Sweet Potato Brownies (gluten and grain free, no sugar added, and delicious!)

I take Ben and Ella to a homeschool group in Miami Beach on Tuesdays, and each parent has to volunteer an hour of his or her time every week. Since Ella is a bit…high maintenance at this age, the volunteer coordinator came up with the wonderful idea of letting me make healthy baked goods for the weekly group. I have made something different each week, usually either cookies or muffins, and for our year end party I made a really yummy (if I may say so myself) superfruit cobber. Today was our last meeting for the school year, and I’ll be honest with you, I think I saved the best for last. I’ve been looking at this brownie recipe every week since I started my baking project, and I always lament that I don’t have any cooked sweet potatoes, nor do I want to take the time to make them. Well my friends, I had a lovely baked sweet potato just waiting to be turned into this dessert and I am so glad I went for it. I may or may not be eating one with Haagen-Dazs right at this very moment!


Sweet Potato Brownies (recipe adapted from Cooking Against the Grain: Sweet Revenge by Orleatha Smith)

12 large dates, soaked in warm water until soft, then pitted

1 cup cooked sweet potato

3 eggs

1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp coconut flour

1/2 cup raw cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder)

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp tapioca starch

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

In a blender or food processor blend dates with eggs, coconut oil, and vanilla until relatively smooth. Add sweet potato and blend. Scoop into a bowl and stir in dry ingredients.

Bake in mini or regular muffin tins or a 9×13 baking dish. I used mini muffin tins and got about 40 adorable little bite size brownies. If you are not using muffin papers make sure to oil the tins, I’m sure lining a baking pan with parchment paper or oiling it well would be helpful too. The recipe says 30-35 min for the 9×13 baking dish, my mini guys took about 20 min but I recommend checking them after 15.



Grain Free, Sugar Free Peanut Butter Cookies (they taste good!)

Cutie cookie ready for the oven

My son Ben has been on a grain free, sugar free diet for the past month or so (honestly I have no idea how long, it feels like forever!). It has been challenging to come up with ideas for what to cook, especially things he can take to camp for lunch and snack. I started a page on Facebook (in addition to The Joy of Caitlin page, go “like” it to stay up to date on posts and other things from around the internet that I think you might find interesting!) to reach out to others who are working on similar diets with their families. The page is called Grain Free, Sugar Free Kids and I’m using it to share the recipes I create and find on other blogs. I figure that not everyone who reads The Joy of Caitlin is interested in lots and lots of grain free recipes, but if you are, check out the new page!

That being said, I am sharing one of my best loved new grain free, sugar free recipes here because it has quickly become a favorite in our house. I was inspired by this recipe which is vegan, but since we’re not, I like to add a few eggs for texture. I think anyone would like these cookies as a healthy snack. If you get to eat “real” desserts this may not taste like a treat to you, but to Ben, they are decadent and delicious!

Peanut Butter cookies
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/4 cup peanut butter
1 mashed banana
2 eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp stevia
1/4 cup coconut flour

Preheat the oven to 350 and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Process everything in food processor. If it is too much to fit in your food processor you can process just the chickpeas with the coconut oil and eggs, then stir in the rest by hand. My food processor is really old so it wasn’t so excited about this “dough” idea. I think a newer model would handle it fine.

Roll the dough into balls then press them flat onto the cookie sheet with the palm of your hand. With a fork, make a little “hashtag” on each cookie (they look like real peanut butter cookies!) Bake for about 10-15 min, every oven is different so check on them after 10. They should be firm but not overly browned. Mine got golden brown on the bottom and around the edges but stayed moist inside. Mmm…

Fresh batch!

A few of these pretty babies with a glass of homemade almond milk and I am super satisfied.

They aren’t just a snack, they are real food! 🙂

Ben turns 5!!!

