SNACKS!

dates with nuts

OK.  So, before I launch into my shpeel I want to say one thing: I really do despise it when someone professes the ease of substituting healthy options for junk food cravings.

Perhaps you’ve heard of how “a fresh crisp piece of celery is a great replacement for, like, potato chips!”  Yeah right.  In fact, just like with Lay’s, I can’t eat just one!  I often finish the whole bunch of celery before I realize what I’ve done.  It’s that good! 🙂

My personal defense against eating nasty snacks is to not buy them.  Or, if I do buy salty thingies (I have three kids and I’m not a tyrant for heaven’s sake!) I purchase things I don’t personally like.  We currently have a bag of TJ’s brand baked curly cheesy snacks… and probably some pretzels, pirate’s booty… I think that’s it.

I’m mostly a savory girl, but I do get sweet cravings too.  Above is one of my fave snacks when I’m in the mood for something sweet.  If you promise not to snort I promise not to even imply it’s “a good substitute for chocolate chip cookies.”  There is no substitute for chocolate chip cookies, honey.  End your search now.

But there are really tasty, satisfying, healthy foods you can consume that can give those taste buds a good hug from time to time.  Enter: dates with nuts.  YUM.  I buy my dried fruit at the farmer’s market, but you can get it lots of places.  Just be sure to try options if you don’t like it as the quality can really vary.

A few dried dates with some delicious nuts–especially pecans… oh my…–is just what the doctor ordered for me when I’m in the mood for something sweet.   Ya’ got yer fiber, ya got yer protein, ya got yer vitamins.  Another combo I like is cashews with craisins.  Yum-oh.

Unsolicited tip: try to eat unsalted nuts if possible.  Way healthier, of course.  If you feel like you just can’t do it (Mike used to be this way) mix salted with unsalted and slowly work your way toward salt free.  Once you get there you won’t miss the salt at all.

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Ready or Not…

bone brothMeet my new best friend: 36 hour bone broth.

Ready or not; here comes influenza.  According to the Center for Disease Control, influenza is–despite our tropical temps–making its way west.

After the traumatic months of ill health my family endured last winter, I am determined to everything in my power to shield us from the effects of all the nasty bugs that surround us in 2014.  Will we still get sick?  Yeah, prolly.  But hopefully not as sick and not for as long.  Perfection is not my goal.  Improvement.  THAT’S what I’m shooting for!

So, several life circumstances over the past year have prompted me to take a look at more ancient, homeopathic prevention/cure methods of avoiding or at least mellowing the effects of the creepy crawlies.

Enter: BONE BROTH.  I’ve always made it, but this year my technique got turned up big time.  36 hours in the crock pot, my bones sit with purified water, onion, garlic, celery, salt, pepper and a dash of cider vinegar.  When done, the gelatinous rich broth (it liquifies when heated) is filled with protein, minerals and lots of disease fighting power.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe my source, above, just google “benefits of bone broth.”

A pungent simmering of fresh garlic, ginger, onion, radish in a good bone broth is a very soothing and helpful remedy to a cough/cold/chest congestion.  I’ve tried it.  It really does help.  But you gotta use a good homemade bone broth.  The sterile rectangular boxes above the cans of soup on the market shelves are not even close.  Sorry…

Besides my brothy friend, I’m making a big batch of elder berry syrup this weekend.  Friends have requested–lemme know before I buy honey on Saturday if you’d like more too–and, like I said, I’m revving up, baby!

elderberry syrup

The final arrow in my quiver-arsenal: saying “no.”  Yes.  I mean no.  I mean I’m saying no this season.  I pride myself on my commitment to follow through on my commitments.  You can count on me!  Yesiree!  And while I don’t want to ruin my illustrious reputation, I have decided, this season, to not let obligations dictate my actions over the health of my family–including my health.  Last year I contracted pneumonia.  PNEUMONIA because I stubbornly refused to let a little (big) illness get in the way of my life.  Like a ridiculous Nyquil commercial, I wasn’t going to let the flu stop me in my tracks!

Yeah.  So instead pneumonia brought me to my knees.  Lesson learned.  Check.  (Who comes up with these slogans anyway?  No wonder all these illnesses keep getting spread around!)

This season, if illness breaks through my bone-broth-healthy-eating-exercising-elder-berry defenses I will not be a silly ding dong and just keep trudging along.  I will say “no” if I have to and feel OK about it.  In fact, I might even feel pretty great.

School Lunch

Josie making salad And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite time of day–even more favorite than the ever present “What’s for dinner?”– Yes.  That’s right: What the heck do you put in your kids’ school lunches!!??

I grapple with this issue mostly with my middle child.  Josie is a very high-brow girl when it comes to culinary delights.  I believe I once mentioned that when asked what she’d like for lunch at school (since her food was coming home practically untouched) her reply was “Ummm… bruschetta please.”

Josie is not a big meat eater, is currently gluten free, and later this month will have braces.  Can you say: food restrictions?  Yipes.  We gotta step up our game here folks.

So I thought about it and decided work with her strengths.  Thank heavens she’s a foodie!  Josie’s auntie gave her a cookbook for Christmas and I have to say, it’s helping quite a bit.  Not only does it give us some good ideas, but as a third grader Josie is now able to prepare most of the items on her own.  This effort, in and of itself, is lending itself to consuming lunch at school.

This is the cookbook we are currently using:

Trader Joe's cookbook I have cleverly blocked out the first letter of a couple choice words in an effort to not give free advertising to this store.  I like Vrader Hoe’s, but I must say they could use a little competition.  Also, while it is darn handy to use ingredients found at a single stop, many of these so-called “recipes” are just instructions for pre-packaged foods.  I mean seriously: some “directions” say “open the frozen food box, put in oven, bake and serve.”  Hmmm… This is not really considered cooking in my opinion… how ’bout you?  But I digress.

In any case, if you’ve got some kiddos old enough to make a go in the kitchen, I do recommend getting something like this.  Libraries carry cookbooks, btw–so don’t get on Amazon if you’re not sure you really need it.

Josie’s Caprese Heaven

Ingredients: 1 cup Ciliegine whole milk fresh mozzarella balls, 1 cup sugar plum tomatoes sliced in half, 2 tbsp. refrigerated Genova Pesto (contains walnuts), a few sliced olives (we like kalamata), pinch ‘a salt, black pepper to taste.

Directions: Mix and serve!

Tip: The original recipe does not contain olives.  After our first taste test, however, both Josie and I agreed that the salad was missing a little something.  “We shouldn’t add any more salt” she said… (Man I love this kid) “I know!  How about some olives?”  It was the perfect choice.  To keep chilled during the school day we place salad into thermos and put in fridge over night.  Serve with some rice crackers on the side and wah-lah!

Best tip of all: She who prepares also cleans up!

Home on the Range

OK.  So, yes this label says “antelope.”  And, yes, I’m going to eat this meat and so is my family.

I got this from my sister-in-law’s brother (still with me?) who lives in Montana where hunting is akin to, well, it’s something a lot of folks do up there.

A few years ago the thought of eating Bambi’s father (yes, I know, technically not an antelope, but I’m making a point so just go with me here ….) would have saddened me.  Not so much today.  While I still have no desire to, like, put on an orange vest and pull the trigger on one of God’s beautiful creatures, the free-range-organic-meat-lover-on-a-budget in me can certainly find the beauty in accepting the gift laid before me.  Thank you, Jeffrey Johnson.

My freezer is currently stocked with approximately 20 lbs of various forms (burger, steaks, roast) of antelope and I’m pretty stoked about it. 

What does antelpe taste like?  Pretty much the same as beef, but with a slightly stronger flavor.  It’s not “gamey” like venison or other game meats I’ve eaten, although I can smell the difference when I’m handeling it raw.  Once it’s cooked, however, I dare your taste buds to even notice it’s not a more familiar form of red meat.  So far my family has happily consumed antelope in the form of cheeseburgers, fajitas and spaghetti sauce.  Really the only give away is that the antelope meat is so lean (read: really free range) that there is practically no fat after preparation, even from the ground burger.  Good stuff Maynard.

I originally got online to see about gamey-blogs for good recipes, but as this meat isn’t really a stress for my palet, I’ve resorted to just treating it like what I already know.  If you know a hunter or can get your hands on something like this, I reccomend it.  The animal led a natural life and now I can feed my family the healthiest meat possible.  Not a bad deal in the end.

Not Fancy Pizza

pizza

OK.  So, this is not fancy pizza.  I already said that, didn’t I?

My favorite pizza is a tie between a really good Margarita (love that tomato, basil, garlic combo) or this one from The Luggage Room that has a fig paste, sharp pungent cheese sprinkles and balsamic something-or-other topped with a simple arugula salad.  Basically it’s all three of my kids’ worst pizza nightmares tossed on a crust.

So, when I make pizza for my low-brow peeps, I keep it pretty vanilla (so to speak.)  Crust, sauce, cheese–sometimes sausage or pepperoni.  That’s really all they desire.

The reason I’m sharing this recipe with you–which is actually more like a tip–is that my not-fancy-pizza works great for school lunches, which, as our winter break has, uh, evaporated, I gotta kick things into high gear again.  I make three or so pizzas at a time, cut them up into just the right sized slices to fit into my reusable lunch pouches, freeze’m and pop’m into said pouches and there you go.  Who doesn’t like pizza for lunch?  Well, actually Josie doesn’t, but she’s definitely in a minority here.

Michelle’s Not Fancy Pizza

Ingredients: Dough.  Sauce.  Cheese.  Whatever else you want.

Directions: I buy my dough (yup.  It’s true) from a local Italian market.  Roll it out and bake at 400 for about 8 minutes so the crust will be a bit crunchier.  Then add sauce and whatever toppings.  Throw back in until cheese is melted and begins to brown.  Now that’s Italian.