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Dearest Readers,

It's February!  The month for passion, love, sweets and treats, and I've got you covered.  With Valentine's day fast approaching, I want to let you know how much I appreciate you, and value your readership and participation in this adventure through healthy living we share together.  It's time I spread some real love, open my heart and unlock my secret vault of my most treasured healthy dessert recipes.  I'll start by sharing my all time personal favorite ice cream shake with you.  When you try this, you'll truly understand that I LOVE YOU.  I hope you will love this recipe just as much.  Stay tuned for more dreamy desserts this month to share with your date... decadent truffles and a brand new cookie coming soon...

XOXO Natalie

And now for some eye candy from Bay area artist Wayne Theibaud to get you in the right mood:

 Wayne Theibaud.  Confections,  1962. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Wayne Theibaud. Confections, 1962. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

 Wayne Theibaud, Tulip Sundaes, 2010. Oil on canvas board, 14 x 17 inches.

Wayne Theibaud, Tulip Sundaes, 2010. Oil on canvas board, 14 x 17 inches.

Ice cream sundaes and milkshakes.  Back in my blissful fast food filled youthful twenties, when most meals were either in a booth at a McDonald's, in the McDonald's drive-through, or in the mall food court McDonald's, I occasionally would switch things up for variety and get a burger and fries at a little chain you may have heard of called Johnny Rockets.  This of course was before age 30 when I suddenly developed a severe allergy to legumes, including peanuts and soy, an unraveling that would halt my fast food consumption in it's tracks due to hidden allergens in nearly all processed foods.  But I digress.  The real reason to stop at Johnny Rockets was never for the greasy sandwich and salty fries, the diner atmosphere, or choreographed dances performed by the wait staff.  No.  It was simply the Peanut Butter Chocolate Shake that had my number.  I'm here for you sweet shake, I'll take your call.  Rich, creamy, sweet, salty, cold, filling- this shake was my everything- including over half a day's calories apparently.  For sentimentality's sake and a little perspective (I haven't been to Johnny Rockets since 2009), I just looked up the nutrition calculations on the Johnny Rockets website just now, and my beloved shake turns out to pack 33 grams of saturated fat (plenty more than the 20 grams listed as the recommended daily limit for a 2,000 calorie diet), 65 grams of good old regular fat (just exactly the recommended daily limit), and 70 sugars (3 times the recommended daily limit).  So my shake wasn't a good choice in terms of my health, but damn it was tasty.  

Let's isolate a key ingredient now and take a moment to reflect on peanut butter.  Whether you're allergic to peanuts or not, you might have noticed there's been a trend in the popularity of almond butter in recipes and on the shelf in mainstream markets.  The prevalence of peanut allergy certainly helps account for this, but non allergic individuals are also looking to almond butter as simply the healthier option.  There's nothing particularly or inherently evil about peanut butter, but the difference between it and almond butter comes down to the fine details.  

A serving of peanut butter has over twice as much saturated fat as almond butter. While peanuts have a slightly higher amount of protein than almonds, the latter contain more vitamins, minerals and fiber.  They're both plants that offer nutrients, but almonds simply pack a higher nutritional punch.  Another healthy consideration when comparing peanuts to almonds is the risk of aflatoxins, which can be found in a number of foods, including many nuts, spices and animal products.  Aflatoxins are explained in detailed in an article from Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

"Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in/on foods and feeds. They are probably the best known and most intensively researched mycotoxins in the world. Aflatoxins have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis, in livestock, domestic animals and humans throughout the world...Aflatoxins have received greater attention than any other mycotoxins because of their demonstrated potent carcinogenic effect in susceptible laboratory animals and their acute toxicological effects in humans."

Cornell University lists corn, cottonseed, and peanuts as the "commodities with the highest risk of aflatoxin."  The reason peanuts top the list is it's soft shell, which is permeable to chemicals and toxins, allowing the peanut to be exposed to pesticides, fungi and mold.  In a 2016 article from Thrive Market, the author states that "Even organic peanuts sometimes have higher concentrations of aflatoxin because they haven’t been sprayed with an antifungal. Consumers are left wondering which is worse—the mold or the pesticides?"

The thing is, you'll be hard pressed to find organic peanut butter anyway, which kinda makes the choice easy.  Most popular peanut butter brands are non-organic, less than 70% peanut, and filled with sweetners, added salt, and unhealthy oils.  Check out the ingredient label of the ever popular JIF brand:

Luckily, it's very easy to find organic almond butter in mainstream grocery markets these days, and this tough nut is simply not as vulnerable to aflatoxins.  Look for a brand with only raw or roasted almonds listed as the one and only ingredient (no added sugars or oil).  Of course, the cheapest and most pure option by far is to make your own almond butter at home in a food processor, and I plan to write a post about that in the near future.  

With all of this talk comparing peanuts to almonds, it's important to point out that peanuts are not really a nut at all.  Unlike tree nuts, peanuts grow in a pod in the ground, and therefore belong to the legume family (you know- beans and peas... Fortunately, I'm able to eat tree nuts with no problems, but I do have an allergy to all legumes, which includes peanuts.)  

When I adopted an allergy free lifestyle and consequently and healthier diet, I still found myself having cravings for my old standbys occasionally, and the Peanut Butter Chocolate Shake from Johnny Rockets tops the list.  With all the motivation in the world grumbling in my belly, I've toiled away at my blender to devise the perfect homemade Peanut Butter Chocolate Shake (sans peanuts and all those bad preservatives, processed sugars, dairy, eggs) using only allergy friendly whole food ingredients.  I'm pleased to say I've nailed it, and I'm happy to share the recipe below.


(serves 2)
2 frozen ripe bananas
1 Tbsp ripe avocado
2 Tbsp raw almond butter
1 Tbsp tahini
3 pitted medjool dates
1 tsp chia seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp raw organic cocoa powder
pinch of sea salt
just enough water to blend


Whipped Cream topping (optional):
1 cup raw cashews                                                                                                                               1/4 cup virgin unrefined coconut oil
1 cup filtered water
3 pitted medjool dates
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (no alcohol)
pinch sea salt

To make the whipped cream, place all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth.  Store in the freezer for 2 hours before serving, or overnight in the fridge.  The coconut oil will solidify once cold, and will help the cream thicken and not be too runny.   Use a spoon to scoop the cream out and top your shake, or use a pasty tube to get an authentic and pretty topping!  This recipe makes a small batch of whipped cream that will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for 1-2 weeks. 


Chocolate sauce drizzle (optional):
2 Tbsp virgin unrefined coconut oil
2 tsp raw organic cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (no alcohol)

To make the chocolate sauce, stir the chocolate sauce ingredients vigorously with a spoon in a small bowl to combine.  Use a pastry bag if desired for piping your drizzle like a pro.

Blend all of the shake ingredients above in your blender until you’ve achieved a thick creamy shake consistency.  Pour in a glass.  Top with some whipped cream, a drizzle of chocolate sauce, and a fresh shiny cherry.  Do a hand jive and enjoy!

Tip: Use only enough water to blend.  If you can use minimal liquid, the avocado, nut butter and banana work to create a very thick creamy consistency reminiscent of an old fashioned milk shake.