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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)



As promised, today's blog post features my most favorite entree I've made yet! Once I perfected it, I was so eager to share it with all of you. Spaghetti was a weekly meal in my house growing up. As far as I'm concerned, my mom made the best spaghetti in the world! It was the most flavorful dish she made and it easily beat out all of the spaghetti dishes I tried at Italian restaurants. The trick was adding water to the sauce and letting it simmer for up to an hour. She explained to me that as the water evaporates over time, the flavors from the ingredients become more potent. Boy was she on to something! You know when people say that leftovers taste better because the flavors were able to mingle and marinate together overnight? It's true for so many dishes, especially one like spaghetti.

I realize, though, that most of us just simply do not have time to wait on a meal for that long so the spaghetti recipe I am sharing today does not require a long simmer time, but if you have the time, by all means, simmer away!

As an added bonus, I've also included a cashew Parmesan "cheese" recipe for you that comes from one of my favorite bloggers. The spaghetti can hold its own without any toppings but some faux Parmesan never hurt anyone. It is actually quite tasty and gives a nice added flavor to the dish. And with only 3 ingredients, it's a cinch to make, not to mention much healthier than its counterpart. It lasts a long time, too.

It was a no-brainer for me to come up with a healthier, vegan & gluten-free alternative to one of my favorite meals. And yes, it passed the "dad test." He raved and raved about the sauce. It is very filling thanks to the lentils, walnuts and brown rice pasta. No one's spaghetti will ever live up to my mom's but this comes mighty close. ;-)

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...


Lentils - I just recently tried lentils for the first time and was so happy to find that I really liked them. You can put them in everything from soups to salads to sauces to veggie burgers. They're even delicious on their own sprinkled with some Celtic sea salt. Lentils have a pretty plain, nutty flavor on their own. I cook them with a bay leaf and mix in some sea salt after they're done cooking to enhance the flavor. Luckily, they do not have to be soaked before cooking so they're hassle-free, too.

Enough about how lentils taste. What kind of nutritional profile are they workin' with? Lentils are considered a heart-healthy food because they are packed with soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol and prevent clogged arteries, reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke. The soluble fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and provides us with steady, slow-burning energy. The insoluble fiber contained in lentils helps to support digestive health, prevent constipation and sweep toxins out of the body. The folate found in lentils helps to lower homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. This legume is also rich in magnesium, which helps to lower blood pressure and also regulates muscle and nerve function. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

1 cup supplies us with a whopping 18 grams of protein, 16-18% of our daily value of magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B6 and has only 230 calories. To recap, lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, are low in calories and contain hardly any fat, yet they keep us full, satisfied and well-nourished. So, yes, they can also help with weight loss. [source]

It would be wrong of me not to mention that lentils are not a complete protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids out of 20 that the human body cannot make so we have to get them from the food we eat. That's why they're called the 9 essential amino acids. If a food has all 9 essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. Lentils lack a sufficient amount of 2 essential amino acids: methionine and cysteine. However, they do contain lysine, which is the most important amino acid for vegans and vegetarians to have in their diets. There is no need to "combine proteins" to ensure you're provided with an adequate amount of protein so long as your diet contains a variety of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) and you're taking in enough calories (energy) daily.































Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese"
Spaghetti inspired by this recipe
Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" original recipe

YIELD: 3 servings of spaghetti, approx. 3/4 cup of Parmesan "cheese"

INGREDIENTS

For the spaghetti:
• 8 oz. brown rice spaghetti pasta or other gluten-free pasta *See note
• 1 1/4 cup garlic marinara pasta sauce
• 3/4 cup green or brown lentils, cooked (how to cook lentils here)
• 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast *See note
• 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• 3 Tbs ketchup
• 1 tsp basil (dried or fresh)
• 1 tsp oregano
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 3/4 tsp sea salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped (optional)

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
• 1 cup raw cashews
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
• 1 tsp sea salt

DIRECTIONS

For the spaghetti:
1. First, cook the lentils. Then, cook the pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Dry toast the walnuts for a few minutes in the pot, being careful not to burn them.
3. Add in the rest of the ingredients, except for the lentils and red bell pepper, and stir well. Let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add in the lentils and red bell pepper a few minutes before time's up and stir well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
4. Rinse and drain the cooked pasta in a colander and serve desired amount on a plate. Top with the sauce and cashew parmesan "cheese", if desired.

