Road Trippin Across the U.S. - Let's Talk Snacks to Pack

This morning I write on the eve of a journey. Tomorrow, I will wake early. squeeze the last of my belongings into my newest purchase --one that makes me feel like quite the grown-up -- and with my atlas in hand, head south. Then east. I will be picking up my best buddy, Amy -- a Seattlelite who also works on the farm, and we'll be driving to Virginia to work on the same farm we were at last season for another.

As much fun as it would be to drive all along the coast, there is one stop we must make before returning to life out east: Bob's Red Mill. For some, it may be silly to plan a trip around a granary mill, but to those I say, if we're just going to buy a ton of Bob's Red Mill products out east, wouldn't it make sense to get them ourselves and see where they're coming from? Plus, Bob's is one of the most notable natural granaries in the world. It's a food nerd thing.

photo: Mary Cruse

photo: trekkyandy

photo: dawn paley

From there, we'll hit the coast and spend some time in the Redwood National Forest. I remember driving through briefly as a kiddo, but given my age at the time, the only memories I have are a little less landscape-centric and a little more Baby-sitter's Club. This time through, things will be different, as Kristy and Claudia's antics will be replaced with hikes, yurts and warm sleeping bags. Out of everything on the trip, I think I'm most looking forward to this first stop.

photo: lyng883

Once we've had our fill of the ever tall redwoods, then it's on our way to the Grand Canyon. Now depending on our mood, we may drive through wine country -- Sonoma, Napa -- and continue on 101 to see the California coast, or we may just link back up with the interstate and tuck it down to Bakersville, so it's over and onward to Vegas. One of my good friends from Seattle is a forest ranger in Yosemite, and as much as we tried to swing seeing her and Yosemite for the first time, weather doesn't allow it, so any immediate interludes with Yogi and Boo Boo will just have to wait.

Neither of us are what you would think Vegas girls to be, so I'm sure we'll hightail it out of there as soon as possible to the Grand Canyon, then the Grand Staircase. Cannot wait to hippie it out with epic scenery, hikes and spending as much time in nature as possible. I've never spent time in the desert, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what my impressions are and how landscape, so different to my beloved PNW strikes me. 

photo: Grand Canyon NPS

photo: tombothetominator

photo: SteveD

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Lightening Up in 2013: Peanut Butter Protein Balls

Last week, I was fired-up about ditching some of the hibernation habits I've developed this winter, and as a new day--a new week! is on us, I have already found several recipes -- a breakfast and a few snacks -- that I'm so excited to share with you! 

Snacks are always something I'm on the hunt for, especially little power treats to eat before or after a workout, or perhaps a little somethin, somethin to satisfy that forever thirsty sweet tooth, so we'll dive into one of those here and now.

First up: balls.

Now, now, get your mind out of the gutter, I'm talking about protein balls! Protein balls have become pretty popular anymore, as they're little bites of energy that are the perfect fuel before or after a workout, for a snack on the go, or just a satiating taste of sweetness without any of the guilt. These little guys are a blank canvas in terms of making them your own -- you can keep them simple few ingredients, or go hog wild and roll the final product in finely chopped nuts, unsweetened coconut, seeds, oats, cocoa---whatever you like. Truly the sky is the limit! And don't feel tied to peanut butter, if you face an allergy, try a seed butter. Or, if you're looking to lighten their fat content. I've seen these made with almond flour, apricots, dates, lentils and even grains like oats and quinoa. I even managed to cut down the fat in mine by using some applesauce. If you don't want to go sweet, then try the savory approach like these quinoa-walnut protein bites. And while I'd imagine you need some fat in there to hold them together and give them that rich flavor, feel free to experiment with these to make them your own. I certainly will be!

Another great thing about these is that you can make them as needed, or store them in the freezer and grab then when you need fuel. I almost prefer them frozen, as they take longer to eat, therefore are less likely to be eaten by the handful. And with the fat content in these, trust me, you don't want to eat these by the handful.

It feels silly to tell vegans that these can readily be made using any liquid sweetener (agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, molasses to name a few) instead of the honey. And examine protein powder ingredients closely, as obviously ones like whey have dairy in them.

