Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Organic Spices, Making the Switch

After reading a post by The Food Babe, I started thinking about how long I'd had our spice rack and decided it was time to refresh it. That doesn't mean I went right out and replaced all my spices right away. That is kind of a big investment all at once. I learned that spices have a shelf life of about 6-12 months and my spice rack had been around a couple years. Yuck. When I saw this new spice rack at Costco, I couldn't resist and had to buy it! Too good of a deal to pass up and plus it looks nice on the kitchen counter. For around twenty bucks, I at least was starting with fresh spices.




Because we have started to use our Crock Pot more I've had more recipes call for spices I didn't have on hand. Since I would be buying these individually, I decided I would opt for going organic. Spices have benefits far beyond adding flavor to our foods and since we've switched many of our food items to organic over the last few years, it made sense to pay more attention to having quality organic spices on hand. In the past I wasn't in the practice of using a lot of spices - but that is all changing with our commitment to meal planning. See two of our favorite new family meal rotations here and here. I will be adding more organic spices with each trip to the store. The first trip I picked up 3 Simple Truth Organic spices.



When I was at Ralphs on my last grocery shopping trip, the store employee who helped me was very helpful in pointing out the "Simple Truth Organic" tabs that stick out on the shelves to help shoppers identify organic items. They didn't have every spice I needed that day in the organic brand... so I may have to make a trip to one of the other health food stores in my area as I continue making the switch.

Is your family switching to organic? What have you switched so far? If you are already buying organic spices, where do you buy yours?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stonyfield Made me a Winner at ShiftCon!

Upon checking in at ShiftCon, Elizabeth and I, my carpool buddy and roommate, went into the Expo hall.... we had so much to talk about both on the drive to and from the conference and every night after a full day of conferencing. I hold her responsible for my lack of sleep, and equally responsible for my heightened awareness to subjects that are not on my radar. You can check out her blog here.



The first brand we came upon was Stonyfield, and they were ready to feed us! Eating this Greek and Chia yogurt hit the spot after the nearly 3 hour drive from San Diego. I love that they had biodegradable spoons for us to use rather than  typical plastic spoons most other conferences would have.... it's all about the shift, baby!



Melanie and Kristina got us excited about participating in the conference conversation on twitter by using the hashtags #ShiftCon and #ShiftHappens.



I was so glad to spend a few minutes talking to Melanie and Kristina because they were warm, funny and wanted to know about us and our blogs. Why I don't have a picture with them, I do not know!

They gave me my very own "Multiple Organisms Make Me Happy" t shirts which I love and wear proudly.... all while having had a few double takes!




On the morning that The Food Babe gave a keynote at ShiftCon, I was among several winners drawn at breakfast for tweeting during the conference and sharing the amazing things we were learning from both break out sessions and brands and each other. I just knew I would win something too. I was reminded of a feeling when I won a yearbook in middle school. Good luck is not even what I would call it, rather a good energy vibe around what is happening, a shift if you will, in commitment  Now, when I was the first winner announced, that kinda blew me away, and when the prize was from Stonyfield, that made it even more awesome! I really didn't hear what I had won, just that it was Stonyfield and that was enough for me to be excited. People might have thought I was a bit crazy cuz I jumped up and hollered with a big WOO-HOO! It is so much fun to win something that you really want and will use rather than something you may not be familiar with or would never use... so I was thrilled!

Here's what I won:



A couple years ago one of my friends put me in touch with Stonyfield to sponsor our snacks at an event I was hosting and they were wonderful to work with, sending enough for every baby and toddler and parent to enjoy, plus sending a couple of great prize packs for our opportunity drawing. Ever since then I've been hooked on the Stonyfield brand. I love their mission statement which I found on their Facebook page:

At Stonyfield, we obsess over everything we put into our delicious organic yogurt, milk, frozen yogurt and smoothies, and everything we keep out. By saying no to toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics and GMOs, we say yes to healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet.

This just happens to be my new favorite!



After hearing Gary Hirschberg give a talk on the first night of ShiftCon I was even more sold. What this brand stands for in their care for people generations to come is inspiring. I made sure to get a quick photo op with him because I see him as a true leader in our fight for real food who was a crusader before there was a crusade. When people walk the walk like Gary has done for so many years and educate others by giving talks and listening to moms share their stories, that will stay with you forever. Just a little thank you to Gary for what he is doing.



