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.

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.

When Yummy Things Happen

Adaptability.

I’m working on it (beginning with spelling it).

It’s one of character traits that when you realize you need it, you find all kinds of opportunities to learn it.

Learning that sometimes torrential downpours happen and you find yourself without an umbrella and then means you have to run across campus in your sequined flats and arrive in class resembling a wet rat. And no, the world is not ending.

Learning that on the one free day of the week you hoped to spend with family, everyone else is out of the house. You suddenly have a free whole day for studying.

Learning that even when you have whole days blocked up for studying, that never really happens. Because other important things come up. Like baking.

Learning that as soon as you find one good excuse to bake (those apples in the fridge are getting mealy), there come along three other necessary events to bake for that weekend (thirty+ guests, a neighborhood party, a friend’s 90th birthday). This means you need to triple your recipe. And go to the store for more apples. And you can give up any ideas of studying.

Learning that when sisters watch you bake, you will end up making an entire separate batch with chocolate chips instead of apples and you will become the brunt and punchline of several jokes when you ask the question “What does quirky really mean anyway?”. Never ask that question. But you will also have someone to stir the batter as you wipe flour of your camera so you can arrange and take thirty pictures. That’s normal, right?

Learning that no matter how much they leave you to your textbooks, make fun of you, or call you names (can you be a little more original than Ditzy?), all will be forgotten when they follow a buttery, warm-apple fragrance into the kitchen and sinking their teeth into your creation, offer up mmms and contented sighs that makes your quirky sister heart swell with love.

These bars are one of my favorite recipes because they are endlessly adaptable. The base recipe, adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars, is so versatile and can be taken any way your imagination, mood, occasion, or kitchen pantry dictates. Some of my favorite add-ins have been the toffee chips (follow Mama Pea’s recipe for homemade toffee = amazing!!) with coconut and chocolate chips, fresh blueberries and white chocolate chips, peanut butter and chocolate chips.

This newest creation was inspired by the autumesque weather we’ve been enjoying — Apple Butterscotch Bars. Why have I not baked with butterscotch chips before? Find of the week season.

adding color to a “blank slate”

Apple Butterscotch Bars
(Adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. vegan margarine
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. diced apple
  • 1 c. butterscotch chips
  • 1/3 c. coarse raw sugar (or brown sugar)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a 9×12 pan with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, cream together sugar, margarine and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients gradually into wet mixture until fully combined.
  • Gently fold in apples and butterscotch chips (or other add-ins of your choice).
  • Press mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
  • Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Learning adapplebility adaptability isn’t easy. Sometimes it includes rain-drenching, flour-coating reminders that I am not in control of my life. Squashed sequin flats and late night study sessions will happen, whether I plan them or not, and if I choose by God’s grace, I can surrender my unmet desires, give thanks in all things, rejoice in the abundant life I’ve been given, and eat Apple Butterscotch Bars because somehow I missed lunch.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Celebration Calls for Baking

I feel like celebrating.

I’m not exactly sure why.

It may be because yesterday marked the end of my summer Statistics course. I hit the final “submit” button at 11:13 pm while sitting on my bed in my pajamas. Still awaiting the score on that one…It can wait until I’ve fully enjoyed this sense of accomplishment.

It may be because I just spent the last week at an exhilarating, inspiring conference for girls. Making new friends, getting closer to old ones and being strengthened in my faith had me walking around with a smile all week. It also had me taking a Statistics class at 11:13 pm, but the joy far outweighed the consequences.

Or it may be because in a few short days, I’ll be heading out to Philadelphia for another conference, to learn about nutrition and healthy living, and to stalk a few of my blogger heroines. And staying up till 11:13 pm, on my bed in my pajamas, with my head not bent over a calculator, but immersed in a swag bag of goodies. I’ll take it.

But really, when I think of my blessed life, I see there is much to celebrate. Family and friends who are dear to me, the comfort of home, health and strength to enjoy long runs in the August sunshine, clothes to wear, a bed to sleep in…and study in.

Mostly I rejoice that I know the Source of my blessed life. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). Each day I know that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23,24). Great is His faithfulness.

It’s worth celebrating. Is it weird that I always associate food with celebrating? Whenever there is a birthday, anniversary, graduation, soccer win, passed exam, or just a really good day, my first thought is what recipe best will best commemorate the occasion.

