Enjoying summer’s bounty

I don’t know about you, but our garden is producing vegetables by the truckload. I am now overcome with zucchini, squash, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. It can be hard to use every single vegetable, but it is my personal challenge to make this happen!

This weekend, I made two loaves of zucchini-peach bread, which used up one zucchini and two peaches I had kicking around. We also had tomato and cucumber sandwiches for lunch and pasta Parmesan with zucchini and tomatoes for dinner. For Sunday lunch, I made a Mexican lasagna ahead so it just needed to be baked and topped with tomatoes. Dinner included a Baked Zucchini Gratin and Quick Pickled Cucumbers.

Enjoying the summer’s bounty is also a great opportunity to add meat-free meals to your cooking repertoire. Here are some of the recipes I made this weekend:

This quick Mexican Lasagna was delicious and filling!

This quick Mexican Lasagna was delicious and filling!

Quick Mexican Lasagna

You Will Need:

Large Pie Dish
6 tortillas (I used flour, but corn or gluten-free would also work)
Refried beans
Whole beans (black, pinto or cannellini all work well – 1 can)
Can of Mexicorn
Can of Diced Tomatoes with chiles
Shredded Cheese (taco cheese, cheddar or monterey jack is fine)
1/2 cup cream cheese (I used leftover whipped cream cheese, but any kind should be fine)

Instruction:
1. Drain beans, corn and most of the liquid from the diced tomatoes with chiles.
2. In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients except tortillas and cheese. Make sure it is well incorporated.
3. Put 1/3 of the bean mixture in the bottom of the pie plate.
4. Top with three tortillas to cover as much as possible.
5. Layer in half of the remaining bean mixture.
6. Top with three more tortillas to cover bean mixture.
7. Add remaining bean mixture and top with shredded cheese.

At this point, you can refrigerate the Mexican lasagna until you are ready to use it. When you are ready, pop it into a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and lasagna is heated through. Top with homegrown tomatoes and anything else you might like such as black olives or sour cream. Enjoy!

Baked Zucchini Gratin

Zucchini is abundant in the summer; try some new recipes to enjoy it!

Zucchini is abundant in the summer; try some new recipes to enjoy it!

The world is full of new zucchini recipes, especially during the summer. I whipped this up for our Sunday dinner and it was delicious!

You Will Need:

Baking dish (mine was 9.5 x 11, but any size should work)
1-2 zucchinis depending on size
Half stick butter (could also use olive or coconut oil)
Melting cheese (I used Monterey Jack)
Parmesan cheese
Bread crumbs

Instructions:
1. Slice the zucchini thinly. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In large skillet, melt butter and add sliced zucchini. Toss to coat with butter, add salt and pepper. Cook about 2-3 minutes.
3. Pour zucchini into baking dish.
4. Top with shredded Parmesan and shredded melting cheese.
5. Top with shaking of bread crumbs.
6. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until it is bubbling and browned on top.

Serve warm and enjoy!

What are your favorite summer vegetable recipes?

Just a little taste…

Enjoy these green chicken enchiladas for a weekday quick-fix.

Enjoy these green chicken enchiladas for a weekday quick-fix.

Hummus and black beans are two of my go-to ingredients for a quick and filling fix.

Hummus and black beans are two of my go-to ingredients for a quick and filling fix.

I’m back! I’ve been busy since the last time we spoke. I started a Masters program and we went on vacation, so there hasn’t been much time for blogging. But I wanted to stop in for a quick chat today.

So how is everyone?

Here in coastal Delaware, the weather has been amazing. Huge thunderstorms and then gorgeous beach-perfect weather. My family headed up to Long Island last week to soak in the sun and enjoy the beautiful waters of the Long Island Sound. It was a great trip and no one killed anyone! The kids were superstars and Mommy and Daddy managed to keep our wits about us in the face of an energetic 3-year-old and a giggly infant.

Now back to our regular routine, I am determined to get back to healthy eating. Food on vacation is generally sub-par, meaning we eat more fries and pies than we should! But, we still have a busy schedule and need some quick fixes that are also filling and healthy.

Here are a few quick bites that are my go-to recipes when I am trying to eat healthier.

Toss Together Wrap

You Will Need:

* tortilla (flour, corn or gluten-free)
* black beans (leftovers work great)
* hummus
* tomatoes or leftover homemade salsa with onions, garlic and cilantro
* avocado, mashed

Spread all of the ingredients over your tortilla, roll up and enjoy! The hummus and beans will fill you up!

Green Chicken Quick Dinner Enchiladas

You Will Need:

* Chicken (frozen thighs or breasts work)
* Slow Cooker or Crockpot
* Green Enchilada sauce (tomatillos, garlic, onion, green or red tomatoes, green chiles, jalapeno or dash hot sauce, water, and simmer on stove until it turns into a sauce. You can blend it up to make it less chunky)

Place frozen or thawed chicken in slow cooker with sauce to just cover. Cook on low for eight hours or high for four hours until chicken is cooked through. This can all be happening while you are at work.

Then when you get home, preheat the oven to 350, take the chicken out of the slow cooker and chop up. Create an assembly line with the following items:

* Tortillas (use medium or burrito size)
* Prepared chicken
* Jarred or homemade salsa
* Cheese (can be taco cheese or just mozzarella – I use whatever I have in the fridge)
* Black beans

In a pan on the stove, boil a few ladles of the sauce from the slow cooker. Then ladle into the bottom of a large flat baking dish. Assemble the enchiladas – with the tortilla flat in your hand, put a couple spoons of chicken, beans, salsa and then top with shredded cheese. Place in the baking dish. Fill the dish with your enchiladas and top with the remaining sauce and more cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Pair with a green salad and some sour cream for a delicious and nutritious meal.

What are your favorite quick meals?

The downfalls of sugary drinks

Is sugar sidetracking your weight loss?

Is sugar sidetracking your weight loss?

Summer is a time for fun and picnics and parties, but it can also be a hazard for our health and diets!

I came to this realization after I stepped on the scale this morning expecting to see at least a pound or two less. Instead, I saw an extra pound! So, I started thinking about why I would have gained instead of lost during a weekend filled with lots of exercise and activity. It comes down to sugary drinks.

All weekend, instead of sipping water like I usually do, I was enjoying sweetened iced tea, lemonade and coffee with added sweetener. All of these beverages adds up to too many calories!

While indulging in some sweetness isn’t a bad thing at all and I certainly don’t recommend giving up our treats, extra sugar can mean extra pounds for both ourselves and our children. I admit that I am guilty of giving my son a packaged fruit drink every now and then. It might be more in the summer because we are often outside playing and the boxed drink is easier and faster.

But, we should all be wary of sweetened drinks, even if they are fruit based. I certainly don’t want to be adding on pounds during swimsuit season!

Read more about the problems of too much sugar here.

Also try: A Smoothie To End All Sugar Cravings by Mind Body Green. Yum!

Ingredients
• 1 cup frozen blueberries
• 1/2 cup fresh spinach
• 2 cups coconut water
• 1 tbsp chia seeds
• 1 tbsp bee pollen
• 1 tbsp hemp protein powder
• 1 tbsp cacao
• handful of ice

Directions – Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender.

Fitness Friday: Summer detox and chia pudding

Chia pudding - yum!

Chia pudding – yum!

I recently read an article about a woman who had cancer and used a detox diet, along with whole foods and exercise to beat her illness … twice.

Polly Noble won her battles, and she now hosts a website and blog, where she writes about ways to go on a healthy diet.

First things first – detox your body.

I admit, I have done detoxes in the past. While often very strict, I found I had more energy and felt healthier afterward. I also felt more committed to eating healthy food.

Right now, I am feeling very guilty writing to you all about doing a detox, because I know I am having pizza for dinner. But, even in a world where pizza is as much a necessity as toilet paper, the average person can do a detox.

It’s just a matter of deciding to do it and carrying it out. A great time to detox would be before or after the holidays – which, if you didn’t know, are right around the corner.

