Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quick and Easy Ham and Eggs

Not much time to devote to a blog post this evening so I am just going to share with you what I made for dinner. Last night's dinner was all about bacon, tonight's was all about eggs. Apparently I am craving breakfast.

I found this super easy, healthy, five ingredients or less recipe for Spicy Eggs in Ham Baskets on Pinterest and modified it just a little. The good news is this recipe is so simple it leaves tons of room for modifications and additions.  The original recipe can be found here. Here is how I made it:

12 large eggs
12 slices deli ham
Frank's Red Hot Sauce to taste
Fresh chopped basil to taste
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with non stick spray and lay a piece of ham over each muffin opening. Place the muffin pan in the oven for five minutes. The ham will crisp up and turn into a little "basket". Crack one egg into each basket. For our family I used 9 whole eggs and three egg whites so that I could have four of these (3 whites, one whole), and the rest of the family could have theirs made with whole eggs.

After you crack the eggs into the baskets, pop the muffin tray back in the oven for another five minutes. Then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees, and bake another five minutes. The original recipe states when you cook them this way, your eggs will still be a little runny, but mine came out about over medium, which I was fine with. Scoop the egg baskets out of the pan using a rubber spatula. They should come out easily. I garnished mine with salt, pepper, a few drops of Frank's Red Hot Sauce and some fresh chopped basil. They make a cute presentation and they are super tasty. You could also add a little cheese to these or some other herbs or some sliced jalapeƱos (which is what the original recipe calls for but I didn't have any).

I served these with a green salad and some fresh fruit.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Paleo Bacon Madness

As I've mentioned before, I don't subscribe to any specific diet or style of eating, but I do like to steal borrow recipes and ideas from them as part of my own personal eating style. I figure certain eating styles must work well for people, otherwise they wouldn't be so popular. And although I won't commit wholy to any one "diet" or "lifestyle" (I refuse to completely cut out an entire group of food or carbs, etc.), I often find myself searching and making recipes by those who do. This usually includes the vegan lifestyle (some days I eat an entire vegan menu without even meaning to) and the Paleo diet/lifestyle. Today, I ended up making two Paleo recipes that both included BACON for dinner and dessert. And since I was too busy to post a Monday Meal Plan (shocking), I decided to share some of what I ate today with you, and I actually took pictures!

A friend of mine who is currently eating Paleo sent me a recipe a while back that sounded fantastic, and this week I finally remembered to buy all of the ingredients I needed to make it. The recipe comes from the PaleOMG blog and the original can be found here. I modified it a little, like I usually do. My friend made her version with turkey bacon, but I knew the hubs would never go for that. So I chose to use real bacon. Now, unlike my husband and most of America, I'm not a huge fan of bacon. I mean, it's okay, and I eat it on occasion. But I could really take it or leave it. I have to tell you though, the recipes I made tonight were so good, they might just have put bacon on the map for me.

So here are the details on dinner:

See that? It's roasted spaghetti squash. And it's delicious! I love using spaghetti squash in recipes that call for pasta. Although I usually replace about half of the pasta with squash, since this recipe is Paleo, that meant NO PASTA. But in this recipe, I didn't really miss it. Okay, so the first thing I did was cut the spaghetti squash in half and roast it, cut sides down on a cookie sheet, in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. The original recipe said to roast for 20-25 minutes for a medium spaghetti squash, but my guy was pretty big. While the squash was roasting, I prepared the rest of the recipe:

That pretty package of bacon pictured at the top of this post got cut up into 1/2 inch pieces. The original recipe calls for a full pound of bacon, but I reserved three slices from the package for my dessert recipe. The original recipe also calls for uncured bacon, but I had regular bacon and used that. (Not sure if that makes my version of the recipe non-Paleo). I cooked the sliced bacon in a pan over medium heat. This recipe makes a crap ton of food, so you will want to use a large pan. I used a wok.

Once the bacon was cooked crispy, I removed it from the pan using a slotted spoon, and set it aside in a bowl. The original recipe states to then remove half of the bacon grease, and leave the rest in the pan. I dumped out about two-thirds of the bacon fat.

I threw three cloves garlic minced, and half of a yellow onion diced into the pan with the bacon fat, and cooked those until the onion turned translucent. (If you have any doubts about this recipe, the smell of garlic and onion cooking in bacon fat will clear those right up for you). Then I added a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained. The original recipe says to cut the artichokes into halves or quarters, but I cut them into thirds because I'm a rebel like that. I then added half a pound of chicken, diced (no picture on the chicken, sorry). The original recipe calls for a half pound of chicken tenders cooked into the recipe. I used about six ounces of the precooked stuff. I know, I know, GASP! Look, I don't always have a ton of time, and precooked chicken is okay in my book. If you buy it from a store like Trader Joe's or Sprouts, you end up with a little more sodium than if you cooked it yourself, and that's about it. Moving on...

Spaghetti squash was done and had cooled enough for me to handle. I scooped out the flesh of one half of the squash and threw that in the pan. This came out to about four cups of squash. Since my squash was so large, I decided to reserve the other half for lunch tomorrow. Then I added the cooked bacon back in and mixed it all up. Last, I turned the heat down to low, added about five cups of spinach, and cooked that until it started to wilt. This is the end result:

Nom, nom, nom, nom!!!
Not sure that the picture does this recipe justice, but like I said, it made a crap ton of food! FYI: I'm pretty sure I coined the term crap ton, just sayin'. Also, you can see a glimpse of my awesome new kitchen in the picture above. Swoon.

If you divide this recipe into six servings, each serving clocks in at 305 calories, 14 grams fat (4 saturated), 14 grams carbs, and 32 grams protein. I really liked this recipe. I added just a tiny bit of Spike seasoning and black pepper to my portion. The hubs liked it too, but thought it might be even better with some acidity, like some lemon juice or a tomato sauce. So I have some good ideas for next time...

Now let's get to the good stuff: dessert. I stumbled upon this recipe while bouncing around on some recipe blogs and it was so simple, I just had to make it. Four ingredients, all of which I already had? Sold.  The recipe comes from another Paleo recipe blog,, and can be found here. I only made slight changes to this one because it was so simple. Here are the ingredients and measurements I used:

3 medium bananas
3 slices bacon cooked crispy (the original recipe calls for 4 slices)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
5 tablespoons almond butter (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup)

The recipe also calls for a specific brand of chocolate chips, Enjoy Life. They are gluten free, grain free, soy free, nut free, dairy free, etc. They sound awesome, but I didn't have 'em. So I used regular old store brand semi-sweet chocolate chips. (Pretty sure this time that this definitely disqualifies my version of the recipe as Paleo). Anyway...

Slice the bacon into thirds (I did this before I cooked them). Slice the bananas into thirds, then slice the thirds in half. Spread each banana half with almond butter (about 1/2 tbsp for each pair), and place a slice of bacon in the middle. You should now have nine little banana almond butter bacon sandwiches. Place them on parchment paper and stick them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips over low heat. You can do this in a double broiler, but I did it in a small sauce pan. Just watch it, stir it, and remove it from the burner when the mixture is slightly lumpy. The remaining lumps will melt, but if you leave it on the burner until they do, the mixture will burn. Dip each frozen banana sandwich into the melted chocolate, and place them back on the parchment paper like so:

The bacon kind of looks like little tongues sticking out. Martha Stewart I am not.
The amount of chocolate is just enough to cover about half of each sandwich. Which was fine with me, because they are a little less messy to hold on the non-chocolate end. After you dip them, freeze them again until you are ready to eat, which for me was about five minutes. Here they are again:

And look, you can see apples and pears behind them. See, it's not all bacon at my house. These little babies clock in at 183 calories, 11 grams of fat (4 saturated), 23 grams carbs, and 3 grams protein per sandwich. And they are fantastic. The combination of textures and flavors in these is amazing. They are so good,  I didn't even mind eating a frozen treat while it's still so damn cold out.

So there you go, bacon and Paleo (sort of) dinner and dessert. And I still ate slightly less than my calorie goal today. And we have leftovers for tomorrow. Score!

What's your favorite bacon recipe?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cleaning out the Closets (A Week in Review)
So we are finally finished moving into our new home. Sort of. Mostly.

I still have to go back to the old house and yardsale all the stuff we left behind. And speaking of stuff we left behind: that's mostly what this post is about. I'm going to try to keep it short, mostly because I still have so much left to do with the unpacking and the sorting, and the picking up/dropping off children, and the grocery shopping, and on and on....

We chose to move for several reasons. And it was stressful. Really, really stressful. I posted about this a while back before we even started the official move, and as that day got closer, my anxiety and irritability, and awful eating habits just kept getting worse and worse. And I knew it, but I couldn't stop it.

And then something amazing happened. Last Sunday, when it was all said and done, my husband and I were standing around in our new living room, and we both realized (almost simultaneously) how relieved we were, on so many levels. And not relieved that the actual moving part was done (although we were), but relieved that we were in a new place, with new beginnings for our family. I had no clue the power of healing that could be found with a simple change in location and scenery. But it wasn't just that. It was what we left behind at the old place. I won't go into all the gory details, but so much of what our old home held was broken, both literally and figuratively. And that "busy" word I use so much, was mostly just a euphemism for stressed the hell out. But I don't think my husband or I quite realized the full extent of it until we finally moved on, literally and figuratively. And now I feel hope again, and I feel like I can relax (a little), and just enjoy my home and my family. Now we can begin to resemble a "real" or "normal" family again, without all the stress and heaviness we used to feel. We are healing, and I will never, ever, let myself or us go back to what we were. Like the picture above says, I am choosing to live a life I love, from now .

Now on to a few other tidbits from the week. I didn't get to post a Meal Plan Monday due to the move. Plus I was so off track with eating, it would have been inappropriate to list almost anything I ate on this, my "healthy" blog. But I am back on track now.  Back to the GYM (so happy!).

I'm on the left. Check out my girl Rosemary's guns!
And I am back to logging on my fitness pal, back to cooking and eating meals at home, and back to posting here. All very, very good things. And since Meal Plan Monday was a bust this week, here are just a few good things I ate (sorry, no pretty pictures):

Breakfast: Two multigrain waffles topped with 1/4 cup lowfat cottage cheese and sliced strawberries

Recovery Green Smoothie (after the gym):  1 cup almond milk, 1/2 of a gala apple chopped, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 medium banana, 1/2 cup nonfat vanilla greek yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice with calcium, 1 cup kale

Lunch: Lunch has been mainly sandwiches this week, roast beef or ham on cracked wheat sourdough bread with asiago cheese and mustard. (Unfortunately, all of these items register high on the sodium meter, so I know I will have to make some changes there). I usually have my sandwiches with grape tomatoes or other crunchy veggies on the side for some texture and to circumvent my chip craving that comes with sandwich consumption :)

Dinner: We have taco night once a week at our house. It's tradition. Tacos in our house are not fancy. They are made with ground beef (93% lean), and premade taco shells. Deal with it. But most of the time, I also make pumpkin black bean poblano tacos for myself (the kids and hubby don't care for them and that's okay). This week I also made guacamole using my bestie's recipe which clocks in at about 90 calories per serving, and had that with some Garden of Eatin' gluten free organic blue corn chips. Delish.

Well, I am off to make a snack and then organize my new closet. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meal Plan Monday

Since my last post was a bit of a downer, I decided to share with you a good day for me from last week. I am hoping to do this every Monday as a series: pick my favorite day of the week eatingwise and share it with you. I say hoping because, well, you know, I'm busy. So here is what my best day looked like last week:

Breakfast: This my friends, is what I refer to as a "bowl of goodness". I stole that name from a website I can't recall at this very moment, and probably could google to figure it out and give them credit, but I need to finish this post so I can get to bed. Anywho, a bowl of goodness for me always starts with oatmeal. Then I just throw in a bunch of yummy, healthy, reasonably sized portions of good stuff and mix it all up into a hot mess. (The picture above was taken pre-hot mess). This particular bowl consisted of a half cup of rolled oats cooked in half of a cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, half a cup water, and a teaspoon of homemade Indonesian vanilla extract we got from my mother-in-law for Christmas. Then I added two teaspoons of Better N' Peanut Butter (lower sodium and fat than regular peanut butter and still tastes great), a heaping tablespoon of nonfat vanilla greek yogurt, half a tablespoon of chia seeds (great source of fiber), 1/8 cup raisins, 1/4 cup blackberries, and half of a tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder. It was the bomb. I also had a cup of black coffee.

I normally have a snack mid-morning, but I was still really full from my bowl of goodness, so I ended up foregoing the snack. Then came lunch:

Lunch consisted of a curry chicken salad sandwich on toasted Ezekiel sprouted grain bread (a low glycemic product I love, but to me it only tastes good toasted). The chicken salad recipe I used was a hybrid made from two sources: the cookbook Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, and a "super foods" diet plan published in Self Magazine. I combined the two to make up my own recipe mainly because Skinny Bitch's recipe (like all of their recipes) is vegan (as in vegan mayonnaise and fake chicken).  I have no problem with vegan mayo on principle, but it's not for me. And Self Magazine's recipe wasn't very complex (i.e. not that flavorful). So here is my adapted/hybrid chicken salad recipe:

Chunky Curry Chicken Salad

2/3 cup chicken breast, cooked and chopped (if you are pressed for time, use the precooked stuff)
1 tbsp canola mayonnaise (I used Best Foods brand)
1 tbsp plain nonfat greek yogurt
1/2 tsp curry powder
Dash of ground black pepper to taste
1 to 2 tsp raw lemon juice to taste
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 cup red seedless grapes, halved or quarted depending on size

Combine the mayo, yogurt, spices, and lemon juice in a bowl. Fold in the chicken, grapes, and celery. In case you were wondering, according to Self Magazine, the curry and grapes are what qualifies this recipe as "super".  I also had a fuji apple and home brewed green tea with lemon juice with my sandwich. And yes, the sandwich is on a skull and crossbones plate. We have a full set.

Mid-Afternoon: I had a green smoothie which I made using my go to recipe, minus chia seeds since I had already had some with breakfast: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1 tablespoon almond butter, half of a frozen banana, 1 cup spinach, and 1 scoop protein powder (I used Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein). I added the protein powder because I was going to my daughter's basketball game and knew I was going to end up eating a late dinner. The added protein helped me feel full until then. Sorry, no picture for the smoothie. BUT, I also had this:

Two squares of dark chocolate. I actually had this before the smoothie, around 2:30, when I got a hankering for something sweet. I had the smoothie around 4:00, right before I left for the basketball game.

Dinner: Again, no picture for this meal but that was mainly due to the fact that it was kind of late by the time I cooked it (about 7:00), and I didn't feel like waiting any longer to eat. I had "brinner" (breakfast for dinner). I scrambled three egg whites and one whole egg with a quarter cup of black beans (drained and rinsed) in a pan with Emeril's brand nonstick canola oil spray, and topped that with a third of an avocado chopped, and some Cholula hot sauce. Delicious! I finished the night with some chai tea. Black tea is warming, and I needed it. It's been so damn cold this winter!

The whole day clocked in at 1409 calories, 169 grams of carbs (my exact allowance for carbs), 47 grams of fat, 95 grams of protein (one gram over my daily goal), and 40 grams of fiber (23 grams over my daily goal!) Like I've mentioned, I just love it when my numbers add up. And extra protein and fiber is always a good thing in my world.

I didn't work out on this day, but if I had, I would have added in some more calories. I usually aim to eat back about half of the calories I burn when I work out. I got this idea from an article in an athletic magazine that reported most online calculators overestimate the number of calories burned through various activities. The article stated unless you wear a heart monitor, your total calories burned through may be a lot lower than you think. Since I don't have a heart monitor (yet-fingers crossed for my birthday), I use the "half formula", rather than eating back all of the calories I think I burned. Just the way I do it.

So there it is: my first addition of Meal Plan Monday. Hope you enjoyed it. What did you eat on your best day this week?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The "B" in Busy

This is me right now. In squirrel form.
We're moving. And I couldn't be more excited about that fact. Moving means I will no longer have to drive my daughter an hour each way to school. Moving means my best friend's house will be about eight minutes away. Moving means I get to decorate a whole new place. And go to Costco and stock up on a bunch of stuff for my pantry. I have never had this much cabinet space in my life! So by all rights, I should be in a pretty decent mood right?

But I'm not.

I'm irritable. I'm incredibly short with my kids, the dog, cashiers, strangers... In short, cover your virgin ears (or eyes?): I'm a real bitch right now.

And I'm overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks. The thought of having to forward my mail feels like someone expecting me to rebuild a car engine. Nearly every time I start to pack a box, my three year old runs into the room and promptly begins unpacking it. And this might sound like a cute little anecdote, but it literally makes me sit down on the floor and well up with tears, as if my three year old and I are in fact, the same age. 

See, my husband, like me, is also busy. His restaurant (shameless plug) is doing really well, which means he's working a lot. And being married to a chef, that comes with the territory. I know that. I've always known that. And he is helping as much as he can with the move. But I still feel so helpless. Like a helpless little child who can barely tie her own shoes. Which is so not me. And that's making me irritable. And short with the kids, the dog, cashiers, strangers....

And to add a little fun to the mix, I've started eating my feelings. I stole that term from the movie Mean Girls, but it's absolutely true. For months now, I've been on track, eating well and feeling good. Then the whole moving thing started, and this happened:

Yup, it's another squirrel picture. Deal with it.
It all started at Trader Joe's. (I heart TJs so hard). I went in for milk, almond and cow. That's all I needed. But then I thought, I should grab some more spinach for my green smoothies. (I haven't made a single one since I bought the spinach). And then I grabbed some strawberries, mini heirloom tomatoes, Larabars (do yourself a favor: go out right after you read this and buy a Cherry Pie Larabar), and some spicy california rolls. And then the three year old noticed the special bakery table set up for Valentine's Day. There were heart shaped cookies, and whoopie pies, and gluten free flourless cakes (which is what I normally would have purchased, if anything). But then the three year old found them: Triple. Chocolate. Bundt Cakes. A pack of four of them. And she insisted, in her typically calm, rational manner, that I buy them. Remember how I mentioned I'm easily overwhelmed right now? I bought them. And we got them home and I looked at the nutrition information on the bottom of the package. And then I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. A half of one of those chocolate glazed, chocolate cakes rolled in chocolate chips, is 340 calories. And a ridiculous number of grams of fat and carbs that I'm not even going to bother to list.

Now, under normal circumstances, I can resist the urge to eat a triple chocolate bundt cake. In fact, lately, after my no sugar challenge, I don't even have the urge to eat things like triple chocolate bundt cake. But right now I'm all like:

Last one, I promise.
After a little counseling/assurance from my bestie that it would all be okay, I ate half of a triple chocolate bundt cake. And it was damn good. And I didn't feel that bad about it. And then the next day at lunch, I had some french fries and a sugary delicious Eegee's frozen slushy drink. And I still didn't feel all that bad, because I was celebrating my move. So it was okay. But later that day, I had both kids with me, and we had spent the day driving across town, moving boxes. And my mom came to see the new place and I was celebrating again. And the kids needed to eat. So we went out for pizza. And spinach artichoke dip. And hot wings. Damnit.

Today, I woke up with a renewed spirit. I had a cup of multi grain peanut butter cheerios with almond milk, coffee, and four ounces of orange juice for breakfast. And I felt good. And then I started packing boxes. And my three year old began unpacking them. And my teenager, who was supposed to be distracting the three year old, spent most of the morning complaining because I would not allow her to go to her friend's house. And then I discovered that at some point, the dog had urinated all over the three year old's toys. The same toys I was attempting to pack into boxes. And then the three year old started to sob, loudly, and inconsolably, because she couldn't put a puzzle together, and eventually I just decided I hate today. So we went to a fast food restaurant where my three year old could run around and burn off some energy (I know I'm in Arizona, but it's too damn cold right now to go to a park), and I ate a cheeseburger and fries.

Oh, and have I mentioned in the midst of all this, that I haven't had any time or desire to exercise? Yes, I know, moving is a physical activity. Believe me, I'm logging it as such on my fitness pal. But I haven't had the time or energy to go to my beloved boot camp class at the gym, or yoga, or even just go for a run, which are all a part of my normal week. And it's making me irritable. And short with the kids, the dog, cashiers, strangers....

So here is what I've decided: this stops now. I am going to get back on track, now. And I am going to be nicer to my kids, the dog, cashiers, strangers, and possibly my husband. Just kidding honey. But I am resolved to put an end to the season of the bitch. And to start eating like I know I should, and to make time to get my workouts in. Because it's all a cycle, I know that all too well. I know that if I eat right and exercise, I won't be so stressed, and overwhelmed. And then I can focus on all the positives of moving. Which is what I should be doing, and what I want to be doing. And those three chocolate bundt cakes on my kitchen counter? They'll be joining all the other stuff in the old house I secretly got rid of when the three year old wasn't paying attention.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sunday Morning Pancakes
I am not afraid of carbs. That may be obvious given that my first recipe post on this blog was for zucchini bread, and the second is for pancakes. My philosophy when it comes to carbs is moderation and portion control. I don't shy away from pasta, bread, rice, waffles, muffins, or pancakes. I just eat reasonable portion sizes, and always try to accompany them with some veggies and fruit.

Recently, I rediscovered a cookbook my mom bought me for Christmas about five years ago, Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. I was super excited about the book because at the time, my older daughter was nine, and refused to eat a single vegetable, except lettuce, and only if it was smothered in ranch dressing. The cookbook is made for people who want to sneak vegetables into their kids' food, and I couldn't wait to try the recipes. But then I opened the book and was a little disappointed. Several of the recipes called for "trans-fat free soft tub margarine spread". I'm married to a chef. We don't do margarine in my house. And I hate to say that because I sound so snotty but it's one of the few things that I just refuse to eat. I was also overwhelmed by the book, because almost all of the recipes incorporate vegetable purees, which she suggests making and freezing ahead of time to use as needed. At this point in my life, that doesn't sound so daunting. But five years ago, the thought of it literally made me give up and put the book on my kitchen shelf to collect dust.

And there it stayed, until about six months ago, when I finally realized that making vegetable purees was not rocket science and I could easily just make a few at a time for recipes I wanted to make that same day or the next. I realized, albeit five years later, that I didn't have to follow her system of making a ton of purees and I could use butter instead of margarine. Sounds simple right? I just needed to do it my own way. But for years, I couldn't.

