Monday, December 19, 2011

Recipe: Braised Red Cabbage

I can't boast about having done so much exotic cooking recently. We are definitely in a rut of making pasta, homemade pizza and a variety of meat-and-two-veg combinations. Since time is at a minimum, as usual, I am not looking for extra projects this winter. But I would like to try and find a couple of easy winter vegetable recipes. My potato and celeriac side dish has been a hit with DH and me (don't ask the Things what they think about it). And this week I was ready to tackle another item: red cabbage.

I often have red cabbage in the house. I wish I could say I was making home fermented red sauerkraut, but I haven't been so enterprising of late. Instead I keep it around to mix it with salad greens to bring in some additional nutrients. I also like to use it to make coleslaw sometimes, that can be especially delicious. This last weekend however I was feeling in the mood to make braised cabbage. Who cared what the kids thought. It isn't like Thing 1 eats anything other than raw carrots, cooked broccoli and the occasional salad. Thing 2 simply won't eat any unpureed unhidden vegetables at all. This cabbage was all for me. It was likely I would have to deal with screaming kids anyway, why not do it eating something I enjoyed?

I found this recipe for braised red cabbage through a quick google search. It was easy and came out a perfect mic of salty, sour and sweet.

Braised Red Cabbage

1 head of red (aka purple) cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1 small to medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt

First chop the cabbage into bite size bits. I found this easier too cook than long strings. Place the cabbage into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes (I wish I could explain why you had to do this other than it was in the original recipe, but I truly don't know). In a large skillet melt the butter on medium heat and cook the onions for about 5 minutes. Drain the cabbage and add it to the pan. Now add the remaining ingredients, honey, apple cider vinegar and salt. Stir and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/2 hours. You won't need any additional liquid.

The result is a slowly braised wonderous side dish. I served my cabbage alongside a meatloaf and buttery butternut squash. It was a stand out in the meal. But perhap the best part was the next day when we made meatloaf sandwiches topped with the cold slaw. Man oh man. My mouth is watering reliving the moment.

I hope you will try this. It will definitely be a regular addition to our winter table. Two winter veggies down, two dozen to go.


This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blatent Health-Washing By Back To Nature

Back To Nature, a division of Kraft Foods, is a company whose products sit in what I call the 'pseudo-organic' isle of my grocery store. You know the isle where the store keeps Kashi and Annie's Cheddar Bunnies. These brands aren't necessarily healthy, they aren't necessarily non-processed and they may or may not contain organic ingredients. These brands may or may not contain GMOs. They may or may not contain the same amount of added sugars as normal products. What these brands do have in common is the use of health-washing in their brand marketing.

When I choose to buy a processed product (i.e.-anything that comes in a box), I look for a couple of things (not necessisarily in order of importance): 1) Are the grains listed as 100% whole grains? 2) Does the product contain soy or corn products? 3) Does the product contain chemical preservatives, or added flavors or colorings? 4) Is the product labeled organic? 5) Do I feel that the manufacturer made the product in a similar way that I would make it in my own home? When I answer these questions I get a better sense of the product. I prefer to buy products that are Non-GMO, whole, contain nothing artificial, and aren't "formulated" in a way to manipulate me. These are GUIDING PRINCIPLES, not hard and fast rules. But I like being informed.

I make a really ridiculous party dip which I will share with you next week. This weekend I was looking for some crackers to serve with this dip. I wish Ak-Mak made dip sized crackers, but they don't. I took a look at these Back to Nature crackers. I loved what I saw on the front cover!! Three ingredients! Because of the impressively short list of ingredients I was willing to buy this product even though it was not labeled as organic AND I knew it would contain white flour.

Then I flipped over the box and saw this

I feel strongly that to list three ingredients on the front of the box is like bragging to the customer 'Look at my impressive ingredient list!!' But then to not actually have an impressive ingredient list, well, that feels like manipulative marketing in my opinion. Although also in my opinion, Back to Nature products are slightly better than most of the other stuff Kraft Foods puts out. They don't use hydrogenated oils or artifical ingredients and their ingredient lists are shorter. But the products aren't significantly better. The products still could not be made in my own kitchen, yet they cost almost as much as other less processed organic products. Why would I choose to buy this product except for the marketing?

I have mentioned it before, I am not anti-capitalist. I am not an anarchist. I am not going to boycott foods that come from Kraft or Nestle just because they come from Kraft or Nestle. My decision not to buy Back to Nature is solely because I think that it is a mediocre product wrapped in a health-washed package. The ingredient list tells me that the product is mediocre. Their packaging is trying to tell me otherwise.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but damnit, it is still a pig.

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays and Real Food Wednesdays

Monday, December 12, 2011

5 Gifts Under $50 Any Foodie Could Love

My kitchen has always been relatively well equipped because I love cooking. But I don't have every kitchen gadget out there because some of them tend to be one-hit-wonders that take up space and don't do alot. My husband's beloved spaetzle maker comes to mind...but I'll stay quiet, he really loves making speatzle.

As far as the kitchen items I think are essential, I have some decent knives, several cutting boards for different jobs and a blender. But cooking more from scratch has highlighted my need for some additional equipment. In the past year I have added a few items that have made my life a whole lot easier. Surprisingly the ones that have made the biggest difference were inexpensive and rather small to store. And the added benefit, these 'B list' gadgets make perfect gifts because not everyone thinks to spend the money on them. They offer great function, but even a long time foodie might not have every single one.

1. Coffee Grinder

We received our coffee grinder several years ago from family as a Secret Santa present. Until then we had always purchased ground coffee, which doesn't taste quite as fresh. This inexpensive present was such a hit that my hubs swore never to buy ground coffee again. The best part? My kids sleep through the whirring sound when I get up before them in the morning.

Krupps 203 Electric Coffee Grinder at Amazon $19.55

2. Immersion Blender

I love the texture of creamy soups and apple butter. But how much do I hate handling ladlefuls of hot food into a standard blender? Yuk and Ouch. When I got my first immersion blender I was thrilled to do fewer dishes and puree things in the pot where I was cooking! That saved time and heavy hot weightlifting. I soon realized it was also super perfect for smoothies, emulsifying salad dressings, making vegetable purees and even pureeing eggs for amazing omelettes. I now consider this device a necessity.

Cuisinart CBS-77 Smart Stick at Amazon $49.95

3. 6-Inch Utility Knife

I have not added to my knife collection in a long time. I consider the essential knives to be a 9 or 10 inch chefs knife, a serrated knife and a 4 inch paring knife. But recently I purchased a 6-inch utility knife because I felt like I needed something in between my big guy and my paring knife. The utility knife is amazing for coring apples. It feels good in the hand when slicing greens off tough woody stems. Also I have found it easier to use than a chefs knife when slicing smaller things like cucumbers and even small potatoes and onions. Having this knife has filled a void in my kitchen for sure.

J. A. Henckels Classic 6-Inch Utility Knife $32.95

4. Knife Sharpener

I acquired this knife sharpener just this weekend and BOY has this changed my life. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not professionally sharpened my knives since I bought them almost 10 years ago. That is reprehensible. I knew I needed to do it, I just haven't gotten around to getting to the store that offers knife sharpening. Then think about it, it will be a few dollars for each knife and you will need to do it again in 6 months to a year! Chef's Choice makes several high quality knife sharpeners in the $100-$150 price range. But they also offer this mini for $39.95 (and it was actually even less at Zabar's in NYC). I have used it on all my knives and they are like new. This sharpener also works on serrated knives.

Chef's Choice Diamond Hone Hybrid Electric-Manual Knife Sharpener $39.95

5. Electric Beater

I used to consider an electric beater something that would take up space since I could easily stir or fold food together with a spoon. But then my mother in law bought one for me for a gift and I was hooked. I use the electric beater for cakes and muffins, an amazing cream cheese dip I make alot for parties and of course mashed potatoes. What sold me was not the EASE that the tool offered, but the superior result that I got. Mashed potatoes whipped with my electric beater are fluffier and less lumpy. An electric beater is also very economical and doesn't create alot of dishes the need to be cleaned!

Paier 5-Speed Electric Hand Mixer/ Beater (Includes Bread Kneeding Attachment) $23.19

Gift giving is one of the toughest things I do every year. I ALWAYS over think everything and I can rarely make a decision. And in trying to make every gift perfect I sometimes have some epic fails or fail to make a decision altogether. I hope that if you are the same as me, you can get some inspiration here!


Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Christmastime in the City

The air is chilly and crisp, coats but no hats or gloves.
The watery light of mid day becomes the twilight of mid afternoon.
Evening rushing looks black as night.
On the corner, we crunch over seperated needles of petite trees.
A gust of wind carries the evergreen scent of an altogether different place.
Sweet bells and laughter.
Brightly colored ear muffs and scarves.
Candied almonds and roasted chestnuts.
(Have you EVER bought them? There are only a dozen in the warmer)
Steam billows from down below.
The moist warm air rises through the grates, kisses exposed ankles and gets trapped in the opening of your slacks.
Shops and homes all decked in red velvet bows fresh from deep storage.
Excitement and hope and maybe a drink or two make the crowds bearable.
Stuffy office parties and last minute shopping at Herald Square, we make it through intact.
We'll need the babysitter again next week.
Quiet nights at home.
The radiator clanks then hisses.
Open a window and draw a little heart in the condensation.
The kids are sleeping soundly, dreaming of the presents stuffed tightly in the tippy tops of crammed closets.
Hopefully they won't find them tomorrow getting a towel.
Forget Silver Bells, this is Christmastime in the city.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac: This Doesn't Even Qualify As A Recipe

I am mentally prepared for winter this year. Last year I balked at winter vegetables. Rather I longed for tomatoes and strawberries and fresh baby spinach. I admit I ate fewer vegetables during the fall and winter than I should have. Not that that is such a big deal, but I feel better when I eat 5 fruits and veggies a day. Getting to that number between November and April can be a challenge for me.

This year I plan on working on that. I won't be perfect. Winter veggies take longer to prep and I can say with confidence that aside from carrots my children don't eat veggies that grow in the winter. But this isn't about my kids, this is about me accepting winter veggies for exactly what they are...fiborous and tough and maybe slightly delicious.

As a going away present, my CSA gave us 3 bulbs of celeriac in our last delivery. Celeriac is also known as celery root. Celery root is funky and rooty and severely ugly. I can't say I really know what to do with it, though I have thrown it into stock and vegetable soup. But vegetable soup is a shameful cop out for any proud veggie. How does one eat celeriac so that it shines in a leading role? Sheesh, I don't know.

Someone mentioned to me to mash it. But the flavor, like starchy celery, didn't appeal to me. So instead I boiled it alongside some purple potatoes. I added cream and butter and salt, mashed them and I was in heaven. The texture was lighter than my normal dense mashed potatoes. The celery flavor was delicate and nicely matched with the earthy potato. All in all I have to say...I think I like celeriac mashed potatoes even better than regular mashed potatoes. I think someone somewhere is turning over in their grave. Someone....somewhere....

Definitely try this. I think I will even buy celeriac in order to keep making this dish. One winter vegetable down and many, many left to go


This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are We All Too Busy To Eat Healthy?

Every couple of months I write some cry your eyes out post about how I am so busy. And I get some awesome responses from you guys in support, telling me to hang in there. I thank each and every one of you who has commented or even just read such a post. But as I continue to hit patches of busy-ness, writing more whining and complaining posts doesn't make for good compelling reading. Or even a cathartic writing experience.

I have yet again hit another such patch. While I have been quite busy at the office (which is a good thing), it is our current school situation that is the biggest culprit. My children and I now spend just shy of 12 hours of every week day outside of our home. And of my just over 12 hours spent in the home, 6-7 are spent sleeping, 2-3 are spent caring for the kids or preparing food and 1-2 are spent in other chore related ways, like emptying the dishwasher or making lunches. That leaves little time for the things that I love, like writing. No wonder I never talk on the phone.

So I have now carved out a love-hate relationship with food preparation. When I started this blog I was inspired by all that I read. I tried new things, even on a weeknight! But today making homemade food sometimes feels like a ball and chain. But what choice do I have? Muster up the energy to cook something simple like sausages and boiled veggies, or order food that will make us all feel sick. Last week I was exhausted fighting some cold and I couldn't even think of stepping foot into the kitchen. So we picked up some pizza. What a mistake. I spent the whole night queasy and I couldn't sleep. Some convenience. Yes, the kids ate with no drama-rama, but I have to imagine that their bellies were tender that night too.

I love the idea of a local, organic and non-processed diet. But I will not sit here and tell you that it is a sustainable lifestyle for most people. The vast majority of people lack the skills to make a non-processed lifestyle work with all the commitments they have in life. And my 'experiment' to prove that any family can eat all homemade foods has lead me to dozens of amazing and inspirational blogs kept by full time bloggers, stay at home mothers and home schoolers. That's awesome, but not all the tips really work for me. I am not home to try all these cool recipes out.

So after 18 months of blogging, I have come to one succinct conclusion. We are all just too damn BUSY! The modern American lifestyle is overstuffed with way too many activities and we have made room for them by cutting out things we really need to do like sleeping and preparing healthy food. And we continue to convince ourselves that we need junky convenience foods and faster smartphones in order to do more work and brain cell sucking activities like searching the Internet. But wait, are we convincing ourselves? Or is it the companies that are selling us the phones, computers and junk food?

Today, The average American workday is 7.5 hours. That makes sense, 8 hour day, 30 minutes for lunch give or take a few. That number has remained fairly constant over the years. In this link, you can see that weekly hours worked has remained the same since the mid sixties at about 40-41 hours total per week. That is actually slightly less than in the forties when the average weekly hours worked was slightly over 43 hours. But no huge difference over the years. Then tack on the average commute, which is today just shy of an hour per day, or over 100 hours each year. I guess I can keep on complaining because my work day is 9 hours each day and I can boast a whopping 2+ hours of commuting time each day.

The change in sleep over the last 100 years is much more dramatic. The average amount of daily sleep has gone from 9 hours in 1900 to 7 hours in the 1970's to just over 6 hours today. I myself admit to getting only 6 hours of sleep regularly. I shoot for 7 hours but don't really feel good unless I get a full 8 hours. The fact that kids are getting less sleep saddens me. Reports show that School aged kids today average only 9.5 hours of sleep each day when they should be getting more. That is less than kids were getting 30 years ago. Sleep is important for everything from physical repair to hormone regulation to supporting memory. I know all this, but so many nights I stay up writing this blog instead of turning off the electric lights and the ever portable iPad.

But naturally it is the time spent in front of TVs, computers and Internet capable phones that is so troubling. According to this study and the article published in Businessweek, kids are now using more than 8 hours of media per day. That includes cell phone and iPod usage, texting, Internet, gaming and TV watching. I don't even want to know how many hours I spend using media. It is virtually all day at work. And then between various personal Apple devices, I overdo it a little. The problem I find with this trend is not so much that we are watching so much TV or reading online, it is that we are not setting down the devices to prepare healthy foods. It is that we cannot turn off the computer to go to sleep. We seem so afraid that we will miss something. Surely this cannot be good for us. And our health is surely suffering from the lack of rest and the abundant 'convenient' food.

I don't mean to say that we should just utilize our time better. That's a cop-out like saying we need to eat less and exercise more to combat obesity. The biggest problem in being too busy today is that in order to stay socially connected in today's world we HAVE to be computer literate and text and stay up on Facebook. There aren't quills for letter writing, parlor visits or calling cards anymore. Companies are pushing you to not even get mail anymore by sending you your bill via email. We cannot live without technology. It is not going away. I don't think we will get any less busy than we are right now. I suppose it could get worse. It could turn into The Matrix.

I bounce between wondering if blogs like mine make a difference to anyone who eats the Standard American Diet and not having any effect whatsoever. Or does my writing into the ether just solidify a group of people who have all independently come to the same conclusion, that we are too busy and we need to make lifestyle changes in order to maintain our health? Are we visionaries? Are we cutting edge? Have we discovered the missing link that could save us from more health problems? Or are we the fringe? Are we the crazies? Are we the Miss Haveshams' still clutching our old failed dreams even as the world passes us by?

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we could all learn to live in balance. Do you think anyone will ever get that to catch on?

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays

Monday, November 28, 2011

Goodbye Thanksgiving, Until Next Year...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It has been for some time. At first it was because it was all about food and I have always loved to eat. But now I love Thanksgiving for different reasons.

First, Thanksgiving is an all inclusive holiday that virtually everyone in this country celebrates. Not everyone does something summery and special for Memorial Day. Easter is a religious holiday, and not even every Christian does something special for it even if they acknowledge its passing. Christmas is all over the map in terms of traditions. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, almost every business shuts down and everyone gets to participate. Of course there are many folks who do work on Thanksgiving, but I have always found that whoever you are with becomes your family for the day. Whether you are with family or friends or even strangers, on Thanksgiving, kindness prevails and we break bread together in some way.

Secondly, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American tradition. Okay, okay, okay, it has become socially acceptable, even cool to bash our country and its faults in culture. Celebrities do it all the time. And while I do not turn a blind eye to all the cultural issues that we have, we should be proud of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a thoughtful holiday, a time out to give thanks for all the blessings we have. Today when our culture is synonymous with take-out cheeseburgers, texting on smartphones and stalled out highway traffic we should be proud that way back at our country’s dawn our ideological ancestors began such a wonderful and thoughtful tradition.

