I try to get to yoga most days of the week; it's my refuge from office life and the midtown Manhattan jungle. On workdays this means gearing myself up for an after-work class where the sweat might keep flowing till almost 9pm -- not always easy since that's not a naturally high-energy time of day for me.
Having a light snack an hour or two before class helps motivate me to get to the studio instead of retreating home to watch reruns of The Office and eat Bobolink cheddar on Ryvita (which would be my natural inclination after a long day).
Thus, I am eternally searching for the perfect pre-yoga snack. Something that is energy-boosting, capable of bridging the gap between lunch and a late dinner, but not heavy or filling; a source of natural sugars accompanied by healthy fats to prevent the dreaded blood sugar spike-and-slump. Nothing packaged seems to fit the bill -- processed energy and protein bars nearly always contain soy protein isolate (the culinary equivalent of styrofoam, essentially) and refined sugars. And Larabars are a little too sweet for me. Homemade granola is a good snacking option, but I like to go grain-free before exercise since I find it easier on the stomach.
A while back, I dog-eared a recipe for coconut-date energy balls in Jessica Prentice's book Full Moon Feast. Jessica, a chef and fellow NGI alumna, is one of the worker-owners of the community-supported kitchen where I interned a couple of years ago (she also coined the term locavore and created the Local Foods Wheel -- I don't know where she finds the time! :). In Full Moon Feast she dives into the traditional agricultural and cooking practices among native populations according to the 13 lunar cycles, from Hunger Moon to Wolf Moon (my favorite is Moon When Salmon Return to Earth), concluding each chapter with recipes that correspond to that lunar period. It is a beautifully written book; if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.
The energy balls sounded so good -- just a few simple, natural ingredients whizzed in the food processor, rolled up into little balls and then bathed in shredded coconut so they resemble tiny snowballs. And now that I've finally gotten around to making them (after scribbling 'make date-coconut balls!' about nineteen times in my little notebook), I can report they're very tasty, too, pleasantly less sweet than other date-coconut concoctions I've tried. A hint of citrusy brightness from lemon and orange zests makes them really special.
Dates are a rich source of natural sugars, and when paired with good fats from the coconut butter and oil, which help slow down the absorption of the sugars, supply a sustained boost of energy. The combination is satisfying but not heavy, grain-free so it's light on the digestion. Portable and a cinch to make. What's not to love? Plus they keep well, so you can make a double batch and store them in the fridge for several weeks. Besides being an ideal before-yoga treat, my night-owl Yogi says they also make a good midnight snack.
coconut date energy balls
Adapted from Full Moon Feast; makes about 20 balls
I used Cocopura Coconut Creme in place of the coconut butter in the original recipe, which worked great, and also increased the amount of shredded coconut incorporated into the date-coconut mixture. Jessica's recipe calls for dipping the balls in melted coconut oil before rolling them in the shredded coconut. I found this wasn't necessary as the mixture was still warm from the food processor and sticky enough for the coconut to adhere, but if you find the coconut isn't adhering well you might want to try that trick.
1-1/2 cups dates, pitted
1/2 cup coconut creme or coconut butter, softened (place jar in a bowl of warm water for 5 to 10 minutes)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus more for rolling the balls
Pulse the pitted dates in a food processor until a paste forms. Add the coconut creme and citrus zests. Pulse until combined. With the processor running, slowly pour in the melted coconut oil through the tube.
Add 1/3 cup shredded coconut and pulse again until combined. While the mixture is still warm, roll into balls and then roll the balls in shredded coconut.
Place the balls on a plate and refrigerate until firm, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a tighly sealed container and store in the fridge or a cool, dry place. Will keep for about a month.