Monthly Archives: June, 2014

Bon Voyage Rugelach

israeli chocolate cream cheese rugelach puff pastry

Wish me bon voyage, everyone – I’m going to Israel!

Yes, I know they speak Hebrew there, and if I walk up to someone in my American-flag baseball cap and pungent sunscreen asking, “parlez-vous francais?” I’ll probably just get a bunch of weird looks. (So much for my two years of language class.) But what I love about the world is the diversity of different cultures that are all distinctive, yet at the same time can find ways of blending together to create interesting things. This phenomenon is most evident in multicultural places such as California. In my California kitchen, in fact, is where I created these Israeli Chocolate Cheese Rugelach to celebrate my upcoming trip, as well as the diversity of cultures and the best that some few out of a myriad nations have to offer here in the U.S. in terms of food products. I didn’t incorporate representatives from every corner of the earth in these croissant-esque cookies, but I did combine some elements from various different parts of the world and I think this would be a great dessert to bring to any table. If you like, add your favorite flavors from elsewhere on the globe! As you’ll see in the ingredient description, these cookies are already bursting with multicultural materials.

israeli chocolate rugelach

Rugelach is a traditional Jewish pastry, sort of like a pinwheel cookie with a pie-crust-like exterior wrapped around sweet fillings such as raisins, nuts or sugar. Usually cream cheese is included in the pastry shell. But my version has cream cheese in the filling, Swiss cheese made in America to be exact. And that cheese is blended with real Israeli milk chocolate, which I received at an orientation for my Israel trip. I thought the packaging for the chocolate was pretty amazing: all the information on it was written in English, Hebrew and French. Try chocolat au lait paired with Swiss cream cheese -it’s a killer combination. And I gave it a tropical twist with coconut flakes and dried cranberries before rolling up these pinwheel cookies. By the way, the pastry shell for these cookies is made from frozen puff pastry. And not just any frozen puff pastry – puff pastry from Aussie Bakery, a traditional Australian bakery located in Seattle, Washington.

So I think these cookies truly encompass the diversity I enjoy as a resident of the very multicultural California – all different cultures originating from all over the world, wrapped up together in an unbroken circle of sweetness. And the only thing sweeter than a global sentiment is a delicious chocolatey cookie adorned with chocolate drizzle.

israeli cheese chocolate rugelach

 

Wherever you live, whatever your flavor preferences are, give this recipe a try. I know it’s a winner (at least with my mom) because she urged me to store the cookies in the freezer, traditionally reserved for only the best of my baked goods as there simply isn’t room to store everything. She also made sure to note precisely where in the cluttered freezer I placed the cookies, and returned day after day to enjoy them. I have been warned that by the time I return from my trip in early July, the rugelach I made before parting will be nothing but a memory.

These cookies are tasty warm, with the chocolate drizzle melting down a warm, croissant-like pastry. But I found I preferred them cold, straight from the freezer with a minimal amount of thawing or defrosting. Whatever style of cookie consumption you choose, I hope you do make and enjoy these multicultural cookies.

Click here for the full recipe: Israeli Chocolate Cheese Rugelach

milk chocolate cream cheese Israeli chocolate cheese rugelach with puff pastry

The Personal Layer Cake Strikes Again!

making apple butterscotch cinnamon single layer cakes

The moment I discovered how to make a small batch recipe of personal layer cakes from The Pancake Princess, my life rapidly shifted and I’m convinced it will never be the same again. After my first sweet success at the concept with my lemon layer cakes, my waking hours have been filled with fantasies of all the fantastic flavor combinations I could try. Since they’re layer cakes, there’s lots of opportunity to experiment with different flavors of cake and icing. And since the recipe only makes three servings, I feel relatively safe trying anything… no one’s going to be stuck trudging through twenty servings of a gastronomical failure for three weeks. In terms of innovation, the sky’s the limit. Red velvet with banana? A possibility. Orange with mocha and caramel? Why not?

With all these crazy fantasies bouncing around my baker’s brain, it was only a matter of time before the personal layer cake made its reappearance… so when these apple cinnamon butterscotch personal layer cakes entered the True Healthy Me kitchen it was not to the surprise of the diners. But it was certainly a pleasure to have them. While the flavor combo wasn’t as far out as some others I’d dreamed up, it was still a bit unusual, while also fitting into the comfortable range of flavors people typically consume together.

In terms of health, I must be honest: these cakes don’t rank as high as some of the other baked goods I’ve made in the past. For icing I used a butterscotch pudding snack, which probably contained a lot of weird ingredients and sugar. But on the plus side, at least it was a good source of calcium! I used one whole apple in this recipe, which means each cake provides 1/3 of a generous serving of fruit – not incredible, but probably more real fruit than you’ll find in typical baked goods at a grocery store or sweets shop. The cake itself is baked with whole wheat pastry flour and sweetened with Truvia baking blend, and is low in fat as I replaced most of the fat found in a traditional cake recipe with unsweetened applesauce. So all of those thing, I suppose, balance out the colossal sugar load from the pudding. And besides…it’s apple butterscotch layer cake! You couldn’t turn it down if you wanted to!

The personal layer cake is back in town with a vengeance. All citizens are to make this recipe…or suffer the wrath of the villainous conquerer, Mr. Personal Layer Cake. So let this recipe strike again…and again, and again, and again in your kitchen. You won’t regret it!

Apple Cinnamon Butterscotch Personal Layer Cakes

based on recipe from The Pancake Princess

makes 3 personal-size layer cakes

apple cinnamon butterscotch layer cakes

Ingredients:

cake

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup Truvia brand baking blend

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

dash of cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup warm water

about 2/3 of a large Granny Smith apple

icing/topping

1 single-serving butterscotch pudding snack

remaining 1/3 of the Granny Smith apple (see above)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a Wilton brand coil cakes mini cakes pan or other mini jellyroll pan with nonstick spray. (This recipe can also be made in a regular cake pan – see the original recipe for instructions.)

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Mix to combine.

Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Slice up a large Granny Smith apple, into thin slices. Cut each slice in half horizontally.

Place about 2/3 of the apple pieces in batter. Stir.

Pour batter evenly into three cavities of Wilton coil cakes pan.

Bake at 350 for 7 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool, then carefully remove from pan.

When cakes have cooled completely, cut each evenly into thirds. Spread some of the pudding on each third of the cake, then stack another third on top, and so on, topping off the cake with the remainder of the pudding.

Arrange your remaining apple slices artistically atop your cakes.

Now devour! Savor the sweet revenge of the personal layer cake! Note: this revenge is best served cold.

personal layer cake apple cinnamon butterscotch

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How Disney’s “Frozen” is Really an Eating Disorder Recovery Story

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any part of Disney’s “Frozen,” nor do I own the rights to any of the images in this post. Image credits and links are given for each of the photos at the bottom of the page.

PS: SPOILER ALERT!!! If you are uncool enough to STILL not have seen Disney’s “Frozen,” please go watch it now. Then come back and read this post.

I watched Disney’s “Frozen” for the first time several weeks ago. I loved the movie, even with its minor flaws. Overall I think it is a major step for Disney towards incorporating strong, proactive female characters, while also maintaining a balance so it is not over-abundant in any anti-male sentiment. I loved the music and the animation. But what really hit me when I first watched it was something much more personal. Throughout the film, tears were pouring out of my eyes almost continuously. At the end, my head was buzzing and I couldn’t wait to share what I had discovered with my family and with all of you: how true of a chord it struck with me regarding something central to my personal life. To me, the whole story seemed to accurately parallel the path I and many others have taken to suffering and recovering from an eating disorder.

Many people have found personal meaning in “Frozen” and gathered various different messages from it: there’s a lot about women’s liberation and social skills. In my view, Disney is really just conveying a general message of freedom and about relationships that can teach a variety of different lessons to those who are looking for them. But this is what I gleaned from it, and I hope others who watch the film will also receive, if needed, this message of health and hope to build confidence so they do not fall down the dangerous and lonely path of an eating disorder.

This chart elaborates on main events in “Frozen”‘s plot (left) and how each one correlates to a common aspect or event of eating disorder development and recovery. While not everyone experiences the same things, I have mentioned some issues that came up in my experience or that I have heard about from others. Starting at the beginning, follow it all the way through to the end to see how “Frozen” can be interpreted as a message about eating disorders and how to conquer them.

1. Anna persuades her careful older sister Elsa to use her ice powers in a careless manner, leading to Anna’s injury. The parents promise Elsa will learn to control her powers. young elsa hurts anna accidentally frozen anna gets healed by trolls 1. Eating disorders develop out of fear of making a mistake or being inadequate, often related to earlier trauma around body image, and the idea that control over food will prevent more trauma.
2. The time comes for Elsa to assume the crown. There will be a public coronation. Anna, now older and having forgotten her childhood trauma, is excited to “open up the gates” and let potential friends and lovers into the castle. Elsa is petrified of slipping up and failing to “conceal” her powers. Elsa "conceal don't feel" 2. As a person begins recovery, the “healthy voice” inside them remembers the happy “normal” person they once were and wants to explore that world again, opening up to new food and new people. But the “eating disordered voice” is much stronger and keeps the “gates” between the patient and the world firmly closed, out of fear of losing control.
3. Anna meets Prince Hans, and it’s love at first sight. The two proclaim that “love is an open door.” When Anna oversteps the line of safety and propriety, asking Elsa to bless her marriage to Prince Hans, Elsa loses her temper and her ice powers break loose. Anna and Hans love at first sight 3. There are points in recovery at which the patient becomes terrified of stepping into the unknown, sure it is a mistake. One day they may be willing to “open doors,” the next they want to lock the doors to any new experiences. They may exhibit ugly responses, such as lashing out against their support group.
4. The townspeople are afraid of Elsa, and some are calling her a “monster.” She runs away into the mountains, leaving her kingdom of Arendelle frozen in summer. elsa walking into the mountains frozen landscape 4. It is hard for people who don’t have eating disorders to accept and understand those who do. People in the midst of eating disordered thoughts often retreat from their families and friends, seeing their eating disorder as better company than these imperfect humans.
5. Elsa finds release in the mountains where she can “Let it Go”, be herself and create lavish structures of “frozen fractals all around.” castle from Disney's "Frozen" Elsa building her castle 5. In recovery, in that anti-social state many patients reach, there can be a false sense of freedom as the obsession with control reigns over a highly structured “meal plan” and “exercise plan,” allowing the patient to survive but not thrive or enjoy true social freedom. The elaborate palace constructed by Elsa is an eerie parallel to the elaborate palace-prisons eating-disordered  individuals construct to close themselves in, keeping themselves safe and isolated.
6. Anna goes to talk to Elsa. On the way she meets Kristoff, a highly flawed ice tradesman who joins her in her quest, warning her that he doesn’t trust her judgement. Anna meets Kristoff 6. Imperfection, hated by the eating disorder, is bound to find its way even into the controlled recovery center. Two sides of one person battle each other for dominance. And both must reform themselves over the course of this battle. The “healthy voice” may become healthier by being educated in balance between intuition and conscious thought.
7. Anna and Kristoff encounter Olaf, the snowman from Elsa and Anna’s last childhood antics together that has been enchanted by Elsa’s magical winter and come back to life after years of non-existence as Elsa and Anna were kept apart. Disney Frozen olaf and reindeer trailer Olaf from Disney's "Frozen" 7. While Olaf is may appear to have been thrown into the story just for comic relief, he can be interpreted to represent the pure, innocent voice of hope, calling the patient back to that simpler, happier time before the eating disorder ravaged his/her life, urging the two “voices” to reunite as one and just be happy. Look at Olaf: does he ever seem perturbed, even by the life-and-death perils he faces? Nope. He’s too busy dreaming of summer. Olaf is the voice of childhood and hope.
8. Anna tries to reason with Elsa, but Elsa doesn’t want to listen to any pleas for her majesty to return to her kingdom. When Anna tells Elsa, “Arendelle’s in deep deep deep deep snow,” Elsa is upset because she can’t fix the problem. Then she accidentally strikes Anna in the heart with an icy stalagmite and throws her and her company out, sending a giant evil snowman after them.  frozen marshmallow snowman 8. The eating disorder can be strong, especially when defending its weak points. When the patient finds that OCD control won’t work forever, they are very upset and don’t want to accept it. They want to hold onto their current lifestyle of control, shutting everything else out and allowing problems in their lives and communities to worsen.
