Gluten-free dairy-free, naturally sweetened/low sugar PB & J Bars

It’s May Day tomorrow, which makes me about a month late. Meaning, I missed out on sharing these for National PB & J Day April 2nd. Then again, while I may not blasted any well wishes for the occasion on social media or otherwise, I’m pretty sure I celebrated, possibly too heartily.
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Preceding National PB & J Day, National Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day took place March 1st this year. I’m awfully certain I subconsciously celebrated that one, too. Since I’ve known him, Dave has always marveled at Americans’ love for peanut butter. I can’t say I know where that stereotype came from, but I do know I’ve only reinforced it. Lately though, peanut butter love has been markedly full-blown. I’ve been craving it on celery, on apple slices, in oatmeal, and straight from the jar. In fact, those first three may really be mostly compromise to keep the urge to indulge in that last one at bay. 

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There are always food phases that come and go, mostly with the seasons, and holidays. Like right now, when we’re all easing out weekly soup nights and transitioning to staple salad dinners. And who doesn’t swoon a little bit at the heady scent of a pumpkin spice latte in October? But peanut butter…really I’ve been a little crazy (ok, nutty) for all nuts recently, and I think that’s an offshoot of experimental vegan purity for the past month or so. Except for honey, which is still a weekly feature including in this recipe, I’ve been much more strict, and it feels good. I don’t really have any way to measure any impact nor a baseline to compare. Our scale is broken, and I wasn’t feeling bad/excessively tired without explanation/grumpy before. I can’t say I’m gliding on new enriched energy, but I definitely don’t feel worse; I felt good before this trial and I still do. Mentally and emotionally, though, it does feel gratifying to do something delicious that happens to reduce my carbon footprint compassionately.

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As for these bars: they are everything they should be. Chewy and jammy centers, and crumbly and nutty all around. They’d be great actually crumbled, in fact–over oatmeal or (vegan) ice cream. This recipe has a whole lot of “ORs” in it. Like, 3 cups quinoa flakes OR 1 1/2 cups oats with 1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes OR 3 cups oats. You can get away with 2 T honey OR 1/4 cup honey OR even no honey OR maple syrup.Originally I made these for Ancient Harvest, using quinoa flakes only instead of oats, and 2 eggs. I can say I think I do prefer the egg-less version, and using Bob’s Red Mill egg replacer over flax eggs. Since my little sis gave me a bag as a stocking stuffer, I really have become very fond of that pea protein concoction.  Overall, however, you really can’t go too very far astray when it comes to what is basically a just crunchy ball of peanut butter and jam.

Obviously, a recipe is always a guide and all those options are to be intuited or inferred, but in this case I’ve tried each little variation and approve so well I couldn’t cut back. Because, nuttiness lately…tell me what you change…or even would like to try out one day. I can promise there is a very good chance I will test the idea out for you. 😉

 

PB & J Bars
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups quick oats
  2. 1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes
  3. 1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  4. 2 tablesoons Bob's Red Mill egg replacer mixed in 4 T water OR 2 flax eggs OR 2 eggs
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 2 tablespoons OR ¼ cup honey
  7. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  8. ¼ teaspoon salt (unless using salted peanut butter)
  9. ⅔ cup fruit only jam or jelly of choice
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl combine oats, quinoa flakes, peanut butter, egg substitute, baking soda, vanilla, and salt and mix well.
  3. Press a little over half of the batter into an 8 X 8 baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Use a rubber spatula to spread jam over mixture. (Soften jam as needed in a saucepan or microwave to help with spreading.) Crumble remaining mixture over jam layer as topping.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, until topping is browned and jam layer is bubbly. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Simple stovetop hot chocolate brown rice pudding (dairy free, vegan, refined sugar free)

I’m proud of this recipe especially because I didn’t create it. It may not be the most original concept, and I can’t even honestly say that the list of ingredients is accurately detailed as we combined them…twice now with a third visibly on the horizon. In fact, those two separate batches were both eyeballed so certainly created with similar but different quantities, for everything. That’s what made the making of it so without any detriment to taste whatsoever, and this is all coming out wrong. What I really mean to say is, this isn’t my recipe but I love it sooo much more for that, because it’s Felix’s. There are countless versions out there that differ in subtle or no ways at all, but little sous chef is 3 ½, and he doesn’t know that.

