Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal

After you’ve been grocery shopping in Germany for a few weeks, you begin to realize that there are numerous food items European supermarkets simply do not sell that American shoppers take for granted as regular possibilities. Chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and corn meal are all examples of foods that seem standard to my American mindset but are absent from all but the most specialized German grocery stores. (They all, for some reason, also seem to have to do with baking…why?) If you go looking on online message boards for answers to this culinary conundrum, you will inevitably come across the TOP most discussed edible scarcity for Americans living, eating, and shopping in this country: PEANUT BUTTER. No peanut butter cookies, chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and no floor-to-ceiling, chunky vs. smooth, Skippy/Jif /Peter Pan peanut butter section at the grocery store.

Some of these people online are VERY worked up about the peanut butter desert that is the European continent. (Now I think I know how Australians feel about Vegemite.)

So when my mom asked if there was anything I wanted her to bring from the U.S. on her recent trip here, peanut butter was at the top of my list. When she pulled it from her suitcase two weeks ago, I all but held it close to my face and whispered “sweet cream of the humble legume, I shall preserve thee as long as I am able.” I mean, let the record reflect that I didn’t.

Then, the next week, I saw peanut butter for sale at the grocery store. Ha!

This peanut butter sighting was, of course, awesome, but because it was certainly not a familiar brand and I frankly have some doubts about how authentic it could be when it’s only been in this country a pretty short time, I’m still spreading my American peanut butter stash as thinly as possible. Since my precious jar arrived, I have rationed it out into three peanut butter sandwiches, one or two dips of a pretzel, and this, one of my very favorite breakfasts, Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal. (And yes, this is the fourth baked oatmeal I’ve featured on the blog…because baked oatmeal is the BEST for a breakfast that’s make-ahead, tends to use only one bowl and one pan, tastes delicious, is super forgiving no matter what you put in it, and is usually healthy.) This peanut butter apple version is no exception.

With whole grain oats, plenty of apple, minimal sugar, and low-fat milk, it’s a winner of a breakfast that also serves to remind me that every time I eat an apple with peanut butter, I go, oh yeah! These are so good together–why don’t I eat this combination more often?

Totally worth using up half a cup of my treasured peanut butter supply. Try it out and I think you’ll agree.

P.S. For the record, I have not seen any horse meat for sale here, either…which I mention not because I WANT any, but because I had read online that it was a normal grocery store item in Germany. You’re safe for now, horsies!

Print Recipe
Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients: oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, combine milk, egg, applesauce, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix. Add peanut butter and mix again until well distributed. Finally, add diced apples and stir to incorporate.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until the top is golden. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving, or, to make ahead, cool completely, refrigerate, and serve in the morning reheated with a splash of milk.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

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Strawberry Applesauce

Aww, I totally missed it. May was National Strawberry Month, and I really meant to squeeze this recipe in before May ended three days ago. Then again, I’m not actually in the country, so I think I kind of get a pass on being up to speed on the whole “National (insert item here) Month” idea (though June is National Dairy Month, which I can totally get behind–and also, weirdly, National Potty Training Awareness Month? I’m as aware as I want to be on that subject…)

Plus, it seems to me like the entire summer should be called National Strawberry Season. Strawberries are one of those foods that just scream summer. When I think of strawberries and summer, I think of a refreshing poolside snack, sweet strawberry ice cream, and the edible red stripes on the American flag of a Fourth of July dessert. And now, after this recipe, I think…applesauce! Incorporating strawberries into applesauce is a great way to use up those last loner berries you got on mega summer sale that have faded from their grocery store beauty contest-best and are a wee bit too mushy to be featured in your attractive strawberry dessert. After all, in applesauce, everything is supposed to be mushy and mixed! It’s like the meatloaf of snacks.

So if you’d love a new spin on a healthy, whole foods classic or your kids are home for the summer and you need something a little different than the granola bars on repeat at snack time, give this easy strawberry applesauce a try! (And don’t think too hard about that whole “meatloaf of snacks” comment…I promise, it’s really tasty. 😉)

P.S. For more strawberry fun, read my 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Strawberries post!

