Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Gatherings

Dave and I both come from pretty good sized families and are lucky that we get to live close by to the majority of them.  Anytime there is a holiday, birthday, or any other reason to gather, we all gather and eat.  Both families know how to cook and we always end up with way to much yummy food.  This Easter was no exception.  Since we were going to be going over to both sides of the family's gatherings, I decided to make a quick appetizer and dessert that I could bring to both houses. 

I saw a cute idea on Pinterest to dip strawberries in orange chocolate to make them look like carrots.  I used the Wilton Candy Melts (picked them up at Michaels) and dipped some big strawberries.  They turned out so cute!  

I also made a gluten-free carrot cake from a box mix and frosted it with a homemade cream cheese frosting.  It was pretty good, but the cake turned out really thin.  If I ever made it again, I would bake it in an 8x8 pan or use two mixes in one 9x13 pan.  Dave helped me decorate it.  Didn't he do a great job?  

As long as I can remember, every gathering I have ever been to has been graced with a taco dip (aka layered taco, walking taco, layered bean dip).  As much as I like those, they do get a little boring, so I was really excited to find a new take on the layered dip on Pinterest: A greek version!  Everyone loved it and I was requested to make this for every family gathering until the end of time!  It's that good!  We have been pretty busy the past week, so I cheated and had Costco help me out with some pre-made ingredients.  I really like that Costco has been getting more organic, natural products, free from the yucky ingredients you normally find in processed foods.  I love that this can be customized with all your favorite ingredients, or take out things you don't love.

Layered Greek Dip

2.5 cups of your favorite hummus
1.5 cups of your favorite tzatziki
1 jar of kalmata olives, roughly chopped
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 peeled and seeded cucumber
1/2 large red onion diced
1/2 jar peperoncini slices, drained
1 cup feta cheese
Pita chips or Organic tortilla chips

In a large casserole dish or serving platter (I used a 9x13 covered baking dish) layer ingredients in order.  Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.  Serve with pita chips, or organic tortilla chips. 


Monday, March 18, 2013

Shrimp Civeche

One thing that I really love about living in Northern California, is the access to such a wide variety of fresh foods.  Within a 100 mile radius, this area produces almost every fruit, vegetable and meat one typically eats.  Olive groves for fresh olive oil.  Fields of artichoke plants.  Acres of citrus trees. Miles of pasture lands for animals.  Tomato fields.  Fresh and salt water fish.  Rice paddies.  Dairy farms.  You can even grow some varieties of bananas! If I were to go on a strict locavore diet, I don't think I would really miss out on anything at all.  Everything I love is grown around here. 

I'm still surrounded by bags of fresh lemons, so they are making their way into almost everything we eat.  And, even though it's only mid March, the temperatures have been creeping their way into the mid to high 70s!  When it starts to get warm outside, I only want to eat cold foods.  I decided to make my take on a shrimp civeche.  It was great eaten as is, but I also enjoyed it on a bed of butter lettuce leaves and scooped it up with organic tortilla chips. 

Shrimp Civeche

1 pound very small cooked shrimp, rinsed (I used 100 count shrimp)
2 Tbsp salt
Juice from 3 limes 
juice from 4 lemons
1 red onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 bunch of radishes, diced
Green Tobasco to taste
1-2 avocado, peeled, seed removed, cut into small chunks
Fresh butter lettuce (optional)
Organic corn tortilla chips (optional)

Place shrimp in a large glass bowl (do not use metal). Mix in the lime and lemon juice, red onion, cilantro, cucumber, and radishes. Refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 1 hour)  Right before serving, add the Tobasco and avocado. Serve chilled on a bed of fresh lettuce or as a dip with organic corn tortilla chips.  Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Never Cry Over a Forgotton Lunch

Early on a recent morning, I arrived at work, and nearly broke down and cried.  I am by no means a morning person, and on that particular morning had woken up in a good deal of pain, most likely caused by something I shouldn't have eaten over the weekend.  But, the cause for my almost-tears wasn't just the bad morning, but also because I discovered that I left my lunch at home.  It was shaping up to be one of those days that I wished I had called in sick, slept for the next 24 hours, and tried again tomorrow.

The saddest part of realizing that I left my lunch bag (full of all my healthy food for the day) at home was knowing that the leftovers from one of my favorite dinners was going to sit on the counter all day and spoil and all that yummy deliciousness was going to waste.  Not to mention I would have to go out and buy lunch for the day, and it wouldn't be as healthy or tasty.

Of all my favorite dinners, this is probably my favorite.  It's based off the  Chicken, Mushrooms, and Artichoke Hearts in a Roasted Lemon Sauce recipe from For The Love Of Cooking.

Usually I serve this over gluten-free pasta or rice, but this time I served it over spaghetti squash.  I liked it better than over rice, and it was a healthier choice than rice or pasta.  If you don't know how to cook spaghetti squash, my friend Mo has a great tutorial on how to cook them.

Lemon and Artichoke Heart Chicken

1.5 lbs organic boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4-6 pieces)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup white wine (or substitute with 1c. chicken stock)
2 cups chicken stock
1 can of artichoke hearts (in water, drained) cut in quarters
1 can black olives, drained
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup capers
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Fresh cooked rice, pasta, or spaghetti squash for serving

Place brown rice flour in a shallow bowl or a pie plate.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Rinse the chicken, and pat dry with a paper towel.  Coat the chicken completely in the seasoned flour.

 Heat a large deep skillet with coconut oil over medium high heat.   Cook chicken until browned and cooked all the way through, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. 

Add mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the remaining seasoned brown rice flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat.  Add wine and stir to de-glaze the pan.  Slowly stir in chicken broth, allowing sauce to thicken to desired consistency. Add artichoke hearts, olives, tomatoes, capers, and lemon juice.  Continue to stir about 3-5 minutes, until heated throughout. 

Serve immediately over fresh cooked rice, pasta, or spaghetti squash.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What are Street Lemons?

If you drive around my town these days, especially in the older, established areas, you will find citrus trees loaded full of lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits.  Our climate is ideal for citrus and it seems every house has at least one fruit-bearing tree.  

My sister told me that she recently made some lemon bars out of "street lemons."  

"What are street lemons?" 

"Oh you know, when you are on a walk, they are the lemons you get from trees that are hanging into the street."

(Don't worry, she didn't trespass, just "gleaned" from neglected trees that were already dropping fruit everywhere) 

Because I have several grocery bags of lemons generously given to me by my family from their over-abundant trees, I am trying to incorporate lemons in our meals as much as possible.

This day, I was craving a pasta dish, so I decided to make a creamy lemon pasta.  I served it with a side of baked salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. 

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Spinach and Artichoke Hearts 

16 oz brown rice spaghetti
2 tsp coconut oil
6 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly (I love this new gadget I got!)
Juice from 2-3 lemons
8oz cream cheese (organic or non-dairy)
2 tbl capers
1 can artichoke hearts
8oz baby spinach chopped
Fresh ground salt and pepper

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain, rinse, and set aside.  

In a large, deep skillet, heat coconut oil over medium.  Add garlic slices, and cook for about a minute, taking care not to let the garlic burn.  Add lemon juice and cream cheese, and heat until cream cheese is melted, being careful not to let it boil, reducing the heat as necessary.  Add capers and artichoke hearts and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes.  Add pasta and spinach and toss until sauce completely coats pasta and everything is mixed throughout the pasta.  Season to taste with fresh ground salt and pepper.  Serve by itself or with a side of your favorite seafood (baked salmon or sauteed shrimp and my favorite choices).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creating Curb Appeal

When we bought our current house, it was a short sale days away from becoming a foreclosure. It was a (almost) brand new home in a brand new neighborhood and we got it for a steal, but the yard had been sorely neglected and has needed lots of TLC. We have slowly been getting the yard looking pretty again.

Since the Groundhog predicted Spring would come early this year, we have been experiencing wonderful springtime weather.  Cool mornings and warm afternoons.  Over the past couple weekends, Dave and I have been working on the "curb appeal" of the house. We decided to rip out the "flower bed" full of half-dead bushes and make an actual flower bed and try to make our yard beautiful and colorful.  I'm trying to expand our vegetable garden this year, and need to attract as many bees as possible.

We started our morning out at the local home improvement store and picked up some colorful plants.  Even though the Groundhog has said spring is coming early, the garden department hasn't gotten that memo, and the selections were still pretty limited.  But we still managed to find some colorful plants. 

Then, we loaded up the back of the car with some decorative stones. Those things are HEAVY!

We tore out the ugly old plants, and found these adorable little guys hiding in the underbrush.  They obviously love living here so much, that we decided to let them stay in the new planter bed. 

We built a planter bed out of the stones, filled it with soil, and made a beautiful garden bed.  It was a fun project, only took a couple of hours, and we got to work together, which is always exciting.  At the end of the day, we had a beautiful flower bed, complete with layers of bulbs that will bloom well into the fall.  See that giant rock in the middle?  It's hallow and plastic!  The sewer clean out is right in the middle of the planter bed.  We wanted it to be easily accessible in case of emergency, but still be able to have a beautiful flower bed!

We added this beautiful jasmine to hide the ugly drain pipe covering up the beautiful rocks.  I can't wait till it explodes with color!

We also planted this tiny tree to attract bees and provide us with yummy fruit in the years to come.  It's a grafted "cocktail" tree:  one half of the tree will produce plums and the other half will produce nectarines.  I'm very excited, but think it will be at least a couple years before that happens. 

Have you got spring fever yet?  

Are you planning on planting a garden this year?  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning To Eat My Greens

My mom and grandma used to always grow chard in the garden when I was a kid.  That stuff grows like a weed, so they were always feeding it to us.  My mom's favorite way to prepare it is to steam it in a skillet and add a little butter and salt and pepper.  That is probably my least favorite way to eat it.  So as an adult, I never bought chard because it was "slimy and gross."

Then my friend told me about this wonderful method of frying up a couple strips of bacon, then braising your chard (or other greens) in the bacon grease and topping it with the cooked bacon.

We all know that bacon makes everything better, so I knew I had to try it.

You know what else goes good with bacon?  Mushrooms!

I absolutely love eating chard this way, and actually look forward to getting it at the market!

Bacon and Mushroom Chard

4-6 slices of uncured bacon, diced
1 large bunch of chard, washed and chopped into bite size pieces
1lb mushrooms, washed and sliced

Cook bacon in a large deep skillet over medium heat.  You want to slowly cook the bacon to render out as much of the fast as possible.  Cook the bacon until it is crispy, but not burned.  Remove the bacon from the skillet and set aside (keep warm in the oven if possible).

Add the mushrooms to pan and cook them for about 5  minutes without stirring, so they get browned.  Stir the mushrooms and add the chard to the pan.  Let the chard sit on top of the mushrooms undisturbed for another 5 minutes.  Stir the chard and continue cooking until all the water has cooked out of the mushrooms and they are beginning to brown.  Remove from heat.  Add bacon and season to taste.  Serve hot.

***I think this would be really good served with a fried egg on top and a little bit of hot sauce***

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get Well Pho

While I was sick, I wasn't doing too much of anything, except sleeping.  I slept 12-14 hours a day. During the times I was awake, I barely had the energy to make it to the couch to watch TV.   When I ate, food was quick and easy.  I lost my taste, and most days nothing sounded good.  If something actually sounded good, I ate it, only to be disappointed because it had no flavor.

A couple years ago, I had a bad winter cold.  My friend insisted I need a big bowl of chicken "fuh" to feel better. 

Ummm, what?  

You know, "fuh" from that place over by that market. 

Oh, that's what that is?  "Pho" is pronounced "fuh"?  Gotcha.

So I went with her and got a big bowl of pho. 

It was steaming hot and smelled amazing and tasted even better.  You could tell the broth was homemade and simmered from bones all day long.  There was an assortment of bits and pieces you could get in your pho like tendons and tripe, but I stuck with something "safe" and got thinly sliced steak. 

After the first bite, I was hooked.  Don't tell anyone, but I like it better than my mom's chicken noodle soup she made when we were kids.

Now, since I have been sick, I have been lazy and using lots of shortcuts.  

 Yes, I know it's way better to cut up a chicken and simmer it for hours and make a rich, nourishing stock.  But when you are only out of bed for 2 hours a day (that's a generous number, too), you don't have time to simmer a stock and make a fancy meal.  

So this is the shortcut way to make a big bowl of pho.   

Get Well Chicken Pho

1-2 carton(s) Chicken Pho Soup Base
1lb seasoned ground pork sausage (once again, I cheated used "Potsticker" flavor fresh made sausage from the local market...but use plain, add 2 finely chopped green onions, 2tbl finely diced red bell pepper, and salt, pepper, soy sauce and freshly grated ginger to taste)
1/2 of a 14 oz package rice noodles, prepared according to package directions, drained (I use the Taste of Thai stir fry noodles)
A handful of dried Shiitake mushrooms, prepared according to package directions
1 package fresh bean sprouts, rinsed
1 Lime cut in wedges
1 bunch basil, roughly torn
1 bunch cilantro, roughly torn

Preheat oven to 400*.  Shape pork into walnut sized meatballs.  In a heavy oven safe skillet, melt coconut oil over medium high heat.  Brown meatballs on one side for about 2-3 minutes.Carefully turn meatballs over, turn off stove, and place skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until meatballs are cooked completely (165* internal temperature). 

