I have discovered the secret to living in Houston’s summer. You need to fall into one of these two groups of people:
1. The people who wake up early before the sun rises
2. The people who stay up late after the sun sets
Rob and I have been exploring Houston by bicycle on the weekends. At 7am, we’ll cycle the deserted streets, only to find the paths at the parks literally packed with joggers and walkers. We must be thinking along the same lines: if you are going to be outdoors, best to do it before the sweltering heat arrives.
We quickly learned that Houston is wonderful after sunset. Many public events start late in the day, again to beat the heat.
The problem is trying to fit into category 1 and 2, on the same day. Suffice it to say, after a long bike ride in the morning, I was almost asleep mid-way through a Shakespeare in the Park production later that evening. The comfortable, balmy weather was a bit too conducive to napping. We didn’t even last past the intermission, HA! It was a splendid day, though.
Speaking of cycling in the Houston heat, it is very, very important to keep hydrated and fuelled. Even short runs are more demanding. This is a portable snack recipe I promised a while back. I whipped them up with the odds and ends in my mom’s kitchen before we left for our cycle to Kingston. I must have had some forethought because I remember bringing the coconut flour with me. My master plan for a chocolate date and peanut butter combo was thwarted because the dough was just too runny. But the magic of coconut flour did the trick. It is a very thirsty flour, so it sopped up the batter into portable chewy balls. The peanut butter made them rich and decadent, balanced by the sweetness of the dates and cocoa flavour.
A treat like this is perfect for fuelling during long rides. While our weekend rides are more around 50km now; in this heat, we feel like it gets a conversion factor of 1.5x for intensity. We are still a long way from the MS 150, but we’re hoping to improve our distance as the weather improves…. you know, in October, when it is supposed to cool down.
Are you a morning person, a night person, both or neither?
You don’t realize how much you need things until you don’t have them.
A bed? Yeah, sleeping bags don’t cut it.
Chairs? Sitting on the floor is actually not that much fun.
Lest I mislead you with some pre-written posts, things have been a tad chaotic since my arrival in Texas. We drive down separately from our stuff. The shipping pod that had nearly all of our belongings was 4 days late. We were only partially prepared for living without our stuff. Rob was smart enough to pack our sleeping bags in the car. However, after one night of sleeping on the hard floor, we knew that was not sustainable. We ended up visiting REI earlier than we thought, to buy two thermarest sleeping pads. Much better. Gosh, how did I ever enjoy sleeping parties as a kid?? The good thing about the pads was that I could bring them to the kitchen, too, so I had a more comfy spot to sit on the floor.
Eventually Rob emptied the pod (while I was at work) and slowly we’ve been unpacking our home. We prioritized: 1) bed; 2) computer and then 3) kitchen. Since we only packed the essentials, we kind of needed everything. Bathroom amenities were also important: our shower curtain was in there! And my bicycle to be assembled for commuting to work. (Even before we had the pod, our first priority was internet! Pick up a modem and hook up the wifi)
Those few days in limbo had me less focused on the kitchen. Overnight oats for breakfast and lots and lots of hummus, crackers and carrots. Trader Joe’s has such delicious hummus, no? Their chickpea Mediterranean Hummus is fabulous! I started to build up my pantry with trips to grocers (totally digging Fiesta Mart) but kept meals simple without much of a kitchen.
To celebrate my first American holiday, July 4, I made this patriotic-looking salad: strawberries and blueberries with cacao nibs, hemp and maca. A fun fruit salad with unusual but not unfamiliar flavours. Kind of like a Canadian in America, no? A bit different but kind of the same. I will save my American-Canadian observations for another post… so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, enjoy your summer with some tasty berries.
If you can’t tell, I am a planner. You don’t magically become successful. You plan for success.
During one of my trips last year, I discovered a lovely portable breakfast idea: Ruth’s Chia Goodness. Basically it is an instant breakfast featuring chia seeds, nuts and seeds with flavours. Just add water, wait 10 minutes, and voila! Healthy breakfast is served!
Ruth has a few flavours, but I wanted to recreate the Chocolate version for this roadtrip.
The ingredient list: Chia (salvia hispanica L.), buckwheat, hulled hemp seeds, organic cacao, raw organic cacao nibs, dates, almonds, evaporated cane juice, Celtic sea salt.
Familiar with my other breakfast puddings with oats and almond milk (chocolate cherry overnight oats and gingerbread pumpkin overnight oats), I knew I had to get rid of the fresh ingredients and milk. Oats need a long overnight soak, so to make this an instant breakfast, hemp seeds and almonds seemed like a great idea. Buckwheat couldn’t possibly be used raw, though, in its uncooked form. I turned to dehydrated buckwheat, instead. With its crunch, they added the perfect textural foil to the gummy chia seeds. The cocoa nibs and Amazing Grass added the malty chocolate goodness that left me with my morning chocolate fix. Ruth has added sugar in hers, but I felt like this was perfect without it. Sometimes I add fruits to it as well. Apples, mangoes, kiwi.. I don’t know any fruit that don’t pair well with chocolate.
