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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today's Random Musings

1. I woke up bright and late (I don't do early), and realized that today was another CSA box pick-up day. Every Tuesday. We are really enjoying our CSA, but because of a bout with the flu a few weeks ago, we've been behind on using our massive amounts of lettuce ever since. To our credit, we've only had to throw away ONE head of lettuce. The rest we've managed to incorporate into salads and stuff them down our eager beaks. Today, however, I knew that I still had two heads + some store bought romaine + a head of kale. We were going to be drowning in wilted greens if I didn't come up with something fast! Enter: the dehydrator. Dun, dun, dun. Really, though, I thought this idea was ingenious when I read about it on the Super Healthy Kids blog. This lady dehydrates all sorts of greens and crumbles them up to sprinkle from a cheese shaker onto pretty much any dish imaginable. I couldn't think of anything else to use salad greens for (red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, etc.) except salad. If you can, please share! So, this dehydrator trick surely saved us. Now we've got two crisp, new heads of lettuce and a bunch of spinach chilling in our veggie drawer for the next week. Hooray for the dehydrator!

2. I'm really not liking politics these days. I'm rather ashamed to say that I haven't followed or read ANYTHING about politics and I know I need to get on it soon so I can be an informed voter this fall. I'm just sick of all the drama, ya know?

3. My January 2012 calendar has days FULL of appointments, which is unusual for this homebody. However, we haven't been out of the house in a LOOOOOONG time because all those appointments were with window installers, plumbers, water remediation people, homeowners insurance people, drywall professionals, and blind installation techs. All here at our home. We got new windows installed at the beginning of the month and found out shortly thereafter that we had a cold water slab leak under our kitchen floor. Boo. So, then we found out that a previous owner had already rerouted the entire hot water system overhead, but left the cold water below. This = LAME. After gouging our bank account for windows, we suddenly had to yank out another $5000+ to reroute the cold water overhead in order to avoid this same problem in the future (and to avoid ripping up flooring in the kitchen). Ahhhh! And homeowners insurance won't cover it. They would have covered damage from the leak, but there wasn't any (thankfully?). Needless to say, I'm looking at my February calendar, with all those empty days, actually excited to fill them with some activities geared toward getting out of this chicken coop! :)

4. I am really loving the sound of my wedding rings clinking together on my finger. It's been a long time since I've heard that sound and it's like music to my ears. It means that healthier eating is paying off in many more ways than just those invisible, internal miracles I'm hoping are being worked on my body's most essential organs.

5. Today I climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest. Well, my personal Everest, anyway. I think I folded AT LEAST 10 loads of clean laundry that Dan and I have been struggling to sleep under for weeks now (do you have any idea how much that amount of clothing weighs?!  I DO!). Have I mentioned how much I hate doing laundry? ;)  The last load is due to come out of the dryer any time now.  I refuse to give in to my body's aching desire to be laid down to rest (for the night, people, sheesh!) until that last load is folded and put away.

6. Kids grow so stinkin' fast.  Everest took me literally all day because I also had to weed through three boys' clothes and set aside all the stuff they had grown out of since the last time I weeded (which was a looooong time ago - 2/3T socks for Anders (5), anyone?  Yikes, Liz!).

7. Every time I pass Karsten's room (which is also the guest bedroom/junk storage room), I see these two big plastic garbage bags full of maternity clothes and I want to roar at them in victory.  I'm BACK into my regular clothes after vastly improving my diet following my disgusting first trimester.  Not only that, but I'm a few sizes back!  Now, I know people will get all worried on me and start talking about how I shouldn't lose weight during pregnancy, but honestly, if you could have seen the way I was eating before, you would only be able to applaud me now.  I cannot see anything harmful in feeding a developing fetus an excessively more nutrient-dense diet than what he was previously receiving.  Trust me, this can only be a good thing for this little Bagel.  Plus, if you want to pull out ye ol' ketones debate, just go read some on the Internet and you'll see that it's a controversial subject.  You obviously know where I stand, but I'll let ya'll come to your own conclusions.  For now, I'm enjoying my baggy pants.

8. Karsten is really cracking us up lately.  Here's a little storyboard of him shuffling around in Soren's church shoes.  He had a grand old time until he tripped, fell down, and came back up with both shoes on their sides (with his feet still in them).  Yeah, he wasn't too happy about that.  But, with a little help from his mama, he was happily shuffling away again before he could even demand "mew!" (which means "milk" in Karsten-speak).

