I really don’t mean to rub it in, but the truth is that I am at the beach.

Not only am I at the beach, but I am at the beach with Little Sis and her family and Carni-Mom.  What could be better than that?  Not much my friends.  And I certainly hope you have some time this season with loved ones in a special place.

As presented in posts around this time for the last several years, during our sojourn on the lovely shore of North Carolina, we take turns cooking large healthy meals for each other and skip the fast food / restaurant scene.  Lots of fun, lots of time together and everybody feels great and ready to hit the beach the next morning.  But of course, it isn’t always easy cooking for a discerning crowd that includes some vegans, some who do not do dairy, some who do not do gluten, several picky children and at least one who would really rather be eating meat (you may have guessed that this last individual is ‘Carni-Mom’).

So in Little Sis fashion, I decided to deconstruct a meal and present theparts so that everyone could find something that pleased their palate and their dietary approach to life.

Pasta offers many such opportunities!  And who doesn’t like pasta?
Oh – that’s right.  Mr. Bigg Sis, my dear husband, does not eat gluten.  Well there is always rice or quinoa pasta but honestly I am not a big fan of gluten free pasta…. but spaghetti squash makes an awesome (and vegetable based) alternative! Continue reading

Rinse, Drain, and Eat Your Beans!

“Where do you get your protein?”

It’s a question those of us who eschew animal products on a regular basis get with some regularity. And that’s okay – I get it. It is difficult to imagine a satisfying meal that doesn’t look like all the satisfying meals we’ve always eaten. Ask away. I’ll tell you a couple of things. 1) I don’t think we (grown adults) need as much protein as most people think we do and 2) I eat a lot of beans. Beans aren’t my only source of protein, but they’re hard to beat for nutritional bang for the buck and culinary flexibility. Continue reading

Hummus, Cottage Cheese and Beef – Recalls Abound

FSNBGood grief. I look away for a second and it’s recall mania. Hummus and other dips for listeria – see here. Cottage cheese for improper storage(?) – here. And 1.8 million pounds of meat for E.Coli – here. If you don’t use these items, please be sure to share this information with your friends. Nasty business. Eat well, be well.

Sugar in Cereals – New Information from EWG

Well friends, Environmental Working Group, the same folks who bring us the annual sunscreen report, have done an analysis of boxed cereals, and as we’ve suggested in the past, the news is not good. The worst of the bunch are 12 cereals that are more than 50 % sugar. Let me say that again, cereals that are more than 50% sugar.

Take a moment and picture a bowl of say, Rice Krispies or Cheerios. Now picture that bowl with a line down the middle, cereal to the left and sugar to the right, in equal measure. That is what a bowl full of Froot Loops with Marshmallows or Honey Smacks is. All of these cereals that EWG places in the “Hall of Shame” are marketed with animated characters, bright colors, and some even make nutrition claims about high fiber and other benefits that are drowned in half a bowl of sugar.

If you or your tribe members eat boxed cereal, give this writeup a look, see where your favorites are. If you need to make some changes, EWG has made some general suggestions on how to cut back on the morning sugar rush. In our house when the sugar numbers on cereals started creeping up (meaning above 5g per serving), we began insisting that the kids mix that cereal with one that is MUCH lower (like 1g). We also limit the quantity and will offer them other food if they are still hungry. I found that the kids would continue eating cereal long after they were satisfied. When they asked for more and I offered an alternative, they’d say “No, I’m full.” The sugar keeps them coming back, long after their appetites are satisfied. Part of the magic of that sweet demon I suppose, but one over which we have some control.

Not sure why all the fuss over sugary cereals? Take a look at this on what sugar does to your brain. Or read about the insulin response produced by eating the sugar regularly included in processed foods that researchers believe may be the leading cause of obesity here.

Thank you EWG for looking at this serious issue and helping to shed some light on the giant and ridiculous cereal aisle.

For more information about teaching children about healthful morning choices, see Lessons From the Cereal Aisle. For more information about reducing the sugar in your diet, see Big Sis’ post about Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time.

Gentle Gardening Arsenal

Me: “I think I’ll go out and pick strawberries in my own backyard!  How heavenly….. tra-la-la-la-la…”


Bugs, mice, and birds, “Mmmm, I just love me some free, organic strawberries – I hate all those nasty chemicals they use around the corner!  Think I’ll pitch my tent and invite the extended family!”  Actually, because I have a little of this and a little of that planted in close proximity, I do not get hoardes of pests, but enough to diminish my return, so….

How to be relatively organic and still get a good yield on all your time and labor?

I now have 5 substances that I use regularly to reduce pests and sickness in my garden.   And they are!….

