Sunday, January 30, 2011

The big grocery trip

I've been to three stores today completing the big monthly shopping trip.  It was big, expensive and depressing.  Usually grocery shopping is my thing.  I often get to go by myself and it's my "me" time, so even though it is grocery shopping, I enjoy it.  Today was not one of those days though.  We spent all weekend at my parents' and while I had a great time with the family, I spent a lot of time thinking about the amount of junk I was consuming.  The ice had a funny taste which made the water gross, so I drank milk instead.  Well, let's just say consuming large quantities of milk is not good for me.

On the way home, we stopped at Sam's Club and I was armed with a list and $175 in gift cards (bought ahead of time through my church).  I spent $169.41 which was within my bugdet, but there were several key items they didn't have or didn't carry an organic alternative.  I'm coming to the conclusion that Sam's organic offerings are really lacking. 

We made it home one hour before Aldi's closed, so I hopped out of one vehicle into another (and let hubby and the kids unload the van) and headed there for the second part of the list.  Again, several items that they usually carry (whole grain pasta for one) were out of stock and the produce selection wasn't that great.  I still managed to spend $61.59 there though.

Last stop was Hy-Vee.  It is a regional chain store and has a great natural foods section.  I hit the bulk bins and picked up more natural sugar (organic was $1.49/pound which I thought was a good price).  I also got unsweeted coconut and flax seed for homemade granola.  I made it about half-way through the store when my husband called and requested lunchmeat and bread for a quick supper (by this time is was 7:30 and the girls head to bed at 8:00).  Could a find a reasonably price nitrite free lunch meat or bread without tons of gunk.  Of course not and I couldn't bring myself to buy the cheap stuff, so I spent $6 on lunchmeat and $2 on bread (picked the best of the worst there).  Organic produce, ugh.  High side was organic romaine hearts were 2/$5 instead of the usual 2/$6, but everything else was really expensive.  And then there was the maple syrup.  Since I learned that most commercial syrup has fermaldahyde in it, I had a hard time bringing myself to buy it and the store didn't carry organic.  I went ahead and bought it vowing to not buy it again.  But, I've looked online and I cannot find an affordable organic at this point.
Anyway, I'm a bit let down because I spent a lot of money, but I still need to get on Amazon and see if I can find decent alternatives for the items I need.  Thanks for letting me vent.  Hubby thanks you to, because I doubt that he wanted to listen to me rant about it! :)

An itemized list can be found in the grocery list tab.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend at Grandma's

We are spending the weekend at my Mom and Dad's.  My sister's family comes home and my brother and his family come over as well, so it's a big family reunion once a month.  We have a great time, the cousins love the opportunity to play together, and there's food.  A lot of food-most of it unhealthy, processed food.  This presents a challenge for the person attempting to eat better.  Our actual meals are fine, but the in-between stuff is the problem.  Hostess cupcakes, anyone?  Fruit snacks?  Cheetos?  Mountain Dew?

I've done really well eliminating soda.  We drove through Arby's on the way up last night and I didn't think twice before ordering water.  And, the girls ordered tea with no prompting from me.  Of course, the boys got soda, but it's a once in a while thing.  No big deal.

The problem I'm having right now is the lack of decent beverages.  There's soda (uh... no!), Sunny D (even before trying to eat healthier, I avoided drinks containing partially hydrogenated oil), and water.  Water is the obvious choice here, but I have found that the water doesn't taste very good.  Well, not the water, but the ice.  I always have ice in my water, so drinking tap water hasn't been so fun.  I've decided that this is the reason that I always drink a ton more soda when I'm at my parents' house.  Oh, well, I guess if this is my biggest challenge on my journey, I'll be ok.

Friday, January 28, 2011

End of the month grocery tally

Most of last year my grocery budget hovered around $500/month.  That included most eating out and the food for the daycare kids.  I found that if we ate home more often, we ate better and saved quite a bit of money.  With that in mind, part of my goal for 2011 was to lower my budget to $300/month.  We are leaving town tonight for the weekend, so I'm calling this my "end of the month."  My next meal plan starts Monday, so the groceries I purchase for that will count in February's budget money.

Until today, I spent right at $330.  A little over, but not too bad.  My problem is that it seems to be one of those months that you run out of everything at the same time.  Don't you hate that?  I st down last night and made my meal plan and grocery list and estimated the total to be $340.  Plus, I'll still need to get milk and produce for the rest of the month.  But, I think March's will be lower because over half of this month's money is going to a Sam's Club run and those items usually last 2-3 months, so that will be money saved in March and April (at least that's the plan).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Saying bye-bye to artificial color

There it is!  Look at it in all its glory!  This package of Jell-o is (from what I can tell) the last item of our consumable food that has artificial color.  The box has been in the back of our cabinet for a LONG time.  I think I originally bought it for a dessert I was making and then changed my mind.  Since I am cleaning up/out the pantry this week, I thought we might as well use it and get it out of here.
I try to read the labels on everything I buy to make sure it meets my food requirements.  Those are no artificial colors/flavors, no high fructose corn syrup, no preservatives, and now, no GMO's.  Occasionally, towing 3 kids around while shopping, I get distracted and something ends up in my pantry that I otherwise would not have there.  To limit these mistakes, I am attempting to make bulk food orders online and when I shop in the grocery store, only buy whole foods (fresh produce, dairy and meat).  There is the whole organic vs. non-organic thing to consider, but I'm not there yet.  Baby steps, remember!  :)

UPDATE:  Last night I filled a bowl for my 3 year old and set it in front of him.  He said, "WHAT IS THIS STUFF?" (Evidently the kid had never had it, who knew?)  I told him it was Jell-o and it was a kind of dessert.  He ate it and loved it (of course), but soon after he finished he said, "What else you got to eat.  Yell-yo tastes good but I still hungry.  You got food?"  He then had a couple orange slices and a small cup of rice milk and was good to go.  At least he realized that Jell-o isn't one of those "fill-you-up" kind of foods!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Zucchini Muffins

I thought I would spend this week revamping a few of my favorite recipes to include my new, "healthier" choices.  The first thing that came to mind were these zucchini muffins.  Last year was the first year I put out a garden and I ended up with a few zucchini.  I shredded and froze them in 1 cup portions.  They are ideal for muffins.  The kids will be having these mini muffins for snack today.

Most of the muffins I make are mini muffins (the exception being blueberry muffins and that's only because my blueberries are so big that they aren't conducive to a small muffin).  I find that young children find mini muffins very appealing.  They are easy to hold and to take a bite of.  They aren't overwhelming to the picky eater or child who doesn't eat much at one time.  I like mini muffins because I think it reduces food waste.  If a child is only hungry for one or two mini muffins, I would have wasted some if I had given them a large one.  Also, if a child is particularly hungry but couldn't eat a second large muffin, the situation could be remedied by just having "one more" mini muffin until they are full.

Not wasting food is a great way to be both thrifty and green.  If I have extra muffins, I bag them up and toss them in the freezer.  They make quick and easy breakfasts on school mornings, or a second snack if I have enough leftovers.  Getting baked goods in the freezer also helps my family not overeat.  If something is laying on the counter, you can bet that there will be a starving child or husband that NEEDS those muffins.  But, if they are out of sight, they are out of mind!


1/2 C. natural sugar
1/3 C. coconut oil
1 ripe banana, mashed (You could use an egg here, but I was running low and didn't want to sacrifice one.)
2 Tbsp. honey
1/4 C. liquid dairy (I used half & half, but milk or a non-milk alternative would work.)
1 C. shredded zucchini
1 tsp. cinnamon
 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. wheat flour (I used white whole wheat.)

Cream together oil and sugar.  Add other wet ingredients and combine.  At this point recipe books will tell you to combine dry ingredients separately and add little by little.  I'm a rebel.  I just dump all my dry ingredients in and stir it up until the flour is incorporated.  Spray a mini muffin pan and fill the cups about 2/3 full.  I use the Pampered Chef small scoop that holds about 1 tablespoon of batter.  (Unfortunately I'm not being compensated by PC to talk about their product.  It just happens to be the one I use.)

Bake at 350* for 10-12 minutes.  Turn out on a rack to cool.

Blogger's note:  I'm not a photographer and that becomes more obvious with each picture I take!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week 4: Sugar

I have been making many things from scratch for the past year or so and have found that I buy a lot of sugar.  Of course, I wait for the $1.69 sale on the 4 pound bag and stock up.  Or at least that's what I had been doing-until this month. 

I've been doing some reading on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as called genetically engineered organisms (GEOs).  My conclusion is that while I'm sure this scientific process was begun with the best intentions, I think it has now become a way for corporate agricultual giants to get bigger and continue to squash the small-time farmer.  In addition to the ethical concerns I have, there are also great health concerns.  In my opinion, these genetic modifications to our food do not have the long-term testing that is needed to conclude their safety.  In light of that, I'm trying to rid our diet (as much as possible) of GMOs.

Those little buggers sneak in everywhere.  Essentially if you buy anything non-organic that has corn or soy in it, it is a GMO.  I recently learned that sugar beets and rapeseed (canola) are also genetically modified.  There goes my $1.69 bags of sugar and my regular, easy to find, canola oil.  So, first plan of attack is the sugar.  I have already plotted and planned my big bulk sugar purchase from Azure Standard, but until I can afford that, I purchased some Florida Crystals Natual Cane Sugar.  The ingredient is evaporated cane juice.  This is not the highest on the scale of health, but it isn't genetically modified.  The rapadura that I plan to purchase has been processed in a way that leaves all the minerals in tact.  That doesn't make it the ultimate health food, but does give it some nutritional value.

Next on my list to change are my canola oil and rice.  I have removed almost all of the corn and soy from the house-just a few things that we are finishing up and they won't be replaced.

This week, look for recipes featuring my new found sugar-used sparingly because it is expensive!

Here are a few links that explain GMOs.

Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?