Thirdly, Thanksgiving is all about food! Yum, yum, yum. I can’t decide what I like best—turkey, my Spinach Madeline, my sister in law’s sweet potato soufflĂ© or my mother-in-law’s German stuffing with all the bacon. Thanksgiving is all about food. It is a holiday that centers around the harvest table. That is especially poignant for those of us who eat locally and seasonally. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all we have in life, yes, but specifically that sentiment grew from one group’s thankfulness over an adequate harvest. We take having enough food for granted so much these days that it is easy to forget why our forefather’s were so thankful and why the holiday is all about food in the first place. And I do love that it is tradition to eat seasonally even if just for the one day. Many different ethnicities across the country give Thanksgiving their own twist, but most still serve a turkey and some sides that are typical to the Northeastern US, where the first Thanksgiving began. Perhaps a meal of root vegetables and gourds defeats the purpose if you live in say, the Southwest, but that is what makes this Holiday great. You can adapt the food without losing the essence of the holiday itself.

And lastly, I really really like that in the last several years in my current job, my office has been closed on Black Friday. I like being able to enjoy the four day weekend with friends and family. I like that I do not have to go into a mall on the day of the year known for long lines and crazy shopper behavior. Though I must say, during my years in retail management, there was a special energy to working Black Friday that was *almost* fun. And even during those years I always liked that the feeling of Thanksgiving permeated the whole four day weekend, even if you had to work.

So tonight as I type (it is Sunday evening as I type this), I am a bit melancholy for the long Thanksgiving weekend to end. It comes but once a year. We are off onto the frenzy of Christmas. And while the underlying message of Christmas is similar to Thanksgiving, Christmas has been painted up with commercialism. So until next year, here is to giving thanks for all the blessings of this life. I am especially thankful for my family and my children because they are wonderful people whom I love, my job because they are like a second family to me and my home because it is warm, inviting and safe. I am also eternally thankful that God guides me every day to where I need to be in order to do good things and live a better life. That is the kind of good fortune that makes me deeply thankful. And of course, I am also very thankful for my new glittery ballet flats. I mean, all work and no play makes Christa a dull girl. (It really does.)

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

11 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me Before I Had Children

Having kids has been the best thing I have ever done with my life. It has also been the most time consuming, the most patience-testing, the most expensive and the most trying thing I have ever done with my life. My children are so active that sometimes I wonder if it is just us? I also wonder how people decide to have more than two kids. I also wonder why my boss doesn't give me a medal some days just for showing up.

I got tons of advice before I had children. None of it was any newsflash. And none of it helped me to prepare for actually having children. Here are the ten things I wish people WOULD have told me prior to having children.

1-You will never again sleep past 8 o'clock without some prior planning and or tag teaming. DH and I have designated sleep in days. He gets Saturday and I get Sunday. But for almost three years we hadn't figured that nugget out and when the kids got up we both got up. We are regular geniuses, eh?

2-Just because you put your kids to bed late does NOT mean that they will wake up late. I have put my kids to bed at ten PM only to have them still awake at 6:30. And you know what happens next right? Crankypants kids. Sometimes it takes two days for them to catch up on one late night. Boy, that sure is a motivator for turning in early.

3-You *might* never wear a bikini again. My mother-in-law loves to remind me that she wore a bikini until she was almost fifty and she bore four kids. Yes you heard that right. And I saw the pictures and she was pretty smokin' in that bikini. I always thought that wearing a bikini was up to the person. If you were motivated to wear a bikini then you worked out and watched what you ate and you could look fabulous. You can do anything that you put your mind to!! Sorry, no go. Having children is like rolling the sexy-dice, you might go back looking like your old self or you might end up disfigured and with stretch marks. I, gentle friends, am the latter. Thing 2 was so large that I stretched quite badly even though I did everything right. And because I have a relatively small frame but bore this massive man-child, my stomach now looks like someone has let the air out of it. So even though I still fit into my now 12-year-old bikinis, seeing me on a beach or community pool actually wearing one of them would be a not-good idea. 'She sure can clear a pool' is not a compliment.

4-One-piece swimsuits never look as good as the two-pieces. Now that I pretty much wear one pieces all the time, I must tell you, designers throw together their one piece designs after all the sexy two pieces are out of the way. And for a long waisted girl like me, I have to buy a size 10 or 12 just to get them to be long enough. Then the arm holes are too big or the leg holes stretch up super high resulting in a wedgie every time I take a step. Seriously? I am ready to leave the beach and put my shorts back on.

5-All the furniture that you own will be destroyed. I understood, babies mean baby-proofing. So I placed my grandmother's delicate and cherished Lladro figurines in the china cabinet out of reach. But I can't put the couch in the china cabinet. Can I? We got a lovely but not terribly expensive coffee table just before I got preggers with Thing 1. Today it has a warped panel from spilled milk and dozens of tiny teeth marks from when Thing 2 was teething. Our couch also wasn't super fancy, but we bought it new five years ago and didn't shop the sales. It now sags in the middle has huge rips in the fabric. And that doesn't even mention all the times one kid or another has peed on it. Yeah-you totally want to come over to my house don't you?

6-Baby gear has a two-kid life time. My heart bleeds for a third baby. But I do NOT think that will be happening unless we somehow hit the big time. Besides the obvious, needing a bigger apartment and car, we have nothing left from when Thing 1 was a baby. All of the gear we bought broke while Thing 2 was using it. The swing, the bouncy seat, the toys, the clothes, the high chair, the spoons and forks, you name it, it broke. So I get it. That third kid is an expensive endeavor making a fourth kid almost necessary to justify the expense. On the flip side, throwing away broken stuff has been far easier than throwing away treasured baby things that we no longer need. It isn't like I have the room to store all those treasured memories anyway.

7-You will never again have trouble falling asleep. Not much to say about that. When I finally get to sleep, I go to sleep. None of this tossing and turning bullshit.

8-Your boobs will not necessarily stay big. In fact they probably will shrink. My mother always told me that after she had kids her boobs stayed bigger than they were beforehand. I was ready for this!!! I am one of the founding members of the Itty-Bitty-Titty-Comittee, so this was one thing I was really hoping for after having children. However, I lost quite a bit of weight after having kids, more than I had gained in pregnancy. So my story isn't exactly like my mother's. In fact I found myself in Macy's eight or so months after Thing 1 was born saying to the sales woman 'My bras just aren't fitting right anymore.' She took one look at me and told me my problem, I was actually an A cup. Do you know that they don't make a whole lot of A cup bras? Fast forward to just a few months ago. I went to Bloomingdale's. I knew to ask for help since there were likely 5 bras in the whole store that would fit me. The woman measured me and asked me 'Have you ever considered trying petite bras?' I said 'Why would I? I am almost 5'8".' The ending of that story? Companies do make double A petite bras and almost no one stocks that size. Being me is so awesome, isn't it?

9-The terrible twos aren't the end of the story. The threes are pretty terrible too and even four can have its moments. I waited for Thing 1's third birthday singing a song about happy times are here again. And I discovered that three is worse that two. When your kids are two, they melt down over everything. And it is easy not to get sucked into their irrational spiral. You step over them writhing on the floor and wait for them to get over their tantrum. At three the tantrums become physical. They want candy, you say no, they run to the pantry and start climbing up the shelves in the cabinet. At four they give you three reasons why you should give them candy AND they ask nicely and when you still say no they go for broke screaming at the top of their lungs. Can someone please tell me that five is better? Six? I am ready for anything these days.

10-Nothing will ever be perfect. The only advice I ever give new or expecting parents is 'Never say never'. It is not a call to abandon principles but rather a reminder that sometimes when faced with difficult or stressful situations, you might make different choices than when you are still pregnant, calm and well rested. I never thought I would allow my kids to watch TV during dinner or get what they want after a tantrum, but every day is different and every situation is different. While a child can make a habit in just three or four days, many times that habit can also be broken in three or four days too.

11-Kids don't learn anything the first time you teach them something new. Okay, that might not be entirely true. But I think what it really means is that it takes kids longer than one time to learn anything. So don't stress if they don't learn right away or maybe you didn't explain it right the first time. It doesn't matter because you will get another chance to teach them again. And I am not talking about building block towers or writing the letter B, I am talking about being kind to friends, telling the truth and always doing your best. These are lessons that take years to learn, so get ready to teach them....over and over and over again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Halloween Candy Cookies

So....for any of you guys out there who think I am an evil nasty mommy who has robbed her kids of an endless gorging of candy on Halloween, I think I have struck a balance with the kiddos.

Thing 2 had no idea what was going on with Halloween. He just liked dressing up and staying out late. He loved eating the candy, but had no idea why people were giving it to him and when the night was finished he had no concept of how much loot he had gotten. Thing 1 understands the concept now. So you can't just take the candy away from him. I agree, taking away somthing precious from your child, even if it isn't good for them, is a good way to break trust with your kid. If you want to wrestle the candy out of their tightly closed sweaty palms, you have to win them over with rational thought, or style, or both.

