Muffins on Monday

This is not a food blog, for a number of reasons. First, I lack that kind of organization. I don’t actually follow recipes closely enough (usually) to share them in logical steps, or if I do, they are someone else’s recipes. Second, I take lousy photographs. But I do love to cook. I bake for my brood constantly and a number of people have requested that I share some recipes, so I’ve decided to include a (mostly) weekly feature where I share a current family-friendly recipe in my house.

Let’s call it Muffins on Monday (Get it? Sugar on Sunday? Tommy James and the Shondells? Anyone? Anyone besides my brother-in-law?) because usually, a current recipe means muffins of some sort. Today it’s not muffins, because the Awesome Blueberry Muffins I wanted to post got eaten up before I took pictures. So instead it’s Soft Sourdough Graham Crackers I mean Baby Cookies OK let’s call them Teething Biscuits that are nicely chewy, which the big kids keep stealing and even I love to dunk in my coffee. Bonus if you have a toddler working on molars.


Bitsy’s Soft Sourdough Teething Biscuits

Necessary: a rolling pin, a fork, and a big cookie sheet. And an oven at 375⁰F.

Handy-Dandy: a pizza wheel cutter, and parchment paper to roll out on. Clean counter tops! Hurray!


1 cup freshly fed Sourdough Starter (or fake it by mixing 1 cup buttermilk with 1 cup whole wheat flour)

2 oz. (half a stick) soft unsalted butter (I’m obsessed with Kerrygold)

1/3 cup raw honey

1/4 cup molasses*

heaping 1/2 tsp cinnamon, or any spice you like

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 ½ cup white whole wheat flour, approximately

*I prefer Blackstrap molasses. I made the first batch with some leftover Grandma’s Original, which is definitely not blackstrap. I made the second batch with Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blackstrap Molasses. Sally tasted the dough and said, “Wow that sure is too much molasses for me!” And yet her rate of requesting the finished product (“I’m teething my grown-up teeth, right Mommy? So I need some of Bitsy’s biscuits.”) sure has not declined.


Method to the Madness

  1. Cream the soft butter and beat in the honey and molasses.
  2. Beat the starter or fake starter into the butter mixture. Sift the salt, soda, and cinnamon over this and mix well.
  3. Start adding the dry flour, half a cup at a time, until a dough forms. You want a dough that will be stiff enough to roll out. How much flour you use really depends on the nature of your sourdough starter. The first time I made this my starter was pretty thick, so I only used 1 and 1/3 cup flour. The second time my starter was much thinner and I used almost 2 cups of flour to get the dough to the point where I knew after chilling I could roll it out.
  4. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. I usually let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. If you are concerned with reducing the phytate content of your flour and making it as nutritious as possible, try leaving it out on your counter overnight. (If you do, let me know what happens. I haven’t tried it yet.)
  5. Preheat oven to 375⁰F. Roll half the dough out, about as thin as you can get it. I try to roll it thinner than a commercial graham cracker. See Batch 1.


  6. Use the pizza wheel or a knife to trim the dough into a rectangle that will fit your cookie sheet. Make columns and rows of crackers whatever size you want them. (This is where the parchment comes in handy. I don’t bother to separate the crackers. I just bake them in one big piece and break them apart later.)
  7. Pierce each piece all the way through a few times with a fork.


  8. Move the parchment directly onto your cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the sheet until you can lift the parchment directly onto a rack.
  9. When the biscuits have cooled enough to touch, break them apart along the pizza-wheel lines you made before baking. Or just cut over the same lines again with your pizza wheel, and eat the scraps.

    This made almost a full gallon-sized bag. I’m lucky if these last a school week in my house. If they will last longer in yours, put half in the freezer.

  10. Repeat with the second half of dough. Store on top of the fridge to keep the kids out of them. Enjoy!

Ordinary Time

We have now returned to Ordinary Time. For those of you unfamiliar with the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, Ordinary Time refers to all that time in which priests root for the Packers. (I mean, wear green and gold.) Actually it means we’re not really doing anything special (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) or preparing for anything special (Advent) or beating ourselves up for anything special (Lent). Just kidding…

What does Ordinary look like around here? Chaos, generally. Ordinarily my kitchen is a mess and there are toys everywhere. Papers pile on every surface until the glossy junk mail slips slowly to the floor, where it puddles. Eventually I pick the pieces up and toss them into the recycling. The scattered Cheerios are like landmines under the dining room table, but the ones you really don’t want to step on are the crusts of three-day-old bread tossed from the baby’s highchair tray. Nothing stales quite so hard as homemade whole wheat bread. Try that rock solid nugget in the soft part of a bare arch. Ouch. How I wish we had a dog. A little furry Hoover is a blessing underneath the highchair.

