Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Peas, Please

This was the end result of our spring garden...kind of pathetic, I know. I loved the peas we had last year, so this year, I did 3 of our 4x4 areas again.

After weeks of snacking on them, they reached their peak and I wanted to save what I could for future meals. I looked online and found a great site that explained what I would need to do to freeze them, which is the next best way to have veggies, in my opinion.

I enlisted a few of the kids to help me pull out the cages, plants, and glean the last of the peas....

...Sunshine offered to till the soil for me.

 River took a picture of us all...he considered that to be his contribution to the 1.5 hr effort.

This pot is a 20 qt. Considering all of the free-rein munching that went on for weeks, I would say that was a pretty good crop, especially considering the total space for around 15-20 qts of peas was about 12x12 ft worth of land!

We ended up picking around 10 qts worth of peas for freezing. Yay!

The first pot is the one with the raw peas, the second is the boiling water for blanching, and the third pot is the one with ice and water for setting the peas.

Blanching, which is an important part of the freezing process, is done by placing the peas in your boiling water for 1.5-2 minutes (depending upon which site you are looking at). We boiled ours for 2 minutes, just to be safe.

After two minutes, remove the peas....

...and place them in an ice bath for approximately 2 minutes, to stop the cooking process.

After they are cooled, you will put them on a towel and dry them off.

Lastly, put them in some freezer bags ( I prefer the quart-sized ziploc bags for our family) and place them in the freezer.

As with any veggie water, make sure you save it for your garden, once it has cooled off...your veggies will thank you. ;)

So, for around 1 hours worth of extra work, I now have about 10 qts of peas available for all sorts of yummy meals and snacks.....all from my own garden, grown without any chemicals or pesticides. YUM! :)

~.~ the purple sprout

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Stew & Soda Bread

As we have been learning about different countries and trying their cuisines, I am trying to coordinate them a little bit with holidays around the world. So, last week we learned about Thailand and the surrounding countries (which, by the way, Thai food has got to be my most favorite food EVER!), this week we are learning about Ireland, and next week we are learning about Japan. Interestingly enough, we aren't learning about Japan because of the recent natural disasters that have taken place there. We had already planned on learning about Japan a week ago, but we ended up spending so much more time on India (something about watching Gandhi and Mother Teresa and so many dishes to try), and we were unable to get to Japan in time.

St. Patrick's Day. Having been to Ireland with my hubby a few years ago, I know that the shamrock, the leprechaun, and fairies are very much alive in Ireland. It is a beautiful country, with hills, instead of mountains, music wherever you go, and lots of yummy potatoes.

This week, I decided to try out 2 evenings of yummy Irish dinners. I would do more, but I am still trying to keep our weekly diet to 4 vegetarian dinners, which proves to be difficult with Ireland involved. I knew that I would need to make our traditional corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day and my hubby kept talking about an Irish stew he remembered from our trip. So, I set out to find a good recipe book at the library.

When I went over the ingredients for the Irish stew, a key ingredient stood out.....lamb. I have never purchased lamb for cooking with. I started calling around to the local stores and finally found one that carried lamb. When I arrived, I asked where the lamb was. I was shown a tiny selection...ground lamb and lamb chops. My recipe called for a boneless piece of shoulder or neck. Thankfully, the butcher there took pity on me. He found a large (boned) piece of lamb, cut out the bone, and even diced it up for me. The best part, it cost me around the same price as ground beef would have cost. In fact, the only problem I had, was with my 16 year old daughter, who recently watched a documentary film on the inhumane treatment of animals in the food industry, and decided (once and for all, she has attempted it 2x before) that she is now a vegetarian. Having been a vegetarian for a year, myself, I want to support her in her cause, but the ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ing and her loud reminders of me killing an innocent lamb were a little bit annoying and embarrassing, to say the least. People in the meat department were taking a very long time deciding upon their own cuts....I'm sure the vegetarian display was part of that indecisiveness.

After having a conversation with my daughter about meat and why we have chosen to eat it at our home, I have come to a very important decision. I have decided that, when we finally do get into another home (after our travels are done), we will only eat the meat that we provide and kill. I know, it is harsh. Heaven forbid we actually have to know the animals that we eat. I'm not trying to turn my entire family into vegetarians, just trying to instill a sense of responsibility with what we choose to eat. Who knows where it will lead? I read a book last spring (Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter) , about an urban farmer, who kept a couple of pigs, some turkeys, etc. and grew a garden in the heart of the city. Her philosophies and some of the content of the book really struck home with me on how important it is that we are always thankful for the animals who gave their lives for our own livelihood.

Enough about the meat dilemma in our home (and many other homes around the world, I am sure). Here are the recipes for the Irish stew and the soda bread (the adaptations I made are italicized). The little recipe book these recipes are out of, is entitled, Cooking the Irish Way, by Helga Hughes.

Irish Stew
The original Irish stew recipes called for goat meat. Many years ago, lambs were more valuable for their wool than for their meat. In modern stew recipes, however, lamb is widely used. Recipes vary from county to county (and family to family). Some recipes call for barley as a thickener, some call for carrots for a sweeter flavor, while others include rutabagas, known in Ireland as purple or Swedish turnips.

4 potatoes, peeled, washed, and cubed
4 carrots, peeled, washed, and cut into chunks ( 32 mini carrots)
2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (1/2 an onion)
3 pounds lean boneless lamb (neck or shoulder), cut into 1/inch cubes (1 lb lamb)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 tsp dried thyme)
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (1 tsp dried rosemary)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper

1. Spread half the potatoes on the bottom of the large pan. Cover potatoes with half of the carrots and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add all of the lamb.

(I split the veggies in half, put a ton of salt and pepper on them and stirred them. I then added the herbs and more salt and pepper to the lamb and mixed it around, before putting the lamb on top of the veggies, then repeated with the veggies on top.)

2. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the meat. Arrange remaining onions over the meat. Finally, top with the rest of the carrots and potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Pour in enough cold water to cover potatoes plus 1 extra inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and allow stew to simmer for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until meat is tender. (1 1/2 hrs was about right for us)

4. Before serving Irish stew, stir well and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

We doubled the adapted recipe I developed and it made enough for the meat-eating part of our family (7 of us) for dinner, with a couple of bowls leftover for the morrow. The only thing I would say, is that the Irish (and the rest of the UK, for that matter) seem to like their food rather bland for my taste. We added a lot of pepper and salt to our stew and it was delicious! Mm mm!

Soda Bread
Soda bread is a nutritious bread that is simple to make. In parts of county Cork, in southern Ireland, soda bread is still cooked the old-fashioned way in a bastable oven (a heavy-lidded iron pot) suspended over a peat fire.

2 c whole wheat flour
2 c white flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 c buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375. F.

2. Sift both flours into a large bowl. Add salt and baking soda. Use both hands to scoop up dry ingredients, then open up fingers to allow mixture to drop back into the bowl. Repeat several times to help add air to the mixture.

3. Add buttermilk. Using your hands, quickly knead into a soft dough. If dough becomes too soft and sticky, add a little more flour, but work very quickly. With wet hands, shape dough into a round loaf. Smooth out wrinkles.

4. Sprinkle a baking sheet generously with flour and place dough in the middle. Use a sharp knife to cut an X about 1 inch deep on top of the loaf.

5. Place baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

6. Remove bread from oven and wrap immediately in a clean tea towel to keep crust from hardening. Allow to cool before serving.

We doubled the recipe, making two loaves (one is for tonight), and made it exactly as stated. It has a very distinct flavor and I really liked the way that this recipe turned out.

Tonight's recipes (for the corned beef and cabbage) are off of allrecipes.com. Good resource. ;)

Happy St. Patty's Day!
~.~ the purple sprout


The Purple Sprout is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. While I don't make any money off of these books, if you do happen to purchase something else on Amazon, while you are browsing, I may receive a small commission. It doesn't cost you anything more than if you had found these items on your own. It is just a nice way to say thank you for the FREE books provided. You will have whatever merchandise you love, we have a little pocket change, and Amazon has another happy customer. Win-Win-Win! ~.~ the purple sprout

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Falling in LOVE with Thai Food

Our family has been studying different countries and cultures over the past few months, which has included sampling different cuisines, all of which have been thoroughly enjoyed. We have had some great opportunities to try out new recipes and to learn more about people from around the world and look forward to learning more about many more cultures throughout this year.

The other day, as I was looking around Barnes & Noble, I came across some discounted recipe books. I went out on a limb and purchased a couple of them. I usually look up recipes on allrecipes.com or just google until I find what I am looking for. For our International Studies Program this year, I have been borrowing a lot of library books on different countries' cuisines. I wasn't very impressed with the recipes I had tried, despite spending HOURS working on creating culinary surprises. So, out of desperation, I purchased a couple of books, which turned out to be a wise investment. The recipes we have tried thus far have been very easy to follow, taking less time than I am used to, and the results are FABULOUS! Because I have been so impressed with these books, I have decided to share one of them with you.

I will share a recipe out of this book. I know that once you have made it, you will have to buy this book, as well. This recipe is found on page 122.

Thai Noodle Soup

1 package (3 ounces) ramen noodles
12 ounces chicken tenders
2 cans (about 14 ounces each) chicken broth
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup snow peas
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges

1. Break noodles into pieces. Cook noodles according to package directions, discard flavor packet. Drain; set aside.

2. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine chicken broth and chicken in large saucepan or Dutch oven; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes.

3. Add carrot, snow peas, green onions, garlic and ginger. Reduce heat to low; simmer 3 minutes. Add cooked noodles and cilantro; heat through. Serve soup with lime wedges.

Prep and Cook Time: 15 minutes
Makes 4 servings

We made this last night, doubling the recipe. Everyone who ate it, absolutely LOVED it. We agreed that we will try it vegetarian-style next time, omitting the chicken and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Maybe we'll use some mushrooms. And we will be buying the 10 cent ramen noodles, instead of the more expensive ones. Also, we will be quadrupling the recipe, it was gone so fast. Don't forget to squeeze your lime over the soup right before you eat it!

We also made the Thai Coconut Iced Tea, which was composed of coconut milk, jasmine tea, and a pinch of sugar. We are a HUGE tea-drinking family, so it was a beautiful complement to our meal.

When you do purchase your own book, I am sure you will want to try out some more of these yummy Thai recipes. These are a few others that we have tried this past week that were rated 9+ and 10 by our family:

Thai Pizza (page 114)
Scallops, Shrimp, and Squid with Basil and Chilies (page 166)
Thai Coconut Iced Tea (page 132)

Next week, we will be learning about Japan...I'm so excited to try out some of the yummy Japanese recipes out of this cookbook! :)

~.~ the purple sprout

The Purple Sprout is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. While I don't make any money off of these books, if you do happen to purchase something else on Amazon, while you are browsing, I may receive a small commission. It doesn't cost you anything more than if you had found these items on your own. It is just a nice way to say thank you for the FREE books provided. You will have whatever merchandise you love, we have a little pocket change, and Amazon has another happy customer. Win-Win-Win! ~.~ the purple sprout

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Family Cook Book

This past Sunday was the last day of our family using our 8WMP over an 8 week period of time. It was fun to see that I could actually follow the plan and that my kids and husband liked 99% of the food. During that 8 weeks, we did have a week-long vacation, which was easier to deal with than I thought it would be, but still took a little bit of adjusting. We have also occasionally gone out to restaurants as a family, to celebrate different cultures and our birthdays.

My hubby and I thought it would be fun to delve into international studies this year, focusing on different countries and their customs, famous people, and cuisine. We began with Russian and the surrounding countries in January. We had a fun time celebrating the Chinese New Year in February. We have thoroughly enjoyed learning about Tibet and India. I love the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa...it has been a real treat for me. This week, we are beginning to learn about Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia (and the other smaller countries in that general area). I have really enjoyed learning how to make international foods, and it has been nice having my 8WMP altered to meet the needs of our studies. I have continued having the kids help me with the preparation of our meals. Having extra hands does take more time sometimes and it can be frustrating. But, overall, it is nice to have them developing skills that they will all need to have, while having fun sharing recipes (old and new) and talking about life.

