2015: A Year of Well-Being

A couple of days ago our minister asked: “What would it look like for 2015 to be a ‘Year of Well-Being?” Standing here at the beginning of the year and having the maturity to look back at those that have passed allows us a moment to reflect and set an intention for the days to come. What kind of year will it be? Many things will happen that are beyond our control, but there are many conscious choices that we make each and every day that have a big impact on how we could accurately describe that year when we get to December 2015. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’d need to do to make 2015 a “Year of Well-Being.”

Clearly you know that the way that we eat is part of my attempt at ensuring well-being in our household, but in my zeal for healthful food, I confess that other aspects of well being are prone to slippage in some cases and downright neglect in others. I cannot eat my way to anything greater than relative well-being; I am more well than if I kept everything else the same and ate crap. Relative well-being achieved. However, having just come through the public incubation system month of plague and scourge, I have to consider deeply if I could make some other choices to great impact.

Apparently even fabulously successful people neglect their well-being, and Arianna Huffington has written a book about how her very successful and hardworking lifestyle led her to actual physical collapse in 2007. It would seem that less than 6 hours of sleep a night and 18 hour work days every day does NOT do the body good. Her doctors concluded that she had actually collapsed because of sleep deprivation. Ms. Huffington describes her journey back to a sane place of wellness in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In the book, Ms. Huffington works diligently to rethink the way that we define success and to enrich the meaning of well-being to raise the bar for a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and deeply connected. Before any of those deeply fulfilling things can happen with any regularity, however, one must not be on the verge of physical collapse. Ms. Huffington recommends three key steps toward increasing your physical well-being so that you can get on with the business of enriching your life.

First step: sleep. I don’t know about any of you, but I could stop reading or listening right here. This is the one that has my (and Mr. Little Sis’) name all over it. Most adults need from 7-9 hours of sleep (bear in mind that these are averages, so some people need more; those who think they need much much less are likely fooling themselves). the amount you need fluctuates with age, so maybe you (and by you I mean I) could get less when you were 22…

Mr. Little Sis and I tend to go in cycles where we get 7.5 for a while (when we’ve recognized that we’re zombies) and then slide slowly back toward getting less than 7 for nights or even weeks at a time. And we slowly get REALLY tired. Know what it’s hard to do when you’re REALLY tired? Assess the amount of sleep you’re getting and make good decisions about what to cut so you can get more. It’s also really hard to work efficiently and effectively so you can accomplish what you need to in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also hard to decide what to put in your child’s lunch before you’ve had caffeine. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation makes pretty much everything we want to do more difficult and more time consuming. So why do we fail to go to sleep?

I can’t tell you why YOU do it, but I can tell you why we do it.  After the children go to bed I enjoy the peace… I also have tasks that I save for night time like packing part of the kids’ lunch (to eliminate some of the pre-caffeine decisions), physical therapy exercises, blog work, knitting, bill paying, and occasionally when I really lose track during the day, putting laundry away (the ultimate self-punishment = leaving clean clothes on the bed to discover at bedtime). I also have the long standing habit of reading a little before I turn out the light and actually go to sleep. I’m laughing while I write this because that really is quite a lot. No wonder I have trouble going to bed at a reasonable hour. I do often turn on the TV while working on some of these things and with the exception of knitting, I’m sure this serves to slow me down as well. Mr. Little Sis fails to go to sleep because most of his life is online. His work is remote from a home office (translation: there is no end to the work day) and he blogs from home for an international audience that is very interactive (translation: there is no end to blog day). We have both set ourselves up for less sleep than two adults, particularly two adults with elementary school children, need to make sense of the world and feel reasonably well. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of physical collapse, I’m guessing there’s a lot of steps between that and feeling rested. We could definitely get more sleep.

Second step: more exercise. There are a ridiculous number of studies that attest to the fact that exercise improves not only our actual physical health, but our sense of well being. Exercise lightens our spirits, makes us feel better physically, and promotes SLEEP. While we may be wiped out after working all day, many of our occupations don’t tax the body. The mind is weary; the body is not sure why we’re sitting still so much.

