When my daughter was little, I, like all good mothers, tried to incorporate healthy snacks into her diet. My goal was to keep her out of her great grandmother’s infamous “candy drawer.” You know what I’m talking about—that drawer with bags of M&Ms, Butterfingers, candy corn and chocolate covered peanuts. At Easter, you could find those bizarre speckled malted milk eggs that turned your lips white, peeps of all colors and big chocolate bunnies—usually solid.
To be fair, we all dipped into that drawer in my grandma’s bedroom. She delighted in our petty crimes. And more than once, I overheard my daughter and my grandma in deep conversations about life, love and justice while sharing a Russell Stover’s chocolate bunny or a “Bit O Honey.” Why would I interfere? Sweetness was happening on so many levels.
Thus, my job as the MOM, was to offer up better choices when I could. Bugs on a Log were celery stalks, filled with real organic peanut butter and dotted with natural raisins. I bet this sounds familiar—it is one of those time-tested popular treats, offering good taste and curb appeal—what kid wouldn’t want to eat bugs on a log?? It got lots of smiles and giggles. Easter eggs were real eggs dipped in messy dyes and plastered with little stickers and initials scrawled in wax pen.
When Easter rolled around this year, my daughter, as always, was expecting a homemade treat—my daughter is in her 40s now, by the way. Still, what a beautiful tradition, what a way to celebrate Grandma’s candy drawer. So this year, I came up with a nut butter nugget, sweetened by dates and fresh orange and dotted with mini chocolate chips. A little bit of sinful with a whole lot of goodness. And they are not just for holiday fun; these are a great treat anytime, so think outside that basket: trail food, camping treats, midnight snack, afternoon pick-me-up…..you get the idea. Time to break out that processor!
- One cup raw cashews, soaked for at least one and half hours in filtered water, drained well
- One cup raw macadamia nuts, chopped
- Eight large soft Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- Zest and juice of one large orange
- One teaspoon coarse sea salt
- One cup large-flake unsweetened raw coconut, lightly toasted
- Chocolate mini chips
- Powdered sugar
- Start by soaking your cashews in the filtered water and zesting your orange.
- Place the prepared dates in a small bowl and squeeze the juice of the orange over the dates. Allow this to stand for about an hour—while your cashews are soaking.
- Now toast the coconut flakes, just until slightly browned, in a 350-degree oven for about five minutes. Set aside.
- Once the cashews and the dates have soaked for at least an hour and a half, drain and place in the bowl of a heavy-duty food processor. Add the chopped macadamia nuts, orange zest and salt and pulse until smooth. This takes some time, and you will need to scrape down the bowl a few times. Just be patient and continue until everything is smooth. If your nugget needs a bit of help, drizzle in a tiny bit of bland oil such as avocado. The end product is quite sticky and thick, so avoiding extra liquid is recommended, or the mixture may be even more sticky.
- Transfer the nut butter mixture to a bowl and clean the processor. Use the clean processor to grind the coconut down for a coating (Or use a second smaller processor, if available.). This sounds like an extra step—why not just start with small-flake coconut, right? I find large-flake coconut browns more evenly and is less likely to burn, so this is my preference. If you want to start with small-flake coconut and feel just fine with that—go for it!
- Place the toasted ground coconut into a shallow wide bowl for rolling. Also place about a quarter cup to a half cup of powdered sugar in another shallow wide bowl—also for rolling.
- Here is the process: take about a teaspoon—perhaps a bit more--of nut butter nugget and roll into a ball. Coat the ball in the powdered sugar to “flour” it and make it easier to handle. Shape the ball into whatever shape you desire. I will say these are super sticky and the little logs were the easiest to accomplish but be brave and creative!
- Once you get the shape you want, gently coat in the toasted coconut and dot with mini chocolate chips. If you press the little pointy tip of the chocolate chip into the nugget, it stays better.
- Store in the refrigerator until firm—at least an hour. No need to cover, as letting them dry out a bit is an advantage. They will still be plenty moist and rich. You’ll need to keep your treats in the refrigerator until you want to eat them or until you transfer to your backpack, cooler or picnic basket to enjoy later. They will melt, so be mindful of that as you head out the door.
The three and a half hours should account for all the steps, including soaking, shaping and chilling.
I think you will find these little nutty candies a popular item on your own healthy-treat menu. The ingredients are simple and few. The process straightforward. Plus, these are gluten and grain free with low sugar, so an excellent alternative to that candy drawer. The only drawback, perhaps, is the sticky quality of the nugget. If this gives you trouble, you might try chilling the nugget prior to powdering and shaping. I didn’t do that, so not really sure how much it will speed up the shaping, but try it, if you have a little extra time. Be brave!
Nuts, like other healthy food choices can seem easy decisions; they are packed with protein, contain no sugar and are shelf stable to a large degree. But it takes a little research to make your nuts and dried fruits are as eco-friendly as they are healthy and kid friendly. I am lucky to have access to Tierra Farms nuts and fruits at my local health food store. Here is a bit of information about Tierra Farms and why I love their products:
Tierra Farm is a certified-organic manufacturer and distributor of nuts and dried fruits, located 20 miles south of Albany, New York. Our customers consist mainly of cooperatives and independently owned grocery stores which value working with an employee-owned, environmentally conscious company that manufactures its own products.
Tierra Farm started as a diversified organic vegetable farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The organic nuts and dried fruit portion of the business started in 1999 as a way to generate income in the slower winter months. That portion of the business continued to thrive into what it has become today, and we still maintain our original farm.
One of our core values has been to cultivate strong relationships with the best organic farmers in the world. Every year, we purchase an increasing amount of our nuts, seeds, and dried fruit directly from the farms, some of which we have worked with for over a decade. Our level of knowledge and communication with our farmers allows us to preserve our organic integrity and ensure fair business practices throughout the supply chain.
I will say that the price tag on Tierra Farms products can be a bit higher than the less traceable, conventional brands. I’m well aware, therefore, that these can be a pricey treat—probably triple the price of those yellow peeps. So maybe the answer here is to follow some simple guidance on the word “treat.” A couple pieces after lunch or dinner as that special sweet bite, a couple afterschool nibbles to get us to dinnertime, a sweet end to the day at story time before we brush our teeth and tuck in under covers. These homemade candies contain high protein but low sugar, so they are much more satisfying than a bag of M&Ms. More money? Yes, but more value, too.