Mini Chocolate Crunch…

Chocolate…mmmmm…

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that chocolate is on my list of amazing stuff.  This being said, it’s probably no surprise that a post or two about chocolate things makes its way into this blog.  But we don’t’ want to go overboard, right?  I mean, we’re still trying to be healthy, here.  So if we’re going to fall off the back of the wagon, we don’t want to hit the ground too hard.

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So this week, I’m going to share with you a little treatie that’s kind of perfect for damp October afternoons, or for a post-practice snack, or after-dinner indulgence without the gnawing guilt.  And it’s so super-fast, you’ll never even believe you made it.

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As with last week’s recipe, you can substitute a few variations here; use any nut butter you like, really, even though I used almond butter (the original calls for peanut butter, but I didn’t have any).  And, of course, if you don’t have organic, hippie-fied ingredients, I’m sure it will come out just fine.  And I won’t judge, I promise.

The thing I’d like to stress with all of these recipes is not just using clean, whole ingredients (although it’s nice to do that to the best of your ability), but taking a few moments to prepare food for yourself that didn’t come out of a box, bag or wrapper. I know it can seem overwhelming when you are trying to balance everything else in your life; I mean, who has the time?  But taking a few extra minutes to buy a few more quality ingredients, and then make something nourishing that you can get two or three meals from (or a few really tasty, healthy snacks) will give you more energy in the short and long run, to help you power through your demanding days.

know it takes a little extra planning.  I know it takes a little more thought.  And I know
your life already seems plumb full-up with ten million extra little errands and details that demand your attention.  But when you start shifting your eating habits in this direction (I don’t like to use the word “diet”…it scares people), you will find that even though you are still busy, still running-and-gunning, still have ten million things to do, you are feeling better, sleeping better, and generally have more energy to deal with all of those things life throws at you.

So that’s this week’s message.  Don’t think about how you can’t afford to eat better because there’s too much going on already.  You can’t afford not to.

Now go enjoy these little devils.  They’re worth it.

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Mini Chocolate Crunch with Peanut Butter Drizzle

CRUNCH BAR
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tablespoons liquid sweetener (maple syrup, agave, etc.), or to taste
pinch of fine grain sea salt, to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup rice crisp cereal

PEANUT BUTTER SHELL DRIZZLE
2 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter (or any nut/seed butter of choice)
1.5-2 teaspoons coconut oil, as needed to thin out
1 teaspoon liquid sweetener (maple syrup, agave, etc.)

Directions:

For the crunch bar:
–Line a 9×5 inch loaf pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one going each way.
–In a pot over low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and then whisk in the rest of the crunch bar ingredients (except the rice crisp) to taste. Once the mixture is smooth remove from heat and stir in the rice crisp cereal.
–Pour mixture into prepared pan, smooth out, and then freeze for 10-15 minutes, or until the chocolate is solid.

For the PB drizzle:
–Melt the coconut oil and then whisk in the peanut butter and liquid sweetener. Adjust to taste if desired. Scoop into a plastic baggie.
–Remove crunch bar from freezer and cut into 12 small bars. Snip a tiny hole in the baggie and drizzle the PB mixture onto the bar (you can also try drizzling it with a spoon, if desired).
–Return bars to the freezer until the PB drizzle is solid, about 5 minutes.

Serve straight from the freezer or fridge. Bars will melt slightly at room temperature so I don’t suggest keeping them out long. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer.

Note: To make these bars nut-free, use sunflower seed butter (I like Sunbutter brand) in place of the peanut butter.

*recipe courtesy of http://www.ohsheglows.com

 

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For the Last Minute…

I know a while ago I promised more ideas for my vegetarian and vegan friends; I’ve been trying to include recipes and options that are friendly to both carnivores and herbivores alike.  The truth is, a lot of folks who spend time recommending such things, recommend a plant-based diet as the answer to reducing the collateral damage we’ve done to our bodies over years of eating the “Standard American Diet” (or, appropriately enough, the SAD).

My personal opinion is that it is all, indeed, very personal.  What works for me might not work for you.  What I find delicious and nourishing might make you feel like caca.  So, I try to cover the gamut; a smoothie here, a breakfast there…maybe an energy bar to keep it real.

Speaking of which, I found in my cyber-travels a great recipe that is both quick and vegan.  Not just quick to eat, but quick to make and simple to boot.  The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, and that’s including the freezer time.

Last-Minute Energy Bars

1 c. rolled oats
1 c. brown rice crisp cereal
1/4 to 1/2 c. protein powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. brown rice syrup
1/2 c. sunflower seed butter
2 t. vanilla extract
1/3 c. dark chocolate chips

–Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
–Mix the brown rice syrup and seed butter together in a medium bowl. Heat 45 seconds in the microwave and then add the vanilla.
–Add the wet mixture to the dry, and mix well. You might have to knead it.
–Using slightly wet fingers, press the mixture into a pan and roll out smooth. (You might want to line the pan with parchment paper.)
–Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and spread in a thin layer over the top.
–Freeze for 10 minutes, then cut into bars and store.

A few notes: You should look for a really mild protein powder to use; some of the powders can be really chalky, and that will show up in the flavor if you aren’t careful. Try some of the rice protein powders; they seem to have a less powerful flavor than whey or soy.

You can also use other nut butters if you choose; just be sure they are somewhat drippy. If they are of a more solid consistency, you will have to use more syrup, which is fine, too.

Honey can be used in place of the brown rice syrup; I actually used this because I didn’t have any brown rice syrup on hand. You could try agave nectar or maple syrup, but they might not bind as well.

You can also sprinkle sesame seeds or chia seeds on top before freezing…your choice!

