Category Archives: Nourishing Food

Beet Hummus (aka Princess Dip)

My kids like hummus. I like hummus. So I make hummus! For those of you out there who don’t know what hummus is, it’s basically pureed bean dip. That’s the way simplified explanation, of course, but you get the picture.

A few weeks ago I whipped up some hummus in my handy dandy food processor. By the way, that is one of my favorite kitchen appliances! I had some leftover beets in the fridge from dinner the night before so I decided to throw them in to the mix. The result was incredible! This hummus was the most brilliant hot pink you have ever seen. I almost didn’t feel right giving it to my kids with our dye free status and all. But they gobbled it up and loved it. The beets definitely added flavor, although for those of you who are not so much into beets, you’ll be happy to know that it wasn’t overly beet-y.

This magnificently colored hummus required a better name than, well, hummus. So in honor of my daughter who is everything princess and my eldest son who also happens to be in the princess phase, I named it Princess Dip.

Beet Hummus Recipe:

  • 2-3 cups garbonzo beans
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • a splash of lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 cup cooked beets
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil
Mix first 6 ingredients in a food processor.  Add olive oil until it’s the consistency you prefer.  Taste as you go, and change things up as you please!  Easy peasy.  🙂
Advertisements

Food Dye Sensitivities: Our Journey to Cutting out the Junk

I have wanted to write this post for a while, but I don’t know…..I guess I haven’t had the right motivation to get me going.  I have not found the motivation until now that is.  A few weeks ago, the FDA met at the request of the Center for Science in the Public Interest to discuss adding a warning label to foods that have artificial food dyes as an ingredient due to concerns that they might be increasing behavior issues in some children.  Not surprisingly (to me anyway), the FDA voted 8 to 6 against the warning label.   Here is a pretty decent article summarizing what went down.  That’s fine.  It’s government, and there’s always more to the story than we see, namely money.  I do my own research without the help of the FDA and act accordingly.  I am sad for people who blindly follow their recommendations simply because they are the FDA, but that’s another post altogether.

So what does all of that have to do with our food journey?  Let me tell you.  Food dye sensitivities/allergies/whatever you want to call them are real.  Very real.  I have a child who is extremely sensitive to the dyes that are nonchalantly placed in so many of the foods you see in a grocery store.  I consider myself lucky to have figured that out by the time she was 24 months old.

Little miss H was a high needs baby, and as we entered into toddlerhood it became a struggle to figure out how to help her.  Some days were good, and some were not so good.  It felt like we were just all over the place with behavior, tantrums, sleep, etc.  Granted, part of this is just the nature of a toddler, but deep down inside I knew something else was going on.

One day an online friend mentioned that her daughter reacted horribly to red food dye.  I decided to do a little experiment and see what happened when I eliminated red from H’s diet.  I noticed pretty big changes.  The hubster was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see them at first.  But one day as we were sitting down at dinner, I looked at H and jokingly asked him what she had eaten that day.  He looked at me pretty solemnly and said, “I gave her a red jolly rancher.”  I think that was the moment that he realized how real this really was.  We vowed to each other at that moment that we would not allow her to have any red dye.

Easter came along a little while later, and we figured that we could bend the rules for the holiday.  We only let her have a tiny bit, but it was enough to send her (and us) over the edge.  She took forever to fall asleep, slept very restlessly when she did sleep, became aggressive, and lost any self control she would have normally had, and these all lasted for days, not hours like one would assume.  We both knew that it wasn’t fair for her to have to suffer for our bending the rules.  So from that moment on we decided to be strict in not allowing red dye.

And let me just say that it is extremely difficult to avoid dyes.  Potlucks are a challenge because there is no labeling, and you just have to make your best guess.  Some foods that you wouldn’t ever consider as possibly having dyes in them do in fact have a rainbow assortment of dye.  I learned very quickly that if we buy something out of a grocery store, the label MUST be checked and rechecked for dyes.  It was hard to get out of the mode of just assuming something wouldn’t have dyes and into the mode of checking every little thing.  I made a lot of things from scratch anyway, but out of necessity, I was forced into the from scratch thing even further.

As time went by, we noticed reactions (albeit not quite as dramatic as with the red dye) from other dyes and eliminated those as well.  We have also eliminated high fructose corn syrup from our diets simply because the research on that is frightening at best.  When we walk into a typical grocery store, there are very few things we can buy.  That is sad.  I wonder how many children are suffering with behavior problems, ADHD, and who knows what else simply because no one thinks to look at the foods they eat as a possible problem.  How many children are being medicated when a change in diet could be the cure?  Okay.  Off the soap box for now.

Having a child who reacts to dyes is a struggle.  For starters, people often look at me like I’m some wacky hippy mom (okay, I am!) with 3 eyes.  They often think it’s an excuse I’ve made up for poor behavior or whatever.  And how could my child possibly have problems when there are so many who don’t?  My parents, in fact, were pretty skeptical at first until they saw H “on red dye.”  I think that sealed the deal for them that this is real.  People expect hives, a rash, or an inability to breath.  Behavior and sleep problems are harder to see.  It’s a lot more subtle.  Ultimately, a lot of people will think we are just too hardcore and not letting our children “experience” life.  I can’t change anyone’s misconceptions, but I can protect my child’s health.

I just alluded to this, but there are social difficulties involved too, especially for the kids.  When we go to a party or someplace where there are treats, I often have to tell my children that they cannot have what is being served or that they can trade in the candy they were given for something safe when we get home.  I do my best to keep them from feeling isolated in these situations by always having special treats in my bag, but it’s not always avoidable.  I couldn’t ask for more better children in this area.  They know when they can’t have something and deal with the disappointment graciously.  I suppose that’s a life lesson they will carry with them for years to come.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s also difficult to keep these chemicals out the mouths of my children.  They are in so many foods it’s ridiculous.  (And do I ever have a huge load of empathy for parents of children with other allergies, and especially ones who react with anaphylactic shock!)  But we have to be vigilant with non-food products too.  We have learned the hard way that a lot of chapstick is not safe.  Even medicines which are meant to help are laden with dyes.  Our local pharmacy knows now that we cannot give our kids the usual pink antibiotic, but that first time I went in to get a prescription filled for H, we had to get the script changed to an antibiotic that mixed up white and not pink.  Dyes are everywhere we turn!

And yes, although one child has very strong reactions to dye, we have noticed smaller reactions in our middle child and made a commitment to keep them out of our house and out of the systems of all of our children.  I do wonder what will happen when they are older and need to take a pill that doesn’t necessarily come dye free.  It will be interesting.

My mom has sort of wondered out loud if H will outgrow this sensitivity.  She has also mentioned that she hopes it is something that will dissipate with time.  At first I definitely agreed with her.  I mean, it’s really inconvenient to be checking labels all the time and be really picky about what our kids eat when we are not at home.  However, I do believe this is a blessing in disguise.  Our whole family is healthier without these unnecessary chemicals.  I might not be able to quantify our healthiness, but I absolutely think our bodies and immune systems function a whole lot better than they would otherwise.  I’m thankful that we figured this out with our first child and that she essentially forced us all into a better way of nourishing our bodies.

Quick and Easy Chicken and Dumplings

I love comfort food and especially the kind that my mama used to make.  Whenever I got to request a meal, it was always chicken and dumplings.  I loved the cloud like dumplings, and the chicken, and the gravy…..YUM!  My mom’s standard way of making chicken and dumplings is to take a whole chicken, cut it into pieces, cook it with some veggies, thicken the gravy, cook the dumplings, etc.  It’s time consuming.  Delicious, but time consuming.