Genetically Modified

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cheese Crackers (goldfish style)

This week has certainly been a test of my culinary skills and today was no exception.  I made a batch of cheese crackers.  A mama on Diaperswappers linked these yummy crackers on a homemade food thread.  The post comes from stef at Cupcake Project.  On that post, you will find that this recipe has traveled around several blogs and might have started at Country Living, but regardless of its beginnings, it has made it way to my kitchen.

I've made cheese crackers from a different recipe a couple times before and they were ok, but I found that if they sat very long, they got greasy really fast and then sort of soggy.  Not a good quality in a Cheese-it type cracker.  These, on the other hand, were flaky and crispy.  This is in spite of me not rolling the first batch thin enough.  They sat on the counter for a couple hours and they were still as good cold as when I took them from the oven.  I'll have to wait and see how overnight goes another time, because the batch was eaten before I could even get any pictures!  I used a 1 1/2" biscuit cutter because I don't have any cutsey little cutters, but I think I might have to invest in a goldfish!

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese (You can use whatever you like.  I picked a yellow sharp cheddar)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t fresh-ground pepper
  • A fish cookie cutter (or a biscuit cutter)
  1. Pulse the flour, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper together using a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Pulse in 3 to 4 tablespoons of water, one tablespoon at a time, and only enough so that the dough forms a ball and rides the blade.
  3. Remove, wrap in plastic, and chill for 20 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  4. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.
  5. Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. (If you roll it thicker, it will still work, but the crackers won't be quite as crunchy. This dough rolled out so easily; you'll wish that you always worked with cheddar!)
  6. Cut out as many crackers as possible.
  7. Place them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking pans.
  8. Bake at 350 F until golden and crisp - 15 to 20 minutes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cracker week is almost over!

I have to say that I won't miss cracker week.  I've used 2 pounds of butter this week making crackers-about half of which I tossed because even the dough was gross.  But, the good news is that I have good versions of nearly all the crackers that I like to eat.  Today's recipe is for graham crackers.

I use the recipe from Weelicious and everyone who eats these crackers gives them rave reviews. 

Homemade Graham Crackers (Makes A LOT, depending on the shape you cut them in)
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, packed
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Butter, chilled & cubed
1/4 Cup Honey
1/4 Cup Water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a food processor or mixer combine the first 6 ingredients.
3. Add cubed and chilled butter to the mix and pulse/mix until it resembles coarse meal.
4. Add honey and water and continue to mix until it all combines.
5. Remove and shape the dough into a flat disk and place between two pieces of parchment paper.
6. Roll dough out until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into crackers or shapes.
7. Place cookies on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
8. Cool and serve.

I changed the original recipe up a bit and used all whole white wheat flour and light brown sugar.  They were a little denser this time than in previous times I've made them, so next time I think I will do 2 cups of wheat flour and 1/2 cup bread flour.  As for the brown sugar, once I run out of it, I'm not buying any more.  For recipes like this, I will just use natural cane sugar and 1 teaspoon or two of molasses.  I'll update when I get around to doing that to see if the bit of added moisture makes a difference in the outcome.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Caesar salad dressing-the quest is finally over!

Week 2's challenge was to healthify (is that even a word?) my salad.  I switched my lettuce from regular to organic romaine.  I made my own croutons from leftover French bread, but my biggest feat was to find homemade versions of my family's favorite dressings.  The thousand island one is ok, but when I use it up, I'll probably be looking for something else.  The ranch dressing recipe is a hit!  My husband didn't know it was homemade until I asked him how it was, and he said, "It's good.  Why?  Did you make it?"  Score one for me; actually, score one for Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.  But I did read the recipe correctly and dump everything in the blender.  That has to count for something.

The last thing I wanted to do to completely revamp my salad was to come up with a homemade Caesar dressing.  I really enjoy Caesar salads and don't want to have to wait to go out to a restaurant and pay $5.15 for a plate of salad to go with my $12.99 meal.  And, yes, I just did this on Monday!  If it helps at all, I did use a coupon!

Last week I had tried a couple recipes and the first one didn't make it past the smell and the second one faired only slightly better.  Since the ranch recipe from Kitchen Stewardship went over so well, I thought the Caesar would be a hit too.  But, my first attempt was a miserable flop.  It tasted horrible, and I was sort of sad about the whole thing.  Later that day I was fixing dinner and sauteeing onions in extra virgin olive oil.  When I poured it in the pan, some got on my finger and I licked it off before washing my hands.  It was the same icky taste.  Come to find out, I don't like olive oil.  Evidently up to this point, I've only had it cooked in food and never noticed that the oil itself has a taste.  It's fine in cooked food, but not in my Caesar salad dressing.

I remade the dressing using the recipe from Kitchen Stewardship again, this time using canola oil instead of EVOO.  Soooooo much better!  I'm sure this is a personal preference thing, but for me, I've got my dressing!

