Power Balls

Submitted by Melissa on Saturday, March 31, 2012 - 21:18

If you are transitioning to a more plant-based diet, you may find yourself craving a sweet snack now and then (or should I say a few times a day?).

Although I try to keep even healthy sweet treats to a minimum, I do belive it’s important to have to have them available. These Power Balls (called such after my husband enjoyed eating what I called "Energy Balls") are great at satisfying that sweet tooth. If you’re dying for a touch of chocolate, go ahead and add some dark chocolate chips, hey?

Have you seen the Larabars in the energy/protein bar section of your grocery store or health food store? In general, the ingredients are pretty good.

But how would you like to make some that are just as tasty, potentially more healthy, and much less expensive? This recipe started out as a version of homemade Larabars (but without the dates) as I mentioned here and here, but then it ended up in its own camp. It's unique.

I didn't think my husband would like them, so I didn't even mention that I was making the treat. But as I was taking some pictures, he sneaked up behind me, grabbed one, ate it, grabbed another, and another, and another. That's always a significant factor in my book!

Of course, the kids enjoy them, too, and would eat them all if I allowed it.

I’ve both made them into balls and formed them into bars (by rolling them between parchment paper). For maximum nutritional benefit, soak your nuts and pumpkin seeds overnight, rinse them well, and dehydrate them. But if that sounds too overwhelming, just skip it for now. One day, you may want to explore that part of the raw food world.

That discussion is for another day. For now, here’s the recipe.

Power Balls {for printable version click here}

½ cup raisins

½ cup dried cranberries (or sub another similar dry fruit)
½ cup oats
¼ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup raw pecans
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
a few dashes of cinnamon
2-4 tbsp. liquified coconut oil (enough so they stick together when pressed)

Add ingredients to a food processor and mix until ingredients stick together when formed into a ball.

Form into balls, or to make bars, pour out mixture onto a piece of parchment paper. Fold sides onto top so you can roll it between parchment paper to form a rectangle. Then cut into strips.

Place in freezer for 30-60 minutes or until hardened. Store in fridge.

Warning: you may want to double the recipe. These things move pretty quickly at our house.

Power Balls

How to Help a Cancer Patient, Part 1

Submitted by Melissa on Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 20:50

help a cancer patient

Have you been here before? The phone rings. You just found out someone you know has cancer.

The news hits you like a ton of bricks. Your thoughts are swirling. You wonder, “Why?”

In fact, that night you can hardly sleep. Every time you wake up, you think of this person dealing with that “C” word that no one likes to even say to the face of the newly diagnosed patient.

You’re not sure what to do. You want to help, but you’re just not sure what you could possibly do to help ease the blow on this person or their family.

I understand. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a friend and former student of mine who was suddenly diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. I was devastated. I stayed awake thinking about and praying for her. I wondered what I could do to help.

Then I received that personally life-changing phone call. Now I was the cancer patient. My perspective drastically changed.

In this series of posts, I’m going to walk you through some suggestions of what you can do for a cancer patient. In fact, these ideas could apply not only to cancer patients but also to individuals and families dealing with a traumatic situation or serious health condition that throws their schedule haywire.

Today we’ll look at three simple things you can do to make a world of difference in someone’s life.

Send a Card

This may seem small, but, believe me, it’s huge. I never quite understood the importance of a card until I started getting them in my mailbox day after day.

This personal, hand-written form of communication may seem to be a lost art today, but I found out it was alive and well.

Each card struck a chord...to think that someone would think of me and take the time to send a beautiful card in the mail to show they cared! I still have a drawer full of them that I can’t bear to throw away.

If you don’t know what to say in the card, it’s okay. You could simply sign your name. You don’t have to write a book. But if you want to include something, copy a verse of Scripture that is one of your favorites. Share a poem. Include the words of a hymn.

Pray for Them and Tell Them You are Praying

The prayers of God’s people are powerful. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” the Scripture says. Pray specifically for their needs as I wrote about here. Post their picture in a prominent place so you to remember to pray throughout the day.

I remember Rebecca, a lady at church, telling me she was praying for me. In fact, she said whenever she saw a red car, she would pray for me. I can’t remember the story behind the red car, but it was encouraging to me that she was praying for me throughout her daily routines.

It would be impossible to count the number of people who told me (or relatives of mine) that they were praying for me. Not only was this encouraging, but I know God continues to answer these prayers!

Take a Meal

It’s hard to accurately express how dramatically a life changes with a cancer diagnosis. For me, my routine turned upside down as I had to schedule medical tests, doctor visits, surgeries, follow-ups, etc.

All that with two small children (then, an almost-2-year old and a 3-year-old). So that meant scheduling someone to watch them as well. Thankfully my in-laws live close by, and my mom and sister helped out a ton too.

But the scheduling dilemmas, although significant, were not the most difficult adjustment. There was emotional and mental stress dealing with the “C” word and its possible implications.

