Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Better Sammich

I grew up on pretty much peanut butter and honey or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on "wonder bread" if Mom was feeling poorly or homemade white when the chemo effects weren't so bad.  (she battled cancer more than once from age 4 until my college years when she passed). My Mom also would, with the peanut butter and honey ones, butter the outside of the bread and grill them like a grilled cheese "Sammich" when we were kids and a bit under the weather and not wanting to eat much.  The peanut butter would get all warm and creamy, the bread would be all buttery and crunchy, and the honey would start to caramelize.  I made one of those for my husband when we first me and he LOVED it. Still, it's  an occasional indulgence due to the fat content, usually as "Mom memory comfort food" when I'm coming down with a cold.

Other than that, I'm not a big fan of most sandwiches made at home.  Just meat and cheese and iceburg lettuce is too boring and unless you add a bunch of mayo (I HATE mustard) too dry. My husband happily goes off to work each day with one, mayo-free, just some sandwich sprinkle spice from Penzey's, but his work has a nonprofit cafeteria where he can add a side salad for a dollar or two. But I decided to start adding more veggies to my sandwich and it made a lot of difference.  Try sprouts (I make my own as grocery store sprouts do have a higher risk of salmonella than most lettuces), add mushrooms, or avocado, tomatoes or spinach. Cranberry sauce is good with turkey or "veggie turkey" especially with a thin smear of fat-free or dairy-free cream cheese.  Ditch the mayo. Keep the meat lean or a vegetarian protein adding a little pepper, teriyaki sauce or barbecue seasoning to it before baking and only use a thin slice of cheese (better yet use hummus, keeps the sandwich moist and also healthy). Decorate with a toothpick with a pickle spear or add some shredded cabbage with rice vinegar as a side (a non-fat "coleslaw")

Serve on a whole grain, sprouted grain, or gluten-free bread, whatever you prefer.  No thick white bread - that defeats the whole purpose of a healthy sandwich.

Yum - I didn't know a lunch sandwich from home could be this good!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Browned Butter Carrot Soup

Carrots aren't high on my list of favorite veggies (those would be beans, corn, and potatoes).  I like home garden carrots but so many of the ones at the story are either mutant baby carrots (which I don't like) or don't have a great flavor as they are so water laden. I do buy them for stews, so sometimes I end up with a mostly full bag about to spoil. So I make carrot soup.

I actually like this better than just the carrots and could eat it regularly (and it's less than 200 calories a cup and SO creamy.)

Browned Butter Carrot and Sage Soup

2 Tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
handful of fresh sage (leaves only, and washed)
5 cups chopped carrots
1 and 3/4 cups water
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth (or use chicken or vegetarian "chicken" broth, both also good)
3/4 cup reduced fat half-and-half
dash of salt and white pepper to taste

Heat butter in a Dutch oven and heat until it's starting to brown and go frothy. Add sage and cook until starting to crisp up, remove with slotted spoon.  Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in carrots. Add water and broth; bring to a lively simmer over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium and gently simmer until the carrots soften (25-35 minutes).  Cool 10 minutes minimum (so you're not pureeing piping hot liquid) then puree the soup a cup or so at a time in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Stir in half-and-half and salt and pepper, return to saucepan and heat on low until warm. Garnish with a few croutons and a sprig of fresh herb of choice.

Vegan version:
Use olive oil instead of butter.

Instead of cream, omit the onion and make a "creme" substitute out of roasted onions (it's really amazing, not tasting exactly like cream but with the same texture and depth to add to recipes). If you don't do onions and can eat soy, blend tofu and water in a 1/1 ratio to make a "cream".

Veggie "Cream Substitute:
Makes 3/4 to 1 cup

3 large sweet onion
Salt, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Olive oil, to taste

Coat the onions lightly with extra virgin olive oil, and roast them at 400ยบ F in a pan that's not a lot bigger than they are until they are very dark on the outside and molten soft on the inside—the insides should not have taken on any color. That's about 45 minutes in my oven. Let cool. Once they have cooled, Remove the peels, and add the onions into a blender. Blend until very smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes. Finish by adding salt, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and olive oil to taste, then blend 20 to 30 seconds more. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Use as you would cream to finish a dish. Will keep in the fridge for 3 days and in the freezer for a couple of weeks.  Great to make mashed potatoes with for vegan friends.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Personal Trainer - A Year Milestone

It has been one year since I hired a personal trainer.  I worked with her six months. She moved out of state as her fiance was transferred but at that point, I had the workouts down where I could do them by myself.  We created several sessions that I can mix and match to do core, upper, lower, and cardio. At first, there were a few weeks I didn't work out without her being here to make me do it, but when I saw the effects on my progress, that ended quickly.

