A friend sent me instructions for making Easter Story Cookies.  I tweaked the ingredients, tweaked the instructions, and changed some of the scriptures to ones I thought my younger ones would relate to.  (In other words, I don't know whose idea this originally was, but should no longer be considered plagiarism.:) 
This is a sweet way to bring some of the real meaning of Easter into your home!  For more Easter ideas, click on the "Easter" category on the right.

Mix these cookies the evening before Easter, they sit in the oven overnight, as an Easter morning surprise.

You will need:
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
Wooden spoon
Waxed paper or parchment
Masking tape

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. (This is important, so don’t wait until you’re half-way done with the recipe).

Smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. into the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30 or Psalms 69:21

Add egg whites to the vinegar.
Explain that eggs represent life. Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10:9-11.

Sprinkle a little salt into each hand. Taste it and brush the rest into the bowl.
Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and bitterness of our sins.  Show the wooden spoon, it represents the cross he carried and was nailed to.
Read Luke 23:27.

With a mixer, beat on high speed until soft peaks form.
Explain that the color white represents the purity of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, as you continue to whip.  Keep mixing until they reach stiff peaks.
Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. It wasn’t the nails that kept Him on the cross because nothing earthly could have. It was His love for us! Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16.

Fold in the nuts using the wooden spoon. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven and close the door and turn the oven OFF! Each person places a piece of masking tape and seals the oven door. Read Matthew 27:62-66

Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20, 22.

On Easter morning, watch the 4-minute video “He is Risen”, then open the oven and give everyone a cookie.

Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow!

Explain that on the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.  Suggested scriptures to read: John chapter 20 (5 minutes), 1 Corinthians 15:22 (two lines), Mosiah 16:6-9 (one minute).

Happy Easter, Everyone! Christ Lives & Loves Us!

These have fiber, protein, and much lower in sugar than almost any baked treat!  And they really are good.  My family snarfed down this batch. 
Besides all that, they're also wheat-free and dairy-free.

Healthy Peanut Butter-Chocolate-Banana Bars

1 1/2 cups cooked white beans (one can, drained and rinsed)
2 eggs
2 ripe medium bananas
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. brown sugar or honey (1/2 c sugar. if you like things on the sweeter side)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/3 c. chocolate chips (the darker the better)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Put the beans, eggs, bananas, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla in a food processor or high-powered blender.  Run until very smooth.  Stir in the baking powder, salt and oats.  Spread in a greased 8x8 pan then sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Bake 30 minutes or til test done with a toothpick.  Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.  These are even better the next day.

For a variation on this, substitute pumpkin puree for the banana, increase sugar/honey to 1/2 c., replace almond or cashew butter for the peanut butter, then add 1-2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.
Why is it almost Taco Salad?  Because there's no tostada or chips with it.  If you want full-blown Taco Salad, just add some.  Pretend they're corn-chip croutons.  I didn't use those because of a sudden urge to make roasted potatoes and didn't want a lot more carbohydrates in the meal.  Besides, if I opened a bag of chips, the whole thing would disappear, and that's anywhere from $1- 2.50, depending on if we're using cheap tortilla chips or Fritos.  The potatoes, as our carb, cost about $ .50 instead.  Yum.

Almost-Taco Salad

 ½ lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp. tomato powder
2 Tbsp. chili powder
Salt to taste
1 head of lettuce (or a half head each Iceburg and red leaf lettuce)
½ green bell pepper
½ red bell pepper
½ c. shredded cheese
1 tomato, cut in wedges
Optional: thin-sliced onion, sliced avocado, jicama cubes, cooked black beans, drained canned corn, canned green chilies....

Cook the beef until browned.  Meanwhile, wash and chop lettuce and veggies.  Put the lettuce in, then add the vegetables and most of the cheese; mix slightly.  When the burger is done, drain off grease, then add tomato powder and chili powder.  Stir to coat, taste and add salt if needed.  Spread out the meat on a plate to cool more quickly.    When it’s cool, top the salad with it and the remaining cheese.

My family thought it was good without salad dressing, but if you want something to drizzle on top, Ranch is a good choice- especially if you mix a little chili powder into it-, OR this:

Creamy Garlic Dressing:

¼ c. plain yogurt or sour cream
1 Tbsp. water or milk
½ tsp. garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. dried parsley, optional, if you want it to look prettier

Whisk until smooth.
Serve with oregano-roasted potato wedges and vegetable sticks.

So St. Patrick's Day is this weekend, and this is green, right?

(Can I just mention that I have a hard time liking a holiday whose only purpose I've seen is to have an excuse to pinch people?!  So I read more about it this year, and concluded that the symbol should be a THREE leaf clover.  Look it up.  But I digress.)

OK, no, that's not really why I made the cake.  My son's birthday was coming up, he loves Minecraft, and begged for a Creeper cake.  Fortunately he only wanted its face and didn't really care if each pixel was a different color than the next. so he got this simplified version.  But he wanted it green.  Inside too.  But white cake.....

Here's what I used:
one 8x8 square cake pan
one white cake mix plus ingredients to make it
2 cups of homemade frosting (1 stick of butter, 1 lb. powdered sugar, see below)
one 6-oz box lime gelatin
3 Tbsp. semisweet chocolate chips
one milk chocolate Hershey's bar (regular size.  Or use 3 Tbsp. milk chocolate chips.)

Grease and flour your pan really well, then bake the cake until done.  Meanwhile, bring one cup of water to a boil, add the gelatin, and stir to dissolve.  Don't add the other cup of water the box calls for.  You'll have about 1 1/3 cups of gelatin liquid.  Set it aside.
When the cake is done, let it cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack.  While the cake is still warm, carefully spoon about 1/2 cup of the gelatin mixture on it, spreading it so it soaks in evenly.  

Once the cake is completely cooled, make the frosting:  Beat 1 stick of softened butter until it's smooth, then add about a pound of powered sugar and 1/4 cup of the gelatin mixture (warm it slightly if it's too solid to pour).  Beat until smooth.  If it's too thick, add a little more gelatin mixture; if too thin, add more powdered sugar.  (If you notice the dark specks in my frosting, they're caused by experimenting with a half avocado in the frosting.  It never did end up as smooth as I wanted, but it gave an interesting earthy appearance.)

Frost the top and sides of the cake, then pipe a border around the top.  Leave NO GAPS in the border.  Pour the remaining gelatin onto the top; the border serves as a dam to keep it there.  The ideal pouring temperature is slightly warm to slightly cool- you don't want it so warm it melts the frosting, nor so cool it forms lumps all over the top.

When the gelatin has just started thinking about setting up (slightly thicker than egg whites), pull out a ruler and a chef's knife.  Score the gelatin, pressing down into the frosting below,  in an 8x8 grid pattern, which is one square to one inch.  Make your chocolate facial features by following the instructions in the slide show.


Start with any plain white frosting you like.  I used sweetened whipped cream (see recipe below). If you can't have dairy, you can use sweetened whipped coconut cream or a basic nondairy 'buttercream' frosting.  This gives just a hint of pale green color and just enough mint to be refreshing.
All you need is
1 c. frosting 
1 tsp. mint flavored liquid chlorophyll

Stir together.  If you don't have chlorophyll on hand, try a similar amount of really well pureed spinach or parsley (the flavor won't come through), plus maybe 1/4 tsp. mint extract or a few drops mint essential oil.  
If you're wondering what in the world is mint flavored liquid chlorophyll, here's what I used. I have not compared other brands since this is the kind my local health food store sells.  ;)   My husband keeps taking it in hopes it'll lower his cholesterol; it's supposed to be a blood cleaner.

Here's the base I like best for this:

Stabilized whipped cream  (will not go flat or runny- great for topping pies or as a frosting)

½ pint whipping cream (8 oz)
½ tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. sugar OR ¼ c. powdered sugar
2-3 tsp. Ultra Gel OR 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin

If using Ultra Gel, stir it with the sugar, then add cream and vanilla and whip until stiff. 

If using gelatin, put it with a tablespoon of water, let it sit a minute to soften, then microwave for 12 seconds to dissolve it. Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla until they start to thicken a little, then slowly pour gelatin in while still beating. Whip until stiff.

For more ways to stabilized whipped cream, see Never-Flat Whipped Cream

Looking for another green food?

Apparently these have been popular in the food world for about a year... but I first saw them last week.  My oldest son, the pickiest eater in the house, had noticed the printed recipe sitting on the counter for several days, grimacing everytime he walked past it.  So when a batch of brownies appeared out of the oven, he cocked an eyebrow at me, asking "Are these what I think they are?", then declared he would NOT eat them.
After everyone else begged for seconds, though, he decided he'd try just one bite.  Then a whole brownie.  Then he had seconds too.

Black Bean Brownies

1 1/4 c. cooked black beans, rinsed (about a 15-oz can or 1/2 c. dry beans- cook first)
3 eggs
1/4 c. melted coconut oil or vegetable oil
1/2- 2/3 cup honey OR 3/4-1 cup sugar (brownies with the higher amounts are sweeter and more moist)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup whole wheat flour, OR 1/2 c.gluten-free flour plus 1 tsp. xanthan gum
½ teaspoon almond extract or orange extract, optional
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
½ cup chopped walnuts, optional
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 9x13 pan.  Combine beans, eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and almond/orange extract (if using) in a food processor or blender.  Puree until very smooth.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.   Pour the puree over top, then mix both together.  Stir in walnuts if using.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.  Bake about 25 minutes or until center tests done with a toothpick.  
To make these into Chocolate Truffle Brownies, omit the chocolate chips and frost with my favorite-ever chocolate frosting: creamy, soft, oh-so-smooth Chocolate Blender Frosting!
Surely many of you are in the same boat.