I usually enjoy working in the kitchen, but at this point, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Thankfully, my church family and other friends were a tremendous help. Two of my friends brought me a meal each week those first couple months. Some people brought as they felt compelled.

Whatever food was sent, we consumed and enjoyed. Everyone has to eat, and most of us eat at least three times a day. A meal will most certainly be appreciated.

My suggestion is this: don’t say, “I’d like to bring a meal sometime. Let me know when it would work out.” Instead, tell them, “I’d like to bring you a meal this week. Is Tuesday all right?” And keep working on it until you get a date nailed down.

Great thing is, you don't have to be a tremendous cook to take someone a meal these days. Costco and Sam's have great options. (Should I name a few? In the refrigerator section: pulled pork, chicken pot pie, chicken salad, delicious soups, pot roasts, ravioli, and more!)

In the coming weeks, I'll share some more ideas from my ever-growing list. When I talk to cancer patients or those with life-changing conditions, I ask for their input. It's always eye-opening, and I can't wait to tell you more.

Indian-Spiced Lentil Soup

Submitted by Melissa on Monday, April 9, 2012 - 20:06

We shared a quart of this soup with our friends from church. It disappeared quickly, and we had a lovely visit.

I think it's time for a soup recipe again. The other day, my husband opened the fridge and asked, "Where's that soup you made?" To his dismay, it was already gone. But, ahh, I'm always listening when my husband enjoys and wants more of something. If he likes it, then I'm pretty sure you will too!

(Later this week, I'll share the recipe for the Raw Cookie Dough Bites that he would have devoured solo. The kids and I, however, wouldn't allow it. LOL.)

The soup recipe is inspired from the book Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson, available from Amazon here. I tweaked a few things (like less cayenne to make it more kid-friendly).

Indian-Spiced Lentil Soup
(download here to print or save as PDF)

½ cup water
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 celery ribs
1-2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
pinch of cayenne (1/8 tsp. was a bit too spicy for my kiddos)
1 ½ cups dried brown lentils, rinsed
5 cups vegetable stock or water
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Saute onions, celery, sweet potato, and garlic in ½ cup water over medium heat. Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until softened.
  2. Add juice from the tomatoes, then chop the tomatoes (optional) and add them to the pan.
  3. Stir in ginger, cumin, coriander, and cayenne.
  4. Add the lentils and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the cilantro, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 10 minutes so the flavors can blend.

Serves 6-8.

lentil soup

Spice up the Rice

Submitted by Melissa on Friday, April 13, 2012 - 14:05

I love mixing up a jar of this ahead so it's ready to use in my rice. It’s a simple but flavorful addition! Just throw it into the rice cooker (or pot if cooking on the stovetop) with the brown rice and water. The rice comes out with a delicious flavor and the house smells great too!

My husband loves this "rice spice," especially with a homemade version of refried black beans found in this cookbook.

Spice Mix 
(download here to print or save as PDF)

4 tbsp. granulated garlic
4 tbsp. onion powder
2 tbsp. tumeric
1 tbsp. cumin
1 ½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. ground ginger

Stir spices together and store in a tightly sealed jar.

Add 1 tbsp. of spice mix per ½ cup dry rice.

I use 2 ½ cups of water to every cup of brown rice. This ratio makes it turn out soft but not mushy in my rice cooker. What ratio have you found works best for you when making brown rice?

How to Help a Cancer Patient, Part 2

Submitted by Melissa on Saturday, April 14, 2012 - 20:22

How to Help a Cancer Patient

Today we’re continuing to look at some practical ways to help a cancer patient. Last time we talked about three practical ideas:

  1. Send a card
  2. Pray for them (and let them know it)
  3. Take a meal.

Continuing on with another practical way to help.

Clean Their House 

Ah, the joy of having a clean, orderly house. And, ugh, the dread of a messy house. You know the feeling of both, right? It’s no fun wanting a clean house but being unable to do the work to make it shine.

After surgeries or during chemotherapy, no one feels like getting down on their hands and knees to clean the bathroom, dust the baseboards, or push the vacuum around the house. But, it’s more than not feeling like it. There’s just not the energy for it.

One week when my mom came down to visit during chemo, one of my sisters-in-law accompanied her and thoroughly cleaned the house. How refreshing!

One Thursday evening (which would have put me at two days after a treatment), a friend stopped by with a meal. She had gone through chemo herself and instead of sitting down to visit, she observed the need in the kitchen and put herself to work.

Would I have called someone and asked for help that night? No, because I knew that eventually the kitchen would have gotten cleaned up and figured I could be patient until that time. But the Lord graciously sent someone over who assessed the situation and selflessly decided to do something about it.

Not everyone would be comfortable with you showing up at their doorstep with all your cleaning supplies, ready to tackle their house. But someone who knows you well will probably get away with it. Of course, if the spouse is home, make sure it’s not going to be an intrusion on their privacy.

