Monday, January 31, 2011

Banana Bread

Need to write down this recipe quickly before I forget it - I just made, hands down, the most deliciously healthy banana bread I've ever had. I have an old standby recipe for banana bread that we love, but today I decided to play around with it to see if I couldn't come up with something better, and hit GOLD. This is the most moist and delicious banana bread I have ever tasted in my life, and this is just day one! I usually find that baked goods taste best the day after they're made, but I'm not sure this could possibly get any better. Anyway, I'm quickly writing down the changes I made before they leave my head!

Emily's Own (Healthy!) Banana Bread
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter
3/4 cup raw honey
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large fresh egg
2 ripe organic bananas
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups healthy flour (I used a combination of 1 cup stone ground whole wheat, 1/2 cup stone ground spelt, 1/4 cup kamut and 1/4 cup quinoa, but all whole wheat would be great too!)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional but I love them - not going to pretend they're healthy though! You could also use 1 cup of chopped nuts to keep it strictly sugar free.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the stand mixer, cream the butter and honey until smooth. Add the bananas, cream until smooth. Add yogurt and egg and combine. Add baking soda, salt and vanilla, blend. Add flour and stir on low just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon into well greased loaf pan or muffin tins. Bake 20-25 minutes for muffins, or 50-55 minutes for a loaf, depending on the size.

For me this made enough for one large-ish loaf and 6 muffins, but you could do all muffins or divide between two smaller loaf pans or whatever. All I know is, I'm never going back to the original recipe which called for white flour and sugar. This honestly tastes better than that recipe. I think I've found a new classic for our family :)

Homemade Sour Cream

Technically this is a sort of "creme fraiche" as opposed to real sour cream, but it tastes great, couldn't be easier to make, and is a much healthier alternative to store bought sour cream. If you read the label on store bought sour cream you'll see that it says in the small print "Artificially soured." That means it's not really sour cream, just cream with some additives to give it that sour taste and a lot of thickeners to make it creamy. Once you start buying the low fat versions it gets even worse. Without the natural fat of the cream to make it thick you're looking at a lot of chemicals. No thanks! One final bonus? You can use a glass jar and avoid the plastic container leaching BPA into the food!
When I found this method for making my own and saw how easy it is and how well it works, I rejoiced. I haven't done a cost breakdown to see if this is a lot cheaper, but I'm pretty sure it is.
Method: Use a ratio of 1 cup of cream to 1 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk. You can pick which cream to use, I always use whipping cream (35%) because the higher fat makes a thicker and better tasting sour cream, but you can also use coffee cream (18%) or even cereal cream (10%), your sour cream just won't be as thick. Grab a clean glass jar, pour in your cream and buttermilk, stir to combine, put the lid on and let it sit totally undisturbed at room temperature for anywhere from 12-24 hours. I've found a lot of variation in this, it seems to depend a lot on how warm the house is etc., but you know it's done when you pick up the jar and the cream is almost solid looking in the jar. That is, you can tip the jar and it doesn't slosh. Stick it in the fridge for a few hours to firm up a bit more, then enjoy! It doesn't keep quite as long as the store bought stuff, but you can make a smaller quantity if you know you aren't going to need much.
I love having homemade sour cream in the fridge to top soups or Mexican food. We're having seafood chowder for dinner tonight - I might even stir a bit into that! The enzymes in the cultured cream help your body to digest your food more effectively. Plus it's delicious!
I used some of my sour cream yesterday to make a yummy after-church snack, some dip for baby carrots. It's sooo simple: about equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise (I make mine with olive oil so super good for you!) and some Mrs. Dash Original. Add a pinch of sea salt if you feel like it. What a yummy way to eat carrots, and in this case the dip actually helps your body to better digest the raw carrots, so you wind up with more nutritional benefit to your body than if you ate the carrots plain. Tastes better AND is better for me? Yes please!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Weird

Pregnancy can be so weird. Everyone claims that they can tell you "what they don't tell you about being pregnant," but in my experience everyone is SO different there's no possible way that one person can fill you in on everything you need to know. No matter how much you read and prepare, your body is going to do weird things that isn't in the books.

