No-Bake-Hippie-Cakes

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For the most part, Otherhalf and I try to eat relatively healthy.  Sometimes we do pretty good.  Often times we are very naughty.  Recently we have been on a cereal kick.  And I ain’t talking about no Kashi.  It’s all Cookie Crisp and Capt’n Crunch up in here.  The weekends are particularly difficult too.  We tend to eat out a lot and partake in highly caloric indulgences as a reward for getting through the week.

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Hey, we EARNED those hot dogs!!

I have been trying to add some healthy snacks to counteract some of the naughty ones.  Naughty like the two bags of Starburst Jellybeans I have almost finished.  And the Girl Scout Cookies.  And the Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares that one of Otherhalf’s students gave him for Valentine’s Day (and by proxy ME because he doesn’t really eat chocolates).  Oh, and all the cereal.

So when my coworker gave me a bag of chia seeds, I decided to give them a try.  They are supposed to be all sorts of healthy for you with the omegas and the fiber and they have hella calcium.  Basically chia seeds are the new kale (which was the new pomegranate).  I Googled some recipes, cause I’m not likely to sprinkle these mofo’s on my yogurt, thankyouverymuch.  The first recipe I made was these Lemon Chia Seed Muffins.

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They are just like lemon poppy seed muffins. With a lemon glaze. TASTY!

Then for my next adventure, I decided on these Raw Hemp and Chia Seed Bars.  I thought they would be good for us to toss in our lunches for a quick, filling, “energy packed” snack.  These are what I will share with you today.

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photo from Karielyn at www.thehealthyfamilyandhome.com
(this is what after photos are supposed to look like)

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**Oh, and FYI, these are by no means low-fat or low-calorie snacky treats.  Coconut oil is super high in fat.  But it’s the good fat, and all the stuff in these bars is good for you.  I like to have one with the ginger tea I have been drinking lately.  I did not use entirely organic ingredients like the recipe asks, but I think both myself and Otherhalf will live.  So let’s get to it, shall we??

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My ingredient pile:

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Hemp seeds, Almonds, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Oats, Almond/ or Peanut Butter, Vanilla Extract, Coconut Oil, Honey, Apple/ or Applesauce
(Oh, and Unsweetened Coconut Flakes- not pictured.) 

First you put all the dry ingredients together.  The recipe calls for flax seeds to be ground up in a spice grinder, but I don’t have one, so I used my trusty mortar and pestle.  Well that was a pain in the ass.  I will be ordering a spice grinder for future hippie snack bar endeavors.

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Then you gotta pulverize the almonds in the food processor.

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Here’s my fancy dry ingredient class photo:

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Then it’s time for the wet ingredients.  After I got all the ingredients together for the initial photo, I realized I forgot to buy applesauce.  GAAAAHHH!!!  But it’s cool, I had an apple, so I just made the applesauce from scratch.

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peel and chop apple + cook with a little water for like 10 minutes + mash with fork + remember you have an immersion blender (!!!) + blend = Perfect Applesauce!

And then I was like, “If I can make applesauce, then surely I can just make the almond butter!  Duh!”  So I ditched the peanut butter and made almond butter too.  It was a very satisfying process.

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I heart my immersion blender.   Except that when I was making the almond butter, I may have been wielding my little blue spatula a little too close to the whirring blades.  Poor, poor spatty.

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This isn’t the first time I have maimed my cooking utensils. Remember poor spoonie?

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Then I combined the wet ingredients

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Then I dropped my damn phone in the batter when I was mixing the wet and dry and trying to take a picture at the same time.  It turns out I am not very graceful in the kitchen.

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genius.

So once I got all the goo off my phone, and mixed the wet and dry together, I just pressed the mixture into an oiled pan and put it in the fridge to set.

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In the morning, I cut ’em into little 2×2 squares, and wrapped some of the squares in plastic wrap for transport.  These bars need to be refrigerated, otherwise all the coconut oil melts and they won’t keep their shape.  Then you would have to eat the bars with a spoon, which would defeat the purpose of having them in portable bar form anyways.  I took a bunch to work to keep in the fridge, and Otherhalf has a freezable/ ice pack/ lunch bag that he takes to school.

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TAH DAH!!

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I gotta say, I am pretty happy with these little munchies.  I will be making them again.  They are definitely dense and will fill you up.  And then probably make you poop because of all the fiber.  I am not speaking from experience though. . .

What’s your favorite healthy snack?

A List of Things I Dig at the Moment

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittehs . . .

I am sitting here tonight watching back to back broadcasts of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor (Carol Burnett, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres) on PBS and eating too many Starburst jellybeans (not the green ones though).  I was sprucing up my blog a little – what do ya think??- and decided to make one of them lists of things I like at the moment.

1.   Crabtree and Evelyn’s Pomegranate, Argan & Grapeseed Ultra Moisturising Hand Therapy

ImageMy sister-in-law gave me a gift set for the holidays with shower gel, lotion, hand scrub, and this amazing super duper hand cream.  It’s real silky, but not greasy, and it smells delicious and fresh and not too perfumey.  I pretty much bathe in it right before bed.

2.   Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

ImageI have a good friend who is in school learning acupuncture and oriental medicine.  Any time I have a weird ailment I consult him.  I look at it as a way to challenge him educationally and keep him on his learnin’ toes.  Recently I was having some “digestive” issues. (We’ll just leave it at that, shall we?)  Anyways, he recommended drinking a teaspoon or two of Bragg’s in hot water in the morning when I first get up.  I have been doing it for a week and already notice a difference.  It actually tastes pretty good.  I add a little honey.  Supposed to be good for weight loss too apparently.

3.   Ginger

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If you scroll to the bottom of the link above, you can see why I REALLY like the ginger.

In addition to the vinegar tea, I am also making ginger tea and taking it to work.  I cut 3-4 slices of fresh ginger and pour boiling water over in my travel mug.  By the time I schlep my ass to the train, it is good and steeped and has cooled off a bit so I can drink it.  Settles the gut and warms the tummy.

4.  BOGS

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These are not my actual pair of Bogs, because I got mine like two years ago.  BUT this year in particular I am really appreciating my Bogs.  They absolutely keep my feet warm and dry.  I do have to wear an extra fluffy pair of socks over my regular socks because they don’t have half sizes and my Bogs are just a touch big. But it’s all good as the fluffy socks add to the warmth factor.  Otherhalf has a pair too.  His don’t have flowers though.  Often when we go running around in the snow and the slush and the muck, and some poor suckers are out in their sneakers or some other inferior footwear, Otherhalf and I cruise through puddles and say, “Thank you, Bogs!”  I love them, but at the same time I just don’t want to wear ’em anymore.

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thank you, Bogs!!

5.  Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

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Okay, so I just tried this yesterday at The Bad Apple, but I can tell it’s going to be my beverage of choice come summer.  It’s from Scotland, so hopefully it won’t be too hard to come by in these parts.  Pour this zippy carbonated libation over a glass of ice and add a slice of lemon or lime (it says to right on the bottle), and you’ve got yourself a refreshing, well balanced, delightful treat.

Well there you have it.  I realize that three out of these five things are beverages, and two of those beverages have ginger in them.  Huh.  That’s just how I roll, I guess.  What’re you in to these days?

A not so common bowl of RAMEN

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Hey y’all!  In the midst of my winter-that-is-lasting-forever blogging slump, Otherhalf has decided he has some things to share.  And so, without further ado, I present to you- my boo.

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Get out yer dictionaries! Otherhalf is in the haayouse!

It’s always the little joys that keep us going.  Some of these moments that make us want to skip with unadulterated ecstasy include the realization that the sun is finally up before 7 a.m. after a long bleak march through the throes of winter where daylight has been at a premium.  Or while aimlessly browsing the internet, you come to find out that your favorite author has a new book coming out shortly; August 12, 2014 cannot come soon enough Mr. Haruki Murakami.  And sometimes the little joys can be as simple as finding a maple seed pod when spring finally comes around and throwing it up in the air.   You watch as it twirls and dances back to the ground, and remember late afternoon sunlight in the backyard running around with your brothers and sister in a different time.  One of these joys for me lately is ramen. 

It was only recently that I decided that I would search out and find the best bowls of ramen in Chicago and write about the experiences.  This after having tried a few different places and watching several episodes of “Mind of a Chef” starring chef extraordinaire David Chang (definitely worth checking out if you have Amazon Prime) and subsequently purchasing his book.  These posts are not meant to rank or rate which place has the best bowl, but instead, it is meant to just give me a means to share my little joys.

What is ramen?  The uninitiated may say it’s an easy, cheap, and quick instant meal.  And there is truth in this.  There is no denying its versatility and worth as a source of sustenance and nourishment (whatever that may be).  It’s the meal of choice for large families, sleep and money deprived students and minimum wage workers alike as I can attest to having been a person who has walked all 3 paths.  Like many, ramen was known to me as a necessity and not necessarily as a source of pleasure.  So it was to my amazement and surprise when I learned what ramen could be first hand.

