Monday, November 29, 2010

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Flax Pancakes

Ahh, pancakes.  The long standing breakfast staple.  There is no substitute for warm, fluffy pancakes to start a Saturday morning, at least not at my house.  My son and husband are nuts about pancakes, but I was less than thrilled with the recipes I had tried.  Not that every single thing we eat has to be uber healthy, but it does have to have some nutritional value or I won't allow it on our table.  The recipes I had experimented with that met my nutritional standards didn't pass my hubby's taste test- so now what?

I started with the basic pancake recipe that my husband loved.  Then I subbed out half of the white flour for whole wheat, added some buttermilk, and finally a little flax to up the fiber content, protein, and add a ton of omega 3's.  The end result satisfied all the critics in our house.  Hubby and son were happy because the pancakes were fluffy and tasted great.  I was content knowing that they were consuming a healthier version of their favorite breakfast meal.  A few additions and a couple changes was all it took to create a healthier version of an old favorite.  It wasn't difficult and it didn't mean we had to sacrifice on taste either.  We've been eating these healthy, delicious pancakes for some time now, and hubby doesn't seem to miss the old ones at all!

So, what's all the fuss about these pancakes?

Whole Wheat- referred to as the staff of life, wheat is the best known, most cultivated and consumed grain on the planet.  Eating wheat in its whole, unrefined state has many health benefits including cancer prevention and heart health, offering protection from cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Eating whole grains contribute to a healthy weight and have been shown to reduce high cholesterol.  Whole wheat contains fiber, protein and a multitude of vitamins, including iron, zinc, magnesium, riboflavin, thiamine and an excellent source of B vitamins. 

Flax- flax has been cultivated and used for centuries.  It has been shown to fight everthing from cancer to diabetes to heart disease.  It is one of the richest sources of plant based omega 3 fatty acids.  It contains lignans, which are plant estrogens and offers powerful antioxidants.  Flax seed has 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.  Flax is a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. 

* Our bodies cannot break down flaxseed in its whole form.  It is digested most effectively when ground.  Ground flax seed is virtually tasteless, making it a great addition to anything from smoothies to baked goods- like these pancakes.  I add flax to our daily smoothie and to many other recipes,  even unlikely ones, such as casseroles and chili! 

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Flax Pancakes

3/4 c unbleached, all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
3 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 c ground flax seed
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 T vegetable oil  (optional)
1 egg
1 egg white

Sift flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into large bowl.  Add flax and whisk until combined.

In another bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs and oil.  Mix until blended.

Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and whisk just until combined.

Heat griddle over medium heat.  Melt a little butter on pan or spray griddle with oil.    Add about 1/3 cup of pancake mixture.  Cook for a couple minutes or until bubbles form on top.  Flip and cook for a few more minutes until golden.

Serve warm with your favorite pancake toppings.  My husband and son love theirs with peanut butter and maple syrup.  For me, it's pure maple syrup and nothing else.

These freeze incredibly well, so they are great for rushed mornings when you need to pop something in the toaster and go.  After cooking, allow pancakes to cool completely and then lay on a cookie sheet.  Freeze for half an hour, place into Ziploc bags and freeze up to 3 months.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peanut Butter Balls

Healthy candy??  Does such a thing truly exist?  I am always on the lookout for healthy snacks and treats that my whole family can enjoy.  I still find it hard to believe some of the junk I see kids eating these days.  There is such a wealth of information available today about the importance of nutrition, especially in the younger, formative years of childhood that I wonder why we are still polluting our kids systems with processed garbage.  Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of how imperative proper nutrition is for our children.  Especially in the first five years, as their brains are developing at an amazing rate, it is vital that they are provided with all the essential vitamins and minerals to ensure proper growth of the body and brain.  Not to mention, a healthy start in life lays the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices.  Does this mean we have to deprive our kids of sweet treats?   Of course not.  There are plenty of healthy options out there that taste just as good as the stuff on the shelves and are much more nutritious.

Okay, I have to admit it.  These are not just for the kids.  I have an insatiable sweet tooth, and as clean as I try to eat, I want dessert after dinner and  I don't think I should have to deprive myself.  I just have to look harder to find recipes that can satiate both my desire to eat nutritious food and my relentless craving for sweets.  These little peanut butter balls do just that.  Plus, I love that they are bite size, so I can have a few without feeling the least built guilty.

