Monday, February 28, 2011

Updates on the baby steps

I just thought everyone might like to see how the project is going!
  1. Eliminate soda:  It's going pretty well.  Hubby brought how 5 two-liter bottles from work one day last week and I've had a couple glasses.  Both times it tasted sickening sweet and I had to have a glass of water to combat the sugar.  I'm definitely over the addiction.  I drink mostly water and tea with the occasional glass of orange juice.
  2. Salads:  Still buying organic lettuce and making my own Caesar and ranch dressings.  I'm not overly thrilled with the 1000 island recipe and need to do some more searching.
  3. Crackers:  I'm making all graham crackers, cheese crackers and animal crackers.  I've given up on the snack cracker for right now and I'm buying Kashi 7-grain crackers.  They are a little pricey, but so is using pound upon pound of flour for crackers that are ok, but not "to die for."
  4. Eliminate GMO sugar:  I finally purged the last of my cheap powdered sugar stash over the weekend.  I am now buying evaporated cane juice (and trying to use less overall), and C&H brown sugar and powdered sugar.  Eventually I'll probably get rid of brown sugar and add a bit of molasses and extra cane juice in substitution in recipes, but for now C&H is cane sugar so no genetically modified sugar beets and that's good enough.  Down the road, when I have more money to devote to groceries, I'll buy large quanitities of Rapadura, but right now that's not an option.  I will make this change knowing that there is better, but what I'm doing is better than nothing at all.
  5. Organic apples have been reasonably priced, so not buying them hasn't even been a consideration.  As of yesterday, they were within $.10/pound of conventionally grown apples.  That's not enough of a difference to justify buying the cheaper ones.
  6. MSG and nitrate(ite) free meats:  I'm doing reasonably well.  Yesterday I bought nitrate/nitrite free deli meat and bacon.  I like the Hormel deli meat (if not the company), so 2-3 packages/month will work there and I bought Applewood Farms Bacon.  It's on the menu for tonight, so hopefully it's tasty.  For now, we are really limiting ham.  In the past months, I purchased a whole ham and we used it for 4-5 meals.  I'm steering away from that.  There isn't a nitrate free version that is remotely affordable, so we will still eat it on holidays or family gatherings, but not as part of our normal meal rotation.
  7. Following superfoods recommendations:  Meal planning was a little harder than I imagined, but not too bad.  The food that I found getting skipped most often (and it really surprised me) was tomatoes.  Hubby's digestive system doesn't do too well if he eats a lot of acidic foods, so we try to only have tomato-based foods every third or fourth day.  Therefore, we are lacking there.  Since canned tomatoes have BPA in the lining of the cans, not consuming so much might not be a bad thing anyway.  We'll see what happens with our garden this summer.
  8. Meal planning:  I did a lot better last week and with this month's plan, I tried to incorporate several easy meals and easy alternatives.  I also bumped up the budget back to $500/month (including any eating out).  If I were feeding just the 5 of us, I don't think $300 would be unreasonable.  Feeding the daycare kids and providing the variety of options is proving more difficult than I had imagined, especially since food prices have gone up even in the last month.  Additionally, I've added a consistent morning snack which increases the cost as well, but I think it helps the little ones focus more and play together better, which is important for their development.  I'm hoping (fingers crossed here) that once I start buying in bulk and get the garden going, that I can bring that number back down.  We'll see.
Overall, I've fallen off the wagon a couple times, but not too bad.  I've got to go.  I'm off to make mac 'n cheese for snack and an apple salad for dinner.

Week 9: Whole White Wheat Flour

Flour is an essential item in our home.  It probably ranks higher than any other food item.  Because I make so much of our food from scratch, we can't do much if we run out of flour.  Therefore, having a good quality, healthy flour is important to me.  In order to keep up with the superfoods recommendations, I am purchasing only whole wheat flour. 

This isn't something new.  I've been buying whole wheat flour for years and for most of those years, I hated it.  All of my "whole wheat" recipes were 1/2 whole wheat at best.  Anything more than that and the food became heavy, dense and sometimes even grainy.  Yuck!  I want to be healthy, but I don't want to compromise quality and taste.

After doing some searching, I found that the whole wheat flour I had been purchasing all these years was ground from red wheat.  Red wheat is known to be denser, lower in gluten and doesn't do well in baked goods.  I needed flour ground from white wheat berries.  There are hard and soft varieties, but overall white wheat does much better in breads, cookies, muffins, etc. 

Armed with this new information I found whole white wheat flour and the difference is simply amazing.  No one can tell the difference between cookies or muffins made with white wheat flour versus all purpose flour.  Yeast breads are still a little denser (although nowhere near what I had been making), but the flavor is more in line with an all purpose or bread flour.  To combat the density issue, this past weekend I purchased wheat gluten and will add that to my breads to see how it turns out.

I found a local bulk goods store that has ordered a 50 pound bag of the white wheat flour.  It comes in on March 7th.  I'm so very excited, I can hardly contain myself!  When I pick the flour up, I'll also pick up large quantities of evaporated cane juice, rolled oats, brown rice, pinto beans, etc.  This will take a large chunk of my grocery budget, but I am certain that it will save me money in the long run.

In the meantime, I picked up another 5 pound bag of flour to get me by until the 7th.  This week I'll be experiementing with whole wheat yeast breads and hopefully be able to share some awesome recipes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Menu Planning: Part 1

I started working on March's menu plan this morning.  I printed my list of superfoods from last week in an attempt to try and incorporate them more fully this coming month.  I'm a little overwhelmed.  It is easy to get several of the foods in one or two meals, but to try and get the daily/weeky requirements in over the course of every week has proven a bit more challenging than I though it would be.  I've decided that even though we probably won't meet the goal every week, a good attempt is better than no attempt at all.

This month I'm also changing a few things in regard to how I do my menu.  First, I'm writing all of our known obligations on the menu (under the date), so I don't forget that I need an easy meal on "x" day because I have a meeting at 6 pm and hubby has to get dinner for the kids.  Ya know, that kind of thing happened a lot last month.  It almost always resulted in picking up something processed from the store or hitting a drive-thru.

Second, I am planning full meals, both entrees and at least 2 sides for every meal.  Last month I just did the entree and figured I could come up with the rest as I needed it.  What happened was me standing in the kitchen with a ready to serve entree and I didn't have a clue what veggie or fruit was going with it.  I have four bags of veggies (5 pounds each) that haven't been opened becuase I forgot about using them.  Good news, this month, I won't be buying many frozen veggies!

Third, I am adding a morning snack to my menu.  I typically give the daycare kids something to munch on as I'm getting ready to prepare lunch (or tide them over if a little one decides he/she needs to eat NOW!).  I have been just grabbing whatever out of the cabinet and I've found that when I go to make a dish later in the month, I don't have enough of some ingredient, almonds in this case, because I've been using them for morning snack.  Same with boxed cereal.  I had used it a few times for morning snack for the kids and then my girls didn't have any cereal for breakfast this week because I had used it all.  Oops, sorry girls!