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I'm A Vegetable Farmer + A Savory Chickpea Flour "Quiche"

Nervous. Excited. Anxious. All three of these adjectives describe how I'm feeling before my first day of organic farming. As of 8 a.m. tomorrow, I will begin as one of eight farmers on a medium-sized vegetable farm outside of Washington D.C. Coincidentally, tomorrow is also my birthday, and I can think of no better gift than one of a new job, especially one that will teach me all about food!

A few months ago, I mentioned I had an interest in farming, but at that point I hadn't interviewed for this position. Now, here I sit back on the East Coast, in an on-site stone house feeling a bit like tomorrow is the first day of school. Common feelings once again arise, such as: 'I hope I fit in' and 'What should I wear?' Nerves aside, there's something amusing about  a girl that's never grown a tomato that's going to organically farm for a season! 

Laughs aside, I'm incredibly excited for the next six months -- I'll be working here through the end of October -- as touring the farm today with my new colleague left us wondering what various baby plants, shrubs and the like would one day grow up to be. Every nook and cranny had things I didn't understand. Before today, I thought I knew a fair amount about vegetables. I now realize the enormous amount I have to learn about vegetables is truly humbling.

Onto the quiche. 

 

I'm not a quiche girl. I've never been a quiche girl. Even in my days of eating eggs by the truckload did I ever take to quiche. Yet, for some reason, when I stumbled upon this recipe, "Besan" in Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, I had to run to my kitchen to see what an eggless quiche is all about. Answer? Delicious. And so you know, this is good warm or cold, especially when your favorite hot sauce is added.

 Jaffrey describes this as:

This dish resembles quiche only in as much as it is like a set custard that can be cut and served in sections. There the similarity ends. If you have a socca in Nice and can imagine something similar made out of chickpea flour but much thicker, then you have the Kutchi dish called besan.

 

 

 

Noodle arms beware: this baby calls for being stirred for 20 minutes straight, and after the first five minutes it thickens considerably, to the point where you may want to have someone...anyone...as back-up in case your arm(s) need a break.

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Oatcakes

Remember when I said I would be blogging some recipes from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day soon? Soon is now. You see, yesterday was Thursday and my biweekly healthy baking adventure continues as I make morning treats for my dad's colleagues.

Oatcakes straight out of the ovenOatcakes are seemingly everywhere. If you haven't heard of them, no pasa nada, I hadn't either until recently. However, once they hopped on my radar they were there to stay. I can't seem to shake 'em! Every bakery I peer in has them showcased; every farmers market has them featured...heck, even my local co-op is selling them as an afternoon pick-me-up! Despite this influx, it wasn't until I heard a gal pal proclaim her love for oatcakes that I figured it was time to find out what the big deal was.

Now I know.

I cannot decide if these make for a better breakfast, snack or dessert. They're light enough to be eaten after breakfast without messing up lunch, yet strong enough in sweetness to pass a dessert They're also portable enough to survive as a purse riding snack, hello healthy airplane food! Whenever you choose to eat them is up to you (if you're me then that's within 45 seconds of pulling them out of the oven), just make sure you have a hot cuppa something to wash them down with.

Smitten with the comforting taste these oatcakes pack, there was something about these that tasted familiar. It's warm...it's maple syrup-y...it's French toast! So I think it's fair to say: if you love French toast, you'll love these oatcakes. Pretty impressive for a recipe that doesn't call for a flake of cinnamon, eh?

Also impressive? These oatcakes have 5g of fiber and 5g protein in each cake.

Oatcake cooling on rack

 

For those with special dietary concerns, I think these oatcakes are pretty flexible. I already substituted the eggs , so if you want to completely veganize them then you could easily leave the butter out and use all coconut oil. I don't know a lot about gluten-free diets, so if you're gf and use this recipe then let me know what tweaks you made. Lastly, if concerned about sweetness, see my notes after the jump.

Good luck not eating these straight out of the oven!
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Heavenly breakfast bread: raisin cinnamon wheat bread

This week, I had the pleasure of making one of Marion Cunningham's recipes from The Breakfast Book, and whoa mama!

If you want to make a snack for tea time, or gift a somewhat unusual, larger than life loaf of bread, then I think this is one to consider. It's a tad sweet, but that's to be expected with anything including raisins.

