Feeling Snacky: Crunchy Stalks and Branches
[Before I delve into today's snack post, I want to send out a heartfelt "thank you" to each and every one of you who responded to my last post. I was bowled over by the outpouring of kindness and support that you folks displayed. And thanks to all of you who shared your own story or struggles with food issues, whether dietary restrictions or your own food addictions. I've said this many times before on the blog, but really, I can't say it enough: you people are remarkable! Thank you, all, for visiting, for reading, for commenting, and for your thoughtful responses and ideas, which all add their own kind of sweetness to my life. Without you all, this would be a very lonely (not to mention unrewarding) endeavor, indeed!]
And now, on to the food! A while back, I promised a post on anti-candida snack foods along with the breakfasts and desserts. (And even though I’m assuming the anti-candida diet will be temporary for me, as it is for almost everyone, it’s amazing how my blog has suddenly morphed into a “candida” blog. Most of the searches that lead people here involve the words, “anti-candida” or “candida diet.” Except, of course, for those that involve the words, “dogs girls sexy” or “dogs girls dessert.” Don’t worry, though–I don’t let the real Girls see any of these–it would be too traumatic for them.).
Over the past few months, I realized that most of my snacks don’t actually require a recipe: baby carrots (in moderation–they are pretty high in natural sugars, after all); grape tomatoes; celery sticks; hummus and any of the previous veggies; roasted chick peas; cucumber rounds; kale chips (and have you seen this recent iteration? They sound great!); or, most recently, fresh berries (yay! fruit–though limited to berries and a few others–has made its triumphant return to my diet!). Although I was never a “potato chips” kind of gal (I think you can be one or the other: salty-snack person or sweet-snack person. I always leaned toward the chocolate bars, cookies, cupcakes, etc. rather than the salty snacks), I have been craving something snacky recently. Something crunchy. Something salty. Something portable that isn’t nuts or seeds.
And so, on a whim a couple of weeks ago, I visited our local health food store in search of snacks. My encounter with the cashier went something like this:
Scene: small, family-owned health food store tucked in a local plaza not far from where Ricki lives. Reminiscent of old-time general stores that you see on reruns like The Andy Griffith Show * or Green Acres.
Ricki [browsing around. She approaches the affable, somewhat retro-looking cashier.] “Say, do you have any snack foods for someone who can’t eat gluten, sweeteners, refined anything, eggs, or dairy?”
(Actually, I never begin sentences with the word, “Say,” but it does make the dialogue sound much more as if I really live in a small, close-knit neighborhood like Mayberry, doesn’t it?).
Young Cashier: “Why, yes, Ma’am, yes, indeed, we do.” (Okay, she didn’t really start with, “Why, yes,” either, and didn’t say “indeed.” Another attempt at 1950s-era verisimilitude. She did, however, actually call me “Ma’am,” which made me feel very authentically 1950s).
Young Cashier: [Leading Ricki to a shelf containing Mary's products.] These are all gluten-free and sugar free, made with whole foods ingredients. You might like to try some of these. The Curry flavor is my favorite.
Ricki: [Speechless. Her mind is reeling]: Wow! You mean there are actually snacks I can eat on this &*%$#! regimen that I don’t have to make myself?? Okay! I’ll take ten bags!
(All right. I admit that I didn’t really say THAT, either. But I wanted to. Perhaps realistic dramatic representation is not my forte.)
Well, if you live in California–or anywhere in the US, really–and are either (a) on a gluten-free diet; (b) into healthy foods; (c) the owner of a health food store; or (d) named Mary, you have most likely already heard of or tasted the Mary’s Gone Crackers product called “Sticks and Twigs.” On the other hand, if you live in the Distant Far Northern Canadian Outpost that is Toronto–as I do–the discovery was a revelation. (Do you think perhaps I should stop making tongue-in-cheek comments about how far north, how cold, and how polite it is here in Canada? After all, there are some people out there who might actually think I’m being serious!). These snacks resemble pretzels but are crunchier. They’re a whole foods, no-added-fat snack with little pellets of baked amaranth and quinoa scattered throughout. They come in flavorful choices such as Curry or Chipotle Tomato.
And they are mighty addictive.
