Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All About Dates! Or My New Favorite Sweetener

Do you like dates? I'll be honest, up until recently my only exposure to them were the date nut quick bread my folks used to make around the holidays when I was a kid. We ate it with thick cream cheese spread on top. I also remember driving by a date farm of some sort on the way to San Diego several times in the past several years, seeing a sign advertising 'date milkshakes'.

Over the holidays this year, I decided to send my dad some homemade date nut bread. He always used a quick bread mix that is no longer available and I wanted to make him something special. So I found a recipe and bought a box of Zahidi dates. Oh yeah, there are many varieties of dates, this was just what I happened to find that day in the market. These were in the produce section, not dried. Whole dates, with the pits in them. I didn't want to use something that had been dried, with sugar added.

So the date nut bread turned out fantastic. Much like I remember as a kid (and yes, I still ate it with a layer of yummy cream cheese on it). My dad enjoyed it too. After that though, the dates sat in the fridge.

I've used them for a few things since, added to my homemade coconut almond milk for a touch of natural sweetness. I tried pureeing them and adding them to granola bars. That's it though.

So I was wondering about using it for more things and decided to read up. Wow! These fruits and pretty amazing! Here are some facts:

Iron: 100 grams contains about 11% of the daily recommended amount!

Fiber: We all know the benefits of fiber in our diets.

Potassium, calcium, manganese, and copper! All of which assist the body in a variety of necessary things like red blood cell production, bone growth, blood clotting, etc.

Good source of Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin K.

Contains B-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, otherwise knowns as antioxidants. The inclusion of antioxidants in your daily diet can offer protection from a wide variety of cancers! In this day and age, we need all the protection we can get.

If you're into the whole glycemic index of foods, they fall into the lower end of the glycemic index.

Once I realized this, I wanted to find a way to include it a little more often. Since I used them previously to sweeten my homemade milk, I realized this might be a great option to sweeten other things as well. I already use applesauce and banana. Why not dates?

So recently I decided to make date paste out of the remaining box of dates. I simply removed the pits and soaked the fruits in water for a few hours. I drained the water off (but reserved it in case I needed a little liquid to help with the blending). I blended them up with a bit of the water until I got the consistency of a peanut butter. Done. I have seen some recipes that also call for lemon juice and a pinch of salt. I suppose I may try this in the future. Another option I read about was adding nuts and cinnamon (um, YUM!).

Now, what can you use date paste for? Anything that you would use any other sweetener for. If you're replacing syrups or honey with date paste, you will want to thin it out some to get the same consistency. From there you can play with using it in recipes and other areas you would want. So far I've used it on toast, in yogurt, pancakes, and smoothies. It's a very sweet sort of paste that reminds me of caramel sort of.

One thing to remember: If you're watching calories, etc, dates are fairly high in calories. However, I'd still rather get my 'sweet' calories from something like this than from added refined sugars. Will this replace all my other sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc)? No, because in small amounts these all offer some health benefits. Plus, as with all sweeteners, we use them sparingly. However, I feel good about using dates just like I would bananas and any other fruit to sweeten items and I can't wait to bake with them! I'll continue to share recipes I try using dates in the future.

**Date paste, from what I've read, should be refrigerated and will last from 1-2 weeks. However, judging by how fast it's being used up in this house, I doubt it'll last you that long either.

Have you used dates? Do you like to eat them plain? Please share!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes

I have a wonderfully versatile recipe to share with you all today. I've been meaning to share this for awhile, but when I make them (and I make them often) I get too excited and end up scarfing them down before I can take pictures.

This morning I wanted a bit of chocolate so I had chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes. Once again I ate them before taking photos. Then when Amelia got up (she likes to sleep late) I decided to whip up a tiny batch for her, to share with you all.
(Served to Amelia with banana slices and almond butter for dipping)

There are several things I love about this method. One, you can make as little or as much as you want. Two, you can just about do anything you like with it! I'll share a few of my favorite combinations. Three, you can adapt the recipe for most dietary restrictions. Gluten Free? Check. Vegan? Check. The rest of the allergens? Check. I'd be willing to bet these could be made with coconut or almond flour as well for a grain-free, Paleo version but I've not tried that yet. Plus it's so easy and fast to make. I have the batter ready before the pan can even finish heating up.

