Friday, December 2, 2011

Make and Freeze

Over the past few days, I've gathered a bunch of recipes to make and freeze. This is a necessary strategy for busy moms and dads. Planning ahead makes all the difference. I know because I often don't! When it comes to meal planning anyway. If you want to feed the kids and yourself healthy food consistently, having snacks, sauces and other prepared real food items in the freezer will achieve this goal.

I have done the "make and freeze" in the past but have been a bit of a slacker as of late. Big red flag for me the other day was pouring the last of the mini peanut butter cracker sandwiches from Trader Joe's into a snack cup for my two year old after just buying the box three days prior. Um, that's way too fast for us to blow through a box of convenience snacks. I didn't have any other snacks prepared to give him hence the peanut butter cracker binge. I'm all about my "medium food" philosophy, that's why the crackers we're on hand but not having any homemade options available isn't the balance I strive for.

So yesterday I kicked my plan in motion and started with a new banana bread recipe, utilizing my new jar of coconut oil as well. This recipe came from a blogger that has gained a lot of press over the last year or so, Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food. I've followed her journey since the beginning (originally following her Food Illusion blog) and was split on how I felt about the reality of what she was writing about. Not the "real food" part of it but the reality of busy families and more importantly busy families on a budget achieving the real, organic, grass fed, $5 a loaf bread, etc. lifestyle. It was evident that Lisa had a large budget. Which was the discouraging part. Eventually though, she did a budget series (likely inspired by other readers that shared my feelings) which helped by making what she was writing about seem more feasible.

No matter what, 100 Days of Real Food's strategy is in-line with mine even though I make a few adjustments in approach (weaving in some medium food items) and often times opt for some less expensive versions of certain items. Organic ingredients or not, the best of the best ingredients or not, the recipes Lisa has published are smart and healthy. The few I've tried are fantastic. They are simple and contain no or very few processed ingredients. This Whole Wheat Banana Bread is a perfect example. I made it, the family has tried it and it gets five stars. Don't expect a super sweet piece of banana bread because this is not. You will taste the wheat, the banana and a touch of sweetness from the honey and that is it. Brilliant.

I'll be back soon with more successful recipes to help you fill your freezer. Meanwhile, I encourage you to give this recipe a try. If you do, let me know how it goes.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
Adapted from here.
Makes one standard loaf

2 1/4 cups White whole wheat flour (or whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 tsp. Baking soda
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
3 Bananas, very ripe, mashed
1/4 cup Plain yogurt (I used organic fat free)
1/4 cup Honey
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Virgin coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled (swap 1:1 with other oil if desired)
2 tsp. Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In medium bowl, combine mashed bananas, yogurt, honey, eggs, coconut oil and vanilla.

Gently fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Be gentle, don't over mix. Pour batter (or scoop - batter is on the thick side) into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Mine was done at 43 minutes. Let cool then slice and enjoy.

If freezing, I suggest cooling completely and slicing prior to putting in freezer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coconut Oil

$5.99 at Trader Joe's
Use of coconut oil is on the rise. From my research, prior to the eighties, coconut oil was commonly used. Some time after that, it was attacked by the oil industry. The attack is believed to have been started by the American Soybean Association. The corn industry also joined in. Big surprise. Eventually coconut oil was put aside for products like soybean oil, vegetable oil and margarine. It was believed they were better for us because they were lower in saturated fat than coconut oil.

From what I gather, early studies were done on partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which creates trans fats. Virgin coconut oil, is not the same thing. Much of the saturated fat in coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of good cholesterol. It is also found in breast milk.

Even though coconut oil fell out of favor and was deemed an "artery clogger" for a while, it has made its way back to the top. I mean when Trader Joe's offers a private label version of the good stuff (organic, virgin), it's gotta be okay, right? Insert a tiny bit of sarcasm in that last statement. Seriously though, I think there's enough evidence that proves coconut oil is good choice. Be sure to pick the virgin oil and if you get a chance, Google it and read more about its many health benefits.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the food, the day and your family and friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mom's Best Naturals

Although Mom's Best Naturals brand has been around for a while, it has only recently made an appearance in my area. I noticed it a few weeks back at Target and finally decided to check it out. There are two cereals available at my local store, Mallow Oats and Toasted Cinnamon Squares. I went with the Mallow Oats, the Lucky Charms type cereal.

I haven't, wouldn't, don't buy Lucky Charms for my kids but I do buy the occasional "sugar" cereal for them (and me). Besides Honey Nut O's and Frosted Shredded Wheats from Trader Joe's, I've bought Gorilla Munch and Panda Puffs from EnviroKidz (Nature's Path Organic), Fruitful O's from Cascadian Farm Organic, and Crunchy Cocoa Puffin Puffs from Barbara's. All of these cereals have superior ingredient lists than their more popular counterparts. And this is the case with Mallow Oats versus Lucky Charms. 

Mom's Best Natural's Mallow Oats ingredients: Whole Grain Oat Flour (Includes Oat Bran), Marshmallows (Evaporated Milled Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Gelatin, Blueberry, Pumpkin And Carrot Concentrates For Color, Natural Flavor), Evaporated Milled Sugar, Corn Syrup, Wheat Starch, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Trisodium Phosphate, Citric Acid. Freshness Preserved With Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols).

General Mills Lucky Charms ingredients: Oats (Whole Grain Oats, Flour), Marshmallows (Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Gelatin, Calcium Carbonate, Yellows 5&6, Blue 1, Red 40, Artificial Flavor), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Artificial Color, Trisodium Phosphate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), A B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Artificial Flavor, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), A B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

In this specific comparison, the red flag for me is the artificial colors, Yellows 5&6, Blue 1 and Red 40. I avoid any products with these ingredients. And you should too. In addition to Mallow Oats not using artificial coloring, they are tasty and affordable. The bowl I ate really satisfied my sweet tooth and for $2.89 a box, they're budget-friendly. I'd get these again and would try other varieties.

FYI: Mom's Best Naturals' parent brand is Malt-O-Meal. It's their "natural" line of products. From what I've read Mom's is a play on the famous "MOM" (Malt-O-Meal) acronym.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Cups

Halloween is upon us and so is the relentless marketing of packaged candy. Luckily, my four year old (that has a wicked sweet tooth), knows the stuff in the bags have nothing on the treats we make ourselves. I reference Michael Pollan's rule "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself" all the time when shopping with my kids. They're not only accepting of this, they get excited about getting to make treats at home. The time, effort and ingredients we put into making our treats not only nurtures a healthy relationship for the boys with sweets but creates positive memories they are sure to appreciate for years to come. 

One of my favorite items to receive while trick-or-treating was Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I was also a sucker (through my 20's and early 30's) for the holiday versions of this candy, you know, the pumpkins, Easter eggs, etc. I still have to resist the urge this time of year not to throw a few Reese's pumpkins in my cart while the boys aren't looking. Well until yesterday that is. When I finally made my own peanut butter cups.

I was originally inspired by my mom earlier this week to make my own. She was looking at all the candy on sale in an ad and mentioned wanting some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups or Kit Kat bars. In an effort to curb her craving and show her homemade treats are far better than store bought ones, I researched recipes and got to work. The results were fantastic. My mom, my boys and my hubby loved these little guys. Oh, and I did too! If you haven't made homemade peanut butter cups yet, I suggest you do. I'm pretty certain you'll love them as much as we do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pick of the Week App

I don't pay much attention to the pick of the week cards at Starbucks but a fave mama blogger of mine mentioned the latest pick of the week (app) was The Monster at the End of this Book. I immediately wanted to track down a card and download onto our iPad for the boys. Luckily, I found one!

What a great freebie. My boys LOVE it. Hey, I love it! It's that cute. I'm not sure if the cards are still available but if you get a chance, take a look next time you're at Starbucks. It's worth the effort. You'll save yourself $3.99 and give the kiddos something they'll truly enjoy.

