Vegan & Gluten Free Butterfinger Bars

There is a warm Springtime sunshine flooding our California yard and covering hillsides with vibrant orange poppies and tiny yellow blooms, it's telling me there are new and exciting delicious desserts on the horizon.
To commemorate the celebration of Chocolate Peanut Butter Day (also referred to in our household as "The Most Delicious Day"), and my new passion for homemade peanut butter, these "Butterfinger Bars" were the first of many lucky recipes to feature the nutty, sweet, freshly ground peanuts that have been gracing our kitchen the past couple weeks.
Our passion for all things peanut butter and chocolate is constantly growing, each peanut butter chocolate dessert presented to our bellies leads us to grow fonder and more appreciative of the Heaven-sent combination. 
I have made this recipe a few times now, each time experimenting with a different type of rice or bran cereal for the irresistible *crunch,* and each time loving every moment of eating it.
The last time I made this recipe, I used some fresh, homemade peanut butter, which yielded a much nuttier flavor, and all the same rich, almost caramel-like, sweetness as every other time. 
Just splendid.

Vegan & Gluten Free Butterfinger Bars
makes 8-12 candy bars

-1/4 cup maple syrup

-1 Tablespoon molasses
-1/4 cup coconut sugar
-1 cup creamy peanut butter
-1 1/2 cups rice crispy cereal, crushed
-dash of pink Himalayan sea salt

chocolate coating

-1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper, or thoroughly grease pan.

2. Combine maple syrup, molasses, and coconut sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Allow to boil for one minute, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and add peanut butter. Mix until it comes together in a paste.
3. Add the cereal and salt, thoroughly combine and press into prepared pan. Freeze to firm up, while freezing, melt chocolate in double boiler over low heat (or a heat-safe glass bowl over a saucepan with an inch of boiling water) stir constantly.
4. Remove bars from freezer and spread with chocolate, refrigerate until chocolate hardens then cut into pieces. 

adapted from this recipe by Chocolate Covered Katie
I do not own or claim any rights or credit for Butterfinger bars, these are an interpreted [slightly healthier] version of the well-known candy bar.
optional substitutions...
-coconut sugar: organic white sugar, brown sugar
-rice crispy cereal: any corn, bran, or rice flake cereal

Mangia! Mangia!

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies

Each time my beau offers input as to what I should make, we end up with some sort of chocolate peanut butter treat. He considers the words "chocolate" and "peanut butter" magic words when used in the same sentence. 
Growing up, peanut butter was the one constant in my diet, even at my pickiest, peanut butter made the cut. 
Needless to say, peanut butter is a staple in our house and plays a starring role in many of our favorite desserts.
This time I was going for something that erred on the healhier side, so I made these peanut butter filled chocolate cookies vegan, gluten free, and I used coconut oil and peanut butter as the fat. They were pretty much set up for kitchen victory from the get-go due to their peanut butter chocolatey-ness, however, if any questions linger, I will confirm, they were, in fact, a success.

Gluten Free Vegan Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies
makes 12-18 cookies, depending on size

-1/2 cup coconut oil
-1/4 cup peanut butter
-3/4 cup sugar
-2 teaspoons molasses
-1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
-2 Tablespoons milk of choice
-2 vegan eggs
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
-1/2 cup cocoa powder
-1/2 cup millet flour
-1/2 cup white rice flour
-1/4 cup brown rice flour
-1/4 cup tapioca starch

-1/2 cup peanut butter
-3/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.
2. Combine coconut oil, peanut butter, and sugar, mix until smooth. Add molasses, vanilla, milk, and eggs, mix. Add dry ingredients, thoroughly combine, do not over mix.
3. Prepare filling by mixing peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. 
4. Drop cookie dough onto prepared cookie sheet by Tablespoonful, flatten slightly. Drop peanut butter filling by 1 or 2 teaspoonfuls onto each cookie. Drop another Tablespoon of cookie dough on top of filling, pinch or seal seam to keep peanut butter filling in. Optional: sprinkle a touch of sugar on top of cookies
5. Bake in preheated oven 8-10 minutes or until tops look slightly cracked. Remove from oven and cool on pan about 5 minutes before removing.

optional substitutions...
-coconut oil: non-dairy butter
-peanut butter: any other nut or seed butter (substituting the peanut butter will alter the end flavor, but will still turn out deliciously)
-flours: flour(s) of choice or all-purpose blend

Mangia! Mangia!

Re-Evaluation of Our Plant-Based Diet

Re-Evaluation of Our Plant-Based Diet
written by a plant-based eater of nearly a year and a half
This chronicles the story of our plant-based diet and why we almost transitioned out of it

Disclaimer: To begin this confession, I will start by saying that everyone out there, every. single. person. is completely different and individualistic. We all have different backgrounds, beliefs, allergies, preferences, and circumstances that lead us to make choices for ourselves based on those criteria. I am absolutely in no way shape or form whatsoever telling anyone how they should eat, what they should do, or how they should live. You may do with this information what you wish, and please, do not take any offense to any of it, that is in no way the intention. This is simply an account of myself and my husband and how we choose to live our lifestyle based on our own reasons. 

