Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-Sugar-Free)

Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars
Vegan, Grain-Free, Refined-Sugar-Free Breakfast Bars

We first posted about these breakfast bars on our Facebook page in October of last year. We've tested and tweaked the recipes a few times and decided it was high time to post them in January, but kept forgetting to take pictures. I finally remembered to take pictures a couple weeks ago and realized a few things - 1) The lighting in our kitchen is abysmal. 2) I am 100% not a photographer. 3) There was nothing I could do to make these bars look appetizing. Nothing. So just trust us when we say you should make them.

For the past couple of years we've struggled with finding a good on-the-go breakfast that could hold us over until lunch time. We used Smitten Kitchen's thick, chewy granola bars for a long time, but they were a little sweet (even though we cut the amount of sugar) and didn't always tide us over until lunch. Then one day Rachel sent me a link to this recipe for Tahini-Date Salted Caramels and said simply, "I WANT TO MAKE FAKE CARAMELS." I'm always game to try a new recipe and I love traditional caramels, so we made them that night and loved them. We made them a few more times before I realized I could probably add chopped nuts and dried fruit and make a no-bake, vegan, grain- and refined-sugar-free breakfast bar (if you use raw tahini, they're raw, too!). You know the absolute best part? They're easy to throw together and you don't even have to turn on the oven!

I decided to use walnuts and tart cherries to offset the sweetness of the dates, but you can probably use any combo of nuts/dried fruits that appeals to you. We also started adding chia seeds, which do get all up in your dental work, but help you feel full longer. We each take one for breakfast every day and I frequently will take an extra one to work if I have a full day of patients with no scheduled lunch break. They're also great a post-workout snack!

Delicious Breakfast Bars (Vegan, Grain-free, Refined-sugar-free)

Makes 16 bars.

Equipment needed: Food processor (or possibly a high-powered blender like a Blendtec or a Ninja), 8"x8" square pan, parchment paper

  • 1-1/2 cups pitted dates - We've made these with medjool, barhi, and deglet noor, and have found that the moistness of the dates matter. Deglett noor seem to be a little drier than the other two varieties, so we if we use them, we tend to mix them with either medjool or barhi.
  • 3/4 cup tahini - We like the East Wind Community tahini the best.
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil - room temperature 1 cup chopped nuts - We run whole nuts through the food processor, but you can buy chopped nuts and save yourself a step.
  • 1/3-1/2 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1-4 Tbsp chia seeds - We started with 1 T and have since increased this to about 4 T. Of course, it's up to you.

1. Combine 1-1/2 cups of pitted dates, 3/4 cup tahini, 3 Tbsp coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend until you have a thick, creamy paste.

2. Add the 1 cup of chopped nuts, 1/3-1/2 cup of dried sour cherries, and 1-4 Tbsp of chia seeds in on top of the paste. Pulse until combined and most of the cherries are broken up, everything is evenly distributed, and it starts to pull away from the sides.

3. Line a 8"x8" square pan with parchment and transfer the mixture to the pan. Press it flat with an off-set spatula, your fingers, or whatever floats your boat.

4. Refrigerate until firm (we usually do this overnight).

5. When firm, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into squares. We usually use a pizza cutter, but a large knife should work as well.

Easy Does It: My Simple Skin Care Routine

This post has been a long time coming, because this is one of the things people ask me about most often.  I will start by telling you my acne story, and then tell you about my personal acne solution. I started breaking out around the age of 9. NINE. I had terrible, red, painful cystic acne for all of my teenage years and into my early twenties. As a teenager I went to the dermatologist weekly to get liquid nitrogen blasted on my face in the hopes that it would clear up my acne. I also got the really big zits injected with steroids for a while, but the steroids had a really unsettling effect on me, so I discontinued that treatment pretty quickly.

Basically I did every treatment recommended by my dermatologist, short of Accutane. In fact, I was on -cycline drugs for so long the roots of my teeth turned blue, something I didn’t discover until I had some teeth removed in my late teens. My oral surgeon asked if I’d been on tetracycline or monocycline for a while and when I asked why, he showed me my teeth and explained that prolonged use can turn the roots blue. That was kind of terrifying to me. It made me realize just how much the meds permeated my entire body - while not even having that great an effect on my skin!

Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash

I stopped the internal medicines shortly thereafter and decided to really focus on my skincare routine. I started really simple with Cetaphil, but had an allergic reaction in which my skin burned and turned bright red. Cetaphil is a line of products which most doctors recommend as super hypoallergenic, mild, and gentle. This was not going to be easy. Like most teenagers (in Hawaii in the '90s, at least) I went full-blown with Clinique products. It worked for a bit, but then I started having a reaction similar to that I’d had with Cetaphil. So not only did I have incredibly painful cystic acne, I also had extremely sensitized skin. Looking back, I think it’s because of all the internal and external medications I had taken. My skin had no idea how to take care of itself.

I went through a few more skincare lines with varying levels of success - Murad, ProActiv, Origins, Fresh, and others I can’t remember. I went to Boston for college, dropped out of college, started acupuncture school and, still, my acne was out of control. A year into acupuncture school a friend and I took a semester off to go to esthetician school. I figured THAT would be my ticket to beautiful skin. In esthetician school I learned the ins and outs of skin, skincare, and makeup and got facials and skin treatment pretty regularly. I also started using Dermalogica, because that’s what came in our kits for school. My skin got better for a while, but after a little while went right back to being bad again. I tried fancy organic skincare lines like Eminence and Dr. Hauschka only to have similar results.

I moved to Chicago when I was 22 and decided to join my roommates on the South Beach diet. My acne cleared up with the decrease in carb intake, but as soon as I had even a little bit of sugar it came back with a vengeance. I had basically given up and resigned myself to a lifetime of terrible skin.

I haven’t even mentioned all the makeup I wore during this time, trying to “cover up” my terrible skin, as if a layer of foundation could hide the bumpy landscape that was my face. Through the makeup forums online I read about oil cleansing and it sounded promising, so I tried that. No matter what ratio of oils I tried, my skin just felt clogged and dirty. I tried it for a few months, but was never able to get through the adjustment period. That was when I threw up my hands and went bare bones with my skin care. I gave up all skincare lines and went with my gut.

I went through a few incarnations before settling on what I’ve been using for the past few years. Are you ready? You sure? Okay, here goes. I use Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Castille Soap (diluted, 1:3 Dr. Bronner’s to water - though I think I'm going to switch to Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild once I'm done with my current stash of Tea Tree) to wash and I use either organic jojoba oil (usually from Trader Joe's or Mountain Rose Herbs, though I've linked to one on Amazon if that's easier for y'all) or a homemade oil blend to moisturize. That’s it. Even more? I only wash my face once a day. If I’ve gotten really sweaty and/or dirty, I may use Thayers Natural alcohol-free witch hazel as a toner, but I find that I rarely do that anymore (though it is a quick way to clean your face if you’re hiking or camping!). If I feel the need to exfoliate, I use good old Arm & Hammer baking soda. Take a little in your hand, add water to make a paste, and gently scrub it on your skin.

At one point during my “new” skincare routine I started working at Sephora. I got a lot of free product and decided to try some of their fancy skincare lines. Guess what? I reacted to every one. I either broke out or turned bright red or had a burning sensation on my skin. I went back to my simplified routine and my skin normalized within a couple of weeks. Now, this isn’t to say that I’m completely breakout-free. I do get the occasional zit, but usually it’s small and it goes away quickly. If I get an unusually stubborn zit, I will sometimes put a little tea tree oil on it. Even with occasional breakouts my skin is so much better than it used to be.

Right-side, slight breakout
Right-side, slight breakout
Left-side, clear skin
Left-side, clear skin

Now, I rarely wear makeup (we’re talking probably less than 10 times a year) and am 100% comfortable going out in public with a bare face. In fact, I even get complimented on my skin! Listen, I’m not ever going to push my routine on anyone. I know how uncomfortable that is and how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end. I did, however, want to share what worked for me, after trying what seemed like EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT ON THE MARKET. Do what you will with the information. Everyone is different.

The nice things about this “regimen” so to speak is that it is really simple, very inexpensive and it fits swimmingly with a sustainable lifestyle.  Dr. Bronner’s products are organically produced and organic jojoba oil is not hard to find.  The soap is diluted, which makes it last a super long time, and you are only washing once a day, which makes that purchase go even farther.  Certainly, the health of your skin is affected not only by what you put on your skin, but also by how you eat and your stress level. 

As a matter of full disclosure, I do not smoke or drink alcohol or coffee and I eat a diet composed mostly of organic foods. I run my own acupuncture business, so I have a stressful day here and there, but on the whole, my job is pretty low stress.  I also receive acupuncture regularly, which helps to clear out any things that might be waiting around to aid the production of pimples. Regardless, I have recommended this regimen to many of my patients, friends, and Rachel, and most have seen dramatic results.  Rachel went from constant breakouts to only the occasional blemish.  If you are fed up with what the beauty and healthcare industry has to offer in regards to skin care for acne, give this a try, and commit to it for at least four weeks. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

UPDATE 06.21.13: I've compiled a Skincare FAQ post to answer questions that y'all have been sending me. Check it out!


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Reusable Swiffer Sweeper Cloth Tutorial

Hi friends! Rachel and I are skipping town for a bit, but wanted to get a post in before leaving. We'll be in Hawaii for a week (we know, poor us!), so keep an eye on our Twitter for updates on our trip! I don't know about you, but I tend to go into a major cleaning mode right before a big trip. Usually I wait until the night before I leave, but Rachel is a good influence on me and got me to help her clean on Sunday, a full 3.5 days before our departure. Amazing. I have a Swiffer sweeper which I purchased probably 7 years ago, when I moved into my first Chicago apartment and was not nearly as committed to sustainable living. I've dutifully kept it with me, occasionally buying refills, but usually just letting it sit in a corner. Last year when we were moving out of our condo and into our new apartment, I bought some Swiffer refills to easily clean the floor between showings.

Aside... 1. My goodness, if there is ever a time when sustainability manages to fly out the window, it's during moving. We probably used more disposables that week than we normally do in a year. 2. The refills I bought were Febreeze-scented and gave me a headache every time I got near the box. Seriously. I had to seal the box in plastic to avoid smelling the fumes. I swore that I would make some reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths the next time I needed them.

That brings us to Sunday. We were cleaning and I needed to dust. We were out of Swiffer cloths and I said (yet again), "Dammit, I really need to go get some fleece so I can make more Swiffer things." Rachel went into her room, rustled around a bit, and returned with a spare bit of fleece she had leftover from some previous project. It was perfect!

Navy fleece scrap
Navy fleece scrap

It measured roughly 27.75"x17". I was able to get four perfect cloths and one slightly small cloth out of it with just a square leftover (for which I'm sure I'll find some project or other).

Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad
Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad

I placed the Swiffer's edge flush with the edge of the fabric, then lined up the yard stick about 1/8" away from the other edge of the Swiffer, and drew a line with a Sharpie. I then moved the Swiffer so the left edge was flush with the line and drew another line. These would be my cut lines.

Lines drawn
Lines drawn

I figured that if I just cut down those lines and then cut the resulting pieces in half, that would suffice, but to make sure, I placed the Swiffer back on the fleece and folded up the edge, to make sure the cloths would be wide enough to tuck into the little holes.

Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab
Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab

Success! I cut down the marks I made, then folded the pieces in half and cut down the center. I was able to get one more out of the smaller piece of fleece that ended up on the right, but I'm not 100% convinced it will securely stay on the Swiffer.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer

I tested out the cloth that night and holy crap did it pick up a lot of dust. I will oh-so-thoughtfully refrain from showing you an "after" picture of the cloth, mainly because I don't want you to know how dusty our house was. I picked off the larger clumps of dust and then rinsed the cloth out in the sink to see how well it cleaned up. Answer? Really freaking well. I think I'll rinse them in the sink after each use and then toss them in the washer for a deeper cleaning when I do towels/rags/rugs/etc.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back

So, in a matter of minutes and for a cost of $0 I made 4-5 reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths. I can tell you right now that our house will be a lot less dusty from here on out.

Swiffer Sweeper Cloths

(For my Swiffer, each cloth ends up 10-10.5"x8-8.5", but make sure you measure your Swiffer to be sure of the size you need. Then you can determine how big a piece of fleece you need by how many cloths you want to make.)

1 piece of fleece (the one I used was 27.75"x17")

Sharpie or other way to mark the fleece

Yard stick

Scissors