Halved loaf cooling on the rack

Biweekly, my pops has a meeting with all of his colleagues, and when I discovered he was supplying them with Safeway doughnuts, I happily volunteered myself to bake alternative goods instead. Who doesn't love an opportunity to hone their baking skills, especially without the promise of having to eat the resulting bounty? My pops naturally agreed. All meeting attendees are men, most are somewhat health conscious and avoid heavily sweet things. My kinda crowd to bake for.

Close-up of the sliced raisin bread

Aside from being fairly healthy, the only other stipulation to what I make is that it must go well with coffee. Cannon Beach city hall, the workplace of topic, neighbors a lovely little organic coffee roaster, Sleepy Monk (their site seems to be down currently, here's their Facebook), that makes some of the best coffee -- also the strongest -- that I've ever had. (And bear in mind I don't say that in politeness; I've lived in Seattle, and with coffee connoisseurs, so I'm familiar with what good coffee tastes like.) So needless to say, the staff is hooked on good coffee and any accompanying treats must go with their cuppa Joe.

After a few months of practice, I think I'm beginning to really get the hang of what they like. This recipe makes either two regular-sized loafs, or one freakishly large round loaf. Since I only have one bread pan, I opted for the one round loaf, and it rose to be jumbo. Now when I say jumbo, I mean JUMBO! Shocked by the enormity of the resulting loaf, I couldn't help but measure it: 11" in diameter!

Pardon the terrible photo, but here's the loaf to scale with a medium-sized apple:

Raisin bread size-comparison

I halved that big boy, and sent a half to work with each of my parents (naturally after sampling a piece myself), and both workplaces gobbled up every last bit before 9 a.m. My mom didn't even get a slice!

Without further adieu, the recipe:

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Nikki's healthy cookies

I -- you know, the same girl that was capable of eating an entire pan of cupcakes by herself within a day or two; the one that couldn't go to sleep without a taste of ice cream -- learned that I have a sugar addiction (a related and recent must-read New York Times article, Is Sugar Toxic?). You think I would have been able to admit this after devouring a plate full of frosted goodness, but denial is a mighty thing...

Close-up of the cookieClose-up of Nikki's Healthy CookieThey say, and we all know that most things are fine in moderation. Well, this simple principle wasn't something I was raised with, so to this day it's been a challenge to get it through my thick head and into daily practice. I, unfortunately, love sweets, but far too much.

With this realized, in the last 6-8 months I have cut back on my sugar intake drastically. That family I was living with in Australia had an awesome sense of good nutrition and was kind enough to help me ween my sugar addiction. No longer living there, I'm faced with putting the self in self-control and force myself to stay on track and avoid send my blood sugar levels soaring.

Needless to say, my eyes are constantly on the roam for healthy sweet treats. The good news is that there are a ton of great blogs and cookbooks that document healthier dessert/snack options, one of my favorites being Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. When my pops requested I bake something for a meeting with his colleagues, I turned to Heidi's blog and found a magical little cookie recipe that was a total crowd pleaser.

Production pictures ofrNikki's Healthy Cookies

 

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Corn and black bean quesadillas with Pepper Jack

Whether you're a college kid nearing the end of term and dollars, or perhaps you need a quick snack and can't be bothered to whip up something magical, the quesadilla has been a best friend to many.

Good plain or filled with all sorts of fantasticness, quesadillas are misconceived by most Americans. I applaud Sean Lawler for pointing this out. In Cook's Illustrated: American Classics 2010, he wrote the most accurate anecdote about quesadillas I've ever read:

A truly "authentic" quesadilla is just a humble kitchen snack: a fresh handmade tortilla folded around a mild melting cheese, quickly friend or crisped on a griddle, then devoured just as quickly. As the quesadilla migrated north of the border, however, it evolved into a greasy happy-hour spectacle for beer and burger joints, becoming nothing more than bad Mexican pizza: stale and soggy supermarket tortillas filled with "buffalo chicken" or "Cajun shrimp" and sliced into big, floppy triangles.

On the hunt for the perfect quesadilla, Lawler did a nice job of offering up something far tastier than nuking some shredded cheese atop a tortilla in the microwave, yet it's still simple and easy on the wallet.

Corn and black bean quesadilla assembly

Recipe after the jump.

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