Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Home Cooking

Well, I figured the last night of freedom before returning to work was as good as any to write an overdue post. We had a wonderful two weeks off (although some snow would have made it better), but I suppose it's time to get back into the swing of things. Jeff headed back to work today, so Jackson and I got to some baking...he loves sitting on the kitchen floor eating his snack while watching me bake. We made two loaves of banana bread yesterday, but the real story was today. We made two batches of Crockpot applesauce and two loaves of homemade (albeit not gluten free) whole wheat-white bread. First off, the applesauce was incredibly easy, but I'm proudest to say that I used honey and no processed sugar! I peeled and cored eight granny smith apples, added 1/2 lemon, juiced, one cinnamon stick and 2 tsp of raw honey. THAT'S IT! I let it sit on low for 3-4 hours, giving it an occasional stir. It was so amazing that Jackson and I couldn't eat enough of it fast enough. Seriously, you have to try this!

Next up was homemade bread using my new toy that my mother-in-law got me for Christmas. She and I had gone to a bread making class and decided we both needed stand mixers. Kneading the bread by hand seemed like too much work and too time consuming :) Anyway, the bread came out amazing! So soft and light...Jackson devoured his with some butter and homemade jam! (The jam ended up everywhere...I should have gotten a picture of that but missed the moment).

Quick pregnancy update: The belly is growing, although I have to brag that I can still fit into normal pants (although a size bigger than normal)...the baby is sitting high up which is why. I haven't gained much weight but you wouldn't know it from looking at me! We find out in two weeks what we're having so look for a post then! 

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Today was the MOST wonderful day I've had in a long time! It was first day in at least two months, where Jackson and I had NOTHING planned. I didn't have to work, didn't have errands that had to get done, and I didn't have to work (wait, did I say that one already??) After a brief workout in the morning, we proceeded to 1) finally put up and organize our family photo wall, and 2) get a start on the holiday baking! Holiday baking is probably my favorite thing to do. Seriously. I LOVE IT! But since I still haven't been feeling great (I'm 15 weeks now!), I've been worrying that I wouldn't have the time/energy/stamina to complete all that I've been wanting to. Today was the day though! Even though I wasn't 100%, Jackson and I gave it a go...and I didn't sit down all day.

Okay, to the good stuff. Here's what me and my little helper were up to in the kitchen all day...

The Spunky Coconut's Chocolate Hazelnut Spread aka Homemade Nutella was first on the list! Oh my gosh this stuff is to die for! There is coconut in it, but it's very subtle. The smell of coconut has been making me sick this pregnancy, but I hardly noticed it in this treat! It was easy too, except for getting the skins off the hazelnuts. I gave up on the last half and the spread still came out delish, so I wouldn't stress too much about that.

We also tackled homemade sugar free rice crispy treats from the Gluten Free Goddess, which have been on my to do list for months.

At first, I wasn't crazy about them, because they aren't that sweet. But after a few bites, I felt like my tastebuds reorganized because then I began to love them. Warning to all the marshmallow crispy treat fans....these are quite different although the texture is amazing. It will take some time adjusting :)

Homemade granola was also on the list today (can I just say how helpful it is to have a double oven!!). It's VERY low in sugar...I used 1/2 c organic brown sugar and 1/4 c coconut sugar for FIVE mason jars of granola! There is also a bit of raw honey, brown rice syrup and no sugar added applesauce that help provide a bit of sweetness.

I also tried my hand at reduced sugar truffles...these were not as much of a success although quite tasty. The recipe is from dietdessertndogs.com and do taste quite good, I just had trouble cutting mine to make them look as pretty as she does.

Jackson was a good helper and a good taster. We practiced learning to lick the spatula (so wish I had pictures of this as it was SO cute!). His favorites were the granola and the filling for the truffles. Jackson enjoyed getting to play in the kitchen with me...he even wanted to dress up with beautiful jewelry like his mama too...

Pretty sure I'm saving this for his wedding day!

I think we did pretty well for a pregnant lady and a toddler!

Hope you all have fun preparing gifts for others during this season of giving....Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching up and then a few words on ADHD

As I sit down to write this newest post, I'm realizing just how long it's been since I've posted! Wow! Sorry for my slacking, but as usual, I have good couple excuses...

The STOVE IS GONE!!!! We have a beautiful glass top double oven which is amazing! And beautiful quartz countertop that has sparkle in it! We still have flooring and backsplash to do, so there will be more pics to come, but we're getting close!

My other really good excuse for my lack of posting is that I'm (drum roll please!!!) PREGNANT! So with pregnancy come exhaustion. Absolute, complete exhaustion. It's been all I can do to stay on top of paperwork at work (and let's not even chat about quality...) so the blog has been low on the totem pole. However, I have lots of ideas for blogging, but I need time!!

But, to start things off, I'd like to chat about ADHD. This is something my husband and I have been coming across lately. First, a few stats from the CDC:
  • The American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) that 3%-7% of school-aged children have ADHD. 1  However, studies have estimated higher rates in community samples.
  • Recent data from surveys of parents indicate that: 
    [Read article]
    •  Approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2007.
    • The percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007. 
    • Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 [Read article Adobe PDF file] and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007. 
    • Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD. 
    • Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased at a greater rate among older teens as compared to younger children. 
    • The highest rates of parent-reported ADHD diagnosis were noted among children covered by Medicaid and multiracial children. 
ADHD is on the rise, there is no question about that. The question is why? ADHD falls on the same "spectrum" as Autism and related disorders...could the reasons for the rise of each be connected? It is intriguing, especially as I'm so convinced that our poor diets and toxin exposure are components of the rise of Autism. So it was interesting to me to come across on ADHD and gluten intolerance. As you read in my previous post on gluten, there is evidence that gluten intolerance and sensitivity is under diagnosed and potentially a root cause of many conditions. The protein in wheat can cause a reaction in the gut which can an inflammatory reaction and result in behavior challenges (which is why many children on the Autism Spectrum seem to improve with a gluten free diet). It can take months for a gluten free diet to work it's magic, give it at least six months. 

Here's another issue I have with ADHD (directly from Dr. Mercola):
ADHD involves a cluster of symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. There is no definitive diagnostic tool, such as a brain scan, to determine if you have ADHD. There’s only subjective evaluation, and, for better or worse, teachers can play a significant role in this evaluation.
Most children display a combination of these two traits, and may also show the following symptoms:
  • Frequent fidgeting or squirming
  • Feels restless or often runs and climbs excessively, or leaves his or her seat in the classroom when not appropriate
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Talks excessively, interrupts often, and may blurt out answers to questions at inappropriate times
  • Always seems on the go
  • Has difficulty waiting his or her turn
As you can see, many of these “symptoms” could describe most children at one time or another! Therefore, only those who struggle with inattention and hyperactive or impulsive behaviors around the clock are candidates for the ADHD label.
Children who display these symptoms at school but not at home or with friends are not considered to have ADHD. Likewise, with children who display symptoms at home but not at school.
So if we look at these behaviors, how much of this could be related a high sugar diet? Almost all junk food and snack foods contain sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup. These foods affect your neurological system and can cause kids to be jittery and have difficulty focusing...do those fit the diagnosis criteria above? Yep! Think about the junk food that majority of children in this country eat. Think about the food in our cafeterias? It's all loaded with sugar to make it taste good. 
More on the theories of causes of ADHD from Dr. Mercola and his research:
  • Sugars and Grains.  Children who consume highly processed foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup and fruit juices tend to have a higher rate and severity of these symptoms. While organic whole grains are superior to processed ones, many children with ADHD do not respond well to most grains, especially wheat.
  • Genetic factors -- Some scientists are now aiming their research at finding genes that may make a person more susceptibleto this disorder
  • Environmental toxins -- A 2006 study found that a mother's use of cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs during pregnancy could increase the risk for ADHD. Exposure to lead and mercury may also cause ADHD symptoms, and pesticides and the industrial chemicals polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also been named as potential culprits.
  • Allergic reactions -- Chemically-sensitive people may exhibit ADHD symptoms when exposed to something as simple as clothing washed with perfumed and chemical-laden soap. Permanent press or stain-resistant products also contain chemicals that can initiate ADHD-like reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • Processed food additives – Certain food dyes and other additives may cause ADHD-like symptoms. These chemicals have a particularly pernicious synergy if they are combined with sugars such as fructose.
  • Increased number of childhood vaccinations – One 2007 survey found a strong correlation between rates of neurological disorders, such as ADHD, and childhood vaccinations. Vaccine adjuvants have also been associated with ADHD-type neurological problems.
  • Emotionally unstable home environments  Stress is the frequently unappreciated and overlooked variable that can easily worsen ADHD. If the parents are having trouble in their relationship this can easily influence the child’s behavior.
  • Increased rates of birth interventions. This can result in birth trauma and lack of oxygen in the newborn, which significantly increases the risk of developmental delay.
When it comes to treatment of ADHD, doctors almost always turn to prescription medication. This infuriates me! These are KIDS! Giving them a powerful drug is not the answer, especially when diet changes and increased activity levels are showing to be as powerful. In my opinion, and the opinion of many, is that kids are being over diagnosed. So if a child is mis-diagnosed and then given a prescription medication, what will that drug do to that middle schooler who didn't really need it in the first place? How many drugs have come off the market recently because of side effects that are just now showing up? With prescription drugs we can never be too safe.

