Monthly Archives: June 2009

for the ages

A long time ago I owned a bread machine.  With that machine I made my husband (then boyfriend) batches of everything bagels on a bi-weekly basis.  It was so easy to dump all of the ingredients in, leave the machine unattended for 3-1/2 hours, then boil and bake the bagel dough until golden brown.  Well, three years ago we bought a house.  A very small house with a kitchen that lacks any kind of storage space, especially space for a clunky bread machine.  So, three years ago Brian stopped getting homemade bagels for breakfast and instead made do with bagels from the local shop, sliced then frozen then thawed when desired.  And, for three years he’s been asking me to start making homemade bagels again.

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I agreed to get rid of the bread machine not only because we had zero space for it, but also because I thought it would be a way to force myself to learn how to bake yeast breads from scratch.  It seemed like a great idea since I already loved to bake cookies and muffins and quick breads – Brian even bought me a beautiful book to help in my endeavors. Unfortunately, the arrival of that book in our house coincided with my first semester of graduate school, which means that nary a loaf nor bagel was baked as I studied the affect of wind on structures and built teeny, tiny models of buildings at all hours of the night.  Although I’ve been out of school for a full year now, I’ve just recently begun tackling yeast breads.  And two weeks ago, much to Brian’s delight, I tackled bagels.

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It really wasn’t a difficult task, making bagels from scratch, especially with Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice as my tutor.  Yes it was handy to have the bread machine take care of all of the mixing and kneading and resting and kneading again, without my having to keep an eye on a clock.  However, with a little forethought and a a stand mixer (I’m sure you could make these with a handheld mixer and a lot of elbow grease, but I’m not that brave) the bagels can be started Saturday evening and baked up just in time for Sunday morning breakfast.  And they are delicious – so much better than the bread machine bagels of our past.  The overnight fermentation process adds a great flavor that you just can’t match in 3-1/2 hours.

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Now, I’m not from New York or Philadelphia or any other city whose residents claim that they have the *best* bagel.  I didn’t grow up eating bagels every week so don’t have the kind of nostalgia associated with them that so many other people have.  I don’t claim to have had the best bagel of my life when I was growing up in such-and-such city, and certainly haven’t spent my life trying to find one that compares.  So, while I can’t personally claim that this bagel will match the bagel of your past, I do trust Peter Reinhart when he claims that this is a bagel for the ages.

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This recipe produces a bagel with a chewy exterior, soft interior and endless possibilities for toppings.  I froze ours in gallon-size bags once they had cooled, and simply microwaved them for 30 seconds before slicing and toasting when we were ready to eat them.  The flavor and texture were still perfect.

Before typing out the [rather lengthy] recipe, I did a quick search to see if I could find a link online.  Luckily, Smitten Kitchen came through. For Peter Reinhart’s bagel recipe, from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, click here.

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my kind of [summer] meal

Summer is upon us, and I have a confession to make.  I don’t cook much from June thru September.  I blame the longer days and the evening activities that come with them.  Cocktails after work with friends on the downtown mall, a few hours weeding and picking and training in the garden, fetch with the dogs and wine on the deck.  By the time I start to think about dinner the sun has fallen in the sky and its past 8pm.

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The fresh produce this time of year holds some of the blame as well.  When you’re picking sugar snaps straight from the vine outside your kitchen door and have an abundance of fresh lettuce at your feet its hard to imagine doing anything but going straight inside, dumping it all into a bowl and drizzling it with a simple vinaigrette.  Or, when you’ve just pulled perfect little beets from the ground and realize that you still have some carrots from the farmer’s market in your fridge, images of simply roasted root vegetables sprinkled with salt + pepper laid across a bed of lettuce start dancing in your head and eventually wind up on your plate (pictured above).  It can’t be helped, really.  And how about brown rice pasta with quickly-sauteed squash from the market?  The quick and simple possibilities are endless.

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And then there is my attempt to follow Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 diet, although I hate to call it that. The d-word has such negative connotations and forces thoughts of deprivation into my head, when this new way of eating doesn’t make me feel deprived in the least.  I’ve simply been reducing my intake of processed foods and animal products by following a Vegan diet from the time I wake up until dinner time, when anything goes.  If you’ve read about me, you’ll know that Brian and I are very conscious of what we eat and where it comes from, and strive to eat as sustainably as possible.  I’ve found that switching to a Vegan diet for two out of three meals a day (and many days for all three!) has been a very easy transition because of the way we’ve thought about food for some time now.  And its especially easy in the summer when my appetite leans towards light salads rather than stick-to-your ribs casseroles.