Right now I am in the process of attempting to de-clutter. This means I have three or four different donation piles going, including the bag of toys no one plays with that I have to keep hiding while I fill it, because if it’s discovered the kids will whine and cry and there will be a scene something along the lines of

Sally Bear, center stage: “NOOOOOO!! Don’t donate this! We can’t get rid of this! I LOVE this!”

Boo, from offstage, but always agreeing with his sister in arguments against me: “We love that! Can’t donate that!”

Heartless Mother, standing firm: “You never play with it.”

Sally Bear: “But I will play with it. I don’t want you to get rid of it, Nooooo!”

HM, demanding: “Play with it. Let me see you play with it right now.”

Sally: “Well I’m busy right now.”

Boo: “I’m busy right now too.”

Heartless Mother, emotionless: “Put it back in the donation bag, now.”

Ordinary time is a good time to try and get “back to order,” and yes, it usually takes me about all year. Right now I am also attempting to get back to ordinary eating. That is, no refined sugar, no white flour, no juice. I am not as militant I was in our experiment and we have quite a few half-full bottles of spirits lingering in the kitchen since Christmas. (I put “bottle of Scotch” on Dr. Awesome’s Christmas list, and somehow he got three.) Somehow a bottle of wine and a six pack made it into my grocery cart last night. But generally speaking, the first way we cut costs on the grocery bill is to cut out alcohol and we aren’t much for processed foods. So ordinarily I spend alotta time cooking. At the moment I’ve got a loaf of bread to start. If I don’t, we won’t have any bread tomorrow. And apparently no amount of pancakes or corn muffins can amend this failure in the eyes of my son. Just two nights ago I was working late on a post for The Remembered Arts Journal. I didn’t have time or motivation to thaw cod and peel potatoes, so I fed my children the most spectacular spur-of-the-moment almond pancakes with maple syrup for dinner. (How they suffer.) Boo ate three-quarters of his dinner, abandoned his plate, and five minutes later I caught him in the kitchen with the football-sized loaf of whole wheat sourdough literally IN HIS MOUTH. I tried to tell him, “Boo, you cannot live by bread alone.” And he said, quite emphatically, “Yes I do.”

But let me not mislead you. I have caught his sister in a similarly compromising situation in the kitchen many times before. But she is always caught with the butter.

An Aside: On Uncouth Sweeteners

By uncouth, of course, I mean unrefined. When we started “giving up sugar” I basically considered anything sweet except fruit to be the sugar we needed to give up. I’ve still been avoiding it all in large part, but I have come to make a few distinctions.

Raw honey is yummy. When we were all sick with colds a few weeks ago, I did crack open this stuff. A spoonful of honey helps any sore throat feel better…or maybe just loved. I also used it in small amounts in several batches of whole wheat sourdough English muffins, which of themselves helped solve the school-morning breakfast crisis. Because it’s always a crisis.

Maple syrup is the bees’ knees. Honestly, I do consider this refined sugar. After all—it’s not like we’re pouring maple sap on our pancakes. But I also know it is slightly more nutritive than granulated white sugar, and a good form of manganese, or magnesium, or something. And Dr. Awesome happens to be in love with it. So I have used this to substitute for granulated sugar in some of those morning muffin recipes. Besides my birthday morning toaster waffle breakfast (lovingly prepared by Bear) we have not been using it. I did make pancakes once this whole experiment, and slathered them with Kerrygold and strawberry all-fruit spread. Oh my wow.

Molasses is mo’ ‘licious. (OK, that was a stretch. It might be malicious, depending on whom you ask.) I love the robust flavor of molasses. And it is definitely refined—it is actually a byproduct of the sugar refining process. While bees make honey and maybe a really slow-burning forest fire could make maple syrup (that makes sense, right?) molasses couldn’t exist without the sugar refining process. However, robust and delicious blackstrap molasses also happens to be something like the highest source of non-heme iron on the planet. (Seriously. Read the back of the bottle.) And it turned out after Bitsy’s one-year blood-draw that she is low iron. Guess who else is apparently low iron? Her breastfeeding Mama, number one source of the nursling’s iron stores. Aside from immediately feeling crushing “Mom guilt” (My poor baby! Why haven’t I eaten my liver and kale like a good girl? Or at least kept taking that prenatal vitamin?!) there was also a part of me jumping up and down saying Yippee, molasses cookies for me! Then the pediatrician asked me if I was getting enough calories because “technically you’re still eating for two,” and I almost kissed her. So, blackstrap has come back into our lives. Not in cookie form, but typically as a spoonful on oatmeal. And if you’re not eating other sugar, that typically bitter-tasting blackstrap tastes delightfully sweet. At least when paired with ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, that molasses oatmeal is like a cookie in a bowl. Plus I had a free pass to cool it with a few tablespoons of vitamin C apple juice instead of milk, because the pediatrician told me to. Coo.

Day What?

Day what?

I think it’s Day 30. Which means yesterday, my birthday, was Day 29, which is very fitting since that’s how old I turned. Again.


So, here I am, cruising along this no sugar thing. I have become the woman who says “No, you can’t have those yogurts, there’s too much sugar in them,” and also the woman who shouts, “Oh my gosh, have you tried these raisins? They’re like candy!” on a fairly regular basis. In other words, I’ve become obnoxious.

But I have also had a fair amount of derails from this sugar-free love train. Am I the only one who occasionally punishes my children, when exasperated because apparently they inherited a fair amount of obnoxious themselves, by taking away their Halloween candy…and eating it in front of them? Am I alone in this? I can only mostly blame this on PMS. (I don’t know what Dr. Awesome’s excuse was. Possibly also my PMS. But he would never, ever, EVER in a million years admit that. Unless I die first.) That happened a few times.

By this point in November Bear has already consumed or lost all of her Halloween candy. Boo has a few undesirables rattling around his bowl. And hello, we are LESS THAN A WEEK from Thanksgiving. I’m sorry, but I fully admit it: I’ve already started drooling.

I’m not the only one. Every time we enter the grocery store we are confronted with about thirty massive displays of miniature marshmallows. I shop almost exclusively at Trader Joe’s (which is almost as cheap but slightly more chic than shopping almost exclusively at Aldi) and I’m wondering if mini marshmallows are new this year or if somebody decided they would be “the next pumpkin” because they are everywhere in huge piles all over the store. I imagine the staff are building forts after hours with bags of these things. And every time we pass a pile—which is literally after we pass almost every aisle in the store—Boo grabs a bag and shouts “OH! OH! WE GOTTA GET MARSHMALLOWS!” And I deny it every single time. And let me pat myself on the back here, people, because I love marshmallows. I do. They are actually one of the few (perhaps only) chocolateless confections on my love list. And by that I mean the “I’m stranded on a desert island and I would be packing this” kind of list. They are also heavily featured in a few of my other favorites, like Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, which has sat uncontested at the top of my ice cream chart for the last 15 years…. I have to stop. I’m killing me. But it reminds me of a good joke I heard the other day.

My car-obsessed Boo, who gives a shout-out to every auto body shop we pass, came into my room to say, “I took me to the body shop today, and got a new body!”

“Oh, got your little car fixed?”

“No, I got MY body fixed!”

Your body? What did you get, silly Boo? A new leg? A new elbow?”

Nooooo. Not a leg or an elbow! I got….a new belly.”

“A new belly? Well what was wrong with your old belly?”

“My old belly…was rumbling.”

For real.

So, in case you are wondering, on the celebration of my (third annual) 29th birthday, I did not care one way or the other whether sugar was consumed. I went to a friend’s house at her invitation, for example, and since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, she didn’t know I was forgoing sugar, and she had made me a batch of cupcakes to take home. Well, I didn’t take home the cupcakes. But I did tell her, “Look, I’m at your house, I don’t want to be rude; I will eat whatever you serve.” It was my birthday, so naturally she served me twice.

I did have a terrible crash at 3:30 that afternoon. Coffee was standing by.

I treated myself to a sitter and celebrated with some friends at a wine and cheese bar—with a flight of wine, because how often do you turn 29? Certainly no more than half a dozen times. (And apparently, if you’re a man, only once.) And it was so, so worth it. It was grand.

Because when someone says something nice about you…you share it!

