Britt’s Balance Bars.

Me trying to make protein bars is like The Lord of the Rings. Or the search for the Holy Grail. Hiking to the top of Mt. Everest, maybe. It’s been a long, epic quest.

When it comes to homemade bars, it seems you can make them taste good, but the nutrition stinks. Or they are dry and gross and the nutrition profile looks great.

I’m not joking–I’ve probably tried to make 20 sets of bars. Fail, fail, fail…

But my loss is your gain! This recipe is the result of me chasing after the perfect protein bar. Does this taste exactly like a Cliff or Luna bar? Nope, but it doesn’t have the heaps of sugar they do. Does it mirror the candy-bar-tasting Zone bars? No, but it doesn’t have weird ingredients like “sugar alcohol.” (What the heck is that?)

The short version: these are my “balance” bar–because on the scale of taste and nutrition, they’re right in the sweet spot.

Britt’s Balance Bar

Loaf Pan = Secret Weapon

1 T coconut oil

1/4 C almond butter

2 T  agave syrup

1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium)

2 scoops vanilla protein powder

1/4 Cup egg white

1 C rolled oats

*Heat coconut oil, almond butter. agave and banana over medium heat until all the ingredients melt together.

*Remove from heat and stir in egg white, protein powder and finally–when everything is nicely mixed–the oats.

*For perfectly shaped bars, pour into a 8 container mini-loaf pan. Alternatively, use an 8×8 pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

From my amateur calculating skills (hey there Calorie King!) these have about 150 calories, 6.5 grams of fat and 8 grams protein. Balanced, no?


How to Order When There’s No Veggie Menu Option.

The veggie plate at Birmingham's Chez FonFon. My favorite.

Vore and I live in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s my hometown and I love it. Not too big, not to small. But alas, not too vegetarian friendly.

But just because there’s not something vegetarian on the menu does not mean you’re stuck with iceberg salad and a tomato slice. Get creative! Here are a few of my tried and tips for ordering vegetarian: 

Ask! This is by far the most important tip of the day. Even if there isn’t a veggie item on the printed menu, chefs are almost always willing to accommodate you. Your average restaurant is going to offer you pasta. For me, this is a serious let down. (So uncreative!) But nicer restaurants will usually craft a plate of the day’s sides for you. Many, many times the meat eaters say they’d rather have my plate. But the key is asking!

Use our steakhouse trick. Last night, we went to Fleming’s, a favorite of Vore’s. I don’t complain about going because of their killer wine list. On our last visit, the server charged us the full price of a family-sized side for each vegetable on my chef-made veggie plate. Not cool. This time, I ordered a baked potato on a large plate, then Vore and I shared the remaining family-portioned sides. And this time, there are leftovers in the fridge.

Make a swap. There are two restaurants we frequent who have salads I love, but the main feature is meat. One comes with hardboiled egg and bacon. Ask for extra egg and no bacon. The other comes with chicken and black beans. Extra beans, no chicken. Getting the hang of it?

Go Asian. Many Asian restaurants will sub tofu for any meat on the menu. Wow, does that open up some possibilities!

Take the last resort. Sometimes the group wants Outback. Sometimes you have to suck it up. This isn’t exactly the most desirable meal, but in a pinch, a loaded baked potato and a salad will work. Just make sure you ask them to nix the bacon.

Vegetarians, do you have any tried-and-true ordering tricks? I’d love to hear…

Flour Power.

Yeah, that flour’s powerful all right. Watch out folks, Veggie’s making a mess in the kitchen.

So, how did this Lucille Ball moment come about?

I’m on a bread baking kick. It’s black bean burger night and those patties needed buns! So I commenced baking French bread. You start by making a Pâte Fermentée, which is a small batch of dough that that sits for a day or two and increases flavor. You then add more flour, yeast, salt and water to the existing dough to finish it off.

Smarty pants here zoned out and added the flour to the Pâte Fermentée without water. As my Kitchen Aid started to stir…well…the flour went everywhere.

Expletives were uttered. Wardrobe change, stat.

Fruit Free for All?

Today, I was browsing Fit Sugar (love that blog!) and ran across an article titled, “Is Fruit Bad for You?” They discuss the conflicting research I’m constantly seeing:

Theory 1: Fruit is chock full of antioxidants and among the healthiest things you can put on your plate. Pile it on!