The first time I had what I consider my first “real” bowl of ramen was at a Japanese supermarket called Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights, a nearby suburb of Chicago.  So it seemed apropos that I should return to this special place as the subject of my first post.  Mitsuwa is located about 45-minutes out of downtown Chicago by heading north on the Kennedy before bearing left and heading west on to the Jane Addams Tollway.  Another couple of right turns off of the expressway and you’re in the parking lot of Mitsuwa about to have a great bowl of ramen.  It’s well within the driving radius of Chicago without being terribly cumbersome.

At the time of writing this post, it’s snowing yet AGAIN in Chicago, and a hot steaming bowl of ramen seemed like it would hit the spot so my wife, brother, sister-in-law, and niece climbed into the car and headed west. 

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looks like good ramen weather to me!

When we got to the supermarket, we expected a flurry of activity in the food court given its reputation as a place to get a great variety of Asian foods including the above mentioned ramen in addition to just the overall quality of food (not to mention all the cars in the parking lot) .  To our surprise, the food court was relatively tame and many open tables were readily available.   It wasn’t only that, but the usually long line at the ramen shop was virtually nonexistent!  Could it get any better?  Yes.  Yes it could.

I quickly went to the cashier at Santouka Ramen within the food court of Mitsuwa and ordered a large bowl of the shoyu ramen with extra roast pork or chasu.  Shoyu ramen utilizes soy sauce as one of the main tenets in composition of the broth but somehow seems less salty than the miso ramen.  After getting a numbered ticket (#55), I waited about 5 minutes or so until my number was inevitably called.  Needless to say an electric jolt of joy shot through my body as I heard “55” over the P.A. system and jumped to me feet to head to the counter.  Once back at my table, I began to dissect my ramen.

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The broth had a luxurious opaque quality with shimmering pools of pork fat dotting the top.  The broth clung to the noodles beautifully and coated each bite with a burst of rich, meat flavor.   Toppings included a slice of nori or dried seaweed, a slice of Naruto, which is a type of fish cake usually white with a pink swirl in the middle, pickled, julienned bamboo, 2 fantastically marbled slices of chasu, thinly sliced scallions, and sesame seeds.

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Check out the marbling on this pork!

The first taste of broth was absolutely marvelous.  There were just enough pools of luxurious lipids to really help the broth coat your tongue and telegraph the delicious and rich flavor.  The broth itself while opaque was extremely clean in the sense that there were no particulates swimming within it save for the sesame seeds that were served as a topping.  The broth was pure liquid gold.  After a minute or so, a sesame flavor slowly manifested itself but not in an overpowering fashion as sesame (especially sesame oil) is want to do when it is overused. 

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The nori added a slightly savory, fish flavor that blended seamlessly with the broth without overpowering it.  It creates a really unique flavor combination.  In addition to adding a wonderful visual element that is just as mesmerizing as the ramen is in taste (add Tim McCarver joke here), the Naruto slice also plays its role well as a teammate rather than captain.  The two slices of chasu were beautifully and evenly marbled.  However, there was no bite of the pork that ever felt like there was too much fat or not enough.  The roasted pork was moist and tender with a well-rounded pork flavor.  “What does that mean?” you might ask.  Well, it means whatever you want it to mean.  J  For texture, the pickled bamboo shoots added a chewy but not giving bite, which helped to add a counterpoint to the more giving but equally chewy noodle.

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Speaking of which, let’s talk noodle for a second.  If the toppings are teammates, the co-captains are the broth and the noodle.  While the broth packs a ton in terms of flavor and richness, the noodles act as the conduit that help to transport these characteristics while maintaining a unique character all their own.  The noodles were slightly yellow in color but retained a chewiness and spring that were not unlike al dente pasta if only somewhat more giving in terms of bite.  When eating ramen, there is no better way to eat them than to slurp the noodles.  For some reason, the act of slurping somehow makes the ramen taste better.  But maybe it’s just me.

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Slurp worthy!

All in all, the shoyu ramen at Santouka Ramen is a great bowl.  Some of my friends (including my sister-in-law), who have grown up on ramen as children and adults in Japan, consider the ramen served at Santouka Ramen some of the best in the Chicagoland area.   Go ahead and add me to the list of fans of this place as the ramen is indeed mighty fine and delicious.  And if you get a chance, make sure to swing by and check out the ramen.  It will be your initiation and open invitation to visit this wonderful place time and time again.