Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mock Toffee

Mock Toffee was my comfort food of choice during the final month of pregnancy, and has also proven to be my comfort food of choice in the postpartum period! I can't get enough of it, especially when I spread cream cheese on in. So delicious! Lately I have been making it without nuts due to some nut allergies in our family, and it's just as tasty without the nuts. Here's the recipe:

Mock Toffee

1 c. brown rice syrup

1/2 c. butter
Midel graham crackers (or homemade)
grain-sweetened chocolate chips

pecan pieces (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Line large cookie sheet with foil, butter heavily; Place crackers side by side to cover cookie sheet.

2. Combine butter and brown rice syrup in a saucepan and heat until they boil and bubble. Pour immediately over crackers; Bake 10-12 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and sprinkle surface with chocolate chips. Allow to sit for about one minute, then spread chocolate around with a spatula until all the crackers are coated. If using nuts, sprinkle over chocolate and press into chocolate with spatula.

4. Allow to cool and harden in refrigerator.

5. When cool, break into pieces and enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Agave Nectar

I've had several people ask me for more information about agave in recent months. For a great overview about agave, I recommend reading Debra Lynn Dadd's write up on it here.

Agave is one of my favorite natural sweeteners because it tastes very much like sugar in recipes. It is a liquid, so it does behave a bit differently than granulated sugar. I usually use 3/4 c. agave for every 1 c. sugar in a recipe. Sometimes I'll go as low as 1/2 c. agave per 1 c. sugar, but I tend to prefer things less sweet.

I also like agave because it doesn't spike insulin the way refined sugars do.

As for where to get agave, you can find it at health food stores, but it's expensive. The cheapest way we have found to buy it is to order a case of it from Amazon. We usually buy Madhava Raw Agave Nectar. You can also order in bulk from Agavebythecase. On that site you enter in the products you are interested in buying and they e-mail you a quote for how much it would cost, shipping included.

At this time, according to Debra Lynn Dadd, Mexico is the only country that produces agave nectar (some have asked if it's possible to find agave produced in the U.S.).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Aromatherapy Candles

Today at Wild Oats I discovered Aroma Naturals Candles. They are fabulous! There was a display for some of their holiday candles (scented with 100% plant aromas). I immediately fell in love with the "Wish" peppermint and vanilla scent. Yum! I also picked up an evergreen votive. I love having natural, seasonal scents in my home, and these candles are a welcome addition. Not only do they smell great, but they are aromatherapy candles, so they have an extra dimension to them. Hmmm, I wonder if I should get the candles called "Tranquility," "Serenity," and "Peace" to light when my little boys are bouncing off the walls?!

Monday, November 26, 2007

What will kids eat?

I read this article yesterday, which details a study done by the University of Minnesota showing that when children were served healthier school lunches, the sales did not decline. I found this to be encouraging and I hope it will be eye-opening to parents (it certainly was to me). I've always found it disturbing that children's menus at restaurants rarely have healthy options. At a local seafood restaurant we like to visit, the children's menu only has deep fried options. Before I had kids, I wondered if that was because children simply would not eat things that weren't breaded and fried. According to this study, that belief is false.

Obviously, children will eat fried foods if that's all that is offered to them. Those foods are immediately pleasing to the palate for most people. But if kids never try the fried stuff, they will be much more likely to try a fresh, healthy option when they are hungry. I know this is true, because I see my boys eating broiled and poached fish on a weekly basis.

As the article stated, it takes more work and costs more to prepare foods in a healthy way. But how encouraging to know that if the effort is made, children WILL eat the healthy stuff.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fantastic Cranberry Sauce

I've always loved cranberry sauce, and this year I made some using agave nectar. Wow, it was delicious, and SO easy to make. We didn't have any cranberry sauce left over after Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up making an entire new batch so that we would have it to go along with our other Thanksgiving leftover foods!

Cranberry Sauce

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 c. water
3/4 c. agave nectar

Place cranberries, water and agave in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 5-7 minutes until the cranberries have popped and sauce has thickened. Stir several times while the mixture is boiling. Allow to cool, then refrigerate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Chocolate Cake Recipe for All Occasions

Martha Stewart has a fantastic chocolate cake recipe that I have altered to fit my family's preferences. This cake can be used to make sheet cakes, frosted birthday cakes, cupcakes and more.

Here are my changes to the recipe:

*Instead of all-purpose flour, use unbleached flour.
*Instead of 3 c. sugar, use 2 or 2 1/2 c. agave nectar (I tend to use the smaller amount and the cake is still plenty sweet).
*Instead of buttermilk, use plain organic yogurt, OR use goat milk, organic milk, or raw milk with an added tablespoon of vinegar.
*Instead of vegetable oil, use virgin coconut oil (high oleic safflower oil would work well too).

I usually use my basic cream cheese frosting recipe when I frost this cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. butter, softened
4 T. honey or agave
1 t. vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Beat in honey or agave. Add vanilla.

For Tie-Dye's birthday last year I made a lion cake using this recipe. I got the lion idea from Martha Stewart's website as well. She used buttercream frosting to do the lion's face, and licorice for the whiskers. I just whipped up some organic heavy cream, liquid stevia, and natural yellow food coloring for the base of the lion's face and in between the two cake layers, and then used cream cheese frosting for the mane and face.

Tomorrow is Tie-Dye's 4th birthday, so today I will be making chocolate cupcakes. I'm going to try a little experiment and turn them into Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes. For the cheesecake filling I will use 6 oz. softened cream cheese, 1/4 c. agave nectar, 1 egg and 1/8 tsp. sea salt. I hope they turn out!

***As a side note I wanted to let you know that my posts may continue to be less frequent than usual this month and next, not only because it's a busy time of year with birthdays and holidays, but because I'm now 9 months pregnant and my baby is due in 23 days! Once the baby has arrived and we're all settled I should be able to resume more regular posts. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chili for an Autumn Evening

It is our annual tradition to have crock pot chili on the evening of October 31st. We like to eat it with organic corn chips and organic sour cream. The house smells so good right now as it cooks. I can't wait for tonight!

Chili in a Crock Pot

3 cans tomato sauce (sugar free)
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion
2 cups pinto beans, cooked
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/2 Tbsp. oregano
1/2 Tbsp. basil
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 c. beef stock or water
ground pepper, to taste
10 drops liquid stevia (optional)

Brown ground meat with chopped onion in a large skillet. Put all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low all day (approx. 8 hours).
Good toppings include chopped lettuce, scallions, fresh spinach, grated cheese and sour cream. Eat with corn chips.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Pumpkin Recipe

Here is another recipe we have been enjoying this season. I like it because you can really taste the pumpkin, and it's so moist.

Pumpkin Bars (aka Pumpkin Cake)

4 eggs
1 c. agave nectar
1 c. virgin coconut oil
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
2 c. unbleached flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a bowl, mix the eggs, agave, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Separately, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir into the pumpkin mixture until thoroughly combined.

Spread the batter evenly into an ungreased 9x13 dish. Bake for 25 minutes in preheated oven.

These can be enjoyed plain or topped with whipped cream cheese, or topped with a cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hot Dogs

It's becoming more common and mainstream to see hot dogs and sausages labeled "nitrate free" these days. Even Costco sells some nitrate free meats now. While this is a step in the right direction, I think it's still important to be cautious when buying these products. Again, make sure to read the ingredient label! I've been disappointed so many times when finding a product that looks great on the front, only to turn it over and read that it still contains sugar or dextrose, along with other additives. So many of the nitrate free hot dogs still contain plenty of other ingredients I wouldn't want my family to eat. And I have to wonder why would they add sugar to hot dogs, of all things? The only reason I can think of is that we as a culture have become so addicted to the taste of sugar that we need to have it in everything, including hot dogs.

There are two brands of hot dogs that I deem acceptable for my family. Shelton's Turkey Franks and Applegate Farms Hot Dogs. Of these two, I find the Applegate Farms Hot Dogs to be superior in taste and texture. Applegate has beef, chicken, and turkey dogs.

A final note about hot dogs - When serving them to your children, PLEASE be sure to use safety guidelines by first slicing them lengthwise after cooking, and then cutting them into small, bite-sized pieces. And always supervise a child eating a hot dog. Hot dogs are a leading cause of choking deaths in children because the circumference of a hot dog is the same as that of a child's throat. A round hot dog chunk can act as a perfect plug. While children (and adults) of any age need to be careful, it is especially important to monitor little children. I know this firsthand because I choked on a hot dog as a small child. Fortunately my dad was right there and used the Heimlich Maneuver to save my life!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quitting Sugar

By Kelly Pinkham

I thought I'd share some of the things that helped me to get rid of my sugar addiction. And when I say "sugar," my definition is "refined sugar" (think white table sugar, sometimes called sucrose).

The key to quitting sugar is wanting to quit. You have to be convinced that it's bad for you, and that it's harming your body in order to stop. It reminds me of losing weight. In the end, no one can make you lose weight. It's ultimately your own responsibility and your own drive and desire that will make it happen. Many people don't think sugar is bad enough to quit, or they think they don't really eat a lot of it, and that the supposedly small amounts they have are harmless. If you have yet to be convinced of the negative effects of sugar, check out 146 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health.

Once you're convinced that you need to quit sugar for your health, you then have to remove it from your diet, and that can be very difficult depending on the levels of sugar you've been consuming regularly.

There are some key steps to the process of removing sugar from your diet:

Step 1 - Read the label on every food item you buy. Reading the front of the package won't suffice. The fronts of food packaging can be very misleading. They can make you think you're buying something healthy. Take bread, for example. I used to buy bread that said it was "all natural and whole grain." But when I turned the loaf over to read the actual ingredient label, I was shocked to find that it contained a huge list of ingredients including sugar, corn syrup, and even partially hydrogenated oil. This was the case with so many items I normally bought. Frozen fruit, dried fruit, chips, crackers, even cheese and hot dogs. At first I felt frustrated. I remember thinking, "There's sugar in everything! How can I avoid it?" You may also be thinking "The amount of sugar in the bread can't be that high. As long as you avoid adding sugar to everything and don't have blatantly sugary things you'll be fine." I have to say that if you think this way, you will probably never quit sugar. I went through a period of time where I had this mentality. The problem is that if you allow a little sugar here and a little there, it still adds up, and your body is still taking it in and you are still feeding the addiction. During the time when I did this, I would sometimes allow myself to indulge in a sugary dessert at a work function, or when I went out to eat. Again, I was thinking just once in awhile would be okay. I did great at first, but it quickly became more than once in awhile. Soon it was happening frequently, until there I was, right back where I started. That's how it was with sugar for me, and most likely for you too. I got the taste in my mouth and then I wanted more. There is also the common statement: "I only eat sugar at special occasions." I don't know about you, but I have a lot of special occasions in my life. Lots of birthdays, lots of holidays, lots of get-togethers. Those special occasions really added up, and because they happened frequently and all throughout the year, I was never really getting a break from sugar. I usually overindulged during those times too. When I saw a dessert, my body and mind immediately told me I wanted it.

Step 2 - Stop eating out. This is a step that usually takes some time. Myhusband and I had to wean ourselves off some of our favorite restaurants very slowly. Unfortunately, most restaurant foods contain sugar. Every sauce and dressing will have sugar in it. Every bread, baked good, and tortilla will probably have sugar too. And beware... even meat will contain sugar when you go to a restaurant! Once, when I called Taco Bell headquarters to find out the ingredients in some of my favorite menu items, I was told by the customer service rep that the meat contained sugar. I used to think Chik-fil-A was a healthy fast food restaurant. After all, they served chicken breast sandwiches. Chicken breasts are the hallmark of a healthy diet, right? Looking on their website way back when, I read that the chicken breasts themselves contained sugar in the seasoning, along with other ingredients (including artificial flavoring) I wouldn't have expected to find in the meat itself. I thought I was just getting a plain chicken breast! Even Subway's meats are filled with unhealthy ingredients (sugar, soybean oil, corn syrup, etc). You can read the ingredients on their website. Avoiding restaurants, especially at the beginning of your quest to quit sugar, is very important. You may find a restaurant or two that really can serve you a meal without sugar. Over the years we've found a few that we can trust. But in the beginning you really do need to stay away from restaurants while you're working so hard to free your body of the sugar addiction.

Step 3 - Get creative! Stop saying "I could never give up my favorite dessert" (or whatever item it is that you love). Instead of thinking that way, come up with an alternative way to make whatever item you feel you can't live without. I thought I would never be able to give up Boboli pizza, or cookies, or ice cream, or plenty of other tasty foods traditionally made with sugar. I had to experiment with natural sweeteners in my recipes. I scoured the internet for ideas and meticulously searched the aisles of health food stores. Eventually, I had recipes for most of the things I loved. It took time and it took some failed attempts, but it was fun at the same time, knowing I was eliminating a toxin from my diet for good.

There are so many benefits to eliminating sugar. One benefit is that after you have truly kicked the addiction, you will no longer desire sugar. This has been a huge benefit for me. I used to look at a dessert menu, or watch other people eating sugar foods, and nearly drool, always thinking how good it looked. I can honestly say that this never happens now. Once you're off refined sugar, your body realizes it doesn't need it. (For you scientifically minded people out there, yes, our bodies do need sugar, but the body converts carbohydrates into the sugar we need. We certainly don't need to add extra, as made obvious by the obesity epidemic and diabetes epidemic we are facing in the U.S.) I've had people apologize to me for eating sugary foods in front of me, thinking they're being a stumbling block. But it really doesn't bother me and it's no longer a hardship on my part. I have no problem turning down foods that I know contain sugar. They don't even taste good to me anymore. That's a huge step in and of itself. Before you get off the sugar habit, you will think sugary foods taste so delicious when you let yourself have a bite. This can change. If I ever get an accidental taste of sugar in a food, my mouth quickly feels gross and has a bad aftertaste and I feel like I want to brush my teeth immediately. Sugar has become a foreign object.

This doesn't mean I've lost my desire for delicious, sweet tasting treats by any means. I love special occasions and times when I make cookies or fudge or toffee with my alternative recipes. I love eating the wonderful foods my friends make who share the same food values. I think an additional benefit to getting off sugar is that things no longer have to be as sweet in order to satisfy the sweet tooth. There are desserts my family loves that the average sugar-eating person may not think are sweet enough.

When it comes to children, the very best way to protect them from sugar addiction is to never start them on it in the first place (this includes when they are in the womb). They will love the less-sweet things you make for them if their tongues haven't been tainted by sugar. One of my friends, who is the 2nd of three daughters, had parents who were health-conscious even back in the 70's. They read about how sugar was bad and decided not to give it to their first child during her first two years of life. After she turned two she did start to have some sugar, and her younger siblings ate sugar earlier than age two. But my friend tells me that her older sister has never craved sweets the way the other two sisters do. Even at Halloween she would eat a little of her candy and the rest of it would sit and never get eaten.

