1 1/2 cups wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup & 2-4 tbsps warm water (think baby-bottle warm)
1 heaping tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsps (4.7 g) instant yeast (a little over half a standard sachet)
Pinch or two of salt
2 tbsps cornmeal for the pan (not needed but recommended)
3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (preferably freshly grated from a block; plus a little more for sprinkling on top)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tbsps pumpkin seeds
2 medium cloves garlic
3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt (or add to taste)
2-3 grinds of fresh black pepper
500 F, preheat 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the pan and dust it with cornmeal before adding the pizza bases!! Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the crust is noticeably browned but not burnt!
These cookies are chewy. So very chewy. And a little salty. A salty cookie? Yes, a satisfyingly salty sweet cookie. And lets not forget the irreplaceable nutty flavor provided by wholegrain buckwheat flour. These cookies had me bursting at the metaphorical seams with happiness and excitement. I’ve made at least half a dozen batches of chocolate chip buckwheat cookies over the past 6 months, but never quite got got my hands on a cookie I was 100% satisfied with. Until now!! These cookies are packed with a soft goodness you can taste and chew, as well as another kind of goodness your gut will thank you for: FIBER.
Until recently, the gut was just another organ. It’s where chewed up food went before being shoved along into the far less glamorous parts of the body. I’m not about to talk about those parts, but I am about to jump on the gut bandwagon. You’ve probably noticed the influx of gut-friendly food items over the last few years; from fancy ass kombucha to overpriced sauerkraut to 100-billion-capsule probiotics, it seems like the gut is the hot new thing. I always try to approach new trends with a degree of skepticism, but in my quest to find out why everyone was suddenly touting their love of sour cabbage on social media, I ended up learning a lot about gut health.
Get this– there is hard evidence that there is a link between the gut and the brain and that the state of one’s gut microbiome can influence one’s mental well-being (1). Is all depression the result of poor diet? No, of course not. But could some people’s experiences of depression or anxiety be worsened or catalyzed by poor diet? That is what some groundbreaking new findings are suggesting (2). The gut ‘microbiome’ refers to the microscopic residents of the gut, also known as the good and bad bacteria that feed on the food we consume. Some people have overgrowths of bad bacteria, maybe because they’ve never recovered from long-term use of antibiotics or because they drink liters of soda everyday, while other people, interestingly enough, don’t seem to have that issue. I know that a healthy lifestyle and wagon full of organic kale won’t cure every ailment known to mankind. The emphasis here is on the possibility that it may cure some ailments, particularly those of the mind. The rise of obesity is no new story, but the increasing amount of individuals (particularly teenagers and young adults!) with anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental health issues is bewildering and puzzling. Should every teenage panic attack be viewed as a technology problem? Is social media ruining everyone’s life on it’s own accord or are nasty bacteria in the gut helping in the fight?
Obviously, the increasing prevalence of screens in an adolescent’s life ought not be conflated with the topic of the gut microbiome. Of course not. I suppose I was naturally inclined to bring up both weighty topics in the same paragraph because, well, they both weigh heavily on me. One (social media) is an issue that people seem much more ready to talk about, while the other (the gut) seems to reside in a more private sphere. Food is a highly sensitive topic, and maybe rightly so.. it is a ritual of sorts, preparing food for one’s loved one’s, and thus, attached to it is a great deal of baggage (i.e. tradition!) Nonetheless, sometimes the most sensitive topics are the most deserving of attention and spotlight. The intention of this post was to shine a light on the gut microbiome; it is awfully dark in there.
These cookies come in peace with the gut… sort of. The wholegrain buckwheat and spelt flour provide a lovely depth of flavor while also offering up a good dose of gut-friendly fiber. While the buckwheat obviously can’t be substituted for another flour (seeing as these are ‘buckwheat choco chip cookies’), the 1/2 cup of wholegrain spelt could probably be replaced with fine spelt or white whole wheat flour (regular whole wheat may be a tad too flavorful/dense, but then again, I haven’ tried it and can’t say for sure!) While these cookies do contain significantly less sugar than most (1/2 cup brown rice syrup), sugar is (sadly) still sugar at the end of the day. And lots of sugar = happy bad bacteria. My solution to the former bad news? Share, share, and share!!
