Life’s Real Sweetness

If this post seems caffeine-induced, that’s probably because it is.

With the early shift at the coffee shop, keeping up with schoolwork, and trying to train for a relay marathon at the end of the month, coffee has felt like a necessity. A delicious, energizing necessity.

In the midst of craziness, there has been time for sweetness.

Un-contrived, mostly unplanned moments that make life sparkle with meaning and joy. Here’s a little glimpse…

We’ve been soaking up the warm sun this past week by spending evenings at the park…

Workouts that leave me like this make me happy and energized all day

My little sister turned eighteen almost a month ago and I still can’t believe it.

And then, I turned twenty myself. 

There is something about reaching a milestone of maturity and yet feeling so far from it that makes you realize how very precious this life is.

All I wanted to do my birthday weekend was go on long adventurous hikes with my family.

Simple, everyday moments. So natural and yet so special. Life in its real sweetness.

If we don’t grab on to it now, it will slip our grasp.

It’s Day 22 of my fast of processed and packaged foods. To be perfectly honest, there have been a few cheat days. But on those days, the little treats that snuck in have been exactly that — treats and not habits. That is exactly how I want to feel toward sweets — special on the occasion but not necessary every day.

I’ve been experimenting with satisfying my sweet tooth naturally. Do you know what I’ve discovered? It’s just like the simple gifts of life — it’s the real, un-contrived foods that give sweetness at its best. Sweetness you can feel good about.

I made these cookies on the afternoon of my twentieth birthday. I wanted to celebrate without compromising my Real Food challenge. So I opened the fridge and pantry cupboards and began pulling out an army of ingredients.

These were totally unplanned and had great potential for failure. No sugar, no flour, no butter or oil, no egg, no recipe. My chances of producing something edible were mighty slim, but I think it was the excitement of embarking on a new decade that gave me courage.

Surprise of all surprises — they worked. And they were delicious. 

So delicious in fact, Jenny couldn’t keep her hands off of them.

“These are the best things you ever made. Seriously. I think turning twenty has made you a really good cook.”

I really had no idea how to interpret that so I just kept munching and smiled. She has no idea she basically consumed a day’s worth of vegetables and whole grains in the four cookies she ate.

It’s the natural, bite-sized moments in life that are the sweetest.

 Carrot Cake Apple Bites

~ makes 12 cookies

Ingredients

  •  1/3  c. buckwheat flour
  • 1/3 c. oat flour
  •  ¼ t. salt
  •  ½ t. cinnamon
  •  ½ t. baking powder
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  •  ¾ c. grated apple
  •  ½ c. grated carrots
  •  2 T. almond milk
  • ¼ c. shredded coconut
  • ½ c. chopped apple
  • 1/3 c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. chopped pecans (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • To make buckwheat flour and oat flour: process raw buckwheat groats/raw oats in a food processor or blender until a fine, flour-like texture
  • In a large bowl, combine buckwheat flour, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and rolled oats.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together honey and vanilla. Stir in the grated apple and carrots and almond milk.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  • Mix in coconut, chopped apple, and rolled oats.
  • Drop by teaspoonful on to prepared baking sheet. These cookies will not spread out much at all when baking so shape them as you want them to look after baking.
  • Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Nutrition Facts for 1 cookie~ Calories: 83.5, Total Fat: 4.6g (Sat.fat: 2.8g), Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 53.6mg, Potassium 39.5mg, Total Carbohydrate: 11.6g (Dietary Fiber: 3.0g, Sugars 3.6g) Protein: 1.5g.

Cookies for breakfast, anyone?

My Single Healthy Heart

At our recital this past Saturday, one of my student’s moms came up to me with a timid smile.

“Our next lesson is scheduled for Tuesday night. That’s Valentines Day. I just wanted to make sure…are you…do you have plans?”

It took me a minute to realize what she was asking, and then I smiled reassuringly. “Oh no, I’m not doing anything”.

“That’s okay”, she leaned in and patted my arm. “My husband and I aren’t doing anything either”.

Sure, Valentines Day isn’t made for the single young woman who spends the night teaching piano lessons and sitting on the couch in a messy bun with my two sisters. But, I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. I have far to much love in my life to feel that I’m missing out. And I’m not going to be left out of celebrating, either. There are more than enough hearts and chocolate to go around, thankyouverymuch.

This Valentines Day, I’m taking care of my heart by feeding on antioxidant rich nuts and fruits. With chocolate, of course. Because, we all know that is the real attraction to the holiday.

Check out the heart-friendly ingredients in this Valentines-inspired, dressed up trail mix:

  • Walnuts: Contain the more antioxidants than any other nut. Antioxidants protect cells against damage caused by harmful molecules known as free radicals. The damage can play a role in heart disease and other health conditions.
  • Pistachios: A lower-fat nut, full of antioxidants, phytosterols, unsaturated fats and various vitamins and minerals,  vitamins, and fiber — all of which work to lower cholesterol and promote heart health
  • Cranberries: Cranberries contain no fat, no cholesterol, and very little sodium and are great sources of fiber, flavonoids and polyphenoics.
  • CHOCOLATE: The cocoa bean has flavanols that act as anti-inflammatory nd antioxidant agents, keeping blood pressure low and arteries healthy.

I always knew there was a good reason to eat more chocolate!

Because I fully intend to spend Valentine’s Day, bonding with a bowl of this trail mix. With my single ladies. And probably a good book.

Keeping my heart healthy till the day I give it away.

I hope he doesn’t mind if I pick out all the chocolate chips for myself.

Heart-Loving Trail Mix

Ingredients

  • 2 c. walnuts
  • 1 1/2 c. shelled pistachios
  • 2 c. dried cranberries
  • 1 c. dark chocolate chips (or more, ;))
  • 1 t. dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t, sea salt

Directions

  • Mix nuts, cranberries, and chocolate together in a large bowl
  • Sift cocoa powder over mix and stir until everything is well “coated”
  • Sprinkle with sea salt

Serve with love. Even if you are the only one eating it.

Walk by the $6.99 bagged trail mixes, the racks of Valentines Cards, and the case of red roses with your head held high.

Know that you are loved. Your heart, though single, is full. And happy.

A balanced diet is a Christmas cookie in each hand…

I believed I have put enough distance between myself and the cookie baking frenzy that led to intense teeth-brushings and cravings for tempeh, lettuce, and gallons of water.

It’s Christmas time after all. We must talk cookies.

This past weekend, the Christmas parties came a’calling and after a long week of finals, I was more than ready to release my baking fairy and be covered in stardust flour. Being the blogaholic, recipe hoarder that I am, choosing cookie recipes was a long and detailed process. I wanted to be sure I made just the right ones.

Thankfully, I hit on some winners:

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Oh She Glows: Vegan, perfectly chewy and hearty — everything you want in an oatmeal raisin and so much more! I love the way this recipe incorporates ground toasted walnuts for rich flavor and added nutrition.

Gingerbread from Martha Stewart: A basic gingerbread recipe that I have found to be virtually fool-proof. Be warned that the yield is based on very large cookies; I doubled the recipe, and ended up with a whole ginger-army! I also reduced the amount of brown sugar by 3/4 with fine results. Gingerbread cutouts are so fun to decorate!

Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies from Elana’s Pantry. This recipe can’t get more minimalist with six basic whole-food ingredients and almost no work involved. Elena’s Pantry is one of my favorite resources for healthy dessert recipes I can feel good about eating and serving. No one would guess these scrumptious peanut butter pillows are gluten-free and vegan!

Toasted Coconut, Toffee, and Chocolate Chip Cookies from Two Peas & Their Pod. The title alone had me falling for these cookie, hook, line, and sinker. Coconut, especially toasted, has my heart. I substituted butterscotch chips for the toffee bits, and whole wheat flour for white. These were delicious. I loved the different flavors and textures going on in these cookies. Party in my mouth. Mom, where did you hide those cookies??

I hope your Christmas season has been filled with yummy cookies and people to share them with. Platters of these cookies graced the tables of two caroling parties and one Sunday School Christmas party and were welcomed everywhere with welcome arms.. Even the “healthier” cookies were gobbled up happily. I looked on from a distance — my tummy already full of sampling the “Christmas cheer”.

My conscience simply won’t allow me to talk on about cookies without inserting my Dietetics-to-be voice (please, indulge me — I want to believe this semester of horror was not in vain!). This week, I’m sharing four helpful tips to “Eat Through the Holidays…Healthfully!” at Vibrance. Click on over and leave your cookie-eating/refraining strategies in the comments. I know I’d appreciate all the help I can get.

And so would this guy.

My inner vegetarian is seriously revolting against this.

After Christmas, it’s lettuce and tempeh for life.

How to Cope: Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn

There are certain words I never want to hear again: school, exams, due-dates, study.

There are other words I can’t get enough of: snow, lights, cinnamon, carols, and peppermint.