Additional Disclaimer: In summary, we will continue our plant-based diet. That said, this may get extensive and would be best accompanied by a nice big cup of coffee or tea.

Since November 2012 (approximately sixteen months ago) the Mr. and I have consumed a plant-based diet. Initially, we decided to begin doing so just under a week after getting home from our cross-country adventure once he completed his time in the Marine Corps. My grandparents visited and told of their incredible experiences from going vegan. My grandmother had gone through the McDougall program and, since converting their diet, she had gone off all medication but one, and my grandfather's blood tests had made a complete turnaround for the better, suddenly with better-than-ever levels. In addition, the Mr. had been showing symptoms of a possible dairy allergy (not lactose intolerance, we tried lactose-free dairy products already). So we thought we would give it a shot, just for a bit, with no long-term plans by any means. Once we started our plant-based eating, it became our lifestyle. We fell into the swing of it and have been eating that way ever since. 

*Side Note: though we did not initially change our diet for the animals, I am quite ardently an animal lover, with big dreams of one day growing our family by a pig, a turtle, and an elephant, among others. The lion had to be removed from the list due to the illogicality of it, though a lion would be a fitting match, my outrageously curly hair most resembles a lion's mane. I truly feel that a lifestyle spent benefitting the quality of life of animals would be an enriching and fulfilling one, I do love animals and eating a plant-based diet had the added benefit of eliminating our dollars from potentially supporting animal cruelty involved in the production of the food we consumed.

I am constantly attempting to follow news, research, and new findings about specific diets, ingredients, and food. While vegan, I learned about the dangers of soy consumption, as well as the negative impact of mass legume and grain consumption (which we are totally guilty of). Granted, we consume many fruits and vegetables, however, our protein is fully supplied by soy and legumes, leading me to question whether we're fueling our bodies with proper amounts and ratios of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, or depriving ourselves of any vital components of a whole, healthy diet. 

Over the past six months or so, I have asked myself questions, questions like
How long has human veganism been around for?
Have previous generations consumed an entirely plant-based diet successfully?
Is this a lifestyle of any particular culture somewhere in the world where they have seen long-term benefit?
Does enough research exist on this lifestyle to know whether there is long-term benefit?
Are we truly getting all the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals we need to maintain healthfully functioning bodies?
Are humane options for consuming animal-based products available?
Should we be eating this entirely plant-based diet without knowing the answers to these questions?
Recently, I came upon the account of a vegan of nearly a decade switching her small family back over to an omnivore lifestyle. Kristen had taken note of health issues she and her young daughter faced, that went away after transitioning out of an exclusive plant-based diet. She had asked similar questions to those I had been wondering to myself, noting that, in her research, she came across others in similar situations as well. 

Though we have followed a plant-based diet for a year and a half with no [noticeable] health issues, after reading Kristen's account, I thought maybe with a bit more research, we may not want to wait around for  health issues to surface. 
In addition to the questions I had, the knowledge I had acquired, and the lifestyle we were leading, there were a few things I felt we were missing out on. For starters, in a list of high-quality protein sources, most of those available to us with a plant-based diet might not be as beneficial as we think, or are beneficial in certain forms . In addition, a few nutrients that we fight for are natural, efficiently digested forms of B Vitamins, the oh-so-important Omega-3s (ALA, EPA, DHA), and probiotics, among others

I decided, after a discussion with the Mr., that maybe we should re-introduce dairy into our lives. After my days and nights of constant research and investigation, it was seeming as though this decision would benefit our health and lifestyle. So the next day, I made a trip to the market.

*Side Note: When I visited market in search of basic dairy foods, feeling like a total newbie, I read every label on each carton of eggs, milk jug, and package of dairy butter. I decided on Straus Family Creamery Cream Top Whole Milk, Judy's Family Farm Eggs, and Unsalted Kerrygold Butter. Straus Family Creamery and Judy's Family Farm are both local to where we live, Kerrygold is not necessarily the best option out there due to the fact that their cows [at the time of this post] do not eat an exclusive diet of grass during Winter, however, this is the best option available to us locally. I spent over a half hour in the market. I was on a mission.

Here's where it all turned around. With the dairy products in our fridge, I continued my ravenous research...
I was feeling strong about our new lifestyle decision after re-reading Kristen's account of her diet transition, then reading this Rebuttal of McDougall's book The Starch Solution, which my grandmother had gifted me after participating in the program.
This post was published on a vegan lifestyle website I read pretty regularly, discussing a new article that came out about a study on potential dangers of animal protein. I also came upon a relatively unbias dairy debate as well as a reminder that there is such thing as a healthy vegan diet.
That was all it took. That and the fact that we have had no health problems or issues with our plant-based diet.

