Healthy Beginnings

There are a lot of things I am sure I may not be able to give Elsie…a free ride to college, a new car at 16, or the newest “best” gadgetrons that become available as she grows up…but I know from experience these are the least important things I can provide. One of the things I came away from childhood with is an innate sense of what is healthy and what is not.  I continue to be shocked at how hard people make it seem to eat “right”…isn’t it simple?…real, whole food most of the time, sprinkled with “treats” that are good for your soul.  But I have come to realize that if good, healthy food was not a part of your life as a child, it is much harder to recognize the false claims the food/diet industry throw at the public today.  If you are looking for a simple guide, Michael Pollan (great food politics author) has these seven rules:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love.
  7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

Oh and one more rule…pardon my four letter expletive in advance, but sometimes it is just appropriate…I came across this a couple months ago and it has stuck with me:

Whenever you see the words “low fat” or “fat free” think of the words “chemical shit storm”.

My Mom didn’t teach me these rules outright, but it is just how we lived our life. There was a place for treats…one of my fondest childhood memories was getting Lucky Charms and Fruit Roll Ups every Christmas.  She did allow treats throughout the year too…summer was a time for ice cream cones after a day playing at the Creek, on long car trips we would stop and get Butterscotch Krimpets, and sometimes just because we would make Root Beer Floats.  But these things were never standard in our house. I knew these things were not everyday food…they were special…true treats. Thanks for the treats Mom, but thank you more for the gift of recognizing what is healthy and what is not, and teaching my body to crave whole, nutritious foods!

I can give Elsie a good food foundation too…and right now is the start of that opportunity.  She is 8 months old and has FINALLY turned the corner and is interested in food. Until now she has been very content to nurse away and spit out the food we have offered her for the last month.  In the last several days she is grabbing the spoon and waiting with an open mouth like a little bird for the next bite of sweet potato.  So I figured I better get going on this baby food thing.  I know she already loves sweet potato and avocado, but I wanted to expand her pallet over the next couple weeks. I used a book by Annabel Karmel “The Healthy Baby Meal Planner”. The version I have is from the early 90s, but she has some more recent books available (my sister Bridget by chance happens to use her more recent book “Top 100 Baby Purees”).  The essence behind Karmel’s book is to use whole foods, no added sugar or salt. She gives some great ideas on how to mix and match as well as simply prepare fruits and veggies. I started with the below veggies for my “prep and freeze” day–potato, carrots, rutabega, parsnip, broccoli, green beans, and the ever popular sweet potato.

DSC03080I peeled and I chopped…

DSC03087

Steamed in cycles (It actually went quite quickly, I just kept reusing the water from the previous veggie)–Potato and sweet potato 25 minutes, rutabega 20 minutes; carrots,parsnip, broccoli, and beans 10-12 minutes.

DSC03091

For the rutabega, potato, sweet potato, and parsnip I simply mashed with a fork. (Below is the rutabega)

DSC03092

The carrots, beans, and broccoli I pulsed in my mini food processor then mashed a bit more with a fork.

DSC03095

Finally, I used 1 ounce freezer trays to create individual portions. I kept all ingredients separate, and did small portions of each until I get a feel for what Elsie prefers. I do plan on thawing several and creating some combos as well.

DSC03098Labeled…

DSC03102

…and there we have it! 16 1 oz portions to use over the next several weeks in addition to some of the easily available fresh items (avocado, banana, peach) and canned/boxed staples. Some things just make sense to get pre made to avoid the hassle (making your own pumpkin puree??? puhlease!) and to be sure you always have something available (the Whole Foods applesauce is great…one ingredient–Apples! with no added sugar).

DSC03090

Here’s to Healthy Beginnings!

Going Free

We have returned from our mini-cation to Denver…it was a great trip, Elsie met her Colorado family, I met my new nephew, and per usual we spent the bulk of our time planning what to eat, making food, and gorging our selves.  We had a fabulous Mother’s Day Brunch with all the fixin’s–Wendy Egg Casserole, French Toast Casserole, Spinach/Strawberry/Blue Cheese Salad, Cheesecake, Birthday cake…yum!

Ironic that in the land of the “gluten free” we feasted on wheat products the entire time.  My sister Chris has been gluten free for a couple of years now and raves about how much better she feels.  She assured us it is really just a habit change, and once we are used to it, it really does not seem like so much work. Brad and I have considered going sans gluten and dairy for a while now to help ease his digestive woes (he also has a family history of Celiac Disease).  Brad is not technically allergic to dairy or gluten, but several cousins of his who have the same issues report that a gluten free diet really helped to ease their digestive tumult.

So why have we not done this before? Truthfully, it just seemed like too much work. More planning of our food?! Really?! I feel our lives are already consumed with this.  But we finally pulled the trigger. We started our trial month of gluten and dairy free yesterday, which worked out well as returning from vacation I urgently needed to go to the grocery store.  Now let me preface that I have a stomach of iron and I am confident I do not have a gluten or dairy sensitivity–but I feel it is important that our family eat in a unified nature.  And I refuse to cook two separate meals!  And I do believe there will be health benefits for myself as well.  I have a couple of cheats though–for now I am not ready to give up cream in my coffee and I can not envision a life without yogurt. Yogurt is my safety net, and actually it is the one food I introduced Brad to that he reports often eases his sensitive stomach and bowels.  We have rationalized Brad’s yogurt eating in that we are not following a diet of “rules” that don’t make sense–Brad’s body seems to like yogurt so why arbitrarily cut it out? Topped off by the fact that we absolutely do not eat over processed, over-sugared yogurt treats.

Shopping was a success…lots of fruits and veggies, a couple of “gluten-free” replacements for some items we depend upon (instead of wheat tortillas we went for brown rice tortillas, instead of traditional crackers we tried a lentil cracker, instead of milk we went for hemp milk). We skipped the majority of the dairy aisle (except for eggs, yogurt, and my half-and-half), which actually saved us buko bucks as we have traditionally been crazy for cheeses of all kinds.

We found we really didn’t eat much differently yesterday…Breakfast was a pumpkin/pineapple/strawberry smoothie, lunch was guacamole with lentil crackers, and dinner was wild rice, chicken, sauteed kale, and baked sweet potatoes with pecans and splash of brown sugar.  My hope that going gluten and dairy free opens up our diet for more fresh fruit and veggies at every meals. Yes, absolutely there will be times when we miss the ease of pasta (but we do love spaghetti squash!), or the treats of the traditional gluten and cheese world (pizza!), but at the moment we are excited and motivated in our new endeavor.  Wish us luck1

Crispy Mexican Spiced Chicken Thighs

We are back from vay-k! Sunny Florida was so refreshing, and I have returned renewed and ready to cook.

I had a craving for Mexican, but I am all tortilla’d out… so I thought I would try something new!  I had these chicken thighs in my freezer…I bought them a while back on sale, but they have been intimidating me from my freezer since.  I am not sure why chicken on the bone scares me, but tonight was the night I conquered the fear! This recipe came out great, super easy and the skin was crispy and the meat was moist and flavorful.

Mix the cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, and ground cloves.

DSC02957

Juice 2 limes.

DSC02975

Place the chicken thighs in a greased baking pan, skin side up. Sprinkle the thighs generously with the spice mix. Divide the butter into 8 pieces and put one on each thigh.  I think the butter is what makes the skin so yum. No I don’t think, I know! Butter is like bacon…part of a moderate lifestyle…don’t be afraid of butter!!

DSC02978

Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes until meat is 160-165 degrees.

DSC02980

I served the chicken with a lime cilantro brown rice (make the rice per recipe, but add a couple teaspoons of lime juice to the rice water at the beginning, then when rice is finished add a couple more teaspoons of lime juice and about 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro) and guacamole (I have to say my guac is the bomb diggity. The key is to add a TON of cilantro and a little lime juice). The flavors were really great together…spicy yumilicious!

DSC02983

Crispy Mexican Spiced Chicken Thighs

8 chicken thighs
2 limes, to juice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1  tsp garlic salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 tablespoons butter

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Lay out the chicken thighs skin-side up in the pan. Pour lime juice over chicken.

3.Mix spices together. Sprinkle over the meat.

4. Divide the butter up into 8  little clumps. Place 1 clump on top of each chicken thigh.

5. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Homemade Yogurt, An Introduction

I have had a couple of epic fails in the kitchen the past couple weeks. Well each one wasn’t epic, but the trend has been.  I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I should be (I’m blaming work!), and when I have things just haven’t turned out how I was expecting.  I had really high hopes for this pumpkin maple popcorn concoction, but alas it was just not up to par. I tried a “skinny” chicken and broccoli alfredo with yogurt, but it came out as a bad cousin of the real thing. BUT! My mom came for a visit last week and we! made! YOGURT! So much easier than I anticipated, I will definitely do it again.

I grew up eating yogurt. Barely a day passes when I don’t enjoy this microbiotic food wonder!  I am a yogurt elitist, I will confess…so here is my tirade–yogurt has fallen into the “health food” trap.  It got popular which is great, because it is so amazing for you. BUT the health benefits have been ripped away by all the added fruity sugar jelly in the bottom of individual containers.  27g! For real?! Even if you don’t make your own yogurt, I strongly recommend you start buying PLAIN YOGURT. Personalize it at home…a tad of honey, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and granola are all great options!  Yogurt is a blank slate and takes well to so many condiments.  OK that’s it. Tirade over.

Although this recipe is easy, it is imperative that temperatures are met and maintained for all those delicious bacteria to grow properly. So–don’t bypass the prep work! Sterilize containers and prepare “sterilized” space. Prep straw basket for passive heating of yogurt (aka cooler contraption). The straw basket is made by putting a smaller cooler with 120 degree water in a larger cooler, insulated around small cooler with blankets/towels/rugs.
 DSC02753DSC02773DSC02752Add 1/2 gallon milk and powdered milk to double boiler (you can just create your own double boiler with the bottom pan with a bit of water) on a cold stove top, whisk together until powdered milk is fully dissolved. Put lid on, turn stove top to high heat.  When water in the double boiler starts to boil, turn heat down to medium, check temperature of milk. Once the temperature reaches 180 degrees, turn heat down to low, replace lid, hold for 5 minutes. 

DSC02755 DSC02756DSC02759 DSC02768

While the milk is warming, fill your sink halfway with cold water.  Once the milk mixture heating is complete, place pan in the cold water bath. Monitor closely and stir with thermometer until mixture goes down to 120 degrees (about 5 minutes).

DSC02779DSC02780

Now bring some culture into that milk! Pitch your old yogurt into the cooled milk. Aren’t I fancy using a yogurt making term like pitch (thank you internet!)?  We used a mixture of Fage Greek and homemade yogurt from a previous batch for our pitch. How many times can I say pitch in this instruction? In order to loosen up the pitch, add about a half cup of warm milk and stir to incorporate. Pour through strainer while whisking milk.

DSC02761DSC02783DSC02789DSC02793
Pour yogurt into containers. Secure lids.

DSC02798 DSC02801 DSC02805

Place containers in inner cooler with water at 120 degrees. Place inner cooler into larger cooler, insulate snugly with blankets/rugs/towels. Close outer cooler.

DSC02809 DSC02810 DSC02814DSC02816
Now tick, tock! Wait 9 or so hours…then enjoy your perfectly tangy homemade yogurt. There is so much to say about the details of yogurt making…in short the longer you let the yogurt incubate in the straw basket, the tangier it will become. So play with the straw basket time and make your favorite yogurt!

DSC02864

Homemade Yogurt:

Makes about 2 quarts of yogurt

Special Equipment:

  • 2 one quart mason jars with lid
  • 1 one pint mason jar with lid
  • candy thermometer
  • coolers (1 small, 1 large) + rugs/towels

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon organic whole milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (either all store purchased or a mixture of store bought + some from your previous homemade batch)

Instructions:

  • Sterilize your mason jars
  • Prep your “sterile” space with the following on a clean dishtowel: sterilized mason jars and lids, whisk, strainer, 1/2 cup of yogurt, empty 1 cup measuring cup.
  • Prep straw basket: Fill small cooler with about 120 degree water (could be warmer as it will lose some heat by the time you get to it), close lid to retain heat. Place small cooler in a larger cooler, insulate around with rugs/blankets/towels.
  • Using a double boiler on a cold stovetop, whisk together milk and powdered milk until powdered milk is fully dissolved, about 30 seconds
  • Turn stovetop to high heat, place lid.  While waiting for milk to boil, fill sink halfway with cold water. When the water in the double boiler boils, check temperature of milk mixture.  As soon as it reaches 180 degrees, replace lid, turn stove to medium, and hold for 5 minutes.
  • Place pan of milk into cold water bath.  Watch closely while stirring with thermometer, as soon as mixture temperature goes down to 120 degrees (about 5 minutes) remove from bath.
  • Take milk mixture to “sterile” space. Add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk to the yogurt to loosen it. Pour yogurt through strainer while whisking milk mixture.
  • Pour mixture into mason jars (do not fill to the tippy top!), place lids, and place in inner cooler with 120 degree water (check temp and adjust with boiling water as needed to get it back to 120 degrees).
  • Let sit for 8-12 hours depending on the level of tanginess you desire. Longer time = tangier yogurt
  • Don’t add anything to your yogurt (i.e. fruit or honey) during the making process.
  • Don’t forget to save a bit of your yogurt to use for your next batch!