In the event you can't find one and want one, I do have a few extras. Leave a comment with your email address and I'll send you a code*. *I have a limited amount of extras. First come, first served.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coffee creamer

If you read my blog, you may already know I'm not much of a flavored coffee or flavored creamer fan. Occasionally I get a craving for a vanilla latte but when I give into the craving I'm always disappointed. The flavor always tastes fake to me. The only time I actually liked something flavored was when I was served a latte made with vanilla flavored soy milk.

Anyhow, I like to research every day products that claim to be natural or more natural than other items within the same brand. While strolling Target with the boys, I noticed "natural bliss" from Nestle's Coffee-Mate line. The ingredients were decent as far as flavored creamer goes and it was about $2.00 so I figured I'd give it a try.

Here's the ingredients (Vanilla Flavor): Nonfat Milk, Heavy Cream, Sugar, Natural Flavor.

Maybe it's because I don't like flavored creamer but this stuff was yucky. Just as fake tasting as the rest of them. The ingredients are definitely better than the other creamers from Coffee-Mate. For example:

Coffee-Mate Original ingredients: WATER, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL**, AND LESS THAN 2% OF SUGAR, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM CASEINATE (A MILK DERIVATIVE)***, COLOR ADDED.

Coffee-Mate Fat Free French Vanilla ingredients: WATER, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL, AND LESS THAN 2% OF SODIUM CASEINATE (A MILK DERIVATIVE)**, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, CELLULOSE GEL, CELLULOSE GUM, COLOR ADDED, CARRAGEENAN.

So even though I used the word "yucky" to describe the natural bliss creamer from Nestle, if you like flavored creamer, it is the way to go (other than making your own). It doesn't seem to cost any more than the others and has way less ingredients.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipe: Super Blueberry Muffins

These gems (picture coming soon) came from a Weelicious recipe. I'm obviously a fan of Catherine's site and recipes. Although I will never be nor appear as organized and successful as she is at making perfect food for the kids, I am always inspired by what she does.

The recipe for Very Berry Muffins was exactly the kind of recipe I was looking for this week. Over the weekend, my boys asked for blueberry muffins so I didn't want to disappoint. And, I didn't. They loved these. The muffins are easy to make and are bursting with blueberries. It's almost blueberries with a little muffin in between rather than a muffin with blueberries. They were great still warm but even better the next day.

If you're looking for an easy to make, nutritious and portable snack or breakfast, you should add these to your rotation. I absolutely love snacks like this!

Super Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Large Egg, whisked
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup 1% Milk
1/3 Cup Canola or Vegetable Oil
2 Cups Frozen Organic Blueberries (I used a 10 oz. bag)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place the first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl and combine. Combine the egg, vanilla extract, milk and oil in a large bowl.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Gently mix the frozen blueberries into the batter, do not over mix or the berries will bleed. Pour batter into greased or muffin lined regular sized tins.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (Mine took 22 minutes). Allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good intentions

I have good intentions, I have for the better part of my life. But the problem is, I have a hard time seeing them through. Some days I feel like a complete failure because of this. I honestly feel like when I die, I will be known as the girl (okay, woman) with the best of intentions BUT... fill in the blanks.

I have to change my success to failure ratio. But from where I'm sitting (imagine a small apartment with crumbs, toys, dishes, other misc clutter and a decent supply of convenience snacks in the cabinet), it seems close to impossible. Do I get stuck because it's truly overwhelming or is it because making homemade mac and cheese instead of grabbing a box (albeit a well researched better than big brand box) half the time or keeping the sink empty and the laundry kept up is just not me? I ponder this every day. One of the few things that keeps me from losing all hope is I know I can't be alone on this.

As mothers, we strive for perfection where there really can't be any. I read a good amount of parenting blogs and food blogs that make it appear that perfection IS a possibility. Come on people, give me a break. But I guess that's why I started Medium Food Mama to begin with. And I suppose this is where I need to focus and continue to help myself and others be okay with giving the kids a Trader Joe's trail mix bar instead of a homemade one every now and then because it was cheaper and less time consuming and occasionally letting the house get to the point it looks like robbers ransacked it (this will be my excuse if someone shows up unexpectedly today by the way). But sometimes I still ask, are these things a reflection of who I really am and are my good intentions worthless? Ugh.

Well now that I've gotten that off my chest, I think I can move forward. My good intentions this week are to make a yummy meatloaf that will make me smile when the kiddos gobble it up, this fennel side dish, a couple quick breads and homemade graham crackers to hand the kids for snack in place of that convenience bar I mentioned earlier, keep the dishes under control, do some laundry and maybe get to the much needed shampooing of the rug. And a few other things of course but you get the picture. Here's to a good week. Deep breath. Fingers crossed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A better "Rice Krispies Treat"

Rice Krispies Treats, a staple of childhood. At least mine. Sugary and sweet, sticky and chewy, what's not to love? Well, some of the ingredients I suppose, specifically the packaged marshmallows. Here is a sample ingredients list from a popular brand:

CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, DEXTROSE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, WATER, GELATIN, TETRA SODIUM PYROPHOSPHATE (WHIPPING AID), ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ARTIFICIAL COLOR (BLUE 1).

The "Blue 1" is my least favorite. Making homemade marshmallows is on my to-do list which would make the traditional Rice Krispies Treats recipe better. But for now, I gave Catherine's (Weelicious) version of these childhood treats a go and was very happy with the results. And more importantly, my boys loved them. 

These were super easy and gave me an opportunity to try rice syrup for the first time. You can make variations using other nut butters or seed butters as well as adding dried fruit or chocolate chips. They don't taste like the original rice treats but they have the same consistency and texture. They also look the same with the exception of being a little darker due to the peanut butter. These will definitely be in the treat rotation at my house!

Click here for the recipe.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Bread

I am more than excited that Fall is almost here. Although I don't hesitate to make Fall-esque recipes all year around, when Fall officially arrives, I definitely step it up! Pumpkin is my favorite. Pumpkin bread, pancakes, pie, muffins, scones and so on. There's even a Pumpkin Spice coffee that Gloria Jeans offers only this time of year. For the record, I am not a flavored coffee gal but this is the one exception.

I've been looking at the three cans of pumpkin left over from last year's stockpile for a few weeks now. I'm going to use one to make Pumpkin Pie Popsicles from Marla at Family Fresh Cooking, one for a pie and the other I used yesterday for this wonderful pumpkin bread. Pumpkin bread recipes are everywhere. So many variations. Some spicy, some not. Some with nuts, lots without. Some with butter, others with oil, etc. You get the picture. I have a go to Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread from Cooking Light that I adore but had yet to find/create a recipe for regular pumpkin bread. Until now that is. I think I've come up with a pumpkin bread that is worthy of making on a regular basis. And even worthy enough to give to friends and family. My recipe is based on a recipe I found at Allrecipes.com. I reduced the sugar a bit and used a combination of brown and white sugar, replaced one cup of AP flour with white whole wheat flour, replaced half the butter with organic cinnamon applesauce and adjusted the spices a bit.

This bread came out moist and flavorful. Distinctly pumpkin spice. It was a hit with my boys, including the hubby. Now that I have a basic recipe to make, and even though it's great just the way it is, I'll certainly be experimenting with it throughout the season. Maybe a little ginger and maybe some walnuts? It will be fun to taste it evolve. I'll definitely post any adjustments that I think are worth sharing. For now though, here is a pretty darn good start to a wonderful Fall!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peanut Butter

Ingredients: Peanuts, salt.
As I was stirring a new jar of peanut butter this morning I was inspired to write about it. I've used natural peanut butter for so many years that I've sort of forgotten about the other stuff.

When I was a child I remember hearing my aunt say that natural peanut butter was awful and that it tore the bread when she tried to spread it. I'm not sure how accurate her recollection was. Maybe she poured the oil out or didn't mix it in properly. I don't know but my experience was the opposite. It was smooth and creamy even after being refrigerated.