Family Cook Book
The past few weeks, I have been busy preparing a gift that I have always talked about giving our children...a Family Cook Book. It is going to take a bit more work, but once it is done, it will be easy to add to and to share with our kids. I know how frustrating it has been to have to hunt down recipes, creating and recreating meals throughout my adult years. I had no idea how to cook, when I was first married. It was embarrassing and difficult for me to learn, while I was trying to adjust to newly married life and then raising a family. I wish I would have had at least a handful of recipes or some cooking skills before I moved out on my own. It may not have solved all of my issues, but it certainly would have made it easier in so many ways.

I am excited to be able to give my own children a book full of all of our family's favorites, along with pictures of the kids preparing those meals with me. I know that they won't all love every meal that we eat as a family, and they may not appreciate it as much as I would have, but I will have given them something useful. Hopefully, someday, they will remember that I spent time with them, teaching them all I know, and enjoying the preparation of our sustenance. It has been quite fun, thus far. This next 8 weeks, I am still going to be taking photos and spending at least 4 days a week, preparing meals with my kids. I have been trying all sorts of vegetarian dishes and have even found a few that the family liked. I have given my hubby Sunday dinners to prepare, alternating with the kids (which I absolutely love, on so many different levels :).
Here are some suggestions for documenting meal preparations and recipes with your own kids:

1) Choose dishes that you are already familiar with to start out with. There is nothing like having a frustrating, rushed, or bad turn out...when you are trying to make family memories. Figure out which jobs your child(ren) can work on by themselves and spend time teaching them the other jobs, as they reach the appropriate age, so that they can help out and learn even more.

2) When you do attempt new recipes, especially more difficult ones, allow for more time and don't let your own expectations ruin the experience for everyone. Remember that it is not how the food turns out, as much as how your little ones turn out. Your Chinese dumplings may fall apart, the mashed potatoes may look more like sludge, but if you have a smile on your face, your children will remember the lessons learned and still feel loved. I know that I have had to learn this one through much trial and error. I am a perfectionist and detest failure. I am learning to let go of all of my expectations and allow my relationships to be nurtured, in the process. I vow to smile and laugh more at our mistakes, no matter how exhausted I am.

3) Explain EVERYTHING, even if you think they have already heard it before. Repetition is the greatest factor in learning kitchen skills. Explaining that the mashed potatoes shouldn't be stirred once they are boiled, until the water is drained, may seem redundant. But when you are drinking your mashed potatoes later, you will remember the reminder to constantly explain everything. ;)

4) Have your camera ready to take photos of every step of the process, with lots of shots with your kitchen helpers...they will appreciate this silly procedure someday. I promise. Be ready to have to wash your hands every few minutes, as you go from preparing food to taking a photo, back and forth, and back and forth. Also, I like to take a picture of the ingredients at the beginning (if I remember to). Then I take a picture of the final product on a plate/in a bowl, once it is ready to be eaten.

5) Splurge and get an expensive fruit or try an exotic recipe every now and then. Your kids will appreciate the fact that they can say that they tried it, even if it was only once or only happened once a year. Another reason to try as many things as possible, is that there is a lot of a people's history tied into their food. With our family eating more international foods lately, we have had many opportunities to talk about cultures while eating...which I love!

6) If it is your own recipe, which you have never actually written down before, take notes as you go. I like to make sure I type up my recipes within 24 hours, while it is still fresh in my mind. Nothing worse than trying to put photos in at a later date, and not having a clue what steps you are missing or how much of each ingredient you used. If the recipe is from the Internet, a friend, out of a book, or etc., make sure you give credit, where it is due, for the original recipe, even if you altered it. My general rule is, if I changed/added/omitted more than 5 items, it is now my own recipe. I don't know if it is kosher to do this, but I feel that it is fair to call it my own, especially if I found several recipes by different authors that are almost identical.

7) As always, take into consideration, each child's 1Food and, try to plan the meals that they are going to want to help you prepare. I let my older two boys help me choose which dishes they would like to prepare. Also, when trying new foods, remind family members of green eggs and ham. There have been quite a few dishes that I was worried about, but each one was devoured and loved. Occasionally my hubby does have some sarcastic remark about not having meat in our meals, but I know that he loves the idea that we are eating healthier and hope that he remembers that it is because of his high cholesterol and family's prevalent diabetes that I began on this adventure. ;)

I am excited to create this Family Cook Book. After much debate, I have decided to print out each individual page, created in office.org and slip these pages into sheet protectors, in a 3-ring binder. I will make one for our entire family, to use right now. Then I will just make a copy of the document for each child and bind it, when they prepare to leave our home. Between now and then, we will be adding new recipes, altering old recipes, and developing stronger relationships.....and documenting it all for later use.
Hope you are having a great time, on your own adventure!
~.~ the purple sprout

p.s. I will be sharing the final weeks of my Healthy Adventure, once I have my Family Cook Book completed. Can't wait to share them with you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Diet Week 4

This is a big week! You have already given up soda pop, candy, and junk food. This week's goal was the one that I thought would be the most difficult for me and for my family. But, guess what! It turns out that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, all because I came up with a plan (bet you didn't see that one coming). For the past month, I have been putting together my own, personalized 8 Week Meal Plan (8WMP) as I have been eliminating and replacing the other items in my diet. At first, I was going to use an awesome plan I found online that actually helps you put together a 28 day plan. It even prepares your grocery list for you, using the ingredients you put into a spread sheet. It was a little bit too complicated for me for now, but, if I can figure out how to use it with 8 weeks instead of 4, I would love to try it out someday.

Here is a beautiful, short article about fast/processed foods and why we seem to be so dependent upon them today. I don't believe it can be explained any better than Mark has here. After reading his article, I felt compelled to change our family's diet, but was not sure exactly how I would do so. That was the beginning of my yearning for this old Healthy Adventure. If you haven't already guessed, our next goal is all about letting go of the fast food.