Early registration is going on now for ShiftCon 2015. I look forward to seeing you there! I have a feeling Stonyfield will be back as a sponsor and who knows, maybe I'll win another one of their awesome prizes.

Organic Lime & Cilantro Chili

When we were at the school's Monster Mash on Friday, I was catching up with one of our neighbors who has been suffering from some chronic back pain recently. She shared how it has resulted in making more "boxed" meals or processed foods which she said was not ideal, but she has been limited.  I was so excited about the freezer slow cooker meals I'd made on Sunday and discovered her family loves chili. It just so happens that I prepared two of these since I was pretty confident that my family would like it. Instead I'm taking one over to her family tomorrow. I've had my own difficulties with lower back pain and know it can wreck havoc on your intentions to cook healthy meals. Just another reason why freezer slow cooker meals totally rock, you get to help a neighbor in a simple, yet meaningful way!

This meal was inspired by New Leaf Wellness and I just loved the fresh sounding name of her chili recipe. I don't think I've ever bought cilantro before, or added lime to anything that wasn't a beverage... so you have a clue to my culinary skills, right now, next to nil. But, I've been following Cook Smarts  and learning a few things over the last several months which was part of my motivation for doing this meal planning!



I followed the recipe pretty closely and felt that even though there were a lot of ingredients, it was really easy to make. It totally helps that my husband browned the ground beef for me. Whenever possible, I used organic items. I had purchased organic black beans the day I went shopping for all my ingredients, but didn't consider that I'd need to soak and sort them... but I'm excited to use them next time! I even purchased organic cumin. The grocery store didn't have organic chili powder. We switched to organic ground beef a couple years ago and just once or twice when we've run out and didn't want to face the Costco crowds, we've run to the closest grocery store and bought regular ground beef. Even my husband commented on the regular ground beef just tasting "off" when we did that... and he was not too keen on my making the decision to slowly switch us to organic in the first place. So, when I heard at ShiftCon that there was recent news on scientific proof that organic food tastes better, I was not surprised. That got me to thinking about my spices.... many in my pantry are well over the 6-12 month shelf life anyway so as I try out new recipes over the next few months I am committing to buying new organic spices to replace the old!



I made some adaptations to New Leaf Wellness Slow Cooker Beef,, Lime & Cilantro Chili and think you will want to take a look at her website to find some other tasty inspirations to try.

Ingredients:
1.33 lbs. organic ground beef (we buy those 3 packs at Costco so that is the weight of 1 pkg)
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15 oz can black beans, drained, rinsed
1/2 cup diced red onion
Juice and zest of one lime
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp organic ground cumin

Toppings:
Shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
Fresh chopped cilantro (don't pass on this!)
Sour Cream
Red onion (I forgot my intention to use what I had reserved from freezer meal prep day!)

Next time I'll likely use twice as much tomato sauce or diced tomatoes since my kids like a chili that is bit more soup-like.

As I was assembling everything I loved the scent of the lime zest combined with the cumin and chili powder, the traditional chili smells,. I knew it was going to be good! This was one of the first meals I assembled and I was so proud to have 2 hearty, flavorful meals to put into my freezer. 


DIRECTIONS:
1. Label your bag before you get started.
2. Brown the ground beef and drain. Allow to sit and cool a few minutes before bagging.
3. Add cooked meat and additional 8 ingredients to freeze ziplog bag. Seal the bag, getting out as much air as possible. Give the bag a good shake and mix ingredients by using hands on outside of the bag to massage ingredients around. I spend a minute or two doing this until everything is evenly distributed and the meat can marinate in the sauce/spices.
4. Lie flat to freeze.
5. Defrost by pulling item out of freezer the night before and putting in the fridge, or leave on counter one hour, or run under warm water for a minute or two. It does not need to be defrosted completely, just enough to open bag and dump ingredients easily into the slow cooker.
6. Grease the inside of your slow cooker. This time I used Chosen Foods 100% Pure Avocado Oil which comes in the form of a spray - making it oh-so-easy! I will tell you more about Chosen Foods in an upcoming post.
7. Cook on low 8 hours. Give a final stir and serve!