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“Mommy, can we please, please, please make hot chocolate rice pudding?” Little F asked one unusually chill, wet day. That’s how this began. “We can try,” I told him. “What steps do you think we’ll need?” Little F cocked his head to the side thoughtfully and responded confidently, “Make hot chocolate and put rice in it!” And that is pretty much what we did. Cooked brown rice, almond and coconut milk, vanilla, a scoop of dark chocolate, bit of cocoa powder, a splash of pure maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon. It was a playful and exquisite process with a product to match.

CheeseThere is a part of me, a very large part, that cannot believe that when I tell you little F is 3 ½ I’m talking years not months. Daily, we’re navigating tumbling seas that are speckled with tormented tantrums pulsing with unimaginable fury so encompassing they can bowl us over and force us to swallow a bit of guilty laughter at the same time. Interspersed are these magical, enchanting rainbows of wonder and discovery that lend lightness to the soul even as wrinkles and gray hairs are etched by the trying back and forth. And underlying everything, for this very fleeting moment, we’ve had a clingy, uncertain phase that means lots of cherished, fiercely loving cuddles alongside stacks of jobs undone until exhaustingly late.

Photog in the makingTantrums, clinging, and even the wondrous energy of exploration–all tough at times. Sometimes really hair-pulling hard. And always painfully bittersweet in how short-lived we know them to be. So it’s easy to say with 100% certitude, even in the most intense heat of the most tempestuous fit, on some level I am always grappling with some grief over the necessary drift that is happening right now. The one where my little sidekick steadily becomes his own leading action hero and we fade, cheering, into the background.

Luckily, there is never enough time in this season we’re in to dwell too much on what’s next, what’s going wrong, who might be judging, etc. Even better, that drift so far is brimming with steady gems that sparkle as if to say, savor this and trust in the journey. 

They are little things, mostly. Reassurances that parceled in with all the budding independence comes blooming, shared pride offered with the greatest of love. They are in the cheeky, sparkly-eyed, shyly winsome way a little person tells you one day, sitting naked on the toilet, “Maaaaybeee I gonna just use the potty now, no more pull-ups.” Or when that same little person guides you on a nature hike of his own devising, one that winds around according to “my plan” and incorporates a variety of mystery animal poop shapes, sizes and colors that he had taken note of and remembered. And when an idea pops into his head for creating something so simple, wholesome, and actually scrumptious you just want to make it week after week both for the pleasure of it (because it’s indeed yummy!) and for the memory of how much you want to take a giggling bite out of him.

(By the way, I am sorry and a little embarrassed to mention poop not just once but actually twice in the same post, and one that is meant to be about a snack that happens to be brown at that. At the same time, it just feels appropriate. It’s all as it should be, the push-pulls what they need to be, and it’s good.)

 

Stovetop hot chocolate brown rice pudding
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  2. 3 cups unsweetened almond coconut milk (or equivalent combination of almond and/or coconut milks)
  3. 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. ¼ cup maple syrup
  5. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  6. ⅓ to 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips according to taste
  7. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Bring 1 1/2 cup water and rice to a boil over high heat. RCover, and reduce to a slow, steady simmer for approximately 40 minutes.
  2. Add almond coconut milk(s), stirring well, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and allow to cook until pudding has thickened, 20-25 minutes, stirring at regular intervals.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Gluten-free banana blueberry coffee cake with granola topping (aka Monk’s practice birthday cake, aka “best cake ever”)

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We’ve been feasting in our living room a lot lately, and by ‘feasting’, I mean this:

guys feast

And the feasting isn’t limited to the cardboard builder’s block tables and chairs of “Chocolate Wally’s”, our 3-year old’s chosen play restaurant name which is sometimes shunted to the side in favor of “No Noggin’s” instead. In the kitchen, we’ve been gnoshing on cake. (Quick aside, isn’t “Chocolate Wally’s” the cutest, most enticing restaurant name? If it isn’t already in existence as a ‘real restaurant’, it needs to be, one day.) 

What I mean by cake, specifically, is breakfast cake which is also very important “practice” birthday cake for THE very important Monk, whose birthday is coming up in February (Valentine’s Day). This information alone should be testament enough to the scrumptious, wholesome loveliness of this cake. Anyone who knows anything about Monk knows he deserves the very best.

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We all know anything labeled “cake”, from coffee cake to birthday cake to be a sometimes-only treat. I mean, we love them, but not on a regular basis, right? When it comes to this cake, however, there’s so much to glow about. First, its yumminess meets the standard for the BIG birthday celebration cake while the combined ingredients rise to optimistic requirements for healthiness. Chickpea flour has yet to let me down, though I’m sure I’m bound to push the boundaries eventually. Ripe bananas and just two tablespoons of honey (or maple syrup for vegan) are plenty enough sweetener when delivered parceled into the dense, moist texture the garbanzo bean flour brings. And what ties it all together and makes prep a quick cinch in the morning is the sprinkling of delectable granola baked on top. 

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This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a blogger’s event hosted by Sprouts Farmers Market and Fiona’s Natural Foods at the Fiona’s production facility in north Longmont. The building space is shared with several local brands, all of which share like-minded philosophies concerning health, sustainability, and compassion. Our group was treated to a tour of the facility, and throughout it was apparent how much meticulous care and purpose went into every corner.

fionasThe owners of Fiona’s Natural Foods, a family with combined interest and experience in agriculture and food service,  purchased Fiona’s Natural Foods from the Fiona, a woman from Boulder inspired by a family recipe. Touring and tasting product, the fact that the Fiona’s team today is committed to the original mission of good nutrition and whole health was clearly evident: slow roasting and hand-tossing to bring out the best in flavor and texture; using only quality ingredients; sweetening with organic coconut nectar, the newest in superior sweeteners that I’m just learning about. Coconut nectar comes from a painstaking process of tapping the flowering stems of the coconut blossom to draw sweet sap.  The sap is then evaporated at low temperatures, producing a raw, low glycemic syrup that provides perfect, delicate sweetness to perfect, crunchy granola…

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which also happens to provide the perfect sweet-crunchy topping for breakfast/birthday cake for the very best of friends. “Best cake ever,” Monk pronounced it. In this moment, in our house, there may be no greater foodie stamp of approval. 

 

Gluten-free blueberry banana coffee cake with granola topping
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
  2. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  3. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  5. pinch sea salt
  6. 2 large eggs or egg replacer equivalent (such as Bob's Red Mill)
  7. 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  8. 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  9. 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted coconut oil
  10. ½ cup almond milk
  11. 3 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
  12. 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (defrosted)
  13. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  14. 1 cup Fiona’s almond millet granola (or vanilla sunflower, or any flavor really!)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch round (or square works, too) baking pan with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Make a well in center of flour mixture. (If using frozen blueberries, add to dry mixture to coat.)
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs or egg replacer, honey/maple syrup, almond milk, applesauce, banana, oil, and vanilla until well blended. Add to the flour mixture in large bowl, stirring to blend.
  4. Pour the batter into prepared pan and sprinkle top with granola.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Maple cinnamon pecan quinoa granola

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You could that at our house, Christmas 2016 started on November 1st. That’s just how things fell this year with family visits. Nanny (Dave’s Mum) came from England on the 3rd, and a week after she returned home, we took a quick trip to Connecticut for an early holiday with my family. In any case, by the time new year hits, we’ll have been “Christmas-ing” in our way for two full months. So you’d think we’d have had our holiday-fill by now. Only this year, the merriment and twinkle-strings of dazzle in the form of beloved holiday traditions is proving harder to relinquish than ever, and here’s why:

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There is a present-shaped piece of craft foam, bespeckled in glitter and labeled “Felix’s room” in sloppy red Crayola marker, hanging on the doorknob of my sleeping three-year old’s bedroom. This is the tip of the why. Inside that room, said three-year old is curled up peacefully beside his white, personal mini Christmas tree adorned with favorite decorations and topped with his handmade Santa, a celebration of shapes: cones, triangles, and circles. And that lightly snoring, blissful boy LOVES Christmas. He has been singing carols since July. Here is the iceberg.

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I’m not really sure what kind of time frame is required to constitute a true family tradition, or how much evolution can be transpire for one to still qualify as traditional. But I am full of gratitude for the warmth and cosiness of some of the simplest, quietest may-be-traditions we’ve been sharing together these last few years. Things like transforming the kitchen table to a glitter, glue and paint station for homemade cards; stockings first in little F’s bedroom Christmas morning; lights and decorations teamwork.

And of course the food. Especially the sort that in all honesty we can have anytime, only it sounds, tastes and presents differently during the holiday season. Christmas Eve porridge (doesn’t just using the word ‘porridge’ elevate things up a notch from plain old hearty oatmeal?), which is just creamy steel cut oats in almond milk, dates, cranberries and raisins, and topped in this granola:

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I know, we don’t really need recipes for granola. I mean, the whole point with granola is to freely play and create, right? On the other hand, it’s always worth having a solid template, and since creating this one for Ancient Harvest a few years ago, this has been my go-to bare bones starter. It has never let me down and doesn’t even really require any measurements…just toss together, swap and add at will. It’s even hard to overbake/burn. It’s a splendid way to emphatically declare a bowl of porridge Christmas Eve-worthy, and much more delightful than oatmeal.

santa_pancakesAnd then the next day, we dive into Santa pancakes.

So we’re a little clingy this year, and laying out the things we’re already missing it’s clear it’s not actually Christmas we’re clinging to. It’s truly the spirit, which is kind of beautiful. Little F loved wrapping presents for others, carefully and creatively constructing elaborate blockades to keep the recipient out of bounds while preparing his/her surprises. We’re still making construction paper, crafty presents just so we can wrap them. He loves the lights, the music, the sharing, the cookie baking and hot cocoa. His joyfulness from those simple holiday traditions coupled with a mama who annually immerses in the Hallmark channel all December (or, actually, the Netflix equivalent) and feels excruciatingly aggrieved each January by the abrupt shift in messaging from giving to me-focused momentum…and we’ve kind of got a perfect storm in our little house for some major post holiday blues.

There are many magical things about traditions. One biggie, there is always room for new ones. And one of many magical things about having a loving and spirited little person in the house is that there is no better time to develop fresh and fun ones, every day even. 

Today was a warm and gorgeous winter day that felt like spring. The open, clear blue sky invited a different sort of giddy expectation. It was too perfect not to make a small self-declaration, that maybe this year I could trial a new tradition of greeting the new year with actual welcome more than wistfulness. There is good reason to be in love with today. Our kitchen table art can see a release from wreathes and trees and instead invite in the bold and fanciful ’emergent curriculum’ that is whatever the day will bring. That’s just one thing, but enough to smile about. Happy New Year!  

 

Maple Cinnamon Quinoa Granola
Created for Ancient Harvest
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups gluten-free oats
  2. 1 cup quinoa flakes (or another cup oats)
  3. 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  4. 1 cup pecan pieces
  5. 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  6. 1/3 cup pepitas
  7. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  8. Dash salt
  9. ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  10. 2 tablespoons liquid coconut oil
  11. 2 tablespoons orange juice
  12. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  13. ¾ cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit of choice
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, toss oats, quinoa flakes, quinoa, pecans, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt together until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine syrup, coconut oil, orange juice, and vanilla. Pour over dry ingredients and stir to thoroughly mix and coat.
  4. Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway. Allow to cool on baking sheets. Pour into bowl or storage container and add dried fruit.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet potato casserole with quinoa (or oat) pecan topping

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Anyone else feeling a little dazed, wondering whatever happened to Thanksgiving? It was lovely, but where did it go? As much as I love the open invitation to officially bring out the holiday season sparkles, this year I’m struggling to keep up with speedy time more than ever, and it feels like I’d better not dare close my eyes unless ready to wake up to 2017, tomorrow.

It’s a little ironic, this year’s dwelling on the fleetingness of Thanksgiving, when actually I stretched it out over weeks and in truth am still stretching. Dave’s mum visited us from England for most of November, and since not only does Thanksgiving not feature in English tradition but it also happened to coincide with Dave’s 40th this year, I chose to focus on Thanksgiving moments and emotions in subtle, grateful-but-also-gratifying ways for pretty much a whole month.

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It started the day after Halloween, with this casserole. After that came a festive vegan Sunday dinner with Thanksgiving flair, kicking off Thanksgiving week. Stuffed acorn squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce…that sort of thing. On Thanksgiving Day itself, Little F and I shared a pumpkin pie breakfast smoothie and roasted pecans pressed in a Medjool date to taste like pecan pie. And this week, Thanksgiving over, I’m finishing my personal alternative Thanksgiving dinner-snacks with a welcome reprise of this delicious casserole, left off the Sunday Thanksgiving dinner only because my MIL isn’t the sweet potato’s biggest fan.
It feels somewhat greedy to venture beyond the basics of being thankful for simply, food…but even so these sweet potatoes make my gratitude list. I do love this dish. It’s a scrumptious side, a snack, a bit of breakfast in moderation, or dessert. And so much lighter than the typical creamy, marshmallow-topped version. I originally made if for Ancient Harvest, and it became an instant tradition, easy to tweak and equally delicious with every alteration.

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To slow down Thanksgiving, literally savoring it in stages, felt quietly appropriate this year in a number of ways. One, I’m a little loath to even note. After a year of healing a running injury, a couple extra pounds snuck up on me for one thing, so it was handy to step back from an overload of sentimental feasting. I suspected but wouldn’t step on the scale for a good while. Because, old ghosts, numbers being deceptive…there were all sorts of reasons. But mostly the ghosts. And fear. For a long time, the scale has been a healthy thing for me to avoid. When I did dare brave the thing however, confirming my suspicions, I was able to get back pretty quickly. I don’t mean that to sound glib, like weight loss is easy, because it isn’t. It’s only worth noting because it was a good reminder, information propels progress.
To say I was disappointed with the results of this year’s election and the appointments thus far would be an understatement. But in all honestly I have also been oddly inspired. When typically this time of year I’d be logging hours on the treadmill tuned into Christmas movies and rom-coms on Netlix, this year I’m choosing documentaries. (OK, about half the time I am.)

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It’s hard work to become informed, and the work never actually ends. Compared to where I’d like to be, I’m still doing a pitiful job of it. Also, there are some things I’d rather not know. If Alzheimer’s is hands-down written in my cards for instance, or if the world is going to end tomorrow (undecided on the latter…would you want to know?). But it is gratifying to take a broader view of things and to consciously work on building and fortifying my beliefs with information as much as my default, emotions. I’m sure my choices are still overtly slanted to my personal biases overall, but just making the efforts has been quietly reinforcing my faith in the potential of personal power.
So what is the connection between two not-well-related tangents and my favorite sweet potato casserole? Probably there is none. Sweetness in knowledge, at a stretch. But I am finally beginning to understand, attempted connections don’t always have to be successful to not be considered failures. What matters is we try.

Sweet potato casserole with quinoa-pecan topping
Created for Ancient Harvest
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pounds sweet potatoes (3- 4 medium)
  2. ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  3. ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 2 large eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  7. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  8. ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
  9. dash salt
  10. ½ cup Ancient Harvest™ quinoa flakes (or sub quick or lightly processed oats)
  11. 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (or use coconut sugar)
  12. ½ cup finely chopped pecans
  13. ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  14. 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil or olive oil
Instructions
  1. 1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. 2.Scrub sweet potatoes puncture with a fork. Place potatoes on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for approximately one hour, or until soft. Allow potatoes to cool, 5 minutes.
  3. 3.Cut open potatoes and discard the skin. Place potatoes in a large bowl and add in maple syrup, milk, vanilla, egg, salt and spices. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer. Pour into prepared baking pan.
  4. 4.To prepare topping: Mix the quinoa flakes or oats, brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon in a bowl. Use a fork to stir in the melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over the potato mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes. Serve warm.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

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