squash.  Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise and slice into strips.  In a large bowl place the acorn squash, fennel and cranberries.  Drizzle everything with olive oil (as much as needed to coat all the pieces) and toss to coat.  Lay everything out on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Bake in a 400° F preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the acorn squash is tender when pierced with a fork. 
    Wash and dry your baby arugula and place it in a large salad bowl or on individual plates and top with the roasted acorn squash, fennel and cranberries.  Top with chopped walnuts and radish sprouts.  Drizzle honey citrus vinaigrette over salad and toss.  Ideally you should serve this salad warm, a few minutes after the vegetables come out of the oven. 

*Acorn Squash seeds are very similar to pumpkin seeds and can be roasted the same way.  The roasted seeds are a bit crunchy so I have left it an optional part of the salad because not everyone enjoys the texture.  My husband left only acorn squash skin and seeds on his plate, so I realize it is not a taste for everyone!

Honey Citrus Rosemary Vinaigrette

1/2 of a Valencia orange (fresh squeezed juice and zest)
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely minced
salt and pepper

Place all ingredients into small mixing bowl and whisk until emulsified.  Drizzle over salad and toss to coat.  Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator. 

    This recipe may have a short ingredient list but it is not short on flavor.  A dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan dessert that is not only extremely healthy, but also fun to make and eat.  I have been newly introduced to chia seeds by my Health Coach, Irina Kachalenko.  After a blind taste test of one of her chia pudding recipes I was amazed to find out how tasty these little seeds are, and after purchasing a big bag of chia seeds later I became obsessed.  The texture of chia pudding is similar to tapioca, and when I first tasted it that's what I thought it was.  The idea to infuse the coconut milk with tea came to me after trying a new herbal tea from Tea Forte called Blueberry Merlot.  After pouring myself a cup of warm tea and inhaling the beautiful scent of blueberries and herbs, I heard my frozen blueberries calling to me from the freezer.  Picked during the peak of their flavor in the last summer months, I always freeze a few pints for occasions such as this (or opportunities to whirl around in a smoothie).  This recipe makes just enough for two people, or for one person to have dessert two nights in a row (like me).  I use white chia seeds because that is what I found in my grocery store, but it is more common to find the black and brown versions.  I get the lemon mint used in this recipe fresh from my AeroGarden, but if you can't find lemon mint in the store, regular mint will do just fine.  The same goes for the lemon, I prefer to use Meyer lemons but not every store will carry them.  When you are only using a few ingredients it goes along way if you use the freshest ingredients you can find.    

Tea Infused Chia Pudding

2 cups of light coconut milk (or regular coconut milk)
2 pkgs. (approx 4 g) blueberry tea - Tea Forte Blueberry Merlot
4 tablespoons White Chia Seeds

    Put the coconut milk into a saucepan and bring it to a gentle simmer over very low heat.  Add the tea packets and stir gently a few times.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the tea infuse for about 15 minutes.  Use a fine mesh tea strainer to separate out the tea from the coconut milk.  Pour the warm coconut milk into a cup or jar and add the 4 tablespoons of chia seeds.  Cover the cup or jar with a lid or cellophane wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 20-30 minutes.  The chia seeds need time to absorb liquid and plump up, so the longer you give them the better.   The next day serve your cold chia pudding topped with blueberry compote (recipe below).

Blueberry Compote

1 cup (150 g) organic fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen just let them defrost first)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (Grade B for vegans)
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh lemon mint (or regular mint)

    Place blueberries, maple syrup, lemon juice and zest into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer over medium low heat.   Let the mixture simmer for 2-4 minutes and stir gently until it is has a thicker consistency (gently stir so most of the blueberries will keep their shape).  Once it has thickened up, take it off the heat and stir in the fresh mint.  A compote can be served warm or cold, so it is your preference.  If you make it the night before along with the chia pudding you can put both in the refrigerator and serve the next day.  If you can't wait and had already made the chia pudding a night before you could serve it warm.  I've tried it both ways and it was equally as good.  Enjoy!