Triple Layer Tahini Brownie Slice (Vegan)


Ingredients~
Makes 12 small slices or 9 large

Brownie layer:
1/4 cup cocoa powder*
3 tbsps whole grain rye flour
1/3 packed cup sweet potato puree
3 medjool dates
1 tbsp rice malt syrup (or sub with another sticky liquid sweetener)
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp plain soy milk or other dairy free milk
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

Tahini filling:
1/4 cup tahini (unhulled or hulled)
2 medjool dates
1 1/2 tsps maca powder
Generous pinch of salt

Dark chocolate layer:
1 1/2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 1/2 tbsps cocoa butter
2 tsps natural peanut butter (preferably unsalted)
1 tsp dairy free milk
1-2 tsps rice malt syrup or other liquid sweetener (add based on desired sweetness or omit for a bitter dark chocolate)

*I use Dutch cocoa powder (Van Huten), which goes through a unique alkali process resulting in a less acidic and thus more mild, cocoa flavor, so, if you are using regular cocoa powder, i.e. Hershey’s, replace the baking powder with a scant 1/4 tsp of baking soda (I say scant because these brownies aren’t very sweet and too much baking soda will leave an unpleasant chemical flavor).
*the cocoa butter helps solidify the tahini filling just enough to keep it from turning into an uncontrollable, gooey mess out of the fridge; you can, however, replace all of the cocoa butter in this three part recipe with coconut oil, but know that the tahini and dark chocolate layers won’t stay as solid at room temperature and will have to be eaten straight from the fridge/freezer! Also, know that the cocoa butter adds an extra oomph of fudgy texture and white chocolate flavor to the brownies and tahini filling, so that will be lacking in a coconut-oil-only slice (it would still be delicious though!!)

Instructions~

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Dark Chocolate Tahini Butter Cups (Vegan)

When I was a kid, getting my grubby hands on a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup was akin to winning the lottery; the milky chocolate exterior would leave a sweet mess all over my fingers as I did my best to make the peanut butter cup last as long as possible (which was never very long). The sugary, nutty filling was gold in my currency; in my mind, ‘rich’ kids were the Americans with 24 hour, 7 day a week access to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, not the kids riding in private airplanes and carrying Prada bags to school. I enjoyed sweets a lot as a kid, not a surprise, huh? Most children are eager sweet-eaters; they’re at an age when the insecurity and stress that often accompanies being a self-actualized individual with a physical body (a body that’s up for a lot of scrutiny and judging, particularly by one’s self), hasn’t set in yet; they want the Lucky Charms so they’ll eat the Lucky Charms, free from the waves of guilt and shame and should have’s and should have not’s that cascade over most adults when they sit down and eat a bowl of marshmallows for breakfast.

I used to be very entrenched in the negative cycle of depriving myself of ‘bad’ foods, under-eating the right foods, relapsing or binging on the ‘bad’ foods, and subsequently feeling bad about myself and my inability to make the right decisions, a horrible feeling that jumpstarted the hopeless cycle all over again. Being healthy and fit meant being clean and in control all of the time. I didn’t understand that one could be healthy and in shape whilst eating high-carb foods like sweet potatoes, fruits, and beans. Even nuts, in all their high-calorie glory, scared me a little. I also definitely didn’t know that tahini was used for anything outside of making hummus (clearly, a lot has changed). My mainstream understanding of weight loss and healthy eating limited my potential; my potential for feeling good and performing well, my potential for happiness and satisfaction, and, last but by no means least, my potential for creativity.

