Friday, April 22, 2016

Walnut Fig Bars

     I adore figs for their syrupy sweetness, their sensuous jam like texture, and the unexpected beauty of their hidden interior. Figs are one of my favorite indulgences. And although they lose some of their more sensual qualities when dried, they do not lose any of their sweet flavor or their nutrition.  

     Figs contain many essential minerals, such as magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, and zinc. They are also a good source of  B vitamins, as well as vitamins C, K, and E. Plus their high fiber content puts them right up there with prunes in the laxative department.

    I also love figs because they remind me of India, and I love India. When I lived there (many years ago), I had this ritual that I would perform every time I went to Mumbai during fig season. I would walk down Causeway St., in Colaba, in search of a fruit vendor. There were usually a couple within walking distance of my (cheap, decrepit) budget hotel. I would buy three perfectly ripe fresh figs. Then I would cross the street and make my way to Theobroma, a chocolate pastry shop, where I would buy myself a piece of chocolate decadence. Filled with desire, I would rush back to my hotel room with these culinary treasures, and lay them out picnic style on the bed, and forget all else while I savored the moment. Oh yah- heaven-chocolate and figs.  

   These days I would have to forgo the sugary baked good, but figs are still one of my favorite indulgences. That is why I am thankful for recipes like this. These bars are full of fig flavor and nutrition. But instead of being degraded in the usual way of baking-by adding lots of sugar and dairy fats- instead these have the addition of healthy ingredients, such as nuts, oats, and chia seeds.
   The recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, My New Roots, by Sarah Britton. Her book is full of inspiring healthy recipes. And although I tweaked her recipe a bit, she gave me the inspiration to make these.

Walnut Fig Bars
adapted from  My New Roots
yields 12-16

1 1/2 T. chia seeds soaked in1/4 c.of water until gelled
1 c. raw walnuts (you will toast them in the oven)
2 cups of oats
1/4 c. applesauce (unsweetened)
1 T. coconut oil melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder

Start by preheating your oven to just under 350 degrees.
Spread the raw walnuts on a baking sheet and place in the preheating oven until toasted. Remove and set aside to cool.
In a food processor, process 1c. of the oats until a rough flour like texture. The remaining 1c. will be left whole.
Add the walnuts and process again until coarse to medium in texture. 
Add the salt and baking powder and pulse for a couple of seconds to combine.
Next mix all of your wet ingredients. And then add these to the nut oat mix, and pulse until combined.
Put this mixture into a bowl and add the remaining 1c. of whole oats. MIx well with a spoon or your hands.
In a greased (with coconut oil) 8x8 baking pan, press a bit more than half of the mixture into the bottom for the crust. The rest will go on top.

Make the filling.
2 cups of dried figs roughly chopped
1tsp. of cardamom (or more to taste)
1 tsp. of lemon juice
1 tsp. of vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Wipe out the food processor bowl and pulse above ingredients until desired consistency. It can be completely smooth to chunky. Taste it and add more cardamom if you want a more pronounced taste.

Spread this mixture over the crust.

Add 1-2T. of maple syrup to the remaining nut oat mix and crumble over the top, covering as much of the filling as possible.
Sprinkle on a few extra raw walnuts if desired, and press gently into the topping.
Note: you could skip the maple syrup, but that would make the topping drier and less likely to stick together.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until it starts to get golden and toasted.
Cool completely before cutting.
These will keep for 5 days well wrapped and refrigerated.

Like any dried fruit, dried figs are very concentrated in sugar, so I suggest cutting these into 16 pieces, and then trying to eat just one!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Chocolate Strawberry Chia Pudding Parfait for breakfast

Yes...for breakfast. It's that good for you.

   I have become obsessed with chocolate, or I should say, cacao. It all started at Easter time when I made a chocolate cream pie for dessert for my family. Well, given that pastry cream is my all time hands down, favorite food on earth, you can imagine the internal strife this pie caused me, given that I couldn't eat it. NO I didn't even lick the spoon. It wasn't easy, but luckily that same weekend I started reading about super foods. Foods that are super dense with nutrients.