There’s an organization called Cleaning for a Reason that partners with cleaning services around the USA and Canada to assist women undergoing treatment. Thousands have been helped through this service.

Although Cleaning for a Reason is a wonderful service, most of us have been cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes, vacuuming, and dusting for many years, and those practical skills could go a long way in making a cancer patient’s life a bit easier!

If you’re not up to cleaning someone’s house, you could...

  • Watch someone else’s children so that person could do the cleaning.
  • Hire someone to do it--maybe a college student in the church or even a professional.
  • Look for ways to help them out when you drop by.

I’m reminded of single friends who’ve gone through their own battles with cancer. They may or may not have had to deal with the messes kids make, but still they had to deal with the daily and weekly chores involved in keeping a house tidy. I sure hope they had someone to help them out.

Do you have a friend who’s gone through treatment, and you were able to help them with their house cleaning? I’d love to hear about it!

The Apostle Paul advises believers to “help the weak” (I Thessalonians 5:14). This would seem to involve a tangible “help.” Even if cleaning isn’t your forté, there are other ways you can help the weak.

I hope you will find someone weak this week to help. No doubt you will receive the greater blessing!

Disappearing Cookie Dough Balls

Submitted by Melissa on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 20:34

Disappearing Cookie Dough Balls

Are you working on replacing sugary sweets with healthy treats? Along with the Power Balls, these are some of my kids' favorites. As promised, here's the recipe for raw cookie dough balls. 

Adapted from the recipe here, my version has flax and coconut which are cheaper than nuts.

I also added raisins and tried cutting back on the agave. I think they're sweet enough with just 3 tbsp. of agave. (Did you know my Costco has a pack of two 36-ounce bottles of agave for $9.99? What a deal!)

Disappearing Cookie Dough Balls
Yields: about 16 balls (for printable version click here)

⅔ cup raw almonds
⅓ cup ground flax
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
⅔ cup rolled oats
2 tbsp. raisins
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp. salt
3-4 tbsp. agave nectar (depending on your desire for sweetness)
2 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup mini dark chocolate chips

  1. Process nuts, flax, coconut, oats, raisins, cinnamon, and salt in food processor until it’s a fine meal.
  2. Add agave and vanilla and process until it sticks together.
  3. Add chocolate chips and pulse.
  4. Put in refrigerator or freezer for 15-30 minutes (or skip this step if you don’t mind working a little more to get a nice ball).
  5. Form into balls (about a tablespoon each).
  6. Place into airtight container. To watch them disappear, just show your family where you stored them.

I soak and dehydrate my raw nuts before using them. When I made these, I had a batch of almonds in the fridge that I hadn’t dehydrated yet. They worked perfectly. (I knew I’d be using some almonds in recipes like this, so after soaking and rinsing them overnight I stored some in the fridge without dehydrating them. The others, I dehydrated and stored in the freezer.)

Charming Chia Seeds

Submitted by Melissa on Monday, April 30, 2012 - 20:58

Today I want to share a simple way to add more fiber, omega-3s, antioxidants, and protein to your diet. The benefits are all wrapped in a little seed called "chia."

My guess is that you first heard about these seeds from an advertisement for cute-looking chia pets

Today we're not talking about Chia Pets though.

We're talking about an easy solution for you to get a powerhouse of nutrients into your diet with very little effort.

chia seeds

For many years, the Mayans and Aztecs used these seeds as is an excellent source of energy.

Chia seeds are a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce.

It is said to have the highest omega-3 content of any plant-based source.

Their antioxidant content is even higher than a cup of blueberries.

High in fiber, chia seeds are easily digested. Diabetics use them to help stabilize blood sugar because they slow down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested and then assimilated into the body.

I used to add a tablespoon or two of dry chia seeds to my smoothies, but now that I've been doing more green juicing, I drink them as a gel-like substance once they've absorbed some water.

Here's how the two minutes (or less) of preparation goes:

  1. Fill a quart jar with filtered water.
  2. Add 6 tablespoons of chia seeds.
  3. Stir or shake. Let sit for 8-12 hours.
  4. Shake again.
  5. Pour yourself a small glass of chia gel (I usually drink 3-4 ounces/day).

Even when we head out of town for a few days, I like to take along a jar of my chia seed gel.

It's a tasteless treat and is quite filling so it helps keep away the sugar cravings.

Costco sells a bag of Chia for a great price (two pounds for around $7-8 I think). 

Other common uses for dry Chia seeds:

  • sprinkle on salads
  • add to smoothies
  • add to salsa to keep it from being watery (chia seeds absorb up to 20 times their weight in water)
  • add 2 tablespoons to your favorite juice, allow to gel for about ten minutes, and enjoy a drink called "Chia Fresca" 
  • make a healthy chocolate pudding from chia seeds
chia seeds