Paleo Coconut Milk Ice-Cream Sandwiches

It got hot this week.

I shouldn't be complaining. I can't really call it hot. It's been in the 80's, but after a strangely cool and non-humid spring, anything remotely resembling heat is equated with sadness and thighs sticking to leather couches. Heat also puts me immediately in the mood for ice cream sandwiches...the kind with the chocolate cookie that sticks to the pads of your fingers so that by the end of dessert time you're gnawing at your finger-tips where half your cookie stuck, apparently. I mean, who really keeps the paper on? A hot cookie mess: that's my kind of ice cream sandwich.

Many healthy eating plans sound amazing until you realize that ice cream isn't included. Sure, you can make a decent excuse for ice cream out of frozen bananas...but in the end it still tastes like banana. Banana has its place in the world most definitely. But it's place isn't to constantly haunt my ice cream like those few times the bananas I left near the bread-box flavored every sandwich for a week.

The ice cream sandwich craving came on strong, Tuesday. I dove into the grocery store on the way home from work and spent the evening working on something which I'm prepared to call The Ultimate Non-Ice-Cream Ice Cream Sandwich. The cookie: fudge perfection. The coconut milk ice cream: sugarless but lightly sweet, creamy and delightful.

This recipe is slightly time-intensive because the ice cream is custard-based which requires the double-boiler method, cooling of the custard, then freezing of the custard, so just be sure to start this recipe the day before you intend to indulge your ice cream sandwich craving. The results, though, are completely worth the relative trouble of waiting. Creamier than what you usually think of when you think of dairy-free ice cream. Confession: I got impatient and tried to fill my sandwiches before my ice cream was thoroughly frozen and they melted and oozed so I went all Rambo on the project and turned it into cookies and cream ice cream, which is basically the best idea ever anyway.

Vanilla Coconut Milk Ice Cream

2 cans full-fat coconut milk
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt
1 teaspoon honey

  1. In a double-boiler, mix coconut milk, vanilla, and salt. Stir, heating until very hot but not boiling.
  2. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Temper the eggs by ladling in a spoonful of the hot coconut milk and stirring. Add another ladle of milk, and a third.
  3. Slowly add egg mixture to coconut milk over the heat and continue to cook in double-boiler, stirring constantly till mixture thickens.
  4. Remove from heat and cool on counter-top of fridge. When cool, process in a normal ice cream maker or pour into a shallow pan and freeze, stirring every half-hour so as to break up ice crystals and achieve a smooth consistency.

Fudgy Paleo Sandwich Cookies
1 ¼ cup almond butter
2 Tablespoons honey
1/3 cup mashed banana
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil
½ cup dark chocolate pieces, melted

  1. Mix all cookie ingredients except melted chocolate in a food processor. When blended, add chocolate and mix well.
  2. Put cookie dough into fridge for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 325 F. Roll dough into golf-ball sized balls and bake 4 minutes. Press flat with the back of a spoon and bake an addition 3-4 minutes.
  3. Cookies will be soft so allow to cool on tray for a couple minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

Assembly: Scoop ice cream between cookies and either wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for later, or enjoy right off the cuff.

Alternatively: Break cookies into the ice cream pan and roughly mix. Voila: cookies and cream ice cream richer and more decadent than wearing Versace to the film festival at Cannes. This might just be my favorite thing to do after taking the requisite ice cream sandwich photo.

Coconut-Chai Chia Pudding

These evenings smell like honeysuckle. I drive my road with the windows down, cool night air and honeysuckle drifting through the car. I can't get enough of it. I love to draw as much air into my lungs as they will hold and then do it again and again. There's something better about smelling things in the dark, like since one sense (sight) is deafened, the others are more alert. Either way, I'm glad it's honeysuckle season again. On Saturday I visited Three Ships Coffee, a new roaster and coffee shop in Virginia Beach. Since I'm working within the parameters of the 30 Day Brighten Up Challenge, I couldn't try their chai tea latte (if they offer chai, which I didn't ask so as not to be tempted). Still, early summer is a perfect time for an iced chai latte; something I decided to translate into a healthy, protein and flavor-packed chia seed pudding. Try saying “Coconut-Chai Chia Pudding.” It's basically a tribal chant which makes me think of islands which makes me think of beaches which are the essence of summer. Right, I know I'm about three years late to the chia party but something as useful (and fun, let's face it) as chia seeds needs to get some respect longer than a fad-mode. And the best part? You can enjoy these pretty puddings (dairy-free, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free) for breakfast or dessert, garnished or un-garnished, by yourself, or with friends...

Coconut-Chai Chia Pudding

16 oz. Coconut milk with cream
½ cup chia seeds
1 Tablespoon chai spice (I use the blend from Queen's Pantry)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon raw maple syrup

  1. In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Mix well and spoon into individual ramekins for single portions or a small serving dish for family-style pudding. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight before eating.

Garnish ideas: sliced dried figs, maple syrup, edible flowers, sliced mango, nuts or granola

Spiced-Honey & Fig Quinoa Granola

I feel granola on a deep level. Granola is one of those things that I will find if you evenly remotely have something granola-like in your house. Unfortunately most varieties are A) expensive, B) filled with sugar, or C) are mainly comprised of oats or puffed rice so you essentially might as well eat a bowl of frosted flakes. I love love love granola that has a lot of junk in it like raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, sunflower seeds, etc. I feel gypped, though, if we're talking almonds. Because I feel like almonds are a total cop-out. Everyone puts almonds in granola and nobody can really love an almond like one can love a pecan or a hazelnut or even a walnut on a charitable day. So when I make granola, I make chunky granola. I make granola intended to fuel your day not with excess sugar, but with a punch of protein, lots of spice, and a multitude of textures. Meet the latest variation, loosely based on Izzy Hossack's "10 Minute Almond Granola" from Top With Cinnamon:

Spiced-Honey & Fig Quinoa Granola
2 cups rolled oats
¼ cup raw quinoa
1 ½ cups assorted chopped nuts and seeds (I used cashews, pecans, and pumpkin seeds)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
3 Tablespoons raw honey
½ cup chopped, dried Turkish figs

  1. In a large iron skillet over high heat, combine oats, quinoa, and nuts. Stir frequently for five minutes, until all ingredients are toasted. Toward the end, add the cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
  2. Make a well in center of pan and add coconut oil, honey, and figs. Continue to cook five more minutes, stirring constantly till all granola is well-covered with oil and honey.
  3. Dump into rimmed baking sheet to cool. Allow to cool completely before storing in plastic bag or a glass jar where it will keep for two weeks.

In a perfect world I would have at least three kinds of granola on hand for hurried morning breakfasts as I head out the door to work. Since the world isn't perfect and I make only one batch at a time, I enjoy changing up my granola-game nearly as often as I buy (or make) it. What's your favorite flavor combination?

The 30-Day Brighten Up Regime

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I've never been one of those people who has food allergies or sensitivities. At least not that I know of. And in the past several years, my "norm" diet has been quite healthy. It mainly consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, nuts & seeds, etc. I try to avoid wheat, generally, and refined sugars. But I'm not legalistic about it. I mean, look, if an ice cream cone comes along I stop and say hello. If you offer me a croissant I'm probably not going to fling it back at your face with an,
"Out, damn spot!"
worthy of Lady MacBeth. I mean, I might try to avoid such things but I promise it isn't because they don't have a deep, deep place in my heart. I try hard not to envy those people who shrug slender shoulders saying, "Oh, I don't really care for carbs anyway." That's so not me. You offer me sourdough toast or a grilled blueberry muffin from Demolition Coffee and I will be happier than a city sparrow feasting on tortilla chip crumbs. But I've let myself go a bit to seed at home between all my travels, choosing to treat myself a bit more often than I ought and there is nothing for kicking the carb cravings that jump up to claim my attention than setting myself a challenge.

The 30-Day Brighten Up Regime:

The Basics:

- no refined sugars *
- less dairy
- fewer grains (low carb is the way to go anyway)
- more fish and red meat
-low-key gluten free (by "gluten free" I mean wheat-free, and gluten-free when I can. I realize there are some anomalies of things that shouldn't have gluten in them at all but somehow, by some miracle, do. I don't have celiac. I will survive)
- more water
- all the healthy fats
- get in some form of exercise at least five times a week

*breath mints and one square of 70% cocoa level chocolate don't count as "cheats"

The Reasons:

- Giving my body time to heal away from things that are not the best for it
- Strengthening my body physically and systematically
- Practicing self-denial and delayed gratification
- Improving clarity of skin, mind, and body.