This recipe is wonderful for a few reasons.  These peanut butter balls really do have the same flavor as the popular peanut butter cups.  If you like those, you will love these.  I love that they have no refined sugar, only pure, natural honey.  They are packed with protein and whole grains so I feel great giving them to my son and I don't have to feel guilty about indulging on a few myself.  So whether you're looking for healthier options for your kids, or for yourself, these peanut butter balls are a must try! 

Aside from being a healthy treat, this is a wonderful recipe for the kids to make with you.  It  consists of only a few ingredients, requires no cooking, and it involves lots of pouring and stirring, which my son loves!  This time in particular he ate quite a bit of the mixture as he was stirring it, but hey, that's part of the fun!  So roll up your sleeves, get your kids in the kitchen,  and whip up this quick and nutritious treat!

A little useful information about the nutritious ingredients in these peanut butter balls:

Peanut Butter:  Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein.  It contains good amounts of potassium, phosphorous and magnesium.  It also provides lots of iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and selenium.  It is high in niacin, vitamin B3 and vitamin E.  While it is high in fat, peanut butter contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: the healthy kinds of fat our body needs.  It has good amounts of vitamin k, riboflavin, thiamine, folate and pantothenic acid.  It is also a good source of dietary fiber, helping you to feel fuller longer.

Oats:  a whole grain that provides lots of soluble fiber.  It helps to reduce cholesterol and is a good source of calcium, vitamins A and B, and iron and can reduce the risk of heart disease.  Consuming oats helps control insulin levels and glucose in the blood.  It contains many phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of certain cancers.  Oats have been shown to have positive effects on the dental health in children.  It contains magnesium and potassium along with B- complex vitamins.  It is a good source of non-animal protein and contains beta glucan which can help in healing by speeding up the response to infection.

Honey:  has been used for thousands of years for it's anti-bacterial properties, as a good energy source, and to treat a variety of medical conditions, like soothing a cough.  It is nature's sweetener, and it contains amino acids, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and enzymes.  It helps in cleansing the blood and helps circulation.  It's anti-microbial properties are wonderful for healing wounds and healing acne.  It contains healthy bacteria which aid in digestion and it's complex carbohydrates have been shown to improve athletic performance.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 1/4 c old fashioned oats
1/2 c organic, all natural peanut butter
1/2 c raw honey
shredded coconut
cocoa powder
crushed cereal, we used plain Cheerios

Other tasty items to use for coating:

powdered sugar
crushed graham crackers
wheat germ
any other type of cereal

Grind the oats in a food processor until it becomes a fine powder.  Mix peanut butter and honey in a bowl and blend well.  Add oats and stir until combined.  Roll mixture into balls.  You can make them as big or as small as you like.  Roll balls in coating of your choice.  They taste extra good after you freeze them, just make sure to take them out a few minutes before eating, so they can thaw a bit.

You can store in refrigerator for up to a week.  We like to freeze them, where they can last up to 3 months. 


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Homemade Shampoo Journey

Parabens, phthalates, sodium laryl sulfate, animal by-products, dyes, and perfumes.  The majority of beauty products that litter the shelves today have unrecognizable ingredients most of which I can't even pronounce.  As the years have went by, the products we put on our skin and hair have become more commercialized and less pure.  We have strayed away from what Mother Nature has provided and traded in her bounty for chemical laden products cooked up in labs.  The birth of my son was my personal catalyst to lead the cleanest life I possibly could, and that meant taking a good, hard look at not only the things I was putting into our bodies, but on them as well.

Becoming a mother made me slow down and take stock of what I was bringing into our home, putting in our bodies, rubbing on our skin.  I had a rare opportunity to take something in its purest state and alter his whole existence.  Was I going to tarnish his unblemished system with processed junk and hormone disrupting chemicals, or was I going to feed his soul with whole, beautiful, pure food and products?  There was no doubt in my mind.  I began by making every ounce of food that went into his mouth.  No baby food out of a jar, not even once.  It evolved from there.  I began thinking- if I wouldn't give it to him, why would I put it in my mouth, or on my body?  And so began my journey of finding a balance between living in this mass produced, convenience driven society and somehow getting back to the basics.  Eating the foods that the Earth provides.  Buying and using products that don't damage our bodies, our planet, our utter existence.  The use and advocacy of natural beauty products was a logical next step for me.

The more research I did on the chemicals that were so common in the products that fill the beauty aisle, the clearer it became that I needed other options. I've tried many of the natural beauty products out there, and there are some really good ones.  I loved the Burt's Bees line for my son when he was a baby, and I occasionally still use it.  I've tried almost all the natural lines out there, and while I was generally satisfied with their quality, I had two major problems with them.  They were all considerably more expensive than their big name counterparts and most still had some chemicals in them.  On one bottle, it said "92% natural ingredients".  While that may be leaps and bounds better than the products whose only natural ingredient is water, I knew I could do better.

 The more I delved into the world of "natural" products, I was shocked to find out that the FDA does not regulate ingredients in cosmetics whatsoever except in regard to color additives.  What does that mean for us consumers?  Basically, it is up to the individual cosmetic manufacturer to regulate themselves and they are allowed to put whatever they like into their products.  They can call it natural, when in reality it contains many ingredients and chemicals that we would not expect to be in something labeled natural.  And as if things couldn't get worse, cosmetic manufacturers are not even required to register with the FDA, to provide any information about their ingredients, or file any reports with the FDA related to cosmetic related injuries!  Is that sheer lunacy or what?  To read more about the lack of regulation of the cosmetic industry click here.

After arming myself with the knowledge about all the hazardous products I had been using, one thing was certain- I had to start making my own.   I started by looking at the ingredient list on the back of my favorite natural products.  Then I thought about the things that my great grandmother would have had available to her  in her hair washing hay day.  I used both of these tools to come up with my own homemade, 100% natural shampoos.  In reality, shampoo is nothing but soap, water, and fragrance.  Companies fill their products with chemicals for the same reason the food industry uses high fructose corn syrup.  They are cheap, convenient and plentiful.  All these additives are not only detrimental to our bodies, but those same chemicals you are putting on your hair are getting washed down the drain and harming our environment.  For more information on the toxicity of the chemicals found in the shampoo you are likely using please read this article.

The Environmental Working Group has a cosmetic safety database that is the most amazing tool I have found for learning about what chemicals your  favorite beauty products contain.  You can search a wide variety of products, from bronzer to eyeliner, to hairspray and conditioner.  You type in the brand name, such as Bumble and Bumble, or Pantene, and it will give you the ingredient list as well as a rating on a scale from low to high hazard.  You will be appalled when you discover what you have been putting on your body all these years, I know I was.

The true test of homemade shampoo was, will my hair feel as good as it does with store bought brands?  I have to tell you- the difference was drastic.  I know it probably sounds a little far-fetched, but I noticed a difference from the very first shampoo.  My hair was less frizzy, much softer and had more shine, which surprised me because after I had rinsed the shampoo out, my hair felt squeaky clean, almost to the point of feeling stripped and dry.  As I dried it, I feared the worst, but to my amazement it was in the best condition I had seen in a long time. From one shampoo. Seriously.  I have a ton of hair.  It's thick, long, and  tends to be on the coarse side.  One shampoo was all it took to notice a vast improvement in the texture and appearance of my mane.  I was intrigued and excited as I thought about what state my hair would be in after a few months of using my own concoctions.  Chock up another win for Mother Nature's bounty.  The ultimate provider.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Playdough

I'm sure some of you are wondering, what does a playdough craft have to do with clean living?  Depends on how you look at it.  First and foremost, I am a mother.  It is the single most important job I will hold in my lifetime. I dedicate my days to making sure my son's days are the best they can be.   Becoming a mother was the driving force behind my decision to live the cleanest, greenest way I possibly could.  Our children will inherit this Earth from us one day, and it is up to us to nurture them, all of them, mind, body and soul.  So while nutrition is my main concern and quite possibly the most important, so is feeding the brain, and that includes doing things like crafts, like making pumpkin pie playdough. I love making things with my son, and so they will be included in my posts from time to time.

 I figured I better post this craft now seeing as the fall season is winding down.  I love crafts that involve cooking something and then getting to play with your creation.  I strive to have my son in the kitchen cooking with me at least once a week, so this week instead of cooking something to eat, we made playdough.  My son loves Play-doh, but he especially enjoyed playing with this since he had a part in making it.  Anytime you get your kids involved in the creation process, they appreciate the end result so much more.  The great thing about making your own playdough, besides spending quality time with your kids, is it's incredibly easy to make, and most of us have the ingredients on hand in the pantry. 

