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?

Advertisements

Savoring Break: Cranberry Chai Baked Oatmeal

I am a huge fan of this thing called “break”.

Waking up without an alarm clock after eight hours of restful sleep. Thinking “What do I want to do today” instead of “How many items can I knock off of my gazillion lists before the day’s out?”

Having time to spend with friends and family so my sister tells me every single day: “You are so much nicer and happier now”. I had no idea what a monster school made out of me.

I may be over sugar and cookies, but I am not ready to say goodbye to the holiday spirit. No siree. I am going to savor every moment for as long as I can.

Days like yesterday. I puttered around half the morning before bundling up and heading out in the sub-freezing temperatures for a run. I kept my mind off my frostbitten nose by planning a warm, nutritious breakfast. Then I ran harder to get back home and into the kitchen.

My vision of Cranberry Chai Baked Oatmeal was whipped up and baking away quicker than the drive-through at Dunkin Donuts to cash in my brand spanking new gift card. Thank you, Aunt Robin. That large coffee was the perfect accompaniment to the delicious smells of winter spices and orange zest wafting from the oven.

Breakfast was everything I hoped for and much more. I “mmmed” at every bite and felt so good making two healthy decisions that morning. It was the perfect balance for spending the rest of the day with friends, sprawled on the couch and eating chocolate covered strawberries.

My free days are fleeing by and there won’t be many more days to drink in the joys of life, of family and friends. So right now, I’m just going to be thankful. And savor every delicious bite.

Chocolate-covered strawberries and oatmeal alike.

Cranberry Chai Baked Oatmeal~ serves one ~

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. water
  • 1/3 c. vanilla almond milk
  • 1 Chai tea bag
  • 1/2 c. oats
  • 1/4 t. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 T. ground flax
  • 1/2 banana, mashed*
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. chopped cranberries
  • orange zest
  • stevia to taste

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 and spray a ramekin with cooking spray.
  • In a small saucepan, heat water and milk with tea bag until it simmers lightly. Remove from heat and allow tea bag to steep for a few minutes. Remove bag, squeezing to release flavor. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Pour batter into prepared ramekin and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Serve with honey, maple syrup, or jam.

* The banana is to bind the batter together. If you’re not a banana fan, you can substitute either one whole egg or 1/4c. unsweetened applesauce.

I’m going to make this tomorrow morning so I can feel okay about my last hurrah, snacking all night and ringing in the New Year. It’s all about balance, folks.

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.

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.

It’s Beginning to Taste Like Fall

Something is happening.

The other morning, instead of daily iced coffee routine, I woke up craving steaming green tea. I had to search deep behind stacks and stacks of mugs to find one big enough.

Another strange thing. It is no surprise that whenever Mom goes anywhere, she almost always manages to drive by a farm stand and almost comes home with a big bag of fresh produce. But the surprise came when she pulled a big butternut squash out of the bag and declared, “It’s time you make butternut apple soup again.” Which I haven’t done yet because butternut squash are far more pretty to look at then to cut.

And then there are all this packages that kept appearing on our front step and now there is a mountain of textbooks stacked in the middle of my bedroom floor. I’m scared to go near it, lest there be an avalanche, so I’m considering sleeping on the couch until it melts.

Oh, and the past couple days when I’ve stepped outside for my early morning runs, I have been shocked by a cool breeze. Where did that come from? And why do I still sweat like it’s 90 degrees?

So the hot tea, butternut squashes, textbooks, and breezy mornings have brought me to a conclusion: The seasons are a-changing. Opening my calendar to September 1 this morning confirmed my suspicions. Autumn is coming.

There’s an excitement that creeps over me at this time of year, just as shades of red and orange creep into summer’s green leaves. There is something about the crisp air, the evening glow, campfires and woolly sweaters that makes my heart so glad. And it reminds me of the faithfulness of God, shown in the way the seasons cycle and the earth is renewed every year. “He did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

But I also know that with summer’s end comes the end of other things as well. Like baking. Let me tell you, I took every opportunity to bake this summer because I knew they would soon be no more. Now, the afternoons I’m not in classes must be devoted to studying. Now, instead of dusting myself in flour from head to toe, I’m spilling chemicals in Biochemistry lab (please, don’t comment. I’m an absolute klutz in the lab). Now, I’m not pursuing cookbooks on a lawn chair, I’m bent over Plato and Locke. In bed. With the covers pulled up to my chin.

During my last week of freedom, I decided to devote my last baking project to making something that would welcome the new season with open arms, to embody everything I loved about fall.

Well hello there, beautiful. I think I can handle you.

Please make this. On a autumn school night, this banana apple bread will keep you warm company, especially if paired with a mammoth mug of hot tea. I promise it will give you happy thoughts during lab disasters and strength to tackle The Leviathan.

And it’s easy enough to whip on a weekend or in between study sessions (shh, I won’t tell).

It’s-Almost-Fall Apple Banana Bread

  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • ½ c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. flax seed meal
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ¼ t. salt
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • 3 ripe bananas mashed (about 1 ½ c.)
  • ¼  c. honey
  • ¼ c. natural peanut butter
  • ¼ c. unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ t. vanilla
  • 1 medium apple, sliced.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8-inch cake pan or 8×4 loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, flax, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  • In a separate bowl, blend mashed banana, honey, peanut butter, applesauce and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
  • Pour batter into pan and smooth top with a spoon. Arrange apple slices on top, only overlapping slightly.Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Fall I welcome you with open arms. And open mouth.
In bed with the covers pulled up to my chin.

Breakfast is My Favorite Meal

“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’

What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’

‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”

A. A. Milne,  ‘The House at Pooh Corner’

Warm blueberry banana oats in a near-empty Sunflower Seed Butter jar.

Creamy. Dreamy. Heavenly.This is the way breakfast was meant to be.

Starting my day with happy thoughts. Biochemistry, you’ve got nothing on me!

Note to self: Must make a road trip to Trader Joe’s ASAP.