Playing Jazz in the Kitchen and a Recipe for Fall Spice Bars

Tunes pump out of the little bluetooth speaker that sits above our kitchen sink nightly.  Dance parties are common and T slays with his moves.  But dancing is not the only way we get creative in the kitchen.

One of the things I love most about our plant based household is the opportunity to be creative.  When it comes to plant foods, the palate is never ending and supremely colorful.  Once I got past the initial shock and awe of bucking conventionality in favor of a new way of nourishing myself and my family, things got fun.  Well, first challenging, then less challenging, and then fun.

Most humans are emotional eaters to some degree.  Tastes and smells can stimulate the heart as well as the taste buds.  The saying “eat to live, don’t live to eat” rings true in a way, but it is hard to deny that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Call me cray but I do think it is possible for food to nourish both body and soul simultaneously.

I strictly follow recipes less often than I riff on them.  If my cooking were music, it would be less like classical and more like jazz.  Did you know that while there are approximately 20,000 different types of edible plants in the world, the average American diet only contains about 20 of them?  That’s like using just a few notes to write a song instead of the whole piano!  Interestingly, the #1 predictor of a healthy gut is the variety of plants in one’s diet.  Seems like humans and plant foods were meant to be.

Anyway, the other day when I got home from work I was overtaken by the familiar urge to play a little jazz in the kitchen.  As you may have read in last week’s post, I’ve been embracing fall in all its sweet and spicy glory.  Before I knew it, ingredients were whirling in the food processor.  As I stopped to taste what I had created, I was immediately transported back to childhood and my mother’s spice cake (she is an excellent baker and I fully blame her for my sweet tooth…Hi Mom!).  A dash of allspice and a riff on a frosting recipe later, these bars were born:


These babies are rich but also nutrient dense.  See, you can have your cake bar and eat it too!  Now back to our scheduled dance party.  Hit it T!…5, 6, 7, 8…..

Fall Spice Bars


1 cup medjool dates, pitted

1/3 cup + 1/4 cup raisins

1 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup raw nut butter of choice (I used a combo of almond, cashew, walnut, and hemp seeds so pretty sure any would do…)

1/2 cup gelatinized maca powder (an adaptogen that is said to increase energy and libido…hey now…) *oat flour works great if you don’t want to use/don’t have maca

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

a sprinkle (1/8 – 1/4ish teaspoon)  of nutmeg

a sprinkle (1/8 – 1/4ish teaspoon) of allspice

Pinch of salt (if it isn’t in your nut butter already)


2/3 cup coconut butter

6-7 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk (or other plant milk)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2-4 scoops (sweetness equivalent to 2-4 teaspoons sugar) pure stevia powder (or other sweetener of choice)

1 tablespoon date sugar (or other sweetener of choice)

Pinch of salt

To Make:

-Blend dates, walnuts, and 1/3 cup of the raisins until combined.

-Add remaining base ingredients except the remaining 1/4 cup of raisins until combined.  Taste and adjust spice as needed.

-Pulse in remaining 1/4 cup of raisins to keep some of their raisiny texture.

-Press batter into an 8×8 square baking dish lined with parchment paper.

-Soften coconut butter by placing jar in warm water and giving it a good stir.

-Using a hand mixer or blender, combine all frosting ingredients except soy milk.

-Add soy milk 1 tablespoon at a time until frosting is creamy and spreadable.

-Spread frosting over bars and place in fridge for at least an hour to set.

-Slice and enjoy!  (Store any remaining bars in fridge.)

A second picture!  How’s that for an encore?



It’s Fall Y’all! 3 Healthy Ideas for Embracing the Season

Fall has finally arrived here in Virginia!  The cooler weather last weekend had me clamoring for all things cozy (I really wanted to say pumpkin spice but feel like that gets overused…maybe because it’s so fragrant and delicious….ok, you got me.  I was totally clamoring for pumpkin spice…)

What is it about fall that brings the warm fuzzies?  Are we all just in denial that winter is coming (cue epic Game of Thrones music…)?  Switching from swampy and sweltering to crisp and brisk, as we did in a matter of days here in Virginia, is indeed refreshing.  It makes one want to soak up the season, short as it may be.

The following are a few easy ways to infuse a little autumn into your wellness routine:

Sprinkle Some Cinnamon: Aside from it being delicious, cinnamon has been shown to help control blood sugar by lowering insulin resistance.  Bake some cinnamon apples, sprinkle some on your sweet potato, or add some to your evening tea.

Cozy Up for Stroll: The simple act of going for walk has been shown to have a myriad of benefits.  Don a hoodie and catch a foliage-filled sunrise or bring a flashlight and the family for a spooky pre-Halloween/post-dinner stroll.

Settle into the Season:  Fall is by nature a time of transition, which can be exciting but also unsettling.   With the more introspective season of winter on the horizon,  fall can be a great time to adopt a mindfulness practice.  Plus, having a tool (or several) on lock for when the cooky relative-filled holiday season rolls around is never a bad idea….

For more content head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

Still no color, mother nature must be confused since it was 98 degrees a week before this picture was taken….

