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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Healthy Share with Claire Ep. 8: Vegan Italian Cookbook, Quesadillas & Pumpkin Banana Bread!

Hi! :-) It has been too long since I've filmed a Healthy Share with Claire video, but I hope you can forgive me because I have been moving and adjusting to life in a new state! I talk a little bit about that in this video, too. I hope you find my favorites interesting and check them out for yourself if any stand out to you. I wouldn't share them if I hadn't been using them constantly and loving them madly. Enjoy, loves!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Banana Bread (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free)

There is no better natural scent than freshly baked goods made right in your kitchen, can I get an amen? When I lived with my dad, he would always say, "whenever we put the house on the market and have showings, please make your chocolate chip cookies so that the aroma fills the house!" It is the best excuse to make delicious baked goods every time you desire to blanket your house with a yummy scent. Each time I have made this pumpkin banana bread (three times, to be exact), I would say to myself, "man, I wish there was such a thing as 'Insta-Smell' so I could share the tantalizing scent of pumpkin spice, vanilla and banana filling up my house!" It's one of the simple pleasures in life that I just can't get enough of. 

I went through a few trials of this recipe before scoring a winner. The first time, it lacked pumpkin flavor so it was essentially just banana bread. The second time, it failed to bake all the way through so it was too moist. But alas, the gluten-free vegan baking gods blessed me with my third concoction! It all came together and I couldn't have been more excited, squealing like a school girl and all. I took some over to my friend Karissa's house for her to try and she raved about it. She said, "you made this?!?" That spoke volumes coming from someone who understands just how hard it is to get gluten-free vegan baking right. I wish I could explain in words how scrumptious this pumpkin banana bread is, but it's pretty tough to do, so why don't ya just make it already? Best of all, it's really easy to make. The hardest and longest part is waiting for it to bake and cool. It would be a hit at a party, to bring for Thanksgiving or as a gift. It couldn't be more fitting for fall!

Speaking of scents, over the years, I have become very sensitive to candles made of paraffin wax and perfumes. But not all kinds, just the kind that contain artificial ingredients and harmful chemicals that have been linked to cancer, allergic reactions and hormone disruption, among others. Yankee candles give me the worst headaches along with commercial perfumes, like one of my old favorites, Hypnotic Poison from Christian Dior. After all, it does have poison in its name. I can no longer wear those perfumes or burn those candles, but I'm glad, because they contain unhealthy ingredients that may be harmful to my health in the long-run. I so wish there was a non-toxic fragrance out that smelled just like Hypnotic Poison, maybe re-named Hypnotic Potion. ;-) Anyone else have this sensitivity?

Soy candles made with 100% pure essential oils are the perfect alternative to paraffin wax candles. It's no surprise that I don't have any headaches when burning soy candles (without any synthetic fragrance, that is - some soy candles still contain synthetic fragrances so be sure to look at the ingredient list). Here are a few of my favorite non-toxic candle companies, if you're curious: Birthed by Earth, the Pure Aromatherapy line from Green Space Candles (the Chai Chai scent is my favorite!) and Meow Meow Tweet. There's an abundance of vegan soy 100% essential oil candles on Etsy, too!

One important side note... many companies (candle, perfume/cosmetic, cleaning supplies, etc.) lump numerous hazardous chemicals under the word "fragrance" and are not required to disclose each ingredient. According to The Environmental Working Group, "fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance." Additionally, The Food and Drug Administration does not have to pre-approve cosmetic ingredients and assess the safety of those ingredients before they hit the market, with the exception of color additives. Be careful out there, y'all. Essential information that we deserve to know is kept from us. Research and question everything. go whip up a loaf of pumpkin banana bread that no one will believe is gluten-free and vegan!

Bottom left-to-right: 2 flax eggs; mashed banana w/a fork in the peel (lazy girl style); dry & wet ingredients
Right middle-to-top: dry & wet ingredients mixed together; bread mix ready to be baked
Top/middle left: final product!

Pumpkin Banana Bread
Yield: 1 loaf (using a 9x5 inch loaf pan)

• 1 1/4 cups Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour *can also be found at Whole Foods and Sprouts
• 3/4 cup coconut sugar
• 1/3 cup pumpkin purée (I used canned organic pumpkin)
• 1/2 cup unrefined coconut oil
• 2 very ripe medium-sized bananas, peeled and mashed (approx. 1 cup mashed)
• 2 flax eggs (2 Tbs ground flaxseed + 6 Tbs water mixed together)
• 1 Tbs pumpkin pie spice
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan with coconut oil.
2. In a small bowl, combine the flax egg ingredients (2 Tbs ground flaxseed + 6 Tbs water) and mix together. Set aside to thicken for 10 minutes, then stir again.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients together and whisk well. Add in the rest of the wet ingredients one at a time to the same bowl. Mix wet & dry ingredients together until just combined (don't over mix). It's okay that there are lumps of banana.
4. Transfer the mix to the oiled loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes (mine baked for 55 minutes although 50 minutes would've been fine, too). Insert a toothpick or knife in the center of the bread at 45 minutes. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven; if it doesn't come out clean, bake for another 5 minutes and keep checking it in 5-minute intervals until the toothpick or knife comes out clean. It shouldn't take longer than an hour. You don't want it to be dry!
5. Let the bread cool in the loaf pan for 15 minutes. Transfer the bread from the loaf pan to a wire rack or a plate to cool for another 45 minutes to an hour. I know it's hard to wait (I know I can't unless I have to dart out to go somewhere!), but it's even better when it cools completely to room temperature, about 2 hours. Either way, it'll knock your socks off! :-)

"Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test... consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals." Milan Kundera

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Grub Roundup: Quesadillas, Mac 'n Cheese, Pumpkin Banana Bread + More!

Hi guys! I know, it has been too long since I've posted. I apologize for that. If you didn't know, I moved to California in September, so needless to say, I've been settling in over the past month. Moving to a new state has been so much more challenging than I ever imagined it would be. The first few weeks were especially rough because I missed the comforts of home, my family, my best friend, my dog, and the familiarity of my hometown, amongst other hardships. But I kept asking myself, "what was your original intent in moving?" because I kept getting caught up in my temporary emotional state. My original intent was, in fact, to get out of my comfort zone and do something completely different and a little bit scary. I wanted to go on an adventure, at least for a year, and what better way to do that than to live in a new place?

Reminding myself of my original intent has helped me to stay committed to my decision and I am so glad that I did and didn't take the easy way out by going back home. The truth is, I wasn't happy in Dallas because I felt like there was more out there for me and that time to take that opportunity was passing by everyday. I really felt stuck for a good year and a half. I felt something deep in my soul pushing me to venture out and grow. So, what would I gain by going back so soon? I'd go right back to where I was. Crazy enough, I have already learned so much being here for just one month. I have already grown immensely. I think that's because I became so uncomfortable feeling stagnant that I had to do something about it, and once I did, growth took place immediately. I watered my plant, so to speak. :-P 

Anyway, I've still been cooking often, although I haven't been creating many new recipes just because I've had to start all over. I drove my car halfway across the country and only brought the essentials. My car was heavy enough with just the essentials! And maybe I'm stretching the word "essentials" - do numerous boxes of clothes count? Probably not, but the point is, I had to leave most of my cooking tools/appliances and food behind. It was a hard goodbye (don't fret - they were adopted by my best friend). But now that I have acquired some spices and other cooking materials, I do have a few recipes I have been testing out, like one shown below on this weekly grub roundup, that I am beyond excited to share with you... a pumpkin banana bread! *gasp* So. Good.

Because I haven't posted anything for awhile, not even a Healthy Share with Claire video (will do soon!), I thought I'd share what I ate this past week and where to find the recipes. I've cooked some absolutely divine meals with a new friend of mine, Karissa, who I adore. She has been the reason I have settled in quicker than I would have had I not met her. It's interesting... if you look back at hard times, there is always at least one positive thing that is keeping you afloat.

Without further ado... my meals & desserts this week... and I can't pick a favorite because they were all to die for!

Top row left-to-right: 
■ Quesadilla (without the top tortilla because I wanted to show the pretty filling ingredients) - Food for Life Brown Rice Tortilla, a spread of store-bought original hummus, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, & avocado. I brushed the tortillas with grapeseed oil, and toasted them in a non-stick skillet over low heat for 2 minutes on each side. *Adapted the recipe from Chloe Coscarelli's new cookbook, Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen
■ Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Apple Pizza *Recipe from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen
■ Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes *Recipe from Minimalist Baker

Middle row left-to-right:
■ Nachos with Cashew Cheese *Recipe from me!
■ Mac 'n Cheese with Roasted Broccoli (sprinkled with smoked paprika) *Recipe from Detoxinista
■ Tempeh Bacon Wrap - I made this up spontaneously for lunch one day. I was in awe of its deliciousness! Food for Life Brown Rice Tortilla, a spread of vegan mayo, tempeh bacon, lettuce, and Daiya cheese. *Recipe for my tempeh bacon

Bottom row left-to-right:
■ Olive Oil Pancakes *Recipe from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen
■ Nice Cream Cookie Sandwich - I used Vegan à la Mode's (my friend, Karissa) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodle Cookie recipe and put So Delicious's Butter Pecan Vegan Ice Cream in between! How did I do this? I froze 2 cookies for an hour, took them out and scooped some ice cream in between & then pressed the cookies together, and put it back in the freezer for another hour. You will become addicted to these! Check out my nice cream cookie sandwich recipe here.
■ Pumpkin Banana Bread - PERFECT for the fall! A new favorite of mine. *My recipe!

Jeez, I just realized how much comfort food I ate this past week. It's no wonder! Ha.

Happy fall, y'all! ...even though it doesn't feel nor look like fall in California...
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