Saturday, April 26, 2014

Healthy Homemade // Vanilla Extract

With consumers gaining more and more knowledge about what's really in their food and knowing how to read food labels, some of us have turned to homemade alternatives. As a mom, homemade gives me the feeling of security that I know what's in the food I'm feeding my family...but it sometimes gives me this tense sigh that makes me think and when exactly will I have time for that?  When I come across a solution for a healthier food staple for my pantry that takes pretty much ZERO effort, I am thrilled!  (Read more about why regular store bought vanilla isn't what you think it is and another article on how to make it yourself here.)
A perfect gift for a healthy foodie came in the form of beans...delicious smelling vanilla beans that is. For Christmas this past year my mom gifted me a Vanilla Infusion Kit from Salt Sisters, which included a unique glass bottle with three fragrant organic vanilla beans. (Well, my kit actually included extra vanilla beans so I could make multiple batches.) And my clever mama found more bottles for me to make the extra batches. Yay, a gift that would lead to more gifts! I love it.
After several months of waiting for the infusion to take place, I finally have my very first bottle of homemade vanilla extract. It was finished infusing just in time to make a special birthday cake for my hubby. Perfect! It was divine and had just as strong flavor as any store bought vanilla I'd ever used but at a fraction of the cost. See the breakdown below.

What you're saving:: 

Salt Sisters Vanilla Infusion Kit:  $31.25
Extra vanilla beans for two more bottles: $7.95
Cheap, bottom-shelf vodka: $6.99
Grolsch 4 pack of beer to use the bottles: $7.99
Total: $54.18 for 3 16oz bottles (48 oz)

Grand Total: $1.12/oz

Store bought Simply Organic Vanilla, 4 oz
Local grocery price:  $9.89
Online health store, Vitacost: $8.09

Grocery cost for 48 oz (12 bottles): $118.68

Online cost for 48 oz (12 bottles): $97.08

1. Have your hubby drink 2 Grolsch beers. (He loved this idea already!)
2. Clean your beer bottles and dry them. Add 2 beans to each bottle. (The Salt Sisters bottle came ready to go.)
3. Fill bottles with Vodka.
4. Store in a cool dark place for several months. This could take anywhere from 2-4 months. Mine took three and a half months before there was no alcohol smell.
5. Use, gift and enjoy!

Food Freedom // Health + Happy Juice Fast Day 4

Ahhh, the glory moment came...the feeling of a new you, the moment you remember where you're standing, what you're wearing, your total surroundings. You can close your eyes and be there. The clouds give way to clear skys and you see the revelation. 

Day 4 was my revelation. I don't need food. (Okay, okay, I need food to live, yes.) But I'm talking about the desire to need certain foods that you don't really you follow? I don't need a bowl of ice cream, a brownie, a hamburger, a french fry (oh sweet french fries!). Many of us know this in our rational mind. You don't need the things that aren't really good for you. But you're thirsty and want a soda, OR you're craving a sweet so you'll have just a little bite..., OR... whatever it is wr think we need. We justify the non-need. 

However, we don't actually need food at all for quite some time. We won't die if we don't eat for even several days at a time. In fact, by Day 4 I hadn't even experienced really any side effects to juicing. Some do, some don't. It really depends on the diet you were giving up to do the juice cleanse in the first place and what your body needs to purge. I purged cravings. I purged the idea that I would suffer without food. I purged the idea that I had to eat at a certain time or the world would end and you better get out of my way to that fridge! (Aka, hanger!) See I had fasted before but not in a healthy way. I had starved myself - unintentionally - out of busyness and lack of attention to proper nutrition; skipping breakfast, eating a late lunch, or eating no lunch, then eating a big I'm-hangry-don't-bother-me dinner. Not all the time, but it was a bad habit that would come and go depending on the circumstances of the day.

After four days of a regimented and completely clean download of amazing antioxidants and complete whole nutrition (in the form of juice) feeding my system for four days, I remember where I was standing, what I was wearing, and where I was in the house when the lightbulb went on. God gave us everything we need to thrive. Yes, I know this... But to realize he designed a perfect system within us made to function in harmony with elements of the world around us, and to realize that benefit and be living it is such a good feeling. It's a feeling you don't forget. 

While I don't need a brownie, will I ever eat one again? Yes, of course. Life needs to be lived with joy. Yet, now I choose it in a different way. I care about the design of my creator within and I am more in touch with the importance of my daily nutrition because it really does dictate my overall health in the grand picture of my life. One little brownie might not hurt me today, but many of those choices over time do. When you partner with your purpose to thrive within you, your desire for better living overcomes all the other negative desires.

I don't need food, but I am so incredibly glad I get to enjoy it. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Food Freedom // Health + Happy Juice Fast Day 3

Another victory met! The halfway mark of this journey was so sweet because it was all downhill from here. Small victories in a BIG challenge are important to celebrate. So I think I did and went shopping or something...I forget, but I treated myself to something little because who doesn't like a reward? Even if it's just a little sumthin' for your hard work.

One of the real rewards in this as I mentioned Day 1 was discovering some food allergies. I can't even tell you how many crazy, sideways, inquisitively confused glances I've gotten from health care professionals from my candid confessions of weird bodily symptoms I get like when I'm sick with a cough the way I know it's truly an infection is the middle of my back gets itchy...yeah, never met anyone else in my life that happens to. (If you know something about that, please share. And if you think I'm weird, be nice and don't share. I know already and I'm fine with it. Ha!)

Back to weird food allergies...over the years I've had some minor run ins with the random fruit, vegetable or tree nut. Food items include:  banana making my lips feel swollen; cantaloupe - cucumbers - walnuts - sometimes almonds, mainly raw - and...oh yeah, the big one cherries all make my throat itchy. Not always, and sometimes just mild. Cherries are actually in a class of their own. On a few occasions I felt a ver strong I think my throat is swelling feeling and I just plain refuse to eat them. But it's only fresh or frozen ones, not dried cherries. (Yay! Because I love them on salad.) So explain these random food irritations to a physician, and hence the looks. All I said to my ND was, "Sometimes cucumbers bother my..."  Her response: "Yeah, and cantaloupe, walnuts, bananas, tomatoes..."  

My heart screamed: She gets me!!! Hold the phone though...tomatoes have never bothered me and I l.o.v.e. them and eat them all the time. Well, little known fact to me (and everyone else I've ever asked) these foods are somehow related. So for the purpose of the juice fast and reintroducing foods into my diet I was to restrict these problem items. No biggie. I could do that for 2 weeks. If I can not eat for 5 days, cutting out something (for a time) really just isn't a big deal anymore. (Huge BONUS of juicing, by the way. Willpower.)

After the juicing I have reintroduced a tomato here and there and now I notice the irritation. If I eat one just straight up raw by itself I realize it is bothering me. Good to know. If my body is inflamed and irritated from something I'm giving it I want to know what the cause is so I can manage or eliminate the problem. If I'm giving my body things that irritate it regularly or multiple things all in one meal (a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, walnuts...eeek), I'm going to become accustomed to the noise it causes in my body because it starts to feel normal. The little nuanced cry my body made about tomatoes...I didn't even notice it until I had successfully removed them for three weeks. Then I heard and now I know how to listen. I'm still eating tomatoes, but I know better now how and when. A great lesson learned.

Be sure to check out Health + Happy's amazing blog for all things nutrition related or to get your juice on.

If you missed out, read all about Day 1, and Day 2

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Food Freedom // Health + Happy Juice Fast Day 2

Okay, here's the honest truth:  This was the hardest day! It stinks that there is a hard day, but at least you get it over with. If Day 5 were the hardest, who would want to reach that goal, right? Well, for me, and for most other juice cleansers I've talked to, Day 2 is tough. It probably didn't help that I made my husband one of his favorite meals that day (total comfort food:  Baked Mac & Cheese, ya'll) - and it was goood too. Like "best ever" - hubby quote. Go get that recipe quick and meet me back here. But don't eat it while you're juicing (or if you want to be super healthy - oops!)...

So what made today so tough?  Day 2 is where the mental game sets in. And this isn't just for juicing, by the way. I've experienced Day 2 Syndrome, as I'll now call it, on other occasions as well (confession: like when I quit smoking - ew, I can't believe I ever did that but I did and I quit successfully cold turkey. I think I'll write a book about it, maybe. Plenty of people would like to know how to lose that bad habit, for sure). Point is, Day 2 Syndrome is a battle of the mind. Or Battlefield of the Mind as the gifted Joyce Meyer has put it.

What am I talking about exactly? A Battlefield of the Mind? I'm talking about when the excitement of your ambition (I'm going to juice cleanse, I'm going to quit smoking, I'm going to run my first 10K and start training tomorrow...) wears off. You've been inspired or gotten an idea and you are determined, Yeah, I can do this. I'll give this a go. And your adrenaline sets in. It charges you. You are passionate, ready as you can be, and you take action.

You juice one day. Yay! You quit smoking one day. Yay! You go running once or twice. Yay! Then Day 2 Syndrome happens. You loose steam. f.a.s.t... And the questions in your mind (and often out loud) start:  How am I going to drink all this juice? For five days straight?! How can I quit smoking, I just can't take these cravings? I'm only running a 12 min mile. How will I ever run a 10K? It's like clockwork. I know very few people who don't go through this cycle of questioning when they tackle something they previously thought they could not do. And anyone who doesn't go through this, then they've probably had a lot of practice going through this, at one point. Our mind doubts. We doubt. We struggle to accept things we don't know. Can I do this? Will I make it? No one likes to fail.

For me, personally, when I face the challenge of Day 2 Syndrome, I put my trust in God. He has my back. He designed me, and knows me, and knows my heart's desire. In this case, he knows my desire to be healthy, to function with optimal internal health, to rid my tummy and intestines of unhealthy bacteria, to rid my system of unpleasant allergies, and to just overall feel good. He wants that for me. And his Word tells me that fasting is okay. It is safe. That I will live. And I trust Him and His Word.  So on Day 2, I spent some time questioning, at first, but I quickly turned to God's Word and found some great daily devotionals about fasting to read on my journey. It was super helpful and gave me tons of encouragement.

Whether this is your source of motivation or not (it's the ultimate in my opinion!), you need motivation outside of yourself to get through a challenge that is bigger than you.  Consuming only liquids for 5 days isn't something you do regularly. It is a challenge, and as my ND put it - it's an accomplishment. Most accomplishments don't happen in and of your own abilities - someone or something helps you reach your goal - a coach, a friend, a book, something pours motivation into you.  For me, that is God.

What is your motivation? Who or what inspires you? So many things inspire me the list is too long to share. But when it comes to health, what is your muse?

Be sure to check out Health + Happy's amazing blog for all things nutrition related or to get your juice on.

If you missed out, read all about Day 1

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Food Freedom // Health + Happy Juice Fast Day 1

My first little victory of this testing 5-day journey is over...well almost. I'm sipping my last liquids as I write: a warm and comforting cup of peppermint tea to soothe the digestive system and calm me to sleep. With four days left I'm facing them with fierce determination that this week is going to be so much better than I had been dreaming up it would or could be. Easy, no way. It's not easy to deny yourself food and then drink all of your nourishment for let's count...1, 2, 3, 4, five days! But clearing the first day successfully was a huge boost to the spirit.

First, let's get it over with and talk fears. What did I fear in entering into this?

Well, for one thing, I have never fasted. Not with intention. Only in the I'm so immersed in what I'm doing I forgot to take care of myself and eat way. Which isn't at all fasting. Fasting is a willing act of abstinence. It is surrender. It is abandoning the burden of something that has hold over you. It is entering into a place of freedom. (All in my opinion and belief.) Long story short, I didn't know what to expect without eating, on purpose. But I do know what to expect from going long periods without eating before name a few: headaches, hunger pains, lightheadedness, hypoglycemia, stomach aches, and the beloved hanger.  Not fun!

Second, I feared the detox. Well, that part hasn't happened yet, but what I do know about it is it's a good thing. Whatever is going on in my body that shouldn't right now, will be wiped out. That is health victory, friends. It's a clean slate. Sometimes the bad things in our lives have to be cut off, and that can hurt or it can be challenging, but it's worth it. Going through it...well, I've given birth. I know I'll live through most things.

