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.

Friday, February 15, 2013

New Vegetable of The Week

We're going to try two actually. I'm really trying to be more conscious of eating the rainbow (and no, I don't mean Skittles..).

Eating a variety of vegetables gives you a whole array of vitamins and minerals that you can't get when you eat just a select few. Some people think you can avoid multi-vitamins altogether if you just really widen your palate of acceptable fruits and vegetables.

I don't know much about that, but I I'm willing to test it out.

So first up is red chard. It's high in vitamins A, K and C and it's fiber nearly cancels out the carbs (if you're into that sort of thing). I've had swiss chard, so I'm sure this will be comparable. We'll most likely have is sautéed in some form. Maybe with garlic and olive oil.

Next up are leeks. My favorite 'leek' pop culture moment is in Bridget Jones Diary when she is making her birthday dinner and Mr. Mark Darcy shows up. She's trying to make a potato and leek soup and uses blue string to hold the vegetables together. Except the blue from the string turns the soup blue and Mark Darcy says "If you ask me, there isn't enough blue food".. such a sweet character.

Anyway, I've never tried one otherwise, to my knowledge anyhow.

They looks like giant green onions to me. Like little green onions went through some Willy Wonka machine and came out bigger on the other side. Like the chard, they've got lots going for them. Besides iron, manganese, vit A, vit K and C, they're also pretty low in calories. I'm still researching what to make with them, but I probably won't opt for String Soup as Bridget Jones did.

Anyway, I'll update again after we've sampled the new green goodies and I'll share my thoughts.

Have you tried any new foods this week?

Homemade Peanut Butter

There are many recipes for homemade peanut butter on the web. You can't hardly throw an emptied peanut butter jar into cyberspace without hitting one. Plus, it's so easy to make! So I'm surprised that more people don't do it.

I'm also surprised because so many of the recipes I see call for added oil. How silly! Peanuts give off the most glorious oil which makes the best peanut butter without any added at all. Plus, it doesn't separate in the fridge either. At least, in my experience.

So I'm sharing my method. I won't even call it a recipe because really, there is one necessary ingredient and one necessary piece of equipment.

There are however, a million possibilities! Have you seen some of the combinations available on your store shelf these days? All of these can be made at home, with fresh ingredients and no added.. well anything you don't want!

So to break it down, in my experience this hasn't been all that much cheaper to make than to buy. The reason I make it is so that I can absolutely control the amount of salt, etc. that goes into it. Sometimes things aren't always listed on the label. It happens all the time.

So I stock up on raw peanuts when they're on sale (my local Sprouts carries them, I'm sure you could probably get them at any natural foods store or Trader Joes, though I haven't checked anywhere else). Then I stash them in the freezer until I'm ready for them.

A quick roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes and they're ready to go. Let them cool before continuing.

So I should have taken pictures of the stages your peanut butter will go through during your blending process. Next time I will, promise.

Homemade Peanut Butter
Peanuts (roasted, salted, honey-roasted, whatever)
optional: honey, maple syrup, whatever.. seriously, sky's the limit!

Grab your food processor. If you have a fantastic blender you can probably use that too, but I can't comment on the effectiveness of it. Pour the peanuts in and turn it on. That's it. 

Wait a minute.. not so fast. You need to be patient. Your peanuts will go through a few different stages before you get a nice and creamy peanut butter. I'll describe them the best I can here. This is important! If you stop too early, it will not spread well!

- First they will get crumbly (keep blending)
- Then they will roll up into a ball and look like dough (keep blending)
- Then it'll spread back out and sort of look gritty and grainy (keep blending) 

You will want to stop and scrape down the sides from time to time. 

This will take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Be patient! If you stop now, it'll get hard in the fridge and won't spread. 

The next stage is where the magic happens.. it's pretty neat to watch. The peanuts will then release their oil. Their OWN oil. No need to add any. Keep blending, and watch. It'll get shiny and creamy. See the picture below. This is after blending for about 8 minutes. Ask Chris, he had to pause The Walking Dead for me to do this. It takes awhile, but it's worth the wait. Don't feel you have to babysit either. Do dishes for the millionth time that day. Make your kids' lunches for the next day. Read a book. Update Facebook or Tweet that you are making peanut butter. Whatever. 

This is when you'll want to add your salt and any other add in's you're using (unless we're talking chunks like pretzels or raisins). So drizzle in your honey and sprinkle in your salt. Taste, taste, taste. You don't want it too salty, but not salty enough and it'll be too bland. Once it's to your liking, store it in a jar (perfect use for any cleaned recycled salsa jars, or spaghetti sauce jars) and stick it in the fridge. I'm not sure how this works kept on the shelf, though I have read that it keeps fine. 

So once you've gotten this down, then you can really get creative. So I had about a cup of peanuts left last night and I decided to throw them in the processor (I didn't even clean it out after removing the first batch). To that I added roasted almonds, unsalted sunflower seeds, chia seeds and hulled hemp seed. Repeat the whole process, it'll be chunky and gritty and ball up and then spread out and release those oils and get nice and lovely. 

You can add raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, nuts, pretzels, really anything you like with peanut butter. I blended a little of the 'enriched' peanut butter with banana for sort of a whipped peanut butter. Totally creamy and yummy. 

I hope you'll try to make your own sometime. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Betcha Didn't Know..

Another blog I read did a post like this and I thought it was pretty interesting so I figured it might be a fun sort of ice-breaker.

Smoothies: I don't 'drink' them, I typically eat them soup-style in a bowl, topped with granola and nuts and whatnot. I love it. Another blogger started me on this, and she calls them SIAB (smoothie in a bowl). It kind of stuck and I love the contrast of textures, so it's how I roll now. When I drink a smoothie with no toppings, it feels like something is missing.

Spiders: I am ridiculously afraid of them, and I will literally have a physical freezing response when I see one that is in or near my house. I am fine seeing tarantulas in the wild (on hikes, etc) but other than that, it's pretty embarrassing. Just yesterday there was an epic battle between me and a wolf spider in the driveway. I am horrified to admit that it took me a good few minutes to get up the courage to squash that sucker. But I won. In the end.

Saved By The Bell: I used to be able to tell what episode it was going to be just by the first 15 seconds after the theme song. Phew. Felt good to get that off my chest. On the other hand, how about AC Slaters mullet huh? And if you're too young to know what that is, humor me and don't make me feel old.

I don't play any instruments: I really regret not getting more involved with band when I was young. It's on my bucket list too. I really want to learn to play guitar.

So, there you go. Four things that you may not have known about me.

Today I tried CrossFit for the first time. Have you heard of this? I've wanted to try it for a while now. In fact, I bought a Groupon for it at the beginning of January. I'm a little intimidated by the idea of it, so it took me about a month to get up the guts to go try it. I think I might be hooked. I'll let you know tomorrow, if I can type without aching that is. It was pretty intense! Luckily, it was just 30 minutes today. Since I've been doing hour long cardio and strength training at my gym, I think I held up pretty well. I only cried a little bit and didn't puke once. Haha.

It got me thinking about protein. After a workout like that, it's important to get protein in combination with quality carbs and fat. I am having a hard time getting in the protein in a vegetarian way without carb-loading. It reminded me that when we decided to cut out meat, we decided we'd also continue to look for a more sustainable source for our meat. Truthfully, I do feel like I struggle a bit. I eat hemp, and whey, and a bit of dairy, and all sorts of other incomplete proteins. Egg whites make up the most of my diet though, which isn't easy as we're still working on a reliable local source that can keep up with our egg consumption. So I think for now, we'll choose high quality fish and continue searching for meat from a local ranch.

All in all it's a very conflicting situation. My conscious won't allow me to mindlessly consume meat anymore. As much as I LOVE meat and seafood, I'm not even tempted to buy if it's just from a regular grocer. Even if it has a "grass fed" "pastured" label, because the USDA has such half-assed standards for that. However, I recognize that my fitness goals might need more protein than I can easily get in. I am busy, and I have 3 kids and having to create complete proteins or eat enough quinoa, buckwheat and hemp is not that easy. While I wish that I could effortlessly be a vegan with a super low carbon footprint, I just don't think that is realistic for me. So, onward we go as we try to navigate this.

