The Chronicles of a Strange Vannessa

Life in allergies, healthy living, and being a mermaid on the beach.

..which is kind of weird, to be honest. To me, he’s still that 18/19-year-old boy fumbling with the settings on my DSLR. Occasionally, he’s the annoying 8-year-old who takes all my stuff without my permission. And sometimes, he’s the toddler that I love SOOOO much, my parents have to pry his feeble body from my suffocating hug.

Whenever someone asks me how old my brother is, I actually pause to count back 2 years from my own age – which my brain has very kindly chosen to remember as 21-turning-22. But no, i’m actually 22-turning-23. My brother is an all accomplished chef-to-be/future entrepreneur in everyone’s eyes, an ex-Food Editor, been published overseas, graduated with a stinkin’ high GPA and is well on his way to being an Officer in approximately 1 year. And I’m just kind of…here, wondering how the hell that all happened.

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I sit alone at home with the last bit of Brie cheese that has gone stale, cracker crumbs on my Macbook as I write this down. My brother turns 21 today and he’s somewhere in the jungle while my mom is taking a well-deserved holiday in Taiwan. What can I say? Happy birthday little brother!! The house is always a little lonelier when you’re not around. And it’s a little strange to think that you’ve been away a lot actually – for the 7 months (or was it longer?) on your internship in Los Angeles, before hopping around the region for a bit and then enlisting for the army.

Remember when you were about to enter the departure gates – and I’d sworn to you that I was going to be a hot mess – before I started SOBBING into your shoulder? I’d miss you so much. And several months later, being in San Francisco and calling you, calling you on that damn American number trying to find you in a grimy BART station and suddenly recognising your face. Me squealing “Joeeeey!!!!!”, and running into a big, welcoming hug with tears in my eyes. Priceless. You were my best Christmas present that year.

Some people admire our bond while some are rather perplexed by it – brothers and sisters often fight, and siblings in general are well…amicable really. But they don’t know how I’ve always been the protective bigger sister while you grew up, before you started protecting me against the demons I couldn’t fight. They don’t know that when it’s the two of us, we can break barriers and knock down walls that anyone puts up for us – and one day, we’ll find a way to turn our dreams into a hustling and eventually, thriving business.

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Happy birthday little brother. I’ll have you know, I laughed at your Facebook caption when I read it. In my eyes, you’ve hit “successful” a long time ago, and I’ll say it again and again, even before you open the doors to your first food venture. Mom will (hopefully) be beaming with pride and I’ll be right there beside you, snipping that red ribbon for the cheesy “Huat ah!” photograph.

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No eggs. No flour. No baking soda. No…dough!! No bake? But they’re kind of baked – just enough to harden it into shape at least. But these are your throw-in-a-bowl-and-mix-‘em type of cookies – MY FAVOURITE. Shape them into cookies and shove them in the oven. Any impatient person/lazy bum’s favourite (i.e. me).

I found the original recipe somewhere and it started off as a simple 4-ingredient cookie. You can whittle it down to 2 ingredients actually; a banana oat cookie. I made it a 7-ingredient cookie simply by adding my share of little superfood seeds. Since these cookies are so darn simple, adding a heap of health benefits to it won’t hurt!

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Ingredients
2 bananas (mashed)
1 1/2 cup rolled oats (uncooked)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup golden flaxseeds
1/8 cup chia seeds
1/8 cup raw hemp hearts
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions
1. Dude, seriously. Just mix it all in a bowl & make them cookie shapes.
2. Bake ‘em for 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius :)

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Other Healthy Alternatives
Nuts – if you don’t have a life-threatening nut allergy like me, toast chopped hazelnuts/almonds/cashews and add them to your cookie!! You can also add a spoonful (or 2, or 3) of peanut butter to the mix and it’ll be a great binding ingredient aside from the mashed bananas.
Dried berries or fruits – swap out chocolate chips for dried cranberries or raisins for that sweetness.
Vegan – exchange dark chocolate chips for raw cacao nibs to make it completely vegan! Unless you’re already using vegan chocolate chips :P

Being a retired Starbucks fanatic, I’d be lying if I were to say that no part of me still longs for their Javachip frappes. Forget about the cloying sweetness of artificial syrups and the slight brainfreeze that comes with too much crushed ice being blended into the mix – it’s all about the itty bitty chocolate chips that come with every big slurp. Decadent little cocoa pieces that get stuck between your teeth as you munch on them gleefully…that, I missed.

I’d like to think it wasn’t out of sheer desperation that I was bent upon recreating a healthy version of the Starbucks javachip experience, but it was. I chucked a couple of frozen bananas, a handful of organic coconut flakes and a sprinkling of raw cacao nibs into my blender – and got my fix.

If you’re new to the #nanaicecream world, frozen bananas, when blended, turn into a dollop of banana ice cream – with a beautiful, creamy consistency akin to that of the soft serve ice cream we all love. The hint of dessicated coconut and crunch of a million little cacao bits throughout the smoothie just completes it, with an extra smattering of coconut flakes and cacao nibs to top.

Anyone who says they’re too lazy to make smoothies, obviously haven’t tried the true healthy smoothies that consist of nothing more than a few ingredients; this Coconut-Banana “Javachip” was a 3-ingredient whizz through my Vitamix!

Ingredients
3 frozen bananas
2 tbsp coconut flakes
2 tbsp raw cacao nibs

Instructions
1. Chuck everything into a Vitamix/powerful blender & GO!
2. Top with raw cacao nibs & coconut flakes

Don’t even get me started on the cacao-mint version I made last weekend – GOODBYE mint chocolate chip ice cream & hello vegan version!

This is by far, the most fool-proof way to get any of your favourite nuts, seeds or dried fruit into your regular bar of dark chocolate! Don’t get me wrong, i LOVE my plain dark chocolate – but the slight tartness and bite that these pomegranate seeds add to the rich cacao flavour of the chocolate is really such an indulgence in itself. Stores have a selection of dark chocolate with mint, almonds, hazelnuts and other things like orange-flavoured chocolate, but this way of doing it opens up a whole new world of what you can add into your chocolate!

Ingredients
1 bar of organic dark chocolate (any ordinary dark chocolate would do, or vegan too)
1 pomegranate

Instructions
1. Break chocolate into smaller pieces and put them in a glass bowl (to double boil)
2. Heat bowl of chocolate – place bowl on a steaming pot of water to let the vapour melt it gently
3. Prepare a flat tray, lined with parchment/baking paper
4. Pour melted chocolate on paper, spread it out evenly
5. Sprinkle fresh pomegranate seeds on top
6. Chuck it in the freezer

Other Healthy Options To Replace Pomegranate Seeds
Nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, pistachios..
Seeds – sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, raw hemp hearts*
Dried fruits – dried cranberries, dried blueberries, dried mango, honey orange peel..

*Toast your nuts & seeds to bring out more flavour & to have them crunchy!

While your new chocolate needs to be kept in the freezer (Singapore’s climate is unforgivingly humid) – these are my favourite because of how they snap cleanly, kind of like tempered chocolate! I break a huge chunk from the freezer batch and enjoy snapping them into smaller pieces before shoveling them into my mouth. Cold chocolate that doesn’t break your teeth – awesome :)

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