Do you have any great travel-friendly breakfast recipes?
This is my submission to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday.
As you may have guessed, yes, I am still alive.
I survived my crazy Rideau Lakes cycle.
My focus this year was to pass my exam (which I did!) and then I quickly ramped up to cycle to Kingston. I cycled another 50 km during the week leading up to the weekend and took Thursday and Friday off as rest days. My final pre-event odometer reading was 560 km, 150km within the previous week.
That weekend, though, I cycled over 200 km. Not too shabby. This was my second time on the course, so I know that the hardest part is between Perth and Kingston. This is where most of the hills lie, including the dreaded Westport hill. The nice thing about repeating the course is that I did not feel compelled to conquer the entire course. Been there, done that. Enjoying the ride with a great group of friends was more important.
Our Cobra biker gang consisted of my Dad, Rob and Sue. While Sue and I had already decided we wanted the shorter route from Perth, the boys wanted the full route. However, due to an early rain shower, we all ended up starting from Perth on Saturday. A later start meant the roads would be dry, but more importantly so would our shoes and clothes. I was positively soaked during my training ride, and I simply hate cold, wet shoes.
Turns out we had my ideal cycling weather: overcast and not too hot. We were having a great time and I was positively giddy once we smoked down Westport’s hill. Sue pummelled it at 69 km/h. I had my brakes on and my max was 59 km/h. As we lounged at the gas station at the bottom, other cyclists reminded me that the hardest part would be the next day, tackling that hill in the opposite direction.
The only wrinkle in our day was my slow-leaking flat at around the 80 km mark. My Dad pumped it up and we crossed our fingers, hoping I could make it to Kingston without changing the tube. Lucky me, we made it and found an on-site technician to change my tube for me.
As we stood in line at the maintenance tent, I chatted with the guy in front of me. He did the whole cycle from Ottawa. And yes, do the math, he lapped me. He arrived before me, covering an extra 77km in the 2 hours it took us to start in Perth. His average speed put ours to shame: 35 km/h. Ours was more like 23 km/h, and we probably took way more breaks, HA!
We arrived early enough that we beat the late afternoon sudden rainfall, and with enough time to relax and clean up before having an early dinner. While none of the heated mains were vegan, I picked up cooked carrots, corns and a marinara sauce and then loaded up at the salad bar where I made my own salad with greens, carrots, cabbage, kidney beans and chickpeas with a balsamic dressing. Strawberries for dessert.
The next morning, we met bright and early over my peanut butter oatmeal with fruit. Both my Dad and I snagged a bunch of bananas for the road.
This time, the weather was a beautiful sunny day. The wind was barely moving and any breeze was from us, or when the pentalon would pass us. HA! And the dreaded Westport hill? I was quickly reminded how difficult it was – I remembered it being not that hard. The steep incline comes early but it is short-lived. The hill continues at less steep incline afterwards, for around another 1 km. A quick break at the top had us re-energized to tackle the next set of rolling hills.
We made it to Perth by lunch time when Rob and my Dad waved us goodbye as they cycled the rest of the way home. Sure enough, they covered the last 77 km in 2.5 hours. Their 28 km/h average was impressive at the end of such a weekend. Sue and I were perfectly content to call it a day at Perth. Thankfully, I wasn’t as tired as I feared (judging by my fatigue after my training ride) and even had the gusto collect our luggage and then bake cookies for Rob before he came home. My Mom made her lovely quinoa pilaf again along with roasted asparagus and peppers.
However, now Rob calls me a monkey. I think I ate 5 bananas on Sunday, in addition to my homemade chocolate peanut butter balls. And while I would love to share the delicious chocolate peanut butter balls I brought with me, the photos are still in Ottawa. So, I am sharing these treats that I brought with me on my training run.
After really enjoying the Nut-free Raw Carrot Cake made with coconut flour, I wanted to try something similar but with zucchini and chocolate, instead. So I experimented. Instead of grated carrots, I used grated zucchini. Instead of the cinnamon and nutmeg, I used cocoa powder. Instead of the apple-cashew frosting, I used cacao nibs for easier transport. And I really liked them. Asterisk, though. I would add more cocoa powder next time. I used up the end of my supply so I worked with what I had. Furthermore, while I ate these as cycling treats, they do not travel well at all. They worked for me with a short ride, since I popped them out frozen. Within 2 hours, they are at their perfect consistency: chilled and firm. Once they became warm, they were mushy and messy. Still delicious but not ideal. Definitely not portable to/from Ottawa and Kingston. Thus, I made new snacks that were uber portable. And once I get the photos from my parents, I will share that delightful recipe with you, too.
The carrot craze continues…
I am a proponent of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and raw cuisine intrigues me. Dining at a raw resto can leave me beguiled: how did they do that? This goes beyond salads. Silky smooth lasagnas, luscious chocolate hazelnut cakes and brownies. This does not taste remotely like raw foods. Then I immediately want to try to make it myself. New techniques to bring you different flavours…
If you need any introduction to raw foods, raw desserts are definitely the way to go. No stranger to decadent raw desserts (Raw Key Lime Pie, Better Than Nutella Cheesecake, Raspberry Cashew Dreamcake), sometimes they go thump with the richness from nuts and coconut. It hasn’t stopped me from wanting to explore more desserts, though. Even better when they are lighter.