So far, I have the first two weeks done and I'm planning on putting them up on the menu plan page.  I'm hopeful that I can get the plan done tonight and then make my list in the morning.  I won't get to do my bulk grains shopping for a couple weeks, so that is throwing things off a bit too.  I think I'll just go ahead and buy another 5 pound bag of flour and be done with it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teriyaki Chicken

After last week's escapades in fast food drive-throughs, I found out a couple of things.  First, it's expensive.  Yes, I realize this is a no-brainer, but it is a serious wake-up call to see the dwindling numbers in my checking account.  Second, I hadn't had any personal experience with healthy, home cooked food preventing illness... until this week.  I started feeling sick on Monday,after eating out from Wednesday through Sunday.  I had the tickle in my throat, stuffy nose and slight ringing in my ears.  Today, I'm hacking a lung at least twice an hour and my head is going to burst.  Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but I don't feel well at all.  Typically I get this two or three times during the winter, but it wasn't until last night that I realized that this is the first time this winter I've been sick, other than maybe feeling a little "off" for a day or two.  I could explain my illness and my lack of nutritious food as coincidence, but I'm choosing not to.  I truly believe that eating whole foods will promote better health for me and my family.  This is just one more reason to hold myself accountable.

Now, since I wasn't feeling the best, last night would've been a perfect time to order a pizza or run through McDonald's and grab some dollar burgers and call it dinner.  I decided against it though, since eating that junk helped me get in this position in the first place.  I needed something pretty easy and relatively quick.  I picked a new recipe off my menu plan for Teriyaki chicken.  The original recipe is from, but I changed it a little (surprising, huh?)  The recipe called for 12 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs.  I didn't have them and that sounded like a lot if I didn't like it, so I used 6 chicken breast tenders, which is equal to 2 chicken breasts.

1/4 cup sugar (recipe called for 1/2 and even with 1/4 it's on the sweet side, I'll cut it a bit more next time)
1/2 cup soy sauce (still using up my old bottle, but I'm looking for an organic version)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic minced (I used the jar kind and what I put in probably equalled 2-3 cloves)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. warm water

Mix everything but the cornstarch and water in a ziploc bag or large bowl.  Place chicken in to marinade for 30 min-1 hour.  Remove chicken from the marinade an place in a shallow baking dish.  Bake at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes, turning and brushing with the marinade after every 10 minutes.  Keep in mind, if you are using bone-in chicken, the cook time will be much longer.  During the last few minutes of baking, pour the marinade into a saucepan and bring it to a boil (remember you are killing nasty chicken bacteria).  Mix the cornstarch and warm water in a small cup or glass.  Pour the cornstarch mixture, a little at a time, into the marinade/sauce.  Whisk it in and continue cooking to thicken.  When sauce is thickened, remove from heat.  Depending on what sides you are serving, the sauce can just go over the chicken or it can be integrated into the dish.  For this meal, I prepared brown rice and steamed some broccoli.  I cut up the chicken into bite-sized pieces and mixed it with the rice, sauce and broccoli.  What I ended up with was a super yummy stir-fry casserole.  The girls and I each had 2 helpings.  Little Man once again was unimpressed, but he did pick the chicken out and eat that.  Keep offering healthy foods, right?

Time-wise, the marinade took 2-3 minutes to make, add the chicken and throw in the fridge.  An hour later I came back and started the brown rice in the pressure cooker while the oven was preheating.  Then I tossed in the chicken and helped the oldest with her homework while basting the chicken every 10 minutes.  A few minutes before the rice was finished, I threw the broccoli in the microwave steamer and got it going-listened to younger daughter read her nightly book.  Next, I thickened the sauce, drained the broccoli, chopped the chicken and stirred it all together.  Dinner and both girls' homework was done in 40 minutes.

Check this out

Anne, over at Flour Sack Mama, posted about some other moms who blog.  She was kind enough to include me in her post.  You can bet that I'll be checking out all of her links today.  Swing over, and while you're there, browse her blog.  Anne has some great information about organic gardening, insights about food and farming and a whole host of other topics.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My small grocery shopping victory

As I type this, I realize that I'm completely loony for getting this excited about groceries.  Bear with me, I don't get out a lot! LOL

This afternoon, I called a semi-local Dutch bakery and bulk goods store to order my 50 pound bag of whole white wheat flour.  The guy said it wasn't a problem and it would be in the store on March 8th (and it only costs $27.49, for organic whole white wheat flour, woo-hoo!).  Then he said that the week of March 7th was the store's anniversary sale so everything in the store is 10% off.  So, the 50 pound bag of evaporated cane juice, 50 pounds of rolled oats, brown rice, dried beans, almonds, walnuts, spices, etc.  It's all an extra 10% off.  Since all of those things are cheaper anyway, the 10% is a bonus.  Plus, I won't have to buy these things for another 2-3 months, so even though I've already resigned myself to blowing the March budget, at least I know I will have a great quantity of high quality food stored up for future months.

And, I ordered my Celtic sea salt from Amazon today using my Swagbucks, so it was free!  Yea for that too!

Cream Cheese Radish dip

Since this week is dedicated to the quick and easy, stay on plan, meal ideas, I had to include this.  I love this dip, and while it's not a meal in itself, it goes well with soups or sandwiches and it is an excellent dip to take to a potluck. 

I feel dumb that I let my dislike of radishes keep me from trying this dip for so long.  My husband's aunt brings this dip to almost every family gathering-it's her signature dish, and rightly so.  It's creamy, a bit salty and doesn't taste of radishes (which is a good thing if you are me).  I like to serve it with cut-up veggies or Kashi 7-grain crackers. 

*Sidenote:  I haven't given up on finding the perfect cracker recipe, but I am taking a break.  I was using 2-4 pounds of flour a week and the budget just can't handle that kind of experimentation right now. :)

Cream Cheese Radish Dip
1 cup radish, finely chopped (I usually just chop the whole bunch b/c I have no other purpose for it and it ends up being about 1 1/2 cups.)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp celery salt
dash paprika (I go a little heavy on this as I like paprika)
1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup green onion, chopped (Again, I chop the whole bunch, unless I have another dish for it to go in.)

This can be done by hand, but I really like my food processor for this.  Toss the radishes in (I cut the tops and bottoms off).  Pulse until chopped to your satisfaction.  I like them very fine.  Add softened cream cheese and butter, celery salt, paprika and Worchestershire sauce.  Pulse until the mixture is completely mixed together.  Stir in green onions.  You could use the food processor to mix them in, but it pulverizes the onions and I think the onions give the dip a nice splash of color, so I like to leave them as is.  Refrigerate the dip for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.  Serve with veggies, crackers or even spread on bread in a tortilla as a sandwich spread.

**I'm so excited.  I hadn't thought of the sandwich spread until just now.  I want to make some more dip and put it in a tortilla with a couple slices of turkey, lettuce and tomato.  Wow!  That is soooooo going on next month's menu plan!  Just to make that a little sweeter, I used 4 superfoods!  Meals like this almost make up for the fact that I ate  junky fast food most of last week.

