Sugar Back on my Back and the easiest ‘Sweet’ Treat Ever!

It does seem to happen every year.  After the holiday season the bar has been reset and my sugar problem has started creeping back in on me.  It never gets back to the days of eating multiple fireballs each day and spending my entire allowance on candy, but it is a slippery slope my friends and I am thinking that like the Grinch, my little dog Maxx needs to grab the back of my shirt and pull hard.

Little Sis and I did a whole series called Sugar Busting chronicling and encouraging our journey (and perhaps yours) to reduce sugar, but it appears to be a life long battle with hills and valleys / highs and lows / fruit and pixie stix…. Gag, but I did love pixie stix back in the day.

I may be beyond the temptation of Pixie Stix but the amount of dark chocolate I eat has been creeping up, along with a penchant for bottled sweet salad dressing and the ‘need’ for something a little sweet after meals.  And it’s not just weight and cavities that are cause for concern.  A link has been found between sugar consumption and heart disease regardless of the quality of the rest of a person’s diet. And there are other health issues with

As we preach in Baby Steps to Better Health: A Guided Journey to Healthier Eating, I am trying to cut back and replace that chocolate (and okay some baked goods as well!!) with something healthier that fits the bill.  If I totally deny that sweet craving I’m likely to go back to the chocolate with a vengeance!

Enter my 15 year old son who although he is becoming a bit more rebellious lately where Mom’s food offerings are concerned, he is helping me out!  As part of our rule that one must have a piece of produce prior to eating a less healthy snack (P.E.P. – pre-emptive produce – also in the book), he often chops an apple, sprinkles on a bit of cinnamon, pops it in the microwave for a few minutes and presto – pie filling type dessert that is warm and wonderful and has no added sugar.  I added a few broken up walnuts so the snack would fill me up longer.  Fabulous.  I ate it.  I felt satisfied and able to pass up the chocolate…

As for cutting back, I have stopped taking dark chocolate in my lunch bag….. too easy to eat too much of it.  And who says I need a piece of chocolate to get through the afternoon, anyway?  I don’t.  After all, the best reward and motivator is to treat my body with respect and reward myself with health.  A little bit doesn’t hurt, but I know when I am slipping down the slope.  And when I notice or have trouble remembering the real rewards, I go back to sugar busting and baby stepping.  Eventually I am back on track.

Here’s a photo of the apple…. good luck to you if you have a sugar monkey on your back.  It is possible to let the monkey get back to the trees, so hang in there.

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Stale Bread Made Great – Vegan Bread Pudding Two Ways

I’ve mentioned a few times that I struggle with quantities, particularly in the face of hosting guests. It would seem that in preparation for the holiday functions we hosted, I decided (through the fog of illness) that having enough bread in the house was the key. Not just frozen sandwich bread, but high quality bakery bread. The disheartening (and probably most wonderful) thing about good bakery bread is that it peaks, just like a bottle of wine. It has a moment when it’s at its very best and every moment after that is one step closer to that tasty loaf becoming squirrel food, or excellent bread fight ammunition (ow). Needless to say despite having a LOT of guests over the several days of the holiday season, we were unable to consume all the bread I bought for the occasions. And so it sat.

It sat so long that my omnivorous dog has begun to ignore it. It sat so long that it made a thud when moved. It sat so long I could no longer tear it with my hands or cut it with a bread knife. Yeah. That’s stale bread. What to do to avoid wasting all that previously wonderful bread? Yes, I could give it to the squirrels, but frankly between what they get from the bird feeder and what they steal from my garden, I think I’ve done my bit with them, so I wondered. Can I make a bread pudding without eggs and butter? Can I make a bread pudding with bread I can’t even tear? Does anybody but me eat bread pudding in this house? Three questions is enough for me. An investigation ensued, and it became clear pretty quickly that one can indeed make bread pudding without the dairy products that make my life unpleasant. Chef Joey’s recipe became my starting point.

