Thursday, August 27, 2009

A whole-wheat recipe that wasn't gross...hurray!

I have spent my whole life eating processed refined foods and so have my kids. Because of this, some of our new healthy recipes are not always well-received but that is not the case with this one: moist whole-wheat banana bread. Even though it contains stone-ground whole wheat flour, the texture was relatively smooth and moist and it was sweetened with honey and brown sugar rather than regular white sugar. You don't have to take my word for kids, husband and parents enjoyed it too. The website that I found this recipe on seems to have some other great recipes that I look forward to checking out. You can see for yourself at
In previous posts, I have mentioned my fear of overcooking the grass fed beef. Yesterday I decided to not worry so much about it which resulted in a very tough sirloin. Due to the low fat content, this beef can become very tough if cooked past medium. The only family member that could successfully chew it was our Australian Shepherd, Lucy. I finally broke down and ordered a grass-fed beef cookbook to help relieve some of the anxiety. The ribeyes and strips came out excellent when grilled to medium rare so I know a tender juicy steak is possible. Just to be on the safe side, I will wait for the cookbook to arrive before I try to use the tenderloin. Fortunately the ground beef is much easier to use and my first chuck roast came out wonderful when prepared in the crock pot.
After seeing it on so many food labels this week, I decided it was time to learn more about maltodextrin. I have seen it listed on many snack foods, sunflower seeds and pudding. It is derived from corn, rice, potato or even wheat starch and is used as a thickener or artificial sweetener. Although I could not track down any specific health risks, I did learn that it is easily converted to energy and used by endurance athletes for a quick pick-me-up during events and training. Based on that knowledge, it could have a similar effect on your pancreas as high fructose corn syrup but I don't know for sure. Knowing that it is chemically altered compound derived from a natural product could be enough to avoid it for me. Just because it starts out as something healthy doesn't mean it will still be good for you after it has been messed with by food scientists. I am pretty sure there are no listings in my grandma's cook book for 1 teaspoon of maltodextrin. When in doubt, stick with the pronounceable and recognizable ingredients...the kind that the human race has survived on for 1000's of years.

Friday, August 21, 2009

And just like that, summer was over!

As we embark on the last weekend before school starts, I am filled with sadness. It has really been an awesome summer and I am not ready to release my boys back to their institution of learning. I am also not ready to resume packing 9-10 lunches per week. This will be the real test of my commitment--filling the lunch boxes with nutritious real food that they will actually eat. Pringles and chewy granola bars are being replaced with, well I am not sure exactly what they are being replaced with yet. I have been stocking up on Kashi's bars, natural organic beef jerky and popcorn. It has been difficult to find deli meat free of nitrites, sugars, fillers, etc. Could I possibly be dedicated enough to roast an actual turkey breast to use for sandwiches? We'll see!

I have finally found the best Farmer's Market in Las Vegas and it is also the worst. Every Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. the Molto Farmer's Market, located at 7485 Dean Martin Drive Suite 106, is open to the public. It is actually a market for local chefs to purchase items from regional farmers and vendors and has some amazing and unusual items ranging from berries, beans and tomatoes to exotic mushrooms, oils, cheeses and vinegars. So how could it be the worst too? I learned about the market from the Las Vegas Review Journal yesterday and so did a lot of other people. We arrived at 11 and due to the small location, we were crammed in like sardines trying to make our way to each table. As if the oppressive feeling of claustrophobia wasn't enough, we were pushed around by some very angry and irritable senior citizens. They did not understand the kindergarten concept of "wait your turn" and would actually push past us at the tables to buy items even though the vendors were helping others (including us) at the time. In better conditions I would have browsed the tables better and tried some of the beautiful and unusual produce such as the cranberry beans (see photo) or purple cauliflower but my fight or flight response was overwhelming and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. I will attempt to visit it again, but since it is so close to my house I will have no problem turning around and leaving if it is like that next time. In spite of the mayhem, we brought home some wonderful green beans, pluots, golden raspberries, watermelon and corn on the cob.

