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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Beginnings, Janus and "Lara" Bars

I love January.  I love the idea of new beginnings, a clean, fresh slate and the feeling that anything is possible.  (I probably feel this way because I am much more adept at starting things than finishing things). 

Enter Janus, the God of Beginnings.  Janus (or maybe the person who conceived/perceived him), knew a thing or two about beginnings.  Charged with beginnings of all sorts, transitions, gates, doors, portals, even time itself, Janus is often portrayed as a two-faced entity, illustrating the ability to look to the past as well as to the future.
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Interestingly (or annoyingly), when I expressed my delight over January to my husband, his first response was to point out to me that there are places in the world where I can experience January all year round.  When I clarified that it isn't the weather of January that I love (oh, HELL no --- January in Ohio is not a paradise to be savored all year round), and I explained rather that I love the idea that all is possible, he said, 'oh, I feel like that every day'.  Seriously, I would like to smack him sometimes.

But, I quickly realized, of course he is right.  Why should we just arbitrarily assign all of this 'freshening' to one date on the calendar?  Every day IS the first day of the rest of our life.....and each days holds the promise of possibility.

Still....I like January.  It feels like a time for assessment, for appraisal and for renewed committment to all that we want to get from our mortal existence.

I was interested in one of the ancient ceremonies to usher in January....it is based on the feeling that how January is started will be an omen for the rest of the year.  Thusly, people devoted some time to work and also expressed greetings and hopes to others, spreading cheer, and they exchanged DATES!  Dates???  Perfect.  See recipe below. {Interestingly one reference I found stated that typically no animal sacrifices were made, but rather cakes made of spelt and salt were given up to the gods.....cool}.

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LaraBars I'm sure you've seen them if you've ventured into the health food or organic section of the grocery store.  They are one of the few vegan 'energy' or snack bars that don't have additives, but rather consist usually of dates, nuts and some spices.  I have long thought I could just make these myself.  I found several great do-it-yourself recipes on the web--- finally got around to trying them. (A Google search "LaraBar Recipes" will give you a large amount of returns if you want to see some specific ingredient amounts---I cannot seem to locate a particular blog that did an excellent job explaining amounts, etc.  When I find it, I'll post the link here).  In a word:  Yum.

Date Bars (maybe I should call them Janus-Bars)

I just played with the ingredient amounts a bit and used (in various combinations, not all together):

dates  (I use the large whole Medjool dates, pitted)
dried cranberries
raisins
raw cashews
raw walnuts
raw cacao nibs
cinnamon
(I didn't measure, but instead added more of the ground nuts if the mixture seemed too wet, although the mix will be sticky, and more dates if it was too dry)

I used my little coffee grinder that I process nuts/seeds in to grind up the nuts and the cacao nibs, and used Viv, the wonder-Vitamix blender for the dates/cranberries/raisins.  This is where I think I do need a food processor.  It was a bit of a mess trying to dig all of that out of the blender, but, totally worth it.  Use your personal taste preferences and just go nuts....(ha-ha). 

I'm thinking some great add-ins would be dried coconut, any dried fruit like dried mango, berries, etc.  I'll want to use my dehydrator for most of these dried fruits and now might be inspired to do just that as most commercial dried fruit has sulphites or other nasties.

These go together quickly and are much more economical than the $1.+ per bar.  

I laid mine out on plastic wrap, but waxed paper would work well too ---will try for my next batch - wrap and refrigerate.  I don't think they actually require refrigeration, but a short time in the frig is likely a good idea to help them firm up.  Hopefully I will come up with a concoction that my husband will be able to enjoy and maybe I can get him off the sweet and salty granola bars.

So far my favorite combination has been the cashews, cranberries, dates, cinnamon.  As is noted in many of the recipes on the web, you can also add a drop or two of an extract.  I'll be trying some rum extract with the coconut, cashew or pecan, date combination.


Sue, celebrating beginnings, with dates, in Ohio

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A letter to 2011, Falling Off the Wagon & Thumbprint Cookies

2011, you've been an interesting year.

You've not let me down in my expectations ---you've showered me with opportunities for change and growth and some of these I've even taken advantage of.

I am sorry for the paths you presented to me that I did not walk upon....I vow to take more of these opportunities when your successor presents them to me.

I am the most proud of having you be the first complete year, from day one to day 365, that I maintained a vegan diet.

I am the least proud of my recent fall off the healthy-eating wagon (dark chocolate, you and I will be seeing far less of each other in 2012) with a short and torrid affair with some vegan chocolate chip cookies.  Ouch, did I ever pay for that. (see below).

2011, you brought me insight into myself at a new level, and I intend to use this new awareness to fill in the many holes in my virtues, and to expand on and fortify the things that I am already doing well.  I thank you for the continued lessons and I do recognize that despite my tendency to get caught up on trivialites from time to time, I do know this life truly is a journey of spiritual growth.



THE WAGON.

Why do they call it the wagon?  I asked my old friend Google and got some inconsistent results.  The most reasonable explanation seems to be linked to the days of prohibition and a reference to a water cart or wagon that delivered water through town.  If someone was abstaining from alcohol, they could be referenced as preferring to ride the water wagon rather than drink alcohol.