Deprivation doesn’t satisfy most people, so most people grab for the foods they know won’t make them feel or look good. Instead of waiting for my cravings and impulses to pile up and suffocate my sanity, I now make an effort to listen to myself. What do I feel like eating today? If what I’m craving is, simply put, processed junk, I think about how I can best replicate it with whole ingredients at home, rather than denigrating myself for having cravings that stray from my pretty, idealistic picture of health. Today I heard myself saying ‘man, I really miss Reese’s Cups‘, so I jumped up and to it and made a batch of far healthier tahini cups (if I had natural peanut butter on hand I would’ve also made a true peanut butter cup). My version turned out far, far simpler than the real thing, which is honestly quite far from real… just take a look below:

Ingredients in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups:
Chocolate Flavored Coating [Sugar*; Cocoa Butter; Cocoa Mass; Nonfat Milk Powder; Milk Fat; Lactose (Milk); Emulsifiers, Soya Lecithin* (E322), Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate (E476)], Peanut Butter [Peanuts; Sugar*, Dextrose*; Milk Fat; Salt; Emulsifier, Soya Lecithin* (E322); Antioxidants, Propyl Gallate (E310), Ascorbyl Palmitate (E304), Citric Acid (E330)], *Produced from Genetically Modified Sugar Beets, Corn, and Soya Beans

Ingredients in my Tahini Butter Cups:
Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Powder, Tahini, Medjool Dates, Rice Malt Syrup, Maca Powder, Salt.


Ingredients~
Fills 5 mini cupcake liners

Dark chocolate:
1/4 cup cocoa butter*
3 tbsps cocoa powder
1-3 tsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup (add based on desired sweetness)
Pinch of salt

Tahini butter:
3 tbsps tahini (unhulled or hulled, it doesn’t matter here)
1 medjool date, mashed/pureed
1/2 tsp maca powder

*the cocoa butter is essential for keeping the chocolate from melting at room temperature, however, you could probably substitute half or more of it with coconut oil so long as you devour the cups straight from the fridge/freezer!

Instructions~

1. Chop the cocoa butter and melt it in a non-stick saucepan over low heat. Whisk the liquid cocoa butter with the cocoa powder, syrup, and pinch of salt. Using a tsp measurer, add about 1-1 1/2 tsps of chocolate to each cupcake holder (you want the chocolate to fill up halfway, no more or there won’t be room for the filling). Allow the chocolate to harden up in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
2. As the chocolate chills, combine the tahini, mashed date, and maca powder. The resulting mixture will be wet but thick enough to handle with your fingers. Lightly press a scoop of the tahini-date filling into the center of each chocolate cup. If you don’t want the filling to be visible around the sides, make sure to leave a tiny rim of space around the filling before you pour over the remaining chocolate. Allow the chocolate cups to harden for another 10-15 minutes in the freezer or longer in the fridge before tasting the simple decadence!!

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Fudgy Chocolate Prune Truffles


Note to self: make chocolate prune truffles every chance you get.

Let’s put to sleep (forever) the notion that prunes are only for old people. I very loudly and proudly proclaim my love of prunes, particularly when morphed into fudgy, chocolatey truffles. Prunes sans the chocolate and fudge part? Still good, but not good enough to warrant knocking on your neighbor’s door about. So, here I am, more or less doing the former, trying to convert you to team prunes & chocolate. Think of me as a prune missionary; I’m a little prudish, but only for the sake of this pun.

The other day at the grocery store I suddenly felt compelled to buy a different fruit, something that would pair well with my usual bowl of oatmeal in the morning, but also something that could mimic dates in baking (my very dear stash of medjool dates are nearly gone). I settled on prunes because: A) they are overwhelmingly decently priced and B) they are packed with healthy, helpful things. Let’s start by getting the elephant out of the room; yes, prunes are known for having a laxative effect, which is rightfully so, given that they are more helpful at moving things along than psyllium husk, a currently very trendy (and pricy) fiber-packed product. It’s a shame most people won’t look beyond the glaring laxative label slapped onto prunes to notice the other, incredibly beneficial nutrients they contain. For starters, they are a good source of manganese and iron, two antioxidants that, very simply put, work at keeping our immune systems and mitochondria in check. On top of that, 1/4 cup of prunes (about 4-5 prunes) will load you up with 32% of your daily requirement of vitamin K, 12% of fiber, and 9% of potassium. Click here or here if you want more details about why you ought to add prunes to your diet!!

