Gluten + Dairy-Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies

On days I’m a little overwhelmed or harboring heavy feelings at the state of events lately, I’ve pulled up a short video that harkens me right back to my 14 through 18-year old self. I can smell the straw and the hay, the musty dust in the barn air, the damp, oily, pungent scent of wool, and of lambing. The smell of iodine as we dipped new lamb’s navels. And this, one of the most soothing of sights. It’s slightly ironic that I had been thinking for a long while about sharing a non-dairy milk in this season. Since for adults, milk is not actually mandatory food. Yet most of us still drink milk or ‘mylk’, in whatever way. And it’s clear to me that my routine of watching the new lamb drinking one of its first meals, the soothing calm I feel when returned to old memories, is all about finding some comfort, and of the awe of watching new life, a whole new world unfolding.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been fairly quiet and unsure of my place in this current moment we’re in. I’ve experienced the range of emotions like a lot of people. I’ve been so close to just quietly closing my facebook account for sheer “can’t handle the vile and ignorance there,” but I’ve also understood – because I too was once extremely ignorant. And in some aspects, am only a little less so now. I’m still learning, along with most of us.

But I also have been sitting on several recipes and meals, several thoughts about our relationships to our bodies, and how we block out how we’re really doing in order to navigate our worlds. I’m not sure I have the bandwidth yet to to delve deep into those second topics, but we all need to eat, and in our own ways, find comfort amidst the sometimes dramatic shifts of the ever-changing seasons.

Today I’d thought to share my norm, a healthy seasonal recipe. But on this solstice weekend, what’s speaking to me more is that idea of comfort amidst change. So we have instead an updated recipe of the ultimate American comfort classic, Chocolate Chip Cookies. If you need a little treat, go ahead and make them, along with the non-dairy milk I last shared, and enjoy while watching the video linked above on repeat. The trio will be a comfortable hug to self. :)

Lastly before the recipe, a couple lines from a blessing I’ll share more about in coming days or weeks. Whether you choose to make cookies or not, I encourage you to meditate on the meaning of these words to you as you make a meal or treat in the kitchen, or during your next workout, next yoga session, or time in silence contemplating the solstice:

May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful and beautiful friend of your soul.


From A Blessing for the Senses by John O’Donohue in his Anam Ċara

Chocolate Chunk Cookies (gluten + dairy-free), makes about 24
2 cups /240 grams gf all-purpose flour
1/2 cup / 50 grams oatmeal, finely ground into a course flour or 1/2 cup oat flour, gluten-free if necessary
1/4 cup sugar / 50 grams
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup /100 grams coconut oil
1 egg or flax egg
1/2 cup / 120 ml brown rice syrup
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. water
A dark chocolate bar, cut into 1/2 cup of rough chunks, or 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. If using flax instead of an egg, mix 1 Tablespoon ground flax seed with 3 Tablespoons warm water and stir together to form a little slurry.
  • Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, egg or flax mixture, brown rice syrup, vanilla and water.
  • Stir into the dry ingredients, and mix in chocolate chunks.
  • Cover and chill the batter for about an hour or overnight.
  • Divide into cookies on a baking pan and bake each batch for about 10 minutes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones {gluten + dairy-free} and Celiac Awareness Month

I was listening to an interview a few days ago with a nutritionist who was immediately asked, “So you’re a nutritionist. What diet are you on?”

Before she responded, I visibly cringed because let’s face it, most of us who work within the nutrition world follow a style of eating that is a type of diet. The reason for this varies but is usually because many of us that spend our days helping others with food and health came to it because we struggled ourselves.

And that’s true of myself as well.

The individual on the podcast quickly and proudly clarified that she has no food restrictions and isn’t on a diet. Had I been a nutritionist more than a decade ago when I first began to realize I was being called and pulled in this direction, I would have said the same. At that point, is was very helpful for me to eat the full spectrum of foods and to not have any restrictions, as is true for many individuals.

But then a lot more health challenges came along and here I am, a veteran of a gluten-free (and dairy-free, mostly vegetarian) diet. My journey was and continues to be one of a food as medicine approach. But I’m certainly not the type of person that believes everyone needs to prescribe to my way of eating. We’re all so different with life circumstances, genetics, preferences, and yes, food choices or dietary restrictions as a way to remain in balance with our health.

Celiac Disease Awareness

May happens to be Celiac Awareness Month, and as an individual that has had to eat strictly gluten-free for the last eight years, the better part of those years has been in educating others about what it means to live with a food restriction that when contaminated with even a little gluten, leaves longer-term symptoms than ‘just’ having a stomachache for a day or so.

What that means is also different for each person. 80 percent of individuals with celiac disease have difficulty remaining gluten-free, 70 percent are still exposed to gluten while on a strict gluten-free diet, half of all children with celiac are anxious about eating, many individuals have symptoms of depression, and nearly all have sacrificed major life experiences such as not being able to travel widely, enjoy a meal out with friends, enjoy the full experience of a wedding or birthday celebration and the like.

For me, it means I rarely eat out because I react to most restaurant meals unless it’s made in a strict gluten-free kitchen. Pizza, bakeries, gastropubs, and the like that serve a traditionally floury mix of foods and/or have one grill, fryer, or oven are generally the worst — ethnic cuisines that tend to be gluten-free by their nature are less risky. This is similar when eating in the homes of friends or family. (Wheat) flour in the kitchen tends to mean it floats and ends up in foods and surfaces you wouldn’t think about unless you have to.

On the flip side, there are many options to live fairly comfortably with a gluten-free lifestyle these days. More restaurants are beginning to understand the major issue of cross-contamination. Usually these restaurants have a family history and they’re the ones to trust because they take it seriously.

And gluten-free flours and baked goods are much more plentiful in the last several years.

But that doesn’t always mean we should be eating them.

What do you mean? I have to eat gluten-free because of celiac or similar and you want to take away my GF baked goods too?

Inherently, most gluten-free baked products have a lot of “junk” ingredients in them, ie starches, gums, and excess sugar (hello boxed gluten-free cake mix whose main ingredient is sugar). What most of these ingredients turn into in the body is a simple sugar, and sugar is extremely inflammatory, especially for individuals with an autoimmune disorder–which means the body tends to be really good at making inflammation a regular event. Not so good for daily comfort, being pain-free, having a positive mood, or long-term health.

So while I’m not a proponent of too many gluten-free baked goods — especially if they’re made with lots of refined flours, starches, gums, and sugars, I tend to be of the mindset that fresh baked bread, cake, cookies, and pastries and even the kind that are actually just not that good for you, can make their way into a Celiac friendly diet. Though maybe as just sometimes foods rather than everyday.

Depending on your personal health needs, of course. See last week — Are You Eating Enough for Your Activity Level? — as an example.

And while this is a celiac disease and gluten-focused article, I’m fully aware that other restrictive diets due to food allergies and/or medical necessity can be just as or more challenging to navigate. Despite this, my goal as a food as medicine eater and nutritionist is always to increase the diversity of our daily food choices, rather than limit them.

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones, makes 8
These are the Irish style of scones, so they’re usually made round, low in sugar or without, and delicious sliced in half and eaten with a little cream (traditional), yogurt, or honey.

I’ve made these with vegan butter here (Melt Plant Based Butter Sticks), but unrefined extra virgin coconut oil and Kerrygold butter also work well . Freeze your butter or oil and then grate it into the flour mixture. If you have no reason for avoiding true dairy butter, opt for that instead and choose a good brand, like Kerrygold. 
The addition of sugar and vanilla are optional because I left them out in my first try of this recipe and found them still delicious. You’ll know by now I tend to be acclimated to eating very little sugar so keep that in mind.

160 g oatmeal
110 g buckwheat groats
10 g arrowroot starch or cornstarch
25 g sugar (optional)
4 teaspoons / 20 g baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
60 g / 4 Tbs. frozen grated butter or coconut oil
¾ cup chopped strawberries
1/3 cup finely chopped rhubarb
2/3 cup cold non-dairy milk
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)

  • Preheat oven to a very hot 475°F
  • In a spice grinder or food processor, mill the oatmeal and buckwheat until they’re ground into a fine flour.
  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  • Rub the frozen grated butter or oil into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces.
  • Stir in the chopped strawberries and rhubarb.
  • Add the milk and vanilla at once and stir until it just forms a sticky dough. They will seem a touch wet, but they will end up more tender this way!
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve a layered effect in your scones, knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. Scones require a light hand so be gentle and err on working the dough less.
  • Pat or roll out the dough into a 12 inch by 8 inch rectangle or circle that’s a little more than 1-inch thick. Cut or separate it into eight equal portions and gently form into rounds.
  • Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes (check at 10 minutes so as to not overbake!) until the scones are well risen and are lightly colored on the tops.
  • Immediately place the pan onto a cooling rack and serve while still warm, or gently reheated.

Other Seasonal Strawberry Recipes:
Strawberry Tabbouleh
Strawberry, Asparagus + Radish Flatbread
Strawberry Cardamom Lassi
Berry Bran Muffins
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Are you eating enough for your activity level?

Today’s topic is one that’s been on my mind a whole lot lately. A nutrition question that is frequently asked is:  Should I be eating intuitively when I’m hungry or tracking what I eat and going off the numbers?

Before I tell you my answer, I’d like you to think about this question for a moment. No really, take a moment and think about what you’d say if someone asked you. (Humor me please, this is the educator in me.)

From my instagram a couple weeks ago: as mileage and/or time on feet goes up, eating becomes almost another part-time job. the last few days I felt like I wasn’t quite eating enough, and not surprisingly, today’s long run felt a little extra challenging.
low energy availability is extremely common in athletes, and long term, it can cause widespread physiological and psychological imbalances.
so the short story is if you’re moving a lot, you need to be eating a lot.

