Monthly Archives: February, 2013

Lunch Liberation! Wednesday: A Cool Quesadilla

lunch liberation! wednesday: a cool quesadilla

I call this quesadilla “cool” for two reasons: 1) it tastes super awesome and 2) it is literally “cool” when you bring it to school/work and eat at room temperature. This astonishes me, as I am used to a quesadilla being hot, melty cheese sandwiched between two warm tortillas. I was dubious about bringing a quesadilla to school, where I do not have the privilege of a microwave or oven to warm my food. But I decided to be brave and try it anyway. I really didn’t dare hope it would be anything better than okay at best. But I was, happily, proven wrong as it was great and did not need to be hot at all!

I wanted to use Colby-Pepper Jack cheese, but we were all out. The cheddar tasted fine, though. Here is my recipe:

Cheese, Tofurkey and Avocado Quesadilla

Makes 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 personal-sized corn tortillas
  • 1/4 of an avocado (to use up some of that avocado left over from Monday’s post 🙂
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese (or you can experiment with other cheeses)
  • 2 slices smoked ham style Tofurkey
  • tomato slices, to taste

Directions:

Place avocado in a small bowl and use a fork to mush it up. It won’t be pureed or anything, just sort of mushed. Spread the avocado on both tortillas.

Layer the cheese, Tofurkey, and tomato on top of one tortilla. Top with the other tortilla (avocado side down.)

I actually made this in the morning before school (we have late-start Wednesdays) but I think it would also be fine to make it the night before and chill in the fridge.

Spreading the avocado on tortillas…

avocado on tortillas

Layering ingredients…

lunch liberation! wednesday: quesadilla

Presto! You’re ready to go!

lunch liberation! wednesday: a cool quesadilla

To see Tuesday’s Lunch Liberation! Post, click here.

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Lunch Liberation! Tuesday: Fruit and Cheese Bagels with Honey

IMG_4858

Today I was disturbed by the number of my peers at school who boasted about skipping lunch. So I just want to express a brief message about this health concern, then I will get to the surprisingly delicious lunch recipe for today.

Many teenagers – especially girls, but some guys as well – go through a stage where they constantly and deliberately skip lunch. Either they’re “too busy” during lunch time to actually eat, or they claim they aren’t hungry, or they are “on a diet” so they don’t eat lunch to cut calories. Speaking as someone who went through this stage myself during the end of middle school and beginning of high school, I just want to say that this is one of the worst things you can do to your body.

One reason people need to eat lunch is to keep up their blood sugar levels. People get grumpy when they haven’t eaten for a while because you need glucose to function. (That said, refined sugars are still bad for you, etcetera, but you need good sugars like the natural ones in fruits.) This is also the reason you may have noticed your classes right before lunch are always the worst – everyone’s antsy and irritable because a lot of the calories they acquired at breakfast have been burned.

Even if you are on a diet, skipping lunch is not good for your weight loss goal. When you deny your body nutrients for an extended period of time, your body’s “shut-off switch” that makes you stop eating when you have had enough malfunctions. So when you get home you are more likely to binge on snack foods and/or have a bigger dinner, because you don’t feel full. That’s why it’s a better choice to eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day, every 4 hours or so. The meals should decrease in size as the day progresses: breakfast is the biggest, lunch is the second-biggest, and so on.

So if anyone reading this is a lunch-skipper, please consider eating lunch. When I started to eat lunch it totally improved my ability to focus in class, and my body was so much healthier!

Now, here is the recipe I made up for my lunch today. I used two mini-bagels because I like to eat cute foods; if you prefer one regular-sized bagel that would probably work just as well, though the amounts may have to be adjusted depending on the size of the bagel.

Fruit and Cheese Bagels with Honey

Makes 2 mini-bagel sandwiches or one regular-sized bagel sandwich

IMG_4860

Ingredients:

2 mini blueberry bagels (or one regular-sized bagel)

1-2 tbls organic honey

1 slice Swiss cheese (Cut into four smaller squares if using mini-bagels)

a little less than half of a Granny Smith apple, sliced thinly (and cut each slice in half once to fit on mini-bagels)

Directions:

Cut open the mini-bagels using a sharp knife. Spread the honey on the top and bottom half of each bagel. Layer the apples, then the cheese, then the rest of the apples on top of one half of each bagel.

IMG_4857

Cover with the other half. Wrap in foil so the bagel sandwiches won’t fall apart, and chill in the fridge overnight. (I actually used foil and a ziplock for extra security!)

Extra Tip: If I’m bringing sandwiches, wraps, etcetera to school, I always put them in a ziplock and put the ziplock in a pasta container. That way, the sandwich doesn’t get squished.

To see Monday’s Lunch Liberation!Post, click here.

Lunch Liberation! Monday: Pita Wraps

avocado pita wrap: lunch liberation Monday

Did your mommy pack your lunch for you every day in elementary school? My mommy did. I will always remember sitting with my close friends on the plastic benches outside and opening a lunch bag filled with the same thing every day. And – inexplicably – as a kid I was delighted with the same thing every day. For me it was pb&j on rye bread, a lowfat yogurt, and a banana. The only variation I got was the yogurt flavor, and I remember having my friend guess every day which flavor of yogurt it would be. One day my mom packed me a go-gurt instead of a yogurt, and it rocked the boat of my limited little world like a thunderstorm at sea.

I’ve come a long way since then, now being in high school. I can’t imagine eating the pb&j every day. I try to avoid having the same foods twice in one week! And since I’m now old enough to make my own lunches, I can experiment with what goes in the brown paper bag. But up until now, I never entertained the notion of trying anything interesting. I thought it would be too hard to find new ingredients, I wouldn’t have time, etcetera. So I have, up until recently, been sticking with boring lunches like cheese sandwiches. Another option I sometimes go with would be a cheese sandwich. Sometimes I even have a cheese sandwich. For a side, I enjoy either yogurt, yogurt, or yogurt. Dairy overload alert!

I have gotten so sick of the drudgery of weekday lunches. I almost feel like a prisoner from the days of palace dungeons, convicted criminals bearing a ball and chain and being served stale bread and water every day. Now, my cheese sandwiches are a cut above that, but I think they could still use a flavor update.

So I have decided to finally take all the risks of trying new things for lunch. This week, I am officially liberated from the imprisonment of boring school lunches! I plan to chart my experiences with my school lunch creations on this blog, so if they turn out well maybe they’ll inspire readers out there to try new things for lunch. This week, my posts will probably consist mainly of sandwiches, wraps, etcetera, since that corresponds to the ingredients I have to work with at the moment. But I promise I will not be sharing a recipe for a cheese sandwich!

So here begins my official Lunch Liberation. I have never really tried posting during the school week before, so I’ll just see how this goes. Hopefully I will manage to publish a post every day this week. I don’t want to desert my readers like a perfidious playmate in elementary school!

Here is Monday’s recipe: a pita wrap. It may seem plain because I was just working with what we had available in the house, but feel free to add your own veggies!

Hummus and Avocado Pita Wraps

Makes: 2 pockets (I ate both!)

lunch liberation: Monday: avocado hummus pita wrap

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole wheat pita pockets (I used Orowheat brand 8 grain pocket thins)
  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper flavored hummus (I used Athenos brand)
  • about 1/4 of a medium tomato, diced
  • 1/4 of an entire avocado, chopped to small-ish pieces

Directions:

Open up the pita pockets. Coat the inside of each pocket with hummus. Add the tomato and avocado. Store in the fridge overnight and throw in your lunch bag the next morning – it’s that simple!

hummus avocado pita wrap: lunch liberation monday

And by the way, all the ingredients in this sandwich are good for you. Avocado and hummus provide healthy fats and protein, and the whole wheat pita and tomato adds fiber to fuel your brain cells! So it’s a much better choice than those preservative-ridden chips from the vending machine, and will leave you healthier and happier all day!

Butterscotch Cookie Dough Cheesecake Smoothie with Strawberry Dippers

I do love breakfasts that incorporate a little (or a BIG) element of dessert, and cheesecake smoothies are no exception. I have made several cheesecake smoothies in the past, always using Laughing Cow cheese triangles and crushed Teddy Grahams as the “crust.” I daresay this cheesecake smoothie is my most supreme one yet! (Until I make the next one, of course. Then that one will be the best yet.) But this one is the first I’ve ever made with cookie dough. I LOVE adding Eat Pastry vegan cookie dough to smoothies. I used up the last of my container of chocoholic chip cookie dough to make this smoothie today. I can’t wait to grab a new one at Whole Foods! (One thing I’ve never actually done with the stuff is bake it, as it was intended to be baked into cookies. That would be so boring. I have baked it into donuts, however.)

All the flavors of this smoothie mingle together to create the sweet taste of a caramel-y butterscotch cheesecake. The crunchy pieces of Teddy Grahams and chewy cookie dough morsels add texture. And this smoothie is even interactive: I dipped sliced strawberries into the smooth decadence for a tart, fresh contrast. (Sorry for the horrible, blurry pic. I must have been shaking with excitement before depositing the contents of this spoon into my mouth!)

strawberry slice in butterscotch cookie dough cheesecake smoothie

Butterscotch Cookie Dough Cheesecake Smoothie with Strawberry Dippers

butterscotch cookie dough cheesecake smoothie parfait

Ingredients:

  • 12 honey flavored Teddy Grahams (or one whole graham cracker if you’re too mature to eat crackers shaped like cute little teddy bears)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 Snack Pack brand butterscotch pudding snack
  • 2 wedges Laughing Cow brand spreadable cheese triangles, creamy swiss flavor
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 5-6 ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup Eat Pastry brand chocoholic chip flavored vegan cookie dough
  • optional (but highly recommended): 4-ish fresh strawberries for dipping

Directions:

Wrap the Teddy Grahams in paper towel and crush on a hard surface using your hands. It’s okay if there are some bigger pieces left too after crushing. Sprinkle half to 2/3 of the crumbs on the bottom of a tall glass or big mug.

Place banana, pudding, Laughing Cow cheeses, vanilla, milk and ice in blender. Blend until smooth.

Add the cookie dough in several glops and blend until there are small morsels of cookie dough throughout the smoothie.

Pour smoothie in glass or mug and add the remainder of your Teddy Graham crumbs on top. Slice up your strawberries and you are ready for the ultimate breakfast-dessert experience!

butterscotch cookie dough cheesecake smoothie

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Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake Smoothie Parfait

More Artemis Antics and Soft Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Scones

My cat Artemis is at it again! She seems to be constantly obliged to do mischief, as if it’s part of her religion or something. (To see my first post about her antics, click here.) Now what she’s been doing lately is a bit destructive, but very cute.

When my dad brings home a set of paper towel rolls from the grocery store, he puts the extra rolls we aren’t currently using on top of the fridge until they are ready for duty. Artemis will jump on top of the fridge – often using my dad as a springboard – and discovers the paper towels are occupying the spot she usually takes up. So she starts scratching furiously at the paper towel rolls up there, concentrating her efforts mainly on the central one. She is creating a queenly throne/bed for herself!

Eventually she becomes satisfied with the level of destruction – err… improvement the paper towels have undergone, and settles herself down on her little nest. She looks down at the rest of us dining in the kitchen with a superior gaze.

Artemis on top of fridge

When my mom and I first saw her doing this, we laughed like hyenas at realizing the outcome of her serious project to demolish the paper towels. Artemis the empress was above us peasants and our laughter, and showed us her maturity with this look:

Artemis on the fridge

Okay, anyone who thinks animals can’t be expressive is just clueless.

At least while she was up there she couldn’t dip her paw in my water as I dined on one of these soft, tasty scones. (Yes, I know I promised to retry the cinnamon rolls, and I am hoping to do that this week or next, but I just couldn’t resist baking until then.)

Honestly, I’m not sure if these even qualify as scones. The texture is so soft, they’re actually more aptly described as muffin tops. (No, they will not give you a muffin top!) Here’s a shot of the texture:

banana chocolate chunk oat soft scones

Just because they’re not hard scones doesn’t mean they’re bad, though. I mean, my dad ate one the night I made them, and came back for more the next morning, which shows they were good because I know he’d rather be eating Thin Mint cookies than something I’ve baked most of the time. 🙂

The banana and oatmeal flavors combine to form a comforting taste and texture. The chocolate chunks are from a Ghiradelli chocolate bar I had left over in the freezer from my Oatmeal Almond Butter Awesomeness Muffins. Since it’s salted almond chocolate, it made the scones more exciting with that touch of the salty flavor. I love combining sweet and salty, don’t you?

chocolate chunk banana oatmeal soft scones

I’m going to post this recipe exactly as I did it, but with the note that if you want scones instead of muffin-tops, maybe more flour or oats or something should be added to make the batter more dough-like. Or, if you prefer muffin tops, just follow the recipe exactly!

Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Soft Scones/Muffin Tops

Makes 12 medium

adapted from this recipe on CD kitchen

banana oatmeal chocolate chunk soft scones

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 packets Quaker chocolate chip flavor instant oatmeal
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I just used a dash)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 tbls Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread (or butter or margarine would probably work too)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (I subbed this out with 1/3 cup milk + 1 tsp pure lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup banana (about 2/3 of a large banana)
  • 1 square Ghiradelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree chocolate (found in the baking aisle at the grocery store)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Cut in the Earth Balance.

In a small bowl, combine banana, milk, and lemon juice. Use a hand mixer to mix until banana is mushed as much as possible and ingredients are combined. Pour this mixture into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Add vanilla.

Hold the square of chocolate over the bowl and use your fingers to break it up into little chunks and drop into the batter. Stir.

No, you will not be able to knead the dough or cut it into little triangles. Instead, drop equal portions onto the cookie sheet like you would do with cookie batter. Try to drop batter in mounds. I found that creating higher mounds of batter turned out better than flatter, more expansive ones, which ended up harder to get off the cookie sheet without breaking them.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until golden.

Mmm… muffin tops straight from the oven, soft and buttery (without the guilt of butter) and delicious!

soft scones with banana, oatmeal, and chocolate chunks

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To Each His Own

You’ll catch me using that phrase quite a bit. I often can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like the things I adore, such as chocolate and country music. Likewise, I can’t see how anyone would like things I find absolutely repulsive, such as corn and violent cartoons. But I do respect others’ opinions, because we are all different and everyone has their own taste. This concept can also be applied to America’s eating disorder epidemic: just because around here people seem to think skeletal, starved girls and women are attractive doesn’t mean that’s the absolute, inarguable truth. Maybe girls who suffer from anorexia should be sent on exchange trips to parts of the world where it’s trendy to carry some flesh on your bones, such as the Middle East.

But I’m not here today to rant about eating disorders. The point of this post is, everyone truly has their own way of seeing the world, everyone has their unique likes and dislikes. For example, the cinnamon rolls I tried to make this evening were perceived differently by each taste-tester.

My mom was at Souplantation with my brother, who needed to eat at 5:30 because he eats breakfast at noon and doesn’t eat lunch on vacation days. My dad and I planned to just scrounge around the house for dinner. I really wanted to bake something for breakfast tomorrow morning, since we’re almost out of the Oatmeal Almond Butter Awesomeness Muffins I made the other day. I had my heart set on some cinnamon rolls. I found a recipe for no-yeast cinnamon rolls, which I thought I’d throw together really fast and then eat my dinner. Well. The first time I put together the dough, I realized after rolling it out that I had left out the baking powder. So I had to scrap that particular batch of dough, and try again. This time I was really in a hurry because I thought I wouldn’t have time to finish. So I accidentally flipped the piece of paper with my scribbled notes for the recipe to the backside, where I had notes for a different recipe. I didn’t notice it was the wrong recipe, and used the 1 tsp baking soda indicated for that recipe, instead of the 1 tablespoon of baking powder required to make my cinnamon rolls rise.

So I put them in the oven, after just having realized this and expecting the batch to be a total failure. At least it smelled good.

My mom and my brother, Sam, walked in the door a few minutes after I gloomily took the finished cinnamon rolls out of the oven. They looked more like cookies than rolls. My brother said, “it smells really good in here.” I replied, “well, it probably doesn’t taste very good.” I explained the mistake I’d made with the baking soda. My brother insisted upon trying one of the cinnamon cookies anyway. I was shocked since he NEVER tries anything I make (with the exception of a certain banana Nutella brownie recipe I made several months ago.) He said it was very good, his only constructive criticism being that the dough needed to be a little sweeter.

My mom and dad both tried the cinnamon cookies as well. My mom agreed they could be sweeter. My dad made no comment, but ate the whole thing, which I guess is a sign he liked it? At least sort of liked it?

So I had breakfast for dinner: my French toast grilled cheese as I’ve made before, this time with Muenster cheese:

muenster french toast grilled cheese

And as a treat, I tried one of my cinnamon roll-turned-cookies with some banana on the side for good measure:

cinnamon cookie roll

Personally, I didn’t care for it at all. It obviously had the wrong texture if it was trying to be a cinnamon roll, the dough tasted like one of those salty baked pretzels, the filling was way too sparse, I had added chocolate chips but there weren’t nearly enough of them… honestly, I didn’t like any aspect of these cinnamon rolls. I will have to try again and do it right next time: use the right amount of baking powder, not baking soda, add more sugar and filling. Now I know.

Is it even worth sharing the recipe? Well, I guess to each his own (or her own.) Someone might like it. Oh, all right, what the heck, I’ll post the recipe.

Salty Cinnamon Roll Cookies That Have Barely Any Filling

Makes 13-15 mini cinnamon cookie-roll-whatevers

Adapted from this recipe

cinnamon roll turned cookie

Ingredients:

for dough

  • 1 packet regular flavor instant oatmeal plus enough all-purpose flour that together the oatmeal and the flour equal 2 cups
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbls Earth Balance original buttery spread
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

for filling

  • 2 tbls Maranatha brand dark chocolate almond butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • a little less than a tablespoon of cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray.

Mix dry dough ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in Earth Balance. Add milk until dough is soft, do not over mix. Fold in chocolate chips.

Press dough onto cookie sheet and form a rectangle about an inch thick. Spread melted almond butter on top of the rectangle. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top of almond butter.

Roll up rectangle. Cut off ends if desired. Cut into round slices about one inch thick.

Bake in the preheated oven for 7-8 minutes or until edges are golden. Hope you like it, ’cause I sure didn’t! But again… to each his own!

Artemis Antics and an Apple Cinnamon Chocolate Cookie Dough Smoothie

My indoor cat, Artemis, is a couple years old now. But she sure hasn’t lost any of her kitten playfulness. This morning she was determined to make as much mischief as possible.

bookshelf artemis cat

It all started while I was making my smoothie. I had a glass of water sitting on the table, and she jumped on the table while my back was turned and started to dip her paw into it and lick the water off her paws. It is customary for me to remove her from the table when she does that, so I started towards her, but she scampered away like lightening to avoid the humiliation of being disciplined for her behavior.

The next thing I knew, she had jumped into a cabinet in one of our restrooms, which did not have enough space inside as she seemed to have guessed. She was hanging off the edge of the cabinet, looking at me desperately, so I lifted her down and she streaked away again, quite ungratefully. She resents having to be rescued when one of her antics goes awry.

After that she jumped up to the towering peak of a bookshelf in the living room and played around up there next to a speaker for our old sound system. It came dangerously close to toppling off the bookshelf. She got bored of that eventually and just sat there, looking around with her bird’s – eye view of the house, trying to find some inspiration for her next crime.

artemis on bookshelf

artemis on the bookshelf

All that excitement certainly warrants a chilled, smooth beverage to help soothe the cat owners’ soul. And I found that this apple cinnamon chocolate cookie dough smoothie did the trick!

A quick description of this smoothie: as the name suggests, it is apple cinnamon. It’s also blazed with gooey morsels of chocolate cookie dough. Now, on to the recipe.

Apple Cinnamon Chocolate Cookie Dough Smoothie

cookie dough apple cinnamon smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 Fage brand Greek yogurt, apple cinnamon with raisins flavor
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • a generous dash of cinnamon
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a little more than half of a Gala or Pink Lady apple, chopped, fresh or frozen
  • ice cubes (3-4 if using fresh apple, 5-6 if using frozen apple)
  • 1/4 cup Eat Pastry brand vegan Chocoholic chip cookie dough

Directions:

Place all ingredients in blender except cookie dough and blend for a minute or so. Add cookie dough and blend just until there are little morsels of cookie dough throughout the smoothie. Pour into glass and guard carefully against mischievous cats (these days I am paranoid that Artemis will stick her paw in my smoothie.) Enjoy!

apple cinnamon cookie dough smoothie

Oatmeal Almond Butter Awesomeness Muffins

If you know me, you know my weekend isn’t complete unless I get to bake something that’s both delicious and nutritious. This time around, I decided to try a new muffin recipe, complete with oats, whole wheat flour, and Greek yogurt. Each one is lovingly topped with sublime dark chocolate almond butter, which swirls down some into the batter as it bakes to add a melty, hot-fudge – like accent to each bite.

cinnamon oatmeal muffin with dark chocolate almond butter

Pure heaven, as you can see.

texture of oatmeal dark chocolate almond butter muffin

As I was shopping at the grocery store for the ingredients for these muffins, I met an older lady in a wheelchair who wanted to know where she could find almond butter. She told me, “Doctor Oz says it’s even healthier than peanut butter.” When we located the nut butters aisle, she saw Peanut Butter and Co. chocolate peanut butter blend, an old favorite of mine. I recommended it to her, saying I’ve tried it and it’s very good. She smiled and said, “well, you’re young. You don’t have to worry about health like I do.” But that’s not true. Everyone can and should be health-concious, and starting young can help prevent health problems later in life. It’s in that spirit that I present you with this recipe. The muffins are both angelically healthy, and sinfully good!

I should note that Peanut Butter and Co. dark chocolate peanut butter is perfectly healthy. However, in honor of my new friend at the grocery store I have used almond butter in these muffins. I’m sure Doctor Oz would be proud!

Oatmeal Almond Butter Awesomeness Muffins

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

inspired by Self-Frosting Pumpkin Nutella Cupcakes on 52 Kitchen Adventures

muffins with oatmeal and dark chocolate almond butter

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbls Egg Beaters Egg Substitute (or one egg)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 packets Cinnamon and Spice flavored instant oatmeal (use whatever brand you prefer)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 container Greek yogurt, black cherry flavor (I used Yoplait Greek yogurt)
  • 2 squares Ghiradelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree chocolate (found in the baking aisle)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate almond butter (I used Maranatha brand)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper muffin cups, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flours, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then add the Egg Beaters (or egg), milk, olive oil, Greek yogurt, and vanilla extract. Mix ingredients just until blended. (Some people mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then add to the dry, but I’m too impatient for that and my muffins always turn out fine only using one bowl.) Break the chocolate squares into bits and drop into bowl. Fold chocolate into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Here comes the fun part: adding the almond butter! Use a knife to place globs of about a teaspoon of almond butter on each muffin. Then swirl into batter slightly with the knife. I found that Maranatha brand almond butter had such a loose consistency to begin with that I did not need to microwave it first; other brands might require this to make them easier to spread over muffin batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm!

cinnamon oat dark chocolate almond butter muffin

Chocolate Cinnavanilla Thin Mint Smoothie

chocolate vanilla cinnamon thin mint smoothie

It’s that time of year again… Girl Scout Cookie Season! You can barely walk out of the house without being asked by some cute child with soulful eyes to buy a box of cookies. And it’s nearly impossible to refuse.

It becomes a little more obnoxious and less cute when the cute child is swapped out with a pushy adult family member who wants her Girl Scout to get the most sales in her troop and “helps” by selling cookies without the child even being there. I’ve never been a Girl Scout, so I don’t know if this is allowed or not, but it certainly is annoying to my mom when some lady predictably badgers her into buying Girl Scout cookies, no matter how many times she tries to decline the offer. Last year, my mom came home with a box of lemon cookies of some kind, and nobody touched them. But this year is quite different…

My mom got a box of Thin Mints from the badgering lady this time around. Those cookies are the most popular Girl Scout Cookie ever, and I can see why. The crunchy chocolate mint cookie is covered with a smooth chocolate coating… what’s not to like? Personally, I tend to prefer something a little more interesting like a Samoa with all those different flavors, but that doesn’t stop me from liking the simple, classic Thin Mints too. That said, I was kind of concerned I wouldn’t get my share when I saw the rate at which the male half of my family was consuming those cookies last night. My brother had a reasonable portion for dessert, and my dad kept sneaking into the kitchen to grab a handful. And another. And another. I know what happens to boxes of Oreos when my dad knows we have them in the house. I’ve heard my brother lamenting a box too new to be empty enough times to be well aware of the predation faced by cookies in our pantry. And I did not want my dad eating all the Thin Mints before I got a chance to use them in a smoothie shake I was planning.

So I craftily pinched four from those remaining in the box last night while my dad was watching t.v. and hid them in the cupboard. Those were my cookies, and I was determined they would be safe from cookie thieves! Today I was relieved to find them still intact where I left them, and proceeded to make this smoothie shake.

chocolate cinnavanilla smoothie with thin mints

I call it a smoothie shake because it is both a smoothie and a shake. It is technically healthy enough to be a smoothie, what with the banana, almondmilk, and high-calcium pudding. Yet it seems to be a indulgent as a shake, with the chocolate vanilla cinnamon flavor and of course the crunchy Thin Mint pieces. I put green apple in the smoothie, but could hardly taste it at all.

The liquid part of this smoothie was incredibly boring at first, but I added a pinch of cinnamon and mixed it in with my spoon and it literally transformed the flavor from “eh” to “oooh!” So I say add cinnamon and maybe some nutmeg too.

Chocolate Cinnavanilla Thin Mint Smoothie

cinnavanilla chocolate thin mint smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • a little less than half of 1 Granny Smith apple
  • 1 Silk brand single-serve carton of vanilla almondmilk
  • 1 Snack Pack brand pudding cup, cinnamon roll flavor
  • 1 tbsp Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 5-6 ice cubes
  • 4 Thin Mints
  • a pinch or so of cinnamon

Directions:

Pour all ingredients in blender except Thin Mints. (The cinnamon can be added before or after blending, it’s your choice.) Blend for a minute or until ice is crushed. Add Thin Mints, breaking some in half, some into quarters. Blend for just a few more seconds. Pour into a glass and enjoy this unconventional way of consuming Girl Scout Cookies!

smoothie with chocolate thin mint cinnamon and vanilla

This post was published in the Santa Monica Observer newspaper the week of February 21, 2013. The Observer website is www.smobserved.com.

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The Skinny on FAT

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Fat. It’s practically a dirty word these days. People seem intent on purging as much of this substance as possible from their diets. There are huge numbers of low fat and fat free products available at the grocery store, and a blog post about a low fat recipe is almost certain to appeal to a wider audience than one about anything high in fat. Some people seem to think eating high-fat foods makes your body actually fat. And therefore, that if you eat a low-fat diet, your actual body fat will decrease. Neither of these statements is proven true. I have decided to publish a post containing my knowledge on the subject of dietary fat, to try to clear up these misconceptions for some people. Even though I am not a doctor, I do have credible information from the ones I have spoken to at length on this subject.

nutrition facts cartoon

Different Types of Fat

Not all fats are equal. Some of them are actually bad for you, which have given fat in general a bad rap. But some are good for you, in fact essential for your health. And all are okay in moderation. But the bad fats must be limited more strictly, while the good fats can be consumed more regularly.

The two “bad fats” are saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat is considered to be the lesser of the two evils, and only makes a long-term impact if it is consumed to excess regularly. Then it can raise a person’s LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  A direct link has been drawn between diets high in saturated fat and heart disease, but this can easily be prevented by choosing low fat alternatives.

The other “bad fat,” trans fat is a much more serious enemy than saturated fat. Trans fat can clog the arteries if consumed to excess. It’s also unhealthy because it decreases HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and increases LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).

Now, on to the good fats! Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both good for you, because they provide your body with essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture these acids itself, but they are essential for good health because they help your metabolism to function properly and your hormones to travel through your bloodstream to the areas of the body where they are required. Healthy fats also increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body and reduces triglycerides.

Foods Containing Bad Fats

Saturated fat is found in fatty animal products, as well as foods such as gravy dippings and butter. The foods highest in saturated fat are palm kernel oil, coconut oil, butter, beef, lard, and vegetable shortening.

Many highly processed foods are sources of trans fat and should be avoided. An example is butter: there are about 4 grams of trans fat in a tablespoon of real butter, and margarine has about half as much. To avoid the trans fat altogether, opting for Earth Balance original buttery spread provides all the taste with no trans fat. The main source of trans fat is fast food. Fast food restaurants are cheap partly because the food served is not always fresh… but you wouldn’t know it because trans fat has been deliberately injected into the food to increase its shelf life. Gross, right?

Foods Containing Good Fats

avocado

There are many sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat available. Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are all good sources. Nut butters and nuts are also delicious and healthy sources of good fats to incorporate into a balanced diet. Earth Balance spreads are also sources. Monounsaturated fats can also be found in avocados, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are in freshwater fish, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and eggs.

How Much Fat To Eat

I can’t really provide a definite answer to the question, “how many servings of fat should I eat each day?” because I am not a dietician, and each individual has different nutritional needs. Even the UDSA food pyramid does not outline a firm, specific amount of fat to consume per day. It just tells people to use fats “sparingly.” And this is referring to foods that are solely categorized as fats, and can’t be placed into any other food group. For example, peanut butter is not in the “Fat” food group in the most up-to-date food pyramids. It has been moved to the “Protein” group right alongside meat and beans. This means it does not have to be used “sparingly;” have as much as seems reasonable to you considering the caloric density but also keeping in mind the amazing nutritional benefits!

Conclusion

So, as you can see, not all fats are created equal. Trans fats and saturated fats are not very healthy. However, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are very healthy and necessary for the body to function. So get out the peanut butter and smear it on that sandwich! There is no need to feel bad about eating healthy fats!

peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Credits: http://www.odec.ca/projects/2004/thog4n0/public_html/typefat.html http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fat/NU00262   http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-butter-i1145 http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/product/original-buttery-spread/ http://tomatotalk.earthfare.com/2010/05/12/10-foods-that-contain-good-fats-part-3/ www.medicalnewsservice.com

As always I would like to thank my dietician, Kerri Shwartz, MS, RD, for helping me be accurate in the information published in this post.

The photos came from the following sites: http://www.el3mentsofwellness.com/snack-5-egg-and-avocado-salad  http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/nflpm/ucm275438.htm  http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/peanut%20butter%20and%20jelly  http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/02/18/experiencing-the-paradox-of-choice-at-the-local-schnucks-grocery-store/

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