A couple of months ago I was in a time crunch for dinner, but I really had a hankering for chicken and dumplings.  So I did what I do best and improvised.  That experiment has become one of my go to meals!  The family loves it, and it goes together very quickly.  I don’t have specific measurements for this, so you’ll have to improvise a bit too.  🙂

First things first:  Make a roux in a big pot with butter and flour.  I usually use a stick of butter and 1/2 cup of flour. If I have onions on hand, I’ll chop one up and saute it in the butter before adding the flour.

Next, stir in chicken broth. I kind of eye ball this depending on how much gravy I want. I think I normally use about 4-6 cups, maybe more. Chicken base and water are my friends for this part!

Once the roux and the broth have been incorporated and thickened, throw in whatever veggies you might have laying around in your fridge and freezer and some cooked chicken or turkey. Whenever I make a turkey, I freeze most of the meat to use in meals such as this. For the vegetables, I’ll throw in any leftovers and whatever sounds good from the freezer. This is typically peas, squash, beans, and maybe corn. I don’t necessarily use every type of vegetable I can find, but I do throw in at least two different kinds. Let this cook for a bit, until the frozen things are no longer frozen.

Now it’s dumpling time! This is my mom’s recipe for dumplings. I’m not entirely sure where she got it, but I do know that I will never be without it!

Fluffy Dumplings

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbs. oil

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Combine milk and oil; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

Drop spoonfuls of batter atop bubbling stew.  Cover tightly; let mixture return to boiling.  Reduce heat (don’t lift cover); simmer 12-15 minutes.

We love dumplings so much that I usually double the dumplings!  So there you have a quick, easy one dish meal that everyone will love.

Worms and Chickens

I have been inspired!  Last night I went to a viewing of the movie FRESH. It was a nice way to get out of the house, and I am passionate about making healthy food choices. I figured the discussion would be good. What I didn’t quite expect was the urge to go home and become a farmer. Actually, since I was a young girl, a big part of me has always wanted to live on a big piece of land and raise a bunch of animals. I still want that (somewhat), but I also have to face reality. The reality of my situation is that I live on a corner lot in our little town. Yeah….I don’t think that herd of cows, goats, pigs, and chickens is going to fit so well. Bummer!

I am, however, going to do what I can with what little I have. We already have a pretty rockin’ garden, so I need to look a bit deeper. Ah, yes! Deeper……the earth in which that garden grows! Vermicomposting is the solution. I have given this some thought in the past, but I think it’s time for action. As soon as the weather warms up a bit, I am going to find some worms (I still have to figure out where I might get worms) and get to composting. That worm poop (I mean, castings) is going to nourish or plants and, in turn, nourish our bodies!

The other thing I’ve been inspired to do is get some chickens. We have casually thrown the idea around, but I think maybe we should consider it a bit more seriously. We are lucky to live in a town that would actually allow chickens. So the first step is to research what we would have to do to make this a reality. My husband has had some experience raising chickens, otherwise I would feel a bit more intimidated. I am thinking that we need to figure out how many chickens we can actually have in the city limits, what kind we might be interested in, coop options, and feed options. I am excited about this! I think it will be a great way to teach our children a little work ethic as well as how to treat animals with respect. They do love eggs!

The snow and ice that we have had on the ground since the beginning of November seems like it might finally melt in the next few days. Spring may finally be around the corner! I am ready. I am refreshed, rejuvenated, and full of a million and one ideas! Here’s to learning and doing something new!

I challenge each of you to find something new to learn about and maybe even DO this spring. 😉

Dutch Oven Lasagna (sort of)

I hope you’re ready.  I’m about to post a recipe….or as close to a recipe as I can do!  I cook like this:  a little of this, a lot of that, hmmm…that looks good, oh a bit more of this.  The other night I actually did measure what I was throwing into the pot.  Why?  I’m not sure, but you get to benefit!