The one we most often buy is at Trader Joe's. It's simple and affordable. $1.99 to be exact. I understand having to stir the separated oil back into the peanuts may seem like a bother to some but it's really a simple step that takes just a minute to do. Also, by turning the jar upside down for a while prior to opening makes it even easier to combine. Additionally, there is natural versions that don't require mixing. Just be sure to double check the ingredients on those ones to be sure it's not a natural peanut butter wannabe.

And speaking of wannabes, I've noticed the big brand peanut butters have come out with "natural" versions. Or have they? I was curious so I decided to compare ingredients. Check it out:

Trader Joe's ingredients: Peanuts, salt.

Skippy Natural ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt.

Skippy regular ingredients: Roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed) to prevent separation, salt.

Jif Natural ingredients: Peanuts, sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses.

Jif regular ingredients: Roasted peanuts and sugar, contains 2% or less of: molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (soybean and rapeseed), mono and diglycerides, salt.

As you can see, the two competing big brands don't offer a truly all natural peanut butter. Not sure why. Even the makers of the famous Goober Grape, Smucker's, makes a real natural peanut butter.

Peanut butter is one of those foods that is naturally nutritious and delicious all on its own. No need for added stuff. My aunt must have got a bad batch or was having a bad day because natural peanut butter is anything but awful. So throw out the Jif and the other stuff, the kiddos won't mind, I swear!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Pie for Mikey

The boys helping me make #apieformikey
I am but a speck, if that, in the food blogging community and I am behind on this request but I am compelled to still show up for Jennie from In Jennie's Kitchen and her family. Jennie's husband died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday, August 7th. In her post "for mikey" she simply said this:

"For those asking what they can do to help my healing process, make a peanut butter pie this Friday and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there's no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on."

I didn't read of the news until over a week after Mikey passed away. And since reading about it, I haven't been able to shake the sadness I feel for her and her daughters. My heart breaks for Jennie. I do not know the feeling of losing my husband only of almost losing him. The "almost" was enough to turn my world upside down and permanently change my soul. My husband beat the beast that threatened to take his life, stage four non-hodgkins lymphoma. Although we were forever changed, we had the opportunity to repair most of the wounds it inflicted on us as individuals and as a couple. The heart attack that hit Mikey, did not extend such opportunity.

For Jennie and her family, my boys and I have made a pie for Mikey. As we enjoy a piece this evening together, the Perillo family will be in our thoughts. May time be kind to Jennie and her daughters and send a sense of peace to them ASAP.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Recipe: Chicken (Tortilla) Soup

There was a sale last week on roast chicken at Whole Foods that I could not pass on: $4.99 each, regularly $9.99 each. I bought two. I figured one would make a nice and easy dinner as is and the other I could use for sandwiches, quesadillas and/or soup. And I made all three. I added Annie's BBQ sauce to the chicken for BBQ chicken quesadillas, I made a simple chicken salad for a sandwich and, my favorite item out of the bunch, a take on chicken tortilla soup.

The soup was easy to make and resulted in a flavorful and filling meal. I adapted this recipe from here. I chose not to use fried tortilla strips or chips but rather serve with warm corn tortillas on the side, more my style. I also added corn and cumin and skipped the cheese. I also didn't top with cilantro only because I did not have any. I liked this soup very much and will definitely make it again. I'm happy to have something new to serve with the burrito and taco dinners I so often make.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another way to save

I love coffee. Always have. As crazy as this may sound to some, I acquired a taste for coffee when I was in elementary school. Of course I preferred my coffee with cream and sugar back then but how else would a kid take their coffee? I remember so vividly my cousin and I walking to the Quick Stop around the corner from my aunt's apartment and getting a cup. We were only allowed to get decaf and remember actually abiding by that rule. What good kids we were.

My mom and dad were big coffee drinkers (mom drank hers black and dad took his with cream) and at our house, no matter the time of day, you would likely find the coffeemaker on. Now it's not that my parents were serving us kids coffee with our meals or anything but they would give us a sip now and then. And I know it was those occasional sips and the comforting aroma of fresh brewed coffee in the house that gave me the taste for java.

Fast forward almost 20 years and my love for coffee is still going strong. Providing a little (and necessary) pick up in the morning (and afternoon for that matter) is only part of why I drink it. A good cup of coffee is comforting and can truly turn my mood around. Coffee is very social for me too. Many of my friendships started with a cup of coffee - some of my best in fact.

As I've been addressing our budget, the reality of what I/we've been spending on coffee was definitely higher than I assumed it was. How much can once in a while during the week and on Saturday with the family be? Well add sometimes more than "once in a while" and Sunday as well as any stressful afternoon or evening any day of the week and the amount being spent can be $30 a week.  At first, I thought we'd just cut the cafe out entirely but I realized the pleasure of a good Americano or latte from a coffee shop is something the husband and I deserve, just can't have them everyday. So for the majority of the week, I've committed to home brew only.

To assist with that commitment, I've been dressing up my cups a bit. I have a decent "cute" coffee cup collection and always use my favorite ones. And although I usually just drink my coffee black, I do like lattes (hence the high cafe bill). I'm a 1% or soy milk gal. A couple of weeks back a friend of mine mentioned he was using one of those battery-operated wand frother things. I've seen them but had never given them a second thought - until then. I decided to give one a try. Upon looking for one, I found a variety of brands and prices. I was going to buy this one from Amazon but ended up finding one at Cost Plus for $2.99. I asked the cashier about it and he said they worked great and so much more affordable than the other one they sell (forgot the brand name) for $30. And he was right. It works really well and makes a nice mock latte. So for a bit less than the price of a latte, I have a nifty little gadget that makes it easy to keep out of the cafe. Gotta love that!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Over budget

Our spending this weekend was a budget nightmare. Not just in groceries but in "entertainment." We had family in town which always requires a little extra cash. Going out, having fun and eating out is a must when people are visiting and that's just what we did. And honestly, I'm not stressing about it. It's going to make this week (and next) a little tougher money wise but with the recent changes I've made, it should be doable. Fingers crossed.

Our groceries added up to roughly $155. Yikes! I think I've figured out why. Because I'm really monitoring what I'm eating (getting close to my goal weight!), I bought some extra items just for myself. This combined with more fruit than the past two weeks is what made for the extra spend. In regards to the fruit, we've noticed a shortage of fruit about mid-week since reducing our grocery budget. Fresh fruit is big at our house and running out wasn't good. While at the store this weekend, we loaded up on fruit. I did weigh everything, actually my son weighed everything (he loves to do that part), in an effort to keep tabs on how much each item would be. But in the end, it all added up pretty quickly and helped bust our budget.

It's hard to get upset about going over budget when it's for items that are good for us. But the fact is, we need to stay on budget. I'm going to look at how to incorporate my special diet needs more economically. I'm also going to accelerate reducing more of the boxed items. For instance the ginger cookies I bought because I had a coupon. Could have saved $3.69 instead of just $1.00 if I had passed on them altogether. And for an item like cookies? Something we should never buy, only make. The cookies not only helped break the budget but break one of my food rules.

So this is still a work in progress. I have a lot more planning to do and strategies to create. And to follow up on my last post about Kashi cereal, it's actually only a .30¢ difference at Target. With the $1 coupon I used I still saved .40¢. Also, I was successful at getting the last few things at Trader Joe's and the Farmers' Market within budget.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Budget update

Between the budget software I purchased (YNAB), the coupons and specials I've been utilizing, our new budget goals are coming together. I set a grocery budget of $125 a week (based on what I've seen others budget) and we came in at $130-ish for week one and are on track to spend about the same this week (week two). Not too bad. And it wasn't until I came back from the store that I realized we already had a pound of 100% grass-fed ground beef in the freezer. I told myself to take inventory before heading out but, like most mornings, I got frazzled and sidetracked on our way out the door. I would have saved nine bucks had I been more focused. In theory, we should see the savings next week by not buying more beef.

