Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coconut Granola

The changes in my diet, like the changes in my body when I lost my plethora of poundage, were slight rather than drastic. But slight change after slight change later, my eating habits between now and 5 years ago are night and day. The biggest thing of course is that I eat virtually no “processed foods”. (I put it in quotes because I know some people get picky over what denotes processing. But I think we all know what I mean.) Know what happens to your body when you stop eating stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives? Fantastic things. You start feeling better because everything in your body starts working better. I’ve always thought of it almost like getting off drugs. Err, not like I’ve ever been on drugs. But basically I weaned my body off of what now feels like substances that were noxious to my inner-workings.

It too started small. I gave up mayonnaise and ice cream to save on calories. I gave up boxed cake and brownie mixes when I started baking from scratch. And I gave up packaged condiments like bbq sauce when I discovered I could make my own (with whiskey!). After a few months of clean living I could never go back. Not because my domestic goddesshood was the ultimate road to enlightenment (well that too), but because my body went on strike whenever I would try to eat the foods I had since cut out. The worst culprit, and thus my favorite example, is mayonnaise. REAL mayo is awesome. Like a whole other substance. It’s a shame Best Foods gets away with calling the slop in their jars, mayonnaise. Store-bought mayo, the stuff that can sit on a shelf for months on end and never grow green chest hair, makes me feel sick. Like it wants to come back up, sick. As if my body is saying “What IS this deluge of non-food substance we have had the misfortune to experience?! Get it out!” It’s so consistent, in fact, that I am now the fake-aioli detector at restaurants. I can tell when a place boasting “roasted red pepper aioli” is really blending together eggs, garlic, and oil with roasted red peppers into creamy deliciousness, or simply opening their Costco-sized jar of white goop and mixing in some jarred red peppers. Unfortunately, I can only tell after I’ve eaten it. And it always involves me wishing I hadn’t.

Some people say, “Well I don’t want to have that kind of reaction to food, so I’ll just keep on eating my processed foods.” And I always say, what you put in your mouth is your business. But personally I’ve never regretted leaving processed foods behind. I like that my digestive system is now so used to real food that it protests the fake. I like knowing that I’m eating real food, all the way down to the condiment. But I was a hold-out on some things. Mostly, my breakfast habit of a bowl of Kashi Go-Lean Crunch cereal (honey almond flax flavor, thankyouverymuch). I thought I was starting my day off right, a great whole grain post-workout nutrient mix of protein, carbs, and fiber. Only I would often get a small upset feeling in my stomach after I finished breakfast, even though I didn’t think I had overeaten.

Then I found an article online. Now, I have searched high and low for this article again. Never found it. But that’s ok. I’m not so much interested in discussing the information in the article, just how it got me thinking. It had said that the way food manufacturers processes grains to “puff” them - which is what they do in all those “healthy” cereals so they taste airy and crunchy, rather than soft and chewy like boiled grains - actually releases or involves some kind of compound that is actually toxic to the body. So the food I ate for breakfast every day was toxic. Perhaps that’s why I was having trouble digesting it. I’m not saying if you eat puffed grain cereals you are poisoning yourself. After all, it was information I got online, from one source, and I couldn’t even find it again. I’m saying that information got me to re-examine my breakfast routine, which gave rise to a new breakfast routine.


I wanted something as fast and easy as cereal, and something with a good amount of carbohydrates for recovery after my morning workout, and protein and fiber to keep me full until lunch. And granola fit the bill. I started off by playing around with the ratio of ingredients on Nutrition Data and adjusting the quantity when the sugar was too high or the fiber too low. Then I experimented with batch after batch, tweaking ingredients (soaking/par-boiling and baking barley was a total disaster, coconut flakes were a huge win) and altering cooking temperatures until I finally had the recipe I wanted to use over and over again. And I have been! For several months now. I actually didn’t even think to share the recipe until I started seeing granola recipes popping up left and right. Some even used ingredients eerily similar to mine! That’s the great thing about granola - there are infinite variations to make it your own. This is just the one I prefer.