As most parents say, I can’t believe Ben is five already! Actually, I can believe it. In a certain way the time has flown by, yet I have watched him grow each day. I don’t think a single day has gone by that I haven’t marveled at him. He is a kind, courageous, interesting, interested boy and I feel so lucky that I get to be his mom. Ben is still young enough that he wants to sit on my lap and snuggle, yet old enough that he can do most things for himself. This is a sweet age that bridges the end of the little kid era. Soon he will lose his baby teeth and learn to read and maybe not want to hold my hands in public or give me a kiss goodnight on the lips. Needless to say, I’m really savoring his little smile and his need for mama love. I try to balance my attention by offering him support and help without babying or spoiling him. It can be hard when I notice so clearly how big he is getting! As always I find my best parenting strategy is to be present in the moment and aware. When I am truly present I can enjoy the paradoxically quickly/slowly changing stages of my children’s lives. I can watch Ella sound out her first words in English and Hebrew. I can play Legos with Ben and enjoy listening to him develop an imaginative story. In that state I can also choose how to react when one of the kids is pushing my buttons. I don’t always succeed at this, but when I do it feels like a triumph.

Here are some photos from the three days of Ben’s birthday celebrations

All dressed up for his party at school “Hey Ben cool outfit!”
It was so sweet to see him celebrate with his friends. It really felt like a beautiful closure to a somewhat difficult school year.
Birthday boy woke up to find a slinky under his pillow (old school!)
Birthday boy woke up to find a slinky under his pillow (old school!)
We had Ben’s party at the water park inside our favorite place, TY Park. It was FUN!
She likes it!
She likes it!
Ben and Uncle Yoni enjoying the water slide
Ben and Uncle Yoni enjoying the water slide
Party people!
Party people!
Ella making a HILARIOUS face as she scopes out one of Ben's presents
Ella making the most hilarious face EVER as she scopes out one of Ben’s presents “Ben won’t notice if I take a peek inside this box…” She’s even on her tippy toes!
Preparing the ever important cupcakes under the watchful eyes of the five-and-under crowd
Adding a few finishing touches to the ever important cupcakes under the watchful eyes of the five-and-under crowd.
mmm they were as good as they looked (if I may say so myself)!
mmm they were as good as they looked (if I may say so myself)!
Ben was a little overwhelmed with everyone singing happy birthday.
Ben was a little overwhelmed with everyone singing happy birthday.
We love you Ben!
We love you Ben!
Proud mama
Proud mama
Final extravagant birthday treat on Ben's real birthday: ice cream at Frieze. He did okay afterward, I however felt awful and regretted it. It was really really delicious though!
Final extravagant birthday treat on Ben’s real birthday: ice cream at Frieze. He was a little off but mostly did okay afterward. I however felt awful and regretted it. It was really really delicious though!


Leading up to Ben’s party I spent about a week deliberating about what to make for the birthday cake. Part of me wanted to just say forget the special dietary changes and make him a big chocolate cake. Part of me wanted to buy him a Carvel ice cream cake because we have done that almost every year for his birthday. Part of me wanted to make some kind of elaborate raw creation out of nuts and dates. My internal conversation went on and on. I didn’t want to bother making a raw treat because he hasn’t reacted well to anything made with dates, and if he was going to freak out, I figured it might as well be for something really special and decadent. I didn’t want to go the straight sugar route because his reactions to the occasional sweets we have tried since we changed his diet have been really unpredictable. I didn’t want to risk him having a super meltdown at his own party. His reactions to grains have been sometimes even stronger than any sugars. So, I opted to make grain free, fresh fruit sweetened cupcakes, topped with homemade whipped cream made from organic grass fed cream, and some straight up real sugar bright blue sprinkles to make them look really special and fun in a “this isn’t hippie food” kind of way. I tried to make strawberry cupcakes first, which tasted good but the texture was off. Then I adapted my muffin recipe to make banana blueberry cupcakes and they were just what I was looking for. Moist, delicious texture, sweet but not too sweet, topped with the rich whipped cream…I was really happy with them.