I'm doing 3-4 days a week - 60-minute sessions with one 90-minute session on the weekend, Weights (with an emphasis on arms as that was my weak area), cardio, boxing, and strength training to my Piano Guys CD (seriously, best workout music). I can also do the entire session without having to stop for several minutes to catch my breath between sets. Planks went from 5 seconds to 3 minutes and my partial meniscus-less knee only hurts when the weather is changing (accu-knee) instead of 24 and 7. My 3-pound weights are now 8-pound weights (going for repetition rather than overall weight lifting) and a 10-pound medicine ball was added to the mix.

One year in, without dieting, just cooking healthy food/healthy fats food more often with more fruits and veggie laden meals but still enjoying some wine and treats on a regular basis,  I lost 18 pounds and 2 pants sizes. I can also wear sleeveless shirts for the first summer in 10 years.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Easy Soy Free Stir Fry

Looking for an easy stir fry with no soy or wheat?  Or an alternate that has soy and gluten but no meat? This turned out really good with just a handful of ingredients and made enough for meals for two over a couple of days.

Get some rice cooking in your steamer.

In a coffee cup mix a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger (or use half as much of powder), the juice of a lime (about a Tablespoon), a teaspoon of honey (or half teaspoon of sugar) and cayenne pepper to taste (I like mine spicy).

If you want to be totally soy free use gluten free breaded chicken bites.  I used the veggie chicken pieces since it was one of my meatless days -  I like the Gardein ones which do have a little gluten and soy in them. I cut them in pieces and just nuked for a couple of minutes then crisped them up in a fry pan.  Remove from heat and cover with lid to keep warm.

When the rice is a few minutes out from being done, stir fry in a tablespoon of olive oil half a bag of frozen oriental veggies (mine was a mix of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, water chestnuts and red pepper).  When veggies are crisp/tender, toss with your protein and sauce and serve with rice.

Serves four.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Natural Beauty Products Reviews

Horse Creek Soap Berry Vanilla and Lovespell

Today's post is off the healthy recipe theme and covers another part of my life I updated to live healthier, doing so about eight years ago. Just a note: I was not asked to review any of the products here, or provided money to review them. I only post on this website the products I love enough to buy and use in my own home.

What you put IN your body is essential to good health, but what you put ON your body is also very important.  The skin is the largest organ of the body and some of what is put on the skin will be absorbed into the body. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked into the skin’s absorption rates of chemicals found in drinking water. It showed that the skin absorbed an average of 64% of total contaminant dosage. (1)
You're kidding me right?

Yes,  Other studies found the face to be several times more permeable than broad body surfaces and an absorption rate of 100% for (ahem) "delicate" areas of the body.  (2)

And another peer-reviewed study showed 100% absorption for fragrance ingredients. (3)

U.S.researchers have reported that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors.

Many products include plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks).
Is that something you really want on  and ultimately IN your body?

I started with my soap.  Most soap dried out my skin, but looking at the ingredient label of my moisturizing soap was an eye opener. I was using a generic product that was similar to Dove, but not made by Unilever.

SODIUM COCOYL ISETHIONATE AND/OR SODIUM LAUROYL ISETHIONATE, STEARIC ACID, SODIUM TALLOWATE, COCONUT ACID AND/OR LAURIC ACID, WATER, SODIUM ISETHIONATE, ETHYLENE/VA COPOLYMER AND/OR PEG-12 OR PEG-8, SODIUM COCOATE, COCAMIDOPROPY BETAINE, FRAGRANCE, GLYCERIN, SODIUM CHLORIDE, TETRASODIUM EDTA, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, AND TETRASODIUM ETIDRONATE.

Plus it started turning to mush in the shower after 10 days, so even though it was cheap it wasn't a bargain.
So I tried several different natural soaps, liking several of them but not having a particular one that stood out as a favorite. One issue I had was that most of them were so highly fragrance.  I wanted something that smelled nice but not like I'd bathed in perfume.  Then I tried this one particular brand about a year ago as the maker is the friend of one of MY friend's daughter so I bought some just to be supportive. I fell in love with it.
Goat's milk sop handcrafted in Colorado - it's made the way soap used to be made without all the additives.  The goat's milk is very moisturizing and the lather is the absolute softest and creamiest I've tried in a natural bar, rinsing clean and leaving the skin soft. The original blends were formulated with a bit of beef tallow, but the latest products I got are all vegetarian ingredients.

You can get unscented or a number of light scents.  My all time favorite is Fresh Snow which is just sold around the holidays.  When I said favorite - I bought a dozen bars of it as it's just made once a year I didn't want to run out.
It's not a minty smell, I can't quite put my finger on it, but it is a very FRESH smell, like the smell in the air when the snow first falls, that just makes me want to huff the bar.  I also bought some of their goats milk lotions, which Rachel can add any of the fragrances too.
Even better is the ingredient list.  The Horse Creek soap contains:

OLIVE OIL, COCONUT OIL, PALM OIL, GOAT MILK, AVOCADO OIL, SHEA BUTTER, COCOA BUTTER, CASTOR OIL, LYE, FRAGRANCE, COLOR.

That's it. Now I'm sure someone is going to say "lye?  Isn't that caustic?" Technically yes, but you can't make soap without it.  Not going to happen.  In a soap like Horse Creek, that is superfatted, the chance of any irritation in the tiny amount of lye needed to process is about zip. You are more likely to be sensitive to a fragrance in any brand of soap than the lye that's used to make it.
My husbands favorite to shave with is Bay Rum. We just cut the bar in half and use in his shaving mug.  We also both like his shower soap called Shave and a Haircut -  it's a light scent that blends all the smells of an old fashioned barbershop. I like it as well, and think it would be a great unisex fragrance. 
I love all of them, and can't wait to try the Cranberry/Orange, Vanilla Oak  and Lemon /Parsley which I've not tried yet. If you have troubled skin the Avocado/Clay soap is has been a huge hit with customers.

In addition to the soap and the lotions, there are also some great lip balms (the sweet orange is addicting) and a rose/clay sugar scrub that's just yummy.

At $5 a bar it might seem pricey for soap, but after using them a year, I can tell you a bar lasts 3 times longer than the soap I was using, so it's very competitively priced for the quality.

Next are the skin and body care items that I have used over the years.  I admit, I've strayed to try a high end name brand or two a close friend was using or selling and always came back to these products, especially after looking at some of the toxic ingredients in some of the popular brands.
 My favorites are
Their lavender body oil or sleep balm before bed is the bomb and their simple three step skin care is about the most easy and economical product around.  The serums are absolutely amazing.  I do add a Rodan Plus Fields eye cream which probably isn't close to "natural" but works better than any eye cream I've ever tried.

Some favorite Eminence products - sour cherry whip moisturizer, blueberry soy night cream, acai firming mask, blueberry exfoliating cleanser (very gentle), coconut oil infused acai berry toner, and recovery oil. (Yes, and they do smell as yummy as they sound). I really loved these products but they are pretty pricey so if you're on a budget, you might skip except for an occassional splurge.

I also always protect my skin from heavy winter winds/cold when working outdoors and summer sun with a layer of beeswax cream before I go outside (which has a natural spf of 15) from
The creams come in a number of formulations and fragrances (and unscented)  This is the only product of all the cosmetic stuff I have around the house that my husband uses regularly and I caught him borrowing the formula for sore muscles (it doesn't have that medicinal smell most such creams have and it gently increases circulation without being hot on the skin). Their solid bee balm sticks and bars are great for feet, especially cracked heals and elbows and are easily portable. Beeswax is also a natural fungicide so the use of the bee balm is helpful if you are prone to athlete's foot.  This is also the company I get my beeswax pillar candles and little decorative candles from.
As far as makeup - I don't wear much but threw out my last order of Avon cosmetics when I saw the "made in China label" on my makeup, a country that REQUIRES animal testing.
I switched to:
In addition to their deodorant, hair and bath products and salve, I love their tinted moisturizer in "fair/medium" and lipsticks (my favorite lipstick is the beautiful pink "dogwood").  The honey milk bath has Epsom salts to sooth sore muscles and release toxins as well as colloidal oatmeal, dried buttermilk and goat milk, dried honey and vanilla powder.  When I get out of the tub after soaking in this, both the husband and Abby the Labrador retriever want to snuggle up to me because I smell good. Their skin care is also outstanding and priced to fit a smaller budget.

I can honestly say that my skin, using good quality skin care which nourishes the skin with real, not synthetic ingredients,  not only does not look eight years older since I started using these products, but I'm usually mistaken for early 40's, NOT late 50's.  Good genes, a lifetime of sunscreen and a diet rich in foods that promote collagen have helped a lot, but the skin care has made a noticeable difference. Especially in the chronic redness and irritation I always had with dry skin and Rosacea.
Point and shoot selfie at age 49. (no filters)

Point and shoot selfie at age 57. (no filters)
So  next time you go shopping for personal care, do your skin and the environment a favor with products that nourish and support.  You will find they are worth every penny.

Footnotes:  

1. Brown et al. The role of skin absorption as a route of exposure for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in drinking water. Am J Public Health. 1984 May; 74(5): 479–484.
2. Kasting and Kretsos.Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2005;18:55-74 Robinson et al. 
3. The Importance of Exposure Estimation in the Assessment of Skin Sensitization risk. Contact Dermatitis 2000; 42:251-259.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Angels among us - and decent smoothies.