I was craving lasagna but was short of time and ingredients.  So I wung it.  Is that even a word?  Who cares!  This is what I did:

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • a couple shakes of oregano and basil (I didn’t say I was exact!)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (do whatever tastes best to you)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen swiss chard or spinach, squeezed dry and chopped fairly fine
  • 1 pint crushed tomatoes (these are pints because they were home canned)
  • 1 pint tomato sauce (I use this as it is for spaghetti sauce, so if you’re substituting something store bought, use spaghetti sauce or marinara)
  • 4 cups bow tie pasta (this was measured dry)
  • 2-3 cups water (I didn’t actually measure this)
  • 1 cup of mozzarella (another approximation)

Directions:

  • In a dutch oven, brown the beef with the onion and garlic.  Drain any excess fat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the mozzarella.  Bring it to a nice simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are cooked to your liking.
  • If it’s looking a bit too dry as the noodles are cooking, add a bit of water.  Don’t stress about adding too much water.  The extra can be easily boiled off until the sauce is the thickness you prefer.
  • Turn the burner off when most of the liquid has been absorbed by the noodles and/or boiled away and when the noodles are completely cooked to perfection.
  • Stir in the mozzarella, and you’re done!  Sprinkle some extra cheese on top of each serving if you like extra cheesiness.

I wish I had taken a picture of this meal.  I didn’t plan on blogging about it, but after one bite, I knew I couldn’t just keep it to myself.  It was delicious.  It was beautiful.  And best of all, it was EASY!

There’s a Bun in the Oven

And no, it’s not what you think!  There’s a bun in the oven…..quite literally.  😉

I love to bake bread.  Part of this is probably just nostalgia since my mom and I enjoyed spending hours side by side in her small kitchen grinding the wheat, making the dough, forming the loaves (or rolls), and then biting into some fresh from the oven bread with butter slathered on top.  Yum!  Those were definitely some good times.  But in those moments, I also learned the value of baking something nutritious for my family.  I know the ingredients and the hands that have touched it.  Better yet, I know that my family loves it!

In the past few years, I have been gradually cooking in a more traditional manner, as discussed in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The basic premise behind traditional foods is that fermentation and the soaking/sprouting of grains, beans, and nuts allows us to absorb more vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, while at the same time being quite healthy for our digestive system and, really, our bodies as a whole. That’s a way super condensed summary. This book is overflowing with valuable information, and I can’t do it justice at this moment in time. You’ll just have to check it out for yourselves. There are many resources available if you are interested.

Okay, back to the bread. In days past, I would grind my wheat and immediately set off to make the dough and bake the bread. Since discovering the traditional way of doing things, I now soak my flour at least overnight in a mixture of water and vinegar. Basically, doing this breaks down the phytic acid that is present in the whole grain, making it easier for our bodies to absorb the nutrients that are so vitally important for our health! Once again, there is so much more going on, but I wanted to give you a brief overview as to why I do what I do. Here is a much more in depth explanation on why we should be soaking and sprouting our grains.

The recipe I use comes from The Urban Homemaker. It’s really simple, and I have to tell you, I have never baked better bread in my life! I don’t necessarily attribute my success to the recipe, but rather to the soaking process. I believe anyone can make delicious bread. There is definitely a “feel” to it, but with a few tries, it shouldn’t be difficult to get. Let’s get to it!

First things first, grind that wheat!

Now get the wet stuff ready.  Here I put 6 tablespoons of vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because that’s what I had handy) + enough water to make 6 cups in my bosch mixer.  If you’re serious about making bread, I would highly recommend investing in one of these work horses.

Add your flour!  This is 12 cups of flour.

Mix it up!

Cover the mixture and let it sit for at least 12 hours.  It won’t look much different, but here’s what it looked like when I was ready to get baking.

We are now ready to turn this into dough!  I mixed 3 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and a teaspoon sized squirt of honey into about 1/4 cup of warm water.  If it’s too hot, the yeast will be killed, but you want it warm enough to actually get things going.  It should feel almost hot on your hands.  Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until it gets nice and foamy.
It’s time to gradually pour the yeast mixture, along with the honey, oil, and salt, into the mixer.  I do this with the mixer going.  After everything is pretty well incorporated, more flour is slowly added until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.  This is where you’ll gain experience in how it should look and feel.  In my experience, the dough usually cleans the sides of the bowl before it has enough flour.  It shouldn’t be super sticky when you feel it, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be really firm.  I like to err on the side of more sticky for a moister and lighter finished product.  The wonderful thing about bread is that it’s fairly forgiving and definitely not an exact science.  The amount of flour you add at this point in the process will be different every time, depending on the humidity.  The following is a picture of my dough after I added the right amount of flour for the day.  Note the clean sides of the bowl!
It’s now time to let the mixer (or your hands if you’re kneading by hand) do the work.  I let the dough knead for about 5 minutes.  The time needed for kneading (hahaha) will vary depending on your mixer.  You want the gluten to have time to work.  When it’s ready, the dough will be sort of smooth and elastic-y.  Like that made up word?  I poke my finger in to look for it to spring back.  Then I’ll grab and chunk and see how elastic it is.  If the gluten is properly developed, you should be able to stretch it thin to the point of being almost translucent.
At this point, I like to let my dough rest for about 10 minutes before I form the loaves.  I typically take the time to nurse a baby, throw a load of wash in the machine, or do one of the other 10 million things that need to be done in my day.  Oh, I’ll also grease my pans.
Then I form my loaves:   Grab a chunk of dough, knead it just a few times on a greased surface, make a nice smooth top, throw it down on the counter to get the bubbles out, and put it in your pan to rise!  One day I’ll make a video of how I form a loaf.  🙂
I let my bread rise in a warmed oven mostly because my kitchen is tiny and I don’t have room to do it anywhere else without little fingers getting into it!  Let it rise until it’s doubled keeping in mind that it will rise a tiny bit more when it bakes.
I take the loaves out to preheat my oven to 350 degrees, and then it’s right back into the oven for about 30 minutes.  Here are my baked loaves fresh from the oven.
Right after I took this picture, I took them out of the pans to cool.
If anyone has questions, please let me know.  I’d love to help spread the fresh home baked bread love!

Oh nuts!

I have to tell you something.  I get bored really easily, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.  I get bored when it comes to food.  There are most definitely a few things that I enjoy and never tire of, but my taste buds and my tummy really like trying new things.  (This is why you’ll most likely be reading a lot of posts starting with, “I tried something new today in the kitchen.”)

I digress….lately I’ve been feeling the need for a bit more variety in our snacks.  I don’t know about you, but I went a bit overboard on the holiday sweets, and it is consequently time to wean myself off all of that sugar.  Sure it would be easy to just not eat anything sweet, right?  Yeah, right.  I don’t have that will power.  And I will always have a sweet tooth.

So I was trying to think of something maybe a bit sweet that wasn’t stuck in some form of carbohydrate.  Nuts!  They are full of protein and healthy fats.  I had a giant sack of walnuts in the freezer.  By default, that was the nut of choice!  I headed on over to www.food.com, my favorite place to go on the net for recipes of any kind, typed in walnuts on the search bar, weeded my way through a slew of recipes, and finally found one that sounded absolutely perfect:  Maple Glazed Walnuts.  And oh yes, they ARE absolutely perfect!

One of the best parts about this recipe is that it has 3 ingredients and takes only a few minutes to make.  I almost always modify the recipes I use in some way, shape, or form, and this one was no exception.  If you’re interested in the original recipe, you can find it here:  http://www.food.com/recipe/maple-glazed-walnuts-253308

This is my version:  First I preheated my cast iron skillet to about medium/high.  Then I dumped 3-4 cups of walnuts, 1/3 cup of maple syrup (the REAL maple syrup….no yucky corn syrup make believe stuff around here), and about 1/8 tsp. of salt into the pan.  I stirred it continuously for about 3-4 minutes, which was enough time to get the nuts slightly toasted and the syrup caramelized.  They went from the skillet to a sheet of waxed paper to cool, although a few went almost immediately into my mouth.  Woops!

The kids love them.  I love them.  I’m not sure about the hubby, but does it matter?  😉