Take me for example. Pregnancy for me = a perpetual nosebleed. Not gushing blood or anything (at least not most of the time), but I think all that extra blood in my system thinks it has to come out somewhere so I'm constantly blowing my nose and blood comes out. Too gross for the internet? Sorry. But it's a fact.

More blood: this one I actually did read about in a pregnancy book, "pink toothbrush." Sensitive gums mean that your mouth might bleed a little while brushing your teeth. A little? Try spitting out mouthfuls of blood every time you brush and feeling like you got punched in the face, more like.

Thirdly, the onions. When I'm not pregnant, chopping onions doesn't bother me one bit. I dice away, throw them in the pot and never think twice about it. When I am pregnant, I can barely handle it. I just cut the top of the onion and the tears start flowing, I have to stop several times just to clear my vision enough to see the onion that I'm chopping, my already full nose starts running like a faucet and I can hardly keep it together.

I don't know why pregnancy has to be so strange and mysterious, but I do know that despite its downsides, it is totally worth it in the end. I know this because otherwise I would NOT be doing it over again. Women who sign up to be surrogate mothers blow my mind... never mind the whole question of ethics and giving up your own baby, I just can't imagine choosing to be pregnant if you didn't want the baby yourself. Yuck!

In other news and thoughts, today I went snowshoeing for the first time! It was such a beautiful day I had to take Eli outside, and normally we would just go over to the church but I saw a friend's kids playing outside and they adore Eli so I took him over there to play. He wasn't too keen on the whole thing, but then Holly came out with her skis and I borrowed a pair of snowshoes and we went tromping around the back field, her son pulling Eli in the sled. I'm still not sure how much Eli liked the whole ordeal, but I had a great time. I still haven't broken out my own skis and learned how, but it's one of my goals for the winter. Must learn to ski! Hoping tomorrow is a nice day...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Playgroup

I did it! I broke out of my comfortable rut of routine and took Eli to playgroup this morning at the Browns Flat School. I've been meaning to do this for a long time, I really wanted to meet other moms in the area, but I just find it so hard to buck up, call the school (I DESPISE making phone calls), and GO. I had so many excuses... it's right during Eli's naptime, it messes up our routine for the day etc., but I knew that I just needed to get out a little more. I really do like meeting new people, and I love getting out of the house, but that is balanced by my hatred of new places or buildings. I usually avoid unfamiliar stores like the plague. This is why I still shop at Superstore, even though Sobeys is closer and more convenient. I know where everything is. The Browns Flat School is hardly a big scary building or anything, and I've been there enough that I knew where I was going, I just kept putting it off. Thank goodness I HAVE been there before or I might never have gone.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I was really impressed with the program. I was used to the Mom's group in Grand Bay that I had gone to for a while, which was pretty much completely unstructured. People showed up whenever, left whenever and the kids just played the whole time. Playgroup starts with play time, then a craft, a snack, storytime and songs afterward. Still relaxed enough that I don't feel pressure when my one-year-old wants to wander around rather than sit and colour, but nice to have that structure too. Today they coloured placemats that will be laminated for them next week, had yogurt, crackers, watermelon and juice for snack (I skipped out on the juice...) read a story and sang a few songs. Eli preferred to be a passive listener during the songs, which is fine by me. It was nice to meet a few new people, reconnect with a friend that I don't get to see very often, and just get out of the house. We don't have the car during the day so it's nice that it's within walking distance, even though it takes a lot of energy to bundle up myself and a toddler and get us out the door and down the street (being 22 weeks pregnant doesn't help).
Anyway, I'm excited, proud of myself for actually going, and pleased overall with the whole program. Looking forward to next week!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Shampoo - Three Weeks Later

Aaaargh!

This was harder than I thought it was going to be. Vanity sets in very quickly when you have a greasy head of hair and the temptation to grab that bottle of shampoo in the shower gets very strong.

But I committed to a month, so a month it's going to be.