Every week, school has become more more unbearable. And now, here is the end. In a few days, the books will be laid aside for three glorious weeks. Christmas is so close I can smell it. Or is that my steaming Chai tea? No matter. Chai and Christmas are pretty much the same thing, anyway.

A few small things helped me make it through without totally losing my sanity.

High on the list were my study buddies. All throughout a long and tortuous semester of Biochemistry, the girls around my table kept me smiling. Four days a week we met together, shared anxiety over quizzes, gave each other pep talks, and  laughed over dumb lab mistakes, which were always mine, and shared pencils with those who packed mascara but forgot any writing instruments. Which, again, was always me. Always.

The day before exams, we met together one last time in the library for a real intense study session. So intense the four of us camped out at a table all afternoon and came prepared with nourishment, in the form of Christmas cookies, fruit snacks, and coffee. So intense I remembered to bring a pen. Unfortunately, I forgot paper but it all worked out because we ended up talking a whole lot more than writing.

I wanted to give my special friends a little token of appreciation. We’ve been through a whole lot together and I wanted them to know that no matter how horrendous the semester was, I was glad for the friendships that came out of them. I also wanted them to know that even though our paths were diverging, I was still going to think about them and pray for them.

So, naturally I made Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn. It’s only fitting for the occasion, right? The perfect snack to accompany late night bonding times with the textbooks. The perfect sweetness and crunch to remember better times and get a taste of Christmas waiting on the other side.

And who am I kidding. It was finals week and I needed to extract myself from my studying “hole.” The kitchen is my choice coping mechanism. Nothing like getting peanut butter in your hair to relieve stress.

It's snowing popcorn!

Peanut Butter Crunch Popcorn
~
Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. popcorn kernels
  • 2/3 c. honey
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. natural, creamy peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. puffed kamut (optional)
  • 1 c. peanuts
  • 2/3 c. almonds
  • 1/2 t. salt (optional)

Directions

  • Microwave pop kernels using the paper bag method: In a small, lunch-bag style paper bag, pour about 3 T. kernels. Tightly roll over the top of the bag to “seal” and microwave about 3 minutes, or until popping slows (about 5 seconds between pops). Repeat until all the kernels have been popped.

(I used a trimmed TJ’s bag. Really, Joe, how do you not save my life?)

  • Spread popcorn out on sprayed cookie sheets to cool. Remove any unpopped kernels.
  • In a large saucepan or Dutch Oven, heat honey, brown sugar, and oil. Bring to a slow simmer.
  • Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in peanut butter and vanilla.
  • Working quickly, stir popcorn, kamut, and nuts into pan and with a wooden spoon or spatula, mix to thoroughly coat popcorn.
  • Spread popcorn on to cooking sheets, breaking apart clumps. Sprinkle with salt if desired. Let cool at least 10 minutes. Popcorn can be stored in a airtight container

It’s all over today. I walked out of the classroom like I was walking on air. Then I came home and immediately pulled out the popcorn kernels. Lunch today was a pan of peanut butter popcorn and a bowl of broccoli. Yum, fiber.

Sometimes, you just got to do what you got to do.

Coffee Cup Adventures

I took coffee on vacation.

All other addictions and temptations (cell phone, internet, wallet) stayed behind.

We relaxed.

We soaked in the autumn beauty of Creation.

We explored the stunning grandeur of northern Pennsylvania mountains.

Today, I’m back home. Suitcase a jumbled mess on my bedroom floor. Drinking coffee out of a plain old mug at the bathroom sink while doing my makeup and running through a mental checklist.

It’s Monday and vacation’s over.

Let’s pretend it’s not. Let’s take just fifteen extra minutes before rushing to shower, suit up and jump on the speed bus.

This breakfast says it’s worth it.

Pumpkin Banana French Toast

~ serves one ~

Ingredients

  • 2/3 c. vanilla almond milk (or other milk)
  • 2 t. molasses
  • 1/3 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 T. ground flax seed
  • 1/2 medium ripe banana
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread

Directions

  • In a shallow dish, whisk together milk, molasses, pumpkin, and flax. Mash banana and whisk into milk mixture. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla.
  • Heat a greased skillet over medium heat.
  • While skillet is heating, dip bread in milk mixture until coated on both sides. Don’t let the bread sit and soak in the liquid, or it will get soggy and fall apart.
  • Fry bread in skillet until bottom is golden brown and “set”. Flip and repeat on other side.
  • Serve with “Pumpkin Cream”: 1T. pumpkin mixed into 2T. plain yogurt with maple syrup and cinnamon. Lick plate clean.

Of course, as long as we’re still extending the vacation weekend, we can top this with whatever we want: whipped cream, ice cream, warm apples, caramel topping, powdered sugar, candied nuts…the ceiling’s the limit.

I made a few extra slices ahead of time to pop into the toaster on a busy weekday morning. To eat in the car and wash down with a travel mug of strong coffee. To bring that vacation sense of adventure to an average kind of day.

I take vacation to my coffee.

Bite-Sized Bedtime Revelations

  • I’ve concluded that apple picking needs to be an annual welcome-to-fall event. Nothing puts you into autumn vibe like walking through rows of apple-laden trees, picking fruit fresh off the tree and then coming home and trying to fit three large baskets of apples into the fridge. Someone got a little carried away…but really, how could you not? They’ve already been simmered into applesauce and baked into pies, and no one’s allowed to leave the house without stocking up on car ride snacks.

  • 5Ks are really fun. While I love conquering long runs, there is something about just giving it your all for a short distance. It was an awesome feeling to run a 5K on Saturday just for the pure pleasure of it. It helped that I got to watch a dear friend experience a race for the very first time. It also helped that I broke my PR without even trying! Definitely made up for the unfortunate race T-shirt:

  • Went to the grocery store to rent a movie and came home with this:

Contrary to what my family thinks, this is not an obsession. This is a necessity. It’s October, the shelves have been bare since March, and this girl needs her orange-spiked happiness.Finding this 6lb can pretty much saved my autumn.

Do you see what that says there? 25 servings. Should last me about two weeks.Watch out, family. Pumpkin is going in everything.

  • Speaking of happy winter squash, I give the Butternut some love over on Vibrance. Five of my favorite ways to cook that lovely vegetable, including a recipe for the best soup ever. Butternut, Carrot, and Nut Butter Soup. Doesn’t that just turn all the leaves bright colors and give the air a cinnamon smell? It should.

  • I better get to bed so I can knock out a five mile run tomorrow morning before school. I am really loving the way a morning run sets the pace for the rest of the day and helps me hit the books already feeling like I’ve accomplished something good. Another discovery this school year — the enigma of packing lunches. This is the first time I’ve ever regularly packed lunches (homeschooler alert!) and it’s more of a challenge than I used to imagine — especially when I’m away from 10-5. One thing I’ve got down: the daily apple. But that’s a post for another, more enlightened time.

For now, goodnight. And happy munching.

An Exam is Like a Marathon

Fuel:

Maple apple oats, peach tea, weight textbook lifting

Nervous jitters:

I’ve trained so hard…but I’m so unprepared. I just want it to be over…I hope a hurricane/tornado/earthquake happens right now so I never have to start.

Fast forward several painful hours, a finish line and stopped clock later…

Refuel:

Peach Chobani, banana bruised from sharing backpack space with four notebooks, a fat stack of flashcards, and a large umbrella

Rice with roasted veggies and steamed spinach = demolished.

Coffee in the library. Shh…it was necessary.

Recovery:

Everything hurts. I don’t want to ever get up. Not ever.

Healthy Living Inspiration

It was a fun weekend. Swag bags, oats and yogurt galore, granola giveaways, conversations about running, blogging, and spinach smoothies, meeting my cyberspace inspirations in real life. Yes, for this wannabe blogger, wannabe Dietitian and absolute health nut, the Healthy Living Summit in Philadelphia was my definition of fun.

(picture source)

I could go on an on about the yummy meals we ate (what other conference has an oatmeal bar for breakfast or an entire vegetarian lunch??), the healthy living blog heroines I finally got to see and meet, or the bottomless Mary-Poppins swag bag of yummy treats (I’ll never need to buy granola bars again!), but I’ll spare you words and let the pictures do the talking.

New friends (picture source)

What I will do is let you in on a couple of notes from the sessions. The sessions were all great, geared at both healthy living and blogging. I attended “Budgeting for a Healthy Lifestyle”, “Rising Above Negativity”, “Blogger Safety”, and “Maintaining Healthy Habits While Traveling” and came back with so much food thought (pun totally intended).

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Living healthfully does cost more, so it takes planning and creativity to eat well. Meal plan, make grocery store lists, use coupons, buy in season, and shop around.
  • When choosing organic produce, keep in mind the “dirty dozen”, which foods are most contaminated by pesticides.

Progress in healthy living isn’t a one time big decision, but is made up of small, daily, and achievable changes.

  • A flexitarian diet begins every day intending to be more vegetarian and is pro-plant instead of focusing on restricting meat.
  • Three ways to transition into a more plant-based diet are to Reportion your plate to a 25% grains, 25% lean protein and 50% vegetables, Reinvent old favorites, and Refresh your diet to try new recipes.
  • While traveling, learn to be flexible with your meals, hit up the grocery store for staples and snacks, eat like a local instead of frequenting chains and fast food, sight-see by foot, and pack workout gear.

Living healthfully is so much more than a one day conference. It’s loving food, not for food’s sake alone, but for the way it strengthens and nourishes my body to be active and strong. The end goal isn’t perfect health or a fit body, but having the energy to life life to the fullest. It’s about spending time outside in nature, whether it be walking leisurely with friends, biking with family, or sweating up a run. Soak up God’s creation. Eat oats. And spinach. Be active. Enjoy the sweetness and savoriness of each day. Count your blessings!

>Sweet Springtime

>

 
      Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love
and break up your unplowed ground; 
for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers righteousness on you 
~ Hosea 10:12
 
 
The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people
~ Zechariah 8:12 
 
 All of the world the gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. ~ Colossians 1:6

“That’s what summer is: God’s messenger with a sun-soaked, tree-green, flower-blooming, lake-glistening letter of love to show us what he is planning for us in the age to come—’things which the eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, God has prepared for those who love him’ ” ~ John Piper
Healthy Springtime Smoothie
 

  • 2 generous handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 1/4 ripe mango, peel removed
  • 1/2 c. strawberries, tops removed
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk, or milk of your choice
  • 1/3-2/3 c. water
  • 2 T. vanilla protein powder or 2 T. nut butter
  • 1 t. maple syrup, honey or sugar, or 1 packet stevia
  • Ice cubes.

Add all ingredients but ice cubes to blender in order listed. Blend until completely smooth. Add ice cubes to thicken, add volume, and chill. Taste test and add more sweetener or milk if needed.

Pour into a tall glass or jar and enjoy spring in a cup!

>Sharing the {Pumpkin} Love

>

When I’m not blogging, my time is spent studying, fellowshipping with my favorite girls, or catching up on life goals.

And whatever time is left, I spend doing art in the kitchen.

I love baking and cooking. It clears my brain of all its unnavigable clutter to flip through my recipe box, whip out bowls and measuring spoons, and let my creative energies run free. Without much thought but with lots of care, a cake, a soup, a bread comes together and I can say: I made that. And I walk away from the kitchen with a happy feeling of accomplishment that invigorates me to forge through other, less enjoyable tasks.

Creating in the kitchen calms me and I think that’s why I love it. It is one of the few activities I do for the mere pleasure of doing.

Of course there has to be a spiritual application. Isn’t there one in every life situation, if we only have eyes to seem it? When I read God’s Word, I find the recipe for peace — lasting peace that doesn’t fade away with the aroma of muffins in the oven. It is the only cookbook that contains the secret true joy that is lighter than the flakiest biscuit and yet as nourishing as the heartiest stew. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God?” (Matthew 4:4)

When you are feeling overwhelmed, what do you do? Where do you go for refreshment, for rejeuvenation, for stability? How are you satisfied? I hope when I have a moment to spare in the middle of a hectic, energy-depleting day, I first go to the presence of the Savior, being revived in His Word and in prayer, before seeking relaxation elsewhere. Because only “He satisifies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Ps 107:9).

And if there is still time left after that time of spiritual renwal, you will find me in the kitchen, probably whipping up one of these concoctions.

Pumpkin Spice Latte for One
(adapted from here)
  • 1 c. strongly brewed coffee
  • 3/4 c. milk (I used almond milk, but you may use any of your choice)
  • 2 T. canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • dash of clove
  • maple syrup
Combine milk, pumpkin, spices, and maple syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Transfer mixture to a blender and process till foamy. Pour into a large coffee cup and then pour in brewed coffee. Breathe in the fragrant aroma and then sip away a cold morning.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili
  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 cans (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 2 t. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. dried oregano
  • 1 – 3 c. vegetable or chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, saute vegetables in oil until they are tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in tomatoes, beans, pumpkin, and spices. Add just enough broth to reach a good consistency. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until heated through. * For a more traditional chili, add ground turkey to sauteing vegetables*
I hope I find time to do what I love, dusting every kitchen surface with flour and creating tornados in the blender. But if I don’t, I won’t in reality be missing much. The Word of God is what ultimately calms me, refreshes me, and sustains me. Girl doesn’t live by pumpkin alone.