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 Pie + Holiday Thoughts

Pumpkin Pie + Holiday Thoughts

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The Recipe Redux theme for November is healthy holiday baking. If you’re new to this space, The Recipe Redux is a monthly recipe challenge, founded by three registered dietitians, which I participate in. The challenges are always focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for us.

 

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In light of this season, I’ve been doing a bit of reflection on where I stand in the interchange between decadent holiday foods and how I eat from day to day. Should I splurge and not worry about some of those really not healthy ingredients because it is the holidays, or should I try to capture the essence of health in enjoyable foods because it is the holidays –and we all tend to overeat and regret it later?

Additionally, as a result of all that I’ve been learning of health and nutrition and where I stand right now in aiming to maintain a healthy relationship with food, I’ve been returning to passages from Annemarie Colbin’s Food and Healing: 

With all the recent emphasis on “healthy” eating, it is important to remember one thing: Food does not make us healthy. The right kind of food will allow us to reach our maximum health potential, to become as healthy as our genes and constitution may permit. It will support what we are at our best. It will not interfere with our development, but it will also not make us more than what we can be. In short, good food is effective because it is passive. The wrong kind of food will act like a block or a dam, deflecting our growth and thwarting our unfolding. In other words, it will actively create trouble, and make us unhealthy…Good food will nourish us without causing stress, and thus allow our immune system to spend its energy in healing. Thus many different diets will have healing effects. Often it is not just what we eat, but also what we don’t eat that helps us become healthy again. 

So my theory right now? Stressing about eating the right kinds of food is not healthful. But neither is eating foods that overtax and/or stress our bodies, foods like highly refined sugars, refined flours/grains, and rancid oils, to name a few. Sure, they’re fine in small quantities infrequently. For the most part however, they’re best avoided, even (and maybe especially) during the holidays. Aren’t we all a little too stressed in this season? Don’t we deserve to feed ourselves and our loved ones foods that have healing qualities?

 

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My advice is to do what you can with what you have. But maybe as you venture into this holiday season, do so a little more mindfully, thinking to yourself, How do I want my body to feel after eating? What foods will nourish me best? 

 

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Pumpkin Pie, makes one 9-inch pie
Truthfully, I never liked pumpkin pie until I stopped eating dairy and enjoyed a vegan version of the classic. The creamy custard base always turned me off. Now I love pumpkin pie and count it as one of my favorite flavors. While there are innumerable versions swirling about this time of year, this is the one I make and enjoy. It is adapted from Gena Hamshaw’s pie in
Food52 Vegan and while I enjoy her version, I’ve changed it a bit so dates are the primary sweetener and, in my years-long quest to find a good gluten-free and vegan pie crust with no coconut oil (which I cannot stand in fat-heavy pastry doughs), I’ve finally come to a closer-to-whole-foods crust that tastes like what I think a pie crust should. It gets extra points for not needing to be rolled, chilled, or being difficult to work with. Enjoy!

filling:
2 1/2 cups baked + pureed pumpkin or winter squash, or canned puree
1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1 cup medjool dates (about 10)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs. tapioca starch
2 Tbs. blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
a couple good pinches of cloves

crust:
1 cup rolled oats
1/4  cup + 2 Tbs. almond meal/flour
3/4 cup millet flour
pinch of sea salt
4 1/2 Tbs. good quality canola oil
3 Tbs. maple syrup
3/4 tsp. vanilla

  • Begin by baking the pumpkin or squash, if using, and soaking the cashews in water a few hours ahead of time.
  • Then, soak the dates in warm water for about an hour to soften up. Once the dates have soaked, keep 1/2 cup of their soaking liquid and put in a food processor along with the pitted dates, vanilla, and salt. Puree until completely smooth.
  • Into the food processor with the date puree, add the soaked and drained cashews, starch, molasses, and spices. Puree again, until completely smooth. Then add the pumpkin and puree once again until completely mixed. Then set aside to make the crust.
  • At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Finely grind the oats into a flour using either a food processor or coffee grinder.
  • Then, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the oats, almond and millet flours and salt.
  • In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Then pour the liquids over the dry ingredients and mix together with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened.
  • Dump the entire mixture into a 9-inch pie pan, and with your fingers, spread the dough across the bottom and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup, glass, or mini rolling pin helps smooth the bottom.
  • Crimp the edges, and then fill the crust with the pumpkin mixture.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is a golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.