9. Oh yeah, one last thing for those not on Facebook.  Have I mentioned yet that we're having . . .

A BOY!!  

No?  Oh, well there you have it.  We are having another boy.  Liz gets to continue her supreme reign as queen uncontested (for now)! Huzzah!  :)  Just kidding.  We are super stoked, though, because this little guy being a guy means that Karsten will have a buddy to pal around with just like Soren and Anders have each other (there are two years between them and there will be the same gap between Karsten and this new Bagel Boy).  We love boys!  We know boys.  We get boys.  We are inexplicably afraid of girls.  (Okay, I am, at least.  I'll let Dan speak for himself on this one).  My ideal would be to follow in my wonderful cousin, Kelly Z's, footsteps and have five fearless boys with one little princess caboose.  You hear that, Heavenly Father?!  I've been sending up that request for years now . . . so far, so good!  :)

Okay, peace out, people.  That last load of laundry is calling my name.  It represents my flag planting on Everest.  I go to conquer.  Wish me luck.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Aunt Susan

A few weeks ago, Aunt Susan came to visit. She's been living in Colombia for almost two years now (!), teaching at a Catholic private school there. We miss her former proximity since she has moved on from Huntington Beach. Not that we saw her frequently or regularly, just that we always knew we could if we wanted to (bad attitude, I know). But I digress. Before she came home for the Christmas holidays, she sent out an email to all her siblings letting them know that she was more than willing to babysit the nieces and nephews she's been missing, allowing her siblings and their spouses a chance to have a little three-day getaway. Dan and I were THRILLED at that chance!!

As it happens, though, when our turn came we just couldn't do it. First, we had no idea where to go for three days. Second, ever since I went to Time Out For Women in Phoenix last November, Karsten has been the most clingy little dude you'll ever meet! And I'm not exaggerating in the least. He'll burst into tears whenever someone rings the doorbell and I get up to answer it. He thinks I'm leaving. If I go to the bathroom, he'll wander his way through the house, checking all the bedrooms and living areas until he finds me. He follows me around the house every minute of every day. I just knew that if I left for another three days, whatever progress we may have made since last November (which doesn't seem like much, does it?) would be shot to smithereens.

So we invited Susan to just stay and play with us. And we had the best time! Dan is the youngest of 10 kids and I've never had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Susan and really get to know her. As it so happened, though, Dan felt sick the first night Sue was here and begged off early, so I got her all to myself. And we gabbed it up beautifully until midnight or so. I could have probably kept talking all night if the responsible (and considerate) part of me hadn't insisted on at least some sleep for the both of us.

But the most remarkable part of her visit was how Karsten just LOVED her!  I mean, what's not to love about Susan, right?  But usually he's so wary of strangers and clings to his mama.  Lo and behold, my little shy guy simply adored Susan and warmed right up to her so quickly. I shall dub her "The Anxiety-Riddled Toddler Whisperer." (Ummm . . . meaning that the toddler is anxiety-riddled, not the whisperer.  Got it?)

Susan plans to come back to the States, specifically her former stomping grounds just north of us, this spring. WE CANNOT WAIT!  We love you, Aunt Susan!  Thanks for spending a great four days with us!

Oh, and of course Soren and Anders had a great time with Susan, too, but that was always a given.  They absolutely LOVE her.  Here are some pictures Soren took with his new camera Santa left for him Christmas morning.  ;)

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Today was DIVINE!

Ever have one of those days where the stars have aligned and serotonin is just surging through your brain at all-time highs? I rarely do. I mean, I'm generally a happy person, but today I was on cloud 9, and all because true San Diego weather decided to break through our otherwise gray January. It was a GLORIOUS 75 degrees with a not-too-hot, not-too-cold ocean breeze coursing through our neighborhood. We could hear the bees working double time on our backyard hillside and neighbors were out in droves with garages opened and gardening tools at the ready.

This morning I pulled up the blinds and opened all the windows as far as they would go. Then I headed into the kitchen and threw open wide the French double doors we have leading out to our backyard. After that, I turned on a little IZ, Jack Johnson, and Kalai at the iPod docking station and made gluten-free waffles and washed dishes with a silly smile plastered to my face and a swing in my step. After our delicious breakfast, the kids played in the backyard with their scooters, ride-on cars, fort, and climbing structures, Karsten coming in every once in a while to make sure I was still around. Dan worked on the drip system for our large planter box that will soon be home to many leafy greens that we use regularly (kale, swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, etc.)

