Energy Bites: A mindful, budget-conscious and crunchy as hell snack

I'm not a nutritionist or wellness expert, nor pretend to be. But, I do enjoy good food and I'm a staunch believer of eating well no matter your economic status - both from experience and simply as a point of principle. Even in the leanest of economic times, I refuse to eat like an idiot. It takes planning and it sounds so basic, but, put the time in once (Sundays are my meal-prep days) and you save time, money, superfluous plastic packaging and silly eating missteps later. My go-to, budget-conscious recommendation: energy bites!

My friend Kaitlin Clark, a certified nutrition and wellness consultant and the brains behind Integrative Healing Arts, first made these snacks for me in 2010, and I've made versions of them ever since. The brilliance of these snacks are that they are (1) no bake! (2) suited to whatever ingredients you have on hand (or can be acquired on a budget-friendly trip to the grocery store) and (3) adjusted or modified to your tastes.

Energy Bite add-ins: bee pollen, unsweetened coconut flakes, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts

Energy Bite add-ins: bee pollen, unsweetened coconut flakes, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts

The basic components:

  • protein (in the form of nut or seed butters [tahini, almond, sunflower, etc.], ground or chopped nuts or seeds, and/or a scoop or two of your favorite [no to low sugar] protein powder)
  • something sweet (local honey or maple syrup)
  • add-ins (like cocoa/cacao, chia seeds, hemp hearts, a pinch of ground flax seeds, green powders/herbs, bee pollen, shredded coconut, mini-chocolate chips, dried or blended fruit like raisins, cranberries, dates or figs, etc.)

They are crunchy as hell, but they are delicious, no-bake, customizable, and totally worth it.

Have some time today to plan for the week ahead and start eating more mindfully? Check out the two recipes from Kaitlin - the expert - to get started, and check out my preferred combination below. (**Disclaimer: While you should experiment with ingredients in these recipes, please consult with a professional if you have never used certain powders or dried herbs to avoid any complications with medications or triggers to known allergies.**)

Recipe 2: Energy Bites (courtesy of Kaitlin Clark of Integrative Healing Arts)


  • 2-3 parts (1/2-2/3 c.) ground pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds
  • 1 part (1/2 c.) ginseng root powder
  • 1 part (1/3-1/2 c.) part gingko or gotu kola
  • 1/2 part (1/8 c.) spirulina, greens powder or chlorella
  • 1 cup nut/seed butter (tahini, almond, sunflower, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup local honey (more or less for taste)
  • Add ons: 1/2 cup crushed almonds, mini vegan chocolate chips, raising, goji berries, etc.

Recipe 1: Brain Bites (courtesy of Kaitlin Clark of Integrative Healing Arts)


  • 1 cup nut/seed butter (tahini, almond, sunflower, etc.)
  • 1 part (1/2 cup) ginkgo leaf (powder)
  • 1/2 cup local honey (more or less for taste)
  • 1 part (1/2 cup) ginseng root powder
  • 1 part (1/2 cup) Brahmi Powder
  • vegan chocolate chips (mini!)
  • unsweetened cocoa powder, cacao, or cocoa nibs
  • Add ons: finely chopped walnuts, almonds, shredded coconuts, raisins, hemp seeds, etc.


  1. In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix the seed/nut butters with honey/maple syrup.
  2. Blend in powdered herbs, chips, add-ons (Pro-tip: Finely chop by using a coffee grinder or small food processor)
  3. Roll into tablespoon-size balls. (Pro-tip: I use a small ice cream scooper - even less work!)
  4. In a shallow bowl or plate, roll into coconut shreds, hemp seeds, etc.
  5. Place on plate or lined-cookie sheet and place in the freezer.
  6. Once frozen, you can wrap them up in a bag, plate or container of your choice.

Recipe/Variation 3: Al's Combo

Not to be confused with a bad Italian sandwich, but, in fact, this is my preferred combination of ingredients for energy bites, following Kaitlin's proportions and instructions from above. My go-to combo: almond butter, local honey/local maple syrup, unsweetened vegan protein powder, cocoa/cacoa powder, unsweetened shredded coconut flakes, ground walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin/sunflower seeds.

Comfort food: Romanesco Rice

This summer, one of the dishes that I made countless times for the volunteer groups was cauliflower rice...and, people liked it! I certainly didn't invent the recipe (as The Kitchn recipe proves), but I was first introduced to this sneaky trick by a farming friend who was on the Paleo diet and broccoli and cauliflower happened to be in season and in abundance. The gist of the recipe: you can use cauliflower as a substitute for rice, couscous or any other starchy grain with the help of a trusty food processor or blender. Brilliant, right?

