Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Smoothies made easier

My smoothies have a new BFF in the form of a canning jar.

Recently, I saw this "hack" of attaching a blender base to a canning jar. This works for most blenders, but not all of them.  (Side note:  I absolutely hate when I see "life hacks" on Facebook.  I do not want any part of my life hacked, it sounds awful.  And don't get me started on the videos of "You've been doing ____ wrong".  No I haven't been doing it wrong.  I've successfully cut cake and watermelon up to this point in my life, it's not wrong!)

Rant over.  Back to my smoothies.  As silly as this sounds, sometimes I don't want to make them in the mornings because of extra dishes.  If the sink is really full, a bowl of oatmeal will only dirty one dish, whereas a smoothie will dirty two:  the cup I drink out of and the blender.  The oatmeal wins.

I needed a new gasket anyhow for my blender after I didn't put it back on correctly and it shredded into pieces, so I got a new one in a pack with a whole new blender base.  Now I have two blender bases--woo hoo!  It's much easier to clean just the base and the jar instead of the whole blender and my cup, and I'm all about less dishes.

My immersion blender in a canning jar also works well and I've started using that some too.  It worked really well and still left me with less dishes than a regular blender.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sweet treat

Hey there friends!  I've got a super-fast, no bake, delicious treat for you today.  I made this last night to go with some red wine and it was soooo good!
There were more, but we ate them :)
8 Medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips*
Shredded coconut for sprinkling on top

Pit the dates and mash up well with a fork in a bowl.  Add in the almonds and stir as best as you can.  Continue combining with your hands.  Roll into 12-14 balls.  Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave (stir every 30 seconds until melted).  Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Dip the balls in the chocolate with a fork, shaking off the excess, and place on the parchment paper.  Sprinkle with the shredded coconut.  

I place mine in the freezer so the chocolate will set faster and then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!

*I used dairy-free 63% cacao chips.  A higher percentage equals a darker chocolate, with a lower sugar content. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentines for the non-crafty mama

I am not a crafty mama.  God made me more of a Pinterest fail mama, but this week I made a fairly decent valentine.  I'm sharing it because it's super easy, and provides a healthy snack for kids instead of a bunch of sweet treats.  

My kids are still so little valentines cards just aren't even on my radar.  However, we were invited to a really fun Valentine's party play date at a park with other little ones and their mamas.  The night before I was reviewing the invitation to remind myself of the details, and I realized I should have something for my boys to pass out to other kids.  Dang it! Yes, I know it wasn't required, but I wanted my toddler to get the experience of giving to others.

My first thought was, "I'll just print something, cut it out, and it's just the best we can do right now."  But, I couldn't let the idea of doing something slightly better go.  Quickly, I scanned my brain for valentines ideas to include some kind of non-candy treat, knowing my little one will be getting enough sugar over the next couple of days.  Then my eyes fell on my popcorn kernels.

Previously, I had heard of making popcorn in a brown paper bag, but hadn't actually tried it myself.  So, I gave it a go and it was super easy. The idea of a basic popcorn for the kids I really liked because it's sugar free, and allergy-free.  I had the popcorn kernels, and I had my husband stop on the way home to get enough brown lunch bags (thanks honey!)
This bottle was enough to fill bags for 16 kids.  You could cut the amount of kernels in half and get 32 bags. 
I made a very basic print out to cut and tape to the bags, wishing the boys' friends "a poppin' Valentine's Day."  I don't know what a "poppin' Valentine's Day" would consist of, but I believe it's a good thing.
My computer decided to be crazy when I pressed print.  This was not the font I chose, but I wasn't messing with it anymore. 
The next morning, the toddler helped me fill the bags with 1/4 cup of popcorn. This amount fills approximately 3/4 of a brown paper bag when the popcorn is popped.
Simple, quick printout with instructions
Here are the instructions for brown lunch bag popcorn:

  1. Fill the bag with 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels
  2. Fold down the top of the bag
  3. Shake the bag a little so the kernels are spread out and put the bag flat in the microwave
  4. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (keep an eye on the bag, times may vary, and your popcorn could burn)
  5. Season however you like
  6. Enjoy!

Fresh popcorn, with no additional ingredients
Since we got home from the party, my child has asked me for three bags of popcorn.  I cut the amount of popcorn in each bag in half, down to 2 tablespoons of kernels and only microwave it for 1 1/2 minutes, it's a better serving size.

Indoor activities for littles...guest post

I wrote a guest piece over at New Crunchy Mom about indoor activities for little ones that don't involve technology or spending money.  Go see!

Of course, I include some activities in the kitchen ;)

Confusing food terms (part 2)

Alright, let's pick up from yesterday where I talked about about confusing food terms and what they really mean:  healthy, natural, fat-free, and organic.  If you didn't see it, pop on over here to catch up.

Today, I want to look at three more terms, and how you can make the best decisions when buying food.

A calorie is a unit of energy; energy we burn throughout our day.  Counting calories, and calorie restriction, is a popular way to lose weight.  In this weight loss plan, you want the calories in to be less than calories out (calories--energy--you burn through the day) and you'll lose weight.  There are two main points I want to make about calories.

1.  Eat enough calories!  Yes, this is the opposite of what your brain may think you need to do to lose weight.  However, too much of a calorie deficit will make your body think you're trying to starve yourself and it will go into survival mode and hold onto the excess weight.   If you are trying to lose weight, you might need to work with a professional trained in dietary needs.

When I had to give up dairy and eggs because of breastfeeding, I saw a dietitian to make sure I was eating the right foods.  The week before I saw her I tracked everything I ate and then brought the food journal to the appointment.  My expectation going into the appointment was that we would talk about the correct foods to eat. Instead, the first thing she said was that I wasn't taking in enough calories, I was floored (and excited because I got to eat more!)  After the appointment, I continued tracking my foods and I'm now at a point where I'm comfortable enough with what I'm eating that I no longer need to track.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Confusing food terms (part 1)

Low calorie=Healthy?
Whole foods=Organic?
GMO=Going Mad Over unclear food terms?

There are so many terms used by food companies, and marketers when they want to send a message "YOU SHOULD EAT (insert food name) TO BE HEALTHY!" What does it really all mean though?

So, let's start with the term healthy.  Go ahead, what does it mean to you?  The Food and Drug Administration actually has a definition of the word healthy, but it can be misleading.  For example, choose the option below the FDA defines as healthy:
  1. Salmon and avocados
  2. Raisin Bran and Campbell's soup
If you choose number 1 you're wrong.  The FDA says these items have too much fat (even if it's good fat) and cannot labeled as healthy.  However, Raisin Bran loaded with sugar does meet the requirement. 

Just remember the healthy label can be a good food decision, but it may not be completely black and white.  I would prefer to include salmon, avocado, and almonds in my family's diet over sugary cereals, and sodium-laden soup with unclear ingredients. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016's not your worst decision

Pizza is one food I can say I have loved since the first moment I had it. I mean really, doesn't everyone?  Even with my toddler I can put anything on a piece of bread, tell him it's pizza and he'll eat it.

Pizza gets a bad label for being unhealthy, but it's really about what's on top.  You know how we tell kids, "You can be anything you want to be"?  Yeah, well so can your pizza.  It can be healthy, or incredibly unhealthy.  A pizza made with wheat flour, homemade pizza sauce (it's really just tomato sauce with some herbs and spices), vegetables, lean protein, and some cheese is not the same as a greasy slice loaded down with cheese and hearty meats.

In face, one of the meals I freeze for my toddler is individual pizzas.  His pizzas are a whole wheat crust, homemade pizza sauce, and some cheese cut into Mickey shapes using a cookie cutter.  At the heart of his pizza, it's just wheat bread, tomatoes, and cheese, put some veggies on the side and you have a well-rounded meal.  If you have a picky eater in the family, add veggies in the food processor with your pizza sauce to get in some extra nutrients.  

When I'm at home I get creative with our pizzas.  It's so easy, and if something doesn't turn out well, just pick it off.  My pizzas usually include:
  • some type of protein
  • vegetables
  • wheat crust
  • dairy may or may not be included
With my weekly meal plan, I buy planned ingredients, but sometimes I see what I have in the refrigerator that needs to be eaten soon.  On those day, then I end up with creations like this below.  

Tempeh pizza with roasted vegetables

Friday, February 5, 2016

Game day game plan

Alright football fans, and football-fans-one-day-out-of-the-year, it's almost game day!  As in THE GAME DAY--the Super Bowl.  I personally believe organizers of the first Super Bowl had a vision in naming it so, because one day people all over America would be eating their body weight in food in a super bowl for the Super Bowl.

Sorry to disappoint, but I am not providing the blueprint for the perfect Super Bowl party, or cute Pinterest worthy, DIY football decorations. Okay, I'll give you one easy recipe:  kale chips.  They're super simple and will impress guests all around with your culinary kale skills. If you don't like kale still give these a try, you' ll be surprised by the taste.  Or, you can see my post about snack ideas.

Instead, I want to talk about keeping up your healthy eating habits through the game.

My husband proclaims the Super Bowl to be his favorite holiday, so I'm not serving just any old meal.  We're breaking a few regular rules, but keeping with some others (if you're going to eat unhealthy, make it from scratch yourself).  You can see our game plan at the bottom. Let's make a plan for your success, but enjoy the game as well.
  • Break your rules:  It's okay to sometimes break your healthy eating rules, but this should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Draw the line:  Determine what you will eat and what you won't. For example, buffalo wings may be something you don't regularly eat, but you're going to on Sunday because it's the Super Bowl.  However, you may draw the line at the deep fried cookie-brownie combo--good decision.  
  • Set alcohol limits:  If you're going to be drinking, specify the number of drinks you will not exceed--no, 20 drinks is not a real limit.  See the chart below regarding blood alcohol content for your size.  If you are drinking, the healthiest decision you can make is to have a designated driver :)
  • Snack before you go:  Have a little healthy snack before you go so you're not super hungry and more likely to go off plan when the game starts. 
  • BYOF (bring your own food): Bring a healthy dish you love so you know there's at least one good option for you.  
  • Announce it loud and proud:  Tell people you're eating healthier, so they know not to tempt you foods you don't want to eat.
  • Have a friend:  Ensure you have an accountability partner with you to make healthy decisions as well, it will be easier if it's not just you
  • Drink lots of water:  You need to stay hydrated if you're going to be drinking, and it will help you realize when you're full from food and not thirsty. (Side note:  people regularly confuse thirst for hunger, and will eat instead of drinking the water needed.)
  • Fruits and veggies first:  Kick your eating off right with your fruits and veggies first before heading on to the fried stuff
  • Space out your eating:  If you haven't had unhealthy food in awhile and have been saving up for this day, you might get a little overexcited and eat more than you want.  It's a long game, pace yourself.
  • Work you plan:  Make a plan that works for you for this one special day, and then stick to it
  • Congratulate yourself:  See your plan through, feel pride in your accomplishment, and get back to a regular healthy eating plan Monday morning.   
Even if you're not going out to watch the game, have a plan for eating a home.  The game is long and there are lots of tempting commercials, so you don't want to eat mindlessly.

DUI Chart
Source:  State of California DMV

The game plan for my house is as follows.  It's simple because we'll be watching the game at home with two little ones:
  • Snacks will be cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks with my homemade ranch
  • The main meal around halftime will be:  buffalo wings and sweet potato chips
  • Dessert will be a chocolate, date and almond recipe I'm messing with for Valentine's Day 
  • We watch the game at home so there are no extra food temptations, and no drinking and driving
Enjoy the game!  Go Broncos!

Kale chips--so good you won't want to share

Start off with a bag of kale.  I use the 10 oz. bag from Trader Joe's that comes washed, and pre-chopped.  If your kale is not washed and chopped into bite size pieces, you 're going to need to add those steps.

Remove the leaves from the stems.  See in the picture below, all the stems are gone.  This is the most time consuming and annoying part, just enlist your children for help.

Put the kale in a large freezer bag with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.  Seal the bag and shake it well.  Spread the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet.  At this point, I toss the kale a little more with my hands to ensure all parts are a little shiny with olive oil.  You don't want it dripping, but you do want everything equally covered.
The kale is covered lightly with olive oil and salt before baking
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes until the edges are brown and the kale has shrunk slightly in size.  The pieces should be a little crispy, but not burnt.

1 10 oz. bag of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash kale and cut into bite size pieces (if not already done).  Remove the stems from the leaves of each of the pieces.  Put all the kale in a large freezer bag along with olive oil and salt.  Shake the bag to combine all the ingredients and coat the kale. Put on a baking sheet, and continue combining with your hands until all pieces are covered.  Spread the kale into a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes until the edges are brown and the pieces are crispy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

One bad meal

I hope you will find some encouragement from my day yesterday. Let me give you the main idea—I made a terrible dinner. Encouraging aren’t I?

Let me back up to the beginning.

Yesterday I was running through the grocery store with way too much on my mind. The laundry was piled up and not folded, the dishes were threatening to overthrow my kitchen, my toddler had seemingly become possessed, and the to-do list was not getting shorter. So, I was trying to get my groceries as fast as humanly possible with the baby so I can get home to get a few things accomplished. For the record, the possessed toddler wasn’t home alone because he’s been crazy lately, he was at school, you can relax.

When it came time to start cooking dinner, a butternut squash risotto, I was so ready for some time inside my head. Side note: I’ve been really craving winter squashes; something about them is perfect in the winter. Yes, I know I live in southern California and it’s not that cold comparatively. The struggle is not real.
The cooking starts off strong. I'm taking pics because I know it's going to be good. 
 Anyhow, back to my story. Cooking time is me time; time for me to think, quiet time with relaxing music, and time do something I love (at least in theory this is how it’s supposed to go.) I didn’t have an exact recipe for the risotto, but I had the basics and some ideas.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Keeno? Queena? Keenoah? QUINOA

Quinoa, it's a hot food item right now.  Full confession, I used to think quinoa was a weird food for weird people who wanted to be weird.  Sorry, I was terribly wrong, it's delicious if you know how to use it.

Quinoa is popping up in restaurants, and in recipes constantly.  If you haven't tried it yet, and put it off like I did, now is your time.  (I've even included a recipe below for you.)

This tri-color quinoa from Trader Joe's is what I typically use

First off,  know how to pronounce it like a pro--it's KEEN-wah. Yes, I know it doesn't like that's how it's pronounced. A former co-worker loved quinoa, but probably asked me once a week how to pronounce it.

Why is quinoa such a popular food? Here are my top reasons.