One more personal thought on the case: Because my husband spends his days with high schoolers, I get a very different perspective on many situations. The ADHD issue frequently comes up for him as he is dealing with teens and their IEPS or 504 plans. Because of his relationship with the kids in his school, he is also very aware of their sleeping and eating habits. Few go to bed before midnight (school starts at 7:30), nearly all of his students will admit that while trying to complete homework, they also have their cell phones, televisions, and computers on and are actively using social media (i.e. Facebook). I can barely have the TV on and complete a coherent blog post at the same time! Many rely on heavy doses of caffeinated beverages to keep going during the day. Our kids are eating a poor diet, over consuming caffeine, sleep deprived and over stimulated by our gadgets....it's no wonder we have an increase of diagnosed ADHD on the rise! Because of all that over stimulation, it wouldn't surprise me that when put in a quiet room (i.e. a classroom), many of these kids would not know what to do with themselves. How many of us have "quiet time" any more? I don't have ADHD but I definitely have a hard time staying still for too long (well, not since being pregnant....I could lay on the couch all day!) I didn't do a formal survey for the above information, but talk to a few teenagers...you'll see what I mean. 

If you have ADHD, have a child that has ADHD, or know someone who does, thinking about improving diet and exercise first before resorting to medication. This is a much simpler, most cost effective, and life-long way of dealing with behavior and concentration challenges. 

Here's hoping it won't be another month and a half before I post again :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food Combining

So, in the quest to find out how to fix my acne, I'm nearly there. I've given up gluten and coffee, which has gotten me really close. I've also given up processed/refined sugars and rarely, rarely have dairy and I've cut our meat consumption in half.  In this quest, I stumbled across a book called The Beauty Detox Solution which talks about a completely different way of thinking about food. Before I dive into it, I want to also put a disclaimer on it: it makes you obsess about how you eat. So much so, that my eating-disordered alias came out if full force, so I had to tone it down a bit. I have taken most of the lessons to heart and implemented them ~75% of the time. You can click on the book title from my Widget list on the right hand side of this blog or you can view it at my e-store through Amazon. 

Food combining is based on how your body processes and breaks down food. By not eating in the correct order, the food basically builds up in your intestine because it is unable to be digested and becomes toxic, resulting in a multitude of health issues, including acne, gas, and constipation.

Here are some of the rules:
1. Eat raw food first to coat your digestive system with enzymes to help break down the food. If you eat fruit, wait 30 minutes before eating your meal.
2. (this one is the hardest for me) Don't eat starches and proteins at the same meal (yes, no more spaghetti bolognese or eggs with toast).
3. Eat only one type of protein at a meal...no more surf-n-turf dinners...
4. Don't mix acidity foods with carbohydrates (no OJ with that morning cereal or vinegar with your olive oil and bread).

The other thing mentioned is to not eat protein until the end of the day; because it takes so long to digest, it backs up everything else in your colon. This has been the hardest for me because I used to love starting the day with my green smoothie and one egg, but now I try (and do) get by with just my smoothie.

When I was following this closely, my skin really cleared up after just about five days. But as I mentioned above, it made me just crazy about my food and I caught myself doing mini-binges so I had to stop. I went crazy thinking when was I going to eat, what was I going to eat...and I could never be caught unprepared. So I keep the rules in the back of my head and adhere to them when possible. If we are having meat, we usually just have vegetables and no carbs. When we have pasta, I rarely mix in meat, and it's mostly a vegetarian meal. And no more eggs in the morning (so now they are a wonderfully easy meal on a Friday after a late day of work). I also always try to snack on raw veggies as I'm making dinner.

And of course, after all that, I'm having some hormonal issues which are making my skin crazy right now...plus the change in weather so I'm trying to be a bit cleaner about the eating...so fun this time of year :) On the upside, I am getting ready to begin experimenting more with gluten free pie crusts and homemade sweet pumpkin so that I can make homemade pumpkin pie...stay tuned for my successes and failures!

Have any of you tried this? Let me know your thoughts....


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stella and Dot...my latest adventure

If I never have a little girl, at least I'll have had this moment :)

And speaking of jewelry!!! I've always been a believer that things happen for a reason. Three weeks ago, I met a nanny who sells Stella and Dot jewelry and I instantly fell in love (with the jewelry) and became a stylist two days later. Stylist is just a fancy title for jewelry seller :) But I'm loving it! And I'm in LOVE with the jewelry! Check out the website www.stelladot.com/katielarson. If you are interested in being a stylist, let me know, I'd love to train you! If you want to host a party, let me know! (Hostesses gets lots of bonuses!) If you want to shop, you may use my Stylist ID when you check out: 130117 or you can search my name, Katharine Larson.

The fall/holiday collection has beautiful rose gold pieces that are gorgeous! They also have a 'girls' line for all the young ladies in your life (I'll be doing Christmas shopping at the Stella and Dot website this year!). All of the jewelry is made abiding by Fair Trade practices, isn't that great! They also have a unique bracelet that during the  month of October, 100% of the proceeds will go towards Breast Cancer research. Check out this link; it talks about the foundations that Stella and Dot support and that you can support too with the purchase of their one-of-a-kind bracelets. 
I know this subject doesn't have much to do with my usual blog topics, but it sure makes me happy! (And I'm told that a happy wife = a happy life!) 

Let me know if you have questions, I'd love to talk to you about it.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweetness in a Bottle

I have a sweet tooth, a really BIG sweet tooth. It used to be so bad that I could put away a gallon of "Light" ice cream without blinking (the thought of it now makes me sick to my stomach). My point is, once I put sugar into my mouth, I couldn't concentrate until I could get another bite in....and so the painful cycle began. Things got better when I moved in with my now husband, because he could at least distract me from the sugar cravings. After my son was born, I was spoiled with an increased metabolism and got re-hooked on having sweets on a regular basis because I could get away with it. But as I began to find alternatives to cooking with flour, I discovered a world of healthier baking and cooking. A world that used no gluten, no dairy, a rare egg or two, and no refined sugars. Because I love to bake, I was willing to try any new recipe, but secretly I was wondering how on earth something could taste good without sugar. Little did I know about what I was going to discover...

Maple Syrup: You have to use the real stuff, none of that pancake syrup loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Grade B is the best and offers a higher mineral content that refined sugar and also contains low levels of anti-oxidants. One of the minerals is manganese, which supports overall body function and lowers trigylceride levels. Zinc acts as both a mineral and antioxidant and strengthens the heart by repairing and replenishing endothelial cells. Together, Manganese and Zinc support the immune system (they are also both important for male reproductive health).

Stevia: I have always been skeptical of Stevia, just as I have been skeptical of Splenda and Nutrasweet, but turns out it is rather quite safe and been around for forever. It comes from the Stevia plant and is available in liquid or powder form. I have mainly used Stevia in my cookie and banana bread recipes and really like the added sweetness it gives baked goods that are made without refined sugars. I have also occasionally thrown it into a smoothie that I can't get quite sweet enough.

Honey (especially raw honey): Raw honey is anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral. Raw honey also contains many anti-cancer fighting properties, phytonutrients, and anti-tumor properties. When raw honey is extensively heated, it's amazing properties disappear, so try for the raw varieties when you can. There are so many local beekeepers here in the PNW, so look to buy local on this if you can.

Coconut Sugar (or palm sugar): this is a great substitute when you can't substitute liquid sweeteners for dry; I use it in a 1:1 substitution for brown sugar in my cookies. Palm sugar is definitely not as sweet as sugar and will give your baked goods a dark hue, but it won't raise your blood sugar like refined sugars do. Don't make the assumption, like I did, that if palm sugar is a healthier option that palm oil is too; as far as I can tell, it's not and it is better to stay away from palm oil when you can.

Brown Rice Syrup: This is a great alternative to sugar and one that I love using in my banana bread. It is not really that sweet to the taste, but when baked, creates a nice subtly sweetness that makes baked goods yummy. If you stay away from gluten, make sure you find a gluten-free variety as some brands are made with barley.

Agave: I saved this one for last because I recently changed how I feel about this sweetener. It is touted as being a great alternative to sugar because it doesn't raise your blood sugar like white sugar does. I recently found out that agave has higher levels of fructose than high fructose corn syrup. Granted, it is not processed or fake like HFCS is, but such high levels of fructose can be hard on our bodies. I will still use agave (made from the same plant as tequila), but I'm not using it as much, and trying to use raw honey more.

Since discovering and only using these sweeteners, my sweet tooth has diminished. I still love my sweets at the end of the day, but I don't feel out of control like I can't get enough, and I feel very satisfied with a much smaller serving. Additionally, when I now eat something that has processed sugar, it tastes WAY too sweet and is unappetizing. I thought that would NEVER happen!

Let me know if you have any questions about using these sweeteners.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Finding the Perfect Coconut Milk...and Then Making Yogurt

I recently did some research on Carrageenan and found countless articles on how awful it for us to consume, so I sent an email to Kelly over at SpunkyCoconut.com, who I follow religiously. She and I had a discussion on the best and safest coconut milk on the market. She then sent an email to the makers of Native Forest Coconut Milk who reported that although some BPA is present in their cans, it's as little as 0.2 parts per billion. That doesn't sound like much to me, but what do you think? I have just been so eager to make my own yogurt ever since I read how easy it is from Kelly's website and also from her latest cookbook, but I needed to use coconut milk. So I gave it a shot tonight...it's still warming on the stove. I had bought a yogurt maker and guess what? It totally didn't work, and I mean that I went to plug it in and it didn't warm up. So I reverted to keeping it warm in glass jars while in a shallow pan of simmering water. I really hope it works, but if it doesn't work, I will be sending it through the ice cream maker. I'll keep you posted when we try it tomorrow.

On another note, I also made this wonderful ice cream recipe tonight: Vegan Caramel Apple Ice Cream. I have just fallen in LOVE with cashews lately. They are sooooo creamy and yummy. You can also try this recipe that I discovered in a cooking class I took today: take raw cashews and grind up with water in the food processor. You can determine the thickness based on how much water you put in. We had this and melted chocolate to dip fruit into...it was heavenly!

And on one more note...here are the latest pics of the house. We had it painted this weekend and although we now wish we had gone one shade darker on the house, we think with some black shutters and a black door (the paint job done on this today is temporary), the house will actually look like it's not from the 1960s.

Hope you all had a fantastic weekend!