Monday, October 7, 2013

Mmmmm, Soup!

Fall is here and so is my desire to simmer up some soup. The best soup starts with a great broth and then you just add the stuff you crave most. These are some of our favorites. Clicking on the caption will bring you to the recipe I used. For those without a link, I've included the recipe below.

*D = Dairy Free
*S = Sugar Free
*G = Grain Free
Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp (D,S,G)
Gai Choy Chicken (D,S,G)
Sausage and Kale Soup (D,S,G)
Creamy Tomato Basil (D,S,G)
Turkey Vegetable w/Rice Noodle (D,S)
Classic French Onion
Pork Dumpling (D,S,G)
Italian "Wedding" Soup (D,S,G)
Sausage Tomato Bean (D,S,G)
Thai Coconut Chicken (D,S,G)

Monday, September 30, 2013

the W A Y Before and the N O W

This is a longer post, outlining my journey for healthy living to date. For those who are only in this for the quick tip... read the last two paragraphs, but know that there's to life & health than what we put into our bodies than food. Our fuel is both physical and spiritual because that's how God made us. Thanks for stopping to read about my journey and hopefully you come away encouraged.

Me, as a young adult.
Most of my childhood and even young adulthood, I was thin, to very thin (105 lbs by the time I was 18 at 5'3" tall). I didn't worry one bit about what I ate or how much I exercised because it simply didn't make a difference (though I was not "lazy") my weight never really changed much. I was very grateful for that because, for so many young girls, looks were a very high priority and thin was the only way to be. Growing up, I watched my mother and so many of her friends struggle to keep those extra pounds at bay. Some succeeded but more often than not they gained even more. This made no sense to me at all and so I vowed
 to never do the "diet" roller coaster.

Fast forward to my mid-twenties eating a poor, fast food diet and add to that a desk job and you could say that my unhealthy lifestyle began to catch up with me FAST. It started with 1lb here and 3 lbs there and it wouldn't just go away as in the past.
Me with my work pals.

My bad habits formed since childhood felt impossible to change. Obviously the fast food was cut out first because we all know that stuff is no good. Like so many others, I joined a gym to get that cardio and weight training in that I wasn't getting from behind my computer at work. These times in my life were also very stressful mentally and spiritually. I was eating to comfort myself and build up walls to protect myself emotionally. In short, I was doing exactly what I vowed as a youth to NEVER do and didn't even know it. I was destroying my body's ability to stay healthy and create the need for one of those "diet" plans.

At 22 years old I was 145 lbs (not huge I know, but a gain of 40 unhealthy lbs in only 3 years is not good). After a visit from my doctor (who always knows best right?) I was advised  to cut out fat and count calories, staying under 1500 calories a day. This was back when Oprah and Bob Greene were all the rage and I figured that if the doctors approve their plan than it's not a "diet" right? So I rationalized my way into a diet program. I kept a journal back then and to read it now just makes me shake my head. The stuff I thought was healthy was clearly going to kill me. But at the risk of sounding cliché,  I'll quote a classic Dr. Phil-ism "When you know better, 
you can do better".

The good thing about this journal is that I was accountable to eat better and exercise and it showed me my bad habits so I could work on them. Nearly two years later I was eating better; no more skipped breakfasts, more veggies and fewer processed foods but I was weighing in at 165 lbs. How could this be? I was doing exactly what the doctor & Oprah were telling me to do; counting calories, reducing fat and cardio daily! Fast forward two more years on that same, impossible program and I was 174 lbs... one more year 180 lbs but changed I changed the plan to consuming only 1200 calories, 33g fat, 50g protein and 175g carbs per day and working out cardio 1hr 5x per week (more like Weight Watchers). Then I stopped journaling...  No wonder! I would go on to gain another 6 lbs tipping the scale at 186 lbs and only 26 years old. Clearly this was not working and not for lack of trying. I bet this resonates with the majority of people out there as I've heard this story myself so many times over the years.

