Raw Vegan Cheesecake Bars + Mindful Eating
Raw Cheesecake Bars & Mindful Eating Intro
HELLO folks. Okay, so a big fat “WARNING!” comes with this recipe. And that WARNING! is this: this truly is one of the most delectable things I’ve ever had the joy of making, so naturally, it has the ability to bring a flood of JOY and many feelings of euphoria when consumed. Do not eat this & drive at the same time. Do not walk & eat this at the same time. Do not try to hold a conversation & eat this at the same time. In fact, don’t do anything while trying to eat this at the same time: it is futile. I tried, it didn’t work. My recommendation? To sit down and be totally enveloped in the taste ride that will be your experience of eating this. It deserves your full & undivided attention. Total and uncompromised loving attention.
In fact, this is one of the perfect recipes for me to introduce/talk about the concept and importance of Mindfulness in general, but particularly mindfulness when eating. Some of the MAJOR benefits I’ve experienced since beginning my mindful eating journey has been:
· Increased enjoyment of the food I am consuming as I am consciously being grateful for that which is becoming and nourishing me
· Increased awareness of my body’s reaction to what I am eating (quite literally experiencing the body taking up the nutrients and saying “YES!”)
· Fine-tuning and further refining the connection between the mind & body and creating space between the mind and the body simultaneously. Thus allowing me to connect deeper to my Self and to the present moment
· Recovery from mental stress, strain and disordered eating
· One of the biggest ones yet: BALANCE and inner peace.
By tuning into the living moment that you consume something, you are attending to your body on more than just the physical level. You are paying attention, in a very detailed and intricate way, to the subtle cues of the body which allows you to really listen. The ability to listen to your body is paramount to living a balanced and peaceful life. The phrase “listen to your body” is thrown around quite a lot these days, but what does it truly mean? To me, it means response-ability: your ability to hear what your body (and mind) are asking for in that quiet space beyond the mental fluff or psychological content of the mind and then to respond to your body’s requests by following through with appropriate action or non-action (an example of non-action would be to listen to the body’s need to rest and not do anything physically straining – however, that in itself is an action ;) ). So often we are so incredibly stimulated throughout our days that we don’t actually take any time to hone into and listen to ourselves on a deep level. Since practicing mindful eating, this has completely changed things for me: it has allowed those moments of stillness and appreciation when I eat to become moments of listening and giving to my body (in all of its’ layers).
Where did it all begin?
Being introduced to Mindfulness truly changed my life - in more ways than I can actually ever express. It started when I was going through a really tough time in High School. I was struggling a lot with my relationship to food - it was this constant push & pull, love & resent, want & dread thing in my life. During this time my mental states completely controlled my life and because my mental states were (during that time) largely negative, soul-shrinking and destructive, naturally my experiences, my external reality and perception thereof mirrored those internal states. It was during the time after I came out of a clinic that my journey with mindfulness & yoga began. And thank goodness it did, because it completely changed my life. Not only did it change my life, it saved it and continues to do so on a daily basis. My mom taught Yoga at the University in Grahamstown and she said “why don’t you just try it out?”. So, I did. I was overjoyed. After my first class, I thought to myself, “YES! I’ve finally found it. The thing that will help to give me space, allow me to move my body in a loving & nurturing way and allow me to GROW.” I was a dancer all through school and so a lot of the movement I had experienced prior to yoga was competitive and so I negatively associated it. I completely resonated with yoga and its’ profound energetic influence it had on my life from that moment on. Even though initially I thought it was more physically based, as my practice deepened I began to slowly unfold the depth of what yoga truly means/is. I’ll write a separate post on my yoga journey, but for now, all you need to know is that this is where my journey to mindful living started.
So from there, my parents and I started going to Tuesday mindfulness meditation sessions at the Buddhist center up the road from us. It became like a little family outing once a week. It was held by my moms’ friend and colleague, Anton. At first I was hesitant and skeptical, but decided to give it a go anyway. Sometimes, when you are in as desperate a state as I was, you are willing to try anything to relieve yourself from the self-generated misery you have been creating for yourself due to complete identification with your own mind. So, I tried it & ended up really loving it. It was hard and challenging at times to start cultivating the capacity to still my monkey mind that wanted to grab onto and attach onto everything in its’ wake, but as time went on and consistent meditation became a regular practice for me I started to learn and un-learn so many things. I began to strip away untruths, like peeling an onion. I finally started to see my truth with more clarity and less obstruction from my mental & very conceptual existence. And so, my journey INWARD and to living my most healed reality began. A journey that to this day has me excited to get up every morning. A journey that has catapulted my soul journey and allowed me to delve into the depths of my truest essence, my truest being without the mental fluff obscuring my path. Look, I am not saying, AT ALL, that this is a quick-fix, because LAWD knows it is not quick, it is not easy, it is not without challenge & persistence. But my goodness, is it worth every moment. Hatha yoga was a big part in making this journey inwards more pleasant and sustainable because Hatha yoga is a system of practice that prepares the body and mind for higher states of awareness by assuming particular postures, or asanas (yogasanas), that allow for consciousness to come to the forefront and for Union of all that is to take place. By having a regular Hatha Yoga practice it prepares the body & mind for the journey inward and beyond the physical via the physical.