Third, (and this one surprised me) other people. Not out of insecurity (which I talked about here while setting my resolutions this year), but out of the sheer fact that making huge health changes around others who don't, or won't, is HARD. Not that anyone is critical necessarily, but if you don't care about your health than it's hard to relate to sharp health shifts in someone's eating choices, like giving up sugar (completely), or whatever food it is: meats, dairy, sweets - you name it. I know every vegetarian and vegan out there can name at least one uncomfortable situation regarding food choices. It just has it's moments. And in this I hope I learn more how to educate, share, discuss, debate, and properly and politely defend my decisions because after all, it's my body. Why should anyone be anything but happy that I choose to treat it well? Hmmph.

So the exciting fun of it all... what did I eat (drink)?

Today I enjoyed a grapefruit blend that I sipped on all morning. It had a tangy spice to it and was awesome. So far, yum! Next I had a green juice packed with spirulina and other healthy greens. I could smell the celery when I opened it, which I love in juice. If you've ever juiced, or drink juice, you probably know and enjoy this taste paired nicely with some lemon. For lunch was a mixed greens and beet juice. I've tried to love other beet juices and I will say, for market fresh juice Evolution Fresh's Essential Vegetable with beets is definitely good and I make an amazing smoothie with it that I'll share soon (or just check out the recipe on my IG). This beet juice was definitely more drinkable straight up because it had a sweetness to it. My fourth juice of the day was a super carrot - a beautiful orange, my fave color - that tasted so, so, so fresh. It was like drinking juice from a carrot - if that were even possible. Like when you eat a perfect juicy tomato. Yeah, like that!! It really filled me up. It was actually tough to drink it all. That was such a nice feeling at this point in the day (5:00 p.m.-ish). Last up was another green juice. It was light and easy to drink at the end of a day with lots of liquid.

The only thing I "ate" throughout the day were raw, roasted almonds. Roasted because the raw irritate my throat. (I'm working on discovering some food allergies in this process.) And I was allowed one fried egg which I ate in the morning with my grapefruit juice. It helped me feel like I was eating breakfast since those are two things in a normal morning meal around here.

Other than that I'm taking specific supplements for my body that work for me and with my tailored juices. I'm getting a lot of good things each day. And it's alllll gooood stuff! Way better than even the healthy things I probably get in a normal day, because let's face it a normal day isn't going to be 100% healthy. Those are really the exception days, right? But I want them to be the norm. And I'm one day closer and enjoying it.

Be sure to check out Health + Happy's amazing blog for all things nutrition related or to get your juice on.

Stay tuned for the rest of the juice journey this week. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What's On My Plate! // Baked Mac Casserole Style

In the midst of a juice cleanse, while eating no food for 5 days, I've perfected our family's Baked Mac. Yep, that homemade, creamy comfort noodle just got better around here and I couldn't even eat it. However, my man was thoroughly pleased with it so I enjoyed a way. 

I've always made my own macaroni and cheese. I went through a period - you know, in college when laziness takes over your drive for good food - where I ate the boxed stuff. But ever since I was little, boxed mac was that stuff you ate at a sleepover, not at home with mama's good cookin'. So I learned, and have always made it as well, with a roux-béchamel-mornay including freshly shredded various cheddars and pepper jack for kick. I've changed it up here and there and it's one of the few ways I can get my husband to eat tuna so it's actually most often a Tuna Mac around here. It's a budget friendly protein and if that's the only way he's going to do it then Tuna Mac it is!

In my efforts to always improve my at-home culinary arts, I came across a Food52 post sharing their experience adapting Martha Stuart's version. I've made my own version so many times that I couldn't even tell you the recipe because it's one of those things I just do. Have I deviated from the original over time? Maybe, I don't know. So exploring this recipe again was good for me to get back to measurements and check my version against it. She uses Gruyere cheese verses my usual mix of cheddar/jack (or the experiments of whatever leftover cheese I've had that haven't always turned out the best). This definitely added to the creaminess I've been wanting. Her measurements give a generous amount of cheese to noodle ratio which I've dialed down a bit to keep it a little on the healthy side. The protein and veggies surely add some healthiness too. 

So here's What's On My [husband's] Plate: our family's current version of Baked Mac spruced up protein/veggie style with some tuna and peas, aka tuna casserole. I don't know what was harder, not eating this deliciousness or writing about it!

14 oz elbow macaroni
6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp flour
4 Cups milk
3-4 cups shredded cheese 
(1/2 sharp white cheddar and 1/2 applewood smoked Gruyere)
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup frozen organic peas
1 can white tuna packed in water
Panko breadcrumbs

1. Cook and drain pasta. Don't overcook because you'll be baking it later.
2. Heat milk, keep warm and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, start your roux. On medium heat, melt butter in saucepan. Once melted and bubbly but not burning add four and stir immediately and get out all clumps.
4. Make your béchamel. Once roux is mixed, flour totally incorporated and a slight aroma coming from the flour cooking, slowly pour in your still warm milk 1 cup at a time. Incorporate it well each time. No lumps, just creamy, saucy goodness. Keep stirring, don't burn and allow it to thicken.
5. Make your mornay. Once the béchamel is thick and creamy add the shredded cheese about 1 cup at a time. Let it melt into the sauce.
6. Add spice! You can change this up and make it to your taste. Taste it until it's good to you. If we want it spicy, this is the step where I would add some Tapatio (we love Tapatio) or extra cayenne to step it up.
6. Add your noodles, peas and tuna to boost your noodle goodness. 
7. Pour into a greased 13x9. Top with panko cumbs. Bake at 350 until browning. About 20-30 minutes.


Read all about my experience juicing here. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Food Freedom // A Healthy Juice Journey with Health + Happy

So this mama is a busy bee again right now. Life has little waves of down time and busier times...always with much to do with a little one and caring for a husband, myself and our home. I have lots of hobbies and projects and talents that keep me occupied, some of which I share here. Right now I am juggling the wife/mom/freelancer (to many), and care for my health (c/o my 2014 resolutions) hats as well as several home organization projects leaving our bedroom a bit, um...cluttered (sorry babe!). But when the freelance gig is over I'll have all that swooped up and projects blogged in no time, which is good for all of you, and us!

