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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Chai-Spiced Pear Oats

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Several years ago, I stayed with a few girlfriends at a B&B run by Agnes, who lives on a farm off the western edge of Ireland. From the moment we arrived we were fed quite well, including dinner, which was fresh caught from the ocean by her son. We had a proper Irish breakfast the next morning with the traditional white and black puddings, fried tomato and egg, thick slabs of brown bread, muesli, yogurt, and then pots of tea. After I was stuffed as could be, I slipped into the kitchen to ask Agnes a question. She was just tidying up and there, sitting at a tiny table away from the guests, was her farmer husband in his wool socks, tucking into a homely and simple bowl of porridge.

 

I immediately wished I could take all of my breakfast back, forget my friends, and sit at the table with him eating homely oats and chatting about the first frost date, how much rain we’ve received, the work that needs done before the storm, and other farmer things.

 

 

 

If ever I fed people food for a living instead of words and ideas, I would feed them porridge.

It is the meal I most closely associate with the term comfort food, and the one I’ll gladly eat any time of day but especially at the end of a long and discouraging one. It is the breakfast I always hope is fed to me when I stay at a friend or relative’s house, and at home in my own kitchen, it is the one I love to change throughout the seasons with all variations of grains, fruits, and flavors. I’m especially partial to thick-rolled oats but lately I’ve also been experimenting with various ratios of amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and polenta.

 

 

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And then I always seem to return to oats. Perhaps this is because I grew up on its simplicity and homeliness, eating it slowly on nearly frosty mornings at the same table I have now, as I listened to my dad talk about the weather and other farmer things in his wool socks.

 

 

Chai-Spiced Pear Oats, serves 2 Continue reading “Chai-Spiced Pear Oats”

Candied-Orange Spice Prune Loaf

 

Neah and Papa brought prunes.   Every time they come to visit, my grandparents bring food.  When we were younger, it was always a box of doughnuts, and then whatever they had in excess that needed to be shared- a box of apples, walnuts, raisins, some frozen fruit, and, oh yes, prunes.  The prunes were so overly dried that we couldn’t sink are teeth into them; being inventive as I am, I sure tried.  My mother would throw the prunes into the big chest freezer and there they’d stay.  When I started leaving for college, I’d raid the freezer.  I would inevitably take a bag of raisins and walnuts, but always left the prunes.  Sadly, just no easy way to eat them.

On a whim, I finally decided to grab a bag of those prunes on my last trip home.  Surely, they could be used for something.  Then one day in early September, an epiphany.  I kept finding the lovely Italian prune plums at the markets.  I wanted to use them in a loaf of some sort but inevitably kept eating them fresh before I ever got around to baking.  And then, with the last bite of the fresh plums in my hand, I pulled out an old recipe I’d been meaning to adapt and there it was.  The answer.  All these years, I’d been avoiding my grandparents prunes and all they needed was a bit of re-hydration!

Now that I’ve tested this recipe so many times I had to go purchase the not-so-overly dried prunes at our nearby farmstand, I really must say it is my new autumn favorite.  Molasses, prunes, spices, and candied-orange peel.  Not sickly sweet, nor overly-indulging–just a bit of perfection with a nice cup of steaming tea.

Candied-Orange Spice Prune Loaf
9 1/2 oz. gf flour mix (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup prunes, diced (about 18 whole prunes)
1/3 cup candied orange peel, diced
1/2 cup orange syrup (or honey)
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 egg 
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
 
  • Pour boiling water over prunes. Let rest for five minutes.  While prunes are resting, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a 9″ x 5″ baking dish.  Line it with a small handful of oats.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  • Measure out orange syrup, molasses, oil, egg and vanilla.  Add them all to the prune mixture.  Feel free to substitute honey for the orange syrup.
  • Pour liquids into dry mixture and stir in the candied peel.
  • Dish into the prepared baking pan.  Level with a rubber spatula and sprinkle a few more oats on top for good measure.
  • Bake for approximately 55 minutes.
  • If you can, store this loaf away in the fridge for a day or two before eating.  The flavors will be enhanced!