My special, dreamy place is definitely stocked with these chewy buckwheat cookies. Bland white flour is no where to be found. You have to climb to the top of a very pointy mountain, overlooking the clouds, in order to get to my secret dream place. You also have to be wearing a thick, chunky sweater. Comfort is key if you want to fully enjoy the cookie eating experience. Plus, it can get very windy at the top of this mountain.
Maybe it’s imperative that your dream place has wagons full of vanilla rice pudding or towers of macaroons or maybe it doesn’t have any sweet baked goods at all. Maybe you’re a little lost and found your way to my blog for some reason other than to find recipes for delicious wholegrain sweet things. Either way, you get the point. These cookies are on my list. I’m not trying to convince you to scribble them onto yours. I’m only trying to convey how truly delightful and special they are to me, with the intention of simply putting them out into the universe for anyone and everyone or no one at all.
Ingredients~ Makes 12 large or 18 regular cookies
3/4 cup wholegrain buckwheat flour
1/2 cup wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 cup brown rice syrup (or honey for noticeably sweeter cookies, though I haven’t tried this substitute myself)
1/3 cup unsalted pasture raised butter, melted
2 tbsps unrefined coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
Two pinches of cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp kosher salt (plus a little more for sprinkling on top of the cookies)
3/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate or chips of choice (65-70% cacao)
1/3 cup chopped pecans, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts or a combination of varieties
Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes, until crisped up and sturdier around the edges but still a bit soft looking in the center. The cookies will be dotted with little pools of melted chocolate should you go the pan smacking route. Pretty divine looking, huh? You’ll want to allow the cookies to cool for 1-2 minutes on the pan and then another 10 minutes or so (or not) on a wire rack before digging in as they are fragile when fresh from the oven and need time to chill and get chewy!
Ingredients~ Makes 8 small pancakes (serves two hungry individuals)
1 cup blanched almond flour
2 pasture raised eggs
1/4-1/3 cup water or milk of choice (add based on desired pancake thickness)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
Dash or two of cinnamon (optional)
For sweeter pancakes add 1-2 tsps coconut sugar or other granulated sugar
1 heaped cup dates (soaked for 10-15 min in hot water if not using gooey medjool dates)
3/4 cup rolled oats, blended into a fine flour (measured before blending)
1/2 cup walnuts or other nut of choice, ground or chopped until very fine (measured whole)
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 heaped tbsps natural peanut butter (or any nut butter you fancy)
4 tsps chia seeds
4 tsps hulled hemp seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
For coating the balls:
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup hulled hemp seeds
I stumbled upon The Violet Bakery cookbook at the massive Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. I went in with no desire to buy a cookbook (the internet is essentially one huge one anyway), but after pulling multiple baking books off the shelves only to find them boring and uninspiring, I magically grabbed ahold of Claire Ptak’s beautiful book. After a few moments of admiring the cover and flipping through the bright and clean pages, I was off to the cash register, book full of unknown recipes in tow and mind and body bubbling with excitement. I went home, plopped myself on a bed, and devoured the words and pictures in a couple of hours. I then proceeded to doze off into a nice little slumber and awoke with the urge to bake and bake and bake. Since my first day owning this book I’ve filled it with a thick wad of cute post-it notes; some shaped like butterflies, others like polar bears; it makes the recipe perusing experience all the more fun. One of the first recipes that had me head over heels in awe was the chewy gingersnap cookies. Molasses and ginger plus butter and dark sugar equals a divine revelation.