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So, that was a lot of excuses to say that, basically, I like to eat simply in the summertime.  I love salads that I can make on Sunday and eat for lunch the rest of the week, and simple breads that become the star of the meal with very little effort put forth.  The plate above was assembled on an evening when we had a few of those salads in the fridge, fresh lettuce from the garden on the counter and 30 minutes to spend making flatbread.  The roasted red pepper, chickpea and quinoa salad is simple, delicious and filling…just my kind of meal.  And trust me, even on a low-effort dinner night the extra 30 minutes is worth it, because this flatbread is incredible.

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I haven’t shared the curried tomato salad because I screwed it up the first time we made it and wasn’t completely happy with the results.  The concept is a good one though and I assure you that as soon as local tomatoes grace the booths at the market I’ll be trying it again.

The lentil + brown rice salad can be found here.

Whole Grain Flatbread

slightly modified from Mark Bittman

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I also tried this with 1/2 cornmeal and 1/2 white whole wheat and didn’t like it nearly as much)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Method:

  1. Sift the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Slowly add the water and whisk to eliminate lumps, the batter will resemble thing pancake batter.  Cover with a towel and let sit while your oven preheats, or up to 12 hours.
  2. When ready to bake, heat your oven to 450 degrees.  Put the oil in a 12″ skillet (if you use a smaller skillet use less oil and give the bread more time to cook), along with the onion and garlic.  Put the skillet in the heated oven and let the oil get hot, but not smoking.  It should just take a few minutes – you’ll know when the oil starts to get fragrant.
  3. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, give the onions and garlic a stir and then pour the batter and return the pan to the oven.
  4. Bake 30-40 minutes (I took mine out at 30 and will probably give it just a few more minutes next time) until the flatbread is well browned, firm and crisp around the edges.  Let it rest for about 5 minutes and then slide it from the pan onto a cutting board to cut into wedges.

Roasted Red Pepper, Chickpea and Quinoa Salad

modified from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 6 oz drained jarred roasted red peppers, diced (about 1 cup) – I didn’t have any so just roasted a fresh red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. First, if you don’t have jarred roasted red peppers, roast your own.  I sliced 1 bell pepper thinly, placed it in a small baking dish, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and roasted it for about 30 minutes.
  2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add quinoa and bring back to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover pan and let cook for about 15 minutes, until quinoa is tender but not mushy.  Remove from heat, drain any excess liquid and place quinoa in a medium-sized heat-tolerant bowl.
  3. Whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne and 1/2 tsp salt together in a small bowl.  Whisk in the oil until the dressing is smooth.
  4. Add the chickpeas, roasted red peppers and parsley to the bowl with the quinoa and stir to combine.  Drizzle the dressing over the mixture and toss to combine.

there are worse things

Hello.  My name is Andrea.  I have a food blog…and an addiction.  To cake.  Specifically, lemon cake.  If you’ve ever visited my recipes page, you may have noticed that I have a cake section.  In that section there are currently just three cake recipes, and one of them is Molly Wizenburg’s Lemon Yogurt Cake which is absolutely delicious.  Soon there will be two more cake recipes, just after I hit “publish” on this post.  And those two recipes will also be for lemon cakes.  See?  I think that 3 out of 5 recipes warrants the declaration of an addiction.

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I noticed my problem as I was flipping through magazines and cookbooks trying to decide on a dessert for an upcoming barbeque.  I knew I wanted something manageable at an outdoor party, a treat that could be eaten with one’s fingers while holding a napkin rather than dirtying a plate and fork.  As I flipped pages and placed stickies on the recipes of interest I started to notice a trend – lemon cupcakes with raspberry glaze, lemon cream cheese bars, lemon cooler cookies – lemon, lemon, lemon.  Hmmm…

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The issue became even more apparent when I opened my drafts folder and came across two more lemon recipes that have graced our kitchen in the last month, Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes and Lemon Bundt Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup.  Clearly, I have a problem.  I’ve since decided to go with chocolate for the barbeque…I think.

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In my defense, there are some things that you should know about lemon cakes (besides the obvious, which is that they are delicious) – and the first is that there are so many variations that one can make a different lemon cake recipe every week and never get bored.  I promise.  Take, for example, the Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes that I found on Joy’s site, which she herself declares are the best pound-type cake she’s ever had.  Ever.  Who can resist trying that recipe?

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And then there’s the Lemon Bundt Cake that Food Network named one of the top 7 Cakes For All Occasions.  And they just had to go and drizzle it with a Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup.  I dare you to defy that temptation.  I certainly gave in and made it over Memorial Day weekend for a cook-out at a friend’s house.  It was delicious, even though I made it the day before (as recommended) but didn’t have the proper cake covering apparatus that would have kept it from getting a little dry.  Its a good thing there was that syrup to pour all over the top…

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Another thing you should know about lemon cakes is that they are very refreshing.  This makes them especially tempting when the event for which the cake is planned will take place outdoors, during the hot Virginia summer, after a few rounds of rowdy backyard games.  And, they pair nicely with a chilled glass of white wine, always a bonus.  That argument alone makes me want to ditch my chocolate cupcake idea for next week’s barbeque…what do you think?