And best of all they are super healthy and need no artificial sweeteners (though we added sugar today from the mini-chocolate chips, this is not an everyday addition). I don't even use syrup on them! A bit of extra mashed banana and a drizzle of drippy almond butter and they are just perfect for me!

The original recipe is from Kath Eats. I adapted it slightly to my tastes. From there, I honestly don't measure much anymore, since I make them so often. I find it pretty hard to mess this one up.
(this picture shows roughly half of the recipes measurements since I was just making them for Amelia)

Oatmeal Pancakes for one: (can be multiplied for many)

1/4 cup quick oats (you can use other types, but I find the quick oats have the best texture in these)

1/4 cup egg whites (or whites from two eggs, or you can use a whole egg, or for a vegan option try a flax egg)

1 tbls whole wheat flour (can be omitted, texture will be slightly more egg-y in that case, or you can use a GF flour for a gluten free option. In this case, make sure your oats are GF as well!)

1/4 tsp baking powder (I've made these without, but I like them better with. I use an aluminum-free type)

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tbls milk (non-dairy or regular or I'm sure it'd be fine with water too)

1/4-1/3 mashed banana ** This can be omitted if you don't feel you want the extra sweetness. Or of course you could always use something like pumpkin, or date puree or regular sugar/sweetener. I've never had them without so I can't comment on the texture.

*Optional add-ins for extra nutrition: chia seeds, ground flax, wheat germs, protein powder, etc. My favorite is 1 tsp of chia seeds (learn more about them here) and 1 tsp of ground flax. I find this doesn't change the texture much, but when I add these I like to also add about a tsp of water to the mix.

Mix the dry ingredients (including any add-ins like flax or chia) and mix well. If you add the liquid first, I find it doesn't mix as well. If using banana, mash it up and beat together with egg (or flax egg) and milk.

Mix wet into dry ingredients. Continue to prepare as you would regular pancakes.

Mix-in ideas:

Banana bread: sprinkle of walnuts, mashed banana and cinnamon (yum!)

Blueberry: Lots of blueberries! Fresh or frozen!

Strawberries and cream: small dots of cream cheese and fresh strawberries

chocolate chip: about a tsp of mini chocolate chips or a few regular chocolate chips

PB and Jelly: berries and peanut butter (you'd sort of mix the peanut butter in with the wet ingredients)

Almond joy: shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped almonds and chocolate chips

Brownie: cocoa powder and a sprinkle of sugar (I'd make sure to add the banana in this case)

Apple pie: chopped apples and cinnamon (alternately, you can sauté the apples with a little cinnamon and butter and serve them on top of the pancakes)

Carrot cake: shredded carrot, raisins and cinnamon (top with some lightly sweetened yogurt for "frosting", yum!)
Anything else you like! The possibilities are literally endless!

This recipe, made in this method including the banana and chocolate chips has roughly 300 calories. Obviously, that all depends on measurements and add-ins.

By the way! You can make extras and freeze them! They freeze so well and you can either heat them on the stove or microwave them or even pop them in the toaster! For me, they're such a great option for busy mornings. I love knowing I have some made and frozen for quick breakfasts.

Try them tomorrow! You'll be hooked too! Do you ever make oatmeal pancakes? How do you like them served?

***Edited*** So I decided to try a grain-free version using some coconut almond meal that I had left after making almond coconut milk. Now, I did NOT care for these. However, if you have actual flour (either almond or coconut) I'd bet they'd have been better. The flavor was fine, but I didn't care for the texture. I'm betting that it's from the grainier texture of the meal over what flour would be. Unfortunately I don't have actual coconut or almond flours and no experience with working with them.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Excuse the mess..

Two things happened in the last two days that really made me think about things a little bit. Okay, well the past few days events led up to it, but it culminated in these two things.

We went out of town last weekend. My kiddos were with my awesome sis-in-law and my hubby and I went to California for a couple days. Hung out with friends, spent time together, went hiking, ate good food, etc. It was an awesome weekend.

I came home to a mess though. Why? Because I left a mess behind. Do you ever go out of town and make the house all sparkly-vampire clean before you leave so you'll have a nice clean house to come home to? Yeah, me too. But this time I just didn't have it together when we left. I swear, there were even dirty diapers on the floor (ew, gross.. I know). So we came back on Monday afternoon, just in time for dinner with a huge mess.

Twice over the course of the last couple days now I've cleaned up my main living areas. You know, the 'great room' and the kitchen since this is where we spend the most of our time.

The main problem is that since we make 100% of our meals at home and we both live/work from home, there is always something being prepared in the kitchen. Now, I do some prep work ahead of time to make things a tad bit easier. Even with this though, lunches are still prepared from scratch most days. I'm a lucky girl because of this. The extra dishes it causes though, not so much. So dishes get done on a full blown scale a few times a day. Bummer. Excuse me while I cry a little bit.

Yesterday I actually skipped the gym to stay home and do dishes. Ask my hubby who's a grumpy girl when she doesn't get to go to the gym. I need my damned endorphins, people. Elle Woods wasn't far off when she said "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't just shoot their husbands" in Legally Blonde. I was pretty much waving my proverbial pistol around last night because of the missed workout. Not a happy mommy.

Then this morning a friend posted about the messy state of her home. This gal is someone I know who works hard, both in and outside her home, plus has three boys on top of it all to add to the fun.

I just decided that I was done. I've put so much pressure on myself lately, especially since going 'unprocessed'. Something has to give. Like someone once said "No ones' tombstone says 'I should have kept the house cleaner'"

We ALL put pressure on ourselves to do certain things, whether it's exercise or laundry or cooking or how dirty the bathroom is. We all sometimes go to a friends' house. See the lack of mess because you know darned well they spent the past 20 minutes frantically cleaning up in preparation for your arrival. Or maybe not because maybe they are some sort of genetically modified "NEAT" human being. But we see that and sometimes think "oh man, I suck."

So I decided to bare it all and show my dirty laundry on Facebook. Literally. My actual laundry. And my kitchen/great room.

Then it was suggested that I start a tumblr (someone please explain to me what that is? A photo blog? Ok). So I did. Already people on Facebook are tagging me with photos of their messes. You know what I say?

Life is messy! Embrace it! Messy house, dirty laundry, cluttered table, happy kids. Healthy momma!

Go here to share your own mess!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And Away We Go

Chris and I took off to California this past weekend and that, combined with a really busy week made it hard for me to check in here. I'm back though! I have some great ideas for posts as well as some experiences to share.

One of the things I've caught up with in the past few weeks is some clothing purchases. While our bank account is steaming from all the extra use, I'm excited to have some clothes that fit well. I went to Lucy for my actual workout wear. People all have their favorites when it comes to where to get those types of things. For me, Lucy has always been a great option. While it's pricey (but most of those places are, even when you get into that type of stuff at Target, etc) their clothes are extremely durable. There are pieces I've had for years and years that still look practically new (with the exception of the fact that they are too big now). I've always found their salespeople can help me find exactly the fit and style I'm looking for, and they have a variety of options for all activities (love their yoga wear!).

This last time though, I was looking for something a bit more casual for being able to wear out without looking like I just came from the gym. Or things for hiking, walking, just being out in general. I started at some of the obvious places looking for regular old khaki type cargo things. Gap, Old Navy, Kohls, JCPenneys, etc. Nothing. Just not really what I was looking for at all. I wanted casual for me, not casual for the work place and that seemed to be what I found. Well that and a ton of fluorescent colors that weren't my style either.

So this weekend in California I found a store called Lulumon. They had some fun stuff, very very pricey. But I found some pants that I just loved! I *think* this store may lean more towards running but the pants I found were comfortable, and in a breathable fabric. These will be my go-to for hiking, and outdoor type stuff as we head into summer. The downside to this store is that not only are they pretty expensive (more than Lucy and lots of the other places) but their return policy is not great at all. Which didn't bother me too much until I went to Athleta.

Athleta not only had an awesome selection of casual and workout clothes that were closer to the prices I'm used to at Lucy, but their return policy could not be more flexible. Pretty much return at any time, for any reason. As the salesperson put it "even months down the road if you lose weight and they don't fit anymore". How awesome! I found way too much cute stuff there and also found the perfect sports bra that I've been looking for. I bought a super cute dress as well, which of course is not for working out but every girl needs a cute summer dress heading into Spring and Summer right? I have a feeling though, that this will be a favorite in the future. They don't have a location in Az yet, but now that I have a feeling for their sizes, I'll feel pretty comfortable with ordering online. As a side note, I have some of their stuff which I've ordered in the past and those pieces are among the favorites of things that no longer fit. Hmm, perhaps I should return them.