Ptak’s recipe calls for white flour and brown sugar, but I made my usual swap and used whole wheat flour and coconut sugar. Why whole wheat flour? Well, it’s packed with a whole lot more fiber and protein. And that means a whole lot more good stuff for your gut. I prefer using coconut sugar in place of most granulated sugars for less factual reasons; some people tout coconut sugar as a superfood or something worthy of consuming everyday, but I stay clear of that pseudoscience. Besides providing a hint of delicious butterscotch (which is honestly the main reason I purchased it), coconut sugar isn’t a whole lot better for you than brown sugar. Let me break it down in the most un-scientific way possible: brown sugar is a teeny bit more nutritious than refined white sugar (because of the molasses used to color it) and coconut sugar is a teeny bit more nutritious than brown sugar, so that leaves us with coconut sugar at the top of the granulated sugar food pyramid, but only by a teeny teeny bit.
Simply put, coconut sugar isn’t as processed as conventional white sugar, and thus, it isn’t stripped of its minerals and vitamins. Just as real maple syrup contains a bit of manganese per serving, coconut sugar contains zinc, iron, and calcium (1). Sure, using a sweetener that contains trace amounts of minerals and vitamins is better than one that contains none at all, but that doesn’t mean you ought to start eating coconut sugar by the spoonful. Keep sugar low, always. However, when the chewy gingersnap cookies come a-calling, toss in the whole wheat flour and coconut sugar (or brown sugar!) and happily munch away. I don’t eat cookies because they are a health food; salad and roasted veggies reign supreme in that arena; cookies, on the other hand, reign in my heart and soul. Let’s keep it that way.
Ingredients~ Makes 12 large or 16 medium cookies
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar (plus more for rolling the cookies; or light brown sugar)
1/2 cup unsalted pasture raised butter
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp dark molasses
2 tsps ground ginger
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Pinch or two of paprika
1 tsp baking soda
Scant 1/4 tsp fine salt
1 1/2 tsps boiling water
These cookies satisfy my festive sweet tooth like no other. Why are cookies shaped like unhuman humans so incredibly fun to eat? The longer you think about it, the weirder the ritual begins to sound. Making and eating gingerbread cookies is a Christmas ritual of sorts, is it not? I tend to reserve the word ‘ritual’ for serious religious events or activities (aka the stuff that bore me as a kid); say, getting baptized with not just any old tap water, but holy water, or crossing yourself before you receive communion, also known as the literal body of Christ (I grew up going to Catholic church). Eating gingerbread men at Christmas is much more akin to receiving communion at church than I had previously realized… both involve the ritual act of eating food that is suggestive of the human form. Gingerbread cookies and communion bread are obviously not human flesh, but they both imply a sort of cannibalism that is really quite funny. We eat cookies more or less shaped like people every Christmas because… well, because someone one day decided that it was what ought to be done? I’m certainly not complaining! I will eat these little guys every Christmas, whether I have a legitimately good reason to or not (by the way, ‘I want cookies’ is a decent reason in my book). This time around, however, I’ve whipped up a batch of more wholesome gingerbread men; the kind of guy you giddily take home to meet the parents.
These gingerbread men contain buckwheat flour and whole wheat flour. I’m tempted to make them again sans the whole wheat flour, but I’m a little concerned that the buckwheat alone won’t be strong enough (zero gluten!) to survive being rolled out and cut into delicate shapes. I’ll let you know if I am successful with my gluten free attempt. Keeping the ‘ginger’ in mind, I added a generous amount of ground ginger. I am definitely a spicier gingerbread lover, however, if you aren’t, don’t turn away just yet, as these are a happy marrying of both kinds of gingerbread lover; they don’t simply taste like sugar, but they also aren’t overwhelmingly spicy.
Sadly, I didn’t manage to make these vegan… or even close.. given that they contain half a cup of butter (pasture raised, please!) and 1 egg (again, chickens in outdoor, green spaces = happier and healthier chickens). It would be super cool to make a totally vegan gingerbread man, seeing as it’s 2017 (well, as I write this it’s the first day of 2018!!) and not eating animal products is the most current thing to do. But alas, I didn’t take the time to try veggie-based oils and binders and ultimately opted for butter and eggs. Regardless, these cookies are delicious and so perfectly soft and chewy. Even after a few days in plasticware they retained their soft side. No cardboard gingerbread men here! Only nice guys. The kind of guys you bring home to meet your family…hehe..
