Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Granola

My mom’s birthday is coming up, and I wanted to make a granola that she’d especially appreciate. I know she’s a big fan of peanut butter. And whenever we’re at Whole Foods, she has to splurge on Endangered Species dark chocolate. She likes it at around 72%, so it’s a little sweet but mostly just intensely chocolatey. What I love about Endangered Species chocolate is that they help support sustainable farming and environmental protection. They also donate 10% of their net profits to organizations that aid the planet. Plus each of their chocolate bars has a picture of a beautiful animal on the wrapper! What’s not to love?

So my mom likes peanut butter, as well as chocolate. And who doesn’t like both peanut butter and chocolate combined? I decided to go for it and smash the two flavors together to create a sort of simple, yet tasty granola. The result is crispity, crunchity, peanut buttery…but much healthier than Butterfingers! Peanut butter is packed with protein. Dark chocolate has been found to be a natural source of antioxidants. And this granola is sweetened only by agave and pure vanilla, so it’s obviously much less sugary and fattening than candy. That makes it a great breakfast or anytime treat.

The only thing I would change about this granola would be to make it a bit sweeter. However, the current level of sweetness is just fine when enjoyed with some sweet yogurt!

I tried it with Chobani Greek banana yogurt and sliced bananas: tangy, sweet, salty and chocolatey all in one bowl!

peanut butter chocolate chunk granola with banana yogurt and sliced bananas

Also great with Chobani “Flip” Peach Pistachio yogurt.

peanut butter chocolate chunk granola with peach pistachio yogurt

Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Granola

made using guidelines from ambertheblack.com

makes about 3.5 cups

peanut butter chocolate chunk granola

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill brand 5-grain rolled hot cereal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup organic light agave syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts
  • 1/2 of an Endangered Species 72% cocoa dark chocolate bar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and apply nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine the dry oats, salt, and cinnamon. Toss.

Heat peanut butter in microwave for about 30 seconds to soften it slightly.

In a saucepan, combine softened peanut butter and agave syrup. Heat to low, stirring constantly for a few minutes, until the mixture is blended as much as possible. Then let it heat for another minute, or until bubbles form around the edges.

Remove from heat. Pour agave and peanut butter mixture into oat mixture. Add vanilla. Mix well until oats are entirely coated with the wet mixture.

Spread coated oats across prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes or until crunchy, stirring every 8-10 minutes.

Remove from oven. Let cool for a few minutes, then add peanuts. Chop the dark chocolate into small chunks and add them to the mixture. Mix.

And you’re all set! Happy birthday mom! (P.S.: it doesn’t have to be your birthday to enjoy peanut butter and chocolate for breakfast.) 🙂

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In Distress? Time To De-Stress!

It’s currently what I call the most stressful time of the year. Forget the Christmas shopping stampede, back-to-school season is truly the season of the most headaches (and backaches!) every year. If you are a high school student like me, you know the sudden, unwelcome flood of work, expectations, unfamiliar teachers and obligations filling up your schedule that arrives the moment the first bell rings. And stays like an unwanted guest, hours past the time you get home and drop your 50-lb backpack on the floor. It hangs over your shoulder while you power through that stack of homework, and breathes down your neck as you try to relax and get to sleep at a reasonable hour (yeah, right!)

In this post, I will share some de-stress methods that I use throughout the day and find effective at lowering my anxiety. I’m not saying I’m the queen of zen by any stretch of the imagination. But I do have school-proof methods that work for me to reduce my anxiety, morning, noon and night. In this post, I have divided my strategies into a Dawn-To-Dusk De-Stress Plan. I hope you give a few of my ideas a try, and maybe customize them to be optimal for you. Everyone has unique methods to cope with stress. If you have a great relaxation technique that isn’t here, feel free to mention it in the comments!

The Fall 2013 True Healthy Me Dawn-To-Dusk De-stress Plan

beach

Mornings:

1. Have a schedule during the week. Set your alarm so you wake up early enough to get ready and sit down to a healthy, satisfying breakfast before heading out the door. This way, there’s no morning drama or fear of lateness (is anyone else deathly afraid of walking in late to a silent classroom? Or is that just my personal weirdness?). The more time I leave myself to dress, eat, etcetera, the less likely I am to rush out the door and forget something, saving me from more stress later on. (“Everyone take out the 500-page essay that none of you left on your desks at home because you can’t turn it in late.” Oops.)

2. Speaking of breakfast: very important. Fuels your brain and helps you wake up. I don’t drink coffee, but I often find myself more awake than other students early in the day because I take the time to plan and eat a good breakfast.

During the School Day:

hershey's hat smile

3. Don’t think too far into the future. I learned from my mom to just think about what I’m doing at the moment: right now I’m walking to science class. Not: when I get to science class I need to do a group activity and after that I have to go to music and we have a playing test and I might get a bad grade and my GPA will drop and I’ll never get into college. Sometimes I find myself thinking like this, but then I remember that it’s more effective to take things one step at a time. Just like if I’m playing music, I can’t try to play all the notes at once (that would get me an F for sure!) It’s important to think ahead a little, but don’t worry ahead.

4. Find things to smile/laugh about. Some studies show that laughter not only helps one relax and feel good, it can be beneficial for blood flow and it just makes people happy overall. So hang out with people who make you laugh!

