No-Bake Chocolate Date Cookies

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Minimalist cookies, folks. These are chewy like a date truffle but shaped like a cookie. And… They are healthy, plus so simple to create in as little as 5 minutes. I like to enjoy a couple of these treats with an evening cup of tea.

Ingredients

1 cup rolled oats
12 pitted medjool dates
1 tsp vanilla extract or powder
3 tbsp cacao (or cocoa) powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or Vitamix until well-combined into a dry, but sticky dough-like consistency. If too dry, add more dates. If too sticky, add more oats.

2. Roll the dough into 8 balls.

3. On a flat nonstick surface, press each ball down into a flat cookie of your desired thickness.

4. Pop these in the freezer for 20 minutes to chill and then serve. Store in the fridge.

Recipe yields 8 small cookies. Recipe can easily be doubled. Enjoy!

Why I Deactivated Facebook and How You Can Too (if you want to)

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There is nothing inherently wrong with social media websites, but for those of us who mindlessly allow our lives and minds to be sucked into a vortex of time-wasting, it might be beneficial to revisit our online behaviors and make positive changes. For me, that was Facebook.

I am currently on day 7 of a 30-day deactivation process of my personal account. If you are reading this article through my Sprout & Blossom Facebook page, my blog posts automatically post there when published. Trust me, I realize the irony of potentially reading a blog post about giving up Facebook that you saw posted on Facebook. Haha. I am still considering whether or not I will keep my Sprout & Blossom FB page. For now, it is fine.

There are many reasons why I chose to deactivate my personal Facebook account for 30 days, but here are a few of the things I have noticed about myself:

1. I felt overwhelmed by an ongoing stream of content/opinions/messages after using it.

2. Overall, I did not enjoy it, yet felt it difficult to just stay logged off.

3. It was a time-suck for me. I would end up passively reading the news feed during precious downtime when I could have been reading something to educate myself or participating in something more productive.

4. I have an abundance of watered down relationships with acquaintances. It is important to me to cultivate more meaningful relationships with my close family and friends. This means phone calls where I actually hear the person’s voice and learn more about them (not just passively see updates through a screen), taking walks, meeting for tea, and writing handwritten letters and cards (yes, snail mail. I miss the joy in that simple act of sending mail to others, and now I have more time for it).

In fact, I was so excited about getting back to handwritten cards and letters again, that I finally got myself a p.o. box. I can receive mail now in this beautiful antique p.o. box. Quite the little historical treasure. 

Sidenote: Please feel free to send me snail mail. I will be starting a new *read mail with me* segment on my sprout & blossom youtube channel where I will read letters and cards and open packages while I talk about life. I would love to hear from you!

Mailing Address:

mary harris, p.o. box 635, ocean gate, nj 08740

7-Day Progress

The first few days were a little challenging, and the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) makes a sneak appearance every now and then. But so far, I am much happier without my personal Facebook account. I have more time for reading, writing, and photography, and realize those are things I really enjoy. I’m ready to take on week #2.

How You Can Give It a Try:

If you face similar struggles with any type of social or digital media (it does not have to be Facebook; we all have our triggers), then here are my top suggestions for letting go or at least improving your quality of life:

1. Consider a reasonable time frame for staying offline. You can always go back.

2. Make a game out of the challenge. You can even document your experience.

3. Most people are afraid of missing out on something. The truth is, in life we always miss out on something. We cannot be everywhere all at once. We will never know everything that is going on everywhere with everyone (nor should we want to). We will miss things. But along with that, we can make more time for the more important things. This replaces the fear and anxiety.

4. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, Facebook is fairly new. It is just a website, but one with a lot of power; it has changed the ways we think, feel, and behave. It has changed our way of communicating in such a short period of time, for better and for worse. Remember back to your pre-social media days. How did you stay in touch with the ones you love? Now, more of that.

In closing, if this is something you have been contemplating, just go for it. You might be surpised what you learn about yourself.

Please comment and share: Have you ever struggled with using social media?

Godspeed. Enjoy this precious life.

Homemade Vegan Sour Cream

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When I went vegan, one of the foods I missed most was chilled sour cream, especially on top of soups, chilis, and baked potatoes. But over the years, I have found two worthy replacements: chilled/whipped avocado and this homemade cashew sour cream that I am about to share with you now. There are many variations of this recipe circulating the internet, but this is what I use.

Ingredients:
2 cups raw soaked/drained cashews*
1/2 – 1 cup water**
1.5 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
A pinch of sea salt

*You should soak the cashews in water for at least four hours prior to making this recipe, but I was pressed for time. I actually just put everything in the blender without pre-soaking the cashews, and it still came out great. I have a high-speed blender, so if you do not have a great blender, pre-soaking the cashews is non-negotiable.

**The amount of water you will need will depend on whether or not you soaked the nuts as well as the desired consistency you are trying to achieve. Start with 1/2 cup and work your way up from there.

Directions

1. Place the ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until creamy.

2. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for at least a week.

You can use this as a topping on just about any savory dish. You can also mix this into pasta and potato salads. It’s incredibly delicious. Enjoy!

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My Guest Appearance on the Emmy Award-Winning TV Show The Chew

{Photo credit: Paula Lobo/ABC}

Today, June 3, 2016, at 1:00 pm EST I will appear as a guest on the Emmy Award-winning television show, The Chew on ABC. My segment is on natural household cleaners using vinegar. Below are some photos highlighting my day with my sweetheart in New York City. What an honor and a fun opportunity!

The cast and crew were a riot to be around. My sincerest thanks to everyone involved.