#1) DIY Insecticidal Soap
The newest addition for loyal readers who are familiar with some of my others is DIY insecticidal soap.  You CAN purchase insecticidal soap but you can also add 2 Tablespoons of liquid Dr. Bronner’s castile or peppermint soap to a quart of warm water and spray that on your garden.  Further instructions – like making sure to get the underside of the leaves, can be found here.

The DIY version is much cheaper without nasty ingredients.  Insecticidal soap can also be used indoors and will not kill ladybugs.

#2) Urine.  You heard it folks, urine.  I (or some other member of my family) pee into a 1/2 gallon pitcher, then I add a little ammonia, a little dish soap and fill it with water.  This gets poured around the perimeter of a garden bed which is being invaded by mammalian type creatures, like rabbits and moles.  It must be renewed after a rain, but is helpful.  For moles, I find it even more helpful to use urine in the pitcher and then just add water to half full, find mounds left by the buggers, stick a trowel in, pull back to reveal the hole and pour it right in there.  Especially if the mound or hole is near the garden.  The rain revealed this particular tunnel beneath my garden

Rotten worm eater!

Rotten worm eater!


#3) Garlic Pepper Spray.  This is easy to make and is very helpful eliminating insects and dissuading other nibblers.  Click here to read a prior post with instructions to make this spray of water, garlic and pepper with the caveat that I am no longer going to use a coffee filter to strain, but a nut milk bag and then a coffee filter if necessary.

#4) Neem Oil.  This I buy.  It is awesome.  It is used as an insecticide and I have been told it is helpful with some diseases as well.  Apparently it is used for many medicinal purposes as well, which I thought was interesting, and you can read about that here.  But otherwise, I just mix according to package directions and spray.  I buy the concentrate and mix myself – much cheaper!

#5) baking soda and milk to prevent mildew diseases.  Here is the recipe I use:

1/2 cup milk
4.5 cups water
1/4 tsp baking soda

This is to be sprayed on the leaves in the morning before the sun is directly striking the leaves.  I have found it very helpful with mildew diseases.

There is my arsenal….. along with some netting to keep the birds out of the strawberries

You can just make out the netting in the foreground.

You can just make out the netting in the foreground.

I find that these methods work if I am diligent and also if I fertilize well with compost (fast and easy cold composting tutorial here) and sometimes I use Plant Tone – an organic fertilizer or a fish & seaweed fertilizer.  Happy, healthy toxin-free plants and soil help make happy, healthy toxin-free (or less toxin-full) people!

What gentle methods do you use in your garden?


Chili Powder Recall for Salmonella

FSNBI’m always surprised when herbs and spices are recalled, but I don’t honestly know why. Apparently they are just as prone as anything else. Check the details on this one here. Eat well, be well, and have a great weekend!

Fed Up with Diet By Advertising

Sugar – looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it?

In honor of the release of Fed Up, a documentary about the power of sugar in our food supply, I’ve decided to take another look at my own (and my children’s sugar intake), and to remind myself WHY I would still be concerned about it.

This documentary, and most of what I’ve read about sugar and processed food in the last 10 year,s leads me to the conclusion that I cannot trust food manufacturers with my health. (See Salt, Sugar, Fat for more about that.) And it seems to me that there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of packaging and readiness and the healthfulness of the actual item. There are, of course, exceptions in the “natural foods” category. I can purchase prepared foods with less sugar, fewer chemicals, but these items ARE exceptions.

I don’t particularly want to build a life of eating exceptions. Processed food that doesn’t contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat is usually very expensive, and frankly, it’s just unnecessary. Somewhere along the way some very smart guys (think Mad Men with fewer cocktails and hopefully a little less infidelity) did a real good job of convincing Americans that we don’t have time to actually prepare (rather than warm) our food and that we’ll be fine just purchasing and warming the stuff their corporate sponsors produce.

The notion that we should be eating processed food, that it’s yummy, that it’s nutritious, that it’s convenient, that it’s inexpensive is an ad campaign. That’s it. And ad campaign. It’s not science. It’s not sound personal finance or family friendly economics. It’s not what your doctor recommended or what your grandma told you to do. It’s an ad campaign. I don’t want to build a life on an ad campaign. I don’t want my children’s health to be the result of an ad campaign.

Here at the pantry Big Sis and I have consistently embraced the fundamental importance of real food – food that you cook for yourself – as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. There are lots of models of “healthy” eating out there and they differ in some pretty important ways, but almost all of the ones that involve a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary restriction or substitution of their processed food for your preferred processed food, will lead you to Michael Pollan’s very sound, and very simple advice about food. 1) Eat food (by this he means food, not packages or chemicals), 2) Mostly vegetables, 3) Not too much.

