Monday, May 18, 2015

Vegetarian Summer Grilling

With Memorial Day right around the corner, it's time to start hauling out the grill to begin a season of outdoors cooking. If you are like my family and don't eat a lot of meat then you might be feeling a little left out. However, grilling and meat are not a package deal. That's right:  meat is not the only main course food item that can be grilled. Which is quite lovely for us sometimes-meat-eaters that still love to get out and grill on a beautiful summer evening sans all the meat.

Vegetable Kabobs

Vegetable kabobs are a family favorite that are also quick and easy to make. Below is a recipe that will help you get started but feel free to swap in your family's favorite veggies. (Grilled pineapple, although not a veggie, tastes awesome!) Since there are so many different variations of veggie kabobs, it's hard not to please everyone. Whenever there is marinating involved, I always add rosemary and thyme seasoning, whether or not the recipe calls for it, as it helps combat the carcinogens created during the grilling process. For a great protein side dish, cook up some quinoa and add pesto sauce with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Veggie Burgers

This is another dinner that can be full of variety and customized to individual tastes. Make sure to buy the veggie patties that do not include soy protein isolate. It is highly processed and shouldn't even be considered food. Most stores now carry veggie burgers and they taste great. There are so many varieties that there is bound to be one you like! Check in the frozen health food section. We go all out with our burgers and top them with mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado, red onion, jalapenos (the adults, anyway), cheese and a fried egg on a sprouted whole grain bun. It really is one satisfying meal.

Grilled Eggplant

Eggplants are a nice, meaty vegetable that are fantastic grilled. Serve with marinara, crusty whole wheat bread and a fresh green salad for dinner in a weeknight snap.

Grilled Peaches

One of the sweetest ways to end dinner is with grilled peaches topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Simply slice the peaches in half, remove the pit and place directly on the grill for 8 minutes, turning once. Sooo yummy.

We all know the effect that massive consumption of conventional meat is doing to this planet and our health. We are also well aware of the financial limitations of buying pastured meat. Limiting how much meat you eat shouldn't feel like a punishment. With all of the great recipes above, I hope that grilling can continue to be a fun and delicious summer past-time for you. Summer is almost here- let's light up those grills!

Linked with the Homemade Mondays blog series.

Monday, May 11, 2015

No-Cook Superfood Jam

Almond butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple lunch item in my house.  As such, we go through quite a bit of jelly. Trader Joes carries a reasonably priced jar of juice-sweetened jelly but since our move a year ago, the drive is no longer reasonable. Whole Foods' juice-sweetened jelly is just plain out of our price range with the amount we use. That left me having to buy the white-sugar laden jelly, much to my displeasure. So imagine how ecstatic I became when Natural Health magazine had a version of this no-cook fruit spread using strawberries. Since I had a bag of dried goji berries sitting in my pantry (since forever) that were begging to be used (or maybe it was just Dino's voice in my head telling me to stop wasting money), I decided to turn this into a real superfood jam.

Soaked goji berries.

Goji berries are considered a superfood for good reason: the amount of nutrition packed into this little berry is amazing. In just one ounce you get 140% RDA of vitamin A, 20% RDA of vitamin C, 10% RDA of iron, 4% RDA of calcium, 3 grams of fiber and a whopping 4 grams of protein. It also has over 20 trace minerals and vitamins. This little berry packs a punch!

The secret to this no-cook jam is the chia seeds. By soaking them in water, the seeds gel up to form the jam-like texture. Outside of this gelling behavior, chia seeds are also considered a superfood for their impressive nutritional content that includes a good amount of  Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, fiber and protein.

So whether you are having this jam on sprouted toast for breakfast or in almond butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, you will be well on your way to having your core nutritional needs met. If you are new to goji berries then it is important to note that they are not as sweet as a strawberry. If you need to add another tablespoon of honey to please your palate- go for it.

No-Cook Superfood Jam
By: Living Life Granola
1 1/2 cups dried goji berries
3 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp local raw honey
Enough filtered water to cover and soak the goji berries

*Buy organic when possible.

Place the dried goji berries in a bowl and cover with filtered water. Let soak for 20 minutes.

Take 1 cup of the water that the goji berries have been soaking in and place that water in another small bowl. Leave any remaining water in with the berries. Put the chia seeds in the goji water and soak the seeds for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fully drain the goji berries and place them, along with the chia gel and honey, into a blender and pulse to mix. Pour into three glass jelly jars. Store one in the fridge for immediate consumption and the other two jars in the freezer for later use. When storing in the fridge consume within 1 week.