Now I know that other stores carry these types of clothes. I've checked out Old Navy, Target, JCPenneys, etc. But I've never had luck with activewear that felt good and that I actually liked the look of.

Where do you find clothes for your active lifestyle? What are your favorite styles? Do you have a favorite store you would recommend?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trying To Eat Healthy During Busy Weeks

Some weeks are just so painfully busy that I beg for relief in the form of folding laundry or something. Just for the excuse to stand still for a few minutes. Okay, not really. I never beg for laundry. I'm not a lunatic.

Weeks like this though are just brutal. School reports, errands, and just lots going on in general and I wish I could go sit in my car and just be alone.

Aside from the obvious reasons that weeks like this are tough, I hate sometimes how I fall behind on making sure we have lots of healthy choices for food on the go. You know what I'm talking about. Kids are in the car and your purse/gym bag/car is empty of anything edible. So visions of golden arches dance in your head and that little evil mini-me hangs out on your shoulder saying "You could solve this problem in about 5 minutes... "

I have been lucky because we haven't had fast food in several months. In fact, we've had it only 3 times or so in the past 6 months. If you haven't had it in years, good for you. For us, these are new changes. So being able to say that for us feels pretty darn good. A couple times this week though I found myself in the above situation, worried that I wasn't going to make the best choices for my kids.

Normally I try to have:

Cut veggies in the fridge to grab, or at least a bag of sugar snap peas. My kids love them and they're totally portable. I realized that Trader Joes has a huge bag for like $2.27! Man, I wish we had a closer TJ's.

Cheese sticks (I have been trying to go organic here, but I think we may end up buying large organic blocks of cheese and cutting them ourselves to cut back on the $$, organic cheese sticks are serious robbery)

Granola bars or whole grain pretzels/crackers or all fruit leather.

Fruit! Cuties and apples

Those are all things I try to grab on the way out the door but I found myself empty handed a few times this week.

I actually bought snacks for my kids at my gym on Monday, and we really try to never do that. They mark the prices up and despite the fact that they claim to carry only healthy snacks, you do find superfluous ingredients on some of those packages. When we find ourselves in those situations, I usually use it as a great time to explain that these are 'sometimes' snacks. They're not BAD. Just not everyday snacks. Of course, the bottom line is my kids love those occasions.

Yesterday I fared a bit better. I found myself ahead of a long drive home and a toddler who wanted to snack. I realized that most grocery stores now carry a slew of to-go snacks that can be found in and near the produce section. Don't be fooled though, many have sauces and dressings that are no better than buying bags of Doritos and Cheetos. But mini carrots with hummus or pre-sliced apples (a must have in our house because of all the lose teeth going on) are pretty awesome. So I grabbed a bag of organic mini-carrots and pre-sliced apples. See here if you have concerns about the chlorine/baby carrot connection. I still try to always buy whole carrots since they taste better to us, but in a pinch they are awesome.

So we had a great snack and no french fries were harmed during the ride home. This whole week has definitely made me revisit my dedication to always bringing along fresh healthy snacks for us.

I know that this post wasn't filled with lots of great suggestions and tips, but sometimes it's important to show that we all come across challenges in our own quests to go unprocessed.

What do you do when you find yourself with a busy week ahead of you and an empty fridge? Well, if you need more motivation to steer clear of the temptations out there on the road, here you go.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Red Chard and Leek Soup

Chris and I decided to have some soup tonight to go with some cheese quesadillas and steamed vegetables that we were having as a family. I always end up stuffing in extra veggies in my meals, especially if I've worked out, and I had these leeks and chard in the fridge to use.

So I found some various recipes for simple bisques and soups and decided to go with that, but kind of making it up as I went.

It was very green. Both in looks and in taste. However, it was delicious! These days, I find that I crave that 'green' flavor! I remember recently after being sick with strep and that sinus infection when my appetite was just so low, that when my appetite came back I just wanted greens! Kale, spinach, broccoli, etc. Anything and everything green!

Anyway, Chris topped his with some hot sauce and he declared it to be delicious and that we should add it into the regular rotation. I normally top my soups with fun things like sunflower seeds, yogurt dollops (which actually would have gone awesome with this soup) parmesan cheese and other fun things, but I liked this enough that I ate it plain. The contrast of the creamy soup and the crunchy/cheesy quesadilla was kind of a great pair. I might have chosen a grilled cheese over the cheese crisp, but I was overruled by the majority and I  decided to play fair and not pull rank.