Battle of the Vegan Frostings

This week was J’s birthday.  When I offered to bake him a cake, he asked that it be made with a “ridiculous” amount of frosting.  I took this literally and the amount of frosting made was indeed ridiculous.  3 recipes, 2 of them doubled, ended up in and on the cake.  A few of my own experiments, one an epic fail of garbage disposal proportions and the other that morphed into caramel candy, did not make the cut.

To save you all the trouble of making 5 different vegan frosting recipes (c’mon, you were totally planning on doing that, weren’t you???)  I have listed links to the recipes along with my personal reviews:

Vegan Vanilla Frosting from Feasting on Fruit:  When I saw that this recipe featured Japanese sweet potatoes (surprise J!), I knew I had to give it a try.  Simple and delicious, this one wins for ease of preparation.  I used it for the filling in between layers of carrot cake and added a bit of lemon juice for tang.  The only drawback is that you have to frost with it right away as it looses spreadability when stored in the fridge.

Maple Frosting from Forks Over Knives:  I highlighted this recipe in the linked to post from last Easter.  It requires a bit more prep than the other two and has a lighter, fluffier texture.  Bonus, the main ingredient is carrot so the nutritional profile is decent as far as frostings go.

Coconut Butter Frosting from Dreena Burton:  This definitely wins the prize for authenticity.  The creamy coconut butter creates  a frosting that is reminiscent of buttercream.  It tastes richer than the other two and complimented the carrot cake nicely.

For more plant based decadence check out The Joyful Gym Rat Tasty Tuesday series or follow on Facebook!

Happy birthday J, may this be your best year yet!



A Personal Trainer Gets Personal

I don’t really love telling people that I am a personal trainer.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but the term “personal trainer” seems to bring with it an uncomfortable stereotype.

I’ve played around with “wellness professional”, “fitness trainer”, and often lead with the fact that I am a yoga instructor to dissuade any images of me screaming “PUSH IT!” into a sweaty client’s face.  No judgement if that’s your thing, it’s just not mine.

I’ve been confused about my place in the wellness world for a while now.  On the one hand, I find movement to be healing and joyful and strive to help others experience their own movement related joy and healing.  There is something about a great workout that makes me feel like I can take on the world (and lots of research to back that feeling up!).  On the other hand, I dislike the part of the industry that tells me and everyone I work with we don’t measure up until we resemble some aesthetic ideal.

Sometimes I feel like a computer with faulty programming.  Like my subconscious and conscious mind are constantly arguing about how Laura should feel in and about her body.  This confusion has the unintended consequence of spilling over into my world view.  I want to keep others from suffering the cruel effects of heart disease and diabetes, but also want them to feel comfortable in their skin exactly as they are.  I want to help heal people, animals, and the planet after being educated about the power of a plant based diet, but don’t want people to feel shamed by choices they’ve made on their particular journey.  The more I learn, the more I see that making positive change and being ok with one’s current position are not mutually exclusive.

It pains me to see the defeated look in a client’s eyes after a vacation weight gain.  Or when people “confess” to me about how “bad” they’ve been with their routine.  I will be the first one to tell them not to focus on weight or should all over themselves.  I also know that if I were in their shoes I would feel similarly defeated, but also disappointed in myself for not being more evolved (textbook second arrow) .

Health to me has often felt like a tightrope walk, a concentrated all out effort to remain stable and centered.  I wonder if, instead of a tightrope, it could become a balance beam, with a bit more room for error on either side.  Then, maybe gradually, a plank of wood.  Still requiring some dedicated attention to traverse, but no need so be so rigid doing so.  Ideally, it would be a bridge.  Effortless and easy, with a pleasant soft breeze….

Truly, I find that health bounces back and forth between the tightrope example and the bridge example all the time and for a variety of reasons (mostly due the sheer fact that we are human……).  This requires fitness efforts to follow a similar pattern.  And maybe that’s where I come in.  Helping people navigate the journey as I continue on my own.

For more content head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

Dear T, may your health journey always be a bridge so you can move with ease…also, I don’t think I’d trust you on a tightrope…..

Three “Perfect” Resources for Whole Foods Plant Based Recipes

If you read last week’s post, you know my struggle with the idea of “perfect”.  While perfection may in truth be mere fantasy, the following three cookbook authors come pretty darn close.

What makes a recipe perfect outstanding in my book?  Three words: simple, delicious, and nutritious.  Whether you are a plant based pro or novice, finding new ways to prepare plants has never been so easy.

Consider spending some quality time in the kitchen this weekend using any (or all!) of the following to guide your way:

The How Not to Die Cookbook: If the title doesn’t grab you, the recipes will.  Old favorites like lasagna, stuffed mushrooms, and mac and cheese get a makeover that will make you healthier for eating them.  Even better, all book proceeds go to charity.

The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot: If you have an Instant Pot, this one will change your life.  Make everything from homemade yogurt to black bean burgers with minimal hands on effort.  The many soothing soup recipes included are perfect for  fortifying the immune system during cold and flu season.

Dreena Burton: With several books, a plethora of online recipes, and an email newsletter, this author seems never to be a loss for ideas.  Her muffins have gotten T to cooperate more than any other bribe thus far.

Looking for more ideas and inspirations?  Scroll through my Tasty Tuesday series or head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

T takes his popsicle eating very seriously….