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?

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“Breakfast” Anytime: Herb and Cheese Souffle

I like thinking about breakfast.

I do it a lot. I think I’m making up for lost time.

When I used to think about breakfast, I used to think….well, not much. I rarely ate breakfast back in the day.

I don’t know who that girl was. Except that she wasn’t very healthy. And she was missing out big time. Breakfast is now my favorite meal of the day.

Now I savor my mornings. I pad downstairs and pour myself a big glass of water to drink while reading my Bible and journaling. Then I sip a mug of green tea while I ready my school books and contemplate what I want for breakfast. There’s nothing more sad than rushing into eating something I’m not really in the mood for. I generally choose between one of these breakfasts (in no particular order):

  • Oats/oat bran. Cooked stove-top style with almond milk, cinnamon, vanilla and some kind of fruit mixed in (banana, berries, apple, pear)
  • Yogurt parfait. Plain Greek yogurt topped with sliced fruit, topped with cereal and drizzled with maple syrup.
  • Big bowl of Cereal. I am without shame a cereal mixer (maybe that’s why I love granola?) — sometimes it gets crazy 😉 I always need to pair my bowl with a whole piece of fruit because cereal alone never fills me up!
  • Smoothie — my favorite post-workout breakfast. See here, here, and here.
  • Whole grain toast with mashed banana, cinnamon, and maple syrup. Kind of like the lazy version of my Pumpkin Banana French Toast
Things I never crave for breakfast?
  • Pastries. Keep the donuts, danishes, and cinnamon rolls away from me and hand over the fruit.
  • Savory Veggies. Meaning tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc. Ick. That being said, I do it some veggies for breakfast (Hello pumpkin! Green (spinach) smoothies!)
  • Eggs.
I used to think I didn’t like eggs at all because of the way my stomach turned on the Saturday mornings Dad cooked omelets. The savory smells and the gooey yolks were too much to take at eight am on a weekend. A big reason I never ate breakfast was that I didn’t realize there were breakfast foods I liked. I needed to find my modus operandi for breaking the fast.

Lightly sweetened whole grains with fruit? Sold.

Eggs in the morning? No thanks. But any other time — cook them till the yolk is set,  season them with fresh herbs, and I’m more than willing.

Put them in cute little ramekins and bake till light and puffy, and I’m in love forever.

Cheesy Herb Souffle 

Slightly adapted from The Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • half of a small onion, peeled
  • 1/2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour flour
  • 2 eggs, separated + 1 egg white
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated Romano (or mozzarella or parmesan) cheese
  • ½ t. fresh oregano
  • ½ t. fresh dill
  • ½ t. fresh sage
  • Pinches of salt and peppers
  1. Put the milk with the bay leaf, onion, in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside to “steep” Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Spray 2 mini (150ml) ramekins or 1 2c. casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray and dust with the grated Parmesan.
  2. Melt the butter in a seprate saucepan. Whisk in the flour and let thicken for about two minutes.
  3. Remove onion and bay leaf from the milk and gradually whisk flour-butter mixture into the milk. Continue to heat and stir until thick.
  4. Remove from the heat and beat in egg yolks. Stir through the cheese and herbs. Season well with salt and pepper.
  5. In a small bowl, beat the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Stir a spoonful of whites into the yolk mixture, then pour the yolk mixture onto the remaining whites and gently fold together.
  6. Pour into the soufflé dish and bake until risen and set, but not completely firm in the middle, about 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of the soufflé dishes.
  7. Serve immediately before it slumps!

Dad took the older sister out for breakfast this morning. He’s probably eating a fancy omelet and she’s probably cutting into a mountain of Belgian waffles. Topped with whipped cream. And maybe a chocolate drizzle.

I’m not jealous, though. I happy to b here, sipping the last of my green tea, and licking the last bit of yogurt from my spoon. Breakfast just the way I like it best.

Tiny Recipes (so there’s time to blow your nose)

This has pretty much been my week:

Me: Where has this day gone?

Mom: Up in a pouf of snot.. :/

The “big night” was sitting on the couch with Mom and Jenny, watching politics, guzzling water and passing the tissue box. Aren’t you sorry you missed it?

There has been waaay to much NightQuil flowing around here!

This sickness, unfortunately, came right at the same time as my first week back in classes and my first week of work. So much for entering the new year with energy and enthusiasm! Here’s to 2013!

One thing I have been valuing lately, beside cough drops and lotioned tissues, is tiny recipes. Following @tinyrecipes is my latest Twitter obsession: entire recipes all in the short space of one tweet. It’s clever, fun, and uncomplicated for my swollen sinuses.

Not many of us have time to lug the cookbook off the shelf at every mealtime. Most days I’m lucky if lunch even makes it on to a plate. I need fast, simple, and healthy. Oh and immune-boosting, cold-fighting ingredients are always a plus.

Ready? Six quick and favorite recipes in 140 characters or less:

Humolsa:
1 mashed avocado + 1/3 c. hummus + 1/3 c. salsa
#scoopit

Egg-topped salad:
Pour 2-3 egg whites in a greased skillet, top with veggies of choice. Cook till egg is settled, flip and cook 2 min. Serve over hearty salad.

HLT:
Layer hummus, lettuce and tomato on a whole wheat roll. “Grill” both sides of sandwich on a greased frying pan until hummus is “melty”.

Pumpkin Green Monster:
Banana, pumpkin, milk, maple syrup, instant coffee, spinach, and cinnamon #pumpkinpieinaglass

Fruit “Roll-Ups”:
Spread almond butter on Whole wheat tortilla, sprinkle with cinnamon, and wrap around a whole banana. Cut into bite-sized slices.
#snackable #tastebudsofachild

Yogurt Parfait:
Top a Greek yogurt with a sliced banana, crumbed baked oatmeal or muffin or raw oats and sprinkle with cinnamon.
#instantbreakfast #tastesfancy

What are your favorite tiny recipes?

Oh, and got any cold-busting tips to share? I’ll pay in honey-lemon cough drops.

So Much to Be Thankful For: Savory Bread Pudding

Yes, Josh, I’m looking at you.

I really am pretty blessed.

I have a family who sees all of my idiosyncrasies, meltdowns and bedhair, and loves me anyway.

A home where I am safe, cared for, and kept warm.

A professor who makes a last-minute decision to cancel class on Thanksgiving-eve.

The unexpected joy of spending the whole afternoon snuggled with sweats, blankets, and cranberry-pomegranate green tea because class was cancelled.

An entire weekend with no deadlines to spend with cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandpa.

A great big extended family who hugs, talks loudly, and eats well in the good old Italian way.

A Thanksgiving eve service that reminds me from Whom all blessings flow; that life is about much more stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie. Yum.

Friends who invite us for Thanksgiving dinner.

The excuse to bake Thanksgiving-y dishes all week long, because, well, we’ll be at friend’s house for the actual dinner and what’s Thanksgiving without a messy kitchen and leftovers?

The butternut squash and Brussels sprouts falling out of the fridge just as I was contemplating vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes.

A healthy, hearty, scrumptious dish to help combat all the sweets and treats I’ll be consuming this weekend.

Savory Autumn Bread Pudding 
~ Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and subed
  • 1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in halves
  • 1 large apple, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 T. dried rosemary
  • 4 pieces whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1/3 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange squash and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  • Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil, salt, pepper garlic, and rosemary. Combine vegetables and onion in a medium casserole dish. Top with bread cubes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour mixtures over bread. Sprinkle raisins on top.
  • Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, until egg is set.

This was baked alongside my sister’s egg-sausage-cheese-frenchfriedonion casserole. I’m thankful all our hearts are pumping.

Guess which casserole was licked clean within minutes? Apparently the beauty of Brussels sprouts is outshone by the glitz of cheese covered French-fried-onions. But I am thankful my family was considerate enough to leave me leftovers. What’s Thanksgiving without them?

Make it Better: Triple Chipper Oatmeal Cookies

At the ripe old age of nineteen, I’ve come to the realization that life is full of inconveniences. They’re unwanted, unplanned, and unavoidable. I have spent a lot of energy and time trying to remove them, but to no avail. So I’ve also come to the realization that they must be meant to be. Part of the greater good God’s working in my life (Romans 8:28). These everyday inconveniences can be opportunities to learn lessons and challenges to find and cultivate the good in “bad” days.