Next problem: the rocks formerly known as bread. Mr. Little Sis thought adding a little water to the crust and microwaving them might make the bread bricks easier to manipulate. I couldn’t quite get my head around softening the bread that would then need to be staled again for good bread pudding – it’s ready just as it is; why would I soften it? And so, I looked for a tool based answer to my problem. I am lucky that Mr. Little Sis did some time at culinary school and that time prompted him to add some seriously great knives to our little block. As we considered the problem of the intensely hard bread before us, he reached over to the block and pulled out the one that I like the least, mostly because when it gets used it is on something that I don’t eat and think is gross and there’s a loud noise that goes with it – a bad combo for me. But… if it can help with bread pudding and preventing wasted food, I’d be happy to reconsider. Mr. Little Sis to the rescue…

Next problem: the question of the micro-local popularity of bread pudding. When I lived in the dorms at my central Pennsylvania college, I waited for the days that they served bread pudding in the dining hall. Bread pudding had not been featured in my childhood, so it was a new and thoroughly delightful surprise. My husband, having stayed in Maryland where bread pudding is apparently not a thing, had no such attachment to the dish and the kids? It’s pretty much always a 50/50 proposition there. The result? 100% approval of the bread pudding with caramel sauce as dessert, 100% approval of leftover bread pudding with maple syrup for breakfast (genius and awesome).

With all that fanfare, I’m guessing you’d like to know how I did this, so here we go:

Vegan Bread Pudding Two Ways (GF Option)

Bread Pudding

  • 5 cups stale bread, cubed (we used whole grain bread and it was superb, if you avoid gluten, use gluten free bread)
  • 6 T coconut oil
  • 3 flax eggs
  • 2 1/2 c almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1 c toasted pecans (pan, oven, 350, 10 minutes or until you smell them and panic)
  • 4-6 c boiling water

Caramel Sauce for Dessert

  • 1 c pitted dates
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1T + 1t nut butter
  • 3T almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • dash vanilla

Topping for Breakfast

  • splash maple syrup
  • chopped nuts
  • raisins

Prepare flax eggs (1T flax + 2 1/2 T water for each “egg”). Preheat oven to 350. Place milk in pan on stove to warm to just below boiling. While milk is warming, measure coconut oil into  medium or larger sized bowl. Measure spices and maple syrup into small bowl. Place bread cubes mixed with toasted nuts into two loaf pans. Place the loaf pans in a large baking dish. (Other pans would be fine. The trick here is that they must sit in a larger pan full of hot water, so I chose loaf pans).

 

Put at least 4 c water on to boil, preferably in a kettle so you can pour easily, but if no kettle, just be careful. While waiting on water, assemble the bread pudding. It is advisable to assemble the bread pudding as close to your oven as possible. You’ll understand why in a minute. When milk is just beginning to bubble, pour it over the coconut oil and stir to melt. Add flax eggs to maple syrup and spice bowl. Whisk to combine. Slowly add to milk/coconut oil bowl and whisk to combine. Pour 1/2 of the liquid into each of the loaf pans. If you’ve not yet moved near the oven, please do it now. Add boiling water to the BOTTOM pan (in my case a pyrex casserole baker). Have someone open the oven for you and CAREFULLY carry the pan and slide it into the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until browned as you’d like on top. When you press on top, you might see a little liquid bubble through the cracks, but it shouldn’t be a lot. Let sit in pan for at least 10 minutes so it can set up.

For caramel dessert sauce, add all ingredients to a power blender and go. Yes, please use a power blender rather than a food processor. Trust me on that one. Blend until smooth and pour on plate and on top of bread pudding.

For bread pudding breakfast, reheat bread pudding and drizzle maple syrup on top. Add raisins or nuts as you like.

What could be better than upcycling insanely stale bread? Eating bread pudding for breakfast, that’s what. Delish!

For more healthy baked goods and ideas about how to save money on food, check out our E-Book:Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. Eat well, be well friends!

12 Healthy Cookies, Treats and Giftables

It’s that time of year.  Lots of lists, lots of tasks, and hopefully a good dose of merriment to go with those lists and tasks.  I don’t know if it’s a sign of my age, but I’ve found that an increasing number of people on my gift giving list don’t really seem to want or need a present from me. They want my presence (which is flattering), and I’ve found over the last few years that if my presence is accompanied by something to eat, the greeting I receive is all the warmer.  In looking back through our posts, I see we have quite a collection of treats that are great to share with friends and family and that still provide some nutrition during this season of culinary madness (check out this post for some healthy holiday tips).

And so a bit of a roundup for those of you who are preparing to get baking, who need some ideas for gift giving, or who are invited to all manner of holiday celebrations at which you do NOT wish to arrive empty handed.  Healthier treats galore!