While prunes are no where near as sweet or gooey as medjool dates, they provide the helpful punch of moist, stickiness that I usually rely on to replace some oil and liquid sweetener in baking. I had a go at making date-sweetened chocolate truffles a while back and was very pleased with the result, so I obviously, very enthusiastically, jumped at the opportunity to replace the dates with prunes. Maybe my eagerness for the prune truffles to work and blow me away with flavor and fudge had something to do with the magic that ensued. Or maybe prunes just rock. And prunes in chocolate form? In other words, chocolate prune truffles? They rock at a rate never before fathomed by man/woman. Please make (and eat) these truffles, they are the perfect dose of healthy decadence and everyone needs a great big serving of that once in a while.

Ingredients~
Makes 6-8 truffles

Truffles: 
7 pitted prunes (I used California prunes)
2 medjool dates
3 tbsps cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsps cocoa butter
Pinch of salt

Coating:
2 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tbsps cocoa butter
1-2 tbsps finely crushed walnuts (or use shredded coconut, more cocoa powder, sea salt, etc.)

Instructions~

1. First, chop up the cocoa butter and melt it in a non-stick saucepan on low heat. Allow it to cool as you mash the dates and prunes. If your dates/prunes are very dry, soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes before mashing. Once you have a thick, sticky fruit paste, mix in the cocoa powder and pinch of salt (I find it easiest to use a fork and cut in the cocoa powder). Add the 1 1/2 tsps of melted cocoa butter and use a fork to cut up the mixture, ensuring the cocoa butter is evenly distributed throughout it. Alternatively, use your hands to knead the ingredients together until the resulting mixture holds together in a glossy ball. Set the truffle mixture in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and allow it to chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes or until a little more firm and easy to handle.
2. As the truffle filling chills, prepare the toppings. Melt the cocoa butter over low heat until melted. Allow it to cool as you finely chop the walnuts; you could also use a food processor to blend the nuts, but know that the texture should resemble walnut meal rather than powder or flour. Whisk together the cocoa powder and cocoa butter until no lumps remain. Remove the truffle mixture from the freezer and roll together 6-8 balls. Using a chopstick or fork, prick each truffle, dunk it in the liquid chocolate until fully submerged/coated, and gently level it onto a sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle each truffle with the chopped walnuts right after setting it on the paper; the wetter they are, the better the walnuts will stick. Allow the truffles to harden up in the fridge for about 1 hour or speed things up by leaving them in the freezer. Enjoy the fudgy, chocolatey goodness!!

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Healthy Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Since making my way to more whole-foods based baking, I’ve grown attached to pumpkin bread. I’m also incredibly, fingers-clasped-on-hard, attached to banana bread, zucchini bread, sweet potato bread, and, uhm, you get the idea… pretty much any baked loaf that has a packed half or more cup of pureed fruit or vegetables in it. Vegetables in bread? I know, it doesn’t connote the happiest, warmest feelings, at first that is; once you have a hand at making healthy root vegetable based bread, sans the refined sugar and oil, you will feel weird…. weird because, well, surely this isn’t real life? A bread loaf heavy on the pumpkin and light on the not-so-loving ingredients? After a few bites of moist, spicy pumpkin bread you will realize that yes, this is real life, this wholesome pumpkin bread is tangible and tasty and deserves all the praise it can get. Also, you deserve a little praise for treating your body and mind with so much thought and care.

Pumpkin puree, as well as sweet potato and banana puree, are the best replacements for oil in baking. Oil lends in creating a moist loaf of bread or cake, but adding 1/3 cup or more to a supposedly healthy pumpkin bread doesn’t feel right to me. If I’m in the mood for something a little bit more indulgent, say a bread that I’m sharing at a party or brunch, I may dump in a bit of the oil, but when it comes to a lazy Sunday morning lounging around the house with my loved ones, I’m going to make something that I can eat two or three slices of without feeling lethargic and cloudy after. So, I scrap the oil and the heaps of sugar. Now what? Things are looking pretty pitiful… no oil (or butter), no sugar, and, because I’m really striving for the utmost nutrient-dense ingredients, not even any syrups (rice malt, maple, honey).

While the pumpkin puree works to replace the oil, the mashed dates and tiny bit of banana puree/applesauce replace the sugar, offering up some of the sweetness one usually expects in a slice of pumpkin bread. Seeing as the fruit is sticky and wet, it’s not necessary to add milk or even eggs to the batter, making it 100% plant-based and vegan-friendly; the sticky dates help bind the ingredients together, resulting in a finished loaf that doesn’t fall apart.

Of course, replacing oil and sugar with pumpkin and fruit will create a different kind of loaf, there is simply no way to perfectly emulate conventional, coffee shop pumpkin bread without the former ingredients. This pumpkin bread is definitely on the denser side. I happen to very much enjoy a slice of extremely moist and dense pumpkin bread, especially more so than moist and dense banana bread, but that is just my preference. So, if you don’t need fluff in your pumpkin bread to fully enjoy it, then this recipe still has a chance at winning you over. It’s also worth mentioning that when you take a bite of this bread your immediate thought won’t be ‘wow, this is yummy, *because it’s sweet*’. Instead, you’ll probably think something along the lines of ‘hmm, this is yummy, *because I can taste the spices and sweetness at the same time*’. If you have a very big sweet tooth that can’t be pleased with fruit alone, then add 1-3 tbsps of fine raw or brown sugar, but truthfully, I don’t think it’s necessary. Leave the gut-destroying pumpkin bread to Starbucks to perfect and give your insides something good to feed on.

Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or eight 1-inch slices

3/4 cup & 1 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
1 tbsp wheat bran
1/2 packed cup pumpkin puree
5 medjool dates
2 tbsps mashed ripe banana or applesauce
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 heaped tsp ground ginger
1/4 heaped tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, dark chocolate chunks, dried berries, etc., take your pick!

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 180 C/365 F. Bake for 37-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out clean except for a few loose crumbs.

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Graham Fruit Cookies




Ingredients~
Makes 10 cookies

1/4 cup & 1 tbsp whole wheat graham flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
1/2 a small ripe banana (spotty but not black all over)
3 medjool dates
4 pitted prunes (I used California prunes)
2 tsps natural, unsalted peanut butter
Optional: 1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks/chips

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 180 C/356 F

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Fiber-Packed Graham Muffins

These muffins miiiight not be sweet enough for you. Unless you’ve been weaned off refined sugar for a while or very actively try to avoid it (i.e. you don’t even reach for the Heinz ketchup anymore, knowing how much corn syrup is packed into each squirt), you may consider these muffins to be a bit too rugged; rugged because of the uneven texture provided by graham flour, but also rugged in taste. Does that word put you off? I apologize, but I mean ‘rugged’ in the most positive, endearing way; these muffins transport me to a cozy log cabin in lush, deep green woods I’ve never been to (yet). Refined sugar can’t be found in these woods, but fruit can, and fruit these muffins do contain.

These muffins are not standard sweet muffins; they contain one ripe banana and a handful of gooey medjool dates, both of which lend in creating a subtle, gradual sweetness unlike the tooth-shocking, eye-popping kind found in packaged pastries and, much to my dismay, trendy coffee shop pound cake. I enjoy surprises (so long as they don’t involve people popping out behind curtains and corners), so I dumped chunks of walnut and diced red apple into these muffins. Considering how simple and versatile this batter is, any sort of stir-in should work; next time around I’ll definitely step up my muffin game and add dark chocolate covered berries.