So here is the method (again, it's so easy and versatile that it's not really a recipe)

Red Chard and Leek Soup
1 bunch of chard (any type will do probably, I used red)
2 leeks
2-3 cups of broth (we used veggie, you can use chicken or whatever)
1 tbls oil (I used rice bran oil, it's a mild, buttery flavor and handles heat pretty well)
salt and pepper to taste (plus any other seasonings you love with veggies)
1 tbls heavy cream

In a sturdy-bottomed pot, add the oil and let that heat while you prepare the veggies.

Wash the chard thoroughly and trim the stalks ends. Slice them (like you would celery) and roughly chop the leaves. You want it fairly small so it'll cook quickly, but since you'll be blending this mixture up, it doesn't matter if it's not pretty. Trim the end from the leeks and also the leafy green top. Slice the leeks lengthwise and wash them well, separating the layers to get any dirt that's hiding. Slice them up finely. They remind me of giant green onions in scent and texture, so that's how I cut them. 

Add the veggies and broth, plus a little salt to the pot. Let it cook until the veggies have cooked down and are very soft. About 12-15 minutes. Using a blender, blend up the soup in batches. I tried using my immersion blender and it didn't get the results I wanted, but you could certainly make it work. Put the soup back in the pot and add the cream and more seasoning to taste. You can also get creative here with your own additions. 

Makes enough for two. You could certainly increase this for a bigger batch. I would have photographed it for you, but green soup just doesn't ever really photograph well, specifically if you are terrible at taking pictures in the first place. 

**Now, if you have more adventurous kids than I do, you could probably give this soup a fun name like "Oscar the Grouch soup" or something equally fun. Top it with some fishy crackers or grated cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich cut into strips would probably go well. I knew better than to even try this with my own and I didn't want to waste any of this delicious stuff! Plus, they were already having green beans, cauliflower and broccoli with their dinners. So I was pretty happy with that. 

So I challenge you to try a new vegetable in the next week! You never know when you'll find something to 'add to the rotation'! 

My Favorites Posts From the Web This Week

I thought I'd share some of my favorite posts this week. It might be recipes and it might be helpful information but either way I enjoyed it and I'm sharing!

Some peanut buttery goodness going on over at Oatmeal With A Fork. Maybe you'll make some peanut butter and then use that good stuff to make these. I'm a huge fan of making my own treats, especially if it can satisfy a craving for some store-bought processed thing that has a million ingredients. It feels super good when you can create something healthier at home that rivals a popular junk food item. Trust me. I haven't tried this version yet, only a regular pb cup. But who doesn't want extra peanut butter? So these are on my list to try.

The Foodbabe covers a bit of helpful info on all the foods (or food-like particles) we eat in our standard American diet that includes ingredients banned in other countries. So you know, that's nice. They feed us the poison and these other smarter countries get the better (notice I didn't say good, most of these products are still barely considered food) stuff.  Now, when you're ready to really find out what's in your diet, you'll check out some of her other under cover articles. It's pretty disturbing.

This one is from last week, but since I've been seeing lots of requests to purchase Girl Scout Cookies I'm sharing it anyway. I wish I could support the Girl Scouts. I really do. I just can't though. Aside from the fact that these products don't belong in my kitchen, I also can't really offer to donate boxes of nutritionally void items to shelters or soldiers. If they want to spend their money on it? That is their decision. I won't provide it though. I'm truly sorry to all the gals I know who have girls trying to sell them and I'm sure you'll find lots of other open wallets excited about these things, but I'm not one of them. Anyway, here is Eating Rules take on why he won't by them either.

And finally, the entire reason I'm obsessed with nut and seed butters. Kath breaks down all her favorites for you. I've been following her for years now and watching her recipes for oatmeals and her creative breakfasts is why I am obsessed with breakfast foods and also why I drink my iced coffee in a glass jar. It makes it feel more fancy. Which makes me not miss spending $5 (or more) a day at a popular coffee chain. She is so great about finding fun toppings for things like oatmeal and pancakes and french toast and now I never have to repeat a combo which means not only do I never get bored but I'm practically excited to get up and eat a good healthy breakfast everyday.

Go. Read. Let me know if you enjoyed them.