Popcorn Pasta – A Strangely Named Last Minute Dinner

Popcorn Pasta?! WTH is she talking about?! This could take many unappealing forms – using popcorn AS pasta and putting sauce on it – which would, of course, melt the yummy part of the popcorn and leave you with a strangely starched and very hull-y red sauce. Yeah, that’s not it. One could also, in theory, put popcorn on your pasta as a topping I suppose, but similar difficulties would ensue unless of course you were using raw pasta in which case I would tell you that nobody who is sober should really chew on raw dried pasta. So what on earth is popcorn pasta, my kids’ new favorite?

Popcorn pasta is named thusly only because I season it the SAME way I season popcorn. So you’re about to get a key not only to super easy and yummy pasta but to fantastic popcorn (you know the kind you make in a pot and then put stuff on). Popcorn pasta has 4 ingredients. Yep, I said 4. It is done in approximately 30 seconds longer than it takes to cook your favorite dried pasta, and, in case I haven’t said it, is super yummy. Four ingredients: dried whole wheat pasta (yes, please whole wheat and here’s why OR if you’re a white pasta devotee, still read that bit about why and try a blended pasta to get used to the idea of wheat pasta), olive oil, salt, and nutritional yeast.

We were fine there for a minute, weren’t we, and then I said nutritional yeast. There are many of you (our vegan pals) who already know about nutritional yeast and likely call it something like “nooch” so you don’t have to use this totally unappealing moniker, but the uninitiated will not find “nooch” in the store, so we have to pull back the curtain. What the heck is nutritional yeast?! Unfortunately this is not a terrible quick, or appealing sounding answer. I can tell you that it is NOT the same as baking yeast and substitutions will create messy and unpleasant results. It is also NOT Brewer’s yeast, which will not be as messy, but will taste like poo. Nutritional yeast comes in flake and powder form and is often used in dishes that might otherwise include some cheese – ya know, like pasta. Why on earth must they call it nutritional yeast? Well, clearly whoever named it did not study marketing, but here’s the skinny on “nooch” from one of my favorite bloggers (FatFreeVeganKitchen)…

“As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, is gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. Because vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods unless it’s added as a supplement, nutritional yeast that contains B12, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, is a great addition to the vegan diet (though I strongly recommend taking a supplement as the only way to be sure you’re getting enough). Not all nooch has B12, so check the label carefully before buying.

The vitamins and minerals are all well and good, but truthfully, I use nutritional yeast for its flavor, which has been described as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami.” Just a tablespoon or two can add richness to soups, gravies, and other dishes, and larger amounts can make “cheese” sauces and eggless scrambles taste cheesy and eggy.”

So there you are – good reasons to use nutritional yeast despite it’s terrible name. Two more good reasons: awesome popcorn and Popcorn Pasta. I am only writing this up in recipe form because I am unable to bear the inconsistency that would result from simply describing the procedure (which would admittedly be adequate), now you know something about me you probably didn’t want to know.

Popcorn Pasta

  • Whole Wheat Pasta cooked according to your preference (we’re an al dente bunch)
  • Olive Oil
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Salt

So here you go, the big finish. Add olive oil to your cooked pasta – enough to make it a little slick, not enough to pool. Add generous shakes of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of salt (adjust for your taste and pasta amount). Stir together – if you have one of these beauties this part is even easier. Taste. Add ingredients as desired. Serve with veggies. Demolish. Delight. Yes, the procedure for super yummy popcorn is the same, although I use a mister for my olive oil in that situation to avoid the aforementioned popcorn mush problem. Eat well, be well friends, even when that means eating things with terrible names.

Weekly Meal Plan 4/6-4/12

Here it is, the last day of “Spring Break,” which for us was shortened due to an overabundance of snow days. It is in these times that my Mom insecurity moves in for a few days and takes hold. I see all the pictures on Facebook of families who’ve gone somewhere exotic, or even not so exotic but away, for the break. I see other pictures of well-planned Staycations with lots of enriching outings. They’re all smiling so much in these pictures. I’m smiling too, because it’s going to be 73 degrees here today, but these pictures bring out that fear. Am I doing enough? Are they happy? Do my kids have fun? Will they have good memories? Why aren’t we at the beach? (Okay, that last one was a little different, and admittedly more about me, myself, and I.) And then I look at them.