Week 8: Stick to the meal plan

I've fallen off the wagon.  Bad.  Horrible.  I feel both guilty and poor.  For the past 4 months I've been doing monthly meal planning and for the most part it has been working well, at least until this past week.  I've found that a problem quickly develops when I make all our food from scratch and suddenly I don't feel like cooking.  Since cooking equals meals in our house, if I don't cook, we have nothing to eat (unless flour, oil and frozen meat appeals to you).  Last week was one of those weeks I didn't feel like cooking, we had a meeting one night, I picked up Girl Scout cookies one night, planned our library night, etc.  Add to this that for most of the week the weather was unseasonably hot.  There were 2 days that the afternoon temperature reached 80 degrees.  Do you think I felt like making ham and bean soup on either of those days?  Nope, not a chance.  So we ate out.  A lot.  Like 4 days in a row! (insert fainting smilie here!)

We haven't eaten out 4 days in a row for over a year.  We typically eat out once or twice a month and never consecutively.  We've spent a week's worth of groceries eating out (and remember I've blown the budget already) and when I think of the junk we've eaten I feel so ashamed.  So, this week's change is to stick to the meal plan.  I have to make it through this week and I have several choices left since we didn't eat hardly anything that I planned for last week. 

Since this is the last week of February's plan, I'm going to plan March a bit differently.  I am going to try to include a couple easy alternatives each week so if I have a lazy day I don't feel the urge to eat out.  Also, I'm going to get a couple packages of lunchmeat and freeze them.  That way if what I've planned doesn't match the weather, I have the ability to pull out the deli meat and we can have a sandwich and cut-up veggies and fruit.

Look for March's menu plan and grocery list toward the end of the week.  This week I'm focusing on simple recipes to get me through when I don't want to cook.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Genetically engineered foods-an agricultral armageddon?

I've just spent the last hour or so reading article after article about the genetic modification and subsequent realase of alfalfa into the commercial market.  I am overwhelmed, depressed and generally angry at both our government for putting money over the health of its citizens and for the American people who don't get involved or are generally oblivious to what is happening to our food supply.  Granted, I don't have a thriving social life, but those who do choose (or are forced) to associate with me will learn about the dangers of genetically modified food.  They just don't care or, even worse, look at me like I'm a raving Glenn Beck with all my conspiracy theories.

I feel like I'm in the movie Independence Day where the alien invader ships are hovering over the cities and the citizens are all standing on the rooftops cheering and then the giant laser beam comes shooting out of the bottom of the ship and annihilates them all.  Our alien ships, piloted by Monsanto and the United States government are shooting genetically modified foods at apathetic, clueless American citizens who will be destroyed in the end.

Maybe I'm a little over the top.  Maybe not.  Only time will tell.

WANTED:  decent sized parcel of land with access to water, in the middle of no-where so I can raise my family's food in a manner that is consistent with my values.  Electricity and running water nice, but no longer essential.  I'm thinking along the lines of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Articles on the issue:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The dreaded tuna casserole!

I don't like fish.  Well, most fish that remotely resembles fish anyway.  Give me one of those Mrs. Paul's fish sticks made from minced fish and I'll happily consume it, but the close to real fish it is, the less I like it.  It tastes, well... fishy.  The notable exception to my rule is tuna and, of course, it is kind of removed from the source as well.  I like canned tuna.  I wouldn't be caught dead eating it out of the can, but I like tuna salad, creamed tuna over rice and tuna noodle casserole.

It wasn't until I was in college that I learned that tuna casserole was gross.  It was a Lenten staple in my house growing up and I always thought it was good.  My college chums assured me that it was gross, so for many years I didn't eat it, and given the way it looked in the cafeteria, that wasn't a bad choice.  But, recently tuna casserole has made a comeback in my home.  I usually have it once a month, always on a Thursday, because my girls have "meatless" lunch on Friday at school.  They always take leftovers.

With salmon being one of the superfoods, and tuna as a sidekick, I thought this would be an appropriate dish to feature.  I actually made this last Thursday and didn't get a picture.  It was my plan to write a post about my kids' lunches and include that.  However when my husband was in charge that night for dinner, he fed the kids all the tuna casserole, so alas, no pictures.  Maybe next month I'll take some shots and come back and put them in.  Pictures make blog reading more fun in my opinion!

Anyway,  I start by cooking 1 pound of pasta as directed.  When it's al dente, drain.  While that is cooking, start dicing up 3-4 mushrooms.  One could definitely slice them, but if anything that looked like a mushroom could be found on the daycare kids plates, you can bet that they would turn up their noses.  So, I chop them fine and call them "seasoning."  Toss the mushroom bits into medium sized saucepan with 4 tablespoons of melted butter.  Saute the mushrooms for a few minutes until tender.  Whisk in 4 tablespoons of flour (again, I use whole white wheat, but all purpose works too).  Cook a few more minutes to brown the flour.  Add 2 cups milk and whisk allowing to cook until thickened.  Next flake your tuna into the sauce.  I'm still using canned, but hope to find a suitable pouch-type tuna this next month. Follow that by putting in a large handful of cheddar cheese-I'm guessing 1 1/2 cups.  Whisk until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I used cheddar, but really any favorite cheese would work as long as it melts well.  I've been known to used sliced American when I ran out of cheddar, or throw in parmesan when I didn't have enough cheddar.  It's really a whatever works for you sort of thing.

Before serving, pour the cheesy sauce over the noodles, stir, and keep over the heat until it is heated through.  For this particular meal, I served the tuna noodle casserole with steamed broccoli, grape tomatoes and apple slices.  The kids ate well except for the broccoli.  I am seriously considering chopping the broccoli fine, throwing it in the casserole and calling it "seasoning."

Superfoods used in this meal:  whole wheat pasta (not quite in this case as I still have 4 bags of egg noodles from a previous stockpile, but as soon as they are gone, I'll use a whole wheat penne or rotini), tuna, broccoli, and tomatoes.

I ended up doing pretty well this week.  I don't think I fully achieved the serving amounts that the book suggests, but I did manage to hit all of the foods once, and most of them every day.  I think smoothies are an excellent way to incorporate the foods without it seeming to be a chore, so I think we will have one every day, either for breakfast or as a mid-morning snack, although the kids really like almonds and craisins in the morning too.  So many healthy foods, so little time! LOL

I thought it might be helpful to have the recipe in more of a recipe form, if you want to cut and paste and skip my story-telling jargon!

1 pound whole wheat pasta-cooked as directed and drained
3-4 mushrooms, sliced or diced
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cans albacore tuna
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste.

Saute mushrooms in butter.  Whisk in flour and cook a few minutes to brown flour.  Add milk and whisk until thickened.  Add tuna and cheese and heat through until cheese is melted and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.  Pour over pasta, heat through and serve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pumpkin: yuck or yum?

As I was reading the Superfoods book, I flip the page and read "pumpkin" and my immediate reaction is "yuck!"  This opinion is based completely on pumpkin pie.  I have tried since I was 6 years old and the school cafeteria served pumpkin pie as part of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  All of the kids were so excited to get that little square of pie with a little dallop of Cool-Whip on top.  I dug in and was unimpressed to say the least.  Every Thanksgiving for years, I tried it hoping that I just hadn't had a good pumpkin pie.  Well, after at least 25 years of trying, I think it's safe to say that I just don't like pumpkin pie.

