Raw Fudge Brownies

Raw Fudge Brownies

If you know me, you may know that I occasionally go on a one-woman crusade against refined sugar.

(Whaaaat!? Give up refined sugar? But…what about dessert? For heaven’s sake, your blog isused to be named after brownies, girl! No one can live without sugar. Forget diamonds, chocolate is a girl’s best friend.)

This first started as I became aware of how much sugar is in everyday foods, such as mayonnaise and bread and salad dressing and granola. At that time I had a young baby, and I was bound and determined that he would not eat any refined sugar, ever (hah). I started researching the effects of sugar on the body, and it led to making a New Year’s resolution to avoid all refined sugar for 31 days.

I never intended to give up sugar long-term, but here are a few things that happened during that month:

  1. at first, I was reallly, reallly hungry, and quite a bit cranky, but then my hunger levels started to regulate;
  2. I became more adventurous in what I ate;
  3. I stopped binge-snacking during my kid’s nap time because I was thinking more about what would be good for me to eat, and I was avoiding most of my lazy snack foods;
  4. people started telling me how thin I looked. I didn’t really lose weight during this time, but eating no refined sugar and less highly refined carbs in general actually made my body shape change! I did not exercise one single time, so this was definitely a result of my sugar fast;
  5. I felt really proud of myself;
  6. I still totally ate dessert! Because, let’s face it, no big change in your diet will be sustainable unless you find ways to include the things you really love. For me, that is dessert!
  7. everything tasted sweet even without refined sugar. When I finally started eating sugar again, I ate much smaller amounts (initially anyway) because it was overwhelmingly sweet and honestly made me feel a little sick for a few weeks.

I write a food blog and I love to bake, so I did go back to eating sugar. But I enjoyed my sugar fast more than I expected! So much that I repeat it a few times a year, especially if I have been going overboard with sugary foods or if I am feeling out of balance or mentally/physically/emotionally unhealthy.

Since my first refined sugar fast, clean eating has become quite trendy. Basically, eating “clean” involves aiming for whole, nutrient-dense foods, and avoiding highly refined foods.

These raw brownies totally fit that bill, and they are completely delicious. Not only are they sweetened entirely by the naturally occurring fruit sugars in Medjool dates, but they are full of healthy things, like raw nuts and raw cacao! They are chewy and dense and chocolatey and rich, so rich. (Plus, they are other good things, like vegan and gluten-free!)

Raw brownies will satisfy any dessert craving, and you can feel good about eating them!

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Chana Masala

Chana MasalaI adore Indian food. I love the spices and the warmth. I love that Indian food is packed with things that are good for my body, and that it doesn’t taste like “health food.” Indian food is fantastic.

But I’ve got to admit that I don’t cook Indian food at home very often. True, I love going home and recreating every delicious food in my very own kitchen; but I just find that Indian food is always better when I order it out. (Or, ahem, when friends make it for me. Yeah, you know who you are.)

In the months since learning about Caitlin’s dairy intolerance, I’ve had to avoid eating a lot of my favorite things. Dairy is in almost everything! And since a lot of Indian food is cooked with ghee (clarified butter), I’ve been wary of ordering Indian food at a restaurant.

Enter glorious chana masala, a simple dish featuring chickpeas cooked in a rich, spicy tomato sauce full of grated ginger and pressed garlic. This version comes together very quickly, ready from start to finish in under an hour, thanks to the help of canned chickpeas. And it is delicious!

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Brownie Baked Oatmeal

Brownie Baked Oatmeal

One of the hardest parts of giving up dairy has been figuring out what to eat for breakfast.

There have been a lot of mornings in the last month and a half that found me staring listlessly into the open refrigerator for five minutes, walking away grumpily, going back two times, and then opting to just drink coffee and wait until lunch. (P.S., those days also found me binge eating Triscuits with hummus at 11:20 because I was just too hungry to keep waiting…)

Before you go on suggesting all the things you think I should eat, let me just remind you: no dairy, no meat, no fruit (because yuck.), no refined sugar first thing in the morning. And let me nip it in the bud before you start telling me about all the great fake dairy I can use instead of butter.

Butter. I miss you. Nothing could ever take your place.

(P.P.S., I made a lot of my Christmas cookies with Earth Balance this year, and I would be totally lying if I pretended that my refrigerator standoff hasn’t ended with me hiding in the corner of the kitchen, despairingly eating butterless cookies for breakfast. At least three times. And then suffering the sugar coma consequences.)

Isn’t it amazing that in a world full of buttery, yogurty breakfasts, there are also dishes of baked oatmeal that are vegan and taste just like brownies?

Brownies are the best. I have been known to eat my feelings, and this is just the best possible way to do that! Brownies are indulgent and comforting, and yet we could even call this brownie healthy! There are whole grains, chocolate (we have to take care of our souls, too, people), chia seeds, healthy fats, and no refined sugars!

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Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts

I fell off the thankfulness train a little bit. And I’m going to climb back on.

But first, I have to tell you what happened to me last week:

The pediatrician told me I have to give up eating dairy, because Caitlin is most likely allergic to it.

Major sad face.

And just in time for the holidays! (Don’t worry, I still have lots of good treats planned for you, even if I can’t eat them all.)

I suddenly realize that I have not been as empathetic as I could have been toward friends and family who have dietary restrictions. Because even though I know a million ways to substitute and avoid dairy, it’s really sad to eat in a world where butter is off limits.

So here comes some thankfulness! I am thankful for all the wonderful people who have gone before me in feeling hungry and cranky after giving up something that they loved for the sake of their health or the health of a loved one. I am thankful for all the vegans in the world (seriously, thank you) for being delicious without dairy. I am thankful for all the friends who called me, texted me, and gave me hugs as I cried silly tears when I realized I couldn’t eat any of my favorite breakfast foods for the next several months. I am thankful for special friends who sent me recipe ideas after I whined about being hungry.

To round off this thankfulness, and in preparation for eating a *gulp* dairy-free Thanksgiving meal, I made some brussels sprouts. Because I just can’t get enough of brussels sprouts in the Fall.

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Millet Vegetable Stir-Fry

Millet Vegetable Stir Fry

Mind, prepare to be blown:

Stir Friday.

Yes…it’s the solution to my weekly pleadings with my family to name something other than pizza (Jake) or meatloaf (Dave) when I ask what to cook for dinner. Stir Friday.

I love it for so many reasons: 1) it still allows room for creativity, because “stir-fry” is a huge, broad category…but it does give me somewhere to start with the meal planning; 2) it makes a beautiful peace treaty for the taste bud cold war Dave and I are waging…no more can he tell me that I never eat Asian food with him!; 3) it has an awesome name—always a bonus; and 4) it’s so easy to make large amounts of stir-fry, so easy to accommodate different dietary needs, that Stir Friday is the perfect way to kick off one of our major family goals: becoming better hosts.

So, friends who live in the greater DC area, consider this your open invitation.

It’s Stir Friday. Are you coming?

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Lemongrass Coconut Noodles with Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Lemongrass Coconut NoodlesWhen my mom comes to visit, I get kind of excited.

For obvious reasons! She’s the best!

But also because her visits pull me out of my dinner ruts. She doesn’t eat wheat or dairy, so sometimes I have to get really creative to make meals that we can all enjoy! (We eat a lot of Asian cuisines.)

I was a little skeptical about this pasta at first, because I don’t typically love savory coconut without its best friends chili and curry. When I tasted the broth halfway through, I heaved a great sigh of disappointment that it was weird and bland despite its bursting tomatoes and lemongrass.

But dinner must go on (the natives were hungry), and so must I. And much to my surprise, after I added in a generous splash of lime juice and fish sauce, the boring and vaguely sweet coconut sauce turned into this amazing, tangy, practically drinkable concoction.

A symphony of flavors.

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Vegan Dark Chocolate Sorbet

Vegan Dark Chocolate Sorbet

A few months before Caitlin was born, Dave and I spent a weekend in Staunton, VA. We arrived on a cold Friday night and when we woke up on Saturday morning, it was a wintery wonderland. By noon, there was over a foot of fresh snow on the ground, and the temperature was about 9°Fahrenheit.

And there we were, staying in a B&B (which meant there was no food after 10am), me in my third trimester…and I had forgotten to bring boots with me. After a very ridiculous attempt to drive to the main drag of Historic Staunton (a drive which, thankfully, did not end with us trapped in a snowbank), we concluded that we would have to hoof it and hope that some brave souls had opened their restaurants despite the treacherous weather.

Lo and behold! We found a gelato shop, The Split Banana. Who eats ice cream when it’s so cold and icy and windy that their eyelashes are practically stuck together? Us. That’s who.

It was during this frozen weekend that I discovered the best ice cream ever: it was unbelievably creamy, and smooth, and bittersweet, and chocolatey, and vegan, and perfect. According to the poor guy working the counter scooping ice cream, their chocolate sorbet was made entirely from unsweetened chocolate and sugar! I can do that!

Although it was kind of silly to be eating ice cream when we had practically turned into ice-pops ourselves, it was so worth every delicious spoonful. (Plus, I’m pretty sure we shivered off the calories.)

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Homemade Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning Mix

Have you ever made your own taco seasoning?

It’s kind of glorious.

Yes, it’s true: I have a penchant for making things from scratch that I could easily have bought in the store…but in this case, I really do think it’s worth it. Not only will you avoid totally unnecessary ingredients, like gums and gluten, but you if you make your own taco seasoning, you can customize the flavors and spice level!

Plus, your friends will be impressed. And isn’t it a beautiful thing when someone compliments your cooking (and you can brag that you even made the taco seasoning yourself)?

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Lahey Pizza Crust

Jim Lahey Pizza CrustThis pizza crust is made out of flour and time and magic.

Every time I make it, a phrase from 1 Corinthians comes to my mind: “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor. 5:6). Whenever I hear that phrase ringing in my head, I feel tempted to tell you that this pizza crust is heavenly…but in fact, yeast represents sin in the Bible, so instead perhaps I should say this crust is so good, it’s almost sinful.

(Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not making light of sin! Throughout the Old and New Testaments, yeast is used as a visual representation of how every sin, no matter how small we think it is, touches every part of our souls, just the way a small amount of yeast creates an airy and chewy bread. We need the grace of our loving God!)

Jim Lahey, creator of this amazing crust recipe, is no angel, because I seriously can’t stop making pizza now that I have this crust recipe in my arsenal.

If you have ever fretted about making pizza at home, ever resisted making your own crust or turned out with a flat, boring disc underneath your favorite pizza toppings, I implore you to try this recipe! It’s easier than easy and tastes phenomenal.

Trust me. You’ll thank me later.

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