Tag Archives: almonds

Feeling Loopy

I’m behind in sharing my long runs with you. I’ve dutifully followed my training plan, but not my blogging plan. Oops. ;)

Since I last updated you, there was a 17-miler, a 13-miler, and last week the New York Road Runners 18 Mile New York City Marathon Tune-Up run in Central Park.

I won’t bore you with a detailed breakdown of each (yawn), so let’s cut to the 18-miler, yes?

Set up like a race, it is meant to serve as a training run for the marathon (although some people run it as an end in and of itself). I was strangely nervous and excited beforehand even though it wasn’t a race race. But I also felt ready to run the distance. I was up at 5:00 am, fueling up with a banana topped with a peanut butter-raw cacoa nibs-sea salt mixture of goodness. It was too early for pictures, but I will say it was perfect.

And then I was off to Central Park for not one, not two, but THREE loops around the park. Hilly ones at that.

I don’t know about you, but lots of loops are not my ideal running situation. The only thing worse would be the treadmill. But I figured it would be good training to really tackle Central Park (again…and again…and again), so that when I reach the finish during the marathon (if all goes according to plan, that is), I will be able to dominate those final 6.2 miles. (If you’ve run a marathon before, feel free to laugh at this last statement.)

Anyway. Bring on the loops.

I had a new gel to try–a chocolate Clif Shot Energy Gel–and hit this up around miles 9 and 14. It was great. I like the flavor of the chocolate Gu a little more (it seriously tastes like brownie batter to me), but this was tasty, too, and with better nutritional stats. There’s no bad chocolate in my book.

And I brought my water with lemon/agave. There were water stations along the course, but I figured since I’ve been training with my own, I might as well stick with it.

The run felt great–and the loops weren’t so bad; it became a mental game of creating goals for myself and passing markers. It was also nice to be a part of a group of runners. Even though I didn’t run “with” anyone, I wasn’t running alone.

And guess what? I actually placed! In a race with 3,800 runners. Who knew? I was 8th in my age group for women.

This pace was a titch faster than my long run norm–and to be honest, my goal has been to slow down to reach a more reasonable “marathon” pace–but it happened. Clearly, I’m still finding pacing a bit of a challenge; having never run a marathon before, it’s hard to know how fast or slow I should be running my long runs.

Pacing issues aside, the run was fun. Afterward I stretched my life away in Central Park and enjoyed a chia seed recovery pudding I’d packed.

It hit the spot.

Chia Seed Recovery Pudding

DIRECTIONS:

Mash banana in jar (or bowl). Add chia seeds, almond milk, Vega, blueberries, and almonds. Mix and refrigerate overnight.

Grab and go on race day!

Also enjoyed: TJ’s Roasted Seaweed. It makes for a fabulous post-run snack because it’s nutritious and salty (i.e., replaces your lost sodium).

I’m a fan.

So what about this week’s long run? For the first time since I started my training plan, I’m dropping a long run. I was scheduled to run 19 yesterday, but instead opted for 13. Along with the extra recovery time I needed from the 18 mile marathon tune-up, I also had a busy week with school and was exhausted. And I knew I didn’t need the 19; I trust missing it won’t negatively affect my marathon.

So, I listened to my body. And I think it was the right move.

Would you rather run in loops or, also challenging, complete a straight there-and-back run?

Roasted seaweed: tasty or gross? 

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Nutella Granola + A GIVEAWAY

I’ve had a bit of thing for all things chocolate + hazelnut lately. There was that taste of raw nutella (yum!). And then I found away to essentially drink nutella. Which was obviously amazing.

I’ve also been enjoying Tierra Farm Chocolate Hazelnut Butter.

So. Good.

With all this chocolate-hazelnut business, it didn’t take long for my mind to start dreaming up recipes.

And a delicious new granola was born.

It’s chocolate-y, nutty, but not too sweet. Basically a decadent yet guilt-free breakfast.

What’s not to love? 

Nutella Granola

  • 3 cups of old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 flaxseed
  • a couple grinds of sea salt
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 4 Tbs chocolate hazelnut spread (I used Tierra Farm)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 Tbs nondairy milk (I used almond milk)
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

2. Mix the oats, cocoa powder, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, flaxseed, and sea salt in a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the brown rice syrup, nut butter, coconut oil, nondairy milk, and almond extract. Whisk until combined.

4. Add this to the oat mixture and mix very well.

5. Spread out on a parchment paper-lined (or lightly oiled) baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring and checking often.

