I’ve had a series of little health-related wake-up calls in the last few months. And no, this isn’t a New Year’s resolution post! It’s all a normal part of having a body, to be sure. I completed the inaugural half-marathon event of the Portland Marathon on 10/10/10 (I hit the 10-mile mark at 10 AM, by the way) and THEN decided it was time to clean up my act. Kind of a bizarre order of events, but it’s true. I discovered that somehow, I’ve added a small but significant amount of poundage onto my frame since starting nursing school in 2008. Granted, between then and now I also successfully and healthily completed 2 triathlons, a duathlon, and a half-marathon. So a lot of that is slow-twitch endurance muscle, I’d like to think. But some of it isn’t. Some of it is a direct result of the carnitas craved after a 4-hour brick workout. Some of it is a result of, well, a stressful 16-month nursing program and a move and a wedding. I’m gorgeous the way I am, to be sure (and modest to boot). I’d just like to do what I can to stay healthy for the long haul.
In order to do so in a smart, body-positive way, I’m being mindful about what I do with my body and what I put in it. I joined a yoga studio and I’m keeping a food journal. I visited my NP and had some basic bloodwork done, which showed an LDL cholesterol level that was a meager 2 or 3 points into the range that makes said NP talk to people about eating more oatmeal and cutting back on solid fats. And since I’m a self-motivated take-charge sort of person (on good days), I’m now on a mission. So it’s time to highlight some recipes and dishes that make the most of flavor, texture, and color without relying on brown butter or (sigh) bacon fat for oomph. Don’t worry. Those two won’t go away entirely.
So. Naturally, I’m on the hunt for a gluten-free baked good I can enjoy regularly that supports these lovely goals I’ve got.
I’m not asking for much here. Just a breakfast/snack bar that’s gluten-free, low-fat, low sugar, low-calorie, tasty, and will contribute to the betterment of my cholesterol numbers (which are fine but could be better).
Yup. Not asking for much at all.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Pulling together such a recipe would be akin to finding and subsequently catching a unicorn in the back yard (though I remain convinced there’s one in the stream running through the little valley behind the house). A lot of gluten-free baked goods remain higher in fats or calories relative to their gluten-full cognates due to the necessary omission of healthfood’s darling, whole wheat flour. In order to mimic the high-protein glutenny antics of ol’ whole wheat, we use almond flour, soy flour, sorghum flour. We use buckwheat and teff. We use an extra egg or two. We use potato starch and tapioca flour to add lightness and lift. We add a little more butter or oil to keep things moist and airy. High-nutrition though they are, put a few of those ingredients together and compare what you’ve got in your mixing bowl with the mixing bowl of a non-GF health junkie and she, with her whole wheat and vital wheat gluten and her egg whites and applesauce, is going to come out ahead on the caloric front. It’s also why I roll my eyes when people find out I’m gluten-free and say, “Oh! I want to try that! I bet I’d lose so much weight!” No, honey. You’d eat a lot more nuts and cheese. Out the window would got that nice little high-fiber low-fat granola bar.
Not that I’m complaining. I’ll skip the heartburn and the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics that go along with gluten consumption and take an extra few pounds any day.
But I digress.
The recipe hunt. Basically, I’m going to try to combine my whole grain GF nutritional powerhouses in a way that capitalizes on their nutty goodness without involving a cup each of honey and coconut oil. I’ve already got the specialized palette of the crunchy hippie food lover. And at this point, I’m willing to pay almost any price for any ingredient I can easily source. Which means I have to be able to find said ingredient in a nearby grocery store. And I want to put this thing together with tools I already have–the most complex of which should be the 11-cup food processor. (Those of you without access to such a robot should just stop reading. In my pre-processor days, these kind of posts made me really sad.)
Trials #1-3 have included the following ingredients:
- 2c gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats, toasted briefly under the broiler
- 2c gluten-free brown rice puff cereal (GF hippie Rice Krispies–found mine at Market of Choice in West Linn)
- 1/2 c rice bran
- 1/2 c quinoa flakes (Market of Choice, again)
- 1/4 c almond meal flour (Bob’s Red Mill stuff)
- 3/4 c water OR light almond milk OR OMG SOME UBER-STEEPED CHAI WITH ALMOND MILK
- 1 1/4 c pitted dates
- 1/2 c craisins
- 1/8 c chia seeds (found mine at Haggen in Oregon City)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg
Basically, I plopped the first 4 ingredients together in a big mixing bowl and tossed the last 8 ingredients in the food processor and pulsed like crazy. And then I mixed the two together, spread in a glass 9×13″ baking dish coated with coconut oil, and baked at 350° F for 25-30 min. Look: no sugar! No honey! No agave syrup! No stevia or xylitol or Splenda or maple syrup or molasses. No added oils or fats. Not even an egg. The combination of chia seeds, the liquid of choice, dates, and almond meal serves to bind everything into bar form. The dates, craisins, and spices contribute to the significant sweetness.
The result? A good place to start, I think. The finished product has a subtle sweetness, a toasty smell, and a deep nutty flavor. And a crapload of fiber (pun very clearly intended) and iron and calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re very chewy–in a good way, I think. If you want, you could even turn this into straight granola instead of bars: crumble the mixture onto greased baking sheets and pop them in the oven. Watch closely; they’ll need more like 10-15 minutes to reach their peak in that form. Mix into Greek yogurt and feel better than everyone else.
I had also initially intended to include some puffed corn as well. But the bag of the pre-puffed hull-free stuff I bought at the grocery store met its end on the kitchen floor, nommed open by our dear old grandpa-dog, Cutter. So, determined to get my corny fix, I decided to attempt to pop corn in a paper bag in the nuker. No oil, just popcorn. Lots of people say they’ve done this before. So if your average Internet surfer can make popcorn in the microwave safely, I figured, I should have no trouble.
I was lucky to pull the bag out of the microwave and fling it into the sink before it burst into flames.
What I’m trying to say is, I flung the bag into the sink and THEN IT BURST INTO FLAMES. Little ones, easily doused by the sink’s extendo-faucet. (The fire extinguisher lives only a foot away, anyhow.) What would a kitchen experiment be without a little sink fire?
Just because I’m getting healthy doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time.