Since my average system of eating is already 70% "paleo" already, these changes aren't as monumental as they might sound and I'm confident I will be able to stick to it. I've been working up to this for the last week or two, getting into a groove, and it's not that dreadful. Still, there's safety in numbers. I'm mainly writing this blog post so that all of you reading this know what I said today and can remind me of it when a bagel & lox calls to me from across the coffee shop counter. I went to Whole Foods last night and spent what amounts to my birthright for some supplies to begin this thing the right way. Thankfully, it's worth it. I would so much rather jealously guard an overly-priced, big paper bag of nuts, nut butters, dried fruits, and gluten free crackers than give up before the 30 days are over. And that's the best thing about tweaking your lifestyle to make it even healthier: it doesn't have to end. Sure, it can loosen up after a challenge, but detoxing is a delightful process that lessens cravings for unhealthy foods and gives you a great place to start fresh and stay the course. I'm looking forward to this month of "brightening" and "pampering" my body in ways that will make it stronger, healthier, and more beautiful than ever! I'm excited to get even more creative with recipes on and off the blog. If you care to join me, let me know in the comments or on Instagram. L'chaim!

Four Steps To The Best Road-Trip Food

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Hypothetically speaking, you're headed to a new city and want to spend your time wisely. And by wisely I definitely mean "finding the best restaurant possible with a pre-tour to the best coffee shop possible." How you do strategically accomplish this without
A) wasting a lot of time
B) failing wretchedly
C) frustrating your travel companions?

First: Take a Poll
Test the temperature of your traveling companions: who has eaten what recently? Are we burned out on Mexican? Good. Scratch that off. Are we tired of Italian? Okay. Does sushi make you sick? Once you have a general idea of what is or is not wanted, you'll occasionally find that the group just wants to randomly select an option as you drive along. Cool. Otherwise...

Second: Put Google To Work
There are some things that Google just does better. Unless you have a very trusted local expert friend, googling the best restaurants in the prospective city is a must. If by polling your fellow travelers you have more specific search terms, all the better. Though it's righteously mainstream, my favorite site for reviews is still Yelp. Not only does Yelp give you a price-point, but it also features important details. Customer reviews are my favorite. You have to sort through extremism from both sides - lovers and haters both congregate on review forums - but you'll also find those authorities who rationally claim, "I lived in Japan for eight years and this is the best Ramen I have found on the East Coast."  If you have the time reading blog posts and reviews (especially when it comes to coffee shops) is often helpful, as there are more detailed reviews plus side-by-side comparisons of the options locally available.

Third: Map Carefully
Do not, pray, be that one person in the car who gets everyone excited about a place and then realizes that it isn't open on Mondays or you passed it ten miles back or you have to have a reservation. Research is everything and chances are there is at least one person NOT driving the car who can pull out their phone and figure out where your group will be and either plan your events around the proposed eatery or choose an eatery close to your proposed events. If reservations are recommended, make a reservation. Some sites even inform you of peak hours so you can choose a time when life is slow or enter the melee with the rest of the crowd.

Fourth: Keep A List
Inevitably there will be places you aren't able to visit but want to catch some other time. Keep a list on your phone (don't judge - you know you keep lists on your phone with everything from song lyrics to dentist appointments to things you should have said in that moment that passed six weeks ago. Or maybe that's me...). On this list, write down places to visit next time you charge through town. Who knows? The road home might require some extra caffeine or an excellent burger.

Closing statement: travel food is an essential. Why not take a second to make it memorable as well?

Open Your Eyes

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You know what we're not really great at? Stopping to appreciate the things about life that are just a little wonderful. Things like the fact that...

Panera gave me a free bagel every day in April...

Starbucks is bringing back the s'mores frappe for spring/summer...

Fireflies exist and can be caught...

Songs have lyrics that exactly relate to where you are in life...

Really cool people like you so much they made a whole word for it: "friend"...

Hummingbirds snore while sleeping...

You get hurt and then you heal...

There are pens with ink that runs PERFECTLY...

Sunsets are never, ever, ever identical...

Cream swirls into coffee...

Raindrops say "plat" when they're big and fat and fall on your windshield...

Ripples make perfect circles every time...

We have the internet...

Vanilla extract smells so good...

Harmonies weave emotion...

I can read so I have the power to learn anything...

Libraries let you borrow books for free...