Here’s the recipe:

ready for the oven
ready for the oven
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 1/2 cups mashed banana
  • 1 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut flour
  • stevia equivalent of 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix dry ingredients in a smaller bowl.

Mix blueberries into dry ingredients, then combine with wet ingredients and mix gently but thoroughly. It will be thick, but if the batter seems too dry add a little more almond milk.

Spoon a small amount of batter into lined muffin tin. They are very moist so you only want to fill about 1/3 way in a normal muffin tin or all the way in a mini muffin tin. I had enough batter to make a very thin cake in a round dish as well.

Bake until browned around the edges and somewhat firm (check them after about 15 min, then every few minutes after that).

Let cool for about 30 min in the muffin tins, then take them out and let them cool the rest of the way.

For the whipped cream I literally just whipped a container of heavy cream with a tiny bit of maple syrup. If you have extras, don’t tell anyone and save them in an unmarked jar to put in your coffee. I of course didn’t have any extras. wink wink.

If you make them let me know what you think!!


Fast forward



Let me start with a recipe! This is the most wonderful cupcake I have ever made, inspired by my sister-in-law Whitney‘s birthday on Saturday. I cooked up a rainbow carrot cupcake with Meyer lemon cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of sweet and savory Middle Eastern spices on top. Please try not to get annoyed by all the corniness that is about to ensue, and let me tell you why this is the perfect cupcake for Whitney. First, she is sweet, a little spicy, and sister loves cream cheese frosting. Rainbow carrots because I love Whitney’s style and she always inspires me to wear more color. Meyer lemons because they are unique and gourmet, (just like Whit, obv). Last, the Middle Eastern spices because not only did we meet in Israel when she first met my brother in law Yoni while we were all living in Jerusalem, but Whitney and I both truly fell in love with food and started our journey of cooking in Israel. Thus, these were the cupcake version of a story, because I love to express my love with food. Happy birthday Whit, blessings for the best year ever!

I made this frosting, minus one of the 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese and the vanilla, and adding the zest of two Meyer lemons and the juice of one. I used this cupcake recipe  with some changes:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup room temp butter
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots (rainbow if you can find them!)
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • juice of 3 Meyer lemons and zest of two

If you can’t find Meyer lemons I recommend oranges rather than lemons.

The spice on top is a combination of baharat spice mix, coconut sugar, and Himalayan pink sea salt. Mmmm.

Okay, now for the rest of the post! Guys, seriously, who took the past month and hit fast forward? It has been a whirlwind. My husband Mo was out of commission for about three weeks. It’s a long story, but the outcome was that first he saw one regular doctor who referred him to a surgeon who wouldn’t see him. Then he saw another doctor who referred him to the same surgeon who still wouldn’t see him, and she didn’t care when Mo told her that the surgeon wouldn’t see him. Then he saw one more doctor who prescribed him two very strong antibiotics and told him that if that didn’t work, he would refer him to the same surgeon again. All of this was stressful and felt incredibly hopeless.

I was not about to let the crazy world of modern medicine give my husband the run around, so I sprung into holistic healing action and called in all the forces I could think of. We managed to get him an appointment with a world renowned homeopath who happens to have an office in South Florida. This felt like it was meant to be, because I have been using her awesome book (with great success) to treat myself and my family for acute conditions for the past ten years. Then a friend connected us with her husband who is an acupuncturist. Mo started the antibiotics and I gave him all the safe and effective herbs that I know. Let me also mention that my champion husband went into work for all of his teaching hours for two weeks, holding on until Spring break. In his off hours Mo had to rest as much as possible, which was really hard for me and the kids. I felt so strong and so alone at the same time. It was a chance for me to flex my parenting muscles and be forced to connect with my kids in a very real and intimate way, because I couldn’t rely on Mo as much for his share of the parenting. I felt scared and alone, but also hopeful because I believe that a crisis of any kind can be a huge growth experience and a start of a new chapter. In this case, for Mo especially, but really for all of us, because we are a unit that travels through life together.

In marriage, and especially with kids, I have the opportunity to be challenged and shown all the things that are hard for me. If I allow myself, I get to notice the hurt places, and the things that make me react intensely. I also get to see the hard things that I can do. Every day I get up and do things that are difficult or uncomfortable, and sometimes, I get to be really brave. I always tell Ben that being brave means being scared but doing it anyway. I do that every day. As I become more aware of my own actions and motivation, I try to share with my family what I’m doing and how it feels. When I feel anxious, I tell Mo, because then he knows that I’m being brave, even if it’s just by getting out of bed in the morning. When I’m feeling tired and frustrated, I tell Ben, because I want him to see that I can be kind even when it isn’t easy. Not to say that I always manage to be kind when I’m tired and frustrated, but you get the picture!

I had planned to make this a post about my spiritual musings on the Passover holiday, but instead I felt like I needed to play catch up. The rest of the story is that Mo is healing and we are all growing, as always. I have tried not to feel resentful, but I was getting grouchier as Mo was getting better, like a delayed reaction to all the stress. I am trying to take time out to relax and keep talking it out with Mo as each day goes by. I can say that the more we practice honest and open communication with each other the easier it gets. We still fight occasionally (ahem, yesterday), but it feels like more of an airing out of confusing feelings that we then sort through together once we’ve calmed down. As I learned when I was reading about the Everglades the other day, a storm can be good for an ecosystem.

I will be back soon with more deep thoughts, photos, and recipes!



PS- I tried to take a photo of Ben and his friend Chloe sitting at the edge of the ocean today, but just as I walked away from the stroller where Ella was sitting, she took a nose dive into the sand because I had apparently forgotten to strap her in. Poor kid got a face full of sand, in her nose and mouth, around but thankfully not in her eyes. Geez. So just picture the cutest blondies facing turquoise waves and a grey sky. And if you want, my sweetest girl covered in sand like a little cinnamon donut hole. #momfail #happenstothebestofus



Taking a break for bread

This is literally the eighth time I am sitting down to write this post. It’s not because it is a special post or about anything difficult, it’s just about bread. I have been busy and distracted, with Mo out of town at a day school conference in D.C. and my cousin visiting from frozen New Jersey. I wanted to show her a good time in Miami and give her my attention while the kids were sleeping. So, in the past week I didn’t get much done other than mothering, tour guiding, and laundry. We really had a great time: girl talk, great coffee, beach walks, home cooked food, and we even watched Twilight for old times sake!

Also, some really good, difficult, button pushing things have been happening lately. I have had to change and cancel appointments due to our sweet visitor and then a sick baby. I tried to be kind and not start calling myself a flake in my head. A neighbor got aggressive with my cousin about my leaving laundry in the dryer past the moment the timer ran out. This neighbor has been known to stand in the laundry room and watch the minutes on the dryer tick down, to stand over me and tsk disapprovingly as I switch loads, to check the lint traps when she isn’t even doing laundry (just to make sure no one is leaving the room “disgusting”) and to check on who is in the room any time she walks by (just to make sure it isn’t someone from another floor). It is clear that she is a bit troubled in a way that has nothing to do with laundry. She is also on the building’s co-op board, so I don’t to ruffle her feathers too much. I do at least feel successful for not letting her craziness shake me too much, and I’m proud of myself for not worrying about how to appease her (my usual m.o.). I managed to do two loads of laundry today without incident, although I did have a sneaking feeling that she was about to pop out like a jack-in-the-box every time I opened the laundry room door!

On the parenting front, I was feeling disconnected and frustrated toward Ben, and then started judging myself harshly about it. I cut off the “I should”s and “Why didn’t I”s and tried to focus on having clear boundaries with him, letting go of the guilt, and finding small moments to connect. Guess what? It worked! I feel much better and I think he does too. I’m really proud of myself.

All in all, it has been kind of an uncomfortable week for me emotionally, but I am glad that I can have the presence of mind to see the things that are happening in a different light, and work on whatever is coming up, little by little. I am in the process of writing a post about defensiveness and denial, but all that introspection will have to wait. The baby is still sick and I am tired. For now, at long last, is the sourdough post I have had on the back burner.

The best bread I have ever tasted is sourdough challah. Zak the baker gave me some of his “Mother” a while back so I have been experimenting with different types of sourdough. Let me first explain that sourdough both flavors and leavens bread. A small piece of dough from each previous batch is held over and added to the next batch which the bacteria then cultures, causing it to rise. I had been wanting to try baking sourdough for a while, but I was too intimidated to make my own “starter.” When my sister-in-law Whitney of Jewhungry took us to meet her friend Zak, I mentioned that I had been thinking of trying sourdough. He generously offered to give me some of his starter aka “Mother” and I am more than a little thrilled to have some of his acclaimed sourdough to work with! I asked him to explain briefly what to do with the piece of dough he gave me. He said it was too much to explain quickly and that I would have to experiment to figure out what works. Zak did say to take the dough and add it to five times the amount of flour and water.

So far I have baked four batches and each one came out different. The first was dense and crusty, the second was too crusty with lots of air bubbles inside, the third was kind of flat, and the fourth was miraculous, heavenly, and incomparable. Seriously.

I pretty much followed this recipe, as well as I could, in spite of my anti-recipe tendencies. I used maple syrup as the sweetener and coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. I brushed the loaves with coconut oil just before I baked them. The whole apartment smelled AMAZING! Mo and I had to break into one of the smaller rolls to try it while it was still hot. With a little butter it was out of control. The rest of the bread we ate over Shabbat was also great, a little less spectacular than fresh out of the oven, but I guess that goes without saying. On Sunday I used the rest of the loaf to make PB&J sandwiches and they were thoroughly enjoyed. The bread was so awesome I decided to make it again the other day. I veered a little further from the recipe mostly because I made a ton of starter, and because I generally can’t don’t like to follow recipes exactly. The loaves came out with a great dense, tender texture inside, and a crispy, not too thick crust. I ended up doubling the amount of flour in the recipe because I had a lot of starter, but I didn’t quite double the other ingredients (eggs, coconut oil, and maple syrup). Next time I’ll try to make sure the recipe is more in proportion because I liked the previous batch best, with its sweet challah flavors.

Here are some photos to hopefully get you inspired to find a friend with a starter and start experimenting!

I like to make one huge braided loaf to slice into on Friday night, and the make grilled cheese sandwiches with on Saturday night. Mmmm cheddar and goat cheese with avocado...
I like to make one huge braided loaf to slice into on Friday night. Then we make grilled cheese sandwiches with the rest on Saturday night. Mmmm cheddar and goat cheese with avocado…

challah 2 challah 3 challah 4 challah 5

I have to admit that after these past few batches I feel really happy and proud of my experimenting. I feel like I was really brave with following my intuition and not stressing about the final product. I am really diving in to letting go of perfectionism and living out loud, starting in the kitchen, as always. Baby steps folks! I have to start somewhere.

Please feel free to ask me anything about my sourdough experience (or anything else for that matter) in the comments!

I’m also looking forward to going through the rest of my menu from the catering job soon, so stay tuned.




Maintaining Sanity While Cooking With Kids

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of cooking with my kids. In my mind we are in a big open kitchen in a cozy country house, the kids are standing on stools around a wide butcher block island in the center as I gracefully give them tasks in the creation of something delicious. The reality is that there is almost no counter space in my kitchen so I get crammed into a corner as Ben throws flour everywhere and I desperately try to maintain my composure while whatever I’m trying to make gets mauled into oblivion to shouts of “Hulk smash!” (seriously). I want to cook with my kids, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t want my son’s memories of being in the kitchen to be of me hovering over him correcting his every move. I love to cook and it is something that I am good at. I am however a terrible team player, so even if it were an adult working in the kitchen with me I would not feel relaxed about sharing the space. Throw in the four year old’s utter lack of self control and my fear of giving up control and it’s kind of…unpleasant. That being said, I continue to try the cooking with kids experiment. One way I’ve found to make it easier is to make something that can be divided into parts. If I am baking bread of some kind I will double the recipe and give Ben one good sized chunk of dough to shape something edible out of, and one smaller chunk of dough to do whatever he wants with (destroy, stick toys in it, make it dance all over the kitchen floor…). I also let him play with all the measuring cups and spoons. The other day a ladle and a wooden spoon had a hilarious conversation in our kitchen. Ben was just being silly and playing pretend, but it was a really sweet moment for me. He saw something associated with cooking as fun and playful, so that is a good start.

Attachment parenting at its finest...and most stressful
Attachment parenting at its finest…and most stressful

Ben gearing up to beast the dough
Ben gearing up to beast the dough
4 year old rage!
4 year old rage!
Rolling out the pitas. Note the extremely calm and joyful look on my face...LOL
Rolling out the pitas. Note the extremely calm and joyful look on my face…or not…
Pitas ready for the oven
Pitas ready for the oven
Keeping tabs on the progress
Keeping tabs on the progress
Poof! Just like that! Magic.
Poof! Just like that! Magic.
My personal favorite pita. It was devoured with pure pride and happiness that only bread made from scratch while wearing a baby can provide.
My personal favorite pita. It was devoured with pure pride and happiness that only bread made from scratch while wearing a baby can provide.
Warm and snuggly pitas.
Warm and snuggly pitas.
They're just so cute!
They’re just so cute!

In case you are feeling terrified, I mean inspired, by my tales of baking, here is the recipe for the pitas in the photos above. Pitas are in my opinion the best possible bread to make. Maximum pleasure, minimum effort. The dough is as easy to put together as pizza dough, which was my first foray into yeast dough. I had a phobia of bread baking for a number of years, which I will explore in another post, but suffice to say that these are a good beginning place for even the bread phobic.

Pita Bread
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp instant yeast (I have no idea how to adapt it for another kind of yeast but there must be something out there on the internet about this)
2 tblsp olive oil + some for the bowl at the end
3 cups water (more if needed)

Combine dry ingredients in a big bowl.
Add water and oil and mix it around with a fork until it starts sticking together and gets hard to mix.
Use your hands to continue mixing and add water if needed until it becomes a big ball of dough. (Now is the time to let your kid knead aka beat the heck out of the dough.
It is okay if it is a little sticky, if it is very sticky you can add more flour.
Take another really big bowl (or put the dough on the counter for a minute and clean out the same bowl) and spread olive oil around the bowl. Put the dough in and turn it to coat lightly with oil.
Cover with a dish towel and put it in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Clean and dry some counter space, about 2 feet should be fine, and spread some flour around.
Pull off chunks of dough and roll them out until they are flat but not too thin, maybe 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
Give your child 1 piece to make into any shape (Just don’t watch if it’s too hard not to interject. Sometimes I walk to the other side of the kitchen.)
When they have used up their calm behavior give them another piece of dough and send them to the other side of the kitchen while you finish rolling the dough.
Roll out as many pitas will fit on your biggest baking sheet. It is okay if the edges are touching they will rise upward not outward. It is important to make sure they don’t have creases because then they won’t puff. They will still taste good though!
Bake them for a few minutes until they puff or get lightly browned around the edges.
Take out and let them cool on a kitchen towel, bake a few more batches.
Warning: your smoke detector may go off if it is really close to the kitchen because the loose flour can burn a little at such a high temperature. Use the oven fan or just leave a door or window open while you do this.