It was wonderful to see his little face light up as I told him our project today was making pumpkin pie playdough.  "Pumpkin playdough?  That's silly mommy".  He immediately ran into the kitchen, pulled up his little stool, and grabbed his spoon.  Pouring and mixing are two things that toddlers have mastered, and this project lets them do both!  He poured in the flour, salt, and water, and almost managed to get the oil in the bowl.  I let him give the mixture a few stirs before putting it on the stove.  He could hardly wait long enough for it to finish cooking.  "Now can I play with my playdough", he kept asking, over and over.  Thankfully this recipe comes together in no time, and he was off squishing and shaping before I even had time to wash the pot.  He was already talking about how he couldn't wait for daddy to come home from work so he could show off his masterpiece.

I know he may not remember making this with me, but I will never forget these moments.  To witness the sheer joy and enthusiasm he exudes just warms me to the core.  It was impossible not to hear the pride in his voice as he told me, "I'm your big, good helper mama". You sure are baby, you sure are.

Pumpkin Pie Playdough

1 c flour
1/2 c salt
1 c water
2 T vegetable oil
2 t cream of tartar
2 t pumpkin pie spice
* orange food coloring, optional

Pour all ingredients into saucepan and cook over low heat.  Stir frequently.

Dough is ready when it rolls into a ball, about 5 minutes.

Keep dough fresh in an airtight container.

Although I am a huge advocate against the use of dyes, as you can see from my picture, I did use food coloring in my recipe. I figured since we wouldn't be ingesting it, ( hopefully), and since we didn't plan on rubbing it on our skin, (wait, I am talking about a two year old boy) , I saw no harm in adding a little color to his dough.  Besides, he seemed to prefer orange playdough over the "funny" flesh color it was when we pulled it out of the pan.   I didn't have any orange food color on hand, but I did have yellow and red, which presented another great teaching moment about what happens when you mix certain colors together.

I hope you have as much fun making this festive craft as we did...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

White Bean, Kale, and Sausage Soup

I love this time of year, the festivities, the weather, and of course all the delicious food.  There's something about a brisk, chilly day that just has me begging for a big bowl of comforting soup.  Nothing is quite as satisfying, and when it's as hearty and nourishing as this soup is, you can't go wrong.   Truth be told, there is nothing special about the ingredients in this soup, in fact it is quite simple.  Maybe that's what makes it so darn good.  I've tried many different variations and this is my favorite.  Too often comfort food is not synonymous with health food, but this one pot meal is both.  Even my soup-hating husband has requested this twice in the last two weeks!  If that isn't convincing, I don't know what is. 

I use chicken sausage, but feel free to use pork if you desire.  To make it vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and omit the sausage. 

4 links of smoked sausages, chicken, pork, or turkey, sliced  ( I use chicken andouille)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, chopped
6-8 cups free range, organic chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 bunch kale, chiffonade
2 cans cannelini beans, drained
1/2 t oregano
1/4 t cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
rind of Parmigiana Reggiano cheese 

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Take sausage out of casings. Add sausage, saute until nicely browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chopped onion and carrot into pan and cook 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent and carrots begin to soften.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

While onion and carrots are cooking, mash half of the cannelini beans and leave the rest whole.

 Pour stock into pan, being sure to scrape up any brown bits on bottom of pan. Add the bay leaf, oregano, cayenne, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, add kale, Parmesan rind, and beans.  Reduce to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.  Add sausage back in and simmer 15 minutes more, or until kale is wilted.

Remove rind and bay leaf before serving.  Serve with crusty multi-grain bread and some grated parmigiana reggiano cheese.

This soup tastes even better one or two days after you make it, so you can look forward to enjoying the leftovers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Smoothie Revolution

It has been said that "nature needs no help- just no interference".  There are plenty of things in today's crazy world that interfere with our health; water that's not pure, air that's not clean, lack of exercise, not enough rest, poor diets- the list goes on.  I have found that the best way to teach about clean eating and living is to be an example.  That is what I strive to be, a living example.  It may not always be easy (holiday parties, anyone?) but it is vitally important.

When I first added green smoothies to my family's diet, we were already living an extremely healthy life.  I wasn't sure if the addition of blended fruits and veggies that we were already eating was going to have a major impact on our health, if any impact at all.  I was already eating most of these things in my daily salad, so how could this be any different? Well, first it enabled me to eat a wider variety of vegetables than I had previously been eating.  Kale and wheatgrass did not make their way into our salads too often.  And this was great because it meant that my son whose veggie intake consisted of broccoli, pickles, and an occasional avocado was now consuming all these wonderful leafy greens and sprouts that he wouldn't have otherwise.  He may prefer brown rice cakes to Goldfish crackers, but his veggie intake left much to be desired, as is the case with many two year olds.

