Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Homemade Agave Marshmallows

I've looked for a marshmallow recipe that uses unrefined sugar for YEARS. About five years ago, a friend and I tried a recipe that called for brown rice syrup. We were disappointed by the result. It was a gooey, sticky, brown mess that didn't resemble marshmallows AT ALL.

Yesterday, while searching for something totally different, I stumbled across Volcanic Nectar's link for an agave marshmallow recipe, complete with instructional video. I couldn't believe how easy it looked, so I tried it immediately. It worked beautifully. Last night we had stevia hot chocolate, and each of us got an amazingly delicious marshmallow in our mug.

In the past I've wanted to make fudge, but have found that many of the best recipes have marshmallows or marshmallow creme in them. Now I can try making fudge thanks to this fantastic marshmallow recipe!

Check out the fluffy goodness!

Too Many Pumpkins

Chrissie over at flipflops and applesauce recommends wonderful kids books. Every book she has ever mentioned has been a gem. Too Many Pumpkins, by Linda White, is no exception. We checked it out from the library after reading about it on Chrissie's blog. That was at the end of October. We have renewed it two times since then because my kids love it so much. It's such a fun, bright book with great illustrations and a charming story, and it's perfect for fall, especially with all the yummy baking that takes place this time of year. Be prepared to want to make lots of pumpkin treats after reading it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween Candy

This year I've been working on some special treats for my boys that they will enjoy on Halloween. We will have candy bars and taffy, made without any refined sugar. They've already sampled the goods, but the bulk of it is packed away until Halloween.

For the candy bars, I used the Legally Raw Bar recipe from The Daily Raw Cafe. I had to make a few changes, the biggest being that I used peanuts instead of the mixture of cashews and almonds, since my son is severely allergic to cashews. I used agave instead of honey, and I didn't put any sweetener in the caramel part, since I thought it was already sweet enough with the dates. These bars taste like a cross between a Mounds bar and a Reese's peanut butter cup. They're great! I think if I made them again, though, I would melt grain sweetened chocolate chips mixed with some coconut oil and use that for the chocolate coating. The coating in this recipe is very tasty, but it doesn't harden up even after being in the freezer. If you want your bar to have a solid, non-messy coating, you might want to do the same.

For the taffy, I used a really neat recipe using brown rice syrup found at HeidiLogic. Some friends joined us and we had our very own Taffy Pull. It was so much fun. We made three different flavors - peppermint, almond, and orange. I recommend using a lot of flavoring if you really want to taste it. We did small amounts of each and wished we'd added more. I'd say a tablespoon would be a good amount.

I'm storing the candy bars in the freezer and the taffy in a glass jar on the counter. It will be fun to give the boys some special candy on Halloween!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

AC article - "Healthy Halloween Snacks"

You'll see some familiar ideas in this article, and a few new ones too. With October almost here, don't miss my new "Healthy Halloween Snacks" article!

AC article - "Making Healthy Eating Fun for Kids"

This Associated Content article provides some general guidelines for making healthy eating fun for kids. It also includes a couple recipes. Check it out here!

Creamsicle Cupcakes

I apologize for my lack of blogging recently. The good news is that while I haven't been blogging, I've been discovering lots of amazing recipes and trying them out on my family. I've also been doing some writing for Associated Content. I'll post links to some of my health-related articles soon.

The first new recipe I'd like to introduce was created by Lauren over at Healthy Indulgences. If you haven't been to her blog, prepare yourself. You're going to want to go out and buy ingredients for every recipe she has on there. It's filled with incredible and inventive recipes. I've tried three of her recipes so far, and all three have met and exceeded my expectations, which is actually a pretty rare occurrence for me. Usually when I find "healthy" recipes on-line, I get my hopes way up only to find them dashed when the food doesn't turn out the way I imagined. Lauren's recipes are a different story.

I recently made her Creamsicle Cupcakes. And what a hit they were with my family! I loved making them. They were so unique, and I loved the fact that the recipe includes two entire oranges, peel and all. I had never boiled oranges before. It was a cool experience.

Here are the changes I made to the recipe:

#1 - I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten free flour mix instead of the almond meal (Toosht can't have tree nuts). This flour worked wonderfully in the recipe.

