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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No-Bake Chewy Chocolate Granola Bars (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Refined Sugar-Free)

I used to be an extreme snacker, most notably when I was in grade school. After daydreaming about lunch, I'd daydream about after school snacks... Cheetos, Chex Mix, Pringles, and even granola bars, except they were the unhealthy kind loaded with refined sugar and other disgusting ingredients (just check out this ingredient list of the granola bars I scarfed down as a kid and maybe you did, too... yikes). Many brands blow my mind with their deceptive claims. They advertise that their ingredients are "all-natural" but that means absolutely nothing when there is no standard for the claim "all-natural" in any industry. Nature Valley granola bars are packed with j-u-n-k, too. They should be re-named junk bars... *ba-dum-ch* lol. But seriously, there is nothing healthy about them. Just take a look at one of Nature Valley's granola bar ingredient lists. And I'm sorry, but Luna Bars are not much better.

I am not as much of a snacker these days because I make sure I eat three substantial meals a day to keep me satiated and energized for several hours until my next meal. That really helps me to avoid snacking. And not just that, but digestion requires a lot of energy, and the less energy our bodies have to use on digestion, the more it opens up energy for other necessary body processes. We take some strain off of the digestive system when we leave several hours in between each meal and that's a gift we can all afford to give our bodies. The foreign ingredients prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD) that our bodies are forced to process everyday is incredibly taxing on the body. If we cannot translate the ingredients, neither can our bodies. The way we feel and look truly depends on how we fuel our bodies (and our mind and spirit, too). But that's not to say I don't love snacking from time to time because oh, I do. Who doesn't?!

It is always possible to find a delicious and nutritious anything, including snacks. I feel like the word "snack" has become synonymous with "unhealthy" but that doesn't have to be the case at all. I had been wanting to create a recipe for healthy homemade granola bars for awhile now and finally got around to doing so after foraging through my pantry for a snack one day only to be left down and out because there were none.

These no-bake granola bars are nothing short of amazing! Everyone who has tried them loves them. They are chewy with a bit of crunch, a tad sweet and delightfully chocolate-y. Let me add that they are super simple to make and are perfect as a holiday gift, to take to work, on vacation, to school, or as an after school snack. ;-) Even better, all of the ingredients are truly good for you. Make your own granola bars so that you have all of the control over your own health!

Top left: Dry ingredients. Top right: All ingredients mixed together.
Bottom left: 8x8 baking dish. Bottom middle: 9x9 baking dish. Bottom right: Granola bars in 9x9 dish.

No-Bake Chewy Chocolate Granola Bars
YIELD: 10 bars if using 8x8 baking dish; 14 bars if using 9x9 baking dish

• 1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
• 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
• 1/2 pre-sliced almonds
• 1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
• 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs or vegan mini chocolate chips
• 2 Tbs unsweetened shredded coconut
• 1/4 tsp cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
• 1/2 cup (about 8) pitted medjool dates *if they're not very soft and sticky, place them in a bowl covered with warm water for 10 minutes to soften
• 1/3 cup + 2 Tbs raw coconut nectar
• 2 Tbs organic creamy peanut butter or almond butter
• 2 tsp unrefined coconut oil
• 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Line an 8x8 (for 10 larger bars) or 9x9 baking dish (for 14 smaller bars) with parchment paper. *I have tried both sizes & liked both equally.
2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut nectar, peanut butter and coconut oil and mix well. Stir frequently. Once melted, take off of the burner and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips, shredded coconut, cinnamon, and sea salt and mix well.
4. In a food processor (if you don't have a food processor, you can just manually cut up the dates into small pieces), add the dates and process until they form a ball. Add to the large mixing bowl of dry ingredients. Break up the ball of dates and disperse throughout the mixture. Then, slowly pour in the melted ingredients while stirring everything together.
5. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and smooth it out evenly using a spatula. Make sure to press it in firmly so that it all sticks together.
6. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Remove from the freezer and cut 5 (if using 8x8 baking dish) or 7 rows crosswise (if using 9x9 baking dish). Then, cut again once straight down the middle.
*Store in the freezer in an airtight container or in baggies with small pieces of parchment paper separating each bar. You can enjoy them straight from the freezer... that's my favorite way to eat them! :-) The longer they're out of the fridge or freezer, the softer and stickier they'll get. They'll still taste great either way but if you can, try to keep them cool.

"The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?'" Jeremy Bentham

Friday, August 15, 2014

Healthy Share with Claire Ep. 4: Big Body Shampoo, Chocolate Donuts & Tempeh Bacon!

Tune in to episode 4 of Healthy Share with Claire to see what non-toxic vegan things I have been crazy about over the past 2 weeks! ♡

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tempeh Bacon (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

A recurring theme of life that keeps coming up the older that I get is that life is not a picnic, my friends. In fact, it'll rain all over your picnic all day long, maybe the next day it'll storm, and the next a tornado will roll through. Sometimes the storm clouds hover for way too long and never seem to go away. Yes, that is how the last three years of my life has been. But on that same token, I have also learned that the sun will shine again when you find the strength to pick yourself back up, trudge through the valley with an umbrella in hand and continue climbing with an unlimited supply of self-love in your backpack and a tribe of true friends and family for support.

I felt like the world stopped when it was reported that Robin Williams committed suicide on Monday. I also felt like the world stopped when my mom passed away last year and also when a loved one of mine fell into a severe depression this year. When a beloved person dies or becomes extremely ill, our lives seem to come to a halt. It forces us to slow down, reminds us of what is actually important and allows us to re-evaluate how we want to spend our lives every day, because it can be gone in a flash. There is always a silver lining in every cloud, no matter how dark it may be. I have learned to find it in every cloud that has hovered over me and it has made all the difference in how I live my life and how I treat others.

Robin Williams' death hit me hard because it is so close to home for me. I have seen the painful effects of depression firsthand. For anyone who has gone through depression or mental illness, nobody can understand what you feel other than you and I know from my experience with my family member, it is hard to explain. Either way, I want you to know that your life is immeasurably valuable and that you will get better with help. And for those who have lived with someone who is depressed, my heart goes out to you, because it is one of the most heartbreaking and difficult things to watch and that is because ultimately, you cannot "fix" them. The most helpful way to show your love and support, as told to me by my family member, is to just be there and also give a gentle push when needed.

As an avid believer in and advocate of holistic health, it is hard for me to say that I believe medication is the answer. In some instances, it is necessary, but I truly believe, genetic predisposition or not, there is always an inner underlying issue that needs to be resolved, and with my family member, we have found that is absolutely the case. When you take responsibility, you retain your power, which then enables you to make changes. When you leave it up to chance or genetics, you give your power away to an external source and in that state, you are not as motivated to make positive changes for your own life because you have taken yourself out of it. This article from Mind Body Green sums up my feelings about it quite perfectly (just to be clear, this has nothing to do with Robin Williams' situation since obviously I didn't know him).

I am glad that depression has been brought to the forefront these past few days, though I say that reluctantly as someone had to take their life for it to be talked about on the news. It is an illness that many feel ashamed about, but millions suffer from it daily, many in silence. If any of you ever need someone to talk to, I am here.

Top left: Veggie Burger. Bottom left: Cauliflower Scramble.
Right: Tempeh, Lettuce & Avocado Sandwich
On a lighter note... TEMPEH BACON! I have been trying to perfect this recipe for awhile now and I am oh so proud to present this final recipe to you. I have to say, first, that it does not taste like the traditional pork bacon mostly due to the soft texture of tempeh. It is still so tasty. Most notably, no pigs are harmed or killed in order for you to obtain protein and pleasure. Hooray! You can see to the left how I enjoy tempeh bacon. Slap it in a tempeh, lettuce, avocado sandwich or a tempeh bacon Daiya cheese veggie burger, crumble it on nachos or vegan pizza or spaghetti, or pair it with a cauliflower scramble (I like to mix it in to the scramble).

So, what is tempeh, you ask? It freaked me out when I first bought it because it looks strange, but it is supposed to look that way. It is the ugly duckling of foods. Poor tempeh. Anyway, I stayed away from soy for awhile while transitioning to a healthy diet because I had heard about its potentially harmful effects on the body (that's for another day but here's more credible info on soy), but what it really comes down to is the quality and quantity of the soy product. Tempeh is a fermented soy product, which means that its nutrients are easily digestible and assimilated unlike non-fermented soy, which contains phytic acid that binds with certain nutrients and prevents proper absorption causing digestive problems. Fermented foods also contain probiotics, which are essential for optimal digestion, improving the immune system and replenishing "good" bacteria in the gut that help to ward off illness.

Tempeh is a super source of plant-based protein, containing 16 grams per serving. I always buy organic soy products because over 90% of soy crops in the United States are genetically modified and I do not want to put obscure ingredients into my body, thank you very much. Always purchase organic soy products to ensure it is GMO free! There are also tons of products that contain highly processed and concentrated soy byproducts (ex: soy protein isolate) on the market these days and those I definitely avoid.

Tempeh Bacon
YIELD: Approx. 14-20 slices depending on how thinly sliced the strips are


• 1/2 (8 oz.) package of Lightlife original tempeh *I buy mine at Whole Foods
• 2 1/2 Tbs reduced sodium tamari or Bragg's liquid aminos
• 1 1/2 Tbs raw coconut nectar or pure maple syrup
• 2 tsp grapeseed oil or other light-tasting oil, divided
• 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
• 1/4 tsp cumin
• 1/4 tsp garlic powder
• A pinch fine sea salt and black pepper

DIRECTIONS *See note below if you'd rather bake them (just as delicious)!