Last summer, I was a recipe tester for Amber’s cookbook Practically Raw Desserts and while the recipes are very flexible (I love her multiple variations!), one ingredient she was adamant about not substituting was coconut flour. It is unlike any other flour or shredded coconut.
I was dying to try was her Enlightened Carrot Cake. Nut-free, the base is made from carrots, apples and dates. Oh, and coconut flour. However, by the time I tracked down coconut flour and had the gusto to make this recipe, the book had already been shipped to the publisher (oops!). Thank goodness, this was one of the first recipes she shared online because it finally prompted me to try it.
Amber made this as a cute double-decker cake with a small springform pan. Since I don’t have one, I looked for an easier option. Cupcakes worked well with my last raw carrot cake (very good, too), and even though I had no muffin wrappers, I decided to try it out. After a bit of warm water pouring over the back of the muffin tray, the frozen cupcakes popped right out. It worked!
And yes, they were delicious. Because they are made with coconut flour, they are light. Coconut flour is defatted coconut meat, so it is a lower-fat coconut-based option for desserts. Most importantly, it is an ingredient creating a fluffier texture. As such, these cupcakes are so different than any other raw dessert I have made. The sweetness is not over-pronounced and it was a delicious dessert with a hint of coconut and cinnamon. Satisfying and surprisingly filling for a low-fat dessert.
Amber has two recipes as suggested frostings. I chose neither, although her fermented cashew frosting is still on my hit-list. My last cashew-date frosting was a bit dense and definitely not white, so I wanted to substitute the dates. Instead, I made an apple-cashew frosting. It was simple: apple + soaked cashews + ume plum vinegar (another acid and salt could work) + water. I liked how the fresh apple added bulk and sweetness. The consistency was just perfect after a chill in the refrigerator. Smooth and creamy.
Of course, now I am excited to make more recipes with coconut flour. Have you tried it yet?
Many of the recipes in Practically Raw Desserts use coconut flour, so I am excited to try more of Amber’s creations. I promise to do a better review of the cookbook when I finally get my copy. Here are other recipes that use coconut flour:
Maple Streusel Coffee Cake Squares in Practically Raw Desserts
Pecan Chai Spice Bars in Practically Raw Desserts (I made these as a tester but found the flavours a bit muted and the frosting too soft)
Pecan Shortbread in Practically Raw Desserts
Cake Batter Protein Balls from Chef Amber Shea (I have made these already. They are very good for something so simple)
Raw Apricot Jam Bars with Flakey Crust by Bonzai Aphrodite
Cardamom Chocolate Chip Cookies from Purely Twins
Peppermint Protein Bars from Purely Twins
Coconut Lemon Meltaways from The Hearty Herbivore
Raw Avocado Brownie from Bite-Sized Thoughts
Chocolate Avocado Cookies from Sprint 2 The Table
Even though we won’t be moving until late June, now that Rob and I have found a place to live in Houston (YAYAYAYA!), the move seems a bit more real.
All of a sudden, I want to scope out my new neighbourhood. I want to know my route to work, cycle the nearby bicycle paths and explore the grocery stores. I want to know my new routine.
Thankfully, our new place will be close to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I am most excited about Trader Joe’s since I doubt Whole Foods is any cheaper in the US than it is here in Canada. Although I will still keep an eye out for ethnic grocers. They are my favourite for fresh and inexpensive produce and staples (these are my favourite stores in Toronto). If you are familiar with Houston, please let me know of your favourite shops. I am also considering trying out Rawfully Organic for fruits/veggies. Does anyone have experience with them? *As well, if anyone could share what they routinely buy online instead of at TJ’s, please let me know what and where*
Right now, the plan is to try to live a “minimalist” lifestyle while in Houston. Bring only the bare necessities. I think it will be fun to move the majority of our stuff into storage and live on less. Of course, we don’t plan on depriving ourselves. We are not materialistic but somehow seemed to have accumulated a lot of stuff. I suppose we don’t like to waste anything, purge little and haven’t started the “this is for real” part of laying down a home.
We plan on bringing our own current necessities, though. Like 4 bicycles. And my Vitamix, food processor, rice cooker and coffee machine (the last one is for Rob). A handful of cookbooks. I decided that the dehydrator may take a year-long sabbatical. The dehydrator is pretty bulky and I don’t use it that often. And I could live without it for a year. Which, of course, means I am using it like crazy before we leave.
I have mentioned these beet chips discretely before. I have made them a few time, but lost my original set of photos. It was a perfect impetus to make them again… and again. They are possibly my favourite snack from the dehydrator and they are so easy to make. Peel beets, slice, marinate and dehydrate. Sweet and crispy chips emerge. Pretty, too. And yes, these were regular beets. No fancy candy-cane striped Chioggia beets, here.