I do like the idea of the wagon as a symbol of a vessel of sorts transporting us safely through the various ruts and holes of temptation....we can stay on the wagon, or risk having to hike in the muck of whatever excess we are trying to avoid.  I can go with that.

So my wagon....or rather my 'ruts'....sugar, chocolate.  Oh boy.  Thought I had those guys beat. 

Then I baked cookies to ship to my dad.  My dad that has Type 2 Diabetes.  My dad that expressed missing my goodies when I tried to send him healthful versions a couple of years ago.  My dad that has the view that, 'hey, I'm this old now, what the heck, I'll eat what I want'.  Ok, Dad, I respect your right to choose, but oh, I wish......

So, I baked healthier vegan versions of his favorites, but I over-baked.  I gave some of the excess away....postal carrier, the neighbor, stuck some in the freezer. 

They called to me....they begged me to eat them.  I complied.

Now, what I lost sight of, (that I hopefully will not lose sight of again), is that it has been a LONG time since I have had anything remotely resembling the oils in Earth Balance, or the sugars called for in these cookies.  I've had minimal dark chocolate, but sugar???  not much at all.  And I don't know when I've had enriched flour last. 

The same dad sent me up some English Muffins that he orders for us, and since they are vegan, but not particularly healthy, I didn't think it would hurt to eat one, or two, or three.  Enriched flour, I hate you....I truly do.

OMG....I was sick.  I mean the kind of sick like 'there-is-something-seriously-wrong-with-me-should-I-go-to-the-E.R.' sick.  And that was Christmas Eve and on into Christmas Day.  I got through it, but only wanted to be in bed.  I was dizzy, light-headed, weak, just not myself at all.  Fortunately, I had stopped the eating madness Xmas eve eve, and had put myself solidly back on my whole-foods no oil program.  Pass the green smoothie, please.....yessir, may I have another?  My body quickly repaired itself.  I even had a couple of skin break-outs, so I really think there was a bit of detox going on. 

I also addressed my caffeine issue which I have been procrastinating on dealing with for months.  I only drink tea, but it has been creeping up.  The shakiness I felt made me wonder if I was becoming more sensitive to caffeine.  I checked the caffeine levels in my beloved Tazo Awake tea and found one reference listing 100 mg per cup!  Good grief.  Black tea is around 40 mg., green tea around 20 mg. and white tea about 15 mg.  I've been thinking of going over to white tea for some time now.

So, I cut my caffeine drastically, to one cup regular black tea and two cups per day decaf.  I prepared for the headache.  Just had a dull ache the first day, but by day 2,  I wanted death.  Oh, Kill-Bill-Vol.-1-&-2 headache.  I caved and had an afternoon cup of high-test that day, but have since been on my restricted levels.

Lesson learned and actually, I look back now and realize it was all a good thing.  My body is now not shy about telling me when something is wrong, and I am now experienced enough to look to what I am putting in my body as the source of the problem.

Our bodies are beautiful things and are capable of such amazing feats.....but we have to listen, that is for sure.  (Mine, now a few pounds heavier as a result of my abuses, has definitely got my attention!).
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Thumbprint Cookies

You might wonder why I would put a cookie recipe on here after the above confession, but when you look at it you'll see why.  This is a cookie I can eat and not go into compulsive-obsessive fits of over-eating....it just doesn't kick in that impulse.

I found the inspiration for my version of this recipe in a lovely little book at Half-Priced Books, called Simply Vegan by Wasserman and Mangels.  It's an older book, (1991) but really has some nice recipes in it and has a nutrition section that delineates what foods you can eat to provide which nutrients...pretty cool really.  I only paid a few bucks for it and I see it is on Amazon for about $10.  Most of the recipes are too oil heavy for my food program, but most are easily subbed out for healthier ingredients.

http://www.amazon.com/Simply-Vegan-Quick-Vegetarian-Meals/dp/0931411300/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325351646&sr=8-1

Thumbprint Cookies (based on Festive Cashew Cookies from Simply Vegan)

2 C raw cashews
1 C rolled oats
1/4 - 1/2 C almond meal (note: you can vary these 3 ingredients...can sub whole wheat flour if you have a nut sensitivity, or more nuts if gluten sensitive)
1-2 t cinnamon
1/3 C molasses or maple syrup*
1/3 C water
1/3 C applesauce
1 t vanilla extract
small amount of pureed fruit/berries or jam

375 degree oven.
Grind cashews and oats and combine with almond meal (Note:  Trader Joes has packaged almond meal or you can just grind your own raw almonds). 
Add remaining ingredients, except fruit.  Adjust amount of flour or almond meal to go for a dough consistency, but dough will still be a bit wet.  Or, you can play with the amount of liquid you add.

Form balls (approx. 24) and place on parchment paper on cookie sheet.  Use your thumb or end of spoon to form a small depression in the middle of the cookie and place a small amount of pureed fruit in the center.
Bake approx. 15 minutes.

 *I'm going to try this using whole dates instead to cut processed sweetener.

These really did come out pretty well. Not a super sweet cookie, but a definite treat.  I went to photo them and my husband had polished them off.  Still much better for him than the sweet and salty granola bars he prefers.

Dad, you will be seeing these in your box next year.

Sue, good-bye 2011, hello 2012, in Ohio