For lunch, we decided to throw out a blanket and have a picnic in our backyard. We ate red pepper sticks and carrots sticks with homemade garlic hummus, garden salad, sliced kiwis, and cilantro avocado quinoa pasta. It was light and SO YUMMY.

Then we ran errands, at which point the day was fast coming to a close. It got dark while we were out and the sun's retirement took away any remaining cheer from the Karstenator. He turned into a little beasty of a dude. We raced through our shopping and booked it home to a dinner of coconut milk fruit and veggie shakes. So good! So filling.

The kids are all in bed now and I'm supposed to be making homemade healthy (healthiER) chocolate for our no-bake cookies tomorrow (thanks for the recipe, Emily!). Instead, I'm using the last remnants of today's euphoria to help me chronicle this perfect day. I love spring and today definitely felt like spring. I hope the weather holds for a bit. I love it!

On a totally unrelated note, but something I'd like to remember nonetheless, the other day Karsten absolutely insisted on trading his fruit leather strip for my creamy broccoli potato soup. He ate it all and never did want his fruity treat back. This kid's taste buds will never cease to amaze me! Oh to be so content with his way of eating. I still fight the occasional sweet craving, though it's usually easily quelled with fruit these days. :)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Taste Buds

Dinner time prep is like the bewitching hour in our home. Karsten is usually crankier than cranky and follows me around the kitchen crying to be nursed or picked up. Either that or he wreaks havoc on my drawers and utensils to the point that I have no walking space left.  So, I've come up with a way to keep him happy and tonight proved the benefits of my brilliant methods. Ready for this? It's a whopper, people! I'm telling you, THIS. IS. ORIGINAL.

I put him on the counter next to me.

Yep, that's it. I pick him up and plop his cute little buns right up next to me where he can properly desanitize my food prep area. And you know what? He has the grandest time up there. He tries to stick knives in toasters (had to unplug it right in the middle of pressing garlic tonight), samples the skins of the ripening avocados I have lined up on the back of my counter, and of course he taste tests EVERY little part of my meal preparation. Which has proven to be one of the most amusing things ever for this mama to watch!

Tonight, I stood in awe while Karsten popped one after another of pickled, curried garlic cloves into his mouth like they were candy. He happily crunched away as I mused over the many varied palates we have in our family. Soren can't stand the garlic. Dan LOVES it. Anders likes it. And I tolerate it. Karsten apparently takes after his daddy. Then I broke out the sun-dried tomatoes, drained them, and started slicing. Not too long after they hit the cutting board, I had to start slicing with extra care because little chubby fingers kept sneaking one or two away at a time. He loved those too!

I was dumbfounded and delighted at the sight of this little 18-month-old contentedly eating garlic and tomatoes as if it was the most natural thing in the world! Oh wait, it is. It's the gold fishies and pretzels and go-gurts and cheese sticks that AREN'T natural. Tonight I thank the Lord for being able to see the literal fruits (or veggies, in this case) of our culinary labors. It is the MOST. WONDERFUL. THING. in the world to watch your child eat brain-building, body-nurturing, immune-boosting, nutritionally dense foods . . . and love it! Karsten is my angel in this tough u-turn-of-an-eating-venture that we have instigated. When we sit down to dinner and Soren and Anders immediately start to point out and whine about the things they don't want to eat, Karsten just digs right in. He is the proof that a palate not already so accustomed to processed foods and sugars can actually find enjoyment in natural foods. He's happy with a banana for dessert because he doesn't know any different!

Taste buds are amazing, right?!

P.S. To be fair, Soren and Anders are coming along well, too.  Soren will pragmatically inform me what parts of the dinner he does not care for, but makes certain I know that he'll eat them anyway.  And he does!  And Anders ate all his sun-dried tomatoes tonight without gagging once!!  Progress, people!  :P

P.P.S. These pictures of Karsten were taken last month . . . before our great food overhaul . . . hence, the Cheerios. But YAY for the faces, right?! I mean, you just gotta love this kid with his amazing ZEST for life!

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Sugar / Sweetener Stupor

I have been spending all evening researching the relative merits of rapadura, coconut palm sugar, xylitol, and all-natural sweeteners such as raw organic honey, pure organic maple syrup, date sugar, and concentrated fruit juices.

I'm about ready to throw in the towel and declare our home a completely sweetener-free zone, focusing only on fruits to satisfy our family's sweet teeth. BUT, that doesn't work when you have kids that are old enough to remember the allure of the frozen yogurt, jelly beans, candy bars, and Halloween candy they ate just weeks ago.

Thus, a healthier option is called for and so far it seems as though there is much debate in the wide world of health as to which option is healthiest.

You see, rapadura, though practically UNprocessed and still in possession of all its vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, is nevertheless derived from the sugar cane plant. Therefore, it is sugar. Period.  BUT, because it is unprocessed, it retains a natural balance of fructose, sucrose, and glucose.  And apparently balance between these different sugar elements is something to be highly sought after.  Plus, part of me wonders if I just have lingering prejudice against sugar cane because of the completely awful, horrible, documented effects of white, refined table sugar.  It is our nation's current drug/poison of choice.  Maybe I need to give the plant, when approached as a whole food, another (sparing) chance.  Oh the indecision!  Woe is me.

Coconut palm sugar comes from tapping the flowery buds of the coconut palm, and we've all heard the endless praise for all things coconut. However, coconut palm sugar is boiled at high heats to evaporate the water and extract the sugars. More processing than rapadura, even. Also, though claims have been made that coconut palm sugar is low carb and has a low Glycemic Index number, it has conversely been found to contain mostly sucrose: quick, habit-forming, nutritionally devoid, caloric energy.  Soooo . . . still a question mark next to this one.

I have been recently using xylitol, a plant-derived sugar alcohol. It has a low Glycemic Index rating. It subs for sugar one to one. It doesn't have the gross aftertaste that stevia does. But there is controversy over it, nonetheless.  First, it is highly processed to finally arrive at its crystalline/granulated state.  Any amount of processing = loss of whatever nutrients may have populated the whole food.  Second, many people complain of digestive issues such as IBS-like symptoms after consuming xylitol. We've never had that problem in our family. And supposedly the issue resolves itself if you start eating it in small amounts and increase your intake slowly. Just gotta get ye ol' digestive track acclimated, I suppose. A word to the wise about xylitol, though, is that most xylitol is corn derived which means - dun, dun, dun - hello lovely genetic modification. Boo. Luckily, we found Emerald Forest Xylitol, which is made right here in the USofA from birch trees rather than corn.  Yay! On the downside (again), I don't think birch trees are considered a "whole food" for human consumption, so anything derived from them (especially in such a processed manner), already has one strike against it from the get go.  Boo.  So, I'm definitely still conflicted as to whether this is THE sweetener we should be substituting for sugar.  I'm leaning toward "no".

Raw organic honey has phenomenal health benefits, but can't be heated at high temps or those health benefits are zapped. So, we use it primarily for slow-melting in hot breakfast cereals and a nutritional, sweet boost in smoothies. No good for baking, though. I mean, it'll still sweeten your baked goods, but what you're left with after your bread is baked is a higher calorie sweetener than sugar even rather than a propolis-infused super food.

Pure organic maple syrup is supposed to have many nutrients as well, but you have to really research which brand you'll purchase to make sure that it's absolutely 100% pure (rather than maple syrup + corn syrup or table sugar) and that formaldehyde tablets have not been used to keep taps open longer during the seasonal flow. It's also pricey since it takes an astronomical quantity of sap to end up with just a small amount of syrup.

Dried dates can be finely ground in a blender and used in baking, but the resulting imitation sugar won't dissolve and burns easily, so bakers beware.

I have no idea how to make, store, and incorporate my own fruit juice concentrate. I'm too tired to look right now. My eyes hurt and I feel like I need divine intervention in my search for the most perfect, most healthy sweetener for my family.  Maybe I just need to embrace a quote I saw on one of the trillion websites I visited in the course of this lovely Friday night: "Does anyone really eat sugar for health benefits?"  Ha! Right then.  Perhaps my approach should be to find the least harmful rather than the most healthful.  Annnnnd then use that ever-so-sparingly whilst throwing fresh fruits and veggies at my kids all day long.  :)  Wish me luck . . . and a good night's sleep.  :)

Update: about sucanat, demerara, muscovado, and turbinado.  All are various derivatives of the sugar cane plant.  I did not include them in my searches because it became clear early on that none is as UNprocessed as rapadura and all more closely resemble white, refined table sugar than rapadura (except maybe sucanat).  Likewise, erythritol and maltitol are sugar alcohols like xylitol and are even more processed.

Update #2: I can't believe I forgot to address the controversy surrounding agave syrup/nectar, too!  So, after a lot of reading, it seems as though the latest studies are proving that despite agave's natural origins, to get it to its final health-food-store version requires TONS of processing and refinement.  Also, while it may be relatively low on the Glycemic Index, it conversely has "more concentrated fructose in it than high fructose corn syrup."  For a more in-depth look at agave's diabolical diabolical-ness (:D), check out this article from Food Renegade.  It's pretty thorough.

Conclusion: I'm sticking with raw, organic honey; pure, organic maple syrup; and organic rapadura . . . until I hear otherwise.  :D

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free Sticky Buns

**Note: I do not wish to violate any copyright laws.  I am not trying to steal this recipe.  I have given credit where credit is due and hope that anyone who reads this will be inspired to try out the recipe and BUY THE BOOK!**  :D

This recipe is adapted from the Cinnamon Roll recipe found in this book, by Cybele Pascal.  If you want more great, healthy, dessert-type recipes, be sure to buy the book, it's chock full of them!  And they are kid-tested by the author's own kids.  My boys absolutely LOVED this recipe!  Just know that there are healthier alternatives/substitutes for regular sugar.  Be brave!  Experiment!

1 cup rice milk
1/4 cup extra-light olive oil
1/4 cup xylitol
2 1/4 cups Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix (the author has the mix all worked out nicely, but the only problem is that the Authentic Foods "Superfine Brown Rice Flour" that her mix calls for is REALLY hard to find in health food stores and REALLY expensive online.  Our Whole Foods in La Jolla normally has it, but they've been out all this week and I didn't want to wait anymore to try this recipe.  So, I used Authentic Foods "Bette's Gourmet Featherlight Rice Flour Blend."  It worked fine.)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp SAF Instant Yeast
1/4 cup dairy-free, soy-free vegetable shortening (this stuff was easy to find in health food stores)
1/3 cup organic granulated coconut nectar/"sugar" (It's the perfect healthy substitute for brown sugar because it has a hearty molasses flavor to it.)
2 tsp ground cinnamon

*Again, most of the wording in the following directions comes straight out of Cybele Pascal's book which I've linked to.  I've included my notes/alterations in red.*

1. Combine the rice milk, olive oil, and xylitol in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl.  Heat for about 1 minute until warm, but not hot (115*F).  If the liquid is too hot, it will kill the yeast, so be careful.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour mix, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and yeast.

3. Add the rice milk mixture to the dry mixture, and blend well.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Grease an 8-inch round pan.

4. Sprinkle your work surface and hands with ample gluten-free flour mix.  Don't scrimp on the flour, or your dough will stick to the board.  I usually use about 1/4 cup of flour mix.  Turn out the dough onto the board, sprinkle with flour mix, pat down lightly, then flip.

5. Flour your rolling pin.  Roll the dough into a long rectangle, 16 inches long and 9 inches wide (use your hands to coax it into shape, if necessary).  It should be about 1/4 inch thick.

6. Soften the shortening by warming it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  Brush the shortening evenly over the top of the dough.  Combine the coconut sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly across the dough.  (This is where I added about a 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and 1/4 cup of raisins, too).

7. Gently roll the dough lengthwise into a log.  You may need to use a spatula to help coax it to turn at first (you should have a 16-inch log).

8. Cut the log into 12 pieces by first cutting the log in half, then into quarters, and then cutting each quarter into 3 pieces.  Transfer the rolls to the pan.  Cover tightly (I use plastic wrap, then put a rubber band around the top lip of the pan to secure the plastic).  Place the pan in a dishpan and pour hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan (or just fill your kitchen sink basin).  Let the rolls rise for 1 hour.

9. During the last 20 minutes of the rise, preheat the oven to 350*F.

10. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden.

11.  Drizzle pure maple syrup with a splash of vanilla mixed in over the top while still hot (be liberal for really sticky sticky buns).  Let cool in the pan until room temperature.  Serve at room temperature.

Unfortunately, all I have to show for my labors is that pathetic cell phone picture at the top of this post here.  And already we were missing one little sticky bun because of an impatient toddler!  :D  There are currently only two of these left, destined to be mine and Dan's late-night snacks tonight as we watch yet another food documentary on Netflix and congratulate ourselves on three weeks now of happy, healthy eating.

UPDATE: We no longer use Xylitol in our home.  See this post for more information.
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