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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Half-Way Year Check In on those Resolutions.

I posted in January that we were starting the new year by going on a more whole foods journey. Not that we hadn't been doing a decent job already, but we can always do better. You may also remember I made my daughter cry by donating the unopened pack of Oreo cookies to the food pantry at our church. I am happy to report that she has been fine through the ordeal and has been rather happy with her personal resolution to eat healthy. We won't talk about her resolution to listen to Mommy and Daddy more often...

As for me, I was ten pounds heavier beginning January of this year than I was at the end of summer 2015. I could no longer even make it a mile on the treadmill at a 12 minute pace running. Staircases were problematic, and I felt awful. If we/I were going to do this health thing, we had to do it right. We had already been making strides over the past years, but we really had to commit. Here we are, halfway through the year, and I can report that for the first time in over 10 years, I have finally cracked the code to a more fit me and a more fit fam. Let me share what we learned, with the caveat that this is what worked for US. It maybe isn't for you. Maybe it wouldn't even work for you, but it certainly has for this family!

Making and eating meals together as a family.

My favorite runners

Step one is the whole family buying in. It isn't sustainable if you're making yourself one meal, and everyone else is eating something else. Breakfasts and lunches are also healthy(er) but not all the same. I am VERY lucky in that my family is on this trip together. My husband was the one who started it, about 8 years ago by getting to running, eating healthier, and losing weight. He lost 60 pounds to be exact. The goal has to be health though, not weight loss. The weight will come off (eventually) if you're taking steps - both literally and figuratively - to healthier choices. We take family morning trips to a local track where we can each run at our own pace, but yet still together. You haven't seen hilarity until you've witnessed the family attempting a yoga video together. And we celebrate each other's milestones and activities. Our family also meal plans together(ish). Sometimes I ask opinions while making the next week's list, sometimes after the list is complete, and sometimes special requests come in to be added to the list.

The scene every Friday or Saturday morning...meal plan, shopping list, produce section

This brings me to step two: meal plan, pack your lunch, and track food. I really cannot stress how much of a difference this has made. Meal planning / planning ahead especially. I don't always remember or have time to track what I've eaten in a day, but I do know if I don't meal plan and prep ahead, bad things can happen. Bad can be unhealthy choices, or really yucky on the fly making up of a recipe. Sometimes that works out, and sometimes you get arugula pesto. Will you have to spend some time in your kitchen Saturday or Sunday prepping your lunches? Sure. Might you spend a bit more at the grocery store than before? Probably. But, how much are you willing to spend for your health? Plus, if you decrease your budget for restaurants and fast food, you'll have plenty more for smart, healthy grocery shopping. I have been averaging about $150 per week, only purchasing produce and a few dry goods at the grocery store, and we spend about $1400 per year on our CSA from the farm for our meat protein, or $116 per month.  A monthly budget of $716 for a family of three is pretty decent, when that includes all breakfasts, most lunches, and almost all dinners for that month. We usually make double portions for meals to then use as lunches as well.  One .98¢ bag of dried pinto beans made up in the crockpot can deliver two dinners, or one dinner and a lot of lunches. One whole chicken roasted makes two dinners or one dinner with friends and lunches, plus chicken stock. You get the picture. I also resolve to share more of those types of things on the blog as I'm able.

Kiddo's self-packed lunch. Reusable container of milk, whole wheat pumpkin muffins, cheese, and banana

Mini sous-chef helping with dinner prep. 

Finally, step three: get moving. Here's where I was confused and messed up a lot these past 6 years. I felt if I couldn't get out for a run, the day was ruined and no exercise was happening. I never treated walking as "exercise." But guess what? Time on your feet moving is time on your feet moving. I read an article somewhere that a man, just by walking everyday, lost 100 pounds over a year. Might be a bit extreme, but hey, if he could walk everyday, so could I! Bonus if I ran as well. Other part of getting moving? Don't just pick one thing. That's great if you're taking up running, but make sure you strength train too, work on that core especially. Biggest mistake I make every time I start back up with running is only running. No stretching, no rolling, no other cross-training. This time? SO much better. We do some plank routines, stretch a lot, and as mentioned before, I walk every day at least 30 minutes (usually as my afternoon walk with our family pup).

Our beloved Jake, 12 1/2 years young.

The hubs and I after a run.