So, dear readers, I fear that I lack the proper motivation to get over this little addiction of mine, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.  Which means you may be subjected to additional lemon cake recipes in the future, most likely several before the end of the summer.  There are worse things, I suppose.

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This recipe makes 2 cakes.  After reading some comments from Joy’s readers I would not recommend trying to bake this cake in any pan other than loaf pans.  Also, I used ALL of the syrup.  I just kept brushing layer upon layer of syrup over the tops of the cakes, allowing each application to soak in before adding another.  And, when there was just a bit left in the bowl, I poured it onto the serving plate and plopped the cakes right on top of it, allowing the bottoms to soak it up and get nice and lemon-y.  If you’re not a lemon fanatic like me, you might want to only use 1/2 the syrup.

Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes

Recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan via Joy the Baker.  Be sure to check out the lovely pictures of this cake on Joy’s site, since I was a bit of a slacker and didn’t get many…

Cake:

  • 2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2-1/3 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
  • 1 stick, plus 7 tbsp unsalted butter (15 tbsp total), melted and cooled

Syrup:

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • juice of two lemons

Method:

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×5-inch loaf pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Even if the pans are nonstick, it’s a good idea to butter and flour them.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Put the sugar and the lemon zest in a large bowl, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and thoroughly imbued with the fragrance of lemon.
  4. Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract, then whisk in the cream. Continuing with the whisk, or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing with a rubber spatula.
  5. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. As soon as the cake goes into the oven, make the syrup. After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color- if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with foil tents.
  6. Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.
  7. When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.

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The recipe recommends that you make this cake the day before you plan to consume it.  If you do, be sure to wrap it very well to keep it fresh overnight, or keep it in a cake dome.  My gentle tenting over a dinner plate didn’t work so well.  And don’t spoon the glaze over it until you are ready to serve.

Lemon Bundt Cake with Strawberry Sauce

recipe adapted from foodnetwork.com

Cake:

  • 3-1/4 cups cake flour, sifted (I used 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • zest from one lemon, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Syrup:

  • about 6oz of fresh or frozen rhubarb, chopped finely
  • 1-1/2 cups strawberry jam
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Generously brush the bundt pan with butter and dust with flour.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla and set aside.
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in another bowl, stirring vigorously to lighten the eggs. Gradually whisk in the oil until evenly combined. Add the sour cream mixture and stir together. Add the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined but still a bit lumpy. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake the cake until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes; then unmold cake onto a rack placed over a baking sheet. Cool. (The cake can be prepared to this point a day ahead.)
  5. When ready to serve. Combine the rhubarb, jam, lemon juice and salt in a small saucepan and simmer until the rhubarb gets translucent and syrupy, almost jewel like,, about 10 minutes. Add a bit of water, if the glaze gets too thick . Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool slightly. Spoon some of the glaze over the top of the cake, and reserve the rest for serving with sliced cake. Serve with fresh strawberries.

bella terra: long overdue

My goodness.  I have really been slacking on the bella terra posts.  And its a shame, really, because things are progressing beautifully in our little garden.  And now, looking at all of the pictures I’ve uploaded I feel a bit overwhelmed because there are so many things to tell you all about.

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Such as how strawberries make a lovely addition to a simple salad, especially when you drizzle poppyseed dressing over the top. And how sugar snap peas are a fine enhancement for that same salad with their delightful crunch and sweet flavor.  Oh, and that lettuce and spinach?  Fresh from our garden as well.  All the rain we’ve had this year has kept our lettuces very happy, we didn’t have nearly the bounty in 2008 as we’ve had this summer.

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And I can’t forget to mention that a strawberry rhubarb syrup is delicious spooned over a lemon bundt cake, a recipe I’ll share with you as soon as I can weed through the gazillion other drafts waiting (im)patiently in my drafts folder.

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And what about the blackberries?  They’ve multiplied exponentially this year, completely taking over the southern edge of the garden and providing respite from the afternoon sun for the tender herbs, onions and lettuces in their shadow.

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Even as I write this post, these pictures I am about to share with you are already inaccurate.  For now, the blackberries have started to turn a rosy red.  In just a few weeks they will morph into plump purple berries the size of my thumb and provide endless possibilities for jams, pies and ice creams.  I can’t wait.  I really can’t.

