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Healthy snack for toddlers (and mom and dad too): chocolate almond no-bake snack bites

It was hot and humid today, around 38 degrees with the humidex. Like a greenhouse. Hot, sticky, uncomfortable.

Bee had played outside in the morning. It was after nap. I didn’t feel like going outside, and didn’t want Bee running around our sunny backyard in the heat. I had to find an indoor activity before letting her loose for some more fresh air.

Meanwhile I’m on a mission to stock up on healthy snacks. We’ve been in a snack rut, relying on what I considered “less bad” packaged goods from the store shelves. They did the trick — and I still have them as back-up — but I knew I could do much better and provide Bee with healthy, wholesome, homemade snacks.

The no-bake energy bites recipe I came across earlier this week (thanks to a Facebook post by Raspberry Kids) was the perfect activity.

I switched up the ingredients to come up with my own version for Bee. She loves them! I think both David and I will be snacking on them too — they seriously satisfy any sweet tooth. They are super easy to make too. Next time I’ll double the recipe!

Toddler making no-bake snack bites

After pouring the ingredients in the bowl and pushing the button to pulse, Bee tests the resulting mixture… many times!

Recipe: Chocolate Almond No-Bake Snack Bites

Makes 25-30 snack bites (approx. 1-inch balls).

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted (I toast mine approx. 12 minutes at 325° F, stirring every 4 minutes)
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup cacao (I use a raw cacao)
1/2 cup finely chopped dried pear or apricot
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Form 1-inch balls. [If the mixture seems sticky and difficult to shape into balls, then refrigerate for 30 minutes before making the balls.] Refrigerate or freeze.

[I used a food processor, because I wanted the oatmeal to be a bit finer. The method is the same: combine all ingredients in the bowl. Pulse to combine, scraping down the sides if necessary to make sure all ingredients are well mixed.]

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Breastfeeding toddler

My view several times per day. (Not easy to snap a picture of an easily distracted and very-interested-in-the-camera toddler while breastfeeding!)

Before having Bee, I wasn’t committed to breastfeeding. I’d heard stories of problems and pain. I thought “If it works, then good. If it doesn’t, oh well.”

Yet here I am with a 19-month old nursling, who shows no signs of giving up the boob. Nor do I have a need to stop nursing her for the time being. In fact, I’m happy to continue breastfeeding her for the health benefits to both her and myself until there is a compelling reason or circumstance for me to stop.

I feel lucky that I never had any breastfeeding problems, though the path was a bit rocky sometimes.

Like most new mothers who are feeding on demand, it started with having to get used to being in constant demand, coupled with uncertainty. The nagging question of “Am I doing it right?” despite the fact that Bee was gaining weight regularly. Then it was getting over my hang up of breastfeeding in public. Since I overcame that discomfort, it’s been smooth sailing.

I also feel lucky to live in a neighbourhood, and be part of a community, that is open and supportive of breastfeeding.  All of my closest momfriends are still breastfeeding their toddlers.

One of my momfriends decided that this extended breastfeeding was worthy of celebration. Last Sunday I was invited to a “boob celebration” along with another still-nursing mother. Of course, husbands (whose breastfeeding support is invaluable) and toddlers (the raison d’être of our breastfeeding) were invited too!

I’d heard of lactation cookies, but had never made any. This event became the perfect opportunity to bake some to share with these lactating ladies. The recipe is a mash-up of the ones I found on Peaceful Parenting and The Progressive Parent. Both sites do a good job of explaining what the key ingredients oats, flax and Brewer’s yeast do to boost milk production — not that we really need the extra help at this point. Aside from the main benefit, I really just wanted them to taste good.

I’m happy with the results, and think they are nourishing cookies for anyone. David and Bee certainly approve, and so do the lactating ladies!

Lactation cookie made with oats, flax and Brewer's yeast to boost milk production, and other ingredients to make them taste good!

Recipe: Lactation Cookies

This recipe makes approx. 5 dozen cookies. These cookies are not overly sweet; they taste “nutritious”. The chocolate chips and dried apricots add sweetness, but if you prefer sweeter cookies, increase the brown sugar to 1 cup.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp Brewer’s yeast
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ground ginger
3/4 cup ground/milled flax seed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped almonds (or cashews or macadamia nuts)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (or raisins, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line or grease baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, Brewer’s yeast, baking powder, salt and spices.

In a second (small) bowl, combine ground/milled flax seed and water. Mix with a spoon to make a thick paste. As the mixture sits, it will thicken into one lump.

In a third (large) bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add almond butter and beat until combined. Beat in sugar, then eggs one at a time. Mix in flax seed mixture, molasses and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture, then oats and finally the chocolate chips, chopped almonds and chopped dried apricots.

Make small balls of dough and place on cookie sheet. Press down balls with a spoon or fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

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Stack of oatmeal raisin food processor cookies.Bee – that’s Baby’s new blog handle, since she isn’t really a baby anymore, and busy like a bee – and I made cookies recently. We used a food processor.