As I was reviewing the receipt, I noticed where I may be able to save more next time around. For instance, Kashi cereal. I had a coupon for $1 off of two. The retail price was $3.99 per box at Whole Foods (WF) so I paid $6.98 for two after coupon. But I believe Kashi cereal is cheaper at Target or even Trader Joe's (TJ's) although the selection may be smaller. I will confirm this the next time I'm at the other stores. The other item that would have saved me at least a buck if I had waited to buy it at TJ's is the box of Annie's Shells and Cheese. It costs $2.19 at WF and only .99¢ for TJ's brand of regular mac and cheese. TJ's Organic Shells and Cheese is only $1.29, which would still be a savings of almost a buck. My oldest son insisted on getting the box ("for his lunch today") and to be honest, I wasn't up for the battle he was ready to wage over it if I had said no.

The item we saved big on this week was chicken. WF has an early bird special on Saturday mornings. It can be just about anything and this week it was chicken breasts. Not organic but local, pasture raised chicken for $2.99 a pound. We got six split breasts for $14. We can pay $12 to $14 for just two so this was definitely a great deal. I won't have to buy chicken for two weeks, maybe three, yay! WF also has Friday only specials. Last Friday was organic cherries for $2.99 a pound. I saw them in the store today and they were $5.99 a pound so that was definitely another great deal. The only bummer is our normal shopping day is Sunday (this week it was today, Monday) and the above mentioned specials are on Friday and Saturday. If I wasn't close to the store on those days, it may be a wash but since I am, making three separate trips isn't so bad I guess. Maybe I'll talk to the hubby about moving our big shopping to Saturday mornings? Here's our list from this week's shopping:

Whole Foods:
Clover 2% milk, 2 gallons
Clover 2% milk, half gallon
Clover 1% milk, half gallon
Clover organic yogurt, 4
Fage 0% plain yogurt, 17.6 oz.
Clover Eggs, 1 dozen
100% grass-fed grounf beef, 1.25 pounds
Diestel ground turkey breast, 1 pound
Chicken breast halves, 6 (Saturday early bird special)
Diestel deli turkey, 1/2 pound
Wellshire deli ham, 1/2 pound
Raw almonds, 16 oz.
Roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, 16 oz.
Bananas, 5
Organic cherries, 1 pound (Friday special)
Organic blueberries, 1/2 pint
Organic strawberries, 1 pint
Organic Gala apples, 4
Organic Granny Smith apples, 2
Organic celery, 2 pack
Organic Russet potatoes, 2
Kahsi 7 Whole Grain Flakes
Kashi Indigo Morning
Organic flax fig waffles
Organic flax berry waffles
Annie's Shells and Cheddar
Annie's Cheddar Bunnie

Total: 100.71

I have a little less than $25 to get:
Bread
Cheese
Canned tomatoes
Organic strawberry jam
Natural peanut butter
Organic spinach
Organic spring mix

I'll report back. We also didn't make it to the Farmers' Market this week, boo! I'll also write more on the YNAB software. So far it has helped us avoid a negative balance in our checking, keeps me aware of what we have left in each budget category and where we've overspent. Looking forward to digging deeper into the program and sharing my experience. And just in case anyone is wondering, I have no association with YNAB.  I stumbled upon a post about the software here and purchased it with my own, almost maxed out credit card. :)

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reusable sandwich and snack bags

We've been out of plastic sandwich and snack bags for a few days now. I've been meaning to get to Target to replenish our supply but haven't. Then I got to thinking... why not finally make the move to reusable bags? I've been talking about making the switch for a long time but just haven't. Until today.

I think now that I've started to get back to a strict budget, I was even more motivated to make the initial investment. Plastic sandwich and snack bags aren't super expensive but they aren't cheap. More importantly though, they're so much waste. If my family and I can eliminate the countless number of bags we use a month (we all take lunch and snacks everyday) by using reusable bags then why not?

As I mentioned, the initial spend is an investment. One I feel will be worth every penny. Each bag, depending on the size, is a little more than a box of 100 zipper style sandwich bags. But keep in mind, we will no longer have to purchase those. I bought a couple of cute prints for myself (including the one pictured), a few cool prints for my boys and a few plain ones for my husband. Since this was my first purchase, I went with three brands that seemed to have consistently good reviews. The brands I got were ReUsies, reuseits and LunchSkins. I purchased them at reuseit.com. They have a huge selection and offer discounts if you buy more than two or four of something. And if you decide to make the switch as well or add to what you may already have, they have a referral program that can save you five more bucks and give me credit as well. To save $5 (new customers only), simply use my referral code: rck2b0u. Here's to helping the planet, one reusable sandwich bag at a time!

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Recipe: Raspberry Almond Yogurt Loaf (Beta!)

I had an idea that led me on a search for a raspberry yogurt bread recipe. While on that search, I found a handful of recipes but not any that I was compelled to try as is. That's when I decided to wing it. The results were not perfect but decent. And based on my husband's comments, good enough to post.

I based my recipe on this one and went from there. I wasn't sure how much leavening I would need to add by using whole wheat and all purpose flour in lieu self-rising flour so that's when the "winging it" commenced. Part way through mixing the batter, it was clear it was lacking moisture - like severely lacking. I added milk and it seemed to do the trick. Experimenting was fun and has inspired me to do more of it. I've got super ripe bananas waiting to be used. Yay!

If you decide to give this recipe a go, I highly reccommend wrapping it tightly and refrigerating to keep it moist. Also, checking it while baking, as you would with any new recipe, as you don't want it to overcook. I think if it did overcook, it would be a brick. I'm going to continue to work on this recipe and variations of to make it less fragile. If you know what I mean?

The best part about this bread is the occasional crunch of almond (that didn't get entirely ground) and the intense pockets of raspberry. This is not a very sweet snack but more mild like a traditional scone. Perfect with coffee or tea.


Raspberry Almond Yogurt Loaf
Makes one standard loaf

1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Ground Almonds
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt, plain
1/2 cup Milk, 1%
3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Raspberries, frozen

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl combine brown sugar, ground almonds, eggs, yogurt and milk. Add whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt to mixture. Gently combine. Fold in raspberries. Spoon into prepared pan, smooth top of batter and bake for 50 minutes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Budget

I'm revamping our budget. I have felt scattered and undisciplined when shopping for groceries for a while now. I go to three different stores as well as the farmers' market. Between meal planning, hunting for the healthier convenience items at the lowest prices and everything else that comes along with being home with my boys (and taking care of two more four days a week), I find myself lost at the moment.

We shop at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Target and the farmers' market. Trader Joe's has great prices, there's no denying that. But they won't disclose where their private label meat comes from and some of their ground beef identifies up to three possible countries of origin in one package (yuck!) not to mention the only grass-fed beef offered in our local store comes from New Zealand. Their produce and eggs are questionable as well. So I don't buy meat or eggs at Trader Joe's nor produce with the exception of the occasional bag of organic potatoes or lettuce.

So on to Whole Foods. I was listening to a program on sports talk radio and heard the host refer to Whole Foods as "Whole Paycheck." It made me feel better to hear someone that I feel it safe to assume makes a decent salary say this. I still can't help but feel out of my "tax bracket" while shopping there. And regardless of how smart we try to shop, it still results in a significant bill. So frustrating. We buy our meat including lunch meat, eggs, milk, some produce and the occasional prepared item. Prepared food = lots of money, I know.

Next stop is Target. Besides household basics, I buy bread, pasta, sometimes coffee, Annie's Whole Wheat Bunnies and Greek yogurt. They have the best prices on all of these items almost all of the time. For instance Whole Foods sells my favorite Greek yogurt for $1.69 each and the same yogurt is $1.29 at Target. Adds up when you're buying five at a time, every week.

