Food & Wine

Diffusing seasonal calorie bombs

Photo Sarah Manning/Special To The Town Crier Pecan Pie Squares, which contain natural, unprocessed ingredients, provide a wholesome take on a seasonal treat.


After filling myself with the traditional Thanksgiving array of stuffing, potatoes and pie, I reflected on the dinnertime discussion and determined that we need to redefine the way we eat. Trendy diets and special dietary needs abound, and it’s increasingly common for conversation to address which seasonal staples we should resist.

A recurring theme? Restriction. But after taking notice of people’s motivations for dieting, including my own, there may be no reason at all to hop on the have-not bandwagon.

As a busy college student with a lifelong passion for food, my goal is to discover – and share – simply wholesome recipes that bring pleasure to my palate, keep me healthy and nourish my life. This kind of diet will never go out of style.

When we cook and eat for a nourished life, we end up restricting ourselves less and less. This practice is not about cleanses or fad diets, but rather about slowing down and savoring the tastes, textures and aromas in every bite. It’s about losing ourselves in the moment.

As a lover of vegetables, a compulsive baker of desserts and a seeker of balance, I’m always exploring that intersection where life meets food and attempting to master the art of mindful cooking.

Let’s search for that comfortable place between healthful and indulgent, where we feel neither guilty nor deprived. My gastronomic philosophy is that every opportunity to eat is an opportunity to nourish myself, to fill my belly with foods for vibrant health. I enjoy real, minimally processed foods: Butter may not be a daily staple in my cooking, but it certainly isn’t the enemy.

Dessert is the best part of any meal, as far as I’m concerned. The holidays are upon us, which means that the temptation to fill up on seasonal calorie bombs lurks atop every buffet table. For example, who doesn’t like pie? This holiday favorite, however, contains many refined ingredients and up to 900 calories per slice.

To navigate December’s minefield of marshmallows, fudge and gingerbread, and dodge roadblocks on the journey toward nourishment, bring a batch of these wholesome Pecan Pie Squares (recipe below) to your next holiday gathering. With oatmeal, pumpkin puree, ground flaxseed and real maple syrup, they are nutritious enough to double as breakfast and easy to throw together at the last minute.

I don’t know about you, but if I can eat something nourishing while at the same time satisfying my craving for pecan pie, I’m all in.

This month’s morsel: Practice balance this holiday season by reinventing some of your favorite foods. The wholesome and more natural versions of sweet treats certainly don’t have to replace your classic recipes all the time, but you might be surprised by how indulgent they taste – especially when eaten for breakfast.

Sarah Manning is a Los Altos resident who blogs weekly about her gastronomic adventures. To read her food blog, visit


Pecan Pie Squares


• 2 cups rolled oats

• 1/2 cup pecans halves, lightly toasted

• Pinch of salt

• 1/4 cup brown or turbinado sugar

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 small egg

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


• 1/3 cup pure maple syrup

• 2 cups pecan halves

• 2 tablespoons brown sugar

• 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, with 3 tablespoons water

• 1/2 cup pumpkin puree


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine flaxseed with water and set aside. To toast pecans, heat in large nonstick skillet over medium-low flame until fragrant and browned. In food processor, pulse oats, 1/2 cup pecans, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar until finely ground. Add olive oil, egg and vanilla extract. Pulse to thoroughly combine until mixture resembles dough and comes together. Press dough evenly into ungreased 8x8 glass baking dish.

In medium bowl, thoroughly combine filling ingredients. Pour filling evenly over crust in baking dish.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until filling is firm and set. Let cool completely before slicing.

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