gluten free/ no-bake treats/ snacks/ vegan

chickpea cookie dough truffles

Today the sun shines brightly in Portland. When the sky is this crystal blue I feel myself beaming a little more than usual, or at least a little differently; my smile gets wider, toothier, and holds its shape for longer. It’s not that my face is an immovable blank slate when the weather is grey and hazy; I’m a relatively cheerful person, so I think, but it is definitely a bit more difficult to walk with a spring in my step when the sky is colored with charcoal and icy rain falls heavily.

And so, when the sky is this boundless and blue, when I can’t stand to wear long pants because I want to feel the unusually warm air and light breeze against my bear skin, I find myself beaming. The organ that houses my joy pulses in double time, and I walk and work to the tempo of my love of life. 

On these days there are more moments of clarity, there is more clear space for present living; the sun’s rays provide me with an extra dose of energy that easily sustains me throughout the day. 

In saying all that, perhaps there is a silver lining to Portland’s notoriously wet, grey weather. I think it may intensify the excitement and gratitude I feel when the sun finally makes it’s bold appearance in the Spring. January may be the official start of the new year, but it’s not until the early weeks of March, when the sun begins to smile down in its totality, that I finally begin to feel the implications, the momentum, of the “new” year underway. 

As winter dissipates, my regular 8:30 PM bedtime gets pushed back later and later (oh yes, I’m quite the wild child). If the sun is out, I want to be up and out too; doing, baking, thinking, observing. Today that surplus of energy bubbled over into colorful sprinkles and strawberry chocolate. 

I placed these truffles on a sheet of parchment paper by the window so that they could bathe in the warm light. The sun melted them ever so slightly, leaving the imprint of their chocolate shell on my fingertips. It was a mess to smile about. The versatility of chickpeas is another thing worth smiling about. In fact, it’s almost a little comical how successfully simple it is to sneak chickpeas into a dessert as invitingly appealing as these truffles.

A single can of chickpeas, along with a few heaping dollops of cashew butter (or any other nut butter of choice), and maple syrup (or honey, agave, etc.), are creamed together to create this unconventional cookie dough. It is no doubt a little funky sounding (beans?? in cookie dough?? what!!?), however, if you’re anything like me (aka if you have an affinity for pre-baked chocolate chip cookies), then this dough will likely leave you bewildered and reaching for a second taste test with your finger (just to double check the unbelievably cookie-dough-esque flavor).

Simply roll the dough into 1-2 tbsp-sized bites, and cloak with generous drizzles of dark chocolate (we’re talking seriously generous, no-dough-in-sight, as pictured above). Lastly, radiate that joy, whether it’s sunny in your part of the world or not, and top these truffles off with large pinches of colorful sprinkles, crushed freeze-dried berries, and/or other fun and whimsical toppings of choice (goji berries, shredded coconut, crushed peanuts/pistachios/cashews all sound lovely!).

Ingredients~

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed
1/2 cup unsalted natural cashew butter (or other nut butter, though the flavor will vary)
1/4 cup maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener of choice
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
Generous pinch or two salt 
1/3-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

Chocolate coating:
1/2-3/4 cup (~3-4 oz) chopped dark chocolate (or milk chocolate, if you’d prefer a sweeter coating)
~1 tbsp rainbow sprinkles
~1 tbsp crushed freeze-dried strawberries (or raspberries!)

Instructions~

1. Rinse the chickpeas thoroughly (especially if heavily salted!) and lightly pat dry with a paper towel. Add the chickpeas to a high-speed food processor or blender (though make sure your blender is not too large), along with the cashew butter and 4 tbsps (1/4 cup) maple syrup. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add the melted coconut oil, along with the vanilla extract, and pinches salt. Blend until incorporated and smooth. Add another pinch of salt or tsp of syrup as needed. 
2. Transfer the batter to a large bowl and fold through the chocolate chips/chunks. Set in the freezer for ~20 minutes (or the fridge if you aren’t trying to speed things up) to harden slightly. Once chilled, use a 1-2 tbsp scoop to dollop out balls of dough onto a lined pan/plate. Set in the freezer again to further harden as you make the chocolate coating.
3. In a double sauce pan over low-medium heat, melt the chocolate, stirring often to prevent burning (alternatively, avoid the dirty dishes and simply melt it in the microwave). Once melted and smooth, take off the heat and remove the dough balls from the freezer. Now the real fun begins! Top each ball with roughly the same-sized spoonful of chocolate sauce; start off a bit reserved so as to make sure you have enough for all the balls. Be sure to sprinkle over the toppings while the chocolate is still wet. Pop back in the freezer for a further ~10 minutes to fully harden the outer shell. Eat them as they are (they are the perfect bite-sized finger snack!), or crush a few into a bowl of vanilla ice-cream, the choice is yours…. :~)