5. Be organized. Write down all your homework so you don’t have to frantically scour your friends and the rarely-updated teacher websites when you get home. And keep all your classwork in a binder or folder, in some sort of order that makes things easy to find. In elementary school, my desk was the messiest area in the classroom. One day the teacher made me clean it up while the other kids did a fun activity. But once the horrid mess was removed, everything I needed was easier to find! That lesson stuck with me forever, and now I keep all my papers reasonably organized. As for my desk at home…that’s another story. But I do find that the neater I can get it, the higher my quality of life is while doing homework.

After School:

6. Take a shower. If I’ve just arrived home from a hard day at school, I like to take a little break before starting my homework to just feel the warm water rushing over me. It feels like I’m washing off the dusty drudgery of the day. When I come out, I feel rejuvenated and ready to work!

7. Don’t procrastinate. Do your homework as soon as possible, after maybe a quick shower and/or snack. Break projects up into little pieces as soon as they are assigned, and plan when you will do each step.

8. Have something to look forward to. I know how trying it is to sit down to a pile of homework after a whole day of tedious classwork. What I often do is take a fun little quiz on Blogthings (most take less than 5 minutes) and don’t let myself see the result until I’ve done a set amount of homework. I will also wait to look at emails from friends until I’ve done some homework. Keeping that little reward just out of reach motivates me to do my homework faster.

Evenings:

Artemis sleeping in sun

9. Get to bed at a reasonable time. I try to make sure I get at least 8 hours. Even if I’m still working on something, unless it’s the most important thing in the world and due tomorrow, I will quit at 10:00 or 10:30 to make sure I get enough sleep. This way, I’ll be refreshed enough to make more progress on my work the next day. I avoid having to work all night because I start working on projects the day I receive them.

10. When I’m lying in bed, just before I fall asleep, I think of eleven positive things that happened to me during the day. I’ve been doing this since seventh grade, when my English teacher told us research suggested this procedure could turn a pessimist into an optimist. It hasn’t quite done that for me, but what it has done is helped me reflect on my day. I always find myself remembering little funny or exciting things that happened that I’d forgotten about. The positive things can include achievements, new opportunities, laugh out loud moments, a compliment someone gave you…anything you find good. And you don’t have to limit yourself to eleven.

In General:

11. Plan your schedule for the year in a realistic way. I know people who are taking 4 or 5 AP classes, plus are involved in high-level orchestra, athletics, and/or honors societies. Unless you want to get into the University of Over-Achievers, where your life will be even more stressful what with 100-page dissertations due every day, please be realistic with yourself. In my view, it’s more important to focus on a few areas of study that are genuinely important to you. Then push yourself to do more in these areas, and take harder classes that directly relate to your interests and passions. This will help you truly excel in these areas, which is also a plus on that college resumé you’re so worried about. 🙂 For instance, I am only taking one AP class, which is English, something I am interested in and fairly good at.

12. Exercise. Just like laughing, exercise can release good chemicals in your body. Sometimes when I’m really angry or stressed, I go for a short run to burn off my bad feelings. I also enjoy yoga, though I haven’t taken a formal class in some time. Just before getting into bed I sometimes do a few poses, or at least child’s pose (my favorite!) I also occasionally do a bit in the morning. I feel like it helps release tension building in my body.

13. Pursue hobbies. I find baking to be a great stress-reliever. Painting, drawing, writing, and reading help get my mind off anxiety-provoking topics. Blogging is not only a hobby but also a way to express my feelings. Letting out feelings helps them seem less upsetting and frightening, so it’s important to have an outlet.

14. Keep everything in perspective. There will be times when you forget something or are running late or just feel like the end of the world is upon you. I myself tend to blow issues out of proportion. Then I tell myself in my head, no one’s going to execute you. And I realize it’s true, and stop worrying so much about a little slip-up I’ve made. I’ve also taught this strategy to my mom, who says it helps her as well.

15. Have a rest day. I am Jewish and don’t do schoolwork on the Sabbath, which is Saturday. Even if you are not religious, it is nice to take a day off at some point during the week. Having that rest day helps me have something to look forward to during the busy week. It also refreshes my attitude, so I am ready to work when the Sabbath is over.

sailboat seen from beach

I hope these tips are helpful to you in your quest to find peace in today’s anxious world. Have as good a back-to-school season as possible!

Sources: http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter

Pumpkin Coffee Cake in a Mug

pumpkin chocolate walnut mug coffee cake

One of my early memories is a childhood trauma that occurred when I was below kindergarten-age. I happened to wander into the living room late on evening when my dad was watching an incredibly violent, frightening show on t.v. I hugged my blankie, paralyzed, my eyes glued to the screen though my itty-bitty legs were itching to bolt and escape the horror that was unfolding as a mentally ill character chopped off his own arm with a kitchen utensil.

This show affected me for life. I dreamt about the sallow-complexioned guy cutting off his arm, and the arms flooding the room and bouncing out the door to go attack people or something. I was afraid of spatulas for years, as this was the televised maniac’s weapon of choice. And for ages I strove to avoid ever catching another glimpse of the hated, traumatizing show that had scarred my life – Spongebob Squarepants.

I wasn’t able to watch one second of that show until I was fifteen or so. Then my little brother showed me his favorite episodes on Netflix. I was a little afraid to watch such a terrifying cartoon, but I decided to be brave. Through watching Spongebob as a young adult far out of the target age range, I was able to finally realize how funny it was. I mean, really. It’s not like my favorite show or anything, but I did develop a certain fondness for the talking yellow sponge and pint-sized mad scientist Plankton and penny-pinching Mr. Krabbs. Sandy the Squirrel gets on my nerves big time. But the point is, the very same show I find charming now was one of the scariest things ever for me as a child actually in the average age-range of Spongebob‘s audience.

I don’t know if I was just overly sensitive, or if Spongebob really should be kept away from innocent young children. Honestly, I find there are many subtle aspects to each character that are very adult concepts. For example, Squidward is the classic wannabe artist with a “temporary” job until his clarinet career takes off. Except his temporary job has morphed into an infinite future of degradation and torture (for him, being with the cheerful Spongebob is torture.) The character of Squidward, when analyzed more deeply, is a symbol of unachieved dreams. Squidward thinks he is unique and talented, but no one else in his society agrees. So he becomes gloomy and cynical, trudging to work and having no real purpose in life except to be bitter towards everyone around him.

On the flip side, Spongebob is clearly mentally defective and doomed to spend his whole life as a child in an adult’s shoes. He does not dream of anything beyond his job at the Krusty Krabb. In fact, he takes the job very seriously and does his best to excel at it, earning him fame as the best Krabby Patty maker in Bikini Bottom and the friendships of the fish all around him (except, of course, when they periodically turn into an angry mob and chase him with torches.) The point is, Spongebob not only accepts his place in the world, he breathes all his uniqueness and talent into it, making him an irreplaceable fry-cook and truly lovable (though mentally challenged) character.

Though the little five-year-olds being exposed to Spongebob Squarepants are probably more focused on him cutting off his arms with a spatula than on analyzing his character, the message inscribed between the lines of this crazy kids’ show must be intended to enter the young viewers’ subconscious and teach them from a young age how to truly succeed in life. The key, according to the writers of Spongebob Squarepants, is to have a positive attitude and care about what you do. I think that’s a message we can all benefit from, as we get older and seek a “good college” so we can get a “good job”. No matter what career we choose, it is good if we believe it is, and put our talent into it.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and the message really is: be careful when using a spatula unless you have regenerating extremities like a cartoonified yellow sponge. I may never know. But either way, be careful in the kitchen while pursuing your dreams!

chocolate chip walnut pumpkin coffee cake mug cake

Now that I’ve started school, I am again drenched with a torrent of stress and homework to supposedly help me work my way to a “dream career.” While my dream career certainly isn’t flipping burgers at a fast food joint, it is also not one of those high-pay, low-fun jobs that make you yawn just to hear the job description. I hope to pursue a career that allows me to follow my dreams and inject my personal creativity into what I do.

This is a back-to-school coffee cake that you can make for breakfast in a hurry. It has the flavors of fall, what with the pumpkin, cinnamon streusel, and melty chocolate chips. And I infused it with my creativity by coming up with the idea myself. Spongebob would be proud!

This cake is also spatulaphobic-friendly, as there is no spatula usage necessary to make this cake. (FYI I have recovered from my spatula terror and am doing well, but if you personally find yourself afraid of cutting your arm off due to a traumatic children’s show I understand.)

Pumpkin Coffee Cake in a Mug

based on this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie

makes one serving

mug coffee cake pumpkin walnut chocolate chip

Ingredients:

cake

  • 3 tbls whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon and nutmeg to taste (i used a pinch of each)
  • 2 tbls pumpkin butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbl water

streusel

  • pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin butter

mix-ins

  • 15 semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 tbl)
  • 1 tbl chopped walnuts

Directions:

For cake: In a mug, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, brown sugar, pumpkin butter, vanilla, and water. Mix well, making sure there are no dry spots. Stir in most of the chocolate chips and walnuts, but reserve some of each for the topping.

For the topping: In a tiny bowl, combine the streusel ingredients and mix well.

Microwave mug for 30 seconds. Add streusel topping and sprinkle on the remaining chocolate chips and walnuts. Microwave for another 15 seconds.

Bon appetit! (I promise you this mug coffee cake is better than a Krabby Patty!)

pumpkin chocolate walnut coffee cake mug cake

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End of Summer Pie

I baked this pie on the last day of summer vacation. It’s funny how, when school used to start in September, the “summer” felt like it was going strong all through August. Now that school starts barely more than halfway through August, people around here consider the beginning of August to be the end of summer. Advertising companies pick up on it too, and start advertising fall fashions and such as soon as school lets out in early June.

Personally, I plan on enjoying the summer as long as possible. Even if my vacation is over, the best season of the year is not. I’m going to keep wearing sandals, going to the beach, and eating pineapple as long as it can be found fresh in stores.

This pineapple strawberry pie brings back fond memories of that tropical vacation (which I read about or saw in a movie but never really went on) – sometimes undue nostalgia is the best kind! Seriously, I do hope to travel to some exotic island someday, and taste their fresh tropical fare. For now, I’ll just have to settle for buying Costa Rican or Hawaiian pineapples at my local grocery store and dreaming of the day school will be out again for summer…if that day will ever come…

pineapple strawberry coconut cranberry pie with graham cracker crust

Pineapple is great for so many things. For one, it makes a great decorative item in a fruit basket.Once you slice it open, it graduates from an awesome decoration to a delicious and healthy edible! Eat it fresh, swirl it into a smoothie…or get ambitious and bake a pie with it.

I’ve never heard of a pineapple pie before, but I figured, why not? Pineapple is just another fruit, why not try it in a pie? I found the resulting deliciousness to be quite satisfactory. The pineapple and strawberry flavors are sweet and fruity, the coconut and cranberries add more texture, and the graham cracker crust really ties the whole thing together as far as flavor goes. This pie turned out a lot like my recent sorbet cupcakes: messy, but worth it! Take one bite, and be instantly transported to a tropical island.

slice of pineapple coconut cranberry strawberry pie graham cracker crust

As far as desserts go, this pie is healthier than most generic desserts. The graham cracker crust is made with whole grains and yogurt for protein. The fruit provides fiber and all those other innumerable good things in fruit. And the main sweetener for the body of the pie was agave syrup, which has a lower glycemic index than sugar. This is extremely low-calorie as pie goes: 1/8 of the pie is only 200 calories! (No yucky “diet” products in the recipe, it just turned out that way!)

I suggest topping this baby with a cold scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt and maybe a maraschino cherry or two. You deserve it – it’s been a long back-to-school season. And it’s summer – you gotta enjoy your tropical fruits while you can!

This recipe uses three cups of pineapple. If you cut up a whole, full-size pineapple, you will have a couple cups left over. I recommend freezing these in chunk form for smoothies later on when it really is fall and (shudder) winter.

Pineapple Strawberry Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

based on this recipe on SparkRecipes

makes one 9 ” round pie (8 – 16 servings)

pie pineapple coconut strawberry cranberry graham cracker crust

Ingredients:

for crust

  • 6 Honey Maid honey graham crackers, crushed into crumbs
  • 3 tbls brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbls plain nonfat Greek yogurt (I used Open Nature brand)

for filling

  • 1 1/2 tbls Earth Balance original buttery spread
  • 1/4 cup organic light agave syrup
  • splash of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp Smucker’s brand Simply Fruit apricot jam
  • 3 cups pineapple chunks
  • 6 strawberries, sliced into little pieces
  • 3/4 cup water

for topping

  • 1 tbl Earth Balance original buttery spread, melted in microwave
  • 1/2 tbl organic light agave syrup
  • 2 tbls whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbls sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 tbls dried cranberries

Directions:

For graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a 9″ round pie pan with aluminum foil. (I didn’t spray mine with nonstick spray, but this may be beneficial as it is kind of hard to remove from the pan after baking.)

In a medium bowl, combine crushed graham crackers, brown sugar, and yogurt. Mix thoroughly.

Press this mixture into pie pan evenly, reaching all the edges. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes.

Remove crust from oven and set aside.

For pie filling: Place Earth Balance and agave syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until Earth Balance melts. Stir in the cinnamon, vanilla, apricot jam, pineapple chunks, strawberry pieces, and water. heat to boiling. Boil for one minute, stirring occasionally.

Pour the pie filling, liquid included, into graham cracker crust. Set aside for just a minute while you make the all-important…

Topping: In a small bowl, mix the whole wheat flour, coconut, agave and melted Earth Balance. Sprinkle this topping as evenly as possible over the pie filling.

Put it in the oven! Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes.

The aroma of Hawaii will surround you as you eagerly pull this pie from the oven, cut a wedge and savor your first bite! (Lei-wearing optional.)

Don’t you just love the smell of pie fresh from the oven?

graham cracker crust pineapple pie with coconut, cranberry, strawberry

No matter how great it smells, the taste is even better!

pie slice pineapple strawberry cranberry coconut with a graham cracker crust

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Blood Orange Chocolate “Ice Cream Cupcakes”: Dairy Free, Egg Free, Full of Flavor!

chocolate blood orange sorbet cupcake: egg free, dairy free, flourless

I’ve been wanting to make ice cream cupcakes all summer long. I just haven’t ever found the time. Until three days ago, when I finally had enough time to bake some little half-cakes, freeze, cover with ice cream, freeze, top with hard chocolate “magic shell,” take a bite…and fall in love. But these aren’t just any ice cream cupcakes – they’re flourless chocolate sorbet cupcakes!

Many health-conscious people have certain dietary restrictions such as eating vegan or gluten free. Some have health reasons not to eat dairy or gluten. In recognition of this, here is a dessert recipe that is vegan-friendly, dairy-free for the lactose intolerant, and gluten free for the gluten intolerant. I didn’t buy too many special ingredients, so maybe a few replacements would have to be made depending how strict your dietary restrictions are (ex. the type of chocolate I used probably had dairy in it. But it would also work with another type of dairy-free chocolate.) So this is just a basic recipe to show that it can, in theory, be done: a vegan and gluten-free version of ice cream cupcakes. And it’s budget-friendly as well since no $20 flours had to be imported from France as can get to be the case with many gluten free baked goods.

My mom described these cupcakes as “messy, but worth it.” The chocolate cake base is fudgey and gooey, so I recommend using a spoon to eat these little treats. The blood orange sorbet is a great contrast to the chocolate cake and “magic” chocolatey shell on top. An interesting and layered dessert, these cupcakes are also under 160 calories each.

I couldn’t have done this without the help of several sites: What Jew Wanna Eat helped me with the flourless cake, Cupcake Project provided me with guidelines for how to put together ice cream cupcakes, and last but not least, I got the chocolate “magic shell” recipe from 52 Kitchen Adventures. Thanks, everyone!

Blood Orange Chocolate Sorbet Cupcakes

makes 12 servings

blood orange flourless chocolate sorbet cupcake with chocolate hard shell: egg fee dairy free

ingredients:

for flourless cake

  • 2 oz chocolate (I used 1/4 cup Guittard semisweet chocolate chips, which are probably not vegan. Use a chocolate of your choice!)
  • 2 tbls Peanut Butter & Co. brand Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter
  • 1 tbl warm water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s brand Special Dark, again not sure if it’s vegan or gluten free. Use whatever brand your dietary restrictions and tastes permit.)
  • 1 tbl Smucker’s brand “simply fruit” apricot jam
  • 1/4 cup organic light agave syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 container Tree Top brand unsweetened applesauce

for the “ice cream” part

  • 2 cups Ciao Bella brand blood orange sorbet

for hard shell

  • 7 oz chocolate (I used 1 cup chocolate chips)
  • 2 tbls Earth Balance (original recipe used coconut oil)

Directions:

To make flourless chocolate cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

Place chocolate and peanut butter in saucepan. Heat to medium. Add warm water to help it melt and blend together. Remove from heat when melted.

In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, apricot jam, agave, applesauce, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture. Mix thoroughly.

Pour batter into muffin cups. It will only come about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up. This saves room for plenty of sorbet and chocolatey “magic shell!”

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, about ten minutes. Then put cupcakes in freezer for ten minutes to cool completely.

To assemble sorbet cupcakes: Leave the sorbet out of the freezer for just a few minutes to soften it. Remove cupcakes from freezer. Using an ice cream scoop and/or a spoon and/or a spatula, top each cupcake with a layer of sorbet that covers the surface of the cupcake evenly. Work quickly, as you don’t want the sorbet to melt. Return cupcakes to the freezer for twenty to thirty minutes or until sorbet has hardened.

To make chocolate hard shell: In a smallish to medium microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate and Earth Balance (or coconut oil.) Heat in microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each interval. When chocolate is melted, set mixture aside to cool.

When it has cooled completely, remove sorbet cupcakes from the freezer. Spoon hard shell mixture over each one (and try to spread it more evenly than I did), then wait just a couple minutes. When it has hardened, cupcake is ready to eat or freeze.

Like one of those “therapy pictures” you see in movies: what do you see in this cupcake?

sorbet cupcake chocolate blood orange flourless egg free dairy free

A spoonful of “yum”…guilt-free!

spoonful of flourless chocolate blood orange sorbet cupcake: egg free, dairy free

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Chip Smoothie

I recently discovered cookie chips at my grocery store. They have got to be one of the most significant innovations of the century. They’re sort of little cookies, except thinner and crunchier, like chips! I have to admit a lot of their appeal comes from the title – cookie chips. How could you go wrong with cookies and chips mashed together? If they tried to pass as cookies, I’d reject them because I want my cookies chewy and soft. But somehow, as a cookie chip they’re simply amazing! Could be a little healthier…but at least the salted peanut butter ones have a little bit of protein. (Like 2 grams.) Okay, so they’re not really healthy… but better than most junk food. And I justify them by blending them into one of my nutritious smoothies with banana, apple, almond milk and nourishing peanut butter. Yum!

Peanut butter and chocolate take the spotlight in this smoothie with their bold deliciousness. Sweet vanilla and banana hang out in the background. The sweetness is balanced by the tart undertone of the Granny Smith apple and cranberries. Finally, the chocolatey flavor is highlighted even more by chocolate yogurt raisins. This is one delightful concoction to brighten your hot late summer’s day for sure.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Chip Smoothie

Makes 1 serving

chocolate peanut butter cookie chip cranberry apple choc raisin smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 single serve container of Silk brand vanilla almond milk
  • 1 tbl Peanut Butter & Co. brand Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup frozen Granny Smith apple chunks (I froze my own apple. You could also use fresh, but then I recommend more ice)
  • 1-2 ice cubes
  • 5 Hannamax Baking brand salted peanut butter cookie chips
  • 1 tbl dried cranberries
  • 1 tbl Sun Maid brand dark chocolate yogurt raisins

Directions:

Place banana, almond milk, peanut butter, apple, and ice in blender. Blend for about a minute or until smooth.

Add cookie chips and blend for another second. Top with dried cranberries and yogurt raisins. (If desired, you can also reserve one cookie chip for topping.)

Drink up and enjoy!

peanut butter cookie chip chocolate vanilla smoothie with green apple, choc raisins, and cranberries

My Perfect Oatmeal

As a kid, my mom would often take my little brother and I along to Starbucks on lazy weekend afternoons. Though it was certainly not breakfast time, one of my favorite snacks to get there was the Starbucks “Perfect Oatmeal.” Both my brother and I enjoyed the piping hot bowls of oatmeal sweetened to each customer’s exact desires with just the right sprinkle of brown sugar, and made even more wonderful with the addition of choice toppings: I liked to dump in all the nuts and fruit, whereas my brother was a bit more selective.

I think the idea behind the “Perfect Oatmeal” at Starbucks is if you want something done right, do it yourself. I for one was always happy to sweeten and top my own oatmeal, exactly as I wanted. I get that same satisfaction by cooking oatmeal at home: this way I can completely control the taste and ingredients. Yesterday for breakfast I created a singular bowl of oatmeal, just for me, that included some of my favorite textures and tastes, each to just the right degree to cause harmony for my tastebuds. It does not resemble the Starbucks version of “Perfect Oatmeal,” but for me it was even better because it was my perfect oatmeal.

Now I feel like Goldilocks: the porridge was just right! I don’t know if it will be for you, so feel free to play around with what you add. For me this oatmeal was just sweet enough, just crunchy enough with the sliced almonds, and just juicy enough with ripe cherries. Dried blueberries add an intense blueberry flavor and chewy texture. Enjoy it your way, and make it just right for you.

Cherry Berry Almond Oatmeal

makes one serving

oatmeal with cherries, almonds, dried blueberries

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill 5 grain rolled hot cereal
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tbl organic light agave syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • a generous splash of cinnamon
  • 2 tbls dried blueberries
  • 1 tbl sliced almonds
  • 8 fresh cherries, pitted (I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I had to cut out the pits by hand with a knife. But it was worth it!)

Directions:

Pour water into pot on stove. Heat to high until water boils. Add oats and dried blueberries. Turn heat to low. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. While cooking, add the agave, vanilla and cinnamon.

Remove from heat. Pour oatmeal into serving bowl. Top with almond slices and cherries. Let cool for a couple minutes, until it’s not to hot, not too cold, but just right!

cherry almond blueberry oatmeal

I hope this oatmeal is as perfect for you as it was for me. Feel free to sweeten less or more and sub out fruits and nuts to taste. Enjoy!

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Sour Grapes and Sweet Banana Loaves

As I mentioned in this post, my family recently embarked  on a trip to the Getty Villa. After exploring most of the ancient artifacts, we headed to the gift shop to buy some new dust-collectors of our own. Among all the tourist-y souvenirs you buy and regret, such as a miniature Etch-A-Sketch™ and J Paul Getty’s How To Get Rich (spoiler alert: you get rich by buying oil wells) were a few small items that could actually be useful, such as a variety of cute notebooks. I loved one of the smallish ones with ancient Greek-style designs on the cover. Alas, I was sure I’d end up regretting the loss of $17 in exchange for a notebook I may or may not actually use. So I abstained from buying it, or anything else, and just watched in silence while my family waited in line with their little trinkets.

As soon as we left the Getty Villa I knew I really wanted that notebook. I needed it. In fact, I was fairly sure I could not survive without it. But I’d have to: there was no way we were going back to the museum just to visit the gift shop. I became increasingly bitter as the late afternoon went on. Why had everyone else gotten stuff, and not me? I deserved a present, too. My mom even attested AFTER we left that she WOULD have bought me something. This actually made me feel worse.

I made $20 earlier this summer by watering plants for a neighbor. It was sitting on my desk, tempting me with its seductive green slipperiness and President Andrew Jackson’s eyes gaping out at me, just begging me to spend it. On a present. For myself. I had to get something for myself to make up for being left out of the souvenir thing at the Getty Villa. No, my logic did not make sense, but buying something with that twenty was just more appealing than logic at that moment.

So I walked to the nearest Sur La Table, feeling envious the whole time of those who’d had presents bought for them (a.k.a. my brother.) I felt pretty bitter about spending my own money when I could have mooched off my mom earlier. But at the same time, I just knew I had to buy something that day. Otherwise, who knew what could happen? I might explode.

I wasn’t sure whether to buy something at Sur La Table, or a nearby clothing store. But it was getting late, and I didn’t want to spend lots of time trying on clothes. Furthermore, I’d been wanting a specific item at Sur La Table for a while. So I went on in before I could second-guess myself, and before I knew it I was headed towards the counter with a mini loaf pan. I forked over my hard-earned twenty and left the store, wondering if I’d made a horrible mistake.

I couldn’t help that flood of buyer’s regret as I trudged home. I realized I’d really overdramatized the whole situation of not buying that notebook. I probably wouldn’t have used it anyway. And now I was down twenty dollars. Would the mini loaf pan really be worth it in the long haul?

banana mini loaves with coconut and cream cheese and berries

I think so – as it turns out, mini loaves are much more fun than full-sized loaves. And the whole outside gets all golden brown and crisp, unlike soft slices of a large loaf. They’re also just so cute! I baked some that very evening. They turned out pretty well, even though I messed up the recipe: I was supposed to use 1 2/3 cup of banana, and I only used about 2/3 cup. As a result, the bread was pretty dense, but still hearty and filling. Not as banana-y as most banana bread, but I still found it quite tasty and satisfying. I added some berries for a burst of tart flavor, as well as coconut on top and a cream cheese swirl. The cream cheese swirl was hardly noticeable at all, so I recommend doubling the amount for that part of the recipe, or even just leaving it out.

My mood improved slightly with the good banana loaves. But I was still feeling a bit pouty about missing out on one of those adorable little notebooks at the Getty Villa gift shop. I know bitterness never helps anything, there was no point holding on to that selfish desire in my mind, so I tried to forget about them. But how does one forget true love?

A few days later, when I’d finally, grudgingly moved on, a friend happened to give me a little notebook for no reason. So I guess that goes to show that if you’re bitter enough about something, things will get better for you. Or maybe that life happens in a circle, and every loose end will be tied up when you least expect it. One or the other.

mini banana loaf coconut raspberry strawberry cream cheese

I don’t know if you’re feeling bitter about something right now, or if you just blew some twenty bucks on a mini loaf pan and are wondering if the store offers refunds, or if you maybe just like the idea of cute little mini banana loaves and want a healthy and interesting recipe. But whatever your reason is for making this recipe, I assure you that you will love it. (No guarantees, no refunds.) And if you don’t like it, please don’t stay bitter about it!

But seriously, these banana mini loaves are awesome. They are filling and earthy, with 100% whole grains. The fruit and coconut add some extra nutrients such as fiber. This recipe is also low in fat, as the only fat comes from the coconut and the cheese, a very small amount. Use a fat free milk for completely fat free bread. It does not taste fat free, however. It tastes brilliant, rich and indulgent. This bread is a great recipe for summer because of the festive tang of raspberries and strawberries, but it would also be good at any time of year. I’ve heard mini loaves are trendy holiday gifts…

Mini Banana Berry Loaves with Coconut and Cream Cheese

based on this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie

makes 6 mini loaves, or one full size loaf

mini banana loaf with berries, cream cheese, and coconut

Ingredients:

for bread batter

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbl brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbl Silk brand original coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbl organic light agave syrup
  • 2 tbls Crofter’s brand Morello Cherry jam
  • about 1 1/2 mashed bananas (or more for a more moist, banana-y taste)
  • 2/3 cup raspberries, halved
  • 3 strawberries, sliced

for cream cheese swirl (recommend doubling all ingredients listed here)

  • 2 Laughing Cow creamy swiss cheese wedges
  • 1 tbls organic light agave syrup
  • 1/4 tsp coconut milk

for topping (no need to double this)

  • 1 tbl sweetened flaked coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 330 Fahrenheit. (I think it would be 350 if making this as a full-sized loaf.) Spray a mini loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine all dry batter ingredients. Mix well.

Add all wet batter ingredients, and stir well. Gently stir in the berries.

Spoon batter into mini loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese wedges, agave, and 1/4 tsp coconut milk. Gently mix with a spoon.

Use a spoon to swirl cream cheese mixture into each mini loaf.

Bake in the preheated oven for15 to 17 minutes. Then remove from oven. Sprinkle coconut flakes on top of each mini loaf. Return to oven for another 5 or so minutes, or until golden and cake tester comes out clean. (20 minutes total for mini loaves.)

Serve warm – mm, mm!

mini banana coconut cream cheese berry loaves mini loaf pan

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Back to School Granola

As a kid I loathed those three words together in a sentence: Back. To. School. I’d hear them in advertisements, friends’ parents would annoyingly bring them up at summer playdates, and starting mid-July up through September I’d be haunted by the thought of going back to school. It wasn’t the “school” thing that bothered me so much; I was actually good at most of my classes and enjoyed spending time with my friends every day. But it was the whole “back to” thing in front of “school” that got me. Somehow shopping for new school supplies and anticipating meeting new teachers and classmates on the first day always built anticipation and dread for me. After all, what if the teacher was evil?

Now that I’m older, I still find myself a little anxious the week or so before school starts. In fact, just as when I was a kid, I know I’ll be more anxious on that first morning than any day afterwards. The anticipation of school starting is worse than the actual event. And right now, the anticipation has been setting my mood a little bit more frantic and crazy than I’d like. I feel like I won’t have time to get everything done before summer break is over.

spiced orange white chocolate raisin coconut granola

Baking is a stress-reliever, both for me and many others who like to bake. Even when school is in session, I like to bake on the weekends in order to unwind as well as (if things go well) turn out some delicious treats to share with everyone! This week I baked some granola.

This is my second time making granola, and this time I spiced things up – literally! I added a splash of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. The spices jazz up the zesty orange flavor for an autumnal wonderland. That’s why I have dubbed this granola “back to school” – though it is a somewhat hateful phrase, it describes autumn. And this granola is a perfect vehicle for fall flavors. In fact, the taste is somewhat calming in these hectic weeks of preparing for the Fall semester.

Another reason this granola is great for school time is that it is a convenient and healthy breakfast or snack! Make it on a weekend and keep it either in an airtight container or the freezer. Then, eat it throughout the busy week for a quick breakfast with some yogurt, or a refreshing afterschool snack. It could even be brought along in a ziplock for busy afternoons. And let’s not forget the health benefits of the granola. The oats are a wonderful source of fiber – brain food – and the almonds provide healthy fats. Spices such as cinnamon have been used for thousands of years as a natural medicine. Currently, some studies suggest daily cinnamon can reduce blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients. It can also help kill bacteria such as E. coli and help heal ailments such as urinary infections. Furthermore, according to my sources nutmeg can help ease anxiety! How perfect for this time of year!

I hope you can find some time amid all the school registrations, shopping, etcetera to make this granola. It is healthy, delicious, and calming both to make and eat. Enjoy alone, with yogurt or maybe milk of choice and some fruit!

Here is the full recipe for Spiced Orange Granola with Coconut, Raisins, and White Chocolate.

orange spice granola with raisins, coconut, white chocolate

 

orange spiced granola with coconut milk and raspberies

Sources: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/12/13/holiday-spices.aspx

The Internet, Ancient Gods, and Pizza

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of the billions of internet-enabled people on earth and, like the rest of us, use the internet daily to answer all kinds of questions. Perhaps you typed into the search box: healthy pizza recipe, or maybe Mediterranean pizza, or flatbread pizza. And I’m glad you did, because I employ buzz words just like these as tags on my posts. And if people find my posts, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. (It’s even better if you comment!) This is the way the internet works: it’s a capitalist system, with website creators/bloggers as the merchants and internet users playing the role of customers. The currency is publicity, a.k.a. that warm fuzzy feeling a blogger gets when people view and occasionally “like” his or her blog.

All in all, the internet is great. I have no problem with the existence of the internet. My problem is when people take their trust and love of the internet too far. For instance, apparently some people think the internet is God. There are numerous websites out there claiming that the internet is a modern, worldwide God because it answers peoples’ questions. Well, this theory is completely bogus.

For one thing, the internet only answers your questions if you have access to a computer. I’m not going to get too religious here, but I will assume most people believe their God cares about all of His children, whether or not they are hip enough to have a computer.

Another loophole in the “internet is God” theory is that the internet doesn’t always answer the prayers of the browsers. If you look up anything controversial, or anything at all really, such as “weight loss,” “death penalty,” or “home acne remedies,” you will find hundreds of millions of results. Not all the results will be helpful. Many will contradict one another. And sometimes the information and advice given on Joe Schmo’s free blog is not even true. Would God tell you to buy green coffee beans for weight loss? Or that Sasquatch was the last neanderthal?

The reason you have to take everything you read online with a grain of salt is because anyone can contribute to the vastly expanding mass of information we call the internet. Remember how I said earlier that bloggers like people to read their sites, “like,” and comment? Well, that’s what drives us to put our personal ideas and experiences online. We might tweak them a little, to make them more “like”-able. If “five-minute mug cakes” are trendy, food bloggers will make their own and tell the world it was delicious, moist, and only took five minutes. Even if it really took seven minutes, cocoa powder got all over the floor, and the end product tasted like radioactive styrofoam and burned the blogger’s tongue. (But not the mug cakes on this blog, of course!) Blogging is a very commercial business, and while false advertising in this field is discouraged, it’s not illegal. People fib, lie, and stretch the truth beyond breaking point all to get more traffic.

Bloggers are consumed by a gigantic desire to be “liked.” Comments and follows are also appreciated. This is because bloggers are people, too, and everybody wants to be liked, whether it’s on the playground or on Facebook/Twitter/WordPress, etc. This is also the reason people lie on the internet: as I mentioned earlier, they think the real-life truth is more boring or lame than the “like”-able made-up truth that gets posted on the internet. Does God want to be liked? Does He/She behave in a specific way in hopes of achieving widespread love and popularity?

I say no. But in many ideologies, the gods are thought of as humanlike in this respect. For example, in ancient times when people were more superstitious, gods were often imagined to be as flawed as people. They would lie, disguising themselves as humans in order to sneak into a human maiden’s bedchamber and  get something (usually you-know-what) out of said maiden. They would strive to please certain humans, and sometimes deliberately harm others with their superhuman powers on a whim. If we imagine our God to be so undependable and ruled by desire for popularity, then our God certainly could be the internet. The internet changes with each passing click of the mouse, as its human contributors decide cake in jars is more or less interesting than cake in mugs. And in a flash, the face of the internet morphs to match the browsers’ collective desires.

My mother and brother and I went to the Getty Villa today. The various statues and pictures of ancient Greek and Roman deities reminded me that these ancient peoples tended to think of their gods as totally flawed, reckless, fickle humans except immortal and all-powerful. What a frightening way to live. You never know when one god or another’s going to you-know-what your daughter, or strike you with lightening because he is displeased…or tell you that you need to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent bloating.

Below: Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine. In this picture of the statue, doesn’t it kind of look like he’s holding up a cell phone to take a picture of himself?

Dionysus at Getty Villa

Below: Aphrodite at the Getty Villa (apparently the ancient Greek standards of beauty glorified the rare inward-sloping nose)

Getty Villa statue of aphrodite

Too bad my nose doesn’t slope inward like the goddess of love and beauty. I wonder if I’m still pretty? I’ll ask the internet.

fish eye effect big nose

(I used the fisheye effect on my camera. My nose is not really that big.)

“I’ve had better peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”

i've had better peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Yep, you should have had lunch before we got here. Look what I had for lunch: pizza! Mediterranean pizza, no less.

flat out mediterranean pizza flatbread with hummus

What does this have to do with God, or the internet, you ask? Well, for one thing, many people worldwide today worship pizza as a god. For another, the whole reason you are probably reading this blog post is because you made an offering to the internet and are expecting your prayers for an easy, yummy Mediterranean flatbread pizza to be answered at some point. And who am I to make you read all this philosophy about religion and THEN deny you the answer to your prayers? After all, I am a part of the great divine internet. And I want to keep you happy so you press that “like” button that appeals to me so much!

Plus I’m just a nice person. I want to treat you to a delicious pizza you can make yourself, with no hours spent in the kitchen preparing a crust, or any of that refrigerated store-bought stuff. The flatbread I used is called Flat Out, and it’s a wonderful wrap available at many grocery stores such as Vons. It is high in fiber and protein, and the Light Original I used is only 90 calories.

The flatbread crust gets all crispy around the edges in the oven, making it a lovely base for the Mediterranean flavors of hummus and olives. I added cheese (who could blame me) and some juicy cherry tomatoes. Instead of pepperoni, I ripped up some Tofurkey strips, which also got just a smidgeon crisped around the edges. Peppered Tofurkey would have been great. I used baked ham style and it worked out fine.

I ate this whole pizza for lunch before heading off to the museum. The entire thing is less than 350 calories, and contains 21 grams of protein. It can be served as a personal pizza for one, or possibly cut up into little squares and served as a crowd-pleasing appetizer! Just like the internet itself, this pizza is eager to please.

Mediterranean Style Flatbread Pizza

adapted from flatoutbread.com

mediterranean style pizza on flat out flatbread

Ingredients:

  • 1 Flat Out brand Light Original flatbread
  • 1/4 cup Eating Right brand artichoke hummus
  • 9-10 Cherubs brand cherry tomatoes, each sliced in half
  • 2 tbls shredded cheese (I used Sargento brand Four Cheese Italian)
  • 2 slices baked ham style Tofurkey, torn into strips
  • 8 pimiento-stuffed manzanilla olives

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray.

Place Flat Out flatbread on aluminum foil. (I cut mine into three pieces beforehand.) Bake in heated oven for 2 minutes.

Remove from oven. Carefully spread hummus over surface of flatbread, leaving room at edges. Top with cheese, tomatoes, olives, and Tofurkey pieces.

Return to the oven for another 4 minutes. Then remove from oven and serve warm.

You might want to leave a little morsel as an offering to the internet – I hear Mediterranean cuisine is trending now!

flat out flatbread hummus pizza

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