Actually, I take that back. One time I made this with small beets, and it took forever to peel them. Now I only make these with large beets. The chips are bigger, too. You wouldn’t believe how much they shrink. Depending on how thick you slice your beets, two pounds of beets may only yield 2 cups of chips. Which I could likely eat in an afternoon, if I am not careful.
Good things come to those who wait.
That ice cream craving? Well, Rob had pity on me and picked up a pint (2 actually) for us to share. After building it up in my head, it was a bit lackluster. Not that I am complaining. Vegan ice cream just isn’t Haagen Dazs. Which is probably a good thing.
It seems like everyone was bitten by the ice cream bug now that the sun is out. I am seeing recipes everywhere. However, without full-fat coconut milk and an ice cream machine, I thought I was out of luck. Until now. (I feel like I am Dr Greger from NutritionFacts.org, hehe)
This time, I wasn’t planning on making ice cream. I was making a version of my Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie: an almost guiltless chocolate mint mousse, sans crust. Which I did, and it is very, very good. But then I put one tumbler in the freezer. Just in case.
I think our freezer has some funky freezing cycle thing because even the ice cream from the store was rock solid after a night in our house. It was torture trying to scoop it out. Rob had the brilliant idea to let it thaw. I know, novel idea. But he suggested thawing it in the fridge. So, I came back in an hour and the ice cream was deliciously smooth and creamy.
I decided to try that with my frozen mousse. It was a bona fide rock solid when I initially took it from the freezer. Then I popped it in the fridge. Waited 1-2 hours for it to thaw and then I scooped in.
Glorious! Creamy chocolate mint. Melting in your mouth. Oh yes. I just have to plan for my ice cream cravings.
Before you look at the recipe, I’ll have you know it was a pantry purge success. I know some people have had difficulties with the mousse setting with the original recipe but I have never had any problems. I have made it with soft, firm and extra-firm tofu (although always the silken aseptic tofu). I figured it was pretty flexible so I experimented.
No chocolate chips here, I finally used up my unsweetened chocolate. The 100% chocolate that Rob bought for chocolate fondu once upon a time… and let me tell you, it is very bitter. I also had some cacao butter which I supplemented with cocoa powder, which I figured was equivalent to chocolate. I ended up adding the sweetener to taste as I went along as well as the peppermint extract (Katie suggested 1/8 tsp, which barely registered on my tongue’s radar). This is minty but not that sweet. The cacao butter gave this a really nice mouth feel, both as a mousse and as an ice cream.
Thank goodness, I think my ice cream quest has been settled. At least for now.
What are you craving these days?
It is with a heavy heart that I have abandoned ship for the Rideau Lakes training, but that hasn’t stopped me from making cycling snacks for Rob. Energy nibbles are definitely one of the perks of long-distance cycling. Never wanting to run out of glycogen stores during long rides (aka bonk), snacking on homemade sports drinks and energy bars are a fun way to fuel a long cycle.
In addition to high carbs for quick absorption, whole foods are good options due to their beneficial nutrients. Vitamins and antioxidants can help rebuild your body as they repair from your exercise. And because I am a sucker from trying new things, especially when heralded as a leading source of antioxidants, this is how I stumbled upon acai berries (pronounced ah-sigh-ee, btw).
However, the powdered acai berries left a bit to be desired. They didn’t add much to my morning oats. Flavour-wise at least. I needed a new strategy. Because if I am going to shell out the big bucks for acai, I may as well taste it and enjoy it.
Packed with a a medley of dried fruit (dates, raisins and apricots), almonds, vanilla and cinnamon, this is a delicious treat. Not as mono-dimension as some no-frill date-heavy energy bars, I really liked the fruitiness that the acai imparted. Could you skip it? For sure, but then I’d add something like unsweetened dried cranberries or goji berries to replace the berri-ness I enjoyed.
These nibbles have been christened ‘the pepperoni’, because Rob thought I had made pepperoni during its initial phase, rolled up as a long cylinder in the fridge. Surprises abound in the fridge, but I can assure you that these do not taste like pepperoni. However, a savoury energy snack sounds like a great idea. Dried tomatoes in a pizza-like ball, anyone?
I also wanted to highlight a new book for any readers interested in cycling. I know I’ve recommended Every Women’s Guide to Cycling before (although I can’t find my own post, here is a good review). I read it a few years ago when I first became interested in long-distance cycling. I felt like she was whispering and guiding me through the ins-and-outs of cycling. It seems so simple to get on a bike and pedal, but it is so much more than that. Have you ever wondered whether to wear underwear with your padded cycling shorts? And what the heck is chamois butter? Just a few of the tips I garnered from the book. I really should re-read it when I resume long distance cycling again, because it is not geared solely to novice riders. And to be honest, if studying for my exam has taught me anything, it has reinforced that if you don’t use it, you will lose it. I haven’t really looked at cycling tips and tricks for a while.
