March Wrap Up

Holy Bananas I can’t believe March is over! After all that dreadful winter, the calendar leads me to believe Spring is actually upon us and the rain gauge outside agrees. Yay! I bought some pea plants today to give the garden a jump start – they were so beautiful on the shelf at the Food Co-op that I couldn’t help myself. Sometime over the next few Spring-y days I’ll get them in the ground. Because if there’s one thing I love in Spring, it’s garden fresh peas. Mostly I love eating them off the vine when nobody else is looking, but I’ve also been known to throw them in food for others, like the Company Good Pea Soup featured in this week’s menu. I’ll have to buy some for that, but even store bought fresh peas are a nice welcome for Spring.

Bigg Sis and I have both had a busy month in the parts of our lives that we don’t really highlight here. She’s been working her behind off at work and school. I’ve been trying to keep the twins engaged in what has been a less than spectacular academic year and learning and performing a whole lot of music. All that activity helped to shake the winter blues away, but sheesh we’ve been busy. I can’t believe we actually managed to write some posts at the same time.

Bigg Sis tempted us with Healthy Stuffed Peppers – which earned her a 100% approval rating at her house (a score that is difficult to achieve in both of our homes). I shared a variation on one of my favorite simple one pot dishes: Lentils, Potatoes, and Tomatoes. So good, and great as leftovers (I just thawed and ate some yesterday). A fan of potatoes and want a new way to eat them? Try Bigg Sis’ Shepherd’s Pizza – we loved it! Or go more traditional, and make some dairy free gravy using a tried and true cooking technique for sauces and gravies – a roux. Oh sweet comfort food, how I love you.

  

If you are also a fan of comfort food, try some of our meal plans from March (especially earlier in the month when it was colder) to shake things up at your house. We do these plans every week and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to plan, budget, spend less time at the store and have something on the table in a reasonable amount of time. Nice, eh? Take a look at all our Weekly Meal Plans by clicking on that category in the sidebar.

Unfortunately March brought us some food warnings and recalls. We post these when they catch our attention (find them in the Health News and Views category), but if it’s something you’re worried about, you should check out the Food Safety News website. I’ve also been contemplating posting these to our Facebook page, which you’ll find at Baby Steps to Better Health.

Hope you’ve had a spectacular March friends. I don’t know about this lion/lamb business where March is concerned, I’m just glad it’s finally getting warmer. Lion or lamb, we hope things are looking brighter and sunnier in your neck of the woods.

Weekly Meal Plan 1/19-1/25

Don’t know if you’ve noticed… or if I’ve even mentioned it, but my meal plans rarely go entirely as planned. Truth be told there’s a lot around here that doesn’t go entirely as planned, but I think this has more to do with our family culture than with some sort of underlying deficiency with the plans themselves. I CAN report that even though plans have often required at least one last minute modification, since I’ve been planning our weekly meals there has been 1) a huge reduction in the number of trips to the store which means 2) lower spending on food, and 3) less stress in the critical after school timeframe. I already know what I’m cooking and can work on that while nagging (I mean advising, yeah that’s it advising) about homework and piano practice and hang your coat up and whose sock is that… You can imagine that making a decision in the middle of all that advising could be a little daunting.

This past week, as a result of invitations we could not refuse, our regular Sunday night pasta has not yet been made and eaten. So, the planning and cooking for me is a little lighter than usual as we will return to our regularly scheduled pasta next Sunday. We could eat pasta every night with great pleasure. If this is not true for your family and you’d still like a plan, feel free to peruse plans from past weeks or to scroll through some of our recipes in search of a replacement. Me, I’m glad to be eating it, and even more glad that Mr. Little Sis will be playing chef for all that pasta. I will be taking on some additional paid work this week, so we’ll be relying on a slightly different division of labor, and putting our bare bones 15 year old CrockPot to good use. And so without further ado…

Monday: Homemade Pasta with the Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever

Tuesday: Miso Soup with Rice Noodles (leftover from last week)

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Herbed Beans and Barley

Thursday: Slow Cooker Burrito filling in taco shells (they’re in love with tacos), chopped veggies and green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Three Sisters Savory Cobbler (from December’s Vegetarian Times) 

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Pesto, green salad

lunchbox treats: Dark Chocolate Dipped Wheat Pretzels

Adult lunches: leftover Nutshroom Burgers from last week

 

In other news for the week, I will continue to attempt to get more sleep as part of my Year of Well-Being, which may be extra hard (and extra necessary) with a loaded schedule. Big challenge ahead. I’ll let you know how it goes… unless I blow it and I’m too tired, in which case I’ll post something like brm;kjasdkhjfklja;hzzzz.  Eat well, be well friends. If you need help with that first one, check out our e-book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. Have a great week!

Fall Recipe Parade – Yes, there’s some pumpkin

It’s that time of year – one of the many that sneaks up on me each and every year. While it is still sunny and warm here in mid-Maryland, I am apparently supposed to desperately want pumpkin everything. And honestly, I’m okay with that (except for the coffee thing, I don’t get it – but to each her own coffee). Here at the pantry we do have a healthy love of pumpkin. We also love the other flavors of fall and the opportunity to break out those super warming dishes as the temperatures begin to drop. To welcome this season of bounty and cool nights, we offer you a treasure trove of autumn yum. Most of these recipes are both gluten and dairy free. :-)

Morning Warmer Uppers

  

1. Pumpkin French Toast

2. Dark Chocolate Steel Cut Oats

3. Sweet Potato Apple Oats

Mains

  

4. Slow Cooker Burritos

5. Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala 

6. Sweet Potato Chili with Greens

Sides

  

7. Amazing Applesauce

8. Herbed Bulghur Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Cranberries

9. Waldorf Saute

Sweet Endings

  

10. Super Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies

11. Walnut Crust Apple Pie

12. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Yay for pumpkins and apples, for warm afternoons and cool mornings, for low humidity and crunchy leaves, for new pencils and new schedules. Here’s to fall and wonderful food, family, and friends. Delish!

The Common Ground to Eating Lifestyles

I didn’t want to say diet because the big ‘ways of eating’ or ‘eating lifestyles’ that are out there right now such as vegan, paleo and GAPS are NOT diets.  They are approaches to eating and are intended to be forever, not a temporary withdrawal of something until weight reaches a desired level.  And let’s be honest, the forever part sometimes comes with an amount of rigidity that can spawn righteousness, ugliness and intolerance.  Can you have some vegans and some paleo eaters over on the same night and expect peace all evening?  Well, with some people you can, but I know many bloggers who feel themselves to be in a certain camp who are then lambasted by people who feel they are either in the wrong camp or have swerved too far out of the campsite……even if they were chasing a fabulous butterfly or helping their child get to the latrine at the time!

It’s odd, because as a nurse I can attest to the fact that different medications have different effects on different people.  Same species, different effect.  There is huge variety between members of our species regarding allergic reactions, effect on bowel movements, mood, and weight, even one eats the same exact thing as the person standing behind him or her in the cafeteria line.  Why then would we assume that the same eating lifestyle would be optimal for everyone?  It won’t, and it isn’t and so there.  So where does this leave us and why am I risking getting flamed by the tee-totallers?

We are left with the common ground to the eating lifestyles and I use the word ‘ground’ on purpose.  The Lifestyles: Paleo, Vegan, GAPS and many others, recommend in one way or another that you eat natural foods and avoid processed foods.  They can all agree that it is good to eat more vegetables, eat less Twinkies.  Eat more that either came from the ground, or from something that ate something that came from the ground, and less pre-packaged, pre-chemicalized, pre-preserved, pre-pared by someone other than you or your Aunt Marge, foods.   As often as possible.

All of the lifestyles have marvelous science, tests, books, and even movies to back up their point of view, but I know from years of experimentation that there is no one with the exact same digestion as me.  I know for a fact that I can not do dairy, and have a very tough time with beans, but that is not true for everyone.  I do not have any physical problems eating meat, but frankly I am much more comfortable eating meat that came from well-treated, naturally fed animals and I can not afford to do that often so I eat less meat.  Me, me, me, it’s all about me isn’t it?  Well, when it comes to what works for ME nutritionally speaking, yes.  There are valid arguments about how the raising of different foods affects the planet and I take that into account in my purchasing, but it ain’t easy feeding a family ideally all the time.

Just had to stick in a picture of some veggies – Little Sis’ quick and easy “Chemical Free Simply Fabu Sweet and Sour Pickles20140427_132043-001

Here’s another reason to drop the flags and banners and just educate people about the very real trouble with processed foods and the Food Industry.  If you narrow your diet too dramatically you miss out on a lot of delightful social happenings.  If I can’t eat at anyone’s home but my own then I have seriously limited my experience of the world and I would miss the interactions that tend to happen when people gather to eat.  Sometimes at a gathering, celebration, restaurant or party you just have to do the best you can with what is there.  Of course people who eschew animal products for ethical or religious reasons have to be choosier, but it is very rare that there is not something edible for most everyone.

So back to an eating lifestyle…… Little Sis and I began the Baby Steps series because it is difficult to attain a healthier, much less completely healthy, lifestyle.  Making changes to your diet is difficult and believing that life is all vegan/paleo/GAPS all the time or nothing, leads a lot of people to failure in making lifestyle changes.  Pay attention to and try to decrease the amount of processed food in your diet and you are choosing the bottom line element of lifestyle eating that has so powerfully affected people’s lives that they think their way works for everyone.   Maybe the common denominator of less processed food is also the common denominator for feeling and looking better with these changes!

Everytime you eat more healthfully……you are eating more healthfully!  Seriously.  That is WAY better than less healthfully.  If you need some encouragement, check out our Baby Steps series and our Sugar Busting series, because unfortunately, sugar outside of plants and milk is a processed food and is heavily present in most processed foods.

I often counsel patients who are trying to improve their eating habits / lose weight / lower blood pressure, etc. to start with the vegetables.  Eat more vegetables up front and there won’t be as much for the other stuff….preferably the other stuff is the least processed possible, for you, at this time, in this situation with these people.  It’s really all you can do and still remain mildly sane – personally I have given up on totally sane!

I Love Lucy or Vacation Eating

Sheeeeee’s baaaaaaaaaack. Hey friends. As you might have guessed, I have been enjoying a bit of a hiatus. Big Sis graciously covered my fanny online as I took some time with our super parents in a super retreat. We are the lucky beneficiaries of an annual trip in the summer (Big Sis first, we second) that never fails to restore some well-being and hope for humanity (no, really), but I have to confess that it doesn’t typically do a lot for my healthy habits. I had great hopes for maintaining my course on this trip (as I managed to at the beach, where I had Big Sis to help me avoid the ice cream), but I’m afraid this time, I was pretty much like Lucy on the chocolate line. If you are unfamiliar with Lucy on the chocolate line, you may be very young, and I suppose we’ll have to forgive you for that. Regardless of the reason for your unfamiliarity, I would encourage you to check out the fabulous Ms. Ball (in the chocolate and two other food-related scenes) here. The picture above says it all, though. Cheeks full, and a determination to look as though nothing is wrong…. I just couldn’t stop myself.

Now look, don’t get me wrong, regardless of what your internal or external rules are about food, I think it’s pretty reasonable to willfully ignore them now and again. It’s not a point I want to argue – I am just not willing to be that rigid or hold myself to that high a standard. I don’t need to be disappointed in myself that often. With that said, on our trip some sort of switch flipped and it seems that after the first transgression, despite feeling bloated, overly-full, greasy, and a little nauseous, I just couldn’t stop. And so I arrive home feeling spiritually, mentally, and familially refreshed, and further affirmed that for me, there are some kinds of food I really just can’t do, and if I DO choose to eat them, I should do it when I’m with Big Sis so we can be sure it won’t happen the next day too. ;-)

On our road back to normal digestion this morning, I chose to give my daughter a soft landing with pancakes.  The kids enjoyed their little fluffy vegan breakfast friends with a little syrup on the first, and then jam on those that followed.  Mommy and Daddy enjoyed pancakes with fresh Western New York blueberries with some date cream spread on top.  And after I had the first two and I felt satisfied?  I stopped.  So there.  And for dinner tonight?  Homemade pasta with both red sauce and vegan pesto options….  that’s what I call getting back to normal in style.  Many kudos for my wonderful husband’s consistently awesome homemade pasta, and many thanks to fabulous sister-in-law and family for giving us an excuse to do it up with multiple options.  Vegan pesto was enjoyed by all but the youngest in the crowd (my wonderful but picky daughter and my wonderful but picky niece).  So here you are, the cheapest pesto I’ve ever made.  All the yum and none of the pricey ingredients. :-)

Welcome Home Vegan Pesto

  • Double batch sunflower cheez spread (omit the dill)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 6 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 t  salt
  • 6 Tbs olive oil

Follow the recipe  for the sunflower cheez spread (to which I am now hopelessly and willfully addicted, by the way), omitting the dill (unless of course you like dill in your pesto), and adding a large clove of garlic.  Process the cheez until it is as smooth as your patience will allow.  Add the basil, additional salt and the olive oil and process again until ingredients are incorporated.  The pesto will not be as green as traditional pesto, but like traditional pesto, it WILL oxidize, so the color will go from green to brown when left uncovered or as time passes.  Stir for better color.  This recipe makes A LOT of pesto.  Cut it to your satisfaction, freeze some, OR play all week with new combinations based on your fan-flippin-tastic vegan pesto.  I’m betting you can guess which option I’m choosing. Delish.

Eat Food. Real Food.

This is the subtext for our blog.  Eat food.  Real food.  And as we have met so many fascinating people through this blog – and seen so many fascinating and clever approaches to eating healthfully (and joyfully!), Little Sis and I come back to what started all of this blogging for us.  Real food.

It is a difficult but rewarding journey to procure, prepare and eat real food within this crazy, convenience-ized, instant gratification culture of ours.

There are many wonderful epicurean lifestyles out there that claim to improve people’s health.  Sometimes they are at complete odds with each other and both sides claim to have scientific ‘proof’ that their diet is the one that will lead all people to optimum health.  Well, since when has one approach ever led even 75% of the world’s population to the same conclusion or end goal?  I mean even the notion that we should be kind and not kill each other is present in all the world’s major religions and yet, we’re still killing each other!  But let me get back to food.  Real food.

I would argue that be it the Paleo diet (lots of meat and veggies – little carbs) or a plant-based diet (with or without oil), vegan vs. vegetarian, no dairy vs. yogurt-makes-people-in-the-Caucasus Mtns-live-into- their 100’s… these diets improve people’s health when, and perhaps primarily because, they decrease the amount of processed foods in the diet.  And do you know what processed food includes?

Sugar.

Sugar is not a natural food.

What?  Bigg Sis have you lost your mind?  Sugar is the MOST natural food.  It’s what plants make from water and sunlight.  It’s what your brain consumes to allow you to sit there and type out your thoughts.  Sugar is the only food.

Let me elaborate.  Refined sugar…. concentrated sugar…. sugar beyond the amount that exists in the wonderful fruits, vegetables and milk we have at our disposal is not natural.  Even sugar cane has other stuff in it.  It doesn’t pour out of the end of the cane like a Pixie Stick!  Our bodies use incoming calories to make sugar and energy, but our bodies evolved, were created, came into being, with lesser amounts of the stuff than we currently consume.  And sugar, as in refined, as in un-natural amounts, is proving to be a very bad physiological choice for humanity.  Hummingbirds seem to do okay with it, but not humans.

So, as far as taking the first steps to improve your health via a nutritious, and beneficial diet?  Reduce processed food.  Reduce processed food and you reduce sugar – along with a host of other nasty chemicals that are also used as rocket propellant (sodium nitrite a meat preservative) and boat cleaner (azidocarbamide – a dough conditioner).  Little Sis and I are thinking that along with the series we did on sugar, we’d like to share how we have reduced the processed foods in our lives.  We’re looking for the common things that many people like to use and abuse that they think are cheaper and more convenient.  We abused too!  I promise.  I used to think it was a healthy choice to buy Mrs. Paul’s fish filets as opposed to the sticks!

I think once you get used to a slight change here and there in your routine, you will find that our methods do not take more time and are definitely not more expensive if you measure cost per nutrient.  And hey… hospitals, diabetic supplies, dialysis, drugs, and coffins are WAY more expensive than any of the concoctions my cheapskate little sister and my-cheapskate-self have come up with.

So I’d like to offer several more alternatives to boxed cereal – one of the MOST egregious users of sugar.

Little Sis has given you lots of great ideas for oatmeal – both cooked easily overnight, and soaked easily overnight.  Here is another soaker cereal recipe:

Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl (Gluten free)
Buckwheat is not actually wheat – it is a seed from a non-wheat plant that is somewhat pyramidal in shape.  For this recipe you want the actual seeds, not flour.
1 handful of buckwheat groats per person
1 handful raw sunflower seeds per person
Place in a bowl and cover with about 2″ of water.
Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight.
Rinse until the water runs clear the next morning – it will look a little cloudy and slimy.
Serve as is or add a little almond, soy or cow’s milk along with some raisins or chopped dates, nuts, or other fruit, a little cinnamon adds some sweetness as well.

Make your own Granola on the weekend and enjoy all week long!
Recipe adapted from Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food
Pre-heat oven to 350
Spread 5 cups oats in a 9×13 dish (I usually do 2 dishes at the same time)
Heat the oats for 10 minutes
While the oats are heating, mix:
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or a combo
1 teaspoon vanilla
(for each batch : if making 2 batches at once I mix this in 2 separate measuring cups so I can add one to each dish of 5 cups oats)
Chop or break one cup of nuts for each batch
When oats are warm add the nuts plus:
1 cup coconut (unsweetened is less sugar and available at some groceries in the bulk and definitely at health food stores)
1 teaspoon cinnamon and
an oil/sugar mixture to each pan
Stir
Bake, mixing granola after 10 minutes and then after every 5 minutes for a total of 25 – 30 minutes, or until brown.  Let cool.  Keep in airtight container

And lastly – for replacing processed breakfasts – to add to Little Sis’ wonderful pancake recipes – a relatively simple mix.  Make the dry ingredients ahead of time and your morning routine will be quicker.  In fact make 2 or 3 dry batches in advance!  After everyone has eaten, lay the leftover pancakes on a plate, put them in the freezer and the next day transfer them to a plastic bag for future breakfasts.
Buttermilk  Whole wheat Pancakes:
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 & 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
handful raw cashews (optional but very tasty!)
I usually make 1 & 1/2 or 2 times this recipe so there will be leftovers to freeze.
Mix dry.
Mix wet.
Mix the 2.
follow usual pancake cooking procedure – see Cast Iron Pancake Chef for tips

One need not eschew everything one loves to achieve a more healthy diet.  Unless of course all you love comes from the back of a Hostess or Frito-Lays truck.  But part of the journey is finding the healthy foods that work for you and your family.  Find the foods that bring you pleasure while nourishing your body.  You may just find that list expanding as you try new things without the numbing overly sweet and salty tastes which the processed food industry would like us to crave.  Keep us posted on the new discoveries that you make.  We have learned so much from the input, comments and blogs of our on-line companions on this journey.  It is nice to be in community with you!

The Pollen Count is WHAT?! Why Don’t I Feel It?

I have always had atrocious seasonal allergies.  I was that kid – you know the one with the constantly drippy nose, who carried tissues while other kids carried personal treasures, and who more often than not in the Spring was likely to be a little spacey because at that time Benadryl was the best answer to swollen eyes and gooey noses.  “Most people grow out of it…” they said.  And so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I’m 42 now.  While I’ve not outgrown all of my childhood foibles, many have indeed gone by the wayside.  Not my allergies.  Last year was one of my worst.  I loaded up on prescriptions and struggled through the Spring, feeling a bit punished for my love of gardening and super fresh, super local (backyard grown) food.  I used my Neti pot, I used steroid nasal spray, I did everything I could to remain coherent AND breathe.

Over the last year my family and I have made a series of dietary changes.  We’ve been paying a lot of attention and have made every effort to eliminate as many processed foods as we can, and recently we’ve DRAMATICALLY decreased the amount of meat and dairy that we consume.  We still eat it, but mostly on the weekends, and try to keep the portion MUCH smaller.  More of a flavoring than an entree.  So here we are, feeling better than we have in a LONG time and tree pollen season is upon us.  I’ve noticed and had a few days that made me think about medicating… but I haven’t.  Mostly I feel pretty good.  I’ve been out in the garden; I’ve been doing yard work.  Yes, I feel that pollen, but this is a whole different world.  Everyone around me is complaining about their symptoms and trading tips on symptomatic relief.  I am breathing through not one, but TWO clear nostrils and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So what’s going on here?  Is it the strange weather?  Is it still too early and in a few days I will regret ever commenting on my relative comfort?  Possibly.  But the fact is that I feel better than I have ever felt.  In my life.  Ever.  There are doctors out there who will tell you that dietary change can influence your allergies…  No, really.  It’s true; the food you eat MAY actually have something to do with how your body functions.  I’ll be darned.  I’ll give you one link, but all you need to do is Google “diet and seasonal allergies” and you’ll get a quick roundup of the suggestions as to how and why these two may go hand in hand.  My personal experience is suggesting that there is something in either processed food or animal products that taxed my system in such a way that the additional load brought on by Spring pollen was just too much to bear.  I suppose I could do an elimination diet, testing one of these items at a time to see exactly which one, or which ones, are causing the trouble….  but I feel great.  So why would I do that?  I’ll just keep on keeping on and we’ll see what the rest of Spring looks like.  Maybe I’ll avoid being groggy at all.  Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

So here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you to eat what I eat so your problems will go away.  I’m not going to do that.  Our diet has been an evolution.  A long process of incremental change that has landed us here.  You may not find the idea of really cutting meat and dairy interesting, and I can understand that.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ll wonder what would happen if you made some changes.  What would happen if the next meal you made didn’t include food that could sit on a shelf for a year without changing?  I’m serious, what would that look like?  If you have made changes, and you’ve noticed a difference, I want to hear about it.   And for the first time with pollen counts this high, I’ll probably remember what you say when you respond.