This is my journey in keeping my family happy and healthy.
In this day and age, what parent knows best what to do and how to care for their family?
There are so many conflicting ideas, so much wisdom, and so many paths.
It is here that I will compile information on what I have learned and the choices I am making.
Maybe my path will help others.... or not. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lemon Coconut Bliss Meltaways or otherwise known as getting nutrient-dense foods into my kids...

So I am continuing on my quest to create delicious "sinful" looking but HEALTHY snacks for my family, especially for my kids lunches....

As I'd said in my last post, my step-daughter (almost 12) avoids all things healthy, so it can be a bit tricky getting the goodness into her. And my little kiddo (age 4), while she will eat healthy food, can be super picky too! After her diagnoses of Gluten-Intolerance, as well as an intolerance to Amaranth, milk, and soy, we had to wipe out many of her favorite daily staples.

So much of my recent life has been all about making healthy nutrient-dense snacks, so that I can at least guarantee that they will get some nourishment out of their day. But as you may have noticed, many of the nutrient-dense foods can taste... well... earthy and seed-like. Eating them straight may make one feel like a small farm animal or squirrel.

My husband too, well, he's fairly mainstream with his tastes. God forbid he has to eat Quinoa! I mean he will do it because he loves me, and he doesn't grimace while he's doing it, but he does make a point of saying later, that if I choose to never make quinoa again, that would be fine with him.

So as you can see, I have a lot working against me. But I do have the sheer drive to make my family healthy whether they like it or not! I find the trick is to make the food taste like they're eating sinful snacks... while secretly they are laden with all the goodness I can pack into them.

And here is yet another example of my brilliance!

...or otherwise known as.... getting nutrient-dense foods into my kids (and husband)!

It's really quite easy of a recipe!

First thing you do is put out your food processor and fill it with every ingredient below:

• 1 1/3 cups almond meal
• 1 cup shredded coconut (I used raw)
• 1/4 cup raw hemp seeds
• 1/4 cup raw pistachios
• 1/3 cup coconut flour
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 4-5 Tbsp raw honey
• Zest from one large lemon
• Juice from one large lemon
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/4 cup melted coconut oil

NOTE: You will need extra shredded coconut for rolling the meltaways in... I have no idea how much exactly. I probably should have measured!


Then pulse it a bit until it breaks into smaller pieces, then you can run it for a while until it looks soft and mushy. When you touch it, it will feel oily, but that will go away when you chill them in the fridge.

The above picture is pulsed and ground less than the below picture. You could really do either depending on your preference.... the more you blend it up, the softer the chew....

I used a small cookie scooper to keep the balls a uniform size, but you don't have to use one if you don't want to, or if you don't have one. Though I highly recommend you get one! They are super useful!

After you scoop a ball, roll it in your hands (yes it will be SUPER oily then and the oil will feel like it's about to drip off your hands) and place it on a cookie sheet or plate or whatever. After you do them all, roll each of them in the extra shredded coconut. Truth be told, I used the larger shredded coconut for the insides, and luckily happened to have the tiny stuff for the outsides.

After I rolled them in the coconut, I rolled them in my hands again to really seal in the coconut. You can see the difference from the above (unsealed coconut) to the below (sealed coconut). You probably don't have to do that, but hey, I can be a bit OCD and I thought it would have a better mouth-feel.

Then stick them in the fridge to chill! Or you can cheat and eat a few right away.... I did!

Oh and my little kiddo ate 2 of them before they even chilled and said, "You did a great job mommy!"


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nutrient-packed granola bars for the school lunches of a dietary-stubborn preteen...

So my step-daughter is going back to school shortly and it was made clear to me by her, that she was wanting to live off something like potato chips and goldfish this coming year. At one point I asked her what veggies she would consider having in her lunches, and she was like... oh I like those veggie sticks we got the other day! OMG she was talking about those glorified potato chips flavored like vegetables. There is no way in hell that is going to happen in my house. So with sheer determination and access to the internet, I set out to create a nutritionally packed TASTY snack that she would eat and would provide her with many of the nutrients she would be lacking the rest of the time she is not with us.

Granola bars are a great way to disguise healthy ingredients! So here's what I came up with....