Dr. Sears has written about similar results with his own children. He and his wife didn't give their children refined sugar, and when the children were older, Sears observed how they would often turn down sugary foods, or only have a very small amount, and after eating it they would say it made their tummies hurt.

These examples have encouraged me to keep my kids' diets free from sugar while they are little and I can still control everything they eat. Someday when they are older and making their own choices, hopefully they will never have developed an addictive need for sugar and will gravitate toward more natural foods. I know this has certainly been the case for me, but it was harder since I had to wean myself first before enjoying the benefits. How great it would be to start with a clean palate from the very beginning. If your children are already addicted to sugar, it's not too late. You can slowly wean from it as a family. Turn it into an exciting journey you can embark upon together!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lil' Pumpkin Cakes

Last year we started what I hope will be a new tradition, when we ate cute mini pumpkin cakes after our trip to the pumpkin patch. It was the perfect way to end our lovely autumn day.

These cakes are so much fun to make! To get the round pumpkin shape, I used the mini fluted stoneware pan by Pampered Chef (which I don't see on their website right now, so I don't know if it's available any longer). However, you can use any mini-bundt style pan, or use two regular sized bundt pans and make one big pumpkin cake. You may need to adjust your baking time for larger cakes.

Lil' Pumpkin Cakes

1 1/2 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. unsweetened organic applesauce
1/2 c. cold pressed olive oil or organic virgin coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups canned pumpkin
4 eggs
2 c. unbleached flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

**Cream cheese frosting and natural orange food coloring (see Jack-O-Lantern cookie post for frosting recipe)

**Cinnamon sticks and fresh mint leaves for decoration.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour mini-fluted pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In large bowl combine agave, apple sauce and oil. Blend in vanilla and pumpkin, then beat in eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Spread batter into prepared pan/pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool.

After cakes have cooled, place one cake upside down and spread a good layer of frosting on the flat part that is facing up. The frosting should act like glue so that when you set another cake right side up on top of the first cake, they will stick together. Then frost over the "pumpkin" shape until covered as desired.

Cut a cinnamon stick into small pieces and stick into the center of each cake to make the "stem." Garnish with fresh mint leaves for the "vine."

Happy baking, and Happy Fall!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Natural Food Coloring

As I mentioned in the Jack-o-Lantern post, I use Seelect natural food coloring for all of my special baking projects. I was so thrilled to find these food colorings. Before I found them I was trying to make my own food coloring, which was fun, but time consuming. For instance, I boiled beets to get a red liquid which, when mixed with my cream cheese frosting, created a nice pink color for Valentine's Day cookies.

I do need to say that if you're expecting natural food coloring to work the same way artificial food coloring works, you will be disappointed. The colors are definitely not as bright, and they don't mix with each other the way the artificial ones do. If you try to mix natural blue and natural yellow, you won't get green. Trust me, I've tried!

But if you are looking for a healthy alternative to artificial food coloring, and are open to a more natural look on your baked goods, you will be very pleased. I've frosted lots of cakes, cupcakes and cookies with natural colors, and they look great and bring joy to my boys' faces, which is what matters most to me. Plus, I know I'm not feeding them chemicals in their birthday desserts!

In my experience, the best Seelect colors are Yellow, Orange, and Red/Blue. I have tried the Blue, but it has always looked like a very dull purple for me. The Red/Strawberry has also turned out too dull for me, looking like a light brownish pink. Yellow is very true yellow and works great. Orange is also very true and I use it a lot in the fall for all my pumpkin-y treats. The Red/Blue doesn't end up looking red, but it does create a pretty darkish, bright purple color (I've found that this one looks prettier if the frosting sits in the fridge overnight). I have yet to try Brown and Red/Pink, but am curious about how they would work. I haven't found a good Green either, though I've tried by boiling spinach and other veggies! Still working on that one...

Over the next couple of months I'll be posting pictures and recipes for a few of the natural food coloring creations that I've done for my boys' birthdays and for other holiday celebrations, so be sure to check back!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Jack-O-Lantern Cookies

October is here! This time of year I start thinking about the great scents and tastes of the season. Pumpkin is one of my favorites. I enjoy coming up with special treats for my family to match the time of year. Last year I made these jack-o-lantern cookies and will most definitely make them again.

To make the cookies, use the Sugar Cookie recipe from Sweet Savvy and cut them out with a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter. Once you have baked the cookies, you can use any frosting recipe you like. I prefer to use a simple cream cheese/butter recipe:

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. butter, softened
4 T. honey or agave
1 t. vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Beat in honey or agave. Add vanilla.

Color the frosting to your liking using Seelect Natural orange flavoring.

You can frost the cookies and leave them as plain pumpkins, or you can use grain-sweetened chocolate chips to create the jack-o-lantern faces.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

How My Family Eats

For about five years, we have followed the eating and lifestyle plan of Dr. Diana Schwarzbein. Usually when I say that to people, their eyes glaze over or they say "Huh?" Her name itself is kind of a mouthful. But the truth is, her eating plan is awesome! It would be impossible to explain all the intricacies of her plan in one post. That's what her books are for. But I wanted to give a brief overview.

In her newest book The Program, she begins by saying "You need to be healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to be healthy." What a statement in a world where people want a quick fix. People (including me) don't usually like to change. We'd rather have an easy way out of health or weight problems rather than actually having to do something. It took me a long time to come to this realization. I struggled with weight beginning in high school. Eventually I tried Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers does work if you follow it correctly. You will most certainly lose weight. And I do think it encourages people to look at their portions and think about how they can have more control over the amount of food they eat. However, I have never met a single person who has done Weight Watchers who hasn't eventually gained all their weight back again. This was true for me. The plan works for as long as you do it, but no one wants to starve for their entire life, and they eventually fall off the plan.

This is why I love Dr. Schwarzbein's program so much. It's not a quick-fix plan. It is truly a life-changing program. It's not just about losing weight, either. It's about having a healthy lifestyle, and healing the damage that has been done to the body from poor eating and lifestyle habits.

In a nutshell, Dr. Schwarzbein's program focuses on Healthy Nutrition, Stress Management, Eliminating Toxins, and Smart Exercise.

Healthy Nutrition means eating with balance. You don't have to count calories with this plan. You don't have to feel hungry. She encourages meals and snacks throughout the day. One misconception many people have about this is plan is that it is a low-carb plan. I would say that it is a "healthy carb" plan. You eat plenty of carbs, along with a balance of proteins, fats and vegetables, but the carbs are good carbs. Schwarzbein calls these "real carbohydrates." She defines real carbohydrates as ones that can be grown, picked or harvested.

Stress Management is part of her plan because stress can affect our hormones in significant ways. She encourages adults to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. This is one of the most difficult parts of her plan for me at this time in my life. But she does address the fact that parents with young children and new babies will probably not be able to achieve uninterrupted sleep! Even though I can't follow this part of her plan perfectly right now, I still know it's important to have downtime and to try to relax and breathe deeply and find a way to deal with stress.

Eliminating Toxins may be the hardest part of the plan, especially when you first start. The toxins she's referring to are refined sugars, artificial sugars, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and medicines. For most people this is very difficult, and definitely doesn't happen overnight. It probably took us 2-3 years to eliminate sugar completely. I would tell anyone beginning this plan to take baby steps. Over time it will get easier!

Smart Exercise means a moderate plan of resistance and flexibility exercises. Cardiovascular exercise, when done to the extreme, can actually cause serious health problems and breaks down the body. She recommends cardiovascular exercise only for fun if you plan to do it at all. I love her exercise plan, and when I actually do it, I feel so great. This is the most difficult part of the plan for me while pregnant. But the nice thing about her exercises is that they are great for easing into after pregnancy, and have helped me after my last two pregnancies to obtain a healthy body composition afterwards.