Tell me something about you that many people may not know!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Breakfast.. Farro with Sautéed Apple and Greek Yogurt

Today I'm sharing my breakfast from this morning. It's a good example of why keeping some extra cooked grains, etc. can really help put together a healthy, unique and delicious breakfast with just a few minutes of prep.

I picked up some farro at the store the other night, inspired by family who also grabbed some. I had never tried it but really, it's one of the most ancient grains you can get. It's a type of wheat that apparently goes back to around 7700 B.C. but has only really gained popularity as sort of a trendy grain in the last couple years. So I was curious and I'm always excited to try a new food to add some variety.

It reminds me of barley in flavor and texture, and actually I think it looks like barley too. It's got lots of protein and fiber, making it a great choice for a complex carbohydrate when you get tired of rice or quinoa. I used the farro last night along with a veggie stir fry, and I made sure to cook a little extra to have in the fridge. It cooks up like pasta. 1 cup of farro to 3 cups of water, boil gently for about 15 minutes (or until the texture is what you like), drain and serve!

Inspired by this breakfast I had once last month, I decided to recreate it using farro.

(So I had already dug in when I snapped this, it was too good to wait!)

I'm not too good at recipes, since I tend to just add a pinch of this and a pinch of that, without thinking about it. I'm really a "to taste" sort of person when I cook. But I'll give you the basic idea. 

Farro with Sautéed Apple and Greek Yogurt

Serves 1 (but can definitely be multiplied for a crowd, super easy!)

1/4 cup cooked farro (I used this brand)
1 small chopped apple (something you like, but remember some get mushy when cooked)
1/2 tsp coconut oil (optional)
2 tbls milk or dairy-free milk (I used coconut-almond milk)
dash vanilla
sweetener (optional, I went without since I used the honey on top, apples are pretty sweet)
1/4 cup greek yogurt (I used plain Greek Gods brand)
1/2 tbls honey
Optional toppings: walnuts, pecans, bananas, etc

In a small pre-heated skillet, add the coconut oil and let it heat up. Add the chopped apple and cinnamon (I like a lot!) and stir it around and let it heat up. Stir in the cooked farro and cook for about a minute. Slowly add the milk, letting it soak in like you would a risotto. Continue adding until it seems to not soak in anymore (this took me about 5 minutes). You could completely skip the milk by the way, it would be totally yummy without. I loved the flavor it added though. 

Anyway, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Top with yogurt and drizzle with honey. 

Seriously one of the best breakfasts I've had in awhile, and you all know that I love my breakfasts! I specifically love a chance to incorporate a healthy grain besides oatmeal. I love oatmeal, but it helps to change things up sometimes, keeps it fresh and makes it easier to keep making healthy choices! 

I paired this with some egg whites cooked with peppers and kale for a nice balanced breakfast. 

Let me know if you try it! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Planning a "Real Food" Birthday

Amelia turns 3 next month. I'm having some anxiety about this. The old me is sitting on one shoulder saying "Just give in to the easier party with the bakery-purchased cake I normally purchase".. and the new me is saying "you can make a cake from scratch and she'll be thrilled with it as long as she has some friends to share it with"..

Birthdays have kind of gotten out of hand in our family. I won't lie and say it's not my fault either. Desire to keep up with the other families and not let my kids down really plays a big part (all in my head, of course). Luckily, Grace has gotten to the age where she's got fairly grand ideas but on a smaller scale (last year she took two close friends to Build-a-Bear and then out to lunch). Still not the least expensive birthday but certainly easy to do.

Then of course there is the family celebrations. Sometimes multiplied by two since we have family we can't celebrate with on the day of. All in all though, very overkill. It's hard not to though when you consider it's the birth of your baby that you want to celebrate! As a mom, those are the most important days in my life! I want to shout it from the rooftops and behave as though I'm the only mom who has ever had this great accomplishment. Lately though, all the goody bags and donuts and cupcakes and small toys that get broken or lost (with a ton of tears on the side) plus 3 or 4 school birthdays a month between the two older kids and I'm just disillusioned by it all.

Getting the girls on board with the 'less is more' concept is hard and it's my own fault. After all, they wouldn't know was 'more' was like if we hadn't been going overboard since birth. For the record, Chris has always been against the overkill.

Anyway, so as we head into what I call "birthday season" (Amelia in March, Chris in April,  Grace in May and Cate in June) it makes me realize what a season of gluttony it is. When you factor in Halloween, Christmas, Valentines' Day, and Easter the treats just don't stop. It's not even special anymore. Maybe it shouldn't be, because then you think of food as being the reason for these special occasions, but the focus should NOT be on food. It should be on that persons birthday, or spending time with family. Unfortunately in our society, food always seems to come hand in hand.

So for now my game plan is to bake our cakes, etc at home and do real food for any birthday celebrations. Grace is in love with the idea of cake pops, but we discussed making them at home from scratch instead of mixes. I think it'll be a great way for all of us to learn how to make these celebrations more special, without feeling like their sacrificing.

I think heading into it my main goal is to keep them fun and focused on the reason for the celebrations in the first place.

Stay tuned for more birthday posts as we come closer to planning.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crunchy Coconut Buckwheat Granola

I love granola. I mean, really love it. I love fruity smoothies poured in a bowl and topped with granola (I eat it like soup, haha). Yogurt topped with granola. Granola by the handful. Whatever. I love homemade granola the best though, because then I control what is in it. Store-bought granola, in my opinion, falls into two categories: Tons of fat/sugar and no fat or sugar which equals no taste. It's not secret that I'd always prefer the tons of fat/sugar version because this is where the flavor is.

However, making it yourself gives you that control and then you get the best of both worlds! All in the palm of your hands. Don't you love it when you get control of the situation?

The recipe I'm sharing is not mine. I *do* have a recipe that I've used in the past, but I found this one while spending way too much time on casually browsing Pinterest. Since I love (and I mean LUV) coconut I knew I needed to make it. Two Peas and Their Pod has some awesome recipes. Really decadent stuff. This is the first time I've made anything from there and I will absolutely be doing a few more as well, if this granola is any indication of the quality. Their recipe  was pretty darned perfect (and their photography makes mine look like Amelia took the pictures). Except that I have this new buckwheat and I was dying to make granola with it. Raw buckwheat groats are actually edible. They have sort of a 'Grape Nuts' sort of flavor and texture that I really love! In granola though? Over the top!

Here is the recipe with the changes I made to it:

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup buckwheat groats (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (Original recipe called for sweetened but I love unsweetened)
2/3 cup slivered almonds
2 tbls ground flax
1/4 cup wheat germ2 tablespoons Trader Joes Maple Sugar (This recipe only has 2 grams of sugar per serving, the amounts can absolutely be increased if you would rather have a sweeter end result)1 teaspoon cinnamon1/4 teaspoon salt3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted1/2 cup local orange blossom honey1 teaspoon vanilla extract1/4 teaspoon coconut extract 

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, coconut oil, applesauce and honey in a sauce pan and heat just until combined and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and then add in the extracts. Set aside for a moment. 

Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour the wet mixture over the dry. Stir well to combine. 

Pour the granola mixture out onto a large cookie sheet covered with either parchment or a silicone baking mat. 

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes (this is the length of time and cooking temp Alton Brown uses for his recipe and I find this works the best to get an evenly toasted granola without any burnt pieces).

Let cool and store in an air-tight container.

This one is pretty nutrient dense and isn't lower in fat or calories than your store bought counterparts. However, it's MUCH lower in sugar and all that fat and calories are from REAL foods.

Also, one of the things I absolutely love about granola is it's pretty forgiving! I've substituted puffed rice or crispy rice cereal to cut back on some of the calories. However, I found that in this case, I'd rather have a smaller serving than give up too much of the oats. The crispy and puffed cereals both add something to the texture though and if you enjoy those cereals you definitely can incorporate them.

Also, you can add different nuts, seeds and other mix-ins. I have made gingerbread granola, maple granola, pumpkin spice granola and vanilla bean granola. Plus, you can add fruits (though I suggest adding them after). Alternately, you can go absolutely PLAIN and just use oats for a seriously basic granola that you can then add to other recipes (like granola bars and cookies, etc). So you can really get creative here based on your tastes.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

Chewy granola bars

As promised I've got some recipes to share. Plus some fantastic photography.

I'm not sure I should call these bars granola bars since I didn't make them using granola. Oh well, what I should call them is seriously tasty. I've been on the hunt for some time now for a bar snack I could send the girls to school with that they love. I've been done with buying the processed ones (even though so-called 'healthier versions') so we've been making due with extra fruit and veggie snacks. The girls come home starved those days though, and I knew I needed to get back to the drawing board.

The problem is that I needed them to fit the following criteria:

- They needed to be chewy
- They needed to NOT be made with a ton of sugar or any seriously refined sugar
- They needed to actually *stick* in the form of a bar (which seemed to hard to find without using a lot of sugar, which violated my second criteria
- The girls needed to love them.
- No peanuts or nuts (although that one I could easily get around by using sunflower seed butter)

So I have made several batches. Some Grace ate in the form of granola. Some no one wanted to eat. Some were hard as a rock and some were so nutritionally dense (and not in a good way) that I didn't want anyone eating them.

So enter Chocolate Covered Katie. Oh, haven't you met? She's this amazing food blogger who pretty much takes every little fun treat and flips it around to include healthy ingredients. Because life is so much more fun when you get dessert. She's done everything from Copycat recipes (reeses and oreos anyone?) to perfect little individual cakes. Obviously desserts are still desserts and should be consumed once in a while and not every day, but with these recipes you can indulge without twelve million ingredients that you can't even pronounce. The reeses? I can vouch that they genuinely taste like the famous ones. Even my kids will tell you. Anyway, I'm getting off point. Her 'copycat' for the Quaker bars is pretty much the first bar recipe that actually worked. Met all the criteria, and I'm pretty excited for trying out different varieties in the future and adding other fun things like flax and chia.

Copycat Recipe- Quaker-style chewy granola bars - courtesy of my favorite dessert blogger. Seriously, she rocks.

Sorry for my horrible picture. Looks good though right? Sorry, this one's mine. 

So as usual, I'm going to share the link to the original, but what I'm posting is how I made them. Check out her site for other substitution information, as well as a 'no bake' and gluten free options. Did I mention how awesome she is?

Quaker-Style Chewy Granola Bars
  • 1 cup rolled oats 
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup brown rice crispies (I used sprouts version. Ingredients list: whole brown rice)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp oat flour (I'm assuming you could mix this up with things like almond or coconut meal or other flours)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tbls coconut sugar (or other sweetener of choice)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp applesauce (banana would probably work as well, or pumpkin!)
  • Ideas for the add-ins: mini chocolate chips, chopped raisins or other dried fruit, shredded coconut, chopped walnuts, etc.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine all dry ingredients and mix very well. (If you don’t have oat flour: simply grind rolled oats in a food processor to make oat flour. Be sure to measure the correct amount of flour for the recipe after grinding, not before.) In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients. Stir wet into dry and use another sheet of parchment (or wax) paper to squish evenly-coated mixture into a parchment-lined 7×5 pan (or double the recipe for a 9×13). Squish very, very hard, with a can or something heavy. Bake 18 minutes, then squish very hard again. Cool in the fridge for at least ten minutes before cutting into bars. (I just let them cool on the counter though it was hard to be patient)

*My notes* - I used mini Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips and finely shredded coconut as my mix-ins. 1/4 cup each. I felt like I could taste each of these items just fine with these measurements. I doubled the recipe and used a 9x13 plus a SECOND 9x13 to use for pressing down. I LITERALLY stood on top of it. I think, in all honesty, this is probably where I ran into issues with granola bars in the past, not pressing the mixture down enough. I might consider cutting back a wee bit more on the sugar next time, and upping the applesauce a tiny bit. Plus, I'll probably play around with adding flax and wheat germ and a few other healthier mix ins. For now though, we're all enjoying these.  
But with doubling the recipe, I got 20 bars, comparable in size to the Quaker brand version. I individually wrapped these and stuck them in the freezer. I'll stick them in their bags for lunches or snacks. I don't send them this type of stuff everyday. However, at our school snacks must be fairly portable since the kids eat them outside before recess. 
So enjoy! If you make them, please share what you mixed in and how you liked them!

Here is how they stack up:
This version has: 124 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber

Quaker version has: 100 calories, 3 grams of fat, 7 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of fiber. (Plus they have all the following as well)

Don't mind me..

I'm just trying really hard to bounce back from this illness. It's magically transformed from strep to a sinus infection.

I have recipes though! I want to share them because I'm pretty excited about them. One for granola (I'll share mine plus link to the original) and granola bars (ditto). So stay tuned! I'm particularly excited for the granola because it turned out pretty fantastic PLUS there is a fun ingredient I included that has just added the best crunch!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Understanding Vegan "Complete" Proteins

We didn't go all the way to vegan. Yet. It is something we ideally wanted to do. Trying to go from one extreme to another really intimidated me, however, and felt overwhelming. Vegetarian seemed a very comfortable place to settle for now.

In making this huge change I needed to make sure we were all still getting enough protein. In order to do this, I had to really understand what a protein is, what makes up a protein and which sources would be best for us.

Proteins are basically essential for the repair and growth of tissue in our bodies. Proteins are made up of things called amino acids. Now, I don't want to get too technical, because to be honest I'm not an expert at all. I can get the basics though. There are 20 amino acids, many of which we make in our bodies. The remaining are referred to as 'essential amino acids' because well, that's what they are to us. We can't make them ourselves but they are essential for that tissue growth and repair.

In all the sources of proteins we can get in our diets, there are two types, complete and incomplete. If they contain all the essential amino acids (I think there are 8 or 9), they are called complete proteins. If they don't, they are called incomplete proteins.

So many things can be sources of protein, but in eliminating meat, poultry and fish (all complete proteins) I needed to research some others. We do still include dairy and eggs though, which are also complete proteins. We cannot live on omelets alone however, and so I would like to cut back on how much we rely on them for protein.

Plant-based proteins are how vegans include all the proteins they need for their diets. If you combine your proteins in specific combinations they will make a complete protein. For example, combining lentils and brown rice. Or black beans and peanuts. However, there are a few complete plant-based proteins and I plan to include them in our diets regularly. I'm going to introduce you to three I've been researching here, with the exception of soy. Soy is sort of the lead player in the vegetarian diet, but I'm avoiding it because I have thyroid disease.

Quinoa (keen-wah)- Quinoa is one of my favorites and we have actually been eating this for some time now. Quinoa is actually not a grain at all and believe it or not, it's closely related to spinach and beets! If you find an official gluten free variety (which means that it's not grown near wheat, which apparently can cause cross-contamination) then it's a great option for those who are gluten-free. You can use quinoa for many things. Quinoa can be ground into flour and used for pastas, in bread recipes, and I even have a hot cereal similar to oatmeal. It has sort of a nutty flavor, and from it's original form it cooks up like rice. There are a couple varieties to look for as well.

Amaranth: This grain has been harvested for going on 8000 years and it was a staple grain for the Aztecs! Very cool. It's another gluten free option for my GF friends and it puffs up a bit when cooked, like rice. It can also be popped like popcorn! I plan to try this soon!

Buckwheat: This is another GF one I've been the most excited about trying. I mean, who hasn't seen 'Buckwheat Pancakes' on a brunch menu from time to time? Finding a complete protein I can make pancakes out of? Score! By the way, if you've eaten soba noodles then you've enjoyed buckwheat. Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. Buckwheat is much healthier when eaten in it's whole form rather than flour but either way has many uses. We just had buckwheat waffles for dinner. So you can cook buckwheat like rice. What's cool about it though is you can just eat it right out of the bag! To me it tastes a little like Grape Nuts. It's kind of crunchy and nutty. It can be eaten on salads, yogurts, smoothies, tossed in and baked with granolas. Plus, it's got a ton of health benefits.

So in case you can't tell I'm really excited about including more of these 'non grains' in our daily diets.

So honorable mention goes to two more that I haven't had the chance to really check into yet, but am actually already including. Hemp (um, yes, it's the fiber of the cannabis plant) and Spirulina. Spirulina is actually a blue-green algae and has a fairly strong flavor so I'm still working on ways to include it, but I do take a supplement. Here are some links if you'd like to learn more about spirulina and hemp.

I'll make sure to share any fun recipes I find, and I hope if you try them you'll do the same!

***I'm not a doctor or even a registered dietician (yet!), so if you come across any incorrect information, please feel free to comment below!! I'm always up to learning something new!

Monday, February 4, 2013

No Thank You

I know. I'm a terrible mother. I actually don't make them eat the food I cook. I don't send them to bed hungry. I still have nightmares of sitting in the dark at a babysitters' house, with a plateful of these huge white beans that I refused to eat. She turned the dining room light down and left me in there with those damned beans. She wouldn't even give me more water to choke them down with.

People say "oh, don't worry about traumatizing them by making them eat these foods, they won't remember it tomorrow".. oh, I remember.

So I've always been careful with that. Plus, I've always sort of let them eat when they're hungry. They get 20 minutes to eat lunch at school and a few minutes for a snack during the day so when they get home they are quite hungry and I just let them snack. Not on horrible foods or anything. They still snack though.

I've not had huge issues with this however. I know so many people who just hate my method here. I feel like though, that I'm teaching them to eat when they are hungry. My kids are more than capable of saying "I'm not hungry, thanks" and I'm glad for that.

Since I started cooking "real food" though, time is a little more stretched. I am getting more and more tired of making a second meal for Grace and Cate, who I end up feeding slightly earlier than us because of that. Then because Amelia wants to eat with Grace and Cate, she eats what they eat even though she would most often *gladly* eat what we eat (and btw- Amelia and I eat the same thing for lunch, I don't make two lunches when it's just us, so you know.. I got things right with her).

So dinner has just become a little bigger issue. Plus, as is usual with picky eaters and problem eaters, I feel like their small circle of acceptable foods are shrinking. Now, I do 'enrich' their foods. They know this. It's a thing here. Chris even started calling it enriched. "Are the pancakes enriched?" "Is this smoothie enriched?" I add flax, various greens, protein powders (whey and pea), extra eggwhites (to pancakes), etc. They know I do this. They watch me stuff fresh baby kale or frozen spinach into the blender with the fruit and yogurt. They see me dump flax and chia seeds into the pancake batter. While they accept this method in that way, there are several dozen other things that I can't get them to eat. Now, I'm not posting about this because I want someone to fix my family. My family is just that. MY family. Not YOUR family. What works for you may not work for me. It's not like I haven't tried other methods. So your kids eat everything? Good for you.

Whole Wheat Vegetable Quesadillas (100 Days of Real Food, love her!) is what I made for dinner tonight though, for *all* of us. I used sauteed kale and zucchini on whole wheat tortillas with cheese. I served that with their standard 'cheese crisp' side of avocado, Fage 0% (instead of sour cream, try it! It rocks!), broccoli/green beans and a little fruit.

Enough of the sides that if they chose not to eat the quesadilla they wouldn't go hungry. The food itself familiar enough that it wasn't a completely foreign object being thrown at them. They knew about it ahead of time.

Well, they each ate a 'no thank you bite'. Grace actually ate close to an entire little section. In the end however, most of theirs was left. It's a start.

They understand the new program and they know this is not going away. They even know that I'll serve this same thing again next week. And that next week they will have to take another 'no thank you bite', because you know.. sometimes you just have to try things again and again before you realize you like them (or so every damned child nutrition expert says).

It's definitely a struggle. I guess though, that I'm finally ready to take the challenge, and I never was before. I feel like my taste buds have grown up so much in the past 6 months. That I'm so much more open to healthy and clean eating and real food that I want to share that with them.

Plus there is that thing about us giving up meat and while they weren't big meat eaters, well ever, they will be missing some nutrients from that. Some of which will still come from dairy and eggs, but some will be best received from plant-based nutrition.

So wish me luck. I've done a lot of great things for myself over the last half year. Baking our own bread, crackers, peanut butter... making exercise a necessary part of our routine (and letting them know that my needs ARE important where this is concerned), giving up all junk food and fast food.. that is all for them. And so is this. Someday they'll see that.

Right now, I think they're pretty upset. And a little hungry.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How I recuperate

I thought I would take todays post and share with you how I handle illness. Or rather, how I handle it now.

