Do you ever find a new-to-you blogger and get that warm fuzzy feeling right away? That’s how I felt when I discovered Janae and her blog bring joy. Her kind soul just flows forth from her writing. Not only do I love her healthful gluten-free and vegan recipes and gorgeous photography, I’ve also become really interested in her parenting insights since I’m about to become one myself. I am so happy to have her joining in my Clean Eating Cocktail Party.

Janae Wise is an Air Force wife, mother of 4 & is passionate about sharing with others ways in which to bring more joy to living.  She is also a vegan & gluten-free recipe developer, writer, & yoga teacher/fitness instructor.

She is the founder of bring joy, where she shares her love for creating wholesome, fresh & simple food.  Janae also writes about insights into family & home life, as well as occasionally shares fitness tips & videos.  You can read more about Janae, here, & more about her family,here.

You can also find bring joy on facebooktwitter, & pinterest.

This time of year, it’s hard not to infuse everything with pumpkin. Or is it just me?

I make sure to keep my kitchen stocked with large cans of the stuff & find it sneaking into soups, smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, pastas even. A little over the top? Sure. But it is just one of those ingredients.

Recently I made Dreena Burton’s “Hello Vegan” bars from her latest cookbook, Let Them Eat Vegan. Do you have a copy? I highly recommend it. She’s one of my favorite cookbook authors–you can’t go wrong with any of her recipes. Always delicious.

Back to those bars. They were amazing. And simple. And gluten-free. I’m vegan & more recently, gluten-free. I’ve been vegan going on 7 years, & have been gluten-free for almost a year. I no longer deal with gastro-intestinal or tummy issues. I’m no longer sleepy after meals. I love being gluten-free! And to my delight, there are so many gluten-free options. Going gluten-free is much easier than I thought. And any effort I have to make to ensure my food is gluten-free is well worth feeling great.

As I was eating Dreena’s “Hello Vegan” bars, I thought, I wonder what this would taste like if I added pumpkin? So I did some experimenting, & lo & behold, I think it worked!

Dreena uses coconut milk in her recipe, which makes for a richer sauce, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the rice milk held up. I only like rice milk in baking (not a fan of too-sweet, chalky taste). I think it was thanks to the pumpkin, which adds body & flavor. I also use a bit more coconut oil in the recipe than Dreena uses which makes for a richer crust.

I also use mini-chocolate chips instead of regular. Since mini chocolate chips are a third the size of regular, you can cover a greater surface area with the same amount. I’m fan of mini-chips.

For more healthy, gluten-free cookies and bars, be sure to enter my giveaway for a copy of Super Healthy Cookies!

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Pumpkin Caramel Blondie Bars

Yield: 24 servings

I have four kids and often bake double, so feel free to half this recipe if your baking for a smaller crowd.If you're going to eat immediately, I suggest eating with a scoop of your fave vanilla bean ice cream (here's a recipe for one that I often make). When the bars are warm, they're a bit crumbly. But if you allow them to cool, cut & then store in the fridge, they firm up nice.

Ingredients:

Pumpkin Caramel Topping:
1 cup rice milk (or almond milk)
1 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla

Crust:
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (certified gluten-free, to make gf)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup (room-temperature) coconut oil

Toppings:
1 cup mini (non-dairy) chocolate chips
1/2 cup almond slices
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a glass 13 X 9 casserole dish with parchment paper (if halving the recipe use an 8 X 8 pan).

For the caramel: In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, bring 3/4 cup of the rice milk (reserve 1/4 cup to a boil. Add evaporated cane juice and salt. Stir with a whisk constantly to avoid burning the milk. This also helps the sugar to dissolve. Once dissolved, add pumpkin and incorporate. Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 cup reserved rice milk. A cornstarch and milk to mixture. Stir constantly. Add vanilla and remove from heat.

For the crust: In a food processor (or high-powered blender), process oats until it's reached a fine flour. Add coconut flakes and sea salt, and pulse a few times. Put flour mixture in a medium bowl. Cut in coconut oil with a wire whisk or pastry cutter. Add agave and mix until all flour is incorporated. Press crust into pan.

For the toppings: Pulse 1/3 cup coconut and 1/3 cup of the almonds in food processor until fine. Add remaining coconut and almonds.

Top crust with caramel sauce. Spread the coconut and almond mixture over sauce, then top with mini-chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing.