Do you dream? Not big, what do I want the world to look like dreaming, but actual sleep dreaming? I do. I have technicolor vivid dreams that play out like complicated shows. They’re either long and involved and jump from scene to scene, or they’re straightforward, but in syndication, repeating themselves year after year, theme after theme. Anxiety dreams that are so cliched they’re embarrassing: I’ve missed every rehearsal, don’t know my lines, am missing my costume, and the curtain is about to go up, or I’ve missed every lecture, and now I have to take the final having never read the books. I’ve got a whole lineup that plays nightly, and I wake in the morning aware of how obvious my issues all are. Sometimes it’s revealing, other times it’s exhausting, but mostly it’s just constant. I dream almost every single night, and I tend to remember details for long stretches of time. I can still recall scenes of dreams I had when I was a kid, and the feelings attached to them. The familiarity I felt towards a celebrity after he had a part in the pictures in my sleep, the freedom of flying through the sky, with clouds all around, doing the breast stroke through the air because of course that’s the most realistic human flying move, or the stomach dropping horror of swinging and falling from the chandelier in the foyer of my childhood home. I depend on my dreams, and I appreciate them. But there are nights that I just wish I could sleep soundly and wake peacefully, rested and refreshed because my brain had simply shut down for the night.
A couple weeks ago was no different. One crazy dream after another, forcing me to recognize that my mind was not at ease. And since nobody really wants to read about somebody else’s stress, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, despite all the good things in my life right now (and there are many,) I had something weighing on me that I let drag me down. So when I got up on a Saturday morning, I felt like I needed a restart button. My whole body was tense, and all I wanted to do was stay under my covers and avoid my responsibilities. You see, I had a deadline on something. Even though it was something of my own choosing, I didn’t want to do it. But I fought every instinct I had to hide, and I made myself move. I took a hot shower, I cleaned the kitchen, and then I went to do something that most normal people would think of as torture: I headed to Costco on a Saturday morning. I know, I can hear you saying, “how is that going to help your stress?” But here’s the thing, I actually find it very satisfying. I get an hour or so by myself, I get to listen to my podcasts (yes, while shopping I have my headphones in, so I feel like I am in my own little bubble,) I know exactly what I need and go straight for it, and then come away with healthy food to feed my family. It gives me a sense of control and order when I can walk in the door, preheat the oven before I unpack the groceries, and have roasted salmon and broccoli ready to go in 20 minutes to serve for lunch and have for leftovers. My fruit bowls overflow, and my happy place is stocked. It’s my way of reinstating balance, reducing the anxiety.And here’s the other thing about Costco. Sometimes I take my blinders off, get something that isn’t on my list, and it brings me joy. I happened to stumble on this little gem a few weeks ago: Larabar’s Dark Chocolate Cashew and Almond Butter. It’s amazing. If you’re a Nutella fan, I have no doubt you’ll happily take a spoon to this beautiful thing. (And you know how much I love Nutella, don’t you? Remember those Nutella Crunch Cookies Two Ways? I even have a Nutella mug.) But it’s pricey, and it’s full of sugar. So as much as I love it, I decided that it’s not something that should find its way into my cart too often. Instead, it prompted me to come up with a version of my own that’s significantly healthier, cheaper, and still delicious.
After looking at the ingredient list, I knew I had most of them in my cupboards already, it was just a question of playing with amounts and consistency. I’ve made homemade almond butter before, and so I wasn’t intimidated by the idea. But from experience, I knew that making nut butters typically requires a very high powered blender, and even my Vitamix gets cranky when I do it. Almost every time the highest setting, spinning for several minutes, causes the entire thing to just shut itself down from the heat. It simply stops working, and you can’t turn it back on until it properly cools. It’s enough to deter anyone from making their own, so I knew I had to find a solution.The first time I tried making this Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Butter, I knew I had a winner in flavor, but a failure in process. The machine stopped again, and I realized I couldn’t share a recipe with you all that caused so much frustration. After talking with a friend about it, and being inspired by this post on cashew milk, I decided to try soaking the almonds and cashews overnight to soften them up before blending. And sure enough, it was magic! My Vitamix whipped the nuts together in a fraction of the time without any drama! And with the addition of some pumpkin puree, I had a fluffy, chocolatey almond cashew and seed butter that made me happy. It’s full of protein, is refined sugar-free, isn’t too sweet and is healthy enough that I feel good about serving it to my kids for breakfast. (Vegetables and protein? Jackpot!) Besides the overnight soaking, it really only takes five minutes to make, so it definitely fits the bill of quick and easy. And it’s flexible. There’s no reason you can’t play around with the types of nuts and seeds you use, add spices, or skip the coconut if you’re not a fan. (I stuck with the sunflower and pumpkin seeds that originally inspired me, and am glad I did.)Being able to throw this together makes me feel like I’ve got a handle on feeding myself and my family in a healthy and delicious way, and that makes me breathe easier when I’m stressed. It’s the little things, right? It might not be much, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s my way of adding a little calm to my life. I hope it can do the same for you.
This Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Butter is a quick and healthy way to start your day. Soaking almonds and cashews overnight makes them easy to blend with your favorite seeds, coconut, cocoa and pumpkin, so you can feel good about eating this slightly sweetened boost of protein on your toast in the morning. Refined sugar-free, vegan and gluten-free, it's full of flavor and will even make a Nutella-craving kid happy. Why wouldn't you try this?
- 1 cup whole unsalted almonds (156 grams)
- 1 cup unsalted cashews (133 grams)
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, roasted, unsalted (30 grams)
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted (30 grams)
- 1/4 cup dried coconut, unsweetened (20 grams)
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (75 grams)
- 6 Tablespoons cocoa powder (28 grams)
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (175 grams)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
*Soaking the almonds and cashews overnight allows for easy blending. Besides the wait time, this entire thing is done in well under ten minutes.