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine all of the (marinade) ingredients together, except for the tempeh and using only 1 tsp of the oil, and whisk well. Now, heat a medium-large skillet (I use this non-toxic non-stick skillet) and the remaining 1 tsp oil over medium heat.
2. Cut the tempeh block in half. Store one half in a baggy or container in the refrigerator. Using the remaining half of the tempeh, cut thin strips (less than 1/4 inch) lengthwise, as seen in the image above.
3. Place the tempeh in a small baking dish and pour in the marinade making sure each slice is coated in the marinade. Let them marinate for 30 minutes for optimal flavor (optional).
4. Place the marinated tempeh strips and remaining marinade in the heated skillet and cook on one side for 4 minutes, then flip and cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes, until browned.
*To bake instead: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place marinated tempeh strips on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Bake for 8 minutes on one side, then flip each strip over, and bake for another 8 minutes.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Plato

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cinnamon Coconut Sugar Popcorn (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Refined Sugar-Free)

The more time that goes by since the first day I started on this journey to good health in January 2012, the more relaxed I have become about food. Of course, it is essential to eat a diet that consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts, and seeds, but I have also come to realize that indulging often is also really good for your health. I didn't always used to believe that though. At first, I cut out all sugar, even most fruits, and would rarely have dessert, or if I did, I would feel so guilty afterwards. I would also eat things that didn't taste good to me but sucked it up because it was healthy... but it wasn't delicious, and that was the missing piece. Let's be honest, we all want to eat food that tastes wonderful because we kind of have to eat everyday, so naturally we want it to be a pleasurable experience. But if you restrict yourself and eat foods that you don't really love, it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, for your healthy lifestyle changes to stick. This is because you will dread eating and then start to resent the process and more than likely go back to eating junk because you failed at staying committed to eating bland, dissatisfying foods, so you just give up on healthy eating entirely. Well, *truth bomb*, nobody can nor wants nor needs to stay committed to that.

The more I've let go of controlling every little thing that goes into my body, the happier I've become. I used to eat super healthy for a period of time then binge eat everything unhealthy in sight because I felt so deprived. That is absolutely not what good health is all about. If I allow myself something "bad" a few times each week, it actually helps me to stay on track with my healthier choices because I've created balance for myself. I really believe you'll avoid falling off of the wagon if you give yourself permission to indulge every week and not just once! For me, indulging is going to my favorite vegan bakery and ordering whatever looks delicious, having a pretzel, ice cream, brownies, whatever, as long as it's vegan of course. :-) Then, I get back to having my ultra-delicious green smoothies and other healthy meals that I love. *obviously, if you have a food allergy or sensitivity, I don't mean to indulge in those foods... just to be clear.

So, what am I trying to get at here? Well, go indulge in this cinnamon coconut sugar popcorn because you deserve it. And because it is actually tons better for you than kettle corn and most other sweets out there on the market. It is also ridiculously easy to put together and takes just a few minutes. I take this popcorn to the movies or just keep it as a snack for myself at home. I made it for a friend of mine recently when we went to the movies and they absolutely loved it. I don't know how you couldn't though when it contains these glorious ingredients: coconut oil, coconut sugar & cinnamon. You know, after tasting it, it immediately reminded me of the cinnamon sugar toast my dad used to make for me and my mom when I was younger... *lightbulb*... I'm going to have to find some gluten-free bread and sprinkle (maybe more than sprinkle) some cinnamon coconut sugar on it! Yes!

*Just promise me you will buy organic popcorn to ensure that it's not genetically modified. I buy mine at Whole Foods in a large bag as seen in the image below. It's Whole Foods' 365 brand. 

I don't necessarily recommend the reduced fat variety, it was just all that Whole Foods had in stock.

Cinnamon Coconut Sugar Popcorn
YIELD: 2-3 servings

• 6 cups pre-popped organic popcorn
• 2 Tbs + 1 tsp unrefined coconut oil
• 1 Tbs + 1 tsp unrefined coconut sugar
• A few dashes cinnamon
• A few generous pinches fine sea salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat. Adjust ingredients to your taste. Store leftovers in a large airtight container or in a gallon baggy, though it is best enjoyed fresh. Indulge! <3

"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be." Molly Wizenberg

Friday, August 1, 2014

Healthy Share with Claire Ep. 3: Peaches, Nutritional Yeast & A Vegan Purse!

Episode 3 of Healthy Share with Claire is up! Find out what I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. Enjoy! ♡

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