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Some Days You Feel Like a Nut

Last week I flew to West Palm Beach for what amounted to a whirlwind tour of four planes, two airports, one vendor hall, and many many faces. From start to finish, my feet only left Nashville soil for 26 hours, but it felt like days. Travel can be hard on the soul.

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In my mind there are three categories of travelers. There are the “vacationers” whose primary purpose for making the trek to their local airport marks the start of a plannes and (hopefully) pleasurable getaway. Then there are the “regulars,” who travel heavily for work-related functions, typically on an almost weekly basis. For “regulars” traveling becomes part of the normal work routine – not a big deal, nothing to worry about. And then there are those, like me, who travel mainly for business, but do so just infrequently enough that the trip becomes an “event” (and occasionally an “ordeal.”)

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You see, for a “work trip,” there is always so much prepping that needs to be done. Presentations to write, arrangements to make, names to remember, org charts to put to memory, not to mention the doubt and uncertainty that sourrounds your attire – is it the right suit? Is this even a suit event? Are open toed shoes acceptable attire for an evening netowrking event? And so on, and so on… And this is to speak nothing of how and where you might find suitable meals on the road. Which is fine, because chances are, if your trips are as harried as mine, you won’t have time to eat.

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This recipe is a wonder for travelers of all sorts. The bites require little prep, few ingredients, and come together in a snap with the aid of a food processor or blender. They are full of healthy fats and protein from the nuts and seeds, antioxidants from the cacao, and are completely free from added sugar. They require no refrigeration, no special packaging, and are even delicious when recovered from the bottom of a weary travel bag – slightly melt-y and a bit smooshed.

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Almond Butter and Hemp Bites with Cacao Nibs – Adapted, Slightly, from Sprouted Kitchen

Recipe – Makes about 20 “Bites”
84g (3/4c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
42g (¼ c) Raw Cacao Nibs
160g Pitted Dates (5-7 Dates, Depending on Size)
128g Almond Butter (Unsalted)
1 TSP Vanilla Extract
30g (2TBSP) Shelled Hemp Seeds
1/4 TSP Sea Salt
Place the almonds and cacao nibs in the bowl of a food processor or a blender with a pulse function and pulse them until they form a coarse meal. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to pulse until the mixture just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Using your hands, compact and roll the dough into 20 balls. (This process should feel, somewhat, like making meatballs – you want to roll – keeping the dough intact as you go – without being too forceful or using too much pressure.)

Once you have formed the balls, you can use a fork to stamp a crosshatch pattern on the tops, squishing the mounds as you go to form cookie shaped bites.

As soon as you are done shaping the bites they are ready to eat. The dough will firm up slightly if given time to cool in the refrigerator. Allowing them a bit of time to chill will help the bites hold their integrity when they are inevitably tossed into the bottom of a back-pack, hand bag or suitcase.

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Running on Fuel – Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Bars

In our home, eating nourishing and sustainable foods is just one part of our quest to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Dustin and I have shifted towards using minimally processed ingredients not only because of their rapport but because these foods help fuel our active lifestyle. We both typically engage in some sort of exercise every day. While our fitness obsessions have varied over time, from climbing, to yoga, to cycling, running, soccer and HIIT training, this vast cornucopia of exercises all have one thing in common. Each sport or hobby we take on requires that we power our bodies with clean burning fuel.

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Back in our climbing days Dustin and I munched on countless cliff bars and downed an endless flow of vitamin water. But these bars and sports drinks, while not exactly abysmal, are far from clean and healthy. Vitamin water in particular is packed with processed sugars, artificial dyes, and chemically engineered flavoring. Clif bars were fine, at the time, for providing an immediate source of fuel to push us through laps at the gym, but with most varieties clocking almost 25g of sugar mostly from the primary ingredient, brown rice syrup (which, as an ingredient, boasts virtually no nutritional merit) these aren’t exactly a healthy option for most athletes.

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There is a place for consuming quickly digestible sugars and other carbs in endurance heavy events, where you might be working out for multiple hours and might deplete your glycogen stores if you do not refuel. These bars could be used in this way – although, with about 7 grams of fiber in each bar you probably would not want to eat too many of them on a very long run. We’ve been using them as a pre-run fuel (taking advantage of the natural fruit sugars and complex grain carbs) or as a post-workout recovery snack (utilizing the 11 grams of protein from the nuts, seeds and protein powder).

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What initially caught my eye in this post’s featured recipe was the lack of added sugar. Typically, granola bars or power bars contain a boatload of honey, maple, or molasses to sweeten and bind. Not so here! Also exciting to me was the fact that you don’t need to bake them. You may have a moment of doubt as you peer into the food processor wondering how on earth these things are ever going to stick together. But persevere – once the juice is added at the end the mix should start to resemble a piecrust dough, crumbly but clumpy at the same time. Like with a piecrust, go easy on the juice, adding a little at a time until you sense that the mixture will just bind when pressed into the pan. As with pastry, finding the right balance may take a batch or two to master.

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I adapted the original recipe a bit to include some protein powder. I used an unflavored rice-based protein, which, I suspect, may have aided in the binding process. While I am fairly certain that any type of protein powder could be used here, it may alter the texture a bit. I am picky when it comes to buying dried fruit. I strongly prefer to buy organic as dried fruit are truly just shriveled versions of whole fruit and can carry with them the same residues from conventional growing practices, only in increased concentration. Trader Joe’s typically has an excellent selection of dried fruit and I find that their prices are far lower than large box stores.

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I really like the R.W. Knudsen Family line of juices. I used their black cherry juice in this recipe. It is a simple juice made from only one ingredient! I imagine that any of their single fruit juices would work well in its stead. The black cherry is the only one I have found in small, 8oz, servings. If you have never come across quinoa flakes before, they are quite similar to rolled oats. I am fairly certain that oats could be successfully substituted but if you can find the quinoa flakes they are worth a try as they are much higher in protein content than oats and are likely a bit easier/faster to digest.

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The amounts of the various dried fruits can be toyed with and adjusted to suit your specific preference. I used what I had on hand and I ended up really liking the balance of fruit in the end-product, but I imagine that there are many other dried fruits, from mangos, to figs, to dates, that would work well. Just as in other aspects of your diet, picking a variety of fruits from various different families (i.e. berries, stone fruit, pomes etc…) will provide, not only a well balanced flavor profile, but a broader nutritional profile as well.

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Quinoa Fruit and Nut Bars – Adapted from “He Needs Food”

Recipe – Makes about 12 Bars
84g (1c) Quinoa Flakes
112g (1c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
15g (¼ c) Desiccated Coconut
120g Dried Apple Rings (About 30 Rings)
130g (1¼ c) Dried Cherries
130g Dried Apricots (About 20 Apricots)
30g (¼ c) Zante or Corinth Currants
40g (¼ c) Dried Blueberries
75g (5T) Vegan Rice Powder (other powder may be substituted, see note above)
120g (½ c) Cherry Juice
70g (½ c) cup Pepitas (divided)

Line a 7 × 11 inch baking pan with parchment paper (no need to grease or spray the pan.) Paper should hang over the sides; you will later use this overhang as “handles” to remove the bars from the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place quinoa flakes, chopped almonds, and coconut on a large, rimmed baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden and fragrant. You may need to stir the mixture once or twice in order to ensure reasonably even toasting.

Roughly chop all of the dried fruit and then pulse once or twice in batches in the food processor until minced. Make sure you stop well short of turning it into a fruit paste!

Place the cooled quinoa flakes, almonds, and coconut in the processor and pulse briefly until it becomes a coarse meal. Add the protein powder to the bowl of minced fruit pieced and toss them together with your hands to distribute the powder and “unstick” some of the fruit clumps. Add this to the food processor along with half of the pepitas and pulse once or twice to combine with the nut/quinoa meal.

Drizzle over about half of the juice and pulse once or twice, continue adding the juice in TBSP increments, pulsing in-between until the mixture just starts to come together. When the mix is ready it should still contain discernable pieces of fruit and nuts and hold together if pinched between thumb and forefinger.

Dump the mixture into the lined baking pan and distribute evenly across its surface. Tear off a piece of parchment large enough to fit over the pan and place on top of the mixture. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, start at one corner and press down firmly on the mixture to compact the mix and even out the surface. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the remaining pepitas over the top. To adhere these to the surface, replace the parchment and press again, lighter this time (so as not to crush the pepitas.)

Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the bars to solidify. The next morning, lift the sides of the parchment to remove the bars and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife and a smooth vertical cutting motion (no sawing!) cut the bars into 12 even pieces. These keep well for a week or two in a tightly sealed Tupperware container in the fridge.

Sweet Serendipity – Gluten-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches

Thanksgiving marks our first major holiday as a married couple. For the first time we will be holding court and hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Tennessee. when it comes to cooking a Thanksgiving Feast, this ain’t my first rodeo. In fact, I would have to think long and hard to remember a time when I wasn’t involved in cooking the family’s holiday dinner. With only a single guest attending our holiday feast this year, this may just be the smallest crowd for whom I have prepared a Turkey day dinner. But, nonetheless, a softly humming worry has been creeping into my mind.