Enjoy!

The Magic 5…

…As in, there are five ingredients, and it only takes five minutes to make!  Yesssss….[insert gratuitous fist-pumping here]

A few posts ago, I gave you a recipe for some sweet little snack cakes, and the one drawback I saw with those was their lack of structural integrity when left out of the freezer for more than about seven minutes. Well, my friends, I have some good news. Recently, I came across this recipe for the Magic Five, and I am quite excited about it…no refrigeration required. They are super simple to make and, as a bonus, they contain cocoa, which always puts any food up a few notches in my book.

So, a few notes. The recipe calls for dates which, at first glance, might turn a few of you off, but you should hear me out. Dates are an underrated little snack that can help bind things together, sweeten a recipe without adding a bunch of crap, and also help with a host of health issues that you may or may not be aware of. The lowly date has all kinds of fiber, calcium and other trace minerals like potassium, magnesium and copper. Dates can also help relieve constipation and intestinal disorders, as well as aid in weight loss and relieve diarrhea. It is also said that eating one date a day can help maintain your eye health. (I’m not sure how one date a day stacks up against staring at the internet for a few hours, but what can you do. It can’t hurt.)

You will also find unsweetened cocoa powder in these little jewels, which, aside from being awesome in its own right, has a very interesting history of health benefits. The Latin name for the plant from which it is derived is thermobroma cacoa…literally “food of the gods”. Indeed. And historically, cocoa was thought to aid in everything from fatigue and indigestion to heart issues, respiratory illnesses, and cancer. It was even thought to cure depression (but we knew that). In addition, the Mayans and the Aztecs believed it could confer immortality on those who consumed it.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m not looking for immortality…just a tasty treat that might have a few health benefits on the side.

Of which cocoa has many. We know it contains antioxidants…that’s no secret. But it also contains things like polyphenols, which have been shown to stop the proliferation of breast, prostate, and colon cancer cells. It contains copper, which helps with the oxygenation of red blood cells, and magnesium, which helps support cardiovascular health, blood pressure stability and protein synthesis. There are also a ton of “feel good” chemicals like serotonin that help increase endorphins and dopamine, which means a slightly euphoric feeling. Cocoa also helps with immune function, cognition, and detoxification.

It’s a regular multivitamin! Who knew…?

Of course, we’re not talking about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or a KitKat. The nutritional benefits of cocoa decrease as the amount of milk and additives increases. That is to say, organic cocoa is better than dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate.

All this aside, what is the recipe, you ask? Read on.

Magic 5 Snack Bites

1 c. raw almonds
1 c. fresh dates, pitted (about 8 dates)
2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T. unsweetened, shredded coconut
dash of sea salt

–Throw all ingredients in a Vitamix or food processor. Blend until the mixture is small crumbles.
–Using a tablespoon, scoop out the mix and form it into small balls. Continue until you have used it all. Store in an airtight container.

You could probably also add some mild protein powder to up the protein content, or even some kind of nut butter. I haven’t tried this yet, but might see how it works. Good luck!

Eat, Poopsie!

But not just anything.  That is to say, when you’re done ripping around the track and burning calories, don’t just reach for a Snickers bar.  Studies show that ingesting even a small amount of protein right after finishing a workout (within 10-15 minutes) can deliver a whole host of benefits; even if you are planning on eating a larger, more substantial meal once you get home, you should try to nosh on something before you jump in the car.

What’s the big deal, you ask?  Well, test subjects who ate even 1-2 grams of leucine (think whey protein, which is generally a better source for post-workout purposes) showed bigger muscle gains and lost more fat than subjects who ate nothing at all.  Oddly enough, you can actually lose muscle mass if you eat nothing after your workouts, as opposed to taking in something small in the form of a supplement or tiny snack.

See, high-intensity exercise (jamming?  hel-LO…) is considered a form of stress, and stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream.  And cortisol, unfortunately, triggers muscle breakdown.  No bueno.  BUT, good news is that even small amounts of protein can trigger new protein synthesis and muscle recovery.  There are some other advantages as well.  Protein supplements after exercise can help accelerate the loss of visceral fat (the dangerous stuff), which, aside from making that tight-fitting jersey look like hell, accumulates around your organs and ups your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The other cool side-effect of eating a small snack post-workout is that you will maintain a higher resting metabolic rate, which essentially means that you continue to burn off calories while you’re doing nothing. Or at least thinking about something else besides sweating your ass off. Sweet.

Eating a little bit right after exercise also tends to take the edge off your hunger, regulating your blood sugar a little and giving your body time to decide just how hungry it is…before you march into the nearest convenience store and drop $20 on junk food to satisfy whatever cravings you think you have.

So how can you take advantage of all this awesomeness? Well, think small-ish…between 100-150 calories, especially if you are planning on eating something more substantial in the next 30-45 minutes. So, a hard-boiled egg, a few handfuls of peanuts, cashews, etc, or maybe a little Greek yogurt (although you may not want to keep that in your skate bag); Oikos offers smaller-sized options than their regular yogurt servings, which could be a good choice. I personally like a few handfuls of trail mix and a couple sticks of part-skim mozzarella string cheese; I usually try to stay away from beef-jerky unless it is homemade, because of the large amounts of preservatives that are contained in store-bought jerky.

There is also a wide variety of protein recovery drinks out there, but I’m going to refrain from talking about those here, since I’d like to give them their own post.

So, it might take a little pre-planning…but having something on hand to grab out of your skate bag or backpack while you’re taking off your gear or discussing the finer points of your scrimmage might help to keep you out of the potato chip trough, and give you a little more energy for the next go-round.

Go get better, faster, stronger!