1 cup wholegrain buckwheat flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (wholegrain spelt may also work)
3/4 cup walnut meal (or ground almonds, pecans, hazelnuts…)
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup unsalted pasture raised butter, melted
1 pasture raised egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsps cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Heaping 1/4 tsp fine salt
40 g cocoa butter
3 tsps maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener of choice)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
I used to equate sunflower seeds to bird food. I wasn’t a bird, so they weren’t for me. However, over the last two years, when I finally started dabbling in ‘adult’ life, i.e. making my own money and paying for my own rent, I would occasionally buy sunflower seeds if they were on sale. The internet was buzzing about chia, hemp, and flax seeds, so I didn’t give sunflower seeds a second thought. In fact, they were quite literally my second thought; I only ever tossed them into salads or breads as an after thought. Well, a lot has changed since my ‘I’m too cool to eat pet food’ days. I am now the proud owner of a 2 pound bag of hulled sunflower seeds. My attitude towards the little fellas has flip-sided (and it’s not just because they turn into wonderfully fudgy cookies when you politely ask them too). I pressed a button on Amazon and the baby-sized bag of seeds turned up at my doorstep the next day. Now, I generously sprinkle a few tbsps over my morning oats and toss them into my post-run lake-water-esque smoothies (yum!). My new sunflower seedy life did not happen on a whim, but was a culminating act to nearly two years of developing a better, and more thoughtful, relationship with food. Let me tell you about that.
Simply put, the main reason I stocked up on sunflower seeds is because of their high vitamin E content. During my move to more health-conscientious eating, I would occasionally track my food for the day. I didn’t have a concern for calories, but I was curious about what I was getting from all of the food I ate, especially the foods (oatmeal, nut butters, legumes) I ate every single day. I very quickly noticed a trend: my calcium and vitamin E levels never met the daily recommended amounts (eek!), and my omega 3’s, iron, and complete protein levels occasionally didn’t meet the mark. It’s true that I was eating mostly plant based, but my insufficient iron and protein levels were a result of my lack of knowledge about nutrition, not a result of not eating many animal products. By paying attention to what I was eating at such a meticulous level everyday, I set myself up to learn a LOT.
Initially, I ignored the nagging voice that told me I needed to sit down, buckle up, and do a whole lotta research, but gradually, I began excitedly accumulating information about food that I’d never known before; dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium and walnuts are the brain’s favorite nut! It was, and still is, a slow process; you mostly learn from others, but you also learn from experience (not all ‘healthy’ foods have the same positive results in each individual). At times it was frustrating and overwhelming; all l I had previously known about being ‘healthy’ was turned upside down and violently shaken. But despite the many hair-wrenching moments, there were countless aha moments that projected me forward (and lets not forget the frequent omg, wtf moments). It’s been two years since I made the decision to scrap what I thought I knew and learn, and I finally feel like I have part of a tapestry to show for it.
Food is meant to fuel and nourish. White bread fuels, but it doesn’t nourish. Sunflower seeds fuel in a less efficient way (because they aren’t as readily utilized for energy like carbs and sugar), but they are densely packed with nourishment. Sunflower seeds are also cheaper than their counterparts pumpkin, chia, flax, and hemp. The former seeds are each unique, and it doesn’t help to compare them too much, but when it comes to cost, sunflower seeds reign the most affordable. If you are like me, and had to crack open your unhulled sunflower seeds as a kid, the sight of a 2 pound bag of tiny hulled seeds may startle you. It’s a sight of abundance and it’s awesome.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like vitamin E should be difficult to get enough of. The foods with the highest concentration of vitamin E tend to be fatty foods, namely nut and seed oils. Most individuals eating a standard American diet (S.A.D.) probably get their vitamin E in the form of palm, sunflower, and olive oil, but if you avoid palm oil because it is a leading driver of deforestation in Indonesia, and you don’t consumer sunflower or olive oil daily because good quality, trusted brands are expensive and cheap brands are sketchy, you may find that you’re not consuming enough vitamin E! Or so I wasn’t. So… why should you care? Or rather, why did I care enough to write these series of paragraphs?