Dry ingredients:
• 1 cup puffed rice (yeah I know this is not optimal but it adds a good mouth-feel)
• 1 1/2 cups oats (I used gluten-free oats)
• 1/2 cup pecans (chop with the dates)
• 2 Tbsp of raw cocoa nibs
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/4 cup coconut sugar
• 1/2 cup mini marshmallows (I know, sinful, but I figured it would help her want to eat them!)
• 7 pitted dates

Wet ingredients:
• 3 Tbsp chocolate almond butter
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1/4 cup maple syrup

Prep an 8 x 8 glass pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

...So the first thing I did is finely chop the pecans and dates in a food processor.

Then I added all the dry ingredients plus the above chopped mixture into a large bowl.

After that I added all the wet ingredients into a smaller bowl and mixed thoroughly. You could whisk it, but I just used a big spoon and pressed it to the sides to get it to mix well.

Once you are done with that, I added the wet ingredients into the dry and mixed well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly with a flat (slightly curved) wooden spoon or spatula.

Pop in the oven and bake about 10 minutes. 15 tops depending on your oven. I think I did 12 minutes.

Take out of oven and press down again.

I'm feeling really good about myself until I realize....

DANG! I forgot to add the chia and hemp seeds I had planned to. Gah! Of course I would forget the most nutritionally-dense superfoods! So I threw on a handful of each and pressed them into the bars as good as I could (you can see the difference in the picture below), and called it good. I'm kind of a make-it-work kinda gal!

Next time I will remember to add them in the beginning. I suspect I would add an 1/8 a cup of each....

Doh! I also forgot to add shredded coconut, so I would do that next time too!

Let the bars cool well! I would even recommend refrigerating them for a while, or even freezing (which I did for about 15 minutes). If you freeze them, and then add them to their lunches, I suspect they would be well-defrosted and ready to eat by lunchtime.

I am sure it will take me a few tries to perfect these bars, but this was at least a successful attempt! And they even stuck together well, which has been the bane of my other attempts at bars. 

YUM! They were delicious! Now to see if my kids like them as much as I do.....

UPDATE: Hubby loves them, and that's saying a lot! He says they're a combination between a granola bar and a fig newton. And my youngest daughter digs them too! Two down, one to go.... cross your fingers!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Paleo? Primal? Flexitarian? How do I even begin to categoririze my family's diet....

 Okay so I have to start out with apologizing for being off the grid so-to-speak with my posting. I feel terribly neglectful. But sometimes life just gets in the way. And in this case, I've had a HUGE learning curve of a dietary hurdle to get over.

My littlest one recently was diagnosed as being allergic to wheat, gluten, and Amaranth of all things. Combine that with my husband and eldest kid who have oral allergies to many raw fruits, veggies and nuts... and you have the combination for dietary insanity.

Of course, I LOVE raw foods and things that are lightly cooked and taste fresh and light. Hubby prefers everything being cooked REALLY well, especially due to his food issues. Yeah I saw him once after he had too hoppy a beer. He looked like he was wearing bright red lip liner or had kissed a cheap hooker. I can understand why he avoids certain foods.

But then mix that with an almost 4 year old who has been used to eating grains like pastas, tortillas, and whatnot, and ask her to eat foods that are nowhere near her comfort zone.

Then to top that off, I have the elder preteen who has now decided she only likes eating junk and pushes all the good stuff off her plate and only eats the less-nutritious parts.

Let's just say I wanted to run my family over with a bulldozer for a few days there.

But I'm okay now. I think.

What I do realize is that I have to start writing down what we CAN all eat, not so much what we can't. I'm getting lost in the can'ts. And what better place to write something like that down... than here! Where you can all benefit from my insanity.

So here goes..... 

