Gingerbread Bonbons

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If you’ve been doing the seasonal thing lately, this month has already brought an onslaught of cookies and holiday treats to be baked, eaten, and shared. Making cookies is my favorite December tradition but I definitely prefer making to eating them. This is because inevitably after eating cookies and all the other traditional baked goods, I feel bogged down, lethargic, and mentally all over the place. This is often true even despite my bent towards making goodies that are leaning towards healthier over traditional.

Late in the summer, I decided to buy myself a new cookbook for the year and I chose the one I had been eyeing for quite some time, Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. The first 100 or so pages are actually about ayurveda and the energies in the body that contribute to wellbeing, as well as everyday practices for living a balanced, sattvic lifestyle. Even before getting to the recipes, this information is an approachable guide to how to truly promote one’s health. There are also a ton of recipes of course, but what I’ve made again and again, both following the recipe and deviating sharply, are the No Donut Holes. Despite making and eating them nearly weekly for months, this after dinner treat has never once left me in cookieland feeling less than thriving.

In annual tradition, The Recipe Redux challenge for December is a recipe remake from a cookbook, and so naturally I decided to put a festive spin on those no donut holes with a molasses and gingerbread infusion–flavors I love this time of year.

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When it comes to molasses, there are several different types. I grew up with Brer Rabbit Full-Flavored, which is the second boiling formed as a by-product when sugar is processed. Molasses from the first boiling is the lightest and sweetest, often called mild molasses. Beyond these two, the third boiling results in blackstrap molasses, which is the darkest, least sweet, and most mineral rich type. It is the type I favor now. Blackstrap is a great source of dietary iron and sometimes recommended as a food source iron supplement (1) since one tablespoon can contain as much as 20% of a woman’s daily needs. Additionally, it contains considerable amounts of manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, selenium, copper, and calcium. Even though it is still a sugar and should be treated as such, there is actually evidence that adding molasses to carbohydrate-rich meals results in a lower blood sugar rise compared to the meal without molasses (2).

When purchasing, look for unsulfured and pure full-flavored or blackstrap molasses. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes added as a preservative and can make the taste bitter, and some companies dilute their bottles down with corn syrup.

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Before I get to the recipe, Kate says on the no-donut page: Pastries are an instigator of tamas in the mind. [Tamas is heavy, slow, sleepy, stubborn, and unmotivated and can lead to sadness, pessimism, low self-esteem, hopelessness and fear.] The combination of white flour, white sugar, and butter or questionable oils makes a trifecta of heavy, indigestible qualities that gunk up the gut. For most, a daily habit of eating pastries is a ticket to slow, dull qualities.

Now, I have nothing against the occasional full blown refined-everything treat, especially this time of year. But I’m also simply glad to add these as an option to the holiday cookie tray.

Gingerbread Bonbons, makes about 12
Though I use blackstrap molasses, regular ‘full-flavor’ molasses works great too. Additionally, finely ground oatmeal or oat bran are great alternatives to the oat flour.
These can also be made as squares instead of bonbons. Simply press into a square container and chill for about an hour before cutting.

60 g / 1/4 cup cashew butter
40 g / 2 Tbs. molasses
40 g/ 2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
55 g / 1/2 cup almond meal
140 g / 1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
dash of cloves

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the cashew butter, molasses, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the almond meal, oat flour, and spices and mix until it all comes evenly together. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Roll heaping tablespoons of the dough into balls, and then place them on a plate or in a storage container.
  • Store in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for longer term. Allow them to come to room temperature before enjoying.

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References:
1) Jain, R. and Venkatasubramanian, P. (2017). Sugarcane Molasses – A potential dietary supplement in the management of iron deficiency anemia.
2) Ellis, T.P., Wright, A.G., Clifton, P.M., and Ilag, L.L. (2016). Postprandial insulin and glucose levels are reduced in healthy subjects when a standardised breakfast meal is supplemented with a filtered sugarcane molasses concentrate. 

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All Healing Anti-Inflammatory Green Soup

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This time of year with the dark days, cold mornings, and heavy clouds, my system desires to go internal even more than usual. If I had my way I’d stay home, work from home, and spend the winter in the remote countryside or forest to calibrate even more with what nature does in this season (i.e. rest) rather than partake in all the festivities.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy socializing, but too much noise, people, stimulus, clutter, travel, and food really compromises my wellbeing. I think a lot of us can relate.

This is especially true when it comes to how the holiday season can be havoc on the digestive system. For the last few years, I’ve taken to making the first couple months of the new year about resetting my system with healing anti-inflammatory meals because the time between mid-November and January can mean weeks of need for digestive ‘rest’ and healing, even when I try to be careful and deliberate about what foods I choose during these weeks. I believe a big part of this is because digestion is so much more that what we eat. It’s also how we eat, and in what environment.

It is very difficult to digest, absorb, and assimilate properly when the nervous system is not in rest and digest mode. And for those of us that are a bit extra sensitive, that state of relaxation can be challenging to achieve in these special, celebratory weeks.

I’ve spoken to a number of nutrition clients the last few weeks with similar dietary constraints as mine. They’ve all reflected how I’ve felt and dealt with the season: trying to simultaneously take care of themselves while not wanting to be too much of a bother to others or completely self-deprive from the feasting foods. Over time, I’ve been slowly advocating for myself more, speaking out about my needs and being an assertive houseguest by opting for my own meals rather than risk options that I know will lead to discomfort later. For some, this is especially important–but so too is taking a time out and getting into a state of relaxation as much as possible between or during the holiday gatherings.

 

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A few things I’ve taken to lately is adding Ayurvedic spices to many meals such as cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cardamom, turmeric, and ginger, as well as loading up on lots of anti-inflammatory greens, warm soupy meals, and herbal tea to support my extra finicky digestion. This soup is a good base for this type of eating and it’s high on my list to make this week after Thanksgiving. I tend to cook the split mung beans or red lentils, and then puree the greens and remaining ingredients raw, gently warm them, and then serve. That way the nutrients and good bacteria from the miso that degrade with heat are still present, and food that is pureed makes eating even easier on compromised digestion.

 

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Anti-Inflammatory Green Soup, serves 3-4

1 cup split mung dal or red lentils
2 ounces (2 handfuls) turnip greens, kale, or spinach, de-stemmed
1 large celery stalk
1 ounce parsley leaves (1 handful)
1 ounce cilantro leaves (1 handful)
1 clove garlic
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tablespoon white miso
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 cup whole-fat coconut milk
2 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper
Optional Toppings: Sunflower + Brazil Nut Sprinkle (below), thinly sliced spring turnips or radishes, minced celery, parsley, or cilantro

  1. Combine the split mung dal and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and then turn town to low simmer and cook until they are soft. Cool slightly, and then transfer to a high speed blender along with the greens, celery, parsley, cilantro, garlic, spices, miso, nutritional yeast, and the water. Puree until smooth.
  2. Transfer back to the pot and add the coconut milk, apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper. Heat gently until hot but not simmering. Taste, and adjust with a bit of salt, vinegar, or more miso, if needed.
  3. Serve topped with whatever toppings you have on hand or prefer.

 

Sunflower + Brazil Nut Sprinkle
1/2 cup brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a food processor, combine 1/2 cup of toasted nuts and seeds (in ratio you desire) with the nutritional yeast and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until broken down into a ‘sprinkle’ texture, but not yet a paste. Add to the top of soups, salads, and other meals for a nutrient boost and texture contrast.

 

pumpkin ginger bran muffins

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I’ve just made it past the halfway point of my last fall term in nutrition grad school. I’ve been working with clients in clinic these past few weeks, experiencing all that I’ve learned in the last couple years come together in practice, and enjoying it so incredibly much. Getting to the clinical work has reinforced why I’ve spent so much of my energy on this career shift endeavor when I get to sit with someone and offer even a little bit of individualized support.

In addition to nutritional recommendations, I also give interventions that address balance from a whole systems perspective which is in line with the integrative and holistic approach to my program. This often means I try to emphasize stress reduction and relaxation practices. On the closer to home front, I’ve been trying to take some of my own advice and incorporate downtime each day for relaxing my system, an intention I constantly struggle with. Inevitably I often forego the rest I need and end up in the kitchen instead. My only excuse is it’s pumpkin season– and I find baking quite restorative!

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Since it is pumpkin and winter squash season, The Recipe Redux theme this month is Fresh from the Pumpkin Patch. We’ve had a string of mostly gorgeous days so far but once this fall season finally and truly sunk in, I began cooking lots of very autumn appropriate Ayurvedic recipes from Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. Nutritionally, the recipes are helping rebalance my system after a rough end-of-summer transition. The first portion of the book is all about the Sattvic lifestyle in Ayurveda–a way of life I’ve been gleaning more from as time goes on and I notice how I fare better with less stimulating foods, practices, and experiences.

These muffins are a deviation from a recipe in the cookbook. If you’re a runner and a fan of the Run Fast Eat Slow superhero muffins, they’re also quite similar, but I’ve upped the emphasis on using walnuts and chia since they both are rich in omega 3’s which are an essential fatty acid that most of us need more of.

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Pumpkin Ginger Bran Muffins, makes 4 large muffins or 6 regular size
Even though I adapted these fairly dramatically, they do stay true to their ayurvedic roots. They are delicious as is but there are also many variations depending on what you’ve got on hand:
1) instead of ground walnuts, use almond flour 2) instead of bran, use 3/4 cup oatmeal 3) instead of pumpkin, use 1/2 cup applesauce and 1 medium chopped apple or other fruit and flavor combos. 4) instead of coconut sugar use pure maple syrup or honey

1 Tbs. ground chia seeds
3 Tbs. water
3/4 cup / 60 g raw walnuts, ground
1/2 cup / 50 g oat bran
1/4 cup / 20 g oatmeal
1/4 cup / 30 g coconut sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of ground black pepper
2 Tbs. / 25 g coconut oil, melted
1 cup / 220 g pumpkin, pureed or mashed
1 Tbs. / 3 g minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup raisins
1/4-1/2 cup water or nut milk, as needed.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with baking cups or oil and flour them.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground chia seeds and water. Let this stand for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the ground walnuts, oat bran and oats, salt, turmeric, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Add the coconut sugar, pumpkin puree, and coconut oil to the chia seed mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in the ginger and the raisins.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until it just comes together. If the batter seems a touch dry, add water or nut milk just until it becomes a touch looser, but only add up to 1/2 cup, as they won’t need much. This step largely depends on how much moisture content your pumpkin puree has in it.
  • Divide into the muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

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