What's unfair though is to say that I don't like pumpkin.  Perhaps I just haven't had pumpkin in a way that appeals to me.  Ah, a new adventure begins!  Last fall, I cooked a sugar pumpkin, pureed it and froze it in a muffin tin (about 1/2 cup portions).  It has been sitting in my freezer without a purpose until this morning.  I decided that I would focus on pumpkin and try to make something that I would enjoy.  I generally feel like I make a good muffin, so that was a good place to start.  That, and I've had pumpkin bread in the past and thought I remembered liking it (the real reason I froze the pumpkin in the first place).  The following is my attempt.

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar (used evaporated cane juice)
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (mine was watery because I didn't cook it down completely, so if you use canned pumpkin, it might require some additional liquid)
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. milk
1 egg (I ended up using 2 tiny eggs, but it probably was equal to 1 large one)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I don't know why I even own this, but thought this would be a reasonable place to use it)

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  Mix wet ingredients.  Add dry ingredients.  Stir until just mixed through.  Fill muffin cups the way you normally would.  This seemed to make a slightly small batch that what I usually make.  I ended up with 31 mini muffins.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Check for doneness by gently poking the top of a muffin.  If it springs back, they are done.

The ones I made today did not have milk in them, but I found them a tad dry, so I will be adding the milk next time (as indicated above) to see if that moistens them up a bit.

Second part of breakfast:  smoothie.  I don't usually make a bad one, so this seemed like a good place to put pumpkin too.  Here's what I did.  You even get some play-by-play pictures. :)

1 1/2 cups yogurt (give or take, I didn't measure)
2 bananas
1 heaping cup of frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen pumpkin (I thawed it slightly so I didn't bind up the blender)
a big handful of fresh spinach
2 Tbsp. honey

I blended the banana, pumpkin and yogurt.

Then added the frozen blueberries

Next the spinach. Not that you can see it, but there are tiny green, spinach flakes in there, I swear!


And, finally the honey.

Sorry about the amount of smoothie in the picture of the finished product (at the top of the post).  The kids drank all but that.  Next time I'll take pictures first. LOL!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breakfast: Superfoods Style

As I embark on incorporating more Superfoods into our diet, I am finding that many of my recipes lend themselves to the ingredients.  I just have to tweak them a bit.  Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day (or at least that's what people say), I thought I'd start there.

Chocolate Chip Walnut

Granola bars are a great place to start.  However many granola bars on the market are less than health food.  Many rival candy bars in grams of sugar, overall carbohydrates and calories.  Hopefully mine will do a little better than that.  I originally got my recipe from a blog, but as I cut and pasted the recipe, I didn't inclue the blog.  Oops!  Since then, I've seen the recipe in several places including where they are called Playgroup Granola Bars.  I've tweaked the recipe a bit to make it more to my liking.
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Cranberry Almond
1/4 cup natural sugar (to make it more like brown sugar, I add 1 tsp. molasses)
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup coconut oil (or butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For oatmeal raisin bars, add 3/4 cup raisins, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
For chocolate chip bars, add 3/4 cup chocolate chips (I like mini chips), 1/2 cup chopped peanuts or walnuts
For cranberry bars, add 3/4 cup dried cranberries, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients. Make a well in the center, and pour in the honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mix well.  Wet hands, and pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
  2. Bake for 15-18 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm.
Superfoods used:  oats (and other whole grains), walnuts (or peanuts, almonds) and possibly berries (cranberries)

Of course you will need something to wash this down, so I would suggest a smoothie.  My measurements are what is needed to fill my blender.  That ends up being about 4 adult portions, so you can scale the recipe down if you don't need this much.

Into a blender, pour 2 cups yogurt (I use homemade plain yogurt) and 1 cup of orange juice.  Add approximately 2 cups of frozen fruit (strawberries and /or blueberries would be good superfood choices, but we also peaches, bananas or mangoes).  Then I add fresh items (spinach, steamed carrots, bananas, pineapple, melon are all great choices).  I blend it all together and take a taste.  If it needs to be sweetened, I add some honey or homemade jelly/jam that didn't get thick enough.  Yes, I'm thrifty enough to use the things I make even if they don't turn out well for their original purpose! :)

Superfoods used:  yogurt, oranges, blueberries (and/or strawberries), spinach, steamed carrots

If I wanted to really ramp up my smoothie, I could add wheat germ or flaxseed.  But in one meal I've already had 7 different superfood groups.  There's no reason to be a show-off! LOL

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Soy-Superfood or not?

This is the week of superfoods and, if you read my post yesterday, my family will not be adding soy to our diet.  For a number of years, soy was thought (and still is in many circles) to be the best plant-based source of protein available.  Many scientists, doctors and nutritionists tout soy as being the "be-all-end-all" as it has little saturated fat and no cholestorol.  Also, Asian cultures have been pointed out as having a soy-heavy diet and are in better health than Americans.  All of this is true, but here's why soy is not for my family.

Monsanto has genetically modified the soybean to be Round-up Ready.  For those of you that don't have a background in agriculture (or read way too many agriculture/food books such as myself), Round-up is a pesticide.  Monsanto, using the process of bio-technology, added a gene to the soybean seed so it can withstand the Round-up pesticide.  The farmer plants the soybeans, they sprout and as weeds begin to take root, the farmers spray their fields with Round-up.  The weeds die and the pesticide laden soybean plants remain. 

This bothers me on a few levels.  First, pesticides kill things.  I would like to limit my consumption of stuff that kills things.  It just seems like a bad idea.  Even if the pesticide isn't designed to kill me, eating it can't be all that good for you.  Second, the whole bio-technology process is really scary to me.  I think it's incredible that scientists can break the soybean down to the cellular level and add something to it and make it grow.  That's really cool.  How much testing has been done to ensure that it's safe for my children to consume?  What are the lifelong effects of eating genetically modified food?  How much testing has been done to see how the genetically modified seed mutates over its lifetime?  What are the ramifications of that?  Testing is nil.  Monsanto has the FDA, EPA and Department of Agriculture in its back pocket, and the almighty dollar rules.  The go-ahead to pronouce these foods as safe was given even though many scientists were finding evidence to the contrary.  Third, the Round-up Ready soybean is killing the small family farmer.  Farmer Joe (ficticious farmer) who has always saved his seed and planted a few hundred acres to support his family can no longer do that without Monsanto claiming that their patented Round-up Ready seeds have cross-pollinated and contaminated his field.  By saving the seeds that are in his field, Farmer Joe has committed patent infringment and can be sued by Monsanto.  We don't have to be accountants to realize that being sued by a multi-million dollar corporation like Monsanto would destroy a small family farmer.  In 2008, 92% of the soybeans that were planted were Round-up Ready.  Since, soy is in nearly every pre-packaged food, I just choose to say no, altogether.  This is the number one reason why I cook most all of our food from scratch, solely to eliminate GMO soy (and corn) from our diet.

As for the Asian diet that relies heavily on soy, a closer inspection would find that much of the soy they ingest is fermented.  The process of fermentation stops the effects of phytic acid and creates probiotics, Phytic acid inhibits absorption of nutrients and probiotics are "good" bacteria that aid in digestion.  Products such as miso, tempeh and soy sauces are fermented.  Soymilk, tofu, and all of the soy additives in processed foods are not fermented.  So, for most of us, the most readily available sources of soy are not the ones that would be beneficial to us health-wise, and could be detrimental if we relied on them as our main source of protein.

I do want to point out that organic soy does exist and there are famers that are insisting on planting non-genetically modified soybeans.  This year, it is expected for the first time since the introduction of Round-up Ready soybeans, that sales will fall.  Woo-hoo!  Perhaps I need to find myself a farmer, pick up some non-GMO soybeans and learn to ferment them!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Week 7: Superfoods Rx

I just finished reading the book Superfoods Rx.  It was a pretty good read.  I agree with a lot of what was written (with a couple exceptions).  I also found that as a family we eat many of the same foods.  My goal for this week is to rework the next couple week's menu plan to include Dr. Pratt's recommendations, at least the ones I agree with.

The 14 superfoods and their sidekicks along with the daily/weekly amount follows:
  1. Beans-any along with sugar snap peas and green peas-eat four 1/2 cup servings weekly
  2. Blueberries-also purple grapes, and any other fresh, frozen or dried berry-1 to 2 cups daily
  3. Broccoli-cabbage, kale cauliflower, collards, bok choy, mustard greens, Swiss chard-1/2 to 1 cup daily
  4. Oats-any whole grain (wheat germ and flaxseed, brown rice, barley, quinoa, couscous, etc.)-5-7 servings daily
  5. Oranges-lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, limes-juice counts-1 serving daily
  6. Pumpkin-carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, orange bell pepper-1/2 cup most days
  7. Wild Salmon-Alaskan halibut, canned albacore tuna, sardines, herring, trout-2-4 times a week
  8. Soy-will be skipping this
  9. Spinach-kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, bok choy, romaine lettuce, orange bell peppers-1 cup steamed or 2 cups raw on most days
  10. Tea-1 or more cups daily
  11. Tomatoes-watermelon, papaya, strawberry guava-1 serving of processed tomatoes daily and multiple servings fresh during the week
  12. Turkey (skinless breast)-skinless chicken breast-3-4 servings per week of 3-4 ounces (I will not be eating poulty this frequently-maybe 2 times weekly.)
  13. Walnuts-almonds, sesame seeds, peanuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews-1 ounce 5 times a week
  14. Yogurt-kefir-2 cups daily
 A sample day might look something like this...
Breakfast-Granola (4, 13), Strawberry Yogurt (2, 14), and Orange Juice (5)
Mid Morning Snack-Tuna Salad on whole wheat Crackers (7, 4)
Lunch-Bean Burrito on a Whole Wheat Tortilla with Cheese and Salsa (1, 4, 11), Romaine/Spinach Salad with Almonds and a Raspberry Vinagrette (2, 9, 13)
Snack-Oatmeal and Sweet Potato Mini Muffins, Smoothie made with blueberries, banana, spinach and yogurt (4, 6, 2, 9, 14)
Dinner-Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo (whole wheat pasta), Caesar Salad, Steamed Broccoli, Iced Tea (12, 4, 9, 3, 10)

This is probably a little overkill.  I'm thinking that most days I won't get every superfood in, but these are foods that I already prepare for my family.  It shouldn't take much time or energy to come up with serveral foods that hit two or three superfoods and make sure I incorporate them into our weekly diet. 

Let's talk about that fettuccine, shall we?  This is the one dish that when the kids ask, "What's for dinner?" and I tell them that we're having fettuccine alfredo, I always hear, "YES!!!"  For a long time the meal sounded daunting because it's served in fancy Italian restaurants, but it's really pretty easy.

Ingredients (to fix a meal for 5 with enough leftovers for 2 kids and a daddy to take to school/work)
1 pound whole wheat fettuccine (or spaghetti as that's all I had)
2 T. olive oil
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut in strips or cubed (about 3/4 pound)
4 T. butter
4 T. whole white wheat flour (or AP flour works too, and gives the dish a white, creamier appearance, I just don't keep any around)
2 Cups chicken broth
6 ounces cream cheese, cut in cubes
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese (additional cheese needed for topping if desired)

Optional add-ins
steamed peas and carrots or chopped broccoli

Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain.  While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a medium sized skillet and saute chicken breasts until cooked through.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add butter and when melted, add flour and whisk in to make a roux.  Cook over medium heat a few minutes and then add chicken broth.  Continue to cook and stir until thickened.  Add cream cheese and stir until melted.  Add parmesan and (you got it), stir until melted.   Re-add the chicken to the skillet along with any add-ins that you desire.  Heat through.  Place noodles on serving plate and top with alfredo sauce.  Or, if you have small kids, and it's easier, dump the sauce into the big pot of drained noodles and stir it around and then put it on the plate.  We aren't much for presentation at our house. LOL!  Sprinkle with shredded parmesan if desired.

Cost analysis (I think I might start doing this regularly)
 1 pound whole wheat fettuccine $.89
2 T. olive oil $.25
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut in strips or cubed (about 3/4 pound) $1
4 T. butter $.27
4 T. whole white wheat flour (or AP flour works too, and gives the dish a white, creamier appearance, I just don't keep any around) $.11
2 Cups chicken broth-free, made and froze after I cooked a whole chicken
6 ounces cream cheese, cut in cubes $.89 for 8 oz.
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese (additional cheese needed for topping if desired) $.42
Optional add-ins
steamed peas and carrots or chopped broccoli $.45 (8 oz. frozen)

Total for entree = $4.28

To this meal, we also had honey-glazed carrots at about $.50

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My clean bathroom

I realize that most people don't care if my bathroom ever gets clean, but I'm blogging about it today because I rarely get around to doing it, so I took a picture for posterity.

I actually do have a purpose though.  As I was head first in the tub scrubbing the bottom, I was taken back to tub cleaning in years before.  I vividly remember having to make sure the fan was on and the window opened before I could clean the bathroom.  The chemical smell of the cleaners could choke a horse.  I had to wear gloves or the cleaners would start to burn the cracks in my always too-dry hands.  It was sort of a race to get the shower sprayed down and flee before my eyes started to water.  You get the picture.

About a year ago, I got rid of all my conventional cleaners.  No more Scrubbing Bubbles, Lime-Away, Lysol Tub and Tile Cleaner, and my favorite (which I actually hung onto a while longer) Sno-Bol.  I bought a gallon of vinegar, a box of baking soda and rinsed out an old spray bottle.  I filled the bottle about halfway with of vinegar and then topped it off with water.  I screwed the trigger on and shook a bit.  I had just made an all-purpose cleaner.

I had read about this numerous times in forums on "ways to save money."  But, I have to admit, I didn't think it would work.  Besides, I hated the smell of vinegar.  Even with my doubts, I went to work spraying every surface liberally and following it with a wipe down.  For the tub, I also shook some baking soda around and scrubbed it with my handy scrub brush.  I rinsed everything off and it looked good.  I was also impressed that the tub particularly seemed to stay clean longer.  Initially, I had problems with getting the toilet clean.  With our hard water, the vinegar/water mix wasn't cutting it, so now I just dump a cup of straight vinegar in the bowl and let it sit 20-30 minutes*.  Then I come in, swish and wipe down the tank.  Presto!  Clean toilet. 

The first few times, the smell of the vinegar annoyed me.  It wasn't an "OMG, I'm going to hurl!" kind of smell.  It was just more of an "Eww, that stinks," sort of smell.  There was the benefit of not having to flee the bathroom because my lungs were burning.  Also, I didn't have to ban the kids from being in the back of the house because I didn't want them to ingest the fumes, and I found that the smell went away as soon as it dried.  Tonight, when I cleaned, I didn't even notice it.  I guess I've become immune to the icky smell of vinegar. :)

Over the past several months, I've rid the house of pretty much every commercial household cleaner.  My husband still clings to his bottle of Windex, although I think the vinegar/water spray works better.  Oh, well, there are definitely bigger battles to fight than that one.  We no longer have laundry detergent (use soapnuts instead), fabric softener, Glade-type room sprays, Febreeze, etc.  We really have no need for them.  Vinegar, baking soda and a few other miscellanous household items work amazingly well.  They are cheap to purchase, last a long time and have multiple uses, so they are space saving as well.  I do use Finish in the dishwasher (combats the hard water) and I'm still using a small amount of dishsoap, for my handwash dishes and for stripping cloth diapers.

I've read in several places that vinegar and tea tree oil (which I've also added to my cleaning repetoire), have antibacterial properties.  However, I've only read that from lay people claiming it.  I have yet to find scienfitic evidence to support that.  I'm not a huge believer in antibacterial products anyway.  Wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face.  That method works too.

*I throw the toilet brush in the bowl after I dump the vinegar in, so the next time I go in the bathroom, I remember to clean the toilet.  I don't know how much vinegar I've wasted b/c I forget and use the facility.  I have a terribly short, short term memory.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trying out organic produce

Last night I headed to the store for apples.  I really dislike the unplanned trips to the store.  It always seems like money spent and not much gained.  Of course I bought things that we didn't really need, but the purchases will make my trip this weekend much shorter.  My big find was organic apples for $.77/pound.  That's awesome as most on the non-organics are around $1/pound.  Add to that, we've been eating apples like crazy, so I picked up 6 pounds of those.  Then I also got a few other organic items that were within a few cents of their non-organic counterpart.  I picked up romaine hearts, baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes and tortilla chips.  Then I also got some broccoli, cauliflower, and a couple peaches (all non-organic).  I've spent another $30+ that isn't in the budget and I will still need bananas and milk for next week.  At this point, I'm just trying to minimize the damage. :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Additive free cream soups

Before I start in on soups, I thought I'd revisit my sausage experiment for a moment.  My husband tasted the sausage last night.  He thought the meat was fine, but thought the seasonings could use some tweaking.  I think I might be getting sick, because even opening the bowl makes my stomach turn and dinner last night tasted icky-even though the kids all had seconds.  I'm going to wait and get back to the sausage when I'm over my "bug."

OK, on to soups.  For years upon years, I considered myself a healthy cook, making some things from scratch while taking advantage of the conveniences that the grocery store offered-Pillsbury cresenct rolls and Campbell's condensed soup being my favorites.  I would throw together a casserole of ground beef, pasta, cream of mushroom soup, and Velveeta.  Then I would make green beans (from a can) and crescent rolls for sides.  Really that's a fine meal, but once I began paying attention to what the ingredients were in the meals I was making, I wanted to change.  I got rid of the Velveeta, switched to whole grain noodles and fresh or frozen veggies.  I even started to make my own dinner rolls, but I still hung on to that can of cream soup. 

Last summer though I found a recipe for Cream of Something soup on Pioneer Woman's Tasty Kitchen site.  Essentially the recipe is a roux with a few added ingredients.  A roux (pronounced "roo") is flour combined with a fat-usually butter.  To make a cream soup, I melt butter in a saucepan, whisk in flour and cook it until it starts to turn a nutty-brown.  Then I add a little salt and a liquid (either milk or broth).  Whisk it until thickened.  If I want cream of mushroom, then I would sautee sliced or chopped mushrooms in the butter before adding the flour.  The same goes with celery, onion, etc.  I can turn it into a cheese soup by adding shredded cheese after the soup has thickened.  I could turn it into a gravy by exchanging the milk for chicken or beef broth.  I've done a really great mushroom gravy that used chicken broth and then poured it over thick sliced pork tenderloin in the crock pot.  7-8 hours on low and the pork was fork tender and the gravy was rich.  I usually serve it with mashed potatoes and a green veggie on the side.

A couple days ago we had baked potato bar for dinner.  I fried up a few pieces of bacon and crumbled them,  strained some homemade yogurt to use for sour cream, and made an awesome broccoli cheese sauce to go over the potatoes.

Broccoli Cheese Sauce
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. whole white wheat flour
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1 cup or more chopped, cooked broccoli

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour and whisk until combined.  Let cook a few minutes until the mixture turns a golden brown.  Add milk and salt and continue whisking until mixture thickens.  Add broccoli and mix.  Serve when heated through.

I served this over a baked potato, but it would also work well over rice or noodles.  You could change it up by using parmesan or another sharp tasting cheese, or using broth instead of milk.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Make your own sausage

I told a friend that I made my own sausage this morning and she asked if I had started butchering my own meat now!  Is it that obvious I'm a little off the beaten path?  The answer is no, not yet, but I still have 46 weeks left of this year.  Who knows what might transpire? :)

I did however find a seasoning recipe for turkey sausage that I wanted to try.  Breakfast meat/deli meat is full of ingredients that can mean different things, I decided that if I could make my own, that would take the guesswork out of it.  I found a recipe from Laura at Heavenly Homemakers.  It received great reviews, so I thought I would give it a try. 

It was my plan to mix the sausage up yesterday afternoon and then fry it up before bed.  That way I could just reheat it for the girls before school and not have to worry about an extra thing to do in the morning rush.  Of course, life happened.  Plan B was to mix it up last night before going to bed and then cook it fresh for the girls.  Then, the three year old had different plans for me and I went to lay down with him at 9:30 pm.  At 2:47 am this morning, I woke up and realized that my kitchen was in a shambles (dinner dishes that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher, plus I made granola and granola bars last night too), and the sausage hadn't been made.  So, like any hard working mom, who has people in her house at 7 am, I got up, emptied and reloaded the dishwasher and put together some sausage. 

In my half-rested stupor, I mixed the sausage and immediately threw it in to cook.  Well it was supposed to sit for an hour.  There was that, and my ground pork expired yesterday.  I usually don't have any kind of problems with meat being bad.  I buy it on the "sell by" date and use it all the time.  This smelled fine, looked fine, but felt a little slimey.  I went ahead and finished cooking it, but now I think it tastes funny.  My problem is that I can't tell if the seasonings are off, or the meat is questionable.  Like any good wife, I'll let my husband taste it and give his opinion.  If I have time tonight, I might run out and get another pound of pork, and see what happens.  Granted, this is a costly experiment, but if I can find a good recipe that I can control the quality of, then it is money well spent.

Here's the recipe
Homemade Turkey Sausage
1 lb ground turkey
3 Tablespoon minced onion 2 Tablespoons onion powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon marjoram
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper  1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon sage 3/4 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients.  Chill for about an hour.  (If you forget to chill this ahead of time…it cooks up okay anyway!)  Form into patties.  Saute in butter.

I didn't add the egg because I wasn't making patties, I was crumbling it up to use as a pizza topping or in scrambled eggs, so I didn't think I needed the binder.  Second, I guessed pork to be a little fattier than the ground turkey from the recipe, so I thought that would hold everything together well enough.

One thing I know that I'll change is the minced onion.  I will switch it to onion powder as I personally don't care for the small onion chunks that I can taste and feel in my mouth.

I'll update with hubby's take on the sausage and what happened with the redo.  Maybe I'll take pictures this time.  I wasn't dragging the camera out at 3 am to get a shot of the first batch.

UPDATE: 2/16/11
I made the sausage for the second time last night.  I made the following changes:  switched the minced onion to onion powder, upped the cayenne to 1/4 teaspoon and used the sage, which I realized that I had left out in my "middle of the night" stupor.  It's considerably better.  I mixed it in the food processor instead of by hand and I think that helped incorporate everything better.  My husband and oldest daughter like it.  The rest of us aren't too sure.  I bought 3 pounds of ground pork last night, so I still have 2 more chances to get it right.  Next time I will decrease the amount of onion to 2 tablespoons, increase the sage to 3/4 teaspoon and add more heat.  I can't decide if I want more cayenne or maybe 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. 

Oh, and I made patties this time and I definitely didn't need the egg even though the sausages weren't too greasy.  That's another thing I didn't even think of when trying to make my own.  I can really control the quality of the meat.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week 6: Additive and preservative free meats

A couple years ago, one of my friends was reworking her family's diet due to food allergies/intolerances.  One of the things she was really concerned about was sodium nitrite and nitrate added to their foods-particularly processed meats.  For a while when our income was larger, I went ahead and specifically purchased additive free meat.  But, as we had to tighten our belts, I started doing some reading as to why nitrites and nitrates might be harmful.  I needed to make an educated decision as to whether or not I wanted to prioritize my grocery dollar for this change. 

Through articles found on Six Wise and LiveStrong, I've found that sodium nitrite/nitrate has been linked to cancer, respiratory and digestive issues.  Anecdotally, I have learned, from a couple of people on forums that I read, that removing the additives (along with MSG) from their diet has also eliminated their migraines.  Given that my husband suffers from asthma, acid reflux and migraines, I decided that we would eliminate this for the most part.

I don't often buy lunchmeat, but for the times that I do, I will buy Hormel Natural Choice.  They also have a bacon and pepperoni option (pizza, anyone?).  I have already purchased bacon for this month, but for my next big grocery trip, I will price this and see how it compares in cost to what I already buy.  My big hurdle is bone-in ham.  I buy one ham per month and use it for probably 5-6 meals (baked ham when I first cook it, then ham and beans, and then chopped up pieces to use in chef salad or in ham and cheese omelets, etc.).  I saw on Hormel's website that they do offer a boneless ham option, but I really like the bone-in, so I'll have to do some researching on that to see if there is nitrite/ate free option and how costly that is.

Another friend is avoiding monosodium glutamate (MSG).  Since I'm getting rid of senseless additives, I thought I would include this one too.  MSG is a common ingredient in many processed foods including breakfast sausage.  I'm a sausage kind of girl.  I love sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, sausage crumbles in my scrambled eggs or with onions and mushrooms on a pizza.  I found what I hope to be a great turkey sausage recipe that I will review tomorrow-only I will use pork instead of turkey (because, I'm not a ground turkey kind of girl!).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Green Cycle

I went shopping this weekend.  Not grocery shopping, which is what shopping for me usually entails, but the kind of walk around Target, Wal-Mart and the mall type shopping.  I don't like shopping because I find it depressing.  I usually find things I like, but then have to talk myself out of them because I'm not making those "things" a priority with my money.  Then I'm depressed.  Ick, who wants to feel that way?  So, I typically don't shop. 

This weekend was sort of a rarity for me though.  The kids were with their grandparents and I was on a mission.  I was looking for some clearance snow clothes for the kids next year.  Both my oldest and youngest will need new snow pants and the middle one will need a new winter coat.  Please note, that I struck out on all accounts.  But, there is a point to this I assure you.  When walking around all these stores, I found myself doing a little cart spying.  Please tell me that you do this too-when you peek at what others are buying.  I'm not doing this to judge anyone on their purchases, but looking at what everyone else was buying gave me a real sense of satisfaction that I'm not spending my (and my husband's) hard earned money on disposable items.

Over the past 18 months or so, our house has rid itself of most disposable paper products.  We have no tissues, no paper towels, no baby wipes and no feminine products.  That last one is what I noticed most this weekend.  Cart after cart I saw had pads and tampons in them and all I saw were dollar signs ($$$)!.  For over a year now, I have used cloth menstrual pads and this past summer I purchased a Diva Cup.  Before I lose you with the "OMG that's gross!" and you click out of the screen, please hear me out. 

My inital purchase was for 8 pads.  I paid about $25 for them (that was roughly the cost of 3 months worth of tampons and pantyliners for me).  I used them in conjunction with my regular tampons and if they got anything on them, I just rinsed them out in the sink with cold water and washed them with my diaper laundry.  No big deal.  Not disgusting or gross.  No sticky tape on the underside of pantyliners sticking to my more sensitive parts.  After a couple months, I started using them for overnights as wearing tampons for my whole period kind of made me skiddish about Toxic Shock Syndrome.  I actually don't know anyone that has had that, but during the 5th grade "learn about your body" lecture the nurse frightened me for life, so it's still a concern.  Again, I rinsed the pads out in the morning and tossed in the laundry.

As I continued to read anecdotal stories of women who had made the switch to all cloth, I learned a few things.  Many reported less or no cramping, shorter periods, lighter flow, fewer pre-menstrual symptoms, etc.  Also, many related the chemicals in tampons/pads were what was causing the problems and once they stopped using them, their health improved, or at least that "time of month" was easier.  I needed a tampon alternative, because I just wasn't keen on wearing pads the whole time.  Enter the Diva Cup.

I purchased one in May of 2010, and while there was a learning curve (I didn't give up my tampons completely for another 3-4 months), I now love it.  The Diva Cup is a silicone cup that collects your menstrual flow similar to what a tampon would and at least once every 12 hours (more often if needed), you remove it, dump and rinse.  Easy peasy.

