Almost Healthy Chocolate Chip Joy Infused Cookies

Mtn Girl Recipes

About four minutes into the baking of these chocolate gems, a caramel warmth wafts towards my nostrils and all is right with the world.


On a bitingly cold Saturday, complete with a play-date, there is only one thing to do: make cookies. Upon informing the my 8 year old daughter and her friend that I was working on a healthier version of chocolate chip cookies, using agave, I was bombarded with protests.

“Oh no, you are going to use oatmeal, aren’t you?”

“AGAVE! What is that?” 

Their words dripped with “ick” and fear.

I calmed them with a little mini spoon dipped in agave, and eyebrows raised, they were forced to concede to its sweet goodness.

Back to these Almost Healthy Chocolate Chip Joy Infused Cookies. My goal in developing this recipe was to lower the fat content and glycemic index and to up the intake of whole grains in one of America’s favorite desserts. 

I succeeded.

Hand delivering one (before-dinner) cookie each to the girls, the first bite solicited the following response: “These are AMAZing,” and “nice job,” complete with a thumbs up.

“See,” I said, with grin of a conqueror spreading across my face. I did a little happy dance back to the kitchen. 

You too will do a little happy dance when you first bite into these mood altering baked discs of delight (aka cookies).


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup blue agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 4 tsp. vanilla bean infused vodka (or pure vanilla extract works too)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole oats
  • 10-12 oz. of the most seriously dark chocolate chips you can find, malt-sweetened if possible, so as to completely avoid processed sugar.  I only had Hershey’s Special Dark semi-sweet chips on hand.
  • (As you can see, there is not salt added in this recipe. I forgot it, and it isn’t needed. I am not sure why. Greatly reduces the sodium content!)

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter and coconut oil together, about 45 seconds in the microwave, allow to cool slightly.
  2. Use a mixer to blend the agave and coconut palm sugar together, add the melted butter and oil. Add the vanilla then the egg whites (warmed to room temp. in a bowl of warm water for about 10 min.) Beat until smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the two flours, baking powder, cornstarch and cinnamon. Add slowly to the wet ingredients.
  4. Stir in whole oats and, finally, chocolate chips. Add some nuts if you so desire.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
  6. Chill dough in freezer for 30 minutes.
  7. Spoon onto sheet in generous tablespoons. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Makes 40 cookies (if you don’t nibble at the dough during the baking process)


So how did I determine this comparison? I used the nutrition tracker on MyFitnessPal. As you can see from above, my agave-coconut-whole-wheat-oats recipe is not only lower in fat, sugar, carbs and sodium, but packs a nutrition punch with potassium from the coconut sugar and egg whites and a dose of iron from the dark chocolate and oats.

Yes, Costco’s Kirkland brand cookies may be a tad larger, or could it be an optical illusion, as they are flat. And full of artificial flavor. I will take a smaller, cleaner cookie any day.

The only way to make this cookie of joy better is with a cup of Safari Spiced Chai, a Traveler’s Tea African Rooibos blend that pairs so very well with dessert, and boasts a dose Vitamin C, anti-oxidants, and minerals.

Mom and kid approved, I could not have developed this recipe without inspiration from Amy’s Healthy Baking and this agave nectar cookie recipe. I have absolutely no affiliation with the websites mentioned, except for the tea sites, which is my company. I highly encourage you to check out the online store, Mountain Girl Made, and buy some organic, additive-free tea to go with your baked goods while supporting this blogging housewife.

Food photography – waste not, want not 

Photo of the Week

In another life, I worked as a set stylist at QVC Studios for several garden vendors. Working my way up from water girl to head designer took three years, and I learned a lot.

For example, always provide the host/talent with an unadulterated product to sample on air. Hide it behind the basket of gleaming strawberries (sprayed with vegetable oil). Make sure there is a real tomato sitting on the cutting board next to the knife, so he or she doesn’t try and cut a fake one. Be sure to warn of the blueberry pie (with shaving cream whipped topping).

When all else fails, hide in the green room. Because the cringe-worthy moment will eventually occur. It’s live TV. You will sink in your seat, and cover your eyes, perhaps let out a whimper, or a scream, when the host moves to sniff a silk rose that just got touched up with a spritz of spray paint…

What does all this have to do with food photography?

Many tricks of the trade make food that has been photographed inedible. I hate waste, and I always try to come up with edible ways to stage my food shots. Just in case I get a snack-attack on set.

  • Rinse fresh veggies in a colander just before the shot, they will glisten for the photo, and will also be ready-to-eat.
  • Cook the ingredients separate, when possible, and not all the way. Stage for the shot, (less-cooked veggies have better color) then throw back into the pot and finish cooking for dinner.
  • Use daylight whenever possible, it makes everything look more appetizing and you won’t need to trick the lens.
  • Cut the pie, quiche, lasagna, etc. once it has cooled. Less chance of a soupy shot. Then re-heat and eat!
  • Always have fresh herbs on hand…that splash of green injects any food photo with life. And any dish with flavor.

Ok, that’s enough, I’m not giving away anymore trade secrets.

Below are photos taken at one of my favorite eateries here in the Catskills, Zephyr Restaurant, along with shots for restaurant articles in Watershed Post (Two Old Tarts & Bite Me Bakery) Sometimes I take my family on a trip without even leaving the kitchen, I include those shots as well.

Apologies, should you become hungry…

Lemon tart @ Two Old Tarts in Andes, NY | Cupcakes @ Bite Me Bakery in Shokan, NY

Above: Yogurt and berry parfait @ Zephyr Restaurant in Pine Hill, NY Below: Lemon curd hostess gifts and spiced cranberry compote

An evening visit to Japan, perfectly artificially lit, totally consumed

Revisiting Quebec City one morning: Alton Brown’s blender crepes, both savory and sweet


Caregiver’s Cure – Lemon Curd And A Hot Toddy

Mtn Girl Recipes

Today, a recipe and a poem – all in one place.

THIS GIRL 11.6.16

For the few moments each day
when this girl is not thinking about smoking a cigarette,
when she is not overcome with the reality
of cancer running amok in her family,
when she feels slightly stable
and the dizziness temporarily subsides,
ideas pound the brain of this girl.

Unexpectedly becoming a caregiver to a loved one is like landing a job you actually never applied for. I hesitate to even write about my experience over the last eight months, for I am not looking for pity, and I most definately do not want to upset my mother. (Mom – please don’t be mad!)

Yet, I believe what I have to share has the potential of being more helpful than harmful. A rhyme and a recipe…how can one go wrong? It’s a risk/benefit I’m willing to bet on.

They knock on the door, loud at first,
then timid from being ignored.
Ideas of stories to be written,
words to be recorded,
magical herbal remedies to concoct,
money to be made doing the things this girl loves.

Since March, everything has changed with my mother’s diagnoses of stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Obviously, her life has changed the most as she has practically given up her full time job to take on chemo, radiation, major surgery, then more chemo.

Her kids’ lives changed too. But the days of whining are over. My brother, twin sister and I have rotated, making sure my mom is hardly ever alone.  Our aunts and uncles lovingly provide us with respite as well.

Then, my sister’s husband had to go and complicate matters by coming down with AML (Acute Myloid Lukemia) a month ago. Moving from their West Virginia mountain home, they get to live indefinitely at John’s Hopkins, or its vicinity, until his treatments and bone marrow transplant deem him “in remission.”

(Hang in there, the recipe is coming.)

So what do I do when I find myself actually at home, with my daughter and husband? Well since I work from home and live in the vacation capital of New York State, the Catskill Mountains, I take walks in the snow, sit by my fire, write and cook.

Returning home after days or weeks of caregiving is like going on a retreat. And I retreat. Except for social media, I rarely make an appearance.

And this girl, more than life, wants to have fun with her child.

But by the time the evening chores are done,
she will collapse,
her ideas will deflate,
dirty and damp like the dish towel in her hands.
Anything she started will become a sad and lonely project that some other girl,
a girl with more energy,
a girl with less cancer in the family,
a girl who never smoked,
will pick up and run with.
That other girl flies right by her,
forgetting to even wave.

Today, the day before Thangsgiving, I had an idea, and I went with it. An entire day in the kitchen, even if I am not the host of the big dinner this year, will zap me out of my funk.  The holidays will feel almost normal, even if just for a day.

So here is the recipe for Lemon Curd, Ina Garten style (I just love me some Barfoot Contessa). I believe this recipe would impress even the Queen.

lemon_curd_lid

Lemon curd inspiration


OH!  You are probably wondering where the hot toddy comes in. Well I have access to some amazing tea…I love this Earl Grey by Traveler’s Tea. Also, just five minutes down the road form here is Union Grove Distillery, and I use their Vly Creek Vodka as a base for my homemade vanilla extract, so I had some on hand.

Which I needed, for my three year old black lab decided to run away whilst my eight year old daughter was sledding, so that was an entire blood-pressure raising fiasco. A cig was not an option, as I am almost four weeks nicotine free, so a hot toddy was just in the cards.