There are many, many more details that make up Dr. Schwarzbein's plan. As I said, this is just a brief overview. I highly recommend her latest book The Program. It contains everything you need to get on the healing track for your body. She provides lists of all the staple foods you should have in your kitchen and pantry, how to balance your meals properly, and even several meal-plan options to get you started. She also includes a section with easy exercises you can follow to strengthen your body.

People who are resistant to the way my family eats will say things like "I could never do that because I like to enjoy what I eat." I've had people look at my plate, often filled with vegetables, with disdain, or with "I feel so sorry for you" looks and comments.

Well, if you know me personally, you know that I am quite the food-lover! Baking and cooking and food appreciation are hobbies of mine. I wouldn't stick with a plan if I didn't enjoy the food I was eating, believe me. Something DH and I have found is that over time, our palates have actually changed. Once, they were tainted by artificial flavors and sugar addictions, making more natural foods seem bland and unappealing. Now that sugar is gone from our diets, we taste the true flavors of the wonderful, natural things God has created. I don't think I would have said green beans tasted sweet when I was younger, but now when we eat steamed green beans, we both marvel at how they sweet they are! Or what about sweet potatoes? In the past I only liked them if they were covered in marshmallows and a sugary sauce. I have discovered that they are called "sweet" potatoes for a reason. They really are sweet, all by themselves, if your tongue isn't tainted by the addictive need for more sugar!

I believe if you follow Schwarzbein's plan and truly eliminate toxins from your diet, you will come to enjoy real, natural foods just as much as we have. It will open up a whole new world of food for you. You may think that a life of eating processed, sugary foods is so much more enjoyable, but when you put that behind you, you could be pleasantly surprised at what you find!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dangers of Soy

There are mixed messages about soy. One side says soy is great for your health while the other side says it's overrated and can be very dangerous, especially when processed to the extreme degree that the Western world has processed it. There is now scientific evidence to show that soy can lead to a variety of problems including improper thyroid function, fertility problems, breast cancer and a new study even linking soy to the growing rate of leukemia in children. Soy is high in estrogen, a hormone, which can explain why it is so harmful, especially in kids.

Children are starting puberty earlier and earlier. I don't need research to tell me that (though I've read plenty). I see it for myself all the time. Nine and ten year old girls are developing already, looking years older than they really are. What else could be the cause of this other than an excess amount of hormones in their diets?

In his very telling article Soy is making kids 'gay,' Jim Rutz writes of even more problems with soy, and with the way it is consumed in our country. Another incredible article from reveals the not-so-healthy underbelly of the soy industry, and how we as consumers have been misled. It also addresses the common arguments for soy such as: "Asian cultures have been eating soy for centuries and they are healthy."

I used to love soy and believed it was good for me. For a time, I drank soy milk everyday and enjoyed soy protein bars often. It's interesting to me, looking back, that that was also the time I wanted to get pregnant with my first baby. I couldn't figure out why it was taking so long to get pregnant! During that same time I learned that I was dealing with an issue involving my thyroid. It was then that I began researching about thyroid problems, and discovered that soy consumption can be responsible for those issues. Reading labels on food items showed me that soy is in so many things. Soy protein isolate is one of the most common ingredients in so-called "healthy" American snacks.

All soy is not equal. In her book Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments, Dr. Carolyn Dean explains that in Asia, soy is used in the fermented state (tempeh, miso, soy sauce). "In the West," she states, "it is not fermented soy that is being heavily advertised and marketed. Soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein are used in protein powders and meat substitutes. But the extensive processing to reach a final product makes it not only toxic, but the antinutrients are preserved!" (p. 184) Dean goes on to tell of a group of scientists who are lobbying to have soy formula removed from the market because they are so concerned about soy's effects on children.

Our family doctor is very supportive of natural living and a healthy diet, but she has told me quite plainly that I should not give my children soy milk as an alternative to dairy. She suggested rice milk or almond milk, and warned that the latest medical research continues to show that soy milk is not a good alternative.

The article I linked to above concludes with this:

The bottom line is that the safety of soy foods has yet to be proven, and that human beings have become guinea pigs in what Daniel M. Sheehan, formerly senior toxicologist with the FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research, has called a "large, uncontrolled and basically unmonitored human experiment."

We don't fully understand soy's hormonal power. With the mountains of evidence already existing about its dangers, I certainly don't want my children to be a part of that "human experiment."

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Healthier Home Part IV - Cookware & Bakeware

When DH and I were choosing items for our wedding registry, we didn't give a thought to which things were safer and better for cooking. We picked whatever looked the coolest and nicest. The first time we ever questioned our cookware was when we were given a George Foreman indoor grill. We loved using it and used it often. Then we started hearing about how Teflon products were carcinogenic. We learned that while the nonstick Teflon coating is reportedly safe, if it chips at all it can get into the food and be ingested (and from my own experience I've found that Teflon seems to chip pretty easily). The FDA stated that these ingested chips wouldn't cause harm, but when have I ever fully trusted the FDA anyway, considering that they allow saccharin and aspartame on the market? We felt convinced that we should avoid Teflon just to be safe, so we got rid of our indoor grill (and missed it for a while...but got over it!).

I found several lists on the internet determining the pros and cons for different kinds of cookware and concluded that the best options are hard-anodized aluminum, cast iron, glass (Pyrex), and stoneware. I certainly was relieved to find out that, quite unknowingly, DH and I had chosen hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans by Calphalon for our wedding registry years before. It was nice to know these expensive items wouldn't have to be replaced.

But what about bakeware? I still had nonstick cookie sheets and a cheap, rusted cooling rack. There had to be something better for baking. I discussed this with my cousin and she mentioned that Pampered Chef has a line of stoneware products. A visit to their website confirmed this. I was giddy with excitement as I browsed all the options! My cousin then suggested I have a Pampered Chef party so that I could get discounts on the products I wanted. Genius! I did just that, and before long I was the happy owner of some lovely stoneware pieces, which have proven to be some of our favorite kitchen items.

We use our round mini bakers practically everyday. The round pizza stone gets used at least once a week, if not more. Any time I bake muffins I use the stone muffin pan. The fluted mini bundt pan is an item I especially love. I don't use it incredibly often, but when I do use it I have so much fun! I was a little intimidated at first, thinking stoneware would take a lot of maintenance, but I've found that it is easy to clean and the more you use it, the more it naturally become nonstick.

If you are interested in purchasing stoneware, I suggest making sure you are getting it from a reputable place, where they can state in writing that no lead is used. I know there are sometimes cute and inexpensive pans and dishes at discount stores. Unfortunately, these are more than likely laden with lead (the same goes for tableware, cups and mugs).

I don't own any cast iron items yet, but I plan to get a large cast iron griddle that can cover the length of two burners on my stove. With my family growing as it is, I'm going to need something big for when I cook multiple burgers, pancakes, french toast, grilled sandwiches, quesadillas and more!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


There are a lot of options for children's supplements. I remember the fruity multi-vitamins I took sometimes as a child. Most of the children's vitamins I have seen in regular stores contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors and colors.

I've often wondered if it's really necessary to give my kids supplements, but I'm coming to see more and more that we're in greater need of them than past generations. Dr. Schwarzbein says we have damaged our food supply by processing most of our foods and depleting our soil of many essential nutrients. She states that chemicals and toxins surround us daily, which require antioxidant protection.