Changes I have noticed are a shortened period, less cramping and more comfort.  My period used to be 5 days and now it is 4 (with only very light flow on the 4th day).  I used to have cramps 2 days before the start of my period and then 2 days once it started-not terrible debilitating cramps, but enough that I didn't feel good for most of those 4 days.  Now, I have light cramping on the day I start, which lasts about 6-8 hours, kind of a nauseous, icky feeling.  As far as comfort, I don't think it can be beat.  No more scratchy pads or smelly ick.  No more irritation/dryness by day 5 like I had when using tampons.  I won't ever be able to say that I love having my period (really, who does that?), but it's much nicer now than it was a few years ago.  And, I'm saving $8-$10 a month by not buying disposable products.  Good for me, my wallet and the Earth.  That's a win-win-win!

Sources to find cloth menstrual pads.  There are hundreds I'm sure, but these are Diaperswappers mamas who work work at home, and I'm always for helping someone be able to stay at home.
Tree Hugger
GEM Cloth
Mother Moon Pads

As for the Diva Cup, I bought mine from Amazon using gift cards I earned through Swagbucks, so it was free.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Oatmeal is one of my favorite foods.  Granola bars, oatmeal cookies, or just a plain bowl of comforting warmth on a frosty morning-I love them all.  This morning as my daycare kids were all back after a few days off here and there because of snow, I welcomed them with apple cinnamon oatmeal.  As with most dishes I fix for the kids, there were mixed reviews.  One kid wouldn't touch it, one kid said he liked it but only ate two bites and a third had a blueberry Nutra-grain bar on the way to my house, so she wasn't hungry.  The other three kids had two bowls each and would've had a third, but I ran out.  Keeping in mind kids finickey natures, I'll call it a success, and besides, I liked it.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Grate one or two apples into a small saucepan, add 1/4 cup water and a teaspoon of cinnamon.  I used one apple for 2.5 servings of oatmeal and adding another wouldn't have hurt.  Simmer apple mixture until the apples are soft.  I cooked mine for about 30 minutes, although 15 would've been plenty.  I just really like the apple cinnamon smell! :)

Remove from heat and dump the apples into a small bowl.  Fix the oatmeal, according to the package directions.  Mine were boil water, add oatmeal, cook 5 minutes or until thickened.  Add the apples back to the oatmeal and stir thoroughly.  Add 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup to the oatmeal and about 1/2 cup milk.  Stir and heat through.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Apple streusel muffins

Do you ever have days where those simple day-to-day tasks sneak up on you?  That certainly happened today when I went to check and see what was for snack.  At 2:30 pm, I discovered that we were supposed to have cheese quesadillas-yet I had not made tortillas yet.  Snack was not going to be served at 3:00 if I had to roll out 10+ tortillas.  It just wasn't happening.  Plan B, anyone?

Apple muffins were supposed to be Friday's snack, so switcheroo and now today is muffins and tomorrow will be cheese quesadillas.  Let just hope that I don't forget the tortillas again. :)

My favorite apple muffin recipe comes from Baking Bites.  It is for a streusel muffin that is to die for.  Who doesn't love a good streusel topping on warm, soft muffin?  Yum!  However this recipe needed to be healthified (my new made up word for the day) in order to fit in with our move towards a better diet.

These are my changes to the recipe.
Apple Streusel Muffins
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup walnuts
I pulsed the ingredients in my mini food chopper.  It worked splendidly.  I will definitely be doing that more often.

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 egg
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 T. honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 apple (grated, but NOT peeled) The original recipe called for 2 and I would probably use 2 if our apple consumption wasn't crazy this week.  We've eaten 15 or so apples since Sunday night.  I'm running out.
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 24 cup mini muffin tin.  Mix together all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Whisk together all wet ingredients in a large bowl, including grated apples. Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients until just combined.
Divide batter evenly into tins and top with streusel mixture.  To do this with the mini muffins, I used an infant feeding spoon.  It was just the right amount.

Bake 10-12 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack before serving.
My batch made 34 mini muffins.

Remember to fill the empty muffin cups with water before placing in the oven.  Also remember to dump the water before you upend the muffins on the cooling rack.  Yes, I've done this on numerous occasions!

At some point, I will get rid of brown sugar altogether, but for right now I'm still working on a 7 pound bag that I got before Christmas.  When that is gone, I'll find a decent brown sugar alternative.  I'll probably end up making my own for a topping such as this or using maple syrup or honey in baked goods.

Lastly, I would've taken a picture, but my little 1 year old day care baby was screaming for one from the high chair as they came out of the oven.  By the time one cooled enough for her to each, the rest of the kids flocked like vultures to the cooling rack.  6 kids, 32 muffins, 10 minutes.  Luckily I ate a couple that got stuck in the muffin pan, or I wouldn't have even got a taste. :)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Week 5: Apples (and a zucchini cookie recipe)

It's snowing here... a lot!  Last time I looked we had about 18".  The kids are out of school and they are bored.  In our house, bored translates into hungry.  So, every five minutes the kids have been in the fridge and wanting something to eat.  How about an apple?  This week I made the permanant switch to organic apples.  Apples have made the EWG's Dirty Dozen list for years.  The dirty dozen are the top twelve fruits and vegetables that are exposed to the most pesticides and other chemicals, therefore being the most dangerous to eat.  Organic food practices prohibit the use of chemicals on plants, so this makes certain organic fruit/veggies a better choice. 

At many of our local grocery stores, apples cost around $1/pound.  One store has organic apples for $1.18/pound.  We use about 6 pounds of apples per week, so this increases our cost by only $1.08.  This is a small increase that I think is worthwhile.  Of course, apples are in season right now, so the cost is lower.  My plan is buy them as long as they are reasonably priced and as spring comes into full swing, berries will start ripening and I can get those instead of apples.

This fall, I hope to pick a few bushel from a local orchard and make my own applesauce and dice/freeze apples for muffins and breads.  I may even dehydrate some apple rings for later use.

This week look for a couple apple recipes.  But, since I had zucchini thawed in the fridge, today I will post a recipe suggested to me by Tara after I posted my zucchini muffin recipe.  She was getting ready to make some zucchini chocolate chip cookies she saw on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Thanks so much!  These are tasty!

Here is the recipe (I tend to paraphrase directions, so if you want the exact directions, check out the link.)

1 egg, beaten
1/2 C. butter, softened
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/3 C. honey
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 C. white flour
1 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 C. shredded zucchini
12 oz. chocolate chips

Combine wet ingredients.  In a separate bowl comine dry ingredients.  Add dry to wet.  Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.  Bake cookies in 350* oven for 10-15 minutes.

My changes:  I ran myself out of whole wheat flour, so I used 1/2 C. ww flour and 1 1/2 cups bread flour.  12 oz. chocolate chips is way too much for me, so I used abou 6 oz.

I used the Pampered Chef small scoop (1 tablespoon) and was sort of disappointed that the cookies didn't flatten out much, but they taste awesome.  They have a nice crunch on the outside and are cake-like on the inside.  They are sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.  I could've seven cut the brown sugar to maybe 1/3 cup.  This recipe is definitely a keeper, but I think I'll play around with the amount of butter (maybe up it to 3/4 cup) to see if I can get the cookies to flatten out a bit.  It's completely personal preference, but I like a thinner cookie.
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