Caesar Dressing
1 egg yolk, from pastured chickens, room temperature
2 tsp apple cider vinegar (raw is best)
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 Tbs (or a little less) lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed (I used minced as that is what I had)1-2 tsp Worcestshire sauce (I used 2 tsp.)
2 Tbs (or more) Parmesan cheese (I used more! :)  )
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Blend up the egg yolk and everything else but the Parmesan and the oil with the stick blender, then stream in 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or canola oil, if you are like me).  It should thicken up into a creamy consistency, which is SO FUN to watch!  Stir in the Parmesan cheese at the end.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting closer-a quest for Ritz

I am officially a nerd.  Of course, anyone who spends more than 5 minutes with me can tell you that.  I am on a quest to make my own Ritz crackers.  It isn't really that big a deal.  I mean I have made several kinds of crackers that were all pretty good, so if occasionally I want to buy a box of Ritz, I'm sure it won't kill me.  However, this has become one of those "gotta do it" sort of things.  Last night I spent about 2 hours pouring over the internet finding thousands of recipes for using Ritz crackers and very few for making them.  At about 10 pm, I came across one that looked particularly interesting.  It was a batter that you poured in the pan and smeared around until it was level and then baked it until crisp.  SHUT UP! (said in my best Stacey London voice)  Crackers are supposed to have stiff dough and you roll them out as thin as possible and then a little thinner still.  I was intrigued.  So at 10:15 I was in the kitchen whipping up some batter crackers.  They came together very easily and although I think my dough was a little thick I spread them out and stuck them in the oven.  After 8 minutes I pulled the pans out and cut the cracker glob into squares and stuck it back in for 20 minutes.  I didn't check them at 15 minutes like I was supposed to because I didn't think they would be very good.  Oops-I should've watched them closer.  I found that 20 minutes was a bit too long, as my edges were really brown, but they were crispy and tasty.  Surprise, surprise!  I made mine plain, but the actual recipe had several spices and I think they would be even better this way.  No, these crackers aren't like a Ritz, but they are sturdy (good for dipping), have a good flavor and go well with cheese.  I think I might not need a Ritz cracker in my collection.

Just a side note, I didn't originally save the blog that I got the recipe from.  All I could remember is that the post I read talked about the lady baking crackers all night long and playing parcheesi with her husband.  Like any good detective, I googled "baking crackers parcheesi" and found the link to the blog immediately! LOL!

From what I've read so far, the blog, Choosing Voluntary Simplicity, has great stories and an awesome cracker recipe.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oats
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup water
1 cup milk
1 heaping tablespoon dried basil
1 scant tablespoon dried oregano
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic or garlic powder to taste

additional butter for brushing the tops of the crackers in the pan

Put first 6 ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse several times to break up the oats into more of a flour consistency.  Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

I added 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water.  I used less milk because I wasn't adding all of the herbs, so I didn't need as much liquid.  In hindsight, I should've added a bit more milk as my batter was probably thicker than it should've been.  If using the herbs, use the full cup of milk.

I lined 2 jelly roll pans with parchment paper and divided the batter between them.  Then I spread the batter around and shook the pan trying to even it out.  Because my batter was a bit thicker, it did not completely even out.  I put the pans in a 350* oven for 8 minutes and then pulled them out and used a pizza cutter to cut them into squares.  I brushed the top with butter and returned the pans to the oven for 15-20 minutes.   I waited 20 and should've checked at 15.  Oh well, there's always next time, right?

Update on Ceasar dressing-finally perfected that-I'll leave you in suspense until tomorrow!  Ha!  I'm sure you'll lose sleep over it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finally, a snack cracker worth keeping!

Check them out in all their glory!  I'm feeling quite victorious over this whole thing.  I've been searching for a Ritz cracker type recipe for a year or more.  I posted my plea the other day on the kitchen forum of Diaperswappers and an awesome mama replied with this recipe.  To me it tastes more Club cracker like, but considering that I've tossed 3 batches of cracker dough away in the past two days, this is a true victory.

This is the recipe as she posted it.

Rich Crackers

Unlike soda crackers, with their crisp layers and air pockets, these crackers are solid and smooth. Butter, egg and cream enriches the dough, which is made just like pie crust. These crackers provide a sturdy, non-assertive base for any number of toppings and spreads.

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) cold butter
1 large egg
6 tablespoons (3/8 cup, 3 ounces) cream (half and half, light, whipping or heavy)
melted butter

In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Cut in butter. In a separate bowl, use a fork to stir egg and cream together till smooth. Add to flour/butter mixture and stir till mixture forms a loose ball. Gather in your hands and squeeze together. Pat into an oval about 1-inch thick, wrap in waxed paper, and chill for 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle between 1/16 and 1/8-inch in thickness. Cut dough into rounds with a 3-inch or smaller cutter. Repeat with remaining dough scraps (unlike pie crust, this repeated rolling doesn't seem to toughen the final product). Transfer rounds to lightly greased or parchment --lined baking sheets, and prick each round several times with a fork.