However, one thing consistent around this home, and therefore blog, is F O O D. That's right, spell it out... f. o. o. d. Food. What's that from? Someone help me remember. (Tangent.) Well today I'm here to introduce you to - as promised yesterday - a food concept that totally lacks, well, food. It's packed with more nutrients than any food you've ever eaten or probably will eat and it's totally delicious.

Drum's JUICE! I'm doing a juice fast this week from our wonderful, and might I add beautiful, friend Jessica over at Health + Happy. You can check out her blog full of health insight, tips, tricks, mamas, recipes...aaaand, special treat to you fellow SoCal res-sees, juicing! Her juice is by far the best juice I've tried. I've tried all the fancy ones at Sprouts, Mothers, etc. Hers = above and beyond. She packs 'em with the goods. Plus, she's a Doctorate of Naturopathy and knows how to use foods to heal your body. That's what I'm in it for...healing and a fresh start. One review on her site says they couldn't wait to give back to their body what they wanted to feed it and get rid of the cravings for food that took center stage and left little room for the good things. 

What I want to discover on this journey is food freedom. Not "What do I feel like eating today?" but "What am I going to eat today?" knowing so many better ways to fuel my body instead of just filling the gapping hole that happens when I don't eat often enough, or I don't make good enough choices and I'm left empty and depraved. Funny, without eating any normal food, I am currently one day down on this journey and I am anything but deprived...

When this 5 days of juicing is all said and done, I will share much more of my experience. Right. Here. So be here. Next week. 

Until then, Enjoy life!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Resolutions // Are you still in it?

Ahh, March. Spring...I mean, in the air, in SoCal anyway. It's so warm here during the day. We've had some crisp, bright spring air days too though. When the sun is shining the day is always bright! If you don't have sun where you are, I hope we can share a little light with you right here. On these bright days, our LO goes on walks with one or both of us and is totally obsessed with flowers right now, giving both of us a chance to remember how to stand in awe of the littlest beauties around us. Like the little green cup full of dandelions and daisies from our walks this week.

This quote reminds me of the inspiration post I shared starting off this new 2014 in light of the many resolutions we all probably set on January 1.  We revisited resolutions nearing the start of February while tackling one of our own resolutions, eating healthier, with a weeks worth of posts about our Healthy Start 7 food journey (I suggest you start at the beginning here). Well, here is March and my mind is on resolutions again. This next one I'll be sharing is about food too, well sort of'll see... but really it's about health.

When we make food resolutions we really want to talk about our health, don't we? But what do we really know about our health? If you've set a food goal this year with the intent of eating healthier, being healthier, or anything with the word healthy in it, I want to challenge you with my next resolution journey to dig a little deeper than the food.

Are you losing the resolution battle right now, or are you still going? Share your successes or struggles here if you're willing. Let's talk about them. I feel led to continue to revisit resolutions for those out there who struggle to keep them. Whether you read this blog today with me now, or some day when you discover it, I hope it inspires you and helps you live the life you really want to Enjoy!

Read about the resolutions I set this year #1, #2#3 (part 1), #3 (part 2)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Our Home // Books, Art & Baby

As promised, I'll be sharing some of the decor projects of our latest abode. When we first moved in (quite a while ago now as I shared in my first post), I wasn't far off from bringing our little one into the world. So my very first motivation once I had the energy and ability to decorate anything was naturally the nursery. I didn't do much to it because we wanted to keep the space simple and safe. I wasn't concerned with a theme as some (very adorable, might I add) nurseries are decorated. That's just not my style. We live with a style - if you can call it a style - that's flowing and easy, very livable while thrifty and DIY. We just don't see the value in spending a lot on our space until it's a more permanent. Plus with a little one, your view on your awesome stuff changes really fast.

With that in mind, I wanted the room to be centered around safe, fun!, and neutral with colors from nature as a base - light blue, ocean blues, lighter greens, browns, wood tones, white - whatever felt calm and welcoming. I steered away from all loud colors - especially since babies' focus takes time to develop, and I also didn't want something matchy-matchy that would be hard to decorate as toys and other items move in and out of the room.
We also wanted the room to be focused on things we feel are important to expose our child to regularly (besides love!!) - and two things that worked well in the nursery were books and art. Before I decorated the room I naturally pinned tons of ideas on Pinterest and a super popular idea for books is to create a tiered bookshelf out of Ikea picture rail shelves. I've seen it done many different ways but since it's a focus for the room and the room had one large wall as a canvas, I chose this space as a good place to get baby's nicer books up out of reach until we are able to read them together. I can't credit the original source of the idea, it may be pinned somewhere deep in my many pins, but many clever bloggers out there have shared this idea, so thank you all for the inspiration.

At the point when I took these photos, the art theme was still under way but a few items in the room to point out are the original photos taken by a friend of my mom's who went on Safari in Africa right before our little one was born. She sent these great photos along to us and they were perfect since we also got lots of safari gifts at my shower. So we have a little bit of a theme and it works well with the earth tone themes. The photo in the corner is a piece of art that was in our little one's Auntie's room when she was growing up. Above the dresser we hung my husband's favorite Picasso that has special meaning to him.
We've since had several friends do paintings for the room which I will photograph and share in the first update of this room. We are entering toddlerville so the room is in transition now and when it is ready I'll reveal the next phase. The map on the wall is a DIY project, which I will also share soon. It's secret is it's magnetic! Which will be fun because LO is ready for magnet play now.

So this was our nursery. We'll be sharing our toddlers room and plenty more other beautiful house projects so stay tuned. Share/comment if you love it. And as always, enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good Eats // Spinach Quiche

We love breakfast. We feel it's not just reserved for morning and often partake in a regular Brinner (that's Breakfast for Dinner for those that don't know...if there is possibly anyone who doesn't know about this delicious idea!). I especially enjoy a breakfast that is ready and waiting for me when I wake up. Sometimes that is a Saturday morning and my husband's infamous eggs. But most mornings, that means I have to prepare breakfast the night before. A little muesli and yogurt is a great go-to for me and my little one, but most days I just want eggs. Scrambled and fried you have to make fresh, and hard boiled aren't my favorite for a breakfast meal - I want them hot. That's why this quiche is perfect! I can make it ahead, it's super easy, and I just pop out a slice and warm it in the oven. My husband can take it to go and the little one craves it. It's a win all around! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

One piecrust
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 eggs
1 cup spinach, thin cut
1 Anaheim chili, diced no seeds
1/2 cup baked and crumbled bacon (about 5 pieces)
1/2 cup cheddar, Monterey Jack or 4 cheese Mexican cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

How to make it::
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
2. Roll out your pie dough and form in pie plate. When forming the crust, don't bring it up over the edge of the plate, make a squared off edge around the top edge, or as close to the edge as it will go - it doesn't have to come up all the way. It is okay if your egg mixture fills the plate over the crust edge.
3. Stab your crust all over with a fork so the hot air escapes while it pre-bakes. Place the piecrust in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes to allow the crust to cook. The crust should be light brown on the edges when removing from the oven. 
4. Cook bacon in the oven for 20 minutes at 350. Crumble.
5. While the crust/bacon cooks, whisk together the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and eggs in a bowl. 
6. In a second bowl, mix together the spinach, bacon, cheese and parsley. 
7. Add half of the wet egg mixture to coat the dry ingredients, again mixing well. Add this mixture to the cooked crust.
8. Add the remaining egg mixture. Some of the egg may pour out over the edge of the crust. That's okay, it will bake up with a nice edge of egg/crust. 
9. Bake in the oven until the middle of the quiche is set, about 40 minutes. Sometimes it puffs up a bit but I just stab the egg with a fork to let the steam out and it settles quickly. You can tell if the eggs aren't cooked if they look runny or shinny still. If they look the texture of scrambled they are done. You don't want to over cook them and loose the fluffy lightness of your quiche.
10. Remove and serve warm. This keeps very well for several days in the refrigerator. I like to make this on a weekend and eat throughout the week for breakfast.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Crazy Blondies // Made with Coconut Sugar

Did everyone have a sweet Valentine's Day? We did, thanks to King Author Flour for this yummy and unexpected Crazy Blonde Brownie recipe. Friday morning, in my latest Amazon Fresh delivery (read all about how much we love this new grocery delivery service here) I ordered a new bag of whole wheat white flour (my go-to alternative for recipes with white flour that I have never made before - I don't experiment with gluten-free flours or other types until I've tried something at least once). To my delightful surprise, this recipe was included on the back of my new bag of flour. Talk about a sweet treat to come my way on the morning of Valentine's Day since blondies are my husband's absolute favorite treat!

A special note about King Author:: They do this really cool thing with their flour called Bake Sale Heros where communities hold bake sales and raise money to help kids with cancer. Check out more at their site to see how you can help. Not only do they supply free bags of flour for bake sales, they match your contributions raised (up to $25,000!). Now that's a beautiful thing.

Here is the recipe from the King Author bag. I usually have to change up a baked good recipe quite significantly to make it healthier, but for this one I simply substituted Coconut sugar (which has a lower glycemic index than white sugar and is naturally processed), Carob chips, and organic butter. Not really much of a change up as these are all things I've switched out for the original ingredients in my pantry already so I didn't have to buy anything special to make these.
Showing you love your sweetie isn't something to do just in February. Make these for someone you love this week and enjoy!

NOTE: Coconut sugar is much better for you than regular sugar or even cane sugar. However, it is by no means a "health" food and should still be eaten sparingly. Here is an informative article about coconut sugar.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Good Eats:: No Lettuce Beet Salad

I pretty much avoid lettuce in all of my salads. The closest I think I get to lettuce in a salad is mixed greens (well, and the occasional red leaf lettuce from our CSA box). I really prefer dark greens in a salad since they actually have flavor. This is a simple salad where the flavors and textures come together nicely for a fresh, crisp and easy lunch.

The thing that makes this salad special is you have to eat every bite with a bit of hummus on your fork first. It mixes with the dressing and puts a slight tang in each bite and helps contrast the earthy beets. If you really like, you could just mix the few tablespoons of hummus in with your dressing before mixing with the salad. I like to savor a little in each bite making it more fun to eat.

I paired this light lunch salad with a rustic russet from our most recent CSA box with some butter and sour cream. It made for a filling lunch and complimented the cold brightly flavored crunch of the salad with a warm, creamy buttery goodness. Enjoy!

1 roasted beet (great for leftover beets)
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
handful or so of fresh spinach
1 Tbsp greek dressing (I use this one, which I first wrote about here)
2 Tbsp hummus (I used plain but garlic or roasted pine nut might be good as well)

How I made it::
1. If you don't know how to roast a beet, check out this previous post.
2. Dice your roasted beet and veggies.
3. Toss in spinach and season and dress.
4. Optionally, mix the hummus into the salad. Or serve on the side and enjoy bite by bite. Mmmm.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's On My Plate! // Sweet & Savory Kale Pasta

This is one of those recipes where I just felt the ingredients come together. It's not super complicated, but sometimes it's just a synthesis of simple ingredients that makes the flavor of a dish wildly delicious. I literally wanted more of this dish as I was eating it. Yet I was left perfectly satisfied with one serving; something I learned the importance of reading Peter Kaminsky's Culinary Intelligence. He knows how to explain the importance of flavor. I remember feeling as if I could taste the foods he described while reading about them (warning: don't read his book while hungry, or without time to go to the store).

The sweetness of this dish comes from a new product my mom got me recently. She loves bringing me new ingredients for my kitchen that she finds in the random treasure troves of shops she enjoys. This is from one of her (and many others) favorite stores: Trader Joe's. She found the Pomegranate Vinegar for this recipe there around the holiday season, so you may have to wait until next year to pick it up. I'm hoping they carry it regularly because it has really great flavor. Plus I'm going to need to eat this dish more than just what will last me through the winter!

The savoryness (or umami as many a foodie would call it) of this dish obviously comes from the earthy kale and baby bellas, but also from the red pepper flakes. I added just enough to give it warmth, not making it spicy but leaving you with a warm mouth feel at the end of each bite. Another savory element that rounded out the sweet of the vinegar and tang of the pasta sauce was the cheese. I'm still trying to remember what kind it was - another treat from my mom's last visit and as soon as I remember I'll update the post. But it was a mild hard cheese and I'm going to take a guess that it was an Irish white cheddar.

This dish is also delicious if you're a meat eater. Just add some lightly floured and seasoned baked or pan cooked chicken breast cut in strips.

Two days after I first made this dish, I had it leftover for lunch and was pleasantly surprised that out little one ate it and loved it. Pasta would normally go over well with kids but it hasn't around here until this dish - kale, mushrooms and all. It's a winner!

1 small bunch of kale
1 cup baby bella mushrooms
Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tbsp Trader Joe's Pomegranate Vinegar
1 jar Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Pasta Sauce
Cooked whole wheat pasta
Irish white cheddar cheese for grating

How I made it::
1. Dice mushrooms and chop kale with hard stem removed.
2. Heat EVOO in pan. Add Kale and cook until lightly wilted. Add mushrooms, salt/pepper and red pepper flakes.
3. Cook until kale is well wilted yet has a light crunch to it still. You don't want to kill all the nutrients and flavor but you want to cut down that bitterness.
4. Add vinegar and heat a few minutes more to let it marinate.
5. Add pasta sauce and warm until heated through.
6. Serve pasta sauce over whole wheat spaghetti or other style noodle and top with grated cheese.  Enjoy! 

PS: Peter Kaminsky, if you ever read this recipe, I'd gladly welcome your critique of it. While I've read many foodie books CI is one of those that inspired me to change the way I do things in my kitchen, not only in terms of health but also by remembering the importance of seasoning (and through introducing some new items to my larder). Thank you for contributing to my growth as a smarter and braver cook. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Eats:: Savory Sage Breakfast Scramble

I love experimenting with flavors in eggs. I've shared before that my husband makes the most amazing eggs. I mean, better than the best hotel breakfast in bed you've ever tried. But, I like to change up the flavor of the classic scramble from time to time. It's something you eat often enough and are familiar enough with that sometimes you can just switch up your game.

Here's a switch I enjoy when I want to keep it healthy (as in no cheese/add veggies). I first shared these eggs with you on Day 1 of our Healthy Start 7 eating challenge this January where we gave up certain ingredients, including dairy. I enjoy these most when I'm into the fall/winter flavor pallet because of the savory sage that compliments the onion and peppers. I remember the first time I ever used Sage in my scramble and thinking I'm totally feeling this flavor but fingers crossed it turns out. Check out my original Sage Scramble recipe.

The true secret flavor ingredient to this recipe is something most of you won't know. I grew up eating this salad dressing from a little Greek restaurant that got so popular it ended up in many major grocery stores. It is amazing on salads in general but I fondly remember my mom marinating every pork tenderloin she ever made us in it overnight. It was succulent! As a young, single lady I discovered it worked really well when you accidentally ran out of olive oil as a little bit of seasoned oil for your pan, for things like cooking eggs. And it's just stuck around.

Fortunately, you can get the most amazing Greek dressing you've ever tasted online these days. The regular Greek is still our family's favorite (although the light holds up in taste if you want a lower fat option) and we always keep these on hand by the box full. In all seriousness, we even buy these as gifts for people for housewarming or dinner parties. They're so good I'd consider it just as acceptable of a gift as bringing a bottle of wine - in my opinion, and that's coming from a wine lover.

2 large eggs
1/4 small red onion
1/4 cup mixed colors bell peppers
2 Tbsp Gazebo Room Greek Dressing

How I make them::
1. Heat your pan. Add dressing and allow to heat.
2. Add onion and peppers, saute until slightly cooked (I like my veggies a little al dente in my omelet  and not mushy).
3. Add whisked eggs, salt/pepper and a generous amount of sage.
4. Scramble away and enjoy this new savory taste to your morning routine.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Food Discovery That Changed My Life // Amazon Fresh

Not only have we been busy lately cooking up ideas for the blog, in our absence last week we discovered the most amazing discovery to our food world - Amazon Fresh delivery service! No wonder amazing is part of Amazon's name, because seriously, they continue to change my life for the better with their awesomeness. (PS: If you aren't a fan of Amazon, this post is not for you. Clearly, I'm a major fan.)

We have had an Amazon Prime membership for some time now. Once I was facing motherhood, leaving the house to go shopping for every...little...thing was not happening. So when 2-day delivery for a relatively low-cost yearly fee ($79 when we started), plus additional perks such as movies and television shows we could stream online since we don't have cable we were totally sold in an instant.

Browsing my favorite site on the big wide web, I was exploring deeper just what "grocery" options Amazon could provide on prime when I discovered the link (accidentally) for Amazon Fresh. Side note: I have been using a local grocer's delivery service for the past year and while it's been convenient it's had some catches to it that I didn't love. I had to have a $150 order and a participating item to get free delivery, their produce selection was very poor (bringing me the strawberries with the most white on them) and not delivering the wild blueberries because they didn't have them but upon going to the store for something else they forgot the next day they did have them...were they out or did they just not look hard enough?). Anyhow, I enjoyed the service for what it was but inevitably a better option perked my interest.
Amazon Fresh promised so much more! Fresh and fast delivery, grocery and non-grocery items in the same delivery, and your regular prime membership is included. All that already had me. While we would have to pay a large yearly fee that was scary at first glance ($299/year), when you break it down it really is worth it. The grocery delivery we were already using was only "free" as I mentioned when I spent $150 on an order. Not hard to do buying pantry staples, but it would be hard to do every order for us. Especially because that store didn't carry a lot of the organic items I wanted, leaving me to go to other stores in person anyhow. A 1-hr delivery window was upwards of $9 and a 4-hr window was $6. If you break down Amazon's cost per week, it's only $5/week. And you only need $35 as your minimum delivery. I can do that several times a week and my $5/week delivery fee never changes. Plus, I can order all my prime items and get the video streaming features as well. My husband made the final call: It's a win!
So far we've had two deliveries. With both I chose a 3-hour delivery window because you don't have to be home so in case I was out with my little one, I didn't have to worry. With my previous service, I had to be home. You don't have to worry about your goods - they pack your cold foods in bags lined with a styrofoam cooler and your frozen food is packed with small dry ice packs and your fridge foods with frozen water bottles. Perk - free water bottles. I'm not a fan of water bottles because we use reusable bottles, but it doesn't bother me and they are convenient for guests. Don't get me wrong, I would never buy them but if they're free and they use them sparingly just to keep your food cold...I'm not going to complain.
Amazon dropped off our groceries in their reusable green bags both times with nothing more than a light knock the time they could tell we were clearly home. They have been professional, polite and quiet - all appreciated with a little one that was taking a nap during the first delivery. Also, you just set out their easy-to-break-down bags and they take them with them to reuse.
Our 6 bags broken down to 2 for easy storage.
Conveniently tucked away with our other reusable bags until the next delivery.
Now about the actual food! So many of the brands or comparable brands that we buy are available either for the same prices or less. I have scoured for very specific brands of foods that don't contain harmful added chemicals, or use bpa cans, etc. I even have a spread sheet to keep track of some of them that I don't use all the time or I'd forget and have to research them again.  I'd be happy to share it with any of you seeking healthier food options - or maybe I'll post it here sometime. Point being, I didn't have to research completely new brands to shop here.