I started to notice the profound differences in my lived everyday reality as time went on. I noticed how I was less reactive, I was more in-tune and more stable, there was suddenly space between my mind and my Self. A space I had never consciously known existed. I started to manage and reduce my anxiety and my “down days” became a lot less frequent.
Fast forward a couple of years, I finished school, had taken a gap year and the following year was enrolled in The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas where I did my plant based chef training course. This was, to this day, one of the most healing and beneficial experiences of my life. The first half of the course focused on vegan “classics” (veganizing non-vegan traditional foods) the second half of the course focused on healing modalities of plant based foods. Specifically: Macrobiotics, Raw & Living Foods & Ayurveda. These are modalities of healing that use food & its’ preparation as a means to balance, heal and refine ones’ health. This was where things truly started to shift for me in terms of my healing. I started to understand food and nourishment and the sacred preparation thereof in a completely different light – with a deep knowing & understanding of the healing potential contained in food & intention & energy.
One of the best things I learnt in Macrobiotics was this notion of Mindful Eating. I had heard the phrase thrown around in weight loss programs when I was younger, but never understood what it really meant or entailed. Because food & eating had become such a complex and often tumultuous experience for me during High School I very quickly realized the healing potential in practicing mindfulness not only in yoga or when sitting & meditating, but especially when preparing food & eating it. I realized that it was essentially the same principle of mindfulness, but applied to the preparing and eating of food. As I learnt and started to apply the knowledge I was being taught I began to understand the gravitas and importance that is mindful eating and how it can be used as a means of reaching a place of inner balance, inner understanding and above all to reach states of peace. I started learning how to bring what I had learnt in yoga and meditation to the kitchen & dinner table: this completely changed my relationship & understanding to food & myself. I understood for the first time that the energy & intention with which you cook is imparted into the very food itself and that preparing a meal lovingly and in a good energy allows the food to impart that same energy that has been cultivated into the person eating it as we digest & assimilate the nutrients. During this time I started to understand the energetic properties of life, of growing food, of preparing it in certain ways, in eating in certain ways and how even something as seemingly insignificant as how you chop a vegetable or cook it can completely shift the energetic properties that it holds. While writing this it made me think of a common experience when I was younger … my gran always used to say that the secret ingredient to her phenomenal cooking and food was love, and I laughed and shrugged it off as one of “those things that old people say”. Little did I know that not only is it TRULY the secret ingredient not only to creating beautiful & nourishing food, but also a secret ingredient (and a HUGE one at that) in healing mental distress & disordered eating patterns, thus a secrete ingredients to healing yourself in many different ways (disordered eating or not).
How to do it!?
For me, I kind of had an idea of how to do it initially due to my having been doing mindfulness practice for a couple of years by then. But there are a few key elements to this, and if you are interested, pop me a comment below or inbox me and I will do an entire separate post of the basics of Mindful Eating. For now, these are some of the ways you can get started:
1. Sit down when you eat – this is so important. So many people eat as they are walking or driving or talking or moving, but sitting down to your meal will make you more grounded in the present and allow you to really focus on what is in front of you. It will also allow you space to check in and hear and then consequently listen to your body because you aren’t distracted or thinking about what is going to happen next.
2. No distractions – put your cell phone, TV, books, music, radio etc. away. After all, the aim is to focus on the food as you eat it and multitasking as you eat is a great way to avoid being mindful as you eat. This can sometimes be a tricky one in social situations – because you are trying to focus on the food and maintain round-the-table chat. What I have done is I’ve explained and told the people around me that meal time is a very mindful and present time for me, like a meditation, so having too many chats can be distracting. I told them I am not saying we must not talk at all, but that I may be more removed than usual because of my intention to eat mindfully which may result in less chatter. Initially however, when I first started, I ate alone to optimize the experience of inward sensation and/or awareness and mindfulness.
3. Take 10 deep, strong breaths before you begin eating – focusing solely on observing the mind, allowing the fluctuations in thoughts to come and go – so not trying to clear the mind, but just observing it with awareness and non-judgement. This will set the tone for your meal time and snap you out of the chaotic zone of trying to navigate everyday life business.
4. BE GRATEFUL: You can either bless/be grateful for your meal before, during or after you eat it (or all three if you’d like to). As you eat, think about the magnificent process that is going on. You are giving yourself life. You are essentially nurturing yourself into being. You are allowing yourself a future by taking part in this moment, and doing so mindfully will literally change the way the body takes up what it is given. With a happy, peaceful and grateful mind & heart, the body becomes more receptive to the food its’ being given. And with greater receptivity comes greater wellbeing, increased vitality and energy, clarity of mind and openness in experience.
5. Chew every mouthful of food on average 20-25 times before swallowing, not only is this good for digestion (your intestines & tummy don’t have teeth! So the more you help the intestines and tummy by chewing your food properly, the more nutrients and gusto you’ll receive in turn). Not only is this physiologically more beneficial, but it also helps to slow you down while you eat so that you have the time & space to re-focus on each moment, infusing it with presence and awareness. This same space will also allow you to really hear when your body has had enough, which can often be obscured when eating unmindfully.
6. Inquiry: as you eat, as yourself: How does it smell? How does it look? How does my body react to how it smells & looks? How does it taste? What flavors and textures are there and which ones resonate with me? How does the food make me feel? What energy does the food have? You don’t need a direct and instantaneous answer, but rather this is about initiating that inquiry process which is like a doorway into mindful awareness. Observe how you feel after the meal, too. Notice any emotional responses as well as physical. Release anything that is not serving you in the moment and allow the body to receive the goodness from what you have just eaten.
7. Close the eyes – tune into your other senses more deeply by closing your eyes. Often the eyes are the greatest sensory indicator, taking this away allows you to tune more deeply into the other senses, this way you will be able to taste, feel, smell with greater emphasis. This will help with number 6. It will also allow you to feel into the body and assess what’s going on in there on a more sensory-based experience rather than a conceptual one.
I wanted to incorporate these tid-bits of mindfulness talk with this particular recipe because this recipe is dear to my heart and is a great one to start your mindful eating journey with, if you haven’t already. And if you are already on your mindful eating journey, it’s a great recipe to practice it with anyway. So instead of wolfing one down, or eating without even a moment’s thought, try to sit down, relax, take your breaths, tune into yourself, and then begin eating. You will see your entire experience of eating is heightened – who needs a dooby or a joint to really enjoy a meal when all you really need is to attend to it, to pay loving attention to the process and to be grateful to the body and to the food and to the preparation thereof. I think that one of the main reasons drugs like marijuana allow us to enjoy our food so much is that it almost acts as a channel to closing down the mental fluff and zoning into the present. So essentially they do a similar thing, the one is just consciously being employed by using the mind in a constructive way where the other is as a result of taking a substance.
So, without further a due … the recipe for these delightful Raw Vegan Cinnamon, Coconut Cheesecake Bars!
- Dark hum from the chocolate
For the Base:
· ½ cup rolled oats - 2 extra tablespoons set aside from the ½ cup
· ½ cup mixed nuts & seeds (I used predominantly walnuts and sunflower seeds)
· 11 large Medjool dates
· 2 extra tablespoons of raw sunflower seeds
· 2 teaspoons cinnamon
· ½ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
Coconut Cheesecake Layer:
· 1 cup dry raw cashews, soaked for a couple of hours or overnight (note: if you haven’t had time to soak them and don’t mind them not being raw anymore, you can boil them for 5 minutes to soften)
· 8 tablespoons of full fat tinned coconut milk, tinned
· 3 tablespoons syrup of choice (like maple syrup, brown rice syrup or honey if you eat it and can find a sustainable source like a local small-scale farm)
· 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
· 10 drops stevia liquid (you can get this from most health food stores)
· ½ teaspoon of salt
For the Chocolate Layer:
· ½ cup melted coconut oil
· 20 drops stevia liquid
· 1/3 cup of liquid sweetener of choice
· 4-5 tablespoons of raw cacao or high quality cocoa powder
· Pinch of salt
1. In a food processor, place the rolled oats (minus the 2 tablespoons), the ½ cup mixed nuts/seeds, the dates, salt & cinnamon. Process it until it can hold together when squished between two fingers. Once it is finished, add the 2 tablespoons of whole rolled oats and the 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds. This adds texture and crunch.
2. Take a small baking dish or tray, line it with parchment/baking paper/cling wrap. Press the base ingredients into the bottom of the pan and ensure that you press it down firmly with a damp hand in one even layer (about 1 cm thick). Place in the freezer to set while we make the creamy cheesecake layer.
3. Place all of the ingredients for the coconut cheesecake layer in a blender (I used a nutri-bullet which had great results) and blend on high until smooth and creamy.
4. Take out the base layer from the freezer, top with all of the creamy coconut mixture and even it out. Return to freezer for a couple of hours or until frozen and firm to the touch.
5. To make the chocolate layer, place a small saucepan on the stove and melt your coconut oil and syrup together. Then add the remaining ingredients and stir/whisk vigorously to combine. Taste & adjust to your liking. Leave it to cool.
6. Then remove the first two cheesecake components from the freezer, pour the chocolate mixture over it (once it has cooled) and place back in the freezer to set (about 30 minutes did us good).
7. Slice into bars with a warmed sharped knife. To warm the knife you can simply place it in boiled water for a few moments, wipe down with a dry cloth and then slice carefully.
8. ENJOY <3