The first couple of weeks have been the hardest, obviously. Drying off your hair and having it look the exact same as it did when you got into the shower is frustrating. There have been a lot of ponytails going on.

But today I was actually brave enough to wear my hair down for church, and you know what? I don't really think you can tell. Slowly but steadily my hair has looked less greasy as time has gone on, rather than more greasy. The dryness of our apartment means that the ends are still static-y, but not as bad as they were when I was shampooing, even though I was also applying conditioner to the ends (I gave that up too).

After three weeks my hair doesn't look (I think) as good as it did when I was shampooing - yet - but the fact that my hair is SO long might also mean it might take a bit longer than for some other people. If after a month I'm still not happy with how it looks I might give the baking soda thing a shot, we'll see.

Aside from that, a few things: I was worried that some of my acne might return if I stopped using head & shoulders. I've used that brand only for years, not because of dandruff but because any other brand I tried gave me acne. Head & shoulders cleared it right up. I've decided that it probably wasn't the head & shoulders that cleared it up, but the absence of some unknown ingredient that was causing it. My skin has remained clear and acne free.

My eczema is, to put it frankly, awful. I have not seen a big improvement in that area like I had hoped, but what I HAVE noticed is that the patches of eczema on my arms and legs are no longer red and inflamed when I get out of the shower like they used to be. It always used to get really bad for a few hours after a shower, and that's gone now. It's just bad all the time, but I think that's a combination of, again, the dry winter weather, the pregnancy (maybe?), and probably some allergies that I don't know about. The rest of my skin, not struggling with eczema, is slightly less dry than it used to be. Hooray!

Cory hasn't noticed. Or if he has noticed, he hasn't said anything about it. I never told him about my experiment, and after three weeks he still hasn't mentioned anything, and the "you smell so good!" compliments haven't gone away. I don't know whether he's just being polite or he truly hasn't noticed. Guess I'll have to let you know when he finally gets around to reading the blog.

So that's my update, just a little less than two weeks to go until my month is up, then I'll make a decision. Some people I know only shampoo once every week or two, maybe I'll end up doing that, who knows. I'll let my hair speak for itself in another couple of weeks!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

KitchenAid Stand Mixer

What did I ever do without that thing? In the past couple of days, I've used it to make:

Mayonnaise
Bread
Cinnamon Buns
Pizza Dough
Tortillas

I am very, very thankful for that machine. It makes life a lot easier, and homemade a lot simpler.

I've been thinking lately about how thankful I am for my kitchen gadgets, but also pondering what I can/will need in the future. Not to be covetous, but I'm just thinking of the days when I will be able to afford a few more things to simplify life even more. A nice knife set, for example. I have a blender that works fine, but it was a cheap one and someday I would like to get a more expensive one that will blend a little more smoothly. I tried to make a smoothie with blackberries in it yesterday and that just didn't work at all, the seeds are much too big and don't get pureed enough. A food processor would be nice, and I really would like to replace all my plastic tupperware with pyrex. I have some, but I'm going to be slowly working on that collection. I finally got myself a new loaf pan the other day! A glass one, now I can make more than one loaf of bread at a time if I want to. Definitely a bonus. Near the top of my list is a grain mill so I can grind my own flour. Those machines are expensive, especially if you get a stone model, but the health benefits of freshly ground grains are not to be underestimated. Plus it would save a lot of money in the long run, buying grain whole is a lot cheaper than buying flour.

This post started with me being thankful and ended with me longing for things I don't have. I don't want you to suppose that I'm unsatisfied with my current possessions, I'm really very content, it's just nice to dream about the future sometimes.

Back to reality... must go wake up that little boy if I want him to take a nap this afternoon. I'm trying to enjoy these last few months before his little brother arrives as much as possible. As excited as I am about my family of two little boys, I'm also wistfully clinging to these last days when it's just me and Eli.