Okay, I mean I get up and look out the window and look at them. They’re riding bikes with their neighbors and having a ball. They’re healthy and happy and we are all okay. Today we have to go say goodbye to a classmate of theirs who succumbed after a long battle with a rare disease. He was in the second grade. We will go pay our respects and probably cry. And hopefully offer some comfort by being part of a very large and loving crowd that will do the same. And then we will have the luxury of leaving and returning to our regular lives which are pretty darned wonderful. At some point in there, we will also eat and be thankful that we are able to find nourishment in our meals and joy with one another. A true thanksgiving, informed by sorrow, in the long awaited Spring.

Monday: Popcorn Pasta (named by the kids and I will share in a couple of days even though it’s so easy it’s hardly worth writing up, wait, you want to hear about those don’t you?)

Tuesday: Rockin’ Falafel, veggies for falafel sandwiches, large lettuce for lettuce wrap style falafel, tahini dressing, cut veggies,

Wednesday: Coconut Curry with Green Beans, Potatoes and Kale, green salad

Thursday: Lentil Minestrone, homemade bread, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Half Raw Stir Fry with Bibimbap Rice

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever AND Pesto, because we have no boundaries, green salad

Lunchbox Treats: Effin’ Easter Candy (there’s not a ton of it, so I’m going to take the quick eradication approach this time)

Adult Lunches: Salads with lovely spring veggies and leftovers

 

There it is. A week of healthful cooking and hopefully grateful eating. Eat well, be well friends.

Peppers Stuffed w/ Healthy Yum

Colored peppers make me smile.  Bright colors, shiny skin, green hat…. then after I kill it ;-)  they are juicy, crisp and flavorful.  Great raw, sauteed, broiled, roasted, just get them in the mouth!  My grocery store sends me coupons and recipes that require the ingredients for which they sent me coupons.  Clever, right?  Of course I don’t eat 50% of what they list as ingredients, but hey – 50% positive match is a start!  In this case the grocery store missive brought a recipe for Orzo stuffed peppers.  Sounds good, now how to adapt for my GF hubby, my picky son, and my preference to be meatless most of the time…..

Enter some old standbys and an inspiration from our good friend Annie at ‘anunrefinedvegan.com‘   She cleverly used pulsed chickpeas to add some texture and protein to spaghetti sauce.  I took that idea and added walnuts, quinoa and spices to make a mixture for pepper stuffing with an aim at a sausage-y kind of flavor.

You could easily change the flavor profile in this by switching out some spices, just give whatever you try a taste before stuffing, make changes and voila you are now the recipe creator :-)

Peppers Stuffed with Yum

1 1/2 c cooked quinoa
3 large bell peppers, topped and seeded to be like cups
1/2 c cooked chickpeas (rinsed if you used canned)
1/2 c walnuts
Oil for saute (I used avocado)
1/2 c chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp sage
3/4tsp. smoked paprika
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp dried parsley-2 of fresh
Diced tomatoes – I used canned fire roasted

Pre-heat oven to 350
Cook quinoa in vegetable broth
Prepare peppers
Place chickpeas and walnuts in bowl of food processor and pulse until mixture is broken down but not much – leave some texture
Saute onions and garlic in pan large enough to accommodate all ingredients until translucent
Add spices and cook for another minutes or so, stirring
Add chickpeas and walnuts to heat
Add a little water if it seems too dry
Turn off heat and add parsley and cooked quinoa
Grease a pan that will enable your peppers to stand upright (I used coconut oil)
Spoon mixture into peppers until almost full

20150321_164203Add a layer of diced tomatoes to each pepper
Cook 30 – 45 minutes or until Peppers reach desired tenderness.

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Serve with vegan parmesan (my preference)

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or plain – both my boys liked it just fine plain.

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This was a 100% hit.  I wish I’d made more than one apiece!  Next time this is a recipe doubler or tripler for sure. And again – you could switch out the spices for oregano, basil & thyme…. or chili powder, cumin and cayenne…. whatever works for your tribe!

I was left with lots of extra quinoa because I always make extra grains.  We shall see if Little Sis offers some ideas that include quinoa in the weekly meal plan (which I selfishly steal on a regular basis).  If not, it is so easy to throw together some quinoa, some veggies and a favorite sauce for an easy weeknight meal.

Eat well. Be well.  And if you want some help on the journey to healthful eating, check out Baby Steps to Better Health.

Shepherd’s Pizza (Potato Crust-ish Tasty Thing)

I was going to leave the title as just ‘Shepherd’s Pizza’ thinking it might intrigue millions, or thousands of readers into opening this post.  Then I thought perhaps I’d better offer just a little explanation, or maybe nobody would read it except for my mother.

So now that you are here…. you are still perhaps wanting a little more explanation?  This started as an attempt on my part to create a pizza crust out of potatoes (and a few other things).  Well, it did not turn out to be something that you could pick up.  More specifically, not pick up and take a bite that was several inches away from where you were holding it.  You could pick this food up in your hands if you are so moved, however…. it won’t be pretty.

“Alas, failure! I signed.”  Then my son said, “You should make this more often Mom!”

Ho ho!  Music to my ears on getting healthy food into my people!  I saw beyond failure and into the land of opportunity where lies the naming of something weird and different than what was expected.  What to name this soft layer of potato-y goodness topped with pizza stuff.  Upside down Italian Shepherd’s Pie came to mind.  The Italian word for shepherd is pastore by the way ;-)

So, I would be happy to share Pastore Potato Pizza with you!

Pastore Potato Pizza
2 qts chopped and boiled red potatoes.  (I left the skins on)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup cashews that have been soaked in 1 cup water for at least 6 hours and then drained.
1 – 2 Tbsp milk of choice
3 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt

Pizza toppings or any roasted vegetables or cheeses that you like

– Pre-heat oven to 375
– Boil the potatoes until very tender and drain
– Drain the cashews and blend or process with the yeast flakes, milk and olive oil until fairly creamy.
(The milk is purely to get this mixture to mash, so start with just a little and see if you need more.)
– Place everything, including the blender goo in a large bowl and mash away.

20150304_162121See the chia seeds hiding in the potato cave? And the cashew lava creeping down the mountain?  Okay, so the imagination thing can be a problem for me ;-)

– Place parchment paper on a pan or two and spread a layer about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick on the parchment paper.
– Bake for 20 – 30 minutes.  I left one in for 20 and one in for 25.  Neither burned but the one in longer started to get a little puffy.  It might be good to leave them in longer but I don’t think they will ever get dry enough to be crusty and I didn’t notice much difference at the end either.
– Top with your choice of stuff and pop back in to heat up the toppings.  I did not put raw veggies on top as I was afraid the sweating of those veggies would make the whole thing too soupy.

We topped one with leftover spaghetti sauce that had colored peppers in it plus vegan parmesan
The other I brushed with olive oil, sprinkled on slightly steamed broccoli, green olives and vegan parmesan.  Of course my son wouldn’t touch this one, but it was my favorite.

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A switch from flour or grain based dishes.  Some favorite flavors.  Overall a failed crust with a happy ending!

Thinking of planting potatoes this year?  Little Sis has had luck with this method.

Other potato dishes?  We’ve got ’em…..
GF veggie burger/potato cake
Tabil Spiced Chili Over Roasted Red Potatoes
Not Your Mother’s Warm Potato Salad w/ Miso Dressing
Lemon-Oregano Chicken & Potatoes
Leftover Mashed Potato Soup

Dairy Free Mashed Potatoes

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning… A Very Good Place to Start

verybeginningWhen you read you begin with ABC. When you start eating better food you begin with…. okay, so this would be a clumsy way to continue. But I’ve been inspired to provide a little bit of a get started post by a phone conversation I had yesterday. Someone very near and dear to me was explaining that she had read about the new dietary guidelines and wanted to incorporate more plant-based meals into her dinner plans. The question to me that followed: “So, do you have any plant-based meals that you could recommend?” Ummmmm….. yeah. I do. I have around 200… on that blog… that you tell me you read… never mind. That’s okay. No, it’s really okay, because I don’t think she was actually asking the question that I heard.

What she meant to say was more like: “I know I should be doing something different, but when I start to think about it I draw a total blank because I’ve eaten this way for a long time. When I look at your blog I am totally overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to do a search and I don’t even know if I like any of these foods. Help.” That’s what she was really saying, so I decided maybe in honor of the recent guidelines and my very dear relative, a primer would be a good idea. So the purpose of this here post is to use the new dietary guidelines as inspiration to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

Paraphrasing the recommendations, there are 3 main components:

A)  include more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

There was more information in the guidelines (including some good news about caffeine and cholesterol), but these are the key points – things to add and things to minimize in your diet. I’ve put them in this order on purpose. If you’ve struggled to eat more healthfully in the past, perhaps starting with what you can add – the food you get to have more of allows you to approach dietary change as a positive and exciting thing – a series of culinary experiments instead of a constant discussion about deprivation.

A) Include more plant-based meals.

So the primer for accomplishing this change will be a list of my favorite super easy go-to plant based dishes. These are not the ones I’d necessarily make for fancy company or the ones that I’d make for the joy of spending an afternoon in the kitchen. These are dishes that I believe anyone can make in a reasonable amount of time and most everyone would enjoy enough to make again. Without further ado… here’s your starter kit for plant-based meals.

1. Lentil Casserole: so simple and easy it’s almost ridiculous. So hearty, flavorful and satisfying it’s Miss Picky Pants’ all time favorite dish. That’s right, my picky daughter has a lentil dish as her absolute favorite. It’s that good.

2. Slow Cooker Bean, Corn, and Barley Burritos: Again, it doesn’t get much easier than dumping a bunch of stuff in the Crock Pot and turning it on. All you need to do is add whatever burrito fixings your tribe likes and you’ve got a delicious plant-based meal on the table.

3. Varia-Bowls: This is a little harder to explain as it’s a concept rather than a recipe, but the idea is that you add a bunch of veggies to a grain or a whole grain noodle, add some sauce and yum! We’ve made some suggestions to get you started.

4. Picadillo: This gentler and fantastically flavored Cuban chiii is super easy and a crowd pleaser. Make the lentil version for plant-based yum. Make extra and freeze it for fast dinners.

5. Nutshroom BurgersThese vegan burgers totally surprised us the first time I made them. They are simply fantastic and if you have a food processor, easy peasy.

6. Roasted Butternut Squash SoupI have yet to meet someone over the age of however old my daughter is at the time you read this who doesn’t like this soup. It is simple and fabulous.

7. Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato SoupEasy, delish, comforting, and feels like you’re eating something that MUST be bad for you. Perfect for dipping a sammy or some great crusty bread.

8. Roasted Veggies 2 Ways:  A great way to take advantage of whatever is in season at the moment and make enough for 4 meals. Can we say freezer dinner rescue?

9. Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever with Non-Dairy ToppersEating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or even require you to get used to all kinds of new tastes – who doesn’t like pasta for pete’s sake? This gem of a sauce will save you scads of time and please whoever you make it for.

10. Cauliflower Steaks: I know you think I’m nuts, but these are simple and turn out so delicious and elegant that you’ll feel like you’ve done something really special for very little work, and you may just discover you like cauliflower after all.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

Well, if you start including meals from the above list you just might have already taken care of this, eh? But let’s be a little more thoughtful about it for just a minute. What you need to sort out is when you are eating red and processed meats. Just to be clear, when we’re talking about red meat, we’re talking about beef. When we talk processed meat we’re talking about A LOT of things: bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, sausages, ham, salami, pepperoni, variations on ham (prosciuto, etc). This list could go on for a very long time, and it’s hard for me to make it for you because I don’t know what you eat. A trick to thinking about processed meat is considering how long something stays good. Most of these things can stay in the fridge for a very long time because of the way that they’ve been processed, because of the ingredients that they contain which are precisely the ones that our leading nutrition experts would like you to keep out of your mouth, at least most of the time. What to do?

The first thing to do is go back and look at that list in the A section – replace a dinner that usually would be red meat or processed meats with one of our plant based winners. Then you’ve killed two birds with one stone (this has always seemed unnecessarily brutal to me, but you get the point). The next thing to do is identify the role that red and processed meat plays in your diet and attempt to cut back and replace it. Family eats a lot of deli meat for sandwiches? There are deli meats that are uncured and contain fewer objectionable ingredients. They are, predictably, more expensive and they WILL spoil, so while they may be a good substitution from a taste standpoint, they’re probably not going to be a complete answer. It might be time to experiment some plant-strong sandwiches (search our recipes for hummus, dips, spreads, and you’ll find a ton of sandwich ideas). Perhaps it’s time for a thermos to bring leftovers from those lovely plant-strong dinners. Reduce the red and processed meat, up the veggies, fruit, whole grains. They go hand in hand.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

One of the things that has startled me the most in my own transition to healthier eating is how much sugar I was consuming that I didn’t even know about. Sugar is EVERYWHERE in our packaged food. I’m not kidding. It’s in potato chips. It’s in salad dressing. It’s in prepackaged macaroni and cheese. Deciding to cut out added sugar from your diet is not a small undertaking and could easily become totally overwhelming, particularly if you have neither the time nor the inclination to increase your home cooking efforts. We recommend that sugar cutting be a gradual and targeted endeavor. The first step is to begin to notice how much you are having. Start looking at the labels. Compare the quantities to things that you consider sweet – for example a candy bar. A standard sized Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar in it. So do many of those convenient cups of fruit flavored yogurt. I’m guessing you weren’t eating yogurt to get the nutritional impact of a Snickers bar… The new nutrition guidelines suggest that individuals consume no more than 10 grams of added sugar per day (that’s twice the amount suggested by the World Health Organization, by the way). That yogurt, and that more obvious Snickers bar, are almost 3 days worth of added sugar.

I can almost feel you shaking your head and losing interest. A life without Snickers bars may not seem worth it. I hear you. What we’re looking at is your overall nutritional profile. In general, how do you eat? These new guidelines, and an increasing number of health practitioners are saying that in general, added sugar is to be avoided and consistent use of it is dangerous to your health. Best way to change that? Baby step your way out of it. Notice when you’re eating it and consciously decide to have less of that item and to eventually replace it with something that is less sweet, and perhaps eventually with something that isn’t sweet at all. Step down that sugar. Let your taste buds have the time that it takes to get used to lower levels of sugar, to appreciate more complex flavors. You’ll be stunned over time as you realize how great fruit is, how you can taste sweetness in nuts and other foods that you never thought of as being sweet before. You’ll be stunned when you do indulge in a super sugary treat to find that you don’t really want quite as much of it as you used to. The world of abundant and fresh food is entirely masked by added sugar. Peel that mask away and delightful surprises await. And yes, you can still have a birthday cake. :-)

So there you go. A primer on Baby Stepping your way to better health designed to help you understand and implement the new nutrition guidelines, complete with a list of 10 plant-strong recipes that you don’t have to do a search to find. You’re welcome. For more information on changing your eating habits, check out our e-book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. For more information specifically on cutting sugar, check out our Sugar Busting series on the blog. Eat well, be well friends.

Silence – An Absence that is Part of Wholeness

Silence.  Silence!  SilenceBabySteps.pptx

Absence of noise.  A place.  A state of being.  A chance to listen.  Silence.

Not sure what to say next because I’m not supposed to be talking.  Apparently I’m supposed to be quiet right now.

Not an easy task for me.  Just ask Little Sis…. or Carni-Mom.  Plus I am supposed to be contributing to our Well-Being series.  So I get to proceed – as usual  :-) talking about silence.

Beyond my own ability to keep my mouth shut, and my enthusiasm bridled, there is the relative difficulty we all face of establishing quiet around ourselves even with our mouths shut.  We are surrounded by devices and machines and tasks and people and news and entertainment and alarms and warnings and intentions and plans and much human noise.  Yet, amidst all of this noise, most of us would agree that silence is powerful.  Isn’t that a bit telling?  Silence is something powerful that we often decrease or even eliminate from our lives.  Perhaps a year of wellness warrants taking a closer look at silence and what we can get from silence.

Sometimes silence is scary.  We associate it with apocalypse.  Perhaps it is more truly associated with a chink in our civilized armor.  Perhaps we don’t want time to think about more than our devices, schedules, tasks, entertainment and distraction, because if we do we might be faced with some questions about our own priorities, or our own power, or our own disappointments.  Perhaps our ‘conquest’ of the natural world is only complete if we are removed from the natural world.  How is it that we acknowledge this power and can acknowledge that it is a good thing, (think ‘peace and quiet’) but are for some reason losing, or even avoiding silence.

Silence is one of those things, like a dark night sky, or fear of predators, or for many people the ability to provide one’s own basic needs, that for good or ill we lose with modern civilization.  It is power that can weigh like an anvil, or beckon like a boat at the end of a dock on a peaceful lake.  Silence allows expansion.  It is a starting place.  A void.  There are places that silence can take us.  Perhaps journeys that feed our imaginations, our spiritual musings or longings or feed insights that can help us grow, prioritize and appreciate all of the blessings in our lives require a clear canvas on which to unfold?

True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.  ~William Penn

Where to start such a journey?  In order to appreciate or benefit from silence, we must find it, make it, accept it, allow it and work with it.  As is our wont over here at the Pantry, baby steps come to mind in any endeavor of change or exploration that seems difficult or even impossible.

Start by thinking about the sources of noise that block out natural noises in your life.
Is there a TV, radio or other device that makes noise always on at your house or in your car?  Does it ever get turned off?  Can you set a time each day when the devices will be silenced?  It doesn’t have to be a big deal of everyone being very quiet.  It could just be a time without music, TV, news or other outside noise.

An inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.  ~Walter Bagehot

Being quiet is indeed not easy which is why I suggest just establishing a few times with less noise as a starter.  You might be surprised by what you notice or even think about with less noisy stimulation going on.

You might also like to try some true quiet time when there is an intention of not making noise.
We will sometimes sit as a family and meditate.  Other times we will simply be quiet for a number of minutes, close eyes and mouths and pay attention to what we are hearing, smelling, and feeling.  We often discuss what we noticed when done, and also do this outside to notice smells, sounds and feelings outside.  This was especially hard for our son at first, but he has become quite good at it and can now also be still and meditate.  If you’d like some ideas for family meditation, we have enjoyed these 2 books:

Product Details

This one being particularly good for young children.  The next one works for all ages, especially if you are willing to just replace the words ‘child’ or ‘children’ with people / family members, etc.

Product Details

Silence is the true friend that never betrays.  ~Confucius

Once there is some silence in your life, I believe it then becomes easier to choose noise more wisely.  One can decide to actually listen to music OR to have it be a soundtrack in the background OR not have it at all.  Well-being, or being well is not an accident but a result of our choices and our reactions to the things we can not control.  Silence and meditation are wonderful ways of increasing self awareness, mindfulness, stress-reduction and peace.

Silence is a source of great strength.  ~Lao Tzu

Be well.

(Quotes were all found at http://www.quotegarden.com/silence.html)

Healthier Oats Made Even Easier

This morning it was 16 degrees here in Middle TN.  Some of you may not think that’s cold, but my daffodils are already peeking out, so for us, that is a bit of a seasonal abnormality.  The already cooked steel cut oats that awaited me were a delicious and hearty meal with which to start the day.  Steel cut oats are fairly similar to rolled oats nutritionally speaking but they have a lower glycemic index (meaning they don’t spike blood sugar as much) and most people find they have a nuttier taste and more hearty texture.  In addition, even if it doesn’t affect the nutrition label, it seems to me that the more processing, the more chance that something nasty or unnecessary is being introduced and I’d just as soon skip that possibility!  They do however take longer to cook than rolled oats.

Little Sis and I have both posted a recipe for cooking steel cut oats (the whole oat grain) overnight in the crockpot….. But what if you don’t have a crockpot?  Our versions are full of flavors that do indeed require a little extra work…. What if you don’t have time for a little extra work?  (I’m heading for a solution – just building a little suspense first).  Little Sis posted Chocolate Oats, ooh lala, this IS Valentine’s Day weekend you sweet thing you.  And I posted Pumpkin/Apple Steel Cut Oats.  Take THAT Starbuck’s.  If you have a crockpot and haven’t tried these yet.  You must.  Really.

If however, you are lacking a crock pot, or a little extra time or the tastes and tolerances in your family for oatmeal flavors are too diverse to make a big single flavored pot, and/or all you have time to do is measure water and oats into a pot, let it boil while you do something else and then turn it off, then I have a solution for you.  Yep.  That’s it.  Put the oats and water and a pinch of salt in a pot, boil for 1 minute, cover and let sit all night.  Quick as you please, even if it’s cold and nobody wants to get up and get going!

This recipe comes from Snack Girl who has lots of good advice about eating healthfully.  She is also a professor of biology and that makes her even more special in my biology loving book ;-)

Quick Steel Cut Oats

Makes 4 – 1 cup servings

1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
pinch of salt

The night before you want to eat oatmeal put oats, water, and salt in a large saucepan (allow room for oatmeal expansion). Boil for one minute.

Cover the pot, remove from heat and leave on stove until morning.

Now there’s no saying you couldn’t add a little canned pumpkin…. or some chopped apple…. or some cocoa and a little sweetener, or your favorite dried fruits, nuts, apple sauce, frozen berries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon – lots of cinnamon really sweetens things up without sugar, or whatever else you like on your oatmeal.  But these oats are heartier and less processed.  Hurrah!  and Hurrah!

I heartily endorse doubling this recipe.  Truly, this meal is leftovers from the get-go.  Why not make extra and have some more get up and go leftovers?  You can make some servings in appropriately sized containers with some toppings, stick in the fridge and voila you have breakfast to go for anyone with access to a microwave.  Take that again Starbuck’s, McDonald’s, AND the hospital cafeteria!

Here are pix of our nummy oatmeals for the crockpot.  Turn your overnight-without-the-crock oats into something just as yummy….. in no time.

20140928_075629IMG_9142This recipe also allows for Baby Steps to healthier oatmeal.  Slowly decrease the amount of sugar that is used as a topping.  Or try some fresh fruit or Date Cream or Apple Drizzle (also made the night before).  How nice to be able to provide and enjoy a hot, healthy breakfast with ingredients you know and can pronounce in about a minute.  That’s sweet.

Loving Raw Chocolate Macaroons

Food makes a lovely gift.  Everyone loves sweets.  Most of us give sweets to those we love in some way, at some time, in some place…. and especially in February when Hallmark moves us….. I mean our hearts move us, to make our amorous leanings known through buying stuff.

Making a gift has always been a way to imbue a gift with an extra bit of love and caring because not only your resources but your time was given (albeit shopping for the right gift can take time as well!).  But how loving is it to hand someone a box of candy that consists of a whopping load of sugar and unrecognizable chemicals?  It feels like love when given, when received, when consumed, but the health consequences are surely not was intended by the giver in love.  See our Sugar Busting series if you need a reminder about just how rough sugar is on our bodies….. (How Sugar Strict Should You Be?, Salt, Sugar Fat, How the Food Giants Hooked Us, The Sweet Stuff (facts about sugar consumption), Eat Food, Real Food., Giving Hidden Sugar the Boot,)

But back to the problem at hand.  Our Sweetie-Dad is having a few health troubles that the doctors think would be helped by cutting back on sweets.  He is Sweetie-Dad because he is indeed wonderfully sweet and charming…. and also because he’s consumed enough sugar over the years to turn himself into plum jelly.  Of course the poor man has to listen to The Sis Daughters lecture here and again and is probably often frightened when we come by what we might try to pass off as dessert, however, as with all things, experimentation and perseverance can yield workable results.  I know of quite a few lower sugar treats that he enjoys and with Valentine’s Day in mind decided to try a recipe that had been stored on my Kindle for some time waiting for a test run.

Tessa the Domestic Diva created these morsels that are perfect for a pre-kiss Valentine’s exchange.  I only added one ingredient – an almond on top of each, so she really gets all the credit for this one ;-)  And Sweetie-Dad and I thank her.

Raw Chocolate Macaroons

2 c shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 c coconut oil (don’t over do it)
4 – 5 Tbsp cocoa powder (I used this)
1/4 cup maple syrup (she also lists honey or coconut nectar as possibilities)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
about 2 dozen raw almonds

Place all ingredients in food processor and mix well (scraping down sides as needed).  I am gathering from her description that she placed hardened coconut oil.  I melted mine first and mixed in the cocoa powder and vanilla before pouring into the food processor.  Mine probably mixed faster, her mixture was probably easier to shape.

20150206_120102-001Roll, scoop, plop, shape – just get it in reasonable portions onto wax or parchment paper or a silpat lined cookie sheet and chill in the fridge or freezer until firm.

20150206_134903-001You can store them in the refrigerator or the freezer and share them with the sweeties in your life knowing that your time and your love has translated into a treat that lacks processed ingredients without a high dose of sugar.  Love :-)

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If you’d like to give some other kind of loving sweets check out these other options from us and friends:

Chocolate Apricot Truffle Cups from an unrefined vegan

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Drop Cookies

Sweet Potato Crusted Apple Pie

Cocoa-nutty Good Bars / or Cake!

Nut Butter Bliss Balls

Crispy Chocolate Granola Stacks from Emmy Cooks!

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups from Vedged Out

For more ideas for reducing the amount of sugar and processed food in your life, check out our book!  Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals.  Eat well, Be well friends!

(OMG) GF Fudgy Mocha Pudding Cake

Once in awhile we post someone else’s recipe as is – unchanged.  I confess that part of my just taking the easy road and making this by actually following directions was that I was in a hurry.  You see I had to come up with some GF dessert that would make non-GF son feel like his birthday had been adequately celebrated.  Following Little Sis’ lead (see another birthday cake for Bigg Sis), I turned to Angela Liddon.

It is always an honor to point anyone in the direction of Angela Liddon who has a blog and a lovely cookbook that features vegan recipes.  I do believe that her specialty is sweets.  In fact she had a shop where she sold amazing vegan bars and baked goods before becoming a successful blogger and cookbook author.  Give this to-die-for fudgy mocha pudding cake a try and then buy her cookbook because the non-sweets in it are excellent as well!

Back to the cake….. Last night we celebrated our boy, well, young man’s 14th birthday with a bunch of his friends playing football, video games, eating pizza and I’m ashamed to say, a store bought cake.  Mr. Bigg Sis and I ate some and made yucky faces at the overly sweet, oddly gummy concoction with way too much icing.  I vowed to do better the next night when the 3 of us would celebrate family style.  The headache that came soon after (yes, I am a sensitive and delicate creature for sure) was also good motivation to get my tail up and cooking the next day.

So here is the recipe – totally ripped off but heartily acknowledged.

Fudgy Mocha Pudding Cake by Angela Liddon

1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 1/2 c  oat flour (make sure its GF if you need totally GF)
3/4 c plus 1/3 c sugar (she recommends coconut – I used plain organic cane sugar)
1/3 c plus 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/3 c chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (she uses non-dairy choc. chips)
3/4 tsp salt (she used fine grained sea salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c almond milk
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup hot coffee or boiled water (I used decaf – not very strong)
confectioners sugar and toasted walnuts are optional toppings

Mix the ground flax seed with 3 Tbsp water in a 2 cup measuring cup, mix and set aside

Pre-heat oven to 375 and lightly grease an 8×8 pan (I used coconut oil)

In a large bowl, mix flour, 3/4 c sugar, 1/3 c cocoa powder, choc chips, salt & baking powder

Add the coconut oil, milk and vanilla to the flaxseed mixture and whisk / stir together

Mix the wet and dry together and pour into prepared pan and make even and flat with a spoon or spatula

Mix 1/3 c sugar and 2 Tbsp cocoa and sprinkle over the cake

Pour the hot coffee slowly and gently over the top of the cake

Bake for 27 – 33 minutes or until semi-firm on top and bubbly on the sides – mine was a tad overdone at 27 minutes, so check at 25.

20150125_180529-001Let cool for 5 – 10 minutes and then top if you like with sugar, walnuts or ice cream of your choice.

Now this may not look that good, but appreciate the consistency of the pudding like stuff that comes out with the cakey-like stuff.  Really quite something.  Everyone had seconds.  In fact I’m still full….. no room for the snack I usually eat at bedtime to prevent waking up at 2 am so hungry I have to go get a snack.  Okay, so I’m a rather ravenous but sensitive and delicate creature…. but I know a good real food GF cake when I eat one!

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Triple Dose of Well-Being

Do you remember Venn diagrams?  Those pesky overlapping circles in which you had to place sets of things that had some but not all things in common depending on wherein lay their similarity?  I have been using a Venn diagram to discuss well-being with patients who are in recovery from substance abuse and I have found the concept to be helpful to myself as well as I consider my own wellness and well-being.  I would like to share it with you as part of our new series that explores aspects of well-being and nourishment beyond the very important attitude towards well-being represented by what we eat.

It is not everyday that you get to use the term ‘triumverate,’ but now you know how many circles are in my Venn Dance.  In fact it is 3 circles that you will recognize.  Body, mind and spirit as a group have been used so lightly and frequently that I hesitated to use the terms with patients as a way to organize well-being efforts, but after making some attempt to define the 3 umvirates (???) in terms of function, I found the whole approach less banal and more helpful.

Why do so many things come up with 3 parts or portions? Past-present-future; red-blue-yellow; rock-paper-scissors; Harry – Ron – Hermione; and there is this wonderful meditation on 3 from the fine people from Schoolhouse Rock:

3 is a Magic Number

On a more serious note, the number 3 has significance in all of the world’s major religions.  It seems to come down to balance.  Systems divided into even numbers of participants, parts or factors have the potential for the creation of sides and 2 teams.  Either/Or, This or That, Black or White are notoriously narrow views of the world!  Three is the smallest odd whole number that is greater than one, and therefore represents  a simple array of pieces that can not gang up but have to work together in order to work.  If one leg of the stool is shorter than the others (or longer) it will provide a short sit.  And life is not really a short sit.  This is lucky for me as I seem to require repeat lessons on some basics of living despite having received a myriad of blessings.  Bring on the second chances…… please and I’ll try to keep my stool balanced so I make it through all of the lessons.

So back to body, mind and spirit.  Basically the approach was to think of oneself as the center of the Venn Diagram of 3 circles representing body, mind and spirit.  All body, All mind or All spirit tend to lead to problems.  Thinking about the 3 realms in terms of functionality helped me think about why it was important to sustain them.  You may not agree with the functions, and of course there is overlap (being a Venn Dance after all)…..

I am so thankful for my Body which provides
transportation & sensation

I am so thankful for my Mind which provides
instruction & construction

I am so thankful for my Spirit which provides
identification and perpetuation

So I challenge my patients, myself, and you, to draw yourself a diagram and think of a few Baby Steps for each realm of your life.

Venn

Body, mind and spirit – all that function and all that you working together to create world view – perspective – character – approach – life.  A unique human tale.

Here’s to taking Baby Steps to Wholeness and Well-Being and celebrating life in 2015.

If you need help with the Baby Steps to Better Health concept, please check out our book.