Notes~

*Makes ~12 truffles.
*Recipe adapted from/inspired by Texanerin’s chickpea cookie recipe!

gluten free/ no-bake treats/ snacks/ vegan

chocolate black bean mousse bars: a wonderful oddity

These mousse bars feature one whole can of black beans. Yes, you read that right. Beans. In dessert? Oh yes. Please bear with me, and try not to totally denounce this concept just yet. These mousse bars are here to mess up any and all pre-conceived notions you may have had about sweets/desserts and, most relevantly, MOUSSE.

Mousse is likely that luscious stuff you’ve been served at the end of a fancy Italian meal, topped with curls of grated chocolate. Or maybe it’s that light and airy, shaving-cream-esque, dessert you make at home on special occasions using heavy whipping cream. While those are both divine mousse experiences, from this day forward I think I will be predominantly bathing my taste buds in dark chocolate black bean mousse. It’s quite the mouthful, and certainly sounds a little ridiculous, but the final product is no laughing matter (unless those are laughs of joyful befuddlement, of course).

Without being too hyperbolic, let me just stress how unfathomably rich and creamy (and healthy!) this mousse is. Have I already mentioned that it’s 100% sweetened with dates? Dates! Which are a fruit! Which means this mousse contains fiber, which, I might add, is also the least noteworthy and fabulous thing packed into a date (here are some links to help you justify indulging your sweet tooth in nature’s candy: 1, 2, 3).

Behold: a profoundly chocolaty dessert that doesn’t scream “healthy” or “full-of-beans” or “I’m only sweetened by FRUIT,” despite being all of those things (and more).


Although it may sound like a chore to make (i.e. be honest, Meg, how hard did you have to work to cover up the healthy, earthy-flavored ingredients?), the irony is that the mousse actually gains a whopping amount of it’s desired creaminess from the beans and dates.

The uniquely creamy “mousse” texture that is usually attained by whipping together an inordinate amount of heavy cream and butter has been successfully supplanted by beans and dates. How delightfully simple and strange, huh? :~)

I also added a few tbsps of melted coconut oil for good measure; this mousse may be far lower in fat than traditional mousse, but it is by no means a poster dessert for any anti-fat diet movement (give me real butter or don’t, but please do not give me margarine!). Also, the tad bit of oil helps harden up the mousse ever so slightly in the fridge. Simply leaving out the oil or replacing it with nut butter or milk will likely result in a mousse that doesn’t hold it’s shape as a bar (in other words, go for it if you’d rather eat this mousse with a spoon than slice it up into squares!).

Ingredients~

Mousse:
1 (15 oz) can black beans, thoroughly rinsed
1 packed cup pitted dates, softened* (deglet noor or medjool will work!)
1/2 cup cacao or cocoa powder (I used an equal mix of both)
3 tbsps coconut oil, melted
2 tbsps date water* (or maple syrup if you’d prefer more sweetness)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Generous pinch or two salt (~1/8 tsp kosher salt)

Dark chocolate layer: 
1/4 cup cacao or cocoa
2 heaping tbsps unsalted almond butter (or other nut butter of choice)
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1-2 tbsps maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener (add to taste)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Instructions~

Notes~

*I find that store-bought deglet noor dates (and sometimes also medjool) are usually quite dry and tough to blend, so I recommend covering them with hot water for ~10-15 minutes, until noticeably more soft to the touch! Be sure to reserve the date water for blending.
*If your dates are already divinely soft and gooey, simply using water in place of the date water (this won’t make any difference!).
*Made with a standard loaf pan (9×5 inch); if using an ~8×8 inch square pan (or larger) the batter will spread a little out more, so you may want to double the recipe if you’re after especially thick bars.

gluten free/ snacks/ vegan

homemade flax seed crackers

Ingredients~

3/4 cup flax seeds (I used half golden, half brown)
1/3 cup ground flax seeds (~1/4 cup whole seeds prior to grinding)
3 tbsps sesame seeds
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsps nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano or rosemary (or other dried herb of choice!)
~2-3 dashes red chilli flakes (optional; add for a tinge of spice)
1-2 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp fine salt (or add to taste)

Instructions~

1. In a large bowl, cover the whole flax seeds with the water, and allow to sit undisturbed for 30-40 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 200 F. After ~30 min the seeds and water will have formed a thick, gel-like texture (this is good!). Stir through the sesame seeds and ground flax seeds, along with the tbsp of vinegar. Once combined, add all of the dry ingredients and stir well to combine.
3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, and dump out the seed mixture in the centre. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top, and use a rolling pin to gently roll the mixture into a rectangle shape (this does not have to be a perfect, 4-sided rectangle by any means). The mixture will be very sticky, so avoid touching it with your hands; if one side or corner is looking sparse or thin, use a spoon to dollop the mixture around evenly. These crackers have a nice, crunchy-chew to them when rolled out to ~1/8-1/4 inch thick, so avoid rolling them too paper-thin.
4. Use a sharp knife to lightly slice columns and rows into the sheet of dough. Bake on a lower rack in the oven for 40-45 minutes, after which time, use a knife to carefully re-score the dough, and use your hands to carefully separate the pieces. Carefully flip over the pieces and return to the oven for another 1 hour (or up to 1 1/2 hours), until all of the moisture has evaporated, and the crackers are noticeably dry/firm to the touch. Allow to fully cool (this will also help them gain more crunch) before serving or storing in a closed container for 1-2 weeks!

gluten free/ snacks/ vegan

5 seed pepita butter

As you’ve probably gleaned from the title, this is not a nut butter, nor is it a single-seed butter; 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 offense 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? Some of my other favorite Aussie translations include: dragon fruit –> pitaya; papaya –> paw-paw; tomaytos –> tomahtos; 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 (trust me, I’ve been there), 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 (at least compared to almonds/cashews, which are 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 faaar 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~

3 cups raw shelled pumpkin (pepita) seeds
1 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup sesame seeds
3 tbsps chia seeds (or hemp seeds!)
2-4 tbsps flax oil* (add based on desired consistency)
Pinch or two salt (optional; add to taste)
Granulated sugar to taste* (optional; I prefer to omit this, but if you’d like a bit more sweetness simply add it gradually by the tsp)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Measure out flax seeds and grind in a food processor/spice grinder until they resemble a powdery meal. Set aside.
2. Spread the pumpkin, sunflower, chia, and sesame seeds out on a baking tray (if using hemp seeds omit them from this step), and bake for 10-12 minutes, until a faint toasted smell emanates from your oven and the seeds have taken on a slight golden hue (be very watchful, as overbaking them even slightly will dry them out too much!). Allow to cool for ~15 minutes before pouring into your high-powered blender or food processor.
3. Blend the seeds on low-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 will probably have to stop it a few times to scrape down 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 and 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

sesame banana bread granola

When it comes to granola, I like to eat my cake and have it too. Let me explain. I have an affinity for granola that puts it on par with ice-cream, donuts, and other chocolate-sugar-icing-covered things. In other words, I’m more excited walking through the granola aisle in the grocery store than I am walking through the candy aisle, or even the cereal aisle. Do I sound like an 8 year old child, or is this a sentiment that other adults can get behind? (Although, to be honest, at 24 I’m barely on the cusp of real “adulthood”). As with any long-term love story, my love for granola hasn’t been squeaky free of drama; my other love, for whole-foods-based eating, always clashed with, well, the very nature of granola. In short, I found myself wanting to change the very essence of granola (the high sugar/high processed-oils), and was frustrated when I couldn’t. I tried applesauce granola, and reduced-oil granola, and neither quite sufficed in crunchiness and tastiness. Nonetheless, as is evident from the above photo and title, this slightly melodramatic (and metaphorical!!) love story has a happy ending.

This sesame banana bread granola is a granola I can wholeheartedly get behind every.single.day; it’s an everyday kind of granola, healthy enough to fill to the brim of your cereal bowl every morning, without inducing a knee-jerking sugar hit. So, Meg, you might be thinking, can you get to the point about what makes this recipe so special?

1. Tahini! (translation: ground sesame seed paste)
2. Ripe, spotty bananas! (translation: so very ripe and speckled you couldn’t be enticed to eat them whole)

Those are the real winners in this recipe, but they don’t stand alone; add some oats (of course), whole sesame seeds, sunflower seeds (or another seed of choice), as well as a tad of maple syrup (or honey, rice syrup, etc.), and you’ve got a big ol’ batch of granola-in-waiting. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or would simply rather keep the sugar level to the bare minimum, simply omit the syrup with no adverse affects! I’ve tried both versions, and can say that the standalone banana-sweetened version still offers up a noticeably subtle sweetness. Happy crunching, everyone!