There are some convenient shopping features so far and I feel they will improve as the site gains popularity. You can search foods and eliminate those containing certain ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Awesome! You can also make lists, which is helpful if you are organized and like that kind of thing. I made lists for our pantry staples, produce regulars, baby items and things I want to try soon. Or if you aren't so organized, you can always just check out your past purchased list which will show everything you've ever bought in gridded photos so you can quickly add popular items to your cart again. Milk, eggs, bread...check. Two minutes shopping and you're done.

Now for the next amazing part, it'll be here within 12 hours. Yes, basically same day delivery. When it's 10:00 p.m. and you realize you don't have enough milk to get through the next day with a little one in your house, it is a major gift to be able to get on my phone app and click a few things in my cart vs. having to get on some shoes and tiredly go to the store before bed or get up early and run in the morning, or the most fun...take a wiggly worm little one to the store when they'd rather be doing anything else. I made my second order this way...out of milk, click, click, added a few other items from my staples and one fun thing from my try it lists to meet the $35 delivery limit...all money I would have spent in that month/week anyhow, yet I didn't get in the car, I didn't stress, and the very next afternoon my items were quietly delivered.

And the last exciting part that I just can't hold back from ultimate test to whether I would enjoy this service:  I ordered ripe avocados. You can choose whether you want certain produce items ripe or unripe (avocados, bananas, etc). I ordered 2 for a recipe I was making that next day - chicken tortilla soup. My pot was simmering, and at 3:30 on Super Bowl Sunday (uh huh, if you weren't amazed before - you are now) my perfectly picked avocados arrived with the milk I didn't want to drive to get the night before. The test of a perfectly picked avocado passed with flying colors for me - they were dark in color, a light give when gently squeezed and stems still intact. They were bright ombre green inside and the seed removed without struggle but not too easily. I ordered the large size at $1.25 (the small were $1.00 each which is one of the best prices at a whole foods grocery around here), and they did not disappoint on size.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What's On My Plate! // Pacific Rockfish

Welcome to our first official What's On My Plate! post. If you don't know about #womp or what it's all about, read here.

My husband and I have started a new food tradition recently. Once a week he stops in at our local Santa Monica Seafood or other fabulous local fish market we have around SoCal - the pleasure of living near an ocean. I have never made pacific rockfish before. It was such a tasty and easy fish to cook. My husband asked for a few tips on how to cook it at the market, and the suggestion that caught my pallet that night was to put a little cajun seasoning on it. After searching how best to cook this new-to-me fish I found a Simple Cajun Seasoning mixture, and I read that dredging it in flour and sautéing it is a really great way to treat this fish. I served it with sautéed spinach with garlic and my husband's favorite - plain white, Japanese rice.

Here's how I made it::
1. Heat a pan on high heat for several minutes making sure it is hot and ready to go.
2. Rub the fish down with the simple Cajun seasoning and cover in a flour (I used a soft winter wheat flout - looks like and cooks like a white flour but healthier).
3. Add butter to pan and let melt.
4. Add fish to pan.  This fish was thin so I was able to keep the heat high without burning it. If your fish is thicker, turn the pan down at this point.
5. Now don't touch it!! Let it get a good crust and cook most of the way. You'll see the edges of the fish change color as it cooks.
6. Flip it, and cook at least half the time as it took to cook the first side. The fish is done if it starts to separate a bit.
7. Serve the beautiful crusty-side up and enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What's On My Plate: A New Series on Eating Whole Foods and Saving Money

We've been absent the past few days, but that's okay - and it's good news for you - because it means we've been cooking up new ideas for the blog. Literally! With that said, welcome to a new theme we'll be sharing with you regularly::  What's On My Plate!
We love these adorable healthy portion plates to
help encourage you to fill your plate with lots of healthy foods!

The idea is this:: Cooking in my house is an ongoing learning experience and adventure! I may not be a gourmet chef (although I've gone through several bouts of dreaming of culinary school in my life so far), but I do have a strong passion for food in my soul. You just have that and love to cook or you muscle your way through preparing meals. I think if you give it fair effort you can learn to love it though. My love for food and, in more recent years, my growing desire to eat healthier options and to understand what is truly healthy and what is not, is what drives me to just teach myself. And I want to share what I learn and the explorations of my kitchen with all of you. That's one of the main reasons I started this blog. However, I don't always create unique recipes. Once I'm comfortable with something I might make it more my own, especially if I'm swapping in healthier ingredients, and sometimes I just go for it and come up with something de-lish (see my most recent cooking experiment turned ah-mazing tasty new recipe!).

That said, let me share my idea for these upcoming new posts: What's On My Plate! (#womp!)

The idea::
I don't always have a new recipe to share but I do have food experiences to share. Maybe it's a new technique I learned. Or sometimes it's trying a new food for the first time or implementing a new ingredient in my kitchen as a regular staple like we did with our recent Healthy Start 7 challenge. Sometimes it could be a pairing of foods that ends up really amazing that I just have to share. There are a multitude of talented food bloggers out there and I often try other people's recipes (that's the main way I learn and grow as a home cook - other than devouring books all about eating au-natural and whole food cooking techniques. I'll have to share a list of my favorite reads some time.) When I try another blogger's recipe and it's nom-nom-nom worthy, I think I may just share that with you because how else will you discover it in the vast world of food bloggers? Maybe never....that's sad.

Another way these posts intend to share my tips and tricks in the kitchen is to show how one roasted chicken ends up making, and then enhancing, 3-4 other recipes. Yes, I said one whole chicken can end up in at least two other meals besides the main dish it is originally used in every single time I cook a chicken. That's something that comes with the experience of cooking whole foods. I think a lot of people new to cooking whole foods struggle in this area and I'd love to share how I make that easier by maximizing my ingredients, wasting less food, and eating way, way healthier. Almost nothing in our house comes out of a box anymore and that's definitely a transition you can make in your home as well, once you have some ideas of what to do. That is where these posts aim to help you.

Now, this is where I get really excited about cooking whole foods and sharing tips with all of you. IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY! (Read that sentence again.) If you don't know, my husband and I teach a financial class at our church - Dave Ramsey's FPU - and we are both just super thrifty to begin with, so saving money is fun to us. Plus, who doesn't want to save money, really?  When it comes to our food bill and eating whole foods, while I do spend more money on organic ingredients (at times) or on certain brands I deem worthy of a whole foods kitchen, I really win with my grocery bill in the end.

Here's one example how::  if I buy a good organic chicken I'm going to use the bones for chicken broth because I know it's a healthy chicken that will make good stock. So, that a $7-8 organic chicken that turns into a large 12 cup batch of homemade chicken stock with no additives, no extra salt, no preservatives, or sugar, or HFCS. It's just wholesome chicken broth. Oh, and did I mention it's organic? An organic 32 oz box of chicken broth will set you back $3-4 easy. Considering this, it greatly reduces the cost of your chicken because really you bought chicken and chicken broth. In my kitchen, it could mean even more items, but I'll share more on those details in another post about chicken!

Stay tuned for our first #womp! post about Pacific Rock Fish. Let us know if you enjoy these new posts in the comments!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Good Eats // Superfoods Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

I love this salad! I enjoy making salads because they are a great way to incorporate healthy items with bursts of delicious flavors despite the healthy factor. I also find them to be forgiving in taste even while getting experimental with the ingredients. While flavoring other foods can be a delicate thing (not too little, not too much), giving salad a kick or twist of flavor usually lends to it becoming a delicious favorite. Plus it's fun to find new ways to combine flavors within a salad that you can then use in other dishes too!

I came up with this salad while taking the Healthy Start 7 challenge earlier this month and I promised the recipe would follow. So here it is packed with the following superfoods:
Spinach:: packed with antioxidants and vitamins, it is anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and a source of Omega-3
Quinoa:: high in protein, contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein, rich in fiber and minerals, and it's gluten-free
Beets:: fights disease, strengthens neural tubes, regulates digestion with fiber, high in immune boosting vitamins A, B & C, and they are packed with potassium
Pomegranate:: filled with B & C vitamins, potassium, and folic acid, anti-inflammatory, improves blood flow, anti-cancer, heart healthy, antioxidant packed, and contains folate which helps repair DNA
Sunflower Seeds:: aid digestion, improves memory, increases energy, provides protein, fiber and complex carbs
Cherry Tomatoes:: a powerhouse of vitamins A, C & K, potassium, fiber, and most importantly beta-carotene and lycopene (a powerful antioxidant when paired with a healthy oil), all while being low calorie
Celery:: Vitamin C, fiber, minerals (potassium, calcium, molybdenum, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron, as well as the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, folate, and B6), anti-cancer/Alzheimer’s, eliminates toxins from the kidneys, anti-inflammatory, low calorie and boosts metabolism
Carrots:: high in beta-carotene, anti-cancer, low calorie, immune support
Red Onion:: antioxidents, banishes free radicals, anti-cancer, helps fight the virus of the common cold, reduce high blood pressure, and can help control glucose levels
Citrus Vinaigrette:: more vitamin C and healthy fat to make those vitamins work at max capacity

Several hand fulls of spinach and mixed greens
1 C cooked quinoa
1 medium red beet, cooked and diced
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, shredded
1/4 red onion
handful of cherry tomatoes, whole or sliced
2-3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1/2 the seeds from 1 pomegranate 
1 orange, juiced
2 Tbsp EVOO
1 tsp brown mustard

How to make it::
1. Cook your quinoa ahead of time (I usually use leftover quinoa in a salad or it's great for breakfast). Check out some great tips on how to cook your quinoa.
2. Cook beet ahead as well. I roast mine in the oven with skins on covered in EVOO for roughly 40 min at 350, or until fork tender. Then I peel them (while wearing gloves since they stain) once they've cooled.
3. Prep your veggies/fruits. Fill bowl with greens and top with veggies.
4. Make dressing and toss over salad. 
Check out our other recent recipe creations from out Healthy Start 7 journey:  Chili Lime Sweet Potatoes and Fruity Brussel Sprouts

Monday, January 27, 2014

Our Home // And Baby Makes Three

Not long ago, I shared a little tbt (throwback Thursday for those that don't know) of our first little "home" together in Pasadena where I started this blog. While we don't own a home because that doesn't fit our lifestyle/careers just yet, we try our best to make whatever space we live in feel like a home. Hence the name of this blog, A Home Beautiful. A beautiful home definitely goes beyond what you put in it, but it sure is fun to create your own unique spaces, isn't it? 

We actually moved to this space quite a while ago now...when we were growing our little family. Right near the end of my pregnancy actually. A great time to move, right? In the urgency to find a place, relocate for my husband's job, and get settled before baby made three we found this typical carpet/tile, vinyl shades, everything is off-white SoCal townhouse but a mile from the beach. To be near the beach in a dog and kid friendly neighborhood...this pregnant mama was sold. In fact, I took the place on the spot.

Fast forward to now...we have surfaced from babyville and have entered toddlerhood where I actually have a moment to myself once in a while (which means finally getting back to blogging!) However, that doesn't mean I haven't been busy working on this little homestead. Oh no, in fact some things have changed a few times over and I probably wasn't mindful enough to take pictures of it all. But, I do want to share with you the progress I have made so far in making our current town house a town home. To do so, I thought I'd start at the beginning. The very beginning. Here it is::

((PS:: I'll be sharing some transformations of these spaces soon so be sure to check them out!))