Monday, June 30, 2014

21-Day Eat Clean Challenge Wrap Up!

So, yesterday was Day 21 of the 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge we did on Facebook. What a great experience! It was nice to chat with people about what clean eating means to them, and to share ways to fit clean eating into real life.

Many of the people doing this challenge were learning to Eat Clean for the first time, or were trying to get "back on the wagon" after maybe not eating very well for a while. The Challenge was sort of a "kick start" to forming some healthy food habits. But now that the 21 days are up... where do we go from here?

I think it's really important to address how to turn clean eating into a lifestyle, realistically. This is will be different for every person, of course, just as what defines "Clean Eating" varies. But the important thing to remember is that it doesn't have to be "all or nothing." For me, there are certain things I never eat (artificial colors and flavors, chemical additives, GMOs, HFCS, animal products) things I eat on rare occasions (sugar) things I enjoy once or twice a week (flour, wine) and then things I eat daily (pretty much everything else) This is a balance that works for me, because in real life there are birthday parties where you might want a piece of cake or celebratory dinners where you might want a glass or two of wine. And that sort of thing can definitely fit into a clean-eating lifestyle. As long as you're making good choices and feeding your body the very best stuff most of the time, the occasional treat won't hurt, in my opinion.

I'm really grateful to all who have participated in the challenge, and who have been kind enough to share their difficulties and triumphs with me. It's been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope it was positive for you, too. I look forward to applying some of the insight you've given me as I continue to work on my book, The 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge, which will (hopefully!) debut this fall. More info will be posted here on the blog, as it happens.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

All Natural, No Sugar Strawberry Jam

I really love making jam. It's such an old-fashioned, fun thing to do, and it's surprisingly easy. I make one kind of jam or another throughout the spring, summer and fall, as different fruits come into season. I start with strawberry and strawberry rhubarb, move on to blueberry, then peach, then, in the fall apple butter. This stocks up our pantry quite nicely, so that I never have to buy jam or jelly at the store. I know it's been at least 3 years since we've bought any, which is saying something if you had any idea the huge amounts of PB&Js my kids eat.

After my last post I've had a few requests for my recipe for no-sugar-added strawberry jam. I am more than happy to share it! This recipe makes about four 8 oz jars. You can double it, but I find it comes out best if you make it in small batches. If you've never canned anything before, don't worry! It's easier than you think! Here are some canning basics, before we get started:

You will need some basic canning equipment, to get started. You'll need a big canning pot (or any very large pot, in a pinch) a jar grabber, lid wand and canning jars with lids and rings. Make sure the lids are new... NEVER reuse lids for canning, as old lids may not seal properly. You can reuse jars and rings. Before you can, wash and sterilize your jars, lids and rings (I just put mine in the dishwasher) then put them in your canning pot filled with water. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to low to keep the jars warm while you make your jam.

Now, onto the jam!

All-Natural, No Sugar Strawberry Jam

4 cups of strawberries, washed and hulled
2/3 cup apple or white grape juice
Squeeze of lemon juice
3 Tbsp no sugar pectin

Dump the strawberries into a pot. I usually use a 6 quart pot, which seems big, but the jam will bubble up a lot, and a deeper pot prevents splatters. Use a potato masher to smoosh up the berries. This is a fun job for the kids. Once all the berries are smashed up well, stir in the remaining ingredients. Put over high heat and stir often until it gets to a full boil. Make sure you don't forget to stir, or it will stick and burn on the bottom. When it's really boiling really good and hard (so hard that when you stir it it's still bubbling like crazy) then check the time and let boil for one full minute. Remove from heat, and get your jars and lids out onto a towel. Next, use a funnel and a ladle to fill your jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe any jam from the rim, then put the lids on and fasten the rings. Next, put the jars of jelly into the canning pot, making sure they're covered by at least and inch of water. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove with your jar grabber and let cool, undisturbed, on a tea towel on the counter overnight.

When the jars are sealed properly, the lid should not flex when you press it. If you happen to end up with one that didn't seal, just pop it in the fridge and use it within a week or two. Properly sealed jars of jam can be kept in the pantry for up to a year.

Another cool thing... I pretty much use this same recipe for most jams I make, substituting whatever berry is in season at the time. Try it with raspberries, black berries, blueberries, or a combination.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberry Season! (And a Recipe for Frozen Fruit Pops!)

It's strawberry season! Last week we went strawberry picking at a local farm, then this past weekend we went to a "Strawberry Festival" at another farm. This means we have been pretty much buried in strawberries recently, which is not a terrible problem to have, in my opinion.

