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.