Is that strange? Because if it is and I’m the only one celebrating with blueberry shortbread with coconut streusel, I don’t want to be normal.

Blueberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

  • ¾ c. sugar
  • ½ c. margarine
  • ½ t. vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. whole wheat flour
  • ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • ½ t. salt
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
  • ¼ c. chopped  pecans
  • ¼ c. unsweetened coconut

Streusel Topping Ingredients:

  • ¼ c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. unsweetened coconut
  • ¼ c. rolled oats
  • ¼ c. brown sugar
  • ¼ c. chopped pecans
  • ¼ c. margarine, melted

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly pray a 8×8 pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream together sugar, margarine and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients gradually into wet mixture until fully combined. Stir in milk. Gently fold in berries, pecans, and coconut. Press mixture into prepared pan.
  • Topping: Combine flour, coconut, oats, brown sugar, and pecans in a medium bowl. Drizzle with melted butter and stir to coat. Sprinkle topping over bars and gently press into batter.
  • Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Have you thought of a reason to celebrate yet? These bars are calling your name.

Dessert Fairies Make Mis-bakes.

Whatever you do, work heartily” – Colossians 3:23

Jenny and I often kid that if we end up old maids we’ll have to set up house together. She will clean and I will cook.

We are just joking. Kind of. Definitely joking about the old maid part. I hope.

But if we could each keep a housekeeping fairy in our pockets for the future, Jenny would choose one that would make dinner in the bleep of a microwave and I’d want a cleaning fairy who make the house sparkle and shine over night (brooms and vacuums give me the shivers). Whenever we have company, we each take the duties we most enjoy and feel is most important. And we both are satisfied doing what we do best.

Tonight we’re having company. Twenty-something girls filling the house for a Bible study, and also to talk, laugh, sing and have a tea party.

Just as I was entering the kitchen with my recipe box in hand, Jenny came in with a roll of paper towels. She took one look at me and then a dramatic head roll around the room.

“We have a lot of cleaning to do.”

“I know.”

“Can’t we just make some boxed muffins?”

I gagged a little. That was almost as bad as suggesting we buy dessert.

“I’ll make something really quick and easy. And then I’ll sweep the kitchen, empty the dishwasher, and vacuum the whole house.”

My winning smile was met with a resigned sigh and wave of paper towel as she hurried out of the room to scrub and scour.

Eager to make good on my promise, a bag of trail mix sitting in the refrigerator came to mind. So did a “recipea” I bookmarked yesterday from Mama Pea. Mama Pea is just the kind of mama I want to be one day. She’s awfully funny, she’s written a cookbook, she peels chickpeas on the couch with her girls. Her kitchen seems like a really fun and yummy place. I bet she even has a cleaning fairy.

So, this particular recipe for Chocolate Cherry Cashew Bars called for nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chips. In other words (and less measuring cups): trail mix. Flax and agave nectar were mixed in and within minutes, I had my dough. Win. I decided to make individual portions by baking in a mini muffin pan and forgot to adjust the baking time, so the cookies were slightly over-baked. They were difficult to get out (note to self: use recommended pan and buy parchment paper ASAP) so I just stuck the pan on top of the fridge to fully cool and was smugly on route to the vacuum.

And then, things took a bad turn. I was scrubbing bathroom sinks when Dad hesitantly knocked on the door and stepped in with a sheepish expression. “I have bad news,” He said slowly, “I accidentally washed away your dessert.”

Apparently, he had walked into the kitchen, spied the pan on top of the fridge, assumed it was just collecting dust up there and thought he’d be helpful by scraping out the cookies I had made not fifteen minutes before. Umm…Of course.

FAIL.

Now, others might have responded by throwing up their baking mitts and heading for the snack aisle of the grocery store, but I bit back my shocked and angry words. Instead, I weakly tried to smile at the irony of life, and with determination went back for my recipe box. I think I left the bathroom sink running. All I was concerned about was salvaging my reputation as the resident baking fairy.

I went back to Mama Pea. This time, I settled on her No Bake S’mores Bars, because when it is 100+ degrees outside, a dessert that doesn’t require standing over an oven or a blazing hot fire is a definite plus. They also looked fairly simple and were inspired by Mama’s own burn story. And you know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try s’more.