When you have a three hour lab that includes a two hour wait, when you and your lab partners are yawning at each other under foggy lab classes, turn it into a conversation opportunity. You may just make some nerdy new friends

When you are “feeling a bit out of sorts,” your throat is scratchy, and your nose is sniffly, turn your downtime on the couch to read that book you haven’t gotten around to.

When the weather keeps you inside from the run you were planning, turn on cheerful Christmas music and try a new workout.

When you’ve had a long rough day at school, use your car ride home to call your sister and plan a movie-popcorn night.

When you’ve stayed up late talking to a friend and your alarm goes off at 5:15am, be sure to cash your Dunkin Donut coupon in for a tall coffee

When you go after honey with a balloon, the great thing is not to let the bees know you’re coming. (That one’s from Winnie the Pooh. Go read him)

When you want to turn unhealthy sweets into healthy treats, be sure to make them 1)edible and 2)yummy. Just so you know, almond flour + oat flour is a magic combination.

And please, when you have three kinds of baking chips, be sure to use them all.

Triple Chipper Oatmeal Cookies
~ makes 6 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/3 c. coconut
  • 2/3 c. Earth Balance (or butter)
  • 1 egg (or 1 T. flax seed + 2 T. water)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. almond flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. butterscotch chips

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • To make oat flour, process oats (1/2 c. at a time) in a blender or food processor until ground into a fine powder. It should look something like this: 
  • Process coconut in a blender or food processor until very finely chopped. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat Earth Balance with sugar and baking soda until fully combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add almond flour, coconut and oat flour and mix well.
  • Stir in chocolate and butterscotch chips.
  • Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake about 12 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown

When you make six dozen cookies that combine oats, almond flour, and coconut, and when you are going to go all crazy in the baking chips department, be sure to eat them surrounded by friends.

I promise they will taste a thousand times better. And your day will be a thousand times sweeter.

Quick Eatz: Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of looking at life through lab glasses: 

In attempts to stay healthy during my hectic life, I have been drinking a lot of this:

and consuming far too much of this (which has nothing to do with healthy, but everything to do with the hectic life):

When I get a chance, I let out stress in a run. Fall morning runs are the best. Especially when run with a good friend who has an awesome sense of style:

 I’ve not been neglecting pumpkin, either. I’ve probably been through 6 cans in the past two and a half months. That’s almost a can a week!

Don’t judge, please. Instead, make one of these recipes and you’ll understand. I hope.

Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Honey Buttercream (Heather’s Dish). If the name alone doesn’t have you clicking over, let me tell you that this is one of the most phenomenal recipes I’ve made all autumn.  The buttercream alone is out of this world. I had to hold myself back from sitting down to a bowl of it and calling it lunch.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookie Dough Balls (Peas and Thank You). Soft and flavorful, these cookies didn’t last long!

Pumpkin Smoothie (Edible Perspective). Pumpkin makes such a creamy smoothie! I only wish I didn’t slurp through this deliciousness so fast.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip:

  • 3/4 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. cottage cheese
  • 3 T. almond butter
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1 T. maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a blender or in a medium size bowl until blended smooth. Drizzle maple syrup on top and top with chopped nuts or coconut before serving. Scoop up with graham crackers, pretzels, apple and pear slices, or pita chips.

In just over a week, it will be Thanksgiving. I can choose to be stressed out by the way time is whizzing by, or I can choose to embrace this season of gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for. I have a strong and loving family, I’ve been blessed with good health, I have the opportunity to be in college, taking classes (difficult as they may be) on the way to the career of my dreams. Most of all, my life is marked by the love and grace of God. Every day, His mercies are new. Great is His faithfulness. 

In this hectic life, filled with both joys and stresses, moments of peace and moments of frustration, I choose to give thanks.

Swap in Some Healthy

I’m up to my ears in papers, flashcards, and exams this week so things will be a little quiet around here. I haven’t even been able to take advantage of Thursday baking day or pajama day! Instead I’m eating cereal and grapes and buzzing on multiple cups of coffee. Classy.

However, if you have time to don your apron, I’m jealous don’t let me stand in your way. Pull out the bowls and measuring cups and get your baker on. But first, check out this post I wrote on Vibrance about making healthy (sneaky!) ingredient swaps.

When I first became more health-conscious and making changes to my diet, I assumed that my dessert days were over. It is a common belief that eating healthy means, “dieting” and that means cutting out sweets.

How un-fun. I quickly discovered that restriction is unhealthy and wellness means giving what body not only what it needs but also what it wants. True healthy changes will only last if they are balanced and can be incorporated into a realistic lifestyle.

For me, that means I needed to find a way to incorporate treats and sweets back into my life. And what I learned was that there are infinite ways to give favorite desserts a healthy makeover — making nutritious swaps without losing any of the deliciousness.

Click on over to read my favorite ways to Swap in Some Healthy.

And while you’re at it, does anyone want to send some chocolate chip cookies to this struggling student? Better yet, bring them yourself. It’d do me good to see a human face. I’ll swap you a cup of coffee.

Variations of Indecision

Confession: I never follow a recipe exactly.

And when I say never, I mean it. This usually means that the odds of me making the same dish twice – even a really good dish – is very rare.

When I go to cook, this is the typical scenario: I have an idea of what I want to make and then spend half an hour searching and cross-referencing every cookbook and recipe website I know (read: LOTS). An average of three recipes are spread across the counter, all variations of what I want to make. The finished product is a compilation of all of them — with some added ingredients that weren’t in any of them.

I’ve tried to follow just one recipe exactly, but I can’t. I have to make everything more complicated — turning muffins into bars, adding tofu instead of sour cream, throwing in nuts and craisins and chocolate chips because I can’t just choose one.

It’s really just a reflection of my mind. It’s crazy all the disconnected thoughts that go on up there. Indecision is a specialty of mine, which is why my bed is always covered in outfit rejects. I’m the one who always wants to “think about it” when I really mean “forget about it.” I’m the one who has to be nagged numerous times to call someone back or make an appointment. I’m the one whose closet is overflowing with craft projects I never decided to finish and now don’t know what to do with.

One thing I have decided is that I am not going to look at this until the weekend is officially over. Speaking of complicated! Who chose my major, anyway?

Yeah, that’s me in all my spaghetti-brained glory. I may laugh about my indecisiveness, but I know it isn’t always funny. It’s fear that causes me to shrink from the forks in the road that seem to litter the map of my life. There are so many choices to make each day. How will I spend my time? When will I study? How will I make money? When I look into the future, I see that the decisions only become more numerous and serious.

Which is why I find comfort in Isaiah 30:21. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. It’s the wisdom in that Voice that leads me. Some knowledge is beyond me, but God promises to see me through, to guide me, and to work His will in my life. I can trust His wise faithfulness — it has always seen me through my muddled way. Every time.

And meanwhile, there are disguised blessings in every weakness. Indecisiveness can be an outlet for creativity. For discovery. For three granola recipes instead of just one.

Favorite Toasted Buckwheat Granola ~ Three Ways

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 250F. In a saucepan, bring brown sugar and water to boil. Simmer until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in honey, oil, salt, and vanilla (and orange juice for Var.3) Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine oats, buckwheat, wheat germ, flakes, and flax seed meal. Pour wet ingredients into dry and toss to evenly coat. Transfer to two large baking pans sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Bake for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours or until dry and golden brown. Stir about every 20 minutes. If adding nuts, mix in about 30 minutes into baking
  • Stir in your mix-ins and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

There are so many ways to eat this granola: a big bowl for breakfast, over yogurt or ice cream or a smoothie, or of course, straight out of the jar.

Confession: As soon as this was out of the oven, I poured a handful of each into a bowl, drowned it in almond milk and burned my tongue chomped away. I obviously couldn’t pick a favorite.

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.

Makeovers that Count

I spent Thursday in my pajamas. All day long.

I wore them while jump roping, grunting, and sweating in the basement at seven am. I then took a shower and then put them right back on.

I wore them while sitting at the kitchen table for a million hours doing homework.

I climbed the stairs at a late hour to get ready for bed and realized all I had to do was brush my teeth and crawl under the covers. Done and done.

Thursday is my day off, and you better believe I’m taking advantage of it. My goal is to do all the cozy homey things I daydream about during Biochem lectures and backpack lugging stair hikes.

The French Press is set a-brewing, the fuzzy socks are broken out and Josh Groban is turned on repeat. I know how studying can make me a crazy, unbearable crank and how a happy atmosphere does wonders for my attitude. And my family’s sanity.

If the pajamas, coffee, socks, and Josh do their job, and my mood soars to the point that I am reading Kant like he’s an old friend, eventually the creative juices plugged up during long stale at school begin to flow again and my brain fairly explodes with fresh new ideas.

In other words, most Thursdays end with me in the kitchen cooking up a storm. In my pajamas.

I may look the prime candidate for “What Not to Wear”, in sad need of a makeover, but I am at my happiest. I love that for one day I don’t worry about what I look like. And I’m learning that sometimes the “makeover” I most need is an internal one — a change of attitude. From a grumpy and stressed young woman to a cheerful and blessed one. The transformation isn’t really brought on by fuzzy socks and peaceful music, but by spending a day at home with my family, spending more time with God in prayer and in His Word, taking the time to breath, look around and count my blessings.

And cooking with some TLC, giving a favorite meal a makeover. Because this is one that counts.

One of my favorite things about healthy, vegetarian cooking is finding ways to recreate old favorite comfort foods into something abundant in nutrition and not lacking in yummyness.

Enter our contestant, homemade chili — soothing, warming, filling comfort at it’s best. A few tweaks, cuts, additions and highlights, and ta-da! Vegetarian Chili Pie.

Vegetarian Chili Pie

Lentil Walnut “Meat”

  • 1 c. dry lentils
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 packet vegetable broth
  • 3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. Chili powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 t. paprika,
  • 1 t. salt,
  • 1 t. garlic powder,
  • 1/2 t. pepper

Cornbread topping

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t,
  • 1 eggs
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. corn

Directions

  • Prepare your lentil “meat”: In a medium sauce pan, cover dry lentils with water and vegetable bouillon. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and let simmer about twenty minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover, remove from heat, and stir in walnuts and sunflower seeds so that they soften a bit with the cooling lentils.
  • When lentil-nut mixture is cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add spices. Pulverize until texture resembles coarse grumbled meat. Don’t blend too far, or you will end up with mush :). Set aside.

    Cauliflower "rice"

  • Cauliflower “rice”: Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until soft. Let cool and then add to food processor and pulverize quickly until texture resembles rice. This does not take very long at all — just a few quick turns of the blade. Again, don’t blend too far unless you want cauliflower mashed potatoes.
  • Chili filling: Combine tomatoes, beans, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Cornbread topping: Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add eggs, milk, and corn and mix until smooth.
  • Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a pie dish and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal.
  • Layer cauliflower, tomato-bean mixture, then lentil-nut mixture. Carefully spoon cornbread batter over the lentil mix and sprinkle walnuts on top.
  • Bake for about thirty minutes or until cornbread is set.

With some trepidation, I cut into the pie. I had no idea whether it would be a complete flop. But it did not disappoint. It was everything I love about chili and so much more. The seasonings come through beautifully and the cornbread topping was a great decision.  And the lentil-walnut faux-meat — Oh my. Words cannot describe. Let’s just say it made the dish. Beef is like the ugly stepsister of this deliciousness.

I don’t calculate the nutritional information for everything I make, but I had an idea the stats on this recipe would be pretty stellar.

15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, chockfull of vitamins, low in fat, and positively delicious.

It’s the kind of makeover that counts.

On Monday afternoon, I’ll plop down my twenty-pound backpack and open my lunchbox to a scrumptious piece of Thursday joy. And with the first bite, I’ll be transported to happier thoughts, fuzzy socks, and a Josh Groban soundtrack in my mind. Instant heart-lift.

However, if you want the maximum comfort food effect, I highly recommend you eat this in your pajamas.