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 (preferably a runny kind)
3 tbsps maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener, though the flavor may vary slightly)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8-1/4 tsp fine salt (add to taste)
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. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until there aren’t any inordinately large chunks. Stir in the tahini, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Next, add the oats, both seeds, spices, and salt directly to the bowl of wet ingredients (creating a little mound). Lightly mix together the heap of dry ingredients before fully incorporating into the wet mixture.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and use a spatula to spread out the granola into a sheet of relatively even thickness. 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 12-17 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 for 1-2 weeks 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 these blondies, albeit rather strange sounding, far surpass bird food in taste. Yes, sunflower seeds are present, and they also 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, blondie-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 to add a bit of extra moisture. If you’d prefer a slightly less gooey center, replacing the maple syrup with granulated sugar, such as coconut 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 the grocery store. That being said, if the sight of edible confetti is more repulsive than endearing to your eyes, simply swap out the rainbow bits for chopped chocolate or chips (I bet chunks of chopped caramel would also pair deliciously with the butterscotch flavor in these blondies!!).

Ingredients~
I used a standard loaf pan (9×5 inch); know that using an 8×8 inch square pan will yield slightly thinner bars!

1 1/4 cups unsalted sunflower seed butter
1/4 cup maple syrup (other liquid sweeteners should work, though I can’t vouch for any as of yet)
2 pasture-raised eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
Scant 1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch or two salt
1/2 cup rainbow chocolates, or roughly chopped semisweet chocolate (I used Unreal’s naturally coloured chocolate gems)
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 given that dousing my breakfast with maple syrup, honey, or insert other liquid sweetener here, is akin to bathing my taste buds in gold, should it really come as a surprise that plain oats taste a little earthen-flavored afterwards? I know, I know… I’m asking asking questions I already know the answer to.

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 heaping tbsps salted peanut butter (if yours is unsalted, simply add an extra pinch or two salt)
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted (or other neutral-flavored veggie oil!)
2-3 tbsps maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt (yes, in addition to the salted PB!)
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; alternatively, chop up a bar of chocolate or throw in some chocolate chips!)

Instructions~

1. Preheat oven to 320 F. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until there aren’t any inordinately large chunks left. Whisk in (you can simply use a fork) the peanut butter, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract, until well combined. Next, add the oats, cinnamon, and salt directly to the bowl of wet ingredients (it will resemble a little mound). Lightly mix together the small heap of dry ingredients before fully incorporating into the wet mixture.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and use a spatula to spread out the granola into a sheet of relatively even thickness. Bake on a lower rack in the oven (bottom third) for 30-40 minutes, stirring every ~10 minutes, and removing from the oven once the oats are mostly golden brown (but not yet burnt! Be sure to check on them at the 30 minute mark, as oven efficiency can vary greatly).
4. Allow to fully cool on baking sheet (i.e. forget about it for at least 30 minutes) so that it can further gain crunch before transferring to a resealable container 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~
Makes one 8-9 inch cake

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 ceylon cinnamon
1/4 heaped tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
Generous pinch of salt

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

Ingredients~

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. First, make the streusel topping. Stir together the almond flour, sugar, cinnamon, and pinch salt; pour over the tbsp of ghee/butter, and combine until a crumbly mixture forms. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs; add the melted oil and maple syrup, and whisk until just combined. Add the almond flour, quinoa flour, spices, baking powder, and pinch salt, creating a little mound with the dry ingredients. Lightly combine the mound of dry ingredients before fully incorporating into the wet mixture.
2. Oil the sides and bottom of an 8-9 inch cake tin before lining the bottom with parchment paper (or skip the paper if your tin is a trustworthy non-stick pan). Pour in the batter, and evenly sprinkle over the streusel. Bake in a middle rack in the oven for 28-35 min, until the top is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean (mine took 30 min). It will be fragile when hot, so allow to fully cool before removing from pan, and serving alongside a cup of warm coffee or tea!

gluten free/ 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
1/2 heaped cup cashews and walnuts (or other nut mixture of choice)
1/3 packed cup pitted dates
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tbsp unrefined coconut oil, melted
2-3 tsps maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener
Pinch salt

Filling: 
1 1/4 cups soaked raw cashews
2/3 cup ripe blackberries
1/2 packed cup pitted dates
3 tbsps unrefined coconut oil, melted
2 tbsps milk of choice (I use almond as it’s light in flavor)
2 tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions~

