Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Recently inspired by my cousin and a friend that has her own popcorn business, I've kicked up the popping here at home. I've always liked popcorn. Not the buttery stuff you get at the movies or the fake tasting kind from a microwave bag but plain with a little salt.

My cousin, Della and I share a love for coconut oil and seeing all her talk (gotta love facebook!) about her popcorn made with coconut oil and salt, I decided to make a batch of my own. I normally skip the oil by throwing some kernels in a brown paper bag and then putting it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Season with a little salt and it is good to go. But popping with coconut oil is right up my alley and between my cousin raving about it and me helping my friend pop and package her popcorn in a commercial kitchen, I was ready to give it a try. The results were yummy!

Popcorn can be nutritious. It's a whole grain and contains a bit of fiber. Did you know most of the nutrition in popcorn comes from the hull? Yeah, the part that often gets stuck in your teeth. The hulls contain polyphenols - antioxidants that prevent damage to cells. Although, there is some debate about how much we actually benefit from the antioxidants in popcorn because how much we absorb may not be significant enough. Regardless, if not slathered in butter, excess oil, excess salt or a fake sugary or cheesey topping, it is a healthy snack option. Popcorn is also very economical. A 28 oz. bag of organic popcorn kernels was only $1.99. That makes for a lot of popcorn. Conventional kernels are probably cheaper but being that I'm avoiding GMOs as much as possible, I opt for organic.

I talk about and use coconut oil often. But this was my first time popping with it. It was easy and tasted great. So great in fact the entire batch was gone in less than 24 hours. It wasn't oily but could have been I suppose if too much oil was used. I highly recommend popping with coconut oil if you haven't already done so. Here's how I did it:

1/2 cup Organic popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons Coconut oil
Sea salt

Using a large pot with a lid, heat up coconut oil over medium high heat. Add kernels, cover with lid and wait for popping to begin. Continuously shake pot back and forth to avoid burning (I wear oven mitts). Remove from heat once popping slows down and/or stops. Sprinkle with salt while popcorn is still hot.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Avoiding GMOs

Okay so California Prop 37 didn't pass. Bummer. Crazy to see that over $45.6 million was spent to defeat 37. Some of the biggest contributions to this effort came from Monsanto and the world's largest pesticide and junk food companies. Not surprising. I know the prop wasn't perfect though so I'll leave it be. But honestly, it'll be fine. It's definitely okay for people that already take the time to research the food they buy. It will be a little tougher for those that aren't in the habit and the toughest for those that "don't want to know." And, in my opinion, those are the people it could have helped. A GMO label on the package of Doritos would make it harder to throw it in the cart. At least I would hope so.

Before I go any further, let me address that there is a lot of debate about GMOs. I happen to be on the side that believes they are bad news and should be avoided. It's scary to think that GMOs are in as much as 80% of conventional processed food in the US*. Keep in mind that genetically modified food has only been around since the 90's, 1994 I believe. I can't help but think of GMOs as intentional mutations. And when genes mutate, it usually isn't good. Cancer for example. I'll post some links later in this post that expand on GMOs. Your head is likely to spin after reading them. It really bothers me that all this experimentation is allowed to be done with our food supply - on people, our kids. Most of my childhood, although filled with a lot of processed foods, was free of GMOs. This is not the case for my kids unless I actively avoid them and even then, there will be some exposure. I'm not an expert on this by any stretch but I'm just not comfortable knowingly feeding my kids experimental, mutated food.

So how am I going to avoid GMOs without having a GMO label on everything that contains or may contain them? I've been researching the food I buy for a long time. I'll continue to do this as well as utilize some really cool tools to assist me concerning GMO foods. Like the Fooducate app. I discovered this app (iPhone) earlier this month and have been using it every chance I get. You can scan bar codes and it will bring back a nutritional profile (and grade) including if it is considered GMO free. The first time using it was so much fun. It not only gives you info on the product scanned but gives you a list of alternatives. The database is ever growing so if you scan an item that's not in their database yet, you are prompted to enter and send the info to them right then and there. For example, Trader Joe's Egg Nog wasn't in the database yet. It asked me if I would like to enter the info, including pictures (three pics, one of the product, one of the nutritional info and one of the ingredients). So I did. They follow up with an email letting you know they received the information and that it's being processed (or something like that). The app also links to info about specific ingredients and other topics. So far I love this app. Did I say that already?

In addition to apps like Fooducate, there are sites like Non-GMO Project and Say No to GMOs. Also, some companies like Amy's label their food non-gmo. And even though they don't label their food, Trader Joe's says they source non-genetically modified ingredients for their private label food. The information is there. You just need to take the time to check it out. If you really want to know, you can find out. 

*Source: GMO Facts
Additional links: Huff Post Blog, Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blueberry Oat Scones with Coconut Oil

Scones in production!
I've been on a scone kick lately. It's been tough to resist the scones at Whole Foods, really tough. So I decided to get in the kitchen and make a bunch of my own. I started with pumpkin. They were really good. I'll post the recipe soon. Then I made blueberry. Coming off a successful pumpkin scone, I had the confidence to do a little experimenting with the blueberry version.

I took inspiration from Weelicious (as I often do) and combined it with my style of baking. The results were terrific. That's why I decided to post this one first. My kids are always taste testers and since I create most of my recipes with them in mind, it's important they dig it. And they certainly loved these.

My palate is accustomed to nutty flavors from hearty grains and sweetness from fruit or honey not white sugar. So for me, these are perfect. My boys are also used to these flavors but that's not to say it can't be too much in some of the food and baked goods I make because it can and has. Sometimes it's just not balanced enough for them to like it. Hearty grains can get dense and occasionally (depending on the recipe and other ingredients) bitter and a bit harsh. Combine that with only a little sugar and it can be a "no thanks" recipe very easily. Oh, and I always like to be clear, I like sweet stuff as much as any one else, my chocolate chip cookies for instance, but I ultimately prefer treats like this scone. Give me a cup of coffee and one of these and I'm good. And the bonus is, I feel better afterward. Not guilty or like I need to add two miles to my run. Win win.

Okay, back to the experimenting. Scones are typically made with all-purpose white flour and butter. Makes for a tasty scone for sure. I decided to use my favorite white whole wheat flour in place of white flour and coconut oil in place of butter. Also instead of three tablespoons of white sugar, I used two tablespoons of brown sugar. I was going to leave out the sugar entirely but back to what I mentioned before, I was trying to avoid a "no thanks" result. I will say though, these might be just fine without the brown sugar, I really didn't taste it. I'll give it a try next time. Finally, the recipe I based this recipe on called for buttermilk. I didn't have any and somehow I was out of vinegar so I couldn't make my own. I substituted low fat yogurt and milk for the buttermilk. With all my substitutions, the texture and flavor were what I'd expect from a scone. I hope you'll give it a try.

Blueberry Oat Scone with Coconut Oil
Makes 8
Adapted from here.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, chilled & cubed*
1/4 cup low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 egg
1 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt.
3. Using your fingers, massage the coconut oil into the flour/oat mixture until is resembles coarse meal.
4. Whisk the yogurt, milk and egg in a separate bowl.
5. Pour the yogurt mixture over the flour/oat mixture and stir with a fork until combined.
6. Gently fold in the blueberries (still frozen).
7. Form dough into a large circle/patty (roughly 1 inch thick/8 inches in diameter) and place on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. I shape it further after it's on the parchment paper.
8. Bake for 20 minutes.
9. Cool and serve.

*I measure a half cup of room temperature coconut oil and stick it in the refrigerator for a bit. It becomes cold and completely solid and allows you to cut it up and combine it with the dry ingredients the same way you would with butter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

I give treats. I just do.

My personalized tin from personalcreations.com
I make healthy food for myself and my family. But I also make treats. And I admit to being one of those people that gives treats to friends and family. Sometimes it's for a specific occasion and sometimes it's just because. I read quite a few real food/health blogs and I know giving treats as gifts is somewhat frowned upon - almost as much as goodie bags filled with candy and the free lollipops some banks give out to all the kids. I get it. Really I do. I made an effort to create goodie bags for my son's 5th birthday that did not include candy. I'm conscience of all the treats lurking out there as well as the other sources of sugar that a lot of people often don't think about (bread, soup, yogurt, condiments, etc.). With that said, there's just something special about the gift of homemade food whether it be savory or sweet.

Think about it - Somebody takes the time to create something and then gives it to you. What's not good about that? The only thing I can think of is the calories, maybe? But reality is you don't have to eat all of it, right? Share the love, take one (or two) and give the rest to others fortunate to be around you at the time.  Thing is, I take a lot of pride in what I bake. I work hard on perfecting my recipes and I only use ingredients that I would feed to my family. I spend the little extra on organic sugar, butter, coconut oil and eggs and use whole wheat flour (even in my chocolate chip cookies!). I also reduce sugar, replace vegetable oil with coconut oil and use sweet potato or pumpkin puree for added flavor and nutrition when possible. I do this because it's my approach to treats - all year around. If we want a treat, my first choice is to make it myself and make it with quality ingredients. Believe me, it ALWAYS taste better when you make it yourself. The other reason is, it's rewarding when I receive positive feedback on the treats I give away. It's nice to know that treats made "my way" make people happy!