At this point I don't give my boys a multi-vitamin, but I want to start as soon as I find a brand I like (suggestions are welcome!). They currently take Hyland's Vitamin C Tablets daily (this is an exciting event for them because we serve up their tablets in a little treasure chest that they each get to open to reveal their "buried treasure"). Another supplement I'm very interested in starting for them is fish oil. The benefits of taking fish oil are so great (improved brain function and development, for one!). I know they benefited from it when they were breastfeeding since I take fish oil, but now that they are both weaned I want them to continue receiving all the benefits. I'm extremely interested in Dr. Sears' new GO FISH Children's Omega-3 supplement. Of course, it's expensive, but after looking at Wild Oats and Henry's, GO FISH looks to be the best children's fish oil out there. I asked our family doctor about it and she said it was definitely a smart idea and that Dr. Sears' brand would be good.

While fruits and vegetables may not be as nutritious as they used to be, I still try to give the boys a variety of quality produce. Blueberries are very high in antioxidants, so I'm always happy when they eat them. They'll usually eat them in oatmeal or rice grits, and they even like to have them straight from the freezer as a cold treat (be forwarned - their fingers get stained purple when they handle frozen blueberries!).

I'm interested to hear what supplements you give your children. Do they take them regularly? Do you give them certain supplements when they are sick?

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Healthier Home Part III - Cleaning Products

If I wanted to have a healthier home I knew I needed to reevaluate my cleaning products. I was certain that the products I was using were toxic and dangerous. And even if I did store them out of reach of my children, how was I to know what harm they were causing just by using them in my home? It was, and still is, an ongoing process, as I look for the best and the most affordable products. There are so many natural, non-toxic cleaning products out there, but many of them are expensive. I've had to try to find the right balance for our budget.

A product I've been using for a long time is Simple Green. I like how versatile it is, and that I can buy it in bulk and make up a spray bottle of it as needed. A more expensive product that I've tried is Seventh Generation's all purpose cleaner. When I first started using it I wondered if it was really doing anything because it didn't have a very "clean" scent like I was used to with the old products. We really do associate cleanliness with a strong smell (or at least I do!). I decided I'd just have to get over this association and know that if I was diligently cleaning my bathrooms once a week, even if they didn't smell like bathroom cleaner, they were still clean. This cleaner also didn't foam up and look impressive on the porcelain. If it wasn't foaming, was it truly cleaning? Yet again I knew I needed to get rid of the association. I eventually stopped using Seventh Generation because I couldn't afford it. Although looking on their website today I see they have coupons you can sign up for, so maybe I'll give them a try again!

Eventually I found Method cleaning products at Target. They were affordable and they were advertised as being non-toxic, safe around children, and safe for the environment, comprised mostly of natural ingredients you can pronounce. For this time in my life with the budget I'm on, this sounds perfect. I've been happy with Method products and feel comfortable using them while pregnant, and using them around my children.

Finally, I wanted to discuss something I think many of us don't even think about - dish detergent. I began to think about this when we moved into a house with a dishwasher and started using it on a regular basis. Every once in awhile there would be some residue from the detergent left on a plate or in a cup. I thought about the fact that we eat off of these things, so we should probably pay a little more attention to what we use to clean them. As seems to be the case with pretty much everything these days, there are plenty of alternative detergents out there that don't contain dangerous, toxic chemicals. We've been using Trader Joe's automatic dishwasher detergent for several years now and it has worked well for us (we also use Trader Joe's dish soap for hand-washing). A Google search will take you to all kinds of options. One concerned mom wrote an informative article about the dangers of dish detergent (among other household products), especially where children are concerned, here.

About a year ago I hosted a Pampered Chef party and I remember the consultant saying to all of us: "Did you know that your dish detergent is the most caustic thing in your house?" I was glad to know that we were using a safe alternative already when I heard that!

Friday, September 14, 2007

My First Holistic Dental Experience

I experienced my very first laser dental cleaning yesterday. I was a little apprehensive beforehand since it was something I'd never done before, and isn't even standard practice in most dentist offices. But I had read enough about this holistic dental center to know it was something both DH and I would like.

Founded by Dr. Richard Hansen, the Comprehensive Dental Center is on the cutting edge of health in dentistry. I was surprised to find out that people come from all over the world just to be treated at the CDC! One woman recently came all the way from Saudi Arabia and stayed two weeks to have a complete mouth reconstruction done.

I really like that Hansen is focused not just on the mouth, but on the whole person. He sees how everything works together, and how the mouth is such an important part of a healthy, working body. His center uses only bio-compatible materials when doing dental work, which I think is totally awesome and wonderful. Whereas a standard dentist would drill into a tooth, removing not only the decayed section, but also good portions of the tooth in order to fill a cavity (thereby weaking the structure of the tooth), Hansen and his staff use high tech lasers to remove only the decayed area, leaving the rest of the tooth alone, and can then fill just that small section. At the CDC they don't use silver, mercury, porcelain, or any other materials that could leech back into the body and cause harm.

My visit was fun and relaxing. As soon as I walked in I was treated so well. There was a list of herbal teas at the front desk that were available while you waited, but I didn't even get a chance to sit down in the waiting room because I was immediately taken back and given a tour of the office. Because I'm pregnant, they didn't do full x-rays on me - just a limited x-ray on one tooth I thought might be having a problem. Even though they do digital x-rays, which use a considerably smaller amount of radiation, I felt totally protected. They first wrapped a full body shield around my stomach, tucking it in under me, and then placed not one, but two more shields over me. I felt like they were showing so much respect to me and to my baby by taking extra precautions, even with the safety of digital x-rays, and even with a note from my OB saying I was okay to have limited x-rays.

Next I had the great privilege of meeting Dr. Hansen. I didn't expect that I would be seen by the founder himself! He was so kind and gentle. He used a neat little camera in my mouth and we were able to see my teeth, larger than life, up on monitors. A flat-screen monitor was right in front of me so I got to view my teeth up close and personal. It was a little weird to be on the inside of my own mouth, but cool at the same time (now I know where I need to focus my tooth-brushing)!

After my brief exam (I'll have a full exam after the baby is born) I had my cleaning. Again, such a cool experience. The dental hygienist showed me the laser she would be using. The chair I sat in looked like a normal dentist chair, but I was delighted to find out it was a massaging chair. For the duration of the cleaning I had a massage while I sat there! It seemed more like I was at a spa than a dentist's office. She told me the rinse she was using was comprised of echinacea and essential oils of lavender and eucalyptus. The whitener she used was made of baking soda and sea salts. Music to my ears (and teeth)!

The cleaning itself was so amazing. I'm used to leaving a dentist's office with a sore mouth and gums from all the scraping, and a slight taste of blood along with the toothpaste sensation. This was so much different. The laser loosened the plaque without causing any pain at all. She only had to do minor scraping, and my teeth looked and felt so smooth and clean after. I don't see how anyone could go back to a regular dental cleaning after experiencing this.

Before I left I asked the dental hygienist what the CDC dentists thought about fluoride, since I had been reading things in the holistic world for awhile saying it is toxic and dangerous and has no business being given to children, or anyone. She said none of the dentists use it and they don't have any products in their office with fluoride. She told me of Dr. Hansen's extensive research and experience with fluoride, and how he had included a chapter about it in his book. They ended up letting me borrow their office copy of the book so I could read that chapter. I wish I could quote the entire chapter here, but instead I'll just encourage you to get a copy yourself. There is an incredible amount of information that every interested person should read. I was thoroughly convinced by his research and conclusions.

Pesticides in Produce

I have on my fridge a "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce." DH and I are constantly referring to it. It lists the produce items that are highest in pesticides and should therefore be bought organically whenever possible, and the items lowest in pesticides, which can be bought conventionally if desired (though still washed thoroughly with a fruit and veggie wash).

Here is a wallet guide you can download, to post on your fridge and to keep in your wallet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Healthier Home Part II - Body Care

While evaluating the many products I was using in my home, I also started looking at the things I was using on my own body and on my children's bodies. The lists of ingredients on my shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant and toothpaste were surprisingly long and filled with words I'd never seen before. What exactly was I putting on my body?

For years I'd picked out the body products that smelled the best or had the prettiest packaging, without giving a single thought to the ingredients. My shampoo had to be okay, right? It was cucumber melon scented! A scan of the ingredients showed me there wasn't even a hint of cucumber or melon in the shampoo. It was time to do some more research. I learned that a common ingredient in shampoos, soaps and toothpastes is sodium laurel sulfate (or variations of that), which creates a nice foaming effect. While there is still controversy surrounding SLS, many studies have shown that it has a carcinogenic effect. It didn't take me long to decide I didn't want to use a cancer-causing chemical all over my body. It seems some companies already recognize the potential dangers of SLS, and even advertise their products as being "sodium laurel sulfate-free!" There really are plenty of natural body and hair cleansers out there if you look in the right places (Trader Joes stores carry their own nice shampoos and conditioners, and then of course the usual health food stores have them). Try brands like JASON and Avalon Organics for a start.

What about deodorant? My parents were the first in my family to read about the problems with aluminum in antiperspirants. Aluminum is coming up more and more in studies about Alzheimer's, and many other diseases as well. I recommend using a deodorant without antiperspirant. Yes, you will actually sweat, but the deodorant should take care of odor. I know the idea of sweating is very undesirable for many, but when you think about it, isn't that what our bodies were designed to do? Is stopping our body from doing something natural like sweating causing more problems than we even realize? I think it's very possible.

As for cosmetics, I used the cheapest makeup I could find for years - usually Cover Girl products. Once again, during pregnancy, I re-evaluated what I was using on my skin (pregnancy is so great for making you think about how you are taking care of your body!). The ingredients in my makeup didn't look so good. I saw aluminum on the list, along with many, many other chemical names and artificial fragrances and colors. I know our skin is absorbent, so that meant my skin was probably absorbing those chemicals. This was an extra concern to me due to a health problem I had developed over the course of several years that ended up requiring a very serious and major surgery. This experience caused me to want the most natural of products on my skin, since no one truly knows the effects all these synthetic ingredients can have underneath the skin, in our organs and glands. I thank my mom for discovering bareMinerals makeup, with their great slogan: "Make-up so pure you can sleep in it." That's exactly what I was looking for! It costs a lot more than my Cover Girl products did, but it lasts an incredibly long time. And it's pure and made of minerals. I love it! There are lots of other natural make-ups out there. Debra Lynn Dadd has a great list of natural body products on her website.

Toothpaste was one item we struggled with for a while, trying everything from brushing our teeth with natural soap (not a pleasant experience!) and tooth powder (okay, but rather difficult to use). We finally settled on JASON toothpaste for us and Weleda Children's Tooth Gel for the boys. I can't say enough about how great Weleda products are for babies and children! The tooth gel is fantastic, and we also love their diaper rash cream and calendula baby cream. Our family doctor told me she thinks the calendula cream is a wonder product! I couldn't agree more. Toosht had some really bad cradle cap during his first few months. I started applying this cream and it helped so much, plus, he loved having it rubbed on his head and face. He got this look of total bliss as DH or I would massage it into his soft, sensitive skin.

Since I was spending a lot more time in health stores, I was noticing a common phrase on many body products - "paraben free." I assumed parabens must not be good if companies were boasting that they were free of them. I learned that parabens are chemical preservatives widely used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Much like SLS, there is controversy about whether parabens really are dangerous. Here is one article warning of possible links to breast cancer.

We can't be completely sure that these chemicals are harming us, but why not avoid them if we can? It makes sense that the closer we are to nature, the better off we will be. Our bodies are natural, after all!

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Healthier Home Part I - Fabric Softener

I've come to realize that I will never be able to take away all the potentially dangerous toxins from my home. A millionaire could do it, but an average family can't possibly afford to create a totally "green" home. And even so, it still wouldn't stop the neighbors from continuing to use products that include chemicals. In the world we live in, we can't avoid exposure to bad things, and we would go crazy if we tried to protect ourselves from every single cancer and disease causing agent in existence. This is why we can rely on God to be our ultimate protector!

That said, I do still believe there are some easy and practical things any family can do to create a healthier environment.

I first started putting more thought into this when I was pregnant with baby #1. As I cleaned my bathrooms, I looked at my cleaning products with new eyes. As I did laundry, I read the ingredients on the detergent for the first time. I was most definitely using products that contained strong chemicals. Common sense told me the strong, eye-watering and stinging scents coming from these products couldn't possibly be good for me to breathe or absorb into my skin. And how much more harmful would chemicals like these be for babies and children?

The first thing I stopped was my use of fabric softener. Research quickly showed me that this seemingly harmless product that millions of Americans use weekly is filled with chemicals, coloring, and artificial fragrance. I think many people are very attached to their fabric softeners. They've come to love the mountain fresh or spring rain smell of their laundry as they pull it out of the dryer, and they carry that smell around on them all day like a perfume when they wear their laundered and fabric-softened clothes.

There are all kinds of articles that describe the dangers of fabric softener use. Here is one I particularly like, because it also provides alternative ideas for those who are still concerned with static cling.

When I stopped using fabric softener I started noticing other people's fabric softener scents on their clothes, and I couldn't believe how strong the scent was, nor how artificial it smelled. Over time my nose had grown accustomed to the potent scent of my own fabric softener so that it was barely recognizable to me, but once I stopped using it, I sometimes felt overpowered by other people's fabric softeners. It no longer seemed pleasant to smell.

I did, however, desire my laundry to have some scent, and it wasn't long before I found some lovely bags filled with dried lavender flowers, made especially for use in the dryer. I love these bags, and I know even a person with the most limited of sewing skills could make her own. My laundry comes out smelling lightly and subtly like a meadow filled with lavender. It's not overpowering in any way, and to me that seems so much more natural and desirable to have on clothing that I will wear all day, or on towels I will use on my own body or on my boys' bodies.

As for static cling, I don't seem to have that problem very often with my laundry, but there are lots of homemade fabric softener recipes out there. I've tried one of them and liked it, but haven't made it lately since I don't use it on a regular basis. I may have to mix up a new batch as fall begins and I notice more static in my clothing.

Here's the recipe:

Homemade Fabric Softener

In a recycled gallon sized vinegar jug add 2 cups baking soda and 2 cups distilled white vinegar. When mixture finishes foaming, add 4 cups of hot water and essential oils to desired strength. (Try using 20 drops each of lavender and lemon.) Shake before each use and add about 1 cup for large loads in the rinse cycle. Essential oils can be found at health food stores locally and of course on the internet. They are a bit expensive but last a very long time.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

PB (&J!) Cookies

My friend Leah gave me this great natural peanut butter cookie recipe. I made them last night when we had company and they were a hit, as usual!

Peanut Butter Jam Jams

3/4 c. natural sweetener (brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or honey, or a combination - I did 1/2 c. agave and 1/4 c. brown rice syrup)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. natural sugar free peanut butter (preferably organic)
1 T. milk or cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 c. unbleached flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Fruit jam or jelly (100% fruit, no sugar added)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine butter, peanut butter and sweetener in saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and mix well, adding milk and vanilla. Whisk in egg.

In separate bowl mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Pour butter mixture into flour mixture and stir until smooth and combined.

Drop heaping tablespoons full of cookie dough onto ungreased cookie sheet or stone. Using your thumb, make a gentle impression in the center of each cookie. (If the dough is sticking, try wetting your thumb.) Fill each impression with a small amount of jam or jelly, using a small spoon.

Bake for 10-15 minutes.

Yum Yum!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My Favorite Ketchup Recipe

Ketchup was another item we initially gave up when we started our healthier lifestyle, but I soon found that Whole Foods carried a ketchup that was fruit-sweetened. I liked it and we bought it several times, but it was very expensive, and Whole Foods is quite a drive, so I learned to do without it.

Then I came across a wonderfully simple ketchup recipe that was easily altered to fit our diet. I love this recipe! When I make it I like to double the recipe, pour it into three different glass jars (that I've collected over time from other condiments), freeze two of the jars and keep one in the fridge. I have been making it more and more now that I have a child who likes sauces of all kinds.

Give it a try and see what you think!

Easy Homemade Ketchup

8 oz. sugar-free tomato sauce
6 oz. sugar-free tomato paste
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 c. agave

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate (freeze any extra). Refrigerated ketchup should stay fresh for about a week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Soft Drinks

I have never been a huge fan of soft drinks. When we gave up sugar and artificial sweeteners over five years ago, eliminating soda didn't feel like a loss. I know this is a big issue for some people, though, when they find out how my family eats (and drinks). I often hear "I could never give up Coke." and "How can you live without soda?" or "Your children will be so deprived if they can't have soda!" It turns out, folks, that there are some natural alternatives out there!

A few years ago a friend discovered Dr. Tima's Root Beer. Dr. Tima's is sweetened with honey and has a very small, simple list of all-natural ingredients. Coupled with Rice Dream vanilla ice cream (sweetened with brown rice syrup) we even made some fabulous root beer floats for Tie-Dye's birthday one year.

In very recent months, however, DH found what I think is an even better root beer. Virgil's Diet Root Beer is wonderful! It's sweetened with stevia and xylitol, making it incredibly low-carb. Only 2 carbs per bottle! This makes it the perfect treat to have alongside a more carby meal like pizza. We find our Virgil's at Mother's Market (Newport Beach, CA) and Henry's Farmers Market (various SoCal locations). I'm guessing it's also available at Whole Foods stores and other natural stores. Make sure to get the Diet version. The regular version contains sugar.

Reed's Premium Ginger Beer is another tasty soft drink, sweetened with honey. We get this occasionally and usually share a bottle between the four of us.

I've been following a news story about how Coca-Cola is planning on making a Diet Coke sweetened with stevia for the United States (they are calling stevia "rebiana"). The Japanese already have stevia-sweetened Diet Coke. I think this is a step in the right direction, but I still wouldn't want my kids to drink it everyday. Soft drinks contain high levels of phosphorus, which has been shown to weaken bones, especially in young girls (read more about the problems of phosphorus in soft drinks here.) It won't ever be a staple item in my fridge, but I would certainly allow it for special occasions, and I'm glad to see that major corporations like Coca-Cola are realizing they should make healthy changes in their recipes. Hopefully more and more companies will do the same.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


This summer Tie-Dye participated in our church's Vacation Bible School week. As is my custom before my kids attend an event, I found out in advance that they would be having snacks in their classroom each evening, most likely cookies. I was a craft teacher for the preschool classes, so I decided I'd pack some cookies for Tie-Dye and then just scope out what kind were being provided for the rest of his class. They were given Oreos and some sort of yellow powder mix drink. The first night, Tie-Dye had the cookies I brought for him and his water. The following day I searched all over for a homemade Oreo cookie recipe and finally combined a couple different recipes and altered some things until I came up with this:

Homemade Oreo Cookies (aka Faux-Reos)

  • 1 cup agave nectar

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tablespoon water

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 cups unbleached all- purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

  • 1/2 c. butter, softened

  • 4 T. agave nectar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the agave and butter. Add the salt, egg, water, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in the flour and cocoa until well combined; the dough should be very stiff.

  2. Roll the dough into balls about the size of a shelled chestnut, or a “shooter” marble - the big marble you use to shoot at the little ones. Place the balls on parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheets and flatten each ball until it’s 1/8 inch thick, using the bottom of a glass dipped in cocoa powder. You may also use a cookie stamp, for a more realistic faux-reo effect. To get a nice crisp cookie, it’s important to press them thin use a ruler on the first one so you can see just how thin 1/8 inch is. (If you press them thinner than 1/8 inch, you run the risk of having them burn.) Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator to chill the dough for 30 minutes.

  3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake the cookies for 18 minutes or until done. It’s important to bake them just the right amount of time: too little and they won’t crisp properly; too much and they’ll scorch. Watch them closely at the end of the baking time, and at the first sign of darkening edges or first whiff of scorching chocolate, remove them from the oven immediately: Remove the cookies from the baking pans and cool them completely on a wire rack.

  4. To make the filling: Beat cream cheese and butter in mixer bowl until fluffy. Beat in agave to taste. Add vanilla and mix well.
The batch made a little over 100 wafers, so I could have technically made 50 Oreo sandwiches.

I just made Oreo sandwiches as needed and kept the rest of the plain chocolate wafers in the fridge for DH and the boys to snack on. They loved the cookies both ways.

Also, the recipe says to chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, which I didn't do. The hardest part was pressing them out with the bottom of a glass because sometimes they would stick. I had to keep putting lots of cocoa powder on the bottom of the glass to help them not stick as much.

Tie-Dye was very pleased to have his special Oreos each night. On the second night, immediately after the children finished their cookies and drinks, three different children complained of tummy aches. One boy actually had to lie down and we had to get his dad to pick him up early. This was yet another confirmation to me that the packaged, processed foods our children are exposed to are not good for their little bodies.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Healthy S'mores

In honor of Labor Day, I thought I would share our family's alternative S'mores recipe. This recipe was created two years ago for a 4th of July barbecue and is now a tradition for holiday meals. We've even done these over a barbecue pit at the beach.

Healthy S'mores

Mi-Del graham crackers
Bananas, cut into marshmallow sized chunks
Grain sweetened chocolate chips

Prepare "chocolate bars" in advance by melting grain sweetened chocolate chips on the stove top (a double boiler works best), then pour into a wax paper lined Pyrex dish and refrigerate until hardened. Break into chocolate bar sized pieces.

Roast banana chunks over an open fire or grill on a BBQ until they reach desired doneness.

Piece together your S'more by sandwiching a chocolate bar and a roasted banana between two graham crackers.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Kid Feed in Utero

Eating healthy while pregnant has been an ongoing process for me that I continue to perfect. During my first pregnancy, DH and I were learning how to eat well. We still went to certain fast food restaurants occasionally, and I even remember partaking of some run-of-the-mill Costco desserts at my workplace. Shortly after Tie-Dye was born I called Taco Bell headquarters and asked for the ingredients of some of my favorite items. I was disappointed to find out that the taco meat contained sugar, and the tortillas had hydrogenated oil. Though it was difficult at the time, DH and I gave up Taco Bell for good. This encouraged us to come up with our own recipes to mimic Taco Bell food, and we developed a great Homemade Grilled Stuft Burrito recipe! (To view this recipe, click on the Comments section at the end of this blog post.)