Perfectly Packable Gifty Treats

1. No Bake Brownie Balls (GF,DF)- dark chocolate taste, low sugar joy, great gift for a dark chocolate loving adult

2.  Healthy Pumpkin Cookies (GF,DF) – sweet enough to feel like a treat, healthy enough to do the bod some good

3. Sweet Potato Cookies with Walnuts and Dark Chocolate Chips  (GF,DF) – fantastically delish healthy cookies

4.Crancherry, Almond, & White Chocolate Cookies  (GF,DF) – slightly sweeter than many of our other cookies – a great starter cookie for a lifetime of healthier treats

5. Intensely Good Banana Bread Mini-Loaves (DF) – not your grandmother’s banana bread (which I’m sure is divine), this puppy packs some molasses for a spicy edge and an iron boost.  Lovely gifted in mini loaf pans (because WHO doesn’t want mini bakeware?!)

6. Healthier Holiday Fudge (GF,DF) – Oh yes, it’s that good. Nobody will call you a health whack for this one…

7. 2 Ingredient Caramel Fudge (GF,DF) – WHAT DID SHE SAY?!  Yes, 2 ingredients.

8. Roasted Chili Lime Nuts (GF,DF) – I’ve heard tell there are folks who prefer savory snacks.  Ok, I admit it, I’m even related to a couple.  A tin of these babies will knock their unsweet socks off.

9. Nut Butter Bliss Balls (GF,DF) – Pleasing normal treat eaters everywhere… or at least in parts of Tennessee and Maryland

If You’re To “Bring Dessert”

10. Cranberry Apple Pecan Crumble (GF,DF) – Easy for you, delish for everyone.

11. Cocoanutty Good Bars (GF,DF) – No it’s not your imagination, I served these bars as cake and it was a huge success.  Drooling a little, and I guess you didn’t need to know that.

12. Pumpkin Pudding (GF,DF) – Bigg Sis wondered what would happen if you stopped worrying so much about the pie crust… and it was good.

Well, there it is.  Now you have a pretty good idea what’s going to be going on at my house for the next few weeks.  Here’s hoping your house is full of delicious and healthful food and wonderful people.

Fresh Nectarine Cream Pie with Walnut Crust (GF,V)

I’ve been a bit of a slouch all summer where dessert is concerned.  Truth to tell much of the time I’d prefer fresh fruit and since it’s so abundant in the summer, I say let them eat fruit.  But this past weekend we had special guests.  Fruit is still great, but I wanted to put in a little extra effort to give our guests the best of our pantry. I’d been thinking about my sister’s apple pie, but I have to tell you, I don’t do apple pie in the summer.  Just don’t. No excuses.  So I focused on the part of her pie that I was really interested in playing with. What could be better with a nutty crust than creamy goodness?  What to do, where to start? Continue reading

Easy & Delicious GF Pie Substitute

I hate to keep whining about this gluten-free thing, but I’m amazed how often it comes up.  Not just as an ingredient but as a convenience – what could be more convenient or available than a sandwich – and even as a tradition.  Every year (for 7 glorious, much-appreciated years), Dad and Step-Mom have invited us for a week at the Chautauqua Institution, a place full of thought, the arts, compassionate spirituality and for us, family meals that include pie made at a local farmer’s market.  My husband and my Dad often enjoy pie 3 times a day, with the ‘all that fruit’ offering the perfect justification for their over-indulgence.

What to do about this gluten-full tradition?  As much as I want to help, I am on vacation and not about to spend the week trying to perfect gluten free pie crust.  So, I sought to create a lazy alternative that would satisfy the pie-ready-triangle-shaped space in my husband’s gut.

Here is my easy peezy, lemon squeezy cobbler recipe that has been very well received.  Thank goodness!!
I made it twice, and guess what Little Sis? – the second time was better than the first!

Easy Peezy Lemon Squeezy Cobbler or EP Cobbler
– Fruit to cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 pan about 1/2 – 1 inch thick.
The first time I made it I used 8 peaches in a slightly smaller pan… The second time I used 3 peaches, 1 small nectarine and a pint of blueberries.  The result was better with the fruit more spread out.
– 2 cups oats divided into 1 cup measures
– 1/2 cup unpacked brown sugar – which translates to about 1/3 packed I’m guessing
– 1/4 cup dairy butter (I haven’t tried vegan butter or oil, let me know if you do!)
– 1/4 tsp salt (optional – I did not use, but it probably would only improve the flavor)

Pre-heat oven to 350
Wash and cut if using large fruit – don’t cut blueberries 😉
Spread in bottom of lightly oiled pan
Mix in 1 cup of rolled oats and stir around

In mixing bowl mix 1 cup oats, butter cut into chunks, brown sugar and salt if using
Mash it around until it is small clumps.
Spread the small clumps out as evenly as possible over the fruit

Bake for about a half hour, or until lightly browned on top and fruit is fragrant and soft.