Replacing white sugar and even so called ‘healthier’ sugars, such as honey and rice malt syrup, with fruit, will take your baked goods to miraculous heights. I still rely on liquid sweeteners sometimes, but upon recently discovering the world of fruit-sweetened ‘treats’, I’ve become Cinderella at the ball and I’m not quite ready to lose my slipper and return to normal sugar laden life. Also, the more online research I do, the less convinced I am that occasional unhealthy indulgences are worth it (also, the word ‘occasional’ allows for a dangerously vast pool of interpretation! My ‘occasional’ may = three times a week, but yours may very well be once or twice a day. And honestly, how often do we stick to plans that are so ridiculously vague?) When I look back on the past few years, it becomes increasingly obvious how often I would use the ‘once in a lifetime’ excuse when presented with sweets and junk food. In reality, choosing not to taste a donut or cinnamon roll from one particular cafe somewhere in the world will not affect my potential for happiness in the future (or even in that moment!) Coming to terms with the former fact has been tough; I’d like to believe one single cinnamon roll could alter the course of my future and be tasty enough to cause a lifetime of regret if not eaten, but the truth is, the only affect it may have on my future is by increasing my risk of heart disease, cancer, and I’d rather not think about what else.

I used to reserve muffins and cookies for my shameful snack times after school; the drudgery of the weekday always got to be too much, too boring, too demanding, and highly processed, sugary and fatty foods offered themselves up as the perfect escape; indulging in a box of Oreos melted away the stress of a failed Math test and a big bag of sweet chili chips covered up the chatter of social anxiety and insecurity. Weekend nights presented the most different avenues for escape; everyone feels more apt to lose themselves, whether to sweets or alcohol or insert vice here, on the weekends. Indulgence is easily justifiable when you’re feeling down in the dumps and lethargic, so it’s no surprise that the more sugar you eat, the more unhappy and tired you feel, and thus, the more you want, no, the more you NEED, sugar; it’s a vicious cycle that kills and ruins lives and exponentially lowers one’s potential for happiness.

So, can you really be happier with a date and banana filled muffin as opposed to a sugary, frosted one? Yes. Giving up the devilish sweet stuff can sometimes feel like giving up a big chunk of happiness; but if you think about it, try reasoning with a smoker or drug addict and they will tell you the same thing, how can I ever be happy again without my daily pack of cigarettes? Replace cigarettes with conventional pastries and sweets and I can say that the same words have rolled off my tongue many more times than I can remember. Am I a sugar addict? Apparently so. Apparently, lots of people are. In fact, most people are (in the USA at least). It’s a little chilling. And frightening and startling and spooky to think of all the children growing up with sweet tooth’s the size of canines and appetites for sugar that may very well land them in hospitals one day. It’s sad, but it’s the reality at the moment. I find that reality deeply unsettling and am quite simply unwilling to accept it into my little sphere of life; sugar sugar, go away, come again another day in the form of caramely medjool dates and ripe bananas and dried figs and juicy, juicy mangos. Thank goodness for fruit.


Ingredients~
Makes 5 muffins

1/2 cup whole wheat graham flour
1 small VERY spotty banana
3 medjool dates, mashed
5 tsps unflavored/unsweetened soy or nut milk
2 tsps chia seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped red apple (pear would probably be nice)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or nut of your choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
Dash of salt
Pinch of nutmeg and/or ground ginger (optional)

Instructions~

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/365 F. In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork before stirring it together with the mashed dates, milk, and vanilla extract. Once combined, add the flour, chia seeds, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, dash of salt, and nutmeg/ginger if using. Lightly stir together the mountain of dry ingredients before thoroughly stirring them together with the wet mixture. Add the chopped apple and walnuts. The resulting batter will be quite thick and rocky in texture, thanks to the bran in the graham flour and the seeds, nuts, and apple. If using silicone muffin tins, don’t bother oiling them down, but if using metal ones, it would be safe to do so. The batter equally divided among 5 of my tins, but it may be closer to 4 or 6 depending on the size of your tins. Bake for 14-18 minutes until fully set and an inserted chopstick/toothpick doesn’t come out gooey and wet. Allow to cool on a rack before enjoying with peanut butter or 100% fruit jam!!

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Dark Chocolate Vegan Hob Nobs

Ingredients in McVitie’s Chocolate Hob Nobs:
Rolled Oats, Milk Chocolate [Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Dried Skimmed Milk, Dried Whey (Milk), Butter Oil (Milk), Vegetable Fats (Sal and/or Shea, Palm), Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin, E476), Natural Flavouring], Wholemeal Wheat Flour, Sugar, Vegetable Oil (Palm), Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Raising Agents (Sodium Bicarbonate, Ammonium Bicarbonate), Salt.

Ingredients in these Vegan Chocolate Hob Nobs:
Rolled Oats, Whole Wheat Flour, Dark Chocolate [Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter, Soy Milk, Rice Malt Syrup], Olive Oil, Rice Malt Syrup, Wheat Bran, Raw Sugar, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt.

Take your pick!

Ingredients~
Makes 10 cookies

Dough:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsps wheat bran
3 tbsps mild olive oil (or sub with melted coconut oil)
3 tbsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup
1 tsp fine raw sugar (or sub with light brown)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt (less than 1/8 tsp)

Chocolate frosting:
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsps cocoa butter*
2 tsps unflavored soy or nut milk
1-4 tsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup (add based on desired sweetness)

*you can substitute the cocoa butter with coconut oil, but know that the frosting won’t harden up as much (if at all) at room temperature and might require a few tsps of powdered sugar instead of syrup and milk (cocoa butter seizes up and becomes creamier when combined with syrup/milk, while coconut oil does not)

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F

Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes until noticeably golden brown and crisp around the edges; they well get a lot crunchier once set.

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Fruit-Sweetened Energy Balls

I used to constantly waver from wanting to indulge in highly processed junk food to absolutely detesting foods that were so far removed from their initial, whole form. Eventually, swinging from one absolute to another got to be too much; I felt frustrated and overwhelmed when what I wanted to eat (what I had an impulsive, seemingly uncontrollable desire for) and what I knew would actually be good for me, didn’t go hand in hand. Sugar is hard to give up. High fat foods are difficult to say no to. Unless you’re walking around blindfolded, chances are you come face to face with highly refined and processed ‘foods’ everyday; the stores you shop at, the vending machines you walk by, the cafe you enjoy spending your Sunday mornings in, and the people you surround yourself with; if you’re trying to adopt a more whole foods plant based eating style, all of the former situations can easily leave you wanting to tug on your hair and scream, ‘where are the fruit-sweetened muffins and cakes??!!!!’

I still nonsensically eye the treats sitting behind display windows at cafes and restaurants, hoping some likeminded person in the kitchen of said cafe/restaurant decided to replace the white sugar in the muffins with dates or ripe bananas or, at the very least, a sweetener not entirely void of nutrients, like maple syrup. The former rarely happens. In fact, it only happens when I do a little research and actively seek out health food stores and vegan eateries (vegan by no means = healthy, but there tends to be a larger pool of healthy, often times raw, snacks present in a vegan cafe than at a regular cafe). Sure, there is definitely a time for indulging and going to town with big dollops of whipped cream and the thickest slices of fudge, but that time is not most of the time (in fact, it should be never but we’ve let ourselves believe we can’t live without the devilish stuff), and I like to create yummy edible things most of the time, so I’ve had to find my own way to sweeten and fudge-ify food sans the conventional staples.