Bake crackers in a preheated 425°F oven for 6 minutes. Remove pan from oven, turn crackers over, and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until crackers are lightly browned. Remove crackers from oven and brush with melted butter. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

My recommendation would be to roll them as thin as possible.  I found it difficult to get them to 1/16", but the  thinner ones are better than the ones that are closer to 1/8" thick.  The daycare kids loved them and were quite dismayed to find out that we weren't having them as part of lunch, so that's another "yes" vote for these crackers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today's lunch-Ranch dressing

I am gettin pretty frustrated with my cracker experiments, %$#@ Ritz crackers!  Why do I have to like them so much?  Anyway, I decided to focus on something that was going better.  I was planning salad as part of lunch today and noticed that my dressing bottle was almost out.  Since I vowed that I wouldn't buy more, I had to make ranch dressing from scratch today.  The verdict... it was a hit (at least with 3 and 4 year olds).  I used the recipe from Kitchen Stewardship and I think it tastes much like what I'm used to buying.  Keep in mind that I absolutely cannot stand ranch dressing, but I tasted what came from my bottle and what came from my blender and they tasted very similar (gross in my opinion, but similar!).  The only noticeable difference was that the homemade version wasn't as thick.  If that becomes an issue for my older children, I'm thinking that I might be able to add cornstarch or maybe dry milk.  We'll see.  I filled the bottle I had and used it on the salads for lunch.  No one noticed and even when they later had carrot coins and broccoli with the ranch as a dip, it was eaten without question.

Here is the recipe I used.

3/4 c. mayo (I used store bought mayo.  I have a whole jar and the ingredients seem ok, but I'll make my own when I run out.)
1/2 c. sour cream or plain yogurt (I used all plain yogurt.)
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
2 cloves crushed fresh garlic (I only had the jar of minced, so that is what I used.)
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4+ tsp. each: dried parsley, dill weed, chives (I didn't have dried chives, so I doubled up on the parsley.)
a few shakes cayenne pepper
black pepper to taste, preferably freshly ground
salt to taste (I threw in a couple shakes.)

I tossed the mayo and yogurt in the blender and thoroughly blended it and then added everything else and blended more.  It filled my bottle about 3/4 full, so that should be enough for a week or so.  I'm thinking that this will keep as long as your yogurt is good-maybe 2-3 weeks.  I'm big on the taste and see method of deciding if foods are good or bad. :)

As for the rest of lunch, we had homemade hamburger helper with wheat pasta, steamed peas and an oatmeal animal cookie.  Of course everyone ate their salads and wanted more.  I didn't feel like cutting up a whole head of lettuce for 2-3 salads, so I offered carrot coins and small pieces of broccoli.  That encouraged 2 more kids to wolf down their salads so they could have carrots with ranch.  Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing!

While I was making the ranch, I figured I would make a batch of Caesar.  That was a disaster.  I'm searching for another recipe!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 3: Cracker attack!

I love crackers.  Mmmm... cheese and crackers, radish dip and crackers, peanut butter cracker sandwiches.  Anybody got a cheese ball?  Over the past year or so, I've been able to rid my house of most boxed food ( ie. processed food), crackers and cereal are the exception.  So, this week we are tackling the cracker.  I will be making my own versions of animal crackers, graham crackers, cheese crackers and ritz-type crackers.  First up-animal crackers.

I started with a recipe from Taste of Home for Oatmeal Animal Crackers.  It seemed like it would taste good, but there were a few things that I didn't like about it.  The recipe called for too much sugar, used shortening and called for white flour.  I halved the recipe, because if it ended up a flop, I didn't want to have 5 dozen gross animal crackers.  Here are the changes I made.

1/2 c. sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, cold and cut in cubes
1/4 cup hot water
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

In a food processor, add the first 4 ingredients and pulse to combine.  This will also break down the oats into more of a flour consistency.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles course cornmeal.  Add the hot water and vanilla and combine.  Slowly add the flour and continue to pulse until the mixture forms a stiff dough.  Let rest 10 minutes.  Divide into 2 batches and roll the first half to 1/8" thickness.  Cut with cookie cutters or use a pizza cutter.  Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Repeat with second half of dough. 

Keep in mind this was only half a batch and I ended up with about 4 dozen 2 inch heart cookies, so if you double the recipe for a whole batch, you had better like these crackers!  :)

I was worried that I'd rolled them too thick and that they would be too "cakey" and not "cracker-y," but they all seem to have a decent crunch and this afternoon, there's only a dozen left, so they are kid approved!

Soda-had a sip or two at a ball game b/c I was too lazy to hoof it to the water fountain.  It was gross and when I got back to the car, I drained my cup of ice water.  And, when I walked down the snack aisle to pick up some pretzels, I wasn't even tempted to put anything in my cart.  Definite progress has been made!

Salad Dressings
I found a very promising recipe for a Caesar dressing as well as a ranch.  I'm waiting for a bottle to be empty to make more.  That will probably happen this week sometime.  I'll post results! :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

1000 Island Dressing

This week I'm making over my lettuce salad and definitely couldn't do that completely without addressing the salad dressing.  Thousand island dressing is the dressing I grew up on.  I have fond memories of going to Golden Corral on car trips and making myself a huge salad topped with chopped eggs, ham, turkey, bacon bits and lots of thousand island dressing.  Looking at that list, I think I might be the only person who can turn a lettuce salad into a full serving of protein!