Week 4 Goal: No Fast Food

That's right, you heard me....NO MORE FAST FOOD. I am almost completely positive that no one who is reading this is 100% free from eating fast food. I know that before this past month, I called my hubby (at least) once a week and asked him to pick up dinner on the way home. I also know that whenever I was sick, pregnant, exhausted, lazy, (fill in the blank with whatever lame excuse you can find for me here), my family suffered because of it. I also know that when I did cook a meal, it was usually like running a sprint in a marathon, mostly because there was no planning involved. I usually would stop around 3 or 4 pm, on any given day, and ask myself what I was going to make for dinner. Unfortunately 3 or 4 pm at our home is one of the craziest times of the day. I would find myself so busy trying to run around putting out little fires all over the place, that I would forget I still needed to figure out what I was cooking for dinner....until around 5:30 (which explains the many evenings of fast food).

Picky Eaters
Another issue I had was feeling my efforts were going unappreciated. I would, finally, complete the preparation of my family's meal, only to have at least one child turn up their little nose at my latest creation. I decided a while ago to use a few different teaching phrases when I heard complaints. Some of them I learned from Love and Logic and the rest I just learned worked for our kids, so I kept them around. Here's my favorite:

Child: "Ahhhhh, I hate (insert whatever dish you just prepared)!"
Me: Do you? Well, you are in luck! In our home, we don't make anyone eat anything. You are free to not eat this meal. :)

Usually, this one worked with a child after a few times. I really abhor hearing a child talk about how much they "hate" something (usually, the same thing that they would have lovingly devoured a few minutes later, without prompting), so I came up with this rule as well: If you tell me that you hate it and don't want to eat it.....you don't get to eat it.

To some, this probably seems harsh. Trust me, no one ever starved from going without one meal. I think we have had our oldest go one meal without eating. All the rest got to hear first-hand from her, that if they didn't want to eat their food, mom and dad really would allow them to go without dinner. It only takes a few meals and your kids will catch on quickly.

Out of Sight, Out of MindI have found over the past month, that my kids have began to see an orange or a smoothie as a treat, the same way that they used to view candy or chips. A lot of what they eat depends upon what you have lying around for them to eat. If you have chips, cookies, candy, and soda pop in your cupboard (even if they have been told not to eat it), they will choose those things to eat. The trick, is getting other adults (or young adults) to follow your lead and choose to have healthier options. And, that is why I asked my hubby to keep any sweets at work and to support me on this adventure. It has made it all the easier. I have also been sending him to work with leftovers from the previous evenings meal for lunch and a few healthy snacks I know he likes. Who knows? Maybe he is just pretending to want unhealthy foods....I haven't seen him eat any.

One Food
Another tactic that we use in our home is the One Food Opt Out (1Food). Each New Year's Day, we give each of our children (who are old enough to understand what we are giving them) an opportunity to choose one food that they can opt out of for the entire year. They can't change their food until the next New Year begins (otherwise they would just change it with every meal....our littlest ones still try to do this all the time). The catch is that they NEVER have to eat that one food and that you will ALWAYS find them a replacement when the family is eating their 1Food. I like to make sure that I prepare meals with their food on a regular basis, just so that I can reinforce the fact that I NEVER make them eat that food. Here is an example: One of our children has absolutely loathed peanuts and peanut butter since he was a year old. He has had the same food every year. We make a lot of pb & j sandwiches, so I have learned to keep pistachios, almonds, or cashews on hand. I put the jelly or honey on his sandwich and then grind up some of the nuts I have to put on his sandwich. If I didn't have any nuts, I would offer him a different type of a sandwich, NOT ONCE making him feel bad or showing any contempt towards him for the extra time it took. After all, it is his 1Food and he has a right to that.

The key, is that when they do complain or give a heavy sigh (my kids have now learned not to tell me how much they hate whatever I am preparing), I can ask them if their food is in our meal. Then, I remind them that we have NEVER made them eat their 1Food. I also remind them that everyone else only has 1Food that they can opt out of and that it would be unfair to give any of the kids more than 1Food. I ask them to at least try the food before they choose to not eat the meal. Lo and behold, they usually are the same ones who are making complimenting me on my cooking! I kid you not. It is beyond Green Eggs and Ham some nights. ;)

There will be nights when your kids won't eat as much as you'd like or they will still refuse to eat what you have made for them. This is a good opportunity to remind them of what time you will be serving your next meal. It also allows you to reinforce the fact that in your home, nobody is forced to eat what they don't want. If your kids have been calling the shots on what and when they eat, you will find resistance. Just remember to be loving and to stay calm. Also, if there are other adults in the house, make sure that you are all in agreement that this is better for the kids and ask them to allow you to try it out for a couple of weeks to see if it really does work.

The 8WMP
As I mentioned above, I have been working on my own 8 Week Meal Plan for our family. Not only have I been incorporating our family's favorite meals, but I have also been searching for vegetarian meals to add to the list. My goal was to come up with 4 vegetarian meals, 1 beef, 1 chicken, and 1 fish or pork meal per week. I used that as my guideline and came up with a pretty good layout, but I noticed that I had plenty more meals that had meat than didn't. And that was part of the reason that I had to extend the 4 weeks out to 8 weeks. The other reason for having 8 weeks, is that I, myself, get sick of eating the same thing over and over and over again. I figured that if it had been 2 months since we had last had something, there wouldn't be any valid excuse for someone complaining that we have that meal too often.

If you want me to send you a copy of what I have so far (I still have a few vegetarian meals to fill in....if you have any to share, please do), I would love to send it to you. Just leave me your e-mail in the comments below.

Here is an example of what one of our weeks looks like:

Week 5V M Veggie Pizza
F T Shrimp Scampi w/Pasta~Veggie
V W Veggie Crepes
P H Costa Vida Salads
V F Cream of Mushroom Soup~Bread
V S Vegetarian Thai w/Noodles
C U Hawaiian Haystacks (freeze ½ of chicken for Bridal Salad)

The first column is what type of meal it is (V=vegetarian, C=chicken, B=beef, P=pork, F=fish).
The second column is what day of the week it is (H=Thursday, U=Sunday)
I used college lined paper and a pencil to create (and recreate) my outline, then typed it into the computer. I have been faithfully using my 8WMP for the past four and a half weeks (while I am not on vacation...which leads me to another good point.....).

Exceptions, there are always going to be some. Because we left for our vacation less than 36 hours after deciding to leave, we were limited on where we could stay the night. Normally, we stay in a hotel that has a nice kitchen and several dishes to accommodate our cooking needs. This time, we were limited to a microwave and mini-fridge. Which, actually, turned out to be fine. Even if we would have had a kitchen to cook in, we weren't at the hotel for most of the day. I did get to see the dilemma of trying to stick to a meal plan while on vacation. The bottom line? You will have to take a vacation from your meal plan, while still planning healthy meals and snacks for your family. You may not be able to find raw nuts. You may be limited on fresh fruit. You may even have to eat some foods that aren't as healthy for you. As long as you aren't making a habit out of your vacation-mode, you will be fine. I didn't eat any candy or drink any soda pop while I was on vacation. I tried to choose healthy snacks and fresh fruits and veggies when possible. We avoided fast food, for the most part, but we ate Chinese and had cheese pizza a couple of the nights...hey, I was flexible and I did fine. Phew! :)

The other exception is when you have a celebration or holiday where you will be eating something in particular or eating away from home. For these days, you can juggle the other days of the week around, if you really want to eat the meal that you had in your 8WMP for that night. For instance, tonight we will be celebrating the Chinese New Year with Chinese noodles and dumplings, etc. Because of this, we will be making our Costa Vida salads on Saturday, when we would have eaten Vegetarian Thai. There is a way to use a schedule and still be flexible.....I am learning.

Involving the Family
The most vital step for me has been the involvement of the kids and my hubby. I sat down and asked them what their favorite meals were and made sure to include those meals in our 8WMP. I also came up with Kitchen Duty. The purpose of Kitchen Duty is to have one-on-one time with an individual child. During that time, I teach them how to prepare food and clean the kitchen properly. This has been an awesome part of our family's Healthy Adventure. I can't tell you how many times during the week I have my little ones asking me if it is their day for Kitchen Duty. Here is our schedule for right now (their ages are in parentheses).

M BlueMoon (11) w/mom
T Forest (9) w/mom
W BlueMoon (11) w/mom
H Forest (9) w/mom
River (6) w/dad
S Flower (4) w/mom
U Rainbow (16) w/mom

Each morning, that particular child knows that they are supposed to make breakfast. I let BlueMoon make pancakes on Saturdays. Mostly, because I never feel like doing them on school mornings. I have been having my hubby make crepes or french toast on his morning, since he only has one day of the week to my 6.....and because I LOVE his crepes and french toast. The kids help me come up with lunch and they know what meal they are to help prepare for dinner long in advance (thanks to our 8WMP). I am thinking about coming up with a breakfast, snack, and lunch plan....just to make it that much easier for us all.

It takes us anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to prepare the meal, and that is time well spent teaching cooking and baking, as well as, discussing life. On their day to cook, I put another older child in charge of the younger kids during this time, so that they aren't underfoot (or sneaking lots of samples). The kids have become more conscientious of how many dishes we use because they are the ones washing them all day long (we are still using our color-coded bowls and cups, along with our splayds). They are also more aware of how much work goes into making our meals. The icing on the cake is, that they are learning valuable skills that they will keep for the rest of their lives. I believe this step is the most important one. If I wasn't teaching them what I am learning right now, how will they ever be able to share it with their own children someday?

This week is a steep part of our Healthy Adventure. Please feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments below. I check back often and would love to share any other suggestions or findings with you.

Happy Trails! :)
~.~ the purple sprout
p.s. the vegetarian lasagna I have pictured above was my first successful one ever....thanks to some helpful advice from my friend and an awesome chef, Mark.Thanks, Mark!  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Diet Week 3

For anyone who is actually keeping tabs on what I am doing with My Healthy Adventure, I apologize for not writing last week...or the week before. We were on an impromptu vacation.

Before we go any further, I should probably say what is already pretty obvious to most who are reading this....I didn't start out on my adventure at a point that I would ever call "healthy". I have struggled with being as healthy as I know I need to be for years. Partly, because I am lazy. Partly, because I am cash-poor. But mostly because I LOVE FOOD.

The purpose to me sharing my adventure is to show you, that, if you are struggling with becoming more healthy, there is a simple and free way to make it a possibility. I know that there are some awesome programs out there, some to help you to eat healthier and others to help you to lose weight and feel great. I am just a stay-at-home mom who wants to help others who may not have the time to read several books and articles on why you need to be healthy. I want to help those who, like me, struggle financially and cannot afford to purchase other programs or helps. I want to give you something that is simple to use and won't take up a lot of your time. Okay, enough said....on with the adventure!

So far, you should have eliminated soda/soft drinks from your diet and increased your water. You should also have eliminated candy/candy bars and increased your fresh fruit intake. Now, we are on to the third week of my Healthy Adventure...the part where it gets a little bit trickier.

Week 3 Goal: No More Junk Food
You should already be eating more fruit and so it will be that much easier to take out ALL of your obvious unhealthy snacks and replace them with healthier choices. Remember, right now we are just focusing on getting rid of the obvious junk foods. As we continue on our Healthy Adventure, we will get closer and closer to our final destination: eating more whole, organic, local foods. This is all about baby steps. ;)

So, what do I consider junk food? What is healthy and what is not? What I want you to do is to think about what you give yourself and your family for snacks in-between meals. Think about the nutritional value of that snack. How many times do you rationalize that you are only going to be eating a small amount or that they aren't as fattening or as unhealthy as the other brand? Yeah, me, too. A bag of potato chips is not really healthy, even though it came from a potato, which I consider to be healthy. Jell-O, while it may be a great source of protein, is not nearly as healthy as cheese. So on and so forth.

You will begin with choosing mostly fresh fruits and veggies, (with sauces or dips, if needs be for now). Also, closely examine anything that comes in a box or bag (e.g. fruit snacks, chips, nuts, or crackers). These items, usually, have quite a few preservatives in them and are not as whole as your fresh or frozen sources. I like to think about how much of what I am eating was once a whole food and how far away from being whole it is now that it is on the shelf at the store. I have been slowly limiting what we eat out of a bag/box/can to only what I cannot purchase or find otherwise. I, personally, haven't had any chips besides tortilla and pita chips for over a month now, and eventually I would like to get to the step of making my own crackers and chips from scratch. I used to drink a cup (or two....or three) of hot cocoa nearly ever day during the winter. Haven't had any for weeks. I have been slowly weaning myself off of naughty foods for a few weeks now, in preparation for the next few weeks. But, I have also given myself permission to make exceptions, because I have been so good. Like when I was on my vacation last week. I knew that it would be impossible to stick to my meal plan, but I still kept away from sweets and junk food. It really opened my eyes to just how difficult it can be to stick to a plan of cooking and baking healthy meals when you are away from a oven/stove/open fire for an extended period of time.

These are the three excuses I have made for not providing healthy snacks:

1) Not having time to prepare them
2) Not having enough money to buy them
3) Not knowing that it wasn't healthy in the first place

These are the three answers I have come up with to refute these excuses.

1) As I practice and plan ahead, prep time is taking a lot less time.
2) As I plan ahead and stick to my 8 Week Meal Plan, I will be able to plan money for snacks. This summer, I plan on drying, freezing, and bottling as much fresh produce as I can....yum!
3) As I educate myself through research and discussions with those who have done research, I become more and more aware of what harm can come from what I eat. I still have so much to learn, but I know the obvious areas to avoid and I am in the process of doing just that.

Choosing what to eat (and not eat)
I will use fruit to share my own experience with making decisions. I used to rationalize that fruit snacks were healthy because they had real fruit in them. Just today, I was reading through the ingredients of the healthy fruit leathers that I used to (proudly) purchase at my favorite bulk store for regular snacks. The pureed fruit that is in them is from concentrate. And, while I am sure they are healthier than most snacks and wouldn't hesitate to purchase them for a long hike or our 96 hour kits, they aren't something that I would use for one of our regular snacks. It would definitely be better to get real fruit instead. Some will argue, that it is easier to grab a box of fruit snacks...it is. And, if you get them on sale, it will cost you less. That is why you have to really plan ahead. When strawberries, peas, cherries, kiwi,(you can fill in with whatever you like to snack on), are in season, freeze some in baggies for when they are ridiculously priced and from far, far away.

I love nuts, despite the bad rep that they get for being fattening. I have been eating a lot of nuts lately and will continue to eat them for some of our snacks, especially since we are cutting out quite a bit of our meat. But I will be buying more raw nuts and seek out those that are grown in the USA.

I love raw veggies, but I usually use dips and sauces with them, so I am getting in the habit of eating them with less dip and trying more and more varieties.

I love fruit smoothies and so does my family, so I usually make one a day. I am learning more and more about what to add to these to make them healthier. Right now, I just add a little spinach and use as fresh of ingredients as I can....and it will only get better.

Healthy Snacks
Here is a list of some of the combinations of snacks that our family enjoys. Feel free to leave more ideas of healthy snacks in the comments below...I am always looking for more ideas. Thanks!

grapes & air-popped popcorn
apples w/peanut butter & raisins
orange slices & crackers
grapefruit slices & nuts
pineapple slices & cottage cheese
frozen cherries
strawberries, peaches, or bananas w/yogurt
celery w/peanut butter & raisins
cheese slices & crackers
pita chips w/hummus
broccoli, snow peas, celery, bell peppers, or carrots w/ranch dip
fruit smoothie
tortilla chips w/salsa or pico de gallo

I just began my 4th week of The Healthy Adventure and have been using my 8 Week Meal Plan for the past 5 weeks (other than my vacation last week....but I'll discuss more about that in my next post). It hasn't been difficult because I am committed to this adventure. I am excited to have less stress about what our meals and snacks are going to be from one day to the next and happy to have more healthy choices around me and my family all of the time.

Happy Adventuring!
~.~ the purple sprout

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Healthy Adventure: Diet Week 2

So, how did you all do with the first week of going without soda/carbonation? What about drinking 8 glasses of water a day? I didn't give you any links to the several thousand articles and studies that prove that soda pop is unhealthy for you. I am going to assume that we all know by now that it is unhealthy...but if you do need proof, just google "soda unhealthy" and knock yourself out! :)

Most of my friends have told me that they already eliminated soda out of their diet a while ago, so for many of you this first goal was easy to accomplish. Then there are those of you who would rather die than give up your daily dose of soda pop. This will be the hardest (and the most rewarding) step for those who are soda addicts. If you are having difficulty in going without the caffeine, perhaps green tea will help to ease you off of the carbonation and sugar, while still giving you your caffeine for a while. I was amazed when I saw this caffeine comparison chart . Wow.

Week 2 Goal: No candy/candy bars

For those of you who are now soda-free, the next step in my adventure is to go without candy and candy bars. For me, it was easy. I don't really crave "candy". I do love sugar, just not in this form. For the few of you who crave candy and struggle with it, right now should be easier than October-December. By the time October comes around, the cravings will be well out of your system.

It may seem silly to go without candy and candy bars and still be eating cookies, brownies, and etc., but for me it is easier this way. I am kind of a free spirit and hate to feel controlled (even if it is me that has put up the restrictions) and so the gradual process of elimination works much better for me. I am in the process of finding healthier recipes for my favorite baked goods and have begun going without them, even now, just to make that step that much easier.

For those of you who do find that candy is the most difficult item to resist, beginning right now, you will go through all of your cupboards and gather all of the candy you have and get rid of it. Gather up every last piece of candy and trash it. If it is difficult for you to resist eating it, you will need to get rid of the temptation in your own home and your workplace. Also, remember that you are helping to cut down on the candy your other family members are consuming. They still have the freedom to choose to eat candy or drink soda, just not in your home. If you have a spouse who is extremely stubborn (not that I would know anything about this) and insists that you not trash your candy, donate it to a homeless/women's shelter. I still have 2 bottles of soda in our garage and a shelf full of candy, only because I don't have issues with these items and I am still trying to figure out who to give them to. Any suggestions? :)

Your replacement for candy/candy bars is fresh fruit. Go to the store and buy a fridge full of fresh fruit. Oranges, apples, bananas, pears, pineapple, berries, kiwi, peaches, grapes, grapefruits, limes, lemons, cherries, plums, mangoes, papaya, or whatever fresh fruits you can find that you know you will eat. If you can't find any in the fresh produce, get some unsweetened frozen fruits. Remember that the order for getting the most nutritional value out of your foods is fresh, then frozen, then canned. If your craving is for chocolate, in general, you many want to find a replacement such as carob chips for now. Eat a fruit first, and then wait for 15 minutes or so to see if you still have a craving for the carob chips. If you do, eat them sparingly and still continue to eat them only after eating your fresh fruit. I know, this may seem so silly to those who don't suffer from true addiction to simple sugars, but for those of you who are sitting there thinking of how you could never go without chocolate, you will appreciate this experiment. ;)

One of the things I have noticed over the past few weeks of beginning to eliminate the obviously unhealthy items out of my diet, is the psychological aspect of my eating habits. I've heard that when you are first going without something that has become a daily part of your life, it is difficult on three different levels. First, there is the obvious PHYSICAL level. You will have to physically let go of the substance because it is in your system and your body craves it. Obviously, you have grown accustomed to having the flavor and smell of whatever it is you crave around on a regular basis. Secondly, there is the MENTAL habit that you need to break. Whatever makes you crave for it, whether it is a time of day or before or after a meal or etc, you will need to find something to replace that unhealthy habit. But, the most difficult part of all, I think, is the EMOTIONAL aspect. I found that the rare occasion that I did want a coke, was when I was having a rather difficult day. It was almost like having a stiff drink for me...a nice, ice cold coke to help me to feel all perky (and bloated) at the end of the day. As far as candy goes, I have found that I expect it when I am at the movies and I especially expect to enjoy some around Halloween and Christmas. Soda and candy (and any other type of processed sugars that we eat) have far more emotional ties than we are even aware of. I would urge you to look at why you want the candy bar or drink. What is it that this sugar fulfills for you? Educate yourself, through research and experimentation, to better realize the effects that processed and simple sugars have on your body. This alone, will help you to want to eat better. ;)

Once we are finished with eliminating the obvious naughty foods, we are going to work on creating healthier substitutes for all of the gray-area foods. This is a gradual process, that is the whole point to going an entire week without an item before moving on to the next. Sure, you can do a 3 day juice fast and probably get rid of quite a few of the toxins that have built up in your system (and if you are up to that, I would suggest doing that along with the other goals of this adventure), but the psychological aspect is what will kill you almost every time. For some, it will take a couple of weeks of going without a particular item, just because it is so stressful for them at first. I promise, it will be worth it and we will all feel better when you are past this part. If you are interested in a more intensive program that will give you a lot of information on why you need to eat specific foods and avoid others, I have heard great reviews from friends who have tried the green smoothie girl's 12 step plan. I'm not sure what it entails, as I haven't convinced myself to spend $150 for it, but I am sure it is awesome. ;)

Thanks for joining me on the adventure! I have decided to reward myself and any of my friends who are also going on this Healthy Adventure by having a dinner to celebrate our success at the end of the three months....I can promise you that the food will be phenomenal...you won't want to miss it, my friends.

Let me know how you did with your first week's goal!
~.~the purple sprout

p.s. Almost completed my 8 week meal plan...start now on your own rotating meal plan by making a list of all of your family's favorite meals (including your favorite restaurant dishes). I'll check in later this week to go through the process I have taken to go from fast food/eating out to making meals at home and finally (still in the process) to making healthier/more whole meals at home.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whole Wheat Bread with Gloria

First of all, I need to share with you why I love Gloria. About 2.5 years ago, I was very sick with the pregnancy of our 6th child (8th time going through it, you would have thought I was used to it, but I still cried for most of the day during about a month of it). My sweet husband took over on the laundry and cooking meat (have I ever mentioned how sensitive my nose is when I am NOT pregnant...and it only got worse when I was). Most days, I was just happy to have the kids fed, bathed, and dressed. I even ended up putting my older two boys back in a charter school for a semester because I worried about keeping up with their home education. I was miserable. There were days when I literally didn't brush through my hair and even a few when I know I may have forgotten my teeth....yeah, it was bad.

I remember one morning getting a knock at the door (I think I had brushed my teeth that day, but my hair was all over the place). I answered the door in my bathrobe and probably looked a lot like death warmed over. And that was when I saw Gloria....with a beautiful treat to cheer me up...a warm loaf of whole wheat bread. The smell of it was beyond description to me...I hoarded and savored that loaf of bread for the next 2 days, thoroughly enjoying the aroma, the texture, and the flavor of it. When it was gone, I vowed to have Gloria share with me where she had really purchased it from....there was no way anyone could ever make a whole wheat bread that delicious from scratch....in there own kitchen.

A couple of months ago, she dropped by some more bread and I told her that I would love to have her teach me and my kids how to make her delicious bread. She told me that she might be able to do that sometime in between holidays. Well, with all of the holiday business and our sickness going on, it ended up getting pushed forward to now. And today was the day that we learned how to make our own bread by hand. What a treat!

This is Gloria's awesome wheat grinder...

The wheat is placed in the funnel that leads to the grinding parts and beneath the grinder is room for the 9x13 tray that Gloria uses to catch the flour (yes, I am aware the picture is extremely out of focus, what can you expect with a vibrating grinder?). She keeps it down in the basement. Anyone who has used one knows why. ;)

The boys were really interested in seeing how it worked...I could tell by the way that BlueMoon kept his hands in his pockets. This was something that we used to have him do when he was a little boy to keep him from touching and playing with EVERYTHING.

Gloria used 4 cups of red wheat and 4 cups of white wheat...we could have used a cup more of each type...the end product was superb! This was the first time that Gloria had used 100% whole wheat, she had usually only used 3/4 and 1/4 of the other stuff, for fear of it being too rough. I told her that we should throw caution to the wind and try it out with 100% whole wheat...which we did (and she asked if we wanted to take the easier route with the Bosch, in the background, but I told her that we wanted the full-experience of kneading it by hand. She was so sweet to comply).

Gloria was so modest when I asked her if it was her own recipe. She told me that she had taken a recipe that she has had for around 20 years and adapted it, especially after learning more at Kitchen Kneads. I have to say, I looked through the old recipe and Gloria's recipe was quite a bit different. She still wouldn't take credit for it being her recipe, though...so, let's just say that it is a culmination of different recipes, of which Gloria has perfected. ;)

Gloria's Whole Wheat Bread

6 c. warm water
2 TB active yeast
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. oil (she likes to use pure canola)
2 TB salt
14-15 c. whole wheat flour (2/3 white and 1/3 red)

Makes 4 large loaves or 8 small loaves...or you can mix and match them to meet your needs. We made 6 small loaves and one large loaf today.

In a rather large bowl, pour your 6 cups of warm water. Gloria pointed out to me that if you have soft water, use cold water and boil it on the stove, then add cold water to it until it is lukewarm (otherwise you will have too much salt in the recipe). She was so sweet, taking the time to explain to the boys why it is important to use warm water and not cold or hot. She let them both feel the right temperature of water on their wrists to help them to know what it feels like, for when they make their own bread....next time? :)

Add your yeast and mix it with the water...Gloria showed the boys how to use a knife to level it in the measuring spoon.

Then she shared the secret of greasing the measuring cup, we would be using for the honey, with oil before we filled it. Nice.

 BlueMoon was mesmerized by the honey and I wondered if we would ever get past this step....Gloria was very patient with the boys, thank goodness.

It is a rather lovely shade of gold...isn't it? She was rather patient with yours truly, as well.

The honey eventually made it into the bowl with the other ingredients...and BlueMoon remarked on how easily it slid out of the cup. Voila!

Then Forest was allowed to pour the oil...slowly...as to not spill a drop....and he literally did it....very....slowly.

We threw in the salt and mixed it all around for a few minutes....talking about how oil and water don't mix.

Then it was time to begin adding the flour, one cup at a time. The boys took turns mixing and pouring...

At first it was relaxing and they worked in silence...

and the mixture began to look more and more like bread...

and the boys began to act more and more like boys...

When it was time to begin kneading with their hands, I knew we needed to talk about their ability to make a mess. Because of the HUGE bowl (I really need one of these!), we were able to comfortably knead the dough without having to make a much bigger mess on Gloria's table and floor.

 BlueMoon got a little carried away with his massaging of the dough....and created quite a mess on his hands. I began to worry. Gloria told us that she had 6 brothers and she assured us she had been around boys, but I still worried that the boys would erupt into bouts of flagellants and belching at any moment. They were beginning to warm up and enjoy themselves a little too much. They shared with Gloria their love of eating grasshoppers and worms...they even shared my secret of eating raw cookie dough. Yeah, I know it is disgusting....but I LOVE IT!

And, yes, BlueMoon ate the dough off of his fingers before washing his hands for the 20 something time during our visit with Gloria...she put some oil on her hands and it was a little less messy. The boys looked more like they were giving a deep tissue massage most of the time, instead of kneading.

The dough looked done to Gloria...

She showed us how she had learned to check it to see if it really was done being kneaded, by stretching it and holding it up to see if you could see the light through it, without it ripping.

After kneading a bit more, we covered it and put it into a warmed oven for 1/2 hour...okay, it was a little bit longer than that, but only because we got to discussing nutrition and nearly forgot that we were in the process of making bread. I sure loved hearing all that Gloria had to share with me. She has a wealth of information. She is quite the nutrition guru!

It did a good job of rising. We did a basic version of this bread. Gloria pointed out that this would be where you would add in your flax seed, nuts, etc. (before forming into the loaves).

After greasing the tins, Gloria divided the dough into them...

Then made them into the lovely shapes that they are supposed to be...

They were so very lovely...just waiting to be baked.

We set them on top of the oven and turned on the oven to warm them a bit. Gloria reminded me that the granite is extremely cold and is a horrible place to try to get anything to rise (for all of you granite lovers).

While the loaves were continuing to rise for about another 1/2 hour, Gloria fed us lots of healthy snacks...some wonderful (and healthy) banana muffins, cuties, an apple, nuts, and some snap peas. The boys used the leftover bread dough off of the bowl and the table and created some beautiful creations with flax seed and nuts...

This is BlueMoon's.

This is Forest's.

They were so silly...and so proud of their creations. Forest keeps telling me how he wants to be a chef someday. I think I might be moving in with him when I am old and gray....just sayin. And, yes, I did let them eat the well-loved mini mini loaves of nutty bread (at least that is what I think they called them). I can't tell you how much I love these two crazy boys. They are such a joy to have in my life. :)

After the loaves had risen a bit more, they were ready to bake. We put them in the preheated oven at 350 degrees (25 minutes for the small and 30 for the large).

Then we took out the small loaves...aren't they blissful? You can't smell the aroma or feel the warmth and moisture of them, but hopefully you can, at least, see just how wonderful they turned out. I am going to have to go and cut myself a slice right now...the temptation is just too much for me to resist. :P

My all-time favorite food....warm bread. I think I may even be able to give up raw cookie dough and all of the other yucky habits I need to get rid of, if I can reward myself with some of this yummy bread every once in a while.

BlueMoon enjoyed the honey...again.

And Forest was careful not to make too much of a mess with the homemade raspberry spread that Gloria made from the raspberries out of their own backyard.

We spent nearly 4 hours at Gloria's home. She put up with me constantly taking photographs and the boys acting silly. She let us in on her secret of how to make her absolutely delicious bread. She even let me play on her piano for a while. She shared so many great ideas for being healthier and gave us some of the greatest gifts she has to give, her time and her energy. When all was done, we left with all of the bread we had made together, she refused to keep any for herself. She told me that she still had some from the last time she baked and will be baking more later on....what an amazing woman!

If you would like for me to send you a printable copy of the recipe (it would be easier to follow), let me know in the comments and I will e-mail one to you.

Until tomorrow...
~.~the purple sprout