Finally, the Farmers' Market. Sometimes produce is less at the Farmers' Market and sometimes it's more. Ultimately, I feel better about buying my produce there even if it's more because I know exactly where it came from and I'm supporting the farmers. And my boys always see or learn something new, that makes it even more worth it. Besides fruits and vegetables, we occasionally buy beef and bread from the Farmers' Market. The beef is local and 100% grass-fed. The meat is some of the best tasting meat I've ever had. It is a bit higher in price than the local grass-fed beef sold at Whole Foods. The only time we don't buy the beef at the Farmers' Market is if our schedule that day prevents us from going home directly after the market or keeps us from the market entirely. In those cases, it's added to the Whole Foods list.

Just writing about this is giving me anxiety, that's how overwhelmed I've become. My first step to feeling in control again is using a new budget software. My hope is it will help me create a new budget and keep us out of the "hole." Next is coupon clipping and mapping out sale items. I just hope the $1.50 I spend on the newspaper to get the coupons gives me more than that back in savings. Finally, meal planning must be consistent. Is there a meal planning software? I bet there is, I'll have to look into it. A free download would be ideal!

I have followed other budget series on other blogs and certainly appreciated the information but haven't been able to make it work as they seem to have. Specifically, 100 Days of Real Food's series. I was so happy when the author decided to do a budget pledge because I was getting a little irritated reading about eating real food from someone who was obviously not short on cash. But even with the information published, I still question if it was truly $125 a week, all week, every week. Not to be a skeptic but I have tried and have consistently failed at buying all organic, real and/or whole foods for my family of four for that amount. Maybe it's geography? Maybe it's something else? I don't know. Regardless, I'm going to give it a go again. Motivated by the absolute need to reduce our outgoing and the perceived success over at 100 Days of Real Food, let's do this!

I'll post about the results as they come in. Posting will help me keep on top of things sorta like Weight Watchers weekly weigh-ins do! Looking forward to getting started.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut butter and chocolate. Oh yes. I love, love, love peanut butter and I love, love, love chocolate. So when I came across a "healthier" peanut butter and chocolate cookie, I was in. I found the original recipe at Honey, What's Cooking?

I thought these would make a great addition to our Father's Day gift for the hubby and a decent treat for the boys. So I headed to the kitchen and got started. I made a few changes based on my personal preference. I used all brown sugar and no white sugar. I also added a touch of sea salt and used a mix of dark and milk chocolate chips.

These cookies came out great. They are thick, chewy and chocolaty. My dough was thick and didn't spread much. I gave them a little push down a few minutes before they were done baking. Next time I may just shape the cookies into hockey puck like rounds and see how it goes.


Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 9 big cookies (using a two-inch scoop)

1 Cup Old-Fashioned Oats
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Flaxseed Meal
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
1/2 Cup Natural Peanut Butter, salted or unsalted
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Reduced Fat 2% Milk
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment.
2. In a medium bowl, combine oatmeal, whole wheat flour, baking soda, flaxseed and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and peanut butter. Add brown sugar, milk, egg and vanilla. Mix until well combined.
4. Add oatmeal mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing gently until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
5. Scoop cookies onto baking sheet and bake for 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool (if you can) and enjoy!

You can find this recipe and lots of other sweet treats over at Sweet As Sugar Cookies. Check them out. Get inspired.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a seaweed extract. It's a common and cheap food additive used as a thickener and emulsifier in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed food products. It is also a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin.

I recently read, in a weekly newsletter I subscribe to from Dr. Weil, that based on results of animal studies, Carrageenan has been tagged by some as an unsafe product that may cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. I did a little more research and found other articles that say the same. "I think the evidence is compelling to avoid carrageenan in any product, and especially if you have irritable bowel disease." Andrew Weil, M.D.

I eat low fat dairy often. After reading more on Carrageenan, it kept coming up in low fat products. This prompted me to take a look at the items I had in my fridge. And, yes, there it was. In the cottage cheese and sour cream. Both of the low fat variety and both from Trader Joe's. I know that it is better to use the real and/or full fat versions of these kind of foods and do avoid fat free items, except Greek yogurt and avoid fat free and low fat cheese because of the junk added to them but as I mentioned, I do eat dairy often and like to offset some of it with low fat varieties. Luckily my favorite yogurts (low fat and 0%) do not contain Carrageenan.

I was able to find a few options for low fat cottage cheese and sour cream. Not surprisingly at Whole Foods. My husband picked up a low fat cottage cheese from Kalona Super Natural. This stuff was the cream of the crop. Organic, reduced fat (2%) and grass fed. The taste was fantastic. And I usually don't eat cottage cheese straight (I use it in recipes like lasagna) but I would consider it if it was Kalona. It happened to be on sale for $3.29 for a 16 oz. container. I believe the everyday price is $3.99. I also found that Daisy Brand low fat cottage cheese and light sour cream do not contain Carrageenan. I picked up a 24 oz. cottage cheese for $3.59. A little cheaper and a little larger. I haven't had a chance to try it yet though. I think I've heard some decent things about Daisy Brand products but maybe only from their ads and famous jingle. Not too sure.

Among the many articles I came across on Carrageenan, I wanted to share the one from the TLC Cooking website. Click here to check it out. It's a quick read and I like the info. It sends a message about processed foods that a lot of people don't think about. I especially like the mention of "food scientists" and the "normal cook." And the part about Carragennan being "completely natural" reminds us that just because something is from a natural source initially or even entirely, doesn't make it good for us.

One day my family and I will eat grass-fed dairy 100% of the time but until our budget evolves, I will at minimum avoid buying dairy containing Carrageenan. Now onto researching Locust Bean Gum! :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Recipe: Blueberry Banana Bread

Having two large super ripe bananas on hand, the recipe for Honeyed Banana-Blueberry Bread at Cookbook Archaeology I stumbled upon presented the perfect opportunity to use them! I changed the recipe just slightly and the results were worthy of sharing.

This bread is very moist and packed with yummy blueberries. The recipe calls for honey as the sweetener, there is no white or brown sugar. I might even suggest cutting the honey to 1/4 cup because I think the bananas and blueberries add a good amount of sweetness on their own. I'm gonna try it next time. I'll let you know how it compares. The ingredients are all fairly economical and using organic frozen blueberries instead of fresh made it even more affordable to make.

If you're looking for a different twist on banana bread, give this one a try. The boys loved it and I had to hold myself back from eating half the loaf all on my own. It's oh so perfect with coffee and would be equally delightful with tea. Enjoy!

Blueberry Banana Bread
10 slices/servings

3/4 c. Blueberries, frozen
1 3/4 c. White whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Sea salt
1/2 c. Oats, quick cooking
1/2 c. Honey
2 Large eggs, beaten
1/2 c. Greek yogurt, 0%
1 c. Mashed ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees and spray a 9×5-inch bread pan with baking or cooking spray.

1. Whisk flour together with the baking powder, salt, and oats in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the eggs, honey, yogurt and banana.

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and gently mix, just until combined. Then (gently) fold in blueberries.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. The batter for this bread is very moist, so a little may cling to the tester even when it’s fully baked.

5. Cool the bread completely, then wrap it up overnight before slicing and serving. Can be frozen.

Note: I did not wrap it up and wait to slice it. It tasted great after it was slightly cooled but I will admit it tasted even better the next day.

Quick nutrition stats per serving (10): 179 calories, 1.7g fat, 37.8g carbs, 3.2g fiber,  5.8g protein. Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 5

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why I buy grass-fed beef

I know a lot of people think meat is just meat and that regardless of an animal's diet, the nutritional value is the same. I happen not to be one of them. I believe it not only matters what the animal was fed but also where it was raised and how it was treated. In my opinion, our society is far too comfortable with feedlots and factory meat.

Regarding beef specifically, we don't eat it often but when we do, it's always grass-fed. Grass-fed beef/products provide real health benefits over grain-fed. Grass-fed products are:

- Lower in fat and calories
- Higher in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Richest known source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
    In addition to having a better nutritional profile, grass-fed cows are healthier. Click here and here for the source of this info and to read more.

    Of course grass-fed beef and other grass-fed products cost more. Sigh. In my area, ground beef is typically $2-$3 more a pound unless it's on sale. As I was in line at Whole Foods last week they announced a special on grass-fed beef - $4.99 a pound. If my cart wasn't already half unloaded, I would have picked up my son, ran back to the meat department and grabbed a pound or two. Now that I'm writing this, I probably could have asked the cashier to have someone get it for me. Oh well.

    If you haven't tried grass-fed beef, I suggest you give it a shot. You'll taste the difference and benefit from its higher nutritional value. And if you eat beef more frequently, you should definitely make the switch.

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    How do you navigate the supermarket?

    Sticking to the perimeter of the typical chain grocery store is definitely the healthiest route. Although that doesn't mean its void of processed/packaged foods but they're definitely out numbered by real food. In addition to the center aisles being a minefield of highly processed foods, the checkout is another treacherous spot. Even Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are guilty of the strategically placed, packaged, impulse buy items such as organic lollipops and boxed cookies. That's not saying I am against organic lollipops because I consider them a treat and a "Medium Food" but I am aware that its placement is a standard supermarket tactic.

    Here's a great little spot with Michael Pollan about navigating the typical supermarket. He briefly explains where and why items are placed as they are at the grocery store. It's good information and interesting too.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Picky, picky

    I'm getting pickier about what's in our lunch bag. And it's presenting more challenges. There are plenty of "medium food" items that I'm still okay with but the list is getting shorter. I suppose it's a natural evolution. As I get more educated about food, the pickier I will become.

    My boys and I spend most of our week on the go and not at home. I can't leave our place without plenty of options for us but if I do, which does happen more often than I'd like to admit, our meals are not balanced nor as plentiful as they should be. Lunch for the boys right now is usually a turkey (Diestel brand is a must) and cheese sandwich, organic yogurt and organic strawberries or other fruit. If I'm out of or forget any one of these items, lunch is lacking. Even if I have a few extra minutes to quickly pick something up, it needs to be substitutes that meet my requirements. Not so easy anymore.

    As this evolution continues, my organization and meal planning abilities need to improve. I also need a plan B and C to ensure all my bases are covered. As I work on these skills and develop my plans, I'll report back. The never-ending challenge of time and money will continue to be my biggest hurdles. And, hey, if you have any tips or strategies on the subject, I certainly would appreciate hearing about them.

    PS: Cute little lunch bag above, hu? I was turned onto these bags by Catherine at Weelicious. I don't own one yet but I'm saving for one - the one pictured above in fact. You can check them out here.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Somersaults

    I'm always on the lookout for healthy convenience foods to add to my medium food arsenal and I'm thrilled to have found another. While checking out one of Catherine's lunches on the Weelicious facebook page, I saw something she listed as Somersaults. I had no idea what they were so I looked them up. To my delight, they were a healthy snack made right here in Northern California.

    Somersaults are little "crunchy nuggets with sunflower seeds & toasted grains" and they are so delicious. Addictive even. Both my boys liked them and the hubby too. I've never seen them at Whole Foods or any other stores in my area but found them on Amazon. They offer a bulk pack of six bags for $15.42. That's $2.57 a bag. That's about average.

    I just love it when I find decent convenience items I can feel good about giving my kids. Not to mention a great snack option for me and the husband. I would definitely recommend Somersaults to anyone looking for a healthy snack. Each serving has 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. I will caution you though, it may be tough not to polish off the entire bag (6 servings) in one sitting so be mindful when eating these little guys. I find throwing a serving (15) in a bowl or snack bag really helps!


    Ingredients: Sunflower Seeds, Wheat Flour, Whole Wheat Flour, Sesame Seeds, Vital Wheat Gluten, Expeller Pressed High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Chicory Root Fiber, Evaporated Cane Juice, Sea Salt. Contains Wheat.

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    A Yellow and Orange-ish Easter

    This weekend it hit me, Easter baskets = lots of candy/junk. Sounds ridiculous that it took this long for me to realize it. Don't get me wrong, I remember Easter baskets filled with candy as a kid but it wasn't until this year, when I was shopping for stuff to fill baskets for the boys that I noticed the Easter aisles were about 80% candy.

    I know there is no rule that says the basket has to be filled with candy (or is there?) but again, 80% of the merchandise was candy of some sort. I felt a little like a square because I only bought a chocolate bunny, Dove Chocolate Eggs and Hershey's Kisses and stayed away from the gummy and other multi-colored stuff. As I mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of all the food coloring and whatever else makes up those kind of candies. And speaking of food coloring, we successfully dyed eggs without it!

    First, I know it's obvious from my photos, I don't have a nice camera. The images I post are from my iPhone. Our point and shoot camera crapped out a while back so I don't even have that anymore to help with better images. So bear with me and the poor image quality, the hubby and I are saving for a decent camera. Okay, not being certain of how the colors look from screen to screen, we ended up with two colors, yellow and orange. I planned to make more colors but for one reason or another, it didn't work out. I had to improvise with curry instead of tumeric for yellow because the store was out of it. Then, although I remembered the cranberry juice, I forgot the beets so no red or pink. And I just completely forgot the blueberries and spinach. Not one of my best days!

    I followed the formula of three tablespoons of spice to one quart of water. I boiled the ingredients for about 10 minutes then let them cool. I chose to use the cold method of adding cooked eggs to the cooled liquid. The boys had fun playing with the eggs while they were in the bowls of "dye" and seeing them slowly get darker. The curry made a beautiful yellow and the chili powder made a mild orange as well as a brownish orange. Even though we only made two colors, the boys, which included my four year old's best friend, loved the eggs. And that is all that matters!

    Yes, the process of making natural coloring is involved and takes much more prep time than a kit does but not giving into convenience for convenience sake is rewarding in so many ways. It also provides another teaching opportunity. Although, the kids can't get too close to a hot pot, they can help prepare the mixtures prior to boiling and learn about the foods and spices going in to them. We'll be doing the same method next year. The only difference, hopefully, is that I'll be better prepared and have all the ingredients needed to create a wider range of colors. :)

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Easter Eggs

    This year will be our first time dyeing eggs with our boys for Easter. I remember how much I loved coloring eggs. My mom would pick up a kit at the grocery store, set us up and let us have at it. Those little cups of dye and the smell of vinegar - unforgettable. What will be different from my experience as a kid is there won't be any Easter Egg Color Kits but still as much fun and still the smell of vinegar.

    I've touched on artificial coloring in regards to other products but haven't really discussed the subject in depth. I don't like artificial coloring. And nor should you. From oatmeal and M&M's to yogurt and beverages, food coloring is everywhere. Upon researching how to color Easter eggs naturally, I found a great post at Crunchy Domestic Goddess and obtained not only how to make natural dye but great info on food coloring such as this:

    According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).”

    And this:

    Blue No. 1 uses coal tar as one of its components. Because of the use of coal tar, many organizations and circles are speaking out and boycotting products using colors with coal tar because it is a carcinogenic in large quantities, known to cause tumors in lab rats.

    Red No. 40 can be found in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications, and cosmetics. It has caused allergic reactions in people as well as hyperactivity in children. 

    Yellow No. 5 or Tartazine can be found in soft drinks, instant puddings, flavored chips (Doritos, etc), cake mixes, custard powder, soups, sauces, kool-aid, ice cream, ice lollies, candy, chewing gum, marzipan, jam, jelly, marmalade, mustard, horseradish, yogurt, noodles, pickles and other pickled products, certain brands of fruit squash, fruit cordial, chips, tim tams, and many convenience foods together with glycerin, lemon and honey products. Tartrazine, however, does produce the most common allergic react, especially among those with an aspirin intolerance and ashtma. Some research has linked Yellow No. 5 to early childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and hyperactivity. It is banned in Austria and Norway. 

