Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More Projects

As if I don't have enough on my "to do" list, Halloween is approaching.  My daughter decided in the summer that she has had enough of fairies and princesses and wants to be something scary.  These materials have been sitting on my sewing table for about six weeks.  I think I'd better get moving on the costume sewing with only eight days to go until trick-or-treating.  I'll post the completed costume soon.  Hopefully.

Yesterday I bought the baby two white summer dresses for only $12.99 each!  I am going to combine the two to make a christening gown.  I am not into the lacy, super long christening gowns, so I think these simple cotton dresses will work.  With a few embellishments of course.

This morning I was adventurous and experimented with my smoothie recipe.  I used a banana, a cup of pumpkin puree, two teaspoons of cinnamon, a cup of spinach, and almond milk.  It wasn't bad at all!  It could have probably used some extra sweetener of some kind, but it was a good way to use up leftover pumpkin from muffins or pies.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fruit and Veggie Smoothie

My oldest daughter is just getting over strep throat and my husband and I have been doing the best we can to stay healthy.  I mentioned the other day that we really try to boost our fruit and vegetable intake when we are fighting off a bug.  I've also been reading Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, and it has really been making me think that I need to do even more to increase my leafy green vegetable intake.  Fuhrman ranks foods using a scoring system he devised called ANDI (aggregate nutritional density index), running from a low of 1 to a perfect score of 1000.  He looks at both the amount of nutrients a food has as well as the amount of calories in that food.  Guess which food scores a perfect 1000?  Kale.  Spinach has a high score of 707, while foods like cola and fries score only 1 and 12 respectively.  A fact that has been in my head as I plan meals this week:  Fuhrman suggests that every person should be eating about one pound of raw vegetables and one pound of cooked vegetables each day.  As I increase my veggie intake (nowhere near two pounds daily), I notice that I don't have room for other stuff that is less nutrient dense.

We juice fruits and vegetables occasionally, but I really like to make this fruit and veggie smoothie to boost my intake.  I prefer it over the juice because it retains all of the fibre from the produce and fills me up.  When I have a smoothie, I usually have it for breakfast.  My husband prefers a smoothie as an evening snack. The key to this smoothie is the banana.  You MUST use a banana or you will taste the spinach or kale. The spinach offers a smoother consistency and you will really not taste it at all.  It is a good place to start with a veggie smoothie.  Once you have tried the spinach, I really suggest you try the kale!  It requires more blending and makes for a slightly rougher texture.  You will taste a bit of "green" flavour, but my daughter has been drinking these smoothies since she was a toddler and has never turned her nose up at it.  I have an old, cheap blender and it does a fine job on this smoothie.  I'm sure if you had a Blendtec or Vitamix it would be even better!

Fruit and Veggie Smoothie

  • one very ripe banana, fresh or frozen
  • a giant handful (about 2 cups loosely packed) of baby spinach, OR 1 cup of loosely packed kale leaves, stems and any tough bits removed
  • 1 to 2 cups of other fruit - fresh or frozen.  If using frozen, I prefer to thaw the fruit partially first to allow more flavour to shine through.  Good choices are any berries, mango, peaches, and kiwi.
  • at least 1/2 cup milk or non-dairy milk
  • other add-ins of your choice.  I always use 2 tablespoons of ground flax, but have also used matcha powder, probiotic powder, and protein powder.  You can also add up to 1 cup of yogurt if you eat dairy.
Place banana in the blender, followed by the spinach and fruit.  Top with your add-ins and pour milk over top.  Blend for ten seconds.  Then you will need to push down on the contents with a spoon and blend again. Add more milk if needed to get things really going.  Once the contents are blending well, blend for another minute or so, especially if you are using kale.  Serves 2 (or one for a huge breakfast if you're me....)

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gluten Free and Paleo Banana Muffins

I have always been a baker since I was a teenager.  The first things I remember baking on my own were brownies and pineapple upside down cake from an old, thick cookbook of my mother's.  In my late teens I was on the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, one that was soft and chewy that flattened as it baked.  The quest finally ended with a recipe found in a Canadian Living magazine. It is still the "go to" chocolate chip cookie recipe for my mother and sister.

In my adult years, I baked various kinds of breads and perfected baked cheesecakes with smooth, uncracked tops.  I loved to bake, and rarely bought baked items from the store.  Then, about six years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and I had to relearn everything I knew about baking.  All of my "go to" recipes were useless to me.  I tried many gluten free recipes that went straight into the garbage after trying one bite.  Many of these recipes had been published in cookbooks and I had followed the recipe with perfect precision.  I wonder if the cookbook editors even tried the recipes.  After three or four years, I had some decent, new gluten free "go to" recipes.  I knew a lot about gluten free ingredients and different baking techniques.  Still, one limitation of most gluten free recipes was that they went stale very quickly, and had to be frozen within 12 or 18 hours of baking to retain any freshness.  Even then, many items were crumbly once thawed.

