Thursday, July 30, 2015

Almond Butter Chia Protein Balls - Otherwise Known as Awesome Balls

Hospitals are no fun.  Unless you are coming home with a baby... but even then, the hospital part isn't so great.  And the food.  Seriously, they really expect you to get healthy on some the food they serve?

This week my 86-year old dad finally called Uncle and agreed with his orthopedic surgeon that the time had come for his knee replacement.  Dad is a tough guy and really hard to keep down, but anesthesia and he aren't best buddies.

Taking a little longer than others to expel the drugs from his system, yesterday's anesthesia brought waves of nausea to his otherwise very successful surgery.  For a man who never misses a meal (and yet he maintains a proper and fit weight), hospital food left a lot to be desired in his queasy state - they brought greasy meatloaf, butter slathered mashed potatoes with puddles of gravy and wished him Bon Appetit.  All a no-go in his book and he stuck with one Saltine cracker.

Concerned that his IV wasn't delivering enough nutrients and refusing the chilled bottle of Ensure purely based on the less than desirable ingredients, (sugar, salt and maltodextrin...??) I promised I'd bring healthy food.

He maintained he needed nutrition, not just calories, and I set to putting together something that brought a nutritional punch, helped with potential constipation issues due to pain meds** (see note below), but yet remained tolerable on the still slightly off tummy.

And with a few super foods and a medium sized bowl I created just the concoction.

Already a favorite, almond butter and maple syrup bring a tasty base that blends beautifully with rolled oats and flax.  Chia seeds add much needed potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium, and vanilla extract?  Well, that simply brings a taste of heaven to the mix.

Rolled into balls, these little bites pack the nutrition punch I was looking for, but it wasn't until my college boy arrived home from the gym and I ran down the protein profile for him that I discovered they are also irresistible.

Filling his summer days with hours at the gym, my son has morphed his body in ways I can reminisce about from my younger years.  Craving protein after his workouts he often turns to chicken, but touting my plant-based diet I've been teaching him plant-based protein sources and he's actually been listening.

Hearing almond butter, protein powder, oats and chia as I ran down my ingredient list he readily reached for one of the little balls topped with a tiny square of dark chocolate on top.  His eyes spoke before his words, and he proclaimed them "Awesome Balls" as I scampered to save a few for my dad.

Back to the hospital, the balls did indeed tempt Dad's appetite, and along with a bowl of organic blueberries and grapes he finally turned the corner and pushed those anesthesia meds from his system.

Seeing his roommate's eyes move from dad's Awesome Balls to his plate of chard and chicken we simply had to share, and my job was complete.  Moments later I left the two octogenarians chatting about their combined 122 years of marriage, heart surgeries and now new knee joints all while saying "Huh?" every few sentences as neither of them had their hearing aids in.

Funniest thing ever though, was walking out the door as the nurse entered and hearing the roommate say, "Hey... have you seen his Awesome Balls?"  Chuckling all the way to the car I think that night nurse had her hands full with those two.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Vegan Crispy Belgian Waffles with Flax and Vanilla

All I did was blink and July disappeared.  Busy weeks filled with family events sped by with lightening speed, and while we've enjoyed time together those leisurely days of sleeping in with no schedule just haven't materialized.  Until today.

With the first completely unscheduled day of summer upon us, my thoughts drifted to waffles.  Lonely in the cabinet, my Belgian Waffle Maker hadn't seen the light of day since the holidays and deserved a work out.

Assembling ingredients from the pantry I eased up on the "health" facet for these waffles in favor of a sort of "healthy summer treat".  Using my everyday recipe as a base, I increased the white flour/whole grain ratio to a higher white content.  I also added additional oil to bring extra crispness, and of course poured a generous splash of our beloved vanilla extract.  Unable to help myself chia and flax found their way into the mix as did a small handful of rolled oats.  But these additions only served to add additional nutrients in addition to increasing that creamy center that makes Belgian Waffles so special.

Watching my summer bikini figure (insert crying/laughing face emoji here), I promised myself I'd only take a quarter triangle... simply for tasting purposes, of course.  But here's were my self control (it's not known for it's strength anyway) completely disappeared.

A fan of crispy waffles, these are the first Belgian Waffles with baking powder (as opposed to the plan ahead yeasted versions) that have crisped to perfection.  Perfectly crispy on the outside and lightly creamy on the inside, the texture made them irresistible.  Add the exotic vanilla flavor and you can throw all willpower out the window.

Wafting waffle aromas filled the house, and as I knew it would it drew my sleepy teens to the kitchen.  Bleary eyed and hungry, comments of "Oh wow... these are awesome!" filled my heart.  Even my son, a man of very few words and not much of a breakfast eater, mentioned he wouldn't mind if we had these waffles every day till he leaves for summer school next week.  Apparently the UCSB dining commons doesn't serve waffles like Mom.  Yes... he still needs me.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Coconut Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ... #dairyfree

Coconut Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ...  #dairyfree

Personally, ice cream is not my favorite dessert.  But apparently it is for lots of other people, including my severely lactose-intolerant son.  Hence, when he became lactose intolerant years ago, ice cream became one of those forbidden things he missed the most.

We've tried varying dairy-free versions in the stores, but many come with funky textures and off flavors. He's found a few that are "Okay", but nothing that really makes him happy like the real thing.

Coconut Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ...  #dairyfree
Today though, we've come darn close with this dreamy coconut concoction!!  Silky smooth with the texture of traditional heavy cream, coconut milk brings a lovely tropical flavor to the mix.  Vanilla beans as well as extract lend a double dose of fragrant vanilla flavors, and mixed with the coconut milk become a dynamic duo of flavor perfection.

Garnering a rare "8" on his happy scale his only complaint was "It's too rich... I can't eat a big bowl of it".  Apparently his years away from heavy cream has changed his preference.  Next up we're going to give a lower fat version a go, but I'm afraid we may lose some of the silky, ultra cream texture that makes this one so special.
With a little planning ahead, you can be true ice cream hero to your ice cream lover!  While my son may have found slightly rich for his taste, Liv and her friends as well as my son's own girlfriend had no issues polishing off big bowls of their own.  Girls, apparently can handle rich :)

Dairy-free ice cream that tastes real??  We've got you covered.  Enjoy!

Coconut Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ...  #dairyfree

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mary's Favorite Summer Pasta Salad with Grilled Vegetables, Lemon and Basil

You think you are prepared for the phone call.  In fact you may have even hoped for it.  But when the phone rings unexpectedly and the caller identifies as the hospice nurse caring for your Mother-in-law your heart plummets with fear.  Then when she says, "The time is near..." you know you aren't as prepared as you had thought.

My husband's mother, Mary, took us on an amazing journey these past four years as she entered a continuing care home after a fall broke her pelvis.  Suffering through the break brought her advancing dementia to the surface, and psychosis soon followed.

Born in June of 1936, Mary grew up in New York and graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in nursing.  There she met her husband and the two spent the next 60 years together as they married and had two sons.

Mary's Sunset - July 15, 2015
A woman with amazing strength, she suffered from bi-polar disease her entire life.  But it wasn't until these last few years that my husband learned how much it truly affected her.  Holding everything together as she raised her boys, the kids never knew how much Mom was suffering.  Her husband helped her through the rough times and she remained a strong presence while leading the kids into adulthood.

Age though, has a way of catching up to us, and Mary's disease evolved after her broken bones.  Dementia and psychosis are truly horrific and break the hearts of those watching a loved one live through it.  Witnessing a loved one live through fear, confusion, anger, and complete despair can be one of life's most difficult experiences.

But with love and compassion, we along with a team of nurses, caretakers, doctors and finally members of hospice, helped her as best we could through her journey.  And the strength shown by this woman amazed us all.  She fought through in the early days and had moments of clarity with her family.  The joy on her face as her son entered her room is a memory I will carry forever.

As she slipped further into the darkness her team told us it was time for hospice.  They gave her 6-12 weeks and we set to planning for the end.  However that was some 18 months ago!  Mary simply wasn't ready to end her days, and she kept us on our toes for the next year and a half.  Nurses have commented that the strength she carried was like nothing they've seen before.

While many of her days were very dark, she was surrounded by love and had moments of joy along the way.  We've enjoyed stories from some of the nurses relating that she loved Nacho Friday.  Apparently she let it be known that she preferred a massage before the Nachos, and arriving to dinner very relaxed she promptly asked for a beer to celebrate the nachos.  Becoming even more relaxed the nurses showed us a photo they had taken after she had had the massage, nachos and then the beer when she returned to her room in her wheelchair and asked for cucumbers to cover her eyes so she could complete her relaxation.

As difficult and scattered as Mary's life journey may have been, she left this world last Thursday amazingly peaceful.  Surrounded by loved ones, we spent four days after receiving that dreaded hospice nurse phone call at her side.  She had moments of awareness and my son had the opportunity to say goodbye and we could see in her eyes that she was there, if only for a few moments.  But then she slipped into a coma.

The nurses said they thought she could still hear us and we talked to her and chatted amongst ourselves with reminiscences and current life events.

Then on Thursday as most of her loved ones surrounded, her breathing began to slow.  We continued talking to her and telling her how hou much she was loved and her husband and my son held her tight as she took a final sigh.  The noise in her head that she had complained about her entire life finally ceased... and she was at peace.

Mary Elizabeth McGinn Kelly  June 23, 1936 - July 15, 2015
While I only knew Mary in the later years of her life, the incredible strength she carried with her didn't always follow when it came to food.  Someone with an incredible sweet tooth, she's been known to clear half a plate of cinnamon rolls without really realizing it and then laughing as she apologized for polishing off the treats!  But something I always made for her was this salad.

Filled with veggies and the tang of lemon, she said it was the fresh basil that set her tastebuds alive and asking for more.  And as such, I always doubled the recipe when I knew she was coming.

Rest easy sweet Mary.  This salad will always be served in your memory... the extra basil is for you.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Oatmeal Pancakes... on the Road! DIY Pancake Mix and Travel Options.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options

Welcome to summer!  That peaceful time of eagerly anticipated days of family travel, endless queries of "Are we there yet?" and the search for meals on the road.

While I love to travel, it's often hotel and restaurant food that does me in.  I can only take so many days of oil laden $18 (if we are lucky) pancakes and waffles, dripping made to order omelettes, and bacon on top of everything.

Being a mostly plant-based and dairy-free family (my kids are severely lactose intolerant making this an even more important issue to control) has its difficulties when searching for food to meet our needs.  Then toss in our travel for Liv's competitive dance team and finding not only dairy-free foods, but healthy options to sustain her through 10 hour plus days becomes nearly impossible.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options
But that's where a little DIY creativity finds us making our hotel neighbors positively envious as they find aromas of fresh oatmeal pancakes drifting through our adjoining doors.

Yes, I've taken to traveling with my own griddle!  A recent Amazon find of the Presto Liddle Griddle solved our breakfast issue with its small (read very packable) 8 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch cooking surface.

Traveling the last two weeks with Liv's team I planned ahead and pre-packaged several bags of our favorite pancake mix along with our new griddle.  With Almond Milk and syrup in the cooler, our plant-based pancakes were ready in minutes, and I'm proud to say I actually had a knock on the door from our hotel neighbors (a team member) saying she could smell them through the door and to please tell her we had extra!

With ingredients including oat flour, oats, chia, ground flax, and banana, these pancakes set Liv and her girlfriends off to a good start before competing, and if desired, the addition of an egg brings even more protein to the meal.  And... all for a small fraction of the price of the hotel restaurant.

Here's were I'm going to change subjects just for a minute and gush about our week!  You know that dream of winning it all?  The dream of scoring the highest score of the entire competition and coming home with an 8 foot trophy?  Well... that happened!

Pure excitement!  National 1st Place winner... Best of the Competition!
These girls attended the Star Systems Nationals in Las Vegas with over a thousand other dancers and finished the season with their large group contemporary number undefeated, and took home the highest score of the week.  Not a bad way to end the season!

For those of you following on our Facebook page, this is the same number you voted on for the Industry Dance Awards and the girls send their sincere thanks.

But back to the pancakes... which I'm thinking may have fueled the beginning of their day so well that I may be partially responsible for the win ;).  Whole grain, laced with cinnamon and banana, then drizzled with pure maple syrup.  Hotel breakfasts just don't get much better.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options