9. While Anna and Kristoff try to figure out what to do next, they encounter Kristoff’s “family” of trolls. The trolls try to set up a relationship between Anna, who is engaged to her Prince Hans, and Kristoff, who is humiliated. Just before the two are forced to say their wedding vows, Anna experiences a delayed reaction to the ice with which Elsa has pierced her heart. She becomes weak, and a wise troll tells her she must be saved by an act of true love or she will soon be transformed into ice.  Kristoff carries Anna to safety 9. Anna and Kristoff’s blossoming love for each other is another representation of the outgoing, adventurous spirit locked inside an individual suffering from an eating disorder. Both Anna and Kristoff are reluctant to acknowledge their love, just as the eating disorder shuts down any real move for freedom and adventure with food or life. Anna’s collapse symbolizes the crumble of the eating disorder’s reign as well as the indecision of the patient. With walls constantly falling down and being built back up, it is hard to know which way to turn and how to run one’s life. This is why a support group of any kind is so vital to recovery: like Kristoff, a loyal set of partners is needed to help patients in recovery through critical points of physical and emotional weakness.
10. Kristoff rushes a frail Anna home to the castle, leaving her with Prince Hans, whom they both believe is her true love. Hans, however, turns out to be corrupt, and only pretended to love Anna in order to gain control over the kingdom. He has locked Elsa in a prison, and intends to kill her if she doesn’t undo the eternal winter. And instead of bestowing Anna with “true love’s kiss,” he leaves her locked in her room to die while he goes to sign the needed documents to assume her rightful heritage of reign over Arendelle. anna and evil hans frozen anna lies abandoned 10. Trusting in eating disordered behaviors to work out life’s problems is poor judgement. Anna has misjudged her precious prince, representing the element of “eating disordered control” in her life. She thought it would protect her, but in her greatest time of need it had nothing to offer. Often people use eating disorders as an escape from or excuse not to deal with the real world: “I’m underweight so I know I’m better than my classmates, even if they have higher grades.” But there comes a time of greater crisis when the prison of eating disordered behavior and thought does not provide refuge, even hinders the person from solving problems and achieving vital goals. This is when the person must choose between pursuing skinniness, or pursuing life. This is when, without a support group, everything will collapse.
11. Lucky for Anna, she has a support group. Olaf sits melting by the fireplace to keep her company, and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven convinces him to admit he loves Anna. Kristoff hurries back to Arendelle, intending to give Anna a true “true love’s kiss.”  Disney frozen kristoff and sven 11. The individual we are following through recovery is a strong one, who prefers life to collapse. Olaf is the force of hope guiding Anna through her darkest hour. Meanwhile, for Kristoff, Sven becomes the “healthy voice” of intuition, telling him he has misjudged the situation. Anna, representing the patient, needs help. So Kristoff, the loyal support group, rushes to save her.
12. Elsa breaks free of her chains to evade execution by Hans and his guards.  Frozen elsa breaking out of prison 12. The eating disorder won’t give up without a fight.
13. While Elsa is out in the snow running from her would-be exterminators, Anna and Kristoff wander across the icy harbor full of creaking ships, desperately trying to reach each other before it’s too late. Kristoff on the way to save annna - Disney's Frozen anna searches for kristoff through the snow and ice 13. The strong patient and the stubborn eating disorder are both determined to prevail. Anna and Kristoff’s floundering search for each other through icy wind obscuring the view and a labyrinth of boats blocking the way is an allusion to how many obstacles arise at every stage of recovery. But the loyal support group member, represented by Kristoff, is dedicated to helping the patient overcome all obstacles and win the battle.
14. Kristoff and Anna are finally close enough to kiss, which would save Anna from turning to ice. However, Anna sees Hans about to slay her sister Elsa. Sisterly love wins over Anna’s desire to survive, and she runs in between evil prince and icy queen, simultaneously freezing into an Anna-shaped block of ice and stopping the blade of Hans’ sword, causing the prince to be thrown back in a wave of magic. Hans about to kill Elsa Frozenheartanna 14. Anna makes her recovery on her own, not leaning on the shoulders of any support group, because ultimately the struggle is internal and must be conquered by the individual. Likewise, Anna goes against what is expected of her, choosing selflessness over selfishness. What she is saving is not her eating disorder but her sister, a loved one who is now in even greater crisis than she is. Only a well-recovered individual can truly put the selfishness and reclusiveness that comes with an eating disorder aside to help someone else. When Anna turns to ice, this is deeply symbolic of how the eating disorder takes away a person’s character and cuts them off from positive relationships, leaving them out in the cold. Most anyone who has starved him or herself can verify that a winter of starvation is the coldest winter of all they have ever experienced, one that promises to freeze their heart and soul.
15. When Elsa realizes the selfless act Anna has performed and the crippling results of her own powers, she begins to cry, hugging her frozen sister and sobbing.  Elsa crying over anna 15. Elsa represents the voice of control, the careful voice that eventually developed into an eating disorder voice. Now that it has done its job to the point of nearly killing its victim (the happy, healthy voice), now that the support group has led the person this far in recovery and taught him or her so much, the eating disorder voice is seen for what it really is – a negative and dangerous influence. It cannot be eradicated, so it must be transformed into something productive the individual can use. The crying is Elsa’s turning point in transforming from a harmful to a helpful entity, from a disease to a natural human emotion.
16. Elsa’s crying melts Anna back into a human. Elsa and Anna hugging 16. The typical Disney story: crying solves everything. But really: sometimes we need to cry. Sometimes we need to let things out. Elsa’s release of emotion signifies the misunderstood, reclusive eating disorder patient realizing that he/she needs people, even with their imperfections.
17. Now that Elsa no longer fears her own powers, she can finally really learn to control them, retracting all the ice and snow from Arendelle and returning it to summertime. Elsa channels her ice powers into making an ice rink for the townspeople, most of whom now love and accept her. Those who still call her a “monster” (i.e. the Duke of Weaseltown and Prince Hans) are kicked out of Arendelle. ice rink disney frozen elsa anna olaf Anna punches Hans 17. Elsa can control her powers, just as the metaphorical eating disorder is now under control for the first time. The controlling voice can be bent to the advantage of a well-recovered individual. Perhaps in order to succeed in work or school, they need that perfectionist motivation. It’s all a matter of controlling the control so it doesn’t control you. When Anna punches Prince Hans off of the boat and Elsa sends the Duke of Weaseltown back from whence he came, these actions are analogous to a recovering eating disorder patient removing the negative influences, internal and external, that allow the cycle of harmful behavior to continue. Old thought patterns that serve the eating disorder must be trashed; old influences such as shallow friends that expect perfection should be cut off from the patient so recovery can be completed.
18. Anna is openly in love with Kristoff. Elsa promises Anna that the castle gates will never be closed again.  Anna kisses Kristoff Disney Frozen 18. A common theme in recovery is doors. Doors are closed when a patient closes him or herself off from change, from friends and family. Doors are opened when the patient becomes willing to eat and therefore willing to be social and able to make connections. True romance, such as Anna’s relationship with Kristoff, can only occur when a person is willing to open up to it, as Elsa has conceded to open up the castle gates permanently.
19. Elsa bestows Olaf the snowman with his “own personal flurry” so he can enjoy the summer while not melting. Disney Frozen olaf personal flurry 19. The old hope, the memory of a happy time, must be preserved. Even if a recovered individual can never fully return to the time before their OCD set in, they must cherish their hope forever. They must adapt their current lifestyle to include that hope, even if it is expressed in a slightly different way.

Great job, Disney! What’s next? Maybe a movie where the female characters look more realistic and less impossibly skinny?

The world is full of possibilities.

Plot info source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_(2013_film)#Plot

Image Sources (in order of appearance):

1. http://femalefortitude.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-no-queen.htmlhttp://www.nerdlikeyou.com/let-go-guys-frozen-isnt-great-people-say/

2. http://www.marychristineparks.com/blog/dont-let-them-in-dont-let-them-see-be-the-good-girl-you-always-have-to-be-conceal-dont-feel-dont-let-them-know-elsa-disneys-frozen

3. http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/frozen/images/36124442/title/love-open-door-video-clip-screencaps-photo

4. https://board.freedomainradio.com/topic/40223-the-truth-behind-“frozen”-by-stefan-molyneux/http://www.pagetopremiere.com/2013/10/new-images-from-frozen-including-elsas-ice-palace/

5. http://www.curiouserinstitute.com/blog/curiouser/disneys-frozen-science-being-cold-and-lonelyhttp://www.insidethemagic.net/videos/video-full-let-it-go-sequence-from-frozen-performed-by-idina-menzel-in-the-movie-and-world-of-color-winter-dreams/

6. http://www.justjaredjr.com/2013/08/21/anna-meets-kristoff-in-new-frozen-still/

7. http://www.hypable.com/2013/06/18/disney-frozen-trailer-snowman-vs-reindeer/http://www.douxreviews.com/2013/12/frozen.html

8. http://www.today.com/entertainment/parents-guide-frozen-last-disney-princesses-take-power-2D11660579

9. http://www.pinterest.com/leftylynn7707/i-3-frozen/

10.http://disneyvillains.wikia.com/wiki/File:Hansevil.jpghttp://frozenmemes.tumblr.com/post/80237307663/frozen-at-heart-yeahilovebeinpurple

11. http://blogs.disney.com/oh-my-disney/2014/02/05/robert-vs-kristoff/

12. http://www.pinterest.com/myhun22/elsa/

13. http://briebrieblooms.com/family-fun-with-disneys-frozen-movie-review-and-activity-printables/http://disneyfrozen.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/anna/

14. http://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/a-surprisingly-warm-frozen-review/http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Anna

15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xygfsz0R3TU

16. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna_and_elsa_hug.jpg

17. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Olafhttp://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna-punch-hans.jpg

18. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna-kiss-kristoff.png

19. http://frozen.wikia.com/wiki/File:OlafPersonalFlurry.jpg

A Different Breakfast

It’s healthy to vary one’s diet to get the full breadth of nutrients available. I don’t stick to one particular breakfast but always try to have something different each day. However, especially with the end of school and finals crashing down upon me this past week, it’s easy to get caught up in convenience food ruts, always breaking down and heating up that frozen burrito or making that instant oatmeal, just dumping in fuel so I can get out the door. But I happen to be picky about what fuel I use to run my busy day. I prefer to eat something healthy and different, even if it means a bit more preparation.

I don’t believe in the common excuse “but I don’t have time to make a healthy breakfast or to cook myself.” That’s why I made time last weekend to go shopping for ingredients. I tried to buy the most eclectic stuff I could find in the produce section of my local market, accumulating a diverse combination in my grocery basket that made my mom’s eyebrows do a little wiggly dance on her forehead. I informed her, “today I’m making a recipe. Tomorrow I’m going to have a DIFFERENT breakfast.” She smiled as I added the disclaimer, “I don’t know if it will be a good breakfast or not. But at least it will be different.” That evening, I made most of the recipe ahead of time, assembling the raw veggies and the hot food in separate containers to prevent the spinach from wilting. I popped them both in the fridge, and on Monday morning all I had to do was mix it all together in a bowl and devour.

plantain caramelized onion feta spinach breakfast salad

 

Luckily for me, the breakfast was not only different, it was also great tasting. Here’s what I put in: a plantain banana, a good source of vitamin A and C, fiber, and protein, cooked in honey and spices; a tad of caramelized onion (mostly just for flavor); one Lightlife brand veggie protein link (basically a fake-meat sausage/hot dog for vegetarians) that contributed protein for not many calories but could have been more flavorful; all served on a bed of the superfood spinach; tossed with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese for calcium and protein, and a sprinkling of cranberries. The result: a healthy and yummy make-ahead breakfast salad that pleases the palate and provides essential nutrients. You do have time to make a healthy breakfast. With a little planning over the weekend or in a free evening, this nourishing meal can easily be thrown together the night before you intend to enjoy it. So go ahead and take up the challenge! Step outside your comfort zone. Try a different breakfast. Make this Plantain & Protein Breakfast Salad.

Plantain & Protein Breakfast Salad

serves one

breakfast salad feta cheese spinach veggie hot dog plantain caramelized onion

Ingredients:

  • 1/4-1/3 of a small white onion
  • 1 tsp Earth Balance Whipped or Original Buttery Spread
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 medium plantain banana
  • 1 tsp organic honey
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of sage
  • 1 Lightlife brand Smart Dogs Jumbo Veggie Protein link (or other veggie hot dog of your choice)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 5 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Lucerne brand reduced fat crumbled feta cheese
  • 1-2 tbs dried cranberries

Directions: To make caramelized onions: First, prepare the onion by chopping off both ends, peeling off the skin, washing the onion, then cutting off the amount you want to use.Cut this into several rough strips.

Toss the onion strips with the salt and brown sugar.

Place Earth Balance in pan. Heat to medium until Earth Balance is melted.

Place onion pieces in pan. Cook over medium heat until they are very soft and brown.

Remove from heat and set aside.

Now, make the honey-spiced plantains: Peel plantain banana. Cut into circular slices, then cut each slice in half to speed up cooking.

Mix together plantain slices, honey and spices.

Spray pan with nonstick spray. Place plantain pieces in pan. Cook over medium heat until they begin to soften. Remove from heat and toss with the caramelized onions.

Cook the veggie dog according to directions on package. Cut into round slices.

If you aren’t eating this right away, Store the onion, plantain, and veggie dog pieces in one airtight container. In a separate container, assemble the cold veggies: combine spinach, tomatoes, feta cheese, and cranberries.

Store both containers in the refrigerator.

The following morning, heat hot food in microwave. Then place all ingredients into desired serving bowl and toss. Enjoy!

plantain veggie hot dog breakfast salad

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It’s always nice in December to snuggle on the couch with loved ones and a warm blanket, watching a holiday classic. Many people love to listen to Christmas music exalting the “most wonderful time of the year,” and turn it up on their radios starting the day after Halloween. Some read romance novels taking place around the holidays. But has anyone ever thought about how long all these things took to conceive,  produce and publish? It can take years to write a book, and centuries to get it published. Composing and polishing a melody to perfection, recording it, filming a video, and getting sleek album covers for it to stock it on store shelves is no small feat. And movies, from screenwriting to auditioning to filming to editing, not to mention raising all the money to pay for all that work, can take an eternity to create.

So it’s obvious that most of the time these people put into creating holiday media for the rest of us to enjoy, is spent when it’s nowhere close to the holidays. Some poor actor has to run around in a Santa costume in the middle of July. Some tormented singer is surrounded by the ambiance of jingling sleigh bells for months after the holiday is over. I’m sure the people who are involved in these professions, to avoid losing their minds, must learn to appreciate the positive elements of being artificially trapped in the holiday season – after all, how bad can a life filled with untimely tinsel and hot cocoa really be?

There are certainly some holiday flavors that I see no reason to avoid during the rest of the year. Pumpkin is high on that list. I don’t care that it’s June and time for popsicles; I still faithfully buy pumpkin butter to add some fall-style flair to my morning oatmeal. And now I’ve taken my unseasonal flavor affair even farther with these pumpkin oatmeal cookies! Soft and chewy, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of ginger, studded with chocolate chips and milk chocolate covered raisins for double chocolatey flair, and emblazoned with pistachios and jumbo raisins for extra texture as well as fiber, these little treats would be perfect for the holidays. I can imagine these would be a popular treat at a winter get-together, maybe served with some tea or hot chocolate.

pumpkin oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookie

But… it’s not December now. Is it still permissible to make a pumpkin-flavored treat? Or is that against baking rules? I say forget the rules; these cookies are not to be missed. And you really don’t want to wait until winter to try them. With lovely invigorating spices and subtle pumpkin flavor, these little delights are sure to please, even for those who don’t like pumpkin since the pumpkin flavor is present, but not overpowering. And don’t worry about these cookies making you look like Santa – one small cookie is only 70 calories, low in fat and a good source of vitamin A and fiber. So not only are they heartwarming, they’re also healthy! (P.S.: You can make them even healthier by using whole wheat pastry flour; I used all purpose because I shamefully didn’t have any whole wheat pastry in the house at the time.)

Whatever time of year you make these, I wish you bon appetit! (And happy holidays if applicable.)

Soft Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

based on recipe from Food Network

Makes 23 small cookies

oatmeal chocolate chip pumpkin raisin cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour (I’m sure whole wheat pastry would work just as well)
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • generous dash each cinnamon and nutmeg
  • pinch ginger
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbs pumpkin butter
  • 1 tbs agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup Truvia baking blend
  • 1/2 egg (I used 1 tbs + 1 tsp Lucerne brand egg substitute)
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 tbs Sunmaid brand jumbo raisins
  • 2 tbs Nice! brand milk chocolate covered raisins
  • 32 semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli brand as usual)

Directions:

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

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Mix.

In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin butter, Truvia, and 1/2 egg (or egg substitute). Use an electric mixer to blend until smooth.

Pour this mixture into the dry mixture. Add 1 tbs agave. Mix to coat. Dough will be sticky and very thick.

Stir in the pistachios, jumbo raisins, chocolate covered raisins, and chocolate chips.

Drop dough in little balls onto prepared cookie sheet. Flatten each ball slightly.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 9 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Do not over bake; you want them to stay chewy and soft.

Enjoy warm.

chocolate chip cookie raisin oatmeal pumpkin spice

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My Sweet Mayan…

I’ve always found the ancient Mayans fascinating, if frightening. For one thing, they loved to sacrifice people to the sun god. It’s Saturday? Make a sacrifice to the sun god. It’s cold and rainy? Appease the sun god with a human sacrifice. It’s too hot? Keep the sun god so busy with all our human sacrifices, he has no energy to keep beating down on us.

This picture was in my textbook in the seventh grade, and may just have scarred me for life:

mayan sun god sacrifice

 

The Mayans also had this awesome calendar. You know, that famous one that supposedly “predicted” that the world would end in the year 2012? There was a movie written about it? Said calendar looked something like this:

Mayan calendar

Actually, whoever started that whole “world ending” rumor should have done their research first – turns out the ancient Mayans just ran out of space on their calendar for any years after 2012. Maybe they figured by that time there wouldn’t be anyone left to look at the calendar anyway, since they were being killed off at such an alarming rate to be sacrificed to the sun god.

The final gory yet fascinating detail about the ancient Mayans that has always intruiged me is that they held chocolate sacred. They developed a chocolate cinnamon drink, the precursor to modern hot chocolate, made from cacao beans laboriously ground into a paste with chili peppers and other ingredients added. Only the king was permitted the luxury of tasting this drink. Anyone else who tried to snag a sip was executed.

Luckily for us today, we live in a less bloody time, where people from all walks of life can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in relative safety. But I’m not going to give you a recipe for hot chocolate today. Oh, no, I’ve got something way better and more substantial up my sleeve…

Mayan brownies! Sweetened with low-GI agave and intense muscovado, spritzed with cinnamon and infused with hot spice, these brownies are authentically Mayan-flavored. And what’s more, they’re flourless and can easily be made gluten-free! A 12th of the recipe serving is about 140 calories, quite low as brownies go. So this is a treat you can truly feel good about eating.

chocolate cinnamon brownie black bean

They are black bean brownies (yes, I know, I’m SO late to the internet-black-bean-brownie party!!!), but if you don’t tell anyone the secret ingredient, they’ll never guess. My mom hates beans. I didn’t tell her there were any in these brownies. She tried and loved them, and thought they had orange flavor in them, which was a little strange. But what really matters is that she didn’t detect the beans!

Make these brownies to share with family and friends. (If you can bear not to hog them all to yourself, that is!) Serve hot, preferably with vanilla fro-yo, or cold from the fridge. Either way you choose to serve them, they’re sure to be a winner.

black bean brownie chocolate cinnamon with frozen vanilla yogurt

If you have any leftovers at the end, you may sacrifice them to the sun god.

Click here for the full recipe: Mayan Brownies

mayan chocolate brownies black bean cinnamon chocolate

Image credits: (in chronological order) (all brownie pictures are my own): http://enkispeaks.com/2013/07/12/sitchin-thoth-brought-civilization-to-the-maya-in-yucatan/

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/12/09/general/our-deepest-fears-fuel-the-booming-business-of-doomsday-scenarios/#.U4uIsyiWRlI

Info source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_chocolate

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