Last weekend I took all the chocolate bars from their big bag of candy and make Halloween Candy Cookies. My thinking was that in cookie form the kids could see that candy had some uses other than just fast joyless consumption. Also, I figured that with some whole grains and pastured butter, all that sugar would be in better company. Plus, some fat and fiber would slow the absorption of the sugar down, making for less crazy children. I don't know about you, but my kids are crazy after having candy, they fight and crab, you name it.

I made just the Toll House cookie recipe which I think is just the bees' knees. Of course, I made some changes, I used Organic Valley's Pastured Butter. I also used 100% whole wheat flour instead of white and I used rapadura instead of the white sugar. Since it has been a week, I can't remember, but I think I used one cup of rapadura instead of the one and a half cups of white sugar that the original recipe calls for. If you are having trouble finding rapadura, it is sold by a company called Rapunzel under a slightly different name. You can find it at Whole Foods, but Tropical Traditions does sell it. I have identified it as a product I love. You can find a like to Tropical Traditions in my side bar. And of course I used chopped up candy bars instead of chocolate chips. The changes made for a slightly less sweet cookie. But now that we are accustomed to eating 100% whole wheat flour, I had no issues with that.

I made the cookies while Thing 2 and DH were passed out for an afternoon nap. Thing 1 helped. I gave him a dinner knife and let him cut up some of the candy. I also let him mix the butter and shape some of the balls. We had a good time together. And having him help was crucial to this. He got to sample some of the candy before it went in the batter. He got to see what I was doing with all the candy. And at the end, he got cookies warm from the oven. Not a half bad deal. And by the way, the cookies with the Butterfinger pieces were so good that I am considering an entire Butterfinger batch at some point.

So you see, I wasn't just planning on rudely snatching my kids Halloween candy away from them. I wanted them to be a part of the life cycle of that candy. Thing 1 hasn't asked for any candy since we made the cookies. And there still was more left, just all the non-chocolate pieces. He was really into eating the cookies themselves. The holiday is officially over and I have to give my kids credit. They indulged the night of Halloween and for the week or so after they had one or two pieces a night. They didn't fall on the ground and tantrum for more. They earned their candy by eating good healthy balanced dinners. Maybe they are learning to put sugar in perspective after all? Still, next year I imagine I will forget this moment of sanity and give a few stern lectures over the evils of sugar. We are not perfect, after all.


Monday, November 7, 2011

When I Stopped Eating

Friday's post brought up alot of emotion in me. The emotion was in part from defending myself and in part from some self conscious concern over whether all my interactions with my kids have been positive. I want my desire to eat healthy to be just that, healthy eating. I DO NOT want this journey to be just another type-A orthorexic hissy fit. The whole point is to heal what we eat and how we eat, not to be excessively controlling and evangelistic.

After writing Friday's post, I thought maybe it was time to tell you all about where I have been and how eating real food has changed my outlook. I touch on it a little in my very poorly formatted first post. But I suppose I need to go into more depth. I spent much of my early childhood overeating. I especially loved junk! Fritos and potato chips, Dr Pepper and cookies, you name it, I loved it. Down South, Fried is just the fifth food group and I took any chance I got to eat anything that was deep-fried.

I began to struggle with my weight around age 10. I was a heavier kid just because I liked to eat alot. I got a few glances from people over my food choices at times. But my parents generally stayed quiet. They had some mild food limits (no more than three cookies at a time) but it was nothing excessive. I do not know if that was because they saw nothing wrong with my eating or if they didn't know how to tell me that I was overdoing it. Also, parents are routinely encouraged not to chide a child for their eating habits since often kids do eat more to prepare for growths spurts. Perhaps my parents didn't realize how much junk we were eating during that time in our lives. Whatever the reason for their silence, I packed on a few pounds because of the choices I was making.

I never really was FAT. To say I was fat would be an insult to those who really struggle with their health and diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure among many other things. I actually was preparing for a growth spurt in 1992(she says laughing)but it was a growth spurt three years in the making. AND I prepped for it by drinking Dr Pepper and eating Cool Ranch Doritos. And yes, people noticed. And yes, people told me what they thought about me. I hated junior high school. If you were to ask me what my darkest days were, I would say 91-93 without a doubt. 7th and 8th grade, where social competition is cut throat and the playing field isn't even thanks to the different players' biological schedules. Some girls look more like women, whereas I looked more like a child. Words like 'fat' or 'ugly' from my peers left me unable to defend myself. And if I had only been able to shut my mouth and not fight back so loudly I probably would have been better off. But I played into the game unwittingly and made my own plight worse by boiling over with anger. I have never been a shrinking violet. Still, it always came back to weight, self worth equaled weight. And If only I could eat less!! Less was the only answer. But hunger would always return, and eating felt good. And no one was telling me to stop.

My parents seemed pretty unaware or perhaps just unsure of what to do with this riled up emotional little girl. All the turmoil at school seemed to go unnoticed. I found out in March of 1993 why they seemed so preoccupied. Divorce.

My parents began divorce proceedings when I was 13. It was a hit during an already difficult time. My parents divorce forced another character trait in me to the surface, determination. Stressed from all the upheaval and change, survival kicked in. In order to cope with the stress, I threw myself into school and extra-curricular activities. Thanks to non-stop work, I received better grades during the spring of 1993 than I would ever see again in my school career. I got straight A’s during the period right after my parents separated. Until that point in my life I never knew that I reacted to extreme stress by working harder. I find I still do so today.

I started high school in the fall of 1993, which was a better environment. In a new school of 2000 kids there were more groups of friends to find, there was more distance and more opportunity for me to find my own voice without the ghosts of past mistakes to haunt me. I discreetly slipped away from the friends I had had the previous years. My parents continued to argue about their separation and how to handle it. In the state of Tennessee there is a year waiting period between the time that you file for divorce and when things become finalized. I suppose the thought was, to some conservative southern law makers, that a waiting period would give hot headed couples a chance to reconcile. But all it did for my family was put off the inevitable and delay the healing process. We were all on hold for an entire year.

Meanwhile I was still obsessed with food, and the nation as a whole was too! So much new research was coming out showing a correlation between fat and well being FAT. Low fat everything was available! Low fat cookies, low fat ice cream, yogurt, fanciful food science concoctions! Everyone was talking about low fat everything. Soda was even okay because there was no fat!

But I was on the sidelines of the low fat debate with a different motivation. While my parents and friends weren't looking, I took a brief hiatus from eating.

In the Fall of 1993 I simply stopped eating meals where no one was watching me.
It started the week before school began that August. It wasn’t a conscious decision, or one that I toyed around with. I was about to start high-school and with my parents’ divorce proceedings taking up so much time and energy, I started to have a lot more alone time. I remember toying with the idea of eating less. Then one day I got the urge to bake lemon poppy seed muffins, of all things. When they were done, I began to eat one and I suddenly felt so full. I felt disgusted that I was eating when I was already full, stuffing my face like a pig. I looked at the muffin, and I thought, ‘what would happen if I just didn’t eat this food?’ Would the earth begin to crumble if I wasted one morsel? Could I possibly say no to this tender combination of white flour and white sugar? I threw the muffin in the garbage and it began.

As school got underway I experimented further with not eating. I was unsupervised during breakfast, so instead of eating a full breakfast, I had a slice of bread. Then after some time, I cut the slice in half. But I didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I would throw away the other half slice. I would have my half a slice of bread with a glass of water at 6am, then get ready for the day. Some days I could skip lunch. But being at school you are never alone, so most days I would eat some small sandwich or lettuce that I had packed from home because someone was around, but no chips. And I eliminated snacks completely. Those snacks which had once been Fritos and Velveeta cheese and potato chips and cookies now completely disappeared. I remember being hungry, but not like before. Once I stopped eating the hunger went away. Furthermore, my heart was hurting so much from the stress at home that I wasn’t interested in enjoying food. It was easy for me to cut out that once loved sensory experience. In my mind I reduced food to a caloric experience. I knew I wanted to lose weight, and so I rationally ate less.

But I didn’t stop eating completely. Dinner was supervised, so I would have to eat a normal meal. Weekends were largely supervised, so I would generally cut myself some slack. But I wouldn’t allow myself seconds or foods deemed fattening. And snacks were still out of the question. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't want anyone to catch onto me for fear that I would be spoken too. I knew that what I was doing was not healthy. I had heard about Anorexia, though I know now that I was far from it. And the last thing I wanted to hear was that I needed to wait out some stupid assumed growth spurt. No one was going to tell me that I had to eat! This was my body and I was damn well going to do with it what I wanted!! Besides what other options did I have? The only nutrition information I was getting in school was the grain heavy USDA Nutritional Pyramid and a stern lecture about not eating potato chips and cake. I didn’t need to be told what NOT to eat. I needed someone to tell me what TO eat!

