Crunchy, Savory Chickpea Snacks

IMG_2811This easy snack is a great replacement for chips or Doritos when you are craving something salty and savory but don’t want to reach for an unhealthy processed food. Kids at my daughter’s elementary school enjoyed these snacks and were actually the ones who came up with the suggestion that they taste like Doritos!

Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) are packed with fiber and when complemented with a grain provide a complete protein. This is why so many cultures around the world combine legumes and grains in their meals when meat is scarce (lentils and naan, beans and rice, peas and corn). It’s also why I allow my kids to snack on crunchy chickpeas and popcorn! (Chickpeas are a legume; popcorn is a grain)

Having recently hosted a Harvest of the Month demo at my daughter’s school, I happened to have several large cans of pre-cooked chickpeas on hand from Marias River Farm so I used canned chickpeas to make the crunchy bites pictured above. However, the healthiest and cheapest way to prepare these bites would be to purchase dried (uncooked) chickpeas in bulk and sprout them first. Sprouting releases more of the nutrients in the chickpeas for absorption by your digestive system. The instructions below assume you will take this approach. If you’re just using canned chickpeas, skip to Part II.

Instructions Part I – Sprouting and Cooking

To sprout your chickpeas, soak in filtered water for approximately 12 hours. Drain the water and transfer the chickpeas to a colander and cover with a cheesecloth or clean lightweight dishtowel. Rinse the chickpeas every 8-12 hours until you notice little tails beginning to emerge from the chickpeas (this will take 1-2 days). As soon as the tails begin to emerge, they are ready to cook, although if you wait a little longer and the tails begin to grow longer, that’s fine too.

Boil the chickpeas in enough water to submerge them with about an inch of water remaining above the top. After bringing to a brief boil, simmer for 20-40 minutes until the chickpeas are tender. Test the chickpeas periodically and keep an eye on the water level—you may need to add a bit more water as they simmer if they’re taking a while to soften.

Instructions Part II – Roasting or Dehydrating

Drain the excess water from your chickpeas (whether boiled or canned) and rinse with clean water. You have two options for preparing crunchy chickpeas: your oven or a dehydrator. For large quantities of chickpeas, a dehydrator works wonderfully. Simply spread the chickpeas out on the trays (make sure they aren’t completely jam packed) and set to 140 degrees for about 18 hours. Once they are crunchy, turn off the dehydrator, coat in olive oil and mix in the seasonings below.

If you are using your oven, spread the chickpeas out on trays on top of parchment paper or silicone baking sheets (I like silicone baking sheets because they are non-stick, dishwasher safe, and reusable so that I’m not constantly throwing out used parchment paper). Make sure the chickpeas aren’t too tightly packed or they will take quite a bit longer to cook. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-40 minutes, shaking the trays halfway through to facilitate even cooking. Once the chickpeas are crunchy, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool a bit before adding the olive oil and seasonings. This ensures that the heat of the chickpeas doesn’t damage the quality of your olive oil, which is best consumed unheated if you are using extra virgin like I do.

Seasonings (per 1 cup of dried chickpeas)

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

If you like some spice, feel free to throw in some chili powder or to vary the blend of seasonings to suit your taste buds. I’m thinking that a touch of fresh-squeezed lime juice would also be delicious!

How many chickpeas should you prepare? It depends on the quantity of final product you want. 1 cup of dried chickpeas will result in approximately 2 cups of cooked chickpeas—but then these will shrink back down again once they are roasted or dehydrated. In general, the quantity of dried chickpeas you sprout and cook will be the quantity of crunchy chickpeas you end up with. If you’re starting with canned chickpeas, then you will end up with approximately half of the volume of chickpeas in your final product.

As I mentioned above, I like to complement crispy chickpeas with stove-popped popcorn for a full-protein, high-fiber snack. Just as with the chickpeas, I use extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of sea salt to flavor my popcorn. Real butter also tastes wonderful, but it takes an extra minute or two to melt so I tend to go for the olive oil!

Guilt-free “Fudge”

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Mmm, doesn’t this look rich and delicious? It is! Even better, it only takes about five minutes to prepare and has hardly any sugar!

I actually discovered this recipe out of laziness. My girls wanted me to make homemade peanut butter cups, which requires an extra step of preparing the peanut butter base first, refrigerating it, then adding the chocolate covering. For this faux fudge recipe, I simply mixed all of the ingredients together at once, refrigerated, and enjoyed!

Ingredients:

  • Natural peanut butter (any nut butter would do)
  • Virgin coconut oil
  • Dark chocolate

I don’t include quantities because I never actually measure any of these ingredients out–I simply approximate 3 parts peanut butter to 2 parts coconut oil to 1 part dark chocolate. Simply melt all ingredients on low heat in a saucepan, stir until well blended, then pour into a glass container and refrigerate. Depending on how much you make, it will take between 2-4 hours to firm up. You can speed up the process by freezing instead of refrigerating, but then you’ll have to break off chunks with a knife rather than cut smoothly like fudge. The “fudge” will need to stay refrigerated to stay firm since the main ingredients become soft at room temperature.