However, I recently read through Bicycling Magazine’s 1,100 Best All-Time Tips. I haven’t read the previous editions, but this version highlights quick easy-to-read tips about many different areas in cycling: traffic safety, riding positions, skill builders, training techniques, distance riding, mountain biking, racing, health and fitness, nutrition, equipment and bike care and repair. Most of the tips resonate with me as I figured them out myself over the years: there is less wind in the morning so start riding earlier (there is also less traffic), why to avoid riding through a puddle (there is probably a huge hole there, too), and the best communication during group rides (we are a very vocal bunch of cyclists).
It includes tips that reinforce aspects I need to continue to remind myself: don’t train hard more than twice a week, take at least one rest day a week and it reminds you of the signs of over-training. They even suggest that cyclists who work full-time (or go to school), should limit their training to 10-12 hours a week: protecting your time for what matters most while still giving you the most amount of benefit (something I remind myself daily). For more serious cyclists, they have tips like shedding water bottles during long climbs if you can refill shortly afterwards (because one should never sacrifice hydration).
The tips are very practical, with suggestions on how to plan your training year, how to structure a training camp, and how to be your own coach. I appreciate the short and to-the-point nature of the tips, but at times, I wish there were more references for the scientific advice –but that’s the doctor coming out in me. Not all techniques are so obvious and straight-forward. Building strength, endurance and muscle, can be accentuated from different angles, but make sure you figure out what works for you. So, if you are searching for the best energy bar, the ratio of carbs:protein is one thing, but taste matters, too. Too sweet? Easy to chew? Or not chew? Start experimenting now, instead of whipping up a new recipe the day of your event.
Here are some of my other favourite cycling-friendly energy snacks:
For those who prefer videos, Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Forward is a great resource, too. I enjoyed watching some of his videos from his latest module about enhancing sport performance.
Have you tried acai berries yet? Any favourite recipes? (more…)
Everyone must have mango on their minds right now.
I definitely have a lot of recipes for mango and people have been bumping into some of my old mango treats lately: Raw Tropical Mango Pie, Thai Tempeh Lettuce Wraps with Mango Ginger Sauce, and Mango Shrikhand. If you have scurried to purchase dried mango for the Raw Tropical Pie, place some aside for these delicious bars.
Even before I got my own dehydrator, I knew not all dried fruit were equal.
Now with my dehydrator, I also know it isn’t always easy to dehydrate fruit.
Apple chips are super easy. I just slice and dehydrate at 135F overnight, around 8 hours. I prefer thin slices to get a crisp chip. Thicker slices are nice when you want something to chew on. I’ve added cinnamon, cardamom and pumpkin pie spices but still prefer the plain variety.
I experimented with homemade unsweetened and maple syrup-sweetened dried cranberries, but my efforts didn’t work out so well. I tried to split the skins by blanching them, but that worked only sporadically and thus, I ended up slicing each cranberry individually. Even then, I must have over dehydrated them because they were very dry… oops!
Dehydrated pineapple has such a concentrated flavour, packed with sugar, that it almost seemed like I was eating a chew candy.
And there are some fruits that never make it to the dehydrator, like mangoes. Why dehydrate them when you can eat them fresh?
Just as we have become picky about which fresh mangoes we prefer (Honey, Alphonso and Ataulfo), not all dried mangoes are created equal.
The best dried mangoes we’ve come across are the Philippine brand dried mangoes. They occasionally go on sale at Loblaws, T&T and can also be found at Costco. They are sweet and juicy. The dried mangoes at Better Bulk (as much as I love the store) and Bulk Barn are a shame next to them, as are the packs from Sunny’s. Sadly, the Philippine brand ain’t cheap.
With all that being said, if you find yourself with any dried mangoes at all, make these bars.
They are the best granola bar I have tried and eerily taste so good I could sell them. I am so glad that Lisa decided to share her recipe for Holy Delicious Mango Bars! I had been pining the recipe even before I had my dehydrator, actually. I’ve made granola bars before, but those had refined sugars and butter. I’ve also made oodles of raw energy treats, but they were usually more date-heavy.
I knew Rob would love them, but had to figure out when to make them to keep them as a surprise for him. I won’t give away my secret… A humming dehydrator is hard to conceal. But oh so totally worth it.. and trust me, these are so much better than those silly packaged bars. Do they even come in mango flavours, eh? Or the flavour of love? hahaha!
These are incredibly flavourful, packed to the brim with goodies like nuts, seeds, oats, coconut and raisins and dates for sweetness. Oh, and dried mango, too. Dehydrating brings everything together, with a firm feeling. If you don’t have a dehydrator, try your hand at freezing it instead.
These are part of my recent crack obsession but they were very satisfying without being cloyingly sweet.
I mentioned this in passing… I wasn’t going to share this… not because it tasted bad (it tasted great) but who wants to admit defeat? So here I am showing you that we all have our kitchen failures. You know those articles: “37 People Who Are Worse at Cooking Than You?“, “Pinterest Food Fails“, “20 Hilarious Pinterest Fails“. They even have websites dedicated to pinterest fails! Well, that includes me, too.