Out of the eight of us in the house, we've learned that one child can't have wheat.  She's so sensitive that eating one 1/4" piece of bread caused her arms to turn hot pink and start to weep.  But the rest of us are fine.  We're still in the process of determining if she reacts to gluten, or to just the wheat itself, so for now everything must be wheat-free AND gluten-free.  And dairy-free, while we're figuring out if that's an issue too.  For some strange reason, I prefer to cook only one meal, per meal.  And special 'gluten-free' foods are pricey.  Really pricey.  So I'll let you know how I've adapted.  Hopefully it'll help you or someone else having to adapt to whatever allergy or special needs diet strikes just one or two in your family.  

Eight Tips for feeling (more) normal when someone has special dietary needs

1- Plan on preparing most of your family's foods.  
Unless you have nothing against quadrupling your family's food budget.  Not kidding.   If you didn't cook much before, brush up on the basics.  They'll do for now.  And for a while.

2- Eat naturally wheat-free foods
Keep a list around so you can focus on what CAN be eaten rather than all the CAN'Ts.  It's empowering and encouraging.  While you're still getting used to what's okay and not, go through your kitchen and pantry, and write down everything that is GF already, including all plain spices and herbs (blends might not be; check), canned/fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables, rice, plain beans, flax, buckwheat, meat in its natural state, eggs, peanut butter, olives, potato chips, popcorn, jam, ketchup...  See a bigger list here, halfway down the page.  There's a GF year-supply list here.  You know, I've been telling myself for years that we oughta eat more rice and beans.  They're cheap, store well, and are filling. 
Those have suddenly become more popular at my house.

3- Make a list of 10-15 meals your family likes that are gluten/wheat-free and can be made using what you typically have on hand.  Include both super-quick meals and more involved ones.  Be willing to spend about an hour doing this; it'll save you much more time than that in the long run.  Get input from your kids.  Tape the list someplace handy like the inside of your cooking supplies cupboard.  No more panic or feeling helpless at a change of dinner plans!

4- When you cook some specialty gluten-free food, go ahead and make a big batch.  Then freeze the rest in individual serving sizes.  For my 10-year-old, the ziptop "snack size" baggies are the perfect size.  There's a gallon-sized ziptop bag labeled for her in the freezer. What's in it changes often.  Right now it has GF waffles and breadsticks, spaghetti (made with specialty GF pasta) and sauce, seasoned rice, dairy-free homemade ice cream (made in my blender), and GF chocolate chip cookies.  Remember treats. They've saved my daughter from feeling deprived with all these new "don't"s.  Whenever my husband pulls out the ice cream, she pulls out her freezer bag and gets something sweet too.  I also keep one loaf of GF bread in the freezer, for sandwiches and toast.  She pulls out a couple slices whenever needed.

5- Keep a small plastic bin full of GF baking supplies, like the photo above. It's handy for all kinds of things. My 'essentials' include a bag of GF flour mix (homemade or storebought), xantham gum, some white flour like rice, tapioca, or potato starch, and a whole-grain GF flour like brown rice, lentil, oat, or sorghum.  Mine also has a bag of dairy-free chocolate chips in it, good for a lot more than just cookies.  I've found flours like tapioca, potato starch, and rice flour at the Asian market for a fraction of the price.

6- Try a new GF recipe at least once a week.  And maybe only once a week, depending on how overwhelming it is to you.  Have that other family member cook with you, so she'll learn to cook for herself later.  If you love bread, stick with the quickbreads for a while.  They're much simpler.  I think the easiest way to learn, other than just trying a new GF mix each week, is to buy a copy of of Living Without magazine.  Or sign up for their free weekly newsletter, which includes a recipe.   I love the magazine format because you can learn in 5-minute increments.

7- Remember to watch out for cross-contamination
I think this is actually the hardest one.  You might want to have TWO jars of mayonnaise and jam open, one of each labeled as GF.  Otherwise it's really easy for bread crumbs from one person to end up in the jar, where they'll cause the allergic person grief.  Remember that toasters carry crumbs.  Wipe the counters really well.  Consider having a second set of measuring cups, possibly mixing bowls and cooling racks too, depending on severity of reaction.  If you have a regular wheat grinder you can grind your own GF flours, using things like rice, beans, oats, lentils, quinoa, etc, BUT only use a mill that has not been used for wheat.  Unless you want to invite problems.  Some things can be ground in a blender, like oats, if those are OK for your family member.

8- Read labels.  Always.  Always.
Learn which ingredients have hidden gluten.  You'll be surprised at what you find.  Sometimes good surprises.  Sometimes lame ones.  Realize too that sometimes companies change their ingredients, and something that didn't have gluten/wheat in it before, might the next time you buy it.  Knowing exactly what you're eating is a good idea anyway.

You can do this!  :D

Love, Rhonda