Kitchen Gadgets I Simply COULD NOT Live Without

Funny. The kitchen gadgets I simply could not live without, weren’t even in my kitchen 5 years ago! Heck, I would even be willing to go out on a ledge and say that they are barely 2 years old. Why am I so confident? Because that’s when my transformation began. In my wellness journey, I discovered that making and eating real, plant based, whole foods made me feel better than I have ever felt. I am at a healthy weight, my blood pressure is low, my cholesterol and cholesterol ratios are incredible, my skin is clear, and I sleep well. So…I would say…

Food Processor, $169

Nut Milk Bag, $10

High Speed Blender, $250

Citrus Press, $30

Rice Cooker, $30

My Health? Priceless.

And now, for those gadgets, in no particular order (because I tried and couldn’t):

5. Food Processor: I have a Cuisinart Prep 11 Plus. I use this almost everyday! I make hummus, pizza dough, and most desserts (raw and vegan). It also does a great job of making banana ice cream! I switch blades and I can grate carrots, beets, and zucchini for salads or other recipes. But best of all? I make my own nut butters!

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4. Nut Milk Bag: Just the name puts a smile on my face! A week without homemade almond milk is a sad week indeed. Chia Oatmeal without almond milk simply is not the same. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s good. But with homemade almond milk? Heavenly!! It also is imperative to have a nut milk bag when making cold pressed coffee! Now imagine the cold pressed coffee with the homemade almond milk!

Strain using a nut milk bag.

3. High Speed Blender: I have a Ninja Ultima Blender Plus. The Plus being the individual size blender cups that come with it. This is another gadget that I use daily. I mostly use it to make smoothies, but it also does a great job blending soups like my tomato soup or broccoli soup!

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2. Citrus Press: A citrus press probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it is! Especially when you forget it in your camping supplies and can’t get your hands on it for a couple of weeks! Yeah. That happened. Making Lemon Goji Berry Tea without a citrus press was painful.  I had to squeeze the lemons by hand, and the juice flew all over the kitchen and the seeds fell in my tea. Not good.

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 1. Rice Cooker: Mine is nothing fancy. I paid less than $30 for my Aroma. The best thing about a rice cooker? It cooks a lot more than rice! I use it to cook quinoa, millet, amaranth, wheat berries AND rice. Plus, you can add ingredients to make a whole meal IN YOUR RICE COOKER! Simple. And a piece of cake to clean up!
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What kitchen gadget can’t you live without?

It’s a Wrap!

Labor Day Weekend is upon us! And what better way to celebrate than with grilling out! We took advantage of the break in rain to grill some marinated portobellas!

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Make marinade (recipe to follow).

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Poke holes in mushroom caps.

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Pour marinade on mushrooms. Marinate for at least 4 hours, flipping throughout marinating time.

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Grill!

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Arrange condiments: tomatoes, onion, avocado, and kale (MIA in pix).

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Assemble on Ezekiel tortilla!

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Admire before rolling up!

 

Marinade

4 T. balsamic vinegar

2 T. tamari

2 T. olive oil

1/2 t. salt

2 garlic cloves-pressed or finely chopped

2 huge portobellas

 

Whisk first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Then place in dish and poke capside with holes. Pour marinade on top. Let sit for at least 4 hours, flipping mushrooms throughout marinating time. Grill until mushrooms are cooked through. Slice into strips and assemble on tortilla. Add extras: tomatoes, onions, avocado, and kale. Roll tortilla up and enjoy!

What is your favorite grilling food?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Prepared: It’s Not Just for Boy Scouts

This past week I went back to work for teacher inservice, and I quickly realized how much I needed to reestablish my organizational abilities in the meal preparation department. I can’t tell you the amount of stress I experienced when I arrived home absolutely starving, and realized I had no plan for dinner. As a result, this past week’s dinners were haphazardly thrown together with ingredients I just happened to have laying around. And while all the meals were delicious, I feel a need to reduce the stress I experience when I get home and have no plan.

