vegan paleo pumpkin fudge

I still remember the first time I tried cashew butter. I was living in New York City at the time, about a hundred years ago. Kidding, more like 14. Damn it, that's still a long time ago. Anyway, cashew butter...oh my god. Seriously one of the best things I've ever tasted. 

Now if you haven't read my bio; I'm Romanian. While growing up in Europe, like every other child, I had a thing for American TV shows. And one thing that fascinated me, was the mention of peanut butter. I distinctly recall Theo Huxtable making a pb&j sandwich and having no idea what the brownish stuff was. It blew my mind. What was that??? Why is it called butter? Does it taste like butter? It was a mystery food. Then I arrived to the US and was finally introduced to the elusive spread. 

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But then came the memorable day of trying cashew butter. The clouds parted, a single ray of sunshine shone down and glistened off the metal spoon. And for a mere moment everything stopped. Thump, thump, thump...cashew butterrrrrr. 

Okay I'm going overboard here. But, yeah, I really like cashew butter. 

So naturally what do you use to create a paleo caramel-y fudge that's not caramel or fudge? Cashew butter! Indeed. This recipe is easy to make but awfully addicting. And while we're in the fall season, I decided to play around with some fall flavor and add a little pumpkin spice to it for a little something special. 

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • freezing time: minimum 1 hour
  • Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 cup runny cashew butter (runny peanut butter works too if you're not strict paleo)
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp collagen
  • optional: 2 tbsp chocolate chips 

Equipment

  • parchment paper
  • food processor
  • loaf pan (but you can use any sort of container you have on hand that's not too big

Directions: 

Combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips in food processor. Process until everything is evenly combined. Optional, fold in the chocolate chips

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper in the pan and add the mixture. Freeze for at least 1 hour, then cut into small chunks. You can store them in a freezer safe container. 

*They're best when they can sit at room temperature for a minute or two*

vegan paleo pumpkin fudge

vegan paleo pumpkin fudge

golden milk with collagen

When it comes to spices, many of us think of them as flavor enhancers in food. And while that's true, most spices contain a ton of health benefits. However, there's one spice that stands out in particular. And that's turmeric. 

Turmeric has been used in traditional Indian cooking for thousands of years and Ayurvedic medicine considers it to be not just food but medicine.  

what is turmeric?

Turmeric is a root, belonging to the ginger family, having a similar shape, aside from being smaller and orange. It can be consumed raw, but its most available in powdered form. It has a mustard like flavor, earthy and peppery taste. I wouldn't recommend munching on a root (though feel free to do so and let me know how that works out), turmeric is often consumed in curries, soups, smoothies or it can be taken in pill form. 

Turmeric contains curcumin, which is the main active ingredient that's responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power. I've mentioned this in several posts, but it's important to remember that while turmeric is a miracle spice, it's poorly absorbed in the blood stream. One way to counter that is by adding pepper to whatever you're consuming that contains turmeric. 

why the hype?

Turmeric has been getting a lot of attention in the scientific community mostly because it has amazing health benefits, which I will be covering here. As I stated previously, Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and has shown significant health benefits, especially in the area of inflammation, which I've covered in several posts. So let's look at some of the health benefits of turmeric that are supported by science.

health benefits of turmeric

  1. Anti-inflammatory. If you want to reduce inflammation, turmeric may be a doable, natural solution. While most whole foods reduce inflammation, turmeric does it on another level. It is now well known that inflammation is the root cause of most modern disease. Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and even cancer have been linked to chronic inflammation in the body.  "Based on early cell culture and animal research, clinical trials indicate curcumin may have potential as a therapeutic agent in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, and chronic anterior uveitis, as well as certain types of cancer." 
     
  2. Anti-depression agent. There is mounting evidence that turmeric can play a major role in MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). This study shows that turmeric can be as powerful as anti-depressant medication. Another study focused on the involvement of curcumin on the serotonin and dopamine systems. 
     
  3. Treatment for PMS. If you're a woman in your reproductive age, you know periods suck and not just periods but the week leading up to it. Everything is basically awful, for me at least. I'm miserable, moody, have chocolate cravings galore. This 2015 study shows that curcumin may reduce symptoms of PMS. "Our results for the first time showed a potential advantageous effect of curcumin in attenuating severity of PMS symptoms, which were probably mediated by modulation of neurotransmitters and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin."
     
  4. Alzheimer's prevention and treatment. Alzheimer's is one of the world's worst neurodegenerative diseases. There is no cure so a big focus in the area of research is prevention as well as cure. Some promising advances have been made in the area.   In patients who already have AD, it's shown that behavioral and psychological symptoms improve when supplementing with curcumin. "The present cases suggest a significant improvement of the behavioral symptoms in the AD with the turmeric treatment, leading to probable benefit of the use of turmeric in individuals with the AD with BPSD."
     
  5. Potent antioxidant. Turmeric is one of the most powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants scan the body for free radicals which damage cell membranes as well as DNA. Antioxidants are vital for optimal function. "Antioxidants scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause."
     
  6.  Helps with gut health: If you've read any of my wellness posts before, you know that I'm all about making sure the gut is happy and things are functioning smoothly. Turmeric is extremely beneficial when it comes to gut health. One of the humps researchers have had to overcome is that curcumin is poorly absorbed by the GI tract. However, scientists have discovered that using phospholipids in conjunction with curcumin has significantly improved absorption
     
  7. Aids with weight loss. The results from this randomized, controlled study shows that patients who were on a 30 day diet and lifestyle intervention showed little results in terms or weightless. But after an additional 30 days of the same diet, with the addition of phosphatidylserine and curcumin, there were remarkable changes in terms of weightless compared to subjects who took straight phosphatidylserine. 

how you can use turmeric

There are several ways you can get all the benefits of turmeric. Here are several things you can do:

  1. Turmeric shots - This is one of my favorite ways to get all the goodness of turmeric without having to eat an entire pot of curry. My recipe is simple. You'll need: 
    - 1/2 tsp ginger
    - 1 tsp tumeric
    - 1 tsp lemon juice
    - 1/2 tsp honey
    - 1/4 tsp pepper
    Combine everything in a small bowl and drink it down. *Word of caution. If you're pregnant or nursing, you may want to consult your doctor prior to consuming higher amounts of turmeric than you would in food. It can cause uterine contractions and would be particularly troublesome for women who are less than 37 weeks along*
     
  2. Turmeric tea - So easy to make and such an effective way to hydrate while also receiving all the benefits of turmeric. 
    - 4 cups water
    - 1 tsp turmeric
    - honey and lemon to taste

    Bring water to a boil and add turmeric. Simmer for 10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and add honey and lemon if you wish. *I recommend eating a few peppercorns (you can swallow them whole) if you're consuming this tea. Again, since turmeric is poorly absorbed, by consuming pepper along with it, you'll ensure you're receiving all the benefits from this incredible spice. 
     
  3. Golden milk with a twist - and lastly my absolute favorite way to consume turmeric. As soon as chillier weather rolls in, it's pretty much a staple in my house. It's warming, delicious and makes the whole house smell wonderful. I like to make it extra special by adding collagen to it for a little extra. Recipe below.
     
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  • Prep time: 2 minutes
  • Cooking time: 5 minutes
  • Serves 1

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp collagen 
  • 1.5 cups cashew milk
  • 1-2 tsp honey or more to taste

Equipment

  • small sauce pan

Directions

Over medium low heat combine all ingredients and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Pour in mug and sprinkle with additional cinnamon if you wish. 

how to meal prep veggies

When people ask me how I've changed my diet and am able to consistently stick to eating fresh, whole food, the answer is always the same: "by planning". It's the deciding factor between making it long term and giving up after one or two weeks. I've made my decision to change my lifestyle and diet well over 6 months ago and never looked back. 

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The reality is, you have to be organized and think about your next meal and plan accordingly. It doesn't have to be overwhelming or extensive but it does have to be consistent. The trap many people fall into is simply saying that it's too hard and they don't know where to start or what to do. 

vegetables for meal prep

vegetables for meal prep

Here are some very basic steps to making lasting change.

On Sundays I normally set aside an hour or two and plan for the week ahead. I don't have to organize every detail of every meal but I take care of some basics so I'm covered when the "I don't know what to eat" thought pops into my head.

cut up meal prep veggies

cut up meal prep veggies

You can basically use any vegetables you like when roasting. Also, if you've been sitting on some veggies in your crisper and they're a tad soft, they'll be perfect roasted and you don't have to toss them just because they're no longer fresh and crisp. 

Some of the key things to remember when roasting veggies are:

  1. Cut all vegetables the same size so they roast evenly
  2. Group vegetables accordingly 
  3. Use an oil that can stand high heat. One good option is avocado oil and make sure you use enough
  4. Season them well using salt, pepper at the minimum or you can get creative with herbs and spices
broccoli 

broccoli 

When it comes to pairing vegetables here are some ideas for pairing: 

  • Bell peppers of your choice, onion, summer squash and zucchini. Roast in about 15-20 minutes tossing once half way.
  • Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower together. Roast for about 20-25 minutes tossing once half way.
  • Sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets. Roast for about 25-30 minutes tossing once half way. 