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But the sugar snaps, they are our greatest accomplishment yet this season.  In years past we’ve started the seeds to0 late, so that just as the plants are starting to produce the heat zaps them and they crumple to the ground, leaving us with just enough peas to munch on in the garden but never enough to make it back to the kitchen.  This year though, we’ve got more peas than we know what to do with.  Each day I am bringing a bowl-full inside after popping half a dozen into my mouth while picking.  They are delicious in salads and added last-minute to a stir-fry.  The less you cook them the better – you don’t want them to lose their wonderful crunch.

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My latest use for sugar snaps comes from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit.  The peas added a nice sweetness to a salad that threatened to be overwhelming with its spicy radishes, red onions and caesar dressing.  I loved the textures as well – the crunchy sugar snaps and radishes were a nice compliment for the softer potatoes.  Its a nice addition to any picnic or cook-out, and if you make it just for you there will be plenty for lunch all week long.

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I decided to make this salad the day before we were to join some friends for dinner, thinking that potato salad is always more delicious after having sat overnight in the fridge.  And it was delicious the second day, although no more so than the first, and certainly less beautiful.  The vibrant colors you see below were captured just after the salad was assembled, with the potatoes still slightly warm.  The next day all of the colors mellowed and meshed together, leaving a not-nearly-as-nice presentation.  I won’t make the mistake again.

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Caesar Potato Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

from Bon Appetit, June 2009

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lbs unpeeled assorted baby potatoes, cut cross-wise into 1/2 inch slices
  • 8oz trimmed sugar snap peas
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Method:

  1. Steam potatoes on steamer rack set in large pot until almost tender, about 10 minutes.  Add sugar snap peas and steam until crisp-tender, about 1 minute.  Transfer veggies to a large bowl, cool slightly, then add radishes and onion.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, garlic clove and dijon mustard together in a small bowl until well blended.  Whisk in parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add dressing to potato mixture and toss to coat.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

too simple, continued

I’ve had so many comments and questions about the oatmeal pictured in my last entry, that I decided to go ahead and dedicate a quick post to it.  Many of you may not have been reading a few months ago when Bella Eats was more of a food diary than a space for sharing recipes.  I posted so many pictures of this breakfast during those first few food diary months that I’m surprised people didn’t stop reading out of sheer boredom!  To those of you who have been reading for awhile, I’m sorry if this post looks familiar.

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This oatmeal is one of my favorite daily breakfasts, so quick to make before work and hardy enough to keep me satisfied until lunch time. I was introduced to stove-top oats through the blog world – prior to reading Kath’s and Heather’s sites I was a pre-packaged instant oats kind of girl.  Not any more.  Stove-top oats are far superior in texture and flavor, and if you get old-fashioned rolled oats they only take 10 minutes to make.  They are worth the extra few minutes, I promise.

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Adding mashed banana to my oatmeal was something I learned from Kath, and I’ve never gone back.  I love the creaminess the banana gives the oats and never skip this step even if the toppings change.  Wheatberries are another Kath-inspired addition – I love their chewy texture.  When I’m eating oatmeal often (nearly every day during the cold months) I’ll make a pot full of wheatberries to use all week.  You buy them dried, in the bulk foods section, and boil them in water for about 20 minutes, depending on the texture you’re going for.  I like mine a little chewy, so 20 minutes is all it takes.  Drain them and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 7-10 days.  And the figs – oh the figs – they are the best part.  Their tiny little seeds and sweet flavor add so much to each bite.  Love.

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I’ve tried many different variations of mix-ins, from fresh fruit to chocolate chips to canned pumpkin, but I always come back to this combo.  What are your favorite oatmeal toppings?

Stovetop Oatmeal with Banana, Figs and Almond Butter

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 cup water, pinch of salt
  • 1/2 mashed banana
  • 1 tbsp soy milk
  • 1 tsp ground flax seeds
  • cinnamon to taste
  • 2 dried figs, chopped
  • 2 tbsp cooked wheatberries
  • 1-1/2 tbsp almond butter (crunchy peanut butter is delicious too, and adds another great texture)

Method:

  1. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil.  Add pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of rolled oats. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. When the oats have absorbed most of the water, after 5-7 minutes, turn off the heat.  Add the mashed banana and splash of soy milk.  Stir.  Add the flax seeds and cinnamon, stir.
  3. Pour oats into bowl and top with chopped figs, wheatberries and almond butter.
  4. Stir everything up so that the almond butter swirls through the whole mix.
  5. Enjoy, and if you choose, comment after each bite about how delicious the texture is.  I do every time.

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For those of you who have stuck around since the early food diary days – Thank You! – I appreciate each and every one of you and love seeing comments pop up from familiar names as well as new readers.