The before-holiday detox could mean less splurging on high fat foods – but you better get on it, since most detoxes last a week or more.

The after-holiday detox is my plan. After the holidays, I often feel guilty and bloated. It’s the perfect time to get back to basics and prepare your body to shed those pounds in January.

Here are a few tips on creating your own detox program. First cut out all the over-processed foods in your life – this does include pizza, and cheeseburgers and hot dogs and fruitcake. Try to eat whole, natural foods. The more raw food, the better.

1 – The No. 1 rule of detox is to drink lots of water. Water helps flush out all the crud and keeps you hydrated so your body’s metabolism can keep going.

2 – Start a juicing routine. I personally have a juicer that I rarely use. Instead I opt for a basic blender to make smoothies each morning. But, if you have one of those fancy, high-powered juicers or Vitamix machines, pull it out and wipe off the dust because it’s time to juice.

Polly says to go green because adding more greens to your diet, whether eating or juicing them, will help to alkalise your body, send much needed nutrients to your cells for cleansing, repair and regeneration, and not to mention replenish those all important red blood cells.

3 – Use more herbs. Detox diets often offer simple recipes in an effort to keep fats out of our diet. To spice up those meals, add a variety of herbs. Try coriander, rosemary, thyme or oregano. I swear by oregano because it also helps boost the immune system. Polly suggests watercress or parsley because they help cleanse the liver.

4 – Exercise. During your detox, it is important to walk or exercise every day. And, I am not talking about walking to your mailbox; I am talking about an aerobic walk – make it at least a mile.

5 – Practice deep breathing. Polly says according to the ‘Tao of Breathing’ up to 70 percent of our body’s waste products are eliminated via our lungs and the rest through the urine, skin and feces. So when we shallow breathe, less oxygen is available to our cells which slows down the flow of blood carrying waste from the kidneys and lungs.

6 – Add more fiber. I recently purchased a blend of flax and Chia seeds, which I add into our morning smoothies to give the family a hit of fiber. Chia seeds are the new lovechild of the whole-foods industry because they keep people feeling full longer, balance blood sugar, add healthy omega-3s, keep you feeling energized and they can be added to so many recipes without anyone being the wiser. Also, if soaked, they turn into a gel that can be made into some delicious pudding treats.

Recipe Alert!
Chia pudding with fruit

You Will Need:

1/2 cup cashews

1 cup water

3/4 cup berries, such as raspberries, strawberries or blueberries (fresh or frozen are both fine)

3 tablespoons of honey (or agave nectar)

1 tablespoon raw cacao powder

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract)

4 tablespoons of chia seeds (Reserve – do not put them in the blender!! Add at end)

Instructions:

1. Throw everything in the blender EXCEPT THE CHIA SEEDS!

2. Blend in a high-speed blender ’til very very well blended. You can’t really overblend this, so feel free to go nuts.

3. Place the chia seeds in a large bowl. Slowly pour the blender concoction over the chia seeds, and stir very well.

4. Stir – Probably take the bowl with you in front of the TV and stir for 10 minutes or so. The purpose of all this stirring is to help the chia seeds declump and plump up. Remember, the chia seeds are like tapioca and they will expand in size. Try not to eat too much of the pudding now. Just take a few tiny spoonfulls and that’s it!! Don’t eat the whole bowl in front of the TV because it gets even better once it’s been refrigerated for an hour or two!

5. Refrigerate – Once everything is nicely stirred and there are no clumps, cover and refrigerate for an hour or two. The purpose of doing this is to let the chia seeds plump up over time. You could probably let this chia seed fruit pudding sit on the counter for the same amount of time rather than refrigerate it.

Source: The Rawtarian
There are tons of other tips and meal plans out there for a detox diet, so find the one that works best for you!

How the Bible teaches us to live

The front of the Holy Spirit box.

The front of the Holy Spirit box.


Droolface has recently started going to Sunday School and even though I grew up in church, I am amazed by what he has learned so far.

The lessons are boiled down so a child can understand them, but they still give enough of a message to be worth it. The messages are ones that we all could stand to remember – messages of love, peace, and self-control.

The Bible has a lot to teach children. The stories show how an average person can be brave even when in danger. Noah stood against all those around him to build a boat because God told him to do it. Daniel showed courage even in the lion’s den. These lessons can help ease a child’s mind when so much of the world seems loud and scary.

In an effort to bring some of these messages into our everyday lives, we made a Holy Spirit box. Using some simple craft supplies – a small wooden box, some glue-on decorations and paper – we now have a box that we refer to every night before bed.

Print out a dove like this one to paste on the front of your box.

Print out a dove like this one to paste on the front of your box.

A small wooden box like this one costs less than $5 at a craft store.

A small wooden box like this one costs less than $5 at a craft store.

For less than $5 you can get a similar box from Michael’s. Using a felt-tip pen or permanent marker, write “Holy Spirit” at the top of the box and “Help Me” at the bottom of the cover of the box. In between the words, paste a printed-out dove, like the one shown here. Then your child can decorate the box with any sort of decals or glue-on decorations they like.

On your computer, print out a sheet of words that the Holy Spirit could help your kids do. For example, we have “to have self-control,” “to be joyful,” “to be gentle,” “to live in peace,” and “to love,” among others. Choose ones that your child may need to work on or ones that are important to your family. Print out the sheet and cut the papers into rectangles that fit into the box.

When it’s bedtime in our house, we kneel at the end of the bed and say our night-time prayer. Then Droolface holds the Holy Spirit box and we say, “Holy Spirit Help Me,” and he opens it to pick one of the cards. No matter what card he picks we talk about what it means and what actions he could do to achieve it.

Since we have a baby in our house, my favorite card is “to be gentle.” We talk about how gentle means to be soft and careful, like when you are playing with the baby. We then put the card back in the box and close the lid and repeat one final time, “Holy Spirit Help Me to be Gentle.”

Droolface really enjoys it. Plus it gives him a little extra one-on-one time, which can be important right before bed.

This craft can help your child understand that there is something bigger than them in the world. Even if your family doesn’t go to church, it helps bring a bit of the Bible’s teachings into your home.

Inside our Holy Spirit box.

Inside our Holy Spirit box.

The Old is New Innovation

An old cutting board becomes a holder for your tablet or Kindle!

An old cutting board becomes a holder for your tablet or Kindle!

Everyone is trying to do more with less. We all want nice things in our home, but we don’t all have the money to head out and buy that fancy item at Pottery Barn. We are all trying to have nice things without paying the nice-things price.

I found this idea and totally fell in love with it! Thanks Sierra Club!

Here’s how to make it: http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-2-march-april/repurpose/cutting-board-ipad-holder

Being that I don’t have an iPad, I would use this holder for my Kindle so that I can easily access my Pinterest recipe boards while in the kitchen! What a great idea! Now I just need to hire someone to completed all the DIY projects that I’ve pinned.

Other great repurposing ideas around the house.

* Never throw away a jelly jar – they have so many uses. Use them to collect odds and ends. Use them for kids projects. Use them to hold nails, screws and other easily lost hardware. Use them to hold homemade lotions or sugar scrubs. Use them for leftovers. Use them to hold all the little girl bows, headbands and trinkets. Use them to collect dirt and earthworms with your little boy. Or make these cool jelly jar bar lights: http://www.homejelly.com/weekend-diy-project-diy-jelly-jar-bar-lights/

* Paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes. These are great for art projects! They are also great for holding cords around the house! Here’s some great ideas: http://www.diylife.com/2011/04/06/paper-towel-roll-crafts/

* Old spray bottles. Once you run out of those toxic sprays, clean and keep the bottle to make your own non-toxic home sprays! An easy combination of white vinegar, water and essential oils can be your new go-to spray! For more ideas: http://www.diynetwork.com/decorating/homemade-cleaning-products/index.html

* Cardboard boxes (mine are mostly from Amazon) can become anything when your child’s imagination takes over. We already know how versatile they are but here are some fun ideas: http://www.lilsugar.com/Cardboard-Box-Projects-Kids-30651040

* Old or broken dishes can become a fun mosaic project or part of a new patio. Here are some fun ideas for salvaged, home renovations: http://www.sunset.com/home/weekend-projects/salvage-makeover-decorating-projects-0/pottery-pebbles

What are your favorite ways to save a few bucks while using repurposed items?

Monday Thoughts to Ponder

Will banning soda help decrease obesity?

Will banning soda help decrease obesity?

“Banning the use of food-stamp subsidies for soda and other sugary drinks could help prevent obesity in at least 141,000 children and prevent type 2 diabetes in 240,000 adults, researchers at Stanford University reported in Health Affairs.” –SmartBrief, via CNNMoney.

What do you think?

My thought is that Food Stamps should be providing the best food possible for low-income families. Soda is definitely not the best food possible. We should be lifting up children who are living in poverty, not limiting them by giving them another hurdle (obesity) to overcome. Low-income should not mean limited access to fresh food. Everyone by now knows that fresh food is better than processed and packaged. And, everyone should also know that soda is not a good thing to drink!

While the argument can be made that fruit juice is also full of sugar and is fattening, it still (hopefully) contains fruit. And, for some kids, that might be the easiest way to get fruit in their diet. I know many parents do not allow fruit juice, but I do allow Droolface to enjoy juice boxes. We look for the 100 percent juice kind. We love the juices that contain both fruit and vegetable juice. And, I try to steer clear of any with added sugar. In addition, he only drinks maybe one juice box a day on the weekends. Usually he asks for water or milk, but on a special occassion or a really hot day we do enjoy juice or lemonade.

While I think that banning soda (in general) is a great idea, I am not sure how much it will help prevent obesity. I feel like the overly processed food shoved at us from manufacturers has a lot to do with obesity. I think someday researchers will find that all these chemical additives and preservatives in food may be promoting obesity. But, banning soda is a great step in the right direction!

What do you do at your house? Do you think banning soda will help decrease obesity?

Fitness Friday: Walk before you Run

Where will walking take you this weekend?

Where will walking take you this weekend?

I am about to enter Month Three post-pregnancy and I am starting to get more energy. I feel like I am coming back – at least the me I used to know. And, I am feeling stronger, which makes me think I can start running. This week, I started jogging a little bit and was sore for two days. It reminded me of that saying “Walk before you run.” Oh so true.

Here are some Walking Facts from America Walks:

• According to the CDC , 33% of U.S. adults are classified as obese (BMI≥30), compared to 15% in the 1970s.
• Brisk walking (≥3.5 mph) has been shown to reduce body fat, lower blood pressure, increase high-density lipoprotein, and even reduce risks of bone fracture.[5]
• Brisk walking has also been associated with lower mortality rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer.⁴
• 21% to 34% of U.S. adults meet public health recommendations (5 times per week for at least 30 minutes) for physical activity by walking. [6]
• In the last 40 years, childhood obesity has increased 5-fold for kids age 6-11.
• Providing ideal conditions for walking is illegal in most suburban communities.

So many communities are not set up for walking, but you could change that by becoming a walking advocate.

Where will you walk this weekend?

The Minimalist Proclamation

break free from the clutterToday is the day. Today I declare my independence. No longer will I be pulled down. No longer will I be tormented in my dreams. I will stand up. I will say no. I will take control and push aside the things that are holding me back!

I am, of course, talking about stuff. Things. Clutter. They are taking over our lives!

Before you walk away from this blog shaking your head and saying ‘the girl’s gone crazy,’ hear me out. Do you ever feel like your stuff is controlling your life? Or that the need for more money to buy more stuff is driving you mad?

I do! I do!

So I hereby make my Minimalist Proclamation. I will no longer let advertisements and others dictate that I must buy something, or that my kids cannot be kids without something, or that I simply won’t be beautiful enough without this potion. Hello, this is my face. Deal with it! (Name that movie.)

Usually I downsize before and during a move. I mean who wants to move stuff if you don’t have to. But, since I am pretty sure we will be in our current house for years to come, I am slowly trying to reassess what we need and get rid of things that we don’t.

Kids clothes for example. I am slowly selling or giving away clothes that no longer fit. I really cannot foresee a day (now that I am done having kids) that I will long to look through garbage bags full of baby clothes. Really – get rid of it.

Kids toys. Yikes! Do the kids really need three large tubs of old toys – what someday they are going to run out of toys and I am going to be thankful that I kept those toys from years ago that have just been eating up space in our closet? I don’t think so. Hey kids – go outside and make a toy out of a tree limb or something!

My clothes. Let’s face it girls – we have a lot of clothes. We have clothes from years ago because it was a special item. We have clothes that haven’t fit for years because ‘someday that will fit again.’ Um, really? If I lose weight, I will buy new clothes! I won’t be crawling around in a cobwebby attic to find that bag of clothes from five years ago. Let’s be realistic here.

Furniture. Well I actually don’t have much furniture, but I do have some furniture that is holding VHS tapes. (I’m looking at you, Mom.) Are we ever going to watch those tapes? No. We are not. And, the reason I know we won’t is because we have not watched them since we moved two moves ago. They are taking up useful space. If we really want to watch a movie that we had on VHS, guess what we can probably find it on Netflix or OnDemand or something… or check on the internet – they have everything there.

Getting rid of the clutter can really make you feel lighter. So far, I’ve gotten rid of a bunch of our stuff and I really do feel better. And, there are many online places (through Facebook or eBay) to sell your old items and actually make a bit of money. It’s not a lot of money, but $5 buys Mommy a couple nice lattes!

Here’s the challenge: Try to get rid of one thing every day for 30 days like these guys did (Slate article link).

Let’s check back in and see how we all are doing. What’s the first thing you are getting rid of?

Homemade makes me happy

Blueberry lemonade is easy and delicious.

Blueberry lemonade is easy and delicious.

I am feeling very nostalgic these days. Maybe even having a little more mom-guilt than usual. Maybe it’s the summer weather. Or the fact that school kids will soon be out for the summer.

I remember when I was a little kid. My mom was a teacher so she was always home with us in the summer. It was so exciting to walk out of school on that last day knowing that the summer stretched out in front of us like a big warm hug.

As a working mom, the guilt hits a little more in the summer months because I know that my kids will have to continue going to daycare. There won’t be months of playing with mom at home. It makes me look forward to the weekends even more. And, I want to make those weekends as special as possible. Even if we can’t go anywhere, I like to add homemade touches to our days simply because it makes me happy.

The garden grows

Home-grown and dehydrated dill and oregano for the win!

Home-grown and dehydrated dill and oregano for the win!

A month or so ago we planted seeds. Now they have burst through the soil into beautiful plants. This past weekend, I gathered up some oregano and dill, washed them and put them in my dehydrator. A couple hours later, I had fresh, dried herbs! Look mom, I made herbs!

Weekend scrambled eggs with home-grown dried herbs makes me happy.

A little extra

Homemade really does make me happy.

Homemade really does make me happy.

Store-bought lemonade powder is easy and convenient, but have you ever made your own lemonade? It’s so much better!

Here’s what I do: About three lemons squeezed into a large jug, then I slice up a fourth lemon for the pretty factor. In a small saucepan, put a cup of sugar and a cup of water. Heat on the stove until the sugar is dissolved – it doesn’t have to come to a full boil. While that’s working add several cups of ice to the jug with the lemon juice and sliced lemon. Once the sugar is dissolved (let cool for a little if you want), pour it over the ice. Then add cold water to fill.

This is a basic (and delicious) recipe that you change up with different flavors.

Try frozen blueberries – just know that they will clog the spout if you have one on your jug.
Mint or dill add a nice flavor too.
Strawberries is a no brainer!

It’s the little things in life.

Go spread some love – and hug those kiddos!