    Yellow No. 6, also known as Sunset Yellow FCF, is an orange coal tar-based food dye found in orange squash, orange jelly, marzipan, Swiss roll, apricot jam, citrus marmalade, lemon curd, fortune cookies, sweets, hot chocolate mix and packet soups, trifle mix, breadcrumbs and cheese sauce mix and soft drinks. It is the color most prominently seen in DayQuil. It is capable of causing allergic reactions such as abdominal pain, hyperactivity, hives, nasal congestion, and bronchoconstriction, as well as kidney tumours, chromosomal damage, and distaste for food.

    Does this sound okay? It shouldn't. The less of this crap my family ingests the better. It's tough to get away from it 100% but I'm certainly going to try. As Crunchy Domestic Goddess mentions, it's in M&M's, the very thing I used to bribe assist my son with potty training. And M&M's is an obvious one with all the bright colors but there are lots of less obvious places where this stuff resides.

    The above detailed information on food coloring has reaffirmed my natural instinct to avoid it and other like additives as well as artificial sweeteners. We mistakenly trust the companies that produce the food on the grocery store shelves. We assume if they can sell it, it has to be fit for consumption. So not true. Bottom line is we have to do our own research and make informed decisions. They will not stop making crap until everyone stops buying it and even then I'm not sure they'll stop. They'll likely just repackage it with new branding that will mislead the consumer again. Don't be a sucker and don't eat a sucker either, it likely has artificial coloring in it!

    Image credit: Wikipedia

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Recipe: Sweet Potato, Oat and Banana Muffins

    I love the Weelicioush site and have had success with every recipe I've tried. This is no exception. The original recipe is for Mini Sweet Potato Muffins. I made only four changes and created full size sweet potato, oat and banana muffins. Both my boys loved them and so did the hubby and I. These are perfect as an on-the-go breakfast or an afternoon snack. The muffins are moist even without the 1/4 cup of oil the original recipe calls for. I think a swap for applesauce would work too if you prefer that over a banana. And it's not that I'm opposed to a little oil, I just like to take the opportunity to replace it when it makes sense.

    Sweet Potato, Oat and Banana Muffins
    Makes 12 muffins

    1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
    1 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
    1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
    1 Tsp Baking Powder
    1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
    1/2 Tsp Salt
    2 Tsp Cinnamon
    2 Large Eggs, whisked
    1 Cup Sweet Potato Puree, cooked*
    1/2 Cup Milk
    1 Banana, Mashed
    1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

    1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
    2. Put first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
    3. In a separate larger bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients.
    4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until they are combined (be careful not to over mix the batter).
    5. Fill standard muffin tin sprayed with cooking or baking spray and bake for 18-20 minutes.
    6. Enjoy.

    * To make sweet potato puree, bake sweet potatoes (or yams) in a 400 degree oven for one hour, allow to cool, slice in half lengthwise and mash flesh with a fork until smooth.

    Nutritional stats at-a-glance per muffin: 111 calories, 1.5g fat, 192mg sodium, 21.5g carbs, 2.2g fiber, 3.7g protein

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    What's on your plate?

    Slow Food USA turned me on to a documentary/project I hadn't heard about - What's on Your Plate? It's about "kids and food politics." A subject very important to me.

    I was thrilled to find it available for streaming via Netflix. After spending 30 seconds adding it to our instant queue - okay, maybe a minute, the hubby and I watched it. It follows two young girls over the course of a year "as they explore their place in the food chain." They talk about where the food they eat comes from and why, including school lunches. They visit local farms and talk with the farmers, they visit farmers' markets, participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and talk to city leaders. Also, one of the girls has high cholesterol, due to genetics not diet, and you get to follow her on a few doctor visits to monitor her condition. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It wasn't as heavy as Food, Inc. or Food Matters (although everyone should watch these films) but What's on Your Plate? covers some of the same issues and left me thinking just as much as the others did.

    I get so emotional about this subject, especially after watching a film or reading an article about it. I feel equally inspired as I do frustrated. I picked the image for this post because it helps illustrate my frustration. No matter how much info is out there on food companies, factory meat, genetically modified food, imported produce (that are also grown and available locally), processed food and the like, most people continue to eat poorly and/or stay uneducated about real food. I'm not saying everyone is consciously deciding to ignore the subject (although some definitely are) but there is a huge disconnect that baffles me. I know people that simply never give what they eat a second thought. I know people that do think about it but give in to convenience anyway. I know people who don't buy at farmers' markets because it can be more expensive (very well in fact, that used to be me!) And I know a bunch more people with a whole lot of excuses.

    Believe me my friends, I feel you. Again, that is why I started Medium Food Mama. But there is a happy medium out there. I'm on the journey and it's my cause. As hard as food politics and big industry make it on us and the small producers, we need to get educated, make food a priority, care what we put in our bodies and do our part to reduce the food industry's outrageous carbon footprint. This is serious stuff everyone. Our bodies suffer and our environment suffer. Two essential things to live. And on that note, do me a favor, take a moment today to think about what small step you can do today to improve what you eat, what you buy and/or where you buy.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    An alternative to juice

    I read a spot on Weelicious recently that inspired me to brew some herbal tea for the kids. I'm a coffee drinker but I do enjoy a good cup of tea once in a while and unsweetened iced tea is what I drink with lunch often times. But it wasn't until I read the post on Weelicious did I think of tea as a beverage for the kids.

    I wish I would have thought of this sooner because it makes sense. But when I mention it to people, I almost always get a perplexed look. I think a lot of us hear "tea" and immediately think "caffeine." And why would I be giving my kids caffeine? Understandable thought process but it's not the case. There is a world of herbal teas that are made up of simple ingredients and are caffeine free.


    Tazo Passion Tea ingredients: Hibiscus Flowers, Natural Tropical Flavors, Citric Acid, Orange Peel, Licorice Root, Cinnamon, Rose Hips, Lemongrass and Fruit Juice Extract (Color).

    Decent stuff and it tastes great too... to me anyway! When I introduced it to my boys, the tea got mixed reviews.  My (almost) four-year-old did not like it, in place of his apple juice anyway. He said it tasted like water not juice. Can't argue with that as it is just flavored water. Having had apple juice for a couple of years, albeit cut with water, I knew it would be a challenge to convert him. My toddler on the other hand liked it. I wasn't surprised since the little guy has only had breast milk, water and a little cow's milk. But like anything new, if I think it's worth it, I'll just continue to make it and offer it.

    If you've been looking for an alternative to juice, I encourage you to give herbal tea a try. There are lots of flavors and brands available. As always, be sure to read the ingredient lists to avoid artificial ingredients and unnecessary additives.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Ice cream!

    I finally bought an ice cream maker! A few months ago I spotted a small and very cute baby blue ice cream maker in a Target ad. I wanted to get it but with Christmas coming up at the time, I didn't want to buy anything extra. But this weekend I decided to go for it!

    It was a small investment of $30 that I hope brings us big returns in the form of yummy homemade ice cream. This particular maker is space-friendly (aka small), which is a must around here. The other advantage to its petite nature is it limits the amount of ice cream we can make. Being huge ice cream fans, that's a very good thing. Even though we have ice cream in the freezer pretty much year around, it's still considered a treat.

    Like anything else I get the opportunity to make myself, I was most excited about having control over the ingredients. And how cool is it for the boys to help make ice cream? It's another opportunity to teach them about quality ingredients and how much better a treat is when we make it ourselves.

