gluten free/ snacks/ vegan

5 seed pepita butter

As you’ve probably gleamed from the title, this is not a nut butter, nor is it a single-seed butter; instead, it’s a super seedy butter concoction. There are a total of 5 seeds in the mix, and, if you’re more daring than me, that number could definitely be amped-up to include more (though I personally will be leaving the concept of poppy seed butter on the burner, at least for now…) Pumpkin seeds make up the bulk of this butter, but you can definitely switch and swap the amounts of the other seeds to suit your fancy (think sunflower seeds are for birds? No offence taken, you can simply swap them out for more sesame or hemp seeds). For the sake of brevity in the title I adopted the Australian term for pumpkin seeds; “pepita” is also a far lovelier sounding name, don’t you think? “Pepita butter” tickles my fancy quite a bit more than clunky “pumpkin seed butter.” Some of my other Aussie word-translation favorites include: dragon fruit –> pitaya, papaya –> paw-paw, tomaytos –> tomahtos, cappucino-latte-espresso hybrid –> flat white. And now that I’ve traversed that tangent, I’ll get back to the point: I realize that the thought of “pumpkin seed butter” may seem a little frightening; it’s green and, perhaps for that reason alone, automatically conveys strangeness. The idea of doing anything other than apathetically sprinkling the seeds on top of your bowl of morning oatmeal may sound bizarre, but I’d like to convince you why you’re missing out if that’s all you think they’re good for.

To start: why seed butter? And why these seeds, in particular? Well, the odd truth is that I was beginning to feel a little strange about the inordinate amounts of almond butter I was consuming; almonds are a delicious, nutritious, all around amazing nut, but they also require a disproportionate amount of water to grow compared to other nuts and seeds. Also, my daily heaping-spoonfuls-of-almond-butter habit was beginning to wear down on it’s rightful novelty (which is never a good thing when a product is pricey, both in terms of $ and resources). I tried, and failed, to hop on the tahini-over-oatmeal bandwagon, but I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s a viable nut-butter replacement (but, as you’re probably thinking, why listen to me anyway? Tahini over oatmeal may in fact be your jam). Before re-resorting to my childhood obsession with peanut butter, I realized, in a moment of underwhelming epiphany, how much I like pumpkin seeds, how much I like butter, and how well those two things theoretically go together.

Suffice to say the transition to a seedier life has been smooth; this seed butter ticks all the boxes (creamy, tight-budget-friendly, healthy, not-gross). Having said that, however, there may be one caveat; it’s no new fact that the taste of “sweet” has to pervade nearly everything we Americans eat, but this seed butter will not deliver on that desire (unless, of course, you add a few pinches of sugar to the mix). The lack of naturally occurring sugars in these seeds (say, compared to almonds/cashews, which are actually very sweet relatively speaking), may come as a surprise, especially if you’re used to sweetened nut butter. Nonetheless, as murky colored as this butter may be, the resulting flavor is far from lake-water. In fact, it’s rich and delicious, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a healthy change to their daily breakfast/snack/margarine-on-toast routine. I hope you enjoy this somewhat wacky concoction as much as I do; and let’s say goodbye to palm-oil-laden store-bought butters forever (or at least until we’re in a pinch and really need some).


Ingredients~

2 1/2 cups pumpkin (pepita) seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds (pre-ground into a coarse meal*, but first measured whole)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
3 tbsps chia seeds (or hemp seeds!)
2-4 tbsps flax oil* (add based on desired consistency)
Generous pinch or two of salt
1-2 tsps coconut sugar, or other granulated sugar of choice* (optional; omit or add more to taste)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Measure out flax seeds and grind in food processor/spice grinder until they resemble a coarse meal. Set aside.
2. Spread the pumpkin, sunflower, chia/hemp, and sesame seeds out on a baking tray, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until a toasted smell emanates from your oven and the seeds have taken on a slight golden hue. Allow to (almost) fully cool for ~15 minutes before pouring into your high-powered blender or food processor. Blend the seeds on lower-medium speed for 4-6 minutes, frequently pushing down on the seed butter with the tampering device if you’re using a blender; if using a food processor, you may have to stop it occasionally and scrape around the sides with a spoon. Add 2 tbsps flax oil and continue to blend, adding 1-2 more tbsps to achieve your desired consistency. 5 minutes may feel like eternity, but eventually the fats in the seeds will break down and spin into a creamy, luscious butter. Lastly, add a pinch or two of salt and/or sugar to make things pop a bit more. It’s as simple as that~ and now it’s time to drizzle/spread it on (nearly) everything!!! I especially like this butter with sliced apples, pears, and drizzled (of course) over granola or oatmeal!

