My mother was a June Cleaver and my younger sister a Martha Stewart, and together these forces of feminine formidability ushered me into adulthood as less-than-confident when it came to my baking, cooking, and entertaining skills. As an angsty teen, I wrote a journal entry which declared superlatively that I was more afraid of pleasing a future spouse in the kitchen than I was afraid of pleasing a future spouse in bed, because although the anthem for both might have been “practice makes perfect,” inelegant practice was infinitely more tolerable, and longer endured, in one case as opposed to the other.
As an introvert –an ISFJ at that – and a planner, whose love language is Microsoft Excel, I started a preemptive battle plan in the form of a comprehensive spreadsheet, titled, “Meal Planning: Year One.” Throughout my early 20s, I squirreled away every decent-looking recipe I found, and in time brought forth a complicated meal plan which paired breakfasts with complimentary lunches, dinners, and desserts, all in a sort of acceptability matrix; hot, complicated, time-consuming lunches were paired with easy, bright, vegetal dinners; or vice-versa; sweet breakfasts were never opposite rich desserts; weekends were regarded as open season for leftovers. The first year’s spreadsheet turned into a second, and a third, and so on, until I had an assemblage of thousands of recipes in careful succession, just waiting for an occasion when I would be called upon to cook an inaugural meal for a lawfully wedded spouse. Saved on a flash drive attached to my car keys, my spreadsheet became tantamount to a security object. I was organized and prepared!
Upon my eventual marriage, however, my poor spreadsheet never came into use. It might as well have been a neglected DARPA project, because for all of the investment of time and all of the zeal which went into its preparation, “Meal Planning: Years One Through Five,” was rendered inapplicable because:
- The angsty teenaged Nicole had not anticipated that after all, when you love to do something, the talent to do it sometimes comes naturally. As it turns out, I did not need a lot of practice to be a good cook – when dinnertime approached I transmogrified happily into an instinctual creature, throwing things together in pinches and pints, shopping the ads for sales and somehow knowing exactly what meal belonged to each day.
- My particular spouse admired all of my food offerings, without exception, and never saw my early attempts as practice, but as perfection. (Whether or not my journal should have predicted that I would possess equal instinctual talent in other areas, I cannot testify: you’ll have to ask my husband.) In a world where I had always been my own greatest critic, I was completely blindsided to be married to my greatest cheerleader. The first hundred, or maybe thousand, meals I made for him (and at least two meals per week to this day), were accompanied by an interrogation, always beginning with, “What’s wrong with it?” (“Nothing?”) “But what should be done differently?” (“Nothing?”) “Well, is it too salty?” (“I don’t think so?”) “Babe! You’re being difficult here – I’m trying to ask for constructive feedback!” (“I don’t know what to say. It’s delicious? I wouldn’t change anything? You’re the chef—you know it tastes good.”)
- Meal planning itself accounted for nearly half of my joy in the kitchen, and I had no will to give it up. Perusing Pinterest is the introvert’s recharge, and something about savoring the research process – matching meals with moods, comparing fifteen similar recipes into a hybrid and ultimately following the composite only loosely—made cooking all the more relaxing. Michael has asked me at least two hundred and fifty six thousand times, “Why are you meal planning? I thought you were just doing that a few days ago? I thought you had 16,540 pins on your meal boards on Pinterest?”
Most importantly, the spreadsheet was never in regular use because:
- In the days of its creation, I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining an ounce, including elaborate stacks of pancakes with homemade syrup and brown-sugar charred bacon; elegant freshly-baked goat cheese focaccias with pasta for lunch; comforting orzo with lemon zest and breaded spinach-stuffed chicken for dinner; and barely-baked cookie sundaes piled with ice creams and sundry toppings. I could plow through every item on that spreadsheet, a veritable Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, effortlessly and without any consequence. Not so much these days – in pre-middle-age, with a baby and a desk job. My PCOS, and sluggish metabolism, and generally uncooperative body type conspire together against me, and if I ate all of the gorgeous and beautiful things on my spreadsheet, I would weigh as much as my car.