Back to the LEMON CURD RECIPE:

Makes about 4 1/2 cups

  • 6 lemons, scrubbed (for zesting and juicing)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 stick + 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • generous dash of salt
  1. Zest all 6 lemons with a carrot peeler, avoiding the white pith.
  2. Place zest in food processor (steel blade) and pulse until very finely minced.
  3. Add sugar and pulse into minced lemon zest.
  4. Separately, in a stand-mixer, cream the butter.
  5. Beat the sugar zest into the creamed butter.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time.
  7. Add lemon juice and salt, mixing until combined (mixture will have curdled appearance).
  8. Pour mixture into large saucepan and cook over low heat (gas stove) or med. heat (electric stove).
  9. Stir CONSTANTLY for about 15/20 minutes.   Mixture will thicken.
  10. Remove from stove when temp. reaches 170F, or just before simmering. (If you pause from stirring and see bubbles appearing, take off heat)
  11. Pour into glass jars, allow to cool, cover and store in refrigerator up to 3 months. (You may strain over small mesh if the zest bothers you)

The citrus oils that will dress your hands and your countertop will seep into your soul and cleanse you from the inside out

Over heat, the curdled mixture will become as smooth as glass

Despite Ina’s claims, this recipe is not in the “Easy” category, nor does it take 20 to 30 minutes.  Plan on a good 1 1/2 to 2 hours, including cleanup.  I attempted timing this recipe,  but my dog ran away as I was zesting the lemons…

That stated, the buttery yellow outcome, gleaming and shiny in filled jars, will fill your heart with simple glee.  The finished product is insanely perfect for a tart, spreading on crackers, icing a pound cake or spicing up your morning English muffin.

Lemon curd is damn sunshine in a jar

Completing this recipe was only the beginning of my pre-Thanksgiving bake-a-thon.  I went on to make homemade cranberry sauce, a classic pumpkin roll and currant and almond chocolate bark.  Oh, and dinner.

By the end, I was well on my way to being healed, rembering that a caregiver is also in need of care.  If that care takes the form of a dessert filled countertop and a sugar-smudged apron, so be it.

I can’t wait to give a jar to my mom.

img_2068-1

Mom’s first walk to the water, four weeks post Whipple surgery

This girl hides in the woods when she isn’t stuck in the city,
She tucks her chin and goes unnoticed.
For now.
But she has plans.
Plans that are brewing, are steeping, are simmering, deep inside.
When everyone gets better –
When she gets better –
this girl will return to her former glory.
So if you are reading this,
be sure not to forget
this girl’s name.

Check out Mountain Girl Made, where select tea blends, photos and poems are available for purchase. Shop small and support local.

Penn Station 7/17/16 – a poem

Mtn Girl Poetry

image

I will not watch your bag.

I will watch meandering passengers of all shapes and colors
passing me by with glazed confusion distorting the light of their eyes,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will sit here, talking to a friend, sounds of our synced laughter lost in the crowd,
lost among the cries of tired babies and complaining elders,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will drag my luggage up steps for some city-fresh air on 33rd Street,
and notice how the cabs have become almost comically small,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will hear an announcer warn, “If you see something, say something,”
and I will steal a suspicious glance your way,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will avert my eyes from the disheveled ones with hands out,
wondering what story got them to this begging place,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will watch a heron, in his blue majestic stance, grace the edge of a Jersey swamp,
and count the colors of the storage containers as we drift by,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will relish the private concert of my iPod on shuffle,
sounds of Natalie, Bocelli, Cash, Chapman and U2 until I doze,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will attempt to decipher the graffiti that almost passes as art on the metal fences,
and wonder how they appear, as I never see a spray can wielding culprit,
but I will not watch your bag.

I will write my run-on sentences, all day long, passing time on the Empire Service,
but my dear stranger, this world has me just skeptical enough to say…

I just can’t watch your bag.

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Catskills’ St. Patrick’s Day parade, brush fires & burn ban

Hard Hat Reporter, Small Town Catskills

Sunday, March 13th proved to be not only a gorgeous day for a small town parade, but also dangerously dry in the Catskills. (Scroll to end for parade slideshow)

Five days after the Hubbell Homestead Fire  in Delaware County, brush fires continue to pop up.

Roxbury Fire Department Fire Chief Ken Davie went on to explain the lack of snow load this year has left the ground unsaturated, and allowed for grasses to stand tall and dry out, instead of flattening down.

Sunday’s St. Paddy’s Day festivities were still underway when a 12:48 pm tone rang out at the Roxbury Fire Department.  With the majority of the firefighters and trucks at the parade in Halcottsville, it was a scramble to reach the Denver brush fire.

Roxbury Fire Dept Hville parade 2016

Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department in Halcottsville St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Den1ver brush fire

Smoke in the valley

Denver brush fire 3

Brush fire at 23 Slauson Hollow Rd. of Salley’s Alley, Denver NY

Denver brush fire 2

Extinguishing the flames

denver brush fire 4

According to  Chief Davie, fire took less then 20 minutes to put out completely

Chief Davie reported the resident of the house below the caught field had been burning a bit of brush in a barrel, and a spark flew.

“People need to be aware and pay attention…there is a brush fire in Davenport [Delaware County] right now…there could possibly be 1/2 a dozen fires by the end of today,” said Davie.

The NYDEC has issued a burn ban beginning March 16, 2016 and ending May 14, 2016.

According to the March 13 press release “all residential brush burning is prohibited in smaller communities during the state’s historically high fire-risk period from March 16 through May 14,” said  state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens.

“This time of year has the most risk of fires and the risk is even greater this year due to the extremely mild winter we’ve seen across the state,” Commissioner Martens said.

hville st p day parade mr saftey 2016

Ignoring the ban is a serious offense:

Violators of the open burning state regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense. To report environmental law violations call 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332), or report online on DEC’s website.

“It’s a danger zone right now,” said  Fire Chief Ken Davie.

Parade photos by Mark Andre  |  Fire photos by Rebecca Andre

 

Artie Martello – Man of magic and music

Catskills Interviews

Sometimes the secret is better than the trick itself.

Artie Martello at open eye

Martello at Open Eye Theatre

Artie Martello has been a magician for parts of five decades.  Martello is also the soothing voice and producer behind “Mostly Folk”, a regular podcast that showcases musical talent to the world over.

In his Halcottsville, Delaware County, NY community of the Catskills, Martello goes by “Artie”.  He is, of course, the go-to magic and music man of the area.

Sitting down for a chat with Martello at the Mostly Folk Studio, which is nestled in a private, wooded, mountain-top miniature paradise, is an experience all to its own.  Martello’s credentials are amazing, and weave themselves in and out of the narrative of how he came to be known as ‘Magic’.

“I’ve been an entertainer all my life.  Any teacher is an entertainer.”

Starting in 1967, Martello worked as Supervisor of Speech and Hearing at St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf .

“Deafness is probably one of the most severe handicaps,” says Martello.  “To be born deaf is probably the most debilitating.”

Yet this is the audience for which he first choose to perform his magic.  In the classroom, at school assemblies, etc, thusly dubbed ‘Magic’ by his students.

The deaf children were a tough audience.  They could not be distracted by vocal cues.  Martello honed his art before these good-natured critics resulting in the smooth slight-of-hand and manipulation we see in his acts today.

The Raising of  a Magician

Many people get into magic because they are shy.  Believe it or not, I’m an introvert.  But I can get on a stage and entertain and interact and act…and that is the essence.

In the early days of television, Ed Sullivan was the master of showcasing true talent.  Martello remembers watching Cardini (Richard Valentine Pitchford) stumble onto stage, seemingly inebriated, dressed to the hilt in a top hat and white gloves, wowing the audience with his never ending supply of cards and cigarettes that would disappear to, or appear from, thin air. 

“I saw that, I thought, I want to learn that.  And eventually, I did learn,” remembers Martello, as he names Cardini  one of his “greatest influences.”

At age 10, fate moved in and moved along the budding magician.  For right next door to the Martello’s new family home in Woodhaven, Queens, was a Navy magician.

“He would show me simple card tricks, and I would go out of my mind,” says Martello of the most magical influence of his young life.  This Navy magician kindled young Martello’s interest in magic by also giving him the magician’s Bible at the time, “The Modern Conjuror” by Charles Lang Neil.

From Martello's Magic Book Collection

From Martello’s Magic Book Collection

Life eventually got in the way of Martello’s interest in magic, until he reached his early 30’s, and Doug Henning started performing magic on TV.  This grabbed his interest, and Martello once again found his love for magic ignited. Purchasing magic tricks and practicing/performing on his students became the norm.  Eventually he  was doing library shows and stage performances.

Of the different branches of magic: stage (think Las Vegas), TV only (think David Blaine), birthday party  & educational (think traveling with lots of props), and parlor magic (think small private parties with fancy guests) Martello’s favorite became parlor magic.

But the real reason Martello became a magician is simple.  He explains in all sincerity, if the day were to come when a woman asked if he was a magician, he wanted to be able to answer truthfully: “Yes, because when I look at you, every one else disappears.”