#2 - I used 1/2 c. agave nectar instead of the mixture of stevia and erythritol for my sweetener, and this worked great as well.

#3 - Again, with the orange puree and the cream cheese frosting, I used agave (to taste) instead of stevia. I was pleased with the results

**Lauren's focus is to make her recipes low-carb. I greatly appreciate this since I don't like to OD on carbs. The changes I made to the recipe made the carb count quite a bit higher, so just take that into consideration when you are eating them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

$5 off your order at!

Enter my special referral code TIM110 during checkout at for $5 off your first-time purchase!

My husband and I are regular iHerb customers. We love this site because it has better prices and better shipping costs than anywhere else we've found so far. This is where we order our flour (usually buckwheat, barley, rice and sorghum), our SweetLeaf stevia (the cheapest place we've found it), our toothpaste (JASON for us, Weleda for the kids), and also some of our supplements like Vitamin C and my prenatal vitamins (Rainbow Light "Just Once"). We appreciate their low, flat fee shipping rates especially when our orders are heavy, like when we order a lot of flour. Not only are their prices good, but their customer service is excellent as well. We often find that when we order something, we receive it the very next day with their unbelievably fast shipping. When we've made mistakes with our order or forgotten to add something, they have been very helpful and understanding.

I highly recommend Give them a try!

Monday, July 21, 2008

5 Steps for Avoiding Mastitis

During the 18 months that I breastfed my first son, I suffered 7 breast infections (mastitis). These were full-blown infections with high fevers, chills (teeth chattering out of control!), aches, and weakness. I had to take antibiotics each time, and I was out of commission for an entire week. My husband had to take time off work to be home since I was completely without energy and could do nothing but lay in bed. When pregnant with my second son I decided I needed to take preventative measures in order to avoid having this problem again. This time I would have a toddler running around and I couldn't afford to be bed-ridden with sickness. I had gone to La Leche League meetings and I had read many books about breastfeeding, so I knew in theory what some causes of mastitis were. I knew that pressure on the breasts could cause milk duct blockage. I also knew that having breasts that were too full for too long could contribute to plugged ducts.

Here are the safeguards I put into place for the birth of my second son:

Step #1 - Don't use a front facing baby carrier (e.g. Baby Bjorn), which can put pressure on both breasts (I got a double breast infection a day after I carried my first son around in a Baby Bjorn for several hours.) Instead, use a sling that takes the pressure off your breasts (e.g. Hotslings).

Step #2 - Drink a lot of water. Stay hydrated so that the fluids in your body are plentiful.

Step #3 - Don't wear underwire bras, or any type of bra that puts pressure under and around the breasts. I solved this problem by getting rid of ALL of my nursing bras and purchasing nursing camisoles instead. It took a little bit of getting used to because I was accustomed to more support from the typical bra. But I began to love the way the camisoles fit, and how they didn't apply pressure or dig in to my breasts. I tried several different brands of nursing camisoles while nursing my second son, but didn't discover my absolute favorite until my third baby. I highly highly highly recommend Bravado nursing camisoles. They are simply wonderful. They're comfortable, they don't shrink or get misshapen, the straps are sturdy, and I love the shape, which is much more flattering to the bust line than most camisoles.

Step #4 - Don't wait too long in between feedings. Feed your baby on demand. This helps to keep your breasts empty and your baby happy. Make sure your breasts are empty after feedings, especially if it will be a while before you nurse again (like right before bed). If your baby nurses but you still feel like you have some milk, pump it out with a hand pump (I love the Avent hand pump). I was initially concerned that doing this would increase my milk supply, causing engorgement more often, but I found that I didn't have to do this very often after the first few weeks, and keeping my breasts empty was vital for me to avoid infection, so it was worth it. It's also a good idea to pump if you wake up and find that you are very engorged, but your baby is still sleeping and may continue sleeping for awhile longer. If this happens, pump enough milk to soften your breasts and relieve the discomfort, then wait for the baby to wake up for the rest.