So what are we doing with all these strawberries? WELL... lots of them have just been eaten as is, fresh, sweet and juicy. Some were frozen, to enjoy in smoothies and such later on. Some were made into a batch of strawberry jam, some into a batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam, and the rest were made into deeee-licious frozen fruit pops, which happen to be one of our favorite summer treats.

Seriously, these frozen fruit pops are so refreshing as a sweet summer treat, and they are completely and totally natural and healthy in every way. They are made from fruit. Just fruit. No added sugar or sweetener of any kind. Here is the super-easy recipe (it's barely even a recipe, it's so easy!)

Strawberry-Banana Frozen Fruit Pops

3 cups of strawberries, washed and hulled
1 large or two small bananas, broken into chunks.

In a blender, puree fruit until fairly smooth. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Barbecue" Kale Chips

I love me some kale chips. When I get a craving for something a little salty and crunchy, these really hit the spot. Some people make them with a just little bit of sea salt and olive oil, and that's just fine, but I like to boost the flavor and nutrition by coating the kale with some tasty and nutritious flavorings. My latest favorite is what I call "Barbecue" Kale Chips, because they sort of remind me of the flavor of barbecue potato chips.

I make my kale chips in a dehydrator, but if you don't have one you can do them in a VERY low oven. However, I would really recommend a dehydrator. The one I have is a very cheap, no frills one, but it does the job. If you do use an oven, make sure you have the temperature VERY low. 150 degrees is best. If your oven won't go that low (most won't) then keep the door cracked open a little while the chips bake. Here's how it's done.

Barbecue Kale Chips


Big bunch of Kale, washed and torn into pieces
1/3 cup tahini
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tsp smoked paprika
water, to thin

In a very large bowl, whisk together the tahini, soy sauce, nutritional yeast and paprika. Add enough water to make it the consistency of thick salad dressing. Dump the kale into the bowl and smoosh it all around until the kale is well-coated with the sauce. Place in a single layer on dehydrator trays (or, cookie sheets if you're using your oven) For dehydrator, follow instructions, and dehydrate until crispy. The time will vary, depending on your dehydrator. Mine usually take most of the day. If using an oven, they will be done in no time at all so watch them VERY carefully... you don't want them to burn.

Recently, I tested this recipe out on collard greens, instead of kale, and they came out great! If you have a farm share, this time of year means TONS of greens. These chips are a great way to use them up.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thank You

Sometimes, you write something, hoping that maybe a person or two will read it, and find it useful or meaningful in some way. But then, you find that more than one or two people read it, and in fact lots of people read it, and then a lot of them write you messages telling you that what you wrote resonated with them, and they even share their own experiences and stories with you. And you will be moved to tears by their stories, and by idea that, my goodness we're all just so similar in so many ways, and we're all trying to do the right thing in this world.

Or, at least, that happened to me yesterday and today. I wrote this post, and I'm just so touched that some wonderful people were kind enough to respond in such a loving and positive way. We all have so much to learn from each other's life journey.

Thank you. Really.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lost time: A Cautionary Tale

Yesterday was Father's Day. It's a day that is very difficult for me.

My kids lost their Dad to cancer in January 2013. Father's day is hard not just because we miss him, and not just because of the future that will never be (though those things are very, very hard) It's also hard because of the past that never was.

The thing is, my kids missed a lot of time with their dad. It's really hard to write about this, but I'm writing about it because I know that we are not the only family to walk this path. It happens all the time... we get busy, we work too much, we confuse our priorities because we always think we'll have plenty of time in the future. But sometimes we don't. And then it's too late. This is a cautionary tale, and I hope that if you have small children, you will pay attention to what I have to say.

When my kids were babies, their dad and I fell into very traditional gender roles. I stayed home with the kids full time, while he worked a full-time job. In addition to his day job, he was really passionate about his theater work. Most nights, after work, he'd head over to the theater for whatever show he was working on, coming home long after we were asleep. He was rarely home for dinner, which was sort of a sticky point for me, because when I pictured us with kids, I pictured us having dinner together as a family.

Now mind you... it's not that he didn't love his kids. He did love them so, so much. HUGE amounts. He bragged about them all the time to anyone who would listen (and probably a few who wouldn't). He loved his kids more than anything, but he just always thought there would be more time. Don't we all? He would promise that after this show or that show he would take a break, and spend more time at home. There were a few times when he did take a break... times when I worked on a theater project of my own, and he took a month or two off from his commitments to help out with the kids in the evening. But those breaks were few and far between and they never lasted long. His creative work was such a huge part of who he was, and he was really so, so good at it. Everyone wanted a piece of him, to share in his talent, and he was always offered the chance to do one project after another.

But while all of this was happening, the kids were getting older. They weren't babies anymore, and already he had missed so much. Our marriage became really strained, and we eventually made the difficult decision to separate.

Ironically, our marriage ending gave him the chance to get to know the kids in a way he never had before. It was the first time he ever really spent big chunks of time with them, on his own, on a regular basis. It was a little rough going in the beginning, and there was a definitely learning curve. We started "practicing" with him taking the kids on Sundays while I would go out for the day, to give them time alone. When he moved out we settled into a schedule where he had them Tuesday evenings and every other weekend. But even then, there was still lost time. There were visits missed, because of shows and other commitments. He was supposed to have the kids for three weeks of vacation time each year, but he never did take all three weeks, due to various commitments. He kept saying, "Next year... "

Soon, there was no more "Next Year." He became ill early in 2012. The last weekend he had the kids overnight was in February of 2012. He was diagnosed shortly after. That last year of his life, they didn't see him much at all... just a few hours at a time, not even once a month. He was so very sick. The kids did spend the last week of his life with him, as we all kept vigil at the hospital while he finally lots his battle with cancer.

I cried not only for the loss of the father of my children, and someone who was a very important part of my life for 26 years, but I cried for the time he missed with them: his empty seat at the dinner table all those nights, the Little League games he missed, the visits and vacations that never happened.

I have to say it again... this was NOT a negligent father. This was a father who loved his kids SO HARD, but who just thought he would always have more time. But he didn't.

Please remember that your babies won't be babies for long. They grow so fast, and you can never go back. Be there. Don't miss it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

CSA 2014! First week!

Yesterday was the first week of our Farm Share! So excited! I really love that we live in a place where we have a good, affordable CSA program nearby. I love picking up our share each week. It's so fun to see what treats we'll get to take home!

Here's our share for the first week:

Kale, two heads of Boston lettuce, local honey, collard greens, spinach, radishes,
arugula, and pea shoots! We also got 2-6-packs of veggie plants for the garden,
as well as a fresh-baked cookie and a coffee (Noodle got the cookie, I got the coffee!)
So far, I've already made up some arugula pesto, and I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of this yummy produce through the rest of the week!

For more info on CSAs, see this post.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Journey Toward Veganism (and a new recipe... )

I have officially been vegan for nearly 6 months now! Like most things in my life, it has been a journey. I had been vegetarian since my teens, and have made many attempts at going vegan over the years, with varying degrees of almost-success. I have been slowly working to improve my diet and my health over the years, and I feel like each year it just gets easier and I feel better. As of last year, I was about 90% vegan, and I'd cut out most refined sugars (most of the time... holidays and vacations were tricky!) At the start of the New Year, I made the commitment to really take care of myself, and fully commit to following a vegan diet and cutting out refined sugar completely. The more I read about the negative effects of animal protein, the more I felt really ready to make the change. Six months later, I'm still on track. There were a few times when I had something not totally vegan/sugar free... a cookie once, a muffin, a few bites of milk chocolate, etc... but overall, I feel really good about the choices I've made.

I think the reason it's been so easy this time around is that I've really become AWARE of how certain foods make me feel, good or bad. I've really tuned into my body, and have realized it just feels good to feed myself a clean, healthy, vegan diet. If I had to name the best things I've ever done for myself, giving up dairy and sugar would be at the top of the list. My head is clearer, my digestion is better, my mood is vastly improved and I have more energy. Funny thing is... I didn't realize how bad these things were making me feel until I gave them up. I think that when that's your regular diet, you just get used to feeling that way, and you think that's what's normal. Then you stop, and your system really clears out and you suddenly realize you've not felt your best all those years.

One of the first things people ask me when they find out I've gone vegan is, "But don't you miss CHEESE?!" and the answer is, no... I really don't. And believe me, I used to love cheese. But, I realized that I feel so much better when I don't eat cheese, and I've discovered so many really yummy alternatives to dairy cheese that make me not miss the old stuff one bit. I have raved on and on here about Cashew Cheese (here and here and here, for example) and now I have a NEW cashew cheese recipe... this one for a vegan "sprinkle cheese" as we call it around here. Sprinkle Cheese was the name my daughter gave to grated cheese you put on pasta (parmesan, romano) when she was a toddler. She's now 14, and we still call it sprinkle cheese. Anyhoo... even though I've given up most refined grains, I still allow myself some pasta now and then, because I really love pasta and it makes me happy. This vegan sprinkle cheese on my pasta makes me extra happy. We also use it on spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. It also adds a bit of extra nutrition... bonus!

Here is the recipe:

Vegan "Sprinkle Cheese"

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
Salt, to taste

Put everything into a food processor and blend until the nuts are all ground up and the texture is uniform. Serve on pasta, spaghetti squash, popcorn... any place you'd use grated parmesan cheese.

Delicious comfort food

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tex Mex Bowls

I've written here before about my fondness for vegan bowls. Bowls are a go to dinner for us at least once or twice a week (if not more...) Usually we're pretty free-form with our Bowl recipes, just tossing together whatever veggies are in the fridge. But there is one Bowl recipe that we make pretty consistently. We call them Tex Mex Bowls.

Here's how they come together:

Brown rice
The ingredients, ready to go
Black beans (if canned, drained and rinsed. If dry, soaked and cooked)
Chopped onion (I like to saute my onions a bit, til they're soft)
Diced red pepper and/or other pepper
Corn kernels
Diced tomato
Chopped spinach
Diced avocado
Chopped cilantro
Tex Mex Sauce (recipe below)

I usually set ours up salad-bar style, so everyone can assemble their own bowl the way they like it.
To assemble, I usually start with a scoop of rice on the bottom, then just pile in a spoonful (or two) of everything else. Mix it around and eat. YUM.

Tex Mex Sauce

1 can of tomatoes (diced, crushed, whatever... )
Chili Seasoning, taste (store bought, or homemade)

Blend together in a blender until smooth. Pour into a small pot and heat through, simmering for 15 minutes for the flavors to blend.

Assembled Tex Mex Bowl

Mixed up and ready to eat... Ole!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fast, Easy, Healthy Weekday Breakfasts

Some mornings you really need something super fast and easy for breakfast. In order to avoid the temptation to just grab something at a drive-thru, it's a good idea to keep a few quick and easy breakfast ideas at the ready. Here are some of my favorites for busy mornings:

Overnight Oats. Pinterest is just overrun with recipes for this stuff, with a tons of different variations. I make mine with oats, almond milk, some raisins and some cinnamon. Put it all in a mason jar the night before, and in the morning you can just grab it and go. Most people like to eat this stuff straight from the fridge, but I prefer to pop it into the microwave for a minute to warm it up.

Chia Pudding. Have you tried this stuff? It's pretty much amazing. Just like with Overnight Oats,
Chia Pudding with Berries
there are a million recipes for this on Pinterest. I've experimented a lot with different variations, and here is my favorite recipe: Put 1 cup of almond milk in a mason jar. Add 2 rounded tablespoons of chia seeds. Mix well. Dump in 1/2 cup berries and a drizzle of honey. Let sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, stir well and enjoy! Equally awesome variation: substitute sliced banana for the berries (or maybe try both!)

Banana with Peanut Butter. Yup, just what it sounds like. I slice up a banana into a bowl. I take a spoon, and scoop out some peanut butter. I stir the peanut butter into the banana slices, and eat it all up. Super quick, super delicious, and surprisingly filling. That, and a cuppa tea, and I'm ready for whatever the day throws at me. Sometimes I do this with almond butter instead. Also awesome.

Smoothie. This is really only super fast and easy if you make up smoothie packs ahead of time. Then it literally takes two minutes to blend it up. Otherwise, you have to take the time to prep all the fruit and greens, and sometimes you just don't have that kind of time in the morning. When having a green smoothie for breakfast, I do like to add just a little extra protein... maybe an extra scoop of seeds or some nuts.

Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. What?! Cookies for Breakfast?! Well, not just any cookies... THESE cookies. They are made without any refined sugar (just a touch of maple syrup) and are made primarily of perfectly acceptable breakfast ingredients such as oats, almond butter, applesauce and raisins. These cookies aren't just for breakfast, but are good anytime you need a lil cookie fix, but don't want to sabotage your healthy diet.

Quick Pudla. If I have some leftover veggies in the fridge from another meal, sometimes I'll whip up a quick pudla for myself. This is not as quick as the other breakfasts on this list, as it takes about 10 minutes to prepare. However, it's super filling and gives you tons of energy to get through your morning. More about pudla in this here post.