I’ve been trying to outsmart my adversarial body, by cooking low-carb, and when I do, I can tell that I am more focused, sprightly, and confident. Unfortunately, I am also “hangry” nearly all of the time, and when my coworkers bring donuts and cookies to the office, and when I am alone on the weekend and I just want some dang fettuccine alfredo, it is almost impossible to maintain my composure. All of my meal ideas seem to forsake me and I often approach dinnertime in a complete flusterment, wrestling between the desire to make beautiful, comforting food – and the desire to be healthy and to reunite myself with my girlish figure.
This week I restarted the spreadsheet, ten years after its inception, with a tab after “Year Five,” that reads, “Low-Carb.”
So much has changed about my life in those ten years: I have a husband, a baby, a career, a new hometown. But in the end, I guess I am still the same girl who once whipped together a five-year meal plan to assuage her own fears of marriage and adulthood, and who is comforted by plans and consistency and Microsoft Excel and the quiet rejuvenation of looking ahead.
The first recipe in my new spreadsheet tab is this one. These low carb treats make me feel like I can actually survive life without ice-cream and donuts. I made some modifications to several online recipes to come up with something that suited my dessert interests; they are just 1 net carb each, and taste convincingly of soft caramel sauce and shortbread crust. The base is buttery and soft; the filling appears loose when made but hardens quickly in the fridge; the pecans and coconut are toasty and rich. I know that I’ll repeat this recipe again and again!
My husband says that this is the best low carb dessert I have ever made….and I agree with him!
The recipe makes 18 bars, but they are rich and large, so you can cut them into smaller pieces for even lower carb count.
Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars
1g net carbs, GF, SF, LCHF, Atkins, ,ON A Keto, Low Carb, 18 servings
2.5 c. Superfine Almond Flour
1 stick (½ c.) plus 2 tbs. butter, melted
½ tsp. nutmeg
4 TBS sugar substitute (I used this sweetener ratio from Joy Filled Eats, purchased using the ingredients from Amazon on her affiliate links)
Preheat oven to 325*.
Mix dry ingredients first, then add melted butter. Line a 9×13 pan (or equivalent size) with a silicone baking mat, or parchment paper; bake 15 mins until golden.
Meanwhile, in a large, non-stick pan (the larger the pan, the faster it will cook), combine over medium heat:
1 ¾ sticks salted butter (reserve remaining ¼ stick of butter)
1 c. heavy cream
1.5 c. sugar substitute (link above to Joy Filled Eats ratio)
Stir occasionally, and let reduce at a medium boil, until the mixture is dark brown/golden. This will take a long time – be patient! It took me at least 15 minutes. I stirred fairly frequently with a silicone spatula.
When it’s dark and carmelley (shush your face, carmelly isn’t a word but it should be!) remove from the heat and immediately add:
1 TBS vanilla
¼ stick butter (previously reserved)
Stir until combined, then add:
1.5 c. each coconut and chopped pecans (toasted at 400 degrees for 4-6 mins, optional)
Pour over crust; sprinkle with ¾ c. lily’s chocolate chips (stevia-sweetened).
After 15 minutes or so, swirl in the chocolate chips to make chocolate swirls.
Cover and chill for a minimum of 12 hours, to allow the flavors to blend – if you eat prior to the 12 hours, you may feel a cooling effect from the sugar alcohols, so please resist the temptation to dig in early!
Cut into 18 squares.
Store in the refrigerator.
|Total Fat 26.1g|
|Saturated Fat 14.7g|
|Trans Fat 0g|
|Total Carb 15.8g|
|Dietary Fiber 0.8g|
|Carbs from Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Stevia, Xylitol blend): 14g|
|Net Carbs: 1|
|Vitamin A 23% · Vitamin C 0%|
|Calcium 1% · Iron 1%|