I am not even a Pinterest Fail one-hit wonder. I generally don’t photograph my fails. Like these black bean brownie pancakes (minimal subs, I swear), mint chocolate chip protein cookies (no subs, I blame it partially on not liking Sunwarrior’s vanilla and maybe my coconut flour) or these buckeyes (I made a few subs for this one, so I will try again, methinks). But this one was still tasty, so I photographed my flop.
I wasn’t even trying to go fancy. A craving for peanut butter rice krispie treats had me perusing blogs for the perfect way to use some puffed quinoa. I eventually picked Angela’s Almond Butter Rice Crisp Treats. I settled on half a recipe because I didn’t want to make too much, but still made
some a lot of changes. I used a bit less puffed quinoa because I figured there would be a higher surface area, and also decreased the sweetener (swapping in agave for her brown rice syrup), switched coconut oil for the Earth balance, ditched flax for chia, and swapped pumpkin seed butter for the almond butter (I like that pumpkin seed butter has less calories, more iron, similar or more protein than other nut butters but has a taste reminiscent of peanut butter). This seemed like a simple, malleable dessert, so I ran with it.
After a minute on the stovetop on medium heat, my wet ingredients suddenly seized, changing from a melty pourable liquid into a harder taffy-like spread. Oops, I think my heat was too high? I trudged onwards, stirring in the chia even though it looked pretty sturdy and then tried to mix in the puffed quinoa. I had to mix it with my hands: I could see this going nowhere fast with a spoon. Instead of pulling out parchment paper or more oil, I figured I could freeform the bars on my silpat. I still don’t think it was that bad of an idea, although lots of untrapped quinoa puffs rolled over my counter. I even flipped the silpat in half to smooch it together from both sides. In retrospect rolling them into balls might have been better.
In the end, my bars, or crumbles, don’t look anything like picture-perfect Angela’s. But they were still delicious, with hints of vanilla and cinnamon within a peanut taffy studded with puffed quinoa treat. Not crispy, more chewy. In retrospect, that was how I liked rice krispie treats back in the day: less rice, more mallow, please. If only they were a bit more portable-friendly for my upcoming cycling jaunts.
PS, Can anyone spot a fatal flaw in my approach? Did the heat seize the pumpkin seed butter mixture?
PPS, Comparing this to my previous Peanutty Energy Bars, this version has a better carbs:protein ratio (3:1) and 1/4 recipe has 157 calories, 15g carbs, 6g protein and 9g fat (and 31% of my iron!). I was going to add protein powder like in Ange’s energy bar, but abandoned the idea after it seized. I also might toy with the idea of adding pumpkin puree, date puree or chocolate next time, too. Or maybe I should stick to my easy raw treats?
Happy long Easter weekend!
While I will be partaking in zero Easterly activities this weekend, I will be postponing them to next weekend. I think it is very mean to have an exam a few days after Easter, no?
Last week, I came home with 15 lemons. Actually, that is not unusual for me. What was unusual was that they were not just any lemons: they were Meyer lemons. These lemons are more sweet, less tart than regular lemons. So much so that I could easily eat a raw Meyer lemon. Just don’t ask me how I know… Last year, I tracked them down at Whole Foods but didn’t search them out this year. I thought I had missed their season. But there they were at my local ethnic grocer. The lemons were a bit on the tiny side but considering all 15 were for $2, this was an amazing bargain. Even if I had no plans for the lemons… yet.
Undeterred by my recent dessert
flops experiments (more on that in a later post), I decided to work with Katie’s recipe for Lemon Squares. I’ve had a baked tofu cheesecake on my recipe to-do list for a while. However, I usually get distracted by other dessert options.
Instead of flour, I used ground almonds. I also made my own powdered sugar by grinding coconut sugar in my Vitamix (how cool was that!). Since I was using Meyer lemons, I tasted as I went along. Not as much sweetener was needed.
I increased the filling, with all intentions of baking it in a small casserole dish but at the last minute, plopped it into a large springform pan. I figured it would be easier to remove unscathed. Turns out the joke was on me, because the larger surface area meant these were very short. Not what I was aiming for.. I also didn’t add any yellowing ingredients like turmeric, so they weren’t the characteristic fluorescent yellow of lemon squares. And I also cut them like pie slices, not squares… In retrospect, it was destiny.
After I baked them, they still needed to be chilled overnight and then I tasted them…. duh duh duh… I made a Meyer lemon tofu cheesecake!
It looks rather pitiful, but I can assure you it tasted great. Not a true cheesecake, but more cheesecake than lemon square, me thinks. Very lemony, to my liking, although it was balanced by the sweetness of the crust. It was kind of fun to have a lot of crust for a little amount of filling, although next time, I would certainly double the filling, or use a smaller contraption to bake it (I kind of like Amber’s method here of lining it with parchment paper and then slipping the whole thing out afterwards).
Have any fun plans for the weekend?
Being known as a healthy eater has its drawbacks.
My meals have now become suspicious. Suspicious for healthy ingredients. What have I hidden in the meal this time?