Lately, this downfall of gluten free baking has changed for me - mostly thanks to the Paleo food movement. I am interested in Paleo cooking, in that - it's grain free, which is great for our gluten free family - and my husband is very much a carnivore.  So many of the recipes will appeal to him.  (I am mostly a vegetarian, not necessarily for compassionate reasons, but more for the environmental and health benefits.)  Reading Paleo cookbooks introduced me to coconut oil and flour.  These ingredients have helped me to create some pretty amazing muffins that stay fresh and moist - for days on end!

I slowly developed these muffins after making the muffins in Practical Paleo.  While the muffins in Practical Paleo are absolutely amazing, they didn't appeal too much to a child's taste buds.  After a few months of switching this and that, this is what I came up with.

Gluten Free and Paleo Banana Muffins

Makes 12.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour, preferably sifted
  • 1 large ripe banana, diced
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Mix first six ingredients in a bowl.  Whisk well.  Add in melted oil while whisking.  Otherwise the oil may solidify in a chunk within the batter.  Not good.  Add in coconut flour and whisk well until there are no lumps.  Fold in bananas and chocolate chips (if using).  Scoop into a muffin tin lined with muffin papers. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a baking rack.  Once cooled, store up to four days on the counter in a sealed container.  May also be frozen.

You could also try maple syrup or agave syrup in place of the honey, although I have never tried this. To be honest, I never sift the coconut flour, but instead whisk and whisk and whisk until the lumps are gone.  The coconut flour is amazing - after a minute or so, it kind of slurps up all of the liquids, creating a thick batter.  I get mine at Costco (only 7.99 for 2 Kg!) or at Bulk Barn (a bulk food store in Canada).

These muffins don't last long in our house, and I have been baking about three batches a week!

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cold (and Flu) Fighting Tea

My oldest daughter came down with a cold-like illness this weekend, with a sore throat and three days of fever.  She never gets sick for more than a day, so I think it must be a nasty bug.  We were at the cottage with family for Thanksgiving and she and I had to share a bed.  So I feel as though I am due to get ill at any moment.

There are a few things we do at our house when one of us is sick and the rest are trying to stay healthy.  Of course, we all are extra diligent in washing our hands often.  I wash hand towels and bed linens more often.  We all try to get in extra doses of fruits and veggie with smoothies, juices made in our juicer, and soups.  Something else that my husband and I do is drink our version of a cold fighting tea.  Neither one of us are medical professionals or dietitians, but we feel this helps us beat the germs!

Cold (and Flu) Fighting Tea

1 slice lemon, about 1/2 an inch thick with peel removed
2 slices fresh ginger, about 1/4 inch thick with peel removed
About 1 tablespoon raw, unpasteurized honey
Boiling water

Place ginger and lemon slice in a mug.  Fill mug with boiling water.  Stir gently.  Allow to sit for five minutes. Remove lemon.  Stir in honey.  Drink!

I remove the lemon because I don't like big chunks of lemon in my mouth, but you can keep it in while you drink if that doesn't bother you.  We use raw honey because we feel it has stronger antimicrobial properties, although I know others swear by using any kind of Manuka honey.  Of course, never give this "tea" or honey to a child under one.  

My husband sometimes goes a step further and crushes a garlic clove and mixes it with honey and apple cider vinegar.  He adds a bit of water to thin it and shoots it back.  It's disgusting but he says it helps him feel better.  He also does this hydrogen peroxide trick when he feels something coming on.

Hopefully no one else gets sick, especially the baby.  I've been trying to keep them apart, but it's not always easy!  What do you do when you feel yourself coming down with something?

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Plans

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, which really is my favourite time of the year.  I love the cool temperatures, the fall foods, and the beautiful fall scenery.  We spent the weekend with family at the cottage, which was fun, but exhausting.  A two night stay with two children takes me a full day to get ready for and a full day to clean up afterwards!  Needless to say, this was not a relaxing weekend and I am looking forward to some time this week to accomplish things on my "to do" list.

My two biggest priorities this week are the baby's room and the garden.  In other years, we have had an amazing garden where I have rarely had to buy vegetables for at least three months out of the year.  My husband has built two gardens for me like this:  one at our old home and one at our current home.

The chicken wire in the fence is dug into the ground about a foot deep to prevent animals from digging under and stealing the goods.  We had big plans to add on to the garden this year, but with the new baby the garden suffered badly:

Yup.  Those are dandelions.  And other miscellaneous weeds.  I managed to plant the garden this spring, watered it once, and weeded it never.  As you can see, the results were terrible.  Not that it was unexpected.  About three weeks after planting, I gave up.  I just had no time to get out there to care for the garden, and there were so many blackflies and mosquitoes that I didn't want to bring the baby with me.  Even with this neglect, we grew enough green beans for one meal and a tomato here and there.