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and mix until a fine crumb forms resembling Parmesan cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months or freeze up to a year.

NOTES
You can find the brown rice spaghetti pasta brand that I linked at Whole Foods, Sprouts or other health food stores in individual packages. I found that this brand has a longer cooking time than what is given on the package. Jovial organic brown rice spaghetti is also delicious and cooks quicker but it is more expensive.
• You can buy nutritional yeast online or in bulk at a health food store, which is what I do to save money. It is not an active yeast, don't worry! It won't disturb the healthy bacteria in your gut. It is actually really nutritious as it contains vitamin B12, which all of us, vegans and omnivores alike, need, but especially vegans and vegetarians. Many vegans love it for its cheese-like flavor.
• Every product I link you can buy in store. I buy most everything at Whole Foods or Sprouts. I just link them for you so you can see what the product looks like, the ingredients, price, and so forth. I buy all nuts, seeds, legumes (such as lentils), and whole grains in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods.

Much love to you all! <3

"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." Rumi

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Soy-Free)

Before I get into what this post is really about, it would be rude of me to leave you hanging on how my vegan gluten-free Thanksgiving went down. I am happy to report that it went off without a hitch! Hallelujah! Sure, I had a lot of explaining to do, but I didn't mind it because any way I can bring consciousness to a healthy, compassionate way of living I will gladly do it. Thanks, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, for doing this in such a major way. I know that it is my purpose here on this earth to spread the knowledge of true health, wellness and healing so that people can live their fullest, healthiest, most authentic lives, so that the environment can thrive and so that animals can live peacefully and happily for as long as they are meant to.

In other news, I love a good cookie. So, when I transitioned to a healthy, mostly plant-based diet, I thought I'd have to give them up or sacrifice taste. Luckily, I avoided having to do either of those because I found a healthier alternative that tastes just as good and more importantly, doesn't bring about a rapid sugar high or a heavy feeling afterwards. I've talked extensively about the dangers of refined sugar on these two blog posts if you'd like to read more: brownies & chocolate cupcakes.


Back to the cookies. They passed "the dad test." That's all that needs to be said, really. He LOVED them, so much so that he actually asked me if I could make more of them because he knew they disappear so quickly. As I've mentioned in past posts, him approving of a vegan, gluten-free, healthy anything is a huge deal. He is the perfect guinea pig, lemme tell ya, because the words "vegan" and "gluten-free" were so foreign to him until I changed my way of eating. My dad tells me the truth and I can just tell if he really likes something or doesn't. 

These cookies are fantastic because they are so super easy to make and they're just so darn tasty without all of the refined sugars and heavy dairy products. Even though there is pumpkin puree in these cookies, you can't really taste the pumpkin, only the very subtle pumpkin pie spice. Even still, pumpkin is really good for you. It contains vitamins A, C & E, the minerals iron & potassium, antioxidants like carotenoids, and fiber. Check out more on the impressive health benefits of pumpkin in this post and you might as well try out the pumpkin spice steel-cut oatmeal while you're at it! It's the perfect breakfast on a cold morning. All of pumpkin's health-boosting properties are wonderful and all but I also needed a reason to use up all of the pumpkin puree lying around. Does anyone else have that problem? It's a good one to have.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
YIELD: 28 cookies

INGREDIENTS
• 3/4 cup raw almond butter
• 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
• 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chunks (you can also cut up your favorite dark chocolate into chunks - this kind is my very favorite)
• 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs raw coconut nectar (you can also use pure maple syrup if that's all you have)
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/4 tsp sea salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat.







































2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for the chocolate chunks, and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chunks last. Add more sweetener if desired.







































3. Using the tablespoon measuring spoon, scoop the cookie mixture onto the baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes for softer cookies or 18 minutes for firmer cookies. (I like them best after 18 minutes in the oven - the center is still soft and the outside is crispy!)