Theory 2: Fruit is chock full of devilish sugar, which is making you fat. Eating fruit spikes your blood sugar just like a candy bar and makes you chubby. Avoid it.

Sadly, the only fruit in our house right now. We ate the rest!

And then there’s the Weight Watchers conundrum. Fruit used to be weighted with “points,” making it limited, while veggies were a free-for-all. And then they changed their tune and made fruit free as well. What’s a girl to do?

I’ve found that it’s all about balance. I love fruit, but try to monitor just how much I’m consuming. 2-3 servings a day gets me the nutritional benefit, but not the added inches.

What’s your take on fruit?

In other news, I thought I’d post this one for the skeptics. Today’s lunch included 25 grams of protein, without the meat. Take that, chicken breast!

Eggs with spinach and nutritional yeast, Spanish quinoa and green beans

Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes

I’m not going to lie: My man loves a potato. I can’t say I complain about eating them. Dress those spuds up with a little of this and a little of that and…delish!

Here’s an easy weeknight version that’s been making it’s way to our table. We use Yukon golds for their buttery flavor and added nutrition benefit. (Hi there, potassium and glorious vitamin A!)

Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes

1 clove garlic, roasted*

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs cream cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoon chives, diced.

1/2 teaspoon salt

fresh cracked pepper, to taste.

*Roast your garlic. (for instructions, on how to roast garlic, click here)

*Cut potatoes into one inch cubes, leaving the skins attached. Place them in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for approximately 12 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Side note: Potatoes are finished when you can pierce through them with no resistance. The smaller your potato pieces, the faster they will cook. Don’t let those carefully chopped spuds get mealy!

*Remove potatoes from heat and drain.

*In a large bowl, add potatoes and remaining ingredients. Squeeze the roasted garlic in.

*Use a fork and smash away your frustrations, blending the ingredients throughout. These aren’t supposed to be tidy. If there are chunky, all the better. These, friends, are man potatoes. Bon appetit!

Vore’s Favorite Weekend Oats

On weekday mornings, Vore and I have quite a routine. Since he commutes and has to be at work before me, I’m usually on KP (that’s Kitchen Patrol!) We focus on things that can easily be consumed in the car. Think English muffin, egg and cheese sandwich or almond butter + banana on toasted Ezekiel Bread. No messy oats.

But on the weekend…

Toppings make the oats! Today: blackberries, banana and almond butter

No one’s in a hurry. There’s time to linger over coffee. Breakfast bowls and spoons are encouraged. Here’s our go to version.

Vore’s Favorite Weekend Oats

~Serves 2

2/3 cups rolled oats

1 tablespoon soy granules

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 2/3 cups milk or almond milk, divided

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons stevia

*Heat a medium size non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add your oats, granules and chia. Allow them to lightly toast.

*Add 1 1/3 cups milk to the pan, stirring constantly. After about 5 minutes, your oats should begin to thicken. Just when you think they’re finished, add in the remaining 1/3 cup milk an cook until it’s fully absorbed. This will make your oats extra creamy.

*Add your oats and enjoy breakfast at the table. No driving allowed.

Gran’s Birthday Bread Pudding

This is my Gran. I pinched her (just like my Granddad used to) to get her to smile for this picture. That grin is for real, and that’s why I love, love, love the shot.

She’s everything you’d want a grandmother to be. She sews Christmas ornaments by hand and cooks divine biscuits and gravy. She gives the best hugs. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

On February 6, my sassy Granny turned 90. Today, my family got together to celebrate. I brought bread pudding for the birthday girl.

I saved a piece for you!

Gran’s Birthday Bread Pudding

4 cups milk or almond milk

1/4 cup melted butter

4 large eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 (16 oz) loaf of your favorite bread, cut into small cubes.

(We used Italian)

1 cup white chocolate chips

Optional for chocolate lovers: 1/2 cup semi-sweet chips

Gran Approved.

* Combine milk through the vanilla in a blender or food processor.

*Add some of the crust from your bread. This should equal about 1/4 of the loaf. Blend the mixture together until smooth.

*Pour over your bread cubes and stir, stir, stir. The bread should soak up a good portion of the liquid. Let it sit for a bit until the liquid is gone and the bread is soggy.

*Stir in your chips.

*Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. (I used a 2 1/2 quart Corningwear) Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. If you like, you can crank up the temp to broil for the last minute or so to get a lovely crust on top.

Easy Sauteed Kale

My client's corporate garden

I am a freelance writer by trade. I keep office hours with one of my clients, and they have the coolest campus.

There’s a garden!

In the summer, it’s bursting with tomatoes, squash, melons and just about anything else you can imagine. In the winter, greens are about all that will grow. This year, they planted kale and I’ve been picking a ton.

Picked and transported home

Kale is crazy nutritious AND crazy expensive. Bunches at the grocery average about $3.00 and they are tiny. That’s why I love that I can pick it for f-r-e-e at work.

This week, I took a salad in to work and used the container as my takeaway.

So what’s a girl to do with all this green leafy awesomeness?

Sautee and savor, obviously.

On the table

Easy Sauteed Kale.  

1/2 Tablespoon butter

1 Cup onion, chopped

1/2 Tablespoon minced garlic

5 Cups Kale, packed, then roughly chopped

1 Teaspoon smoked paprika

3 Tablespoons Mama Pea’s Tahini Lime Sauce.

*Heat the butter in a large sautee pan over medium high heat.

*Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds more.

*Add the kale and cook until wilted.

*Now stir in the smoked paprika and the Tahini Lime sauce. Stir to coat.

*Tahini lime sauce is in Mama Peas cookbook, which you should totally buy it. It’s amazing.If you don’t have the book yet, the major players in this sauces are tahini–lime juice–soy sauce.

How We Save Money: The Bean Edition.

Beans, beans good for the heart…

Quit your snickering. Beans are a super food! They are loaded with protein and fiber. The best part? They are cheap. Like really cheap, particularly if you buy the dried kind. This totally justifies the marginal extra cost to buy organic.

At Whole Foods, one can of organic black beans costs about $.99 and contains 3 servings. A 1-pound bag of dried organic black beans runs $2.99, and contains 12 servings. If you’re needing extra inspiration, there’s a $1 off coupon at WFM right now. That’s $.17 cents per serving. Dried beans for the win!

What’s that I hear? You’re complaining about the effort that goes into prepping dried beans? Madness! They’re easy. And dried beans are missing two big factors that I don’t like in the canned variety: sodium and pesky BPA. So, how are we to cook these bad boys?

Vore and I got a slow cooker for our wedding and I was determined to put it to use for beans. Guess what? It works great! Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way:

  • You don’t have soak beans overnight with the slow cooker method, but I do find they retain structure better if you do. Cook time stays the same either way.
  • To cook, wash the beans and pick out any that look suspect. Put them in the slow cooker, cover with about three inches of water and set your cooker on low.
  • Most beans take about 6 hours to cook on low. If you can give them a stir every hour or so, do. It’ makes them cook more evenly.

Do you eat dried beans or canned? Have a favorite recipe to share? 

So You Want a Super Creamy Smoothie?

I’ve got three ways to get you there:

1. Bananas! I’m not overly sure why already delicious bananas get even more fabulous when tossed in the icebox, but they do. More than one blogger has frozen bananas, thrown them in the blender and compare the result to soft serve ice-cream. They speak the truth.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie Revisited

1 cup vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup canned pumpkin, chilled

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

1/2 cup frozen banana slices (this should be about 1/2 of a large)

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

*Blend and guzzle.

2. Cottage cheese. I know…gag. I always thought I hated cottage cheese. Then, after reading the protein content, I rediscovered the stuff. Turns out, it wasn’t the flavor that was gross. It’s the texture. I mean, come on. They are called “curds!” But if you throw that in the old Vitamix, the stuff tastes like liquid cheesecake.

Strawberry Cheesecake Protein Smoothie

4 oz Cottage Cheese

1/2 Cup milk

7 medium-sized frozen strawberries

Stevia to taste.

*Blend the mess out the cottage cheese so it’s not lumpy. Add milk and fruit, and keep blending until creamy.

3. Milk and/or yogurt. It’s the old standby. Greek yogurt is the most luscious of all, and it incorporates beautifully into a smoothie. The extra protein doesn’t hurt! Kefir and plain old milk work great too.

Blueberry-Mango Yogurt Smoothie

3/4 cup almond milk

1/2 Cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup frozen mango

1/4 cup frozen blueberries

Stevia to taste

1/4 teaspoon ginger, if you’re looking for a little zing.

*Blend away and enjoy your creamy bliss.