So, there you have it. The trifecta that worked for us. It didn't happen overnight, this was years of adjustments, learning what works best for us, and making a few sacrifices here and there. Now, the results:

I started the year at 180 pounds. I am now at 170.6. I started the year barely being able to finish a mile around 12 minutes. This morning I ran 2.3 miles at an 11:03 pace, and didn't stop once to walk. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, no skipping meals. I have not given up coffee or alcohol. Meals include a healthy amount of protein, fat, and a few to no carbs. Little to no processed foods enter the home, and I guess you could say we're mostly gluten free (as I type this, whole wheat fusilli is on the menu tonight). I'm happier than I have been in a LONG while, and my family is happy, healthy, and hale. I share this not to brag, far from it since I still have a long way to go and it took me way too many years to get here, but to hopefully inspire, give you hope, and let you know it can be done and done in a sustainable way. I hope this year has been as good for you so far as it has for me, and if not, I pray it gets better!

I need new running shoes soon, so I guess I'll need new matching socks as well...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ode to Cashew Butter

Cashew Butter?! Yes. Cashew Butter. Before I get into that however, I must first admit something. I totally made fun of Paleo when I first heard of it. You can ask my friend Becky who introduced me to the concept. I was completely lost. It's a diet? No, it's a way of eating (okay, that part made sense). But, "healthy" included heavy cream in my coffee and I could eat wings?! Here's the thing, like everything else that I did not understand in the past about healthy eating, I went right to making fun before doing some research. Now, we're not going full on paleo around here, but, those recipes generally help make for gluten-intolerant/Celiac/no dairy friendly recipes. Something we make more and more around here.  These recipes also gave us cashew cream...more about that in a minute!

Admittedly, when I heard about the "caveman" diet, I guffawed. (You wouldn't believe how long I've been waiting to work that word into a blog post!) I mean, I'm pretty sure cavemen only took their coffee with heavy cream and a dash of cinnamon (thank you again Becky, that's how I drink it now!) and all, but did they use a french press like we do? I know, I know, I'm not being nice...but stay with me for a bit. Now, there are some truths to what I've read about paleo: natural, whole foods are better for you than processed. We embarked on holding true to a more whole foods life at the beginning of the year, continuing our quest to be a more healthy, fit family. That part of paleo makes sense to me. However, I'm not against a few grains now and then...especially since we've cut way back on the carb-heavy pastas. Quinoa makes a nice alternative to couscous in many of my older recipes, and corn tortillas are on our table at least once per week. We did change to (mostly) only eating meat from a local farm, and buy only sustainable fish. We also can get the same benefits of dairy free by making vegan meals. So, those of you who are full on paleo, good for you, that's impressive! For us, we're thankful for the recipes for healthy meals and treats, but aren't quite ready to give up some of our other staples.

Now, let's talk about one of the cooler things about these paleo recipes: taking bad for you treats and making them A LOT healthier. Are all of them then super good for you? Probably not, but being able to make a buffalo "cheese" dip for veggies and chips without chicken or cheese that was completely devoured is a definite win. Paleo cooking also gave us the super favorite Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole. It has chicken, and all kinds of deliciousness in a healthy, tasty casserole. My friend Kayla shared that recipe with us, which brought me to then purchase the cookbook it came from...I'm eternally grateful to her for that gift! Because of that recipe share, I set out to find other paleo treats, and came upon one that was less of a meal and more of a dip for a party. I made it to take to a fellow home-chef type's house for one of our day-long cooking parties. I had doubled the recipe, and it was pretty much gone within an hour or so. I made it again recently, quadrupling the recipe and again, it was gone by the end of the party. The main ingredient? Cashew cream! Yes. A cream made of cashews. The original recipe calls for not only making cashew cream, but mayonnaise from scratch. Sorry friends, Mama just doesn't have it in her to go that far at this point. Hellman's is where it's at for me. Without further ado, here is how you make cashew cream and an idea of what to do with the resulting yumminess.

Ranch Buffalo Dip

1 cup raw cashews
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon dried chives
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup mayonnaise (For those of you following a vegan lifestyle, veganaise will sub just as nicely.)
1 cup hot sauce (I use Frank's)

Preheat oven to 350°. Boil cashews in 4 cups water for 30 minutes. In the meantime, mix all other ingredients in a casserole dish. *One note, I use A LOT of spices. I tried to guesstimate what I used above, but taste as you may want to add more of something. When cashews are done, scoop out nuts into blender and add no more than 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Blend into a cream and try to not add too much more fluid to make that happen. You're looking for a thicker consistency. Scoop the cream into your hot sauce mix and stir everything to combine well. Place in the oven and bake until a crust forms on top (approximately 20 minutes). Enjoy with veggies and chips!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oh the Hypocrisy


noun,  hy·poc·ri·sy \hi-ˈpä-krə-sē also hī-\: the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do :behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel

I've been thinking about hypocrisy for awhile now. Partly due to it being an election year, partly due to the world around me, and partly due - in a more light hearted way - comments made to me by friends. You see, I operate in a "what you see is what you get" kind of way, but recognize that online, much of what I post is either staged, or something my adorable daughter has done (I may be a little biased on that last statement, but seriously, I can't get enough of what that little brain comes up with and shares with us), or is only one section of a moment. I'll post a picture of a vegan bowl we had for dinner (that was DELICIOUS by the way), but maybe not post the Pizza Hut delivery that came the next night for the daughter as we headed out to a farm-to-table restaurant where I'll Instagram a few pictures during the evening. In my defense, the Pizza Hut arrived after we had left...