I have found myself forgoing my usual breakfast smoothie to have this jam on sprouted toast with some ghee- so yummy! It is also nice to know my kids are getting a healthy dose of fiber, calcium and antioxidants even if they are just eating an AB&J for lunch (almond butter recipe here). This jam can be made with all sorts of berries so, if you have a favorite, give it a try!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Homemade Sun Soother Spray

This past weekend was gorgeous. Flip-flops, bare shoulders and shade-of-Casper-leg-baring gorgeous. So of course I got a sunburn. Red hair and more than 15 minutes in the sun do not mix so now I'm mixing up a batch of my sun soother spray to make life tolerable again.

This soothing spray combines ingredients that help heal and treat skin damage from the sun. The main ingredient is natural aloe vera gel (not the neon green goo at the stores) that accelerates healing and hydrates the skin. Apple cider vinegar helps to draw the heat out of the sun burn and lessen the pain. Vitamin E and green tea extract are used for their anti-oxidant benefits to help curtail any free radical damage from the sun. The blend also has a healthy dose of lavender essential oil that is anti-inflammatory as well as an analgesic (pain reliever).

Obviously, prevention is key but when you do slip up this spray is a life saver.

Sun Soother Spray
By Living Life Granola
1/2 cup natural aloe vera gel
2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp vitamin E oil
20 drops lavender essential oil
15 drops green tea extract

Place all the ingredients in a 4oz glass spray bottle. Shake before use. Store in the fridge and use within 6 months.

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturday blog series.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How Deep Breathing can Transform Your Health

Many philosophies on Earth believe that life begins and ends with breath. It's human nature to take breathing for granted. We generally don't even think of the process until we have a cold that blocks the airways and makes breathing a struggle.  In ancient Ayurvedic texts, breathing is considered the most important food we can consume. When you consider that we can survive for days without food and water but only minutes without air, it is evident that breath really is life.

Breath is also the link between the body, mind and spirit- which are the three pillars of health. You cannot have perfect health if one of these three pillars are unbalanced. Cool biology fact: breathing is the only function of the body that is completely voluntary and involuntary. By manipulating our breath we can expand the consciousness, move past our egos and experience the source of universal energy...a.k.a being connected to everything. Before you write this off as hokey new-age tomfoolery, the scientific-proven health benefits of deep breathing, for even a few minutes a day, are pretty amazing.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known Harvard trained medical doctor and father of the integrated health-care movement, has said that if he had to give just one piece of advice to help maintain health it would be to work with your breath. The benefits are gradual and cumulative- they include treatment of:
  • high blood pressure
  • cold hands
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • benign cardiac arrhythmias
  • anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
They also assist in:
  • improved digestion (better assimilation of nutrients from your organic groceries!)
  • decreased oxidative stress
  • helping to preserve telomere length in the cells (shorter telomeres are a bio marker for aging)
  • detoxing by initiating movement of the lymph fluid through the lymphatic vessels which in turn carries nutrients throughout the body and efficiently collects cellular waste while helping to eradicate pathogens
  • enhancing well-being (huge stress reliever!) 

Stress is part of life. It is what gives us our fight-or-flight response but in today's world our stress is out of control and effectively damages all three of our health pillars (body, mind and spirit). All of us have a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous-system. The sympathetic nervous-system is responsible for the fight-or-flight response along with the subsequent stress and anxiety. It also triggers the stress hormone cortisol. The parasympathetic nervous-system allows the body to relax and decrease anxiety- something we all need a lot more of in our life! Deep breathing actually increases the ratio of parasympathetic to sympathetic nervous-system activity bringing the body into a state of well-being.

All of these benefits are attainable with only a few minutes of deep breathing in the morning and again in the evening. There are so many different breathing techniques from exercises that relax you to ones that even help wake you up! The one I have been practicing for a couple of years now, and will share below, is Dr. Weil's Relaxation Breath (This link will bring you to a video of Dr. Weil performing this breath work.) and takes under five minutes to complete each time (when doing 8 breaths). I do my morning practice while my tea is brewing and the evening one right before I hit the hay for a fantastic way to de-stress and fall right to sleep.

Dr. Weil's Relaxation Breath

 As you breathe in through your nose, bring attention to your abdomen and feel it expand first, then your lungs and finally your shoulders. As you exhale feel your shoulders lower, the lungs deflate and consciously pull your stomach in towards your back.

  1.  Place the tip of your tongue against the skin behind your front teeth and keep it there for the entire exercise.
  2. Exhale through your mouth making a whooshing sound until their is no more breath left.
  3. Inhale deeply through the nose to a count of 4 with the mouth closed but tongue still in the yogic position (step 1).
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  5. Exhale making the whooshing sound again to a count of 8.
  6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 three more times for a total of 4 breaths. After practicing this for a month, you can increase to a total of 8 breaths.