So did you notice the cool tin pictured above? I think it's pretty neat. And a perfect container to gift all those yummy treats I was just going on about. I was given the chance to review a complimentary product from personalcreations.com and was excited to come across these retro tins on their site. Ordering was easy and so was the personalization. Not to mention delivery was fast, in my opinion, for personalized items. I ordered on October 25th, had a notification that my items shipped the next day and they were on my doorstep November 1st. I didn't even pick a quick shipping method, just regular ground. Personalcreations.com has tons of stuff on their site. From Christmas items like stockings  and ornaments to every day items like clothing and luggage. I love my tins. The printing is nice, the designs are cool (seven to choose from), the tin is the same quality you'd pick up at Cost Plus or somewhere like that and it's super cool having my name on it! If you're in the market for personalized gifts, I'd check out this site. Lots of items to choose from and the web site and ordering process is simple to navigate. Christmas shopping has officially started, right?

Note: A gift code was provided to me to shop by the manufacturer or representing PR agency. This opinion is 100% my own.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Switch Witch is coming!

Happy Halloween! I like Halloween, the cute and fun side that is. I'm not a big fan of the darker, blood and guts creepy side (although I do enjoy a good horror film right about now). I love seeing the kids get excited about Halloween crafts, pumpkin carving and getting dressed up. There is also the kid Halloween movies and TV shows. Oh, and, there is the CANDY.

Is there any way to avoid the candy? Until about three years old, yes. After that though, it starts to get tough. When they hit five years old, it's near impossible. I'm not a square or anything but you don't have to be a square to cringe at the thought of all the candy and other junk Halloween presents to our kids (and us). For example, at my son's class party today - I was pleasantly surprised there was fruit, veggies and water for the snack options. Although, there was also Pirate's Booty (one of those foods people think is healthy but it's not) and ranch dressing from a bottle. Not the worst of spreads for the little ones though. But there was also those dreaded Oreo Cookies floating around (the Halloween version with the bright orange filling no less). Granted they were for a craft along with packaged marshmallows, food dye pens, packaged brownie bites and Hershey's Kisses. I think there may have been some sort of canned frosting as well to act as glue but I'm not sure, I wasn't helping at that station. Don't get me wrong, it's cool, I didn't forbid my son to participate nor did I say no when he wanted to eat that big, processed, decorated with food dye marshmallow on the walk home. I also said yes (5 minutes later) when he asked to eat (and share with his little brother) the two Oreo Cookies with frosting and a Hershey's Kiss on top. The brownie bite also disappeared during this mini junk fest.

Living here in the "medium" - I don't freak out about it. For Halloween, I don't try to avoid anything, I just do my best to keep the indulging contained to the day. Having a bowl of candy hanging around tomorrow and beyond is something I do avoid though. And that's why I utilize the Switch Witch! I heard about the concept of the Switch Witch a year or two ago. It's simple. If you leave your bag/bucket of candy out for her on Halloween night, she will come and get it and leave a surprise in return. My kids were sold the second they heard "surprise." I think everyone likely does this a little differently but what I do is have the kids pick two of their favorite candies from the bunch then leave the rest for the Switch Witch. It's like leaving cookies out for Santa. In the morning, they get to see what she left in place of their candy. So awesome. Lingering candy problem solved. And I don't look back (even if the kiddos regret, just a little, letting the witch have their candy). Now on to what November brings!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

With frosting on top!

Yes, pumpkin recipe season is upon us but I'm one of those people that make pumpkin things all year around. When Trader Joe's starts selling canned organic pumpkin (September-ish), I start stocking up. It's a $1.99 per 15 oz. can. An average price from what I've seen. I make sure I end up with enough cans to get me through the year ahead. I happened to underestimate how many I would need last season causing me to run out mid Summer. I'll be sure to add on a couple of extra cans this year.

Oh, and, I know I could make my own pumpkin puree but remember - this mama needs some convenience. Canned pumpkin is one of those conveniences! Never do I say never (well except when asked if I'd run a full marathon) so one day I may make my own puree but it won't be this year!

I've shared pumpkin bread in the past but this one is a perfected version of what I once made and it's topped with a simple cream cheese frosting. I was inspired by my oldest son's sweet tooth and our shared love for pumpkin bread. As I talk about often, it's a rule that we make our own "treats" and buying them is the exception. Although I don't consider my whole wheat pumpkin bread on its own (sans frosting!) a treat, I apply the same rule to quick breads, muffins and like items as the store bought versions are highly processed and full of unnecessary ingredients. And, when the exception arises, I make a point to purchase fresh baked items from an actual bakery not something in a box wrapped in plastic.

Okay, enough about that. Let's get to the yummy bread. This bread is awesome on it's own. It is a common snack in our house. On this particular day, we were in the mood for a little something extra. The initial request was for cake actually. Ending up with whole wheat pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting turned out to be a perfect compromise.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting
8 to 10 servings
Adapted from 100 Days of Real Food and Weelicious

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (or white whole-wheat flour)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree

How to make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (flour to salt).

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add eggs, oil, honey (or sugar), vanilla, and pumpkin. Stir together gently with a fork, don't beat it up!

Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper or grease with oil. Add batter.

Bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes. Check for doneness at 30 minutes. Let cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 oz. light cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

How to make:
Beat all ingredients together until smooth. I mixed by hand (what a workout!) but you can use an electric mixer to make it easier (and smoother).

Frost cooled pumpkin bread. I had extra frosting... I guess I could have put on more but I think there will be extra regardless. Slice loaf  (8 - 10 slices) and enjoy!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Resist the Lunchables

With back to school time in full swing, let's talk Lunchables. I'll start on my soapbox. I figure it's best to come out swinging and lighten up from there! I've read and heard more than a handful of people talking about giving their children Lunchables for snack and/or lunch. The conversations are sort of matter of fact, you know, like it's the norm. I also see ones where it seems the parents are either near burnout or have given up.

What confuses me the most is the amount of people okay with feeding their children this highly processed, who knows where the "food" came from, always has a treat, salty tray of food product. I can understand the temptation to reduce some of your workload during the school year as well as save a buck or two but does it have to come in the form of highly processed food that is not providing proper nutrition to the kiddos and ruining their palate at the same time? For me, it's about nutrition as well as teaching my kids healthy eating habits. Processed meat, cheese and crackers with a water (with "Kool-Aid to sprinkle in a little flavor and fun") and some Jell-o and cookies to top it off is not healthy and certainly will not assist our children with learning how to make healthy food choices.

I usually say this somewhere in a post like this - I'm the Medium Food Mama, not Totally Green, Organic and Crunchy Mama. I appreciate the need for some convenience and the occasional packaged food (can we say Mac & Cheese?) but providing a steady diet of highly processed "kid food" is not good for anyone. I also understand budget. And it truly frustrates me that crappy food is the cheapest food. Better organized people may beg to differ with crappy food being the most affordable because well, you can grow some of your own produce, join a co-op or eat organic rice, beans and veggies most of the time BUT it's just not feasible for a lot of folks. I looked into a co-op myself and it was too expensive to join. I also make a lot of my own versions of convenience foods, not all of it turns out to be less expensive. I walked by a cold case of Lunchables at Target this morning and the price I saw was $1.52. A "meal" (in a lot of people's minds) for a buck fifty is likely gonna trump a sandwich on whole wheat with organic turkey, organic produce and avocado with a side of organic fruit for a lot of people. Unfortunately.

The Lunchables facebook page has almost 590,000 likes. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has over one million. Pages for companies that offer healthier convenience foods for kids like Plum Organics (84,800), Annie's Home Grown (285,800), Amy's (49,300), Clif Bar (110,850) and Nature's Path (267,700) have significantly less followers. So is it about money or lack of nutrition knowledge or just plain denial? I'm not sure yet. From my rookie research though, I lean towards it being a bit of each with a little nostalgia and comfort mixed in.

The challenge of eating healthy on a budget and with little ones that may be a little picky is not going to go away but in my opinion items like Lunchables can. There are plenty of alternatives to these yucky little trays. Here's a few links to give you some ideas.

Mom's Plan
Easy Lunchboxes
The Nourishing Home

Monday, August 13, 2012

One of my favorite sites

If you're a reader of my blog, you likely know that I love Weelicious.com. I make lots of Catherine's recipes for the family. In fact, my husband just made his first weelicious recipe, chicken curry, for my birthday and it was so good and easy to make, he made it again this past weekend.