I was smart, I was determined and I could out-think many people. As long as I was chipper and upbeat, no one thought any differently about my losing weight. My mother was never the wiser. She was too wrapped up in her own Prozac cloud to worry about 10 or 15 lost pounds in her daughter. In fact eventually she did notice that I was looking slimmer and she was proud of me. I even remember her saying to me that she had been right all along, I was going through a growth spurt and the extra weight was just going away. She never knew about the mornings at 6 am in the dark house where I stared down that half a piece of bread to give me all of it secrets with none of its evil. I was convinced that food was evil. Its only purpose was to make me unhappy and overweight.

But suddenly, as I was growing inches taller and shedding pounds, everyone seemed to approach me differently. No one was rude to me any longer. Many of the people who had once taunted me in such a cruel way faded into the background, no doubt moving onto easier prey. In my hunger I found strength. I found will. I found control. At this point in my life, being thin was about being in control and having dominion over all my actions. Unfortunately, all of my focus was about eating LESS. The focus was never on WHAT I was eating, always how much. Of course I ate more lettuce and celery, the diet foods of the time. But I knew precisely nothing about vitamins and nutrients, so all food was to be feared. Especially fat. I meditated a lot on gluttony during this period in my life, as though thin people were somehow morally in control of themselves while overweight people were sinners. Which is of course not true. Still, the process of losing weight, looking differently and living in this new unfamiliar and newly beautiful body was fantastic. Of course I loved the new way people treated me. I loved seeing how boys treated me differently. I began to see myself differently.

But do you know what inadvertently happened? My self-worth now became tied to my body. As long as I was thin I believed that that was what people liked about me. My personality, heart and mind were just accompanying the real deal, a slim figure. I did of course want people to discover the 'real me'. But I assumed that no one ever would want the inside me without the outside package. That's how it worked right? That was what other people valued right? Never mind that I never judged my own dear friends on anything but their good hearts and intentions. I had an impossible double standard going on in my mind. One set of standards where other people's value was measured in their goodness and the kindness of their actions and my own value which was largely measured by my outward appearance and whether I could keep my hunger in check and weight in line. This warped viewpoint continued for at least a decade until I met my wonderful husband.

I have not experienced a similar period of non-eating in my adult life. There have been very stressful times, like after my mother's death, that I have been unable to eat normally. But never where I specifically stopped eating to lose weight. More so in my adult life I have struggled with my inability to stop eating. Before I eliminated processed foods, I was hungry all the time. I snacked often and bought tons of what I now consider to be junk. Saying no to a bowl full of office candy was nearly impossible.

The only thing that has helped my relationship with food has been the real food mentality. When I identified all the non-food ingredients in processed food, I found it much easier to say no. Then when I started eating more fat, more fiber, far more vegetables and fewer grains, I found I was no longer hungry. I don't snack all that often now. And when I do I know that it is because I didn't eat enough lunch, or because I am bored at work (yes, everyone snacks because they are bored). I am finally in control, not the food. My food mentality is not just about what needed to be eliminated from my diet, but what needed to be added. In fact I would say that what we have added to our diet have been more influential than what we have taken away. Maybe because all that junk we always ate wasn't giving us the nutrients we needed. Now that we are so full of good food we don't want any of the junk. Whatever it is, I finally feel like I can say no to an Entenmann's cake or even a snickers bar. All that junk just isn't...good enough for me anymore.

This post is shared with Fat Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Do You Talk To Your Kids About Food Without Making Them Crazy?

I appreciate all of my readers comments. That isn't just lip service. A 'way to go' does alot to brighten my day. And I rarely counter a negative comment because if someone is motivated to tell me off then they probably had a pretty good reason. As a blogger (and intelligent human being), it is my responsibility to be open to listen. We can all grow and learn from constructive criticism.

Last week I posted about a conversation I had had with Thing 1 on junk food. The conversation was precious because he freely shared information with me, which I always love. And because he was in such a sharing mood, I asked a few questions that I thought were harmless. And Thing 1 answered them happily. I received several interesting comments which gave me some perspective on our family's struggle with the omnipresent junk food monster. And then, I received this comment:

"Honestly, anything that is preceded: "Because it's OK if you can tell me" is a TRAP! This is true in marriage, parenting, etc- not that it isn't OK for them to tell you, but obviously there will be consequences if the asker does not receive the answer they want.

I mean, he's what- three? Four? How many times a day, for how many days of his life, are you going to make what he eats an issue? If it were me, I would learn to lie just to avoid another barrage of questions. He may end up feeling paranoid with how insistent you are to know what he's putting in his mouth 24-7- and hey, it's your prerogative as a parent.

But since you're asking for feedback, I will tell you that I think you are setting your kid up to hide candy bar wrappers in old shoe boxes in his closet because he doesn't want to disappoint you.

Lay off a little bit...You can be an advocate for your children to eat healthy food, but sometimes when you try too hard to push them into a mold (even for good, solid reasons- like health) you end up getting the opposite reaction because, well, you'll end up coming off as obnoxious. I don't think I'd want to be asked about ANYTHING when I come home from a long day as much you've asked him about his food in the above conversation. By saying "It's OK if you did" and then asking 20 follow-up questions about what he ate suggests to him that his initial answer wasn't satisfactory to you and he's obviously trying to avoid the subject by "looking off into space"- this is learned behavior that is supposed to signal, "Jeez lady, drop the darn food thing already..." "

Well then. Okay. I kept the comment in my inbox for several days. I reread it a few times to soak in the author's intentions and perspective. I think there are some valid points to be had here. First and foremost, trusting your child and involving him in family decisions is paramount to building a strong relationship with him. Also, pushing a child into a tight mold doesn't always work and can strain one's relationship with their child and possibly even eventually alienate him from you in adulthood. Wasn't that the overarching message of Tiger Mom?

But one other point in this comment leaves me frustrated. The very idea that eliminating or at all limiting junk food from my child's diet would drive a wedge between my child and I is completely preposterous. I write this blog to share my experiences with other parents who have similar beliefs and share information that supports my beliefs. And what I have found is that there are many many other parents searching for the same thing, a safe food environment for their kids. Our food Nirvana is one without food coloring, chemical preservatives and excessive sugar. I want to give my kids good food, and in writing this blog I have connected with other parents who want to do the same. Isn't that what a blog IS? In spite of the shortness of the junk food conversation with Thing 1, if my strong relationship with my child hasn't come through in the post then I have to assume that my writing was sub-par. I admit this particular article was hastily written. I take full responsibility.

But the commenter brings up a good point on which I have been meaning to touch. Does talking to your kids about healthy food versus unhealthy food create anxiety in your child? Will this dialogue lead to eating disorders like hoarding, binging and even anorexia?

Dietitians and nutritionists LOVE to tell us not to label foods healthy or unhealthy for fear that the general public will not be able to cope with our guilt when we do indulge. Pediatric nutritionists also sound the warning call about creating anorexia and bulimia in our children. But at their core, eating disorders are anxiety disorders. In certain cases, I can imagine the extremely high standards of perfectionist parents can create anxiety in a child. I have seen it happen and I imagine you have also. Especially when there is more than one area of a child's life where perfection is expected like food, academics and sports. All the stress to perform can manifest in a food related anxiety disorder like anorexia. But often the food itself is just the tool of the anxiety. In the fascinating book Drinking A Love Story, Caroline Knapp writes of only sober period as the year when she traded alcoholism for anorexia. For a time starving herself was her way of coping. Once she started abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism again, the anorexia was no longer needed and disappeared. The topic of anorexia is complex, it goes way beyond a fear of food and often incorporates fear, anxiety and control issues. Anorexia often surfaces in a young person who feels powerless. One's diet is something over which one can execute considerable control.

Telling your four year old that potato chips are junk will not create anorexia in you child. Such a statement would be a trite insult to those suffering with such a debilitating disorder. Furthermore, placing limits on junk food will also not cause binging and hoarding. And if you explain yourself, as parents should in order to teach their children, your children can begin to understand WHY you might choose to limit junk food.

Of course intention is key, telling your child that junk food is unhealthy for them is a very different message than junk food makes you fat and it is bad to be fat. It is also different than constantly berating them or cruelly reminding them that junk food is unhealthy. Be sure, my conversations with my kids are occasional and center around feeling strong, growing tall, managing their hunger and having energy. I don't tell my kids that it is bad to be fat, every child carries weight differently as they move in and out of growth spurts. And weight or appearance is something over which a child has very little control. Inferring that a child would be unlovable if they were overweight might indeed create anxiety in said child. I would love my kids desperately no matter what they looked like.

In fact I believe that if you are eating real food, your body will do what it needs to do to and be what it needs to be. Eating real food and not processed garbage has gone a long way toward helping me to accept my own body. Eating real food has also helped me not fall to pieces when I indulge in cake or potato chips. Truly, a piece of cake can be part of a nourishing and healthy diet, but in order to say that first you have to have a truly nourishing and healthy diet. I don't advocate perfection. And anyone reading this blog for any length of time has seen me post about my family's lack of perfection.

In light of that comment I wrote The Grinch That Stole Halloween and tried to clearly articulate all of the above. I wanted to communicate that the holiday was fun, that we were excited to participate and even have some candy! But that I had issues with the focus of the holiday being JUST candy and gluttony. That is like Christmas just being about the presents, and most people seem to agree that there is more to Christmas than presents. Remember too that Halloween was a precursor to All Saints Day where we remember the saints who have all passed on. It is a time of year to honor the dead. Born out of an older pagan ritual, people would dress up in costumes the night before so that the awoken spirits would not recognize them. And so that they could do mean things to others with impunity. The candy thing is a modern alteration.

Then I got this comment...

"Between your interrogation of your four about what he eats everyday, and this trick or treating thing...I have to conclude that I am extremely happy you aren't my mom! Aren't there better, greater things to worry about than if your kid eats a few Butterfingers one day a year? Your house sounds like no fun."

Okay. The first comment I took to heart. I thought it was important that I truly examine my interactions with my children when it comes to food. Also I would hate to alienate a regular reader, I value you guys. But after the second comment...well...I had to ask myself does this person even regularly read my blog? This is a non-processed food blog. It is a blog about feeding one's kids REAL food, not convenience foods. It is a blog about challenging the accepted notion that we should gorge on sugar and fat whenever we get the chance. Has this person read any of the other stuff I have written against sugar? See here and here and here--those links are ALL different.

Seriously, if you can't imagine giving up candy, I have to question what you are eating. Candy tastes terrible. My homemade pizza, creamy sausage pasta, marinated steak, buttery mashed potatoes, crispy pork tacos in homemade tortillas and homemade maple granola all taste better than the crappy Kraft caramel I had this week that had a grainy texture and flat flavor.

What about Allergenic kids? Do they grow up angry with their parents because they cannot eat peanuts, gluten or whatever they are allergic to? What about children brought up as Kosher? Do they feel like their parents have deprived them of pork and shellfish? What about them? Is there a greater risk of binging and hoarding among those kids? No. Because they are given a logical reason why they cannot eat those foods. My kids can choose as adults if they want to follow this way of life or not. It will be there choice at that point.

All I am saying is that I am giving my kids real reasons why we eat this way. We embrace fat because we understand that it is important in appetite control, proper cell function and even brain function. We eat pastured animals because they are healthier, resulting in meat that is higher in Omega-3's which are heart healthy, as opposed to CAFO meat which are higher in Omega-6's. We avoid sugar because it is implicated in cancer and heart disease, obesity and Diabetes, degenerative diseases. Hell, sugar is even implicated in Restless Leg Syndrome.

My kids NEED to know about food. It is not some little part of our lives. So they get fewer lollipops growing up than I did. Why is that important? Our children's generation is the first in the history of our nation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. I damn well better be doing SOMETHING to help my children have a healthy life with food and without sugar, or else I can't say I have done all I can as a parent. This isn't about weight or looks, it is about health.

And lastly, comments like this do alot to intimidate us as healthy parents into not speaking our minds about the way that we raise our kids. And I for one will NOT be intimidated into raising a child that eats the Standard American Diet. If you don't like what I am feeding my kids, you can go read someone else's blog.

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays and Fat Tuesday and Simple Lives Thursdays

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

100% Pure Giveaway Winner!!

Better late than never right?! For the record I did look at the comments yesterday and I went to to choose the winner. But I just didn't get it posted. We got swamped with work and Halloween proceedings. Fortunately for the boys they got lots of candy and treats and they enjoyed them all!! Fortunately for mommy they ate some scrambled eggs before bed to settle their tummies.

And on a side note, if your child ever bites on a glow stick, cracking it open and swallowing some of the liquid, don't freak out. Poison Control says it happens all the time. A little extra water (and a pull up) is all they need.

But without further ado.... The winner of the $25 100% Pure giftcard is D. Lynn!!! Please email me at thetableofpromise(at)yahoo(dot)com. I will get you in touch with the right people.

Again, a heartfelt thanks to Karley Zigler Mott and the great folks at Alex and Von for sponsoring the giveaway! Even if you didn't win, definitely go to their website and see what they are offering. 100% Pure is completely free of yuckies and the products perform very well! They are great for me, a mom with high natural ideals who needs to look good and doesn't have time for products that don't work. I love this stuff!!

Thanks for entering and Enjoy!!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Grinch That Stole Halloween

It should not be shocking that I dislike Halloween. Okay, it is not so much Halloween that I dislike, it is the candy, because the costumes and the fall theme are pretty fun! So I,, never told my kids about trick or treating. Plus I have never taken them. They know about it now. But they didn't hear it from me. And while they have costumes, I don't plan on taking them trick or treating again this year. And furthermore, I don't feel the slightest guilty about it. Let me try to explain why.

Remember back when you were a kid? Halloween was an exciting time when you got to choose your costume, my mom (and later I) made my costume and then you got to show it off while getting candy from the neighbors? I remember the houses that gave out Snickers, Bottle Caps and caramels (good candy) and the houses that gave out peanut squares, Charleston Chews and bubble gum (lousy candy). And most of all I remember the houses that gave out HANDFULS of candy as opposed to one or two pieces. Those houses rocked. After the evening's haul had been acquired, we would go back home and sort through everything (make sure there were no acid squares or anything that could have had a razor blade in it), eat our most favorite pieces and pass out from all the excitement

Every year I could pour my modest haul between my two legs and count the pieces. My candy was all eaten up in a couple of weeks. I never remember having any leftover at Thanksgiving. Also, I don't think my mother ever took candy away from me in the hopes that I would eat less of it. My mother never worried about that.

Today, things seem so different. First off, I have bought every Halloween costume that my kids have ever had. I never even tried making something. But this year Thing 1 wanted to dress up as Super Why, the leader of the Super Readers on the eponymous show. I was pretty sure that no one makes a Super Why costume. So we went out and bought green tee-shirts, felt, glitter paint and fabric glue and now we have...ta-da!

I am so proud of this! Even though now I know that I spent more on supplies than the costume would have cost, it doesn't matter. Thing 1 loves this. Thing 2 has no idea what is going on, but he loves it too. I do think that part of the fun of Halloween this year has been the homemade costume. I would like to think that I will do this every year until they get old enough to get bored of it. Again, I promise to be inconsistent at best.

But also, I feel like Halloween has turned into a no-rules opportunity for kids to gorge on candy. Perhaps too great a societal focus on healthy eating has created a super demand for unhealthy foods? Even though we don't actually eat all that healthfully as a society, because we know it and obsess over it we create great guilt over our eating habits. Then Halloween rolls around and kids stuff their faces with candy like they will never have it again. This is classic deprivation behavior. What is so crazy is that most people and kids are not junk food or candy deprived. I wish I had more time to study eating behavior and culture.

Remember what I said about those houses that gave out HANDFULS of candy? Well now it seems like everyone is doing it. Our wonderful daycare took Thing 2 trick or treating last Friday around at some local businesses. He came home with easily 2 pounds of candy. He is 2!!! Now I don't fault the daycare. I truly love them. They didn't let him EAT the candy and trick or treating was a very fun activity for the kids. I am glad that Thing 2 went and had such a great time. But can you imagine seeing a dressed up 2 year old and giving him a massive handful of candy? I mean, they don't even care about the candy. The fun for them is the interaction. This is what he came home with.

The quantity is disturbing to me. What ever happened to giving out one or two pieces to each kid? Why am I looked upon as such a stingy Grinch for not letting my kids gorge on candy? Am I depriving them of a rite of passage? Or am I depriving them of a stomach ache? Though perhaps I am not the only adult with a bit of good sense. If you look closely in the pile, you will see two or three small toys and two toothbrushes. Nice.

For the record, I do let my kids have candy. And not just on Halloween. They eat some candy probably every week, though that is usually because DH has something in his pocket when he gets home from work. That is fine, but I don't see the sense in going overboard. I don't restrict my kids food intake. If you are hungry and want thirds, go for it. We eat fat. We eat lots of fat, butter on toast, full fat dairy products, nuts and even coconut oil on our oatmeal! But I do restrict junk food, candy particularly. Does that make me a Grinch? I think it makes me sensible. And it is sad to me to think that such behavior is 'old-fashioned'.

Furthermore, why should I take my kids trick or treating on Halloween? They both went trick or treating at their schools, they'll get treats and parties on top of that, we plan on going to a Halloween party where there will definitely be treats, and every family member and friend that stops by comes with something sweet for the kids. The world has given my kids enough candy. Why the hell do I need to drag them from apartment to apartment in my building and ask for even more handouts from semi-strangers. Isn't the fun of Halloween in dressing up, seeing friends and having a party on a week night? The candy seems like such a sad supporting act.

And lastly, I admit. I am that mom. I will totally throw out all remaining candy that has not been consumed within a week or two. I have done it every year without fail. The kids have never noticed or cared. What a waste. Next time, just give my kid one piece. Any more is like throwing money in the garbage.