Notice that nowhere in this simple advice does Mr. Pollan suggest that you consume a whole lot of sugar. If you are convinced that you don’t have time to eat better, or that there’s no way that changing your eating habits can really work or be affordable or fit into your schedule, I implore you to see Fed Up, or read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Don’t have time for all that? Check out our posts on sugar, on Salt, Sugar, Fat. Make sure you know the true cost of that easy food. If you’re convinced, but not sure where to turn, we can help. Check out our Sugar Busting and Baby Steps to Better Health series. Or take 5 minutes and read about cutting sugar at breakfast time. You can do this; you really can. We’ll help.

While you get started, I’ll be doubling back, checking for slippage, doing some quick calculations of my and my kids’ regular sugar intake. When it comes right down to it, we just don’t need that much, and the less we eat, the less we need to enjoy a little sweet satisfaction in our long, healthy lives.

Fed Up – Hollywood Takes on Sugar

Have you heard?

Have you seen it?

I haven’t seen it yet, but seeing who they’ve interviewed, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there. And I’m so very glad to hear people talking about sugar with such big voices on such big screens. Maybe you’re not as excited as I am.

Are you afraid?

Are you ready to change things?

Are you ready to take control of your health?

You don’t need that stuff.

We’ll help.

For tips on how to start cutting sugar in your diet, click on the Sugar Busting category on the sideboard or on the tabs above. For a more comprehensive overhaul (which will include cutting the sugar), click on the Baby Steps to Better Health category.

You can do this, and you’ll be awfully glad you did.

Stonyfield YoBaby Recalled for Coliform

FSNBWhile I don’t eat yogurt, I know from visits to the school cafeteria that many families rely on yogurt cups for school lunches. Details here. If you do use yogurt cups, I’d encourage you to try mixing your own so you can control the amount of sweet stuff in there. If you’re nervous about the other things that apparently might be in there, look into making your own yogurt – apparently it’s easy peasy lemon squeeze-y. Eat well, be well friends.

Cool Stir Fry Salad

Cool salad / Cold salad, I’ll take either one, I’m just getting over the hot food thang right now.  We are not necessarily ready for popsicles for dinner (only the finest for my brood, huh?) although temps here in Middle Tennessee have already come close to 90 several times, but cool is working for me.  Plus, coordinating hot food over the space -time continuum can be difficult.

I bet nobody has ever said that before.  At any rate, when recently faced with a potluck that required a 30 minute drive and a 1.5 hour activity prior to eating, I thought I’d contribute a cool stir fry.  Why not?  I can be cool when I try.

This approach also gave me the opportunity to empty my vegetable bin of little bits of this and that.  Feel free to substitute the little bits of this and that you have to use up for the bits I mention here.  Substitution is the mother of creation, or necessity, or something like that.  Clearly my space time continuum is still a bit confused today, but if you do some subbing you get to say, ‘Voila!’  There it is, your own personal twist on a stir fry salad.  That IS cool!

Cool Stir Fry Salad

2. 5 cups dry rice, cooked to package directions, or your usual way! (I like brown basmati)
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2-3 cloves garlic
Beet greens and stems from 3 large beets
3 carrots, sliced into coins
2 cups broccoli florets
3 – 5 Tbsp Bragg’s liquid amino acids (or soy sauce) – I used 4
.5 – 1.5 Tbsp sesame oil  – I used 1
1 cup roasted almonds (or raw)

Prepare rice according to package directions
When done, set aside to cool.  For added flavor cook rice in broth, bouillon or a mix of broth and water

Place cabbage in a large bowl and add rice vinegar and 1 tsp sesame oil.
Stir and leave to sit.

Almonds can be roasted in a 375 oven for 10 minutes laid out flat if you want to roast them.

Chop and saute garlic,  ginger, beet stems and greens:  Start with garlic and saute for a few minutes, add ginger for another minute then the chopped stems for about 3 or 4 minutes and finally the greens to wilt.
Set aside to cool.

Chop the rest of the veggies and cook or leave raw as you prefer.  I just barely cooked my broccoli florets, but not necessary.

A fabulous trio of flavors for cold salads.

Mix everything but the Bragg’s and extra sesame oil in the large bowl with the cabbage and stir.

Add the Bragg’s (or soy sauce) a bit at a time, stir and taste.  Extra vinegar can be added at this point as well if you like

Serve at room temperature or chilled – we’ve enjoyed it either way


Do you have hot dishes that you’ve converted to cool salads?