Catherine is giving away 10 autographed copies of her new cookbook, Weelicious. I know I'd love one. I plan on ordering a copy once it's released as I just don't seem to win things but I threw my hat in the ring anyway, and so should you! Click here to enter! And, meanwhile, take a look around Weelicious.com. I always find something new to try and so far everything has gone over well with the kiddos - including the chicken curry.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

WhoNu these weren't a good option? I knew, that's who!

WhoNu? Cookies. Don't get fooled. These have been on the shelves for a while now and I thought they'd go away but they haven't. I'm not sure if people are buying them and that's why or if the shelf life is so long they've just been sitting there this whole time.

I did a little research on the Oreo type version of the WhoNu? cookie and let me start by comparing the ingredients.

WhoNu? Chocolate Cookies: Sugar, Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oils (Canola, Palm, Palm Kernel Oil, Soybean Oil And Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed And Coconut Oil), Cocoa, Dextrose, Polydextrose, Yellow Corn Flour, Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Monoglycerides, Vanilla Extract.

Oreo Cookies: Sugar, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid), High Oleic Canola Oil And/or Palm Oil And/or Canola Oil, And/or Soybean Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda And/or Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin – An Artificial Flavor, Chocolate.

They're very similar, yes? Although I don't buy Oreo cookies or other boxed/highly processed cookies, I've never noticed them claiming to be "nutrition rich cookies." That's what's irritating. Well that and this piece written last year. Especially "Who knew delicious could be so nutritious? That's what Moms across the country are exclaiming since the recent launch of WhoNu?..." Moms are exclaiming? Hu? Any mom exclaiming that in regards to these cookies, needs to brush up on the facts. Oh and this quote from the VP "Children are snacking more than ever and they're snacking on nutrient-deficient foods with empty calories" reminds us that kids in the US are snacking too much and often it is junk they're snacking on. Whether it's hard to hear or not, parents are the reason for both these issues. We decide what we buy and serve to our kids, they don't.

No matter how you slice it, WhoNu? chocolate cookies are highly processed junk. Oreos with added vitamins. And I don't need a cookie to assist me with my child's nutritional needs. So, please leave these on the shelf along with the other boxes and bags and if it's a cookie your kiddos want, get in the kitchen and bake some. Perhaps, these Vegan Chocolate Chips Cookies? You don't have to be vegan to like a vegan cookie. That's my motto anyway!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Never underestimate the PB&J. When made with quality ingredients, it's a nutritious snack or meal for the kids. And you, too. Here are my rules when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

1. Whole grain bread, wrap, etc.
2. Natural peanut butter
3. Organic real fruit spread

Whole grain bread is easy to come by and Jif or like brands are not natural peanut butter. They commonly contain sugar, molasses, hydrogenated vegetable oil, mono and diglycerides. Even the "Natural Jif" is not natural peanut butter. It contains sugar, palm oil and molasses. Pick one that contains just peanuts or just peanuts and salt. There is no need for anything else. You can read an earlier post about peanut butter here for a little more detail.

Now for the jelly/jam/preserves/fruit spread/conserve. Like peanut butter, they are not all created equal. Some are full of artificial ingredients, color and preservatives. Here are some examples:

Smucker's Strawberry Preserves:  Strawberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Fruit Pectin, Citric Acid.

Smucker's Simply Fruit Strawberry: Fruit Syrup, Strawberries, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Fruit Pectin, Red Grape Juice Concentrate Added for color, Natural Flavors.

Smucker's Low Sugar Strawberry: Strawberries, Sugar, Water*, Fruit Pectin, Citric Acid, Locust Bean Gum*,  Potassium Sorbate Added As a Preservative, Calcium Chloride*, RED 40*.  *INGREDIENTS NOT IN REGULAR PRESERVES.

Market Pantry Strawberry Preserves: Strawberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Fruit Pectin, Citric Acid.

Trader Joe's Fresh Strawberry Preserves: Fresh Strawberries, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Pectin, Citric Acid

Dickenson's Strawberry Preserves: Strawberries, Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Pectin, Citric Acid

The ingredients in your jelly/jam/preserves/fruit spread/conserve should be as minimal as possible. Pectin and citric acid are common ingredients in store bought preserves, which is fine for me but so are artificial color, corn syrup and/or high fructose corn syrup, which are not fine for me. Look for preserves with a short ingredients list. Like:

Happy Girl Kitchen, Co Strawberry Jam: Organic Strawberries, Organic Cane Sugar

Santa Cruz Organic Fruit spread: Organic strawberries, organic sugar, fruit pectin, organic fruit and vegetable juice (color), citric acid

365 Organic Strawberry Conserve: Organic strawberries, organic cane sugar, natural fruit pectin, ascorbic acid, citric acid

In my experience you may or may not pay more for a better quality jelly. The prices seem to be comparable with the exception of the big brand organic spreads, they're terribly over priced. Trader Joe's, although not used as an example in the good list, has some affordable options (read the labels though to avoid the one/s with corn syrup) as well.

And, of course, if you or your children have a peanut allergy, seed or other nut butters make a yummy substitute for peanut butter. My favorite is Sunflower Seed Butter. So go ahead, make a PB&J for you and the kiddos, it's nutritious, affordable and fast!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Honey is something that I think most families have in the pantry/cabinet. Personally, I use it often. And my use of honey has actually increased over the last year since updating a handful of my recipes to include honey as the sweetener instead of regular sugar.

As I do with all the things I buy, I like to take a look at the ingredients, find out where the food came from and compare prices. Honey should be pretty straightforward, right? Well after stumbling upon an article about honey, it's not.

The article was written late last year. I think everyone should read it. It's information to be armed with. So many people "just shop" and have faith what they're buying is, well, what it says it is. Here's just one quote from the article that stands out to me: "The grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves." This is definitely the motivation for most products grocery stores stock. We are surrounded with highly processed foods for the long shelf life and low price. And although I could go on and on about that subject, I won't because that's an entirely different post.

Like quite a few of our staples, I buy honey at Trader Joe's because it's good and the price is right. I was certainly relieved to see Trader Joe's honey was noted as a good choice but still super frustrated at the fact that this is something we're forced to contend with. It definitely reinforces the importance and necessity of taking the time to research what you're putting in your grocery cart and eventually in your body.

Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Every time I reach for it on the shelf at the store or in my refrigerator, I question using it. But honestly, I won't be making homemade mayo any time soon and my family likes a little on their sandwiches. So it is something on my shopping list. We use alternatives as well like mustard, hummus, avocado, balsamic vinaigrette, pesto and cream cheese but most days, plain mayo is used.

I admit to buying "light" mayo for many years now. Many, many years. My weight has always fluctuated and it tends to fluctuate very easily upward if I am not on top of my food consumption and exercise. With that, starting way back when I was a teenager, I ate a lot of low fat foods and non fat dairy. I was never into the fat free junk food or fat free is better bandwagon, that stuff tasted awful and was highly processed. But I purchased fat free milk and yogurt, light cheese, low fat salad dressing and light mayo regularly. As my food knowledge grew, I started to gravitate towards real food and packaged food that contained more real ingredients than not. And, although in the case of mayo, the real version is much higher in fat (11 grams vs. 4 grams), if you eat healthy, real, whole, high quality food, it becomes a non issue. And if you look closely, you'll notice that even if regular mayo has 7 grams more fat than the light version, it only has 1 gram saturated fat.

Mayonnaise is not my first choice as a spread on my sandwiches but it is for my boys and hubby as well as for lots of other people. If you are a mayo person and don't make your own, take a minute to see what's in the brand you purchase. All "real" mayo is not created equal. Some are made with canola oil (not a fan of canola oil personally but that's an entirely different post), soybean oil or a combination of oil including olive oil. And note that even the "olive oil" mayo contains soybean oil, it's not pure olive oil mayonnaise. Find one without "natural flavor" or weird preservatives. After some research, and even though it contains canola oil, Trader Joe's Real Mayonnaise is what I switched to. I assume Whole Foods and other like grocery stores have a version that is comparable.

Trader Joe's Real Mayo: Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Whole Eggs, Apple Cider Vinegar, Egg Yolks, Water, Salt, Spices, Lemon Juice Concentrate.

Best Foods Real Mayo: Soybean Oil, Water, Whole Eggs and Egg Yolks, Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Lemon Juice, Calcium Disodium Edta (used to protect quality), Natural Flavors.

Kraft Real Mayo: Soybean Oil, Water, Eggs, Vinegar, Contains less than 2% of Egg Yolks, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Salt, Sugar, Dried Onion, Dried Garlic, Paprika, Natural Flavor, Calcium Disodium Edta As A Preservative.

Kraft Olive Oil Mayo: Water, Olive Oil, Soybean Oil, Vinegar, Modified Food Starch, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Eggs, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Mustard Flour, Dried Onions, Dried Garlic, Natural Flavor, Enzyme Modified Egg Yolk, Beta Carotene* (Color), Lactic Acid*, Potassium Sorbate* and Calcium Disodium Edta As Preservatives, Phosphoric Acid* *Ingredient not Normally Found In Mayonnaise Contains: Egg.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ingredients Lists

I have been away from my little blog for a bit, sorry. I have a couple of posts in the queue but one, a recipe, failed and the other, coconut oil chocolate chip cookies, is just plain unfinished (no photo). I'm gonna have another go at the failed recipe, the boys literally gagged - I guess it was really that bad. And I'll have to make another batch of the cookies ASAP and get a quick pic before they get gobbled up.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share a post about understanding ingredients lists. I like this one a lot. It may make your head spin just a bit but I think it's important to understand what is actually in the product you're buying. Check it out by clicking here.

Be back soon!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wheat & Flax Buttermilk Pancakes

I recently found a blog called Out of the Box Food. I'm always happy to find another like-minded blogger. The mom behind Out of the Box Food has a sharp focus on avoiding processed foods and provides recipes for common "kid foods" helping you avoid buying the boxed versions. Cool, right?

Although I still rely on a couple very common kid food items in a box (Thanks Annie's for making it seem okay!), I always strive to make as much of our food as I can myself, from scratch and/or using exclusively real food. Over the last few years I have seen my pantry go from quite a few processed items to just a few. And that for me is success.

While on the Out of the Box Food site, I was immediately drawn to the Wheat & Flax Buttermilk Waffle & Pancake recipe. Pancakes are a fave at our house and the mix of wheat, flax and buttermilk spoke to me. What makes it even better is, it's an easy recipe and is perfect for freezing the extra pancakes (or waffles). Since finding this recipe, I've made three batches and I'm about to make another being that I used the last of our supply in the freezer this morning.

The author recommends making an extra set of dry ingredients to store for future use. I did that and let me tell you, it made an already easy process easier and more importantly, quicker! I highly suggest doing this.

Wheat & Flax Buttermilk Waffles & Pancakes
Recipe from here.

2 C whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp flax meal
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 C buttermilk
2 eggs
2 egg whites, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sea salt, baking powder, baking soda and flax meal.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs and vanilla.
3. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir JUST until combined (do not over mix).
4. Gently fold in beaten egg whites.
5. Proceed with your usual method for making waffles or pancakes.

I used a large cookie dough/ice cream scoop for my pancakes and the recipe made 18 pancakes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chocolate Syrup

Flavored milk is no stranger to bad press. In fact, it's a main focus of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. And I happen to agree that flavored milk, chocolate or otherwise, should not be readily available to the kiddos, especially at school. If given the choice, most children will pick a flavored milk over plain milk. I did. And my almost kindergartener would likely too even though he loves plain milk and knows chocolate milk is a treat. It's too tempting and most kids would opt for a treat over real food if it was available to them.

I'm definitely with Jamie on getting flavored milk out of schools but I do believe that a cold glass of chocolate milk or mug of hot chocolate once in a while is good for the soul. And I know he does too - he has a terrific hot cocoa recipe in one of his cookbooks.

My approach to chocolate milk is the same as my approach to any treat I make for the family - healthier, occasional and affordable with a touch of convenience if I can get it. I don't think there are many people (in the USA anyhow) that wouldn't recognize a bottle or can of Hershey's Syrup. And not many more that haven't had it. Not unlike most big brand convenience products, Hershey's Syrup is one that a lot of people "just buy." Whether it's because it brings back good memories or because it's "Hershey's, and has to be good, right?" Hershey's is a family after all? Or maybe it's the fact it goes on sale often enough to get it pretty cheap. Whatever the reasons, it is definitely a product that gets purchased a lot. Personally, I think it's the strong branding it has maintained for decades. The illusion that it's as pure as its beginnings when Milton Hershey himself was making the products. And that's the problem. It's not what Milton was making, it can't be. Hershey's products are mass produced and need to be shelf stable. And some of their chocolate products aren't even chocolate. Anyhow, here are the ingredients for Hershey's Syrup (not listed on their website by the way):

High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, water, cocoa *, contains 2% or less of: potassium sorbate (a preservative), salt, mono and diglycerides *, polysorbate 60 (an emulsifier), xanthan gum, and vanillan, an artificial flavoring. *Adds a negligible amount of fat.

Starts with HFCS, and it's not until the fifth ingredient we find cocoa. I like to mention this because it helps remind me of how to make better choices, specifically with convenience foods. There are other chocolate syrups out there and here's one from Trader Joe's that is an improvement from Hershey's:

Organic sugar, water, organic cocoa, organic non-fat dry milk, organic vanilla, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, citric acid.