• Apples
• Bananas
• Berries
• Cherries
• Citrus
• Dates (not raw)
• Grapes/raisins
• Pineapple
• Pomegranate

• Beans & Peas
• Beets
• Bell peppers/peppers
• Broccoli
• Carrots
• Celery (only as mire pois)
• Chard
• Corn
• Garlic
• Ginger
• Kale
• Olive oil
• Onions
• Pumpkin
• Seaweed
• Spinach
• Squash
• Sweet potato/yams

Nuts/Seeds (none raw):
• Almonds/almond flour/almond milk etc
• Chia
• Coconut flour/milk/shredded etc
• Flax
• Hazelnut
• Hemp
• Millet 
• Pecans
• Pistachios
• Pumpkin seeds
• Quinoa

Beans/Legumes (soaked):
• All beans
• All lentils
• Chocolate (minimal for me)
• Split peas

Grains (limited):
• Rice

Animal Products:
• Eggs
• Gelatin
• Honey
• Meat (hubby and eldest only)
• Milk (not for me)
• Yogurt (not for me)

This is by no means the end of the list. But this is what I have (off the top of my head) so far.

I can't call this a Paleo diet because there is rice and quinoa. It's not Primal either. We can't really eat very much processed food just because of the nature of the beast I'm dealing with. I guess it's just a whole-food based diet, with some limitations. But boy would it be easier to be able to define the diet and find others who are eating exactly the same and have amazing recipes for it. Don't get me wrong... I have found many amazing recipes that cover all our bases. But sometimes just defining something makes it easier to deal with. And the fact that I have to cook every meal from scratch can be exhausting......

I do have to say though, I have been enjoying all the "close-to-the-source" foods we've been eating so much more of. In fact, I've been juicing every day, sometimes twice a day. I feel great! Even when I'm exhausted, I look way better than I used to.

Before this dietary change, I used to have a grey pallor when I was tired. But no more. I suspect I am also gluten/wheat intolerant. I tried eating some a few weeks into our new diet, and it made me feel terrible, and I got all congested. So no problem... I'll stay off it. It's not that hard since the whole family is doing it.

Okay, mind you, the hubby and eldest have not committed fully. They "cheat" outside of the house. But hey, whatever. I still think they'd feel TONS better avoiding all wheat and gluten, but I can't force them... even if I really really want to.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Busy Mama's Kombucha Brewing Method

I know I'm a busy mama who has little time for the intricacies of new projects. And I know I'm not the only mama out there who feels the same way. Between keeping the house tidy, keeping your family fed and nourished, and running after any little rug rats, who has time to waste on things like the delicate dance of yeasts and bacteria? Well now you will!

When I originally learned how to brew Kombucha, I killed the Mother/SCOBY, I couldn't figure out how long to wait till it was ready, and I grew things other than the yeasts and bacteria that make your Kombucha healthy and drinkable. But I learned something out of all of this! The Lazy/Busy Mama's Brewing Method aka the "continuous brewing method," with a few special tweaks of my own.

Supplies you will need:

1. A seedling mat
2. A gallon-sized glass jar
3. Green tea & black tea (I use loose tea)
4. Sugar
5. Purified/filtered water
6. A fine mesh strainer
7. A SCOBY and some starter tea
8. A large pot to boil the water in
9. Wax paper

First thing you want to do is sterilize your jar. I'm lazy so I washed it with soap and scaldingly hot water. Perfect! :)

Then you need to brew your "feeder tea." This is the "food" you will be giving your SCOBY, or as I like to call her, your "Mother." She needs tea (Camellia sinensis, no other will do) and sugar to thrive. I have found that plain white organic sugar is best, though often because of finances, it's just plain white C&H sugar. The good news is that your Kombucha will be fine even if it's not organic. As much as I hate to say that....

The recipe I use is:

1 gallon purified/filtered water
2 tsp loose green tea (or 4 tea bags)
2 tsp loose black tea (or 4 tea bags)
1 cup sugar

Do NOT use honey as the antibacterial goodness of honey will harm your "Mother."

To begin, you will need to bring to almost a boil, a gallon of filtered/purified water. We have a Berkey purifier which I am totally in LOVE with. Heck, even the Queen of England uses it! Here's ours....

I do not boil it due to wanting to keep the maximum amount of oxygen in it. If you are not using filtered water, you WILL want to boil it to remove and chlorine and things like that.

Once it is to that point, turn off the burner, and add a cup of sugar and your tea in a tea-ball. Or if you're me, I put the sugar in right when I put it on the burner. And I add the tea after I shut off the burner later, once it has gotten to the almost boiling point.