Bah Humbug.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A TRUE Junk Food Conversation With Thing 1

The hours between drop off and pick up are a bit of a mysteryto me. Thing 1 doesn't always tell me what he does, what he is learning about or who his friends are. I hear from the teachers of course, but Thing 1 doesn't let me in on everything. Then randomly he will dump alot of information out at once. Over dinner last week, Thing 1 had the following to say to me:

Me: {Thing 1}, what did you have for lunch today?

T1: Nothing.

Me: You didn't have very much of the lunch that I packed. Did you eat the school lunch?

T1: No I didn't.

Me: You know it's okay. You can tell me if you eat the school's food. It's okay.

T1: No I didn't. Maybe a little. They had chips.

Me: Okay. You had chips for lunch? You weren't hungry for anything else? You ate a big breakfast. Were you not hungry today? Do you usually get hungry before lunch?

T1: (Looking off in space, not really paying attention) Yes! Very Very Hungry!!

Me: {Thing 1} Do you have a morning snack at school? (BTW-I know they do).

T1: Yes, we do.

Me: What did you have for your snack today?

T1: Your apple.

Me: That's good. What do the other kids bring for snack? (sorry--I couldn't resist)

T1: (Without hesitation) They bring junk food.

Me: They do? {Thing 1} what do they bring?

T1: Like...fruit snacks and......marshmallows. Hahahahaha! That was {So an So..}

Me: {Thing 1}, do you like your apple?

T1: Yes.

What do you think of this interaction? Questions? Concerns?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A 100% Pure Giveaway???

I am thrilled to say that last week when my post Have You Heard About 100% Pure? ran, the wonderful folks at Alex and Von offered to giveaway a $25 100% Pure gift card for one of my readers!!! I thought that was fantastic!

So now is your chance to sample the 100% Pure line of synthetic-, paraben-, fragrance and toxin-free all natural cosmetics. You could choose the cocoa tinted bronzer, the fruit pigmented lip glazes or the various skin washes or scrubs. 100% Pure is missing all the yuckies and synthetic what-nots that you will find in conventional cosmetics. Yet they cover well and perform as well as a department store brand.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment down below telling me what product you would buy with the $25. I will accept comments through Friday at midnight. Then I will use to choose a winner, whom I will announce Monday.

Good Luck Everybody!! And thank you so much to Alex and Von for sponsoring this giveaway!!

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Fat Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays

Monday, October 24, 2011

Recipe: Sausage and Kale Pasta in Creamy Tomato Sauce

This is hands down my favorite new dish. I use pasta to bridge the gap in weeknight meals. Before school started we only did pasta once or twice a month and I viewed it as a cop out meal. But with the new intense school schedule I am changing my tune. Plus my kids usually eat it, which lessens the tantrum duties.

I figure a good way to make pasta more of a meal that sticks to your ribs and not your belly is to load it up with sauce. My sauce to pasta ratio is pretty high. I like it soupy. Then I make sure that the sauce is filled with lots of different veggies and pastured meats! The following combination has been helping me to sneak more green leafies into my kids bellies. After serving this dish 5-6 times in the last few months I am happy to say that they no longer fuss over seeing the greens in the sauce

Sausage and Kale Pasta in Creamy Tomato Sauce
1/2 pound of pork sausage (but really any old thing will do, leftover cooked sausage, ground beef or turkey, even leftover meatloaf)
1 cup of kale chiffonade
2 cups prepared marinara sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces of dried pasta (I am not going to be hypocritical enough to encourage you to eat whole wheat pasta, I have currently fallen off the whole wheat pasta wagon....trying to get back on. It's hard

In a large skillet, sautee your sausage until well browned. I do not drain the fat. I think it adds something to the final dish. Add the kale to the pan and wilt. Next add the prepared marinara. I usually keep a meat free version of this sauce on hand in my freezer. That is what makes this a weeknight meal. When the kale is cooked and the sauce is all unctious and delicious looking, stir in the cream. My kids don't like when the sauce is super pink, so I have to restrain myself to about a quarter of a cup. You can add more if you want, because Good God it is worth it.

Finally cook your pasta in boiling salted water for about 9-10 minutes. Drain. Then let the cooked pasta simmer in the sauce for another 2-3 minutes. Serve and top with grated parmesean and a big salad (if you are more effecient than me).


On a side note, DO NOT substitute the cream for anything. ANYTHING!! Half and Half will not work in a pinch. The tomatoes are too acidic and will curdle any dairy product without enough fat content. Cream is the only thing that can stand up to tomatoes. Otherwise it will just look like you added ricotta cheese to the sauce. Though that might be good in a pinch now that I mention it....

I hope you will try this. I definitely don't feel 'bad blood sugar' vibes after having this dish. The veggies, meat and fat certainly stand up to the pasta. I always feel full and happy after eating this. You could also easily add in other veggies! Great additions might be fennel, eggplant (I have done that with success!), summer squash, etc. I am sure you could come up with a ton.


This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Fat Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesdays

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Have You Heard About 100% Pure?

Around this time last year I stopped using facial creams due to concerns over all the chemicals I was spreading on my skin. I switched to using only pure argan oil on my face, and other oils like apricot kernel or almond oils in lieu of body lotion. The result has been wonderful. I have virtually no dryness. I knew that I needed to switch to a more natural brand of makeup, but I was nervous. My mother was a lifelong militant Clinique user and I admit I have used almost nothing else.

I was turned onto the brand 100% Pure after reading the amazing blog Chic and Green. Karley Zigler Mott reviewed some 100% Pure products that had nothing but natural ingredients. The bronzer is tinted with cocoa power! Upon trying the 100% Pure products for myself I was really impressed at how well they covered, how smooth they felt, etc. The quality of the products is like an expensive boutique brand but without all the icky chemicals.

Since I had never heard of a company offering such pure cosmetics (that actually worked) I figured you might not know either. I asked Karley, since she also sells 100% Pure directly to consumers, to give us some more information about the company and the products. You can find Karley's product offering at Thanks Karley!!

As a former aesthetician, makeup artist, and woman who developed my own successful natural skin care line, I can tell you that I am extremely choosy about ingredients and product quality and safety. In 2009, I closed my business to spend more time with my children and to nurture my writing ventures.

I was no longer making products and needed to switch to products that I approved of in terms of ingredients and effectiveness. I was first introduced to 100% Pure when I heard a fried talking about the line a few years back and I decided to buy a lip gloss. I loved it. I also was receiving products to review for my blog and 100% Pure was one of those brands. After trying their skin care, I was so impressed that I started trying more items. I was hooked.

100% Pure was founded by Susie Wang in 2004. Susie grew up in Japan with her Geisha grandmother and she learned all about herbs, tea, sake, flowers, and more as an avid gardener since the age of 5. She went to college at UC Berkeley and actually discovered a way to use all-natural ingredients to stabilize Vitamin C so it didn't turn brown from oxidation. She actually patented this technology. After this, major cosmetics companies from around the globe sought Susie out for her knowledge and expertise.

She became a product developer and formulator, making the "next big things" in the beauty industry. After accidentally spilling a vial of a chemical that was supposed to go into an eye cream she was making, she noticed that the lab table eroded from the harmful chemical. She was upset about this and began to research ingredients and how they could impact health. She also was upset by the fact that even though companies claimed not to test on animals, many of the ingredients used had actually already been tested on animals.

Susie walked away from millions of dollars in job opportunities to create her own line of beauty products made without any artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives, or harmful toxins. 100% Pure was born and is made with natural, plant-based and food ingredients.

Most everything is gluten-free and Vegan, which the exception of the products made with honey.

As a consumer, I was immediately impressed with not just the products I was using, but also the woman behind the line. I am a true 100% Pure fan, use the line, love the line, and now sell the line. I've been blogging for a living for a few years now and never thought I'd get into selling anything other than my own creations. When alex + von came along with an opportunity for me to sell my favorite brand (they also offer Suki and WeeDecor), continue to work from home, and share something I'm truly passionate about, I couldn't resist.

I love 100% Pure and sharing the line with everyone I talk to who has an interest in skin care and cosmetics. I love my customers and always want them to know I am here to help with anything at all. If your readers would like to, I do offer a complimentary skin care analysis to help them choose their ideal skin care regimen. It takes no more than 5 minutes to fill out and their product recommendations are emailed to them with my notes attached.

Some of my most favorite 100% Pure products-

Brightening Cleanser -- I love this because it really gives new life to tired skin. With natural lemon and kojic acid, it refreshes and enlivens dull skin.

Organic Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream -- This smells wonderful, with natural vanilla and cocoa absolutes. It helps with dark circles, fine lines and puffiness and is my favorite eye cream in any price range.
Fruit Pigmented Tinted Moisturizer -- Using fruit pigments, such as white peach, instead of harmful dyes to color the product, this tinted moisturizer evens out my skin and gives it a natural glow without chemicals

Again, you can contact Karley at her website and be sure to read her wonderful blog Chic and Green. I encourage you to consider ditching your old standard cosmetics in favor of some that are held to a higher standard of purity.

