Gluten Free

Baking Up a Bond and Banana Muffins

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By Aubrey Wilson—the talented Hope College Communications student and intern!

My dad is a man of many average dad talents - grilling, driving a boat, mowing the lawn. But baking is one of his hidden talents. Outside our home, he is known for being a man of few words. Inside the four walls of our home, he is known for his spur of the moment kitchen take over. Picture this, our family of five lounging in the living room and watching TV. He abruptly stands up, heads to the kitchen, opens every cabinet possible, pulls up a recipe online, and within seconds our kitchen has transformed into the episode of “Top Chef”. 

His specialties range from banana bread to protein balls. His flavor depends upon the day. But what does not change is the bond my dad has baked up. Through his periodic kitchen endeavors, a lot more than just food has been made. The walls of our kitchen watched my siblings and I’s “I only want chicken tenders” phase grow into “Filet mignon please”. The walls watched as my dad came home after his weeks away on business trips. I would sit next to the stove as he boiled the fresh lobster he picked up in Maine. To count the number of people who have sat on those counters awaiting the baked goods to be done would be in impossible task. Those people (including my family, closest friends, and I) have cried to the point of laughing and laughed to the point of crying while sitting on those counters. Our kitchen counters have served my brothers “Blue’s Clues” birthday cake as well as his high school graduation dessert bar. 

The love I have experienced, witnessed, and cherished in that kitchen will carry with me no matter what house I am in and no matter who I am with. So here’s my challenge to you: next time you are baking/cooking something up, notice the kitchen. Take note of the people in it. Remember the conversations. Foster the time the food is in the oven because it allows for more conversation. But don’t leave them in too long… :) 

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There’s good news if you’d like to clean up your nutrition and maintain your hidden talent like Aubrey’s dad or begin to embrace the kitchen as a connecting place. Living a healthy lifestyle does not mean giving up baking, rather, swapping old school, processed and refined sugar laden recipes for as close to whole food ingredients as possible, whenever possible.

Baking is a detailed chemical process that cannot be messed with. As cookbook author and Food Network star, Alton Brown, shared in his book I’m Just Here for More Food, “Standard everyday cooking is relatively forgiving. Baking is rarely so. In fact, baked goods are a great deal like cars: You can change the wheel covers, put in new mats, and change out the stereo, but if you’re going to mess around under the hood, you’d better know what you’re doing or you may wind up taking the bus.”

Banana muffins are no exception so when on the quest to clean up recipes and add-in nutrition, precise details cannot be dismissed! It’s best to stick to preexisting baking recipes and only swap similar ingredients like chocolate chips for nuts and seeds or yogurt for coconut milk yogurt, for example. This banana muffin recipe is a tweak of a vegan recipe passed along many years ago. The muffins are gluten free, diary free and can be egg free and nut free if you choose! They qualify to be justified as the fruit and whole grain portion of a balanced plate and are an awesome lunchbox staple and pre workout fuel! Don’t forget to find the potato masher before getting started!

Staple Banana Muffins

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

-Makes 24-30 standard muffins

6 average sized ripe bananas, mashed(not extra large)

1 cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

2 tsp pure almond extract(omit for nut free)

2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

3 cups oat flour

1 cup chocolate chips, diary free

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare muffin tin with regular muffin liners. 

Add bananas, sugar and eggs to large bowl and mash with potato masher until combined.  Add coconut oil and mix again.  Add all remaining dry ingredients and fold together just until combined. Dish batter into muffin liners 3/4 of the way full(two small cookie dough scoops work great).  Bake in preheated oven for 18-20  min or until center is set. Eat as soon as cooled or store in airtight container up to 6 days at room temperature.

Chili Pasta Skillet

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Every morning I walk out of our bedroom, turn my head and peek outside at the pond to foster a positive mindset and begin the day with the uplifting sense of wellbeing nature always offers. Yesterday marked the start of Thanksgiving week which makes it hard to believe there is already a layer of ice shimmering across the pond’s surface today! Considering I grew up in Michigan, this should be no surprise—the weather has always been mysterious. When I think of the fall season, freezing temps are the first thing to come to mind along with this overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the warm things: Sweaters, blankets, heat, a home, socks, shoes, boots, roasted veggies, soups and stews, and absolutely, yes, venison chili!

Calling all venison lovers!

Hunting, then the sharing of meat with loved ones, appears to be a primal instinct acted on by the masses in Autumn and Winter throughout the midwest. Here in Michigan, the majority of families have at least one member who enjoys it as a hobby. My heart is too sensitive to think beyond the cooking, but I’m grateful for my family and friends who invest far more time and energy into hunting deer than I do creating: Any animal raised in it’s natural habitat is a healthier option when comparing to a mass produced, factory farmed one.

Also, a major selling point? I never paid a dime for venison! My hunters are begging to give it away.