HOT TIP: Whenever you find a freezer meal your family loves, make two or three or even four the next time so you really cut down your time spent on each meal. It will help with the grocery shopping too since you just need to buy more of the same ingredients. I've read that most families have just about 20 meals in their rotation, and since these meals can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months, making 4 at a time is maximizing your time and energy and possibly money if you happen upon some incredible discounts.

When we got home from Amberly's softball game, the house smelled of a great fall meal and everyone was hungry! What was so awesome is that I only had to come in and....

1. Prepare the toppings:


2. Prepare some cornbread muffins. We are hooked on Marie Calendars and I just try to ignore the fact that almost ALL corn products in packages are GMO... so if you have a brand you love that is organic and can give me a hot tip, I'll gladly give it a try.


3. And dinner was served!





Recipe rating: 1 to 5 Stars

Joann - 4 stars, I think with the extra tomatoes next time it will be the right consistency for me. I just loved the lime and cilantro flavors playing a medley in my mouth... which was only better when I crumbled my cornbread muffin and ate it altogether.

Cory - 2 stars. He's not hip to "new" flavors of old stand by meals as much as I am. He ate it though and didn't spoil the kids' ratings by saving his comments for last.

Amberly - 5 stars. She loves sour cream so I wondered if this biased her rating. Nope, she tried the chili on it's own, then I asked her to try a bit with just some cilantro and she agreed that the cilantro really adds to the whole flavor of this dish.

Kyle - 2 stars. He didn't eat his taco meat for our taco salad dinner last night either and ground beef seems to be his nemesis. He did point out that he loved the black beans though and ate some of the chili.

Owen - 5 stars. He wanted to give it a 10 star rating! I did not put cilantro on his this time, but plan to leave some on the table for his choosing next time. When presenting a 5yo with something new, best to think of the presentation of the meal so there is a better chance of their embracing it.... in this case it was a total win!

Since my husband either has class or softball two nights a week, this can certainly be added into our rotation of meals and it may just end up on the nights he's not home for dinner.

I can't wait to take the other freezer bag over to my neighbor tomorrow and hear how they like it. I'm curious if you have used your freezer meal stash to help out a friend either with a baby on the way or recovering from an injury. Do you think you'll double up on your meal prepping with this in mind? There's so many ways we can be neighborly even in the rush of this modern day life-style. This alone may be the thing that keeps me motivated to stay on track with my new found love of slow cooker freezer meals.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fortified Pumpkin Oatmeal

We've got pumpkin fever in this house! Yesterday we went to Bates Nut Farm for some good ole fashioned fun. I think we bought more at the store than we should have but there are a few items I was thrilled to find and can't wait to use like Pumpkin Scones, Pumpkin Pie Almonds and Maple Pumpkin Butter.

Since we didn't have any English muffins on hand we couldn't crack into the Maple Pumpkin Butter but thought it would make a perfect topping for our Fortified Pumpkin Oatmeal.... and I was right!



This is just one more thing to use your leftover canned pumpkin puree with if you buy the big cans like I do and never need all of it. You only want to store that in an airtight container in the fridge for about 2 weeks. I try to use mine up sooner than that. Maybe one day I'll get it together enough to buy smaller size freezer ziploc bags and store what I don't use in the freezer.... but for now I don't have to worry about it because we have been on a Pumpkin Craze!

Here's what you'll need:

2 cups organic milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups oats
3 tbsp raw shelled hemp seeds



Kitchen tools:

Medium pot
Liquid measuring cup
Dry measuring cups
measuring spoons
Stirring spoon

Combine first 5 items in a medium size pot over medium-high heat, stir ingredients and watch for the mil mixture to boil, it will happen pretty quickly. When it begins to boil, add oats and hemp seeds. Reduce heat to low, give a good stir and cover for 3-5 minutes stirring occasionally.

After spooning the oatmeal into the bowl I warmed just a couple teaspoons of the Pumpkin Maple Butter in the microwave to drizzle over the oatmeal and I was delighted with the addition.


We like to keep it healthy in this house, but I've got a sweet tooth so we try to find a balance. That's why I use organic milk and add the hemp seeds for protein. This is a breakfast treat I look forward to making again and again. Adding the Maple Pumpkin Butter sweet topping to perfect this autumn breakfast was just right.