Me at a family gathering in 1999.
A HUGE wake up call for me was when my doctor told me that I was on the cusp of having to take high blood pressure pills and if I kept this weight gain up I was going to die very young. I thought, What is going on here? This is not who I am! At this time in my life the stress was reaching it's breaking point as well, something needed to change and FAST. Inside I was fighting this battle over who I really was and how do I change my life to make it better. I knew the answer needed to start in my head and in my heart or I would have no hope at all. I knew from my youth that the only lasting changes are made when God is your strength and guiding force but  "How could God possibly fix the mess I was in?".
Few months before getting married.
It started with me sucking it up and going back to church, being around other people are also working toward that same goal and getting into the habit of praying and letting him change my hard, hurting heart and make His plan my priority. I focused on healing at the core of where the problem began. Why was I so stressed? This process (something I might share at another time) happened very, very quickly for me and when change happens that quickly you've got to know it's going to be painful and it was devastating at first, but then I felt peace for the first time on over 7 years. Real peace! In turn I lost 30 lbs in a month, gained confidence in who I was and motivation to live better. I am not going to fool you, most of the weight loss was due to not eating regular meals due to stress and the business of piecing life back together. Most of the time, I was just not at all hungry! Beyond that, something had shifted in my heart and I was able to see food as fuel for the first time in my life. No more calorie and fat gram counting... just don't eat food that wasn't real food (no processed stuff). I continued to lose a bit more and had the energy and drive to work out again (all this within 2 months, like I said for me things happen FAST). This time I joined a Kick Boxing Gym rather than an aerobic style program. I enjoyed getting rid of that stress kicking rather than eating and my body thanked me for it by dropping down to 145 lbs, increased energy and more importantly hope. Ironically this was the starting weight of my initial battle; now I had a "clean slate" and that's exactly what it felt like inside and out.

15 years after the start of my healthy life journey and 3 babies later, I am weighing in at 142 lbs (nice to be healthier at 38 than when I was 22). My road to educate myself about food has taught me that, if I misused it, my body will get sick. The bottom line is: grains and sugar cause inflammation and fat cells to be stored in my body. Healthy fat, from natural sources, is my friend now; it helps to fuel my body to care for our 4 children, husband and new puppy. Is it a "diet"? Well, some might call it Paleo, Maximized Living, Trim Healthy Mama, or Weston A. Price but the reality is simple;  
we put on our plates what our bodies can use as fuel and keep that other stuff away the best we can. You can find many of the recipes and links we use on this blog.

Me, on an average Saturday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2013
Some might think that chasing after 4 young children would be enough exercise for me, but the reality is I am still not moving my body enough to keep it as healthy as I can. I prefer to join a sport or activity rather than a work-out routine but for right now, where we live I'm gonna have to suck it up, again. Since my cousin began her work-outs I thought I might be able to do those and hopefully encourage her to keep going at the same time (I have the feeling she'll encourage me more). She has Jillian Micheal's Ripped in 30 and Turbo Jam going on so I'll try those out, though it comes back to carving out the time and making health a higher priority. I also have some Tracy Anderson Dance workouts I found on You Tube. Add to that the walks to & from School with our foster son and the dog and we'll see how much more I can conquer. It's my job to take care of my body the best way I can, not the health care system. There are no guarantees in this life but at least I know I can look back and say I did my best.

Hope my story encourages you to not give up and live the best you can from the inside out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Baptism Cake

This was more fun than I would have thought. Basic vanilla cake in three layers with butter cream icing and marshmallow fondant. I also found these food writers that makes fine detail so much easier...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Coconutty Goodness

Pies are by far one of my most desired sweet treats. Since pie making, traditional or SFGF, is a time consuming task it rarely gets to the top of my "to do" list. This is why I knew that my Dad (who is following a very strict SFGF lifestyle) would really appreciate this labor of love. This crust recipe can be used for nay number of single layered pies. It is sweet, with a slight coconut flavor.

Coconut Cream Pie

Crust: (makes 2 thin crusts)
3/4 cup coconut flour½ cup coconut oil
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 eggs
¼ tsp sea salt

1) Preheat oven to 375˚F
2) Pulse the coconut flour, shredded coconut and salt in food processor until well combined.
3) Add the eggs and coconut oil and continue to pulse until a dough ball forms (can be refrigerated and prepared later if you prefer).
4) Divide dough into two parts. Place mixture into pie plate and work it evenly up the sides and bottom of the dish.
5) Using a fork, pierce holes in the bottom of the crust.
6) Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool completely before filling.

At this point you can make a whole bunch and freeze them for future use.

Chocolate Coating: (makes 1 pie)
8 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 tbs + 1 tsp heavy cream (or butter)
2 tsp xylitol (or to your taste)

1) Melt the chocolate small saucepan, over low heat.
2) Add heavy cream and xylitol. Mix to combine, stirring constantly.
3) Spread chocolate mixture over the crust and refrigerate until dried or while you're making the filling.

Coconut Cream Filling: (makes 1 pie)
1 can full fat coconut milk (light won't work)
1 large egg
3 Tbsp arrowroot powder
3 Tbsp xylitol
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
⅛ sea salt

1) Combine the coconut milk, egg, arrowroot powder, sweetener and salt in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until it thickens. This can take a little while but make sure it thickens well.
2) Stir in the shredded coconut and vanilla extract.
3) Pour the filling over the cooled crust and chocolate refrigerate for about 4 hours or until the coconut layer is firm.
4) Top with Whipped Cream lightly sweetened with your favorite sweetener. We like to use a tiny bit of maple syrup and keep any remainder for our morning coffees.
5) Add to that some lightly toasted coconut and enjoy!

This is the kind of pie one can have for breakfast and not feel the least bit guilty about it!

3/4 cup sifted coconut flour 1/2 cup palm shortening 1/2 cup shredded coconut 2 pastured eggs 1/4 tsp. sea salt Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 375. 2. Whiz the coconut flour, shredded coconut, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well combined. 3. Add the eggs and palm shortening and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. 4. Remove the dough from the food processor. If you want two crusts, split the mixture in two ...

Read More at © Delicious Obsessions
makes 1 thick crust or 2 thin crusts - I have linked to the products from my affiliate partners that I personally use and recommend. Ingredients 3/4 cup sifted coconut flour 1/2 cup palm shortening 1/2 cup shredded coconut 2 pastured eggs 1/4 tsp. sea salt Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 375. 2. Whiz the coconut flour, shredded coconut, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well combined. 3. Add the eggs and palm shortening ...

Read More at © Delicious Obsessions
3/4 cup sifted coconut flour 1/2 cup palm shortening 1/2 cup shredded coconut 2 pastured eggs 1/4 tsp. sea salt Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 375. 2. Whiz the coconut flour, shredded coconut, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well combined. 3. Add the eggs and palm shortening and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. 4. Remove the dough from the food processor. If you want two crusts, split the mixture in two ...

Read More at © Delicious Obsessions

Monday, September 9, 2013

More Custom Cakes

 I know that most of these aren't too terribly fascinating, but I can guarantee they tasted good. To think, before the move up north I really didn't care for baking so much. I left all those tasks to my good pal and cousin Krista over at Sugar Mama. She's the bomb!
4 Layer Vanilla Cake with Black Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

Vanilla Soccer Ball Cake

Custom Farewell Log Book Carrot Cake
with Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
with a thin layer of fondant topper

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lego Party

Since Legos are pretty much any 8 year old boy's favorite toy, we thought it would make a great theme for our eldest son's birthday. Here is what we came up with.

SFGF Banana & Chocolate Cake.
Sadly, my try at sugar free icing failed so I gave in and went traditional butter cream. I figured that at least the bulk of the sugar would be left out.

 More for the younger guests but they all had fun dodging the Lego heads and would punch them every time they went by for days, until their poor heads shriveled.

Pin the head on the Lego dude!

I always have so much cake left over and so it only make sense to make cake pops as the goodie for the guests. I have yet to master the chocolate coating technique & mixture.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Camping Stepped Up a Notch

My whole life, the only kind of camping I had done was in a tent. As a child it was a great big cabin style tent with a room divider. As a youth it was a more light-weight tent designed for housing a few of us girls and it had to be light enough to be carried with a canoe and all our food over at least one portage. As a young married woman, my husband and I started out with a simple pop-up style tent that we most likely borrowed from someone. After we had a child we began to search out a tent to keep us a bit more comfortable. We saw it as a bit of an investment, but the modernized cabin style tent had features like a screened in gazebo, divided room and a ceiling light with remote control; handy when you're camping among many other tents so you can find your own or if need a nightlight for your child!

Now, nearly 11 years into our marriage and 4 children later we need another upgrade. The search for our next upgrade took nearly 3 years but we were finally faced with a deal no-one could refuse. We found a 1977 Bonair Tent Trailer with two double beds, fridge, stove, heater, table and side bench/bed. She needs a bit of TLC but we think we can make it work.
We took her on our first trip this summer with only a few minor repairs before taking off. Bearings, roof sealing and repairing some corners where the wood was exposed. We stayed comfortable, warm and most of all dry (only one leak, but minor). No more packing up a wet tent! That was worth it big time. So here are our before photos. Stay tuned for updates (might take a while, but we'll get there).

If you have pointers... we could use them!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Year 4 of Homeschooling

With a complete overhaul of our homeschooling plan well under way I thought I'd take the time to share our plans for this year. In the past we have gone with boxed sets of homeschooling curriculum from Alpha Omega Publications, using both Horizons and Life Pac. They have worked well for us and our sone but we found something lacking in our home this past year -  that personal, passion for learning that homeschooling is meant to create and encourage. Academically, our son is right up to par compared to traditionally schooled children, but he just doesn't LOVE learning as when we first began. For that reason and the fact that we have two five-year-olds and an eager soon-to-be three year old to teach, we needed to bring that passion for learning back to the front of the class. I have included many (if not all) my links from my research as we go along.

After much research (it was a long winter) and encouragement from other homeschooling parents we know, we decided to use the Charlotte Mason approach to educating our children. The basic premise is simple; people learn best when they are passionate about the subject or from those who are passionate about their subject. She encouraged learning from what she called "living books" rather than text books. Living books are most often written by people who are well informed and passionate about their subject and that will come across in their writing therefor, better capturing the attention and passions of your own child (better than any stagnant text book written by a panel of learned people might). We also really like that every part of a child's day becomes their learning. From habit training (or chores as some might call it) to character development to History and Math; all are just an extension of the parent's job to raise up passionate, functioning, educated, adults.

You'll notice that I give about 15-30 minutes per subject. I want to be clear that not all the time will be used for reading/teaching. Some will be left open for discussion and having the children recite back to me the things they have learned so I know where to focus our attention the next time. I'm sure I am missing a lot of details that could help explain how our day will look, but in the end, our whole day is designed to keep our minds active and creatively learning .

Here is what we hope to use as our "Curriculum" and schedule for this year... I'm certain things will adjust and change, but we need to start somewhere...
For the Family Lessons, the initial teaching will be done together on these subjects though the younger children will use more simplified versions than the older one(s). We’ll discuss what we have learned using Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions. The older one(s) will write out their questions and answers in a notebook and review with me their insights.

While me might have started with Simply Charlotte Mason, We ended up using the Ambleside Online site to help us pick out and organize our year. Both are great, but ultimately we liked the organization used on the Ambleside Online's website and we just needed to tweak is slightly to suit our needs. So not all of these subjects would be found on their site. One of the reasons for that is because Ambleside is a primarily British/American source and there really isn't a Charlotte Mason "approved" Canadian History base just yet. So I have looked up something that I think will be good for our needs and hopefully we'll be able to find most of our books at our local library. See the last image for that outline.

We also wanted to use the Year 2 Bible to start so that we could begin our timeline as a family and the younger children could better follow along (hopefully). We've also decided to use the Exploring Creation Series they sited as an alternative because I know my boys would prefer that brightly illustrated and factual style of learning for that subject. I don't know about you but some of my favorite fact books were those done by Crabtree Publishing, these are similar to those and a bit more text book like than I think Charlotte might have preferred.

Math is also one that really can't just be done as a multi-age, but it can be done at the same time, only making simple changes for the young ones for now. We chose Math-U-See for our son this year. He used to love math but recently began to dislike the many pages of question & answer work he had to do. This curriculum set seems to work past that and engage the children into loving math.

By all means question/comment away here because the more I have to think about it, the better it will be in the end.

Sample of our Canadian History Plan
Some other links:
Manitoba Social Studies outline from the Government's site.
Penmanship, Handwriting tools

Squash, Squash and more Squash

One of the most versatile produce items from my gardens, past, present and future has been the squash. With so many varieties, shapes and sizes the possibilities are endless really. But you might be asking yourself what to do with them? Here I have shared some of my own favorites and some links to my tried and true loves.

Spaghetti Squash
with Classic Meat Sauce 

  1. Cut squash in half and scrape out seeds.
  2. Place cut side up in roaster with enough water to cover bottom of the pan and cover.
  3. Roast for 45-50 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork.
  4. Cool slightly, break apart fibers with a fork to look like spaghetti strings.
Top with your favorite meat sauce and your meal is complete. Our children loved this one and could easily make it once a week.

Try this squash with salt, butter and parmesan cheese or with garlic shrimp with sea salted butter and parsley. You can pretty much top this with anything.

We have done butter chicken or this Thai Peanut Chicken recipe I've memorized and adapted over the years and is now a favorite for the whole family.If you'd put it on regular spaghetti then you could certainly put it on this garden favorite.

Another squash we like to use is Acorn or Butternut. Once cooked these have a similar sweet flavor and have interchanged them in more than one recipe over the years. My favorite is from Health-Bent's site and have made it so many times that I bet the recipe has morphed into something else altogether. A classic squash Lasagna.

How about a simple one dish skillet dinner? This one has limitless possibilities, but this is the usual combination for us.

Sausage (any you like)
Acorn Squash (butternut or sweet potato)
Onion, chopped
Peppers, chopped
Cheese, grated
Avocado, chopped

Cook up the sausage and onion. Remove sausage from the pan and let cool slightly. Add squash and enough liquid (water) to help cook the squash. Cut sausage into bite sized pieces and return to pan with any juices. Add peppers and cook until squash is almost done. Add spinach and make little "nests" in the mixture to break the eggs into. Finish cooking with lid on or in the oven. Top with cheese and avocado. We like to add hot sauce to our plates. Breakfast, lunch or supper, this one is a hit with everyone.

Here are some more links for you to try. We have and they are tasty and child approved.

How to Cook Squash
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Carrot-Squash Bisque
Roasted Squash Wedges
Squash Bowls: You can make a lot of great recipes inside a squash bowl including desserts.
Baked Apple Maple Acorn Squash
Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (SFGF) 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Carrot Cake Face Off

Carrot Cake II (coconut flour)
Carrot Cake I (almond flour)
Having been commissioned to make a grain-free version of this classic cake, I set out to find a recipe that, to the "untrained" or non grain-free tongue, would taste just as great as the traditional recipes. Here are the two versions I tried. Both were tasty but one did rise to the top. Try them for yourself and tell me what you think.

Carrot Cake I

6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey (or xylitol)
1 1/2 cups carrots, cooked and cooled
1 Tbsp grated orange rind (1 orange)
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice (1 orange)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups almond flour

1) Preheat oven to 325° F.
2) Grease pan (or use silicone pan)
3) Separate the eggs and beat the yolks and honey (xylitol) together.
4) Mix in carrot, orange rind, orange juice, ginger, cinnamon and almond flour.
5) Beat the egg whites until the form stiff peaks and fold into mixture.
6) Spoon the mix into the pan(s). I used 2-9" pans and split the batter evenly to make layers and add more flavor with the cream cheese frosting in the middle.
7) Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
8) Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Carrot Cake II (the winner!)

1 cup honey (or 1/2 cup xylitol)
1 cup butter
12 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 1/8 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
3 cups shredded carrots (about 6 medium)

1) Heat oven to 350˚F.
2) Grease 2-9"pans (or use silicone pans)*
3) Melt honey and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Cool.
4) Lightly beat eggs. Add vanilla and blend.
5) Add coconut flour, sea salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and beat until well blended, scraping down sides as necessary. Add shredded carrots, and stir lightly to incorporate.
6) Pour into prepared pans and bake 25-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
7) Allow to cool completely and invert onto cooling rack.

*The photo of this cake was from a half of this recipe

Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
1/2 cup butter, at room temp
1/4 cup xylitol
zest & juice from 1 orange
1 tsp ginger

1) In a stand-up her mixer, whippe together the cream cheese and butter
2) Add xylitol, zest, juice and ginger
3) Mix well