Second, and here's the real kicker, blending the vegetables and fruit allows your body to extract the maximum amount of nutrients out of the food. When we eat solid food, a large portion does not get fully digested due in part to the fact that we eat too fast and don't chew enough.  Every glance down in the porcelain princess to see a whole piece of lettuce floating around?  So although that salad you had at lunch was a great option, your body did not fully extract all the nutrients those veggies had to offer.  Blending, especially with a high powered blender such as Vita-mix actually breaks down the cell wall of the food allowing for maximum absorption. And, in contrast to juicing, when you blend, the pulp does not get left behind and this is where most of the fiber resides.   I am here to tell you that by starting your day with a green smoothie you will enjoy increased energy levels, improved skin and hair, better digestion ( better be prepared for this one- especially early on!), and you may finally be able to achieve your ideal weight.  I was amazed at how my energy levels soared from these little green glasses of goodness.

The more whole, raw foods we incorporate into our diets, the better our body functions.  This was the way we were intended to eat.  Long before fast food joints crowded our streets, and before food had an indefinite shelf life there was pure, raw, LIVE food.  The food that fueled us, nourished us, sustained us.  We have become so far removed from food in its natural state that the notion of eating and living off the land seems ludicrous to some.  Our society has become accustomed to food in a box, stripped of all nutrients, preservative filled, dye colored garbage.  My personal goal for my family and I is to eat food that my great grandmother would recognize.  To get back to the way we ate thousands of years ago,consuming the life sustaining food nature has provided for us- the way it was intended.

We all want to look and feel better.  We desire more energy, less disease, more confidence.  We want these things, but many of us don't know how to attain them.  I can honestly say that all these things and more are not only within your reach, but they are much easier to accomplish than you think.  It starts with simple changes.  Small steps for a better YOU.  A green smoothie to start your day.    Life is nothing but a series of choices.  We are faced with endless decisions in our lives and each one ultimately determines and shapes our life's path.  It can be overwhelming to wrap your head around all the choices you will be faced with over your lifetime.  The key to being successful at changing your lifestyle is to take it one tiny choice at a time.  Just get through today.  Make a choice to start each day the best way you possibly can. The best thing about green smoothies is they are easy, unbelievably healthy, and the variations are virtually endless.  You can tailor them to your specific taste and reap all the benefits along the way.  It may sound silly, but adding green smoothies to your diet can change your life.  Perhaps not all on their own, but once you start your day with a fresh, raw, nourishing smoothie, you will notice the difference in the way you feel.  Your cravings for junk will start to diminish which will  propel you down the path of total health and well-being.

I believe that negativity breeds more negativity.  That making bad choices leads to more bad choices.  Eating is the same way.  If you start the day with a doughnut, you're not likely to have a salad and salmon for lunch.  If you drink soda all the time, water doesn't quite do it for you.  Starting each day with a green smoothie sets the tone for the rest of your day, for tomorrow, for the rest of your life.  It's the little things that add up to a grand total.  So whether you're someone just starting their journey to a more healthy existence, or a seasoned health nut looking to incorporate more raw food into your diet- it doesn't get better or easier than green smoothies.

There are no rules when it comes to making green smoothies.  Basically, you can take any fruit and combine it with tons of different greens to find a flavor and consistency that appeals to you. No matter how good green smoothies are for you, not too many people would drink them everyday if they didn't taste good.  I know for a fact that my two year old son would never drink them if they weren't delicious, and he not only drinks them, he always asks for more!!  When I first began I wondered  how spinach and kale blended with pears and strawberries could taste good. The truth is- you can barely even taste the greens.  If it is too bitter for your taste- just add more fruit.   I like to change the greens we use in our smoothies every couple of days.  Spinach, kale, wheatgrass, and mixed lettuces are our go-to greens, but lately I've been experimenting with sprouts.  I hope you will find some recipes here that help you on your way to making green smoothies a part of your daily routine.  And remember, the only rule when making smoothies is- there are no rules!!    Green smoothies feed the soul and heal the body so blend, enjoy, and bask in their glory...