Behold, The Fatty Mint

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Well, folks, word on the street is that it’s that Thin Mint time of year. As much as I adore Thin Mints (and could eat them by the sleeve directly out of the freezer), I do not approve of the mile’s long ingredient list, most particularly the partially hydrogenated palm kernel oils and soy lecithin. Indeed, I rehashed the Samoa a couple of years ago for the same reasons. But dang,  thin mints are the perfect spring treat.  So yesterday afternoon, inspired by the sunshine streaming through the windows, the bouquet of tulips that I scored for $3.33 at Whole Foods, and the good cheer of a weekend ahead of me, I re-created the beloved treat. My version is grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free and contains loads of the healthy fats that health authorities have denigrated for years. Turns out, fat is actually really good for you.

Behold, the Fatty Mint!

Ingredients:

3 cups almond flour; ½ cup or so of unsweetened cocoa powder; 1 tsp peppermint extract & ½ teaspoon for the chocolate coating; ¼ cup chia seeds; 3/4 of a  bar of unsweetened baking chocolate (or, whatever kind of dark chocolate you like; I used a bar of Ghirardelli’s unsweetened chocolate. With dark or unsweetened chocolate, quality matters.); stevia (or honey) (as many drops to taste); ½ cup (or so) of coconut oil

Directions:

Place the almond flour, cocoa powder, chia seeds, and peppermint extract in a mixing bowl, and melt the coconut oil in a microwave-safe cup. Pour the melted oil over the mix, and then add a couple of drops of stevia into the mix as well*. Mix the batter, and then assessing how sweet you’d like your cookies, add more sweetener (or not). The batter should be wet enough that you can roll it into little balls, without them crumbling. If your batter is too dry, add a little more coconut oil. (Of course, if you’re subbing honey for the stevia, your batter will be plenty wet.)

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After your ingredients are well-incorporated, roll the batter into about 1 inch balls. These treats are very rich, so a bite-size is just about perfect. After you’ve rolled the balls, melt ¾ of a bar of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl (or a double-boiler). Drop ½ tsp. of peppermint extract into the melted chocolate, and if you’re using unsweetened chocolate, add a couple of drops of Stevia to the chocolate as well. Mix the chocolate well. Transfer the melted chocolate to a small cup or ramekin for an easier dipping mechanism — things will get messy quickly! Dip the cookies into the chocolate, and then place them in the freezer, since we all agree that Thin Mints simply must be frozen. These Fatty Mints should be served cold.

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The chia seeds add a nice crunch.

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A cup of melted chocolate.

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A messy treat.

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Chocolate, sunlight. Yes.

*If you’re new to baking with stevia, start small. You can always add more sweetness, but you can’t take it away! I ended up using about 7 drops of stevia. If you’d prefer to use honey, start with ⅓ cup. The cocoa powder is quite bitter, so you’ll need a good amount of honey to balance out the flavor.

Jared and I tried a few “Fatty Mint Balls” (hmm, maybe the name needs some improvement?) after dinner last night, and I do declare, these are legit.

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The pop of peppermint hints at spring, and the rich chocolate makes this treat very satisfying. Move over Thin Mint, the Fatty has come to town.

On My Due Date

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” Wendell Berry

Today was to have been my due date. “Was to have been”. The past future perfect. 20 weeks ago, Jared and I lost a baby, whom we had taken to calling “Baby Blue, when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I woke up this morning thinking about this due date that was to have been, and I sat down to write, without a plan in mind. So here I am. Publishing these undrafted, unrefined thoughts.

I think today is a due date of sorts. I’m due to express the gratitude – out loud – for everything that has been just right in my life, for the kindness that has revealed to me that the underbelly of sadness is love, the kind of love that quietly simmers in past future perfects, the love that has allowed me to arrive at my due date and be able to say, “I am lucky” and really mean it.  Wendell Berry writes, “Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery,” and dog gone it, he’s right.

So on the due date that was to have been, I choose to be grateful for:

  1. My husband, Jared, the love and rock of my life. I did not fully comprehend nor appreciate the strength of this man, his patience, his kindness, or his love for me until we experienced this loss together. I know the strength of my marriage only because I have seen it bear weight. I turn to Wendell Berry again to articulate the felt sense that my marriage began in earnest five months ago. He writes, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do/we have come to our real work,/and that when we no longer know which way to go/we have come to our real journey./The mind that is not baffled is not employed./The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I am grateful for this singing stream.
  2. The family (my beautiful sister cousins, especially)  and friends who have made me laugh when I didn’t think I had a crumb of joy left in me. I am thankful also for all of the people who shared with me the joy of my pregnancy. You know who you are.
  3. A resilient body.
  4. Yoga. Every time I’m on that mat, I remember how lucky I am simply to be breathing. Every inhale gives me strength, and every exhale grace.
  5. Baby Blue’s fetal cells. It’s a fact that fetal cells stay in their mom’s body for decades after conception, even if the baby is never delivered. Isn’t that a sweet thought? My beautiful friend Laura turned me on to this RadioLab.  Listen to this: the current theory is that a baby’s fetal cells remain with his/her mother to help heal her when she’s sick. Babies biologically tend toward kindness.
  6. The ability to feel happiness for others again.
  7. The perspective, born out of distance, that life – with all its unknowns, its possibilities, and its moments of grief and grace – continues.

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

Mary Oliver

Baked Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

It’s cold here. It’s a deep in the heart of a Midwestern Winter, brittle bones, shield your face from the wind, don two pairs of socks, curl up under a blanket and pray for spring kind of cold. Today, it’s supposed to get up to a whopping 18 degrees, which the meteorologists are calling “balmy”. Adjectives are relative, I guess.

This past week has been downright arctic.  One day, upon returning home after a yoga class, I walked into a house that had settled at 52 degrees. I “harrumphed” and hightailed it to the coffee shop where I spent a supremely cozy morning reading a good book (more on that later!),  eavesdropping on conversations between Stay At Home Moms, and nibbling on baked oatmeal. Oh my, buttery baked oatmeal feels just right on a bitter day. So,  when I returned home at noon to a much more humane environment (62 degrees, baby!), I set to work at re-creating a baked oatmeal. I tweaked this gorgeous recipe to eliminate sugar and dairy (my husband and I *try* to steer clear!) and to increase the healthy fats.

The steel cuts oats contribute a nuttiness, and the apples and cinnamon provide a comforting sweetness on a toe-freezing morning. This morning, I enjoyed a small bowl of these nourishing overnight baked oats with a spoonful of homemade apple butter. Take that, winter!

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A bevy of baking ingredients

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Our stock of local, humane, farm fresh eggs. We pay 2.50/dozen, and you bet you can taste the difference.

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To separate the coconut meat from the milk, simply use a spoon (the thick cream will be on the top of the can). I used the cream in a paleo banana bread, and it was delicious.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups steel cut oats

1 can of coconut milk (remove the cream from the top of the can, and simply use the milk at the bottom; for those of you who aren’t dairy free, use 1 cup of whole milk or cream)

6 tablespoons melted and then slightly cooled butter

2 eggs

2 apples diced

⅓ cup of chia seeds

cinnamon (I used a liberal amount)

3 teaspoons vanilla (I used Trader Joe’s Bourbon Vanilla – the best!)

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

*For a little sweetness, you might add ½ cup of brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey. Personally,  I find that the butter adds a roundness and the cinnamon and apples a sweetness that is satisfying on its own.

Directions:

Mix the oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, and baking powder together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, and then add the coconut milk, butter, and vanilla to the egg mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated. Simply pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients, give the mixture a couple of stirs, and then cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. The overnight refrigeration allows the steel cut oats time to soften and the chia seeds time to swell and will give the dish a gentle fermented flavor (think sourdough bread!).

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The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and pour the batter into a baking dish (I used a 9 by 13 inch dish, though as smaller one would suit just fine).Set your timer for 30 minutes, and check in with the dish then as baking times will vary. You’re looking for a lightly golden top!

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Serve with cashew butter for a hearty meal or apple butter for some sweetness.

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Eat some fudge. It’s good for your allergies.

At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Let me explain. Spring has arrived to Hood River. It’s been in the 60s this week, and I’ve got a smattering of new freckles from the sunshine. I couldn’t be happier — except that my seasonal allergies are acting up. Raw, local honey supposedly does wonders for allergies, so yesterday afternoon after suffering through several hours of stratchy throat and watery eyes, I decided to try my hand at honey fudge. Yes, I could have just eaten a spoonful of honey, but Lord knows, I love an excuse to eat fudge!  (And truthfully, when I Google searched “raw honey helps allergies” for this post, I came back with a host of articles trumping the idea. Harumph!)

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Raw honey, sunshine, golden spring.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond butter; 1/3 cup honey (or less if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth); 1/2 banana; 1/2 cup coconut oil

Directions: Put all the ingredients in a small pot, and heat on low just until the almond butter and coconut oil melt. Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender or food processer), blend the mix until it’s smooth. Pour into a small pan (I used a tiny pyrex), and pop the pan into the freezer. The high fat content means that your fudge will harden lickety-split! This stuff is pretty deadly; a smallish size piece should do the trick.

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It may not look like much, but it’s going to taste amazing.

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Jared rightfully does not trust that I won’t splash hot oil all over myself, so…

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Don’t mind if I do!

 

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Overview: Diana is a high-powered intellectual with a secret: she’s a witch who hails from the Bishop/Proctor family, one whose magical powers are (were – her parents are dead) unmatched. However, Diana, devoting herself to rigorous intellectual study (in chemistry – what an interesting choice for a witch!) and aggressive physical activity, eschews her background. When she accidentally retrieves an ancient alchemical book from the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, daemons, witches, and vampires of all sorts begin meddling in Diana’s life leaving her no choice but to face her magical heritage. One of these nosy creatures is Matthew Clairmont, a wickedly handsome vampire who is equally attractive and repulsive to Diana. Spoiler alert: she falls for him, and their partnership leads her down a rabbit hole of magical creatures and ancient pacts to a confrontation with her own untamed power.

Novel Type: While it’s marketed as a Harry Potter for adults, it’s really more of a romance thriller.

My rating: 5/10.

Let me just get this out of the way: I don’t think I’m an intellectual snob. I conjure equal enthusiasm for Real Housewives of New York as I do for August: Osage County. Yes, my interests are certainly eclectic if not downright oxymoronic. Both Crime & Punishment and Harriet the Spy top my list of favorite reads, for example, and I enjoy grocery shopping simply for the blissful ten minutes I spend perusing the tabloids in the checkout line. But, this book just did not do it for me.

I got a kick out of Diana’s aunts, who provided some good comedic relief, and I was kinda sorta interested to learn where Diana and Matthew would end up. I mean, I didn’t NOT finish the book. So, what’s my beef? Diana basically becomes as uninteresting as Bella Swan  as soon as she falls for Matthew. Unlike Hermoine, for example, with whom she shares some nerdy traits, Diana doesn’t retain snark or independence and spends much of her time tasting wine with Matthew, describing how Matthew smells, and imagining what she must smell like to him. I almost threw the book across the room when I arrived at the passage in which Diana compares Matthew’s smell to that of “carnations – not the kind in the florist shops but the old-fashioned ones that grow in English cottage gardens” (146). Carnations are just wrong. Period. Okay? Fine, I’m a little snobbish. Mostly I found myself bewildered by Diana’s taste, with which I reluctantly had to concern myself since she was either nibbling at Matthew or drinking wine All. The. Time. For instance, she narrates, “We sipped at what Matthew called my ‘birthday wine,’ which smelled like lemon floor polish and smoke and tasted like chalk and butterscotch” (173). Huh?

Read if you: like the Twilight series or 50 Shades of Grey…in which case you should stop reading my blog*.

 

 

 

*I kid! I kid!