If I add a glass fo wine I think I've covered all food groups.

This week was not my finest in the healthy eating department.  My husband was gone all week, I was working on a project at home and things were happening in life that were stressful.  With pretty much perfect credit, I got a bill sent to collection for a fairly recent diagnostic medical exam that I never had.

I had a few things working in my favor:
The diagnostic procedure was in a state I moved away from and haven't revisited in 10 years
The address they sent the bill to, I'd moved from 12 years ago.
The last name of the "patient" was my maiden name, and I was long married at the time of the exam.
I was never a patient of the doctor that sent "me" for the diagnostic procedure, I was simply in the system for the medical group he was part of, or at least was 10 years ago.
I have no records of physical issues that would have required this procedure, being a licensed airline pilot, those things are in my FAA flight surgeon records.
Road tolls would show me driving from Chicago to Indianapolis early that morning to start duty at 9:30, leaving duty at 1800.
There's just not enough pizza for the week I had.

Still, the collection people didn't believe me, thinking I just "forgot" the exam (which I would have had to drive 650 miles to get, a procedure, readily available 5 minutes from where I lived), and told me I should just call the doctor and take care of the bill.

But his practice was closed, patients being picked up by a large medical provider in the area. (really, I need more pizza).

Fortunately, a very kind woman named Kim, a financial counselor at the large medical group who inherited the record when the practice that billed me closed, realized they inherited a billing error and got it sorted out though my credit report hasn't updated yet.  She probably spent half an hour on the phone with me trying to sort out what had happened.  Kim - you are an angel.  Bless you.

But at the start of the week when I found all this out let's just say red wine and cheese may be on the endangered species list by now.

So this weekend, my husband home and things back to normal, time for some healthy eating after a fairly big breakfast of gluten-free biscuits (King Arthur flour recipe) and gravy.

You know I love smoothies.  I tried the Daily Harvest home delivery ones and they were VERY good, with really healthy ingredients, but a little more than I wanted to pay.

Then I noticed in my Schwan's catalog they now have smoothies.

Most of you in the US are familiar with Schwan's - the big yellow truck that delivers flash frozen meals, fruits, veggies and ice cream to your door.  My Dad was a huge fan when he and my stepmom got up there in years and didn't like to cook much.  He still ALWAYS has their pot pies and GoldnNugget ice cream bars in his freezer and a couple of the skillet meals if he has one of the home health aides that's not much of a cook (they're hired for their nursing care, the house and cooking tasks are provided, but some are more skilled at that part than others).

I like them too.  I do tend to make 95% of everything from scratch, including my bread to save money but my family does have some favorites

The Toaster Waffles - before I ditched regular wheat I absolutely loved these, they put grocery store frozen waffles to shame.  They're crisp with a pillowy interior and a wonderful vanilla aroma.

The Ciabatta rolls (great for dinner or make little pizzas out of them for the little ones).

Fully cooked microwavable bacon (when you just want a quick BLT)

The whole sockeye salmon filet - growing up on fresh caught what we find in a store in the Midwest is NOT that great, the catch of the day usually being Perogies.

The southwest roasted corn and beans - less than $8 for two pounds, mix with rice and cheese and you've got a great vegetarian lunch burrito as it's already seasoned perfectly

and their frozen fruits and veggies, so fresh and good tasting.  (the roasted sweet potatoes are the bomb, especially drizzled with some pear/cinnamon balsamic vinegar before roasting).

But I'd not tried their smoothies. I'm glad I did

Pros:

Healthy ingredients - this tropical one had mango, carrots, sweet potatoes banana, and pineapple.  I mixed it with a cup and a half of a mixture of orange juice and goat milk kefir.

Great Taste - even my husband, NOT a fan of smoothies with veggies in them, took a sip and said, "that's good!"

Easy:  no chopping, no dicing

No gluten/no sugar/no sodium

Ready in two minutes.

Cons:

You will need to add more than just water, juice or coconut milk work great.

More $$ than making from scratch but they were HALF the cost of the Daily Harvest smoothie or ones from a "smoothie bar" kind of eatery (you can add protein powder or spirulina and such if you wish).

They also have a strawberry banana and a green smoothie (with peaches, pineapple, broccoli, and kale).

I really liked the tropical  flavor I just tried - I didn't notice the taste of the sweet potato and carrots after mixing it thoroughly with the juice and kefir.  It also made enough for a glass and a half and it was filling. If I added a heaping tablespoon of Vega Protein powder, this could be a meal.

Thanks Schwan's!  I will be re-ordering!