Step #5 - Don't allow your life to get overly hectic and busy. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but it must be noted that it was during jam-packed periods of life that I got breast infections. I'm sure there were several factors coming into play. When I was extra busy, I was drinking less water, nursing my baby less, getting engorged more often, etc. All of these steps really do go hand in hand as preventive measures against mastitis. This is an important step though, and I want to stress it because I think young mothers are pressured to be busy. I often see baby magazine articles that praise the busy mother who can juggle so many different things. While this is indeed admirable, I don't believe it's something to which we should aspire. Activities with a baby can be fun and enjoyable for mother and for baby, but I think it's even more important that the mother take care of herself and provide a peaceful home for her baby. This is when I've seen my children the happiest, and when I have felt the most peace. Not only has it been good for me, physically and mentally, to slow down my pace, but it has also been good for my kids. They have come to appreciate the structure and security of their lives, and then when we do have an interesting outing or activity, they look forward to it with energy and excitement rather than dread and burn-out.

These steps have been instrumental in protecting me from breast infections. I nursed my second baby for 14 months and did not have a single infection. I'm currently nursing my third baby. She is 8 months old, and I haven't had an infection with her either. These steps really do work!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Natural Deodorant

I stopped using antiperspirant a few years ago when I read about the health hazards of aluminum. I tried many different kinds of "natural" deodorants. They smelled nice and they were a good idea, but none of them worked well for me. The healthy deodorants were very expensive, and I eventually stopped buying them and started using the same brand of plain deodorant my husband was using. While it still had chemicals in it, I was just glad to be avoiding aluminum.

Recently, however, my cousin told me about a recipe for homemade deodorant she had seen that used coconut oil, arrowroot powder and baking soda. I had all those ingredients so decided to give it a try. It was fun and very easy to make. My coconut oil was in liquid form when I mixed everything together. I added a few drops of Fir Tree essential oil for a very faint scent (good for a man or a woman). I cleaned out an almost used up deodorant container and removed the labels. Then I poured the mixture into the container, put the lid on, and put it in the fridge to allow it to solidify. When I took it out of the fridge it was too hard for the container components to work, so I let it sit on the counter for just a few minutes until it was soft enough to turn the dial. It feels nice going on, all cool and smooth. I've used it for a couple of weeks now and it has worked great. My husband let me test it out for a week before he tried (he has to go to work, after all, and wanted to be sure it was effective!), and now he loves it too.

I'm especially happy about this because summer is arriving and I'll be wearing tank tops a lot. My baby is 6 months old. I hold her often and feed her often, so she is always in close proximity to my body (and my underarms). Those of you with babies know how they snuggle in and can end up getting their hands in the crevices of your arms, or wiggle their faces against your chest and shoulders. I feel a lot better about her being close to a natural product than to a chemical product.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Versatile All-Day Snack Cake

My husband created a cake recipe that is definitely a family favorite. We literally eat some version of this cake everyday. He makes a couple batches in the morning, and we get to eat it at meals and snacks all day long. It's so nice to have tasty cake whenever we want it. This is not a birthday-style cake. This is a slightly sweet cake that you can spread cream cheese or butter on. This recipe is so great because there are several different ways to make it. We alternate each day so that we eat a variety of grains in our diet. It is a key way that we avoid eating a lot of wheat. This recipe is also egg and dairy free.

Buckwheat Cake
(This is a thick, hearty cake that tastes great with peanut butter or cream cheese, or just by itself. One of our favorite ways to eat it is to mix extra virgin olive oil with organic peanut butter. We break up a piece of buckwheat cake into the mixture and allow the pieces to soak. Then we eat it from the bowl.)

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Place a stoneware or Pyrex baking dish (approx. 8x11) in the oven (while it is heating up) with a small strip of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom and sides once it's hot).

Meanwhile, mix together:
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder

Pour in 2 cups water.
Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.
Pour in 1/4 cup agave.
**Optionally you can add a 1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 tsp. lemon extract

Stir everything together thoroughly, especially the bottom where dry flour collects.

Pull out the heated stoneware from the oven.

Pour mixture into the stoneware. It should pour easily like cake batter.

Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Makes 8 servings. (28 carbs per serving)

Barley Cake (with Barley Ginger variation and Barley Chocolate variation)
(This is reminiscent of an English pudding cake. It is very much like a pudding in the middle, with a crisp outer crust. We like to melt butter on top of this and eat it warm.)