Using this kitchen appliance works well for us at this stage (17 months). Bee likes pouring things from one container into another and pushing buttons. She also likes putting together the different parts of the food processor (minus the blade of course). For me, the mess is minimal and I don’t have to pull away while mixing to make sure she doesn’t get her fingers caught in the beaters.

Toddler eating butter while making food processor cookies.

Bee likes butter!

We made cookies based on the Wannabe Cape Breton Oat Cakes recipe. While she played with some of the dough (much tastier than regular playdough!), I rolled out the dough and cut out cookies.

Toddler playing with dough, real dough.

Bee playing with the dough, lots of flavour and texture!

I rolled the dough quite thin, so the result was more like a sweet cracker – quite addictive, I must say. Hard to eat just one! Bee liked them too, so this recipe is a win. I’ll make them again, and maybe swap the raisins for cut up dried pears, dates or apricots, or even some chocolate chips.

Oatmeal raisin food processor cookies, kind of like a sweet cracker.

Oatmeal raisin food processor cookies, kind of like a sweet cracker.

Recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Food Processor Cookies

2 cups flour (I use whole spelt flour)
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, ginger and cardamom
1/2 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pour flour, spices, brown sugar, salt and baking powder into food processor. Pulse to combine. Add old fashioned oats and raisins. Pulse to combine.

Add butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. While running the food processor, slowly add water. Stop processing once the dough starts coming together.

Flour counter. Turn dough out onto floured counter. It will be crumbly. Knead lightly and briefly until it comes together. [Give some dough to your child for play.]

Roll out dough to a 1/4″ thickness. Cut into squares/rectangles/whatever shape you desire. (I tried using a cookie cutter, but it didn’t work well because of the oatmeal in the dough.) Place cookies on prepared baking sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown.

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Date and Cranberry Muffin with Oatmeal Streusel ToppingI’m a fan of date squares, but often I find them too sweet. When I tried the cranberry-date squares from 3 Tarts, a bakery in my neighbourhood, I thought “what a smart combination!”

Those squares became the inspiration for these muffins. The dates give them a rich flavour (and minimize the sugar required) while the cranberries offer a pleasantly tart contrast to the dates’ natural sweetness. The oatmeal streusel topping provides some nice crunchy texture.

My mouth is watering as I write this. Time for a muffin!

Recipe: Date and Cranberry Muffins with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

Dry:
1 1/2 cups flour (I use 3/4 cup regular spelt flour and 3/4 cup whole spelt flour)
1/2 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup diced dates (raisin-sized dice)
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

Wet:
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
1/2 cup date puree (see ingredients below)
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Date Puree:
1 cup whole pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup water

Oatmeal Streusel Topping:
1 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 brown sugar
1/4 flour
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line/grease 12 muffin cups.

Date Puree: Combine chopped dates and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are softened. Puree with an immersion blender, a food processor or food mill. Should yield 1/2 cup (no worries if it’s a little more or a little less).

Oatmeal Streusel Topping: Mix oatmeal, brown sugar and flour in a bowl. Add butter and, with your hands, rub all ingredients together until combined. Set aside.

Muffins: In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Combine all dry ingredients (except for cranberries) in a second bowl. The chopped dates will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.  Add cranberries and toss to combine and coat the cranberries with flour.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Cover each muffin with some of the streusel topping, pressing it lightly into the batter. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

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Curious baby "baking" cookiesCurious baby "baking" cookies

I first made these cookies (and froze a huge batch) while I was waiting for Baby to make her appearance. I was already on maternity leave, but she was “late,”  taking her time, getting ready for the world. Once she was here, they provided me with nourishment in the middle of the night while I was providing her with hers; breastfeeding builds up an appetite.

More recently I made them with Baby in the carrier. She’s so curious, looking from the mixer button to the bowl, watching the beater turn. Soon enough she’ll be taking her first bites and eventually be able to eat one of these cookies herself. And we’ll continue to bake them together. I look forward to that day!

I wanted to name these cookies after my baby. But to preserve our privacy, I opted for “6A” instead. 6 As like in her complete name. 6 As like all the good ingredients in these cookies. Tasty little nuggets of nourishment.

Recipe: 6A Cookies: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut Cookies

6A Cookie: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut CookieThis recipe is adapted from the Bon Appétit cookbook’s Oatmeal cookies with raisins, dates, and walnuts. They freeze well. Makes approx. 30 cookies.

1 cup flour (I use a combination of spelt and whole spelt flours)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
25 mL honey (liquid)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried pear cut into small pieces or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a standing or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is well combined. Incorporate egg on low speed, then beat in honey and vanilla and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Finally, mix in oats, chocolate chips, walnuts and pear pieces/dried cranberries.

Drop batter by tablespoonful onto prepared cookie sheets. Moisten fingertips and flatten cookies slightly. Bake approx. 10 minutes until golden brown.

Baby reaching for cookie

Sorry Baby, I shouldn't have tempted you, but you'll get to eat one soon enough.

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Birchermüesli is a superfood! A healthy and easy-to-digest combination of fresh fruit, oatmeal, yoghurt and nuts.Birchermüesli is a combination of fresh fruit, oatmeal, yoghurt and nuts. It was created around 1900 by a Swiss physician who promoted eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains (instead of bread and meat) for maintaining health and encouraging healing.