 

 

On BFFs

 As the guidance counselor at St. Robert Elementary School, Mrs. Thompson was hip to emoticons before emoticons were cool. In her office, an impossibly tiny corner of the computer lab, hung two posters. The first featured a desperately sad, wet cat with the words, “Having a bad day?” emblazoned across the top. “How do you feel today?” inquired the second, and it offered up a wide array of (creepy) cartoon faces representing various emotions, similar to this poster:

 

Mrs. Thompson was big on feelings, and during weekly Guidance Class, she would instruct us on various important social-emotional skills like properly identifying our own feelings and talking about them; imagining ourselves in the shoes of others; working through conflict with respect and kindness; and learning to say “I’m sorry”. She was great. And also highly ineffective — and not because of any fault of her own but rather due to my judgmental nature.

Mrs. Thompson suffered from chronic laryngitis (and also extreme height; I found myself enthralled by her choice in printed socks (neon frogs! musical notes! Prozac smiley faces!), which were invariably peeking out from beneath the longish skirts she wore, all of which were about six inches too short to qualify as truly long). Her voice was gravelly and quiet, like her inflamed, sandpaper vocal chords were being scratched at by beady-eyed mice every time she uttered a word. So, whilst Mrs. Thompson delivered another sermon on empathy and emotions, I was thinking, “Cough, just COUGH!” or, alternatively, “I like those socks.” Needless to say, because of this misdirection of attention, I spent a lot of time in Mrs. Thompson’s office looking at her posters and trying to navigate the complexities of elementary school friendships.  I was usually joined there by two other girls, because if you know anything about girl culture, you now that badness comes in three’s. Mrs. Thompson regularly mediated fights between me and my two best friends, Lauren and Anne Marie; one of us was always crying about feeling left out, and the palpable tension – and the accompanying aggressively vulnerable notes circulating among us (“Am I your first or second best friend?” or “Are you mad at me? Check yes or no.” or “Who do you like best?”) – meant that our well-intentioned teachers regularly recommended us for counseling. However, sending us to Mrs. Thompson’s office was problematic in and of itself, for her office was outfitted with only two beanbag chairs. A visit to her ushered in a whole host of new insecurities about being left out of the bean bag alliance, ganged up on, excluded.  Regardless of who was crying when we arrived at Mrs. Thompson’s office, all three of us would have cried at some point during our session, and after a chorus of blubbery “I’m sorry’s,” our triumvirate was restored (if tentatively so).

Childhood was one steep learning curve.

And I’m still learning.  As an adult, I find myself amazed by and grateful for the women in my life. I am so lucky that I have gracious, patient, open-hearted friends, and I’m humbled by their presence – truly.

Enter Julia, for instance.

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One of my very best friends (she even married Jared and me this summer), she defines drama free. Back in February, she managed to sneak away from her kids in Colorado to join me for a girls’ weekend in Portland. It was the first time she wasn’t trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding, so needless to say, the weekend was quite gluttonous. Julia, a kindred spirit, wakes up at the crack of dawn, so we managed to pack a lot in during her two-night stay in Portland. Here’s a smattering of what we did:

Friday: pedicures, city wandering, and dinner at Grassa, where we ate lemony calamari and ordered fancy drinks.

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Saturday: Voodoo donuts, of course, and hours upon hours at Powell’s City of Books. Julia is a true bibliophile. She, like me, experiences an urgency about giving good book recommendations. Here’s a text message she sent me on Saturday, for example:   Have you read Eleanor and Park? I am in LOVE with it. You need to read it ASAP!”

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After Powell’s, we hoofed it to the Japanese Gardens where the first spring blossoms were making their appearance.

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Afterwards, we walked back through the city, ate some Lebanese food, and caught a matinée of August: Osage County. Wow. If you haven’t seen this movie, see it NOW. Unless you don’t like to be reminded of the endemic quality of familial behavior.

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Saturday night we completely lucked out at getting a seat at Pok Pok. It’s a bombdiggity Thai restaurant, and when we arrived (at 5:15, because that’s how we roll), the wait was 1.5-2 hours. When we got to the front of the line to see the hostess, two seats at the bar had opened up. The meal was out of this world.