Now, my answer:  YES, eat intuitively!! Tracking numbers often leads to becoming reliant on the numbers rather than recognizing your own body’s needs. Your body is incredibly wise and those tracking websites and apps are all using estimates. They’re estimating your energy needs and using nutrition data done in a lab on a random sample item of the food tested. And that’s not to mention that your estimates of portion size, etc. are usually not entirely accurate either.
So random sample food that may not reflect the actual nutrition of the food you ate, formula estimating your energy needs, and, unless you’re a super type-A person that weighs every morsel ingested to the nearest gram (also please don’t do this), inaccurate food measurement. Yes, they can give you an idea if you might be in the ballpark with your nutrition needs, but as above, it can vary so much. And yes, some individuals can go into a lab and get their metabolic rate measured to determine a more accurate picture of energy needs, but most of us don’t have access to or need that data.

AND also my answer: It depends. Many active individuals are actually not eating enough for their on-the-move lifestyles – and the body, because it is wise, makes decisions about where it is going to prioritize its precious calories. So if you’re going to go for a trail run in the forest for the day followed by an evening bike ride or weight session, and then follow with something similar tomorrow and the next day, and throw in a weekend long couple workouts, AND you’re routinely not eating enough to meet your caloric needs, the body is going to choose where to spend those nutrients because when this precious energy is used for one function, it is not available for another one. Essentially, you are putting your system into survival mode.

And it plays out along these lines as your body says,  “Well, if you’re going to make me go do these workouts, I’ll put my energy here, though maybe with a little less pep, energy, and high-end ability, but I’ve got to rob Peter to pay Paul, so I’ll compromise over here with bone metabolism, or over here with female reproductive hormones or thyroid health, or immune function, or over here with the GI system and the ability to break down nutrients in food (because digestive enzymes are made of proteins which may be lacking in the diet), or muscle and tissue repair or”…. and the list goes on.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because it’s actually common for active individuals to be eating to hunger levels and still not be eating enough.

While intuitive eating means we should honor our hunger, many athletes have a suppressed appetite after long or intense workouts, and we still need to replace nutrients quickly after exercise, and learn to recognize that symptoms of hunger go beyond simply an empty stomach.

While intuitive eating means we should respect our fullness, if you get to the point of overeating by having excessively large meals, it is often because of low energy intake throughout the day or because you did some seriously strenuous exercise. With more even or adequate energy intake before and during a long workout, you can avoid that ravenous feeling of needing to eat quickly and impulsively, which means you’re paying more attention to fullness.

A SELF-ASSESSMENT TO HELP YOU NAVIGATE YOUR ENERGY NEEDS

So what to do if tracking all your meals isn’t very accurate (and not to mention time-consuming and takes the joy out of eating and deciding what to eat), and eating intuitively might be a little faulty, especially at the beginning?

My suggestion is to start with a self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions:
– Am I sick more than I should be?
– Do I struggle with fatigue more than I think I should?
– Am I improving in my performance?
– Have I had a lot of injuries?
– How’s my overall health?
Basic bloodwork results holds a plethora of data on how the body is ‘performing’ internally.
– How is my menstrual cycle and/or sex drive? Women have a little advantage here in that any menstrual symptoms or irregularities* are symptoms telling you to heed warning because there’s a larger health story.
– Do I have a lot of gut upset / discomfort?
– Am I more irritable, depressed, anxious, or have decreased concentration?
– Am I sleeping well?
– and if you have teammates or friends/family that you work out with regularly: Do I eat less than my teammates but have a higher body fat? This is subjective of course because every body is different, but yep, higher body fat and eating less is also a tell-tale sign, since lower metabolic rate occurs with lower energy availability, meaning you might be eating less but weighing more or having more cushion than previously.
– and one more because it can become prevalent with long term low energy availability: Am I thinking about food ALL THE TIME? We know from eating disorder and starvation studies that chronically deprived individuals become obsessed with food, far beyond just being interested in food.

So where to go from here?
Above all, food and exercise should make you feel good. The goal is to be aware and in tune with yourself and your body’s ability to show you signs that something may not feel right or as great as it should.

And you may benefit from professional guidance. If you’re confused or concerned about your needs, or would like a professional opinion, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

*Women on hormonal birth control will not have the same ability to use their menstrual cycle to gauge abnormalities, since it is designed to eliminate ovulation and the normal hormonal fluctuation that occurs. If symptoms or irregularities occur without birth control, that is vital sign that your body has an imbalance somewhere.
This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References:
2018 UPDATE: Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)
Bronwen, L., Rowe, G., and Girdlestone, C. (2020). Low Energy Availability – an imbalance that impacts more than performance. CompeatCon Nutrition Conference.
Fahrenholtz, IL., Sjodin, A., Benardot, D., Tornberg, AB., Skouby, S.,…and Melin, AK. (2018). Within-day energy deficiency and reproductive function in female endurance athletes.
Torstveit, MK., Fahrenholtz, IL., stenqvist, TB., Svlta, O., Melin, A. (2018). Within-day energy deficiency and metabolic perturbation in male endurance athletes.
Tribole, E. and Resch, E. (2003). Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works. (2nd ed.). St. Martin’s Griffin.