Healthy dinner that turned out great (and has also been made for lunches). Link above, click "vegan bowl"

At any rate, I try not to post or share things to make anyone feel bad, least of all me. Yes, I'm "human" as one friend said when she heard about the take-out lunch Evie and I shared recently. No, I don't get everything right, and as posted here and on social media, some dinners I make are real stinkers. I blog and share those (successful) recipes and pictures to help show others that real people can eat healthy meals. Not to make anyone feel bad or less. Goodness, I'm about "the worst" as one friend likes to text to me...I'm far from perfect, but man do I get excited when I've cooked something healthy my family likes! I'm also more than happy to be the one testing a recipe before sharing it. I have the good fortune to have a family who is also willing to try out these recipes and give me (brutally) honest feedback.

Meal that didn't go well. Turns out, I can't cook ribs to save my life.

On a more serious note, my sister is going through some real health issues right now, most of which seems to be pointing to a need for a real diet overhaul (function tests are showing Celiac, among other issues, at this point). This made me REALLY sit up and take a look at what we eat. I *said* I was going to eat healthy and cut out certain things...but did I do that successfully since the beginning of the year? Or was I being a, gasp, HYPOCRITE?! I can say that for the past month, I've been a lot better, and our meal plans have reflected those choices. Of course, it certainly helps keep you honest when you also host friends and family for meals and they want to eat healthy too! 

The old blog has been on quite a hiatus. I would start posts or save pictures to share in a post, but then never finished them to be published. Maybe this is what my blog was waiting to come back to, a revamped version of itself...who knows. But know this, it is NEVER my intention to be a hypocrite. I just don't want to blog a picture of me at 10pm eating an entire bag of Kettle Brand Salt and Vinegar chips. No one wants to see that. Well, maybe you do, but my hands were too messy to take the selfie. 

Evening meal planning. Note the offending bag of chips.

So, "watch this space" as it (and I) re-reinvents what it is about, and starts sharing even more whole-food, healthy, and yummy recipes. A few meal plans might make their way back on here as well. I also promise to try to call myself out more, and in the meantime, take stock of yourself. How is your life going? Are you taking time for you? Are you eating as healthy as possible? Where could you make better choices?

Let's make a promise, I'll find, try, and blog recipes with honest opinions...and if you try them yourself, let me know how they turned out! I will also document fails, bad choices, etc. in order to be more transparent (goodness I hated that word when I was in the corporate world) for all of you. See you soon! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Crock Pot Pork Shanks

I've already mentioned our CSA from North Mountain Pastures, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least give another shout out to "our" farm in nearby Perry County. We might not be the most on top of it when it comes to sustainable living, or always make the most responsible choices, but the decision to budget in this meat CSA has done some incredible things for us. One, we eat less meat. The portions from our 20 pound share end up being pretty reasonable. The four to five pound chickens make for a lovely Sunday Dinner, then a good amount of stock, plus lunch chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken for name it! For the beef and the pork, the amounts are much closer to what is appropriate for meals (you know, instead of eating an entire side of beef in one setting. I'm not saying I've ever done that...but I'm not saying I haven't). Two, we are giving our money to a local farm.  There used to be a lot more farms around this area.  To help support, in some small way, one of them makes my heart happy. Three, our weekly grocery shopping bills are so much lower because I'm mostly buying produce from week to week, and very little else.  I'd say the grocery cart is 70% produce, 15% dairy and eggs, the rest pantry items and things like cereal or tissues.  Finally, I feel a little better about feeding my family meat protein. Bonus, when the farm has it's December and January hiatus, I get to be creative and find some pretty awesome vegetarian and vegan recipes!

For today's recipe, I am sharing my version of this recipe found and pinned on my board for CSA recipes.  I'm not kidding. I made a board just for CSA recipes because we've received cuts of meat I've never even heard of before, and certainly haven't prepared in the past!  The first time I made this recipe, I followed it exactly...and grumbled the entire time that the whole point of the crockpot was to save you work. The set up had me full on browning, sweating, and deglazing. The end result was good, but I was still bitter.  The second go was more of a "throw everything in!! NOW!" before I rushed out the door to work, and let me tell you, it was every bit as yummy.  I honestly couldn't tell any difference, and neither could my family.  Therefore, I will present it below "my" way.  The link is above to give credit and for you to be able to check out both ways!