Monday night I roasted broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and onions and then drizzled them with Gena Hamshaw’s  Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tahini Dressing.

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I love the beautiful color of turmeric!

As Tuesday night was CSA pickup, the goal was to use as many veggies as possible so I didn’t have to find a place for them in the fridge! We feasted on corn on the cob, baked tofu cubes, and green beans. The hubby doused his tofu with buffalo sauce. I ate mine plain, as I had used a flavored olive oil, which was absolutely scrumptious!.

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Love these!

Wednesday night I needed to eat a light dinner, as I was having a fasting blood test the next day, so we had green smoothies! This bad boy had kale, avocado, banana, pumpkin seeds, and almond milk! I was hesitant to give it to my husband, but he gave it his seal of approval, and even went back to finish up the extras that wouldn’t fit in our glasses!

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By Thursday night, I was so tired, and hungry, that I couldn’t get to my favorite local Mexican restaurant fast enough. Despite the fact I knew I had to do a long run the next morning, I had a margarita! And now that my long run is over, I can tell you it was totally worth it!! I also had a ton of veggies from a veggie fajita, along with the beans, guac, and pico! (Not to mention several handfuls of chips!)

But now I need to get organized. Typically I spend one day of the weekend browsing my favorite food blogs and deciding on recipes for the week. There are some recipes that are family favorites (or I guess now that the kids are gone, it’s just “husband” favorites), but I also love to try new recipes. I make a list of ingredients needed so I can be more efficient when grocery shopping (read: I can get in and out ASAP).

Then, Sunday night, I prep as much of the meals as possible. Veggies get cleaned and chopped or grated. Almonds and cashews get soaked, so they are ready for recipes. Hummus is made. Dressings are put together. Plus, I usually make a batch of quinoa, or millet, or amaranth to have on hand for the week. Typically it takes me about an hour or two to get everything taken care of. (Dishes included.)

This totally eliminates my stress when I get home from school or working out! Plus it encourages healthy eating, as it is much easier to make good choices when you have a plan in place.

What are your tricks to stay on top of meal preparation?

 

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter “Shake”

Because sometimes, you just need peanut butter and chocolate! And sometimes you need peanut butter and chocolate every night. For weeks on end. Yep. That happens. Quite regularly. And given the ingredients? That’s way okay!

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Ingredients are simple! Non-dairy milk (I used homemade almond milk), frozen bananas, cacao powder, peanut butter, and…

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cacao nibs! This was an afterthought, and instead of retaking the picture to include it, I took the easy way out!

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Put everything EXCEPT cacao nibs in a blender cup.

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Blend!

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Garnish with those cacao nibs!

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Enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter “Shake”

1 c. non-dairy milk

1 1/2 frozen bananas (I always have some in the freezer, ready to go…whenever my bananas are just about ready to cross the line of being “too ripe”, I peel them, and break them into bite size pieces, and put in a freezer bag.)

2 T. peanut butter

1 1/2 T. cacao powder

1 T. cacao nibs

Combine first four ingredients in a blender cup (or a blender). Blend. Too thick? Add more almond milk. Too runny? Add more frozen bananas. Pour into a glass. Sprinkle with cacao nibs. Enjoy!

Is there any better combination than peanut butter and chocolate?

 

The End of Summer

Well, I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time. The reality is…Summer. Is. Over. I’ve been living in this blissful state of denial, not allowing myself to think about that reality. But this weekend, I’ve had a lot of thinking time, as I’ve been all by myself. The girls went back to school weeks ago, as they both play volleyball. And now my husband is taking my son, who arrived home from camp only days ago, to  Washington D.C, where he will be interning and attending school for the upcoming semester. And I am home, because tomorrow, I go back to school. This alone time has given me the opportunity to figure out what exactly I am going to miss about summer. This is what I came up with:

Taking Time to Make Food (and take pix of it)-I can’t tell you how many meals I staged this summer! And how many pictures I took of the creation of the meals. I really enjoyed the whole process. Unless, of course, I was starving. Then I just wanted to eat it. My photography skills are still somewhat primitive, but I am making progress.