Print Recipe
Strawberry Applesauce
An easy, refreshing spin on the snack classic!
  1. In a large pot, bring apples, water, and cinnamon stick to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Mash until chunky.
  2. Add strawberries and cook another 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, puree until the mixture reaches a consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in sugar to taste.
  3. Serve warm or chill until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Food Network.

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An American’s Guide to Grocery Shopping in Germany

Mini grocery store in the Cologne train station

Now that we’ve been in Europe for over three weeks, I would say I’ve gotten my bearings in many regards. I’m now used to taking trains, trams, and busses (or walking) everywhere I go, and I can roll with the unpredictability of weather that can go from requiring coats and gloves to shorts and flip flops overnight.

But one cultural clash that continues to plague me is grocery shopping. I swear, it’s the most harrowing thing I do here (well, that and ordering food from waiters who obviously think I have disgraced their establishment by choosing to dine there). Sometimes it seems like EVERYTHING is different and I am constantly making direly embarrassing mistakes. Then again, some things about grocery shopping in Germany are undeniably awesome, like the fabulous deals on chocolate and local wine, or the fact that they don’t hand out plastic bags like it’s going out of style.

So if you ever intend to spend time in Germany as an American, plan to prepare some of your own food, and need to purchase it at a grocery store, here is my step-by-step, sort of tongue-in-cheek (but also kind of serious) guide for how to grocery shop, from what I’ve learned in our first three weeks in-country.

  1. Before you leave your house, arm yourself with reusable grocery bags. Otherwise, you will be paying to purchase them at the store (since plastic grocery bags are not a thing here) and by the end of your stay in Germany you’ll find yourself with 87 canvas bags.
  2. Walk to the store, because you don’t have a car.
  3. Enter the store. Attempt to pull a cart from the line, only to realize that they are all chained together. Fiddle with them for awhile to see if you can unchain one. After about 5 minutes, figure you probably look like one of the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, give up, and opt for a basket.

    (Realize later that you had to insert a Euro to detach a cart.)

  4. Marvel at the beautiful array of fruits and veggies, especially those different from at home, from plump heirloom tomatoes to purple asparagus.
  5. Semi-stalk another shopper to determine whether or not this is the kind of German grocery store where you have to weigh and label your own individual produce. (I didn’t do this at a Hofer in Vienna and was very pointedly informed by the checker that since I did not weigh and label my single tomato, I could just leave it right there at the register instead of buying it.)
  6. As you wander the aisles, impulse-buy at least one fun-looking European product, like chocolate with currants or a mysterious pink cheese.
  7. Snicker at all the products that are comical to American sensibilities, like the breads with the word “Dinkel” on them and…these?
  8. Do the mental calculus of trying to figure out what familiar, no-recipe-needed dinner you could throw together with the ingredients this store provides. Settle on something easy like pizza. Get through adding mozzarella, tomato sauce, and toppings to your cart before realizing they don’t sell pizza dough here, or anything close to being suitable for a pizza base. (Unless you want to try to make pizza on a croissant, pretzel, or Vollkorn bread.)
  9. Put everything back and start over. This time, decide you’ll make some other easy meal–chili, let’s say–only to realize that they don’t sell any beans, corn, or chili powder.
  10. Cry.
  11. Buy a frozen meal and pray you can figure out how to cook it in Celsius.
  12. Get in line behind the 19 other waiting customers. When you reach the conveyor belt, arrange your items on it like tightly-fitting puzzle pieces in a feat of engineering that could only be German.
  13. Okay, get ready. Here comes the hardest part: checking out. 
    The checker lady (who, by the way, is sitting, not standing, behind the counter like in the U.S.) will now slide your items across the scanner as fast as humanly possible and push them into the holding pen at the end of the counter.

    Here they come!