6. Let cool completely and enjoy!

This is good straight off the pan.

Or in a bowl.

It’s also delicious topped with bananas.

Or doused in chocolate hazelnut milk…Nutella on nutella?

Done.

Add in strawberries and you have a pretty perfect breakfast.

This will keep for a long time stored in the fridge (or even freezer).

But mine didn’t last too long at all.

As I made my way, bowl by bowl, through this batch of granola, it occurred to me…you should really try this chocolate hazelnut spread! And I should give it to you!

So one lucky reader will receive their very own jar–kindly donated by Tierra Farm.

Because, well, I like you guys.

And then you could make this granola…OR (even better idea) just eat it straight from the spoon. (I won’t judge!)

It’ll even come with this little guy…

Because I can’t in good conscience separate mother and child! ;)

And because this is the blog’s first-ever giveaway, I’ll also throw in some almond butter. And not just any almond butter, my friends. You may or may not remember, but in addition to the chocolate hazelnut butter, Tierra Farm happens to make my all-time favorite almond butter.

Ever.

The texture is like no other almond butter out there. It’s PERFECT.

So who’s in???

How To Enter: 

Leave a comment on this post telling me YOUR all-time favorite almond butter (and/or granola flavor).

And for additional entries:

You have until Thursday, July 28 at 8pm EST to enter.

Good luck! 

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Fancy Headbands and Foodie Heaven: A Vegan Abroad

As my weekend in London was a bit of a whirlwind, it wasn’t very tourist-y–often the best kind of trip. :)

I stayed with Tom and his family in their beautiful home.

Tom’s mom kindly stocked the kitchen full of vegan goodies–including cinnamon and hummus because she knew I was a fiend for both.

It was so sweet! And such fun exploring all the new-to-me products.

My breakfasts consisted of marmalade granola with rice milk.

Yum! Slightly orange-y and sweet–and the hazelnuts were a delicious touch.

This bowl was devoured after a lovely run through the neighborhood…

Hit the spot!

And, of course, I had to try the peanut butter.

This actually reminded me a little bit of Skippy or Peter Pan. Very creamy.

Yum. 

As I’m always on the look out for new nut butters, if you have a favorite British brand, let me know!

And, of course, there was tea.

Loved these both.

For dinner my first night, Tom’s mom cooked a lovely meal with wild rice, fresh chili, sesame oil, and toasted cashews, served with sauteed broccoli.

So. Good! The chili and toasted cashews were a nice touch.

Dessert was vegan, gluten-free ice cream from FreeFrom.

What a treat–we all thought it tasted great.

Even the wedding was vegan-friendly. I may have been the only American present, but I was not the only plant-based eater. Woo!

The vegan option was a stuffed pepper–and it was tasty!

I also enjoyed salad, rice, and bread on the side–but forgot to sneak a photo.

How pretty is the cake?

Obviously it wasn’t vegan, but I had nature’s candy for dessert.

Perfect.

The wedding itself was beautiful and so much fun. It took place at Carew Manor, in a building dating back to 1500 (so much history across the pond!) on what turned out to be a lovely day.

The bride looked gorgeous.

And Tom took his best man duties seriously.

Once the his (awesome) speech was over, he finally relaxed and enjoyed the day.

I didn’t end up getting a fascinator like I’d considered (maybe next time!), but Tom’s sister and I picked out some fancy headbands. Or Alice bands, as they’re called in England. ;)

The wedding was full of fascinators, though, so in retrospect I may have been able to pull it off. Tom’s mom rocked a pretty one.

Sunday was a lazy day around the house with an afternoon at the pub to meet friends.

Then it was already time to go back to New York. Whirlwind indeed.

Luckily, I got to take my “best man” back with me. :)

P.S. For those wondering whether or not my Almond-Coconut Oat Balls ended up being confiscated at the airport, they safely made the journey!

And Tom’s family all loved the “vegan balls” I offered them. ;) Success!

Happy Friday! 

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Baking Up a Storm

Because I was with my family last weekend, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to bring them some of my wonderful baked goods force them to taste test my kitchen experiments.

Thanks guys! ;)

And I did have a lot to bake for: my dad’s (belated) birthday, Mother’s Day (not too long ago), and my sister’s birthday. I was in a baking frenzy before I left.

Firstly, I brought some almond-coconut oat balls (which I had stored in the freezer so they would be fresh) for everyone to sample. We had them with coffee one morning in our hotel.

I am mildly obsessed with these balls–but I wasn’t sure if others would share in my love.

Luckily, they were a hit all around.

We have a winner!

I also baked my dad some snickerdoodles–his all-time favorite cookie.

I decided to try out a vegan version, so I turned to Angela’s favorite snickerdoodle recipe, using baking powder instead of cream of tartar and baking soda.

They felt like snickerdoodles.

They smelled like snickerdoodles.

They baked like snickerdoodles.

They looked like snickerdoodles.

And they tasted…great. By God, I think we have a snickerdoodle!

The thing is, they were not as good as my grandma’s snickerdoodles–which are pretty tough to beat. And part of the problem was my baking mistakes, including the fact that I overbaked them, leaving them too hard.

But if executed correctly, I think I could make these work next time. Dad, guess what you’re getting for Father’s Day?? ;)

For Mom’s Day, I baked my mom a batch of Blackstrap Molasses-Maple Granola–with the addition of pecans because those are her favorite nuts.

This gift was less risky, as my mom had made this recipe before and loved it.

Love in a jar. :)

Finally, I made some special balls for my sister.

Why does that sound so shady?

Anyway. If you remember way back to a certain ball-tastic day, I made some chocolate-covered peanut butter balls.

first try

But–because they weren’t quite perfect–I decided to improve the recipe and share it later.

The balls went into the freezer, soon forgotten.

Fast-forward to a few weeks or so ago when I rediscovered these treasures–and totally fell in love. I could not for the life of me remember why they weren’t perfect.

As my sister also loves peanut butter and chocolate, I decided it would be a good time to make them for her.

As I did, I changed things up. Silly me. They did not turn out well.

So, I went back to the original “imperfect” recipe. And they were perfect. :)

Hopefully you will think so, too.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Balls

  • 2/3 cup cashews
  • 1/3 cup peanuts
  • 2/3 rolled oats
  • 4 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 Tbs maple syrup
  • bit of sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbs peanut butter
  • 1-2 Tbs coconut oil
  • Chocolate sauce (see below)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Process cashews, peanuts, and oats until it forms a powder.

2. Add the rest of ingredients (except for the chocolate sauce) and process for a while, scraping down the sides every once so often. The mixture will still be crumbly, but you should be able to press it together and have it stick.

3. Form one big dough ball as you remove from food processor, pressing it together.

4. Roll/press into smaller balls–about 9 or 10. Refrigerate.

4. At this point, make the chocolate sauce. You can:

  • Melt chocolate chips to make a delicious sauce (maybe add peanut butter??)
  • OR create a sauce

Here’s my version: Melt about 1/4 cup coconut oil, whisk in about 1/2 cup cocoa powder, and add about 2 Tbs of agave. Stir in about 2-3 Tbs peanut flour to thicken it up. If you don’t have peanut flour, I would start with just 2 Tbs coconut oil and add more as needed. Do not add milk or water, as you’re looking for a pretty thick chocolate that will adhere to the balls and fully dry.

Note: If you make this sauce, you will have a little to spare. I trust you will find good use for this. ;)

5. Dip the balls into the sauce and place them on wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour, until the chocolate hardens.

6. Enjoy! Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

As you can imagine, they are delicious.

And what matters is Abby loved them.

Mmmmm.

And this recipe is my gift to you.

Actually, with all this talk of gifts, today’s post would have been an ideal time for a giveaway. But I did not think ahead and have nothing to offer you. So I owe you one. ;)

Do you ever make food as gifts for friends and family? 

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Recipe Revisited

A while back, I made some almond-coconut granola balls that were almost perfect. I knew with the addition of a sweetener, they would be out of this world.

In fact, I was so confident in this, I shared the recipe without testing my theory. Risky business.

But I would never lead you astray! And, after finally attempting the new and improved recipe, I can confidently say: make these.

I had been waiting for the chance to test this recipe once and for all, so when Tropical Traditions kindly sent me a jar of their gold label virgin coconut oil, made from fresh, organic coconuts from the Philippines, I knew exactly what I was going to make.

What better way to use coconut oil?

Did I mention they were almond-coconut balls with tart cherries and chia seeds?

Yep. Amazing.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I heart all things coconut. I love coconut oil (as I mention here) because it’s great for cooking and baking; it can be heated to high temperatures without becoming a trans fat. It’s also a unique form of saturated fat in that it’s easily digestible and immediately converted into energy by the liver (as opposed to being stored in cells).

The coconut flavor in these treats comes from the coconut oil, coconut flour (oat flour can be subbed), and unsweetened shredded coconut. The almond flavor is infused through the almonds, almond butter, and almond extract (optional, but a nice touch).

The balls are not dry and crumbly in the least; they hold together beautifully. And with the addition of brown rice syrup–a very mild sweetener–they’re not overly sweet either. The texture is almost like a mini scone with oats. Or a slightly chewy oat-y treat, its flavor reminiscent of a macaroon.

I’m not sure how else to describe them, except to say, they are nothing short of lovely–and may even be one of the best creations to come out of my kitchen.

The perfect accompaniment to tea or coffee.

Healthy enough for breakfast. Delicious enough for an afternoon treat.

For the updated recipe, go here. See below for the process in pictures…

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

If you were hesitant to attempt my imperfect recipe the first time, rest assured that these are worth your while.

And, don’t worry, Mom; I’ve saved some of these for you!

Happy Mother’s Day! 

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Newness + Old Favorites

You may have noticed that I have a new breakfast bowl.

Yep, I’ve been cheating on my tried and true “happy” bowl.

Maybe you were sick of seeing this bowl with every. single. breakfast recipe.

Maybe you really love the bowl and have wondered where it’s been lately.

More likely, you’ve probably never even considered what dishes I use and are currently thinking, What is she talking about? Ha. That’s totally okay. In fact, it takes the pressure off, because I’m a little lacking in the pretty dishes department. (Ikea anyone?)

Needless to say, I did get a new bowl and have been filling it with lots of goodness.

Pumpkin overnight oats (much like my butternut oats, only with pumpkin).

Weetabix with flaxseed, almond milk and frozen blueberries. I’m loving frozen fruit atop oats and cereal these days!

I got this bowl at anthropologie in part because it’s so pretty and in part it was the only item I could afford in the store. No joke. (Side note: It kind of makes me feel old when I go shopping and come home with new dishes instead of new clothes!)

The good news is, I’ve discovered there’s room for both bowls in my kitchen. I still love my old breakfast bowl. It continues to makes my mornings happy (small joys). But so does my new bowl.

See, as a creature of routine, I don’t love change. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I have some really huge life changes coming in a few months.

And I’m pretty petrified.

There are so many unknowns, such risk involved. What if this new path doesn’t work out?

But I also know that right now I’m too comfortable. I’m not challenged every day. I’m happy, but not exactly where I want to be. I need to be brave and take my life in a new direction. Because that doesn’t just happen on its own.

I’m scared, but I’m also ready. Change is how we grow.

No, a new bowl is not a big change. My oats are the same. But in small ways I’m starting to embrace newness in my life; I’m starting to look forward to what’s to come. And that’s the first step.

In the spirit of newness, I decided to create a new flavor of granola. But I also really just wanted my usual Blacksrap Molasses-Maple Granola. I don’t like to mess with a good thing.

So I made both.

It’s a good thing I buy oats in bulk. ;)

Another batch of Blackstrap Molasses-Maple

Had to be done.

And for my new flavor, I was inspired by Love Grown Foods granola–which, admittedly, I’ve never had before. After seeing it on numerous other blogs and drooling over all the different flavors, my Love Grown desire culminated in this tweet:

Shortly after, I came to the conclusion that I should really just make my own version. (You already know why I love my granola homemade.)

I was inspired by their sweet cranberry pecan flavor, but had mostly almonds on hand. And this is the amazingness that ensued.

Sweet Cranberry Almond Granola

  • 4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (baking pieces)
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • heaping 1/2 cup flaxseed, ground
  • 1 Tbs pumpkin pie spice (so. good.)
  • titch of sea salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional, but nice touch)
  • 1/3 cup agave
  • 2 Tbs maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup safflower oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cranberries (to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Mix all ingredients (except for cranberries) until very well-combined.

3. Spread onto two baking sheets covered in parchment paper (optional). Bake between 20 and 30 minutes. Stir the granola often because it can burn quickly.

Since apparently I’m sharing my tweets, here’s what you will experience during this step in the process:

Consider yourselves warned.

4. Let cool completely before adding in the cranberries–however many you like!

Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator (to prevent the granola from going soft or stale). I keep mine in the freezer because it keeps a very long time and is ready-to-eat straight from the freezer (no time or defrosting required) whenever I want a bowl!

Enjoy!

Mmmmm. Loving the old, embracing the new!

Yep, this is a keeper.

Deliciously spiced, subtly sweet, perfectly nutty–with tang from the cranberry.

Love in a bowl, people.

I’m not going to say this bowl represents that change is always easy (and/or delicious); granola is not a metaphor for life. Change won’t be easy. There will be a major adjustment period ahead.

But through it all, I will take comfort in the things and the people I love, which stay constant and keep me anchored.

And if that means making granola in my kitchen and eating it from a pretty bowl, so be it.

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No Pain, No Gain

I’m surprised I haven’t shared this with you guys yet, but I have a personal trainer.

Which cost me only 13 dollars from Amazon.com.

And comes to my living room, to the delight (I am sure) of the neighbors below me as I jump on their ceiling. Oops.

You’ve probably guessed by now I’m talking about a workout DVD–my first ever: Jillian Michael’s 30-Day Shred.

I’ve complained before about my lack of variety in my workout routine. Aside from yoga (which I love but only do once a week at best) and some measley sit-ups and push-ups following my runs, all I do is run.

I knew I needed to up my game to improve my overall fitness–and my running! I particularly wanted to start strength training.

Thanks to the magically timely blogworld, Elise answered my call for more cross-training with this post about the power of Jillian. So I ordered the DVD about a month ago and have been “shredding it” ever since.

The verdict? I love it! The DVD contains three 20-minute workouts–levels 1, 2, and 3–and I jump around between them depending on how I’m feeling. I get something out of all of them, but am really challenged by level 3.

My favorite aspect of the workouts is they make the most of your time. In just 20 minutes you cover strength, cardio, and abs, often working multiple muscle groups at once to maximize calorie burn. God only knows how long it would take me bumming around the gym randomly trying machines to get in the same workout. ;)

I also like that I don’t have to think. I can just wake up, pop this in, and get ‘er done.

And I love the fact that I don’t have to leave the house. That’s the part my neighbors like, too. ;) Tom won’t let me do the DVD before 7:00 am out of respect for the people who live below (even though waiting until 7 messes with my morning routine!), because he is apparently more courteous than me. Ha.

I try to get in some quality Jillian time every morning, though I don’t always fit it in, and then do my usual run after work. It kicks off my day in the best way possible. My metabolism is revved and I feel energized. I’ll definitely be checking out her other DVDs.

Do you use a workout DVD? Any faves?

Speaking of revving my metabolism…after today’s run followed by a sweaty Jillian session, I had some homemade almond butter on Ezekiel sprouted bread.

Perfect.

I almost feel bad sharing this recipe because it’s not really a recipe at all. It’s raw almonds. That’s it. If you have a food processor and a little bit of patience, you will have delicious raw almond butter.

Raw Almond butter

  • 2 cups of raw almonds

Process almonds, scraping down the sides of your food processor often, until they transform into almond butter.

Very easy indeed. After overcomplicating hummus in yesterday’s post, I feel I need to give you guys myself a break. ;)

And the best part? It’s so much cheaper than buying almond butter! The almonds were $4.49–and I have a lot leftover. As almond butter can be up to $13 a jar (and I’ve totally been guilty for splurging), this is refreshing.

Although I will say there are some jars I will continue to buy (like this one) because they are that good.

What’s your favorite brand of almond butter?

And now I’m going to make a MASSIVE salad because that’s exactly what I’m craving. And I just went grocery shopping today so I have lots of fresh produce to work with. Woo! Today was all about getting things done–groceries, workout, laundry, homemade nut butter.

A day in the life…

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Editing

I’m getting the hang of blogging, but there’s one thing I’m not totally used to yet: the fact that blogging doesn’t allow for extensive editing.

You write, then post. Or, in my case, cook, photograph, write, then post. It’s a whirlwind process that doesn’t leave much time for drafts, revisions, and edits.

This is strange for me, as I work for a magazine that is pretty into editing. It’s kind of what we do. I don’t personally edit for content, but I do make grammatical corrections and implement the draft changes every step of the way. We often edit one manuscript up to 15 times, back and forth, again and again. And that’s just one article! It’s a lot of work but the articles always transform into a good pieces of writing.

Blogging, not so much. Sometimes I look back and cringe at a misspelling, awkward phrasing, or bad joke. Sure, I read my posts over before hitting “publish,” but I don’t dedicate too much time to perfecting them. (Which is a good thing, because if I did, I would never get a post out!)

Having seen good editing at work, there is something to be said for spending a lot of time on a piece of writing–pausing, reflecting, revising.

In one sense, though, blogging does allow me to pause, reflect, and “revise”; my blog is sort one big rough draft that I’m constantly updating/revising with new posts. It’s a work-in-progress. Imperfect, but fun! I’m starting to embrace the fast-paced art of blogging.

Today’s post, however, has called for some serious content editing.

See, I made some sugar-free granola balls that are good, but not quite great. As I sat down to share them with you, I just couldn’t do it–as is.

I know they look good. But they’re a titch…dry and crumbly.

They’re made with oats, almonds, almond butter, almond extract, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut flakes, coconut flour (deliciously sweet), and dried tart cherries….

Sounds amazing, right?

I thought I could get away with no sweetener–and I sort of did, as the taste is perfectly subtly sweet–but the texture is slightly dry. I haven’t tested this, but I believe the addition of agave or brown rice syrup would make these guys perfect. The syrup would provide moisture and allow the balls to stick together better.

So, I’ve edited agave into this recipe without testing it. Am I allowed to do that? Whatever, it’s my blog. Done. Ha.

Here is the new and improved (I hope?) recipe.

Almond-Coconut Oat Balls

  • 1 cup rolled oats, toasted
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • heaping 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour* (you could use oat flour)
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, finely chopped (sliced or slivered almonds would work, too)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup (I omitted but I think this will work :) Edited to add: It worked! See this post.)
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • a few grinds of sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, or to taste

* I will be updating my ingredients page to include coconut flour soon. For now, just know that it is sweet, gluten-free, high in fiber, and about 20% protein. The coconut can do no wrong.

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet (or line with parchment paper).

2. Pulse almonds in a food processor until they’re chopped to your liking. (Skip this step if you’re using sliced or slivered almonds.)

finely chopped

3. Toast oats in a frying pan until golden and fragrant.

4. Add about half the chia seeds to the water, allowing them to gel up.

5. Mix oats, coconut flakes, coconut flour, almonds, cherries, the other half of the chia seeds, cinnamon, and salt in a big bowl.

6. In a separate bowl, mix melted coconut oil, almond extract, and brown rice syrup. Add this to the dry ingredients.

7. Stir in the almond butter the chia seed-water mixture. Mix, mix, mix everything until well-combined.

7. Form into balls, pressing dough together so balls are as solid as possible. This is a messy process. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Your house will smell heavenly.

I wrapped mine in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer, so they’re easy to grab and go.

And, yes, I will still be enjoying my imperfect granola balls. The flavor is there and they do fit my no-sweets parameters.

If you make these, let me know how it goes–and if this recipe requires any additional editing.

And I apologize now for all my past and future grammatical errors. :)

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New to Me

I’d never experimented with spaghetti squash before, but I’ve always been amazed at the way it naturally transforms, once cooked, into spaghetti-like strands. I think it’s so cool. (Nerd Alert! And I’m not ashamed!)

So I finally stopped admiring the aptly-named squash from afar and tried it out.

before

after

The verdict? Delicious–and an amazing angel hair pasta-like texture. A sneaky way to get in more vegetables. Spaghetti squash contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids–rare for veggies–as well as lots of vitamins (A, C, and several of the B vitamins) and minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, manganese, selenium, and zinc).

It holds its own in sauces, too. I topped my “spaghetti” with a puttanesca sauce inspired by Molly.

As Molly first enlightened me, pasta puttanesca translates to “whore’s pasta.” This never fails to make me laugh. I don’t know why. As a woman, I should probably feel offended…yet I giggle.

I believe this makes my dish “whore’s squash.” Which was fitting to enjoy with Tom because we often say to each other, “You have a whorish mouth.” (We are kidding, of course; it’s a line from a movie. Anyone know the reference?)

On that note, allow me to share my meal. :)

Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • half an onion, diced
  • 2 -3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregeno
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • sprinkle of red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 – 3 Tbs chopped olives (I used Kalamata)
  • 1 heaping Tbs capers
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut the ends of the spaghetti squash, then cut in half lengthwise. Spoon out the seeds. Place cut-side down in a baking dish with about a half-inch of water. Bake for about an hour or until skin becomes tender.

3. To make sauce: heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, seasonings, olives, and capers. Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.

4. Fork the spaghetti strands out of your squash when it’s ready.

5. Top with sauce and enjoy…preferrably alongside a vegan ceasar salad.

Comfort food with a twist.

Let’s talk about that salad. Yup, the dressing is ceasar and vegan. And so. freaking. good.

I whipped it up as the squash did its thing and could not stop stealing tastes. It tasted a lot like ceasar dressing to me, although, to be honest, I stopped trying to make it “ceasar” after I sampled it; it was too good to mess with. You can decide for yourself.

Vegan Ceasar Salad

Dressing

Adapted from various sources, including Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet

  • 2 Tbs almonds
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1 Tbs the brine from capers
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (or the equivalent)
  • 1 heaping Tbs tahini
  • 2 tsp spicy brown mustard
  • 1 Tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • scant 1/4 cup water

DIRECTIONS:

1. Place almonds and garlic in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the water and process until smooth. Stream in the water until dressing reaches desired consistency.

2. Adjust seasonings to taste.

3. Add to a salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and croutons (recipe below).

Delicious! I’m not a huge creamy dressing fan, but this was not too thick and oh-so-flavorful. Not to mention good for you; there’s absolutely no guilt involved in this ceasar dressing.

To make the croutons I cut up some fresh, crusty bread, tossed it with olive oil, sprinkled dried basil, oregano, salt, and pepper, and baked at 375 for about 15 or so minutes (or until golden brown), flipping part way through.

Crispy.

Altogether now.

Yum. I’m definitely a fan of spaghetti squash (though I think butternut is still my fave). What’s your favorite squash?

Any guesses as to what I did with the squash leftovers?

If you’re thinking breakfast, you know me well. But, no, I did not add the spaghetti squash to my oats. I’m not sure if that would have turned out as well as butternut squash. ;)

But I did put together a great lunch.

Now, I know I usually save lunch items for my weekly lunch post, but I have to share this concoction; it was too good.

First steam a lot of kale. (Great start, no?)

Then add the leftover spaghetti squash.

Top with a generous amount of vegan ceasar dressing (recipe above). Mmmm.

Mix mix mix.

Add freshly ground pepper.

And I was good to go!

Random, but this ended up being one of my all-time favorite lunches, I must say. I will be making this dressing again.

Who needs sweets??

Speaking of which, for those participating in the no-sweets challengehow are you holding up?

A post about curbing cravings is coming soon…

Happy Friday!


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Operation Iron

[Today's post is a bit of an info overload, so feel free to scroll down to a bombin' pesto at the end. I won't mind. :)]

This past fall, I found out I was iron deficient.

Before I go any further, let me be clear that my iron deficiency was not because of my diet. Plant-based sources of iron (non-heme) are aplenty–and paired with with vitamin C, absorption is not a problem. It’s important to me that I emphasize this, as there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about vegetarian/vegan diets and I certainly don’t want to add to those.

My deficiency developed because, during the year leading up to my discovery, I had been taking antacid medication (as prescribed by my doctor) twice daily (I had terrible acid reflux–a story for another day). Little did I know, antacids prevent the absorption of iron. So I was systematically blocking iron from my body.

Awesome.

Although I had stopped taking antacids by the time I learned I was deficient, the damage had been done.

See, as it turns out, iron is kind of a big deal. It’s an essential mineral present in every living cell and necessary for the production of hemoglobin (primary part of red blood cells), which carries oxygen in the blood, myoglobin (major protein of muscle cells), and certain enzymes. It plays a key role in metabolism, digestion, and circulation, and is vital for active individuals as it is responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and other parts of your body hard at work.

When you’re lacking iron, you may experience fatigue, dizziness when standing up, difficulty concentrating, the urge to chew on ice, etc. Or, as is often the case with mild deficiencies, you may be totally asymptomatic.

So why am I sharing this?

Iron deficiency is very common among women (in part because we lose blood every month) and is particularly common in women runners. I want to share my story and what I’ve learned because even if you aren’t iron deficient, as an active woman (which many of you are), it’s important to be aware of your iron intake to ensure you’re getting what your body needs.

Ladies, this post is dedicated to you. :)

So what’s my story?

My nutrient deficiency manifested itself in running–though I didn’t know at the time that a lack of iron was the culprit. I was training for a half marathon last spring when running became very difficult. My legs felt so heavy. I get heavy legs from time to time–but this was different as it was happening every run. From long runs to “easy” three-milers, I could not run at pace. I was slow. And I’ve never struggled with hills so much in my life.

I thought I was over-training so I tried cutting back and resting more. I also kicked up the protein in my diet and started eating pre-run carbs for quick energy. But nothing worked. I managed to power through the training and complete the half, and while I was happy to finish, a part of me was also disappointed in myself; I had trained, and yet my time was a full 15 minutes longer than my that of my previous half marathon. And I didn’t know how to get back to where I was.

So when I found out I was iron deficient (and learned that it can affect performance), a part of me was happy to know that my slowed running times were not because I wasn’t training hard enough (or training too much).

I quickly developed a plan of action to get my iron levels back up. In addition to the twice daily iron supplements prescribed by my doctor, I wanted to do all I could to get iron from my food. My goal was to be off the supplements by my follow-up appointment (in 3 months). It’s not that I’m against supplements (I take a multi-vitamin every once in a while and a B-vitamins supplement a couple times a week); it’s just that I don’t want my diet to be unnecessarily lacking.

[Disclaimer: Please consult a doctor before taking iron supplements; they are unnecessary--even potentially detrimental--for those who are not iron deficient.]

Fast forward to last Tuesday when I had said appointment. As my running pace has returned, I was feeling confident. My iron levels did jump up which is great :)…but my iron store is still low. Apparently, it can take a while to build this up. So I’m still on the supplements.

Enter: Operation Iron. A.k.a. my plan to up my dietary iron intake.

Before I share, please remember that this is amateur advice. I am not a nutritionist and there was a lot of info during my research that I couldn’t sort through. For example, I’ve read that spinach is an excellent source of iron but that its tannins can block absorption. So is it really a good source of iron or not? (I say yes and hope for the best.) Also, calcium can block the absorption of iron. So what does that mean for foods rich in both minerals–does the calcium cancel out the iron? Some things remain a mystery to me.

Anyway.

Step 1: Learn what plant-based foods are high in iron (such as spinach, blackstrap molasses, lentils, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, tahini, millet, broccoli, swiss chard, dried apricots, raisins, pepitas, edamame, etc.) For a longer list go here.

Step 2: Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C for optimal absorption. (Salads topped with pepitas and a citrus dressing, orange juice with iron-rich cereal, tomatos with your greens, beans, or lentils, etc. Also, eat lots of foods high in both iron and vitamin C, such as broccoli or bok choy.)

Step 3: Create some iron-rich recipes!

Such as my iron-rich trail mix.

I know this recipe compilation of nuts/seeds/dried fruits is so not exciting. But it is tasty and it does the job. Not everything can be as magical as cookie dough balls, people. ;)

In the mix? Nuts and seeds high in iron–pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews–and iron-rich raisins. It also includes dried apricots which are high in both iron and vitamin C as well as dried mulberries.

I stumbled across mulberries a few months ago and discovered they are little iron powerhouses–and are packed with vitamin C. Ideal for easy absorption.

They’re sweet, chewy, delicious little guys.

Let’s put it altogether.

Ironwoman Trail Mix

  • 3/4 cup pepitas
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup mulberries

Mix ingredients together. I eat in servings of 3 or 4 Tbs.

Other recipes I’ve made that are a good source of iron include:

Tofu and Spinach in a Lemon Caper Sauce

Blackstrap Molassas-Maple Granola

Three-Bean Chili

If you haven’t noticed, I also tend to put pepitas or toasted sunflower seeds on pretty much everything. Per Alicia Silverstone’s suggestions in The Kind Diet, I rinse my sunflower seeds then toast them in a frying pan over medium heat until they start to pop and/or turn golden brown and fragrant. I then remove from heat and sprinkle a bit of soy sauce over them, to taste. And they are tasty. One of my favorite takeaways from that book.

To spice things up (literally HA), I also baked up some fiery pepitas this week to add to salads and wraps.

Toss together 1 cup of pepitas, 1 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. maple syrup, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp cumin, scant 1/4 tsp cayenne, and a random drizzle of worcestershire sauce. Bake at 400 degrees until golden (mine took about 7 minutes). Add a generous sprinkle of sea salt right out of the oven, to taste.

A little kick indeed!

And tonight I threw together an iron-rich pesto.

Served over whole wheat penne.

Spinach-Basil Pesto

with cashews and pepitas

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbs. pepitas
  • 2 Tbs. cashews
  • About 2 cups basil leaves
  • About 2 cups spinach leaves
  • 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (or more for a thinner sauce)
  • Sea salt, to taste

Process in this order: garlic, pepitas, cashews, nutritional yeast, and salt, then the greens and the olive oil. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Coupled with tomatoes (read: vitamin C), it’s a win-win.

A good note to conclude tonight’s Operation Iron, yes?

And there will be more where that came from: For those out there who share my iron issue, I will be tagging some of the more iron-rich recipes on my blog so you’ll be able to click “iron” to get a list of recipe ideas. (At the very least, this will be a helpful guide for none other than moi! :))

And I promise that’s all the nutrition chat for a while!

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