Category: WFW

WhyFoodWorks is dedicated to people who want to understand what is happening to their food and their bodies when they eat. Each blog entry offers a question or concept about why a particular food or food component has an effect on your physiology. When you know better, you make better choices because you understand the value of food on a whole new level.

Because the understanding doesn’t stop at “why,” each entry will also include a recipe to show you how to integrate more of the right stuff into your diet – and hopefully get you excited to try some new things!

Warm walnut bread pudding


A new dessert go-to

“This might be the best thing I’ve ever made?”

“It’s up there.”

That was the entire conversation I had while enjoying this little dessert with my boyfriend last night…we were too busy savoring bites to say much else!  The recipe is really simple, but this was my second try – the first was too dense, and a little chewy…but with the addition of milk and a bit of baking powder, second time was the charm!  And it’s my second entry to the California Walnuts contest for TheRecipeRedux – one I’ll definitely be entertaining with at the next opportunity.  Desserts based on walnuts offer lots of fiber and protein, and I kept the sugar reasonable.  The crust is crunchy and salty, the filling soft and melt-in-your-mouth sweet and spongy.  It’s definitely a treat, but making them in these cute 3″ ramekins means portion control is easy…I highly recommend serving with a drizzle of cream or whipped cream!

IMG_3782Warm walnut bread pudding



  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 c quick cooking oats
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c melted coconut oil


  • 1 c raw walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c milk (or milk alternative)
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • dash ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp honey
  • extra walnut piece for garnishing


Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray ramekins with cooking oil (or use a little extra coconut oil) and combine the crust ingredients in a bowl, mixing with the side of a fork until oats and nuts are coated with oil.  Portion out 1/4 into each ramekin and press with the bottom of the fork (see picture below).  Bake for 12 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine all the filling ingredients except honey in a high speed blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Pour evenly into ramekins over the baked crust, then drizzle 1 tsp of honey over each.  Bake in the 350F oven for 25 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool to touch.  Serve warm. (Can be reheated in the microwave after baking.)

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I received free samples of California walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Walnut Commission and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

RecipeRedux Walnut Contest: a new dip you can impress with!

A nut a day!

I am an avid believer that everyone should be eating at least a serving of nuts or seeds daily, so I was excited when California Walnuts sponsored a contest for RecipeRedux…there will be some amazing recipes in this roundup, I promise!  Walnuts contain 2.5 grams of the essential plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, all of which amounts to a great snack (one palmful) at your desk or on the go.  I’m entering a few times, so stay tuned this week for a couple of walnut recipes – they sent 2 pounds of walnuts and a silicone baking sheet liner which was enough to keep me in the kitchen all afternoon yesterday.


My new favorite spread

I wanted to try some new things and reinvent some classics, so I started doing some searching and came upon one that intrigued me: muhammara.  It originates in Syria, and there are lots of variations but all seem to contain walnuts, roasted red peppers, and some sort of smoky flavor.  The idea of walnuts and red peppers together seemed a little strange to me, but I’ll try anything once!  And I’m so glad I did: this is a better-than-hummus spread that people will be delighted by (and surprised to learn the secret ingredient!).  PLEASE TRY THIS.  Seriously delicious, and incredibly nutrient rich – perfect for dipping or as a sauce on a quinoa bowl.

Spicy Muhammara


  • 3/4 c walnuts
  • 1 c roast red peppers, drained
  • 1/4 c + 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 lemon’s juice
  • 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • dash salt
  • 3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped


Place all ingredients (except basil and the 2T olive oil) in a food processor or high powered blender and puree until smooth.  Garnish with olive oil and basil.

I received free samples of California walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Walnut Commission and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Getting sauced for the weekend (+chipotle tahini schmear)

Get saucy for summer

A sauce can make or break your dish – where else can you pack so much flavor into so little volume?  Nutritionally, sauces can also add a lot (of calories!) or just the right balance of savory, sweet, and salty for the perfect smear.  Burgers, veggies, hot dogs, wings, fries, sandwiches…all are elevated by a great sauce or drizzle!    Here’s a roundup of some amazing dietitian-approved homemade sauces that are based on whole foods and condiments you might already have in the fridge – most are vegan, all use real ingredients and cover all the bases: BBQ, mustard-y, herbacious and Asian-inspired.  They’re rounded out by the delicious chipotle dressing I made for this sweet potato noodle salad last week, thanks to the inspiration from Pinch of Yum (scroll to the bottom for my adapted recipe for the sauce!).