This Post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Fresh Bites Friday

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Lush, The Prude and The Kids

When I first heard the song 'Last Friday Night' by Katie Perry I was a little confused, overwhelmed, disgusted and angry. Perry's homage to binge drinking is troubling because her demographic is heavy with those who cannot legally drink (or legally drive, or legally be unattended in public places). Perhaps the song is more unnerving because it is so damned catchy. I found myself shocked that such a song would be on the radio for impressionable ears all while I was turning up the volume. The song is infuriatingly singable.

I have fond New York City memories of staying out all night and going to work with a manageable hangover. My first year out of college was a progression to adulthood. My first stop was the Tom Collins. Next was the Vodka Tonic until I was grown up enough to handle a proper Martini. I took my Martinis dirty until I now I look forward to little more than a glass of straight vodka. Winston Churchill once said that the proper way to craft a martini was to fill a glass with vodka and set the open bottle of vermouth next to it. Then recap the vermouth and enjoy your drink. Hawkeye Pierce from M.A.S.H. famously ordered his martinis so dry that he could 'shake the dust off of them'.

There is something heady about the twilight descending while standing on a tile floor in heels. The chatter of an excited crowd swirling around you all while you smell and taste your first sip of wine of the evening. That first sip is always the best one. But I rather think I have earned my memories. I learned to drink responsibly over the course of many years. My parents drank at home. They enjoyed themselves without going overboard. My college years were not filled with keg parties and trays of shots. I had a handful of overly anxious rebellious drinking bouts at 18 or 19, but they were few and far between.

Today I drink alot less than I used to, and martinis are mostly just a fond memory. But I still worry that my kids will grow up to develop troubling drinking behaviors. In fact I worry that drinking has replaced smoking as the 'cool habit' in ad campaigns and movies. Drinking can develop into an unhealthful and life strangling habit. And songs like Perry's 'Last Friday Night' or that Pink song with the ever-classy name 'You and Your Hand' only romance binge drinking and partying to a very young and impressionable fan base.

Jeez, really? When did I get so uncool? When I was 17 I was able to read Tom Robbins and Charles Buckowski without becoming a sexed up heroin addict. Why do I assume that today's kids don't share my same surprised reaction to the Perry song? I guess I don't find the song so offensive, twenty-somethings will have to learn to navigate this drinking culture. And a little wildness can be good to an otherwise serious youth (like I was). It is that I worry for the 16, 14, 12 and 8 year olds whose exposure to pop music is informing them on what the adult experience really is.

With that being said I can't say that I have been a great musical role model. Last week as I pushed both my kids down the street in their stroller, Thing 1 belts out "I am going, I am gooooooo-ing, Where streams of whiskey are flowing!" I remind you, he is 4. The Pogues may be revered as a traditional Irish band, but they are most certainly of the modern day and their songs of debauchery include the story of a young man who drinks until he chokes only to die the following morning and a man who tosses his cookies in the church collection plate. Do their bagpipes and international status allow them carte blanche to sing blithely about binge drinking? And since we are a family of some Irish decent should I find it less troubling to share this music with my children than that of some make-up faced pop tart? Sure the Pogues' music does not contain that seductive ingredient of sex, but their raw lyrics still make light of alcoholism.

So, if I write a food blog, why on earth bring this topic up? At the risk of painting myself as Tipper Gore, My children are getting bigger and they are more impressionable. I am conscious of what kind of world view I am presenting them. I don't want to be hypocritical, but I fear that this is impossible. There are so many slip ups a parent can make.

Also, I am examining my own complicated relationship with the bottle. I love drinking. Like really love drinking. It is not something I want to give up. But as I am getting older I am finding that my body is not tolerating alcohol like it once did. Drinking less produces a more negative side effect than it once did. I bring the topic up because while I have examined most of what I eat, I have not made similar decisions about what I drink. Perhaps it is time for me to become educated about what happens to one's body after a drink or two. Perhaps then I can educate my kids so that their choices are influenced by fact and not by the lyrics of a Katie Perry song.

This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays and Healthy 2day Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursdays and Fresh Bites Friday

Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do You Handle Treats For Your Kids?

I love a good sandwich for lunch. I especially love a sandwich with potato chips. Before I cleaned up my pantry I bought a 10 ounce bag of kettle chips about every other week. Today that seems excessive. I only buy them for special occassions now, a car trip or special picnic, a party, you know, something that feels out of the ordinary. After the inital shock to DH's system we no longer miss them. They are an awesome indulgence on occasion. Kettle Chips or Dirty Chips are the preffered brands because they fry in safflower, peanut or sunflower oil. These oils are not generally from genetically modified plants. Avoiding GMO's is our reason to avoid most fried foods. Most standard brands fry in soybean oil. Over 90% of the soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified.

The last time I bought potato chips I saw some troubling behavior from the Things. For lunch I gave them a meat, a cheese, a vegetable and some chips. It was an okay amount for a toddler, 4-5 chips. They ate the chips and clamoured for more!!

The conventional wisdom surrounding feeding young children is that they should be offered a variety of foods from a variety of food groups. When offered real foods they will choose among them and eat what they need. It is also believed that treats can be offered every now and again. Life should be enjoyed and banning foods can leading to hoarding behaviors. Furthermore many nutritionists suggest allowing a child to have as much as he or she wants of the food that is offered. If sweets and treats are offered less often, say 2-3 times per week, even a double serving of cake shouldn't be enough to wreck a good diet. I do all of these things. We limit sweets, I offer different simple meals with a variety of components, and we encourage the kids to eat until they want to stop, but that doesn't mean that the 'Feeding Sun' is always shining in our house.

There is nothing wrong with eating potato chips every now and then. I would go as far as to say that eating them even once a week will probably not make any noticible difference in your health or waistline. When I eat chips I like them along with other foods as part of a larger healthier meal. When my kids eat chips they sometimes go overboard. Or like the day in question, they refuse other food.

Upon the tantrums, that day, I told them that the chips were a treat and that they were part of a larger meal that they now needed to eat. I said that they could have more chips after they finished more of their meal. Thing 1 complied and earned more chips. Thing 2 did not and melted into a puddle on the floor.

Kids don't come with a developed standard operating system. They don't know that chips ought to be limited while salad should not. Heck some adults don't get that either. I have come to realize that treats of both the salty and sweet variety are probably best left to the end of a meal. Children younger than 5 don't always have the wherewithal to eat certain foods in moderation. You probably can't trust your toddler to eat a reasonable portion of anything that is super special and amazingly delicious like potato chips. If you don't want your kids eating too much, it is best just to not serve that treat. Or at least to do so less often and after a meal where you feel good about EVERY item that is served.

But that doesn't address the issue of portion control. I do not agree that we should offer foods and then just allow kids to just eat to their heart's content whenever given the opportunity. Sorry, I just don't buy it. This country has a massive cultural portion control problem. Suggesting that super young kids be allowed to make the call on how many pieces of cake they should eat is ludicrous. Yes, we do want them to each as much good healthy foods as they need while going through a growth spurt. And no, we do not want to encourage hoarding behaviors. BUT, I don't see anything wrong with telling your three year old 'You already had your piece of cake, if you are still hungry here are some carrots.' Your child might throw a fit. If you find the fit so unnerving or unacceptable then don't serve the cake. Or, you can choose this to be a teaching moment and allow him both the cake and the fit. Most kids will 'get it' after a while, cake is a special cherished item not a free-for-all.

I have grown to despise the term 'everything in moderation' because there are clearly foods that should not be eaten in moderation, like vegetables and fresh water. Vegetables are always a 'green light' food in my mind. Go to town. Stuff your face. Every diet I know of is in need of greens. No need to moderate there. Then again, animal protein is also a food that you need for health. (Sorry vegetarians and vegans, I really am....I am willing to listen if you are willing to school me!) But one does not need too much animal protein and again, going overboard doesn't support good health. And then there is junk food. A little won't hurt you, but you don't need it and too much can be detrimental. So this BS idea of everything in moderation doesn't really make much sense. Vegetables should not be eaten in moderation, they should be embraced. Cake and cookies should be eaten in moderation, it is okay to limit them.

Our kids NEED us to teach them which are green light foods, yellow light foods and red light foods. They need us to present a family culture in which everyone only eats one piece of cake. It will not warp your kid to tell them, 'you have had enough candy'. There are many cultures that do well in teaching their young 'how to eat', ours ain't one of 'em. As children get older they begin to adopt the behaviors that they have been repeatedly shown. Don't you want them to feel confident in heathy choices with few mixed messages? Of course there will be times when they go overboard and have too much sweet or rich food. At that point, their bodies negative reaction will only reinforce the lessons of moderation that you the parent will have already put in place.

How do you handle treats with your children?

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays, Real Food Wednesdays and Healthy 2day Wednesdays