These energy balls belong behind the display window at a trendy cafe. Better yet, they should be on show at the untrendy, but lovable, mom n pop cafe in your neighborhood. These nutrient dense snacks shouldn’t have to cost a bucket load of cash and more to buy, but for some reason, they typically do. I’ve come across coconut, cashew, and date balls that costed 2-3 Australian dollars a pop (1.5-2.8 USD). I suppose the former ingredients run a bit on the pricy side compared to sugar and artificial sweeteners, so I’m not about to advocate relying on store-bought health balls to get you through your afternoon work slump or morning workout, but it is also true that we get what we pay for; we vote with our dollars, do we not? What you buy is what you are choosing to support and further the prevalence of, whether it be factory farmed chicken or corn syrup or fruit-sweetened energy balls void of the former two unpleasant things.

I’d like to see less salt-injected, lean chicken breast around me, but the truth is, a lot of people would like to continue spending their money on it, so the salty, naked chicken isn’t going away any time soon (at least until lab meat takes off…). Same goes for corn-syrup doused ‘foods’; is corn syrup really food? I don’t know, but I lean towards saying ‘no, it’s not food in the same way tomatoes and beans and rice are food’. Same goes for hydrogenated oil. And many other ‘foods’ lining the shelves at grocery stores and airport terminals and gas stations that present themselves as perfect; perfectly delicious, enjoyable, enlightening, the end-all to your life problems; you should be WANTING to stuff your face with said foods, or so you’re led to believe, by the crafty and intelligent marketers, sure, but maybe also by your friends and family, who insist that you must be out of your mind or maybe even on the road to an eating disorder because you choose baked fries over twice-fried fries and 90% cocoa chocolate over 40% cocoa milky chocolate.

A life without conventional donuts and cinnamon rolls (and every other doughy thing you can think of) used to make me cower in fear; What do you mean I can still have a happy, fulfilling life without glazed donuts and McDonald’s french fries and ice cream floats? At first, reducing the amount of bad stuff I ate felt restrictive and, quite simply put, NOT FUN. It took months and months to slowly gather the information that really jumpstarted my healthier approach to eating; when you know the facts, it’s hard to go back. It also helps if you learn how to make a truly fudgy batch of plant-based brownies and chocolate frosting sans the powdered sugar. For the longest time, I let myself believe that the unhealthy ‘foods’ I came across everywhere, even the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies I had been making since I was a kid, were permissible because life is short and a life without buttery cookies doesn’t sound like a very exciting, and, dare I say it, livable life. As I reiterate my former thought process now, I’m pretty appalled (to say the least). I had been conditioned to believe that highly refined foods were the epitome of enjoyment and happiness. Never in a million years would I have expected myself to be making the choices I am now.

After a long enough time of toying with the idea of being ‘healthier’ and truly caring about what I was putting into my body (maybe it will push away my anxiety and instrusive thoughts, maybe it will help me effortlessly lose weight, maybe I will even want to go outside and meet new people again), I finally made the leap. Sure, I still occasionally eat white flour and deep fried fries, but notice the OCCASIONal; when the unordinary occasion presents itself, I might have some fries, but for most of the seven days a week, I’m ‘indulging’ in crisp, baked potato fries and awe-inducing creamy coconut curries. My attention to calories and monitoring every high-carb morsel I eat has melted away. Eating more plant based means eating more high-carb whole foods, foods that ought to make you ‘fat’ by conventional wisdom, and yet, when coupled with moderate exercise, have repeatedly shown to aid in weight loss (I’m not touting an entirely plant based or vegan diet by any means, I don’t always eat that way).

It’s no surprise that I have a sweet tooth, so in an effort to combat the impending sweet cravings before they could take the reigns to my life, I replaced the refined sugar with fruit, allowing myself to eat three or four frozen bananas blended into ice cream for breakfast some mornings. If I have a bowl of it in front of me, topped with shredded coconut and a dollop of nut butter in an ideal world, I won’t even flinch when you tell me I can’t taste Haagan Daz ever again. The truth is, I could very well eat Haagan Daz again, I CAN if I WANT to; the only person stopping me is myself, but I am not keeping myself captive or deprived of exciting, sweet flavors; so long as blended frozen bananas are within arms reach I won’t feel doubtful of my newfound concern for health. The trick when giving up one bad habit is to replace it with another, obviously more thought through and healthy, habit. Simply removing the sugary processed foods from my diet would have left me hanging and hungry, and I would have most likely fallen off the wagon by binging on sweets in secret to compensate for ‘depriving’ myself. Four bananas in one sitting may frighten you; they contain a lot of sugar, don’t they? Yeah, they do, but bananas are bananas and white sugar is white sugar; while bananas slowly travel to your gut with their friends fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6 in tow, white sugar races there and wrecks havoc for the fun of it.