Trust me, I cater to my audience. If baking for myself, I’d easily experiment with squash carob brownies, cauliflower chocolate cake, chocolate chip chickpea blondies or chocolate mint black bean cookies. I have even gambled with (oh so good) chocolate tofu mousse pie with my family for Easter.
But for the harshest critics, I go all out.
Thus when Rob’s family came over for a birthday celebration and I offered to supply dessert, I had to determine my plan of attack.
Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie? I knew it was a winner, but I had no tofu.
Rob suggested my Carrot Cake Cupcakes since he really liked them, but I thought they might be a bit “out there”. Carrots for a birthday dessert? (Only mine..)
Experiment with a new recipe? I considered Terry’s Italian Cashewcotta Cheesecake or Ethiopian Chocolate Flourless Torte, but still had the issue of missing ingredients.
Then I worked backwards. What do I have in my pantry? Coconut oil, nuts and cocoa powder. Cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Sounded delicious already. I peered around the corner of the cabinet and pulled out hazelnut butter. Eureka! A raw chocolate hazelnut cheesecake.
I like raw desserts because I can sample the batter and can easily gauge how it will turn out. Licking the batter from the blender, I knew this was going to be good. The next afternoon, I brought out the cheesecake to thaw. I cut a piece before everyone arrived. You know, for blogging photography purposes. But I sliced off a tiny sliver so I could do some tasting research, too.
I know I said my last raw cheesecake was utterly sinful, but how can a key lime pie compete with a chocolate cheesecake? A chocolate hazelnut cheesecake? It can’t. This my friends, was pure cocoa bliss.
Better than Nutella filling in a cheesecake form, on a cocoa-hazelnut-date crust. Decadent but not too rich and not too sweet. Perfect.
Trust me, I was very confident with this dessert.
Before I served it, I was pummeled with questions, though. “What IS this?” I was asked. Ingredients or the name of the dish? Ingredients, tell me. Nuts, coconut oil, cocoa powder, agave, dates… Avocados? I hate avocados.. No avocados…
Thank goodness it was a resounding success. Definitely my best dessert yet.
If coconut doesn’t bring you out of a winter rut, how about mango? Mango cupcakes with a mango coconut oil buttercream frosting, anyone?
February is a busy month for me and Rob.
Valentine’s Day, followed by Rob’s birthday and also our anniversary. We tend to go all out for Rob’s birthday, but this year, we kept it simple by meeting with friends at Rob’s favourite resto in our neighbourhood. No jackfruit “pulled pork” wraps or pineapple and cucumber guacamole this year. While The Beet has possibly my favourite desserts in the city (the best raw cheesecakes), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make Rob a birthday treat.
The trick? Keeping it a surprise.
At least I knew Rob wouldn’t be privy to my dessert brainstorm on Pinterest. (ChefTap totally wins in that regard). One benefit of his birthday being after Valentine’s Day is that I could peruse all the lovely Valentine’s Day-inspired treats. Raw chocolate cheesecake with zucchini? If I was going to take over a resto, I figured it would be easier to eat something with our hands and plus, I had no zucchini. Raw coconut cardamom cheesecakes? They could melt before we made it to dessert at the resto. Raw chocolate tartelettes with chocolate ganache? No tartelette containers here.. Mango Cupcakes with a Coconut Chocolate Ganache? No chocolate nor full-fat coconut milk here. Chloe’s winning Ginger Nutmeg Spice Cupcakes? I really think I was onto something with the mango and this calls for full-fat coconut milk, too…. Mango Cupcakes with a Mango Buttercream Frosting? We have a winner… with just a few (minor) substitutions.
I made the cupcakes the night before, as Rob was out late for a work gathering. I had an hour before he came home so I whipped together the cupcakes. No baking expert at all, I called my mom to ask how long I had to let the cupcakes cool before I could frost them. At least half an hour, she told me. How long have they been out of the oven? Uh, I still have 15 minutes left in the oven and he’s due back in 45 minutes. She laughed. No frosting tonight. I hid the cupcakes.. and ran the dishwasher with all the dirty dishes.
As I went to bed, I determined the perfect time to make the frosting: the next morning while Rob went to the gym. For some reason, Rob picks his gym day the same day as my rest day. Thursdays. However, this Thursday he decided NOT to go to the gym. GAH!! So, I rushed off to work early so I could leave earlier, too. To frost my cupcakes before dinner.
So that’s my rambly preamble…. but I should not be keeping you in suspense because these cupcakes were winners. We shunned the desserts at the resto in lieu of cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes. Mango cupcakes with a mango buttercream frosting. Booyah! Vegan cupcakes, of course. Whole wheat, no problem (actually you wouldn’t know it, unlike my chocolate avocado cake).
Mango cupcakes sound revolutionary but it isn’t unusual to substitute apple or banana into baked goods. Here, I used mango puree. You could blend your own, or pick up a can of puree of Alphonso mangoes (the sweetest King of Mangoes) to make them moist and sweet. The cupcake base is also spiced with cardamom for an Indian twist. For the frosting, I will admit that I cracked and bought some icing sugar (everything else was from our pantry, including the mango puree). I contemplated making my own icing sugar from coconut sugar but decided against it at the last moment. My substitutions were mainly by using coconut oil. Because if there is one thing that I have a lot of (after beans and kelp noodles), it is coconut oil. Making coconut oil frosting is no new feat, but this was heightened by adding mango puree to it. The solid nature of coconut oil means that you don’t need to add as much icing sugar to achieve a stiff consistency. It was also super easy to pipe. Way easier than when my Mom and I made the royal icing for my bathbomb cupcakes.
A few notes about the recipe: my cupcakes were flat-topped. Nothing the frosting couldn’t
fixhide, but I am not sure if that was because I used coconut oil in the batter. Or the spelt? Or the bit of whole wheat pastry flour I finished off? Or the supplemental brown sugar I needed to top off the sugar? (Yes, it was a great pantry emptying cupcake). Who knows but I think it could be the coconut oil. Just thought I’d let you know. Not that anyone noticed. They were definitely a resounding success. I heard them say Best. Cupcakes. Ever. (Thanks, Matt). The magic ingredient wasn’t mango, it was love.
I am sore today.
Yesterday was such a wonderful day, it is hard to narrow down the ultimate culprit.
On any day of soreness, I would blame the gym. Yesterday was no exception. I started off the day with my regular weightlifting class but it was followed by an incredibly demanding work-out courtesy of Jillian Michaels: the infamous Body Shred work-out. It sounds tame. Only 30 minutes. Only 4 rounds after the warm-up. Only 3 minutes of strength, then 2 minutes of cardio, and 1 minute of abs. Do not be fooled!! This is HARD! It is crazy and chaotic. But fun and energizing. Especially since the moves have such funny names (but still oh so hard – flying crab anyone?). Already in select cities in the US, this was the first preview class in Canada but will eventually find its way into a Goodlife near you (it will start March 1 in Toronto and nationwide by the end of 2014). I don’t think this video gives the work-out the fear it deserves.
Two work-outs down, it was time to become lazy and gluttonous.
Starting off with lunch at our new favourite fast food joint, Banh Mi Boys, which has a lot of vegan options. My favourite is the veggie kimchi sweet potato fries and the green-papaya salad with lemongrass tofu (both off-menu). Even better was meeting up with the sweet travelling Aussie Hannah.
Next up, a bit early for our show, we had a tea and connect 4 stop at Academy of Lions. It doubles as a crossfit gym but also hosts a cute cafe with tons of paleo sweets. If only they didn’t have honey, they would have been vegan-friendly. In any case, they had my favourite Tealish tea to warm me up: Winter Blend.
Our main reason for our jaunt on Lower Ossington was to see Avenue Q. A small intimate theater made this an up-close and personal experience, filled with all the wittiness I remember from when I first watched the show in NYC.
Next up, a new-to-us resto: Bi Bim Bap. A Korean sizzling brown rice specialty, we were drawn to it because they offer brown rice (for no extra charge), along with vegan options such as tofu or a blend of 9 different mushrooms. You can also personalized your stone bowl creations with your choice of hot sauce, or not-so-hot sauce (in my case, I had the not hot soy garlic sauce, but Rob had the “mild hot” sour GoChuJang which I thought was plenty spicy, thankyouverymuch). Since the hot sauces are served on the side, you can add to taste and even ask for another sauce if it turns out to be too spicy. On the side was some kimchi and pickled ?pear/apple?. Their homemade and simple kimchi is made with anchovies (no go for me) but Rob said it was plenty spicy so I wouldn’t have liked it anyways. (The kimchi at Banh Mi Boys is very tame which I prefer). All the bibimbaps are served with barley tea (which actually tastes good), miso soup and a ginger-cinnamon drink. Turns out it wasn’t only us trying numerous kinds of kimchi. Toronto has kimchi fever this weekend. I wonder who won the kimchi battle?
Followed by a nightcap with these sexy maca chocolates. I first added cacao butter to my list of ingredients to hunt down after seeing Sarah’s raw chocolate recipe. When I finally decided to make said chocolates, I decided pureeing the dates seemed a tad finicky. I gravitated to a super simple recipe I found in Superfood Kitchen, only slightly more involved than the recent posts from Angela and Gena. I actually made these before their posts but kept these chocolates hidden away as a surprise for Rob. I initially planned to share them on Valentine’s Day but Rob surprised me with homemade chocolate hazelnut truffles instead!
A week later, I broke out these sexy maca chocolates. Why sexy? Maca is believed to (slightly) improve libido. It also has been shown to slightly improve athletic performance which is how I first became introduced to its malty taste. I will be whipping out those maca chip raw energy balls again this summer, as I train for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. Here, this recipe is simply melted cocoa butter spiced with cocoa powder and maca powder, sweetened with agave. Easy peasy for simple, sexy chocolate truffles.
While I may be sore today, it was still a fabulous day-long 3-year anniversary date with Rob.