Notes~

* Flax seeds are difficult to absorb in their whole form, plus they have trouble breaking down once added to a blender full of other, particularly creamy/liquid, ingredients, so pre-grinding them a bit will help ensure you absorb the most of their rich, omega-3 profile.
* You could also use coconut/macadamia/walnut/etc. oil, but know that the flavor may vary slightly; I wouldn’t recommend sesame oil because of it’s strong savory flavor.
*Granulated sugars are preferable here because liquid sweeteners have the tendency to make butters seize up and lose their creamy, flowing consistency.

baked sweets/ breakfast/ gluten free/ vegan

big chunk sesame banana bread granola

Ingredients~
Makes enough for 4-6 servings

3 1/2 cups rolled oats 
2 very ripe & spotty bananas, mashed (~3/4 cup)
1/3 cup tahini
3 tbsps maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener, though the flavor may vary slightly)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/3 – 1/2 cup goji berries, sliced dates, cranberries, or other dried fruit(s) of choice! (to stir in post-baking)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 320 F.

Bake on a lower rack in the oven (bottom third), carefully flipping once at the ~20 minute mark (at this point you can also break up the sheet of oats into pieces of your desired size). Return to a middle rack in the oven for a further 10-17 minutes; once many of the pieces are noticeably deep golden around the edges, remove the pan and allow to cool, untouched, for a good 3o-ish minutes to ensure optimum crunchiness! Store in a glass container until future noms.

Note: this recipe was inspired by both Nina Montagne’s banana-sweetened granola & Caitlin Shoemaker’s tahini granola (@Frommybowl)!

baked sweets/ gluten free/ snacks

sunflower seed butter blondies

This one is a mouthful; sunflower seed butter confetti cake blondies. What did I just say? For starters, know that this, albeit rather strange, baked good is more than bird food. Yes, sunflower seeds are present, and they happen to be a delicacy in the bird world, but, as I will do my best to convince you, they also ought to be a delicacy in our hominid world. The sunflower seed butter is foundational to the structure of these blondies; there is no flour in this recipe, so they are paleo-low-carb-what-have-you friendly, but, more vital than the aforementioned labels, is the fact that they are taste-bud-friendly. If you, like me, have a monstrous sweet tooth, if fudgy brownies and slightly-undercooked, chewy chocolate chip cookies make you swoon, then these blondies will very likely most certainly make you very, very happy. Can you sense my enthusiasm? Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself; here is a little de-briefing about this recipe:

The sunflower seed butter acts as the cement in this blondie, and the presence of two eggs help bind the butter with the other ingredients. The eggs also help transform the pre-baked, rather dismal looking, sheet of grey goo, into a sufficiently puffed, brownie-esque treat. Because I like my cookies and brownies a tad on the fudgy, soft-in-the-center, side, I used a liquid sweetener instead of granulated sugar. If you’d prefer a slightly less gooey center, replacing the maple syrup with a granulated sugar should do the trick (know that it will also take less time to bake, so check on it at the 15-min mark). Ultimately, these blondies are a testament to my lingering childhood affinity for artifically-colored sweets; embarrassing as it is, my infatuation with Lucky Charms marshmallows still leaves me dewy eyed in the cereal aisle at Fred Myers. Nonetheless, if the sight of edible confetti is more repulsive than endearing to your eyes, simply swap out the rainbow bits for chopped milk chocolate or chips (chunks of chopped caramel would also pair deliciously with the butterscotch flavor in these blondies).

Ingredients~

1 1/4 cups unsalted sunflower seed butter
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 pasture raised eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup roughly chopped semisweet chocolate (50-60% cocoa)
2 – 3 tsps rainbow sprinkles!