Feel free to embellish by adding chopped nuts or another favorite fudge ingredient. I hope you enjoy this simple, healthy alternative to a favorite treat!

Oatmeal Cake

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My daughters have been loving this version of oatmeal for breakfast. It would also make for a great snack or homemade granola-bar substitute. I concocted it for the first time a few weeks ago because I was getting bored of the usual oatmeal, and I think the girls were, too. It’s quick and easy to mix up and takes about 25 minutes to bake. Once it’s baked, you’ll have ready-made breakfast bars all week!

Oatmeal Cake

  • 2 cups dry oats, soaked overnight
  • 1 cup baked squash (canned pumpkin would probably work, too)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup milk or milk substitute (I use hemp milk)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (vanilla extra works as well)
  • 3/4 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins or chocolate chips (optional)

Mix all ingredients together, pour into greased 9 x 13 pan, and bake at 350-375 for 25-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving; if you serve immediately, it won’t keep it’s form–but it’s still yummy!

I like to use baked squash (usually butternut or kabocha) instead of canned because it tastes better to me (canned squash can be more bitter) and because I’m sure it’s more nutritious. I usually bake a squash at some point during the week when I’m around the house doing other things. Simply slice it longways, scoop out the seeds, and place face-down in a baking pan with about a half inch of water and bake at 400-425 for 45-60 minutes (the larger the squash, the longer the baking time). You’ll know it’s done when a fork slides easily through the rind and flesh. After you pull it out of the oven, drain any remaining water and turn the squash face up to allow the steam to evaporate off so it doesn’t end up too watery. If you’re busy like me, you can simply place the halves face down on a plate in the fridge (once they’ve cooled off) until you’re ready to use them; they’ll keep for up to a week.

I soak my oats overnight in water and a teaspoon of cider vinegar to reduce the phytic acid content of the oats as well as to make a moister cake; lemon juice is probably an even better choice than cider vinegar for an acidic medium (it tastes better), I just rarely have it on hand. For at least 30 minutes before mixing up the ingredients, you’ll want to drain the water from the oats in a colander, otherwise the cake will be mushy. If you let the oats strain for longer, that’s fine, too. I’ve forgotten about them on the counter for the better part of a day before getting around to making the cake for the following morning’s breakfast (the cake is excellent right out of the oven, I just don’t usually feel like baking first thing in the morning so I often make it the night before). If you forget to soak the oats overnight (for morning baking) or to set them out in the morning (for late afternoon or evening baking), soaking them for just an hour or two will still help. You can also skip the soaking and just use dry oats, but you’ll probably want to double the milk quantity.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Using a little more or less of any of the above ingredients will not make or break the cake–in fact, I never use measuring implements when I bake, so the given measurements are always approximate. You just want to make sure the consistency of the mixture you put in the pan for baking isn’t too runny (you don’t want it to be as runny as pancake batter, for example) or too sticky (you do want it to be wetter than cookie dough). Even if you do end up with batter that’s runnier or drier than ideal, it will still taste delicious!

Milk Kefir: Probiotic King

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As a full-time working mom, I don’t find much time to blog anymore–but I DO still have time to make one of the most probiotic-rich foods on the planet: milk kefir. If you’ve read much about health and nutrition in the past few years or perused the health foods section of your grocery store, you’ve probably heard about this popular “drink” that costs a fortune by the bottle. Make it at home, though, and it’s super affordable and super healthy.

So what is milk kefir, and why do I refer to it as a “drink” (in quotation marks)? Milk kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains several beneficial strains of yeasts and bacteria at a far greater potency than store-bought yogurts, which really don’t have quite the probiotic boost most people assume they do. Traditionally, milk kefir is consumed as a drink; however, I tend to use it as a yogurt and sour cream substitute instead. My girls and I love to eat it mixed with fresh or frozen berries as pictured above, and it also adds a refreshing tang to fruit smoothies or frozen banana “ice cream” (unless you’re adding peanut butter to your “ice cream,” in which case it might taste a little odd!).

I also substitute milk kefir for approximately half the amount of yogurt or sour cream required in recipes such as fruit or pasta salads, adding a flavorful and probiotic kick to our sides. Doing so requires a richer, thicker milk kefir made with extra creamy milk, so I recommend using the creamiest whole milk you can find (I use cow’s milk, but you can also use goat’s milk or coconut milk). If you don’t think your kefir is turning out thick and creamy enough, you can add a few tablespoons of heavy cream when you prepare it as instructed below.