In a pot heat soup base until it starts to come to a boil. Don't let it boil away for too long, you just want to get it to serving temperature. 

In a deep soup bowl, place a portion of the noodles in the bottom, followed by a small handful of bean sprouts, a few meatballs, and a bit of the shiitake mushrooms.  Ladle hot broth over the top.  Top with basil and cilantro and a lime wedge.  Serve immediately. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sweet and Sour Pork

I remember going to my grandma's house every year for my mom's birthday and drooling over a giant turkey platter piled full of homemade sweet and sour pork.  Bite sizes of crispy pork and chunks of luscious pineapple swimming in a golden sauce that was perfectly sweet yet perfectly sour.  I always looked forward to mom's birthday dinner, so I could eat some of my favorite foods!  

When you have to change your eating due to food allergies, it's not like being on a diet.  You can't have your once a year/month/week binge and make up for it by working out extra hard at the gym or having lettuce for dinner.  If you have your binge, you are left with consequences far greater than an extra pound on the scale. You can become violently ill or break out in a rash, or even worse, suffer an anaphylaxis reaction.  Often times, the reaction you have to the offending food can last much longer than your initial reaction, lasting for days, weeks, or even months, leaving you suffering with headaches, body aches, digestive issues, and countless other issues.  For me, if I eat foods with gluten, I wake up the next morning feeling like I am extremely hungover.  I'm tired, nauseous, irritable, and achy.  Each time I eat gluten, it leaves me wanting more gluten, starting that entire cycle all over.  

It can be frustrating to try to convert your favorite family recipes to a gluten-free version.  The flours generally don't work on their own, the suggested make-your-own kinds can be costly, and the pre-made "cup-for-cup" all-purpose flours just don't always seem to work out in your favorite cake or cookie recipe.   Plus, many of those pre-made blends have other ingredients I can't, shouldn't, or won't eat.  Luckily, this recipe only calls for a small amount of flour, and I found substituting with a gluten-free all-purpose flour that worked just fine. As always, make sure that all ingredients are free of any allergens you need to avoid.

I think the key to this recipe is frying the pork twice to achieve that truly cripsy batter.  It's a little bit of extra time, but totally worth it! 

Since this is a special occasion dish for us, and it's usually made for a family get-together, I tend to double or quadruple the recipe.

Gluten Free Sweet and Sour Pork

1 lb pork tenderloin, visible fat trimmed, cut into 1" cubes
Your favorite high-heat oil for frying

1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. organic cornstarch
1/4 c. gluten-free all purpose flour (I'm really liking this brand right now)
1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. grated ginger (fresh or powdered)

1 tbl. organic corn starch mixed with 1tbl. water till smooth
1 8oz. can chunk pineapple in 100% juice (not syrup)
1 TBL gluten free soy sauce/liquid aminos/coconut aminos
5 tbl rice vinegar (not seasoned)
5 tbl organic sugar
1/2 bell pepper, cut in small chunks

Preheat oven to 250*.  Set aside an oven safe shallow dish (like a jelly roll pan) lined with a  couple paper towels. 

Heat a dutch oven or deep heavy skillet to 350* with approximately 2" of oil. 

Mix together egg, salt, cornstarch, flour, chicken broth, and ginger until batter is smooth. I like to use the blender for this.  Place cut up pork in a large bowl and pour batter over the pork.  Make sure to coat each piece of pork completely with batter. 

Working quickly, carefully place pork, one piece at a time, into hot oil with tongs and dry to a light golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.  Work in batches and be sure not to crowd the pork, or it will clump together and the yummy batter will fall off.  When you take your first pieces of pork out of the oil.  Place them on the oven safe baking dish layered with paper towels.  Place the baking dish in the preheated oven, adding each batch of pork until you are finished frying all the pork.  Leave in the oven until a few minutes before serving.

Use a candy thermometer to make sure your oil is the proper temperature.
In a medium sized saucepan, mix together cornstarch water mixture, vinegar, and soy sauce.  Add the juice from the can of pineapple into the sauce pan as well, reserving the pineapple chunks.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add pineapple and cook for one minute.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until ready to serve.

Sauce waiting to meet the crispy pork
While the sauce is cooking, reheat the oil back to 350*.  Add the pork back to the oil and fry once more until a medium golden brown and it's extra crispy.  If you need to fry in batches, make sure to keep the pork in the oven so it doesn't get cold and soggy.

Place twice fried pork in a large serving dish.  Pour sauce over the top.  Serve immediately.   

So much yummy goodness, you won't want to share! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Garlic Noodles

Even when it comes to birthday dinners, I always try to add as much extra veggies to a dish as possible without going crazy overboard.  Mom's birthday dinner was no exception.  I had decided on these yummy sounding garlic noodles from Crepes of Wrath, but decided that they needed more veggies and more garlic, because you can never have enough garlic.  I was really happy with how they turned out, and everyone went back for seconds! 

If you don't overcook your noodles (like I did), your noodles will look much prettier.

Garlic Noodles

14 ounces rice noodles (I use the Taste of Thai stir fry noodles....they are GF)
2 tbl coconut oil
1 large bunch chopped green onions (whites and greens)
1 small head of garlic, chopped (about 6-8 cloves)
4 small heads of baby bok choy, rinsed thoroughly and finely chopped
1 bell pepper, small dice
A handful or two of fresh bean sprouts
1/4 c. brown sugar
1tbl gf soy sauce/liquid aminos/coconut aminos
2 tablespoon gf oyster sauce

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, but keep them slightly undercooked.  Rinse and set aside. 

While the noodles are cooking, heat a large deep skillet over medium-high heat and melt the coconut oil.  Add the bok choy and bell peppers and stir fry about 2 minutes.  Add the green onions and garlic and cook for another minute.  Do not allow garlic to burn!  Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, and oyster sauce to the veggies and cook for a minute until it's hot.  Finally, add the noodles and bean sprouts and toss until thoroughly mixed and the veggies and sauce are evenly distributed over the noodles.  Serve immediately.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homemade Chinese Food

My mom's birthday fell on Chinese New Year's this year and my sis and I decided that she needed a homemade Chinese Food Feast for her Birthday dinner.  I remember my grandma used to always make Chinese food for my mom for her birthday...sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli, and egg rolls.  All of mom's favorites! 

I think I get my food allergies from my mom.  She has anaphalaxis reactions to shrimp, which pretty much eliminates going out to many restaurants.  She can't even eat something that has come into contact with shrimp or she could die. Super scary! 

Of course, I decided that I would make the stuff Grandma used to make...sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli...plus noodles, fried rice, lemon chicken and three other chicken dishes. And of course, they would all be gluten free so I could eat them.  And, because it would be a feast with leftovers for the week to come, I would make double, triple, or even quadruple of each recipe.  

Did I mention that I have slowly been recovering from pneumonia lately?  

That I hosted a Super Bowl Party the week before while I was just getting over the worst of being sick and was totally exhausted for days afterwards?

  That there was going to be 13 people for dinner at my house?  

That I got totally overwhelmed looking at all the groceries and the menu I planned that I started to have an anxiety attack?  

 You could say that I tend to take on too much...  I'm slowly learning that the hard way....

Luckily, my mom, being the sweet angel that she is, volunteered to come help me cook her own birthday dinner. We spent 4.5 hours chopping, stir-frying, boiling, baking, and deep frying a feast that, that when it was all done, would have fed a small country. Dave was amazing and totally cleaned up the house to make it "company ready."

One thing I did do, was cheat and buy a few pre-made seasoning packets for the chicken dishes.  I did my best to find ones that were free from MSG, visible gluten, and all the gunk you usually find in pre-made foods.  They tasted good, but they aren't a part of our diet and are something I only would buy when having a big dinner party like this.  The did taste EXACTLY like your local take out.

I did, however,  make sweet and sour pork, beef and broccoli, noodles, and fried rice all from scratch.  

First, I made the beef and broccoli from this yummy recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.  In my haste, I forgot to marinate the meat, so I just added some Braggs Liquid Aminos (gf soy sauce replacement) while the meat was cooking and it still turned out fantastic.  

I also made Iowa Girl's fried rice.  It was great and tasted just like takeout. Minor changes....I used white rice instead of brown, frozen peas and fresh diced carrots in place of the frozen mixed veggies, and liquid aminos in place of the soy sauce.

Then I made my version of Garlic Noodles from Crepes of Wrath.  I'll post my version of that soon! 

And finally, I made my  grandma's "famous" sweet and sour pork.  Mom and I figured out how to make the batter gluten free.  It was so tasty, exactly like Grandma makes it.  That recipe will be coming soon as well! 

In the end, everyone loved the food, the family had some quality time together, and my mom had a great birthday.  And to top it all off, my mom snuck over to my house the next day while I was at work, and finished cleaning up the kitchen.  Who does that?

Mom, next year, I think I'm going to scale back dinner, or just take you out for a steak and let the professionals take care of everything.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Resting and recouping

After 3 weeks of being sick and running a fever most of the weekend, I finally dragged myself to the doctor's office at the suggestion of my family and friends.  The receptionist checking me in handed me a beautiful blue mask and I sat in the waiting room with people looking at me like I had leprosy.  The medical assistant calls my name and upon seeing the blue paper mask, instantly puts one on herself and a pair of latex gloves.  Great, not only do they think that I have leprosy, but they think that I probably have the plague too. 

 I mean what's next?  Are they going to try to throw me on the dead cart going down the street like in Spamalot?  I'm not dead yet.  I feel like it, but I'm far from it.  

Have you seen Spamalot?  It's hysterical, and my husband who says he hates theater and musicals, loved it and has seen it twice!  

After the medical assistant took my temperature (100.2*), tried to squeeze off my arm with a blood pressure cuff, and asked a million questions about if I smoke (no), if I'm pregnant (no), or if I'm in an unsafe home environment (no), I finally got to see the doctor.  

I really like my doctor.  I'm so glad I finally found someone I like at Kaiser, it's pretty difficult.  After talking with her for a few minutes and her listing to me (try to) breath through my crackling lungs, and checking my ears, and tonsils, I got the diagnosis I'd been fearing...pneumonia.  Ugh!  I don't have time to be this sick.  I got sent home with a get well present consisting of a z-pak and some stronger cough syrup and ordered to spend the next two days at home in bed.  If I'm starting to get better by Wednesday morning, I can go back to work, and gradually get back to normal life.  If I'm feeling the same or worse by Wednesday, I get to go back to the doctor for a chest x-ray, and a bunch more exciting get well activities.  

I came home and made a quick chicken soup with leftover rotisserie chicken and a few handfuls of whatever veggies I could find in the fridge.  I spent much of the day napping in bed.  When I got bored with that, I napped on the couch.  I made myself some fresh juice with a big hunk of ginger in it. I've sipped on hot lemon honey water all day.  I've been trying not to hack up a lung or break a rib from all the coughing.

Tonight, I'm not feeling any better, but am hoping that I will be able to get a good night's sleep, as long as this cough can get under control.  Hopefully tomorrow, I will start to feel better and can get back to normal life soon.  I miss cooking and going to the gym.  I miss feeling human and caring.  Today, I almost wore sweat pants out of the house and didn't even feel like brushing the knots out of my hair.  Thankfully, the shame about not wanting to look like a People of Walmart picture brought me back to my senses and I went out of the house with real clothes, a washed face, and brushed hair.  I'm just so tired of being sick.  It's exhausting, physically and emotionally.  I want to cry my eyes out, but if I do, I will end up n an asthmatic coughing fit and will cough myself into a migraine, so I just sit and feel sorry for myself and snuggle with my girls.

I hope to back writing and cooking soon.  I miss hanging out here.    

Have you managed to stay healthy so far this year? 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chicken lettuce wraps

I love my crockpot.  I really do.  I have two full size crockpots, a mini crockpot for dips, and now I have a small lunch crockpot for my desk.  I love the fix it and forget it method of cooking.  I love that I can put something in when I leave for work and when I get home, it's ready to eat. 

(Except the other night.  My work day plus commute is fairly long and a tomato sauce based recipe that cooks 
for 6-8 hours on low ended up burnt and inedible and my house uninhabitable after an 11+ hour day...)

When I discovered the website Crockpot 365 , I was really excited to find many new recipes so I could expand the use of my crockpot.   Even better that all of the recipes are gluten free! 

The hardest part of eating gluten free is no more Chinese food, so I was very excited that she put up a few make your own takeout recipes.  And even better yet, they were all for the crockpot.  It's practically exactly like takeout, but waaaaaaay cheaper and healthier. 