In a far too simple, underrated response: vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent against oxidation, a stress on the body (or more specifically, our cells) that is brought on by the attack of free radicals. It’s believed that the more free radicals a cell accumulates, the quicker it will age. Unless you wan’t your insides (and also your outsides!) to age fast, that’s not good. We breathe in free radicals as air pollution and we generate them through intense endurance exercise (1), and they ultimately occur in our bodies as a natural reaction to the food we ingest, so unless you live in a hamster home, there is no way of escaping them (on second thought, most average Joe hamsters are probably exposed to eyebrow-raising chemicals in their cheap, China-made plastic homes, so hamster or not, free radicals are a pervasive part of life).
While there haven’t been studies proving a swift and clean correlation between specifically eating more antioxidant rich foods and living a longer, more mind-in-tact life, there is no denying that whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (as well as many other foods), are good for us and can add years to our lives. Are sunflower seeds the end all be all to cancer and heart disease? No, of course not, but we can form our best judgement with the information and legitimate studies we do have; sunflower seeds are certainly packed with more healthy goodness than white bread, there is no denying that. When combined with a variety of other nutritious, whole foods, sunflower seeds will definitely give you a bang for your buck. Health is a matrix, not a one-word answer or single ingredient. If sunflower seeds aren’t your thing you could also increase your vitamin E intake with almonds, avocados, wheat germ/wheat germ oil, or check out this cool link for more options. And to be fair, since I’ve been picking on white bread a lot in this post, I ought to acknowledge that it is packed with a certain kind of goodness; not a goodness of nutrients like sunflower seeds, but a special goodness for the soul that is only found in the fluffy white interior of sliced carbs. If there is such a thing as healthy balance, it’s sunflower seed butter swabbed on thick white toast or, in keeping with the title of this post, sunflower seed butter brownie cookies.
I had tried twice, with mixed results, to make flourless cookies with sunflower seed butter, but it wasn’t until I came across My New Root’s sunbutter chocolate cookies that I realized I was missing (a now for obvious key ingredient) chocolate!!! My recipe is heavily based off of hers, but with a few adjustments; I used coconut sugar instead of a liquid sweetener, upped the vanilla extract for flavor and the baking soda due to the increase in acidity, and used cacao powder instead of cocoa. I also reduced the total amount of ingredients so that my hands weren’t overflowing with deliciously decadent sunbutter cookies the day before Thanksgiving… any other day, however, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at a two dozen batch of sunbutter chocolate cookies (that’s your cue to double this recipe).
1/3-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
3-4 tbsps hulled sunflower seeds for topping the cookies
*I used store-bought roasted sunflower seed butter, but homemade/raw seed butter should work swimmingly! Also, if your store bought butter contains sugar, you may want to reduce the added amount by a few tsps.
Salted caramel makes me swoon. And cry tears of conflicted joy. Conflicted because I simultaneously recognize the perfection and fleeting nature of salted caramel. All salted caramel gets eaten… eventually… that’s a fact of life. It’s not meant to last forever. If it did, well, it would be McDonalds french fries and that certainly would not be worth writing to you about. Instead, here I am, eagerly writing to you about the mmmm-inducing tastiness that is salted date caramel. Yes, dates. Gooey medjool dates with not a trace of white sugar in sight. Instead of swabbing away at the date caramel with my grubby fingers until it was all gone, I managed to gather up some self-control and whisk together melted cocoa butter and cacao powder. And a little pinch of salt because it somehow brings everything together, doesn’t it? Or maybe I just enjoy sprinkling it a little too much. Either way, I encased the sweet umami caramel in the bittersweet chocolate mixture and allowed the little creations to chill in the freezer for less than half an hour. It’s really that easy. You do a little mixing and a little pouring and maybe a little dancing, and as if that isn’t all fun enough, you get to top each treat with a cute little pretzel. And a pinch of flaky salt, if that’s your thing.