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Place a stoneware or Pyrex in the oven (while it is heating up) with a small strip of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom and sides once it's hot).

Mix together:
2 cups barley flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder

Pour in 2 cups water
Pour in 1/4 cup safflower oil.
Mix in 2 tsp. stevia powder.

***To make the Barley Ginger Cake, add 1/8 c. ginger powder (and less than this if you don't like as strong of a ginger taste).

***To make the Barley Chocolate Cake, add 1/8 c. cocoa powder.

Stir everything together thoroughly, especially the bottom part where dry flour collects.

Pull out the heated stoneware.

Pour mixture into the stoneware. It should be slightly thick, and you will need to spread it out with a spatula.

Bake for 16 minutes

Makes 8 servings. (19 carbs per serving)

Note: This cake stays very pudding-like in the middle even when it's done.

Rye Cake
(This cake is thinner than the buckwheat cake but has a wonderful flavor and texture, also very good with cream cheese on top.)

Place a stoneware or Pyrex in the oven (while it is heating up) with a small strip of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom and sides once it's hot).

Meanwhile, mix together:
2 cups rye flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder

Pour in 1 3/4 cups water (add slightly more if too thick).
Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.
Pour in 1/4 cup agave.
**Optionally you can add a 1 tsp. vanilla extract.

Stir everything together thoroughly, especially the bottom part where dry flour collects.

Pull out the heated stoneware.

Pour mixture into the stoneware. You may need to spread it out with a spatula.

Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Makes 8 servings. (31 carbs per serving)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sloppy Beef

My husband spends just as much time in the kitchen as I do. By his own choosing, he makes a big, warm breakfast for us everyday. When the kids and I get up in the morning after he has already left for work, our breakfast is waiting for us in the warmer drawer. We are so spoiled! One of the many bonuses of having a cooking husband is that he enjoys experimenting and creating his own dishes. He's more daring than I am. Some of his experiments end up becoming family favorites. One such experiment was Sloppy Beef. (Yes, he names his experiments too!) My boys loved the sound of this meal, and so before they even tried it they thought it seemed cool. When they actually tasted it, they loved it. I feel like laughing every time I say "We're having Sloppy Beef for dinner." and it's even funnier hearing my two-year-old say "Mommy, I want some more Sloppy Beef!" This recipe came about one Saturday evening when I was exhausted from the week and from taking care of a new baby along with my two boys. All we had in the fridge, pretty much, was a pound of grass-fed ground beef, so my husband cheerily sent me to sit down and said he'd whip up a dinner for us. Sloppy Beef was the result. In case you ever need a quick, easy meal that even kids love (at least ours do!), here's the recipe.

Sloppy Beef

1 lb. ground beef (or other ground meat)
minced onions
garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 c. rye or buckwheat or oat flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. agave

Heat a pan on medium with 1/2 c. water.
Once the water is boiling, crumble the ground meat into the pan.
Brown the meat by letting it sit with the lid on, stirring occasionally.
Once meat is browned, drain liquid.
Add another 1/2 c. water and stir into meat.
Add several shakes of minced onion flakes (or 1 large onion, chopped and sauteed).
Shake in your desired amount of the other spices.
Grind in some fresh pepper (3-4 grinds).
Add another 1/2 c. water.
Add 1/2 tsp. salt.
Add 1/4 c. flour and stir into meat. Evenly distribute meat throughout the pan and cover the lid.
Turn heat down to medium low.
Let simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Stir in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. agave.
Cover again and let simmer approx. 4-5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with spoons.

Note: You can add or remove spices as desired in this recipe. Put in what you like! Also, you can add more agave if you want it sweeter. We find 1 Tbsp. per lb. of meat to be just right for us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cold and Flu Season

If your family was anything like mine growing up, you probably drank Gatorade, Sprite, or 7-Up when you were sick, right? I can understand the mentality behind these drinks. When someone is sick, they need carbohydrates and salt to help their bodies fight the illness, and they need to stay hydrated. My biggest problem with Gatorade lies in the fact that there are artificial flavors and colors added. It seems wrong to give a sick person a drink that has added chemicals. Natural flavors are so good on their own. Sprite and 7-Up are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and while their original versions don't have artificial flavors, some of their fancier varieties do include them. As with many things these days, you can usually find a healthier alternative, thanks to more awareness and more desire by consumers for natural products. I like using Recharge as an alternative to Gatorade when my kids are sick and need extra fluids. It comes in several different flavors and tastes really good.

You may be aware of recent changes in regulations for over-the-counter cold and cough medications for small children. They have been banned from store shelves as new findings have revealed they can cause harm to kids. So what can a parent do when their child is miserable? It's still safe to give them Children's Motrin or Children's Tylenol, following the dosage charts on the bottles. I try to give medication to my children only when it's absolutely necessary. If they have a low-grade or common fever, but are acting relatively normal - playing and talking, I won't medicate them. If they have a common fever or high fever and are moaning and groaning and aching all over, I will give them medicine. I love how Dr. Sears says to "treat the child, not the sickness." Each child will respond differently to fever and illness. Fever in itself isn't the enemy. Fever is one of the ways the body fights off sickness. I love Dr. Sears' discussion of fever and his fever terminology chart. It has been very helpful to me when my kids are sick.

Dr. Sears recommends a natural cold and cough medicine called Sinupret for Kids. We haven't tried this yet, but it's something I would like to get if my kids ever get really bad coughs.

My mother-in-law shared a recipe with me for homemade cough medicine that she got from a pediatrician back in the 80's. (There are tons of other similar homemade cough medicine recipes on-line if you do a Google search.)

Homemade Cough Medicine

Mix together equal parts lemon juice, honey, and whiskey.

Dosage - Give 1 tsp. every 4 hours as needed.

(Note: Do not give honey to children under 18 months of age.)

Our naturopathic doctor gave us a great recipe to help support the immune system while sick.

Immune Soup

Organic chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 inches ginger root, sliced thinly

Boil for 30 minutes (you can add water if you want to increase the volume), strain if desired, and drink broth. (Kids usually won't eat the chunks, but my husband and I like eating the veggies along with the broth.)

This is a great soup to have on the stovetop when someone in your home is sick. They can sip it all day long.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oven Fried Chicken

People often ask me how it's possible to eat healthy when natural and organic foods are so expensive. The truth is, we have to pick and choose which organic items we buy. Living on a single income in Southern California is difficult. One of the main reasons we're able to select healthier options is because we pretty much never eat out. We have also been blessed with family members who gift us with healthy groceries from time to time.

We are always on the lookout for the cheapest healthy foods. Lately, chicken legs have been our favorite cheap protein, and this is our favorite way to prepare them. My boys love these!

Oven Fried Chicken

10 chicken drumsticks*, skin removed
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder or flakes
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 dash white stevia powder (approx. 1/8 tsp)
1/4 c. flour (I have used oat, rye, and amaranth flour. I recommend using something other than wheat since most of us get more than enough wheat in our diets already.)
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat each drumstick with olive oil. Mix all spices and flour togther in a large bowl. Roll oil-coated drumsticks in spice mixture until well coated. Place chicken in a large Pyrex baking dish. Bake for 55-60 minutes.

*I strongly advise that you only buy chicken that is clearly labeled as being hormone and antibiotic free if you can't afford organic. We usually get natural-fed chicken from Trader Joe's, and only occasionally splurge on organic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stevia tips from SweetLeaf

I was contacted by Mariam of Wisdom Natural Brands, Inc. (the makers of SweetLeaf), and she offered some really helpful tips when baking with stevia. In response to my comment about stevia sometimes making recipes dense and flat, she said:

"...this is so true, which is why we recommend using recipes that are adapted to stevia (like the cookbook you used). So if one already has a recipe calling for stevia, then it should be just fine, but if they’re using an old recipe and just replacing the sugar with stevia, then something else needs to be added to attain the bulk of the missing sugar. The stevia gives the recipe a sweet taste, but the volume of the sugar needs to be replaced. If your recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, we suggest using 1/3 c. plain apple sauce, apple butter, plain yogurt, powdered milk, sour cream, cream cheese, (or whatever else you think will work) as the volume replacement."