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Rather proud of this picture. Unfortunately, it took some serious coaching by daughter #1 to achieve the final result! BTW this was a delicious raw dessert! Chocolate Coco Mint Bars from This Rawsome Vegan Life.

Smoothies-I have developed an obsession this summer. I even bought this book:

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I have pretty much been having one everyday…and there hasn’t been a bad one yet. I never thought I would spend money on a recipe book for smoothies (‘cuz really, how hard is it to throw a bunch of fruit in a blender?). But I am so glad I did! The combinations are so creative…and delicious!

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hemp seeds + soy milk + blueberries + frozen banana + acai = super blue recharge

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soy milk + chia seeds + hemp seeds + frozen mango + frozen banana + kale + pumpkin seeds = seed you at the gym

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frozen strawberries + lime juice + frozen banana + coconut water = fresh start strawberry lime frostie

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kale + avocado + frozen banana + soy milk + pumpkin seeds + agave + cayenne = green gusto

And now that summer is over, my smoothie lunches are over. Unless I can figure out how to make one at school….hmmm….too bad the blender makes so much noise! And my dorm size refrigerator doesn’t have a decent freezer.

Biking to the Y-I loved that I had the time to bike to the Y to lift weights. I always thought it was silly to get in my car and drive to workout! I would take the long way so I could go enjoy the beauty and serenity of Riverside Park, the Neenah Harbor and the  mansions on Wisconsin Avenue. Lots of joggers and bikers frequent this area. And it just feels so peaceful.

Reading Karen Books-Karen books would be books that I just want to read! Here are my summer reads:

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Writing for Me-I would usually spend my morning workouts thinking about what I would blog about. And then, I would spend the rest of my morning writing. I feel so grateful to have developed the discipline to write on a regular basis. I really feel like I have rediscovered my passion for writing. And what’s better yet? I am switching jobs (I like to say that I have finally graduated from elementary school), so I am off to the middle school to teach Language Arts! I keep thinking about the teachers who have impacted my life, and they all have one commonality: their passion! I hope to be the teacher to ignite the passion for writing in my students!

My Kids-Most importantly, my kids. I truly enjoy hanging out with my kids! When you are in the midst of raising a family, you can’t even fathom a time when the kids will be gone. And now that’s my reality. They are all back to school. I go through this horrible transition when they leave, and I have to say good-bye. I hate goodbyes. Family joke is that I always wear my sunglasses when dropping them off or when they leave. Hides the tears.  Then I usually spend a day crying whenever I go past their bedrooms. Two days out, I’m feeling pretty good. It always helps to know they are happy and healthy, and living their dreams!

So, that’s what I’m going to miss about summer.

 

 

When Life Hands You Tomatoes

Or maybe I should have used this title: “When Your CSA Hands You Tomatoes”.

Each spring I plant several tomato plants. And each summer I watch them struggle to produce enough tomatoes to make, well, make anything. Anything at all. Thank goodness for my CSA!

One of my all time favorite tomato recipes is for tomato soup. I adapted it from Kathy Patalsky at Healthy.Happy.Life.

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“A Meal Made With Love” in less than an hour!

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Assemble the ingredients!

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Place tomatoes, onions, garlic and sprigs of thyme in a foil lined pan. Drizzle with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon. Sprinkle with Herbamare’s Italian Blend.

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For inquiring minds…this is Herbamare!

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Roast the veggies!

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Put roasted veggies (and juices), tomato paste, and olive oil in blender.

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Blend away. Taste. Season with agave, sea salt and oregano as desired. Blend again.

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Tomato Soup

Approximately 2 #’s tomatoes

1/2 large onion (roughly chopped)

3 garlic cloves (skin off)

2 t. Herbamare Italian Blend

fresh thyme

juice of 1 small lemon

4-6 T. olive oil (divided)

6 oz. can tomato paste

agave (optional-to taste)

sea salt (optional-to taste)

oregano (optional-to taste)

Line a pan with foil. Place tomatoes, onion, garlic, and thyme in pan. Drizzle with 2-3 T. olive oil and the juice of one small lemon. Sprinkle with Herbamore. Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 30 -40 minutes. Tomatoes should split. Remove stalks of thyme. I try to rub the leaves off. Carefully lift foil out of pan and slide tomatoes and onions into blender, juices and all. Add tomato paste and 2-3 T. olive oil. Blend! Taste. Add agave, sea salt, and oregano to taste. Blend again.

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Tomato Soup’s BF! Grilled “cheese” made with Ezekiel bread, Daiya “cheese” and Earth’s Blend “butter”.

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And here I am waiting, ever so patiently, for daughter #2 to take a picture SO I CAN EAT! Avocado chunks completely optional.

I think back to the days when tomato soup and grilled cheese meant Campbell’s soup and American cheese and realize just how far I’ve come!!!

Mission Accomplished

I set a goal for myself this summer. My goal was to love yoga. Not just attend a class, but to become enamored of it. (Go big or go home!) I had developed an opinion about yoga many years ago when I was taking a fitness certification class, and was obligated to give it a try. Which I did. And I hated it. Absolutely hated it. 

Now, I don’t want you to think I was a wimp. At the time, I was teaching step classes, aerobic classes, and strength training classes. I also ran and lifted weights. But I had never felt more incompetent than I did during that yoga class! I was less than graceful. It moved so slow and I struggled to keep my balance. I wondered how yoga could possibly qualify as a workout. I wasn’t even breathing hard! I swore I would never do it again.

But then….

I got old(er). 

And a friend of mine encouraged me to take a class with her. I ignored her for over a year. But she managed to plant the idea in my head. So when I developed some overuse injuries from my running addiction, I began thinking. Maybe yoga was just what my body needed.  I decided to give it another try. I signed up. 

The first month of class was not all that enjoyable, but I was diligent. You can read about my first impressions here. I hated being a rookie and felt very out of place. The terms and the movements were not familiar to me. I watched in envy as other members of the class gracefully went through the poses. When I actually focused on myself, all I could think about was how bad my legs were shaking or how I couldn’t hold a balance. I heavily counted on the moral support of my friend, and of my daughters (who took turns going with me), as I was too intimidated to attend class by myself.

But then…

something happened. By mid July, I found myself looking forward to Thursday mornings (yoga days). I didn’t even care if I went to class by myself. I even willingly took a couple of classes when I attended a health seminar over the summer.  I discovered the class had a predictable structure, which is very crucial to people like me. (A perfectionist with a severe need for organization and routine.)  I began to feel the quality and intensity of each workout. It required a lot of strength to maintain the poses. I developed perseverance as I attempted balance poses. My range of motion improved. I became more aware of my posture.  I practiced clearing my mind and relaxation. I left class with a sense of accomplishment and uncharacteristic calm. 

And the best thing about yoga? I became more aware of myself, and less aware of others. By the end of summer I stopped comparing myself to other students in the class. I no longer focused my attention on them. Instead, I focused on my breathing and became aware of my own body, and how I was feeling at that moment. I no longer worried about performing poses imperfectly. For me, this was liberating. 

I love yoga! And I can’t wait to sign up for the next session!

 

 

Staying True To Your Beliefs

I spent last week hiking in the Adirondacks!

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We skied White Face last March, but hiked to the summit on this trip!

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This hike took us to the top of Cascade Mountain.

I seem to have the hands on hips pose down quite well, don’t you think?

 

My husband and I dropped our girls off at school in New York, and then ventured north to visit my son, who spent his summer as a camp counselor near Lake Placid. We really were looking forward to his day off, so we could spend the day hiking with him and his girlfriend, but the weather did not cooperate!

So on to Plan B. We browsed through the city of Lake Placid, enjoying each other’s company, and the locally grown food, while trying to avoid the rain! (If you ever find yourself in Lake Placid, you must stop at Liquids and Solids, and The Scape Cafe.) One of our non-food stops was the local bookstore. I  enjoy small town bookstores. The selection is smaller, so I am not as overwhelmed as I am while at Barnes and Noble. Plus, it forces me away from my “main stream” reads. I was not disappointed. Neither was my son. I came away three books:

Eat, Shoots, and Leaves, an entertaining book about punctuation, and a must read for all Language Arts teachers, written by Lynne Truss

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball (Just started this one.)

Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist

I started reading Diet Cults on our way back home, and I finished the book before we even got through Pennsylvania! I would say it was a quiet ride for my husband, but that would be very inaccurate. Remember how I like to spew info to anyone willing to listen? You can read about that here .

Diet Cults was one of those books that you choose because you believe you know what the content will be and you totally agree…and then BAM! The author puts a spin on it that makes you reevaluate your beliefs. I DO NOT believe in diets. I even wrote a post about that precise subject. So I felt this book would give credence to my cause.

In his book, Fitzgerald debunks many of the popular diets out there…Paleo, gluten-free, Super Foods, Weight Watchers,  raw food…no diet escapes his scrutiny. He begins each chapter by giving an anecdote of a person who has found success on each particular diet. And then he goes on to address the diet’s fallacies. I was feeling pretty good about myself, even nodding my head in agreement and parroting Fitzgerald’s words to my attentive hubby! But then, he touched on the Vegan Diet. I felt myself getting defensive.

Fitzgerald encourages people to steer away from the belief that there is only “One True Way” to eat. And I totally agree. He encourage you to play his “Agnostic Healthy Eating Game” as a means to promote healthy eating. The game classifies food into a Diet Quality Hierarchy. Vegetables and fruits are  ESSENTIAL foods. Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils, high-quality meats and seafood, whole grains, and dairy compose RECOMMENDED foods. Refined grains, low quality meats and seafood, sweets, and fried foods are ACCEPTABLE foods. And the good news? There aren’t any FORBIDDEN FOODS.

For those of you visual learners, the hierarchy looks like this:

vegetables

fruits

nuts, seeds, and healthy oils

high-quality meat and seafood

whole grains

dairy

refined grains

low-quality meat and seafood

sweets

fried foods

Ideally, you should be eating foods in the essential group most frequently. Recommended  foods don’t need to be eaten, but he highly recommends them unless you have a compelling reason not to, such as allergies or ethics. Acceptable foods should be eaten in small amounts. Basically, (and I am simplifying) you play the game by keeping track of the food you eat throughout a day, or week, by putting a tally mark next to the group you have just eaten a food from.

Now…back to the whole vegan thing. Once again, I was forced to come to terms with my “diet” (and I mean that in the most basic meaning of the word). Fitzgerald recommends high quality meat in your diet, saying that moderate consumption is healthy.  I first decided to eliminate meat from my diet for health reasons. But now, I know way too much about the care and processing of animals in the meat industry. It disgusts me. Then I think about the environment and the effects the meat industry is having on our world. So, eating meat? Not going to happen. But that’s me. If you do choose to eat meat, however, make sure it is of high quality and humanely raised.

Dairy is also placed in the recommended group, yet Fitzgerald states, “Anyone can get by without dairy…” . He refers to a “major review of past research” that reports that “subjects who consumed the most dairy products had a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes…than those who ate the least dairy.”  This contradicts everything I have ever read. What I have learned is that research can be, and frequently is, manipulated by the people funding the research. For example, the only reason there is a glass of milk on “My Plate” is because the dairy industry helps fund it.

The elimination of dairy was more complicated for me. I enjoyed an icy glass of skim milk with my meals, and ice cream or fro-yo was a weekly occurrence. And fresh mozzarella on pizza??? Yum. Plus, dairy is always IN things…pancakes, bread, cookies! But, I learned there are better (and healthier…think less processed, and more nutrient dense) options. I make my own almond milk and it is to die for! Same with cookies, and pancakes, and other baked goods. Cheese? Trickier, but doable. Cashew cream makes a great substitute! And again, I know way too much about the production of milk, and the treatment of cows. So, despite living in the Dairy State…I just can’t do it. There are better options for me.

All in all, I loved the book. I believe Fitzgerald has the right idea by showing us that there is not “One True Way” to eat. Listen to your body! I appreciated having my beliefs challenged, as it only solidified my beliefs. So…thank you Matt Fitzgerald! I can’t wait to play your game!

Veggies’ Best Friend (…and mine, too!)

The other day my husband and I were invited to a get together at some close friends of ours. Typically when we do this, everyone brings a dish to share. This time however, we were instructed to just bring ourselves. And being that I had little to no time to make anything, that was a huge relief.

Now, a “situation” that vegans sometimes experience, is that  when food is involved, the options are a bit slim. I can usually round up enough food to put on my plate…fruits and veggies are plentiful in the crowd I hang out with, but trying to find food that will fill me up AND satisfy me can be challenging. Now, keep in mind…I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I do not expect others to cater to me. I usually do bring several dishes that offer sustenance and satisfy me. I find this is also a great way to introduce others to vegan food. And I must say, I enjoy the shock factor when people ask me for a recipe and discover some of the ingredients I used.

In hindsight, I wish I would have whipped up a batch of hummus to bring along. It’s quick and easy, and it definitely satisfies!

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My basic hummus includes only 6 ingredients! And better yet, is super easy to throw together. And even better yet? It’s a big crowd pleaser!

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Simply drain a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and rinse. If you want to impress a crowd, you could remove the skins from the chickpeas to make an extra smooth hummus. I have and it’s incredible. But it takes time and most of the time I just want to get it in my belly ASAP.

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Remove the skins from 2 – 4 garlic cloves.

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Roll a lemon on the countertop to make it juicy, and then cut it in half.

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Measure out 1/3 cup tahini.

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Then, put the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini in your food processor.

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As it is processing, add enough water to thin it out so it doesn’t morph into a big chickpea ball. I used about 1/4 cup. Scrape down the sides of your processor as necessary.

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Interrupt the processing, and add 1 teaspoon sea salt…

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and 1/3 cup nutritional yeast.

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Check out all the nutrients in nutritional yeast! What a yummy way to get your B vitamins!

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Process until blended.

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Makes my mouth water just looking at it!

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Taste! Adjust as necessary…mine was perfect! Warm and garlicky…just the way I like it! Nothing beats fresh, WARM hummus! Can’t buy that at the store!

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While it looks like I just poured it onto the counter, it really is in a glass container. I can tell you it keeps for at least 24 hours. Beyond that I don’t know…it never lasts that long.

 

Hummus

1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1/3 c. tahini

3 cloves garlic (skins OFF)

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 c. water

1 t. salt

1/3 c. nutritional yeast

optional: buffalo sauce or olive oil and paprika

 

Drain chickpeas and rinse. Put in food processor with tahini, lemon juice and garlic cloves. Process while adding water to keep it from turning into a big ball. Scrape down sides as necessary. Add salt and nutritional yeast. Process until blended. Taste. Adjust if necessary.

My oldest loves to drizzle olive oil and paprika on her hummus. My husband loves to douse his with buffalo sauce. I like mine on a spoon. Or on my finger if I’m really in a hurry.

Serve with veggies, pita bread or pretzels. I will also put hummus on salads, or on a wrap with roasted veggies. Delicious!

Living the Sweet Life

I live a sweet life. And no, it’s not just because I have a happy marriage (which I do), or because I have 3 kids I enjoy spending time with (they turned out pretty well despite my parenting), or because I have a job I enjoy (especially in the summer). What I’m really talking about is the fact that I love sweets! A lot. And I have for a long time.

When I was preschool age, my mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house while she went grocery shopping each week. My grandma always had fresh molasses cookies waiting for me in the Humpty Dumpty cookie canister on the counter. I would sit at the kitchen table with my grandpa, chatting away while we dunked our cookies into our coffee. (Grandpa had coffee with a touch of milk and sugar. I had milk and sugar with a touch of coffee).

In elementary school my lunches always included a Hostess Suzy-Q, or a Ho-Ho, or a Ding Dong. Suzy-Q’s would be separated into halves, much like an Oreo. I would lick the creamy frosting out of the middle, before indulging in the outer layers of cake. Ho-Ho’s were stripped of their chocolatey coating before being systematically unrolled into flat rectangles. And the Ding Dongs? Well, not much I could do to deface them before eating.

Five gallon pails of ice cream were always in the freezer. Vanilla was my favorite. I would scoop some into a dish, grind up chocolate chips in the nut grinder, and stir them into my ice cream until I had a creamy concoction that would rival Cold Stone. And sometimes, I would just pour maple syrup on top and sprinkle with walnuts. Heavenly.

I enjoyed  sweets and felt absolutely no guilt what-so-ever about eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Weight was not an issue for me, and I never connected food to how I felt emotionally or physically. That is I didn’t up until the time I was about 12 and went on my first diet. Suddenly, sweets became the enemy, as they were the source of unwanted calories. They were to be avoided at all costs. When I did ” slip up” and eat a cookie, or some cake, or a candy bar, I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself. This began a relationship that continued for most of my life.

Then, the summer before I left for my first year of college, I decided to eliminate white sugar from my diet in an attempt to get healthy. Within days, I experienced a headache like none other. The headache lasted for days. Definitely a sign that sugar was not good for me.

When I was in my 30’s, I went on the South Beach Diet. Hello aspartame! I used sugar free EVERYTHING-jello, soda, candy, cookies…you name it. This continued for years. Then one summer, I took a class on personal wellness and I began to make the connection between some physical symptoms I was experiencing (most noticeably heart palpitations, and limb numbness) to my use of the product. I decided to do away with artificial sweeteners once and for all. Back to white processed sugar I went.

Then, two years ago, when I switched to a whole foods, plant based diet, I began my quest for a more natural sweetener. I started wondering…

What is the healthiest sweetener I could be using? I wanted to feel good about what I was putting into my body both physically and emotionally. I wanted to provide my body with valuable nutrients, while keeping my diet as unprocessed as possible. So, I did a little research on the sweeteners I typically used.

dry sweeteners-coconut sugar, date sugar

liquid sweeteners-agave nectar (raw and organic), blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup

real food sweeteners-bananas, dates

Guess what I discovered? One, every expert and non-expert has a strong opinion. And two, everybody’s opinion is different.

Looking for fiber? Use agave nectar, bananas or dates.

Want low carbs? Agave nectar and bananas for the win.

Protein? Brown rice syrup and dates.

Low GI? Agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, bananas and dates.

Want vitamin C? Bananas.

Iron? Blackstrap Molasses.

Calcium? Agave nectar and blackstrap molasses.

Yikes! What should a person looking for optimal health do? First and foremost…don’t panic! Remember…listen to your body. How do you feel after eating your sweetener of choice? Your body won’t lie.

I have discovered that I feel best when I use real food as my sweetener. Most of the sweets I eat are raw…meaning they are uncooked and unprocessed. This totally takes care of my sweet tooth and allows me to use fruit, dates, and banana as my source of sweetness.

Here is one of my favorite raw recipes:

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Raw Peanut Butter Cookies

1 c. raw peanuts

1/2 c. raw peanut butter (I make my own)

10 Medjool Dates

1 T. raw organic agave nectar

1 T. coconut oil

Process peanuts in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Add peanut butter. Blend. Add dates, agave,  and coconut oil. Process until you have a thick dough and you cannot see any of the dates.  Form into balls (about 1 1/2 T in size). Place balls on parchment paper covered cookie sheet and press with fork to get criss-cross pattern. Put in fridge while you make the chocolate.

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

3 T. coconut oil

3 T. raw cacao powder

1 1/2 T. raw organic agave nectar

Warm coconut oil by placing jar in warm water ( or stick in microwave if you are not a raw food purist). Put liquid coconut oil, cacao powder and agave in small bowl and stir until combined.

Remove cookies from the fridge. Dunk half of cookie into chocolate and place back on cookie sheet. Chill until set.

Enjoy!!!