    A while back I had stumbled upon a recipe for "cornstarch ice cream" by Mark Bittman. I like Mark Bittman and figured it was worth a shot. The cornstarch replaces the need for eggs making for a non-eggy, lower fat ice cream base. Even though, in some circles, cornstarch can be frowned upon, I'm not opposed to it. I do use arrowroot when possible in place of cornstarch but arrowroot can become slimy when used with dairy. Besides, if Mr. Bittman is down with a little cornstarch, I am too. Here's my version of the original recipe:

    Strawberry Buttermilk Cornstarch Ice Cream

    1 3/4 cups 1% milk
    1/2 cup sugar
    Pinch of salt
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    3/4 cups buttermilk
    1 cup strawberries, sliced

    1. Put 1 1/4 cups milk, the sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until mixture begins to steam.

    2. In a bowl, blend cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup milk; there should be no lumps. Add cornstarch mixture to pot. Cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to very low and stir for 5 minutes or so until thick. Stir in vanilla extract.

    3. If mixture has lumps, strain it into a bowl. Chill until cool, a couple of hours (you can skip this step if you have a machine with a built-in freezer). When cool or if there are no lumps, pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

    Yield: 1 generous pint.

    This ice cream came out great. It was a hit with the kids and the hubby. I'm looking forward to making different varieties of the cornstarch ice cream as well as other more typical ice cream bases. Next flavors on deck: Low fat banana then chocolate!

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Hot chocolate

    While at Trader Joe's recently, I noticed a new product - instant hot cocoa mix. I had to pick up a box and do my research.

    It requires the same "just add water" method as other instant hot chocolate packets. After mixing up a cup the first thing I noticed was the aroma. It was different than Swiss Miss or like brands. It was subtle. Second, the color was different. Lighter, not as dense looking but not at all watery. Finally, as for the taste, it was mild and not artificial tasting. I'd drink it again.

    Instant mixes, such as hot cocoa or pudding, contain things like stabilizers or thickeners so the ingredients list is longer than I prefer. But if you compare the Trader Joe's version to Swiss Miss, there are differences. Trader Joe's has the cleaner list. Considering this and the nice taste, I'd use their mix once in a while to make a quick cup for my son. And as most items at Trader Joe's, the price is a budget-friendly $2.99.

    Trader Joe's Instant Hot Cocoa ingredients: Cane sugar, whole milk powder, natural cocoa powder, whey protein, tricalcium phosphate, stabilizer (carragenean and gum acacia), emulsifier (soy lecithin), salt, natural vanilla flavor, vitamin and mineral mix (iron, niacin (B3), thiamin (B1), vitamin A, riboflavin (B2)).

    Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa ingredients: Sugar, corn syrup, modified milk, cocoa (processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: Salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, carragenean.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Cookies

    Cookies. Cookies are good. And the best one's are homemade. I make a chocolate chip cookie not even my health nut husband can resist. And my sister has a cookie business that puts other cookies to shame. With this in mind and the goal to avoid processed food as much as possible, why would I bother with a packaged cookie? Well because I need an acceptable quick fix cookie in my medium food arsenal. You know, just in case. And I think Kashi TLC Soft-Baked Cookies fit the bill.

    I decided to pick up a box while at the store today because they were on sale and I needed a little something to get me through until lunch. The box is well designed. As you can see from the picture, it has a big yummy cookie on the front. Makes you think the cookies are big, like those Grandma's Brand cookies but they're not. They're not the smallest cookie around but smaller than expected. Which isn't a problem just a bummer for me, ha ha.

    Putting aside the superior taste of a homemade cookie or one from a reputable bakery, these cookies are decent and a more "healthful" option. They contain whole grains and provide 3 grams of fiber and only 8 grams of sugar. My favorite flavored yogurt contains 16 grams of sugar. I would definitely recommend these as a back up to a favorite granola bar or other on-the-go snack.

    For some reason, I've always trusted the Kashi brand. Could be a case of brilliant marketing I suppose but what I've read about the company so far, I like. Reminds me of what I like about Amy's brand. To read what I did, click here. I do believe that all packaged/processed foods are NOT created equal. I ultimately think we should make the bulk of what we eat ourselves, especially treats. But sometimes our lives beg for a convenience or two and being able to grab a packaged snack or meal occasionally that I can feel okay about is huge some days - like today.

    Finally, price. The box I bought today cost me $2.79 on sale. You get 8 (smallish) cookies in a box. The price is average, I think. About the same as a box of granola bars.

    Ingredients (Oatmeal Dark Chocolate): Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Blend (Whole: Hard Red Winter Wheat, Oats, Rye, Triticale, Barley, Long Grain Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Sesame Seeds), Dark Chocolate Chips (Evaporated Cane Juice, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soya Lecithin, Ground Vanilla Bean), Whole Rolled Oats, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Honey, Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals, Brown Rice Syrup, Chicory Root Fiber, Oat Fiber, Vegetable Glycerin, Natural Flavors, Sodium Bicarbonate, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Natural Vitamin E) For Freshness, Monocalcium Phosphate, Walnuts, Peanut Flour, Nonfat Dry Milk, Eggs.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    The Slow Cook

    I was on one of my favorite sites, tastespotting.com, and found yet another fabulous site, theslowcook.com. I have found some really cool sites and blogs via TasteSpotting, you know by clicking on one thing then finding your way to something else and then something else?

    While exploring The Slow Cook site, I started reading about Ed Bruske's experience at the Berkeley Schools central kitchen. We live all of 15 minutes from Berkeley which made it even more interesting for me. I wanted to share a section from the story that illustrates the way I feel we should approach food and one of the reasons why I started Medium Food Mama.

    ...Why go to all that trouble? 

    Indeed, it was precisely this question that I came to Berkeley to answer, because it was here that Alice Waters, the fairy godmother of cooking fresh food from local, seasonal ingredients, made her imprint on the public school cafeteria. Her influence continues to reverberate around the country inspiring school districts, farm to school programs, even first lady and White House gardener-in-chief Michelle Obama.

    But in case you thought the Berkeley school menu was just a copy of the one at Waters’ internationally famous restaurant–Chez Panisse–located just a few blocks from the central school kitchen, you need to check those inclinations fast. As I quickly learned, kid preferences exert an enormous influence even in schools where food is fresh-cooked, because Berkeley schools still depend on subsidies from the federal government. Like every other school in the federal meals program, they need to “sell” as much of that epic chicken as possible. Each student who qualifies for a free lunch and takes the chicken earns the school district a $2.68 payment from Uncle Sam.

    Thus, at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School you will see pizza on the menu twice a week, Monday and Friday. Pizza is, hands down, the favorite food of school children nationwide. In most schools, kids get a reheated frozen pizza made in a factory with a ton of industrial additives. In Berkeley the pizza is made in the central kitchen using a whole wheat crust, real mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce made with freshly chopped onion, celery and carrots. And instead of being topped with frozen, factory-made pepperoni, as in my daughter’s school in D.C., here it’s fixed with turkey sausage also made from scratch using whole turkey and seasonings. One variety of Berkeley pizza even comes with pesto.

    Nachos are served every Friday. But they are not the ones you see at other schools–fried chips doused with processed orange cheese. The Berkeley nachos start with baked corn chips, but forget about the Dayglo cheese. Instead there’s a meat mix of beef, turkey and soy protein, accompanied by a side of freshly cooked brown rice and re-fried beans. Tacos, also with brown rice and beans, are served every Monday as an alternative to the pizza. And there’s plenty of pasta to be eaten over the course of a week, but Berkeley pasta involves freshly grated cheeses and sauces that start with home-made vegetable stock, just like in a first-class restaurant.

    Alice Waters might cringe at the way her food rules have been bent to accommodate juvenile tastes. But executive chef Bonnie Christensen says her menu addresses the main concern of Berkeley parents who lobbied for the change. They were appalled by the frozen processed foods being served in school loaded with fat, salt and sugar. They did not want their children exposed to corporate, brand-name products laced with additives.  They wanted their children to learn to eat fresh-cooked meals.

    Choosing to make food from scratch when you can and with better ingredients in conjunction with taking the time to find the "better" convenience items is the essence of medium food. It is especially important for young children to be accustomed to and prefer the real food versions of chicken nuggets, pizza, mac and cheese, etc. If a school district that has to feed 2,350 children five days a week can find the happy medium, I think the average family can too.