There I go again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Burgers, Fries and a Salad

We had this for dinner the other night. Sounds like a pretty simple meal right? Nothing too complicated there. Probably one of those "throw together" meals.
However, when you're dedicated to making as much as possible from scratch, it turns into a bigger deal, and yet WAY healthier. Worth it overall! For our burgers 'n' fries the other night, I started with the ketchup. I've been meaning to experiment with making my own ketchup for a long time to get away from all that sugar. I grabbed an onion, gave it a rough chop and threw it into a saucepan with some olive oil to start to cook down. Peeled three cloves of garlic and added them, whole. Then deglazed with about 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Added a large can of whole (or diced or pureed) tomatoes with the juice, about 1/3 or 1/2 cup molasses, some stevia, some fish sauce (but salt would work here), a pinch of cinnamon, dash of cloves and just a shake or two of cayenne pepper. I brought it to a boil and let it bubble away for (I think) around an hour and a half, until it seemed thick enough. I let it cool down enough to put it in the blender, then blended it until smooth. According to the internet, homemade ketchup will keep for about two months, so I put half in a jar in the fridge for now and half in a jar in the freezer for later. We don't eat a ton of ketchup, so I imagine that the one batch will last us the full four months. It is delicious!
As far as other burger toppings go, I already had homemade mayo in the fridge and haven't got as far as making my own mustard or relish yet, so they were still from the grocery store. Would have loved a fresh tomato on our burgers but I didn't have one. Oh well.
Then I made buns. I just use my basic whole wheat bread recipe, make it into buns and brush with olive oil and sprinkle cornmeal on top. Makes fantastically chewy buns!
For the burgers themselves I thawed out a package of ground beef from the freezer and another package of cow's liver. Then I tried out the meat grinder I asked for for Christmas! I used it for the liver so I could mix it into our burgers. Liver is SOsosososo good for you so I'm trying to work it in wherever I can. We're not huge on the taste, don't mind it, but if I can hide it in something else all the better. I found that if the liver had been a bit more on the frozen side it would have ground better, the chunks in the middle that were still frozen went through the easiest, but in the end I had enough to re-freeze half and mix the other half with the beef. Added some salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce and fried up the burgers on my trusty cast iron. We honestly could not even taste the liver, they were so yummy!
For the fries I made oven sweet potato fries. Apart from my frustration at trying to cut up my HUGE sweet potatoes (those things are not easy to get a knife through!), these were very simple. Peel, cut into wedges, toss with olive oil, salt and Mrs. Dash Original. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.
I served it all up with a salad. The other day I tried making my own croutons, then practically hit myself for not doing it before. It was so simple, and such a great way to use up the ends of the loaf! I just cubed some of my homemade bread, tossed with olive oil and salt and Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb (see a pattern here?), spread on a baking sheet and baked at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring often. So much yummier than store bought, and WAY cheaper! Anyway, my salad was simply romaine, baby carrots, cucumber slices and croutons with whatever dressing you wanted. I normally always make our own dressing before we have salad, but I was honestly a little DIY-ed out after the buns and everything.
Anyways, that was our very yummy dinner the other day. Even though it's a lot more work, it's so much more satisfying to serve up a dinner like that that's delicious and nutritious. Cory was happy, and that's what matters most!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Peaceful

