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.