Moonlight isn't a literary exaggeration...

We live in a world full of such beauty. We are blessed. Many of us are privileged. And we forget so, so many times to acknowledge the fact of the magic, magic world of which we are a part. Slow down. Open your eyes. Feel the beauty and open your heart to gratitude. It's the least we can do.

Romanian Lion Bars

Here's something weird: being home in during this cross-section of April and May. For the last three years I have gotten to travel in Romania, two weeks each time. Meaning I've spent a total of six weeks in Europe...meaning that being here in Virginia with the humidity growing and the daffodils finishing and the leaves easing from baby-to-teen feels strange. I keep driving with my windows down and smelling Romania. I keep feeling a certain type of breeze and thinking surely I ought to be strapping on my sandals for walk into downtown Arad, not heading to work in Suffolk. I keep standing on a street-corner and thinking if I just imagined hard enough, I would be in Timisoara or Bucharesti or climbing the steep drive to Peles Castle, not crossing cobbles in Downtown Norfolk, headed to my habitual coffee shop. The team is going back this year but I'm not with them and it makes me...well...sad.

In short, I'm homesick.

So the thing to do when you're homesick, dear friends, is to cook something that reminds you of home. That's why I figured now was the perfect time to bring out and share the recipe I developed for our favorite Romanian candy bar: Lion Bars. The best way to describe Lion Bars, as near as I can tell, is that they're somewhat of a cross between a Hundred-Grand bar, a Twix, and a Milky Way. First there's the vanilla sugar wafer ensconced in chewy caramel. Then it's rolled in crisped rice cereal, then dipped in milk chocolate (for the purpose of personal taste, I dipped mine in dark chocolate this time). I know that eating the homemade version of a mass-produced European candy bar isn't exactly tres chic or the most authentic way to remind myself of being on the ground in Arad, but hey. Chocolate is comfort. And I've been harboring this secret recipe of mine for a while, waiting for a good moment to launch it into your laps.

Here's another thing: I have friends I severely miss in Romania. But I also have friends in America and some of them are extremely talented. Meet Arielle Bacon (I crack no jokes about hosting her on this food blog): the photographer behind today's recipe and an inspiring, creative boss-lady in her own right who not only wields the camera and Photoshop with authority, but was also playing something positively cinematic on her second-hand white baby grand (I kid you not) when I rang the front doorbell, loaded down with chocolate and caramel and rice cereal. This girl is a quiet tower of strength and I felt so relaxed after an afternoon spent kerbobbling around her kitchen eating tacos and melting chocolate chips. I hope to collaborate again sometime soon because let's face it: these are what you call real photos.

So they basically look like ugly little adopted pugs in candy bar form but MY WORD are they good. You won't believe me till you try them, but you're going to love them. It's like, I don't know...all the best parts of all the best candy bars rolled into one little nugget of goodness. Excuse me while I mournfully flip through last year's trip photos on Facebook and weep into my keyboard.

Lion Bars
(makes app. 18-24)

1 small package vanilla sugar wafers
1 package of caramel squares, unwrapped
2 cups crisped rice cereal
2 1/2 cups milk or dark chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon shortening (for thinning chocolate)
waxed paper
cookie sheets

1.) Line cookie sheets with waxed paper and pour rice cereal into a shallow dish or pan.
2.)  In a double boiler, melt unwrapped caramels until smooth and very loose and creamy. Working quickly so the caramel won't harden up, hold wafer by one end and dip into caramel as far as you can go without hurting your fingers, then transfer to the rice cereal, turning to coat.
3.) Once all wafers have been coated, if desired you may touch up the bare ends of the wafers by coating with a spoonful of caramel.
4.) Allow to chill in freezer for 1/2 and hour or until caramel is hard.
5.) In double boiler melt chocolate chips and shortening. When glossy and smooth, remove wafers from the freezer and dip in melted chocolate via the same method, transferring again to freezer to harden chocolate.
6.) Store in fridge, freezer or other cool dark place. WARNING: if you do freeze the Lion Bars completely, allow to thaw before eating...your dentist will thank you.

There we go: authentic Romanian Lion Bars for your enjoyment. As a side-note, when I say "caramel squares" I mean "caramel squares" and I do not mean "caramel ice cream sauce" or any other sort of "this would be easier than unwrapping and melting caramels" caramel. M'kay? Just thought I'd warn you.