My plan this week is to pull all of these weeds out and have my husband till the soil so I can plant garlic bulbs before the snow flies - which means I have about a month or so in these parts.  I think I'm going to need some good gloves.  Next year we have plans to at least double this garden and set up a better watering system using rain barrels and some kind of pump.  I'll have fun in the snowy months planning what to plant and how to set up in the spring!

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gluten Free Beginnings

My oldest daughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when she was only eighteen months old.  She came down with a terrible flu at sixteen months and could never gain back the weight that she had lost.  She had big, dark circles under her eyes and a large distended belly with skinny arms and legs.  It took three trips to my family pediatrician to convince him that something was wrong.  I had already guessed that it was Celiac Disease before the third visit.  Finally at this visit, he took me seriously and sent us for blood work.  When her liver enzymes were extremely elevated, he arranged an appointment for us in the GI clinic at a children's hospital within a week.  Later that month, an endoscopy confirmed a diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

Looking back, I am so glad that she was diagnosed at a young age.  She doesn't remember that she used to eat food containing gluten, and is used to the textures and tastes of gluten free baked goods such as breads, crackers, and muffins.  If she had been diagnosed at an older age, I think she would have been resistant to try these foods.  Luckily for us, she is not a picky eater in the least.  This makes cooking gluten free meals so much easier.  We always eat gluten free dinners in our home and everyone eats the same thing.  My husband and I will eat gluten containing items in our lunches or for breakfasts, while our daughter has a gluten free substitute.  Lunches and breakfasts are not really planned meals in our home.  For breakfast, everyone eats what they feel like that day, choosing from toast, cereal, eggs, yogurt and fruit, or whatever else might be around that week.  Lunches are usually packed for work or school.  On weekends, we often have leftovers from our gluten free dinners.

"Gluten Free"  seems to be a buzz term lately.  So many people are trying out a gluten free diet in hopes of alleviating digestive upsets, skin problems, ADHD symtoms, and more.  Knowing that our family has been cooking gluten free for years, I get a lot of questions about recipes, products, and meal planning.  Families with young children often ask us how we make packed school lunches that a child is willing to eat.  I have often written the same email out to friends and acquaintances, sharing the information that I have collected over the years.  I think that someone out there will also find our information useful, and I will start sharing it in occasional posts.

To start, I thought I'd share some basic information that often gets overlooked when your family is beginning to go gluten free.  I am not a dietitian, doctor, or nurse.  These are just things I have learned through the years, and are by no means a complete guide on going gluten free.

  • Read labels carefully!  Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barely, and oats (usually contaminated with wheat).  The label may not always say these words.  Watch out for terms like food starch, malt, and ambiguous words like flavouring.  I referred to this list often when starting out.
  • If you're not sure, call the company.  I know companies like President's Choice will tell you if the product is gluten free and if there are gluten containing products made on the same line.  I have called from my cell phone while standing in the grocery store.
  • Talk to others who are holding parties about the menu so you can bring substitutes.  Offer to bring a dish to the meal.  I usually bring a gluten free dessert that is usually (mostly) gluten free anyway - such as a cheesecake with a gluten free cookie crumb crust.  This way everyone can enjoy the same dessert without feeling as though they are eating something odd or weird.  I bring my daughter a cupcake to birthday parties.
  • For children, ask the teacher to keep boxes of extra treats and snacks at school.  This way if someone surprises the class with a treat, your child doesn't go without.  We usually send in a box of fruit snacks and a box of granola bars.  Individually wrapped is best.  We ask the teacher to let us know about planned treats and send something similar.
  • For children, watch out for school activities.  Playdough contains gluten, as do some brands of glue. Our specialist advised us to avoid touching items with gluten since it can be absorbed by the skin.  However, I have heard of other medical professionals offering different advice, so always ask your doctor.  I offer to bring in pasta for crafts or ingredients for class cooking activities.  We make gluten free playdough ourselves, but it's hard work!  Be warned:  I have never used a recipe that worked as written, and each one worked differently each time!  I always end up adding more of this or that to get it to come together.  We have broken a wooden spoon stirring it since it gets so tough.
  • We have a book that is great for your children to bring to school called, Eating Gluten Free with Emily.  It explains Celiac Disease very well in a way that little ones can understand.
  • We rarely eat out.  It just makes me nervous.  I have heard many stories about kitchen mix ups or misunderstandings resulting in someone getting sick.  When we do eat out, we tend to go somewhere that has a separate gluten free menu.  This makes me feel a bit safer knowing that they have some sort of base knowledge and are making an effort.  When at the restaurant, I explain to the server that my daughter has Celiac Disease and ask that they let the cook staff know to be extra cautious while preparing her food to avoid cross contamination.  I am always polite and everyone has always been wonderful about it.
  • We don't travel a lot. When we do, I plan places to eat before we leave home.  I do research on the internet and call restaurants to check out our options.  We always travel with a lot of fruit, yogurt and snacks in a cooler.  When we went to Disneyworld, they were phenomenal and I felt completely safe eating there.  At almost every restaurant, the chef came out to talk to us and arranged our meal, complete with gluten free desserts.  If you email them, they will send you a list of gluten free foods available at each park.