All of these breakfasts are delicious and healthy, and fit perfectly into a clean-eating lifestyle. Speaking of... tomorrow begins the 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge we're doing on Facebook! Join the Challenge here: 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge

Friday, June 6, 2014

Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth While Avoiding Sugar

So we're doing this 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge, and it's got me thinking about things I do to keep my healthy diet on track. I have been on-and-off the Cleaning Eating wagon for years, though each year I feel like it gets easier and easier and I do better and better. I found the hardest thing for me was getting rid of sugar. I have SUCH a sweet tooth, but the older I get, the more I feel really awful when I eat it. That, along with the all the stuff I've read about the negative effects of sugar, made me finally kick my sugar habit for good this past January.

Around the holidays, I had been eating lots of sweets, because they were THERE. I began to realize that for me, sugar was like a drug... the more I ate, the more I craved. I could see that I was in a vicious cycle of craving sugar, eating sugar, feeling awful but still craving sugar, eating sugar, and on and on. I decided to quite cold turkey in January.

The first few weeks were hard. But soon, the cravings started to disappear. I do still sometimes crave a little something sweet, but now I can be satisfied with having just a little bit of something naturally sweetened. The few times I have had something with refined sugar, I definitely felt it.

Here is a list of my favorite treats for when I need a something sweet:

Banana "Ice Cream" (on it's own, or with the topping)

Energy Snacks
Fresh Fruit
These cookies
Frozen fruit pops (Just puree some fruit and freeze in popsicle molds)
One square of dark chocolate (Yes, I know this has some sugar in it, but only a tiny amount)

Even though these things are "healthy" it's still a good idea to keep portion control in mind. Some of these things are quite calorie-dense, so if you eat an entire batch, you will pack on the pounds.

Banana "Ice Cream"
What are your favorite naturally-sweet treats?

Energy Snacks

Healthy Cookies

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Join Us! 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge!

So after I put up yesterday's post, I decided to just go ahead and create a fun Facebook event... a 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge. I thought it would be a fun way for a bunch of people to support each other in a quest to eat a healthier diet. So far, the response has been really positive! There has been some great dialogue going on. Good stuff!

The event kicks off on Monday, June 9th. Each day of the Challenge I will post tips, menu ideas and recipes. If you'd like to join the fun, here is the link to the event:

21 Day Eat Clean Challenge

In these days leading up to the start of The Challenge, I'll be sharing tips on getting yourself and your pantry ready to try a cleaner, healthier diet. I'm really excited to share this adventure with some friends, old and new! It's so great to see people supporting and encouraging each other toward a healthier life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

21-Day Clean Eating (Sneak Peak!)

Quinoa and mushroom stuffed peppers
w/tomato sauce and grilled asparagus
So, I'm working on a book. It's mostly a cookbook, but it's more than that. It's a guide to getting started on eating a cleaner, healthier diet. I came up with this idea after talking with lots of people who wanted to eat better, but felt overwhelmed at the idea of getting started. My goal is to help teach people how clean eating can fit into a busy lifestyle. I know that many people cite "lack of time" as a reason for not eating clean, so that is something I will definitely address in the book. For others, it may simply be a matter of not knowing where to start. I'm hoping that my book with help remove the mystery, and make it easy to eat healthier. I chose to focus on the first 21 days for several reasons: For one, I'd heard many times that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I'm not entirely sure if that is legitimate science or just a myth, but it seems like a great way to start a new venture. 21 days is short enough to feel doable, yet long enough to get a sense of how the changes really affect you. My hope is that when people try eating clean for 21 days, they'll feel so great that they'll want to continue.

The book will be divided into three sections. In the first section, I discuss what it means to Eat Clean, and offer suggestions for eliminating the processed food and stocking up the pantry with clean, whole, healthy food. The second section will have shopping lists and menu plans for each week. I've included breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack for each day. The third section will include the recipes for the meals in the menu plans.

While this book is still in progress, I thought that I might use my Journey Toward Simplicity Facebook page as a place to get a dialogue going about clean eating. What other obstacles do people face in their quest to Eat Clean? What reasons to people have for wanting to eat better? I'm hoping to get some feedback, to help make my book the best it can be. I'm even thinking about a starting a 21-day Clean Eating Challenge on Facebook. If you'd like to get in on the discussion, "like" us on Facebook.

For further reading on Clean Eating, you can check out these two earlier posts on the topic:

Clean Eating

Eating Clean... Making it work in Real Life