Once veggies are roasted you can use them in a variety of ways. They will also last for up to a week in the refriegerator. You can drizzle them with additional avocado or olive oil or balsamic vinegar, you can use them as sides to any meat, add them to any salad, on top of cauliflower rice, etc. The possibilities are endless. 

easy roasted vegetables

easy roasted vegetables

For this week, I had some veggies on hand that I wanted to use up. Whenever my mom comes to visit, she always brings some amazing ones from her local farm. So this is just an example of what you can do when you have a plethora of veggies.

  • Prep time: 5-10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
  • Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 large summer squash or 2 medium cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 large zucchini or 2 medium cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 red bell peppers cut into 1" cubes
  • florets from 1 head broccoli 
  • 2-4 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1.5 tsp of salt divided
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Equipment

  • 2 baking sheets
  • parchment paper of aluminum foil if you wish
roasted broccoli

roasted broccoli

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line the largest baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Add squashes and peppers with 2 tbsp avocado oil, 1tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Toss to combine. (Feel free to use more salt and pepper if you'd like). Roast for 15-20 minutes, until veggies are soft. Toss once halfway. 

On a separate tray, line with parchment paper or foil and add broccoli, 1-2 tbsp avocado oil, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper. Toss together to combine and roast for 10-15 or longer if you wish the broccoli to be softer. 

Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

finished roasted vegetables

finished roasted vegetables

sausage and apple stuffed acorn squash

This weekend I doubted myself on many levels. I've been giving more of myself to this blog and everything that comes along with it than I ever thought I would. Along the way, I've met, incredible bloggers, whose work I admire, who keep me inspired and motivated. But the inevitable comparison trap does get me from time to time.

Despite the fact that a lot of these bloggers are far more experienced and have been doing this longer than I have, my mind likes to take me down the "you're not good enough" path. Have you experienced this kind of thinking? Not just in blogging but in most areas of life, comparison can be quite dangerous.  Even as I write this, part of me recoils and thinks: "How can you put this out there? What will people think?" But it's okay, I'm accepting whatever judgement comes my way as I would rather be honest and truthful about what this journey looks like for me. The ups, the downs, the doubts, the successes, the hours upon hours poured into it. 

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But tonight something clicked. While listening to a podcast, a fellow food blogger mentioned something that made me pause and write down some thoughts. Here's the thing; there may be 20,000 recipes of acorn squash but this is mine and it's mine because it goes along with my story, not just because I made up the recipe. Corny as it may sound, I finally felt some sort of individuality in this ocean of food bloggers. It's my story, my insecurity, my achievement, my struggle, my joy, etc. 

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We all struggle in one way or another. It may have nothing to do with food blogging but everyone feels insecure at one point or another. Despite what we may put forth to the world, inside we can be fragile beings, doubting we know a damn thing about what we are saying or doing. 

Life is challenging. Navigating the world of thoughts even more so. We are faced with something like 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day and I don't have to tell you how many of those are negative. 

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So with that said, here is my acorn squash recipe. As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm a big fan of using seasonal ingredients. Though we're lucky to live in a place where apples are available year round, there's something about being able to use them when it's actual apple harvest season, that makes it special. A connection to the season, if you will.

I often like to pair ingredients I know work well together with one or two unusual ones and see what happens. I've been throwing apples in lot of different recipes and seeing what works. This one did not disappoint. I actually surprised myself with how well it turned out on the first try. From time to time this does happen and it does make up for the numerous things I've bombed along the way. 

And on to the recipe:

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  • Prep time: 5-10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash cut in half seeds removed
  • 1 apple cut into small pieces (1/2" pieces)
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage casings removed
  • 3-4 cups kale, stems removed and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 pint white or portabella mushrooms cut into about 1/2" pieces 
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
  • 1/4 cup grapes cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or you can use broth (wine really tastes better, plus you can have a glass while cooking - win-win)
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Equipment

  • heavy bottom pan such as stainless steel or cast iron
  • roasting sheet
  • parchment paper
  • slotted wooden spoon

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line your roasting sheet with parchment paper. Place each half of the squash face down on the paper. Roast for 25 minutes or until it's fork tender. Check it around the 20 minute mark and you can always put it back if need be. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, preheat your pan on medium. Add avocado oil and sausage and break it up with with wooden spoon. Cook for 8-10 minutes until cooked through and brown, stirring continuously. Set aside. 

In the same pan, add onion and cook until translucent - about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Once aromatic, deglaze with wine. Add mushrooms, apple, kale, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Return sausage to warm through. Turn off heat, add grapes. 

To assemble, place squash on plate and fill with sausage mixture. Pairs well with either dry red or dry white wine.

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