There are even more concerns if you are going to have some family members go gluten free while others consume gluten.  This is a controversial subject, and many think that you are not truly safe unless there is no gluten in the home at all.  We are very careful in our home and my daughter has never gotten sick.  Every blood test has come back clean and has not indicated that she has fallen victim to cross contamination.  She is very good to check her eating area at school for crumbs, and has even refused to eat an item in her lunch that she has never had before in case it contained gluten! Now I show her new things before putting them in her lunch so that she knows they are safe for her to eat.
  • Keep a tidy kitchen if some family members are going to keep eating gluten.  Even one crumb can make a person very ill. We often use paper towels, plates, or cutting boards under food prep areas to catch crumbs and contaminants.
  • Have separate toasters, one for gluten free bread and the other for regular bread.  We even bring our gluten free toaster with us when we stay somewhere overnight.
  • Wash all dishes and utensils thoroughly!  Running items through the dishwasher is thought to remove gluten.  Some families have separate eating and cooking utensils, although we do not.
  • We only bake with gluten free ingredients.  I do this because flour and other baking ingredients always seem to get everywhere and are so easy to accidentally ingest.  I figure we are much safer just to keep them out of the house.
  • Label, label, label!  We buy doubles of anything that needs to have a knife or spoon dipped into it. The gluten free container is clearly labelled gluten free in several places with a Sharpie.  We buy doubles of margarine, jams and jellies, relish, mustard, mayo, etc.  
  • We use many utensils.  Once it has touched gluten, it goes into the sink.  No chances for double dipping or cross contamination!
  • Explain how things work in your kitchen to guests.  I have had to be kind of rude to my in-laws at times in order to ensure that things stay safe in our kitchen.  Explain, explain, and explain again.  Sometimes I feel as though others think I am being paranoid or overly cautious, but they need to know that just one crumb can cause my child to become very sick.  I have also turned down offers from others to help in the kitchen during holiday meals, knowing that it is just faster, easier, and safer to do it myself than guide someone through everything.  Having said that, my sister and mother really get it and are wonderful help.  
Next week, I will share our weekly meal plan and some recipes that we often use.  The beginning is the hardest part about going gluten free.  Once you get into the swing of things, it gets much easier!

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Baby's Room Inspiration

I mentioned in a post last week that the baby's crib is still in our bedroom.  She is getting close to six months old, so I know it's getting to be time for me to suck it up and move her into her own room. The biggest issue is that her room is not yet finished and I am too indecisive to do much about it.

It's not entirely all my fault that the room is not done.  The room was painted and new trim was put up when I was about 7 months pregnant.  A few weeks later, a new crib and change table were ordered. And six days after ordering these, I went into premature labour and she was born almost six weeks early.  After all of that drama, the room decorating got put on hold and I had more important things to do.

But - I am setting myself a deadline and getting this room done.  As you can see from the pictures, there is a lot of grey and white going on in there and not much else.  The only thing we use this room for is changing diapers.  And sewing.  My sewing table had been in our room and had to be relocated when the crib moved in.

Fabric Inspiration

The other problem is that I have ideas, but I can't find what I'm looking for.  I have scoured the fabric store a few times, with grey and pink graphic patterns in my mind, but they just don't exist in the stores.  I may have to break down and order some online and pay the shipping.

Sources, left to right:  LaughingHouseFabric, Nesalee Baby, Skyereve Fabrics, Cozy

Wall Decor Inspiration

I am just about ready to add some frames to the room.  I have bought some plain frames at Michael's and plan on painting them out in white.  I have several patterned scrapbook pages to place in the frames.  I am going to group some on the walls, but I'm not sure yet what to do above the crib since I don't want her pulling anything down onto herself.  I may also look for a monogram to paint and place on the wall as well.

Sources, starting at top left and moving clockwise: Pinterest photo with broken link, Zeldabelle, Pinterest photo with broken link, BeautiSHE
And then I get distracted.  I see amazing quilts like these, with totally different colour combinations from that which I've planned on.  Sigh. 

Sources, left to right:  Quilty Magazine, Very Kerry Berry
As I complete parts of the room over the next few weeks, I will share pictures and any tutorials that I come up with.  Don't be surprised if I see something new on Pinterest and start out in a whole new direction.

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