Like my sleep, I tend to be somewhat cyclic with my exercise habits, although having a large dog has put me in the position of doing some walking every day and addressing muscular and skeletal issues has me on a physical therapy regimen that ensures I’ll be doing something with my muscles many days of the week. Still, I know when I’ve slipped. I can tell when I’ve stopped working just a little harder. I can feel my spirit sinking (along with my posterior). I catch myself, add a little (longer faster dog walk), and then usually feel well enough to add a little more (actually working out). Why the cycles? Who knows. Doesn’t seem to take much to interrupt my exercise routine. Sickness, family emergencies, pretty much anything that changes the timing during my day will unhinge my workout scene for weeks or more.

Third step: meditation. Yeah, ohmmm. I’m not gonna lie. I have never successfully meditated. I’ve tried a bunch of times. The times that felt better usually felt better because I fell asleep. Pretty clear I need to spend some time on getting more sleep before I can even hope to successfully meditate. If YOU get enough sleep and are interested in the benefits of meditation, this page has a number of links that will help you get started.

Well-BeingWhere does that leave me? I’m not really much for resolutions, mostly because I used to make them about weight loss all the time and it was part of the cycle of dumb diets and bad results (see our thoughts on a real food resolution). I prefer to think of setting an intention for the new year, a focal point, a turning of my consciousness and attention. It’s pretty clear to me that if 2015 is to be a year of well-being for me, I need to get serious about getting more sleep. I’ve been working toward that and am now realizing how tired I actually am. As I continue to increase my amount of sleep in search of the number that actually makes me feel rested, I’m hoping my motivation to be a little more consistent with exercise will also increase. But I’m not even going to worry about that too much just now. I’m going to sleep. And it will be good. What will 2015 be for you? If 2015 as a year of well-being is about food for you, maybe our E-Book Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals can help. If it’s not about food, maybe it’s time to sleep. It will be good. Be well friends.

Stale Bread Made Great – Vegan Bread Pudding Two Ways

I’ve mentioned a few times that I struggle with quantities, particularly in the face of hosting guests. It would seem that in preparation for the holiday functions we hosted, I decided (through the fog of illness) that having enough bread in the house was the key. Not just frozen sandwich bread, but high quality bakery bread. The disheartening (and probably most wonderful) thing about good bakery bread is that it peaks, just like a bottle of wine. It has a moment when it’s at its very best and every moment after that is one step closer to that tasty loaf becoming squirrel food, or excellent bread fight ammunition (ow). Needless to say despite having a LOT of guests over the several days of the holiday season, we were unable to consume all the bread I bought for the occasions. And so it sat.

It sat so long that my omnivorous dog has begun to ignore it. It sat so long that it made a thud when moved. It sat so long I could no longer tear it with my hands or cut it with a bread knife. Yeah. That’s stale bread. What to do to avoid wasting all that previously wonderful bread? Yes, I could give it to the squirrels, but frankly between what they get from the bird feeder and what they steal from my garden, I think I’ve done my bit with them, so I wondered. Can I make a bread pudding without eggs and butter? Can I make a bread pudding with bread I can’t even tear? Does anybody but me eat bread pudding in this house? Three questions is enough for me. An investigation ensued, and it became clear pretty quickly that one can indeed make bread pudding without the dairy products that make my life unpleasant. Chef Joey’s recipe became my starting point.