This Monday I am pleased to introduce Mary Catherine Awesome. She totally made those corn muffins like forty-seven seconds before that picture was taken but her food is so delicious that it disappears like she’s baking at Hogwarts. Mary Catherine is basically June Cleaver. Except PG-13. This actual human woman cooks an actual edible dinner […]

via Monday’s Mama is Fetch AF. — BabyCostsMoney

Day 14: Feeling healthy yet? Let’s Run a 5K!

I am Mom, and therefore frequently prepared for many unexpected emergencies of life, but I am not prepared for everything. Bear’s school, like most elementary schools, falls short on its funds every year for little extras like computers or books or something, and has to turn to the neighboring community and solicit monetary help. When I was a kid we sold Sally Foster wrapping paper, and we trudged door to door with our slick color catalogues, hoping to entice our neighbors of any denomination to shell out the sheckels for cheap, thin, gaudily decorated Christmas and Hanukkah wrap. My mother dreaded it. (And I finally know why. Rather than get the pretty, sturdy, and tasteful paper she wanted to wrap our presents in, she felt obligated to order twenty rolls of that overpriced crap. Ah, the good old days.)

When I moved from public to Catholic school, I didn’t have to sell wrapping paper anymore. Yes! Now I could sell CHOCOLATE! That was just as overpriced, but understandably easier to swallow.

In these enlightened days kids don’t have to sell paper or paper-wrapped confections door to door. Instead our school hosts a 5K and 1K “fun run” to raise money. And of course, people can donate online. So we decided, as enterprising parents of a Kindergartner, to get with the program. I signed up to run the 5K. I didn’t think much about it. Bear was so excited for the 1K. Dr. A was less excited for the idea of entertaining the three of them while I ran. What was I thinking? I am not a person who finds running fun. I am a person who finds signing up for things and later telling funny stories about them fun. But running? Sometimes I can really be an idiot. I just thought, “Gee, I’ll be so healthy, this is great!”

In many ways it was great. I was also greatly surprised when Bear refused to line up at the last minute, and she absolutely positively did not run. I was flabbergast, and embarrassed, because all the other kids were excited and it was just supposed to be about fun and how did my five-year-old turn into an over-stressed and over-scheduled female who cracked under the pressure to perform? I had no idea she was so much like me!

Boo, on the other hand, asked over and over again for a number and wanted to run with all the other kids just for the sheer joy of running. So clearly I registered the wrong kid. I promised Bear I would do the 1K with both of them next year, and Dr. A could finally try some form of land-based exercise. Do you know we have been married for what rounds up to a decade, and I have never seen the man run? I mean not counting chasing progeny down the sidewalk or out of the street, of course.

But how was I unprepared? Only because I ended up completing the 5K with Bitsy in an umbrella stroller. I was not the only stroller jogger, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one without a jogging stroller. Of course, I have a jogging stroller, and I use it all the time for Stroller Strides, where jogging is for short spurts and infinitely optional. But mine is a double jogger, which is roughly the size of the Titanic, and when the thought occurred to me at 11 p.m. the night before the run, “Gee, what is Doc gonna do with all three kids on the sidelines for 40 minutes? Hmm…Better push the baby,” it was immediately followed with “Man…I don’t want to push the double jogger…” and I, foolishly, just packed the umbrella. How many women do I know who own a single jogger she was probably not going to be using that Saturday morning? Plenty. Did the thought occur to me? Nope. Did I wish about five-hundred times while huffing and puffing during the three-mile run that I was A.) not running and/or B.) pushing a smooth-rolling, high-handled baby jogger instead of a futsy four-wheeled umbrella? Yep. Did I keep (walk-jog-run-walk-jog-)running anyway? You betcha. Because it was fun? NO WAY! Because I am stubborn.

But hey, we all gotta be something.

I would also like to note how kind the race volunteers were. They all kept shouting, “Coffee and doughnuts waiting at the finish line! Coffee and doughnuts waiting!” But of course I didn’t have a doughnut. I had a banana, and later a hot bath, and then I declared to Dr. Awesome that I was taking the rest of the day off and would eat a steak and lounge around reading magazines in my bathrobe and would he mind taking three whining children to the grocery store? And he didn’t mind. Because he’s awesome. But I think that might have a little to do with why he wants to run the 5K next year.



Day 10. This. Sucks.