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 350 F/176 C. If you’re using store-bought sunflower butter, skip to step #3; otherwise, spread 3 1/2 cups of hulled/raw/unsalted sunflower seeds onto a baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring the seeds twice in the process, until they take on a slight golden hue, and a toasted scent emanates from your oven. Allow the seeds to fully cool (~20 min) before pouring them into your high-powered blender or food processor.
2. Blend on medium for 4-7 minutes, using the tapering device to push down on the seeds; if using a food processor, you may have to stop it occasionally to scrape around the sides. This process will feel long, but within 7 minutes (tops) the seeds will spin into a creamy, luscious butter.
3. Measure out 1 1/4 cups sunbutter into a large bowl (there will be a little leftover if you went the homemade route). In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork until just combined; add the eggs to the sunbutter, along with the coconut sugar and vanilla extract. Sprinkle in the baking soda and powder, and stir just enough to combine. Lastly, mix in a little over half of the chopped chocolate, reserving the rest for the top.
4. Scrape the mixture into a tin lined with parchment paper, spreading down the top until it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle over the remaining chocolates, and bake for 30-33 minutes, until noticeably puffed up and the top is no longer soft to the touch (know that an inserted toothpick will still come out a bit gooey, but that’s ok!) Allow to cool for a solid 20-30 minutes~ this may be difficult, but know that it will allow the blondies to set, and keep the cutting process from being a gooey mess. Pairs prettily with a glass of cold milk!

Note: I was inspired to put this recipe together after stumbling upon the the Almond Eater’s birthday cake brownies (which also feature simplicity and colorful sprinkles!)

breakfast/ gluten free/ vegan

chunky monkey granola

Things I’ve been thinking about lately:

What’s up with granola? It’s touted as a health food, or at least a *healthier* option than cereal, but, my findings have revealed, it’s still densely packed with sugar. Strangely, blatantly, paradoxical, isn’t it?? I have a deep love for granola; it is the perfect matrix of crunchy and sweet and savory. Sadly, granola is also a marriage of dessert and breakfast; I’ve looked long and hard, I’ve hunted every grocery store around me, and spent, collectively, let’s just say more than an hours time, perusing Amazon for a truthfully-lower-sugar granola brand, but all of those expeditions have left me empty handed. Sure, honey or coconut sugar make their way into many brands that tout themselves as *healthy*, but really, those words simply dress up the granola in a fancy facade, and make it’s consumer (or at least me) feel better. At the end of the day, lesser processed sugar is still sugar (sad, I know); is 2 tsps of maple syrup at breakfast such a big deal? Probably not, and I readily douse my pancakes in the golden syrup every chance I get, but I’ve also found that consuming sugar in what seem to be smaller increments throughout the day often adds up fast; beginning my day with a towering bowl of granola that is layered with 4+ tsps of sugar only sets me up to crave more sweetness. Why? I don’t know (and I wish it didn’t have to be this way), but I imagine dousing my breakfast with maple syrup, honey, insert other liquid sweetener here., is akin to bathing my taste buds in gold; should it really come as a surprise to me that plain oats taste a little earthen-flavored afterwards?

In my desperate search for gut-friendlier granola, I learned that the average amount of sugar per serving in store-bought granola (1 serving being 3/4 – 1 cup) was about  2 1/2 – 3 tsps, or 10 – 12 grams, of sugar! That’s already half of the recommended daily amount of sugar for adult women (which is 6 tsps, according to the USDA). Anyway, I wasn’t having it, and, feeling a little dismayed at the state of both physical and virtual granola aisles, decided to take it into my own hands. Alas, I stumbled upon this recipe, and a *ding* *ding* *ding* vibrated through my body; could this be the alternative to heavily sugar-laden granola that I’ve been searching for, but unable to conceptualize!? At first I was skeptical, but let me break it down for you: the mashed ripe banana helps to bind the granola, and, as it bakes at a lower temperature for longer, the waters from the fruit evaporate, leaving a sheet of golden puzzle pieces (and a lovely banana bread smell, goodbye air freshener). Initially, I was not convinced that this recipe would be capable of producing anything close to traditional granola, but I was very, splendidly, wrong.

In answer to the foremost burning question of the day, yes, it has CRUNCH. It also has flavor that surpasses simply SWEET; the toasted, though subtle, banana bread flavor will shine through so long as you use heavily ripened bananas (i.e. so speckled that they are almost completely black. You may be a little frightened and think they are rotting, but trust me, they’re just developing more flavor and sugars). Just like any other kind of granola, it can be altered to suit your fancy; aside from the banana, which is essential for replacing the usual sweet binders, all of the other ingredients can be swapped out for similar alternatives! I was feeling extra childish and decided to fully embrace the presence of banana; what else is banana-friendly? Ah yes, that strange Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream flavor (i.e. the abominable one with fruit in it). I was never a fan of banana in my ice-cream, but I have always been a fan of chunks of chocolate (translation: BROWNIE) and nuts. Because banana pairs so perfectly with another one of my favorites, peanut butter, I decided to incorporate the nut butter into the recipe, while cutting down on some of the usual oil in the process. If you’re not a likewise nutty PB fan, fear not; simply replace it with a nut butter of your choice, or use a couple tbsps more oil to make up for the lost fat (in other words, don’t drastically cut down on the fats; fat makes things taste very good, especially when there isn’t as much sugar in the picture). On a last, and arguably most important note, know that there are enough brownie bits to ensure no fighting will ensue over the distribution of the granola (backup context: I grew up the middle child of 5). Enjoy!!!