As I researched different dressings, it became pretty obvious that one of the easier dressingsto make from scratch would be thousand island.  I finally settled on this recipe from  It only had three ingredients:  mayonaise, chili sauce, and pickle relish.  The recipe got great reviews.  It seemed like a no brainer-until I went to the store to get chili sauce.

I should've known better than to think that I could walk into the grocery store, pick up a bottle of chili sauce and walk out.  That would've been entirely too easy.  My store of choice had 4 different kinds of chili sauce, and all of them had ingredients that I'm trying not to buy.  Most notable among them are high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn syrup and corn syrup solids, and partially hydrogenated anything.  So, that was a bust, although I did pick up some organic cornstarch that will pop up in a post later on.

At home, it was back to to find a recipe for chili sauce.  After looking at several, I chose this one.  It was simple enough to whip up, but I found myself with a real problem.  I don't eat chili sauce.  I can't recollect a time when I did.  That makes it very difficult to taste something and know if it's "right."  I plodded on and used it in the dressing recipe.  The results were so-so.  I have discovered that I don't really like mayonaise in a lot of things, and I could pick out the mayo taste right off-not good.  This is where the tinkering begins.  I added more chili sauce, a bit more vinegar and a little lemon juice.  It is still sweeter and had less zip than my $.99 bottle from Aldi's, but it will do.  Once I have used this up, I think I will try the second runner up and see if I like that one better.  It didn't get chosen originally because it calls for ketchup and my ketchup right now still has HFCS in it.  Since my goal is to get more natural ingredients, using the ketchup would have been counter productive.  But, I think I'll still make it with my ketchup and see how it is.  Then I can keep the recipe for when I buy better ketchup.

Sorry I took so long posting this.  I wrote my post on a different computer than where the picture was, so I thought I'd wait and put the pic on before posting-then I forgot.  Oops!  Tomorrow I'm going to try a Caesar dressing and maybe a Ranch one too (we're having guests that like ranch).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Week 2: The Salad Makeover

I love salad.  It's one of the few veggies that I really enjoy and I eat a lot of it.  My two favorites are chef and Caesar salads.  Both have several ingredients and I figured that since I eat so much salad, this would be a good place for a healthy makeover.  "But, it's salad," you say, "isn't it healthy already?"  Yes and no.  Vegetables, of course, are a cornerstone of a healthy, well-rounded diet, but it's all the other junk I throw on a salad that lessens the health value.

My makeover starts with the base-lettuce.  I found that organic romaine hearts were only $.50 higher than the non-organic ones I was buying.  That's not a terrible increase, even if I pick up two packs, that's only $1-no big deal.  So, organic lettuce went into the cart.  I did price several other veggies and, not only were they quite a bit more expensive, but I already had broccoli, onions, carrots, and celery at home, so I didn't see any sense in buying more just for the organic factor.  We probably wouldn't be able to eat it all before it went bad and that's being wasteful and not at all thrifty.

I also like cheese and ham on a chef salad and diced chicken on a Caesar salad.  Those are areas that I have to work up to changing.  Meat and dairy changes will happen later in the year once I have a good momentum going.

But, croutons are easy.  I make a great french bread with a recipe that I found on the Towards Sustainability blog.  It is a breadmaker recipe.  However, my breadmaker died a while back and it's really easy to make by hand.  The recipe makes 2 loaves.  One gets used for it's intended purpose with pasta or as french toast.  The second loaf gets cut into cubes for croutons  I cut the bread into approximately 1 inch cubes and leave them on the counter overnight to dry out.  The next morning I melt a stick of butter (real, not margarine) and mix in 1-2 teaspoons of garlic powder and 1 teaspoon of oregano.  Put all of the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and dump the butter/seasoning mix on top. Stir well to mix the butter and seasoning throughout the bread.  If you want, you can also add 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and stir it in as well.  Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spraying an unlined tray would work too, I just like parchment paper!  Bake at 400* for 10-12 minutes stirring after 5 minutes.  Start watching them closely after 7 or so minutes to make sure they don't burn.  When they are golden brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool and a cooling rack, wax paper, or whatever.  Store in an air tight container.  I don't really know how long they last, but by virtue of the fact that it is stale bread to start with, I would think a long time.  I eat them too fast to know!

Tomorrow's post:  1000 island dressing.  This one is proving to be a challenge!

Update on week 1:  I had not had any soda until Sunday afternoon.  We went to visit our friends for the afternoon.  She served a mixed drink that had Diet Coke and black cherry rum in it.  Oh my, it was yummy!  I ended up having two mixed drinks with glasses of ice water in between.  What I noticed was that I wasn't craving it, and I had no desire to drink just a can of Diet Coke.  I chose that drink because it sounded the tastiest of what was offered, not because of the soda.  I didn't make a social outing plan at the start, so I feel like I handled the situation reasonably well.  And, like I've said before, everything in moderation. :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Added a widget

I am technologically challenged in many ways.  I read several blogs and they are fancy with buttons, and linked lists of different topics and tabs at the top.  Unless I make a friend who is gifted in this area, you probably won't find that here-although I'm trying.