I get super excited by the idea of caramel. Knee-jerking, cavity-inducing caramel used to catch my eye, but I’ve since found a better caramel pal who actually has my health and happiness in their best interest. If you didn’t already know, dates are gooey caramel in whole fruit form. I had to learn to say no to a lot of tasty things when I made the transition to healthier, more whole foods based eating, but I’ve since learned that caramel does not have to be one of those things. There is caramel that tastes like pure white sugar, and then there is caramel that’s a little softer around the edges, allowing you to enjoy the sweetness indicative of caramel without feeling overwhelmed by it.
Dates are packed with fiber and a host of other nutrients, but they also offer up a unique, subtle flavor that can’t be found in conventional caramel. Sure, the shade of date caramel might not be as mouth-gapingly wonderful as ‘caramel colored’ caramel, but if you approach it with wide-stretched arms, it may hug you back! I truly hope it hugs you back. And that your embrace lingers for a little longer than you had anticipated. There are very few things more enjoyable than being struck by a wave of amazing flavors. When a chocolate caramel cup contains the perfect balance of sweet and salty, it’s impossible not to lose yourself (if only for a handful of seconds) in a state of wonderful stupor. And when those seconds are over, and you’re about to indulge in bittersweetness (in both senses of the word), you quickly realize that you intelligently made 5 cups, not a lonely single one, and you find yourself in a caramel umami dream all over again. And you see me there, too! It’s nice to finally meet you.
Ingredients~ Makes 5 regular sized cups or 8-10 mini ones
1/2 cup cocoa butter, melted
1/2 cup cacao powder
2 tbsps brown rice syrup or other liquid sweetener of choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 heaped cup chopped medjool dates
1 tbsp coconut sugar
1-2 tbsps milk or liquid sweetener of choice (for slightly thinning the date paste)
1/2 tsp red miso paste
Handful of small pretzels (gf if necessary)
Pinch or two of flaky salt to top
1/2 cup wholegrain buckwheat flour
1/4 cup wholegrain spelt flour (or other lighter flour such as whole wheat pastry)
1 medium spotty banana
1 tbsp coconut sugar or other granulated sugar (or omit for slightly less sweet, more banana-y pancakes)
3/4 cup milk of choice (I used hemp)
2 tsps coconut oil, melted
1 pasture raised egg
2 tsps apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
1-2 tsps pasture raised butter for frying the pancakes Optional: 1 cup blueberries for stirring into the batter (or chocolate chips! or sliced banana!)
These nut clusters are the richest of the rich. I’m not talking about monetary richness; while being rich in cash is probably nice to a degree (i.e. you can buy all the baking ingredients you want without concern for going over your grocery budget), I bet it is no where near as enthralling as the richness of dark chocolate + salted date caramel + nuts of different shapes, textures, and flavors. The former three things equate to a richness, an edible one at that, that I can’t help but think, feel, KNOW is unique and special and worthy of hyperbolic praise.
When I was little I would get really excited about having saved up 20 NTD (a little under 1 USD). That kind of money seems like almost nothing in retrospect, but at the time it was my candy currency. 7-11 sold a white chocolate bar for 18 NTD and so, unsurprisingly, I would excitedly spend my allowance money on it. With my white chocolate bar in tow, I was a big kid, a budding chocolate connoisseur. Obviously, the white chocolate was shi-. I tried it a few years ago and couldn’t believe how waxy and plastic-like it tasted. Every child’s dream: white chocolate plastic. There was definitely no real cocoa butter to be found in it, and while I turn up my nose to cheap vegetable oil chocolate now, unexperienced little Meg thought it was divine magic. To this day, I can’t help but view a bar of white chocolate, with it’s neat columns and rows, and perfectly sized rectangular bites, as something incomprehensibly special. I guess childhood has a way of making the inanimate unusually animate in one’s mind; white chocolate sits on a table, unmoving and speechless, but in my mind it catalyzes an avalanche of excitement. Memory is such a weird thing. And so is waxy chocolate. Don’t worry, this isn’t a buildup to my confession about having used plastic chocolate in this recipe, no, no, quite the contrary. These caramely nut clusters are encased in velvety, dark chocolate; dark enough to appreciate the richness of cacao, but not so deprived of sweetness that your mouth feels chalky. There’s also a hint of umami provided by a tad bit of miso paste (try not to simply replace it with salt).
I may no longer be seven years old, but I am still dewy eyed in the face of chocolate. I’m also very, very dew eyed when presented with a salted chocolate caramel combination. These nut clusters are made without heaps of refined sugar and oil, but they don’t connote the grudgingness that ‘healthy’ often equated to when I was a kid. Healthy meant eating carrot sticks and sour apple slices and it was not fun. If it’s worth anything, I think I’d make my 8 year old self proud with this recipe; the all too straightforward and bland crunch of a dry carrot has been replaced by a matrix of rich, chewy, crunchy, sweet, and salty.
Kids are often labeled picky eaters and put down for their undeveloped palettes, but I think we (adults) can learn a thing or two from them. It’s easy (and honestly sometimes fun) to get caught up in the swing of intricate dishes and complex flavor combinations; there is a thrill in all of that, but there’s also a special, unassuming quality to simplicity that ought not go overlooked. I’m no self-proclaimed philosopher, so I’ll try to spare the tangential thoughts, but I think what I’m trying to get at is that it’s the simpler, mama-used-to-make-that kind of dishes that hold a special place in people’s hearts. If you give most kids free reign to choose what they want for dinner or snack, they’ll likely say pizza or pasta or brownies or ice cream. Each food stands on it’s own, stripped of convoluted wording (which I know I tend towards) and ingredients. For some reason, those straightforward foods from our childhoods become cemented on our tongues and hearts and minds. White chocolate will always be awe-inducing for me and salted caramel will always remind me of happy summers spent on the Oregon coast. It’s easy to dismiss seemingly ‘easy’ dishes as boring and unexciting, but at the end of the day, it’s what we usually choose to come back to.
There’s an unseen comfort submerged in the pumpkin soup you first tasted as a child. How pureed roasted pumpkin can be so powerful, I don’t know. Sometimes I enjoy asking questions I know I won’t be able to answer. I don’t really know why. Maybe there’s a thrill in uncertainty and the active pursuit of finding an answer. Or maybe calling attention to the mysteriousness that underlies a day to day activity such as eating adds more depth to my life; making soup can sometimes feel straightforward and mundane, but as soon as you incorporate emotion and memory inducing flavors into the mix, you have a bizarrely magical soup on your hands.
While I’m sure my eight year old self wouldn’t have specifically craved dark chocolate coated date caramel nut clusters, she definitely would have day dreamed about salted caramel ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate bars. And so, as a nod to my little kid self, I dressed up my childhood cravings in velvety chocolate and gooey date caramel. I tasted these clusters and wondered how can something taste so wonderful? Even though I put them together and anticipated how they’d taste, I couldn’t help but be struck by their spot-on sweet umaminess. You may not have revered salted caramel and chocolate as much as I did as a kid, but it’s never too late to imprint yourself with new, awe-inspiring flavors. We’re all still wide-eyed little kids, aren’t we?
1 cup unsalted nuts of choice (I like a mix of hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds)
1 cup chopped dates*
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1-2 tbsps brown rice syrup or other sticky liquid sweetener
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp red miso paste*
Pinch or two of salt for sprinkling
*Soak the un-chopped dates in hot water for 10-15 min to make it easier to puree them.
*If you don’t have miso paste on hand, you can probably just replace it with salt (gradually add it to taste), but I do think the miso adds a unique, subtle flavor that salt can’t provide on it’s own.