Ingredients~
Makes enough for 4-6 servings 

3 1/2 cups rolled oats 
2 very ripe & spotty bananas, mashed (~3/4 cup)
3 heaped tbsps salted peanut butter
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
2 tbsps maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener (or totally omit for less sweetness)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of salt
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped in half
2 – 3 chopped “brownie” bars (I used Luna “chocolate cupcake” protein bars, but any heavily-chocolate bar will do)

Instructions~

Bake at 325 F for 30-40 minutes, stirring often (every 7-10 minutes), and removing from oven once the oats are a deep golden brown (but not yet burnt!) Allow to fully cool on baking sheet (i.e. forget about it for at least 30 minutes to an hour) so that it can gain it’s crunch before transferring to glass jar/tupperware for safe keeping (until breakfast that is).

Note: this banana-sweetened granola idea was inspired by/loosely adapted from Youtuber Nina Montagne’s recipe, which is featured in this video.

baked sweets/ gluten free

quinoa & almond flour streusel cake

When quinoa flour is 50% off at my local grocery store, I buy it. On any other day, when it’s 100% not off, and costs a whooping $14 for 22 oz/623 g, I definitely do not buy it. Having said that, however, I’m now feeling the quinoa flour itch… I’ve ventured into the strange land of quinoa baked goods and, I’m surprised to say, I’d like to stay here a while (at least a while longer than it will probably take for it to be on sale again, or for me to make a million bucks, because only then will I have the spare $$ for the fanciest of all flours). Maybe you got lucky and found quinoa flour on sale, or maybe you’re a bit more financially sound than me, or maybe you’re neither but you still manage to allot a sliver of your monthly budget pie chart to quinoa flour. In any case, after impulsively buying the clearance quinoa flour I wondered now what? I had no idea how the flour behaved or tasted; does it taste like dirt, or regular cooked quinoa? Those things aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, so suffice to say I was feeling a little cynical about the flavor outcome of adding quinoa flour to chocolate chip cookies or brownies. Since I was already on a roll venturing into uncharted territory, I took another leap and made a cake.

To be frank, the streusel topping is the product of more impulse. I had just finished combining my wet and dry ingredients, when it occurred to me (or rather, panic-stricken, it flashed across my mind) that this quinoa flour cake was going to need an extra oomph of sweetness. I wasn’t taking chances with the earthen flour, and didn’t want such a novel ingredient going to waste, so I sought the help of sugar, spice, and a little bit of melted butter. As my friend said after taking a few bites of a slice, this is really good, really moist, definitely a hit, but it does need the streusel. 

I didn’t set out to make a coffee cake, and I didn’t set out to buy quinoa flour, but… here we are; I had a lot of fun and there is probably some worthwhile moral tucked away in that sentence. I’ll let it be for now. All in all, this is not your typical Starbucks-esque knee-jerkingly-sweet coffee cake; no, no, this is sweet, and it is wonderfully (can I say perfectly?) soft and moist, but it’s not entirely gut-destroying (let’s be honest here). It’s got a crumb so lovely that I was genuinely, happily, shocked (this cake was not supposed to turn out so well). And now I want more of it. So be warned; once you get a taste of quinoa streusel cake you may have to get a little creative with your excel pie chart.