To make your own milk kefir, you can either purchase kefir grains from a company such as Cultures for Health (using grains will give you the greatest probiotic benefit), but if you’re like me and don’t have time to babysit the grains, you can purchase a starter powder that will work just as well (although it will have fewer strains of beneficial microbes). I’ve used various brands of starter powder with success, but I like body ecology kefir starter the best. Although it seems expensive at around $25 per box, it will last you for months because you can use the milk kefir made with a single packet to make up to 8 quarts of kefir (there are 6 packets per box).

Instructions for an initial batch

  1. Heat 1 qt. whole milk in a saucepan to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (about skin temperature–it should feel warm but not hot).
  2. Pour the milk into a 1-qt. glass jar with a plastic lid (if you don’t have a plastic lid, use a coffee filter under the lid to prevent the kefir from reacting with metal); screw the lid on only partway to allow gases to escape.
  3. Stir in one packet of starter powder and allow to ferment at room temperature away from direct sunlight for 24-48 hours, until you notice the liquid whey beginning to separate out; give it a gentle shake every 12 hours or so to keep the cream from settling on the top.
  4. Refrigerate for up to 1-2 weeks (it won’t spoil after 2 weeks, but it will lose it’s probiotic strength).
  5. Shake before using.

Instructions for subsequent batches

  1. Follow the same steps as above, but rather than open another packet, use about 6 tablespoons from your prior batch of finished milk kefir to create a new batch.

Since the starter culture does 99% of the work, it takes very little time and effort to keep milk kefir on hand. If you find yourself using up your milk kefir quickly, you can make a new batch as soon as your prior batch has finished fermenting. If you find yourself using it less quickly, just make sure to start a new batch within a week of finishing a prior batch, otherwise the refrigerated milk kefir will lose its potency and no longer be useful for jump-starting new batches (which means you’ll end up using a single packet for a single batch rather than getting more batches for your money).

If you use raw milk to make your milk kefir, it’s best to heat it to a higher temperature first (145 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended), then let it cool back down to 92 degrees before adding the powder or grains. This essentially pasteurizes the milk, which is a necessary step to prevent the microbes in the raw milk from competing with the milk kefir starter and screwing up your batch (I’ve tried to skip the pasteurization step and ended up with failed batches about 50% of the time, so now I always pasteurize it first). You can also include this step with pasteurized milk that is reaching the end of its shelf life; it might not be good for drinking anymore, but you can culture it into kefir and still make use of it!

For instructions on using kefir grains, refer to the Cultures for Health link above. It requires a few extra steps, but if you have the time, it would be worth the effort for the increased probiotic benefit.

 

Relief without Rx

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Most of my few followers have signed up for my blog after reading one of my recipes. Well, what goes in must come out, so today’s post is about the other end of the digestive tract. This may be TMI for some folks, but warm-water enemas have become one of my new favorite home remedies for a variety of symptoms. I’d read about the benefits of enemas before but it wasn’t until my three-year-old daughter swallowed a quarter that I ever performed one, and now I’m a fan.

The situation was this: Libby (a.k.a. the Mangy Munchkin) swallowed a quarter one night while staying at her dad’s house. By the time she came back to me several days later, she still hadn’t pooped it out. A follow-up x-ray revealed that five days after swallowing the offending coin, it was still in her tummy; the x-ray also revealed that her intestines were gummed up with unpassed stool. The pediatrician recommended giving her MiraLAX to loosen her stool and facilitate elimination, but one whiff of the stuff prompted me to call a former-nurse-turned-natural-mama friend for other suggestions (MiraLAX smells like Elmer’s Glue and the primary ingredient–polyethelene glycol or PEG–is also used in industrial manufacturing). My friend recommended administering a warm-water enema and even came over to show me how to do so.

Within minutes, Libby eliminated a significant amount of stool and a day and a half later her quarter passed. Had we gone the MiraLAX route, not only would I have poured more toxins into her system, but it might have taken up to three days to produce an initial bowel movement according to the label on the bottle.

Witnessing how simple, effective, and immediate Libby’s relief was, I’ve since administered several enemas on myself. I’ve done so at times when I’ve felt constipated and/or bloated, and I have likewise experienced quick relief of my symptoms. I also administered one the morning after I spent the day caring for my two-year-old daughter when she had the stomach flu; I woke up the next day feeling queasy and, worried that I might be coming down with the bug myself, performed an enema to rid my system of whatever might be building up inside. I did this twice during the day and never did end up experiencing the symptoms that my daughter had exhibited the day before (projectile vomiting!).

So how does one administer an enema? It’s actually pretty simple and painless. Just warm up about 2 cups of filtered water on the stove (it should be about body temperature), pour it into an enema bag such as the one pictured above, attach the tube, put a dab of coconut or olive oil on the tip, lie down on your back with your knees to your chest, and insert the tip into your rectum; open the clamp on the tube and allow the water to empty into your intestines. As I mentioned above, you will feel an odd pressure as well as the urge to eliminate, but you’ll want to resist doing so until the bag has drained and you’ve rested on the floor for a minute or two. After that, hop onto your toilet for instant relief! The whole process from preparation to elimination to clean up (boil the tip and tube in hot water after using) takes about 10-15 minutes.