   I have explored these foods in the past. I once dabbled with chia seeds, and then went through a goji berry phase, but never realized that chocolate held superfood status. Now that I have discovered cacao, I am committed. And I have since forgotten all about that heavy, lethargy inducing, unhealthy chocolate cream pie. Cacao, and other delicious super foods, will now be a regular part of my healthy diet.

   Cacao is a raw form of chocolate, and is one of the most anti oxidant rich foods on the planet. It also provides minerals such as, iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as mood enhancing amino acids. Magnesium to calm us-mood enhancing amino acids- and delicious flavor-now that's a superfood. No wonder we all crave it. Eating cacao, as opposed to cocoa or chocolate, which have been roasted, is the best way to retain all of its nutritional benefits (and of course without the added fat and sugar found in candy). 

   Cacao is milder in flavor than it's roasted counterparts, and it's stimulating effects are more subtle. Unlike when I eat chocolate, when I eat cacao I don't experience a spike in energy, followed by a quick decline and craving for more. It's more of a slow energy release that makes you feel relaxed, satisfied, and makes the corners of your mouth quietly turn upward into the subtlest of smiles.

   I always considered myself a healthy eater, but I now realize that eating for your health takes "healthy eating" to a whole new level. It takes a deeper level of commitment, and a deeper level of understanding of what our food does for us, physically, emotionally , and spiritually. I believe it can be transformative.
   The standard american diet ( or SAD as it's called) is so full of sugar, salt and other flavor enhancers that it screams at you in a way that is immediately overstimulating. This makes it impossible to notice that it has provided you with little to no nutrition, and has burdened your digestive system to the point of leaving you with less energy in the long run. A healthy diet is quiet and peaceful. It shows you it's true flavors, and provides your body with adequate nutrition and energy. But eating for your health is different. It has a subtleness to it that is intriguing, and makes you pay attention. It's hard for me to explain, because it has been over time that I have felt the shift, but I am starting to look at my food in a different way. 

   I have gone beyond food cravings, and have moved toward nutrient cravings. My focus now is to provide my body with life giving nutrients. I haven't given up taste, as you can see in this chocolate chia breakfast, but I have an increased awareness of how the foods I put in my body are affecting me. Maybe I can explain it by saying it is like the difference between seeing yourself as a body, and seeing yourself as an organism made up of  trillions of cells.  And realizing that every cell needs to be provided with the fuel (nutrition) it needs to function individually, bodily, and universally.

   Eating for your health is about eating with intention.  It is setting the intention to provide your body with nutrients, and to not harm the environment that we rely on for survival. It is about choosing foods first for their optimal nutrition, and then combining them for optimal taste and pleasure. And it is intentionally, providing a calm focus to the experience of eating. It is eating with complete awareness-no distractions. Above all, it is understanding the profound significance of the simple statement-you are what you eat. 

   Chia seeds are another superfood. They are an excellent plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, and are high in antioxidants. They also provide a significant amount of fiber.  Because they have no discernible taste, they can be added to almost any food for added nutrition. I like to add some to my salad dressings, and drinks. They can also be used in baking to bind together ingredients. When hydrated chia seeds form a gel around each seed, and become mucilaginous. They are the base for the recipe below.

Chocolate Strawberry Chia Pudding Parfait
serves 5-6

For this parfait layer the chocolate chia pudding with the strawberry chia jam, and add fruit and nuts of your choice between the layers. I used sliced strawberries, bananas, and walnuts. You could also add coconut. 

Chocolate chia pudding
2 c. almond milk ( or other non dairy milk)
5 T. chia seeds
1/4 c. cacoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 chopped dates
small pinch of salt

Mix the first 6 ingredients in a blender. Then adjust for sweetness by adding a bit of stevia, or honey or maple syrup. Don't make it too sweet. The fruit will add sweetness. Let this sit for several hours.

Strawberry chia jam
1 lb of strawberries washed and sliced
3 T. of chia seeds
1 tsp. of lemon juice
sweetener to taste

Mix all the ingredients in the blender. Again adding the sweetener last. Let sit for several hours.

Assemble the parfait. Don't forget the nuts, or other crunchy topping. You will want it to contrast with the (mucilaginous) texture of the chia seeds. 

It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Note: chia seeds and cacao can be found on a Amazon. Click  HERE for chia seeds, or   HERE  for cacao powder.