Health & Nutrition with Chef Hanna: Trail Mix Cookies

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard

There is debate as to how and when the Pittsburgh cookie table came to be, but there is no question that it’s a Pittsburgh tradition. Some say the tradition came about during the Great Depression. It’s said that wedding guests would bring their favorite cookie to the table to lessen the financial burden of the evening for the newlywed couple. In this sense, families and communities came together to support the couple as they embark on their new lives together.

Family and friends start planning cookie tables just about as soon as the wedding planning starts. Everyone seems to have their own specialty cookie that they’re sure to bring. Each step of a cookie table involves community – from planning, to preparing, storing, and finally displaying at the event. Folks start baking cookies months before the wedding, storing them in every inch of freezer space available before the big day. Even after the wedding, cookies are enjoyed and given away for weeks following the big day. Visits to Grandma usually involve a sendoff of a Ziploc bag of the cookie spread (Grandma being sure that you don’t go home empty-handed while also trying to reclaim an inch of freezer space). Platters and trays will be filled up with cookies at every get-together for months to come. It’s always a good reminder of who made what cookie and the love that went into preparing each and every one.

The first time I brought my Californian husband to a Pittsburgh wedding, he couldn’t wrap his head around not the one, but the two cookie tables that flanked the reception hall. The first dessert plate he grabbed had just a couple of cookies, followed by a second plate, and then a third. As wedding photos started to take longer than expected, he realized that the cookies on the opposite table held different options than the first and had to start the sampling process all over again. By the time dinner was served, he had enjoyed so many cookies he turned his head up at the steak tips, which was unheard of for my meat-loving fella. Later, when he proposed to me, the first question was if I would marry him, quickly followed by the question of which cookies would be on our cookie table.

Weddings are already a community event, but Pittsburghers add another layer of community with the love that comes along with preparing and presenting a cookie table. While working at a resort in California, I came across an order for a wedding that included the cake I would be preparing, as well as a note about the hundreds of cookies being shipped in that would need to be stored before the reception. I knew immediately that at least one of the families involved in the wedding was from Pittsburgh and had an instant connection to these folks who I hadn’t even met. Cookie tables are a great way to bring people together while creating a sense of community.

My favorite cookie is a gooey chocolate chip cookie, but being high in carbs, sugar, and fat, they aren’t necessarily the best cookie for you. Chocolate chip cookies are great as a decadent treat, but a more health-friendly cookie is my very own “Trail Cookie.” They are gluten-free, high in protein (thanks to peanut butter), and contain multiple fruits. These cookies are still considered a treat, but are a better balanced option. Enoy!

Hanna’s Trail Mix Cookies

  • ½ Cup Apple Sauce
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • ½ Cup Peanut Butter
  • 2 Cups Oats
  • 1 Cup Coconut
  • ½ Cup Raisins or Craisins
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp Baking Soda
  • ½ Cup Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix apple sauce, sugar, and peanut butter together, and then stir in the remaining ingredients. Scoop dough using a small cookie scoop (1 tablespoon scoop) or a tablespoon, and drop onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake cookies for 11 to 12 minutes, just until set.

Written by Hanna McCollum, Iris Respite House Chef & Innkeeper

Botanicals of the Month: June

Herb of the Month:  Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia

Doterra Essential Oil of the Month: Lavender 

Rishi Tea of the Month:  Earl Grey Lavender 

Our healing herb for the month of June is a star!  It is meant to be enjoyed.  Familiar with its unmistakable fragrance, lavender has been used through the ages to enhance the scent of linens, laundry, baths, beauty products, lotions, and candles.  The fresh fragrance has come to be associated with purity and cleanliness.  The name lavender actually comes from the Latin word “lavare,” which means “to wash,” as the Romans used it for centuries in their famous public baths.  It’s the #1 most popular essential oil on the market today and known worldwide for its aromatherapeutic ability to calm and soothe a troubled mind. 

In the language of flowers, Lavender signifies devotion, faithfulness, and love.  It’s regarded as a good present for your loved ones to express your commitment and loyalty and is a popular addition to bridal bouquets.  People also give sprigs of lavender to newlyweds to bring them good luck.  In fact, when it comes to lavender and love, there is no shortage of folklore.  For starters, single people take notes, it is thought that wearing clothes, or writing a note on paper, scented with lavender will attract love.  When tucked under pillows of young men, lavender was thought to encourage them to ask for a lady’s hand in marriage.  Newlyweds stuffed lavender into their mattresses to help encourage marital bliss.  And, maybe a little further down the timeline, lavender was used by wives to ensure their “husband’s marital passion.”  Beyond the realm of love, it is also thought to provide protection from the evil eye and/or evil spirits.  It can be found hanging above a door or fashioned into a cross in some Christian households.   

When life stirs up stress and turmoil, lavender allows us to keep the peace.  Scattering Lavendula Angustifolia flowers around the home is recommended to induce peacefulness.  The essential oil is a go-to for calming distress, managing depression, quelling anxiety, promoting a sense of well-being and uplifting one’s mood.  A couple drops massaged into the temples can ease a tension headache.  Lavender tea, made from fresh or dried flower buds, can help induce sleep, reduce stress and calm digestive problems.  Sachets of dried flowerheads under a pillow can help facilitate a good night’s rest.  Topically, lavender oil can also help treat burns, insect bites, wounds and various skin inflammations.   

Lavender’s blessings do not stop with the olfactory senses!  Culinary uses range from adding floral notes to meats, seafood and baked goods, to infusing drinks (like lavender lemonade) and flavoring jellies.  It’s a favorite of farmers because it attracts bumblebees, which will then pollinate their crops.  And the colors vary by intensity through all of the different varieties, from pale violet to sapphire blue.  (Think about those classic photos of French lavender fields ablaze in rows of purple.)  If you haven’t experienced lavender yet, I can personally recommend bringing this calming and supportive plant into your life, in any way you can.  When dealing with stress, of any kind, it’s one of the best plant friends to have on your side.  

Hike for Hope 2015

Thanks to everyone who helped make this year’s hike for hope event a successful one for Hope Grows. We provide support for the caregiver.