I hope your holiday season has been stress-free so far! I've been doing most of my shopping online since Dallas weather decided to have an insane ice storm this week. The roads were so icy and slick that we had to stay in all weekend and many schools have been closed or have had delayed starts for 3 or 4 days. We're just not prepared for this type of weather, especially considering it was in the 70s last week and dropped into the teens this week. Hopefully I can venture out this weekend and get more shopping done. 

Stay warm and cozy, my friends, and enjoy this time with your loved ones. One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to reflect back on the year and acknowledge my accomplishments and areas for improvement as well as goal-setting and action plans for the new year. I also try to disconnect from technology more often during the holidays to really stay in the present moment of real life.

If you're feeling stressed, like most people are during this time of year, I suggest doing some yoga or your favorite type of exercise, light a candle or incense and meditate, read, watch a movie, cuddle up with your pets and/or your significant other, or anything that relaxes and rejuvenates you, and think of all of the things you're grateful for instead of focusing on what's troubling you. You can't always control your circumstances but you can always control how you feel about them. Stay tuned for my most favorite entree I've ever made coming next week... another one that passed "the dad test" with flying colors. ;-)

"Nourishment extends beyond our diet. Truthfully, we are nourishing whatever we give our time and attention to. Positive or negative. Take a bit of time to observe your life in totality. What are you nourishing?" @Vegnspiration (Instagram)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Superstar Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin + All Skin Types & Current Skincare Routine

Let me start by saying that I have oily skin, so moisturizers have always scared the heck out of me. Are my oily skin friends with me on this one? I feel like I can hear you loud and clear! Even still, I have learned that it is mega important to use a moisturizer regardless of your skin type. Without one, your skin will become imbalanced and will produce more oil to make up for the moisture it is lacking.

Surprisingly, I use organic Argan Oil to moisturize my face, which I know may sound insane. It took a mighty long time to convince me to use an oil on my face. Combatting excessive oiliness with an OIL? Come again? I had a difficult enough time being convinced to use cream or gel moisturizers, now I'm using an oil?! Yep! 100% pure, unprocessed argan oil is so wonderful because it is a multi-purpose product. I use it on my face, neck, under the eyes, on the ends of my hair to hydrate and treat split ends, and on my cuticles. It works like magic. People have complimented me on the health of my hair for a long time now and I always tell them the secret is argan oil (and very little heat, non-toxic shampoo & conditioner, but mostly argan oil has made the biggest difference!). This incredible oil is healing, hydrating without being greasy, and has anti-aging properties as it contains vitamin E and essential fatty acids to condition, repair and nourish the skin keeping it supple and youthful.

Argan oil is especially beneficial for oily, acne-prone skin because it replenishes the skin with just enough moisture and has anti-inflammatory properties (vitamin E) to reduce the redness that comes with acne. Most acne products dry out the skin. That is precisely what I experienced with Benzyol Peroxide. It was awful! Though it dried out existing pimples very well, it didn't prevent them the formation of them. As a result, I had extremely dry skin and extremely oily skin at the same time. Talk about imbalance! Argan oil has provided my sensitive acne-prone skin with balance and relief, which is what I have been seeking for years.

Argan oil is typically all I use in the spring and summer months but for drier months such as fall and winter, I couple it with an even more moisturizing product to combat dryness and flakiness. I love Sally B's Skin Yummies' Antioxidant Daytime and Nighttime Serum. I mix 3-4 drops of argan oil with those serums for extra moisture and nourishment. I also love their Carrot Facial Dream Cream when my skin feels and looks especially dry.