I did figure out how to add a What I'm Reading section to my sidebar.  It is an Amazon widget that shows the book I'm currently reading.  It is a paid sort of thing.  If you decide that you NEED the particular book I'm reading, you can click the widget and it will take you to that Amazon product.  If you buy it, I will get a few cents for advertising it.

I'm not necessarily in it for the money though I wouldn't turn it down.  I thought this would be a good way to show the books I'm reading and also give readers a link to other reviews for the same book.  I plan on also doing this for green products I use and organic food staples if I buy from Amazon as well.  Again, the link is more just for information than encouraging you to buy.  I say visit your local library, I do!

My first challenge...

... and I passed.  My husband had a church meeting on Thursday evening and brought home the remaining 1/2 of a 2 liter bottle of soda.  My first thought was, "Are you kidding me?  You know I'm trying to quit!"  Although, after a few minutes of consideration, I decided that our house probably isn't going to be forever soda free.  We will have parties and such where soda will be served and, most likely, there will be leftovers.  Plus, I'm a bit proponent that most foods are ok in moderation.  My 4-can-a-day Dr. Pepper habit isn't healthy, but if the kids have a soda at a party, the world isn't going to end.  While I want to offer a healthy, whole foods diet at my house, I don't want my kids to feel deprived of certain foods.  This will certainly set up a scenario of trying to get "banned" foods.  With two girls heading into their teen years, there is enough focus on food, weight and body image as it is without their mother harping about eating only x, y, and z.

Anyway, the bottle sat on the counter most of the morning and my 3 year old was very adamant that he "needed a drink of  toda."  I held firm and told him that maybe he could have a little over the weekend.  I made my glass of ice water and walked away.  I didn't even consider pouring myself a glass.  Now, I will say that this test wasn't a true test of my inability to avoid soda altogether, because it wasn't Dr. Pepper.  But, I feel like a month ago, I would've fixed myself a glass of "other" soda just because I needed some and we didn't have Dr. Pepper.  It's progress!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Blueberry Muffins!

We actually had these yesterday, but for some reason, blogger wouldn't upload the picture last night, so this morning it is! 

My journey with blueberry muffins is long one.  I remember first making them when I was in middle school.  I used one of those Martha White muffin mixes-you know the ones that have the crunchy blueberries in them.  And, you have the option of adding milk or water.  At the time I thought they were super, but over time I've evolved.  In college I used the Betty Crocker "supreme" mix that had the can of blueberries.  The box touted "real blueberries" and I thought pretty highly of myself for paying the extra $.50 for "real."  Once I got married and had kids, I bought the store bakery "gourmet" muffins.  I figured that if I didn't have the time or energy to bake my own, then at least they were store made-that's close to homemade, right? Isn't rationalization a wonderful thing?

Six years ago, when I started my in-home daycare, I vowed to make good food a priority.  I was coming from a preschool that was part of a school district.  We were served the school lunches which were lacking to say the least.  It was then that I started making a lot of food from scratch (although I didn't cook near as much from scratch as I do now).  My original blueberry muffin recipe contained white flour, sugar and vegetable oil.  The muffins that we ate today are a far cry from my original recipe.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup softened butter (real-not margarine)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 egg
1 cup frozen blueberries (I buy the big bag of frozen blueberries at Sam's)

Combine the dry ingredients.  In a separate combine the wet ingredients.  Add wet to dry and combine.  Fold in blueberries and  fill each muffin tin about 2/3 full.  This recipe makes 12, so if you have leftover batter, disperse it among the muffin cups.  Bake at 350* for approximately 20-25 minutes.

These were super yummy, but by the end of the year, I hope to have made some more changes.  I will switch out the sugar to sucanat.  I would like to find a source for organic butter, or get raw milk and make my own butter.  This summer I want to find a local you-pick berry farm and freeze enough blueberries to last through the winter.  For eggs, right now I do get farm fresh eggs, but not enough to support our heavy use of eggs.  We usually end up buying at least a dozen a week-we use between 2-4 dozen/week.

But, this journey is all about baby steps.  I'm much further ahead than I was in middle school and in a few years, I hope to be much closer to a whole foods diet than I am now.

As for the "no soda" change, I'm doing well.  My 2 year old cried the other night though because we weren't getting any more.  I didn't realize how much/often he mooched a drink from my glass.  That's definitely a prize winning parenting moment!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Iced tea-my new best friend

I've felt really good today.  My only problem is that I have trouble figuring out what to drink.  I realize that sounds incredibly dumb, but when Dr. Pepper has been my beverage of choice for 15 years, I have to think twice when it's not available.  Enter... iced tea.  I have been drinking water but was craving something sweeter.  I made a gallon pitcher of sweet tea (decaf) and it hit the spot.  I suppose the craving is more of a sugar thing than a caffeine thing (especially since the headache wasn't that bad), so once I get over that, I should be good to go.