By the time I was pregnant for the second time, my diet was substantially better. I no longer ate any refined sugar (until we went on a cruise during my seventh month and I know I ate sugar during that week!).

Now, during my third pregnancy, I've changed a few other things. This time I've been aiming for greater variety in my diet, including a lot more low mercury fish. For a great list of safe fish during pregnancy and child-bearing years check out the American Pregnancy Association's site. DH and I eat fish almost every morning for breakfast now. Another great benefit to this is that our boys eat more fish too. They love salmon or tuna sandwiches for lunch. We have been doing a 4-day rotation diet. This way we are constantly eating different fruits and veggies, proteins and whole grains. This is a big change for us. DH and I are both such creatures of habit. We would have been content eating our favorite same few things over and over again. Recently we've come to learn, however, that eating this way can cause the body to develop allergies to these foods. For instance, we used to eat eggs every day, often more than once a day. Same thing with cheese, spinach and wheat products. Now we are enjoying the tastes of new foods. Amaranth muffins, barley pancakes, corn grits, cream of buckwheat... it is a pleasant change to try new things!

As far as supplements go, I take one all-natural Rainbow Light pre-natal vitamin every morning, along with Carlson's fish oil and Vitamin C.

Something else I really enjoy, both when pregnant and not, is the delightful beverage called kefir. Kefir is packed full of pro-biotics (lots more than yogurt) and is great for the digestive system. Kefir is available in most health food stores, but you can make your own, as we do. For lots of great information about kefir check out Dom's Kefir site. My boys love it too, even though it's not sweet at all. It sort of reminds me of buttermilk.

Hopefully this new baby is benefiting from the varied diet I've been eating. There are no guarantees that anyone will have a healthy baby, but we pregnant mothers make a choice every time we put something into our mouths. We do have the power to eat the best foods possible while our babies are depending upon us for all their nutritional needs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

SIGG Bottles

I began researching sippy cups for toddlers when Tie-Dye was under a year old. I kept coming across warnings about plastic and how it can leech chemicals into the water. But every sippy cup in existence seemed to be made of plastic. Then one day I stumbled across SIGG's website and was so excited to see they made children's bottles. They are made of light-weight aluminum, and the inside is coated with an FDA approved water-based lining that is guaranteed not to leech any aluminum. At the time, there weren't a lot of retailers selling these bottles in the U.S. Coincidentally, however, my dad happened to be in Europe at the time, and was going to Switzerland! I e-mailed him and told him about the SIGG bottles. When he came back to the U.S. he brought SIGGs for DH, me, and a cute Winnie the Pooh one for Tie-Dye.

Tie-Dye weaned at 18 months, and it was around that time that he started drinking rice milk, so we found a cute SIGG on Ebay for his milk. By the time Toosht came along it seemed to be a given that each of our kids would have a water SIGG and a milk SIGG. We found Toosht's at Whole Foods Market.

These bottles are great and last a long time IF you take proper care of them, which I admit, I did not. I used a regular bottle brush to clean them, and just recently noticed that the metal on the end of the bottle brush was scratching the inner linings. A whole lot of good that lining will do if it's scratched! I don't feel comfortable having our boys use the scratched bottles. Now I'm on a hunt for the best price for four new bottles, AND a SIGG bottle brush cleaner, made especially for the SIGG line. I think an Ebay store is going to be the best bet again. All in all I'm probably going to pay around $80 for the four bottles and the brush. To me, investments like this are totally worth it. Not only are we getting a quality product that lasts, but we are also protecting the health of our boys by avoiding plastic.

I am aware of a company that makes safe, plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. BornFree cups are made from a safe honey-colored plastic called Polyamide (PA) that is free of Bisphenol-A. Supposedly Babies R Us carries the cups, but I went today and they didn't have them and the woman running that department had never even heard of them. From the look of the cups on the BornFree website, they seem to me like they're more for older babies and young toddlers, and they are very expensive. I might consider trying one out with our third baby (coming this December!) if I can find one at Whole Foods, but my boys are used to their SIGGs and enjoy the fun, colorful scenes on their bottles. They also like the free flow of the drink, as opposed to many sippy cups that have a sort of vacuum on them, forcing the child to suck hard to get anything out. Again, good for babies, but not so good for older toddlers and preschoolers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Graham Crackers

Since our kids don't go to nursery school or preschool, their first experience with childcare is at our church. Around age one they graduate from the nursery to the "Toddler room" where they play outside for awhile, then come in for a snack and story time. The "snack" is always Honey Maid graham crackers. That sounds pretty harmless and tame, right? Graham crackers are a fun snack that millions of kids have grown up eating. But when I read the ingredients for these graham crackers, I knew I couldn't let my kids eat them.

Here's the ingredient list for Nabisco Honey Maid graham crackers:

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Sugar, Graham Flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Honey, Calcium Carbonate (Source Of Calcium), Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Emulsifiers (Vegetable Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin), Vanillin-An Artificial Flavor

Sugar, high fructose corn syrup AND partially hydrogenated oil! Not to mention the artificial vanilla flavoring! I felt sick thinking about these innocent one-year-olds being fed such addictive junk. It was time to find an alternative that I'd feel okay having my boys eat once a week at chuch. A trip to Whole Foods was all it took. I discovered Mi-Del honey graham crackers.

Here's Mi-Del's ingredient list:

Whole Wheat Flour, Honey, Unsulphured Molasses, Soybean Oil, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Ammonium Bicarbonate), Salt, Soy Lecithin, Lemon Oil.

And my boys love them! Every Sunday morning DH packs up their little personalized Pottery Barn Kids lunch bags with containers full of Mi-Del graham crackers and off to church we go. They have never felt left out during snack time. The Sunday School teachers are informed that our boys can only eat snacks from their bags. They love their special crackers, and I have actually observed more than once other kids trying to sneak a taste of our boys' Mi-Dels!


My two boys (hereafter known as Tie-Dye and Toosht) have never eaten at a fast food restaurant. Yes, that's right. They have no idea what lies beneath the golden arches. They've never heard the term "Happy Meal."

DH and I have chosen to raise our children on the most natural foods possible. We learned the hard way, growing up eating junk food, that those things are addicting and very difficult to wean from later in life. We want our boys to have a better start than we had. We want them to know the pleasure and richness of natural flavors, untainted by additives and sugar. It was clear right off the bat that we wouldn't find what we were looking for in stores (at least not very often). If we wanted our boys to eat healthy foods, we'd have to make them ourselves.

Tie-Dye is almost four-years-old now, and we've learned that it's a challenge to raise a healthy family in this culture. What's really amazing is how much animosity and negative feedback we receive for eating differently than most people.

The way we eat has become more and more detailed and particular as we are constantly in the process of eliminating bad and substituting good, but here's the general idea:

Say NO to:
refined sugar (this, to us, includes evaporated cane juice)
hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
artificial colors or flavors
hormone or antibiotic laden meats or dairy

Say YES to:
cold-pressed and other healthy oils
whole grains and unbleached flours
natural sweeteners (stevia, agave, honey, brown rice syrup)
organic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy (when we can afford them!)

About that last one... We are a young family on a low budget, so eating healthy is already quite a stretch for us. But we do try to buy organic foods whenever we can afford them. When we can't, we look for the best options and wash our non-organic produce thoroughly.

Are we extreme? Yes, I think we are. And you'll see as you read that it's not always easy to eat this way. But is it worth it? Yes, I think it is! Someday my children will grow up and go out into the world with the freedom to choose their food, but I want them to have a solid foundation from the start!