What are your favorite fall breakfast treats?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Organic Mexican Fiesta Chicken in the Slow Cooker

All of my kids are in sports, my daughter is currently playing both soccer and softball... and my husband decided it was time for him to get back into rec sports in addition to attending class one evening a week. Well, as you might imagine, this makes for pretty busy weeknights and dinner hour has become less of a priority over the last couple of months. Oh, my husband is also the coach for one of my son's soccer team and I'm team mom... there's so much commitment to all of these things that something got pushed off our plate. Dinner. Not that we've ever been really great at planning ahead for dinner, but now we're always leaving it to last minute and grabbing more of the less than desirable box meals, or eating fast food. Really not a match for my nutrition standards. I've been pinning meal ideas for nearly 2 years. It was time to start making some of these meals!

This is the first of five recipes I prepared the other night. It was my first time ever doing this, so I did not worry myself with trying to be quick. Instead, once we find a few meals we love, I will make extras of those and that will make the process quicker.

My family loves Mexican food, so when I started looking for slow cooker freezer meals I thought this one over at Graciously Saved would work well for us. I've made some adaptations to fit our family, feel free to try it my way or add your own fiesta flavors!


































Perks of this particular freezer meal, only 7 ingredients and no pre-cooking needed. There are a lot of ways to serve this meal, over rice, in a tortilla bowl, atop corn tortilla chips as a taco salad or in a burrito. Easy to double up your freezer meal planning. Because of the beans and corn it really is a hearty meal. It cooks in 4-5 hours so it is perfect for those days your morning routine goes awry and you don't think about starting a crock pot meal.

Ingredients:
4 organic chicken breasts
1 pkg of taco seasoning
2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes
1 cup organic frozen corn
1 can (14 oz) black beans rinsed and drained 



Note: 
I was going to use organic black beans but did not plan adequately to prepare them the day before - so canned it was. The original recipe called for rice or barley which I omitted because I'm not a fan of those for my made at home Mexican meals.

Toppings and Extras:
Organic salsa 
Shredded cheddar 
Diced organic avocado 
Flour tortillas to make tortilla bowls for the kids
Organic corn chips for the adults to scoop



Directions:
1. Label your bag before you get started.
2. Add rinsed chicken breasts to the freezer bag followed by the other 7 ingredients. Seal the bag, getting out as much air as possible. Give the bag a good shake and mix ingredients by using hands on outside of the bag to massage ingredients around. I spend a minute or two doing this so everything is evenly distributed and the meat can marinate in the sauce/spices.
3. Lie flat to freeze
4. Defrost by pulling item out of freezer the night before and putting in the fridge, or leave on counter one hour, or run under warm water for a minute or two. It does not need to be defrosted completely, just enough to open bag and dump ingredients easily into the slow cooker.
5. Grease the inside of the slow cooker. I use Nutiva coconut oil.
6. Cook on low 4-5 hours. 
7. Shred chicken. Give a final stir. Serve.

Kitchen Tools:

Ziploc freezer bag
Sharpie - label freezer bag 
Can opener
Box grater
Measuring spoons
Measuring cup
Kitchen scissors - cutting open packages
Colander - to rinse the black beans
2 medium mixing bowls - one for putting rinsed chicken in & one to collect trash as you go
a square or rectangular plastic food container - this works well to stand your freezer bag in

Results:



This meal was an overall winner! I took a bite without the salsa topping first so I could get a sense of the taste of the dish on it's own merit and was pleased, not thrilled, but that's because we think it needed more spice. I especially enjoyed it when I ate it with these sweet chile corn tortilla chips. I discovered them at ShiftCon. Let me warn you that they are "way better" and perhaps addictive.
Check them Way Better Snacks and tell me if you agree!



Recipe Rating: 1 to 5 stars

Joann - 4 stars, would like to have more spice. Would like to add to our rotation every few weeks.

Cory - 4 stars, needs a little more kick. Would like to add this every couple of weeks.

Amberly - 4.5 stars. Twice a month

Kyle - 3 stars. Once a month

Owen - 1 star. Never. He's been picky about chicken in general lately. 

There was PLENTY of leftovers. My husband had seconds and there's enough for two people to have lunch - which one of those people will be me.


This is an easy freezer meal to double for your meal planning day. I had a gut feeling this was going to be a winner so I doubled it my first time making it. Since I have one more in the freezer I'm going to add an extra pkg of seasoning to the slow cooker and see how it turns out. Because there are such a variety of ways to serve this dish I am going to make 4 next time, since they can keep fro 3 months that will be just right. I think I will even try one with organic chicken thighs. 

So what do you think? Will you give this a try?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Fortified Pumpkin Muffins

Sometimes I want something with pumpkin flavor that is sweet - but don't want all the guilt of eating a traditional pumpkin dessert or pastry. That's when we make my fortified pumpkin muffins!



Years ago after getting Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious, I began to take extra effort to incorporate purees where I could and see if there were other things I could do to make something a little healthier for the entire family.

When October rolls around, one of the first pumpkin things I buy is the Krusteaz pumpkin bread mix at Costco. If I can keep it easy and not make it from scratch that's just what a busy mom's gotta do sometimes.

Here's how we adapt the Krusteaz pkg instructions to add a little bit of goodness to make these muffins even better...

Ingredients:






































1 pkg of Krusteaz pumpkin spice quick bread mix (has real pieces of pecan)
2 organic eggs
1/3 cup Nutiva coconut oil, melted OR 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
3 TBSP of Nutiva organic hemp
a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice
60 Enjoy Life dark chocolate morsels (so much better than that "other" brand)
about a tsp of Nutiva coconut oil to grease the muffin tin

Kitchen Tools:



Muffin tin pan
Medium mixing bowl
Small dish for cracking eggs
Scissors
Spatula
Ice cream scoop
Liquid measuring cup
Regular measuring cup


Directions:

Turn oven to 400 degrees
Grease muffin tin with coconut oil. I use a sandwich baggie.
Mix the first 5 ingredients in the mixing bowl. When it is pumpkin season I use the pumpkin puree if I have it, otherwise I use Nutiva coconut oil in place of any vegetable oil that is called for in any baking recipe.
Scoop batter into muffin tin evenly to make 12 muffins.
Top each muffin with 5 dark chocolate morsels.
Put into the oven and bake 18-22 minutes

As soon as they come out my kids are grabbing for these! See how one is missing before I got a chance to take a photo?




I am happy to have learned that Nutiva has a whole line of super foods that I look forward to using to fortify more of our meals and snacks. We've been using their coconut oil for a number of years and I really had no idea all of the other products they make until they became a sponsor of Shift Con, an Eco-wellness blogger conference.

Do you have any tricks in your apron pocket to give foods a boost in health benefits?



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Getting Ready for ShiftCon

Yesterday I woke up with a bit of an eye irritation and decided it was best to wear my glasses all day to give my eyes a rest from my contacts. My optometrist says as we get older our eyes do not produce as much moisture as they once did and contact wearers notice it even more as the eyes get dry.

Well, I was taking my daughter and her friends out for her birthday celebration and wanted to put in my contacts so I thought given I'd rested my eyes all  day from contacts I'd be good to go. Wrong.

When I took my contacts out last night my left eye was red. Like, really red. I woke up and checked my eye in the middle of the night - still red.

Great. I leave to a conference in two days and don't want to be a zombie-eyed blogger.

So, this morning the first thing I did after dropping the kids off at school was run to Sprouts Farmers Market and buy this:



I've probably bought 4 boxes of this good stuff over the last year and I'm still ahead in saving money compared to the expensive $90 prescription the optometrist wrote for me a year ago when this eye irritation got really bad. That on top of the fee for the visit! And it happened again 2 months later.... I had a bad habit of falling asleep with my contacts in which exacerbated the problem. After having two expensive eye doctor visits with medication, I decided to see if there were any holistic treatments or homeopathic remedies and sure enough one of my favorite brands, Boiron, creates something that not only gets the job done, but saves me money AND keeps crazy chemicals out of my body.

With Optique 1 I never have to worry about how many drops to use because there are sterile single use doses which means I can stick some in my purse and use when needed.... which is likely what I'll be doing for ShiftCon this weekend.

As it turns out Boiron will be at ShiftCon and I will have to give a big hug to their PR team for turning me onto their products a few years ago!

Looking forward to seeing many friends this weekend for the first conference of it's kind.

You can follow the conversation on twitter using #ShiftHappens