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New York, New York
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We are here at ABC Studio
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The Green Room
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Getting my hair touched up in the hair and makeup room
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Behind the scenes before the recording in front of a live studio audience
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{Photo credit: Paula Lobo/ABC}
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Central Park
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All done with the filming. Now time for a walk in Central Park and lunch with my sweetheart.
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Finishing the day off with a delicious vegan meal at the one and only Cinnamon Snail at their NYC location at The Pennsy.

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Thank you all for your love and support. If you like the segment, please send some love to The Chew and let them know. If you miss it, it should be available on Hulu as well.

Where in the World is ̶C̶a̶r̶m̶e̶n̶ ̶S̶a̶n̶d̶i̶e̶g̶o̶ Mary Harris?
YouTube: search Sprout & Blossom
Facebook: Sprout and Blossom
Instagram: @ sproutnblossom

**UPDATE** ABC Network and The Chew posted the video to my segment. You can watch it on YouTube here: Best Ways to Use Vinegar to Clean.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes: A Satisfying Meal

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For all of you busy people out there, preparing healthy, filling, and cost-effective meals can seem daunting. But I have found one of the most satiating and versatile foods to be a solution to weekly meal preparation woes: the potato. Potatoes are not only delicious, they are filling, and can be baked in advance. Cooked baked potatoes store well in an open bowl in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to eat, you can grab a pre-cooked potato, reheat it, and top it with whatever you like: mustard, ketchup, relish, avocado, sauteed onions and peppers, vegetables. If you are in a real pinch, you can simply go with mustard and a side of vegetables. Use what you have on hand. The possibilities are endless.

Here are three ideas for ways you can top your baked potatoes.

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Fiesta Stuffed Potato: Topped with salsa, lime juice, cilantro, kidney beans, and fresh mango
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Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Potato: Topped with sauteed veggies in hot sauce and maple syrup glaze, cashew ranch dressing, veggie queso made from nutritional yeast, almond milk, corn starch, and garlic powder, and green onion (recipe inspired by The Happy Herbivore)
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Epic Veggie Stuffed Potato: Topped with pico de gallo, cherry tomatoes, chopped spinach, green pepper, basil, and chickpeas

We Are the Zombie Apocalypse

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Do you have any marsh where you live? It can be hauntingly beautiful. Sometimes it takes opening our eyes and minds to really find some clarity. I took a social media hiatus several weeks ago and I came back feeling renewed yet unsure of how to move forward with my own digital usage. As a professor who teaches social media and a blogger who relies on this to teach and communicate, I am in a semi-challenging position.

I have done digital detoxes on and off for a few years; but this time things feel different. Coming back, trying to figure out my place, my niche, my truth has been paralyzing in a sense. I consistently cull the media I follow and try to be ultra selective, but I feel overwhelmed by choices and information. So many accounts to explore, ideas to read, and media choices.

As a sensitive person, this can be too stimulating and overwhelming over time. Through researching this very topic in peer-reviewed scholarly journals over the years, I am convinced that overuse (and the majority are overusing it) of any digital technology can be detrimental to our health — ranging from downright addiction to depression and even altering brain chemistry and attention span.

Of course, I realize the utility of all of this and that to share this very message, I am using social media to do so. The irony. But this is important to me, because I know I am not alone here. I know there are people skimming feeds, watching videos, reading blogs, and the like, and you might be wondering how you can simplify all of it, how you can escape the labyrinth. What is real and of value, versus what is a waste of time?

We are all selling something — sometimes physical products, sometimes vanity, or the perception of perfection, sometimes narcissism, or sometimes simply knowledge or education. It’s not a matter of good or bad. It’s not a matter of black and white or this or that. It is a complex spectrum with many layers.

As for me, I am not sure what I want to write about or make videos about any more. I enjoy helping people with their health by way of healthier food choices and reducing unnecessary stress in their lives, but more often than not, I feel silly taking staged food photos in the perfect lighting. I enjoy just documenting my own journey at this point. I enjoy writing about minimalism and simplicity too, but to me, it is so much more than decluttering stuff and what is in my wardrobe. It has always been so much more than that to me.

I will figure it all out. But for now, what I will say is, I imagine a world where more friends and family call one another just to say hello; where leaving the phone behind during a vacation is normal; where giving people the play-by-play is taboo; and where not posting on social media “consistently” doesn’t mean that your website or small business will unravel. I imagine a world with more living, less photo taking, and more happiness and peace.

I am still navigating my way through the vortex. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is that it doesn’t have to be this way. If you feel consumed by it all and not sure of how you want to spend your online time, you are not alone. You can say “no” and “enough.” Because perhaps, just perhaps, we are the zombie apocalypse.

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Cheesey Macaroni with Chickpeas and Spinach

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This is a low fat recipe that is also vegan and gluten-free. It makes for a simple yet hearty dinner and can be packaged for lunch throughout the week as well.

Ingredients
2 cups dry brown rice macaroni
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
16 oz of organic baby spinach
1/4 cup plain unsweetened coconut yogurt. I use So Delicious brand*.
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
pepper and sea salt, to taste

*If you cannot find this yogurt, you can use a little unsweetened plain almond milk. To thicken (if needed), you can try adding a bit of corn starch.

Instructions
1. Cook the pasta in a medium-large saucepan following the package instructions. Drain (although not in excess) and return back to pot immediately in its slightly damp state.

2. On the lowest heat setting, add in all of the ingredients and stir together gently until everything is mixed and the spinach is lightly wilted.

This recipe yields 4 small servings for a side dish or two large servings for a meal.

Enjoy!

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