Taking a break from strenuous exercise- On Thursday morning when I nearly passed out while making the girls' lunches it was pretty clear that I needed a break. I didn't realize what was wrong at that point but I knew my body was telling me something. So I went back to bed. Luckily, I have a great husband who was willing to tag team in so the girls could get to school on time and I could get some rest.

I felt somewhat better on Friday, though I knew I needed to see a doctor since my throat was still bothering me (and my ear was sort of aching as well). I thought I might get away with a light walk that evening, but an afternoon doctors' visit confirmed my strep throat suspicion so I bagged the walk idea.

Yesterday I felt terrible so there was no way I was going to even try to do more than rest and try to help take care of my family.

Today has been declared an official rest day. Other than a little laryngitis, I'm feeling much better. However, trying to do too much too soon can result in getting sore (when you normally wouldn't) and feeling tired and achy throughout your workout. However, I'm not laying around in bed. Now that I'm not contagious, today is all about laundry (getting rid of those germs!) and cooking and veggie prep for the week ahead. I may go for a very light walk this evening as well.

Tomorrow, I'll get back into the game with a long walk, perhaps a short bike ride and just generally trying to be active. I won't do a strenuous cardio session (though if my walk turns into a comfortable jog, that will be fine). Tuesday I'll get back into it, heading into the gym for a serious sweat (as long as it feels as comfortable as it normally does). Plus, I'll be making sure to get some good stretching in before and after.

Your body uses a lot of energy in healing itself when you are sick. Even if you take medicine and painkillers, your body is working hard! Causing it to overwork when you are sick does you no favors. Let your body rest and it will let you know when you're ready to go. If you're worried about losing your focus, ask a couple friends to bug the heck out of you when you're feeling better to get focused again.

Hydrate- and I don't mean with juice/soda/sports drinks, etc., unless it's juice you're juicing yourself. I mean water or hot tea. I wasn't nearly as good about this as I should have been (hey, swallowing food/water is hard when you have strep) but I'm really making sure to make up for it with these last two rest days. One of the biggest complications from illnesses like strep and the flu and colds is dehydration. Your body needs those fluids more than ever! I will tell you what, warm tea with a little honey is also helping to sooth my scratchy throat.

Good, healthy foods- Lots of immunity boosting things like citrus, ginger and garlic. Eat what your comfortable eating (meaning, if it hurts to swallow you may want to stick with some comforting healthy soups), but keep it light. Also, I don't know about you but dairy tends to aggravate my throat when I'm sick, making it feel harder to swallow. If you're not super hungry, try smaller snacks if you can to help nourish your body, supplying the energy to heal. Things like almonds, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and vegetable soups. Include protein, which helps your body build and maintain strength. Definitely make sure to eat something though! I know that you may not feel like it, and some people love that post-illness weight drop. Please remember though that a) it's temporary and b) it's not fat you've lost, it's most likely water weight. Plus, you do NOT want your body noshing on your muscle in the absence of food.

So hopefully these things will allow me to get back to my routine this next week and enjoy the nice weather we have in our forecast. Plus, since I've been down for the count, the house is a wreck and I definitely have some chores ahead of me!

What are some of your 'must haves' when you're sick! Are you a chicken soup kinda person? Ice cream? Flat Sprite and saltines (that used to be mine, but no more soda for me!)

Stay healthy people!

Edited: Good thing I checked back. I do know how to spell recuperate...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cutting Out Unprocessed Food

I know that I've been relaxed about posting but I have strep.. yeah, I know (acknowledging all the sympathetic looks and nods).

So I thought for today while I'm healing and resting that I would direct you all over to a great blog about a family going unprocessed. 100 Days of Real Food. Lisa Leake and her family pledged to go 100 days without any refined or processed foods. She's got so may great tips and recipes for ridding your house of all these processed foods that those of us with kids especially seem to rely on.

I'm still going into the archives and reading up, because lots of the things she has covered are things I deal with. Picky Eaters, what to pack for lunches and OMG how to handle the 'Birthday-treat-at-school' thing.

To start though, here is her list of 10 Reasons to Cut Out Processed Foods. So you know, don't take my word for it. Take hers. She's more famous than I am. ;)

Happy Reading! Please share your top reason for cutting out processed foods in the comments, I'd love to hear them! Come on, give me some entertainment while I'm resting.