Only one problem: at $5.99 per 8-ounce (about 250 g) bag, they really did leave me speechless.
In recent months, I’ve noticed a few bloggers playing a game that involves listing the ingredients in a processed “food” and having readers guess what it is (such as this one on Meghan’s blog). For instance, did you know that “Wheat Flour, Sugar, Dextrose, Vegetable Oil, Glucose Syrup, Milk Whey Powder, Invert Sugar Syrup, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Wheat Starch, Salt, Raising Agent (Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Diphosphates), Dried Egg White, Beef Gelatin, Stabiliser (Xanthan Gum), Vanilla Extract, Modified Wheat Starch, Colour (Caramel E150d, Titanium Oxide) and Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin)” is actually a Pop Tart? (Yep. Titanium Oxide–often used in paint, or as a sunscreen--is a bonus ingredient in your breakfast “pastry.” Eat up, everyone!).
Well, I decided to turn that game on its head. I took a food I like, namely the Sticks and Twigs, studied the ingredients, and then attempted to reproduce it at home. The result was better than I could have expected. I daresay, I like my version better than the original!
Mine are surprisingly like Mary’s, but a bit thicker, and–most important–at a fraction of the cost. They are, however, still exceedingly crunchy, so if you’re in need of some elective dental work, don’t eat these until after the filling has been replaced. (Just kidding. But they really do snap, crackle and pop in your mouth).
And, if it turns out they’re not to your taste after all, they make excellent dog biscuits.
With all the healthy whole-grain ingredients in these, I thought they’d make a perfect contribution to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays, showcasing real food. Take a peek, or submit your own healthy recipe!
["Mmmm, nice and crunchy, Mum, just like real sticks and twigs. But what was that you mentioned before about not letting us see something--? You're not hiding other snacks from us, are you?"]
*For those of you young enough that you can’t remember a time before computers: yep, “Ronny Howard”–ie, Opie–is the same person as director Ron Howard. Wasn’t he a cutie when he still had hair?
Crunchy Stalks and Branches Snacks
A perfect take-along snack that’s crunchy and filled with real nutrient value: with amaranth, millet, quinoa and rice, these savory treats contain a fair portion of vitamins, minerals, and protein in each serving.
3 Tbsp (45 ml) amaranth, dry
1/4 cup (60 ml) quinoa, dry
1/4 cup (60 ml) millet, dry
2 cups (480 ml) cooked brown rice (I used brown basmati)
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely ground flax seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground chia seeds
2 tsp (10 ml) mild curry powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt, or more, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sesame seeds
1/2-1 cup (120-240 ml) water, as needed
In a small bowl, soak the amaranth, quinoa and millet for about 2 hours (up to 6 hours). Drain in a very fine sieve. Remove about 3 Tbsp (45 ml) of the mixture and set aside.
Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Place the remaining amaranth, quinoa and millet mixture into the bowl of a strong blender along with the rice, flax, chia, curry powder and salt. Add 1/2 cup (120 ml) water and blend to a paste; stir in the sesame seeds. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water until you have a mixture the consistency of a soft cookie dough. It should be soft enough to pipe but firm enough to hold its shape if you scoop some out and place it on the cookie sheet.
Scrape the mixture into a bowl and then stir in the 3 Tbsp (45 ml) whole seeds that have been set aside. Using an icing gun or cookie press, press out the mixture in long, thin logs across the cookie sheet (or make into any shapes you like). I used my icing gun without a tip to create logs for this, but you could use any shape you like. If you have neither an icing gun nor cookie press, you can shape the “dough” into disks or logs by hand, or simply spread the mixture into a large rectangle and then bake as crackers.
Bake the snacks in preheated oven for about 30 minutes before checking. Turn them over and continue to bake, another 30-45 minutes, until they are very browned, dry and crisp. (If baking as crackers, remove from oven after 30 minutes and cut into desired cracker shapes; then turn each cracker over individually and continue to bake as above).
Allow to cool before storing. Makes 4-8 snack-size servings, depending on how hungry you are. If sufficiently baked, these will keep for at least 2 weeks at room temperature in a covered container (ours only lasted a few days, but they were clearly sturdy enough for the long term).