While I will never enjoy looking at photos of huge racks or sleeping in a room plastered with hides and mounts, I will always enjoy the eating of the meat. My body says meat is a must for the grounding, calming, warming, strong and lean results it offers. This is not the case for everyone—we are all unique—but given it is for me, the majority of the recipes I create include meat while also striving to fill 1/2 the plate or bowl with veggies and plants.

This Chili Pasta Skillet is my families’ favorite way to eat venison. When food comes straight from nature it connects me in the same way gazing at the sunset, watching snowfall or taking a deep breath of winter’s crisp air can.

I’m warning you, if you make this, do not plan on having leftovers and always double for a crowd! And if hunting or all things carnivorous are not for you, you’ll equally love this recipe.

Chili Pasta Skillet:

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

-30 min. meal

-serves 4-6

For the protein fat and flavor

1 pound ground venison(omit for vegan or swap for ground meat of choice)

1 Tbls. ghee(avocado oil for vegan)

4 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder(or granulated garlic or 1 clove garlic, minced)

For the veggies and carbs

3/4 cup onion, chopped

1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped

14 1/2oz. diced tomatoes w/juice

16oz. can kidney beans, rinsed

8oz. canned tomato sauce

1/2 cup gluten free rotini pasta

1 Tbls. raw honey or pure maple syrup

sea salt and pepper to taste

Chicken broth or water as needed to keep the pasta moist


In a large skillet(with a lid) on med-high heat add ghee, venison, onion and  red pepper.  Saute until venison is beginning to brown then add chili and garlic powders. Saute 2 minutes more then add remaining ingredients. Turn heat to high to bring to a boil. Add broth or water to coat the pasta(amount varies).  Add lid and turn heat to low. Simmer for 20 min.

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Audrey Byker is a skilled and experienced Health Coach in West Michigan. She specializes in supporting busy people on their wellness journey through one-on-one coaching which can take place in person at her private office, in home or virtually from anywhere in the world. If you are looking for guidance and support to improve your health and quality of life, click here to set up a free consult today! She accepts HSA/FSA as payment!

Six Weeks of Bowl Meals: Chicken Taco Soup

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Aaliyah and Timbaland’s words keep circling through my head after losing a beautiful first draft of this post to internet never-never land yesterday. 

“And if at first you don’t succeed then dust yourself off and try again..”

Last fall I had a dear friend share his experience with this common blogging issue.  While sitting along side me editing my work, he advised me several times to “never type a post on your website. Create a document. Always.” He may even have made me promise him I’d never make that mistake.  Chances are good, I did.

Ironically, here I am, constantly fighting for others to do the same; advising to pay attention, plan ahead, make a healthy decision. Love yourself. Promise me. I know what works. Learn from my mistakes.

While it’s incredibly helpful, encouraging and necessary, to have trusted advisors in our lives, we will always be human, wired for struggle, imperfect, and in need of grace and forgiveness—beginning with ourselves. The reality is, learning from someone else’s shortcomings will never be as impactful as learning from our own. Personal growth is a humbling process.

Sit with the yuck for a bit—feel the sting, but then join me in the quest to be and do better. We get one life, yet a new opportunity with each given day.

After 24 hours of dusting off, I still have a simple, 30 min. soup I am excited to share with you.  Each step in the process of making this soup is crucial for the desired, deep flavor outcome.  The ingredients and layers closely resemble our family’s favorite tacos, yet is so much easier to throw together near the end of a busy day.

Chicken Taco Soup

By Audrey Byker Health Coach

Serves 6-8

for the protein fat and flavor

-1 Tbls. avocado oil, ghee or chicken fat

-1 medium onion, chopped

-1 Tbls. chili powder

-1/2 Tbls. cumin powder

-2 big pinches sea salt

-Black pepper, fresh ground

-2 cloves of garlic, minced

-2-3 cups cooked chicken, chopped(leftover and off the bone—optional for vegan/vegetarian)

for the veggies and carbs

-1 1/2 cups quick cooking brown rice

-2, 14oz cans diced tomatoes with green chilis

-1-2 cups corn, frozen, non GMO

-1 medium jar great northern beans, rinsed

-2-3 quarts chicken stock or broth

-1 tsp apple cider vinegar or to taste

In a large pot over med-high heat add oil and onion then sauté for 4-5 min. or until soft and translucent, stirring frequently.  Add all remaining ingredients in order and stir all together. Allow the garlic to become slightly fragrant before adding the stock and apple cider vinegar.  Cover and turn heat to high and allow broth to come to a boil.  Turn to low and simmer for 20-25 min. until rice is soft.  Serve with cashew sour cream, guacamole, organic tortilla chips and olives if desired. Adjust taste with sea salt, pepper and/or Franks Red H

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Audrey Byker is a skilled and experienced Health Coach in West Michigan. She specializes in supporting busy people on their wellness journey through one-on-one coaching which can take place in person at her private office, in home or virtually from anywhere in the world. If you are looking for guidance and support to improve your health and quality of life, click here to set up a free consult today! She accepts HSA/FSA as payment!