And for the record, I haven’t gotten a stomach ache after breakfast since I stopped eating the Kashi.

The granola starts out as most do, with oats and nuts. I prefer almonds. The sesame seeds might sound a bit odd, but I love the flavor they add. They are an underrated food in my opinion. I tried to keep the added sugar low, but some is necessary to keep the granola crispy and clumpy, as good granola should be. I decided orange juice was a good way to coat the mixture and add a touch of sweetness without going overboard. It helps that I seem to always have a plethora of oranges from my CSA to use. Definitely don’t leave out the salt, though you can reduce it if you like. Since all the nuts and seeds are unsalted, it’s really needed to make it palatable. Plus electrolytes in the morning is a good thing, right? It might seem strange to use egg whites in granola, but this was a bit of a revelation for me. I could get the right consistency of the granola without adding more sugar than I wanted to. The egg whites were a great help with this, and with a bit more protein as a bonus. I tried this recipe both with coconut oil and olive oil. Both were tasty, but with subtle differences in flavor. Since they are equally healthy in my book, I say use whichever you prefer. I tend to stick with coconut oil. The recipe is so variable, in fact, that I went ahead and made some suggestions at the bottom of the recipe. Followed by the nutritional information. You’re welcome.

One thing to note about this granola is to watch your portion size. It’s much higher in nuts and seeds than regular cereal, and a little nuts and seeds go a long way. If you just dump a bunch in a bowl and fill it up, you’ll be downing quite a few calories needlessly. The fiber and protein in just a small amount will keep you satisfied for longer than you might think. 

 I absolutely love this granola, it has really helped me build a breakfast routine that works for me. And it comes together so fast that I can pop a batch in the oven before dinner on a weeknight.  But it actually plays only half the role in my breakfast. A third of a cup of nuts and oats in a bowl is rather a sad sight, dontcha think? So I’ll go ahead and get super personal and share my full breakfast routine with you. Don’t judge me. Unless you think I’m awesome - then judge away. Loudly.

First off, I always top my morning granola with a scoop of ground flax seeds. Why not just put flax seeds in the granola? Well I’ve read that the body doesn’t break them down so well and whole seeds tend to, well, go right through. Again, not sure if it’s true, but I actually like the flavor and consistency it gives the milk, so I just go with it. Then I slice up a banana. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to eat a banana every morning. I heart them. I get it from my dad, apparently. My mom is decidedly not a fan. Because people who aren’t fans of bananas always seem to be rather decided about it. Have you noticed? When the whole family gets together she is called upon to buy gobs of bananas, since the siblings, spouses, and offspring in my family are all avid banana eaters. Poor woman. And because I’m a fruit pig I like to ensure a bit of variety in my diet, I usually add half (or thereabouts) of another fruit - whatever is in season; apples and pears in winter, mangoes and strawberries in spring, stone fruit in late summer. As much as I love to bake with fruit, usually what I bring home ends up breakfast. I top it off with a healthy splash of 2% milk (I’ve been toying with the idea of switching to whole milk, but I'm still unconvinced), add a cup of coffee on the side, and that’s my post-workout breakfast!

So tell me, what’s your breakfast routine? Spill it! Are you one of those evil people who cooks bacon in the morning, making the neighborhood smell heavenly, and at the same time torturous to those out running, smelling your bacon smells without getting to eat your bacon eats?


Makes 27 (1/3 cup) servings

5 cups old fashioned oats
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup raw pepitas
⅓ cup roasted & unsalted sunflower seeds
⅓ cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup raw sliced almonds
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, crushed
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup melted coconut oil (or olive oil)
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 TB molasses
3 TB maple syrup
2 egg whites

  1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
  2. In a very large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (the oats through the salt). In a small bowl combine all the wet ingredients (the coconut oil through the egg whites). Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until everything is well coated.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a half sheet pan or two smaller pans lined with foil. Bake for 75-90 minutes total. Remove the pan from the oven after 30 minutes, and using a spatula, flip the granola so it bakes evenly, trying to disturb the clumping as little as possible. Check it again after another 30 minutes and flip again. The granola is done when the oats have turned a golden brown and you are hypnotised by the lovely smell. (Note: If you don’t have 75 minutes and want to speed it up, go ahead and bake it at a higher temp for less time. I wouldn’t go over 350 degrees, and I would check it every 15-20 minutes.)
  4. Cool the granola completely then move it to the container of your choice. I use a gallon ziplock bag, but I’m on the lookout for a greener option. It keeps just fine in an airtight container for a few weeks (mine has never lasted more than 2 - as in, I finish it).