Next problem: the rocks formerly known as bread. Mr. Little Sis thought adding a little water to the crust and microwaving them might make the bread bricks easier to manipulate. I couldn’t quite get my head around softening the bread that would then need to be staled again for good bread pudding – it’s ready just as it is; why would I soften it? And so, I looked for a tool based answer to my problem. I am lucky that Mr. Little Sis did some time at culinary school and that time prompted him to add some seriously great knives to our little block. As we considered the problem of the intensely hard bread before us, he reached over to the block and pulled out the one that I like the least, mostly because when it gets used it is on something that I don’t eat and think is gross and there’s a loud noise that goes with it – a bad combo for me. But… if it can help with bread pudding and preventing wasted food, I’d be happy to reconsider. Mr. Little Sis to the rescue…

Next problem: the question of the micro-local popularity of bread pudding. When I lived in the dorms at my central Pennsylvania college, I waited for the days that they served bread pudding in the dining hall. Bread pudding had not been featured in my childhood, so it was a new and thoroughly delightful surprise. My husband, having stayed in Maryland where bread pudding is apparently not a thing, had no such attachment to the dish and the kids? It’s pretty much always a 50/50 proposition there. The result? 100% approval of the bread pudding with caramel sauce as dessert, 100% approval of leftover bread pudding with maple syrup for breakfast (genius and awesome).

With all that fanfare, I’m guessing you’d like to know how I did this, so here we go:

Vegan Bread Pudding Two Ways (GF Option)

Bread Pudding

  • 5 cups stale bread, cubed (we used whole grain bread and it was superb, if you avoid gluten, use gluten free bread)
  • 6 T coconut oil
  • 3 flax eggs
  • 2 1/2 c almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1 c toasted pecans (pan, oven, 350, 10 minutes or until you smell them and panic)
  • 4-6 c boiling water

Caramel Sauce for Dessert

  • 1 c pitted dates
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1T + 1t nut butter
  • 3T almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • dash vanilla

Topping for Breakfast

  • splash maple syrup
  • chopped nuts
  • raisins

Prepare flax eggs (1T flax + 2 1/2 T water for each “egg”). Preheat oven to 350. Place milk in pan on stove to warm to just below boiling. While milk is warming, measure coconut oil into  medium or larger sized bowl. Measure spices and maple syrup into small bowl. Place bread cubes mixed with toasted nuts into two loaf pans. Place the loaf pans in a large baking dish. (Other pans would be fine. The trick here is that they must sit in a larger pan full of hot water, so I chose loaf pans).

 

Put at least 4 c water on to boil, preferably in a kettle so you can pour easily, but if no kettle, just be careful. While waiting on water, assemble the bread pudding. It is advisable to assemble the bread pudding as close to your oven as possible. You’ll understand why in a minute. When milk is just beginning to bubble, pour it over the coconut oil and stir to melt. Add flax eggs to maple syrup and spice bowl. Whisk to combine. Slowly add to milk/coconut oil bowl and whisk to combine. Pour 1/2 of the liquid into each of the loaf pans. If you’ve not yet moved near the oven, please do it now. Add boiling water to the BOTTOM pan (in my case a pyrex casserole baker). Have someone open the oven for you and CAREFULLY carry the pan and slide it into the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until browned as you’d like on top. When you press on top, you might see a little liquid bubble through the cracks, but it shouldn’t be a lot. Let sit in pan for at least 10 minutes so it can set up.

For caramel dessert sauce, add all ingredients to a power blender and go. Yes, please use a power blender rather than a food processor. Trust me on that one. Blend until smooth and pour on plate and on top of bread pudding.

For bread pudding breakfast, reheat bread pudding and drizzle maple syrup on top. Add raisins or nuts as you like.

What could be better than upcycling insanely stale bread? Eating bread pudding for breakfast, that’s what. Delish!

For more healthy baked goods and ideas about how to save money on food, check out our E-Book:Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. Eat well, be well friends!

Weekly Meal Plan 1/5-1/11/2015

The hubbub has come to a close. 2014 ended with a giant yawp and a flourish over here. Good friends, good food, good times. After all this merry-making, I confess to being kind of ready to return to business as usual. I suppose that’s part of what all that merry-making is about, right? To rejuvenate, to replenish, to nourish all the parts of us that we ask so much of every day. I have been rejuvenated (in no small part because my fabulous husband insisted I sleep more than usual), replenished and nourished by seeing so many people who I love so dearly. And I have finally thoroughly dispensed with the respiratory part of the plague that has punished our household for the last few weeks. So here we are, the beginning of the beginning of everything else. What better to do at the beginning than to think about what you will eat?

Monday: Spinach Chickpea Burgers, roasted potatoes, sautéed green beans, green salad

Tuesday: Half Raw Veggie Stir Fry on quinoa

Wednesday: Tacos (inspired by a pal I’ll make Thirty Minute Bean and Bulghur Chili but add less tomato so it’s thicker and serve with fixings and taco shells)

Thursday: Lentil Casserole (when Ms. Picky Pants asks for something cheap, easy AND healthy, I make it)

Friday: homemade pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Dinner Out (taking the twins on a day long outing for their upcoming 8th birthday)

Sunday: Homemade Pasta

There it is! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all letting me hold myself accountable by publishing my meal plans. Believe me, there would be a whole lot more last minute winging it around here if I didn’t HAVE to plan. If you’re looking for more information on meal planning, and on planning to improve your health through better food, check out our new E-Book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. Eat well, be well friends!

Dipping Into a Healthier New Year

If you’re looking for salt, sugar or fat then our culture is rife with choices and temptations.  You can easily acquire all the salt, sugar and fat you would like most anywhere you go.  But January often brings thoughts of trying to cut back on these tried and true sensations.  I find that it is helpful to me to replace, not simply extinguish behaviors or foods that are problematic.  Exploring fabulous new flavors is a good way to open the palate to alternatives to salt, sugar and fat.  If you can also throw more vegetables into your life in the mix, well, that my friends is a win-win taste and nutrition sensation!

You may recall that I recently shared a GF carrot cake with the notion of shoving more vegetables into a sweet treat.  By the same token (and the same vegetable) I’d like to share a way to shove more vegetables into your dip 🙂  In addition this recipe utilizes an even more simple version of harissa which we introduced in a post several summers ago.  Harissa is a North African spicy condiment that makes mere carrots (and other things) something exotic and exciting.

The carrot dip comes from Vegetarian Times, June 2013.  You will need tabil spice mix to make your own harissa, or if you live in a cosmopolitan place, perhaps you can find harissa in a store.  I make tabil spice mix to use in this dish and others and in fact it made a nice gift for some friends and family this Holiday season.  The tabil recipe is available on our old post here.  Harissa is really easy to make from tabil and chili garlic sauce.

Short cut harissa:
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chili garlic sauce (I use vietnamese)
1 Tbsp tabil

Mix ingredients together

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And here is my very slight variation on the recipe for Carrot Dip with Crushed Walnuts (and Black Olives)

1.5 lbs of carrots washed and chopped (I did not peel)
3 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped in half
1 tsp ground coriander (the original recipe has instructions for roasting and grinding fresh seeds)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp harissa
1/2 cup chopped / toasted walnuts
the original used black olives as a garnish.  I did not.

Cover the carrots and garlic by 2 inches with salted water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 or 20 minutes or until the carrots are very tender.
Place everything but the walnuts in a food processor and pulse to a smooth consistency.Serve with walnuts on top with crackers / pita bread, other veggies or on a sandwich.

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20150103_175604-001And if you or someone you know is interested in changing the way you eat ….. and improving health or well-being via diet, Little Sis and I have published an e-book that can help!

“Better nutrition is a goal for many people. This book provides sensible, achievable steps that guide families or individuals in the transition to a healthier diet. The authors are 2 sisters who, using their experience as a nurse and a teacher, guided their own families to accept a real food diet. The results they saw in improved health, weight management and behavior, along with the delicious recipes they created (and include in the book) have helped make the changes both welcome and permanent. Humor, encouragement, economy and common sense carry the reader through reflections and actions for sustainable change, one baby step at a time.”

Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals

by the Sis Sisters – and if you’ve been longing to know our real names, they are listed at the link 😉