  14. Scramble to open the bags you brought, load your items into them in some halfway logical fashion, and pay your bill before someone behind you groans audibly in frustration at your slowness. (Yep, this has happened to me, too.)
  15. Heave a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back as you walk out. You just got through grocery shopping in a foreign country! But…
  16. Since your kitchen is the size of an airplane bathroom, there’s only so much you can keep around at once, so get ready to do it all again tomorrow!
  17. And finally, remind yourself that this will get easier and it’s all part of the experience of living in another culture for awhile.

Summer in Germany!

Kölner Dom von Deutzer Seite

Hey! It might get a little quiet around here for the next couple of months because our family has some pretty exciting plans in the works: we’re going to Germany for the summer!

For a long time, my husband and I have had a dream to see what it’s like to live abroad for at least a little while. I can remember sitting together at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, AZ after a marriage retreat in 2014 when we first came up with the idea we called Operation 2020. (If you’ve ever been on a marriage retreat, you know how they encourage you and your spouse to talk about your shared values, hopes, and dreams.) Over what I recall being a really tasty salmon salad, we talked about how cool it would be to spend an entire year in a foreign country. Immersing in the language, culture, and day-to-day life of a totally different place seemed like an incredible experience we could give our kids (and ourselves, who are we kidding?) We figured that by 2020 our kids would be ideal ages–13, 11, and 9–for travel, and we’d have six whole years to plan and save.

Germany was the logical choice for our destination. I am what you might call a Germophile. My family heritage is Swiss and German, my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are both in German, and I taught German language at the college level at Arizona State for a couple semesters. I spent the summer of 2003 in Germany on a study abroad program with my alma mater, Wheaton College. Since Anthony and I wanted language learning to be a component of our kids’ experience abroad, it only made sense to go where at least one of us speaks the language and feels somewhat familiar.

As time went by, though, the reality of what it would mean to spend an entire year in Germany began to dawn on us. Probably, we’d have to quit our jobs, figure out work visas, and find some means of employment that would support a family of five for a year…not to mention having to either homeschool our kids or find a suitable school for them in another country. This mountain of potential obstacles dimmed our enthusiasm for making our trip last a whole 12 months. Our thinking began to shift. What if we spent three months instead? Like a summer? No visas required, no taking the kids out of school, and maybe Anthony could even keep his job and work remotely.

When we looked at this option, it seemed vastly more appealing, and we realized it could happen sooner than our original plan! With me finishing my nutrition degree last December, I knew I could work part-time in the spring to make a little money, leave for the summer of 2017, then perhaps find a more “serious” job upon our return. (Though I do plan to stay at my position at the Halle Heart Children’s Museum for awhile!) Anthony discovered he could in fact work remotely–coincidentally his co-worker has been doing just that from Germany off and on for the last year or so. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

And then came the additional motivator of Donald Trump becoming a serious candidate for presidency. What better time to leave the country?

So in September 2016 we started looking at flights. After clearing with our kids’ principal that they wouldn’t be kicked out of school if they left a couple of weeks before the end of the year–hey, travel is educational!–we bought tickets to spend 80 days in Germany, starting May 8th. The eight months since then have been a maelstrom of preparations. Our itinerary is now set with two weeks in Munich, one week in Vienna, and eight weeks in Cologne. I’ve wracked my brain to try to think of every detail of everything that needs to get taken care of before we leave, from the macro level of train tickets and accommodations to the micro level of how many earrings to pack. Our departure date is now four days away and I’m crossing my fingers that basically everything is, as the Germans say, “erledigt”–which is a nice one-word way of saying “taken care of.” At this point, my feelings about the trip keep reminding me of pregnancy: after eight months, I’m just ready to GO!

I’ll try to post delicious recipes and interesting nutrition content as much as I can over the summer, but things might be sparse here on the blog for awhile. (Who knows, though, maybe I’ll learn a lot about German cuisine?)

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and tasty summer. See you in August!

Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

Print Recipe
Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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