Crock Pot Pork Shanks
adapted from meatified August 2013 Slow Cooker Pork Shanks

2-4 Pork Shanks (we usually get about 2-3 when they show up in the CSA)
3-4 good sized carrots, diced (you'll see below I just sort of chopped them roughly, that worked too)
3 stalks celery, diced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large container of baby bella sliced mushrooms, cleaned
3 springs of thyme, leaves removed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock
15 ounces chopped tomatoes (I used canned, with juices)
Zest of one lemon, juice from half

Place carrots, onions, garlic, and celery in the bottom of your crockpot. Cover pork shanks with a generous amount of kosher salt and crushed black pepper.  Arrange pork shanks on top of carrot mixture, place mushrooms to cover pork shanks. Sprinkle with thyme leaves, oregano, and salt.  Pour over chicken stock and tomatoes.  Cook on low 7-8 hours or high for 4 hours.  When done, remove pork shanks, keep warm.  Ladle about half of the veggies and fluid from the crockpot into a high powered blender.  Add the lemon zest and juice, blend until smooth.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Pour your vegetable gravy back into the crockpot, remove meat from bones and stir pork back into the mix.  Serve over polenta, mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, zoodles, etc. and enjoy!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Molé and Musings (on far)

How is everyone doing this last (extra) day of February 2016? Where are we with resolutions/ideas/promises? I can happily report that the meal planning and whole foods eating is still going pretty well around here. However, I must admit that February wasn't pretty from an exercise standpoint. I ran 10 less miles in February than I did in January. I'm choosing to celebrate instead of admonishing. Because, even though I did 10 less miles, I did them more than one minute faster per mile pace! I went from a 13:46/min mile to 12:34! Go me!  

Runkeeper helps keep me honest.

I have discovered that, at least for me, celebrating whatever you can find to celebrate keeps me on track WAY better than being upset over the parts where you fall down. Besides, those 9.8 miles were 9.8 more miles than I ran the whole of August-December 2015. Those 9.8 miles were 9.8 miles of strength building I can use to make March better.Those 9.8 miles were 9.8 miles of putting myself to the test and coming up strong! I worked really hard in January, I think maybe pushed a bit more than I was exactly ready. February was recovery. That's my story and I'm good with it!

Now, back to the eating. Meal planning has become an integral part of my week and life. My little book sits on the recipe holder on my counter, with the week's menu on the left page for all to see, that week's grocery list on the right, full of check marks from last Friday's shopping trip. I flip a page forward and make notes on the grocery list for the next week as necessary. Calendar notes precede each night's meal (Voices of the Valley for Mama on Mondays,Children's Choir for Evie on Wednesday, occasional work meeting or meal noted for Daddy). Each note causes a slight change in the meal, less food needed, or a quick meal is necessary that night. Or, in the case of this coming Thursday, which is our Brownie meeting night, I've already precooked the meatballs and they're awaiting a sauce and reheat. Dinner for Thursday will now be on the table in 15-20 minutes as opposed to the 60 it originally would have taken me. Have I mentioned how much meal planning has saved my life? Okay, that might a bit drastic, but seriously. We eat healthier, no more last minute out-to-dinner or hastily thrown together unhealthy meal. Our lunches are packed, saving us money and keeping us healthy. I have managed to cut, on average, $50-$100 from the grocery bill each week by carefully planning and taking note of what is already in the pantry. All bonuses.Only downside? No more bags of chips to rip open at 10pm and devour. Wait. I guess that's an upside. Depends on how you look at that one I suppose...

For this post's recipe, I'm only going to share half of the recipe from that night's meal. It was Butternut Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas with a Quick Molé. The molé was wonderful. The enchilada filling? Not so much. I'm not sure if it was textural (we do like butternut squash around here usually), if it was the sweet squash against the sweet sauce, or a combination of both. Regardless, if we do this again, we'll do it with a corn, black bean, tomato, and cheese mix. Did I mention though that the sauce was DELICIOUS?! Seriously though, if dinner includes melted chocolate, how could you go wrong?

Quick Molé

adapted from Sylvia Fountaine's Feasting at Home Blog November 2015

15 ounce can tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
½ onion, cut into quarters
½ Cup water
1 tablespoon tamari
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tablespoon adobo sauce
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
½ tsp kosher salt
3-4 Tablespoons sesame tahini paste (or peanut butter)
2 ounces dark chocolate chips

Place first nine ingredients (from tomato sauce to kosher salt) into blender, and process until smooth. Pour into small sauce pan and heat thoroughly over medium high heat, do not boil. After about ten minutes, remove from heat, stir in tahini paste and chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted, pour over chicken, enchiladas, rice, etc.!