I fret that I have neglected some monumental detail in my meal plan, that the bird will never defrost, or that it will be done hours before the other dishes have come together. I worry that I will forget that the turkey needs to be brined, or that I will neglect to set a timer and my side dishes will burn to a crisp. I stress over thoughts that my cranberries will be impossibly tart, that the parsley will be acrid and bitter. The mind, when left to its own devices, has this amazing ability to wander off, beyond the edge of reason – instilling in us an irrational fear of the virtually impossible and entirely improbable events we are sure will befall us.

You see, ladies and gents, the Turkey wasn’t frozen to begin with. Cranberries are cranberries and will be sour when they want to be, it is part of their bitter-sweet charm. Like all dinner parties, the secret to success, lies, not in planning for the worst, or even for the best, but simply in the planning itself. Picking dishes, that can be made entirely or partially ahead takes the pressure off of the big event. This year we made a rosewater scented nougat the Monday before the event. Green vegetables can easily be blanched for casseroles a day or two before your scheduled feast. Vinaigrettes can likely be made a day in advance.

Know yourself and the way you work. Do you fret over a dry bird? Brining will give you some extra wiggle room between cooked and overcooked and will allow you to focus a bit of extra attention to the details of your side dishes. Do you wake up worrying over how you will get it all done on time? Print out all of your recipes and schedule the steps on an agenda. If any elements can be made in the days prior, note that and knock those out in advance. Check, double check, and triple check your ingredients list, physically crossing items off of your list as they make their way into your shopping cart so that nothing is overlooked or forgotten prior to check out. And if you are like me and feel short on air when you contemplate baking, have something stashed away in the event of an epic cake disaster. The recipe that follows for almond butter ice cream sandwiches may seem out of place in a thanksgiving post, but they are truly life savers in the event of a baking disaster. These little gems can be made a week or two in advance and are there to save the day if, in the heat of culinary battle, you accidentally mistake salt for sugar and your pie tastes like a salt lick. They also make a wonderful no worry dessert for impromptu guests, or for visitors with children.

The truth is, that aside from forgetting to post my pre-Thanksgiving post, the holiday went off without a hitch. Yes, the bird was done about an hour too early, and the sweet potato fries has not crisped in the oven quite the way I wanted them to. My cranberries were in fact a bit too tart, mais, C’est La Vie. I feel lucky that my my desserts turned out, period. I am sure that The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller could do better, but thankfully he wasn’t here to judge. And, just in case he happened to be in the neighborhood, I had an ace in the hole waiting on standby.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches, Adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Yield – 15 Sandwiches

113g (1/2 C) Unsalted Butter, At Room Temperature
62g (1/4 C) Turbinado Sugar
48g (1/4 C) Granulated Sugar
1 Large Egg, At Room Temperature
40g (2 TBSP) Light Corn Syrup
256g (1 C) Creamy Natural Almond Butter (Store Bought or Homemade)
160g (1 1/3 C) Oat Flour
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
127g Dark Chocolate Roughly Chopped
1 Pint of Your Favorite Vanilla Ice Cream


In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside until needed.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until the mixture turns light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the egg, mix until incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowl, add honey and the nut butter and mix again until well combined. Once again scrape the bowl after this addition.

Lower the speed to the lowest setting, add the dry ingredients, mixing until barely combined (only a few seconds.) With a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour (this can be done a day in advance.)

Once the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°. Line two cookie sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper. With a spoon or small ice cream scoop roll the cookies into 1.5 inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheets. These don’t flatten too much so after placing the ball on the tray use your palm to flatten them slightly. Space the cookie dough discs out with at least 1.5 inches between them. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through to ensure the cookies bake evenly.

Once the cookies have baked transfer the silpat or parchment sheets to a wire rack to cool. Cool the cookies completely. Once chilled to room temperature transfer the cookies to the freezer for 20 minutes so that the ice cream, when added, wont melt.

At the 20 minute mark, remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow to soften for about 5 minutes. Using a small ice cream scoop, place rounds of ice cream on a cookie and sandwich with a similarly sized cookie pair. Place the cookies on a plate in the freezer to firm them up before wrapping them in waxed paper. The cookie parcels look particularly cute when tied with kitchen twine. These will keep in the freezer for up to one month, if they even last that long.

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