The enema bag pictured above is the Jobar International Deluxe Hot Water Bottle Kit (sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?), which is the one my friend recommended; it sells for about $11 online.

Coffee enemas are a powerful mechanism for ridding the body of toxins–so powerful, in fact, that they are sometimes used in cancer therapy. A coffee enema is a different type of enema from a warm-water enema with the more far-reaching aim of ridding the whole body of toxins, not just the intestines. You can read more about them in the linked article. I have not yet performed one of these on myself but intend to once I can find the time (and the coffee).

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, kudos for taking the time to read about this unsavory but salient topic!

Chocolate-Coconut Gummies

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I’m back! Well, sort of–I’m working a full-time job now, so posts will likely be few and far between, but I hope to continue to blog about my endeavors to remain a healthy, motivated mom despite being back at work and pursuing a doctorate.

The transition to me working again has been the hardest on my oldest daughter (now 3 1/2), who is the more sensitive of my two girls. To let her know I’m thinking about her during the day, I’ve been making a batch of these gummy hearts each week so that I can put one in her lunch every day. They’re super simple, taking about 10 minutes to make, and the ingredients are filling and nutritious.

Ingredients:

4 squares dark chocolate (about half a bar)
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 T. maple syrup
4 T. grass-fed gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 T. chia seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Pour the chia seeds into a small dish along with an equivalent amount of water (this will allow them to gel while you proceed with the rest of the instructions). Melt the chocolate in a saucepan, then add the coconut milk and syrup; warm over low heat. Add the gelatin one tablespoon at a time and stir in thoroughly, then stir in the gelled chia seeds. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a glass dish, cover, and refrigerate.

I use Great Lakes brand unflavored gelatin, which is sourced from grass-fed animals. Gelatin is essential for joint and tissue health, so it’s not just fun to use but also good for you and your little ones. The coconut milk adds enough fat to make these snacks more filling than their juice-made counterparts, and the chia seeds add a few extra vitamins and minerals (and, purportedly, an energy boost). The maple syrup and vanilla help to bring out the chocolate flavor, which can otherwise be overtaken by the gelatin, which has a slight flavor of its own.

If you’re making these for adults or older children, an entire bar of dark chocolate will taste wonderful; I use half a bar for my girls simply to minimize the amount of caffeine in the treats.

Happy eating!

Easy, Edible Easter-Egg Dye

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Okay, so you might not want to actually EAT this easter-egg dye, but it is natural and non-toxic. And, as you can see from the snapshot above, it is actually effective!

I experimented with homemade Easter-egg dyes for the first time last year after reading this post from Mommypotamus. Having two toddlers who love to put everything in their mouths, it seemed like a no-brainer to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised by most of the results. When I compared our eggs to my sister-in-law’s eggs, I couldn’t tell the difference between our yellow and pink eggs and the ones she and her kids had made using store-bought dyes. The blue turned out a different hue than theirs, but it was just as deep and striking.

For pink, I simmered a sliced beet in white vinegar. For the life of me, I don’t know how Mommypotamus succeeded in getting such vibrantly colored eggs (click on the link above and take a look at her images)–perhaps my beet was defective? In any case, I tried her method of boiling a sliced beet in water then adding a tablespoon of vinegar before dying, but I could barely decipher the pink. When I boiled the slices in straight vinegar, I secured the result you can see in the photo above. Not stellar, but not bad.

For yellow, I boiled chamomile (two tea bags + a handful of fresh flowers) in water and added one tablespoon of white vinegar before dying. Mommypotamus recommends using turmeric for yellow, which I advise if you have it on hand; I was out of my supply at the time, but knowing how thoroughly turmeric stains my wooden stirring spoon, I have no doubt it would make for very vibrant Easter eggs! I plan to use it this year.

For blue, I simmered a handful of frozen blueberries in straight white vinegar. As with the beets, boiling the blueberries in water and adding vinegar before dying wasn’t as effective (note the paler blue egg to the left of the other blue eggs). Shredded purple cabbage is another option for blue according to Mommypotamus.

For orange, I boiled the petals and anthers of several tiger lilies in water and added one tablespoon of vinegar. Mommypotamus and other sites recommend using yellow onion peels for orange, but I happened to have a bouquet of tiger lilies on hand and they worked well enough.

When my girls are older, I plan to turn our Easter-egg dying into a science lesson on plant pigmentation and the ways in which past generations used plants and other natural materials to make paints and dyes. The Green Education Foundation is a resource you can check out if your children are at an age where they are ready to appreciate such information.