These products are pricey but long-lasting. A little dab will do! I have only bought one full-size product so far because I started out with The Traveler sample pack, which is so lovely because it has given me the chance to try various products in small amounts. I am happy to report that I still have a lot left of each sample product. It also comes with the Tamanu Luxury Facial Cleanser that I love and use daily. I bought the full-size of this when I ran out of the sample. I particularly love that it is made with over 95% certified organic ingredients and is very light but cleanses my skin completely. 

The serums, moisturizers/oil, cleanser, and once-a-week baking soda exfoliation have worked together to help clear my skin, even out my skin tone, restore moisture, and reduce redness, inflammation and hyper-pigmentation. I have tried countless skincare products over the past several years hoping to improve the condition of my problematic skin and nothing has worked quite like these products. I am overjoyed and relieved to say that I have finally found my tried and true skincare crew! Nothing worth having comes easy, eh?


I am a huge supporter of Sally B's because they use high-quality non-toxic ingredients that are cruelty-free and effective. Most of their products are suitable for vegans, too. This company truly cares about the health of people and the planet. Sally B's recognizes that cosmetics and personal care products are minimally regulated by the government meaning that manufacturers can use any ingredient no matter how harmful, and pre-testing or review is not required before a product hits the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only steps in after it has entered the market. What good does that do?

Also, manufacturers do not have to list all ingredients used on their packaging. This means we have to self-police! Many of the toxic ingredients used are carcinogens and hormone disrupters, which have been shown to be very damaging to our health when accumulated in our bodies over time. These ingredients are absorbed into the skin and into the bloodstream. According to The Cancer Prevention Coalition, The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety have found that 884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been found to cause cancer, genetic damage and biological mutations. They reported this to the government but no action was taken.

The Environmental Working Group, an environmental health non-profit organization, just released an awesome mobile app for iPhone and Android called Skin Deep that you can use to investigate the ingredients of any personal care product no matter where you are. You're even able to scan the barcode of an item for easy access. This app (and their Skin Deep website) provides consumers with safety ratings for nearly 80,000 products. It essentially helps us to make smarter decisions while shopping so that we can ensure that we're in charge of our health because we cannot rely on the government or cosmetic companies to look out for us.

At some point I will put together a blog post of my skin journey with pictures. I am just not quite ready to reveal that sensitive part of my life yet. If you have read my "My Story" section, you'll know it's been a trying three years. Changing to a vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar-free plant-based diet and incorporating moderate, enjoyable exercise such as yoga, stress management techniques such as meditation, self-care, and a non-toxic natural skincare regimen has completely transformed my skin which therefore tells me that I am successfully healing myself internally since outer symptoms are our bodies cry for help. Collectively, these changes got my digestion moving and grooving (largely due to green smoothies), my cycle regulated, major increase in energy, greatly reduced stress and anxiety, eradicated infections, and my hair and nails strengthened as well.

You won't see an improvement overnight, probably not even for several months, and it is likely you'll fall back into old habits and patterns along the way, but as long as you know why you're doing what you're doing, have your own back and keep your commitments to yourself, there is no way you won't get to where you want to be, and you will eventually heal yourself and come out of the "darkness" feeling and looking lighter, brighter and healthier than you could've ever imagined. If you need any help or encouragement, please know I am here for you! Contact me at any time. We're in it together. <3

Happy Thanksgiving, loves! Wish me luck for my first gluten-free vegan holiday. ;-)

"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open." ~B.K.S. Iyengar

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Avocado Enchiladas (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free) + Importance of Healthy Fats

































 How genius is the concept of avocado enchiladas and why hadn't I found them earlier? I was inspired to create this recipe thanks to one of my favorite dishes at a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant called Blue Mesa Grill. I had never heard of avocado enchiladas before discovering this restaurant but it makes so much sense for a vegan because it gives bulk to a meal and a creaminess much like cheese, not to mention all of the fantastic health benefits of avocado. 