(Still haven’t gotten to Halloween yet. Where am I in real life? Busy.)

It feels to us now like we’re going through withdrawal.

Now, I don’t know if we were sugar addicts, or if we are just cranky people whose occasional sugar habit was masking this fact with spurts of joy. For at the moment, a cupcake sure seems to me like a spurt of joy.

Dr. A and I were snarling back and forth to each other this bright Saturday morning, that yes, I have a headache too, and yes, I also feel like crap, thank-you-very-much. No hangover to blame, I might add. But it passed. Somewhere around the third shot of espresso, and the fourth (which we fought over; I ended up making another pot) we began to feel more ourselves. Of course, the snarling could have to do with Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo coming in to our room at ten to sunrise on a weekend morning, but that’s not unusual. And, as usual, I said a prayer for the eternal repose of the saint among men who invented Saturday morning cartoons. I liked them as a kid, I LOVE them as an adult.

Anyway. You know, this blog is not supposed to be focused solely on the quest to live a life without sugar. That’s just an excuse to get writing. And week one, it felt great. It felt easy. Week two has begun. And the sucrose has started to hit the fan.

This. SUCKS.

Day 10 we had a party to attend. After the cartoons were turned off and the espressi were polished off and the adults were acting like grown-ups again, we picked up our little pumpkins and three actual pumpkins, and toddled next door to a pumpkin carving party. (I wanted a classic Jack O’Lantern, Bear wanted a bat, Boo wanted a B, and Bitsy wanted to eat dirt. Dr. A just wanted a beer, apparently.)

The hosts of this fun little get-together also happened to be at the pool last weekend, when Dr. A and Bear were at a birthday party and he revealed to all my sadistic mission to avoid sweeteners. I had forgotten this, and I was standing with resolve over the second incarnation of my Jack O’Lantern cheeseball (you make what works, I tell you) eyeing some gigantic and delicious-looking sugar cookies, adorably pumpkin-shaped and frosted in orange and green, thinking to myself, “What if I just have one? Really? Is it going to kill me?” when the host offered me a drink by saying, “I don’t know if you’re drinking, but wine is over there.”

My immediate response was, “Well I’m not pregnant, but I’m not drinking.” And off flew my teensy little desire to cheat. It’s amazing what social pressure will do.

The party was fun. It always is. I carved a pumpkin for Boo and for our fam and Dr. A carved a bat for Bear and we had great conversation with the neighbors. And I did enjoy my cheeseball and red pepper strips, and some homemade chili too, but it became harder and harder to keep my resolve around those sweets. I told the big kids they could each have a cookie and a cupcake. Then Bear skirted the rules by asking if she could use candy corn as a cookie topper. I admire her hutzpah. (We frequently call her The Negotiator.) And she was rewarded with permission to take one candy corn for each year of her age: 5.

Why did I consent to obviously unnecessary junk for her? Because I knew she would sneak an untold number if I did not give her an allowed limit. And she indeed stuck to her 5. Also it maintains the illusion of power that Dr. Awesome and I have in our household. Your kids only have to think you’re in charge.

Boo, of course, is three and a half, and there is only so long he can listen to mommy and daddy in the presence of so many cupcakes. And he did try very hard for the majority of the party. I really don’t blame him; after three hours, I was ready to crack. Then somebody brought out a late fruit tray, Thank GOD! and I went to town on the pineapple. Until then I really thought my succumbing to the sweets was inevitable. Shortly thereafter we caught our son licking sprinkles off a table like a starving puppy. And he did try to abscond with a cupcake multiple times after the high from his allowed treats was gone. Daddy Awesome caught him, (second) cupcake in hand. Boo protested and I said, to soothe him, “Let’s put it in the freezer for another day!” Dr. A, holding the cupcake, agreed and ran next door to our house. Now what I really meant by that was “Go home and throw that cupcake out because I doubt he will remember it,” but my husband is just a man, and like many men he mistakenly thinks that what I say is what I mean. So he went home and put it in the freezer, where it remained…for 48 hours. But that is another story. Back to Day 10, which is by now, winding down.

After we got home and got the monsters to bed, we sat on the couch and commiserated. The party had been fun, but not having sugar or drinking had been really, really hard. Unexpectedly so. Everywhere you go online (it seems to me) people who have given up sugar swear something like, “The first three days are the worst! After that it’s a breeze!”

I think the same people probably say that same lie about parenting.