Here are my gallons of currently brewing Kombucha:

As you can see, I brew two gallons at once. When I "harvest" my Kombucha, I get two quarts per gallon. So 4 quarts of yumminess! If you're brewing one gallon, you will get 2 quarts (about every 3 days).

Okay, so back to the process....

Next you have to let the "feeder tea" cool. I do this the lazy/busy mama's way, which is to forget about it and occasionally check it until I can easily put my finger into it and it feel only warm. Then I take out the tea ball. Yes, I have forgotten it till the following day. No harm no foul.

Since you do not have a set-up yet from which to harvest and do a second ferment, we will start there. Later we will discuss what to do once you have an active brew and are ready to harvest your first batch of Kombucha.

So now, take your new "Mother" and your starter Kombucha and put them into the jar. Some people like to put the tea in first, then the Kombucha, then place the "Mother" gently on top so as to not harm the mother. Not me. The reality is that your Kombucha will always grow a new "Mother" as long as the pH of your brew is awesome for it. I never worry about tossing the "mother" around in the jar and upsetting her. In fact, if you get a "Mother" from me, it will often be squeezed into a quart jar. Just plop her into your gallon jar. Add the starter Kombucha, then fill up the rest of the jar with the strained feeder tea. You strain it to make sure you don't have any tea particles in it.

You will have some feeder tea left. Put that in a jar in the fridge to use when you need it next time.

Do not fill the jar up to the top. Instead leave an inch or two room for the "Mother" and the fermenting process. Look at the above picture to see what I mean....

Then put your jar onto a hand towel which is placed on your Seedling Mat. I got mine from our local hydroponics store. You can also buy one on online. I put a towel down to help displace the direct heat, and just radiate a general warmth all over.

The awesome thing about this mat is that it keeps your Kombucha at the exact temperature you need to make sure that ONLY the right yeasts and bacterias grow. If it gets too cold, you will grow bad things! This way I never have to think about if it's growing what it's supposed to! If you live in a super warm climate, you may not seed a mat. The Kombucha needs to stay at 75-85 degrees basically, with probably 80-85 being it's happiest point.

Once your "Mother" is strong and happy, you will probably find your brew will be ready every 3-4 days. But in the beginning, it may take as long as a week to be ready. You need to taste it after the 3rd day, every day, to know if it's at the point you like it. It should be effervescent and slightly tangy like vinegar, but WAY yummier. If it's sweet and tea-like, it needs to brew longer. (If it's super vinegary, it brewed too long. No worries, just put it into a second ferment to see if it mellows out. You haven't harmed anything.)

You will also notice a whitish film growing on top. This is your new "mother."

I use a long straw to taste my brew. I suck some up into the chamber, then withdraw it from the Kombucha, and taste.

If it's the way you want it, you get to harvest!! Yay!

To "harvest" your Kombucha, you need to brew some feeder tea again for when you need to refill the jar. And then what I do is pour off 2 quarts of freshly brewed Kombucha. This will leave about 1/3 to 1/2 the gallon jar still full of the brew. This will be the starter tea for your next brew, which will ensure the right pH.

When you pour the Kombucha out of the gallon jar, you should notice it fizzing and it's effervescence. If you do not, it may not have been ready.

Do not worry about pouring and upsetting the newly forming "Mother." Once your pour your new feeder tea onto the "Mother," she will probably swirl around the jar. It's okay. The "mother" does not need to be perfect. What needs to be perfect is the pH of the brew. And THAT is why we leave so much of the original brew in the jar for the next time around. You are assuring that the pH is always good.

Occasionally (about every month or so) I take everything out and clean the jar. That's just me. Sometimes I wait even longer. As long as you don't introduce any new bacteria, and keep the pH happy, you probably don't even have to clean the jar. I just choose to for protection sake.

So this is how you do the continuous brew method! You do not have to take anything out of the jar other than the Kombucha you are harvesting. Then just add back in new feeder tea. It's that simple! Really! Eventually the "Mother" will thicken up and be totally un-phased by your abuse of pouring etc. Eventually you will need to share some of your "Mother" with someone else because she will be too healthy and fat. As you can see, one of my "Mothers" is getting a bit chunky, so I am going to split her apart and share her with someone else who wants to brew.

