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Brain Fuel Coconut Squares

This is a staple recipe for summer (or winter) adventures that even the more skeptic people will like.  It's like a macaroon meets a energy bar. I always tend to stick to a low sugar content, so if you and your family have a sweet tooth, feel free to add more maple syrup or use chocolate chips instead of cacao nibs. Go ahead and make these delicious gems for the long weekend- you can even get patriotic and put goji berries for some Canadian flare. Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!

Even if you have been living under a rock for the last decade you will have heard about the many benefits of coconut oil.  This saturated fat is a powerhouse of nutrients.  Wait a minute, did I just say that it was a saturated fat, and it is healthy? Sure did.  Over the last 50-60 years we have heard saturated fat leads to heart disease, obesity, elevated cholesterol and even Alzheimer’s!  (Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.) The thing about fats we must understand now is that not all fats are created equally.  Key word being “created”.  While other saturated fats occur naturally the dangerous saturated fats are MAN-made and MANipuated into a saturated state called hydrogenation (where unsaturated fats are made into saturated fats yielding a rancid, thickened oil that only profits processed food shelf life). 

Hydrogenated fats like margarine or some peanut butters (trans fats as you might know them) were once deemed “heart healthy fats” but discovered as the enemy to good health.  Now just because this artificially manipulated saturated fat was labelled dangerous, than all saturated fats are bad right? Wrong? That would be like saying ketchup is just as good for you as tomatoes.

It takes us back to the whole food principle.  Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed, unrefined and are free from additives or other artificial substances.  They are foods found and consumed the way mother nature intended.  Natural occurring saturated fats are found in chocolate (coco butter), nuts, coconut, and animal fats like fish and butter, just to name a few.  Coconut oil in particular is the star of this bar. 

Coconut oil contains a saturated fat called MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides).  Our bodies send these medium chained fatty acids straight to our liver to be converted into energy acting like a carbohydrate with zero blood sugar spike.  50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is another saturated fat called lauric acid, rarely found in nature, that acts in the body as a virus and germ destroyer therefore anti-viral and anti-fungal.  Like other natural foods such as honey or maple syrup coconut oil does not go rancid! Great news for these Fernie Power Bars longevity…however they won’t last long due to popularity.  These are just a few of the many benefits of coconut oil. 

A word of caution.  Just because this oil is great doesn’t mean there are poorly processed coconut oils out there.  When buying them please look for the words like cold pressed, unrefined, virgin and organic.  This will guarantee the nutrients have not been altered or affected in the making.

If your day is full of spontaneous or planned adventures or even a lull in your afternoon energy, the Fernie POW’r Bar is a staple. 

Find this and other great articles in the Fernie Fix Magazine!

Fernie POW’r Bar (also known as crack bars)

Makes 25 squares

  • 2¾ Cups shredded coconut
  • 1 Cup coconut oil, melted
  • 6 Tbsp maple syrup
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract   
  • A generous pinch of sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips

Prepare a 9X9 (or 8X8) baking pan lined with parchment paper. 

Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips/cacao nibs in a large bowl and mix well.  Using a spatula place mixture in the pan pressing it down so it is evenly distributed.

Spread the cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips across the top and with your spatula press them in so the top is relatively flat.

Freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour until set. 

Pop the parchment out of the pan and cut into 25 squares on a cutting board.

Store in a container in the fridge or freezer.

You can get creative and add things like goji berries, coco powder (you will need to add more sweetener), or other nuts and seeds. If you do, take it off the amount of shredded coconut to keep the same ratio. 

Okonomiyaki

The season here in Hakuba, Nagano Japan had a very slow start.  Some of the town elders have said it’s the worst they have ever seen.  Now after Fernie’s dry season last year I started to think James and I had some bad karma or something. Then slowly day by day (and I mean slowly) the snow started accumulating.  Like Mother Nature was trying to teach me a very valuable lesson about patience and appreciation for what we have.  Day by day the grass slowly disappeared, the brown coloured town turned white and the snowbanks got a tiny bit bigger than the day before. New ski runs started to open, new chairlifts woke from their extra-long summer slumber.  Skis in the lift lines got fatter and the stance on the snowboards moved back to keep the ever patient shredders afloat on the long awaited Japan powder or as it’s often referred to as Japow.  This slow and steady shift of seasons has made our pace of life peaceful and relaxing. I have opened books that have waited months to devour my imagination again and after eating some local ethnic cuisine I decided to make my own version of them, one of my favourite being Okonomiyaki. 