Ingredients~

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
3/4 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 tbsps unrefined coconut oil, melted
2 pasture raised eggs
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1/4 slightly heaped tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt

Streusel topping:
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tbsps unrefined cane sugar (or coconut/light brown sugar)
1 tbsp melted ghee or butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt 

Ingredients~

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake for 28-35 min, until the top is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean (mine took 30). Allow to fully cool before removing from pan and serving alongside a cup of warm coffee or tea!

raw treats/ vegan

raw blackberry cashew cheesecake

I’ve recently fallen head-over-heels in awe with raw desserts. Have you been under this spell as well? I’ve been trying to rationalize my newfound excitement for unbaked treats, but I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it… the magic is elusive. Part of my wonderment can probably be explained by the unbelievable simplicity of raw desserts (most of them, anyway). The required ingredients are often whole foods (cashews, dates, blackberries) and, even when they aren’t (coconut oil, maple syrup), they don’t take center stage. Whole foods are able to shine in the spotlight. This isn’t a dig at “processed” foods; I’m definitely not renouncing my love of flour and oil and cheese, but I am happily welcoming in this new way of approaching “sweets” with wide open arms.

Cashews are the cement of this cake; they are the perfect package of cream + sweetness. Along with a heaping cup of nuts comes a generous amount of blackberries and dates. And then a little bit of oil, and some lemon juice and vanilla extract to add complexity of flavor, and…. you’re already 3/4 of the way done. Of course a raw cake be essentially naked without a granola-esque crust of some kind (is that a common sentiment?) I love how malleable and forgiving this raw cake is; out of oats but have another grain on hand? Simply swap out one for the other. No shredded coconut in the pantry? Add more nuts or seeds or a little bit of nut butter to make up for the creamy white fat. I’m pretty spellbound by the capabilities of whole foods, and the myriad ways something as unassuming as a nut can be transformed into a beautiful, fairy-esque cake.

Ingredients~
Makes two 4-inch cakes, or one 8-inch cake

Crust:
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 heaped cup cashews and walnuts (or other nuts of choice)
1/3 packed cup pitted dates
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tbsp melted unrefined coconut oil
2 tsps maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling: 
1 1/4 cups soaked raw cashews
2/3 cup ripe blackberries
1/2 packed cup pitted dates
3 tbsps melted unrefined coconut oil
2 tbsps milk of choice
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions~

mains

rainy day cauliflower soup

Ingredients~
Serves 2 hungry individuals!

1 ~2-pound head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
1/2 a medium onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
A few grinds of black pepper (plus more to top)
1/2 tsp onion powder
2-3 cups veggie broth (add based on desired soup thickness)
Finely chopped green onions, chives, and/or grated cheese to top

Instructions~

mains

homemade garlic croutons

I’m an avid salad eater; I practically eat them by the bucket-full, and sometimes (most of the time) I find myself daydreaming about new salad dressing combinations at work when I’m supposed to be focusing on the task at hand. The salads I eat are not little mounds of shredded iceberg lettuce topped with a few drizzles of bottled ranch dressing. I’m not hating if that’s your favorite, go-to salad; go for it and enjoy it, but if I can, perhaps, be a little unnecessarily honest for a moment, those kind of salads just don’t cut it for me anymore. Bottled ranch dressing may have been what made it possible for me to eat, and unassuredly enjoy, any actual vegetables back in the day; and it’s true that my pre-2016 idea of a “salad” was a pile of off-green, nearly grey or translucent, lettuce, doused with a creamy white dressing, however, now ranch dressing goes alongside pizza, not vegetables (unless it is a veggie-topped pizza, of course). Where am I going with this? Think of this off-topic (‘wtf are you saying meg’) post as an ode to vibrant, lustrous salads, sans the bottled-stuff and sickly lettuce, the way they are (or at least I think they are) meant to be!

So I really, really like salads, so what? You know what else I like? Bread. I really, really like bread. And sometimes, bread in my salads. Perhaps if those grey mountains of lettuce had been decorated with generous handfuls of homemade garlic croutons, I would have a better salad-eating track record in the books (or maybe I’m just making lame excuses for not eating my greens back in the day). Said salads wouldn’t be any healthier with the bread-topping improvement, but they would be just that: an improvement. And a noteworthy one at that (or so I think, hence, -> me, here, writing this for you, mysterious person on the internet).