Splitting the "Mother" is easy. Wash your hands, stick one in the jar and pull out the "Mother." Either pull apart some of her layers, or cut her in half. No you are not going to harm her, and she is not going to scream in agony over your abuse. I generally keep the newer layers, and pass the older ones. They are still good and the old layers will make a perfectly new "Mother" for your friend. :)

Here are some bottles I poured that are now ready for their "Second Ferment."

The second ferment is fun because here is where you get to play! You can add almost anything to your second ferment brew. My favorite is fresh berries, or fresh mint. I have tried ginger slices too. You are only limited by your imagination!

Here is my mint in one jar, and my blackberry in the other. YUM!

Don't forget to put wax paper between the brew and the lid. You do not want your Kombucha touching metal for a long period of time, due to it's ability to leach in the metals and become toxic to you. And always brew in glass!

Once your second brew has done it's thing for 24-48 hours, it's ready to drink! Actually you could just drink the freshly brewed Kombucha after the first ferment, which I often do, but I also love the flavors of the second ferment. And if you're concerned about the content of the sugar or tea, a second ferment is the way to go. The bacteria & yeasts will gobble up all of the sugar and tea by then, and just leave you with healthy yumminess!

You will find doing berries is a trip because after the 24-48 hours, the berries have whitened, and the brew is the color of the berries. It's like a science experiment!

I always use my strainer (yes, it's metal, but I only use it so briefly that I doubt it matters) to strain all my Kombucha when I'm pouring into my cup, because you will find that Kombucha naturally wants to make more "Mothers" and you do NOT want to be drinking your beverage and nearly choke on that globby thing. Yuck! Trust me, I've done it. Not to mention, you have to strain everything you added to it. You may even find that the new SCOBY has adhered to the items you put into it, and you can extract it all in one glob.

There! Now you can brew Kombucha the easy and painless method! Feel free to ask questions if you have any. I'm sure I've forgotten some nuance somewhere....


This has been cross-posted on Kelly the Kitchen Kops' Real Food Wednesday

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sick kiddo prompts cooking frenzy...

For days I've been worried about my kiddo.

It started with a runny nose for a few days. I thought she was just exhibiting general allergy symptoms.  Then as she was eating avocado, she starts telling me that "it's too spicy, mommy." Great... she's got daddy's food allergies too.

Fast forward a day, and the cough starts.

This terrifies me because she just had pneumonia a few months ago. Luckily I have her Albuterol, and know some steps to take to help keep it from getting worse.

Instead of inundating her with a zillion different herbal combinations, all at once, including the ever-favorite elderberry syrup,  I decided to make some yummy attempts to get it all in her. Thus Yummy Gummies & Thera-Pops were born..... to help ensure her health & well-being and my feeling of assurance that she will soon be well.

Bonus recipe: Apple Rice Pudding.

Yummy Gummies

These are made with a combination of fresh blueberries, elderberry syrup, vitamin C, with fresh ginger, some coconut sugar, raw honey and possibly another ingredient or two I've forgotten.

Due to the spontaneous nature of this day, everything was concocted on the spot and of course, not written down. Such is life eh? But I will do my best to report what I did, so that you might be able to replicate it with your own personal twists.

First I threw the last 1/3-1/2 basket of blueberries that had been sitting in the back of the fridge getting wrinkly, into a pot with about 2 cups filtered water. I also added a bit of sweetener to it. I used coconut sugar. I didn't use very much. I just figured it would help with creating the syrup. I also sliced up and added some ginger; maybe about 3 pieces or so. I let that boil down slightly. Maybe about 5 minutes. Then I threw it all into my Vitamix. After that, I strained it and threw it back into the original pot. To that I added my gelatin.

I have been wanting to get a good source of gelatin into our diets because my body has been aching and feeling old. We don't get any of this in our diets due to the generally vegetarian diet we have. This being said, I figured my daughter should benefit too.  Plus it's a great stabilizer and super fun medium for medicine!