I know many people (especially me) look at their favorite over or stove top recipes and try to figure out some way to make it a crockpot recipe.  But for ones, I was looking at a crockpot recipe and wondering if I could make it a stove top recipe.  I was desperately craving lettuce wraps, and wanted them NOW (along with a golden goose) and I didn't want to drive the hour to the closes PF Changs and didn't want to wait the 4+ hours it would take for them to cook in the crockpot.  So I looked at the ingredient list and cooked the old fashioned way, slaving over a hot stove. 

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1lb of ground chicken
1/2 onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic
1-2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup gluten free soy sauce or coconut aminos
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbl balsamic vinegar
Fresh ground black pepper
1 bunch of green onions, sliced thin
1 head of butter lettuce

Brown chicken in a large deep skillet.   While cooking, break chicken into small pieces.  I love to use my PC hamburger chopper for these kinds of jobs.  When the chicken is almost done, and sufficiently broken up into small bits, add the diced onion and cook for about 3-5 minutes until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic, ginger, and water chestnuts and cook for about a minute.  Add soy sauce, wine, and vinegar.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is reduced by about half.  Season with pepper to taste.   Spoon a bit of the chicken mixture into a lettuce leaf.  Sprinkle with green onions.  Serve while chicken is warm.  Makes a great appetizer or light dinner!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Superstitions, Folk Remedies, and Other Cures for Colds and Flus

Wintertime sickness is still lingering in our household.  It started right after Christmas and the coughs, sniffles, and tiredness are still hanging on.  I haven't been at work for a week, and I'm almost starting to miss it....but just a teeny tiny bit...

Ever since I was little, every time I got a wintertime cold, the cough seems to hang on for weeks....even months.  I remember missing a couple months of school when I was about 7 due to bronchitis, and got sick every winter and usually on every family vacation.  Although I do have a history of bronchitis and asthma as a child, it's virtually nonexistent since I've become an adult.  But every bad cold I get seems to reignite the past lung problems and I wind up with a cough that could be mistaken for an 80 year old lifelong chain smoker.

Since I've started eating a much cleaner, organic diet, and even more since going gluten free and working on my food allergies and other health issues, I've slowly been getting healthier.  I don't get every single cold that goes around, but this one managed to hit me hard and fast.  

I tried so many different things when I first started feeling like I was getting sick...vitamin c, zinc, juicing, washing my hands, anti-bacterial sanitizers, raw honey, staying at home, not eating out, eating warm foods like soups and bone broth, lots of garlic, lemon juice and coconut oil....anything I could think of to try to keep my immune system up.  But too many long, cold nights....too much indulging in foods I shouldn't....and I got sick.  

For the past week I have rotated my time between the couch and my bed.  Sleeping on and off all day and night.  Trying different folk remedies.  Eventually giving up on strictly the natural approach and living off Nyquil and way too much Netflix as well. Trying to keep the cravings for junk food away.  

(Does anyone else crave disgusting, crappy food when they are sick?  Or is that just me?)

My gym has a eucalyptus oil steam room.  I did manage to make it there on Sunday morning when the gym was empty and let my body try to sweat out the sickness.  I was very concerned that I would cough up a lung while I was in there...and the fact that I can't bring kleenex in there was of great concern.  But I brought a ton of water and a couple small hand towels for any sort of coughing catastrophe that could happen.  I did feel much better after doing that, but was extremely tired and slept most of the day afterwards.  

My sister said that one of her go-to-cure-all remedies is a hot toddy.  On Saturday evening while we were watching the 49ers game, I decided to give it a try.  I searched online and found many different variations, and decided to create my own version. I drank two of them and slept very well that night and woke up not feeling like I had been hit by a fleet of semi-trucks.  So did it cure me?  Who knows.  But I did feel better the next day, so I'm going to add it to my arsenal of natural cold remedies.   

Honey Lemon Hot Toddy

1/2 of one organic lemon
2 shots of Honey Whiskey 
Boiling water
Spoonful of raw, local honey

In a large mug, add juice of a half of a lemon.  Cut the juiced lemon half into 4 pieces (discard seeds) and add to the mug.  Add 2 shots of honey whiskey.  Fill the mug with boiling water.  Stir in a spoonful of honey.  Drink while still very hot, but don't burn yourself.  Drink entire mug before it cools down. 

***Be sure not to mix this with any cold medicines....always read the warning labels about mixing alcohol and medication.****

What do you do to stay healthy during cold and flu season?  Are you strictly a vitamin and chicken soup person?  Nyquil and trashy daytime TV?  Or a mixture of the two?  What are your favorite cold remedies?  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Maple Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Before I started on my journey for a healthier diet, I used to think sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving dinner and were only to be eaten with scorched marshmallows on top.  I never cared for them because they were too disgustingly sweet.  I think there was more sugar in the dish than actual sweet potatoes.  

As I began to learn more about cooking, especially after beginning my food allergy journey, I began to realize that there was a beautiful world of sweet potatoes out there beyond the marshmallows.  

Baked Sweet potatoes with butter and maple syrup.  

Sweet potato fries. 

Sweet potato tots.

Sweet Potato hash. 

Roasted Sweet potatoes.  

Now that I've found that I need to limit my consumption of potatoes (and all nightshades), sweet potatoes (not nightshades) are my new favorite menu items.  

Lately, I love preparing them roasted.  Theres something about roasted veggies that just a staple of winter-time meals.  Plus, turning on the oven also gives the house an extra boost of heat to the chilly house. 

This recipe is great served any time of day. For breakfast with a side of bacon and topped with a fried egg.  For lunch topping a salad with a leftover chicken apple sausage.  For dinner as a side to roasted chicken.  Mmmmmm! 

Maple Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes
1 tart apple (I like pink lady or Arkansas Black)
1tbl coconut oil melted
Salt, pepper, and cinnamon
2 tbl maple syrup

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into small cubes.  Core apple, peel if desired, and cut into cubes.  Melt coconut oil and toss with sweet potatoes and apples.  Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.  Spread onto a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Roast at 400* for 25-30 minutes until soft and slightly browned (or desired level of done-ness).  Drizzle with maple syrup and serve immediately.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year, New Focus

I'm not the kind of person that makes New Year's resolutions.  Just because it's a new year, doesn't mean things are suddenly different and magical and you will suddenly have the willpower to change that flaw in your life.  Nor do I think that you have to wait until a certain date to begin a plan to better yourself.  You can start a plan just as easily on January 1 as on March 19 or August 22 or even November 5.  

While we were out Christmas shopping, I had mentioned to my sister how exhausted I was from all the stuff I had been doing lately.  Not things for myself, but things for other people.  She reminded me of something that I know, but keep ignoring. 

If you don't take care of yourself, 
how can you take care of those around you? 

Who knew that my baby sister could be so wise? 

Growing up, it was always stressed to me that in order to be happy, you needed to live a life where you put others needs above your own needs.  While I do believe that you do need to live a life that is not self-centered, unfortunately for me, I have let it go to the extreme and truly put my needs dead last.  I exhaust myself doing for others that I don't take care of myself and have let my life, my health, and my happiness wants and desires be put on hold for the benefit of others.  

I'm burnt out.   

I joke that I wish I was a rich celebrity so I could go stay at the spa for 30 days and get treated for exhaustion, but I'm almost at the point where that wish is slowly becoming a necessity.

Today, I am home sick with what feels like the head cold of death.  Everyone around me has it.  I didn't give myself permission to get it until after my sister's birthday party.  I took tons of vitamins and drank tea and stayed away from the general population and their diseases.  Her party was Saturday night.  By Sunday night, it finally caught up with me and I was done.

Instead of just laying in bed feeling crummy, I got up and got some bone broth started on the stove. I'm wrapped up in layers of warm clothing, resting with my dogs, drinking tons of fluids, taking cold medicine, and trying to not be mad that I'm sick. I'm going to take care of me, because my mom isn't here to do it for me. 

(Am I the only person who wants their mommy to take care of them when they are sick?  I suddenly feel 5 again and want comfort food, vics, and fresh sheets...)

Maybe this is just my body's way of saying enough.

I have noticed that over the past year, my immune system has dramatically improved.  I spent months eating very healthy, working on healing my gut and my food allergies, and my body in general.  I used to catch every single bug that went around, and have slowly been building up my system.  

But the past several weeks of overdoing it, not to mention the past couple weeks of holiday indulgences, have compromised it.    

I need to take care of myself.  If I don't, how can I take care of my husband, my dogs, my family, my friends and the rest of the world? 

As much as I hate resolutions, this year I resolve.... 

To become selfish.  

To learn to say no.  

To put my health and my needs first.  

To spend more time exercising and being active. 

To not stay complacent in my life and to constantly look for ways to challenge and better myself.  

To work on finishing my degree and reaching my goal of higher educations.  

To use the tools I've been given to heal my body and manage my food allergies and the other health challenges associated with that.  

To become a better me, so I can better take care of everyone else around me.