I'm so enjoying this stage with Eli. Sure he's getting into things more, today he knocked over the garbage can and spilled garbage all over the floor, then got into the clean-but-not-yet-folded laundry and spread the socks all over the house, making it very difficult to find matching pairs when I went to fold it, then pulled all his books off the shelf, but I really love this age. He's consistent, which is the best part. Still taking two naps a day of at least an hour each, allowing me time to relax and/or get housework done, then off to bed sometime between 6:30 and 7, not to be heard from again until about 7:30. That's heavenly. I'm pretty good in the mornings, don't know if I'd really call myself a "morning person" but as long as it's sometime after 7 I'm good to get up. Before 7 makes me very grumpy.
He's interacting way more, babbling at me and playing with me. He wants to have pillow fights or chase me around with his toy hammer laughing hysterically. He eats anything and can for the most part feed himself, making dinner time a lot easier when I only have to prepare one meal. He gives me hugs and kisses of his own accord - albeit not very often - and shows more and more affection every day. He's walking, which is so nice. I know a lot of people dread when their babies learn to walk but I love it, it's so much easier just to put him down and let him go without worrying about where he's crawling. Pregnancy is growing on me so the other day in the grocery store I HAD to go to the bathroom. I've avoided this so far when it's just the two of us because I didn't know what I would do with him (hold him in my arms? Awkward. Put him on the bathroom floor? Disgusting), but now that he'll stand I could just put him down.
His latest thing is that he's finally starting to like books! I haven't been able to get him very interested in them up to this point, although I kept trying, but lately he's been picking books off the shelf and bringing them to me to read to him. Depending on the book he might only make it through a couple pages, but at least he's interested. His favourite book right now is Snuggle Wuggle, which he brings me five or six times a day and wants read through at least twice every time, but a close second is The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear, which I had to read him four times in a row yesterday. He giggles through it every time.
Anyway, my point is that I like the routine. The peacefulness of nap time and being able to put him down and know that I have at least an hour. The consistency. I'm enjoying this while it lasts, because in a few short months the confusing chaos of adjusting to another new person is going to begin again. No more sleeping through the night... not that I can really do that when I'm pregnant anyway, but at least I don't have to get up and rock a baby. No more sitting through entire meals, no more knowing exactly when nap time will be. Hopefully with this baby though I'll be able to establish more of a routine early on, since I'll be trying to line him/her up with Eli's schedule. This time I'll know what I'm doing a bit more. This time I'll also have a toddler to deal with. *sigh*
That being said, I really can't wait for our family to grow again and to meet this little person. On Friday we find out what we're having!! SO excited!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No 'Poo?

I swear I become more of a hippy every day.

I don't mean to, I'm really not the hippy type! I've always been the girl who wanted to follow the trends, scoffed at environmental fanatics and chose products because they worked, not because they were good for me. I always wanted the latest in skin care and fancy hair products, hey it's FUN being girly!

But now that there's more than just me to think about, now that I'm responsible for the home that several other people share, and in fact am sharing my body with a very small, very vulnerable person, I've realized that I really need to think of what's truly best for us, best for our bodies. God only gave us one, and he charges us to take care of it. How can I serve God if I'm sick from years of eating processed foods and exposing myself to harmful chemicals?

So slowly but steadily I've been making some changes. I try to go for the "green" cleaners in the grocery store, not because I'm convinced that they're totally chemical free, but because I cling to the hope that they are better than the alternatives. I've blogged enough about my effort to feed my family wholesome, natural, from-scratch foods that I probably don't even need to mention that. But lately my eyes have been opened to a new area of my life that I hadn't really considered: personal hygiene, and the "No soap, no 'poo" trend that's hitting people who are trying to live a healthier alternative lifestyle.

At first I scoffed. Then I started reading more. The internet is an invaluable resource. And I'll admit, this isn't as big of a step for me as it is for some people. I used to be the shower-every-day type of girl. Then I had a child, and that flew out the window. To be perfectly honest, I'm lucky if I shower three times a week. And know what? I don't stink. I'm not dirty. It used to be that if I skipped washing my hair one day it would be a greasy mess, but now it takes a good 4-5 days of no shower before it starts to look bad.

Also, I was already halfway there. I've had eczema my entire life, itchy dry patches all over my skin. It had varied in intensity over the years, when I was pregnant with Eli it actually completely cleared up for a little while, but it's back now, especially on my hands. I always knew that bar soap or body wash in the shower made it much worse, and though I tried various products that claimed to be for "sensitive" skin over the years, even baby washes, everything only served to worsen the problem. So I haven't used soap or body wash in the shower for years, so giving that up is a non-issue.

Shampoo though...

Reading about other people's experience with giving up shampoo has given me courage. Lots of people replace it with baking soda and vinegar, but many others say that no shampoo at all is just as effective, and baking soda and vinegar can just be a transitional step if you aren't willing to take the plunge yet. Shampoo is basically a detergent, and strips all the natural oils from your scalp. This in turn causes your scalp to amp up production of oil to make up the difference, meaning you shampoo more... it continues. So by giving it up, according to my friend Internet, it will take a couple weeks for your hair to adjust but then your body will naturally reset how much oil it produces and you'll have clean, shiny, healthy and dandruff-free hair.

Not only this, but you are saving yourself all the harsh chemicals entering your bloodstream through your skin (and soaps and shampoos contain a LOT of them, every tried to read the label?), AND saving the money you would be spending. Sounds like a win-win to me.

So this is Day 1. I'm committing to try this for at least a month and see if my hair doesn't feel healthier and better. NO products in the shower. (Except the built-in moisturizer around my razor, not giving up shaving... I like being married too much for that). I'm curious to see if Cory notices a difference. I'm curious to see if this clears up the tiny bit of dandruff that I have, or even helps my skin out (because despite not using soap shampoo invariable gets on your skin in the shower).

So if this works out, we'll see what comes next. Homemade lotion? No deoderant? No toothpaste? There are lots of advocates out there for all these things as well, but I'm going to take it one step at a time.

One thing for sure: learning all this made me feel a lot better about the fact that I've never used soap on Eli, and I'll continue to do that. He doesn't need it, his hair certainly never gets greasy, and I can avoid the chemicals.

I'll keep you "posted..." (pun intended)

Clean

Why oh why did it take me so long to figure out how to keep a house reasonably clean? It's not that I didn't have the know-how, I was well instructed in childhood on the proper way to pick up, vacuum a carpet, scrub a sink, etc., but for some reason I've never been a hard worker when it comes to that sort of thing. I've never been a very hard worker when it comes to any sort of thing. School kind of came naturally for me, and while I liked doing a good job and getting good marks, most of the time it really didn't take incredible effort to pull that off, especially once I went to public school. I liked having a clean room, and every few months a burst of energy would surface and I would tackle it, working like a madman until it was spotless. It would stay that way for a week or so, then revert back to it's former state of chaos. And I can't say I ever cared much about the state of the rest of the house. That's Mom's job after all, right? In university I shared a room, which for me was a big motivator to keep things clean. My room was pretty neat on the surface, the bed usually got made at some point during the day, my clothes got washed on a semi-regular basis, and I chose to pointedly ignore the dust bunnies under my desk. Not bad though, especially if compared to the rest of the dorm.

And then, I got married. My own place. My own LARGE place, a three bedroom apartment with a generous kitchen, dining room, large living room, back hallway/storage area, and sunroom. A lot bigger than my half of my little dorm room! The first surge of moving-in energy was great. I organized, sorted, stashed, scrubbed and got everything exactly the way I wanted it. Then I somehow expected it to stay that way with little to no input on my part. I had no sense of how often one should mop the floors, or scrub the toilets, or change the sheets. Or if I did, I chose to ignore it. The apartment would quickly disintegrate into a huge mess, and Cory and I would together end up taking the better part of a Saturday just trying to set things to rights. Then I got pregnant, and tiredness set in. I really didn't want to be cleaning then. I was frustrated that the laundry wouldn't just wash itself, and that dishes really did have to be done every day in order to keep up.

But here I stand, looking back at those days and I'm so glad they are over. Slowly but steadily my housekeeping skills have improved to the point where I am generally pretty satisfied with how my house looks. My Motivated Moms calendar helps me out, although I am by no means as dedicated to it as I could be. Somehow I've just learned that there are daily tasks that simply must be done, and once done I can relax and feel so much better in a clean environment. And I still have lots of free time! With my champion sleeper still napping 3-4 hours every day, there is tons of time to get everything done that needs to be done and still curl up with a coffee and a good book, or spend some time on the laptop. I'm not going to win any good housekeeping awards (no one look in the office please), but I can relax in a tidy living room and enjoy my day.

I see I now have a diaper to change and some lunch to heat up, so the computer must go away again for a bit. It's easy to make lunch though in a neat kitchen :)