Alternative ideas:
Play with the nuts and seeds. Try adding chopped walnuts or cashews; flax, hemp, or chia seeds.
Play with the fat. I tried olive oil and it was delicious. Butter or another oil that can withstand the moderate oven temperature would also work.
Play with the sugar. Try honey, coconut sugar, or brown sugar. Mango nectar would be tasty, I think.
I always eat fresh fruit with my granola, but you could also toss the baked and cooled granola with all sorts of dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, golden raisins, and chopped dates.
If the egg whites skeeve you out but you don’t want to sacrifice the clumps, add more sugar.

Nutrition Information:
1 serving (1/3 cup) 

171 cal
9 fat
4 sat fat
78 mg sodium
17g carbs
3g fiber
4g sugar
6g protein

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crave-ably Healthy Veggie Wrap

Healthy eating (and on the flip side unhealthy eating) seems to ebb and flow. It can be affected by the season, the weather, and especially holidays. December was cookies and prime rib and champagne. January was green smoothies and citrus salads and new gym memberships. Now it’s February and the juice cleanses are over. Wings were consumed. Red velvet is everywhere. Sees is booming with business. We might have overindulged with our sweethearts. I know I did!

I’ve noticed one of the keys to keeping myself in check is watching how extreme I let those ebbs and flows get. I’m too delicate to handle crazy yo-yo’s in my body. And by delicate, I mean panic attacks on the scale, inconsolable by Husband. And by panic attacks and inconsolable, I mean about a half a second of whining while Husband drops the obligatory, well-rehearsed “I’m sorry”, thinly veiling the fact that he’s not really listening to me. (I never blame him. Thankfully, he’s well used to my crazy.) In other words, I prefer to balance mostly healthy eating with regular small indulgences, rather than hard, fast weight loss and weight gain. And really, I think the key is how you approach that mindset. If I were drinking beet juice and bland chicken soup for a week, then I’d be hard-pressed to resist that giant bowl of macaroni and cheese I’d been craving that entire week. Because when you’re eating foods you don’t enjoy, you think about the foods you’re denying yourself that much more, right? I know I do!

A diet shouldn’t feel like diet. In fact, the word diet should denote the foods you have a tendency to stuff into your facehole, rather than being defined by the foods you pointedly do not stuff in your facehole. It’s a small distinction, but one that makes a big difference.  Last week, I told a friend who was lamenting her bland bowl of chicken & vegetable soup (and craving bacon in its place) to nevermind the bacon. If she was going to eat soup, she should make it good soup and then eat the heck out of that soup. Sure, the grass is always greener. Get over it! Instead focus on being happy to eat what you’re eating. Feeling sorry for your dinner is a cop out. Food doesn’t have to be a gazillion grams of fat and tetragillions of calories to be something to savor. If you’re soup is bland, try adding gobs of hot sauce and cry tears of pain triumph when you power through it. Or maybe just a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten it up if masochism isn’t your thing. Say you made a salad of carefully chopped fruits and vegetables, every color of the rainbow represented, and while beautiful to behold, you still feel like a bit of a rabbit chomping grass. Try sprinkling in just a few goodies - crumbled goat cheese, a handful of sliced almonds, toasted pepitas. The added protein will make it more filling too. Or experiment with making your own vinaigrette. They are quick, simple, and with all the fancy oil & vinegar options out there, as varied as your imagination! Your side of steamed brown rice? Try sprinkling on some salty seaweed or add some fresh ginger while it’s cooking to boost the flavor. Adding coconut milk in place of some of the cooking water is my favorite!

Break the cycle of denying and indulging. Instead choose healthy options every day, prepare them with love - not necessarily time, just consideration - and when faced with your result look it straight in the plate and say “I am going to eat the heck out of you and love every minute of it!” Now that’s eating mindfully.

Take this simple veggie wrap. Sure, it looks pretty ho-hum. It sounds pretty ho-hum too. But let’s look closer. I used a whole wheat lavash sold by my favorite local market (I heart you forever, Jimbo’s!). It’s just flour, yeast, salt, and water. Or something like that. It’s soft and airy and slightly chewy with a nutty flavor - totally different from a Mission flour tortilla. I made my own hummus. Only because I like making hummus. But really because I'm cheap and dried chickpeas are cheaper. They also sell pretty awesome hummus pretty much everywhere nowadays. This is the wonderful world we live in. My hummus had roasted garlic and a ton of roasted tahini. I’m a sucker for both. At first I thought about adding cheese, but decided avocado would be better. The creamier texture and richer fat flavors were just right. This level of health food must take flavor and texture punch wherever it can be got! I used baby spinach and sprouts. Not lettuce. I’m not much for the crunch of lettuce in wraps, and it’s too watery. Sprouts taste so wonderfully grassy. Wonderful might not be the word that springs to mind when you think of something tasting “grassy”, but my mind was a pasture-raised bovine in a past life, apparently, because grassy sprouts make me swoon. It’s all about balance, really. Grassy sprouts in the same bite as creamy avocado? Good stuff. I went a little crazy and sliced up some of my favorite local fresh tofu. Plain. Because it gives me something silky to sink my teeth into. Because apparently good quality tofu does have a bit of flavor. And it’s quite tasty.

Substitution potential on this wrap are out of bounds. Tortillas for lavash. Arugula for spinach. Black bean, white bean, or lentil purees instead of traditional hummus - or a flavored hummus. Baked, marinated, or spice-rubbed tofu. Leftover shredded chicken. Canned tuna or salmon. The possibilities are endless.

But wait! I have yet to mention the best part. This wrap would be a sad story indeed without the piece de resistance. The pickled red onions and carrots. The acid. The crunch. The life of this wrap. I used to pass-over recipes that called for pickles. How complicated! Not so. Can you make ramen noodles on the stove? Then you can make pickles. Err, with a few more ingredients, and a bit more chopping (unless you buy pre-cut!). It’s just a matter of time. Stewing time. Not stove time.

So to recap, this simple encasement of bovine-approved greenery, pulverized and fermented legumes, luscious Aztecan fertility fruit, and mouth-puckeringly preserved roots is not food you dream about cheese pizza while eating. O-ho no. Before taking your first bite, behold its glory and say “I am going to eat the heck out of this puppy!” I know I did!

But, you know, with small, slow bites. Mindful eating, people.

Crave-ably Healthy Veggie Wrap

1 whole wheat lavash
1 handful fresh baby spinach leaves (~1/2 cup)
½ cup hummus
¼ avocado, sliced
½ cup sprouts
3 oz. firm tofu, thinly sliced (optional)
1 small handful pickled red onions & carrots (see recipe below)

  1. Lay out the lavash in a hamburger orientation. (As opposed to hot dog, naturally.) Down the center of the lavash lay out a flat layer of spinach leaves. Over the spinach, spread the hummus in an even layer, then top it with the avocado slices. Spread the sprouts along the side of the hummus. Lay the tofu over the top, if using. Top everything with the red onions and carrots. Roll up the wrap and enjoy! 
Note: I don't recommend cutting the wrap in half, and it tends to lead to more spillage than it's worth.

Quick Pickled Onions & Carrots

adapted from Simply Recipes

1 large or 2 small red onions, julienned
3 large carrots, julienned
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegars, sugar, water, and salt over medium heat until the salt and sugar has fully dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
  2. Place the onions, carrots, and bay leaf in a seal-able container and pour over the cooled liquid. The onions and carrots should be fully submerged in the liquid. Cover the container and refrigerate at least 8 hours, and up to a week. The onions and carrots will soak up more pickle flavor and break down in texture the longer they marinate.