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.  

 

yellow bananas
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 . . .

 

img_1178

 

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!

 

img_1196
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!

img_1198
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 9×9 loaf pan with parchment paper, so that the paper overhangs sides.

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. 

 

img_9855

 

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).

 

img_1131 

 

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.

 

img_1001

 

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!  

 

img_1205

 

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!

 

 

 

img_1002

 

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!  

img_1209

 

 

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.

 

img_0672

 

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!

 

img_0531

 

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.  

 

close up photo of bunch of pears
Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

 

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.  

 

img_0529

 

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. 

 

img_0564
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!

 

img_0671
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. 

 

abundance agriculture bananas batch
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            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.)

 

green basil topped dish in brown bowl

 

            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.

 

beige wooden rectangular chopping board
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            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.

 

img_0355

 

            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.

 

img_1313

 

            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

 

strawberry and blueberry on clear glass bowl
Photo by Ovidiu Creanga on Pexels.com

 

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.

 

cooked food on white ceramic plate close up photography
Photo by BP on Pexels.com

 

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!

 

blur business coffee commerce
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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.

 

berries blackberries close up cocktail
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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. 

 

img_9774
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.  

 

img_9788
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.

 

img_9467

 

            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.

 

img_9475

 

            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.

 

img_9477

 

          “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.”

 

img_9476 

 

            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!

 

img_9461

 

            “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!

 

img_9456

 

            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.

 

img_9465

 

            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!

 

img_9453 

 

 

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!

 

img_9452

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

img_9158
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

 

img_9045
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.

 

img_9038
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.”

 

img_9171
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.

 

img_9169
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

 

 

img_9170
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Covered Cherry Protein Smoothie

           “One cup of this tasty summer delight (cherries) can keep the doctor away, aid you when it comes to cancer and age-related disease . . .help you get a good night’s sleep, (and) . . .helps with arthritis and inflammatory conditions . . .”—Lizette Borreli, Medical Daily

           “Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.  By following an anti-inflammatory diet you can fight off inflammation for good.”—Harvard Women’s Health Watch

           There is no doubt, this spring, has been one of the most beautiful seasons in the Ohio Valley in years!   From early spring flowers, to flowering trees and shrubs, Mother Nature’s artistic flair has painted one beautiful canvas after another with each passing week.  My husband, John, and I have had repeated conversations about our deep appreciation and admiration of this bountiful, colorful season.

 

 

           Additionally, this spring I have had the privilege of teaching classes at Brown Dog Yoga in Ashland, KY!   At age 53, it is wonderful to begin a new season of fitness, and help others do the same! Traveling to teach in Ashland means I am able to enjoy a 30-minute drive that cuts mostly across the back of Lawrence County, OH on OH 243; and what a seasonal display of colors I have enjoyed during these drives!  Red buds, dogwoods, cherry trees, and so forth line the roadside and surrounding hills radiating their celebratory colors for all to witness. In fact, it was the combination of teaching back-to-back fitness classes as well as the colorful blossoms of the cherry trees that became part inspiration for the following recipe.

 

 

           I have three bulging discs as well as an extra vertebra.  Standing or sitting for long periods, walking up stairs, and even certain exercises, all of which both my career as an educator and my new found fitness passion require, can really fire up the pain receptors along my low back, down my legs, and into my ankles/feet.  Typically, I simply grin, grit, and inwardly groan my way through the discomfort, and keep on moving. Still, I am often contemplating ways to reduce inflammation, increase recovery time, as well as maintain overall good health. And, I suspect, I am not the only one.

           Whether or not you are in my age group, fighting inflammation and maintaining overall good health are keys to an active, long life.  Our immune system flairs up any time a foreign substance, or an injury (even excessive workouts can sometimes be perceived by the body as an injury), enter/occur in the body. Sometimes though, inflammation continues to nag the body, even if there is not a, per se, foreign threat/invader. In fact, many well-known diseases such as cancer, arthritis (like I now have in my low back), diabetes, depression/anxiety, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and so forth, are linked to chronic inflammation according Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

img_8237
As seen at Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch.

 

           In fact, in an article published by the Harvard Medical School, reducing inflammation in the body may be as simple as daily food choices.   Foods, such as refined carbohydrates—most white flour breads and baked goods; fried foods; soda and other sugary beverages; red meats, especially those processed; and margarine—including shortening and lard, can all produce inflammation, especially when consumed in excessive amounts.

           Anti-inflammatory foods, however, have been proven to reduce inflammation and chronic disease, especially fruits and vegetables. According to HMS, anti-inflammatory foods include:  tomatoes; olive oil; green leafy vegetables—the darker the better; nuts, especially walnuts and almonds; fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna; and fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.   In fact, these are the foods, HMS maintains, should make up the primary food choices of a healthy diet.

 

          Standing and taking stairs daily at school, regular workouts at BDY, back pain, inflammation, cherry blossoms, anti-inflammatory diet, strawberries, blueberries, cherries . . .”Hey, I why I haven’t I created a cherry smoothie?” This is how my brain rolls on 30-minute drives or during random middle-of-the-night musings.

           I typically dive into my school workday with a smoothie.  Strawberry, blueberry, cauliflower, and spinach are four of my favorite go-to ingredients, along with a non-dairy, gluten free protein powder, for a plant-strong, nutrient rich breakfast.  While I know it is often recommended to not drink your calories, I find my breakfast smoothie habit works well for me as I otherwise tend to make coffee, my only breakfast liquid. Although coffee does offer some health benefits, it does not necessarily offer nutrients that both fuel and feed my body like my homemade smoothies. Thus, if I am going to drink my breakfast anyway, I might as well make it as beneficial as possible.

 

          If I am going to drink my breakfast, which is the better choice? A protein packed, plant based smoothie or a cup of coffee. True, the purple coffee cup is prettier, but the real nutritional bang is in the black shaker cup.

 

           This recipe was also created with my Grandmother Helen in mind.  She dearly loved chocolate covered cherries. Each Christmas holiday, someone in our family always made sure she received at least one box of her favorite confection.  Since I lived with both she and my grandfather for two years, I can still see her, sitting down in her gold recliner after dinner, one chocolate covered cherry on a napkin, as she savored it, bite by little bite.  She’d often grin at me when I would teasingly ask her what she was eating, and bits of chocolate, as well as that whitishcovere goo that covered the cherry, would blanket her lips. What a sweet memory for me to now savor!  And, while, my smoothie recipe may not coat your lips in the same manner, it will fill your tummy with the anti-inflammatory goodness of fruits, vegetables, and walnuts.

 

pexels-photo-458871

 

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

 

pexels-photo-533312           

P.S.  If you happen to buy frozen cherries, they are soooo yummy to eat frozen, straight out of the bag, in the same manner some people freeze grapes and eat for a treat!           

 

Chocolate Covered Cherries Smoothie

Ingredients: The Basics

1 cup of favorite smoothie liquid, divided ½ (water, milk—dairy or non dairy variations)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-cup cherries, frozen or fresh

½ cup riced cauliflower, frozen or fresh

1 serving of favorite chocolate protein powder

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts or almond slivers

Dash of ground sea salt

My favorite add-ins for nutritional boost:

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1-teaspoon hemp hearts

1 tsp-1 tablespoon cocoa or cacao powder (for extra chocolate goodness)

Additional Optional add-ins:

1-teaspoon favorite greens powder

1-teaspoon favorite mushroom extract powder

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Directions:

In a blender cup, add-in ½ cup of chosen liquid.

Add in vanilla extract.

Toss in cherries, followed by protein powder, nuts, and any other add-ins you wish.

Top it all off with rest of liquid.

Blend well until smooth.

Drink, or serve in a bowl, sprinkled with your favorite toppings, such as granola, mini-chocolate chips, dried cherries, additional nuts or seeds, and so forth.  

Serves 1.

Tip:  I often make my smoothies for the week on the weekend and store them in my freezer.  Then, the morning before I wish to consume a smoothie, I take one from the freezer, and store it in the refrigerator to thaw for 24-hours until the following morning. Quick, portable, and ready-to-go nutrition!

 

 

Springtime Strawberry Smoothie

           “Blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are true superfood.  Naturally sweet and juicy, berries are low in sugar and high in nutrients—they are among the best foods you can eat.”—Joel Fuhrman

           “Sometimes you’ve got to grab an apple—or grapes, or strawberries.  Something that’s healthy but maybe a little bit more adventurous, if you can see fruit as adventurous.”—LL Cool J

 

img_7690
Quincey Mullins, 6th grader, at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School.

 

           “Here you go, Mrs. Hill.  They are from Florida. My parents thought you’d enjoy them!”

           I glanced up from my computer to see Quincey, a 6th grader in my homeroom class.  She smiled broadly and handed me a clamshell box of red ripe strawberries. Sure, enough, there was a sticker on the top boasting the berries had been recently picked in Florida.

           “Wow, Quincey!  This is a first; I’ve never before had a student give me strawberries.  They are one of my favorite fruits! I cannot thank your parents and you enough!  I will definitely put these to good use!”

           I said all of this as I gave her a sidearm hug.  It was such a touching gift.

           “I know you like to eat healthy, and we thought you’d like them,” Quincey added as her eyes sparkled with pride.

 

img_7689
The gift of Florida strawberries from Quincey.

 

           Boy, do I ever like strawberries!  In fact, I love all berries, but there is something about spring-ripened strawberries.  Depending upon where you live, strawberries are now in season, or they will be in season within the next month or two.  This means they will be priced ready to sell and at their tastiest.

           One of the freshest and tastiest ways to acquire strawberries is to actually go to a local farm that allows you pick your own.  There is nothing like smelling the sweetness of the berries and the tang of the earth in the damp early morning as you stoop down to pick those luscious berries.  However, if there is not a pick-your-own-strawberries-farm near you, one visit to the local farmers’ market, roadside market, or even local grocery store will often offer a plethora these garnet-colored jewels.

 

 

          Strawberries are high in fiber and many nutrients. One cup of strawberries has about fifty calories and over a gram of protein but only has half a gram of fat. Strawberries are full of Vitamin C.  In fact, one cup of these red succulent orbs possesses 150% of your daily-recommended dose of this vial vitamin. Further, strawberries are full of antioxidants, which are important for neutralizing cancerous free radicals as well as reducing inflammation, including inflammation caused by gout and arthritis.

           If that’s not enough, strawberries also are a source of both magnesium and potassium—important for lowering blood pressure.  They are a good source of folate. Plus, strawberries are great for brain, eye, and immune system healthy. Clearly, strawberries, like all forms of berries, are bursting with natural sweetness and are nutritional powerhouses!

 

strawberries and blueberries on glass bowl
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

          

           These vibrantly red berries, as in all berry varieties, are easily incorporated into a wide variety of recipes.  Strawberries’ sweet versatility makes it easily incorporated into baked goods, salads—fruit and veggie based, parfaits, ice cream—dairy and nondairy variations, jams/jellies/preserves, and so much more. In fact, I am sharing the strawberry smoothie recipe I created for those beautiful berries from Quincey.  My smoothie recipe creates an easy way to add these spring seasonal favorites to your diet.

 

 

            I, personally, loved making this smoothie for breakfast—often making it the night before.  I’ve even made several in one setting, as I did when Quincey gave me the box of strawberries, and stored them in the freezer to make the most of the fresh berries’ ripeness.  Then, I moved one from my freezer to refrigerator each afternoon/evening before, and grabbed it on the way out the door to school!

           Consider trying this recipe with your next purchase of fresh strawberries.  It’s chocked full of all sorts of goodness that is sure to be a tasty and nutritional sound start to your day.  You’ll power through your morning running on high nutritional-octane!

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

P.S.  Thank you, Miss Quincey, for the strawberries as well as the inspiration for this recipe!

 

 

Spring Strawberry Protein Smoothie

Serves 1

Ingredients:

½ to 1-cup (70-140 mg) strawberries (fresh or frozen)

½ to 1 cup (43-85 mg) riced cauliflower (best if frozen)

1 serving of favorite protein powder

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1-teaspoon hemp hearts

1-cup favorite liquid (water, milk or plant-based alternative)

 

My basic ingredients, except for chopped walnuts, those are optional.

Optional Add-ins:

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other favorite extract)

1 tablespoon walnuts (These are especially nice if eating as a smoothie bowl.)

1 teaspoon or packet of favorite sweetener (stevia, honey, maple syrup, etc.)

1-teaspoon favorite greens powder (Amazing Grass variations, i.e. Organic Supergreens Powder)

1-2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Dash of sea salt

Directions:

In a blender or large blender cup, add ingredients in the order listed.

Add in any optional ingredients.

Blend until smooth.

Serve immediately or store in fridge up to 2 days; or, freeze until needed and thaw overnight in fridge!

Sip, savor, and enjoy the springtime goodness!

 

img_7711
Mix it all up in your favorite blender.

 

Green Protein Smoothie–3 Delicious (and Nutritious) Ways

           In life, much like smoothies, you get out what you put in.”-Bolthouse Farms

           “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”—Hippocrates

           Life is busy.  It seems that many of us, me included, are feeling time-crunched. Between the demands of work; juggling time to work out; plan/prep/cook meals; parent kids; carpool to and from school and/or sports activities; caring for a loved one, such as a parent or spouse; and so forth, it often feels as if there are not enough hours in the day.  You want to eat healthy, but you don’t always have the time to cook/prepare three meals per day.

           Before you throw in the towel and buy another box of toaster pastries, run through the nearest fast-food eatery, or dart into the neighborhood convenience store; consider making a smoothie for at least one of your meals.  I personally suggest a breakfast smoothie. Just as the Dalai Lama is often credited with saying, “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day,” adding a protein breakfast smoothie to your morning routine can be one small positive step towards your own health.  You can even make it the night before if you want! (I often do this!)

 

img_7676

           A protein shake for breakfast has numerous benefits.  They are usually quick, portable, cost-effective; and, if made correctly, can be highly nutritious. Additionally, health blogs, nutritional websites, and other literature often link consuming a high-protein breakfast to appetite reduction for several hours as it suppresses ghrelin, a hormone linked to hunger.  This, in turn, reduces the sugary, high-carb cravings that often hit mid-morning. However, if these reasons aren’t enough for you, read on.

           Protein requires more effort for the body to burn; thus, about 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolizing protein as compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats and alcohol.  Additionally, high protein intake can help you burn anywhere from 80 to 100 more calories per day, and some studies suggest an even higher number. Furthermore, protein can help prevent muscles loss and keep your metabolism humming, especially when combined with an exercise program that includes strength training at least two days per week—and, yes, body-weight bearing exercises such as, push ups, squats, and planks, count!   This is especially important as we age. In fact, I was shocked to learn that my protein intake need has actually increased because of my age!

 

img_7673

 

          I personally love the notion of a green smoothie.  For one, what’s not to love about the color green? In my mind, green is the color of nature, earth, and all of the Divine goodness contained therein.  A simple way to make a green smoothie is by simply adding a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder to your favorite vanilla protein scoop/packet. Place both the matcha powder and protein into a dry shaker cup, add 8 ounces of water, milk, or nondairy “milk” beverage, and your engine is revved up for a highly focused and productive morning.

           Why matcha? There are numerous reasons to incorporate matcha into your morning smoothie.  It’s loaded with a plant compound called catechins, which is a natural antioxidant known for reducing cell damage and preventing chronic disease.   Because it contains both caffeine and L-theanine, it has also been shown to increase memory, focus, and reaction time without the jitters often linked to coffee consumption.  Furthermore, studies have shown that green and matcha tea may protect the heart and liver, prevent cancer, and increase metabolism.

 

img_7674

 

           WARNING! With all of this talk about the power of a morning protein smoothie, it is worth mentioning that a smoothie does not mean milkshake!   To ensure your morning smoothie habit does NOT derail your health goals, check the quality of your protein powder and limit what you add to your protein. Mixed plant-based protein, for me, is my preferred choice as it is easier on my system to digest.  However, there are many other quality proteins, depending upon your dietary practices/preferences, such as whey, collagen, and egg white powder to name a few. One top-notch brand many of my friends successfully use is Optavia. One quick look on Facebook can put you in touch with a local Optavia Health Coach to guide you.  However, there are many other excellent brands out there as one visit to your local health food market or on-line search can reveal. Just make sure your chosen protein does not have added sugars, carbs, and additives that you cannot pronounce.

 

Simple Green Smoothie

 

Cauliflower Green Smoothie

 

Spinach Green Smoothie

           I’ve included three ways to create a healthy green, protein smoothie.  This is just a scaffolding that can be adjusted to fit your tastes, dietary needs, and preferences.  The two most important ingredients are a quality protein powder and eight or so ounces of water, milk, or plant-based, non-dairy alternative.  On rushed evenings or mornings, I often toss protein powder and matcha into a shaker cup that I can simply add water to in the morning. When have more time, I add other ingredients to increase the nutritional value.   The most important thing, regardless, is to take that one small, positive action towards your own health. Typically, one good decision leads to another, which can only increase your level of vitality and vigor in spite of a busy schedule!

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

img_7687.jpg
Me, at work, before my students arrive. Making my morning cup of coffee and preparing to drink my portable and nutritious green smoothie. In this picture, it is the creamy, cauliflower green smoothie recipe!

 

Green Protein Smoothie—3 Ways

Main ingredients:

1 serving of favorite protein powder

1-teaspoon organic matcha green tea powder (Make sure it had nothing else added to it as matcha by itself, like all tea, has zero calories, carbs, fats, and so forth!)

8 or so ounces of your favorite liquid, such as water, milk, or nondairy “milk”

 

Optional ingredients:

1 cup (85 grams) riced cauliflower, or fresh spinach or other greens**Requires blender

1-teaspoon supplement greens powder (I like Amazing Grass Organic Supergreens Powder.)

1-teaspoon chia seeds

1-teaspoon ground flax seeds

1 packet of stevia or other favorite sweetener

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Dash or twist of pink Himalayan sea salt

 

 

Simple Green Smoothie:

1 packet or scoop vanilla protein powder, such as Optavia Creamy Vanilla Shake

1-teaspoon matcha powder

8 ounces water

Directions:

Place protein powder and matcha into shaker cup.

Add filtered/bottled water and drink!

How easy is that?

You can even make it with hot water, and drink it like a green tea latte, but without all the added sugar!  

 

Cauliflower Green Smoothie:

1 cup (85 grams) riced cauliflower

1 scoop/packet vanilla protein

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Any additional add-ins from above optional ingredients list

8 ounces, give or take, favorite beverage

Directions:

Mix well in blender.

Drink immediately, or store in fridge for later consumption

 

**Spinach Green Smoothie:

1 cup (85 grams) fresh spinach **or other greens

1 scoop/packet vanilla protein

1-teaspoon matcha powder

Any additional add-ins from above optional ingredients list

8 ounces, give or take, favorite beverage

Directions:

Mix well in blender.

Drink immediately, or store in fridge for later consumption