This meal is incredibly simple to put together on a day when you don't feel like spending a lot of time preparing a meal ("Claire, that's most days!" - I hear you) but you also don't want to settle for a frozen dinner, takeout at a restaurant or worse, a fast food establishment... gasp!

I actually made these avocado enchiladas several days in a row because they're so darn tasty, filling and easy. I usually eat a salad beforehand or steam some veggies to accompany this entree. You could also serve with a side of brown rice or sweet potato fries.


Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

Avocados - Ohhh, beloved, avos! These creamy delights are in my top 5 favorite foods of all-time and it is not hard to see why. Not only are they filling, creamy and silky in texture making them an excellent substitute for recipes calling for dairy, but they are also bursting with nutrition. Avocados are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fat, which is easily burned by the body and also helps in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein. In addition, 1 medium Hass avocado contains twice as much potassium as a banana and has 3 grams of protein. They also contain vitamin E, fiber, B vitamins, and folic acid [source]. Studies have also shown that avocados can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

The other wonderful thing about avocados is that experts say that they are one of the fruits that you don't have to buy organic because the skin protects the inner flesh from pesticides. Hooray!


I do want to mention that just because someone follows a vegan diet doesn't mean that they're healthy. There are lots of processed vegan (and gluten-free) junk foods out there that when compared with a person who does consume animal products, the vegan who eats in this unhealthy manner is not any healthier and is oftentimes more unhealthy than someone who consumes high-quality animal products in moderation.

I personally found myself eating a lot of high-fat foods often, even though they were healthy sources of fat. Healthy fats can still be clogging if eaten in excess and can cause health problems. Just be wary of it. I still cook/bake with coconut oil often, use extra virgin olive oil sparingly, and eat avocados, nuts and nut butters, but I am now more conscious of the amount, though I don't count calories. I base much of it upon how I feel. If I've eaten too much healthy fat, I feel so bloated and weighed down and I get cranky because of it. I swear to never do it again because I feel so miserable. 

Remember that a low-fat diet isn't necessarily healthy either. We need fat for energy, healthy skin, healthy cells, optimal brain function, to cushion our organs, for fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and to make hormones [source]. Plus, healthy fat containing whole foods like nuts are not only high in protein and vitamins and minerals, but also contain fiber which keeps us full and as a result can keep us from overeating to assist in weight loss. Not to mention, on a low or fat-free diet, people may tend to consume low-fat or fat-free processed foods which contain health depleting ingredients. Read labels - you hold the power.

The daily recommendation is usually 1-2 oz. of nuts (1 oz. = 24 almonds 6g protein & 16-18 cashews 5g protein) or 2 Tbsp nut butter and 1 small avocado or 1/2 of a large avocado. Don't deprive yourself of coconut oil and nut butters. This type of restriction may cause you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Focus more on what you do daily than what you do every once in awhile. For instance, many gluten-free vegan desserts are high in fat but as an occasional treat, you'll be just fine. Enjoy in moderation, friends!

TIP: Portion your nuts (1-2 oz.) into baggies and keep them in the fridge for easy access so you're not tempted to eat from the bag they come in when hunger strikes. Or measure out 2 Tbsp nut butter instead of eating directly from the jar.

I recommend to consume mostly whole foods in a balanced way with little to no junk food of any kind. And remember, the occasional setback won't kill you. Progress not perfection. I'm still working on it too! But I am proud to say that I am 100% vegan now. :-) I'm in the process of changing out all of my cosmetics/personal care products and apparel with respect to this lifestyle as well. I've never felt better physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.




Avocado Enchiladas


YIELD: 2 servings (1 serving = 2 enchiladas)


INGREDIENTS

• 2 small avocados
• 4 organic corn tortillas *make sure they're organic to avoid GMOs
• 2/3 cup tomatillo sauce (bought mine at Whole Foods)
• 1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
• 2 Tbs, coarsely chopped
• 3 Tbs, diced
• 1/4 tsp chili powder
• Few pinches of cumin
• Pinch of sea salt
• Vegan cheese (such as Daiya), to top (optional)

DIRECTIONS
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.


























2. Place the corn tortillas on a baking tray/pan and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the lime juice, cilantro, red onion, chili powder, cumin, and sea salt and mix well. Cut the avocados lengthwise around the pit, twist each half in opposite directions to separate then remove the pit. Slice the flesh crosswise.





3. Assemble the enchiladas by scooping 1/2 sliced avocado into each corn tortilla (1/2 avocado per tortilla) and distribute the cilantro/red onion filling mixture equally per each tortilla. Fold each tortilla and place each with the fold side down on the baking tray and top with the tomatillo sauce. Place in the oven and cook for 12 minutes.




4. Remove the enchiladas from the oven and top with cilantro, red onion and vegan cheese (as I did above), if desired. Serve and enjoy! :-)

What is everyone doing for Thanksgiving? What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? I keep asking myself, "how on earth will I make it through without eating any animal products?! Will I just starve myself all day? Eat a huge breakfast to keep me full most of the day? What if I eat something made with animal products?"After much contemplation, I think I may have to bring my own personal Thanksgiving dinner, despite how ridiculous that sounds and how nuts I will look. But luckily I don't really care about looking like a looney tune anymore because I always keep in the forefront of my mind the reasons a gluten-free vegan lifestyle is so important to me both ethically (first and foremost) and nutritionally. 

The more I learn about changing to a vegan diet, the more I learn the importance of standing by your beliefs and values wholeheartedly and not compromising or becoming small just to please others or to avoid confrontation. I think overall, people respect those who have strong beliefs and believe in them with their whole being and stand by them even when they're challenged. Even so, I also strongly believe in open-mindedness, being educated on both sides of an issue and listening to what others have to say with an open heart and with love. Ignorance is the other option but I'd rather keep my distance because it certainly hasn't solved any problems.

Anyway, before I carry on too long, I just want to wish you all a love-filled Thanksgiving and I hope you are all fortunate enough to spend it with your family and friends, with nutritious and delicious food on your plates, and that you keep those who aren't as fortunate in your thoughts or better yet, volunteer time, money and/or goods this holiday season in any way you can. <3

"View your life with kindsight. Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking: "what was I thinking?" Breathe & ask the kinder question: "what was I learning?" Notsalmon.com

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, & Refined Sugar-Free) + Sugar Addiction is Real!
























I usually play music while cooking, baking and while cleaning the aftermath of my creations. You can always determine how my cooking/baking efforts turned out by how I clean the dishes afterwards. I'm either having a dance party/concert or cleaning dishes with Aaliyah's song "Try Again" or Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had" playing in the background. True story.

So yesterday, after much anticipation and crossing my fingers that these cupcakes would come out blog-worthy, (I hold everything I make to a high standard to ensure I only give you the creme de la creme - and believe me - many things don't work out, so in the trash they go and my inner child comes out as I have a pity party, instead of a dance party, with myself and all the stupid dishes I have to clean), I had a mega dance party in my kitchen - just me, myself and I + the two loves of my life, my yorkies. Of course I didn't wait 30 minutes for the cupcakes to cool before trying them. I have no patience when it comes to the all important reveal. After waiting a long and torturous 5 minutes, this was the outcome: these vegan, gluten-free & refined sugar-free chocolate cupcakes came out better than the cupcakes that meet me in my dreams!


I had a legitimate concert going on in my kitchen. Singing with the whisk as my microphone and twirling my dogs around. I sang to my reflection in the oven as if I had a sold out show. I even busted into "the dougie" at one point. I can't believe I'm even exposing myself like this, but I had to paint the scene to help you understand how big of a feat this was!! Gluten-free vegan baking can be very challenging to get just right. It typically consists of many failures before finding the winner. But that's why I'm here - to save you that time and frustration. This cupcake recipe will not disappoint and will fool everyone who isn't vegan or doesn't eat a gluten-free or refined sugar-free diet!

An added bonus is the refined sugar-free component of this recipe. I have been so determined to exchange all refined sugar for unrefined sugar. I've talked about this before and probably won't ever stop talking about it because sugar is what triggers a negative response in my body immediately and causes all sorts of inflammation that manifests in different forms such as acne, dermatitis and/or infections, and other things we may not notice immediately like weight gain and high LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Sugar also provokes a psychological response as it stimulates the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that make us feel happy, but then those levels plummet after a short period of time and thus we crave more sugar and then eat more sugar to feel good again. I know it has this affect on many others too.

These neurotransmitters are also released in the brain when other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are used. When we continue to put our bodies through this vicious cycle of ups and downs, the brain doesn't think it needs to produce these neurotransmitters anymore. This results in the depletion of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins (natural pain relievers), and norepinephrine (keeps us alert and energized). When we're deficient in these neurotransmitters, which are necessary for cell to cell communication to regulate our mood and appetite, all kinds of illnesses can crop up - addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hormonal imbalance, candida overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, hypoglycemia, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer

Other imbalances can also cause neurotransmitter deficiency such as caffeine, alcohol, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, chronic stress, prescription drugs, food sensitivities, but all of these can ignite sugar cravings, not just consuming sugar itself. Excessive sugar consumption has been shown to cause illnesses and many illnesses cause sugar cravings leading to serious illnesses. It's a never-ending cycle unless you decide to stop it.

If you know you can't handle sugar, even unrefined sugar, whether it's shown through physical symptoms or psychological or both, stay away from it for awhile. Consume low sugar fruits like berries and green apples, lots of green leafy vegetables, stevia, and practice yoga and meditation to reduce stress. If you don't know how it affects you, try avoiding sugar for a week. See if you have withdrawal symptoms (headaches, brain fog, fatigue, lack of concentration). That'll give you your answer!

Sugar and desserts have always been my vice and it's been a struggle trying to kick the refined sugar out of my diet and keeping all dessert to a minimum, even those that are vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar-free a.k.a healthier desserts. Because I realized that even though I've said goodbye to desserts containing eggs, cow's milk/cream/butter, refined sugar, and gluten, it was like I was looking for another "acceptable" way to eat sugary foods. Just because what I indulge in now is healthier without all of the dairy, refined sugar and gluten doesn't mean it won't take a toll on the body. These healthier desserts tend to be high in fat, albeit healthy fats (from the coconut products), and sugar even though unrefined, which can still congest our digestive systems and cause inflammation if eaten in excess. Also, we're led to believe dried fruits are healthy but most have an incredibly high amount of sugar since it's been concentrated. Read more about how excessive sugar consumption wreaks havoc on our health on this blog post.

All in all, I'm working to keep these healthier desserts as a treat every once in awhile. And let me just say, it makes it that much more special and enjoyable when it's only an occasional indulgence.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing

YIELD: Approx. 14 cupcakes
Cupcakes adapted from this recipe
Icing adapted from this recipe

INGREDIENTS
For the cupcakes:

• 3/4 cup tapioca flour/starch (they're the same) *See note below on where to find these uncommon flours
• 3/4 cup sorghum flour
• 1/2 cup cacao powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp xanthan gum
• 1/2 tsp high-quality sea salt
• 1 cup regular unsweetened coconut milk *See note below if allergic to coconut
• 3/4 cup raw coconut nectar
• 3 Tbs virgin coconut oil, melted *See note below
• 1 Tbs vanilla extract
• 1 Tbs raw apple cider vinegar

For the icing:

• 1/4 cup coconut butter

• 1/3 cup thick coconut cream from the top of a full-fat coconut milk can (don't shake or stir to ensure the thick cream at the top and liquid at the bottom remain separated)
• 3 Tbs raw coconut nectar
• 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• Unsweetened shredded coconut, to top cupcakes (optional)

DIRECTIONS
For the cupcakes:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners and if you have another cupcake pan, line 2 more or just wait until the first batch comes out and bake the last two cupcakes separately.





2. Sift all of the dry ingredients (tapioca flour, sorghum flour, cacao powder, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and sea salt) into a large mixing bowl. Mix well. *As you can see above, I combined all these ingredients in a smaller bowl and just sifted everything together into a larger bowl.







































3. Whisk all of the wet ingredients (coconut milk, raw coconut nectar, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and apple cider vinegar) together in a medium mixing bowl. *Those aren't all of the ingredients in that bowl. Just two. I took the picture in the middle of combining all of the ingredients. Call me Ms. Scatterbrained. 







































4. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.







































5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full. Smooth the top of the cupcakes with a wet spoon (to avoid sticking). *In the picture above you can clearly see I didn't smooth the tops of them, but when I baked the last 2 cupcakes separately, I did and they looked much prettier after they were baked. You also see the white coconut oil chunks that solidified while mixing but they melted in the oven.
6. Bake for 20 minutes. If you didn't make the icing ahead of time, make it while the cupcakes are baking. Directions are below.




7. After 20 minutes, make sure a toothpick comes out clean before taking them out. If so, take them out and let them cool for 5 minutes in the cupcake pan. Then, let them cool on a wire rack or just on the counter for another 25 minutes before frosting them. *You can see in the picture above the top center cupcake is the sole smoothed cupcake. Much more visually appealing but they'll taste the same regardless.

For the icing:




1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Mix until smooth. Pour into a container with an airtight lid and let the icing chill for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. Then, ice your cupcakes, top with unsweetened coconut flakes, if desired, & enjoy every yummy bite without the refined sugar high! :-) *See note below about blender


*Store the cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature. Store the icing in the refrigerator. You may ice them all at one time or ice them as you eat them.

NOTES
I found all of the ingredients above at Whole Foods. I found the tapioca flour/starch in the bulk aisle to save money. I bought the Bob's Red Mill sorghum flour because I didn't find it in bulk. Other health food stores (Trader Joe's, Sprouts) should have these items too but your typical grocery store (Walmart, Target, Kroger, etc.) won't have all of them. Otherwise, you can find them on the companies' website or on Amazon - I provided the links above.
• My coconut oil is always really thick at room temperature so I have to melt it in the oven, so when it's combined with the other wet ingredients which are either at room temperature or cold from the fridge, the warm melted coconut oil can clump up. Don't worry about it! It'll melt when the cupcakes bake in the oven. If your coconut oil is already melted at room temperature without having to heat it up, you may not run into this problem.
• If you're allergic to coconut, you can substitute the coconut milk for almond milk or any other non-dairy milk. Instead of coconut oil, you could use grapeseed oil. Instead of coconut nectar, you could use pure maple syrup. It's hard to avoid coconut in the icing to get the same effect but these cupcakes are delicious without icing as well because they're a bit more dense than your typical cupcake so it's like a hybrid of a cupcake and a muffin. You could even spread some vegan butter on top. I'll be sure to come up with a coconut-free icing at some point.
• See this blog post for my thoughts on my favorite blender, the Vitamix, and you'll even find a small discount if you're interested in purchasing one. I also received a note in the mail from Vitamix saying that for the month of November, the reconditioned Vitamix blenders are being sold at exclusive prices ranging from $279-$349. Check that out on vitamix.com (I'm not affiliated with this company - just a big fan!). I'm not sure how the coconut icing will turn out using another blender. I'm curious so let me know if you try it!

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