Serve to pie lovers on pie plates with pie forks and with loving instructions to place, with or without ice cream, in pie hole 🙂

(Take a big serving for yourself because they’ll be back for more and eat it all.   You know how they are.)

Summer Joys

It has long been my belief that a successful healthy eating plan will create a sense of abundance, a feeling of wellness, and will involve joyful eating experiences.  Yeah, right, all the time?  Nobody who has the dubious pleasure of cooking for others regularly can seriously think that ANY dietary choice will create familial nirvana.  I have found that there are some items that do, in fact, hit it out of the park every time…..  Care to guess?

Yes, okay, it’s a dessert, but it’s not just any dessert.  The desserts that score the biggest points around here are those that are the most celebratory and those that are easily associated with good times.  So cake is always good, as it is quite celebratory, but personally, when I think July, I don’t think cake.  Enter the popsicle.  Honestly, what could be more fun than a popsicle?  I’ll tell you what can be more fun than a popsicle….  making your own popsicles from healthful ingredients and watching your children eat them with their friends.  That is MORE fun than your average popsicle.  So when I saw the BPA-free popsicle molds, I heard my daughter’s voice in my head waxing rhapsodic over the high fructose corn syrup ice pop she was given at gymnastics; I promptly set aside my no plastic rule and bought those puppies.

Our first popsicles are the second offering in my Sneaking It In series: Brave Popsicles.  I’m pretty sure you are all aware of how to make popsicles.  Most of you have probably done it at some point, and if you have paper cups and some wooden sticks, you don’t even need any fancy pants molds.  I had also made dixie cup pops as a kid, but somehow while making these incredibly healthful produce concoctions, it never occurred to me that a green smoothie would make a GREAT popsicle base.  Duh.  I corralled my assistants and we promptly began stuffing the blender full of kale (about 2.5 cups packed), 3 large frozen bananas, about 1.5 c frozen blueberries, some fresh pineapple that was on its last legs (probably a cup), a little juice leftover from another recipe,  and about (very approximately) 2 cups of almond milk.  Just as I was about to flip the switch, my boy said: “Mom, we should add some sea veggies.”  I got the spirulina jar and giggled as I put a couple of teaspoons in.  Blasted away in the blender until I couldn’t stand the noise anymore.  Not very appealing looking, but a popsicle is a popsicle, right?

My assistant held the mold as I filled it.  We lined them up as we finished and then carefully put them in the freezer so we could share them with little friends scheduled to come over later in the afternoon.  Our guests arrived.  Adults made fresh pasta and sauce while children (and a few adults) participated in an epic water gun battle in the back yard.  Sprinkler, every kind of squirt gun imaginable, water balloons and a whole lot of fun.  11 of us sat down to a wonderful pasta feast and then the kids broke into their Brave Popsicles.  My children were enthusiastic in spite of the color and the clear lack of intense sweetness.  Our guests were reluctant, but eventually dug in and let’s just say all of the popsicle sticks were licked clean.  Success.  Kale in a popsicle.  Sometimes I crack myself up.

Today we attempt to create a facsimile of my favorite summertime treat – the fudgsicle.  After the prior success, I followed the same formula – made a banana based soft serve that we have enjoyed on its own as a dessert and simply scooped it into the molds.  Tonight after our fourth of July feast (which will hopefully include homemade baked beans – at the moment they look like soup in the crock pot), we shall sample our wares and I’m confident they will be delish.  Then, severe storms permitting, we may catch some fireworks.

I don’t know about you, but there is something about simple pleasures in summer that feels especially wholesome and satisfying.  Something so glorious about sharing a treat with friends and family in the oppressive heat, something so freeing about running through a sprinkler with a five year old.  I don’t know how you will spend your Independence Day, but I think I’m going to go stir the beans, whip up some corn bread, check on the freeze factor of our fudgsicles, and then turn on that sprinkler.

Smoothie Recipes:
5 Year Olds Love Kale Smoothie
Tropical Sneak It In Smoothie
Food Hangover Kale Smoothie
Green Smoothie

Soft Serve:
Choco Nana Milkshake – I added one banana and left the chia seeds out on this go round.