Sauce smart:

Click the pics for the recipes!

Easy Honey-Mustardroasted-broccoli-quinoa-salad-honey-mustard-dressing-4

Allergy-Friendly Barbeque Saucehomemade-barbecue-sauce-recipe

Spicy Habanero Avocado Cream SauceSpicy-Habanero-Avocado-Cream-Sauce2

Sesame Ginger Teriyaki Sauceteriyakisauce3-1-of-1

Chimichurri SauceChimichurri-Shrimp-5

Easy Peach Hot SauceEasy-Peach-Hot-Sauce-from-Primally-Inspired

Chipotle Tahini Schmear

Nothing better than a spicy/smokey flavor combo for the summer – make and keep this in the fridge for up to 3-4 weeks and enjoy as a dip, spread, or dressing! Click here for the original recipe, and how to make sweet potato noodles!



  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp smoked chipotle seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried minced onions
  • 1 tsp agave or honey
  • 3 Tbsp tahini
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • dash of salt


Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy.  Add more water to thin if making a dressing or leave it thick to put on sandwiches or burgers!


Virtual apartment tour (+mezcal-orange glazed bok choy)

Happy housewarming to me!

This weekend, my boyfriend and I threw a party in our new apartment – the finishing touches are finally all on the walls, and we wanted to show the place off!  Also, now that we’re in Reston most of our DC friends are a lot farther away, and we needed an excuse to see people…and make them come to us.  We tempted them out with tacos and Moscow Mules with homemade ginger lime syrup.  David is a huge fan of Momofuku, so he made Dave Chang’s pork shoulder and this amazing slow cooker Mexican chicken, while I threw together a pineapple salsa and one with roasted corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, and red onion.

My sister just got back from Mexico, so we did a mezcal tasting before the party got started – she provided the authentic cups, salt seasoning, orange slices, and even crickets to go along with it!

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Take a virtual tour of the apartment!

Time for tapas!

There were leftovers from the party, and the RecipeRedux theme of the month is tapas, so for dinner tonight we did a few tapas plates – a great way to upcycle your cooking for a second life!  There wasn’t enough of anything left to make a full meal of, but altogether we shared these tasty little plates and were perfectly satisfied.IMG_3561

The chicken and pork were just plated up with some quinoa, radishes, and avocado, but I had a lovely bunch of baby bok choy from the farm that was fresh and just waiting to be cooked up.  Inspired by the mezcal, we made a glaze that perfectly balances spicy, sweet, and smokey.  So fast and easy – and of course filling in that veggie gap that was missing!  Great as a side dish, but if you added some tofu you could easily serve it over rice for a full meal.  Bok choy is one of the greens highest in calcium, and it’s always tender and mild, so try it with people who don’t love greens!

Mezcal-orange glazed baby bok choy


  • 10oz bok choy (~2-3 cups chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • juice of half a large orange (1/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • zest of half an orange
  • 2 Tbsp mezcal
  • 1 Tbsp honey or agave
  • dash of chipotle powder
  • dash of salt


Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium and add bok choy.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, until tender.  Remove from pan.  Whisk cornstarch with orange juice and zest in a small cup; pour into empty skillet over medium heat and add the remaining ingredients, stirring to mix.  When sauce thickens and bubbles, it’s ready – add back in the bok choy and turn to coat.  Serve!

Check out the other tapas recipes below!

On planting potatoes (+peruvian causa recipe)

Farm life: potato planter edition

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This is an old potato.  Which you plant to make new potatoes…each potato can grow into 5-6 of its size, and you only have to plant part of it.  Each eye will root, so you can cut it into 3 or 4 chunks.  I happened to work on a day PVF was using a new potato-planting tractor attachment, and got to ride on the back!

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All the potato planter has to do is place piece of potato into each slot on the circle and, they’re dropped one by one into the trench the wheel digs. Those two big silver plates on the left cover each up with a neat pile of dirt.  As the season goes, they’ll go back out and plow more and more dirt over to disrupt the weeds and give the potatoes the cozy earth they like.

The continuously moving grid isn’t too hard to keep up with – this sure beats planting them all by hand!  We finished about an acre in a few hours.

The Peruvian causa

I was recently introduced to causa, a layered Peruvian potato salad. Traditionally served with shrimp or seafood salad, since the fishermen of Peru would go out for the day with mashed potatoes and then have them with their fresh catch.  My version has a salad with greens, spring peas, and diced red pepper, since I was making a vegan version (shrimp optional!) for the Watercolor + Self Care event I did with Marcella Kriebel and Gracy Obuchowicz last weekend.  And I used both white and sweet potatoes…so it’s not very traditional, but then again I’m not very Peruvian, so go figure!

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Sarah’s Causa


  • 1.5 lbs white potatoes, chopped and boiled until soft
  • 1.5 lbs sweet potatoes, chopped and boiled until soft
  • 3 lime’s juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup peas (defrosted from frozen work if fresh aren’t available)
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp amarillo paste
  • 1 cup mixed greens, roughly chopped
  • Avocado, sliced
  • Shrimp, cooked (optional)


Mash the potatoes separately (I leave the skins on for extra fiber!) and add the juice of 1 lime and 2 Tbsp olive oil to each.  Add the chives to the white potatoes and the amarillo paste to the sweet potatoes (I use a hand mixer to blend).  In a greased springform pan, layer the white mashed potatoes, pressing until even with the back of a spatula, then toss the salad greens with the peas and pepper and the juice of the last lime.  Spread on top of the white potatoes, then top with the sweet potatoes and spread with a spatula.  Refrigerate for 3-4 hours, or overnight.  Top with avocado slices and shrimp when ready to serve, and remove the spring form from the base.  Present with a flourish!

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On getting the best spinach (+7 ways to add spinach to recipes!)

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Welcome to my first post about learning to grow fruits & veggies at Potomac Vegetable Farms!

It’s a family-founded and run farm in Vienna, VA (they also have a Purcellville location) that I’m working on a few days a week to expand my platform for nutrition education.  Most of the education I do centers around how to plan and prepare meals; this will add a layer of helping people understand where their food comes from and how it’s raised. Hope you enjoy!
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Field work

On one of my first days at PVF, we picked spinach.  It had grown through the winter, and was the best-tasting spinach I’d ever tried – light and herbacious, no trace of bitterness, and a deep, vibrant green color.  “Over-wintering,” it was explained to me, is the reason.  When a plant (that has the capacity to survive freezing temperatures; not all spinach varieties do) needs to make it through the coldest months, it does so by converting starch to sugar (the scientific details of this are here).  While I wouldn’t call the leaves “sweet,” they definitely have a different flavor than other spinach I’ve tried.  If you’re in the northern Atlantic region, the spinach you see at farmer’s markets in the spring is likely produced this way – ask the farmer how they do it!

Picking spinach (if there aren’t weeds!) is fairly easy: you just cut the leaves off the bunch with a short knife or a scissors and throw them in a crate.  *Hot tip: it’s best to pick in the cool mornings as leaves will lose moisture and turgor throughout the day, so the spinach is at it’s crispest and juiciest in the AM*  On Friday, we picked 40 crates of spinach (~200 lbs) to sell at the opening market weekend for a few lucky locations.  Here in the hoop house, we cut it to the ground since tomato plants will go into this bed soon:2016-04-15 09.28.31

And then comes the rinsing – every crate is dumped into a sink and swished to remove the field dirt, then put back into a washed crate to be bagged.  Though regulations around how produce is washed are currently under revision, it’s always a good idea to give them another rinse after you buy!  Here Anne & Kelly get soggy doing the dirty work:IMG_20160415_123556328_HDR-01

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Eat more spinach

Regardless of where it comes from, eating more dark leafy greens should be a top priority for almost everyone’s meals.  Here are my go-to ways for incorporating them! (Click the pics for direct links to recipes!)

  1. Sandwiches & melts – forget iceburg lettuce, and get a big bump of vitamins A & K by using spinach in nearly any sandwich or melt – remember to ask if it’s an option when you’re ordering out, too!green-goddess-grilled-cheese-top-down

  2. Eggs – if you’re a scrambled egg lover and you’re not adding veggies, it’s a huge missed opportunity to fit in a serving…quiche is another no-brainer!goat-cheese-spinach-sun-dried-tomato-quiche

  3. Pasta dishes – upgrade the nutrient density AND the eye catching color contrast by adding chopped spinach (use whole grain noodles for a fiber boost, too!).  Nearly any pasta dish will work – lasagna, shells, tortellini…Spinach-Ricotta-Pasta-skillet

  4. Soups & stews – same deal: the pretty green color will pop, and because of the wilting you can fit quite a lot in!

  5. Pesto – spinach is MUCH cheaper than basil or other herbs, so bulk up your batch with a handful or two.

  6. Smoothies – yup, they’ll turn green…but the predominant flavor will always be the fruit.


  7. Potato patties, salmon cakes, veggie burgers – if it makes a patty, add some spinach!  Here’s what I made:

Black bean & quinoa patties


  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • 2 handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp smoke paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt


In a bowl, combine all ingredients – use your hands and get messy!  When mixture is evenly combined, the trick to getting it to stick together is to puree 1.5 cups in a blender or food processor and add it back into the bowl (add a few splashes of water, too).  Form patties the size of your fist (I made 7) and bake on a nonstick sheet for 30 minutes at 350F.  Store in the fridge and enjoy hot or room temp!  Best served over greens – they’re too carb-rich to eat on a bun!2016-04-18 12.27.06 2016-04-18 12.34.28 2016-04-18 12.39.36 2016-04-18 18.40.38

Watercolor class + 5-course tasting May 1!


Art & Health: an interactive workshop

Are you craving better understanding of healthy eating that actually tastes good? Are you hankering to up your creativity this year? Wouldn’t it be delicious if you could learn both at once?

Come to this innovative and extremely useful watercolor + healthy eating workshop with three of DC’s premiere food movers and shakers.

Join me with DC’s favorite food artist Marcella Kriebel & self care expert Gracy Obuchowicz (pictured below to the left and right!) for five courses of watercolor technique, healthy eating sanity + delicious food.


Learn to finally break the diet/deprivation cycle while breaking watercolor painting down into five easy steps.

Feast upon delicious, nutritious food while discovering your artist greatness – yup, even you can be a great artist if you take a risk and try!

Emerge with your own fine work of art + five healthy and delicious recipes to start spring with vibrancy and balance.

The cost is $60 for a five course meal, watercolor instruction + materials, and healthy eating guidelines that will bring success + sanity into your 2016.

We’ve never taught a workshop like this before.  Space is very limited so please sign up today!  We can accommodate most dietary restrictions if you let us know in advance. 

Sunday, May 1st 11:30am-2:30pm
at the Arts Walk Studio – 716 Monroe St NE Studio #14, Washington, DC 20017

Click to register:
Registration is open now!

7-ingredient sesame ginger noodle bowl sauce

What’s better in spring than a cold noodle bowl?


FINALLY spring is here, and the fresh spring ingredients are starting to pop up on the shelves.  Crisp beans, tender asparagus, leafy greens…which all sound like great ingredients for a noodle bowl, if you ask me!  This month’s RecipeRedux theme is 7 ingredients or less, and my Asian-inspired noodle bowl sauce fits the bill.  I made them for Gracy’s self care group on Sunday, and used my go-to format of a make-your-own bar so people could choose which elements to add.  (And as always, I chose EVERYTHING!)

But the sauce!  It’s delicious. Savory, nutty, salty, and tangy – and very forgiving.  I often use rough measurements and it always ends up just fine…make a big batch and taste as you go to adapt it!

IMG_3360Sesame ginger noodle bowl sauce


  • 1/4 c sesame oil
  • 1/4 c soy sauce (can substitute soy-free aminos or homemade soy sauce)
  • 2″ fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 Tbsp almond or peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp tahini (double if skipping nut butter)
  • 1 lemon’s juice
  • 1 clove garlic


Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor; mixture will be thick.  Drizzle in 1/4c -1/2 cup water until desired consistency is reached.  Taste and tell!  You could add a hit of hot sauce, a pinch of sugar, or more of any of the ingredients you want to play up.

Click the frog for other RecipeRedux 7-ingredient recipes for fast, healthy dishes!


Cooking with Siggi! (+how to choose a yogurt)

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A word about yogurt

Here’s the sad truth: most yogurt on the shelves in the US is basically a light dessert, at best.  Many brands add tons of sugar (or artificial sweetener), colors, flavors, and stabilizing ingredients so that the resulting product is far from the nutritious, versatile food that it should be!  Siggi’s is one brand I like a lot – their claim is “simple ingredients, not a lot of sugar,” and in fact their cups always contain more protein than sugar.

What to look for in yogurt

Those criteria alone will get you far (and rule out most of the options on the shelf), but read the ingredient list to make sure they don’t contain gelatin, starches, gums, carageenan – all just thickeners that are hiding low-quality yogurt.  Milk, cream, and active cultures are all you need to make yogurt!

With lots of flavors and several in the 2% and whole milk categories (I’m partial to the whole myself), Siggi’s is competitive with other brands out there.  And with the outreach they do for dietitians, they’re at the top of their marketing game!  Today they hosted a lunch based on Nordic cooking – we got to see how to filet a whole fish, and then cooked in groups.  My team had the mushroom and arugula salad, which had just a dollop of plain yogurt to give some tangy creaminess.