If you’re getting a little sad looking at your bare salad everyday, or you feel fatigue beginning to envelope you at the mere reminder to ‘eat-your-leafy-greens-everyday,’ I have some serious advice for you: turn some of that recently abandoned french bread (or buy a loaf and ‘forget about it’ for a couple days, as I did) into crunchy little garlic croutons and whisk them into your bowl of green vegetables. That’s what I did the other day and I ate a ridiculous amount of leafy lettuce in the process, it was hilarious and awesome (it was a truly inordinate amount of greens). Some people think bread is unhealthy and should never (they really mean never) be consumed (even by those of us with zero, zip, ZILCH intolerance for gluten). I say we dismiss their opinions for the extent of this post. I will happily listen to their side of things after I eat my bigger-than-my-face bowl of Caesar salad topped with my delicious crunchy ass garlic croutons (sorry if that was a little rude; to all of the lovely, truly gluten-intolerant people out there, depending on where you live, you may be able to find a grain-free baguette to chop up in place of a white flour one!) Happing eating and crunching, everyone!!


Ingredients~
Enough for ~4-6 large side salads!

5 heaping cups french bread cubes (preferably 2-3 day-old dry bread)
3 tbsps unsalted pasture-raised butter, melted
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
2 – 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced longways (resembling almond slivers)
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3 – 4 grinds fresh black pepper
1/4 slightly heaped tsp fine salt (sprinkle on more to taste)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Cut bread into roughly inch-thick cubes (or smaller, if you’d like), and add to a large bowl; toss with melted butter and olive oil before topping with the sliced garlic & powder, salt, and pepper. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the bread can soak up the oil and flavors.
3. Evenly spread out croutons on a baking tray and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until noticeably golden brown! Be sure not to overcook them and burn the garlic. Allow to fully cool (and gain more crunch) before storing in a tight container, or serving over a large bed of creamy Caesar salad! Best if used within a few days.

baked sweets/ breakfast

strawberry banana bread

In an effort to satisfy my sugary-sweet cake craving I baked banana bread in a cake tin. It did the trick; my longing for unnatural sweetness? Satisfied. Bananas are seriously magical; sometimes I can’t believe how sweet they are, and have to remind myself all over again that they are a fruit and do in fact contain a plentiful amount of vitamins and nutrients. They are nature’s candy and I couldn’t be more happy about their prevalence and affordability (scoot over, $3 dollar hit-or-miss imported mango).

Now, what to do with all of this naturally occurring sweetness? Eat it in it’s whole form, sure (with a generous drizzle of almond/peanut butter, please). Freeze it and blend it into a thick-as-ice-cream smoothie? Yes, most definitely. Turn it into a healthy bread-cake? Ah, my interest is piqued….

Sweetness is so desired (and addictive) that it’s no surprise people’s body fat percentages are going up and, tacked on to all that weight, are a host of health problems and diseases. Isn’t it wild to think that some of those issues, *some*, may be diet and lifestyle related? I’m blown away by that idea every time I mull over it, even if just for a minute a day. I like to think that I have my hands in a pocket packed with choices, and I ultimately get to decide how to distribute those choices in my life; will they benefit me in the short and long run, or will they only be churned out to satisfy my moment-to-moment cravings? To be honest, sometimes it’s the latter, and I try to laugh a little when I think about how I used to be overcome with shame to admit that. Thick ice-cream sandwiches are still a rare friend, but they are now genuinely welcomed when they do make an appearance; my smile gets big and toothy and my belly, excited. And on most days, when I know better than to give into the voice that could eat slice after slice of fudgy cake or a pint of heavily-creamed ice-cream in one sitting, I make strawberry banana bread (try it!).

Ingredients~
Fills one 9-inch cake tin (alternatively, turn it into a loaf cake)

1 1/2 cups wholegrain spelt flour (or white spelt flour)
1 heaping cup mashed banana (~3 ripe and spotty bananas )
4 tbsps maple syrup
4 tbsps melted unsalted butter (or ghee)
1 egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
3 tbsps milk of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 heaping cup sliced strawberries

Chocolate sauce:
3 tbsps cocoa butter (or coconut oil)
3 tbsps cacao powder
1-2 tbsps maple syrup or other liquid sweetener of choice (add based on desired sweetness)
Splash of heavy cream or milk (~1 tbsp)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C.
2. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until creamy, and add the maple syrup, melted butter, milk, vanilla extract, and egg, whisking until just combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined (don’t over-stir! doing so can overwork the spelt and result in a tougher crumb!)
4. Lightly grease an 8-9 inch cake tin with oil and spoon about half of the batter into the pan. Add a layer of strawberries (about half) to the top of the batter before spooning the remainder of the batter on top and topping with the final strawberries slices. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes (I recommend checking on it at 50 minutes), until an inserted toothpick/chopstick comes out clean!
5. As the banana bread bakes, make the (optional, but decadently delicious) chocolate sauce by melting the cocoa butter in a nonstick pan over low-medium heat. Once melted, pour it into a bowl and whisk in the cacao and maple syrup. Add a splash of heavy cream or milk for a more ganache-like sauce and allow to cool slightly (until no longer scalding hot!) while the banana bread finishes baking up.
6. Finally, drizzle the chocolate over the cooled (ahem, *slightly* cooled if you’re at all like me) bread, slice, and enjoy! Note that the sauce hardens into a lovely crunchy chocolate once refrigerated, if that at all tickles your fancy.

snacks

cheese-less cheez-its!