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On Sunday, we met Jared for brunch, and before I knew it, I had to say goodbye to Julia.

The weekend was pure bliss.

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I’m curious, what do you most appreciate about your adult friendships?

Happy Body: Rediscovering My Running Mojo

Hallelujah, I found my running mojo again! For months, that blissful my-body-feels-worked-but-happy-and-I-just-can’t-stop-smiling kind of feeling eluded me, and running felt more like a chore as I slogged through mile after mile on the treadmill. However, in the past month or so, I’ve felt increasingly happy to lace up my shoes and run, run, run, and I attribute the return of my mojo to these three changes in my approach to running:

1) I set a goal for myself and signed up for a couple of races to hold myself accountable.

A habitual runner, it’s easy for me to run endless miles at any easy-ish pace, and while the accumulation of miles is “nice” from a “stay in shape during the winter months” kind of perspective, it’s also boring. With my 30th birthday looming, I decided that I’d like to challenge myself to to run a good, fast race this spring. I haven’t raced for two years, and I wouldn’t exactly call my experience in the Eugene Marathon “racing”. What that experience did teach me is that I LOVE following a training plan. This spring, I plan on running the Shamrock Shuffle in Portland (I’m doing the five mile run with my cousin) and Race for the Roses Half Marathon in April. I’m hoping to go big in my half marathon. I have a lofty finish time in mind, so I’m doggedly digging away at a training plan…which brings me to the next point:

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After finishing the Eugene Marathon in 2012. My dad ran about 16 miles of the course taking pictures and then ran the last mile with me before getting booted from the finisher’s shoot by security. Praise be for fathers.

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About 3/4 of the pictures he took are of the runner in purple. He thought she was me. Since she has a mid-foot strike, I’m totally okay with his mistake.

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At the starting gates. I am wearing my good luck periwinkle running shorts, and the guy in yellow is passing gas in my direction.

2) I’ve been challenging myself with speed workouts (and trying to run more of them outside!)

Rather than pound the pavement in an endless accumulation of miles (as I am wont to do without a plan), I’ve been incorporating speed workouts two times a week. I alternate between tempo runs and intervals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Over the past six weeks of training, I’ve developed a tentative respect for speed workouts, for though they are glitteringly painful, they are also effective. Case in point: Last Thursday, I had planned to run intervals on the treadmill between yoga classes and college counseling work. The sun was shining, it was fifty degrees outside, and there was no justification for me to run on the treadmill, which is where I admittedly do most of my winter running (and much of my reading too!). So, I laced up my running shoes and took my run outdoors. Needless to say, fresh air and sunshine are magical, especially after endless days inside with rain and snow.  I was supposed to run six miles as follows: 1 mile warm up, 1 mile at 6:45, ½ mile recovery, 1 mile at 6:45, ½ mile recovery, 1 mile at 6:45, 1 mile cool down. However, the combination of the endorphin-boosting sunshine and several weeks of diligent speed work paid off, and I surprised myself by keeping my intervals between 5:30-6:30. By the end of the workout, I was smiling ear to ear, despite feeling nauseated and entirely overworked. The elusive runner’s high was back!

3) I’ve explored new places on foot rather than relying exclusively on routine treadmill runs.

My cousin Mandy and I spent last weekend in Nevada City, California (a historic gold-mining town about an hour from Sacramento) visiting my cousin Kyra and her brand-new baby, Will (more on this later – swoon!). One of my favorite things to do when visiting new cities is to get up early, early and explore the area on foot. Yes, there’s a moderate chance I’ll get lost, but with a GPS watch and my cellphone in hand, it’s unlikely. And there’s something empowering and peaceful about discovering a new place solo before sunrise. I ran over twenty miles this past weekend in Nevada City, a town whose old-fashioned downtown strip, neighborhoods of itty bitty bungalows, and forest trails provided a charming change of pace (pun intended, definitely).

And with that, I’m off for a run!

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