Best of all, Siggi himself was there – he is a jolly Scandinavian fellow, and it’s amazing how he’s grown the company in just 6 years.

The whole meal was delicious – thanks for having us, Siggi’s!

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The full meal – mashed sweet potatoes, roast root vegetables, arugula and mushroom salad, and the pan seared salmon with edible flowers, seasoned yogurt, and raspberries (an amazing combo!).

*This event was sponsored by Siggi’s Dairy.  I was not compensated for my time financially.*

Alternative Flours (+salted peanut butter banana cookies)

Check it out!  I was featured on ABC7’s morning show to discuss this topic!

Refined grains: the original “processed” food?

While wheat has been a dietary staple for humans for thousands of years, the refined flour we make from it has only been around for a little over a century.  Machines make it possible to grind wheat berries into flour, and then separate that flour into its components – the bran, endosperm, and germ.


The bran contains fiber and B vitamins, the germ contains vitamin E and the oils that make vitamin E more digestible, and the endosperm…well, that’s mostly starchy carbohydrate, which your body quickly turns into sugar.  “White flour” is made from just the endosperm and then usually bleached, and “whole wheat” flour is all the parts of the grain, pulverized (look for unbleached).

The fiber and oils help the endosperm to digest more slowly, and make it much more nutritionally dense than endosperm alone – stripped of those components, blood sugar rises quickly, and the body has to work harder to bring it down to the right range.  Over time, regulating blood sugar becomes more and more challenging to the body – read more about how white flour impacts many body systems – and suddenly the explosion of diabetes we’re seeing isn’t such a mystery!

A little bit of white flour isn’t the problem – this goes far beyond the occasional treat or dessert.  The problem is that white flour (also called refined, enriched or all-purpose flour) is has replaced whole grain flour in a very big way:


See the big white gap between the dots and the bars?  That’s in part because of increased usage of refined flour, and in part because of our sugar intake went up, too.

The answer is simple

Unfortunately, simple doesn’t mean easy – reversing this trend is a complicated problem on a large scale, from food suppliers to food companies to sales.  But luckily, on an individual scale, it’s EXTREMELY doable.  There are more products than ever on the market that make great substitutes for refined flour – many flours from whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, sorghum, and non-grains like coconut, black bean, and even crickets!

The key is that they are fiber rich and nutrient-dense (not just gluten free or organic, words that tell you nothing about nutritional value!), and you also have to be willing to experiment since not all of them can replace all-purpose flour cup for cup.  Even replacing just part of the white flour in recipes can give you a big nutrient boost!  This guide discusses some considerations; and Bob’s Red Mill provides this one.

Not into baking or cooking?  Here are ways to cut out the white flour:

  • Only buy (and order!) 100% WHOLE wheat or whole grain bread, wraps, bagels, pasta products (if it just says “wheat” that usually means “white flour!” – look for that 100% to be sure the grain used was whole grain)
  • The word “multigrain” is also an indicator refined grains are an ingredient – it just means the maker used multiple grains that could all be refined
  • Snack on nuts and seeds, not pretzels and crackers
  • If you do choose crackers, look for “whole wheat” or “whole grain” to be the first two words on the ingredient list
  • If you’re a cereal eater, look for bran or oat based cereals that have at least 5g of fiber per serving

Recipes to get you started

If you’re ready to get cookin’ then here’s where to start:

Lemon Chia Seed Breakfast Muffins (adapted from The Healthy Maven)


  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 T chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce or canola oil
  • 2 lemon’s juice (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 lemon’s zest
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl combine almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, chia seeds and sea salt. In a separate bowl combine oil/applesauce, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, honey and vanilla extract. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir to combine. Line a muffin tray with paper liners or silicone liners or grease well and divide batter evenly among wells.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, watching carefully to not burn (unlike I did…). Remove from oven and let cool in tray for 10 minutes. Remove from tray and allow to cool on a wire rack.


Salted peanut butter banana cookies (adapted from Amy’s Healthy Baking)


  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 medium banana
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp milk of choice
  • 1/2 cup sugar of choice
  • extra kosher salt for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the mashed banana, peanut butter, vanilla, and milk. Stir in the sugar. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Chill dough for 15 minutes (this makes it much easier to work with).

Shape the dough into small spheres and flatten.  Bake for 9-11 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.


For more innovative uses of alternative flours, check out my fellow bloggers: