So the big move-in happened, but we are far from moved in. I am writing this from my dirty dining room table, watching and listening to a collection of relative strangers drill, saw, spackle, sand, stain, and paint around me, like a tornado of humans in tool belts. Drywall dust dances in the shafts of light pouring into our new space, as I try to ignore the deafening screech from a floor sander behind a paper-thin plastic partition a few feet away from my head. Ahhh…home renovation. I could go on about the frustrations of living in a construction site, how my filth-tolerance has reached unthinkable heights, and how if I hear someone tell me that it should all be complete in “two more weeks” I may collapse, but I know that whenever it is done, it will all be worth it. Really and truly.
I made these Cacao Hemp Crispy Treats a few days before we relocated from our rental to our home, knowing that I would need to have a stockpile of snacks that didn’t require refrigeration, or even cutting, since we would be living without electricity, and I had no idea where to locate a knife in the unpacked boxes stacked high in the basement. Since then, I’ve thanked myself every time I’ve sunken my teeth into each chewy-crunchy-sticky bite, the cacao releasing its relaxation-inducing alkaloids and minerals into my frazzled bloodstream, the hemp seeds delivering their much-needed anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and the nut butter grounding my nerves with all its protein and healthy fat. In these uncertain times, I’ve been certain that a delicious snack was ready to satisfy me at the drop of a hammer.
My original inspiration for these bars came from my fellow Canadian health-food blogger and vegan recipe guru Angela Liddon, of Oh She Glows fame. Her Almond Butter Crisp Rice Treats were a fun Sunday afternoon snack project for my four-year old son and I, and since then I’ve been making many variations of them. My goal was to add more protein, healthy fats and filling fiber to the bars, so I tossed in heaps of hemp and chia seeds until I found the right balance. Losing their chewy-crisp goodness would have been a real shame, since it’s the texture of these treats that is so very crave-able! So I tinkered a few times, and found the exact right amount that maintained the satisfying chew. I also wanted to add chocolate. Because chocolate.
After nailing the additions, I knew that top needed some flair: not just visually, but something to cut the richness a tad. I had some freeze-dried raspberries kicking around my pantry that I had bought on a whim in the US some months back, and immediately knew that they would be the perfect supplement with their vibrant pink hue and bright acidity. Bingo! Freeze-dried fruit (and vegetables) have been popping up all over the place lately, since they taste incredible, have a long shelf life, and are a nutritiously convenient way of getting another serving of produce a day, especially for kids. However, if you can’t find freeze-dried raspberries, or any substitute for that matter, you can easily replace them in this recipe with more traditional dried fruit like goji berries, roughly chopped figs, apricots, or even raisins. You could also top the bars with toasted nuts or seeds, coconut or cacao nibs. Think of these as a blank canvas for your favourite add-on flavours and textures, or keep it as simple as you like. The bars are also delicious as is, and if you’re into a dark and rich flavour above all else, simply leave the toppings off. But do not under any circumstance skip the flaky salt – it is key.
Hemp hemp, hooray!
Since being back in the homeland and trying to buy as much locally-produced food as possible, I’ve been loving on hemp seeds lately – even more than usual! Because of their mild, nutty flavor, they blend so effortlessly with just about any food, sweet or savory. And what they lack in flavor, they make up for in protein and healthy fats, specifically those essential Omegas. We’ve all heard about Omega-3s and how important they are for the health of our entire body, helping to prevent cancer asthma, depression, obesity, diabetes and so on. But! There is another star on the block, Omega-6, which seems to be less talked about due to the fact that many of us get enough (or in some cases, too much) of this essential fatty acid.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fasts are essential, meaning that our bodies don’t produce them and we need to obtain them from the foods we eat. Sources of Omega-3 fats include flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chia, dark leafy greens, some sea vegetables and cold-water fish. Omega-6 sources include soybean, canola, corn, peanut, sunflower, and sesame oils. You can see from this list that most people in the Western world at least, are getting their fair share of Omega-6 fats, and lacking in Omega-3s. In fact, in North America it is estimated that the population consumes 10 to 20 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3, due to the popularity of processed foods. Although the correct ratio of these fats is still a matter of debate, researchers in this field agree that this ratio is far too high. We should be aiming for an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio between 2:1 and 4:1.
So why is the balance so important? Because the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s helps determine the flexibility of our cell membranes, meaning that ALL communication throughout the body depends on at least in part on this balance being correct. Coronary heart disease, chronic inflammation, obesity, and healthy genetic processes have all been linked to the delicate equilibrium of essential fatty acids.
How can we improve the situation then? Just making simple, small changes to our diets will greatly improve the balance of fats in our bodies. Instead of relying solely on foods high in Omega-6s like peanut butter and foods made with vegetable oils (like corn, sunflower and soybean oil) swap them with foods high in Omega-3s like walnut butter and flaxseed oil, and sprinkle chia seeds on your breakfast bowl or a salad. For omnivores replacing chicken, beef and pork with wild-caught, cold water fish will make a big difference too.
But the most ideal food to choose when trying to achieve that perfect balance of these fats then, is hemp! Hemp’s Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is a healthy 3.75:1. You can find hemp in many forms these days: un-hulled and hulled seeds (also known as hemp hearts), hemp oil, hemp flour, hemp protein powder, hemp milk, and hemp seed butter. Remember that choosing hemp in its most natural form (the un-hulled or hulled hemp seeds) is your best bet to ensure a high-quality, whole food product.
I like to sprinkle hemp seeds on just about everything, from my breakfast porridge to my salads and sandwiches. They add an amazing creaminess to smoothies, raw custards and cheesecakes. You can even make your own milk from hemp and you don’t even need to soak the seeds first! Simply blend 1 part hulled hemp seeds to just under four parts water, with an optional sweetener like maple syrup, dates, or honey, and enjoy. Simple and delicious. You can get the full hemp milk recipe here.
The last thing I want to mention is the crisp brown rice. There are a few types of it on the market, and one reason I’m happy to be back in Canada, is because they have the right kind. By that I mean really crispy rice crisps. For whatever reason, the ones I found in Europe would always get soggy very quickly, whereas the ones here maintain their crunch even after combining them with wet ingredients like maple syrup and brown rice syrup. I’ve also found high-vibe sprouted brown rice crisps over here from a company called One Degree (not sponsored). They work really well too, but cost a fortune. I alternate between those, and the ones I’ve found at my local bulk food store that aren’t sprouted or even organic, but they get the job done when I’m renovating a house and feeling strapped for cash. You may need to experiment with a couple kinds before finding “the one”. In the end, the bars should be relatively crunchy-crisp – not mushy at all (even though they will still be delicious).
If you like Rice Crispy Treats, you’re going to love these bars. They’re the grown-up version of your favourite childhood treat, with a mega boost of nourishing superfoods. It’s an indulgence you can feel good about feeding both you and your family…but I won’t tell anyone if you hide them and eat them all yourself. I’ve definitely never done that before. Nope. Never.
Cacao Hemp Crispy Treats
Makes about 16 bars
2 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil, plus a little more for greasing
2/3 cup / 160ml unsalted nut or seed butter of your choice
2/3 cup / 160ml brown rice syrup
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
heaping ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
1/3 cup / 40g raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
4 cups / 200g puffed brown rice crisps
1 cup / 150g hulled hemp seeds
3 Tbsp. chia seeds
a few pinches flaky sea salt (Maldon works perfectly)
3-4 Tbsp. freeze-dried raspberries
1. Rub a little coconut oil in an 7″x11″ (20x30cm) baking pan.
2. Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the nut butter, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, vanilla and fine salt, and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Stir in the cacao powder until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Add the puffed brown rice, hemp seeds, chia, and stir quickly to combine, then pour the mixture into your baking pan and press firmly (using the back of a large spoon or spatula rubbed with a little coconut oil really helps). Once smooth and even, generously sprinkle the top with the freeze-dried raspberries and flaky salt. Place in the fridge or freezer to firm up, then slice into bars or squares and enjoy. Store the bars in a tightly sealed container in the fridge or freezer.
Show my your bars on Instagram: #cacaohempcrispytreats
* * * * * *
Hey Toronto! I’ve just launched my first collaborative project since moving back to Canada, with my friends at ELXR Juice Lab: the Activated Power Bowl! This delicious breakfast (or snack!) is made lovingly with activated grains, superfood stir-ins, and tasty toppings. There are three mouthwatering varieties to choose from, or you can build your own bowl. I am so thrilled to offer my fellow Torontonians a vegan, gluten-free, whole food breakfast with activated grains – this is truly the first of its kind! The Activated Power Bowl is available at all four ELXR locations across the city, so if you’re in town go pick one up and enjoy. We had a very successful launch over the weekend – huge thanks to everyone who came out to taste and support!