She went on to say:

"Also, Stevia is safe for cooking and baking, and heat stable to over 400 degrees. In baking, the only real difference from sugar is that stevia doesn’t caramelize or activate yeast."

I, for one, am glad to get the suggestions about good volume replacers in stevia recipes. Thanks, Mariam!

If you're ready to get started with stevia, go here for a great SweetLeaf equivalency chart to help you as you replace sugar with a healthier alternative.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wonderful World of Stevia

Five years ago if I had been writing a post about stevia it probably would've been titled "The So-So World of Stevia." When I first heard about this natural, sweet herb, I was initially really excited about it. Not only was it 300 times as sweet as sugar, but it was calorie and carbohydrate free. For a person like me who easily gains weight if I overdose on carbs, this sounded perfect.

The first step to entering the world of stevia was to actually buy some. I eyed it several times at our health food stores, but I had a hard time forking out the cash. It came in tiny containers that were over $10. When bags of sugar could be purchased for pennies, this was tough to reconcile in my mind. Finally, though, I took the plunge and bought my very first container of white stevia powder. I went with what seemed to be the top name brand - SweetLeaf.

When I got home I set out to make some stevia cookies right away. The results were less than what I'd hoped for and I was disappointed. The flavor of stevia seemed strong and almost bitter. I looked for more recipes on-line and tried a few other things like chocolate cheesecake bites, which also didn't live up to my expectations.

For two years, I experimented off and on with stevia powder, and was usually underwhelmed by my creations. Later, I found liquid stevia for sale by SweetLeaf, and tried it with my tea. Now that I could handle. It only took 4-5 drops in a cup of tea to create a pleasantly sweet drink without any weirdness in taste.

Not long after this that I found out about agave nectar. Agave became my sweetener of choice. Not only did it taste like sugar, but it also acted a lot like sugar in most recipes so that I could bake all my favorite desserts again (stevia, because it lacks bulk, caused problems in my recipes - many things turned out flat and dense). While I adored agave, I still faced the same problem as before - I was eating too many carbs, making weight loss and weight maintenance difficult. Because it is a fruit sugar, agave still has lots of carbs. It's nicer than most sweeteners because it has less effect on blood sugar, but other than that benefit, my baked goods were still jam-packed with carbohydrates.

Two years ago for Christmas my husband got me this stevia cookbook. Some of the recipes called for very obscure ingredients, or combined stevia with other sweeteners, but there were a few gems that I have made again and again. The Frozen Strawberry Cream and the Mexican Wedding Cakes recipes are worth the cost of the cookbook! I was encouraged that there really are some excellent stevia uses out there.

The main thing I've learned about stevia usage over the years is that it's better to use a little than to use too much. If you use too much stevia, it will ruin the recipe. The key is in finding the perfect amount for your particular recipe, which may take some experimentation. I've also found that stevia works well with certain types of foods. I love it in drinks, sauces, marinades, and in some baked goods.

Something else I've learned more recently about stevia is that it does take some getting used to. It's not sugar. I had to get my brain wrapped around that concept before I could learn to accept it. I had wanted it to be sugar. It can't be sugar, but it can sweeten food. When I first started using stevia I had a hard time with the taste. Now? I actually enjoy the taste! I can eat something sweetened with stevia and think "Mmm, that's stevia." and actually like it. I guess it makes sense that after almost 30 years of using sugar for my sweetening needs, that it would take some time to accept something different. I owe much of my stevia appreciation to my husband, who wouldn't give up on it. Even when I'd thrown up my hands in frustration after countless attempts to use it, he pressed on, and began doing his own recipe experimentation.

I have many stevia recipes now and look forward to finding even more. It is such a versatile sweetener; it's not just for desserts either. You can add a few drops to pizza sauce, or shake a little into your taco meat mix, or into soups or stews.

I love how stevia is finally becoming more mainstream. At health stores it's usually in the "supplements" section (since the FDA has not recognized it as a sweetener... there's plenty of controversy on that topic out there if you want to do your own Google research). But at stores like Trader Joe's, it's (rightfully, IMO!) in the baked goods section with the flour and honey and agave and vanilla.

One final thing worth mentioning here is that not all stevias are equal. I still find SweetLeaf brand to be the best, most reliable company for stevia. It also tastes better, with less chance of that bitterness I discussed earlier. There are some less expensive brands out there to be sure, but they often include fillers, and sometimes even added sweeteners.

I will be sharing some of my favorite stevia recipes here for you.

For starters, here is my:

Easy Pizza Sauce

1 can (15 oz.) sugar-free tomato sauce
1 small can sugar-free tomato paste
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. fennel powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder (opt.)
10 drops liquid stevia

Mix all ingredients together in a small sauce pan, heat on medium until bubbly. Use immediately or refrigerate (or freeze) for later use.

Other easy stevia uses:

To sweeten a cup of tea, brew tea as you normally would, then add 3-5 drops liquid stevia and stir. You can do this with hot or cold tea.

Like chocolate milk? Try Stevita Delight. Mmmm. My husband got me some of this for Christmas and I love it. You mix 1-2 tsp. of Stevita Delight with 8 oz. of your choice of milk and shake it up or blend it up well.

If you have a favorite stevia use, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sweet Mustard Dressing

I like to make my own sauces and dressings in order to avoid unwanted additives and refined sugars. Here is my favorite salad dressing recipe:

Sweet Mustard Dressing

6 Tbsp. cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. dijon mustard (any mustard you have on hand will work fine)
2 Tbsp. organic apple cider vinegar (you can substitute a variety of other vinegars if needed - organic white distilled vinegar and white wine vinegar have worked for me in a pinch)
2 Tbsp. agave nectar or honey
1 garlic clove, crushed

Place all ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously until well-blended. Store in refrigerator and shake before using.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sophie the Giraffe

This time around with a new baby I decided to ditch the junky plastic baby toys I had collected with my other two. All the news headlines about lead in toys made me more aware of what my children were playing with and putting in their mouths. Around this same time I found out about BPA in plastics. These toxins made me want to find more natural toys for my children. I'm becoming more and more of a believer in the phrase "You get what you pay for." It seems to be true about many things, including toys. I like the idea of getting a few high quality toys for my children that will last and also be safe.

I am so excited to announce what I think is the best baby toy I've seen yet:

Sophie the Giraffe, by Vulli

Isn't she darling? I hope my daughter ends up loving her as much as I do. This toy is a dream. Sophie is made of natural rubber and food-based paint. She is imported from France and is apparently very popular there. She is soft and easy for tiny hands to grasp. She has interesting spots and dark black eyes that easily grab a baby's attention. My 7 week old gets a huge smile on her face when I put Sophie in her line of vision. Every review I've read about this toy has been overflowing with praise. People say their babies can't get enough of Sophie. She is an excellent teething toy, with several great places for a baby to suck or chew - the ears, the horns, the snout, and the legs. My daughter isn't quite ready to start grabbing for toys yet, but if we place Sophie in her hand she gets a greedy look in her eye, and with a slight smile she tries to suck on an ear, or whatever part she can find. Sophie also makes a cute squeak when she is squeezed. I envision this toy being a prized possession by my daughter in months to come. I'll be posting an update in a few months to report back.

I initially balked at Sophie's price, and decided to wait on purchasing one. But then last week we were at Disneyland and I saw a Sophie in a woman's diaper bag. I told her I'd read about it on-line, and immediately the woman began raving about it. She said it was the absolute best toy and that her daughter adores it. Their Sophie goes everywhere with them. After hearing that and seeing a Sophie in person, I was sold. The next day I had ordered one from Amazon and two days after that it arrived at our house. My boys were excited about it too, and quite disappointed that it was their sister's toy and not for them.

As far as baby toys go, Sophie is at the top of my list. I am also pleased with Haba toys, so be looking for a post about them soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Non-Toxic Sippy Cups

We've been pleased with our Sigg bottles, but because of how expensive they are, I've wanted to have some cheaper cups on hand as well. Before my baby girl was born, I learned about BornFree cups. She was blessed to receive two of these trainer sippy cups from her grandparents for Christmas. I'm looking forward to trying them out. They are BPA-free and non-toxic.

While those are good for babies, I was still hoping to find some sippy cups for older children. Today I came across The Soft Landing, and discovered that most Nuby products are BPA-free! This was good news, since that's what Toosht has been using for his rice milk since he was 1 year old. The Soft Landing lists several other non-toxic sippy cups that I have never heard of before, but they look cool. The site also lists non-toxic bibs and utensils. I'm very excited about this!

If you're interested in winning a free "Safe Sippy" by Kid Basix, check out NatureMoms Blog to enter the drawing!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sand Cups for a Pirate Party

For Toosht's 2nd birthday yesterday, we had a pirate theme and I made Sand Cups for the dessert. I used chocolate pudding for the bottom layer, a homemade version of Cool Whip (my sister's recipe) for the middle layer, and crushed Barbara's Vanilla Snackimals animal cookies for the top "sand" layer. Colorful paper umbrellas were the finishing touch. I thought the Sand Cups were great, but they seemed almost too sweet to me. In the future a variation I may try will be to use plain whipped heavy cream rather than the Cool Whip recipe. It was rich and sweet and maybe didn't need to be so sweet with the already sweet chocolate pudding and crushed animal cookies. My boys and my guests didn't seem to mind the sweetness, however!


2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 teaspoons arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Sift (so as to avoid clumps) the cocoa into a saucepan, then add 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the agave. Bring to a simmer, over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk, arrowroot powder, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually whisk the hot mixture into the egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a full boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more.

Pour the pudding into 6 small cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight until set.

(Note: I doubled the pudding recipe in order to have enough for everyone at the party.)


1 c. heavy cream, whipped
10-12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. agave nectar

Cream together cream cheese and agave. Add the already whipped heavy cream and mix until combined. Chill until ready to use.

A note about Barbara's Snackimals... the only flavor without cane sugar is the Vanilla flavor.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bug Birthday Party

Toosht's 2nd birthday is coming up this weekend, and I'm remembering the bug-themed party we threw for him last year. DH and I spent a couple of hours the night before the party decorating each bug cupcake uniquely with our naturally colored frosting. We used Panda licorice pieces for the bug heads. The cupcakes themselves were made using Martha Stewart's chocolate cake recipe (plus my modifications). We cut off the tops of the cupcakes, split the tops in half, and then put them back on the cupcake bases to resemble wings. To do the dots and lines with the frosting, we cut off the corners of plastic sandwich bags and squeezed the frosting out through the holes.

We also did a batch of cupcakes that were frosted normally, with white cream cheese frosting, and then we placed pretend frogs and bugs on top of them. I sewed a very simple tablecloth to add to the theme.

There were hors d'oeuvres too. We served ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisins), caterpillars (jack cheese, grapes, and carrots for the antennae), and lady bugs (dates and cherry tomatoes).

This was such a memorable party (for me, anyway!). It was so much fun preparing all these buggy treats in celebration of my precious little guy's first year of life.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

I've tried several cinnamon roll recipes over the past few years, and none of them were as good as I hoped they would be... until last year when I found a recipe on the Food Network. My sister and I have made these rolls more than once now, and while they do take a lot of preparation, they are so amazingly good for special occasions. I'm not sure why this recipe is better than the others I tried. I'm wondering if the trick is with the use of egg yolks.

Here were our cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning '07!

The recipe is here. Below are the modifications I made to the recipe.

For the dough I used:

1/4 c. agave nectar in place of the 1/4 c. sugar in the dough.

6 oz. goat milk + 3/4 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar in place of the buttermilk.

unbleached flour in place of all-purpose flour

sea salt in place of kosher salt

Also, a tip I got from my friend Leah, who is a culinary genius, is to use dental floss to cut the dough (instead of a serrated knife). The floss creates a really clean cut and is much easier than a knife.

For the filling I used:

1/2 c. agave nectar in place of 1 c. brown sugar

For the icing I used:

3 Tbsp. heavy cream (organic/raw cow or goat milk would've been fine here) in place of 3 Tbsp. milk

agave nectar to taste in place of 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar (I used MUCH less than 1 1/2 c. agave here... it doesn't take much agave to make the icing very sweet.)