The point here is to learn to make better choices when buying convenience items. If you can't make it yourself, then pick the lesser of the evils. Take a few minutes (or more) to research.

And here is a simple recipe to make your own chocolate syrup if you find the time. I made it. It's fast and tastes great - no extra food additives needed. Give it shot if you can!

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Whisk together gently.  Add water.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and cook 1 minute.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Cool.  Store in the refrigerator. 

For chocolate milk, add 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup to 8 oz. of milk.  Heat for hot chocolate.

For milk shakes, combine 1 cup cold milk, 1/4 cup chocolate syrup and 2 cups (1 pint) of vanilla ice cream to a blender.  Blend.

This syrup also makes a yummy ice cream topping.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1968.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Recipe: Pumpkin Cornbread

I've said it before, I know, but I'll say it again - I love pumpkin. I always stock up on cans of it during the holiday season to ensure I have plenty to use all year around. And when I found a recipe for pumpkin cornbread at recipegirl.com, I jumped at the first opportunity to give a try.

As usual, I made some changes. I used to have a rule with new recipes: Make it exactly as it reads the first time then make changes. After much practice and becoming more educated in the kitchen and with ingredients, I almost never follow that rule now. Most times, it all turns out okay. And this pumpkin cornbread recipe was one of them. I used coconut oil in place of canola oil, added more spices and used all white whole wheat flour. Next time I plan to substitute honey for the brown sugar and maybe applesauce for the oil. I'll let you know how it goes.

If you like cornbread, you need to give this recipe a try. The pumpkin and spices are present but it's cornbread more than it is a pumpkin bread. I served it with a little butter and pure maple syrup. The boys loved it! I was certain we'd have a lot left over but it went quick. Our family of four had it finished with 24 hours. It started as an afternoon snack and ended as breakfast the next morning. And I should mention that my (poor iPhone 3) photo is of two servings, not one.

Pumpkin Cornbread
Adapted from here.
Makes 8 servings

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 cup cornmeal

2 large eggs

1 cup unsweetened pure pumpkin puree
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 tablespoon molasses

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 10-inch glass pie pan or 9-inch square baking pan.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in cornmeal.

3. In separate bowl, beat eggs lightly. Whisk in pumpkin, brown sugar, oil and molasses.

4. Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredient and combine gently just until blended- don't over-mix.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cornbread is browned and the surface has a slightly springy feel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Recipe: Oatmeal Berry Blend Cookies

I have a real live cookie monster in my house. He is in the form of a four year old. This boy has it bad for cookies and I have to constantly keep his love for them under control. I assume some of the responsibility though... I can make a pretty mean cookie.  One of the food rules we follow is making our treats, not buying them. This helps not only to control the ingredients but it also makes it a more enjoyable experience. My boys get to help make them and the reward is always worth the work and wait. Additionally, it naturally controls the frequency. Boxed or bagged cookies? No way, totally not worth it for this family.

Inspired by a craving I had for oatmeal raisin cookies, I came up with a little tweak on a traditional oatmeal raisin cookie. Oatmeal Berry Blend Cookies. This cookie was another hit. I am going to go as far as suggesting it as a totally acceptable breakfast choice. It's sweetened only by honey and the mix of dried berries, cherries and raisins. I used a mix called "Golden Berry Blend" from Trader Joe's in place of just raisins. But this cookie can be made with any dried fruit you like. Keep in mind, this cookie is not sugary sweet. It doesn't have that unique brown sugar taste traditional oatmeal raisin cookies usually have. Don't let that deter you though. It's got eye appeal, a hearty texture and you can feel good about the ingredients residing inside. And I feel strongly that if the kids dig it, it's gotta be good, especially when it comes to treats. They're certainly my biggest critics.

Oatmeal Berry Blend Cookies

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1/2 Cup Honey
1 Large Egg
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour or Whole Wheat Cake Flour
2 Cups Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Mix of Dried Cranberries, Golden Raisins, Blueberries and Cherries (or just one fruit)

1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
2. Place the butter and honey in a bowl and beat for 1 minute.
3. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat for another minute or until smooth.
4. In a separate bowl, mix to combine the flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
5. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix to incorporate.
6. Stir in the dried fruit then scoop 1/4 cup of dough (I use a two inch scoop) for each cookie onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Start checking at 12 minutes. Don't over bake!
8. Cool and serve.

Please note: I make large cookies. I only got nine cookies out of this recipe. If you prefer, use a traditional size cookie scoop or tablespoon and adjust cook time. You'll get at least double the amount of cookies. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012!

May this brand new year bring you health, happiness and love.