Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

“Take care of your body.  It’s the only place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”–Ann Wigmore

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

With the warm, humid weather of summer making its way into the Tri-State area, I find myself craving smoothies again.  Since quarantine, I have once more fallen into the habit of not eating anything until lunchtime.  Sure, my stomach complains at times, but not enough to motivate me to pause for breakfast. As I have shared previously, I hop on and off the breakfast train–going for weeks at a time eating breakfast regularly, and then falling off that habit for weeks again.  Craving smoothies is a sure sign that it is time to hop back on that proverbial train.

However, I tend to have a sensitive stomach that has only become more sensitive with age.  I learned that I have to, unfortunately, limit my coffee intake in the early morning hours.  In fact, I typically down 16 or so ounces of water first thing in the morning before touching a coffee cup.  Additionally, I am sometimes downright nauseated in the morning, and the thought of food, even my favorite oatmeal, doesn’t even sound appealing.  (Yes, I am one of those people who loves oatmeal.)  Thus, I have learned that if I wait until lunch time, my queeziness will subside, and I am usually ready to eat.

I know some research states that one should “eat like a king” at breakfast and ensure the consumption of 30 grams of protein first thing in the morning, but those researchers don’t have my stomach and are often hocking their own protein product.  Still, I do recognize, especially as I age, the benefits of consuming quality, nutritious food at each meal–whether it’s two, or three, meals per day–for longterm preventative health care.  Additionally, there is some scientific data suggesting that making healthful choices in the morning typically leads to more positive choices as the day progresses.  Therefore, if my stomach can handle it, why not have a nutritious breakfast smoothie later in the morning, especially if exercising outdoors in hot, humid weather?

I know, I know, many diet experts warn about the dangers of drinking your calories, rather than chewing them.  Furthermore, other diet experts caution against all of the calorie laden ingredients that can be easily added to a smoothie.  However, I would argue that a properly prepared smoothie–one chock full of whole food ingredients based upon your unique dietary and caloric needs–can be a nutritious, healthy choice, especially if you have a sensitive stomach like mine.  One of those whole food ingredients is acai.

In fact, it’s impossible not to notice the proliferation of acai products, pronounced, ah-sigh-ee, in restaurants, grocery stories, and health food markets. From smoothies to smoothie bowls, from flavored yogurt to juice refreshers (think Starbucks), from flavored protein bars to pill/supplements, and from dark chocolate bars to infused margaritas, acai seems to currently have sweetheart status in the health community.  Although acai is generally referred to as a berry, it is technically a drupe, also known as stonefruit, like cherries, plums, olives, and peaches, and it is popularly lauded for its numerous health benefits.  

Based upon my reading though, there seems to be a general consensus to group the acai with berries. Furthermore, acai tends to have a short shelf life as it only grows on palm trees in Central and South America; and thus, it is most often available in three forms: frozen fruit puree, freeze dried powder, or pressed juice.  As a self-proclaimed foodie, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to give acai a try by purchasing a small bag of the freeze dried powder.

To be clear, I do not believe that acai is the panacea of health that many supplement companies try to convince consumers; however, acai does offer many health benefits similar to most dark fruits and berries. Acai possesses high levels of antioxidants (even higher than blueberries and cranberries), essential fatty acids, fiber, and are nutrient dense. Still, like any one single food, acai is not the magical key to health; however, when consumed as part of a larger diet based on wide array of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, acai is a wonderful addition.  

One word of caution though, many frozen fruit purees, juices, and other acai-flavored products are loaded with added sugar and/or other ingredients a health-conscious consumer may not want.  Therefore, if, like me, you want to reap the nutritional benefits without the junk, the freeze dried form of acai seems to have the greatest amount of fiber, essential fats, and health-boosting plant compounds.  

Below is the recipe-scaffolding that I created using acai freeze dried powder.  Do you have to use acai?  NO!  Instead, replace the acai with ½ cup of another fruit; or, if you want to stick with the drupe (stonefruit) family, add in cherries, Indian gooseberries, or slices of nectarines, peaches, and/or mangoes. Feel free to play with this recipe.  There is never an obligation, in my opinion, to follow recipes exactly as created.  Think of this recipe as a springboard of ideas for creating your own variation of this summer-time smoothie.  Want to make it a smoothie bowl? Then, fill a bowl with this smoothie and top it off with slices of fruit and the crunchy goodness of nuts, seeds, granola, and/or oats.  Summer is the time to have fun in the kitchen; and, yes, it can still be nutritious!  After all, one positive choice leads to the next!  

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals or smoothies! 

P.S. If you do find another variation that gets your taste buds excited, please share it with me by emailing me or tagging me on Instagram or Facebook!  I’d love to see what you create!

Here’s to your health! Cheers!

Berry Beneficial Acai Smoothie

Makes 1 serving, but can be doubled, tripled as needed.

Base Ingredients:

½ + ½ cup favorite smoothie beverage (water, milk, plant milk, kefir, coconut water)

½ to 1 cup of frozen or fresh berries (Pick your favorite! Frozen fruit leads to a thicker smoothie.)

½  cup frozen, plain–no other added ingredients–riced cauliflower (I know, it sounds weird, but it’s a wonderful thickener, and it’s a great way to sneak veggies into your day without tasting it!)

½ banana, frozen or fresh (Remember, the more frozen ingredients, the thicker the smoothie.)

**If wishing to use protein powder, see note below, and add in here.

1 ½  – 3 tsp acai powder (depending upon the amount you want)

½ tsp vanilla extract

*Dash of sea salt and any other optional add-ins suggested below

*Optional add-ins:

**1-2 scoop(s) of favorite protein powder (This is an optional addition.  I make this smoothie with and without protein.  However, I found that even using a tablespoon of my favorite plant-based protein powder gives the smoothie a more rounded flavor and thickens the smoothie a tad bit more.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nuts or seed (Think walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and etc.)

1-2 tablespoons of favorite nut butter

¼ to ⅓ cup oats (As a thickening agent, and another boost of nutrition, especially if you need the extra calories.)

In a blender, or blender cup, add ½ cup of your favorite smoothie liquid. 

Next, add it fruit(s) and plain riced cauliflower 

Add in banana, cut into chunks. 

Add in all other ingredients as well as any optional add-ins

Finally, top it all off with another ½ cup of preferred liquid.

Blend until smooth.

Best if served immediately, but can be stored in fridge for later use.

Note:  Can add more or less liquid to adjust to desired consistency.

Mmm, drink in that refreshing fruit and veg!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties have anthocyanins that can help reverse some loss of balance and memory associated with aging.”–David H. Murdock

 

“Strawberries!  Fruit from the heart.”–Anthony T. Hincks

 

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Slice the sugar soaked rhubarb and place into a mixing bowl.

 

Long ago, in a far away land . . .

 

Oh, wait, it only seems like that.  

 

When I was a very young girl, my dad kept a small vegetable garden for a few years. While it didn’t seem to last for many years as our family grew, I was young enough to be fascinated with its order. I recall watching Dad as he planted and staked tomatoes then surrounded them by marigolds.  He explained to me that those unique smelling flowers would protect the tomatoes from pests.

 

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Halve the larger strawberries before adding all of the strawberries to the bowl with the rhubarb.

 

One year, I was especially interested in a new plant he was going to grow. Rhubarb.  I had never heard of this plant, and wondered about it as Dad described it as fruit that looked like red celery.  At the time, I was well-acquainted with celery from the holiday “relish trays” my grandmothers and mom made that contained both peanut butter and pimento cheese stuffed celery.  While I never liked the celery, (although I love it now) I would lick the peanut butter off, sneak over to a trash can, and furtively toss the celery!  Dad explained that rhubarb was sour (He may have said tart, but my small mind translated it as sour.) and needed sugar added to it, but that it made good crisps, pies, or cobbler.  I liked desserts, so it sounded like a good food to me!

 

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Combine the fruit mixture ingredients and pour into a prepared square baking dish.

 

I was saddened to learn that we could not eat rhubarb that first year, but instead I would have to wait another year before I could taste it as the plant needed to mature and become established. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much more about Dad’s rhubarb growing beyond one fading memory of Dad bringing a small batch of rhubarb into the house near the end of the school year–so it must have been early to mid-May.  I recall my childlike wonder with its appearance, and my eagerness to eat the pie Mom was going to bake up.

 

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Spread fruit evenly in baking dish.

 

In addition to following Dad around when he was working, I also loved hanging out with my mom in the kitchen.  I am sure I drove her nearly crazy with my incessant chatter and seeming desire to help.  However, my intentions to help were not always pure as I ultimately hoped to taste whatever it was she was making–especially if she was baking!

 

 

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about “helping” mom as she prepared to bake that rhubarb pie. One part that does stand out was the amount of sugar mom added to the bowl.  She explained that rhubarb pie required more sugar than most fruit pies because of its tartness.  That did not seem like a bad thing to me, but as a mom who often tried to limit our sugar intake–and, let’s be honest, with four kids, who would want them all sugared up–she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of me eating that much sugar.  Still, my dad had fond memories of rhubarb pie and was eager to eat it despite my mom’s mutterings in opposition. 

 

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Spread oat/flour mixture gently over fruit.

 

I have another faded recollection of sitting in our avocado green dine-in kitchen and eagerly awaiting a piece of rhubarb pie.  

 

Did I want ice cream on it?

 

You betcha, I did.  

 

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You will know when the crisp is done because the fruit will be bubbling and the topping will be golden brown.

 

My younger brother did not want to try it at all–he was a bit more picky about what he ate, and our middle sister was a baby/toddler age–still in a high chair, so she did not get any either. (I don’t think our youngest sister had yet been born.)  I sat with my unbreakable Corelle bowl, and took in the vanilla ice cream as it melted over the pie into all those cracks and crevices.  Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than I feel I must have liked it because to this day, I still have positive feelings about rhubarb.

 

 

When I recently saw rhubarb in a local store, along with plenty of red, ripe strawberries, I realized both fruits were in season.  It then occurred to me that recipes often combine the two ingredients for a fresh, plant based treat.  Therefore, I decided it was high time to research and play with rhubarb in honor of Dad’s rhubarb growing and Mom’s pie baking.  Both fruits are in season now through the first half of June, so it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try!  This is a much lighter dessert than that pie of my childhood, but it earned a tasty stamp of approval from my daughter and husband as well as my taste buds. Let me know what you think.

 

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You’ll know that it’s done when the topping is golden crisp, fruit is bubbling & it looks jammy.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals and/or treats–as the case may be!

 

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients

For filling:

3 cups strawberries, halved if large

3 cups of sliced rhubarb

¼ teaspoon orange extract 

⅓ cup strawberry jam  

2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch (or can substitute 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)

For topping:

1 cup rolled oats (I use gluten-free.)

½  cup sliced almonds or almond meal, or ½ more oats (I chose more oats, but I think almonds would be delightful!)

¼ cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour

3 tablespoon softened butter (plant-based if desired) or other vegetable/coconut oil

4 tablespoon maple syrup (Can use date syrup, honey, or agave, if preferred.)

2 medjool dates chopped, optional (Just for a bit extra sweetness if desired.  Can also use 2 teaspoons of date syrup.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Directions:

Place stalks of rhubarb in a glass with 1-2 tablespoons sugar (maple syrup, honey or agave) in ¼ -½ cup water and allow it to soak overnight, but really 2-4 hours will do it!

When ready to bake:

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Lightly coat a square baking dish (8 x 8, 9 x9 or similar dimensions) with nonstick cooking spray or with a light coating of coconut, vegetable oil, or butter.

Slice presoaked rhubarb, and add to a small mixing bowl.

Halve strawberries, if needed, and add to rhubarb.

Add orange extract, strawberry jam, and arrowroot (or cornstarch) to fruit and gently stir.

Spread fruit mixture into prepared baking dish.

In a separate larger bowl, stir together oats, almonds (if using) and flour.

Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in rest of ingredients, until mixture becomes course and crumbly.

Gently spread oat mixture over fruit.

Place in the oven and allow to bake for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden brown.

Serve warm as is or with your favorite topping such as ice cream or whipped topping.

Store leftovers for up to a week in the fridge, or can freeze for up to a month.

Enjoy leftovers gently warmed.  

Makes not only a great dessert or snack, but is also a delicious breakfast!

Makes 6 generous servings, or 9 smaller servings.

 

Pumpkin-Blueberry Scones, with Gluten Free Variation

I just can’t pass the scones up if they’re there. They’re soft and light and a little bit salty.  Sometimes I dream about them.”–Rainbow Rowell

 

I remind my American readers that biscuits in England and Australia are crispy and flat things such as you call cookies, and the soft doughy things you call biscuits are what we call scones.  And they say we speak the same language . . .”–Kerry Greenwood

 

I owe much gratitude for this recipe, the research that went into it, and everything I learned as a result of it to Jacki and Tony Humphreys, both of whom are wonderful cooks and greatly loved family!  For as long as I have known them, they’ve loved the art of cooking and the gathering that often goes with it. I’m fortunate to have been, and continue to be, raised, influenced, and surrounded by family, on all sides, who love to cook.

 

In particular, I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread are some of my favorite things to create, but I’ve dabbled in other forms of baking, but never scones.  I suppose I could count the times that I made biscuits from scratch–which are supposed to be similar to scones– but, trust me, I would not be able to tick off all five fingers on one hand for the number of times I baked biscuits, and that was years ago!  

 

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Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

 

Scones just sounded intimidated, but what I came to find, thanks to Jacki and Tony, is that I actually enjoyed baking them a bit better than made-from-scratch biscuits.  Perhaps, it is because, at least for this recipe, scones require less precision than biscuits. Then again, mounding the dough into two circular blobs was certainly entertaining, and the aromatic scent of this recipe throughout the process was likewise pleasant.  Whatever the reason, while I wouldn’t call this a simple recipe, it certainly wasn’t overly complicated either.

 

When Jacki and Tony first gave me a box of gluten free, plain scone mix, I set it on the counter for a week, looking at it as it stood erect, menacingly communicating that only real experts can make these, and I was a complete a total baking fraud–which is sort of true–I am NOT by any means, a professional baker.  As the days passed, I would occasionally pick up the box, read the directions, put it down again, and walk away feeling a knot in my stomach. Why was I letting this inanimate object unnerve me? 

 

                      Cut eight tablespoons of butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or if                          you don’t have a pastry cutter, see substitutions below.***          

 

Knowledge is power, right? Right.  Or so I told myself at the end of the week when I decided to dive into the world of Google in order to discover all that there is to know about making scones.  Ok, ok, maybe not ALL, not even close, but I certainly read several educational and informative pieces on scone-baking. Much to my delight, the scone recipes that most resonated with me did not require kneading; and furthermore, when cutting the butter into the flour mixture, the butter did not have to be evenly crumbled.  In fact, large chunks of butter were permitted. Baking scones might be doable after all!

