Healthy Choices: Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

On Sunday, my Real Food Challenge will come to an end. One thing I have become increasingly aware of as I’ve stayed away from packaged and processed foods is what a product of this consumer culture I am.

In many cultures, simply finding food to eat is a struggle. Putting a meal on the table takes work — from planting to tending to reaping and dealing with weather, animals and economic poverty. The concept of “favorite foods” is foreign — most people in the world eat anything that is available.

Here in America, we are bombarded with choices and variety of foods. Eating is not such much a necessity of life as it is a cultural and social experience. There are things we eat just because it is right in front of us and looks good. Because food is so accessible to us, we don’t need to put thought into what we eat. But we should.

When I was young, my dad would take me and my sisters out to Friendly’s. My sisters would order big sundaes with whipped cream and hot fudge sauce. I always ordered French Fries. Always French Fries. For me, salty and greasy trumped cold and sweet.

Now, French Fries hold little appeal to me. It is probably because I’ve discovered how much more delicious and flavorful real food is. It may be slightly due to watching videos like this:

Why are we filling ourselves with food that isn’t real and that only does us harm? There are much better choices out there.

Here’s a fry recipe to prove it. Full of flavor, crispness and color. And about a day’s worth of vegetable servings if you eat the whole pan.

If you do, beware — your vitamin levels might soar and you skin might turn orange. But on the other hand, there will be no clogged arteries or elevated cholesterol. It’s a swap I’m willing to make!

Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 lb fresh string beans
  • 1/2 lb fresh asparagus stalks, bottoms trimmed,
  • 3 T. Honey
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/4 t. pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Cut sweet potatoes into “fry” like sticks or wedges. Trim off ends of string beans and “woody” bottoms of asparagus stalks.
  • In a small bowl or jar whisk together honey, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper. If needed, add a little water to thin it out (you want to be a dressing like consistency).
  • In a large bowl, pour glaze over vegetables and toss until fully coated.
  • Arrange on a large baking dish. Bake for thirty-five minutes or until vegetables are tender. I  stuck this under the broiler for five minutes to crisp the vegetables up a bit so they can be “finger food”.
  • Serve with ketchup and honey mustard for dipping.

*Note: if you refrigerate these for later use, the fries will soften and probably not be dippable. Just reheat under the broiler to recrisp.

Making healthy choices never tasted so good.

I’m lovin’ it.

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.

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.

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.

Places I Love

Lately, I’ve been playing the game “Where I Wish I Was Right Now”.

I play it when I am sitting in my Biochemistry lab, trying to look intelligent while my partner does all the work. News flash: today was the last lab of the semester — and perhaps off my entire college career. I would be more than happy to retire my lab glasses forever.

I play WWIWRN (can I get that patented?) when I see things like this:

Yes that says, Exam, Presentation, Exam all in the last week of class.That’s when I wish for a magic carpet. Or a snow storm or anything.

Where are the places I love most to be?

  • By the fireplace in my PJs with the family
  • In the kitchen, baking cookies and listening to Christmas music
  • The Christmas tree farm where horse-drawn carriage take you to your tree and candy canes and hot chocolate await your return
  • Boston. It’s my favorite city. One day I want to live there.
  • On country roads in the early morning, my neon orange sneakers rhythmically pounding the pavement with cows and horses for company.
  • Anthropologie. I’ve actually only been in one store, but I’m on the website often enough for it to definitely make my list of wishful getaways.
And then there is this place:
Rebecca Florio@beccarosiefloRebecca Florio
I may be putting my reputation on the line, but yes, I count a grocery store as one of my favorite places to be.
Because it’s forty-five minutes away, it’s an all day event that only happens about four times away.
Because it’s TRADER JOE’S. The whole atmosphere is just happy.
Because it inspires snacks like this one:

That would be mini pretzels lathered in pumpkin butter and sunflower butter, topped with Ghiradelli chocolate chips. DO IT.

I came home with lots of goodies, the kinds of signature foods you can only find at TJ’s: the best hummus ever, cinnamon roll bread, sunflower butter, fruit bars, cereals, tofu. It’s like a bottomless treasure chest and I had to remind myself that we were driving a minivan, not a bus.

Mom and I were just heading out the door when she spotted the large bin of pineapples at an incredible price. It didn’t take much convincing for me to turn around and get back in the checkout line.

And it only took a day until the pineapple was put to good use.

I’m a big believer in eating food in season. It’s freshest, most natural, and supports local farming. It also inspires creativity. I could always use more of that.

Which means that if your toes are freezing off in the middle of December and you wish you were tanning on a Florida beach, you can still have your fruit salad. This is the kind that will make you want to pull up your toe socks, pour a warm cup of tea, and cuddle up by the fireplace.

Winter Fruit Salad with Citrus Honey Dressing

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 3 medium pears, diced
  • 3 medium apples, diced
  • 1 pomegranate, peeled and seeded (I use this method)
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. cinnamon
Directions
  • Cut fruit in bite-sized pieces and combine in a large bowl
  • In a small jar or bowl, combine honey, juice, vanilla, and cinnamon. Place the lid on the jar and shake, or use a whisk to thoroughly combine ingredients.
  • Pour dressing over fruit and stir to coat.
  • Refrigerate salad for at least 1 hour to let flavors develop.

Of course, now the fruit salad is gone and I’m wishing I had bough three more pineapples at Trader Joe’s.

As if I needed an excuse to take the forty-five minute commute twice in one week. Anyone up for a road trip?

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.

Not Missing a Bite

Sometimes I feel sorry for people I see at the grocery store. I see them rushing past the produce aisles to filling their carts with frozen meals and pretty packaging of unnatural ingredients no one can recognize or pronounce. A little part in me grieves for the quinoa and almond butter and Brussels sprouts that sit overlooked in lonely shelves while the cutesy Pop-Tarts and Fritos are given all the attention. Sometimes I want to turn around in the checkout line and ask if anyone knows what they’re missing.

Yes, I realize this puts me at risk for appearing very strange. But I’m all right with that. I think. If taking a grocery trip for a single head of cauliflower is strange; if calling chickpeas a snack is strange; if getting giddy over a jar of sunflower of butter is strange — well, that is just the way I am.

Let me tell you what I think is strange. The other day, I overheard a fellow student bemoaning that she was looking forward to a leisurely lunch but accidentally slept in and didn’t have time to heat up her EasyMac. Instead she had to settle for a breakfast of Milky Ways. I thought of my pumpkin oatmeal breakfast and my packed lunch of yogurt, an apple, fresh and crunchy vegetables and hummus. The poor girl had no idea what she was really missing in her candy-bar breakfast.

One of the things I am most looking forward to as a future-Dietitian, is helping people see the beautiful delicious world of real food. To widen the horizons of their grocery list from the freezer and snack aisles to farmer’s markets and bulk food bins.

Hopefully, once preaching nutrition is my job, people will stop giving me sidelong glances and calling me “that strange health-nut” behind my back. But I really don’t mind, especially if being strange means heating Pineapple Cauliflower Rice in the school microwave after my friend’s EasyMac is well-congealed.

“Normal” people don’t know what they are missing.

Pineapple Cauliflower Rice

~ eight servings ~

Ingredients

  • 4 c. cooked brown rice
  • 2 c. chopped cauliflower
  • 1 t. coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 can (15oz) pineapple tidbits: drain and reserve juice
  • 1 T. ginger
  • 1/3 c. almond milk (or other milk)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, saute cauliflower in coconut oil until tender and slightly browned.
  • Pour 1 c. pineapple juice over cauliflower. Reduce heat, cover, and let cauliflower cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in pineapple tidbits, rice, and ginger. Let heat throughout, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour in almond milk and stir to coat rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you cook the rice beforehand, this meal is really as quick and easy as reheating a frozen pizza. It’s much more tasty too. I expected to be the only one eating this, but the first batch I made was gone in a day. The family loved it too (and they’re not strange).  

I kind of want to make a huge pot and hand out samples at the grocery store checkout line. 

Good Food Doesn’t Last

Meet my new favorite snack.

Only, we aren’t currently friends because he’s all gone. He came for a day and then was gone without even a proper goodbye.

How rude.

Many good things don’t last forever.

Lately every time our family is all together — eating around the dinner table, or watching movies in the living room, Dad has been thanking God because “we won’t all be together much longer.” What are you saying, Dad? Who’s going anywhere? 

But it’s true. Time rolls on and the present realities become memories of the past. I’m no longer a cowlicked seven year old spending whole afternoons with my nose in the American Girl series or broadcasting radio shows with my sisters. My little sister drives away — by herself — to her first college class and I realize we’re never going back to the forts under the stairs

As I’m typing this at the kitchen (surrounded by textbooks I should be reading), I look outside the window to streaming snowflakes creating a winter wonderland where yesterday was an autumn watercolor. The vibrant colors of October are fading fast even though I’ve hardly savored them enough.

It doesn’t mean that new good things will never come. They will, but they will be different. So I want to learn to cherish the blessings I enjoy right now.  I want to have a perspective of eternity, redeeming the time so none of it goes to waste. In this swiftly moving life of gain and loss, I’ve found stability in securing myself on the one thing I know will last forever: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). The unshakable love of God is my rock and gives me hope in forever.

Anyway, back to this snack mix. It is really good, especially considering it was born out of a runaway thought that could have easily flopped. My goal was to create a portable mix of crunchy salty “power-foods” that rival the flavor of one of my snack vices favorites, Chex Mix, which never stands a chance with me.

You will never find this at the grocery store bagged alongside the Lays and Fritos. But that doesn’t really mean anything, right? It’s deliciousness is really evidenced to Mom and I crowding around the pan, burning fingers and tongues as we inhaled half a batch. Bet you can’t eat just one chickpea.

Move over, Chex. You never saw this one coming.

Good-for-you Snack Mix

Ingredients

  • Three medium carrots
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bag of natural popcorn, popped
  • 3/4 c. almonds
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder

Directions

  • Make Veggie Chips: Prepare oven to 400F. With a sharp knife, slice carrots, potato, and zucchini into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil over top and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake about 1 hour or until crispy, flipping halfway through.
  • Roast chickpeas on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Don’t let them get too crisp, as they will be baked more later.
  • Reduce heat to 250F. Add veggie chips, chickpeas, popcorn, and almonds to a large casserole dish. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and stir in remaining seasonings. Pour into dish and stir so everything is evenly coated.
  • Bake 45 minutes – 1 hour until dry, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

This is a packable snackable if I’ve ever seen one. That is if it survives the cooling process. No matter how you eat it, just be sure to savor every bite. It most certainly will not last long.

Packable Snackables

It was 4:45pm on a Wednesday. My philosophy professor was an hour into a lecture of Mill’s On Liberty. And I was captive to the vending machine out in the hall.

I seriously could not stop eying it. From the Snickers bar on the top row all the way down to the Doritos at the bottom. Who was I? I can’t remember the last time I bought something from that black abyss of junk food. Yet now, stomach growling and mouth salivating, I was about ready to yell out loud “Give me liberty or give me Reese’s!”

Hunger will do funny things to you. Which is why I try to counteract the 3 o’clock slump by carrying healthy snacks with me. Instead of resorting to desperate measures like borrowing change for a bag of chips, pulling into the nearest fast food for a large order of fries, or ordering a fourth cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts (zing!), I can just reach inside my Mary Poppins backpack for instant energy, satisfaction, and nutrition.

Here are some of the “packable snackables” that have been saving my life I’ve been enjoying lately.

  • Dips and Dipables. This is one of my favorite ways to add veggies to my diet, which also serve as great vehicles for yummy dips, like hummus, salsa, plain yogurt, and cottage cheese. In the picture above, I packed yogurt, hummus, and white bean dip with carrot sticks, green pepper strips, cucumber slices and Mama Pea’s Tofu Dippers (look, I’m eating tofu by itself now!)
  • Fresh fruit. Grabbing an orange, banana, or apple from the fridge is more convenient than any fast-food drive-thru — and will make you feel ten times better. I also like to pack containers of fruit salad (diced melon, sliced peaches, grapes) to eat as a “desserty” option after lunch. It makes it easier to say no to Twinkies when my sweet tooth has already been satisfied.

 

  • Dried Fruit. I’m going on a long car trip today and in preparation, baked up a batch of apple trips to chew on the road. Dried fruit is one of my favorite no-mess travel snacks. Or you can eat half a batch straight off the pan if you prefer. To make your own apple chips, slice five apples into thin (1/8″) slices, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a 250F oven for about 2 hours or until they are dry and crispy. Easy peasy, no sugar-added alternative to the $$-bags of candied dried fruit at the grocery store.
  • Yogurt. Satisfying, protein-rich, and oh so convenient — what is there not to like about yogurt? Well, maybe the high-sugar content of some of the leading brands. When buying yogurt, choose Greek (2x the protein!), low-fat or fat-free, and less than 30 grams of sugar. If you are planning on being out all day, store your yogurt in a cooler.
  • Bars. If you really want nutrient-dense convenience, stock your purse/backpack/car with whole food protein bars. They are perfect for beating that mid-day slump, refueling after exercise, or supplementing a sub-par restaurant meal (aka, salads for mice). Just be sure to choose brands based in whole foods, and not candy bars dressed up in healthy packaging.

Odwalla asked me to review three of their latest bars and of course I jumped at the opportunity (who doesn’t want to get free food in the mail?). I immediately stuck the Berries Go Mega in my book bag to eat between classes. 1000mg of essential omega-3s from flax, 25% Calcium’s Daily Value, and 5g of fiber? Sounds like an instant brain and mood booster to me. I was pleasantly surprised at how thick and chewy Odwalla’s bars are — not like some of those skimpy protein bars that leave me still hungry.

I ate the Banana Nut as fuel before a day at the mall with Elizabeth. Shopping works up an appetite and I was not spending precious dollars at the food court. I was really impressed by the flavor and texture of this bar — just like homemade banana bread, in all its whole-grain and walnutty richness, but full with vitamins and in such a convenient portable package. I was one happy shopper. Odwalla is definitely worth checking out — and their website is so cute! You can search by whole-food ingredients!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a cooler suitcase of goodies to pack before hitting the road. But please share your favorite healthy on-the-go snacks in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas!

Disclaimer: I was sent Odwalla products free of charge to review for the blog. All opinions are my own.

 

Simply the Best

Sometimes the simplest moments are the best. A favorite song playing on the radio. A letter in the mail from a friend. A few red leaves fall on the hood of the car. A cup of Vanilla Caramel tea, flannel pajama pants, and a ginger spice candle on a chilly evening.

On Saturday, I went to Queens for a street fair. I was helping a church I had grown to love this summer. Driving back into the city, walking back on familiar sidewalks past the same delis and boutiques and bagel shops, a wave of nostalgia and sweet memories rushed over me. I thought of little hands pressing into mine as we traced jungle animals; little giggling, singing faces lifted to mine; little arms tightly wrapping around my legs. That week back in July, my heart had expanded far beyond what I thought it was possible in love for these children. When I came back home, I carried their memories with me, in the many precious “I love you”s, the handmade cards, and the camera full of pictures. They have been on my heart and in my prayers ever since. I wonder how they are, what they are doing, and it makes me sad that I will never know what became of these lives I felt so closely bound to.

The tent of our stand fluttered in the crisp autumn breeze. Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day for a street fair. I was quickly busy cutting muffins, labeling brochures, and setting up the face painting station. But the whole time my hands and feet were moving, I was watching the people streaming by. So so many people. People I didn’t know, would never know. And again the wistful longing tugged at my heart in a way I didn’t understand.

And that’s when I saw her. Standing on the outskirts of our stand, clutching her brother’s stroller, her dainty black braids dancing in the wind. I knew her. She was one of mine — one of the sixteen five year olds who intertwined with and shaped my life that special week in July.

What was even more thrilling was that she knew me. She came close, her little almond eyes raised to meet mine with a shy smile and her little arms wound around my legs. It was a small moment, but my heart overflowed in praise for it. God had shown me once again that He cares for me, even the little desires of my heart, and that love and prayers are never a waste. Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound.

This is one of the most simple recipes I’ll ever post. Probably because the naturally sweet flavors of butternut squash and apples need little enhancing. Or, probably because when you’re having company over tomorrow, you search your recipe box for the quickest and easiest side dish that will still impress and not taste like something that came out of the freezer in a cardboard box.This autumn bake does that and much more. What is a more simple October pleasure than walking to the farm stand for fresh butternut squash and apples? It is really the perfect fall side dish — a touch of sweetness, a bit of crunch, the smell of cinnamon, warm and comforting — and a healthy alternative to the sugar and fat-laden Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole. If nothing else, you must at least make the candied walnuts. Please. And then throw them on everything you eat the next week. They are life-changing. One of those simple ingredients that bring so much joy and color to life.

Roasted Butternut-Apple Bake with Candied Walnuts

  • 1 large butternut squash, chopped into cubes
  • 3 medium apples, chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/4 t. salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F. In a large baking dish, mix squash, apples and onions. In a small bowl or jar, whisk balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup, and salt. Pour over vegetables and mix to coat thoroughly. Bake about 40 minutes or until squash is soft when pierced with a fork.
  • Stir candied walnuts (recipe following) into warm vegetables. Sprinkle raw sugar or brown sugar over the dish, if desired. Serve warm.

Candied Nuts

  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 2 T. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup or honey
  • 1 T. coarse raw sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F. In a medium jar, combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Secure the lid on the jar and shake to thoroughly combine ingredients. Add walnuts to the jar, secure lid and shake until nuts are coated with the wet mixture. Spread nuts in a single layer on a lightly sprayed cooking sheet. Bake until they turn golden brown and give off a fragrance (be careful not to burn!). Cool completely before eating. Candied nuts make a great addition to salads, baked goods, ice cream (yum!), fruit salad, and lots of other things! Simple, but fancy!

Because sometimes simple is all this blessed soul can take.