1. First, soak your cashews if you haven’t already; you can either speed-soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to an hour, or soak them in room-temperature water overnight. Once done soaking, drain them and set aside.
2. To make the crust, add the nuts to a food processor and pulse a few times until a coarse meal forms. Add the oats, coconut, and pinch salt, pulsing 1-2 times until slightly more ground, but not until the oats resemble a fine flour. Scrape out the dry mixture and add the dates, blending along with the oil and maple syrup, until a thick, gooey mixture forms (make sure there aren’t any inordinate chunks of date left). Add the dry ingredients back to the date mixture and blend to incorporate.
3. Line cake tin(s) with parchment paper before pressing the crust mixture into the bottom of the pans with your fingers. Set in the fridge to chill and slightly harden while you make the filling.
4. Add all of the filling ingredients to a high-speed blender or food processor, and blend on low-medium until a smooth, creamy mixture forms. There shouldn’t be any noticeably large chunks of cashew or date left. Pour the filling into the prepared crusts and return to the fridge for ~3 hours, or until your finger doesn’t leave an indent when lightly touched (preferably overnight if you can wait that long). You can speed up the process by putting it in the freezer, but if you forget about it for too long you will have to let it defrost at room temperature for a bit before slicing (the flavors also become blunted when the cake is too frozen!)

gluten free/ mains/ vegan

rainy day cauliflower soup

I wanted to curl up in bed, order an 18-inch pizza over the phone, and watch a movie to the faint background sound of my own chewing. I was about to do all that and more (oober savory/cheezy pizza usually turns into a craving for ice-cream or homemade chocolate chunk cookies), but a voice in my head reminded me that it’s not the weekend yet. Who said you can’t have pizza on Tuesday? Well, no one, and you definitely shouldn’t limit yourself to pizza on the weekends just because I’m tentatively..sort of… doing so at the moment. What I have been trying to make less of a “sort of” thing is conscientious, healthy choices. I’ve noticed that as my stress increases, my $6 burrito purchases increase. It’s not that I’m too busy to steam frozen veggies or microwave oats (though this isn’t to say no one is), but it’s the overwhelming sensation, the additional stress, that healthy eating sometimes catalyses in me, that pushes me in the direction of friendly food-truck burritos.

With all this in mind, when I am feeling the bubbling of anxiety that preempts a full-blown surge, I’ve been trying to remind myself that “healthy” does not always have to equal perfect, clean, or intricate. I try to talk myself down from the expanding negative feelings by telling myself that the over-abundance of images promoting health on the internet are just that: imageS, plural, meaning that each is an image, a small square, on the immense tapestry of health. Sure, scroll through the images, get inspired by them, feel catalysed to adopt and implement aspects of them, but never feel boxed in by one angle on health. Don’t fill your mind with the noise proclaiming health or self-love must always look like a raw spread of veggies or an oil-free, gluten free pasta dish. Those things are wonderful, but only in so far as you can truly enjoy their wonder, free of guilt and worry; otherwise, what is the point? Is food consumed under such negativity really nourishing you to it’s fullest potential?

Recently, I’ve been tossing mammoth-sized sweet potatoes in the oven, forgetting about them for ~an hour, and calling that dinner. I’ve been toasting a few slices of Ezekiel bread, loading them with store-bought hummus, and topping them off with frozen veggie or salmon patties (and slices of sharp cheddar cheese, if I’m lucky enough to have had the foresight to buy a block). Other nights, I find myself wanting nothing more than chips, popcorn, and dip. In moderation, it all makes my life go round. This time around I skipped the potatoes and toast, and managed to lift a few more fingers. This soup does require some chopping and stirring, but it’s still wonderfully simple and stressed-busy-low-energy-friendly. I like to think it’s helping nudge me through the grey clouds on a rainy day; it’s warmth emanates from the inside out, making me a tad less blue.

Anyway, this is truly a no fuss cauliflower soup. It’s for when you feel like ordering that huge ass pizza, and wearing (hopefully clean) socks under the bed covers, but you also feel a strong pull in another direction, to physically nourish yourself with whole foods (and some cheese, of course).

Ingredients~
Serves 2 very hungry individuals!

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

Instructions~

1. Heat up the olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and chopped onion, frequently stirring for about a minute until the garlic is very fragment and only lightly golden (be careful not to burn it!). Add the cauliflower, and continue to stir often for ~3-4 minutes, until the cauliflower has lightly browned and crisped up a bit. Try to avoid cooking the veggies until they’re limp and translucent. Add two cups of the veggie broth and stir to combine. Grind over the black pepper and add the onion powder (if you don’t have any on hand, no worries).
2. Allow the mixture to simmer on low for 20-30 minutes, before carefully taking off the heat and blending until creamy with an immersion blender. You could also pour it into a blender and blend it, though I haven’t tried this myself, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work. Add more hot veggie broth if the soup is too thick for your liking. Serve immediately and top with green onions/chives, and a generous portion of cheddar cheese! Also delicious when served alongside a crispy, buttery grilled-cheese sandwich (tip: get your SO/pal to make them while you make the soup!)