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.

Life’s Real Sweetness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, I turned twenty myself. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Carrot Cake Apple Bites

~ makes 12 cookies

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

Cookies for breakfast, anyone?

My Single Healthy Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart-Loving Trail Mix

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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.

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.