Cooking is my therapy. It always picks me up, calms me down, and makes me feel creatively quenched.

Sometimes eating is a little therapeutic, too. I know, I’m a dietitian, which means I’m only supposed to eat perfectly portioned, nutritionally balanced meals, and only when I’m supremely hungry.

But occasionally, cooking, and eating are for pure comfort. Like today, for instance, when I got some sad news from a friend who is going in for some pretty un-fun surgery (as opposed to the fun kind which results in a perky new set of boobs or a dynamite remodeled nose).

I was facing a mountain of work and a mile long “to do” list, but all I could think about was baking: for my friend, and for myself.

So I fished out a recipe I’ve been meaning to get to for a few weeks — whole grain blondies — from Los Angeles pastry chef Breanne Varela. I gathered my ingredients, pleased that for once I had everything on hand; no need to run to the neighbors for an egg or a stick of butter.

I set to work on these bars, which I’ve renamed “Whole Lotta Love” Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Bars. When I was stirring together the sugar and flour, walnuts and dried cranberries, I put a whole lotta love in there. It’s the secret ingredient to good baking. It’s true.

Turns out, this is a great recipe, well worth sharing. Some of the butter is replaced with canola oil saving a few grams of saturated fat, and the flour is whole wheat pastry, which means more fiber, more staying power. If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, it’s worth adding to your pantry. You can trade out all-purpose flour, or at least some of it, quite seamlessly in a lot of recipes. Baking the dough in a big pan rather than portioning it out like cookies is a time saver.

When the bars came out of the oven, I wrapped most of them up for my friend. I cut the remainder of the squares into quarters: little sweet bites to tuck into school lunches or serve with milk and fruit for an afternoon snack. My kids will love them.

The last bar was for me. I wasn’t especially hungry (what with all that batter), but I ate it anyway, with a cup of black tea, and let myself be comforted. The diet gurus warn us against eating to make ourselves feel better. And it’s good advice since food is a way for a lot of folks, and I think women in particular, to hide out, to distract ourselves from our emotions.

But if we can feel our feelings most of the time, and take refuge in a warm cookie once in a while, that seems ok.

No worries, I’ll be back to “perfectly portioned, nutritionally balanced, only when I’m supremely hungry” meals come dinnertime.

"Whole Lotta Love" Whole Grain Blondies

This is a great recipe and well worth sharing. It's a healthier twist on the classic blondie. Some of the butter is replaced with canola oil saving a few grams of saturated fat, and the flour is whole wheat pastry, which means more fiber, more staying power. And here's another plus: baking the dough in one big pan rather than portioning it out like cookies is a time saver.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter , softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons gently packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cups dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with parchment paper so it drapes over two sides.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat the butter, canola oil, sugar, and brown sugar together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth and creamy.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the pastry flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate chips, walnuts and cranberries and beat until just combined.
  5. Scoop the dough into the baking pan and press until it spreads evenly covering the entire bottom of the pan. It might help to put a piece of parchment on top of the dough and press down to spread the dough out.
  6. Bake until golden brown all over, 20 minutes.
  7. Allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Use the two sides of the parchment to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into squares. Store in an air-tight container or freeze in a ziplock bag.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from a recipe by Breanne Varela. Published in Food and Wine, March 2011.