While I could have used the powdered gelatin I have, instead I wanted to take advantage of the gelatin disaster I had the other day (with 3 cups of apple juice and 16 tablespoons of gelatin). I learned the good news that you can re-melt gelatin and use it again. Which is exactly what I did. I probably used about 1/4 of that batch for this amount of fluid. What I did is estimate the amount of fluid I had, with the amount of firmness I wanted, and added that amount of gelatin. Mine came out like "jello."

Here's me straining the liquid before adding the gelatin.....

Here's the leftover debris after straining....

Here's the concoction after I added the gelatin....

Once that melted, I cooled the concoction, and added the elderberry syrup (maybe half a small jar, or 6-12 tbsps), liquid Vitamin C (6 tbsps or so), and raw honey to taste. You want to make it sweeter than if you were drinking it as a liquid, due to the fact that it ends up tasting less sweet once gelled.

Here's the elderberry medicine I added when the syrup cooled...

I oiled the pan (square 9" Pyrex) with raw coconut oil, and poured/strained again....

 My mess!

Then a put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Here is my final result.....

And cubed cutely.....

I have to tell you, I've eaten over half the whole pan myself! I can't stop eating them. And the great part about it is that I'm eating stuff that's not only good for me, but will help keep me healthy too!

You do realize you can use any pureed fruit don't ya? YUM!

The next project I endeavored was to make medicinal popsicles out of herbs, spices & teas. I had done this before and was able to get my daughter to actually *like* stronger tasting herbs, spices & teas. This is partly due to the nature of freezing things. The taste is reduced and becomes more subtle. If you sweeten it with raw honey, you also get the natural antibiotic/antimicrobial nature too.


First I made an herbal concoction of fresh thyme, fresh ginger, cinnamon, fresh mint, coconut oil, Throat Coat tea (1 tea bag), Licorice tea (1 tea bag) and ground tumeric. Yes... I have no idea on the exact amounts. Just wing it. A handful of thyme, a sprig of mint, several slices of ginger, a few tablespoons of coconut oil, a shake or two of tumeric....

To do this, I quickly brought about 2-4 cups of water water to boil, took off the flame, then threw in the fresh herbs, teas & spices and covered for about 20 minutes.

Then I strained out all the herbs and such....

Then I chilled slightly over a cooling bath so that when I added the raw honey & raw coconut oil, they wouldn't be harmed by the heat. Then stirred....

I poured this into my popsicle mold... and froze...

Here's what I had leftover after that. I put this into a jar to save for later! Yummy!

And here's my daughter trying out the final result....

So now for the bonus recipe! I realized after making all these items, that I hadn't made her breakfast yet. Bad mommy. Since we are on an Elimination Diet to detect her allergies, I was limited on what I could make her, with what we have in the house. I opted for rice pudding! Yummy!

Apple Rice Pudding

I had grand plans to make rice pudding with coconut milk, but when looking in the fridge and on the shelves, I only found 1/4 of a can Instead of letting this foil my plans, I opted to use the rest of the apple juice in the fridge.

You will find this happens in a lot of my recipes.

Next time however, I think I would opt for just using coconut milk or some other nut milk. The apple juice left it tasting kind of tart, which somehow was oddly appealing. But I wouldn't want to take that chance every time!

I added a rinsed cup of Jasmine rice, 1/4 can of coconut milk, and 2 3/4 cups apple juice. I threw in some cinnamon, sliced fresh ginger (it sure is a gingery day isn't it?), and maybe some coconut oil. I can't remember. Put it on a high flame until it started to boil, then turned it down to low to simmer.

Cover and keep an eye on it. Which is not exactly what I did as you can see below.....

I cooked the rice down. Um... too much. I totally burnt the entire bottom of the pan.

Luckily I salvaged some of the rice pudding!

Here's where I pressed the rice up the sides of the bowl to help cool it. I also sat the bowl in another larger bowl with cold water in it to chill the bottom.

Then I stirred in some raw honey and a few more tablespoons of raw coconut oil. All of this to taste...

And here is the final rice pudding! Tart and sweet and super delicious.....

I sure hope I didn't over-inundate you today! I had no idea I was going to be so inspired! Too bad I have to do the dishes now.....


And to top it all off.... here are some pictures my daughter did today...

And here she is with her "lipstick" on, just like a princess (as she puts it, and no I never taught her this)....

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