My local grocery store randomly had a sale on romanesco - a beautiful type of broccoli (see cover photo), identical in taste to cauliflower and most other things in the brassica family. So, it was Romanesco Rice time. The recipe below is adapted from many other wise people before me, but this is what I do and it's a good primer. It's great for a quick meal, especially when topped with a poached or fried egg (my fave), crispy tempeh or any other protein of your choice:

Romanesco Rice 


  • 1 small head of romanesco, chopped into large cubes
  • 2 carrots, chopped into large cubes
  • 1 large onion, red or white, chopped into quarters
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped in half
  • 6 small mushrooms of your choice (baby bella, button, shittake, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoon of coconut oil, or fat of your choice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 pinches of black pepper
  • 1 tiny pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp of toasted sesame oil (optional and depending on your taste)
Pulse Romanesco and other vegetables until you see a fine, grainy texture like this. 

Pulse Romanesco and other vegetables until you see a fine, grainy texture like this. 

  1. In a food processor, pulse onions and garlic until fine but not a paste. 
  2. In a cast iron skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat and add the onions and garlic.
  3. Return to food processor and pulse romanesco, carrots and mushrooms until the size of rice or a fine grain. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may want to do this in batches.
  4. Transfer the pulsed vegetables into the pan with the onions, add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season to taste: add more salt, pepper, or I added a dash of toasted sesame oil. This is a very strong flavor, so only use a little.

There you have it: Romanesco Rice. Yum! Try with other brassicas and mix and match other vegetables and seasonings that you included in the dish. Now, go eat some vegetables.


Cabin Fever Cooking: Spinach Dal with Coconut Milk

Surprise. It's snowing again. (A.Gross, February 2014)

Surprise. It's snowing again. (A.Gross, February 2014)

How are we all doing? Everyone ok? It's yet another snow day here in Connecticut, and it looks something like this:

To distract you from the blustery weather, I thought that I'd share a recipe. I love Indian food, and I'm often reminded how easy it is to make at home. Last night, I made spinach dal, based on this recipe from The Splendid Table. As with most recipes, I didn't read this one all the way through and I noticed that it was better for slow cookers. Well, I skipped that step. I just simmered it on the stove, and it turned out just fine. Most Indian dishes are well suited for root and winter vegetables. I had carrots, garlic, and spinach from the farm and tapped into my frozen peppers that I put up from HBF this summer.  With a few spices, brown lentils, and a can of coconut milk, this makes an excellent week-day meal...or an excuse to cook during a snowy day with the impending doom of a power outage. 

Spiced Dal with Coconut Milk (adapted from The Splendid Table - an excellent resource and food podcast!)


  • 2 Tbl coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped/diced
  • 1 cup frozen red peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • veggie stock or water
  • 1 cup dried lentils (I used brown, but you can use yellow or red)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (**If you have curry powder on hand instead of these individual dried spices, you can use it instead. I'd use like 2 Tbl of curry powder.**)
  • 1 Tbl fresh ginger, grated 
  • 1 can coconut milk (I used light)
  • 2 heaping handfuls of spinach, chopped finely or in a food processor


Dal: A good place for spinach. (A.Gross, February 2014)

Dal: A good place for spinach. (A.Gross, February 2014)

  1. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion and carrots for 10 minutes, until the onion has browned. Add frozen chopped peppers and 1/2 -1 cup of water or veggie stock to the pan, simmer, cover and cook until the carrots are tender, about 5-8 more minutes.
  2. In a separate pot, bring four cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils, bring to a boil and return to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, until lentils are tender. Drain or reserve in liquid off the heat until ready to transfer to the coconut mixture.
  3. Add spices, ginger and garlic to the saute pan. Add more water or stock to prevent the mixture from sticking and continue cooking on low heat for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Stir in cooked lentils, spinach and coconut milk. Cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, so some of the coconut milk has cooked down and the dish is heated through.
  5. Serve in a bowl as is or over brown rice, millet or quinoa. 


  • I turned this into soup for lunch today. Simply reheat in a soup pot, add warm water or veggie stock. Remove from heat, and use an immersion or stick blender or, carefully, transfer the warm liquid into a stand blender. Add more liquid until you reach a desired consistency for soup - it depends on your preference. I topped my soup with a little goat cheese, but a dollop of yogurt would be excellent, too. 
  • I didn't use a picture of the soup in this post. It tastes amazing, but a picture doesn't capture its deliciousness. Sadly, it resembles the color of baby poop, which is not quite appetizing on a food blog. Just trust me on the taste!

Cabin Fever Recipes (a.k.a. The Crunchiest Post Ever)

Winter, you're pretty, but please go away! (A.Gross; February 2014)

Winter, you're pretty, but please go away! (A.Gross; February 2014)

I get a few good-natured digs from friends and family who think I'm a little "crunchy." You know the type - certain Portlandia sketches, this crunchy mama spoof, and pretty much any food-related post on Stuff White People Like are a little too accurate. "Rabbit food" often describes what we cook and eat. When I was first called "crunchy granola" (hi, Christina!), I didn't know quite how to feel about the term, but I've learned to tone it down a bit and, ultimately, embrace it. 

So, why this reflection? I'm going to sound like every other annoying New Englander when I write this, but it's been a rough winter. I just want it to go away. I tried and still try to be Zen about it ("Spring's just around the corner, Al!!"), but this has been a lame season. The local vegetable options are becoming slightly boring. Sorry, roots. I also have zero interest in baking again after the holidays, especially after the dozens of cookies that I decided to make as part of a Simply Smiles fundraiser. (I don't regret it - I won a trip! Thank you! But, I'll need to rethink the best mode of incentivizing in the future...) 

But, as with most things, you don't get anywhere by complaining. You're a total bummer to be around, so that's enough of my complaints. Exercise and food are two easy ways to beat the winter blues, and, even if you're on a health kick, you can still have satisfying, nourishing, mood-boosting snacks. Without further hesitation, here are two tasty recipes: No-bake Apple Butter Bites and Chocolate Alternative Squares - perhaps the crunchiest recipes ever posted on SWYF. (Think homemade Larabars and Mounds bars!) You may not have every ingredient on hand, but the next time you venture out into the world and reach for less healthful items, consider these recipes. Get crunchy!

(Oh, and if it's possible to reach a penultimate level of crunchiness, I should add that as I write this, I'm rockin' out to Pete Seeger [Is that possible? OK, maybe a toe-tap or two.] and eating hummus with carrots for lunch. You're welcome.)

Chocolate Alternative Squares (I was first turned onto these by my friend and former neighbor Kristin Hamilton. They're like glorious, little coconut-y brownies that are actually good for you!)


Chocolate Alternative Squares . Don't knock 'em 'til you've tried them! (A.Gross; February 2014)

Chocolate Alternative Squares. Don't knock 'em 'til you've tried them! (A.Gross; February 2014)

  • 1 cup dates (pits removed, of course!)
  • 1 cup nuts or seeds (any combination works)
  • 1/4 cup cacao or cocoa
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • coconut oil, melted


  1. In a food processor, combine the dates, nuts/seeds and coconut flakes until finely ground.
  2. Drizzle in coconut oil until the mixture just begins to hold together. This is usually 1-2 Tbl of oil.
  3. Press the mixture into an 8" pan, cover and refrigerate or freeze for 1-2 hours.
  4. When ready to eat, cut into bite-sized squares. Store in your refrigerator or freezer for a longer shelf-life.

No-bake Apple Butter Bites.  Taste like fruit and nut truffles!

No-bake Apple Butter Bites. Taste like fruit and nut truffles!

No-bake Apple Butter Bites (adapted from Delicious Living)


  • 2 cups almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds and/or sesame seed
  • 1 cup oats (to make oat flour, which is just ground oats!)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds (you can grind whole flaxseeds yourself...and save money)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste
  • pinch of coarse sea salt
  • 2 Tbl honey, agave or maple syrup
  • 2/3 cup apple butter


  1. Place nuts and/or seeds and oats in a food processor until roughly ground.
  2. Add flaxseeds, cinnamon and salt; pulse to mix.
  3. Pulse in honey or other liquid sweetener until the mixture just holds together.
  4. Remove 1/3 cup of the mixture and set aside in a bowl.
  5. Stir in apple butter to remaining, larger amount of the mixture.
  6. Roll into walnut-size balls and roll in reserved oat-nut mixture. Place on a lined baking sheet.
  7. Refrigerate 1-2 hours. Serve chilled.

Recipe: Sea Salted Mocha Chocolate Bark

'Tis the season for many non-local confections, but many of them can be created using ethically sourced ingredients. My favorite, go-to recipe: chocolate bark! This is my latest concoction - sea salted mocha chocolate bark - made with Simply Smiles Casa Blend coffee!

A little bit about Simply Smiles coffee:

Your purchase helps farmers and their families through our ethical purchasing practices (Simply Smiles Coffees are a blend of certified Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance beans) and our profits support the programs of Simply Smiles - a charity dedicated to providing bright futures for impoverished children.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I do love cooking and baking with it. In this recipe, coffee intensifies the chocolate favor. The end result is a tasty, festive and thoughtful gift!

Sea Salted Mocha Chocolate Bark

Ingredients: * 16 oz. fair trade/organic dark chocolate (70% or more), chopped or 16 oz. of semisweet and/or bittersweet chocolate * 1.5 Tbl. of ground coffee beans (I used Simply Smiles Casa Blend) * pinch of sea salt * 1/8 c. whole coffee beans (optional)

  1. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or pop in the microwave in 30-second intervals until the chocolate is melted but not burned. (It can happen quickly, so watch it!)

  3. When the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and fold/stir in the coffee grounds. Pour the chocolate onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. With a spatula, work quickly to spread the chocolate evenly on the sheet before the chocolate sets.

  4. Sprinkle the sea salt and coffee beans, if using. Press in if needed and allow the bark to set for 30 minutes in the refrigerator or a cool place.

  5. When ready (when the chocolate is not tacky to the touch), break apart with a knife or your hands and serve.

Notes/suggestions: - I used regular coffee, but decaf is a suitable substitute. - You can always use milk chocolate. - Add more ground coffee beans if desired. - For an edible gift, place bark in a glass jar, tin or decorative plate...perhaps with a bag of Simply Smiles coffee!

Sea Salted Mocha Chocolate Bark

Sea Salted Mocha Chocolate Bark