Everybody loves having breakfast for dinner, Instead of the normal bacon, eggs and pancakes we are going to spice it up a little, Japanese style.  I ‘m pleased to introduce you to Okonomiyaki, pronounced Oh-kon-o-mi-ya-ki. It is a Japanese savory pancake or a cabbage pancake.  I realize that doesn’t really sell it unless you love cabbage, but I assure you, we Canadians are truly missing out.  This dish has two sauces; mayonnaise and this sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce, a Japanese BBQ sauce, a combination that sounds so bizarre but is actually the perfect finishing touch to this dish.  Don’t knock it before you try it, it’s one of those dishes that people fall in love with in Japan. These delish pancakes are a work of art when they are done. Typically the two sauces are drizzled in a crisscross design and then topped with bonito flakes (fish flakes) and parsley.  The bonito flakes dance back and forth as they are exposed to heat – very magical but these are hard to find in Canada so I left them out. 
The name Okonomiyaki is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked". This dish is most popular with the Kansai or Hiroshima regions, western part of the main island of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. 
Each prefecture has their own spin on it with different toppings or batters, most likely due to the different varieties of vegetables/ meat grown/raised in that particular area.  
Typically in restaurants you are given all the raw ingredients and you make it just as you like it on these special hot plates built right into the table. I’m especially keen for interactive food so it’s great for large groups and perfect for even the pickiest of eaters. You can really be adventurous with this recipe and add whatever veg you like – I see it like an elaborate omelet.  As long as the egg binds the vegetables together, you win!  This is my very own spin on Okonomiyaki – replacing most of the flour with winter vegetables.  If you make too many – they freeze well and can be baked at 350 in an oven or thrown in a toaster oven as a quick bite.  Enjoy and most importantly have fun making and eating it!

Find this and other great articles in the Fernie Fix Magazine!

Okonomiyaki

  • 8 eggs
  • 2/3 cup gluten free or whole wheat flour
  • 7 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced kale
  • ½ cup thinly grated carrot
  • 2 green onions finely chopped
  • ½ cup kimchi* (a Korean spicy picked cabbage)
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional but delightful)
  • 8 sulfite free or locally sourced bacon strips, cut in half to make 16 slices altogether (optional)
  • Mayonnaise, Veganaise or avocado with sea salt (for topping)

Okonomiyaki Sauce (you can sub with a sweet BBQ sauce)

  • 3 Tbsp organic ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp onion powder

Beat eggs together in a small bowl. In another large bowl place all sliced vegetables with kimchi and cheese.  Add the eggs and flour to the vegetables and mix until a batter is formed. The consistency of the batter is like egg coated vegetables, the veggies being the star of the dish.  You can adjust the batter if necessary adding more egg and flour until you meet the described consistency.  If you are going to add your own veg stick to the ratios in the recipe.

Heat oil in a large pan or griddle over medium heat. Using a soup ladle, scoop a small pancake size out and place it on the pan.  Take a spatula and pressing on the top, spread the pancake to ¾ of a inch thick – the trick is to get them thin to all the veggies and egg cook through but not too thin so you end up making a ton. Place two slices of bacon on top of each pancake.  Let the pancakes cook for approximately 5 minutes each side, if it starts burning your pan is too hot.

Remove when the vegetable pancake is cooked through and each side is golden brown and the bacon cooked.

Pour the sauce on top like you would maple syrup on a pancake and top with a dollop of mayonnaise or avocado with sea salt.  Have fun making designs on top!

*You can find Kimchi in the produce section typically near the Asian vegetables. 

Onigiri – Japanese Rice Sandwiches

We are settled down in the mountain town of Hakuba, a small town in the Nagano prefecture on the Western side of Japan. I wasn’t expecting the alpine to be similar to the Canadian Rockies, but there are times where you swear you are in Fernie.  Happo-One, pronounced hap-po o-nay (means 8 ridges) is the closest ski resort to us and is known as the competition venue for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games Nagano. I can’t believe it was 18 years ago now!

Along with history and beautiful mountains there is the amazing culture and food of Japan.  A typical grocery store experience here in Hakuba, Japan can be so interesting or completely overwhelming for a gaijin (foreigner).  Once you get past the jingles that play throughout the store that shouts the specials in a repetitive catchy songs – much like our commercial jingles that we all know like U-ni-ted Furniture Ware-house (do do), or Da da da da da I’m loving it, however these ones are on repeat and in each isle.  I imagine the cashiers and staff there have mastered a meditative state of blocking them out so they don’t go crazy.  SO, beyond all the jingles…the layout of the grocery store is the same, but everything is different.  For instance, there is a produce section but there is 15 different types of mushrooms, bamboo, lotus root and tons of leafy greens that you have never seen before. There is a meat section full of amazing sushi grade fish, and the animal meat is cut in all different ways for different dishes.  The center isles are for packaged goods and that is where the real trouble comes, for the one reason is it’s all in Japanese lettering called kanji, hiragana or katacana…all of them being very hard for a foreigner to read.  It is just easier to go by the little photos on the package, and if there is no photos, well then you are out of luck. A small but rewarding triumph is coming home with a grocery bag full of new things and they all taste good.  The biggest fail for me so far was me thinking a package was kimchi and it was really squid guts! Surprisingly the flavour was quite good, but the texture was too similar to rubber that I couldn’t eat the whole package. I also went to buy coconut milk and soy milk because I am lactose intolerant and I ended up getting coffee flavoured soy milk and coconut milk that tasted like pina colada mix.  A few of the biggest wins – that could easily been fails - have been picked vegetables, umeboshi (salty/sour plums), naato (fermented soy beans) and bento!

Bento (弁当) is a very popular single portion take-out or packed meal.  I am in love with the widely accessible onigiri which is a stuffed rice ball shaped into a triangle and wrapped in nori (seaweed paper) a fancy way of saying a Japanese rice sandwich.  While the Japanese typically fills the onigiri with a salty ingredient like pickled vegetables, salty/sour plums, sea vegetables or salty fish, I prefer a more western spin of sustainable salmon with mayonnaise or avocado, almond butter and jam or even leftovers like chicken, curry or slated edamame. The trick to these little rice balls when you buy them from the store is opening them!  It’s quite ingenious actually – the nori doesn’t touch the rice in the packaging until you open it, so it doesn’t get soggy.  It takes a few times of opening the little suckers to finally get it. These onigiri bento snacks are sold in every corner store and grocery store!  So in the spirit of trying new things I decided to make my own.

Find this and other great articles in the Fernie Fix Magazine!

Onigiri – Japanese Rice Sandwiches

  • 1 cup brown or white sushi rice, rinsed and cooked to manufactures instructions
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (containing mother) or rice vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp organic cane sugar or coconut sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Nori sheets (seaweed paper), cut into long rectangular pieces.

Your choice of fillings:

  • Salmon & avocado/mayo
  • Almond butter & jam
  • Salted edamame beans
  • Any sandwich fillings!
  1. Prepare sushi rice by following manufactures instructions. (If you want to use short grain brown rice in a rice cooker use 3 parts water to 1 part rice.)
  2. Whisk the vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Once rice is prepared drizzle vinegar mixture over rice while hot and stir with a wooden or plastic spatula (important: do not use metal, it will react with the rice).
  3. Prepare your fillings.
  4. Fill another small bowl with water.
  5. Dip your hands into the water, coating them so they don’t stick to the rice.
  6. Take a handful of rice and form into a bowl like shape.  Take 2 Tbsp of your filling and place into the rice bowl. Dip your hands again in the water bowl and place another small bit of rice on top of the filling to seal it shut.
  7. Shape rice into a triangle or whatever shape you would like. You can sprinkle the outside with sesame seeds or hemp seeds.
  8. If you are going to eat them right away, wrap the outside with a long rectangle piece of nori.  If you are packing these for lunch, wrap the rice triangle with plastic wrap and then wrap with nori when you are ready to eat them.
  9. These also freeze very well! Enjoy!