Monday, January 3, 2011

So far, so good

Day 1 is drawing to a close and so far, so good.  I do have a bit of a headache, but not terrible.  I did the monthly grocery shopping tonight and that probably contributed as much as the lack of soda.  While I was out, I priced several items that I would like to begin purchasing in the near future.

Organic Coconut Oil - $6.99 (I believe this was for 16 oz., but I already have some from a previous use, so I'll use that first)
Organic Cane Sugar - $1.99/pound
Organic Whole Wheat Flour - $1.79 pound

I am looking at placing an order from Azure Standard, but the drop site is a couple hundred miles from me.  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law live close, but I hate to bother them if I don't have to.  Plus, that will be a costly venture and I want to make sure that I can swing my new budget before embarking on that.  In the meantime, I am thinking of buying small amounts of different products to try them and figure out exactly what I want before purchasing a bulk quantity.

Menu Plan for the week of January 3-January 9, 2011
(H)=Homemade/from scratch

B: Mini Pancakes (H), Oranges
L: BBQ Pork Sandwich (H=whole wheat buns), Buttered Noodles, Carrot Sticks, Grapes
S: Sugar Cookies (DS turns 3!)-shame on me-Aldi's had the premade dough on sale for $.69
D: Pork Roast Gravy (H) w/ Mashed Potatoes

B: Egg & Cheese Quesadilla, Seasoned Potatoes (H-roasted in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and paprika)
L: Roast, Carrots and Potatoes, Bread (H) & Butter, Apple Slices
S: Brownies (H-made using this Brownie Mix) (dc baby girl turns 1!)
D: BBQ Beef leftover from lunch, Carrot & Celery Sticks

B: PB & J Sandwich (H-made with above bread), Banana
L: Grilled Chicken, Cheesy Broccoli Rice (H), Green Beans (H), Blueberries
S: Pretzels
D: Ham & Beans (H), Cornbread (H), Peas

B: Blueberry Muffin (H), Oranges
L: Spaghetti, Corn, Salad, PB Crackers
S: Graham Crackers (H)

D: Big Bean Bake (H), Cheesy Garlic Biscuits (Egg Sandwiches for those not interested in Bean Bake)

B: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, Raisins
L: Grilled Cheese, Strawberry Yogurt (H), Mixed Veggies, Mandarin Oranges
S: String Cheese
D: Leftovers

B: Leftovers
L: Pepperoni Pasta Salad (H-don't know how I'm going to make this yet, but I'm sure I'll come up with something-hopefully it will be edible)
D: Tuna Casserole, Salad

B: Leftovers
L: Ham Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Leftover Fruit
D: Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce, French Bread (H), Salad

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week 1: Say NO to soda!

Happy New Years!  I am officially starting my journey tomorrow and will make a new change starting each Monday throughout 2011, starting with soda.  This is a no-brainer for most healthy people, but I've been clinging to my soda addiction for a long time.  I have definitely cut back in the past year.  But, even as recently as 6 months ago, I was still drinking 2-3 cans per day.  Last month I had cut that back to a glass every few days, and thought I had my habit licked.  I found out this weekend, when I spent Christmas at my parents' house, that I drank soda on a regular basis.  I've probably consumed a 2 liter bottle over the past couple of days.  It's obvious to me that my habit is still just that, a habit-one that I need to break.  I don't think I am going to be one of those people that can have one here and there.  I am going to have to quit cold turkey and stick to it!

Most of us know the reasons that drinking soda is not a healthy choice, but while I was researching, I found a couple things I didn't know.  Obviously, soda is full of empty calories.  I once had a friend tell me that if I quit eating Tootsie Rolls and drinking Dr. Pepper that I would lose 25 pounds.  She was probably on to something.  A 12 ounce can of Dr. Pepper (my drink of choice) contains 150 calories, and 40.5 grams of sugar.  That's over 9.5 teaspoons of sugar!  And, in the past, I would regularly drink 4 cans a day.  Hello... 38 teaspoons of sugar.  Just for the record, that's a little more than 3/4 of a cup.  Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and it ends up being just shy of 290 cups of sugar.  Wow!  If that alone isn't enough to make a person quit, I don't know what is!  But wait, here's more.

This is the ingredient list as listed on the Dr. Pepper website.


High fructose corn syrup (which I will go into later)
Phosphoric acid (it's acid-can that be good for you?)
Artifical flavor (ie. chemicals)
Sodium Benzoate (it even says it is a preservative-do you seriously need to preserve your drink?)
Caffeine (I don't have a problem with caffeine itself, but at my 4 cans a day rate, I don't think that is necessary.)

I've also read other articles regarding decay of tooth enamel and osteoporosis linked to soda.

Soda should not be the go-to drink in a healthy lifestyle.  I am sure that there are many people out there who could have a glass here and there and be just fine, and if I could do it, I would.  It has become obvious to me that I am not one of those people.  From here on out, I'm choosing to say NO to soda.  Someone might want to check on me in a few days to make sure that I haven't gone into severe withdrawl!  :)

Have you given up soda for good?  Was it difficult?
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