Our chickens are almost four weeks old and have grown so much already. They are getting out of their brooding box and I had to add netting to the top to keep them in. We have actually came home and found chickens in unauthorized locations around the house. I am thinking it is time to move to the outside coop but I want to wait until the temperatures drop a little first. I don't know if it is in their best interest to go from an 80 degree house to a 107 degree backyard. I also need to secure my garden from them, which is full of sprouting lettuce, beets, carrots, broccoli and brussel sprouts. So far it is off to a good start and it looks like my compost pile is actually working too!

I have been reading a lot of labels lately and thought it might be "fun" to research some of the ingredients that I don't recognize. This week my featured ingredient is propylene glycol. So far I have found it in Kraft light vinaigrettes and popsicles. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for this chemical, users should avoid skin contact and it can cause liver and kidney damage if ingested. Other potential health effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hemoglobinuric nephrosis. It is also an ingredient in makeup, shampoo, deodorant, styling mousse, baby wipes, after shave, tire sealant, fabric softener, paint, adhesive, aircraft de-icer, artificial smoke and wallpaper stripper. I think I will just use some vinegar and oil on my salad instead...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's not what you think...

Would you believe the ice cream cone cupcake this handsome boy is holding is made with whole-wheat flour and organic turbinado sugar? Well don't! For those of you that don't see us on a day-to-day basis, you might think we have attained some amazing level of eating excellence. Unfortunately that is not the case. These cupcakes were made from a recipe found in a book called The Cupcake Doctor. All the recipes in this cookbook involve doctored cake mixes. It is not that I cannot bake a cake from scratch but rather that cakes from scratch do not always have consistent results. It was my son's birthday and I wanted to make sure the cupcakes weren't yucky and I knew a cake mix would produce the correct texture and moistness level. I did scan the ingredients on my Duncan Hines box and discovered many unpronounceable chemical compounds. Quickly I averted my eyes and pretended I didn't see them. I did make a homemade buttercream frosting at least. Instead of cupcake liners, they bake in ice cream cones made with hydrogenated soybean oil...put it all together and you have one yummy cupcake! We finished the birthday with a dinner to the restaurant of his choice--Del Taco. We enjoyed chili cheese fries with beef and cheese of unknown origin and fried in who knows what. It was not a banner day in our healthy eating journey. My stomach did not feel good the next day at all. In the last week I have also purchased Texas Toast (loaded was high-fructose corn syrup and bleached flour) to make French toast because whole-wheat French toast does not taste as good. At least we topped it with 100% maple syrup instead of the Sam's Club jug of Aunt Jemima.

I have started reading a couple of really interesting books this week, The Maker's Diet and Real Food. The first book is a eating plan based on Biblical eating principles and explains scientifically why God created these dietary laws. The author was suffering from Crohn's disease as well many other digestive and immune system ailments which were reversed after he started following this eating plan. The second book was written by a journalist who grew up in a farm in Virginia eating "real food" and explains what "real food" is and why it is better for us. I am loving both books but not loving The Maker's Diet's explanation on why we shouldn't eat pork and shellfish. It makes sense but those are foods I am not ready to give up. We will have to see how strong my convictions become.

Remember that several small choices in what you eat each day can have a major impact on your overall health. We still hit an occasional fast food restaurant and I did sprinkle Oreos on my frozen yogurt last night but I am not going to let that discourage my overall resolve to eat better. Some days are harder than others and it seems the best policy is to not even bring the forbidden foods home. If your kitchen is full of "real food," you will have no choice but to eat it when you are hungry. As we head back to school and a new sports season starts, it will be interesting to see how we pull this off. We are about to become a very busy family again...stay tuned!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pleased to "meat" you...

It's overwhelming when you think about it--eating has become so complicated. There had to be a time when if the food tasted good it was good for you and if it tasted or smelled bad you avoided it. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. What seems to be perfectly safe food is causing illness and sometimes even death. The most recent case happened just the other day when salmonella was found in ground beef packed in Fresno, CA, prompting a recall of 826,000 pounds of beef. This same company recalled 1560 pounds of beef cheek products (Just knowing that there are products made from beef cheeks is disgusting enough!) a year ago due to E. coli contamination. If these problems keep appearing why hasn't something changed in the way our meat is processed? Could it be because the government agencies that we trust to protect us and uphold food safety standards are more interested in protecting the interests of the food companies? Just a thought...

I was relieved that this was one meat recall I didn't have to participate it. My ground beef came from a ranch in Colorado where cows aren't crammed into feedlots standing knee deep in their own waste. It didn't cost $1.89 a pound like the recalled beef probably did, but we have been eating it for two weeks and have nothing to worry about. So how do you know which beef to buy? There are so many adjectives describing the items in the meat case these days how do you know what matters and what is just a marketing ploy? Click here to see definitions of the terms found on your meat labels.

This week I wanted to compare some produce prices so I visited my local Whole Foods. Based on this week's prices, the Winder Farms' organic produce box came in about a $1 more than the same items at Whole Foods. It seems like prices have dropped throughout the whole store. The Kashi cereals were around $3.49/box, the Stonyfield Farms Yokids yogurt tubes were on sale and I was delighted to find hamburger buns without high fructose corn syrup(I don't remember if they were on sale, I was just happy to find them). We also tried the Horizon Organic kids yogurt tubes which did not pass Jack's taste test. They are very tangy compared to other "kid" yogurt. I didn't like them very much either and I am pretty forgiving in the yogurt taste department. I also found boneless, skinless, organic air-cooled chicken breasts for $4.99/lb. When I purchased them I had no idea what air-cooled meant, I was just happy to see organic boneless skinless breasts for the same price that Albertson's organic bone-in breasts were. I haven't tried them yet but after some research I discovered that they are supposed to have amazing flavor.

Our baby chickens are growing so fast and their only air cooling will come from our air conditioning unit because we brought them home to be egg layers not fryers. I never knew how much joy could be found from watching chickens. They are so goofy and cute. We take them out each night after dinner and watch them trying to catch bugs, taking dust baths, learning to fly and pouncing on each's hilarious! I will have to film it and post a video. They will be all grown up before I know it but at least when that happens, I will have the freshest free-range organic eggs that money can't buy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dark Side of Compost..

What do you get when you mix grass clippings, pine litter, fruit and vegetable scraps, water and sun? Hopefully it will eventually be compost, until then you get some serious bugs! Since I began the pile, several ants, flies and some bugs I cannot name have taken residence in there. It makes sense though, doesn't it? Garbage decaying in hot sun with high moisture content is a natural draw for any 6 legged scavenger. I shudder to think what crawls around in there after the sun goes down. I guess I thought since I was doing something noble with the refuse, it would not be like other garbage. I considered it special because some day it would be compost and help my garden produce fine vegetables for all to enjoy. Maybe someone should have told the bugs. After further research, I learned that this is not unusual. Hopefully when the pile heats up it will kill everything. This would be a lot easier if I could just pick up a bag of compost at Target.
One thing I will not be needing from Target is chicken broth. I froze the bones and skin from some organic chicken breasts I cooked a couple of weeks ago and simmered them for a few hours with some vegetables that were on their way to the compost pile (if you know what I mean). It contained carrots, celery, red onions, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper. When the water was a respectable shade of yellow and the flavor was reminiscent of homemade chicken soup, I removed it from the heat and let it cool completely. Afterward I strained the liquid and froze it in 2 cup portions (which is approximately the volume of a traditional can of broth). I am particularly proud of this for a couple of reasons, the first being that it was organic. This was not my intention but it just happened that everything I put in it was organic. The second is that it cost me nothing. I know, I paid for the original materials however this was stuff that was heading to the garbage. The celery and carrots had gone limp, the onions were getting slimy and I had more fresh garlic than I could use before it was past its prime. As far as the chicken bones go, they are only good for supporting the body of a chicken so really I had done all I could with them. The hardest part of the whole experiment was trying to find enough containers to freeze the 2 cup portions in. This yielded the equivalent of 9 cans of broth...woohoo!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a research problem. When I want to learn something new I read everything I can on the subject. Before the advent of the internet, I was limited by my ability to get to a library and what their collection held. With the internet I can spend hours poring over new information. Since I want so desperately to be able to grow food we can eat, I have been reading a lot about gardening. In addition to numerous websites, I also have a local gardening booklet from the Nevada Cooperative Extension, The Sunset Western Garden Guide, The Complete Guide to Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs, planting guides from Star Nursery and some bargain book from Barnes and Noble about organic gardening. From these I have learned that not all experts about gardening in the desert Southwest agree with each other. I am so overloaded with conflicting information that all I can do at this point is dig a hole, put in some seeds and hope they grow. My husband blessed me by having irrigation installed for my raise beds so I went ahead and planted some seeds today: lettuce, carrots, broccoli and brussel sprouts. According to some sources this is the correct time to do so while others say to wait until September. I guess I will know who is right come winter...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going postal...compostal that is!

Do you ever really think about garbage? Probably not, I know I have a lot more important things to ponder. If you do decide to dwell on what you are tossing out however, you may realize that there is gold in that there wastebasket. As I research more about gardening in this barren wasteland, the word "compost" keeps popping up (or do I mean cropping?). So what is compost exactly? It is a plant fertilizer made from decaying organic matter such as yard and kitchen waste. It looks like my smelly garbage is going to be helping me grow more smelly garbage! Composting always seemed like something reserved for hippies or Al Gore and even seem too complicated...layer of green waste; layer of brown waste; water; turn; lather; rinse; repeat. I guess the only way I will learn is by doing. There was already a lonely compost bin in my backyard from the previous owners so really I have no excuse to delay the decay...we have started a compost pile. It began with some soil, pine needles, grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps. Will it really turn into the black gold that will help my vegetables grow? I will keep you "posted."

Until I am growing my own vegetables, I will be trying a new improved Winder Farms organic produce box. Somehow a representative from Winder Farms came across my blog and called me to discuss my produce issues. Is that incredible or what? I explained to him that I was very happy with their service, I just thought I could do better buying the produce in the store. He stated that, "we don't want you 95% satisfied, we want you a 100% satisfied." I think I am a 110% satisfied with their customer service, that's for sure. We successfully made our last bottle of Winder Farms milk last through this morning, and are anxiously awaiting our next delivery tomorrow. I actually ran out while pouring a bowl of cereal and used half and half to fill the rest of the bowl. Not a good idea, half and half tastes great in coffee but ruins a perfectly good bowl of cereal.

Speaking of cereal, I can confidently say that the Kashi cereals are cheapest at Wal-Mart. They all sell for under $4 a box which is much better than every other store I have been to. I like these cereals because of their simple ingredients and lack of high fructose corn syrup. We have tried Cinnamon Harvest (which is also available at Sam's Club in big box form), Honey Sunshine, Island Vanilla and Strawberry Fields. Jack is a fan of Strawberry Fields but Keith is more of an Island Vanilla guy.

We got to enjoy our first grass-fed beef cheeseburgers. They really do retain their precooked size and were very juicy for how lean they are. Unfortunately I had to serve them with hamburger buns that contained high fructose corn syrup. I could not find one package without it at the grocery store and I didn't have to time to check other stores. It's amazing that even the products in packages designed to attract the health conscious still contain the ingredients that we are trying to avoid. Even Quaker Original Instant Oatmeal is not as wholesome as it seems. You would be better off microwaving the actual oats instead. Does this mean I will have to make my own buns now? I sure hope not because if they are anything like the whole-wheat dinner rocks...I mean rolls, I will have to go low carb!

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed