Passover has been over for almost a week now, and that means we need to re-stock our kitchen with staples such as bread, pretzels, and of course some tasty leavened pastries! Personally, I wasn’t bothered so much by the different dietary guidelines during this Passover. I found it gave me a chance to explore different types of food, such as plantains and stuffed peppers, as well as getting to do a lot of baking and cooking since my family couldn’t just be lazy and buy take-out meals like we normally do during the rest of the year! That said, certain members of the family (a.k.a. the guys) were really tortured during those eight days with no hamburgers, Subway sandwiches, pizza, bagels, etc. As soon as Passover ended they splurged on a whole bunch of gluten-loaded, leavened fast food. Meanwhile, I began brainstorming for how I’d fill our pantry with all the healthy baked goods we’d been missing out on.
One of the first things I bought after Passover was a big container of oats. I was thinking of making a batch of granola, my mom’s favorite, but the scone envy overtook me somehow and I decided it would be scones. Make that healthy, vegan-friendly, lower-fat, whole grain oatmeal scones, packed with fresh and dried fruit and sweetened with Truvia baking blend and organic maple syrup. I improvised a maple glaze that I thought would add a nice touch. However, it is really subtle. When my mom tried a scone, she asked me, “what’s this wet stuff on top?” So I guess the glaze isn’t really crucial, and the scones will taste good, if a slight bit less maple-y, without it. (Cutting the glaze would also make them even lower in fat, sugar, and calories.)
In my opinion, the best thing about these scones is their texture. They are splendidly soft, yet firm and dense, with a buttery flavor from the Earth Balance, but aren’t too rich to enjoy. There’s just the right proportion of oats to add a special something without taking over. Chunky apricot, chewy dried cranberries, and crunchy pistachios add flavor and contribute to the interesting texture.
I hope you enjoy this easy recipe! Perfect for an informal breakfast or anytime snack.
Soft Apricot Cranberry Oatmeal Scones
makes about 12 medium-sized scones
- 1- 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 cup oats (I used quick-cooking)
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- generous dash of cinnamon
- pinch or two of nutmeg
- 2 tbs Truvia baking blend
- 2 tbs Earth Balance Original or Whipped Buttery Spread (just use whatever you have on hand)
- 1/4 cup organic 100% pure light amber maple syrup
- 2/3 cup plain almond milk (I used Almond Breeze brand)
- 2 small apricots
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tbs whole shelled pistachios
- 1 tbs plain almond milk
optional maple glaze
- 2 tbs Earth Balance Original or Whipped Buttery Spread
- 1-1/2 tbs organic 100% pure light amber maple syrup
- 1-1/2 tbs Truvia baking blend
- small dash cinnamon
For scones: Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and apply cooking spray generously.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Truvia baking blend. Mix.
Cut in the 2 tbs Earth Balance in small pieces. Add 1/4 cup maple syrup and 2/3 cup almond milk. Mix well. Mixture will be sticky and thick.
Chop apricots into small chunks and discard stones. Pour chunks into scone dough mixture. Add dried cranberries and pistachios. Stir gently just until ingredients are evenly combined.
Drop handfuls of batter onto prepared cookie sheet, at least an inch or two apart from one another. Make them as big or as small, as wide or as tall, as suits your fancy. You can make a lot of little scones, or a few big scones – I made 15 medium-sized ones.
Bake scones at 425 Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes or until they are golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
For glaze: In a small bowl, combine 2 tbs Earth Balance, 1-1/2 tbs maple syrup, 1-1/2 tbs Truvia baking blend, and a small dash of cinnamon. Use a spoon to gently mix until ingredients are well blended. Spoon glaze evenly over scones once they have cooled for at least 10-15 minutes.
Enjoy scones warm!
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This Passover, I’ve been trying really hard to catch my dad in the act of cheating. We’re all supposed to avoid eating leavened grains during the eight-day holiday, but in my family the guys have always been a little less well-behaved than the girls. Over the years, my dad has earned a reputation of notoriety for bending and breaking the delicate laws governing what can and cannot be eaten during Passover. For instance, in the past he insisted upon eating tortillas, claiming that since they are flat they may be more similar to what our ancestors ate in the desert than the factory-produced, cracker-like matzot we eat today. While this logic is somewhat sound, traditional laws do not allow the consumption of tortillas or any other grain that is not prepared in a very specific way. In past years, my dad has never been caught red-handed trying to sneak a bite of some non-kosher-for-Passover contraband. But we all know he has trouble controlling his bagel cravings…and I suspect he’s been finding some crafty way to sneak Noah’s bagels, Subway sandwiches, etcetera, into his daily diet. If only there was some hard evidence!
A couple nights ago, he came home pretty late from a business meeting that had dragged into dinnertime. When he walked in the door, I noticed a brown paper bag in his hand, similar to the ones our local grocery store uses for bulk bagels. “Aha!” I cried, and hurried to interrogate him. “What have you got in that bag?”
“Just some olives and a little container of pineapple. What, I’m not allowed to buy olives and pineapple?” He was acting altogether too innocent. I was sure there was something naughty in that bag that he wasn’t telling me about. With an exasperated sigh he dumped the paper bag onto the kitchen table to undergo my inspection. I pulled out the items in the bag one by one: first a plastic container of olives, then one of some juicy pineapple chunks. But there was something more at the bottom of the bag. I’ve got you now, I thought, and extracted what I thought would be incriminating evidence I could use against the suspect. Triumphantly I held up the small, shiny object to the light to discover it was…a York Patty.
Was this a punishable offense? I scratched my head. It wasn’t officially kosher for Passover, but it didn’t contain any yeast (unless yeast was buried in the ingredients list somewhere.) However, while it may have been permissible fare in itself, where does one obtain a York peppermint patty? Probably at a diner. And what do they serve at diners, much to the enjoyment of this particular suspect? Lots and lots of leavened bread. Still, infuriatingly, I didn’t have quite enough hard evidence that Dad was cheating on Passover. I decided not to bring this to the family court yet, but wait until I obtained more evidence through further interrogations and sleuthing.
Meanwhile, those pineapple chunks sure looked good. My dad has a tendency to buy fresh fruit and forget about it, so as soon as he brings home any the rest of the family can pretty much lay claim to it as we wish. After the pineapple chunks had sat undisturbed in the fridge for a day, I decided to repossess them. I began brainstorming some creative uses for them, and settled on a Passover cake with tropical flavors. The resulting cake was so scrumptious I forgot all about trying to bust my dad! (At least, temporarily.)
This recipe is goes out to anyone who’s tired of cooking and cleaning for Passover, and wants an edible dessert recipe that, unlike many Passover recipes out there, a) is at least relatively healthy, b) tastes amazing, and c) does not include a boxed cake mix. A delicious compromise between cake and pie, this upside-down cake is bursting with a blend of tropical fruits. The sponge cake base is sweetened only with honey and vanilla and topped with a two-ingredient chocolate-honey glaze made from super-dark Endangered Species chocolate. Toasted coconut is sprinkled on top for added fiber and crunch. One bite instantly sent me to a tropical paradise (at least, in the gustatory sense.) It may not be a beach vacation, but I’d call it the next best thing for those of us languishing in a bread-free kitchen this week.
The only change I might make to this recipe would be to bake it in a muffin tin using foil liners, for two reasons, the first being that the sponge cake has a tendency to stick to whatever it’s baked in, as well as fall apart when you try to cut a slice, though I found after it had been in the fridge for a day,the latter problem was reduced. Also, with individual portions it’ll be easier to avoid the impulse that will surely overcome you to devour the whole cake!
So you don’t have to do any detective work, here’s some visual instructions on the logistics of this recipe (full directions below:)
Tropical Bliss Upside-Down Cake – Kosher for Passover
based on recipe from Men’s Health website
makes one 9″ round cake
- 2 kiwis
- 1/2 a mango
- 1 cup pineapple chunks
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1/3 cup matzo cake meal
- 2 tbs potato starch
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- dash of cinnamon
- pinch of ginger
- 1/2 bar of Endangered Species brand natural dark chocolate with 88% cocoa
- 1 tbs honey
- 1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted (find a tutorial on how to toast coconut on Baking Bites)
First, preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Spray a 9″ round pie pan with nonstick spray and/or line with aluminum foil.
Now, create the fruit layer:
Peel the kiwis. Cut them both into circular slices, and then cut each slice into a semicircle.
Cut the skin off half a mango. Chop the fruit roughly into relatively thin pieces.
Cut the pineapple chunks into thinner slices so they will fit more easily across the surface of the bottom of your pie pan.
Wash the raspberries and chop each berry in half lengthwise.
Now, distribute fruit across the bottom of your pie pan. Try to get an even distribution of fruit so each slice of cake has a diverse blend. Here’s what my fruit layer masterpiece looked like:
Next, make the cake base:
Place matzo cake meal and potato starch into a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
In a separate, medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites until bubbly and foamy.
In another medium bowl, beat egg yolks until light. Add 1/2 cup honey and 1 tsp vanilla and beat.
Pour the cake meal/potato starch mixture into the yolk mixture. Add in the cinnamon and ginger. Beat gently until just combined.
Fold in egg whites.
Pour cake batter gently and evenly over fruit layer. Bake in 325 Fahrenheit oven until top of cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched (for me this was about 24 minutes.)
Remove cake from oven and allow to cool while you make the glaze:
Break up half a bar of Endangered Species 88% cocoa chocolate. Place chocolate bar pieces in a small bowl, and microwave until completely melted.
Add 1 tbs honey. Mix well.
When cake has cooled for ten or fifteen minutes, apply glaze and toasted coconut. If you’re feeling artsy, you can create a fancy design with the glaze (here’s my edible art:)
Now top it all off with toasted coconut (I found a helpful tutorial for that on Baking Bites)
You can either serve this cake warm, or chill in the fridge awhile and serve cold. After being chilled the glaze hardens and the cake firms up a bit, making it easier to cut. However, I found I preferred the cake nice and warm, with melty chocolate rivers coursing over the rainbow of flavorful fruit and bites of warm honey-sweetened sponge cake…
Happy Passover (or what’s left of it), and enjoy your tropical escape!
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Image credit: York Patty picture from http://lisadelay.com/blog/2009/12/14/self-test-is-the-holy-spirit-like-a-york-peppermint-patty/
One of the things I love about observing the Jewish holiday of Passover is that it forces us to cook. And when moms cook, dads and kids are usually obligated to sit down to a family meal in the kitchen. They have to take the food and like it. But more importantly, the family has to spend at least half an hour together, sitting at the table and socializing like the good old days before everyone was too busy to sit down to a family meal. Aside from Passover, if my family sits together for dinner once or twice a week it’s a miracle. But during Passover, we all sit together like the simpler olden times and it gives me a lovely warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart.
One of the things I hate about observing Passover is that it forces us to cook. This morning I had to take an important exam, and I had to rush to school. Before I go to an exam I always make sure to eat a balanced, nutritious breakfast with plenty of fiber and protein. But how much fiber is in matzo, I ask you? And how many times in a row can a vegetarian Jew eat eggs for breakfast before going insane?!?! I was totally at a loss as to what to eat, and ended up making one of the weirdest breakfasts I have ever put together in my life: a bowl of brown rice mixed with applesauce, chopped apple, cranberries, and whole raw almonds (I couldn’t find the sliced ones since my mom had recently re-organized our pantry – grrrrrr!) Let’s just say I won’t be formally posting that recipe on this blog.
I had a ton of leftover brown rice, so that’s what we ended up serving with the main course I cooked up for the family dinner tonight. But the rice was not the star of the show – it was really just a backdrop for the Mediterranean-flavored stuffed sweet mini peppers that took center stage.
I’m so glad I had time to cook after my exam. It was so much more relaxing to spend time in the kitchen when I didn’t have to run out the door and be somewhere. And it was rewarding to sit down to a family meal that I had participated in creating, and to enjoy it with family. I hope you have the same experience with cooking this recipe for your family.
While I served these as a protein, they could also be a delicious appetizer, though they are surprisingly filling. Stuffed with a flavorful blend of Feta and Cheddar cheeses, a hint of spice, hummus, avocado, and chopped spinach, these cute offerings made for a fun finger food that was also kosher for Passover (in accordance with Sephardic guidelines.) My taste-testers (a.k.a. Mom and Dad) loved these stuffed mini peppers. They are low in calories and bursting with vitamins, protein, and healthy fats. So go ahead and give this recipe a try.
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If you read this post, you know that my family’s cherished betta fish, Francisco, recently passed away. I was all for an extended period of mourning, but Artemis the cat was really pushing for a new fish right away, and when she was backed by my mom and brother I really had no choice but to give in and go to PetCo with the gang to seek our new aquatic companion.
Last time we bought a fish, my brother got to choose the individual, and I got to choose the name. This time we switched jobs: it was my turn to select the fish. I chose a dazzling silver and blue half moon male betta with a hooked mouth that somewhat resembles that of a salmon. When he swims in the light, his scales shimmer with iridescence, and I really love how his tail fin looks like it was dipped in blue ink. I think that’s the feature that sold me on this particular fish.
We brought him home, and I carried the case upstairs with the utmost care. As soon as we were through the door my brother asked me, “so are you going to do a blog post about the fish?” I assured him that I would do so later. A few minutes later the boy came up to me again and inquired, “so are you going to start blogging about the fish now?” I told him I needed to wait until there was enough information to blog about, and meanwhile he should fulfill his obligation and privilege of naming the new little guy.
My brother deliberated for several minutes over the name, then dubbed the fish Kato after some character in some show he’s currently into. (It’s not as cool as some of the names I came up with, but I suppose it’ll do until he gets bored of that show and comes up with a new name.) We prepared Kato’s water and introduced him to his new bowl, a mansion compared with the container he came in. He immediately began exploring his castle and outside territory, and seems to approve of the place. We fed him some fish pellets and found him to be a hearty eater. Hopefully as he grows up he’ll learn more about health and even try some of the nutritious recipes I cook up!
Speaking of nutritious recipes, how’d you like one for grain-free, gluten-free, kosher-for-Passover chocolate soufflé cupcakes? Yep, you read that right. I baked these today and they were a stunning success. I would totally serve them at a party to celebrate joyful events such as the introduction of a new family member.
These individual soufflés are super rich and chocolatey, with a delicious puddle of melted chocolate in the center. To lower the sugar, they are sweetened in part by Truvia baking blend, as well as agave syrup and nutritious chocolate almond butter. This provides just the right amount of sweetness to complement, but not overpower the chocolate. There is no oil or butter used in this recipe, nor grains of any kind, yet it tasted scrumptiously sinful. My ultra-picky little brother, who always swears he will never ever ever ever try anything I bake, gobbled up one of these babies in the blink of an eye. He and my mom both praised the mini soufflés, and told me they did not taste like a Passover dessert at all.
Well, here it is. I have blogged about the fish and shared a festive recipe with you. My work here is done. Now you get in the kitchen and try this recipe! It’s time to celebrate. Francisco, we still miss you, and I hope you can enjoy a dessert like this in fish heaven. Someday I will make some for you. In the meantime…
Every year, Jewish people celebrate the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt with the holiday of Pesach or Passover. The eight-day-long observance begins with two days of the seder, a discussion of the Bible’s account of the miraculous occurrences leading up to and comprising the Exodus story, as well as a commentary on the symbolism and relevance of the story to our own lives today. It is traditional to refer to the Exodus not as some historical event that happened to our distant ancestors, but something that we took part in as well. For the two nights of the seder, we say that we all, every man, woman and child at the table, walked out of the hands of bondage.
Yesterday was the first night of this year’s Passover seder, and I realized at the end of the day that everything I’d done that day had coincidentally reflected some event from the Exodus story. For instance, in the early afternoon I wandered in the desert (the desert of sunny southern California, that is!) with a friend who loves to walk just a little more than I do.
My 40 years – er, several hours of wandering ended when we reached the beach. I think when the Israelites reached the shores of the Red Sea, they must have been just as overjoyed as I was to behold the glittering water:
Later I ate the bread of poverty and persecution, i.e. matza/matzah/matzo/matzoh. This cracker-like unleavened bread represents the bread the Israelites baked in a hurry before leaving their life of slavery. They didn’t have time to let the bread rise, so now for eight straight days we Jews enjoy cardboard instead of bread. I’m sure I’ll be posting more on that later…
(This image is from Wikipedia, where I’m sure you can find a more complete explanation of matzo)
Although I didn’t experience the legendary miracle of the parting of the Red Sea yesterday, I did bear witness to a very interesting natural phenomenon, one that probably captivated ancient people when it occurred in prehistoric times. I made my mom stay up with me until 11:00 PM, when we went outside with some relatives and neighbors to watch a total lunar eclipse.
I attempted to take some pictures with my point-and-shoot camera and no tripod; I’m sure there are better pictures floating around on the internet but here’s one of mine as the earth’s shadow began to move across the brightly glowing moon:
Watching the entire shadow of the earth pass over the moon in the space of just over an hour, leaving only a dull gray ball in the sky, really made me think. It made me think about how the natural phenomenons that seem so easily explainable with today’s knowledge must have seemed so supernatural to ancient people. For some ancient religions, the moon was a god, and watching this source of nighttime light and security be eaten up by darkness must have struck fear and awe into people’s hearts. And even today, with all our science textbooks telling us in plain language why an eclipse happens, it is still a fascinating thing to watch.
For me, it displayed how small we are in the context of outer space: all the millions of rocks and trees and animals and humans; all the conflict between various nations, all the earth’s shared and contested knowledge and philosophies and thick books of history; all the day-to-day angst, the busy people rushing back and forth on urban streets gabbing irritably on their cell phones, all the individuals with their own full, busy lives that feel like the world is coming to an end if every little thing isn’t just so in their personal world… all of us were together, casting one smooth shadow on that faraway white ball in the sky. Everyone I love and…uh, don’t love so much, and all the people on every continent and remote island I’ve never heard of, and all the lions and the gazelles, were all combined together to form a single, united shape on the moon. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of the same world, and this was a very clear demonstration of that for me.
Space may be a cold, heartless place where the only image of ourselves as a planet is a dull, gray round shape on a spherical one sitting passively thousands of miles away from us. But within earth’s atmosphere, we are all connected by breathing the same air and by casting that same shadow. As one, we all spun in a slow dance between our life-providing sun and our vital moon. Even though in some areas the eclipse was not visible, the fact is everyone everywhere was and is moving as one, and everyone everywhere made up all the billions of tiny pieces of that simple, yet fantastic, shadow that covered the moon. And that should give us a warm feeling in our hearts. No matter what you believe in, you are part of the world, and the world needs you. Whether you or I went out from bondage in ancient Egypt, you and I and everyone cast one shadow on the moon last night.
And whether you observe the ritual of eight days of traditionally bad food or not, you can enjoy this yummy breakfast dish I cooked up for myself on this first morning of the holiday. This dish breaks the eating-cardboard tradition, as it doesn’t even attempt to emulate the leavened bread we miss so much for eight days. Instead, it’s made with plantain, a sort of cross between a banana and a potato that delivers, in many ways, better health benefits than either! It is high in fiber and other vitamins, and contains about twice the potassium and protein of a banana. While potatoes may have less sugar, they can also be higher in calories, especially when fried or baked and topped with fattening butter, sour cream, etcetera. I sort of stir-fried these plantains without the use of any oil or butter, making them healthier than your typical fried potato.
To add some flavor and make it a balanced meal, the seasoned plantains were paired with sweet coconut and raisins, spicy red pepper, a generous amount of wilted kale and a scrambled egg. I sprinkled the mix with some crumbled Gorgonzola cheese to add sharp flavor (and a little extra protein and calcium in this vegetarian meal didn’t hurt either!) I felt very sophisticated, cooking up something more unique and exotic than matzo farfel. I was very pleased with how the flavors worked together in harmony, just as the earth’s shadow swept across the surface of the moon in unity.
If you’re looking for a high-fiber Passover breakfast to keep those bowels moving happily, or just want to try a fresh recipe for a breakfast for one, give this recipe a try. As you cook it up, the aromatic flavors escaping from the pan might just be powerful enough to cause another lunar eclipse!
Nutrition information source:
My family recently discovered Veggie Grill, a 100% plant-matter burger place. That’s right – burgers made from plants. While my little brother remains loyal to MacDonald’s, the rest of us have come to quite like the interesting, healthy, and guilt-free offerings served in pretty good depth of selection at our local Veggie Grill. Besides the veggie burgers, they also serve items such as a quinoa salad (my dad saw this on the menu and wondered, “what’s quinoa?”), soups, and several “Kale Style™” options that are basically a hot vegetarian patty on a bed of kale and lettuce, garnished with some tomato slices and artfully applied condiments for flavor. I’ve had the “Kale Style™ Bayou Chick’n” several times now, and I find the plate full of kale and vegetarian protein quite satisfying and a great lighter, yet still filling alternative to the sandwiches. For those who’d prefer to avoid all the carbs of a huge bun, “Kale Style™” is a good way to go.
Being the DIY kind of girl I am, it wasn’t too long before I was itching to try making a sort of “Kale Style™” entree myself at home. Not to infringe on any copyright of Veggie Grill, I have dubbed my homemade kale platters, “Kale Platters™.” Copyright 2014 True Healthy Me, all rights to mixing up a bunch of veggies on a plate reserved. In preparation for the recipe, I bought a massive package of kale at the grocery store, so I had enough to make two different plates of kale and other wholesome things. And I STILL have an army of leafy greens occupying my fridge…guess I’ll be eating kale platters for the next week or two…or seven…
Really, kale is a great vegetable to incorporate into your diet in copious quantities. It’s low in calories and sugar, but high in vitamin A and C. As it has a low glycemic load, it keeps you full long after eating it. Unfortunately, this saintly vegetable is a bit hard for most people to stomach all by itself. So in these Kale Platter™ recipes, I’ve paired it with healthy and delicious ingredients to add flavor flair and make a plate full of greens into a balanced, filling, and nutritious meal! Try both fantastic flavors: Italian Breakfast Bonanza Kale Platter™ and Mexican Meatless Bliss Kale Platter™. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to create your own! (Just be sure to call them something else; you wouldn’t want to infringe my copyright. 🙂 )
Kale Platter Recipe #1: Italian Breakfast Bonanza
A breakfast salad that deserves a “bravo!” Made with the perfect balance of protein and fiber for fuel and fullness, vitamins and minerals from the veggies, and a splash of flavor from the pesto, this recipe is a super start to your busy day.
- 2 cups fresh, washed baby kale
- 5 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbs almond slices
- 1 slice Muenster cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 tbs pesto
Directions: Place kale on desired serving plate. Add cherry tomatoes in whatever arrangement you choose, and sprinkle almond slices over kale. Place one slice of Muenster cheese in the center of the plate, on top of the kale.
Spray a small pan generously with nonstick cooking spray. Cook one egg over-easy style in the pan. When egg is done cooking, place it on top of Muenster cheese. Garnish with pesto.
Kale Platter Recipe #2: Mexican Meatless Bliss
This recipe stays truer to the form of its inspiration, Veggie Grill, as it is made with no animal products. However, flavor is not absent from this plate packed with plant-based protein crumbles, fresh and sautéed veggies, and sultry salsa! I enjoyed mine with spinach tortilla strips like a taco salad. Except it was clearly far superior to a taco salad, being a Kale Platter™. 🙂
- 2 cups fresh, washed baby kale
- 1/4 of an avocado, sliced
- 1 Rudi Bakery brand gluten-free spinach tortilla
- 1/3 cup Lightlife brand Smart Ground Mexican Style Seasoned Veggie Protein Crumbles
- 1 cup Mexican-style vegetables (I used a mix of sliced red and green peppers and onions)
- 2 tbs salsa of choice (I used Salsa Lisa brand medium homemade recipe salsa)
Directions: Place kale on desired serving plate. Distribute avocado slices evenly across bed of kale. Warm the tortilla in the microwave and tear it into strips. Place strips to the side of kale and avocado.
Begin to sauté your veggies (I used the technique from this helpful video on Youtube by Wellness Forum Foods about how to sauté vegetables without a drop of oil.) Once the veggies have cooked a few minutes, add the protein crumbles. Cook until veggies have browned a bit and protein crumbles have been cooking for a few minutes.
When veggies and protein crumbles are done cooking, remove from heat and place on top of kale and avocado. Drizzle with salsa of your choice. Olé!
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Often the best, most interesting and wonderful things in life are also the hardest to find. True friends and soul mates are hard to find; likewise, buried treasure, and exotic species are quite elusive, and can avoid discovery for generations. But as hard as these entities are to allocate, they are all the more valuable once found.
Recently I read about the po’ouli bird, a species likely related to a honeycreeper that was first discovered by University of Hawaii students in 1973. Here’s a pic:
The po’ouli is structurally dissimilar to any other living bird species, and nests in the rainforest in trees with a name so hard to pronounce I won’t even try, (though I’m sure it sounds beautiful in the native language) and dines on pesky creepy-crawlies such as spiders (go, po’ouli birds!) When it was discovered, the species was already endangered. Despite efforts to conserve and regrow the existing population, it continued to dwindle until there were only three known individuals alive in 1997. Desperate attempts to get these lonely survivors to produce offspring were made, but to no avail.
Today, there are only two males left, and the chances of expanding the population using tissue samples or some other artificial method are slim, as no females are left. Due to habitat loss, disease, loss of prey species, and other factors likely highly influenced by humans, the po’ouli bird is now practically extinct. This rare and beautiful creature has been like a fleeting dream fluttering across the stage of human knowledge between its discovery so late and its disappearance too soon.
I imagine it was very exciting for those University of Hawaii students to come upon an undiscovered species quietly existing in the heart of the forest right by their school. All life is a treasure, but a scientific and historical treasure indeed was the discovery of this understated bird. And to let the population dwindle to a measly few individuals keeping the species of po’ouli alive, hanging on by a thread to the earth as it turns away, led by the rope of human ignorance, this sad occurrence is akin to a pirate’s lifetime of gold and jewels being devoured by a black sea wave and buried under thousands of leagues of murky scum. A treasure, first unknown, then under-appreciated, now lost if we do not act at once. The most valuable treasure is the one that is taken for granted until it is gone.
Now, onto a cheerier discussion of a much different type of elusive treasure…the legendary perfect crumb muffin! You know, that delicious-yet-super-fattening muffin with the brown sugar/cinnamon crumble on top that fills your mouth with sugar and brightens your whole day yet simultaneously causes you to feel extremely guilty for eating the soft, moist baked treat covered in sinful streusel? I have tried several times to make a healthier version of crumb-topped baked goods at home, but I can never get it just right the way they do in bakeries…either the crumbs roll right off the muffin, or they sink into the batter while baking heretofore losing the delightful texture of grainy crumbly bits. They just don’t want to stay put on top of the muffin!!! As you might imagine, these repeated failures have frustrated me to the point that I’ve vowed to myself never to try and make a crumb muffin again, lest I suffer the annoyance of misbehaving crumb topping on yet another occasion. Yet the inexplicable call of the crumb muffin beckons me to the kitchen, over and over throughout the years, armed with a new recipe or technique, somehow sure this time will be different, this time I will conquer the great and terrible crumb muffin and pull something magical out of the oven. This time the crumbs will neither sink into the batter, nor roll away.
Needless to say, this different, special day has not arrived yet. But like a scientist whiling away his life searching for a new species, like a pirate traversing the world ocean in search of mythical treasure, I have some sort of irrepressible urge to continue trying, until the day I prevail. Or the day my oven breaks, whichever comes first. That’s what drove me to make these crumb muffins last week. An image of banana blueberry muffins with that impossible, magical cinnamon crumble topping popped into my head, and I simply could not get rid of it. The only thing to do was bake the muffins, and hope that this time would be different. I mixed up the batter with banana, blueberry, steel-cut oats, tart yogurt and cream cheese, and other good stuff. I popped them in the oven, took them out around halfway through the baking process to gingerly adorn each one with a sprinkling of my crumble topping, placed them back in the oven, then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Maybe this batch would be my perfect crumb muffins, my treasure.
When the timer shrieked I whisked the muffins out of the oven and saw at once that treasure…these were not. At least, in terms of looks. The all-important crumble wasn’t looking so crumb-y: it had sunken a bit into the center of each muffin, making them look more like little depressed volcanoes than chipper crumb muffins. Glumly I snapped a few pictures on the off-chance they’d taste all right, though I already knew they weren’t the treasure muffins I was hoping for.
As it turned out, they tasted marvelous! The tart flavor of the yogurt and cream cheese came through only faintly, I was hoping for a bit more tart flavor, but they still tasted great, mostly like delicious banana, flavorful blueberries, nourishing whole grains and oats, and a nice, melty layer of sugar and spice on top. My mom said they tasted “healthy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Maybe I’m used to things tasting “healthy,” but personally I prefer the hearty texture of a homemade healthy muffin to a light, buttery bakery one made heavy with guilt. When served warm, with the not-so-“crumb”-y topping rolling down the sides and melting in your mouth, these muffins are the perfect breakfast treat! Even if they don’t look perfect, they are a true treasure for the tastebuds. And a treasure in terms of nutrition as well: the batter is packed with real fruit and whole grains, and they are low in fat and calories – one filling muffin is less than 200! Since they have steel cut oats and whole wheat pastry flour, instead of just finely ground white flour, their glycemic index is lower than that of many traditionally-baked muffins.
The take-away? Looks aren’t everything. Look carefully at your trash and you may find treasure where you least expect it. Protect your treasure well, whether it be in the form of gold, endangered animals, or a muffin on your plate that you don’t want anyone to steal!
Here’s the recipe I used. If you know a better technique for baking perfect crumb muffins, please do let me know in the comments!
Banana Blueberry Crumb Muffins
Based on recipe from babylovingmama.com
Makes 12 regular size muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 cup dry steel cut oats
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash cinnamon
- 2 large bananas
- 1 egg (I used 3 tbs Lucerne brand egg substitute)
- 2 tbs organic light agave syrup
- 2 Laughing Cow brand Smooth Sensations cinnamon cream cheese spread
- 1 Chobani brand strawberry banana flavored 2% milkfat Greek yogurt (or use your favorite brand of lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt.)
- 3 tbs skim milk
- 1 1/2 cups blueberries
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbs whole wheat pastry flour
- pinch cinnamon
- 1 tbs Earth Balance Whipped Buttery Spread (or use original; we just happened to have whipped in the house)
- 1/2 tsp organic light agave syrup
- 1 to 2 tsp water
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line a regular-sized muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
For Muffins: In a large bowl, combine the flour, steel cut oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix.
Place the bananas in another large bowl, and mash them a bit with a fork. Then add the egg substitute, 2 tbs agave, and 2 Laughing Cow cheese wedges. Combine using an electric mixer until all the ingredients are pretty well incorporated (my mixture was still somewhat lumpy.)
Pour wet mixture into dry. Add the yogurt and 3 tbs skim milk. Stir just until combined. Add blueberries and mix gently.
Pour muffin batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full or more (these muffins are pretty big but don’t rise too much during baking.) Bake for about ten minutes before you add the crumb topping, and 6-8 minutes after (16-18 minutes total.)
For Crumb Topping: In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, 2 tbs whole wheat pastry flour, and cinnamon. Toss mixture. Cut in 1 tbs Earth Balance in little pieces. Mix with your fingers until mixture becomes crumbly. (Mine was way too dry so I added an extra 1/2 tsp agave and a few drops of water, which gave it more of a crumbly texture, so do this if needed.)
After muffins have baked at 375 Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle the crumb topping evenly on top of each muffin. Return to oven for another 6-8 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Serve these muffins warm to those people you treasure in your life!
Po’ouli bird photo credits: (in order of appearance)
Cartoon muffin pic from: