Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Current Favorite Meal

A couple of months ago I was in search of a simple and inexpensive meal option for our family. I turned to one of my favorite websites and scrolled through their many recipe options and landed on a rice and lentil dish. I own this blogger's cookbook and they have a very similar recipe in there that I had tried in the past. I liked it but it wasn't something I was anxious to make again. I decided to give this a try anyway. It is a curried recipe and I was slightly concerned because my children are not huge curry fans like Nik and I are. So I decided to enlist their help in making the meal, hoping that their investment would help increase their enjoyment in eating it. Did it ever!

This meal , called Curried Lentil and Rice Casserole, was an absolute hit! Everyone loved it! I think I have mentioned somewhere in a post or two that I get bored very easily and don't enjoy eating the same thing for dinner very often. However, I am making this meal today for the third time in a little over a month. I am not sure exactly what it is, but it just works. The flavors are delicious, the texture is perfect. I highly recommend that you give it a try!

Because the recipe does include rice and lentils, which I normally soak, I modified the instructions a little to include soaking. This sounds a bit complicated, but it was the easiest way I could figure to do it.
  • The recipe calls for 5 C of water. For one of those cups I had a Tbsp of apple cider vinegar plus enough water to make 1 C and added it to the rice to soak. I soaked the rice starting early in the morning. 
  • For the lentils I added about 3 or 4 C of water (including a Tbsp or 2 of the apple cider vinegar) and soaked overnight. 
  • When it was time to make the meal I calculated how much water the lentils had soaked up by subtracting the residual soaking water from the amount I started with the night before. 
  • Then I rinsed the lentils and added them and the rice (with the rice soaking water) to the casserole dish with the other ingredients. And then I added enough water to bring the total liquid amount (including the 1 C I had soaked the rice in and the amount the lentils had soaked up) to 5 C.
Again, I realize it sounds complicated, but it ended up working out okay and I was so happy to have a dish with properly soaked rice and lentils! I did make two other simple changes to the dish:

  • I added about 1/2-1 Tbsp honey because I love for my curry to have a bit of sweetness to it.
  • I added a cup of peas. 
She recommends removing the cover to the casserole and cooking an additional 20-30 minutes at the end to let any excess liquid cook off. I found that with my modifications this extra time wasn't really needed for me. If you try it, let me know how it works out for you! And if you want to try it with my modifications and have any clarifying questions feel free to ask!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Evidence of Growth

Aren't newborn babies the most precious things? I love how delicate and tiny they are! And yet there is such huge delight we take in their growth and development. Though I have often heard it said, and have probably said it myself, "oh can't you just stay little?!", deep down we don't really want that. For we know the growth and development of a baby is good and right.

Growth in our lives does not stop though when we reach our full physical statures. I love how in this life God leads us through many different journeys of growth and development. If we are open to and aware of even just some of the ways He is at work in our lives, life need never be dull. I personally find so much encouragement from moments when I can see that I am not at the same place that I was in the past. This is not that I need to feel I have grown in order to feel that I am valuable and loved...quite the contrary. I know that it is because of His love for me that God brings me along to greater places of health and maturity.

Recently God gave me just a glimpse of how He has grown me in the area of my emotional well being. Several days ago I had to get a bunch of cavities filled. That is a fun  :/ story in of itself, but I digress. The night before I was to go in to get them filled I was so upset. Not only was I bummed I had to go through the process of getting them filled, I felt like such a failure for allowing these cavities to form in the first place. I try to take such good care of my body - how could this happen? Hubby spent that night comforting me as I lamented my reality.

Now years ago, my woes would have seeped into every fiber of my being. I would have had a very hard time falling asleep. The situation would have been circling through my mind all night, probably even invading my dreams. Upon waking, those nasty cavities would have been the first thing to enter my consciousness, and I would have been filled with anxiety all morning.

Is that what happened to me though? No! Through the journey of having children God has dramatically changed me. He has used the pains and trials to slowly teach me I am not in control of life and that worrying over things I cannot change does not help. I still have a LONG way to go, but I don't worry about half of the things I used to. Each day is full and tiring enough without worrying about anything that is not directly in front of me. I would dare say I am often too tired to worry!

That night my head hit the pillow and I had already forgotten about the cavities. I woke up the next day and they were not a thought. I pumped milk for James and fed James while Nik fed the other kiddos. I then ate some breakfast myself, cleaned the kitchen, played with James, read some stories to the children. Then I put James down for a nap and went to get dressed when Nik said something about the dentist...

Dentist?! Oh, right! I had a dentist appointment and had to leave like really soon! Not only was I not fretting about the dreaded dentist appointment, I had COMPLETELY forgotten I even had an appointment! Now this might not seem like the biggest thing to you, but let me tell you - if I am at all stressed out over something, I do NOT just forget about it like that. Or at least that used to be the case :).

I had to laugh over the whole situation! On the one hand it was a blatant reminder of my terrible case of mommy brain. On the other hand it was a beautiful reminder of the awesomeness of my wonderful Lord who has changed me in ways I could never have imagined possible. Fear and anxiety have at least a little less hold on my life and I am more free now to enjoy the moments of my days than I ever was in the past. I might be a bit of a mess as a mommy of 4 (and clearly in need of a day planner that I consult every morning) but thanks to this journey I am on, I am also a slightly more emotionally healthy one!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - trade-offs

Today I am going to wrap up my posts on grocery budgeting by discussing trade-offs. I don't know where you find yourself today, but I find myself limited. I am limited in so many ways, but in regard to how we eat I am very limited in #1 money and #2 time. This is honestly not meant as a complaint - it is just a reality most of us must deal with. As I have mentioned before, we have made sacrifices in our budget to make more room to spend on quality food. But we all have our limits. As a family of 6, being already tied to a mortgage, having costs for homeschooling our children, etc., making things work on one income can be challenging. If you don't have to concern yourself with limiting your monthly grocery bill I am sincerely glad for you! What a blessing! But for those of us who do have a limit, let's talk about how to navigate some tough decisions to make the budgets we have work.

As I mentioned in my last post, in order to truly eat according to what I do believe would be 100% ideal I would have to sell a kidney or something. I wish that we could eat all organic, pastured grass-fed meat. I would love to eat only organic pastured eggs. I would love to eat all organic local produce, and more of it. I wish we could do a full GAPS diet for a year or two and maintain a diet lower in grains than what we currently consume. I have racked my brain time and time again for ways to get more for our money and ways to increase our budget, but we simply cannot at this time afford to do all that I wish we could do in regard to healthy eating. I feel like we are blessed and have a decent amount to spend on groceries - it is just that eating super healthy is also super expensive!

So how do I do the best I can with what I have? Well, I have to decide what is really important to me when we make our grocery lists each week. There is a lot to consider here, but here are a few of the things I think about:

  • Is my bottom line simply inexpensive and easy food? OR
  • Am I willing to make things from scratch if it will cost less? How much am I willing to make? 
  • Does 'organic' matter most to me, or am I more concerned with price or with buying local to support the local economy, even if that means eating conventional produce and meat instead of organic? 
  • Is the quality of meat I eat of most importance (e.g. animal welfare conditions, organic), and am I therefore willing to fudge on the quality of other foods or simply eat less meat so I can afford the best meat possible? 
  • Or is it more important to me to eat less grains and more meat, even if the meat I eat is not as good of quality? 
And the many questions go on.

Now these are some of the questions I consider when trying to make our budget work, but if you find all of the things I am thinking about overwhelming, please remember this is just where I am at on my journey. We are all at our own places on our own journeys, and it is a process (see "getting healthier in baby steps"). But I bring up these thoughts because they can be helpful things to consider when deciding where to put one's money each week. I want to make very informed decisions when it comes to what I buy. Something does have to give, but I don't want to just be a victim of lack of knowledge or circumstance. I want to make an informed choice regarding what I prioritize and what I settle for.

So what matters most to you when it comes to what you eat? What are you willing to trade off and what are you not willing to trade off in order to eat within your means?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation!

My next post was going to be on making tough decisions when figuring out your grocery budget, but I just read an article today that has me very...what is the word...ahhh, I can't think of a word! Let's just say I am very motivated to write about one thing - moderation! The article was written by one of my favorite bloggers. I don't agree with everything she says, but she has some great informative articles and they always prove to be thought provoking. Today's article focused on the danger of green smoothies. If you are not very familiar, these are smoothies made with fruits and fresh raw darky leafy greens. Her argument is that because dark leafy greens contain high levels of oxalates and oxalate toxicity can cause multiple problems throughout the body, they should in general be avoided, consumed only maybe once or twice a week and cooked in butter which is said to improve absorption of the minerals in the food.

Heralded as one of the greatest health foods you can eat, dark leafy greens are a HUGE component of many healthy diets out there. We have been consuming green smoothies about 5 days a week with our lunches for quite some time now. However, because organic dark leafy greens bunches cost $2.50 where I buy them (I haven't been willing to make an extra trip somewhere just for cheaper greens :) ), I don't buy a whole lot of them. I figure each member of our family consumes at most 2-3 full servings of greens a week. I also have been aware of the oxalate issue for a while which also factors into us not eating an insane amount of greens. My biggest concern with oxalates is that they inhibit calcium absorption. So I did my research a while ago and we only consume greens with lower oxalate levels, namely collard greens and kale.

Of course I read this article though and thoughts go through my head like, "Gee, should we stop the green smoothies. What could I replace them with?" And then I read a comment on her blog that captured what my sentiment so often is when I read about the "dangers" of a given food. Basically the reader was saying, "So...what CAN we eat?" Here is a list of some of things I have read about that we should steer clear of or eat insanely small amounts of:

- Grains and beans (as well as nuts and seeds) - because they are high in phytic acid
- Fruits - because of their high fructose level
- Starchy vegetables
- Dairy (unless it is raw, which is EXTREMELY pricey) - because unless raw it lacks the enzymes that help digest it well. Some diets though say NO dairy at all, even if raw
- etc.

After a while you really do start asking, "What can I eat?" And then throw the grocery budget into the mix. This bleeds into what my next post will be about, but when I consider the list of no nos, I am left with items that are extremely expensive. When faced with all the information I have gathered I have a couple of options. I can just say it is insane and disregard all of it. Problem is that I find a lot of merit in what I have learned. I could try to follow all of the dietary guidelines I have come to agree with (though it is tough to figure out who to agree with), but then I would have to sell a kidney to pay for groceries. Or I could do what I have done - adopt the principal of moderation.

My father-in-law was just telling us the other day about how the Native Americans ate things in their diet that were "toxic" to their systems. But they were just fine eating them because they only ate them seasonally. It is the build up of the toxins over time that is harmful. With the availability we have of almost all foods year round, seasonal eating is something few people do. I sure haven't gotten in to the habit, though I would love to. But I figure the next best thing is to eat all things moderately. Having food sensitivities has helped me with this because I have learned it can be the overuse of a certain food that can cause us to become sensitive to it in the first place. I figure if we don't eat too much of any one thing and something we are eating is in fact bad for us - well at least we weren't eating too much of it! Furthermore, it won't be too hard to replace because we aren't fully dependent on it. I will not claim my thinking is for sure correct, but given all I have learned this is what I believe is the best decision right now for my family, and that is to stick to a whole food diet and eat things in moderation as much as possible.

So should we ditch the greens? Who knows?! Maybe that would be best, maybe not. But instead of freaking out and worrying about either getting an oxalate overload OR missing out on the amazing benefit of greens, I choose a middle road. I will keep eating them as we are - in moderation. And I am NOT going to worry about it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - miscellaneous tips

Over the last couple of years I have been on dozens of blogs out there reading up on different tips for eating healthy on a budget. And I have to say, most have been a let down. Deep down I think I was hoping for some miraculous tip that would revolutionize our budget.  That "miraculous" tip just doesn't exist though, or if it does I sure haven't found it! So those different sites did have a lot of helpful information, it was just my expectations that were off. That being said, I don't imagine the things I have to share on stretching the budget will revolutionize things for you. But maybe one or two of the things that have saved us will help you! Below is a random list I compiled of things that have benefited us through the years:

* Buy 1/2 or 1/4 cow or find local farmer to get meat in bulk. We did this last year and got an AMAZING deal. Our beef was not certified organic, however my brother-in-law is a food inspector for the state of Washington and had inspected this farm. They didn't use any pesticides on their feed or hormones on their cattle and their cows were all grass-fed. We were very happy with the purchase!

* Buy a whole chicken. This gives you the best price for the meat, plus you can make your own stock from the chicken (as pictured above). Do you know how pricey organic chicken stock is? This is a huge saver plus is far more nutritious! You can also use the fat off the top of the stock to saute veggies in.

* Buy meat on the bone and make stocks from the bones. You can also freeze the bones and make stock later if you can't get to it right away.

* Buy extra meat when you find sales and freeze it. An extra freezer by the way is an excellent investment!

* Eat vegan or vegetarian some nights. This honestly makes our budget doable since our meat choices are not cheap!

* Make your own foods from scratch. Yes this is time consuming, but it does get easier. I bake in bulk and freeze to save on time. Making our own bread has saved us a ton through the years, and honestly our homemade bread is soooo much better than store bought. If you have tried store bought gluten free bread you know that it isn't that great!

* Take advantage of the bulk bins at your local health food store. Bulk prices are usually a lot better than pre-packaged grains, beans, etc. We especially love buying our spices in the bulk section. This way we can get just what we need and don't have to invest in a whole spice jar that will go bad before we have used it all. I do highly recommend only getting what you need when shopping the bulk section, unless it is something you for sure use regularly. In the past I would buy extra thinking I would use it and so often it would just go to waste.

* Use frozen produce sometimes. While I mostly use fresh produce, frozen is not a terrible second option. It can often help with the budget and is nice for those times when you need something easy to prepare.

* Write weekly menus and grocery lists. I have been doing this for years and it eliminates so much waste! Everything I purchase has a specific known purpose so I don't have to worry about it not getting used. This also reduces that stress which comes at 4pm when you realize dinner is fast approaching and you don't know what to make!

* Take inventory of your fridge and pantry before going shopping. So many times I have purchased things that I already had and had forgotten about. Taking inventory can also give you ideas of what to cook using things you already have on hand, which will cut down on your grocery list.

* Check out your local farmer's market or consider joining a CSA for your produce. I love these options as they support the local farmers and result in fresher food. However I have not myself found either of these options to be very cost effective in Seattle. In fact they are some of the pricier ways to go. But I continue to keep checking them out and you definitely should give them a try if you haven't - you might find an amazing deal!

I am sure there are more things that have saved us through the years, but I will leave it with those few ideas for now. But please feel free to add on to the comments any ideas that have helped you stretch out your grocery budget! Next time I am going to share about some of the tough decisions to consider when navigating through your grocery budgets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - know your stores

Writing this series on grocery budgets sure motivated me last week! I got all inspired to try a little harder to keep exactly to our budget this month. I knew this would be a hard month to not go over budget because we had a super large Costco bill as well as a co-op bill (I only order from our co-op every other month, so this was a biggie), and we are celebrating two birthdays in our family.  Nevertheless, I proceeded to go over my weekly menu and grocery list and change things and slice items until it seemed my list for this week would help keep us in line for the month.

I hadn't finished doing so and celebrating my success for more than maybe an hour before I got an email reminder that we signed up to provide the dessert for our weekly community group this week. That normally wouldn't be too big of a deal, but I realized that since we would be celebrating birthdays, one being my son Erik's, I wanted to make a nice birthday cake and an allergen-friendly one at that. So I looked up the recipe for the chocolate cake I made for Elise's birthday last week and added a couple of things to the grocery list. Then hubby added a couple of items to the list that he had just run out of. And of course I realized I had left off a couple of important things I needed for our meals and for baby who is just starting to eat more solids. Sigh. There went my amazing, and inexpensive, grocery list!

Thankfully we didn't spend much money on groceries last month so I think it will even out, but the whole situation made me simultaneously very irritated and very amused. For the sake of my health though I think I will let go of the irritation and hold on to the amusement!

Well, even though I am clearly far from an expert on food budgeting, this week I am still going to share the few things that have helped us keep our monthly costs as low as they are (our monthly bill could easily be much, much higher). The first thing that has saved us money, which is what I am talking about today, is learning which stores carry the food we eat for the best prices. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I have to mention it because I think it has played the biggest role in us keeping our budget down. For me, being able to find the best stores involved 3 basic steps. I will be honest, the steps I am listing below took a bit of time and effort. However, they have paid off over time by saving us a lot of money!

1) I thought through all of my different options of where we could purchase our food items. This involved listing the different stores that were within a distance I was willing to drive, checking out online stores, and asking others were they found good deals. For me in Seattle the list of options included places like Safeway, Trader Joes, QFC, PCC, Amazon, Costco, Grocery Outlet, etc.

2) I window shopped the different stores. This step probably took me the longest because it was inconvenient. Once I had a fairly good idea of the kinds of food I was looking to buy, I would take trips to various stores, or check out websites for online stores, and compare and contrast different prices. I would often go somewhere with a food list in hand and just jot down the prices as I walked through the store. It would be very interesting to sometimes discover that one store might be very pricey overall, yet carry a couple of our main grocery items for the best price, making it worth the drive. Some stores that I thought would give me lots of good deals ended up just not being worth it for me. Point is, you won't really know until you do your research and check things out.

3) I landed on a shopping plan that was the most cost effective yet also maintainable. I am sure that if I wanted the best deals for every single food item we purchase, I could save a little more money by traveling to 5 different stores each week. But at that point it is simply not sustainable or even worth all the extra effort. I had to decide which stores were most worth me driving to on a regular basis, or worth the shipping if they were online stores. We do have quite the list of different places we purchase from, but our shopping plan is doable for us and I think overall we are getting the best possible prices.

Here the basic shopping plan I landed on:

Weekly I visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I get most of our produce from TJs. I have heard many people say how terrible their produce is, but I have had pretty good luck with the things we eat, and their prices on organic produce are so great. I also get things like organic peanut butter, organic rice pasta and raw cashews there. The main reason I travel to Whole Foods is for our chicken and eggs. For the level of quality I decided I wanted on those items Whole Foods ended up giving the best deal I could find. I also get items from their bulk section, such as spices, dried fruit, dried beans, etc.

Monthly we make a trip to Costco. There we buy bananas, organic apples, canned beans (which I hope to make from scratch instead someday), organic quinoa, organic rice milk, etc.

Every other month I purchase from a co-op called Azure Standard, which requires that I pick up my order. I will write more about this another time, but it has saved us a lot of money over the past couple of years. We get our grains, nuts and seeds from them and various other items depending on their prices, which do fluctuate a lot.

Our other stores are online stores. For example, we purchase goji berries and coconut oil from Amazon. I get our raw honey and a few other items from We belong to Amazon's subscribe and save which gives us free shipping, and Vitacost gives free shipping when you order is more than $49.

Knowing the different stores you have available to you and which ones will give your family the best deals for what you eat is crucial to keeping the grocery budget down. If you  haven't already done so I highly recommend sitting down and taking some time to research your different shopping options and consider how a new shopping plan might save you some money. Tomorrow I will share a few other tips that have helped our family save!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Reality of a Budget

Do you have a grocery budget? Do you ever find it hard to stick to your budget? Do you ever find yourself not eating as healthy as you would like to because some foods are so pricey? I do (to all of the above :) ). I personally think that there is no getting around it...eating quality, toxin free whole foods is expensive. I have heard some people say that it isn't, but unless you are living off of rice and beans, I really believe it is near impossible to eat well on a super low budget.

We have made quite a few sacrifices in our overall monthly budget to make more room to spend on groceries. However, most months I find myself going at least a little over budget. (I do feel the need though to say we don't go into debt over it. God always provides, but point is that we spend a lot on groceries and often more than I plan to.) I don't buy fluff. I have lists and stick to them and don't buy superfluous things we don't need. But what we eat is pricey. I have such a longing to be wise and faithful with the money God has entrusted to us, and I also have a longing to be faithful with the bodies He has given us. One of my greatest regular challenges is to be faithful to both at the same time.

While sticking to our grocery budget has been such a challenge to me through the years, I also do believe that I have found ways to get great quality for as low of prices as possible. While I am sure there is room for improvement, I have done my homework and labored hard to learn how to spend our grocery money as wisely as I can. Next week I will share with you a few posts discussing some of the things that have helped us get the most quality bang for our buck that we can. I look forward to sharing with you some of what I have learned from our experiences!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child

There is quite an uproar over the latest TIME magazine cover isn't there? I admit I was a bit taken back by it when I first saw it. In the past days I have seen several posts and opinions out there regarding the article and the issue of attachment parenting - quite passionate opinions at that. I am not bringing up this issue in order argue a certain side, but rather to address what I think is the more important core issue in regard to how we parent, and that is the issue of raising a child who is emotionally healthy and secure.

My views on attachment parenting have shifted quite a bit through the years. I was once very opposed to it and am now much more open to it. But I don't think it is "the" way to parent. I have absolutely no problem with different parenting views out there, but what I do struggle with is the attitude some view points carry that they have the market cornered on how best to parent and the way they sometimes look down on those who don't share the same views. (I will admit that I used to subtly look down on those who had views different to mine :/ ). I don't know about how it was for other parents, but for us our children did not come along with instruction manuals. And I also don't know any parent who truly has it all together when it comes to raising their children. It is challenging, and sometimes downright daunting to raise a child. It puts the fear of God in me because one day I will have to give an account for how I have loved and cared for them.

As a follower of Jesus, for me I have come to learn that I often followed the parenting philosophy I had adopted to a fault. I was using it to replace God in my life as the guide for how to raise my children. I wasn't doing it on purpose, I just honestly believed that the philosophy to which I held was the godly way to parent (a little arrogant I realize, but just being honest). Through experience though I have discovered that parenting just is not as simple as following a guide that someone else has laid out for you. Isn't the goal after all to raise a healthy child, and not to just follow the rules of this method or that method. I have found that when I get so stuck on following what this or that book has told me to do, I am all of a sudden acting as if I am accountable to that expert and no longer to God. And I no longer am thinking for myself and relying on the Holy Spirit within me to guide me, but I am relying on someone else for how to raise my child.

As I said in another post in regard to deciding what kind of diet to eat, I am all for researching and learning from others. And I am not even against holding to a certain philosophy someone else has laid out. What I see as a problem is when we follow something so wholeheartedly (whether it be a certain diet or parenting philosophy) that it causes us to lose sight of the real goal. And for me the goal of parenting is to raise a child with whom I have a good relationship and who is healthy and secure in God. I guess I won't fully know how good of a job my husband and I are doing until our kids are grown and we see the fruit of our labor, but until then I know the best place I can be is not with my nose stuck in a parenting book (though I will continue to read some), but on my knees relying on God to lead me and cover my mistakes. Oh, how I love my children! Parents, may He all give us an abundance of grace each day as we endeavor to care for them!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Celebrating Elise's Birthday with Paleo Desserts

Well I find it amusing that last week I wrote about how we avoid sickness, and now my children are fighting mild colds for the first time in months. At the same time I am not super surprised because they have been loaded with sugar for the past week and a half. I almost never let my children have sugar. It just isn't part of our regular diet. However, with the celebration of many birthdays and events recently they kept getting offered special treats in situations where I struggled with saying no. Anyway, the little sweeties are now suffering the consequences and I continue to wrestle through the question of when to let them indulge a little and when to put my foot down.

On the day I am writing this they will also be eating birthday cake to celebrate my seven year old's birthday. My original plan for her birthday was two simple desserts that come from Paleo diet recipes. That means that in addition to being very lightly sweetened,  they are grain free. Both of these desserts are things I can feel very good about giving my children for a special occasion treat. The problem comes when they are already loaded down with sweet after sweet. What would normally be something very easy for their systems to tolerate I know will now just make them feel worse. But I can't deprive my sweet girl of birthday cake on her birthday. It will just be a very small slice this year and then NO sweets again for quite some time to let their systems recover!

I would like to share with you the link to one of the desserts I made for Elise's birthday in case you are looking for a healthier birthday treat for your family. This recipe is for a coconut flour cake. I made the cake according to the directions but used honey in place of agave and reduced it to just 1 Cup. I also omitted the orange zest since Joel can't do citrus. I made a coconut butter frosting sweetened with raw honey instead of the frosting listed. The original frosting is made from chocolate chips which have a decent amount of sugar and I really wanted no sugar if possible. Here is what I did for our frosting:

Coconut Butter Frosting

* I mixed 4 C dried coconut flakes in our food processor for about 15 minutes to get a creamy coconut butter.

* I then added about 1/4 C raw honey, 1 tsp vanilla and about 2 Tbsp cocoa powder (mostly to produce a lightly brown colored frosting) and mixed thoroughly.

* My frosting was a little do dry so I added coconut milk to get to my desired consistency.

If I were to do it again I would use this process for making the coconut butter and then mix in the other ingredients. I think this would have produced a smoother frosting. Ours still tasted delicious though!

Anyway, there you have it for our special birthday cake recipe. This was my first time making this cake and I will for sure make it again for future birthdays. It was moist and tasted amazing! Let me know if you try either of these recipes and what you think!

UPDATE: I wrote this over the weekend and now I am very thankful to say that the kids' colds seem to have been very uneventful and very short lived! I still think we'll steer clear of sweet treats for a while though :).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is a healthy diet anyway?

Have you ever looked at different diets, or ways eating, and noticed that there are many differing opinions out there concerning what actually qualifies as a healthy diet? No matter how you or I eat, there will always be someone out there who will tell you that you aren't eating the way you should. Eat more meat. Don't eat any meat. Eat at least 4 servings of grains per day. Grains are bad. All food should be eaten raw. Don't eat any fat...You get the point.

So who gets to decide what "healthy" really is? Is it this doctor or that nutritional professional? Ultimately I believe God is the one who determines what is and is not healthy because He created food, but we each have to take responsibility for our own health and figure out what our goals are regarding how we eat and care for our bodies. Once we know our aim we can actually make steps toward that goal. Without an aim or goal we will be stuck.

As I have walked this road of intentionally considering the state of my family's health, my aim has become more clear. What is my aim? Well, most basically it is to be healthy in so much as my body is working the way it is supposed to.With this goal, my plan of action in regard to diet is to get things out of our kitchen that have toxins in them and load our bodies down, and to get in things that are nutrient dense and life giving. I am not living 100 % according to my ideals. However, I am heading more and more in that direction with time. And when I consider whether or not to eat meat or grains or how to prepare foods, I always want to bring it back to my goals and whether eating a certain food fits within the scope of what I am aiming for.

What are your health goals or aims? Have you considered what it means to you to be healthy and how to best navigate toward those goals? Because when it comes down to it no person or diet philosophy can really tell you or me what it means to eat healthy or live a healthy lifestyle. They can give us very helpful information and guidance (I am all about researching and learning from other experts), but what if that person or philosophy is wrong? Will they suffer the consequences (good or bad) of the lifestyle we live? No, we will so it is important we figure out what we want and believe and make the choices that can help bring us there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tips for Avoiding Sickness

I seriously dislike that moment when I feel sickness coming on. Or worse yet, when one of my kiddos wakes up with a runny nose or congestion. Then those thoughts come, "is he sick? Is everyone else going to get it now?" Change the congestion up with a stomach bug and I if I am honest panic is my most common reaction. I can think of few things I dread more than a home filled with nausea and vomitting! Can you relate at all? (It is funny because as I write this Erik has a runny nose, his first in almost half a year. Although I think I can point to the sugar he has been allowed to have this past week as at least part of the culprit. Sugar is not our friend! But I am getting sidetracked...).

As a mom I often feel this pressure to keep my kids healthy by having the best nutrition possible. There is this tension I live with. In my gut I know that constant sickness is a signal something is not right and I want to do all I can on my end to raise a healthy strong family. Yet I have learned through the years that even when I have all the plates spinning so to speak, I still need to trust God to protect us and no system of health is full-proof. So many things play into having strong immune systems -strong healthy guts, healthy whole food diets, plenty of rest, lack of stress, environmental factors, etc, and I simply cannot control each and every factor all of the time. This fall for example I was eating very healthy and yet was sick for weeks on end. I was breastfeeding/pumping for my youngest and my body was wiped out. I even got a staph infection. I was such a mess. I finally got to a healthy place and have been healthy since, but it is proof that diet alone will not keep sickness at bay.

While we cannot control everything and guarantee complete health in our homes, there are many things we can do to boost strong immune systems in our home. Today I'll share with you some of the supplements to our diet that have made a difference in keeping my family healthy. Although it is hard for me to point to what specifically has made the difference, and these things have not become my guarantee that we won't get sick, when we are consistent with the following we seem to be able to keep sickness at bay most of the time:

1) High dose probiotics. We take these every morning. The older two children can swallow their pills and for our youngest two I mix his probiotic capsule into their morning drinks. One tip on probiotics that I learned from my naturopath is that it is best to be consistent with the probiotic you choose. Your body adjusts to the blend of strains you are on and if you are changing brands up a lot it can be counterproductive. I am wanting to switch brands but plan on doing so this summer when we are less likely to get sick. Seems like a safer time to make a change.

 2) High dose of Vitamin D3. While Vitamin D is already a recommended supplement in the medical world, I personally needed a much higher amount than is recommended to raise my D levels to an optimal place. Blood tests are the best way to know where your Vitamin D levels are and how much supplement you should be taking. See this for more info.

 3) Beet kvaas. This is a fermented beet drink and is loaded with natural probiotics. It is so good for your gut. However, my kids really wouldn't touch this as is so I make a drink that has 1 part organic apple juice (this is the only time we drink fruit juice), 1 part water and 1 part kvaas. I add in some coconut oil for fat for the kiddos, mix it up in our vitamix blender and serve it for breakfast a few times a week.

 4) Hydrogen peroxide ear drops. I found this tip on Dr. Mercola's website. When we are exposed to a nasty bug or one of the kids seems to be coming down with something, we all get a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in each ear. I have everyone lay on the floor and put the drops in one side and then tell them a story or they watch a show while the drops sit for about 5 mins. The drops bubble up in the ear which tickles them a bit but they have learned to be good about staying still. Then we dump out the drops and do the other side. I am convinced this has dramatically decreased the spread of any illness within our home.

5) Good sleep. We get the kids to bed at a good hour every night and the youngest two get good naps in every day. Keeping rested helps so much!

I have heard of other supplements and tricks that help ward off sickness, such as elderberry syrup or garlic, but so far the list above has been working well for us. We might not be able to control every factor to having strong health, but I hope you will be inspired that there is a lot we can do to help!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Buttery chicken and Tomato Pasta

Although I am currently trying to reduce our family's grain intake, we still have a pasta dish usually once a week or every other week because pasta is simple and the kids love it. When I was a kid I used to love pasta served with just a bunch of butter. So boring right? But it used to hit the spot. Anyway, several months ago I was searching for a creamy, buttery dairy-free pasta recipe and just couldn't find anything that would scratch my itch for buttery pasta. So I developed the following dish although I am not sure if it is really "buttery" or just creamy. This recipe has a few different steps but is actually pretty easy to prepare and qualifies as a quickie meal in our home.

Buttery Chicken and Tomato Pasta

* 3/4 - 1 bag brown rice penne pasta
* 1/2 onion diced
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely diced
* 1 C organic unsalted chicken broth
* 1 Tbsp. arrowroot starch (Bob's Red Mill sells this)
* 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (found in bulk bins at health food store)
* 1 tsp salt
* ~1 1/2 C grape tomatoes, halved
* 2 C. cut up cooked chicken
* 1 C frozen peas
* 4 Tbsp olive or palm oil, divided
* Ume plum vinegar to taste

* Begin to cook pasta. Meanwhile add 1 Tbsp oil to small skillet. Saute onions and garlic until onions are tender. Set aside.

* Add broth, nutritional yeast, arrowroot and salt to a pyrex measuring glass. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.

* When pasta is done add peas to pot (an easy way to defrost them :) ), then drain reserving a small amount of water. Return pasta, reserved water and peas to pot.

* Add broth mixture, onions & garlic, chicken and tomatoes to the pasta. Cook on low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring well. Add 2-3 Tbsp oil, mix in and serve. Season with pepper & ume plum vinegar to add a saltier taste if desire.

This feeds our family of 2 adults and 3 little ones.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting Healthier in Baby Steps

Often when I sit and think of the many ways that our family could make changes to become healthier I get really stressed out! Just based on the little I have learned (and I know there is much more out their to learn) there is so much room for improvement. It is at these moments that I must remember that we didn't get to where we are at overnight. Since the beginning of my marriage I have been making changes to our family's lifestyle and diet in a desire to be healthier (see our food story). In order to go forward, I have to be content with taking small baby steps in the direction I want to go.

Maybe you too are desiring a greater level of health for yourself and/or your family. Change can sure be overwhelming for many reasons. First of all, any change is usually hard. Once we are accustomed to living/eating a certain way for a long time, it isn't easy to do things differently. Also many of the changes required for healthy living, though thankfully not all :), involve more time and money, both of which are precious commodities. Going slow and making even just one change at a time can make the journey much easier. If you are someone who does better jumping on a new plan 100% and you are able to...awesome! Go for it! But if that is too daunting for you as it was for me, don't sweat it. Make simple small goals and take one baby step at a time. Here are some ideas for small changes you can start with:

1) Switch the dirty dozen produce to organic 

2) If you can eat gluten, switch to a whole grain bread or better yet, a sprouted bread , or aim to take out one or two servings of grains each week from your family's diet

3) Make a point to include more veggies in each meal (smoothies are a great way to do this)

4) Replace a processed food that you typically eat in a given week with a whole food alternative (e.g. replacing boxed crackers with some nuts for a snack)

5) If you need to get dairy or wheat out of your diet, make a list of meals you already make that are dairy or gluten-free or can be easily changed to be allergen-free. Focus on those while you learn to make new ones. You might be eating a lot of the same thing for a while, but remember this will change with time. I promise! (I will post one of our gluten and dairy free pasta dishes tomorrow).

If you get discouraged or overwhelmed take a deep breath and keep pressing forward. There is always more that could be done to get healthy, but remember than any step forward, not matter how small, is better than no steps forward!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Do We Eat Now? - snacks and desserts

I will be honest, I dread snack time in our home. My kids love snacks and are constantly asking for snacks, yet I feel constantly at a loss for what to give them. When the inevitable question, "Mommy, can I have a snack?" comes, these are the answers that pop in my head -

"Didn't you just finish lunch?" (i.e. didn't I just finish making you food?)
"Uhhhhh...." (i.e. you already had nuts and raisins and we are out of muffins, what else is there? :) ).
"Can you wait a few minutes?" (i.e. mommy is really tired and really doesn't want to have to get up right now)

Here are some of the reasons I find snack time so tough. First of all, since we have gotten rid of the processed foods in our home I no longer have the option to just open up the box of crackers or bag of fruit roll ups for a quick snack. We also are on a fairly tight grocery budget so there aren't many extra food items just hanging around the house to consume. Also, I have a severe case of mommy brain at the moment so that makes coming up with a couple of snacks a day tough sometimes. I try to keep lists of ideas on hand, but it hasn't saved me from many moments of snack idea frustration. 

We don't do too many desserts in our home (maybe once or twice a week), so for me desserts fall into the snack category. Here is a list of the main items we eat for snacks and desserts.

* Leftover pancakes or waffles from breakfast

* Slices of apple or bananas

* Bananas fried in coconut oil

* Crispy nuts (raw nuts soaked & dehydrated) - our favorites are hazelnuts and pecans

* Raisins

* Sunflower seeds

* Homemade popcorn

* Coconut flour muffins

* Homemade granola bars

* Chia seed pudding

* Tortilla chips

* Chocolate truffles (made with hazelnuts, dates and cocoa powder)

* Veggie slices with PB or sunflower butter (don't do this often because it is too messy with my 3 year old for snack time - I need something with minimal clean up right now :) ).

Do you have favorite healthy snack items in your home?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Breastfeeding James - a journey of pain and joy

Breastfeeding my daughter Elise was a wonderful experience (once we got past a rough first few weeks). I loved nursing her and she breastfed until she was 14 months. The only reason we stopped was because I got pregnant with my second child and felt so sick in the first trimester. It felt too much to support both this new growing baby and my nursing 1 year old when I could barely handle eating. Breastfeeding my first son Joel was awesome. He loved to nurse and went all the way to 14 months when one day he just wouldn't latch on anymore. I guess he had other things to do :). Anyway, I assumed it would go the same with my second son, but let's just say it was an absolute miracle we made it to 13 months still breastfeeding and me still sane, but that story is for another time. Today I would like to share my experience breastfeeding my third (and last) son James Nikolas. In two days James is turning 9 months and today is emotional as I think it is my last day of breastfeeding him.

I gave birth to James on August 4th last summer at home. It was a blessed day! James latched on to breastfeed beautifully. After the tough journey with our third son Erik I prayed and prayed James would be a good nurser and for the first six weeks that seemed to be the case. He was gaining weight like crazy and I had absolutely no pain. However, something started to feel not quite right. He started all of a sudden taking a lot more time to nurse, he wasn't sleeping well even though he had been for weeks, and then my milk supply started dramatically dropping out of nowhere. I had experienced this a little before so I knew to pump to keep my supply up, but I was at a loss for what was going on. Was something wrong with me? Was something wrong with him?

Well the short of it was that James had a tongue tie. We knew this but the doctor said it was minor and because he had been growing so well we weren't concerned. I later learned that for the first 6 weeks or so a woman's hormones play a huge role in breast milk production. So thanks to my hormones and the fact that I had previously nursed 3 babies, my body was taking charge in producing an ample amount of milk. However, it is around that 6 weeks that I think babies demand takes over to determine in greater measure how much milk you produce. (Now this is just the research I have done and it proved true in my case, but don't quote me on all this - I am no professional). Now that it was up to James to drive my supply, things were not going well.

When things started going south we hired a lactation consultant Renee Beebe (seriously the best decision we could have made). She was very experienced with tongue tie and felt that it was definitely affecting his ability to nurse. She referred me to a highly qualified doctor who specializes in tongue tie. This doctor cut James' frenulum (twice actually), but at this point James was 8 weeks old and I don't know if it was just that he was already too set in his nursing ways, but he didn't get better. We saw a cranial sacral therapist and a chiropractor but still no improvement. So finally off to Children's Hospital we went to see a feeding therapist. She told me James simply did not have the sucking ability to nurse full time. As a mother, I already knew this in my gut, but this information helped me to look at our options and move forward.

The whole journey to this point had been so painful and disappointing. As mothers we feel the responsibility and longing to provide for our children. When for whatever reason you can't do that it feels horrible! I spent many hours over the first 3 months of James' life in tears and at quite a loss. I felt like I could identify in a new way with moms who had breastfeeding struggles and had a new understanding and compassion that I had previously lacked for moms who in the challenges turn to formula.

I seriously considered putting James on a home made meat based formula. I decided I just couldn't bring myself to put him on a commercial formula if I didn't have to (but seriously this is not said to invalidate those who do use commercial formula - I totally get why some moms do). But as I began to get in the groove of pumping and got in touch with some exclusively pumping support groups - you seriously need support to go this route! - I chose to pump for James. And an extra blessing came in that I was able to continue to nurse him twice a day as long as I pumped afterward since he was unable to efficiently drain my breasts. This was by no means the easy route. I had three other kids to take care of and to do this required pumping 2 + hours a day, plus nursing him twice a day, plus the time it took to give him bottles throughout the day. I was probably a little crazy, but I loved James and wanted to give him that same nutritious breast milk my other babies got. I decided that though it was a huge sacrifice, this was in reality just a short season in our life. At different times we all have to sacrifice for the welfare of one family member or another, and this was our chance to all give a little for our precious James.

James has had to work very hard to breastfeed at all and he has been slowly losing interest for a few weeks now. I had hoped he would make it to a year or at least 10 months, but it is clear he is done. As I come to this crossroads I am taking this time to reflect on our journey with both sadness and joy. It is disappointing that things didn't turn out as I had hoped. I didn't get that wonderful nursing experience so many moms have. At the same time, against all odds I got to nurse this precious boy for 9 challenging, yet glorious months! What a gift God gave me in this! I have treasured this and what can I be but thankful?!

I will continue to pump so James can have my milk until he is a year and then I will put him on the home made formula I mentioned above. But my breastfeeding journey has officially come to a close. Man it has been a long road - a very painful yet sweet road.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Do We Eat Now? - Dinners

While I stick to the same menu each week for lunches and breakfasts, I almost never repeat the same weekly menu for dinners. I get so bored so easily! And unfortunately I am not the biggest fan of leftovers either. I try to do them once a week, but that is usually all I can tolerate. Anyway, I am always racking my brain for new ideas for dinners and continuously changing things up. I usually do vegan meals a few times a week at least because I find it very difficult to stick to a budget we can afford while having meat for dinner every night (largely because the kinds of meat we eat are very, very pricey). Anyway, here is a list of our meals for this week:

Sunday: Chicken tacos - served on corn tortillas (this week I used sprouted tortillas but don't always) with avocados, black beans, peppers, onions & mushrooms

Monday: Chicken, broccoli timbales & butternut squash

Tuesday: Vegetable spaghetti (served with marinated veggies - squash, onion, peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, cashews & a marinara sauce)

Wednesday: Vegetable spaghetti leftovers

Thursday: Grass-fed beef hamburgers served on coconut flour flat bread with a cabbage/carrot salad

Friday: Minestrone soup & salad w/leftover flat bread

Saturday: Rice & garbanzo beans with an avocado & mango salad