Since I do this as my cheaters meditation (20 minutes morning and night- who has time for that?!) I perform this exercise in lotus pose (criss-cross applesauce) with my hands on my thighs, pointer finger and thumb touching. However, you can lie down if that is more comfortable for you. Since I have been doing this for a while now, I go up to 8 breaths and extend the time between my counts. For example, when I inhale to a count of 4, by the time I count to four, 8 or more seconds have gone by. The actual time is not important but keeping to the counts of 4, 7 and 8 and focusing on your breath is what you are aiming for.

Deep breathing exercises, outside of meditation, is the only health practice that I can think of that has profound benefits for body, mind and spirit and it is completely FREE! No expensive gym membership, home equipment or organic groceries. Just you, your body and a quiet room. See what peace can bring you!


Weil, Andrew. Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
     1997. Print

Weil, Andrew. Health and Healing. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,
     1998. Print

Weil, Andrew. Healthy Aging: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
     2005. Print

Kshirsagar, Suhas G. The Hot Belly Diet: New York: Atria Books,
     2014. Print

Monday, April 20, 2015

Maple Almond Granola

For my blog's one year anniversary it seemed appropriate to share a recipe for its namesake. This is the only cereal my family consumes and was inspired from this recipe. Most granola recipes that I have come across, both homemade and from the store, are loaded with sugars- which is not the way I want my family to start their day. The one cup of maple syrup in this recipe may seem like a lot but when it is spread out between twenty half cup servings, it really isn't that bad... and the taste is delicious!

Maple Almond Granola
By: Living Life Granola
4 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
2/3 cups pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

*Please use organic ingredients whenever possible.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a small saucepan melt the coconut oil over low heat.

In a large mixing bowl add the oats, coconut, almonds, pepitas, salt and spices. Stir to mix.

In a small mixing bowl add the maple syrup, coconut oil and extracts. Whisk to combine then add to the oat mixture, mixing well to coat.

Divide the granola between two baking sheets that have at least a 1 inch rim. Place length-wise in the oven side-by-side on the middle rack. After 10 minutes, take the granola out and stir. Replace back in the oven. Repeat two more times for a total bake time of 30 minutes.

Let cool and then store in an airtight container. Consume within one month. 1/2 cup is a serving size.

If your day must start with cereal (like some people in my house) then this protein and fiber filled granola is a great alternative to the sugar-filled atrocities on store shelves. You can add dried fruit after it comes out of the oven or even just add it to your bowl along with your almond milk. This granola is also yummy on top of yogurt parfaits and even just snacking on by the handful. 

It has been a fun year and I look forward to the time ahead. As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing my journey!

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Have a Plastic-Free Kitchen with Kids

In a continuation of my resolution to reduce plastic usage this year, here are some tips to having a plastic-free kitchen... even with kids. Yes, this is completely possible and, No, we haven't had a little one go the the hospital (yet... knock on wood!) due to a laceration from broken glass. One-hundred years ago they didn't have plastic in the kitchen, and yet, I can't recall my grandparents, or parents for that matter, relaying any horrifying stories about child maiming due to glass dinnerware. Now, I'm not saying to serve your toddler lunch on Great Aunt Alice's china but there a couple of ways to go about this in a kid-friendly fashion. It's important to note that using less plastic is not only fantastic for this planet but it also greatly reduces the amount of BPA, phthalates and PVC that leaches into your childrens' food and drinks. (You can find out why plastic sucks here.)


Glass jelly jars (upper right hand corner of the photo): When I was growing up, whenever we went to either one of my grandparents house, we kids drank out of glass jelly jars. They are the perfect size for little hands and made of thick glass- so unless you are whipping these at a brick wall, they are pretty sturdy even when dropped. When my son was graduating to big kid cups, I found six of these at the local GoodWill store for forty-nine cents each. We haven't had one break in all the years we have been using them, but even if one did- who cares, it was forty-nine cents!

Ikea glass bowls and plates: At a dollar a piece, again, it is not going to be heart breaking if a kid drops and breaks one. Coincidentally, after years of using these dishes only one bowl and one plate have been broken. The plate because I decided to reheat my lunch on it in the toaster oven (not one of my more intelligent moments) and the bowl because it accidentally slipped out of my 14 year-old's hands as she was rinsing it in the sink. The 8 and 2 year old haven't broken one yet- go figure. On a important side note: because these are clear glass and do not have a protective glaze, you do not have to worry about lead or cadmium leaching into the food which is a possibility with ceramic and porcelain dinnerware.

Oneida Toddler Flatware:  At about $25 per six piece set this is more of an investment. This is a great item to put on the baby registry. We have one set for Poppy and I still have a couple of pieces from my set when I was little, so it makes great heirloom pieces as well. Plastic toddler forks, especially, are useless. They simply are not made to pierce food. The stainless steel flatware (in my humble opinion) is more efficient in teaching children the skills needed to eat with utensils. Though we haven't used these ourselves, Ikea has a stainless steel children set that includes a spoon, fork and knife for a bargain at $5.

Thrift store saucers (in between the clear glass bowl and plate in the above photo): Up until Poppy was two we just put her food right on the wood highchair tray. Now that she is using utensils, we serve her meals on little saucer plates from an old tea set of mine. Thrift stores are a gold mine for these plates. With firm but kind direction, she knows that the plate stays on her highchair tray while she is eating. When she is finished eating, she lifts the plate with both hands, says "no" and passes the plate to me. No thrown plates...yet!


Thermos brand food jars: These can be found at any Target store and are indispensable for a warm packed lunch. My older kids use the food jars for soup and keeping reheated leftovers warm for school lunches. If you work in an office this is a great way for a hot lunch without having to use the health-zapping microwave.

Norpor Silicone Ice Pop Mold: From smoothies to applesauce, these molds are a lunchtime favorite with my kids. I love them because they cut down on the countless individual packing of single serve lunch items ubiquitous in today's school lunches.

Stainless Steel Water bottles: It is great to see just as many stainless steel water bottles on the store shelves as plastic nowadays. You may have to pay a little bit more for the stainless steel but even if you purchase a BPA-free plastic bottle, you are still dealing with phthalates and PVC that can and will leach into the water being stored in it.

Reusable sandwich and snack bags: At $14 for a set of three, this is a slow-to-build collection for us but well worth the wait! The amount of plastic sandwich bags getting thrown out everyday in school lunch rooms is staggering.


Gerber glass baby bottles (pictured below): These can be found at any chain box store and go for $9 for a set of three, which for glass baby bottles are a steal! We used these for Poppy's first year and loved them- never had one break either!

Ikea coffee spoons: Once baby starts solids, you can go through a lot of baby spoons. The Oneida baby spoons were too expensive to stock up on so we used Ikea's coffee spoons (pictured crossing in the bottom right-hand side of the photo above). At $5 for a six pack, it was an economic way to have plenty of baby spoons on hand without breaking the bank. It looks like Ikea changed their design (from the link above) from two years ago but any stainless steel coffee or espresso spoons make great baby spoons.

Small ceramic bowls: These can be found anywhere and are great for baby's first cereal and other soft foods. Since you are the one holding the bowl to feed baby there are no safety issues from dropped dishes or from chemicals leaching from plastic bowls.

Stainless steel sippy cup: We bought the Thermos brand sippy cup from Meijer for $10 but they are at any big box store. Since Poppy only drinks water in this sippy cup, it just gets rinsed out well every night and washed out every few days. The screw on lid is plastic but the straw and spout are made from silicone.

Big brother, Kaleb, helping to feed Poppy out of her Gerber glass baby bottle.

With just a few changes and some thrift store finds, your kitchen can be child-friendly and plastic-free. Not only is this healthier for your child and planet, it is teaching your children valuable lessons and setting up habits that will last a life time. You might find going plastic-free is a whole new freedom in itself.

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Crock Pot Beef Stew with Pastured Soup Bones

A good slow-cooker meal is worth its weight in gold. However, by using soup bones in place of the stew meat you can actually save that gold ($$) and up the nutritional content as well. (You can read about the benefits of bone broth here and pastured meat here.) The pastured soup bones I use have a good amount of meat on them and go for $3.90 for about .70 pounds. Depending on how much meat you like you can use one to two soup bones for the stew.

Crock Pot Beef Stew with Pastured Soup Bones
By: Living Life Granola
1-2 soup bones (under 1lb each)
2 carrots, peeled, large chop
2 sm. or med. potatoes, scrubbed, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
1- 14oz can Eden or Muir Glen brand, diced tomatoes (they don't use BPA in the can lining)
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 tbsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (this helps extract the minerals from the bone)
1-1/2 cups bone broth or filtered water

Rice to serve.

Use organic ingredients whenever possible.

Brown soup bone(s) for 2 minutes per side and place in the bottom of the crock pot. Add the rest of the ingredients into the crock and mix gently, keeping the soup bone(s) on the bottom. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Take out the soup bone(s) and shred the meat and discard the bone(s). Return the meat to the crock. Serve in bowls over rice.

This is one of my favorite meals and it makes the house smell like Emeril has been cooking up a storm in your kitchen for hours. After I have the crock pot all set up, I will put one cup of rice into a saucepan with warm water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to soak for 8 hours before it gets boiled. This allows the rice to become more digestible and not as irritating to the digestive track. (A post on soaking and sprouting is coming up, I promise!) This is a great recipe to try if you are new to pastured meats and trying to cut back on the amount of meat consumed during a meal. Enjoy!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturday blog series.