What really enabled me to fully embrace conscientious eating as a lifestyle and not a diet, was learning about the ins and outs of healthy cooking and baking. Once I learned that it wasn’t about giving up the childhood favorites (namely chocolate chip cookies and brownies with ice cream), but rather, that it was about remodeling them so that they could still be appetizing and yummy, but also be unexpectedly healthy, I felt more switched on and ready to jump into this world of food. My chocolate chip cookies now contain whole wheat flour and oats instead of all-purpose flour, and they don’t need help from a cup of sugar because they’ve got applesauce, dates, spotty bananas, and pumpkin/sweet potato puree to choose from. I kid you not, cookies made with sweet potato puree are delicious. And what about these energy balls? Well, they certainly don’t put up a fancy facade like the supposedly healthy snacks you come across at the grocery store. They are simple and simply good for you, packed with oats, natural peanut butter, tahini, dates, chia seeds, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and some spices to taste. No troubleshooting or second guessing, just plain ol’ whole foods.

Ingredients~
Each version makes 7 balls

Oat & date version:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp natural peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice)
2 medjool dates
2 tsps chia seeds
1 tsp maca powder*
1-2 tsps apple juice (or sub with water)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of salt

Fudge version:
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tbsp cocoa butter*
1 tbsp tahini
1 medjool date
2 tsps chia seeds
Pinch of salt

*if you don’t have maca powder on hand, you can simply swap it with hemp/protein powder or oat flour (for a possible different flavor)
*you can substitute the cocoa butter with coconut oil, but know that the balls will begin melting if left too long out of the fridge; cocoa butter has a very high melting point and stays incredibly hard at even slightly warm temperatures (hence why it’s used in chocolate)

Instructions~

Oat & date:

Fudge:

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Vegan Cinnamon Doughnuts (oil-free & date-sweetened)

Ingredients~
Makes 6 small doughnuts and 6-8 doughnut holes

113.5 g whole wheat pastry flour (plus 1 tsp for dusting)
50 ml vegan buttermilk*
3 medjool dates (72-74 g), mashed/pureed
0.87 g instant yeast (just under 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of table salt

Cinnamon sugar topping:
2 tsps rice malt syrup or liquid sweetener of choice
1 tbsp fine raw sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

*to make vegan buttermilk, simply add 1/2 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup and pour in unflavored soy/nut milk until the mixture reaches the 50 ml line; allow it to rest for 10 minutes until noticeably curdled

Instructions~

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A Simple Fruit Crisp

Ingredients~
Serves 4; makes a heaped amount for one 7-inch pie pan 

Filling:
1 medium-large red apple
1/2 cup fresh cherries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries*
2 medjool dates, mashed
2 tsps fresh grapefruit juice, including the pulp (or sub with orange)
1 tbsp potato starch
2 tsps chia seeds
Pinch of table salt (scant 1/8 tsp)

Topping:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 packed cup whole wheat pastry flour*
2 tbsps mild olive oil or melted coconut oil
1 1/2 tbsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup
1/4 heaped tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp table salt

* using fresh berries is fine, but know that they may contribute e a tad less liquid to the filling as they cook
* you can substitute the whole wheat pastry flour with half regular whole wheat and half all-purpose

Instructions~

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the topping takes on a deep golden/light brown color. Check on the crisp after 2o minutes to ensure it’s not browning too fast; if it is, loosely cover it with foil.

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