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.

The Easiest DIY Non-Dairy Milk

Shortly after we all went into lockdown a few weeks ago, my running team had a group call with Sally Bergeson, owner/founder of the women’s running apparel company, Oiselle. Sally spoke about doing the work of Pulling Out Poisoned Roots, and since I’d just received the team journal for this year, and knowing that Sally is an activist and visionary on what are often the most controversial topics and particularly women’s rights and sport, one could surmise exactly the poisoned roots she was referring to.

I had recently re-begun examining my own poisoned roots, and thus have spent most of the spring working through old programming, stories about my own limited potential and unable-to’s that stem from their foundations in early childhood and youth. As I have been working though the next layer of this ‘brain training’ this spring—for beginning this process many years ago was one of the most important steps in healing my autoimmune condition—I’ve been daily reminded about how difficult it is to rewire the brain, to heal old wounds and stories we’ve been told or have told ourselves. And every single day, I’ve been reminded of my privilege.

For I’m in a place right now where I have the ability to prioritize this type of self-work. My basic needs are met. I’m in a place of relative health. I don’t have unconscious or blatant systemic biases working against me. And I’ve thought about those that come from experiences of more extreme trauma—for a refresher on the impact of childhood trauma has also been part of my spring quarantine for my part-time public health role. How for individuals who’ve experienced extreme trauma, if they ever get to a point in life where they have the resources to undergo this type of psychological training, how much more difficult, how much more healing, they need.

For as much as it’s a nice thought that we’re all simply different shades in a crayon box—a saying I’ve seen a few times the past couple weeks—the circumstances we each are given make that a phrase that is naïve to the reality of our lives.

Today I’ll share a little story about that as it relates to dairy foods, who is supposed to consume them (everyone) as opposed to who can actually digest and absorb them (mostly white, non-minorities without other health problems). This is a mostly nutritional but also partly political post, but the end result is an incredibly easy DIY non-dairy ‘milk’ recipe with just a couple ingredients (nut or seed butter, water, pinch of salt). Since I’ve spent more than a decade immersed in public health and the politics of food systems before going into clinical nutrition, this is my way of combining and educating through a lens that speaks to all of them – if you’d rather just get the recipe, feel free to simply skip to the end.

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Whenever I have both the blender and the nut butter jar out, William tends to ask me if it’s time to milk my nuts. It’s a slightly humorous household joke, but without fail it reminds me of long-ago days in childhood when I watched my mom do a similar yet more complicated process of filtering the cream from fresh milk from our milk cow, Betsy. I was always fascinated and yet disgusted at the same time because for whatever reason, I did outgrow my early childhood dairy allergy for a while, but the smell and taste still repulsed me, leading to routine sessions of sitting extra-long at the kitchen table until my stubbornness gave way and I figured out a way to make myself gag the milk down.

Nowadays, I’m routinely reminded how times are a little different. In my parent’s era, making their children drink their milk portions every day was a necessity. How else was I to grow strong bones? Also, dairy farming is in my family history. I say things are different because there are a plethora of non-dairy milks available nowadays, so much so that dairy farmers in our country are struggling as never before. We now know that many individuals really struggle to digest dairy, whether because of lactose intolerance or a dairy protein allergy, as I have.

Lactose, the sugar in milk, requires the enzyme lactase to digest and absorb it properly, and it’s now well known that many populations worldwide, particularly individuals of East Asian and West African descent, are less likely to have the lactase enzyme. Additionally, this enzyme can become faultier as one ages, so lactose intolerance can arise in adulthood, making certain milk products challenging. All in all, approximately 65 percent of the population worldwide has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, yet only about five percent of individuals of Northern European descent are lactose intolerant.

On the dairy protein sensitivity/allergy side of the equation, the reasons for its increasing prevalence are fairly widespread. We can develop an immune response to virtually any food, and the overload of disruptive environmental contaminants (toxic air, water, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.), as well as high stress and imbalanced lifestyles (think lots of work, not enough sleep and nutritionally balanced meals), can wreak havoc on our digestive systems and over time the body begins to build antibodies to everyday foods that we could handle before. For individuals with seasonal environmental allergies, as well as those that generally tend to have excess mucous and feel ‘puffy,’ they often feel quite a bit better after removing dairy—since it’s protein structure can be tough to digest and therefore increases inflammation throughout the body.

So in our current global circumstances, there are a lot of individuals who are intolerant to dairy for varying reasons, or for environmental or other personal reasons are choosing to avoid it. And yet in the USDA’s MyPlate, the official dietary recommendation put out by the US Government, dairy is a food group that all individuals are recommended to consume daily, since one’s daily calcium needs are easily met with 3-4 servings of milk or similar dairy products. I still teach nutrition classes part time in a USDA-funded public health role in my local community, and it has frustrated me time and again to have to teach a model of nutrition that only ‘fits’ the needs of a certain (ahem, mostly white) population. This is an example of systemic bias at work – and also showcases the lobbying role of the dairy industry in making our federal government’s nutritional guidelines.

While recognizing that calcium is an important nutrient to consume in adequate amounts lifelong–adults need approximately 1000-1200 mg per day depending on gender, age, and activity level–there are other ways to consume it, like ample calcium-rich leafy greens. Those are often my first recommendation, because they have a calcium bioavailability similar and perhaps even better than dairy milk. We also need the many other nutrients that make up balanced bone metabolism including Vitamins A, C, D, K, B-vitamins, other minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, boron, manganese, potassium, iron, vanadium, and more. Eating lots of leafy greens as part of a balanced whole-food diet happens to also include many of that plethora of nutrients also.

There are several more foods on my bone support and maintenance list, and one of those categories is rotating through many different nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds and tahini, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and cashews particularly. None of these on their own will supply your daily calcium needs – if avoiding dairy, you need to eat diverse and greens-heavy meals for that – they do provide a range of many other bone supporting nutrients.


Today, let’s focus on the alternative to milk when one is looking for the texture and mouthfeel of using milk, such as in an extra-creamy porridge, cooked grains, to top your evening cereal fix, or to round out a smoothie. That’s when I’ve been reaching for my blender, nut butter jar, and the time to milk nuts scenario. Bonus points for no longer adding to the overflowing milk-carton collection in my laundry room that is supposedly recyclable during certain days of the year, but will more likely end up in the trash.

As a little aside, if it wasn’t clear from the above, I’m not overtly anti-dairy or a proponent that all of us should follow a dairy-free lifestyle, but I strongly believe in individual nutrition and not one-size-fits-all viewpoints that are already biased towards certain groups in power and with privilege.  

The Easiest DIY Non-Dairy Milk, makes 3 cups
For this, I recommend starting with raw nut/seed butter with zero other ingredients. Currently, I prefer Artisana Organics brand, which also happens to source from local California farms when possible and commits to sustainable and fair-trade ingredients. There are other brands that are similar, so do your research and learn where your food comes from. For nutritional diversity, I recommend rotating through a different type of nut or seed each jar or batch you use.

1-2 Tbs. raw nut/seed butter (raw cashew, almond, sunflower, or pumpkin butter, or raw tahini)
3 cups water
pinch of salt

  • In a high speed blender, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of your raw nut/seed butter of choice with 1 cup water. I prefer using 1 Tbs. for each batch, but doubling the amount will make for a creamier milk. Blend for about 1 minute until the nut butter is completely worked into the water.
  • Then add 2 more cups of water, a pinch of salt, and pour out into a glass container. That’s it. You’re done and ready to use!
  • Store extra in the fridge and remember to shake/stir before each use as particulates will settle in the bottom.

This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References:
National Institute of Health (NIH). Genetics Home Reference. U.S. Library of Medicine. (2020). Lactose Intolerance.

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