Take two.

It’s true. Even if you spend the whole day in the kitchen, even if you leave chocolate smears on the microwave handle and even if you used all the hand towels wiping up an agave spill, the end result — baked with care and love — is worth it all.

And because I was no longer going for speed, only success, I made some donuts too. Because sprinkles make me happy and icing things sure beats scraping out a mini muffin pan.

S’more Bars (slightly adapted from Mama Pea’s No Bake S’more Bars)

Ingredients (Makes 12-16 bars)

  • 2 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 1 c. graham cracker crumbs (look for natural brands, i.e Back to Nature)
  • 2 c. puffed kamut cereal (or crisp rice cereal)
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c. mini-marshmallows
  • 1 c. agave nectar (honey or brown rice syrup also work)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 t. salt

Instructions

    • Coat an 8×8 pan with cooking spray and set aside.
    • In a large bowl, combine oats, puffed kamut cereal, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows.
    • Smash graham crackers into coarse crumbs. Add the crumbs to your mixing bowl.
    • In a liquid measuring cup, combine agave nectar, brown sugar, vanilla and salt. The mixture will be thick and sticky.
    • Pour the syrup over the cereal mixture and stir to coat.
    • Transfer the mixture to your pan and press down with the back of a greased spatula. Put the pan in the fridge to set up for at least 30 minutes before cutting them into bars. Store remaining bars in an airtight container.

  • After refrigerating, I stuck the bars in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes, just to firm them up a bit. I think agave nectar has less of a binding effect than brown rice syrup.
Just was I was scooping the last of the batter into my mouth with a leftover marshmallow, the phone rang. Dad called to say he had just gotten a flat tire. I bit back the teasing comments, smiled at the irony of life, and said the dessert fairy would keep a treat — not from a box, not dug up from the drain, but a homemade crispy crunchy sweet and salty S’more bar waiting just for him.
Because that’s what I do best.

Donuts are best when shared with friends.

Joy

This is what joy looks like:

Some of the time.

But many times, life isn’t all sprinkles and chocolate glaze. When there are disappointments, pains, and inconveniences, how do we  respond to the command to “Rejoice always”?

By remembering that joy isn’t based on external circumstances, but on the secure and eternal relationship of my Savior with me. “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you” (Psalm 5:11). Because of who He is and what He has done and is doing, and will do for me, I can lift my heart in joyful praise at all times.

And when God’s blessings include sparkles and chocolate glaze, I rejoice. Not because those are the only times He is good but because His goodness overflows in such a way that I am reminded in a special way of His great love and mercy in my life all the tim “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8,9).

Yesterday, joy took this form. I was celebrating passing the Psychology CLEP, delaying the start of an online Statistics class, and craving chocolate. Perfect time to make doughnuts? I thought so too.

Cinnamon Sugar Baked Doughnuts

Slightly adapted from Prevention RD.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c. yogurt, flavor of your choice
2 tsp lemon juice
2 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp butter, melted

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl stir together egg white, applesauce, yogurt, honey, and lemon juice.
Mix wet ingredients into dry, just until combined. Scoop batter (batter will be thick!) into a ziploc bag and snip a corner with scissors. Squeeze batter into a doughnut pan.
Bake until doughnuts are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.
Yields about 12 doughnuts.

Healthified Doughnut Quick Fix

1 1/2 c. boxed cake mix of your choice (I used yellow)
1/3 c. water
1 ripe banana, mashed
2 egg whites
1/2 c. dark chocolate
Sprinkles

Directions: Preheat oven to 400. Combine cake mix with water, mashed banana, and egg whites. Depending on how moist your cake mix is, you may need to add more of the mix or more water. You want batter to be thick.
Scoop batter into a ziploc bag and snip off a bottom corner. Squeeze batter evenly into doughnut pan.
Bake until doughnuts are golden brown, about 10 minutes. While they are cooling, melt chocolate in a saucepan over low heat. Remove doughnuts from pan and dip tops into melted chocolate and then immediately top with sprinkles. Let chocolate cool before serving.

Make these doughnuts. If you don’t have a doughnut pan, make them cupcakes (just increase baking time). Then pour yourself a glass of milk and Rejoice, always.