IMG_3170

Artie Martello, photo by his son, Timothy

Magic moves to the Catskills

I love this area.  And I hate the beach.  This is the kind of environment I enjoy.

Performing professionally (for money) didn’t really happen until Martello’s full time move to the Catskills in 1999.  After teaching at NYU, Hunter College and St. Joseph’s, Martello decided he wanted to spend more then just summers in the Catskills.  He also served as the Chairperson of the Committee On Special Education in the Margaretville School District for 9 years.

While his friends fled to the Hampton’s in the summertime, Martello came to the Catskills, not because of Woodstock, but in spite of Woodstock, remembering instead the boarding houses his family rented in Cairo that he visited as a child.

Starting out in Pine Hill, and eventually locating to the paradisiacal property in Halcottsville, those first years found Martello staying in a tent, then the shell of his house, serviced by an outhouse and the water he carted up from Hubbell’s artesian well down the road.  The home that started out as a shell in 1972 slowly morphed into the residence of solitude he and his wife Rain now enjoy.

Magic for a Cause

For me, magic isn’t about big illusions, its about entertaining people, making them laugh.

Nowadays, most of Martello’s performances are geared towards charity and  fundraising, despite the fact that the New York State Council for the Arts does not consider magic a performing art.  This is contradiction  to the fact that the United States Congress has officially declared magic as a performing art.

What does this mean for Martello personally?  NYS funded art programs are not contributing to paying for his charity performances. 

Yes, he still is willing to perform for money, but most would find compensating a seasoned magician of his caliber for time, energy and experience just a bit out of their price range. 

“$500.00 for an hour and a half show is reasonable,” says Martello, uncomfortably shifting in his chair. “You get what you pay for.”

“I have a tremendous inventory of magic,” explains Martello.  For example, his snake basket is worth $300.00.  And the box of cards in a bottle made and sold by his friend Jaime Grant goes for $100.00. Good magic costs good money, for two main reasons.  First, the cost keeps the magic out of YouTube hobbyists and those that look to expose the tricks. Second, the time investment in practicing.   Six months of practice goes into just one show.

Artie Martello Wizard smaller

Props, props and more props…

Mostly Folk Studio puppet smaller

‘David’ carved by Martello himself, ala Michelangelo

Mostly Folk Studio puppet 1 smaller

Replica of ‘Jerry Mahoney’ who starred in his own TV show of the with owner Paul Winchell, circa 1960

“[The show] may seem extemporaneous.  Its not. It’s scripted and planned, and then I insert what is right for the moment.”  In fact, that audience interaction Martello sculpts so artfully is one of the things he loves most about magic.

Then there is the loading, hauling, unloading and back again of stage props.  At 72, or any age for that matter, this is a most arduous task.

So instead of using magic as a source of income, Martello uses it to give back to the community: an annual show for the Open Eye Theatre in Margaretville, along with a show he has done to support the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society are just two examples. 

This coming spring 2016, Martello plans to perform an adult-only magic show  to raise money for the Halcottsville Fire Department.  Keep an eye on the HFD facebook page for details!

The Magic of Mostly Folk

My friends wanted to hear this kind of music.  So that’s what I did.

Martello’s background of listening to early rock & roll and graduating to folk rock led to his love for folk music.  On the radio, he found a disconnect – no stations were playing this type of music.  When an opportunity presented itself to do a radio program at a local station, he decided folk would be his niche.

Well, Mostly Folk.  Mixed in with a bit of Indie Rock, Country and magic, of course.

'Mostly Folk' Studio

‘Mostly Folk’ Studio

After his almost four year stint with local radio, Mr. Martello moved toward an industrious undertaking: bringing Mostly Folk into the modern digital listening arena.  He is currently pulling off perhaps one of his greatest feats yet:  a world wide podcast broadcast from a little hamlet in the North Western Catskills.

About three times a week, the self-funded Mostly Folk studio puts out meticulously produced shows that showcase new, local, or little-heard artists in the folk and indie world.  Truly a gem, Mostly Folk has led to new friends and new fans in the music industry, connections crossing over distance and age.  Listeners in Australia, China, Alabama or the Catskills are treated to the smooth intros of Mr. Martello and the music he chooses to put together for each hour/hour and a half show he produces.

“The podcast has afforded me an opportunity to allow anybody who wants to listen to just click, and listen.  Anytime. It’s always there, it never goes away.”

If that isn’t magic, what is?

*******

List of Links:

Magic Website

Mostly Folk Website

Halcottsville Fire Department – Upcoming Fundraiser

Find Artie on:

Itunes

Mixcloud

Facebook

Twitter

All photos ©2016 Rebecca Andre