 

Rolling up my proverbial sleeves, I decided that it was time to play.  What’s the worst that could happen? If I messed up, and the scones were a total flop, then I would have plenty of freshly baked scone scraps to feed the birds.  While I don’t particularly like wasting perfectly good ingredients, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I had fed the birds the flopped results of a well-intended recipe!

 

            Ok, so they are not the most attractive looking blobs!  Give a gal a break.  I am NOT              a professional baker, and it was my first attempt at baking scones.  Still, they were                gluten-free, (Although you don’t have to bake yours that way, Dear Reader.) and                     delicious!

 

In the end, I cobbled together this recipe that I share with you today.  My husband, John, and my daughter, Madelyn, were my official taste-testers.  Both were surprised by the texture, at least for this variation, was more like muffin–albeit less sweet.  Maddie, who suggested the pumpkin/blueberry flavor combination, observed that the scones weren’t super sweet, so she tried topping them with pure maple syrup, honey, and even whipped cream.  John, slathered them with butter, and he further suggested that a vanilla glaze drizzled on top might be a nice addition for those wanting to sweeten up this recipe a bit. Meanwhile, I was greatly relieved that I didn’t have to feed the local bird population!

 

Give this recipe a try when you’re hankering to bake something different.  It makes a nice addition to breakfast that would be especially tasty served with some fresh fruit and yogurt, or it makes a nice dessert or snack for later in the day.  And, for those of you like me who need a gluten-free option, the great thing about baking scones is that you simply replace all the purpose flour with a gluten free variation, and everything else about the recipe stays the same, unlike other bread recipes I’ve made.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals and treats!

 

                     Serve these scones up with pure maple syrup, honey, or butter as my husband,                         John is did!

 

 

Pumpkin Blueberry Scones

 

Ingredients

2 ¾ cup all purpose flour (I use gluten-free.)

⅓  cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt* 

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice**  

8 tablespoons cold butter, sliced thinly

⅔ cup pumpkin

2 large eggs

¼ cup plain or vanilla yogurt (Can substitute milk with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice added, allowing it to sit for 3 minutes before adding to the recipe.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon orange extract

1 cup blueberries, if frozen thaw in colander to allow liquid to drain off

2 tablespoon cinnamon & sugar mixture or sparkling white sugar

 

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, if you don’t have parchment you can simply grease the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices.

Using a pastry cutter,*** work in the sliced butter until it is crumbly.  This process is very forgiving because it doesn’t have to be evenly crumbly, and large butter chunks are ok! 

In a separate mixing bowl, stir together pumpkin, eggs, yogurt, vanilla, and orange extract

Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients until everything is incorporated, then gently fold in blueberries.

Sprinkle parchment lined (or greased) baking sheet with a bit of flour.

Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the baking sheet, (the dough will be a bit sticky), immediately divide in half, and form two flattened circles about ¾” inch thick.

Brush with milk if desired and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or sparkling white sugar.

Using a knife that’s been run under cold water, slice each circle into 6-8 even wedges.

Then, I know this sounds crazy, but I promise this works, set the pan in your freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while the dough is in the freezer.

Bake 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.  (If using gluten-free flour, baking sometimes takes longer, so monitor carefully. This should not come out of the oven wet or doughy.) 

Serve warm, and store leftovers in an airtight container (or zippered bag) in the fridge.  

Rewarm leftovers in the microwave or stove for a few moments before serving.

These kept nicely for a week in our fridge.

Makes 12-16, depending upon how you cut the circles of dough.

 

My daughter and I found this was delicious served with pure maple syrup as well as honey, while my husband topped it with butter.  Additionally, my daughter also topped the scones with whipped cream.  

 

  

Additional notes: 

*You can also use a scone baking mix–which should have the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Just check the ingredients list first to ensure it does.

 

**If you don’t have cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, you can simply use 1 ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. 

 

***If you don’t have a pastry cutter, you can use a food processor (but don’t over overwork dough), two butter knives, a sturdy fork, or you can even use a box grater and grate the very cold (or even frozen) butter into flour mixture, making it easier to cut into mixture with forks or knives.

 

Gluten-free Chocolate Banana Bread

Like many others quarantined at home, I have been cooking and baking quite a bit more than I usually do.  Additionally, John, my husband, and I are exploring more plant-based recipes. (I don’t eat meat, but John will order a meat based dish on the two nights per week we order take-out in order to support local restaurants during this COVID-19 outbreak–although I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to grill up some meaty morsel at some point.)  What we are finding is that we enjoy what we consider more fun-based and/or comfort based type foods. Examples would include pasta, based dishes, Mexican-inspired variations (tacos, enchiladas, nachos and so forth), and a weekly baked sweet treat. Nothing fancy, mind you, just good ol’ homemade goodness.

 

On a recent grocery order, I thought I ordered two bananas, but when my groceries arrived at my car, I had an entire bunch.  Rather than make a fuss with the poor overworked grocery staffer (God bless them for working during this crisis–seriously.), I just kept the entire bunch of bananas knowing that in the worst case scenario, if they didn’t all get eaten, I could either freeze them or bake-up something with them.  

 

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Photo by Juan Salamanca on Pexels.com

 

Sure enough, I ended up with 3 large ripe bananas.  I started to freeze them, but then thought about the banana bread I used to make with mini-chocolate chips.  As I began looking through my past recipes, the thought hit me. I wonder if there are recipes out there for chocolate, chocolate-chip banana bread?  Hmm . . .

 

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Thus, began my research into the recipe idea. There were literally hundreds of recipe ideas, so I narrowed my search down further to plant-based ideas.  Again, I found hundreds of these variations as well–some with cocoa, others with melted chocolate, some with nuts and/or nut butter, and some with oil . . . well, the list went on.  Therefore, I read recipe reviews and taste notes and began cobbling together my own recipe variation.

 

 

 

First of all, the batter itself is thick, rich, and fun to lick up!  (I always think of my Grandmother Helen when I lick a spoon at the end, stating, “Here’s to you Helen!”  It’s a family thing.) Secondly, the redolent scent of sweet bread baking in the oven is sinfully delightful and highly recommended on a rainy or chilly day when you won’t have your windows open.  Lastly, the taste and texture only gets better with time–just like a good banana bread should. That said, you do need to refrigerate this in order to make it stay fresh for a week, but it will still get more moist and more sweet with each passing day.

 

 

 

My husband and daughter served this warmed with redi-whip on top as a dessert or snack.  I ate it out of the fridge for a quick and easy grab and go (well, go to work virtually) no-fuss, little-clean-up breakfast.  I especially loved to smear it with peanut butter or PB2–it was like eating a Reese’s cup for breakfast!

 

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Slice it up and eat plain, or top it with a wide variety of sweet or savory toppings.

 

Why don’t you give it a try the next time you end up with a few overripe bananas?  In fact, if you’re willing to go into the grocery store, you could buy overripe bananas from the produce clearance bin for next to nothing.  Not only does it make a great dessert, snack, or breakfast, it can also be frozen for up to a month or so!

 

From my home to yours, I wish you happy, healthy, and homemade meals and sweet treats!

 

Fresh out of the oven goodness!

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Look at that moist center of melted chocolate chip gooeyness!

 

 

Gluten-free, Chocolate Banana Bread 

(Plant-based, no-oil option)

Ingredients:

2 cups over-ripe mashed banana (about 3 large ripe bananas)

2 ½  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

2-4 tablespoons of favorite nut butter (peanut, cashew, almond, sunflower) or 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I split the difference and went with 3 tablespoons of almond butter.)

⅔ cup date syrup (or maple syrup, honey or agave)

1 ¾ cup all-purpose baking flour or gluten-free variation

½ cup unsweetened pure cocoa powder + 2 more tablespoons dutch cocoa powder, if have on hand, but regular cocoa powder is fine

¼ cup sugar or stevia

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels

½ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate mini-morsels

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper, so that the paper overhangs sides. (I used 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 pan.)

Mash bananas and measure.

Then, add bananas and next four ingredients into large blender cup

Blend until smooth and creamy and pour into a medium mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients EXCEPT chocolate morsels.

Mix dry ingredients with a fork until no white powder remains.

Gradually fold in dry ingredients into wet, scraping down the side.

Gently stir in ½ cup semi-sweet or dark morsels

Carefully pour in batter and smooth over top of batter.

Sprinkle with remaining mini-morsels and gently press into batter.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Turn off the oven and leave in the oven an additional ten minutes.

Remove from the oven, lift bread out of the pan holding on to parchment paper, and set on the cooling rack to cool.

**Store in the refrigerator.  

**It’s also easier to slice once stored in the fridge. My daughter and I were eager to taste this bread once baked because the aroma that filled our house while baking left our mouths watering.  However, I sliced off both heels (She doesn’t like them, but they don’t bother me!) set in the fridge for several hours, keeping it on the parchment paper, but moving it to a plate.  

Then, when I removed it from the fridge, I found it MUCH easier to slice and store it in a sturdy bread container, but keeping it in the fridge.

Stores in the refrigerator for up to five days or so.

Makes ten average-size slices.

 

Breakfast, or Brunch, Vegetable Stir-fry

I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I am inconsistent with breakfast during my work week.  Most days, I do eat something, even if it’s part (or all) of a protein bar and/or some fruit.  Other days, especially if I’ve taken time to food-prep on Sunday afternoon, I have containers of pre-made smoothies, smoothie “bowls,” or overnight oats lined up in the fridge–ready for grab-and-go convenience.  However, once I arrive at the school in which I work, I find I’m trying to quickly gulp down my food before my students arrive, or saving my prepared breakfast food for lunch (why not?) and either skipping breakfast all together, or falling back to eating a bit of the ever-present protein bar or fruit that are always in my lunchbox. Thus, during the work-week, there’s very little food enjoyment for me with regards to breakfast–and often lunch too–(see later paragraph) which makes me sad as I really do prefer to enjoy my food. 

 

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Still, I continue to love food, especially when I have enough time to sit, savor, and enjoy each yummy bite.  However, I fully recognize that the foods I prefer, and most enjoy, are often considered different as others have so kindly pointed out to me.  In fact, I have been told on multiple occasions that my food, “looks disgusting.”  While I try to laugh off the insult and weakly attempt to defend my food choices, “It’s only oats with blueberries, chia seeds, a bit of banana, and maple extract,” it has certainly caused me to reassess when and what I eat, especially in front of others!  

 

At one time in my life, I was especially fond of breakfast foods!  However, since being diagnosed with celiac disease nearly ten years ago, around the same time I decided to commit to eating a more plant based diet, dining out for breakfast, or it’s more gluttonous cousin, brunch, is seldom easy, much less fun, for me–at least in my immediate geographic area–as gluten-free, plant based eateries are a bit of a rarity.  If I am lucky, the menu will offer that so-called “disgusting” oatmeal; and, if I’m super fortunate, a restaurant might offer tofu and allow me to order it prepared,“naked” (not dipped in batter, so it remains gluten-free).

 

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While my weekends during the school year tend to be busy, whenever I do get some extra weekend time, I take great delight in making a big ol’ breakfast away from critical eyes, and one that holds me through until time for dinner..  I particularly find pleasure in serving these breakfasts with gluten-free bread and/or some fresh fruit. Thus, when creating this recipe (and my forthcoming recipe), I cobbled together ideas from several plant based recipe sites, but also tried to make it carnivore-friendly if desired.  This is because I believe that how each person chooses to eat is highly personal. I try not to proselytize a one-size-fits-all diet, or for that matter publicly criticize one’s diet choices. While I know a gluten-free, plant-based diet works for me, I’d rather create recipes that offer flexibility, nutritional benefits, and still taste good for all types of eaters.

 

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While my original creation was designed to somewhat look and mimic the flavor of eggs, it doesn’t have to focus on that. Feel free to play with and change up the ingredients. Consider adding in other colorful vegetables of your liking, including diced yukon gold or sweet potatoes.  Remove and replace any vegetable you don’t like with vegetables you do enjoy, and feel free to increase or decrease vegetable amounts. (I chose cauliflower as a base because it is so mild and tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients, however, chopped potatoes make an excellent base too.) Remove and/or change up the seasonings, along with their amounts! Additionally, play with toppings!  Consider lively and colorful toppings, such as chopped/sliced scallions, chopped avocado, sliced olives, roasted red peppers, salsa, and so forth. Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional breakfast box and play! Food should be fun and tasty!  

 

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May this recipe inspire you to get creative in the privacy of your kitchen!  Feel free to send me pics and comments about how you chose to prepare it! I’d love to see your pics and share them on my website!  

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and, hopefully, not-so-disgusting meals!

 

 

 

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Breakfast Vegetable Stir-fry

(Feel free to double or triple ingredients.)

Ingredients:

½ tsp minced garlic

¼-½ cup, or more as needed liquid, water or vegetable broth *If not cooking oil-free, 1-2 tablespoons of a mild-flavored oil can be used instead. 

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped peppers (I prefer a mix of colors.)

1 cup roughly chopped cauliflower (I prefer to use one cup prepared riced cauliflower to save the mess and time.)

½ cup sliced portabella mushrooms (or other mushroom variety)

3 ounces **tempeh sliced thin and cut into small pieces **Instead of tempeh, you can use tofu, 2-3 beaten eggs or egg whites, or 3-4 ounces of precooked meat of your choice

½-1 tsp liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or soy sauce

½ tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and black pepper to taste

***Kala Namak (Black salt) to taste ***Only use this seasoning if keeping it egg and meat-free as it adds a flavor and aroma similar to that of eggs.

Directions:

Preheat pan over medium. (You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water skitters across the bottom of the pan.)

While the pan is preheating, gather and prepare vegetables.

Once the pan is preheated, add garlic.

When garlic begins to soften and turn golden, add in onions and peppers.

Stir in ¼ cup of vegetable broth or water, if not using oil. (If using oil, add in the desired amount.)

Stir constantly.  If you notice vegetables sticking, stir-in liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Add cauliflower and continue stirring.

Add green peppers and onion, stir, and then add sliced mushrooms. 

Again, if at any time, vegetables begin sticking, add in more liquid, 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Stir in desired protein (tempeh, tofu, beaten eggs, or precooked meat).

Continue stirring and tossing over medium heat until protein is cooked through.

Reduce heat to low and stir-in desired amount of aminos (or soy sauce) and rest of seasonings.

Once seasoning is thoroughly mixed into food, remove from heat, cover, and allow flavors to meld for 2-3 minutes.

Then, serve immediately.

Makes one generous serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge–makes a great breakfast or lunch for the next day!  

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Chunky Pear Butter Delight

“Being a good neighbor is an art which makes life richer.”–Gladys Taber

 

“Pears cannot ripen alone. So we ripen together.”–Meridel Le Sueur

 

I found them sitting on the kitchen counter.  Brown with a rough texture and a bit of an uneven texture, these late season pears were a gift from our neighbor, Sandra, who had told me in a text, “They are good for the body.”  While they weren’t much to look at, I wasn’t about to judge the fruit by its skin. I gently arranged them on a plate in order to allow them to ripen up a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with them, but I felt certain they had great potential stored within–despite the fact, I honestly don’t often eat pears.

 

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I began scouring through recipes on-line in search of ideas.  I had no idea the versatility of pears! For years, I have eaten and cooked with apples in a wide variety of ways, but it turns out, pears can be used in nearly every way an apple can and more!  From poached pears to pear pie, from pear butters and sauces to pear pizzas and pear tarts, and from pear salad to pickled pears, and so much more, it turns out the pear, and all its varieties, is quite the versatile fruit. Plus, it turns out that Sandra was spot;  pears are good for the body!

 

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Of course, consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is an overall beneficial habit to one’s health and can help reduce one’s risk for a number of diseases.  The pear is no exception. To begin, it is full of fiber. In fact, the average pear typically has a whopping six grams of fiber wrapped up in one deliciously sweet package that comes in around 100 calories and is naturally fat-free and cholesterol free.  

 

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In particular, the pear possesses pectin, a soluble fiber that is good for promoting gut health because it feeds the gut’s bacteria. What’s more, pears have a high water content. Combine the pectin with high water and pears possess the ability to promote soft stools, increasing healthy bowel function as well as naturally flushing toxins out of the system.  This same fiber is also good for naturally reducing cholesterol, reducing one’s risk for diabetes as well as reducing one’s risk for diverticulitis.  

 

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Pears are full of antioxidants which combat cancer causing free radicals.  This includes vitamins C and K as well as copper. Pears are also a good source of potassium and possess smaller amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6.  Finally, pears, especially those with red skin, contain carotenoids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins which promote heart health. 

 

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Chunky Pear Butter Delight takes a bit of time to cook down, but it is totally worth it!

 

Overall, pears are an underappreciated (at least they were in my world) nutritional powerhouse that are chock full of fiber, vitamins, and beneficial plant compounds. Thanks to Sandra, I have since purchased pears by the ½ dozen or so, repeatedly.  I’ve learned, due to her generosity, that it is all about allowing pears to ripen together on a plate before storing them in the refrigerator.  

 

We like our pear butter chunky, so I use a potato masher to break down the pears.  However, you can choose to use a blender or food processor for a smoother consistency.

 

Finally, the one important piece of nutritional information I did learn while researching for this recipe is that many of these nutrients are stored in the fruit’s peel, so be sure to eat it to maximize the nutritional benefits.  Sadly, the recipe I am sharing with you today does not include the peel. Therefore, while your buying pears to make this recipe, be sure to pick up a few extra for a healthy grab and go snack sure to benefit your body’s health.

Pear butter is delicious served up on whole grain (gluten-free here) bread or spread across a flatbread or tortilla.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, homemade, and well, humble, but certainly tasty, food choices!

 

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Amp up the nutrition of the pear butter by sprinkling a few cacao nibs to increase antioxidants.

 

 

Pear Butter

Ingredients:

6 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup maple syrup

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine chopped pears, lemon juice, maple syrup, and brown sugar.

Cover and cook over medium heat 20-25 minutes until pears are soft, stirring often to prevent sticking.

Using a potato masher, gently mash pears while still in pot to desired texture. (My family and I like our pear butter with a few small chunks remaining.  You can always use a food processor if you desire a smoother consistency–just remember to cool the pears first. Then, return back to pot for final cooking.)

Stir in remaining ingredients and continue simmering over medium to medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes without a lid, allowing pear butter to thicken. Remember to occasionally stir to prevent sticking.

Cool and pour into container for storage.  

Can be stored in the fridge for 7-10 days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes a delicious dessert by itself, and it also tastes terrific spread over toast or flatbread/tortilla.

I especially like it served in a small dish topped with a granola-like topping while my husband likes it warmed in a bowl served with whipped cream.

 

Versatile Vegetable Marinara

            Your choice of diet can influence your long term health prospects more than any other action you might take.”—Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop

 

            “We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it—because they do.”—Michael Greger, MD

 

            Recently, my husband, John, after watching the documentary, The Game Changers, has made the choice to increase plant foods in his diet and drastically reduce the meat he consumes.  As someone who has been a plant-based eater for years, I whole-heartedly embraced his decision. However, before carnivorous readers stop reading, please do not assume I am writing to proclaim, “The gospel of how you should eat,” according to Steph.  How you choose to eat, Dear Reader, is a highly personal choice, and only you know what type of diet works best for you. With that being said, I think most readers can agree that increasing one’s intake of whole foods, with emphasis on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods, is an overall healthy practice. 

 

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            Trust me, John has not completely abandoned meat, but he is now choosing to consume it as a rare treat, rather than an everyday occurrence.  This change in John’s dietary habits has certainly made it easier on me with regards to how I cook for us. Now, instead of cooking one meat-based recipe for him, and a vegetable-based variation for myself, I only have to plan for one recipe.  (Although, I must confess, I often prepare myself something different only because I am either experimenting with a new recipe or making a variation for myself that is gluten free.)

 

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            Furthermore, I am a big believer in food prep on the weekend.  John and I live busy and active lives. We are up by 5:00 am each work day and typically unable to sit down for dinner until 7:00 pm or later.  Thus, I do not have much time to cook during the workweek. Therefore, I purchase, clean, and prep all of our vegetables for the week on the weekend.  I also typically prepare all of my work lunches on the weekends; and I generally cook up large batch recipes for dinner that can easily be warmed and supplemented with a quickly thrown together salad.

 

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            This past month, John and I have enjoyed a week’s worth of black bean soup, meatless chili, or big bowls of chopped salad overflowing with prepared greens, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and/or seeds.  Of course, it helps that we love eating leftovers. Perhaps, it goes back to our childhood as both of our families regularly made leftovers part of the weekly family dinner experience. However, it seems to us that certain foods get magically better with each reheating, especially soups, chili, and pasta sauces.

 

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            This month’s recipe is no exception.  I actually made it on a Saturday afternoon, but immediately cooled it, transferred it to a Crockpot, and then stowed it away in the fridge for a six-hour simmer on Sunday.  Then Sunday afternoon, I prepped all my salad veggies for a week, so they were ready to be thrown together quickly each work evening. Additionally, I made up a large batch of gluten free pasta, which happened to be a type made out of beans that is high in protein, and mixed it up with spiralized zucchini. (Confession: I buy the prepared zucchini found in the freezer section.  When I see it go on sale at my local market, I buy up several bags at a time for future dinners.) Finally, I also ensured we had both cauliflower pizza crusts and a few portabella caps on hand as an alternative sauce-carrier to the pasta.

 

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            When making this sauce, you will notice my emphasis on finely chopped vegetables.  This is because John and I have an agreement. As long as he can’t see chunks of certain vegetables for which he would not normally eat (i.e. carrots, celery, onion, and peppers), and they do not crunch, he will quite happily dine on the sauce, especially if seasoned just right.  Furthermore, meatless crumbles, or meatless meatballs, can be added into this sauce if desired.

            Give this versatile vegetable chocked recipe a try.  You can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, but also as a sauce for pizza, pizza bread, calzones, and baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.  As earlier hinted, I’ve even made a low-carb variation in which I filled portobello caps with this sauce, added a few basil leaves, and other favorite pizza toppings, then baked it all up in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—delicious!

 

            From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals.

 

            

Gluten Free, Vegetable Marinara Pasta Sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

2 tablespoons olive oil or for no-oil alternative, choose ½ -1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or stock

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped green (or other color, if preferred) pepper

1 small zucchini, finely chopped or grated

1 cup finely chopped or grated carrots

1 cup celery, finely chopped or grated

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (I use baby portabella, but any type will do.)

1 28-32 oz of no salt tomato sauce (I could not find one large can, so I ended up combining a total of 3 cans–one of which was not a no-salt variation– or nearly 32 ounces of tomato sauce.)

1 6-ounce can tomato paste (preferably no-salt if you can find it)

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, crushed tomatoes

(Optional:  1 package no meat crumbles or meatballs; or you could add your choice of ground meat–it is just no longer marinara!)

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

‘1 teaspoons fennel seed

1-teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar or other equivalent sweetener, i.e. Stevia, maple syrup, agave, etc

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 large bay leaf

 

Directions:

 

In large saucepan, preheat pan over medium heat.

Once warm, (a small spoonful of water will skitter across bottom of pan) add oil or stock.

Add in garlic to pan.

Meanwhile, finely chopped onion and green pepper; then add to garlic in pan.

Next, chop and grate all veggies as finely as possible.  (If using a food processor, do not pulse for too long or veggies will become mush.)

Add vegetables as each is chopped, stirring in each addition.

(Note, if using stock to sauté vegetables, continuously ensure there is enough broth or stock to prevent vegetables from sticking to pan.  Add in liquid as needed.)

Once all vegetables are added, continue to sauté until all vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.

When vegetables are properly softened, begin to add canned ingredients, pausing to gently stir-in each addition.

Next, add in seasonings.

Bring all ingredients to a low boil.

As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Serve over pasta, vegetable noodles, or spoon into portabella mushroom caps, pizza crusts, or pitas.

Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days; or kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Portable Breakfast: Easy Parfait and Overnight Oats

            “I rely on breakfast to give me a kickstart of energy in the morning, so I choose my foods accordingly.”—Mikaela Shiffrin

 

          “A plant-based diet has actually simplified my life in so many ways.  For breakfast, I try to get my first serving of fruits and nuts for fuel.”—Michelle Forbes

 

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As a kid, I loved breakfast.  I could not wait to get up and eat it.  Part of my morning enthusiasm probably had to do with the fact that I was often hungry as my mom did not make special, additional foods for dinner for our family of four kids.  Her philosophy was, “Here’s what I made the family for supper, if you don’t like it, breakfast is not too far off.” Frankly, it’s a solid practice for which I now wholeheartedly applaud her, but I wasn’t so appreciative as a kid.

 

In the morning, it wasn’t unusual for mom to have a large pan of scrambled eggs on the stove, alongside stacks of buttered toast on a plate; or, other mornings, she might have a huge pot of oatmeal or cream of wheat from which we could all ladle.  We did not, per se, and sit and eat as an entire family on school/work day as that was saved for special weekend breakfasts. Instead, mom got breakfast ready; and then, once each person was ready in the morning, you went to the kitchen to fill up your plate or bowl.  Last one in the kitchen meant there might not be much left for you. Unfortunately, for me, as I got older, that usually fell to me—a slow moving, morning person.

 

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Even now, I move slowly in the morning.  In fact, I wake a full hour before I begin to get ready—a full two hours before I need to leave for work.  Part of my reasoning is because that first waking hour is devoted to coffee and productivity—an hour to work on my writing; planning a yoga, fusion, or cycling class; managing a couple of email accounts; folding laundry; packing lunch. . . well, you get the idea.   The problem is that I become so highly focused some mornings that I lose COMPLETE track of time. Then, as is the case more often than not, I jump in the shower, already 20 or more minutes behind, and end up rushing out the door in such a hasty fashion that breakfast does not cross my mind until my belly begins to growl on the frantic drive to school!

 

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There are time periods of “breakfast eating perfection.”  Last year was a big smoothie phase. I loved, loved, loved exploring all the different ways to get plant-based nutrition in a cup to go.  My blender whirred nonstop at least twice a week with breakfast smoothie food prep. Then, I’d hit a busy week, not have as much time for food prep; and then, I’d once more be back to relying on either nothing for breakfast but coffee or bits and bites of plant-based protein bars.

 

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While I’d love to say that this school year I have reformed my distracted ways, but the truth is, I am still neck deep in spurts of breakfast brilliance, and even greater spans of nutritional neglect.  Still, when I am feeling a fit of inspiration, I am all-in . . .at least for a week (or until mid-week)! That said, I do love the notion of fully embracing three meals of whole, plant based foods sans any processed, packaged, chemically-engineered nutrition.  Sigh, may be one day . . .

 

One of my more recent fits of nutritional, whole food achievement attempts involved portable parfaits.  This was inspired by a recent trip to Lewisburg, WV. Before hiking six miles of the 78-mile long Greenbrier River Trail, my husband, John, and I ate at Retro Donuts and more.  While he enjoyed a breakfast sandwich on donut bread (Yes, you read that right—donut bread.), I scarfed up a super-sized fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait. Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, house made granola—complete with oats, seeds, and nuts—layered with mixed berries, this stack of whole food yumminess was delicious and, totally replicable.  However, I would give it a plant based twist. 

 

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This parfait is a plant based twist as the yogurt is nondairy! Above the yogurt are chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Additionally, there is 1/4 cup water which the chia will gradually absorb to create a pudding-like texture!

 

To be clear, I am not 100% opposed to consuming dairy; but, it does not like me as a general rule.  Plus, a true plant-based eater does not consume dairy. However, like my flurries with breakfast preeminence, my 100% devotion to avoiding dairy vacillates at times.  

 

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Plant-based yogurt parfaits topped with three different types of seeds.

 

Sigh (again), still my intentions are worthy; and, maybe one day will be fully attained.  In the meantime, my goal of using my morning time wisely without running late, while still maintaining time to full compliance of daily consumption of whole-food, plant-based, breakfast looms largely and nobly in front my idealistic self . . .

 

 

Overnight oats made with 1/2 an apple.  Once made, I grab it in the morning, shake it up, and then I choose the option of heating it before gobbling it up!

 

In the meantime, here’s my recipe for portable parfaits of breakfast righteousness meant to be eaten on the go if need be; or, as a casually made-ahead morning meal.  Like so many recipes, think of it as scaffolding. Modify, swap-out, and change ingredients to suit personal taste and health goal preferences. It is perfect for those weeks you feel inspired to set-aside time to food prep and really focus on your dietary goals.

 

From my home to yours, I wish you nearly healthy, mostly homemade, and always happy meals!

 

 

 

Optional ingredients for breakfast parfaits or over night oats.  The ProGranola can be used in both parfait or in lieu of oats in over night oats if following a paleo or keto diet.

 

Portable Breakfast Parfait/Overnight Oats

 

Ingredients: 

½-1 cup of your favorite dairy, or non-dairy, yogurt

½ cup of your favorite grain (granola, oats, grape nuts, and so forth)

½-1 cup (or ½-1 whole piece) of favorite fresh or frozen fruit

1 tablespoon of favorite nuts or seeds (chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, walnuts, slivered almonds, and so forth)

Optional stir-ins:  cinnamon, honey, sweetener, vanilla extract, acai powder, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, protein powder, ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (if you like a more pudding like texture as I do in my overnight oats), and so forth

 

Directions for parfait:

Place 1/3 of yogurt in the bottom of a small resealable glass. (I like canning jars.)

Spoon 1/3 of granola over yogurt.

Add nuts/seeds

Top with 1/3 of fruit.

Repeat layering process until all ingredients are used.

Cover with lid and store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

Serves one.

 

Directions for overnight oats/granola:

Place all ingredients in resealable glass jar.

Shake well.

Store overnight, or until ready to eat, in refrigerator.

Can be stored for several days at a time.

While this can be served cold, I prefer to heat my glass in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  Give it a quick stir. Put the lid back on and allow oats to steam and thicken up a bit more.

This is great served with a dollop of dairy, or non-dairy, redi-whip!

Serves one.

 

 

 

The Lauren Salad: A salad that will make your taste buds dance

            “The colors of a fresh garden salad are so extraordinary, no painter’s pallet can duplicate nature’s artistry.”—Dr. Sun Wolf, professorsunwolf.com

 

            “The salad is the main dish.”—Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

 

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            It was the colors that first attracted my attention–vibrant hues of varying shades.  From claret to crimson; deep purple to indigo; and, sunshine orange to all shades of earthy greens, this artist’s palate-like bowl seemed to have it all.  As if I were a playful, curious kitten, drawn to a piece of dangling string, my body made a beeline towards the vivid dish of food art.  

 

            “Lauren, what is that bowl of deliciousness?” 

 

            Lauren, a seventh grader who makes regular appearances in my lunchtime study hall, attempted to smile while chewing as she held up the universal sign for, “Wait one moment.”  Allowing her to silently chew, I appraised the contents of her reusable lunch bowl. From what I could tell, I saw blueberries, strawberries, and other assorted brightly hued morsels on a bed of what appeared to be lettuce.

 

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            It wasn’t unusual for Lauren and me to discuss food.  The previous year, Lauren had been part of my 3rdperiod, 6thgrade class, which falls during “snack time,” a time set aside for hungry middle school students to eat a quick snack at the beginning of class.  Lauren, who has a passion for good food, and dances nearly every evening of the week, typically took advantage of this time to fuel herself with mostly nutritious and yummy food choices to sustain her physical efforts.  Thus, she and I occasionally had sidebar conversations regarding her latest, or my latest, food/beverage obsessions.  

 

          These brief conversations would sometimes resume during lunchtime study hall as Lauren was a regular attendee in order to best manage her time due to her after school dance schedule.  Through these conversations, Lauren and I discovered we shared an affinity for Larabars, herbal and green teas, reusable water bottles, as well as assorted types of salads and fruits.   What’s more, Lauren possesses an infectious personality, and she is able to easily flow between relaxed, silly conversations with peers to a more formal style of dialogue with adults.

 

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          “It’s a salad my mom and I create, but I made this one,” Lauren finally answered while still gnawing at the remains in her mouth.

 

            Once she finished chewing, she continued to describe the ingredients in her salad, explaining that the ingredients might occasionally change, depending upon what her mom is able to pick up at the grocery store. 

 

            “Well, most of the time I make it myself,” she confessed with a wry smile, eyes twinkling with truth,  “but sometimes, Mom makes it for me.”

 

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            Listening carefully to the ingredients, I wandered back to my desk to eat my lunch, as I did what the students around me were doing, complete my own schoolwork as I ate.  Gazing at the contents of my lunchbox, I saw a baggie of carrot and celery sticks alongside cucumber slices. Additionally, there was ½ No Cow protein bar and ½ Larabar plant-based protein bar.  Sure, I had cleaned and cut the vegetables myself; and to be certain, I sure did love my protein bars with coffee, but my lunch wasn’t near as colorful and fresh looking as Lauren’s salad. I began to fill with pangs of food envy!

 

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            “Lauren, tell me those ingredients again, please? I am going to write them down, and add them to my Kroger click list. 

 

            As she told spoke, I carefully recorded each ingredient on a sticky-note.  My mind began to fill with possibilities that would be tasty additions to her salad.

 

            “Do you add any sort of dressing?”

 

            She affirmed my hunch; no dressing for her, but my mind was already thinking about how good a balsamic glaze would be, like the one I had eaten earlier in the month at Fuel in The Market in downtown Huntington, WV.  I further began thinking about how good walnuts, or crushed cashews, would be—like my favorite salad at Black Sheep, another Huntington restaurant. Then, it hit me. Granola!

 

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            Last summer, before the start of school, John and I traveled to the Alderson/Lewisburg area of WV.  One evening, we dined at a Lewisburg eatery known for fresh, local, farm-to-table, organic ingredients called Stardust Café. It was at this local eatery that I tried a salad called, “Trust Me.”  It was described on their menu as their signature salad, and it was topped with granola. Our waitress convinced me that granola on salad was indeed a tasty topping. And, it was! Why not make Lauren’s salad topped with one of my latest food obsessions, Julian’s Bakery ProGranola, Vanilla Cluster? Hmm . . .

 

 

            In that moment, I giddily declared to Lauren, “I am writing about this salad, and sharing it with others.  It will be forever known as, “The Lauren Salad!” Lauren, being Lauren, merely giggled as her focus returned once more to eating and working.

 

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            Thank-you, Lauren, for sharing your delicious recipe with me.  It is a joy to have you as a student as well as to share your vibrant, flavor-filled, nutritional bowlful of goodness. Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches. Additional gratitude goes to, Pam, Lauren’s mom, for allowing me to photograph her daughter and publish her recipe creation!

 

            From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

 

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The Lauren Salad

 Ingredients:

3, or so, cups favorite salad greens (Lauren enjoys iceberg lettuce, but I enjoy all variety of greens.)

¼ cup shredded carrots

¼ cup sliced celery

1-2 tablespoons dried cranberries (I prefer the less sugar variation.)

½ cup grapes (I left these off my salad, but Lauren says she enjoys adding grapes.)

¼ to ½ cup blueberries

5-8 sliced strawberries, depending upon size and taste preference

2-3 teaspoons of favorite balsamic glaze (I never see Lauren eat dressing on her salad, but I love the way this brings the flavors all together! I especially enjoy a strawberry-fig balsamic glaze.)

Optional toppings: walnuts, slivered almonds, chopped cashews, pistachios pieces, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc, and my personal favorite, granola!)

Hint:   While I rarely ever eat meat, you could certainly add your favorite meat protein, or for that matter, plant based protein, to this salad.  Ideas include, but are not limited to: hard boiled eggs; grilled meats; bean or bean-based patty; cheese, especially, chevre or Parmesan. With quality salad ingredients, the choices seem endless!  

 

Directions:

In a large bowl, layer all vegetable and fruit ingredients in the order in which they are listed.

If using balsamic glaze, drizzle over salad ingredients.

Sprinkle with favorite optional toppings. (I personally like 1-2 tablespoons chopped black walnuts and 3-4 tablespoons of granola.)

Serve immediately; or, if packing ahead for lunch:  Keep balsamic glaze in a separate container, and the toppings in another container.  When ready to eat, add glaze followed by toppings.

Makes one large, healthy salad.

 

Hey, Lauren, Keep on making those inspiring, healthy lunches!

 

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Blackberry Bliss Smoothie and Berrilicious Blackberry Salad Dressing–Simple Summer Satisfaction

 

            “I really am a smoothie person.  I love making a morning smoothie and then will drink some coffee and will not eat at all before lunch.”—Gwyneth Paltrow

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Sip and savor this summer sensation while blackberries are still in season. In the morning, and/or after a hard workout, enjoy the blissfulness of solid nutrition, not to mention great taste!

          

  “From salad dressings all blessings flow.”—Paul Newman

 

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Enjoy blackberries as a salad topper, or as a salad dressing!

 

            Depending upon where you live in North America, blackberry season may have come and gone, or you are still anticipating the berry-ful bounty of blackberries. In fact, our family spent the weekend, one year, at Canaan Valley, WV, in late July, when blackberries were just coming into season, well past the time they would have been available back home. Additionally, I can recall visiting PEI and New Brunswick, Canada, during July, but during different years, and sadly learning that local blackberries would not be available until mid- to late August, well past the time of our respective vacations. 

 

            Why do I love blackberries so much? Perhaps, it is because it links me to childhood summer memories.  Ironically though, I would have never eaten a raw blackberry, much less my Grandmother Helen’s family beloved blackberry cobbler as a child! I did, however, love the smell of the fresh berries as Papaw brought them into the house; the stories he would tell of the wars he waged with insects, heat, and thorns; and, I loved the way family, from as far away as Texas, would visit Grandmother’s house every July for a piece of that delicious smelling, warm cobbler topped with ice cream that slowly seeped into nooks, crannies, and crevices–creating a purple pool of creaminess that made my relatives, especially those ever-so-cool older cousins, smile and laugh as they teased Grandmother good-naturedly.

 

 

 

 

            It wasn’t until I was a “mature” first year teacher, living with my Grandparents, that I came to try, and ultimately love blackberries.   Moving in with my grandparents at the ripe old age of 21 was, at the time, a challenge; however, now, I look back on that time period with great fondness.  While I do have certain regrets about this period of my life, I appreciate the love, security, and flexibility my grandparents provided me during those early adult years.

 

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As a child, I would have never eaten blackberries, much less top a morning bowl of muesli with it!

 

            While Papaw was not an adventurous eater, Grandmother and I shared our love of exploring new foods with one another. In fact, it was seated in her kitchen where I would learn to eat foods that I had never before touched as a child. Maybe it was those Kentucky cooking skills she enthusiastically wanted to share with me, or perhaps it was all of the wonderful smells that filled her kitchen, day in and day out.   Then again, maybe I just opened my mind, and, consequently, my taste buds. Whatever it is was, I learned to love blackberry cobbler, and, a whole host of other traditional, and no-where-near traditional, Kentucky (think Appalachian) foods, thanks, in large part, to Helen, my grandmother. From green bean casserole to broccoli casserole; from sliced and salted summer tomatoes (always beefsteak) to good ol’ half-runner green beans cooked with some form of pork; and, from stir-fried veggies and rice (I purchased a wok while living with my grandparents.) to rice cakes spread with natural, freshly ground peanut butter (at the newfangled nut-butter grinder located inside a fancy, newly opened Kroger grocery), topped with a bit of locally made sorghum; Grandmother and I ate and sampled, in our minds anyway, great food. 

 

 

 

 

            Two food items Grandmother never made were smoothies and salad dressings.  In fact, it has only been in the past couple of years that I have started experimenting with creating these items.  That said, I know if I had been creating smoothies and/or salad dressings in Grandmother’s kitchen, she would have been right there, in her designated kitchen chair, watching me work, asking me questions, and ready to be the first one to taste each new creation. Even now, there are numerous times that I think of Helen as I go about experimenting in my own kitchen and wish she were still around to sample, advise, and, of course, enjoy right along with me.  

 

 

 

Grandmother Helen would have loved trying both my blackberry smoothie and salad dressing.

 

            I can hear her, in my mind’s ear, “Oh, Stethie, that looks good!  What did you put it in?” Furthermore, in my mind’s eye, I can see her tasting both of these recipes, rolling that first taste around her tongue to get all the flavors as she muttered, “Hmm . . .” and then, smiling at me, teeth purple from the blackberries and eyes radiating with both love and joy—one foodie to another– “Maybe I’ll have just a little bit more of that, Stethie, but not too much.”

 

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I would have loved to have served up this salad of dark greens, granny smith apple, diced tomato, walnuts and my freshly made blackberry vinaigrette to Grandmother Helen. If I had had avocado on hand at the time this photo was take, it would be a delicious addition to this salad, especially when making the oil free version.

 

        And, I’d probably retort, good-naturedly, “Grandmother, do you want a small portion, or a Grandmother-Helen-size “small” portion?” Then, we’d both have a good laugh, she’d allow me to serve her, and then we’d sit diagonally from one another–at that table with it’s red checked table cloth– and savor our food together.

 

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I’d give anything to sit across from my kitchen table, as I’m doing here after teaching at Brown Dog Yoga, and sharing a nutrient rich and tasty blackberry smoothie with my grandmother!

 

            The following recipes are fairly flexible and can be altered based upon your preferred tastes and textures.  Play around with ingredients, amounts, as well as combinations. Make these recipes your own.  

 

 

 

 

            From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade meals as well as wonderful food memories!

Store

 

 

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Shake up the smoothie if made in advance, before sipping up.

 

Blackberry Bliss Smoothie

(Serves 1, but can easily be doubled or even tripled)

 Ingredients:

 1-cup blackberries, fresh or frozen

1-cup liquid (milk or plant milk, pomegranate juice, or water)

2 medjool dates (pitted), or ½ banana, or  ½ cup peaches, mango, or another type of berry

½ cup frozen riced cauliflower (my secret way to sneak in veggies early into the day)

½ teaspoon vanilla

Optional Add-ins: protein powder, nut butter, and/or 1 tablespoon of the following: chia seeds, flax seeds, or hemp hearts 

 Directions:

 In a high-speed blender, add in ½ -cup liquid of choice.

Add in blackberries, fruit of choice, cauliflower, and vanilla.

Add any optional ingredients.

Top off with rest of liquid.

Blend until smooth.

Serve immediately, or store in a container for up to 3 days in refrigerator.

Shake well before drinking a smoothie that has been stored.

 

 

Berrylicious Blackberry Vinaigrette

(Makes enough 2-4 individual salads, and can easily be doubled, if desired.

 Ingredients:

 1-cup blackberries

1 medjool date (pitted)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons pomegranate juice

2-4 tablespoons water (depending upon desired thickness)

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ – ½ teaspoon (or more) of salt free seasoning, i.e. Mrs. Dash

¼ teaspoon salt, optional

¼ teaspoon onion powder, optional

**If you’d like the mouthfeel, and/or taste of a fat, add-in 1-2 tablespoons cashew butter, tahini, or a quality olive oil.

 Directions:

 In a high-speed blender, place in all ingredients.

Blend until well smooth.

Check thickness and water accordingly.

Serve immediately over a fresh green salad, and/or store unused portion in refrigerator.