Confession time: I am a rule follower. Big time. The thought of doing something different than the way I was told used to practically paralyze me with anxiety.  I don't know exactly why, and most of me thinks I shouldn't delve too deep into it. The point is, until recently, I was genuinely unable to comfortably modify recipes or think outside the box, at all, when it came to cooking. But then I had a break through, and I'm so glad I did. Because it opened up the possibility for me to make and eat things that I love, while still maintaining a (mostly) healthy style of eating.

Sundays are my favorite day to cook because I can take my time, and make recipes that I don't usually have time for during the busy week. This is especially true for mornings. Most mornings I end up eating breakfast at work. I'm the first one out of the house in the morning and I'm always in a rush, even if I somehow manage to wake up early. It's Murphy's Law. And I don't particularly like eating first thing in the morning anyway. I like to wake up a bit first. So when I go to the office, I pack my entire day's worth of meals and snacks, including breakfast. My older daughter typically eats breakfast at school, and the little one eats with my hubby before he takes her to preschool. So it's rare that we even get to eat breakfast as a family. But Sundays are different.

For a long time I made scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast on Sundays. My older daughter and I would have turkey bacon, and the hubby and little one would eat the real stuff (and whatever was left of the turkey bacon). We would have toast, and fruit, coffee, and juice, and sometimes I would make pancakes. But they were never really that good. So they felt like a waste of time. And I hate to waste my time.

Then a few weeks ago, I was flipping through Jessica Seinfeld's book, and found a recipe for pancakes made with sweet potato puree. It just so happened I had some sweet potatoes on hand, so on Friday I roasted and pureed them, and stuck the puree in the fridge for Sunday. And then I remembered I had a pancake mold! My aunt used to sell Pampered Chef (remember them?) and I have had this teddy bear shaped pancake mold for 15 years, and never opened it. Ridiculous. But I just never do Martha Stewart/Pinterest stuff like that. So I spent all weekend anxiously waiting to make Sunday morning bear shaped pancakes. And I just knew my three year old would be equally as excited about them. Here is the recipe I used:

1 cup water
1/2 cup sweet potato puree
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup Krusteaz Heart Healthy Buttermilk Pancake Mix
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for the pan)

Makes 4 servings

Mix all ingredients except the oil together. Mixture will be lumpy. Set a griddle or pan over medium heat and add the oil. When the pan is hot, pour pancake batter by 1/4 cup full onto griddle or pan for each pancake. You should end up with eight pancakes.

Each serving (2 pancakes) clocks in at 153 calories, 25 grams carbs, 5 grams fat, 4 grams protein, and 2 grams fiber. And they taste soooooo good. The sweet potato kinda makes them a little crunchy and a beautiful orange color. And the cinnamon and sweet potato together make them sweet, even without syrup.

Sunday came and I spent all morning doing this:

Look at the poor little guy on the upper right, he's got some sort of a growth.

Supposedly, if you turn the bears upside down, they can be rabbits too. Minus the ears, I didn't see it. I finally finished all the bears and proudly presented them to the little one. And she immediately began to cry. What the what?! I was so confused. "Honey, what's wrong?" I pleaded, my heart dropping into my feet.  "Maaaaaaama! You were supposed to make Christmas pancakes!" she responded. I get a lot of "supposed to" at home. I like to think that my daughter believes we are so bonded, we must share thoughts, which is both adorable and infuriating all at the same time. But I came up with a solution anyway.

She handed me the Christmas shaped cookie cutters, still left out from December, (busy, I am busy), and I proceeded to cut a stocking, santa, star, and angel shape out of my beautiful bears. I would show you a picture of what those pancakes looked like, but the little one promptly devoured them once they were the correct shapes.

But here is what mine looked like:

Topped with homemade chocolate almond butter and sliced banana and strawberries. Because that's how I roll.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bikini Bread

My three year old loves the color green. Everything has to be green. Her hair bows, her halloween treat bucket (yes, I found a green pumpkin bucket-thank you Target), her favorite sweatshirt, the magnet she recently swiped from preschool and then proudly showed me in the car (we're returning it on Monday). So when she saw me making bread with little green bits in it, she was super excited. The conversation went like this:

"Oh mama, can I please have some of that green bread?"
"Of course you can baby. This bread is called zucchini bread."
"Oh mama, can I please have some of that bikini bread?"

And the name stuck. It was too darn cute not to. Plus, you can eat this bread and still fit into your bikini this summer! Look at me. I'm so clever.

I made this bread because my mother-in-law has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and I wanted to bring her something satisfying that she could just eat, without having to fuss with it. The recipe I used makes two loaves, so I sliced one up and wrapped individual portions for her, and kept the other loaf for our family. She liked it so much, I'm going to make another batch and give her both loaves, but slice and freeze the second one.

The recipe I adapted for this bread comes from the cookbook "The Everything Cookbook". It was published in 2000 and is a part of the "Everything" series of books that simplifies things for people (similar to the "XYZ for Dummies" books). I like the book because the recipes are just that, simple. And it feels like the authors who put the book together tried to do so with some healthy considerations. You can find the book available for sale super cheap here. I wish I could tell you that while making this recipe I took a bunch of photojournalistic style pictures of the process, but I didn't. My kitchen was a disaster and I don't need pictures of that floating all over the interweb. Hey, I'm busy, remember?

Here is the recipe I used:

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup 100% apple sauce (the original recipe calls for 1 cup oil, but I replaced half the oil with the  apple sauce)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini, loosely packed (works out to about 2 1/2 zucchini)
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (you can also use whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

*The original recipe also calls for 1 cup chopped walnuts. Although I love walnuts, and they are a source of "good fat", I ommitted them in order to cut down on the total fat and calories of the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two loaf pans with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy (that's the everything cookbook's word, not mine). Beat in sugar, oil, apple sauce, and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir the dry ingredients into the zucchini batter. Pour mixture into loaf pans (as evenly divided as possible) and bake 40 minutes (or until the center of the bread springs back when lightly touched).

Let cool about 10 minutes before cutting. I cut each loaf into eight pieces.

I did manage to get this picture and the one above. Look at those tasty green bits! And my grandmother's beautiful antique plate!

If you make the recipe according to the directions above, each piece clocks in at 206 calories, with 31 grams of carbs (obviously not a low carb recipe, but you knew that), 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fiber.

The apple sauce makes this recipe so moist and sweet. In the past I would have slathered a piece of bread like this with butter but you don't need to! It's fantastic on it's own. And you'll have a loaf to give to a family member or friend too - if you want to. If not, you can always slice and freeze the other loaf, then pull individual slices out and microwave them about 30 seconds. Enjoy!

My So Called Sugar Free Life

The good stuff

This is a post I've been wanting to write since the inception of this blog, but as I said in my last post, there's a reason why the first word in the title of the blog is "busy". Anywho, here goes. Last month I did something I never thought I'd do. Something big. And a little crazy.

I quit sugar.

No more of these:

Lofthouse frosted sugar cookies. So. Good.

Or any of these:
You mean, not even honey?? Or agave? Or Stevia???

That's right. No sugar, and no sugar substitutes. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Now when I say I quit sugar, I don't mean, I quit sugar forever. I don't even mean I quit sugar for a year, or a seemingly significant amount of time. I quit sugar for exactly two weeks. Two LONG weeks. And I purposely chose to start this challenge after the holidays (I started January second), and after my, ahem, monthly visitor. Mama knows not to set herself up for failure, thank you very much.
This was something I had wanted to do for a long time but had never had the, for lack of a better word, balls to do so. I admit it: I was scared. How could I live without any sugar or at least a substitute for an extended period of time? I was going to have to change my entire way of life. And to be honest, I'm not even that much of a sweets kinda gal. With the exception of cake, particularly birthday cake, you know, the sheet kind with the buttercream frosting (I've been known to buy the birthday cakes for one they sell in the grocery store), and those Lofthouse cookies above, there really aren't many sugary treats in the world that I can't easily turn down or cut out of my life entirely. Except maybe Mint Milanos. Okay, add that to the list. But other than that...
The reason I was scared is because I knew that sugar, and sugar substitutes were in so many things that I regularly consumed. For instance, honey. I love honey in my tea. Especially chai tea. Chai tea with honey and a little almond milk is the way I wrap up most of my nights at home, before drifting off to a blissful, warm, belly full of milk and honey dream state. I also use honey or agave in some of my green smoothies, or mix them in with yogurt and fruit and walnuts. Delicious! Stevia is not a huge part of my diet, but I do like to use their flavored drops to mix with seltzer water or use in my coffee on occasion. And speaking of coffee, that's kind of what started the madness.
I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but this year I made a small one. I wanted to quit using flavored creamer in my coffee. I know, I know, first world problems. But I really did want to quit them. I have had a love affair with flavored creamers for years. So much so, that when the seasonal flavors come out for winter - pumpkin, peppermint mocha, etc.,  I call up my mom and BFF to let them know which ones are out and which ones I bought. Then they tell me which ones they found and I inevitably go out and buy those flavors too. Eggnog. Salted Caramel. I'm salavating as I type. Anyway, I wanted to quit the coffee creamers because they were really messing with my fat and sugar goals. I'm a borderline obsessed user of my fitness pal (in a good way) and I just love it when all my numbers line up. So I was consistently frustrated when my daily goals for fat and sugar intake were just over the mark and I could look right at my food diary and pinpoint the fact that if I just hadn't had that cup of coffee with creamer at breakfast (and mid-morning), the little numbers would have been perfect! Yes, I am a numbers dork. I will own that. I just wished I knew how to quit the creamers (insert Brokeback Mountain joke here). And then I saw it: "The No Sugar Challenge".
The plan I followed can be found here. I also kept a daily blog on my fitness pal during my two weeks which can be found here. Since this post has already gotten a little wordy for my taste, I will do my best to summarize what I learned. First and foremost, there is sugar in everything. Everything that comes in a package or can or jar contains sugar or a sugar substitute (of which there are multiple names I can't always pronounce). Whether it belongs there or not, it's there. For instance, in turkey bacon. Why? And in almond butter (unless you buy the raw variety, which I ended up doing). And in roasted red peppers and chewable vitamin C tablets, and on and on. Now, you may be thinking, duh! But I was genuinely surprised by this. I expected to find it in all the cereals, and breads and protein bars, but not my beloved turkey bacon! You may also be saying, in your snide little way, "then don't eat processed food". And the truth is, I don't eat that much processed food. But again, I am a busy wife and mom, and sometimes, I make quinoa from a package. And I don't always roast my own red peppers. And I eat bread, and not always Ezekiel Bread, which is the only brand I found without sugar. Bottom line: a sugar free diet is more limiting than I imagined, and that may be why people have a lot of success losing weight with these types of plans. They're pretty darn restrictive.
I also learned that if you are planning to eat sugar free, don't plan to eat out. At all. Again, I don't eat out all that much. But it does happen. And it happened when I participated in the no sugar challenge. If I had planned better, I would have eaten something at home before we went out or brought myself a snack. But for some reason I didn't on these occasions. And I am a borderline obsessed planner (in a good way), particularly when it comes to eating. But there were a couple times it just didn't happen: once at a Bruegger's Bagels we stopped at after my daughter got her braces removed and was "starving"; and once at the mall, where we went on a cold rainy day out of desperation to let my little one burn off some energy at the little play area. Both times, my hunt for a sugar free option did not go well. When you ask cashier's at fast food restaurants what they have on the menu with no sugar, they look at you like you have two heads. Or like you are the most annoying person on earth. They're happy to tell you about their gluten free options. But I actually had one woman tell me (unapologetically) that she flat out could not tell me what did and did not contain sugar on the menu. At Bruegger's, I ended up ordering a spinach and ham omelet bagel sandwich, and gave the bagel to the little one. At the mall, I finally found chicken street tacos at Rubio's (the fish tacos had sugar). And yes, if I had a smarty smart phone, I probably could have looked up menus myself, but I have a blackberry. Nuff said.
Overall though, the benefits of the no sugar challenge far outweighed the pains of having to become a neurotic label checker and deal with lackluster service at food joints. For instance, I feel like my taste buds have been reset, so to speak. Before the challenge, I read that by cutting out sugar for even two weeks, your taste buds would learn to better detect the natural sweetness in foods. And it's totally true! I don't need honey or agave in my yogurt anymore. Just fruit. And sometimes a little vanilla bean powder, which is an amazing little product I discovered during the challenge (you can find it in bulk food sections of health food stores). And raw almond butter is just as good on toast as the kind that's sweetened with organic cane syrup. I don't need sugar or sugar substitutes like I thought I did. And while I was doing the challenge, a woman I take a boot camp class with at the gym actually told me "you look healthier, your eyes look brighter, it's amazing!" And I had sooooo much energy. The first few days were a little rough and I was irritable. But my energy levels were incredible and I never crashed. I almost always crash in the afternoon. But once I removed sugar from my body, it just didn't happen anymore.
Alright, I'm getting the signal to wrap it up...
I highly recommend participating in a no sugar challenge. It was a great learning experience and I am still eating far less sugar than I was before. But I have to admit, when it was over, I couldn't wait to eat something... anything, with a little sweetener in it. The first thing I ate: a homemade dark chocolate peanut butter muffin made with honey. And it wasn't nearly as satisfying as I had hoped. Since the challenge, I have elected to choose a few days a week where I eat sugar free. I initially thought I could keep up with eating sugar free most of the week, and limit my sugar and sugar substitute consumption to weekends. That didn't work out so well. BUT, I am still off the flavored creamer wagon! Or is it on the wagon? Anyway, I don't buy it or drink it (often). Since the challenge, I have used flavored exactly creamer twice, when I had coffee on the way to, and just before I ran in The Color Run. But all of the other coffee in my system has gone in black. That's right, I drink black coffee now. Like a man. Who am I???