Now that I’m eating for two – yes! 🙂 – Birchermüesli has become my pregnancy superfood. It’s full of the vitamins and minerals recommended for pregnant women. In addition, the combination provides protein and fiber, and is easy to digest. I’ve also noticed that I feel more like cooling fresh foods than I normally would, especially for this time of year, and Birchermüesli perfectly satisfies the craving. (Usually I reserve Birchermüesli for the summer when fresh fruit is plentiful, the days are hot and I don’t feel like cooking – I’ll eat it for dinner.)

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. It’s easy to adapt it to what’s in season and to personal taste. Lately I’ve been using fresh mango and blueberries and strawberries that I froze last summer. Another nice winter version would be with raisins and/or other chopped dried fruit, ground or chopped nuts and banana (add just before serving). In fall, chopped pear and dried cranberries. In the summer, the options abound with fresh berries, melon, peaches, nectarines, apricots, …

Pregnant or not, Birchermüesli is one of those things I feel good about eating. I’d actually consider it one of my comfort foods.

Recipe: Birchermüesli (Swiss Raw Oatmeal Yoghurt “Porridge”)

The ingredients listed below are the basic combination. Seasonality and creativity can dictate the details. I have to admit that I don’t measure the ingredients, so they are approximateadjust proportion of oatmeal vs. yoghurt to suit personal preference. I often make it in the evening to eat the next morning. This method allows the oatmeal to soften. If you have issues with leaving cut fruit sit overnight, then add just before serving. Serves 2-4.

2 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick cook)
2 1/2 cups yoghurt
1 apple, finely grated
1/2 orange, juiced (could also be lemon, grapefruit or a combination)
1/2 cup ground nuts or hemp hearts
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
3 cups fresh fruit, chopped if necessary (frozen berries work well too)
1/2 cup raisins, chopped nuts (toasting the nuts adds nice flavour) or dried fruit (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand at least one hour (or overnight) before serving.

In addition to the standard apple, orange juice, yoghurt and oatmeal, mango, blueberries, strawberries, maple syrup and hemp hearts made it into my most recent version of Birchermüesli, but this recipe is so easy to adapt to personal taste.

These ingredients made it into my most recent version of Birchermüesli, but this recipe is so easy to adapt to personal taste: switch up the fruit, add ground or chopped nuts, raisins or other chopped dried fruit. My dad likes to enhance it with a bit whipped cream! Note the special grater for the apple. It’s a special “Bircher” grater and reduces the flesh to a pulp (most likely to make it even easier to digest).

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Date-filled oat cakes - a healthy and delicious snack!The Harvest Loaf Bakery used to make Cape Breton oat cakes and a date-filled version. They were one of my favourite treats. About a year ago, they disappeared from the shelves. A couple of weekends ago, I finally asked if the bakery still made them and was disappointed to discover that it doesn’t anymore. Unfortunately the baker with the recipe left and it was unable to reproduce it faithfully.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to try to make them in my own kitchen. It was this recently tweeted recipe that finally encouraged me to make them. The blog post talks about how the recipe was demonstrated at the South Arm Community Centre in Richmond, B.C.. This was my neighbourhood community centre when I was growing up; I went to playschool and brownies there. What a coincidence!

After comparing  several oat cake recipes, I made three different batches in the last couple of weeks – brown sugar vs. white sugar, variations on the date filling, more butter vs. less butter, hand mixed vs. food processor – and had them taste-tested by several people. The only thing I didn’t try is to make them with shortening; I’m just not a fan.

Below is my favourite version. It has less butter than any of the recipes to which I referred. The dough may seem a bit crumbly, but it rolls out fine. The lemon in the filling brightens it and makes it a touch less sweet.

Recipe: (Wannabe) Cape Breton Oat Cakes with Date Filling

I admit, I’ve never been to Cape Breton. No clue if this recipe is authentic, hence the “wannabe” status!

Filling:
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped dates
1 cup water
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice

Dough:
2 cups flour (I used spelt flour)
2 cups oatmeal (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp each ground ginger, cinnamon and cardamon
1 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water

Prepare date filling. Place dates and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are soft and water is reduced by half. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender. Mix in lemon zest and lemon juice. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking soda and spices. Cut in the butter. Rub mixture between fingers until it resembles a coarse meal. Add enough water to moisten and gather dough into a ball.

[Blending in the butter is much easier with a food processor. I processed together all dough ingredients except for the oatmeal and water to prevent the oatmeal from being ground too fine. Once the flour and butter resembled a coarse meal, I mixed in the oatmeal with a couple of pulses, then added the water. Finally, I brought the dough together with a quick knead on the counter.]

Making date-filled oat cakes. The rolled out dough with date filling, ready to fold.Work with a third of the dough at a time. Roll out thinly (approx. 1/8″) into a long, skinny rectangle. Spoon date filling onto the middle of one half of the rectangle. Wet edges with a bit of water. Fold other half over and gently but firmly seal the edges. Cut into squares/bars and place on baking sheet.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

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