I have a sweet tooth, yes, a nearly monstrous one, but I also have a savory tooth, and a great big one at that. So big that I may have once powered my way through an entire box of Cheez Its in a single sitting (I may have also been up in the wee, pitch-black hours of the morning working on an English essay). If you’ve never tasted a Cheez It before, let me give you a little de-briefing about the (nearly notorious) savory cracker: salty + cheesy + so crisp/crunchy = the best goddamn cracker around that doesn’t even try to cover up it’s dismal health benefits or myriad processed ingredients with false marketing; the only ‘healthy’ thing about Cheez Its is the fact that the refined flour is fortified. From a nutritional standpoint, yes, okay, Cheez Its are essentially the devil’s handiwork, but from a more romantic, c’est la vie, perspective, that is precisely their charm! If you’ve ever had Flaming Hot Cheetos you may understand what I’m getting at… so savory and unnatural, but so satisfying (addictive? eeep…) that you allow yourself an indulgent nibble once in a while, and subsequently throw your hands in the air when asked by a loved one (or the other, more responsible, voice in your head) why you’re eating such obviously unhealthy junk, ‘who cares? not me right now.’ 

The truth is that I do care a little bit right now, or at least more than I used to. I’ll definitely never outgrow my sweet and savory mammoth-sized teeth, but I no longer have as much of an allowance to spend on processed junk like Cheez Its. Also, quite simply, I just don’t feel too great after eating ‘junk’ food. I could throw out as many ‘you only live once’ quotes as I could possibly retrieve from the depths of Google, and all of them combined still wouldn’t cancel out the tummy ache and lethargy and brain fog that follow my rare bouts of unhealthy eating. Having said that, however, and as I’ve come to realize, you can take the Cheez Its out of the girl’s life, but you can’t take the Cheez Its out of the girl. And so, here we are, with a wagon-load of homemade Cheez Its in tow (cheese-less Cheez Its at that).


Ingredients~
Makes two large batches (each batch = one baking-pan-sized sheet of crackers)

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups wholegrain spelt flour (or sub with more all-purpose or white spelt flour)
1/4 cup cornmeal
6 tbsps unsalted butter, cold and cubed (swap out for non-dairy butter to make it totally vegan-friendly!)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
Dash or two of turmeric (for a deeper yellow hue)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt, plus generous sprinkles for the top
4-7 tbsps cold water

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine both flours, cornmeal, nutritional yeast, turmeric, baking powder, and salt. Cube the cold butter if you haven’t already, and toss the pieces into the flour mixture, using your hands and/or a fork to cut up the butter until the resulting mixture resembles ~roughly~ pea-sized buttery-flour pebbles.
2. Drizzle 4 tbsps of cold water (to start) over the mixture and stir to combine. Add one more tbsp at a time until the mixture just comes together into a ball; it may still seem a little scraggly, but that’s okay, drizzle extra water sparingly).
3. Separate the ball of dough into two and wrap one and set it aside. Lightly flour a sheet of parchment paper and the top of the dough before beginning to roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick; you’ll probably have to continue to dust the dough with flour as you roll, but that’s alright. Once rolled and (mostly) even in thickness, use a sharp knife or pizza cutter if you happen to have one, to cut the dough into squares. Finally, use a chopstick to dot holes in the center of each cracker (if you feel like it).
4. Carefully transfer the sheet of crackers to a baking tray and bake for about 10-13 minutes, checking on them at the 8-9 minute mark to make sure they aren’t too dark; you want the cheez-its to be borderline too-golden as this means they will be sufficiently crunchy, but 20 seconds too long and they can easily take on a burnt flavor. Allow the crackers to fully (i.e. mostly) cool and crisp up before digging in! (You’ll be glad you have a second ball of dough to roll out)

Note: recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker’s recipe!