Thursday, April 19, 2012

What Makes Me Happy Right Now - Healthy granola, Stan & cool co-workers.

Many ladies experience a rough time each month. It's not fun. I'm trying to stay positive right now and focus on the good around me so that hopefully my gratitude will crowd out the cramps and uncomfortableness I'm experiencing at this time of my month (trying to be as vague as possible here-HA!). Enjoy-

Right now I am so happy and grateful for:

1. The lovely half of a grapefruit in front of me that I've topped with granola. When I haven't had a moment to bake my own granola, I grab my former classmate's granola, Purely Elizabeth. She makes wholesome granola with just a few ingredients, little sugar and lots of love. You can find her products at most health food stores, please give them a try. I've got my grapefruit spoon in hand and am cutting in as soon as I'm done typing this post!

2. Stanley's eyes. Even just the thought of Stan's sweet puppy dog eyes looking up at me gives me butterflies. Although he is turning 11 this August, he still has those same sweet baby eyes that I fell in love with all those years ago. He's my love. (Brag moment: that baby picture of him got him published in the newspaper quite a few times!)

3. Snatam Kaur. Sometimes the music we listen to throughout our day can help amp us up, let us lose or calm us down. When I am having too hectic of a day I love listening to Snatam Kaur (pronounced sun-a-tum core). She's got the most angelic voice and chanting along with her always puts me in a blissful place.

4. This inspiring thought:
True generosity doesn't leave you with less; it leaves you with more.

5. Awesome co-workers. For those of you who don't know, I'm a wellness director for
a large corporate wellness program for Amscan, Inc. in Westchester, NY. The "wellness department" includes me and my lovely wellness coordinator, Jamilia. Let me just say, she is the best darn thing that's ever happened to me and this wellness program! The two of us are so passionate about what we do and work SO well together. Best part about us, we LAUGH so often together. I can only hope that I give her the love, strength and compassion that she gives to me on the regular. Jamilia is currently going to school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (where I went!) and is in the process of building her own health coaching business, Unique Health with Jamilia (link coming soon!). I couldn't be more happy for her. I thank my shining stars each day that I have her as my hardworking partner in wellness! (Even though she looks super cool in this picture, she doesn't usually wear shades inside, especially at the office. She had just got back from the eye doctor that day-HA!)

Back in March of 2012 I decided to do these posts because it's really easy to be suckered into negative thoughts when we're surrounded by stressful media, unhappy people and whining Facebook status updates. My guru, Swami Vishnudevananda says that for every negative thought you have, replace it with 2-3 positive ones. I love this concept and practice it regularly. I usually find the most effective way of climbing out of a negative attitude is to think about something that I'm grateful for. Feelings of gratitude really lift you up. In honor of this concept, I'm starting a post with this same theme and will blog it regularly. I'll list a few things that make me happy, lift me up and keep me smiling! Let's face it, world peace is something that will never happen. However, I can create my own little world of peace and happiness in my mind through my thoughts! Please give it a try as well and share how it affects you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Black Bean Brownie Bites

I know, I know--I said “eww” when I first heard “black bean brownies” too. However, these chocolaty brownie bites are so yummy you would never guess that they also have the goodness of beans baked right into them. Black beans are a great source of fiber, folate and iron. Making them in mini-muffin size makes it easy to keep portions under control because trust me, you’ll want to eat half the batch in one sitting!

1 15 oz. BPA-free can black beans, well rinsed and drained
2 large flax eggs (2.5 T flaxseed meal + 6 T water)
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
¾ cup cacao or cocoa powder 
1 tsp chia seeds (optional, but totally recommended for added nutrition)
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
heaping ½ cup raw sugar, slightly ground or pulsed in a food processor or coffee grinder for refined texture
1½ tsp baking powder

Optional toppings: crush walnuts, pecans, shredded coconut or my favorite - chocolate chips!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 24-slot mini-muffin pan (there will be extra so grease a regular sized muffin tin to make a few bigger ones at the end!).
Prepare flax egg by combining flax and water in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse a couple times and then let rest for a few minutes.
Add black beans through baking powder and puree – about 3 minutes, scraping down sides as needed. 
If the batter appears too thick, add a Tbsp or two of water and pulse again. It should be slightly less thick than chocolate frosting but nowhere close to runny.
Evenly distribute about a teaspoon of the batter into the muffin tin and smooth the tops with the spoon.
Optional: Sprinkle with crushed walnuts, pecans or chocolate chips on top.
Bake for 20-26 minutes or until the tops are dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides.
Remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan. They will be tender, so remove gently with a fork. The insides are meant to be very fudgy, so don’t be concerned if they seem too moist – that’s the point.
Store in an airtight container for up to a few days. Refrigerate to keep longer.  ENJOY!
Recipe adapted from the Minimalist Baker.

I enjoy serving these with some cashew cream and fresh fruit salsa.  

Benefits of Black Beans:
Black beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other legumes. In addition to lowering cholesterol, black beans' high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, black beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Banana Cream Cupcakes

Easter is such a lovely holiday. This year I enjoyed a dairy-free/vegetarian Easter by preparing my own food (along with some help from my Mom who kindly loves to make a few vegan dishes I can eat on holidays).  My vegan banana cupcakes are quick and easy to make. I love making mini cupcakes, but feel free to make either size with this recipe. Skip the frosting for sweet banana muffins. 

2 cups white spelt flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup raw sugar or other sweetener (I love sucanat)
1/3 cup sunflower oil
4 ripe bananas
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 tablespoon flax meal
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional, I adore Enjoy Life’s)
handful of dried banana chips (optional, to place on tops of cupcakes)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Line cupcake trays with cupcake liners. Mix flour, baking soda, flax meal and salt in a bowl. In a large bowl, beat sugar and oil together, then add the mashed bananas. Stir in the water and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture along with the chopped walnuts & chocolate chips, stir. Spoon into cupcake trays. Bake for 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Frost if desired.

Coconut Frosting 
1 can coconut milk 
2 teaspoons maple syrup 
½ teaspoon vanilla bean

Directions: Take the coconut cream out of the fridge. Turn can upside down and open, scoop out the cream and put in a mixing bowl. Save the milk to use in baking or smoothies Add vanilla and maple syrup to the cream Whip the cream for a couple of minutes with an electric mixer until it is fluffy.

Benefits of Spelt Flour: Spelt, an ancient cereal grain, is a distant cousin to wheat. It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. Use spelt flour as a substitute for wheat or white flour when baking. Because spelt flour contains gluten, you are less likely to compromise the texture of baked goods. Compared to wheat flour, spelt flour is richer in many nutrients, such as protein and minerals such as copper, niacin, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus.
Spelt flour has a high water solubility, making it possibly easier to digest for those with a wheat intolerance. Spelt and whole spelt flour offer more soluble fiber than both standard and durum wheat flours, and soluble fiber is particularly beneficial for lowering blood cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels.

Benefits of Sucanat: Sucanat is to whole grain flours, as white sugar is to white, refined flours. Sucanat sugar is dried sugar cane juice that is much healthier to use when baking versus white, refined and processed sugar. Sucanat has a smaller proportion of sucrose, fewer calories and is loaded with vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dark Chocolate Raisinets

Raisinets. Mmmmm.
Even the thought of them make me smile. But, Nestle's raisinets are far from being anywhere near healthy. When visiting my parents, I notice every once in a while a bag of dark chocolate raisinets from Nestle. They offer them to me thinking they're doing good since the bag clearly reads, "dark chocolate." I've indulged a few times but always walk away feeling bloated and wake up the next morning with a sugar hangover. Blech!

I appreciate that Nestle made a dark raisinet, I do. However, not when the ingredients look like this (see right). Umm, hi, that's not dark chocolate. It's still loaded
with milkfat, nonfat milk, lactose, and too much sugar. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier (to make things spreadable) and is actually made from the sludge left over after soy has been processed. Thanks, but no thanks.

I took my craving for those delightful morsels into my own kitchen and the results were so yummy for both my tastebuds, belly and peace of mind! I love Enjoy Life's products. They make their products in a dedicated nut and gluten-free, casein-free, vegan and kosher facility. Holler! I use their mini chips for baking often. Ingredients: evaporated cane juice (FYI: a fancy name for sugar), chocolate liquor, non-dairy cocoa butter. Three ingredients compared to the nonsense in Nestle's.

Lauren's Dark Chocolate Raisinets:

1/4 cup Enjoy Life's mini chips
2 handfuls dried raisins

Spread chips in a saucepan and heat on low, or use a double boiler method on the stove. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. When chips look wet and are clearly hot, turn off heat and toss in raisins. Mix with spoon to coat. Toss in more raisins if there is more chocolate to coat. Spoon out chocolate covered raisins onto cookie sheet and separate with fingers (or utensils if hot). Place cookie sheet into fridge for a bit to cool and harden. Once they're dried they should pop right off of the parchment paper. Store in glass container in the fridge and enjoy when you need a sweet morsel of goodness!

If you're interested in the benefits of dark chocolate and a little bit about it, check out my old blog post: Dark chocolate = healthy chocolate.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Flexible On the Mat, Flexible Off the Mat!

Yesterday morning was like every other Monday morning. Alarm went off at 4:45am. I snooze for a bit, kiss the boyfriend goodbye as he leaves, then stumble out of bed, do a short yoga practice, take a shower and leave for NY. I drive my 2 hour commute and park my car in front of the office and realize...I left my briefcase on my desk chair at home containing my laptop, iPad, to-do list, planner and office access key.

Awesome. Not so much, so I thought.

For a good few minutes, I'm completely overwhelmed contemplating whether to turn back around. That would mean a good 4+ hours in the car, not even counting the other hour and a half for my commute home after work. No way.

I make it into the office (using someone else to grant me access into the building) and commit to a technology-free day. I began organizing, drafting new to-do lists, cleaning and catching up on the stack of magazines (for work) that are piled on my desk. I had only limited access to my mail and internet via my iPhone, and luckily had some gentle music playing from it all day, too. I check in with myself right before I go teach my yoga class at the end of the day and realize I feel completely at ease and happy with my technology-free yet productive day. Then it hit me - that is my yoga practice working!!!! Yoga increases flexibility throughout our body the more we practice. At the same time, when we stay true to our practice both on and off the mat, our minds become more flexible as well! Yesterday morning I was able to have a moment of pure frustration and panic when I realized I left EVERYTHING at home, but quickly snapped out of it and made the best with what I had all day long resulting in a wonderfully productive day.

I'm writing this now on my lovely laptop, with my iPad nearby, my access key on my hip and my planner open. Grateful for each one of them, but not dependent or attached! Well, maybe a little, but you know what I mean. Keep up with your yoga practice, it shifts things in such a wonderfully positive way even when you least expect it! Om.