We visited my family this weekend, and before leaving our house on our way out, I packed a small cooler with all the dairy products you see on this page. I decided since we would no longer have a use for them, and my family consumes dairy, I'd bring it all for them to enjoy. My dad was quite thrilled with the cream top milk, he and my mom talked about it as though it is quite the treat. I was happy they would have a use for it all, since we did not. It was quite the awkward, yet exciting, trip to the market with the thought of a new lifestyle change, but ultimately, I'm happy with our final decision and our lifestyle as it is. This almost shift in our diet is responsible for a bit of a refreshing update to our plant-based diet, including a re-evalutaion of our supplements, as well as stocking our kitchen with better quality produce whenever possible.

*Side Note: The Mr. went to the Veterans Affairs Hospital for a checkup at their request given that he has now been out of active duty for over a year. The results were quite interesting, the biggest news from this routine checkup was that they found a rather large ulcer in his stomach. I believe this was by no means caused by our diet, reason being, the doctor noticed that while the Mr. was in active duty, he had been prescribed a medication known to cause ulcers, he was prescribed a high dose of this medication for a decent period of time. This would explain a constant feeling of discomfort in his stomach that he was dealing with on a daily basis (despite our very simple diet). What we had thought was a dairy allergy, was most likely an ulcer. What we thought was him getting adjusted to our new plant-based lifestyle, was most likely an ulcer. And recently, what we thought was a gluten allergy, was most likely that darn stomach ulcer. He just had bloodwork done to find out if he has any sort of allergy or if all of those belly aches were from the ulcer, so we will see for sure in a short bit.

*Disclaimer: I'd like to repeat, this is an account of our personal experience and lifestyle decisions. I am not telling anyone what is right, what they should do, or how they should live.This, in absolutely no way, was ever intended to offend anyone, and I sincerely apologize if anyone feels that it does. Every single person is different, we all have our own backgrounds, beliefs, allergies, preferences, and circumstances that bring us to make our own decisions and lead us down different paths. This is simply an account of myself and my husband and how we choose to live our lifestyle based on our own reasons. 

Feel free to add any constructive comments with your thoughts or experiences on the topic, I do encourage it. 
Please keep in mind words make a difference, make one for the better.

Creamy Blood Orange Dark Chocolate Sorbet

 Artisan coffee shops and the contagious aroma of freshly baked pastries on every corner, infinite unique and appetizing food joints (minus the franchises and chains), home of the largest book store in the world, and an energized feeling of inspiration at all times (or is that all the coffee?)
Portland is a thrilling voyage of the senses: the sights to see, the scents to smell, the delight of the tastebuds, and the inspiration of the spirit.

 I've had the best coffee of my life there, collected some of my favorite books, consumed deliciously revolutionary entrees, and taken in moments of exhilaration while experiencing all the city has to offer.

 One notable moment from my visits took place when I tasted my first bite of Blood Orange Chocolate Sorbet at the quickly-growing, Portland original, Salt & Straw. It was a flavor created using artisan chocolate made by a local chocolatier, this particular flavor boasted that profits would benefit a greater cause (which, of course, made me feel so much better about my if I needed another reason to taste this delectable dessert...really, twist my arm).

 This blood orange chocolate sorbet was something of a citrusy, truffly, deep chocolate fudge sorbet. The chocolate flavors were so rich you would never guess it to be sorbet. The blood orange was just as prominent, adding a sweet zing yet remaining smooth and oh-so-delectable.
 Words hardly explain.
 After my first Salt & Straw Blood Orange Chocolate Sorbet, I began pondering how I could have this any time I wanted once back home in California.
 After my second, I remembered I had a new ice cream maker waiting to churn up a luscious splendor.
 After my third, I couldn't stand it, I looked up how to make the most creamy sorbet, and before the end of my Portland visit, I had done all the research I needed to go home and immediately get to work in my laboratory.
 It was quite the success...

 After zesting, juicing, and photographing the process and product, this dessert had my heart. Blood oranges are now my favorite fruit, this dessert may very well be my favorite dessert. Ever. & having achieved this recipe is moving to me, you may find that hilarious, but I mean every word.
 Below I've documented a valiant attempt at duplicating the decadent dessert from my Portland adventures.
 This recipe is inspired by the life-changing Blood Orange Chocolate Sorbet from Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon. Please enjoy with caution and delight...

Creamy Blood Orange Dark Chocolate Sorbet
makes about 1 quart (1 liter)

-3/4 cup blood orange juice (juice of about 5-6, fresh squeezed is best!)
-1/4 cup blood orange zest (zest of about 4-6 depending on size)
-1 cup organic sugar
-3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
-1/4 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
-6 ounces good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cup water

1. In a large saucepan, whisk together juice, zest, sugar, cocoa, and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently, then allow to boil, continuing to whisk for 45 seconds. Remove from heat. Add chocolate, stir until completely melted. Add vanilla and water, mix to combine.
2. Transfer to blender and blend for 15 seconds on high. Place in refrigerator to chill completely. Freeze in ice cream maker, according to manufactures instructions (this may take a touch longer than ice cream as it is sorbet).
Store in an airtight container in the freezer (preferably plastic; glass may cause it to get icy).
Really, please do enjoy!!

adapted from this recipe by David Lebovitz
optional substitutions...
sugar: coconut sugar

Mangia! Mangia!