Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Real Food Journey

For the past year and a half our family has been on a real food journey. What is real food? It may mean different things to different people but to me it means no processed, boxed food. It means fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods (including our sandwich bread) and cooking from scratch with whole wheat flours, unbleached all-purpose flour and little to no white sugar (instead we use local, raw honey and real maple syrup). Y'all it's challenging to cook everything from scratch! So, I don't. I'm learning to live without Ritz crackers and Goldfish crackers, two foods I really relied on 2 years ago for lunches and snacks for the girls.

Homemade sandwich bread. After at least a dozen different recipes I think this is my bread. And the pans are important, too. This isn't the standard 9 x 5 inch bread pan. It's roughly a 12 x 3 inch pan, creating more of the store bought sandwich bread I'm used to seeing and eating.

Homemade oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. This is a fairly new recipe and a keeper!

I think what's one of the hardest issues with a real food diet is finding the time to get it done. I have 3 little girls and they are busy and need my attention and the baby is still nursing every 2 hours. Where do I even find the time? I decided that what we put into our mouths is very important to me, so I make the time. We aren't a TV watching family, instead we cook. Now, Daniel not so much, but the girls do love to get into the kitchen with me and I welcome it, even if it slows me down a little. It is worth it and I know it'll be worth it in the long run. 

I also try and do a little something each morning. Whether it's getting bread going or some sort of snack or prepping something for dinner, I try and get a jump on things. This absolutely doesn't happen everyday. Some days the laundry is 2 feet high and that needs my attention. And it is what it is. But, that's where my freezer cooking pays off for me. When I make something first thing in the morning I don't make 1 batch of something, I make 4 or more. For instance, we all like muffins for breakfast. My go-to recipe only makes only 12 muffins. I don't know how much y'all eat but we could eat 12 in one sitting. Instead of just making 1 dozen muffins I make 8 dozen. I'm dirtying up my bowls, spatulas and muffin pans with 1 dozen muffins, why not keep going and make 8 dozen muffins? This is one of my keys to continuing to eat well, especially on our busy mornings. 

One of our favorite snacks... stovetop popcorn with butter and salt.

A lunch I made a couple weeks ago. Homemade chicken nuggets with panko bread crumbs, mashed potatoes and carrots. And high fructose corn syrup free ketchup. We love our ketchup around here. :)

Now, I find I'm in a good routine with our real food journey but I still get derailed from it. Hey, life happens and I'm okay with convenience foods from time to time. That's why I try and feed our family real foods at home and eat real food 80% of the time and give ourselves grace 20% of the time. We like to eat out, we like Cokes from time to time and chips. It's known as "junk food" in our home but we still enjoy it occasionally. :)

Homemade banana bread... from the freezer! 

If you looked in my pantry right now you would find a few processed foods. I'm still weaning out the boxed stuff from when I bought when I was expecting Natalie. Hey, I'm not throwing it away, it did cost us money. That hasn't always been my mindset though.

About two years ago when I started researching what we ate and how to change things I got rid of everything that was processed. This was a mistake. Don't do this. You'll overwhelm yourself even more. You'll look in your pantry and it'll look like you have nothing in there except lasagna noodles and flour. And that really may be all you have. Again, don't do this! Slowly wean it out. Eat it and don't buy it again. Learn how to make your own. I have a running list of foods I want to make and master. I mark things off as I find my recipe and I feel like I don't need to work on it anymore. And if I can't make it I'm trying to live without it. Yes, that's hard but it probably doesn't belong in my pantry anyways. 

My mother-in-law got us a waffle iron for Christmas, the one I've been starting at for the past 2 years. I love it! I can cook 16 waffles in no time. It takes maybe 2 minutes per waffle to bake up. That's great news to this busy momma!!!

Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Where do I shop? Aldi, of course. And Kroger. And Whole Foods. And Azure Standard. And Costco. I don't shop at every one of these places each time I shop, just when I need something particular and I feel like that particular place has the best price (yes, I do have prices of foods floating around in my head). Every shopping trip I go to Aldi. I do most of my shopping there. I'm not overwhelmed there, it's a small place and I like what's there. You can still shop at Aldi and eat well. It is possible. 

Aldi is also getting a lot of organic items, which is fantastic. And they really are cheaper than other store brands. A quick word (and opinion) about organic foods. Yes, it's great to be able to buy them but it can still be highly processed. It's probably still loaded with sugar. Read ingredient labels. If I can't pronounce the ingredients I tend not to buy that food. I look for an easy recipe and learn to make it on my own. Daniel likes pop tarts. I don't like the ingredients list. I have a recipe to make my own but they are a little involved so I don't make them often. And yes, occasionally I will splurge for him and buy a box of pop tarts. :) See, it's all about compromise. 

And that's our real food journey. It's a process, a continual process. We still hit speed bumps, we still eat "junk" food on occasion. We aren't perfect. Our real food journey isn't perfect. It's messy but it's delicious. I'm still learning how to utilize all that's available. I'm still learning how to be a better cook. 

What are you learning about food? Anything you'd change in how you cook and bake?

My favorite resources for continuing my real food journey:

Heavenly Homemakers (She has two fabulous books (she has way more than this but these two are my favorites) I'd recommend to help you get started... Oh, For Real (it's a hard copy that she sends to you) and her newest ebook 227 Healthy Snack Ideas and Recipes (I struggle with healthy snacks!)

Nourishing Traditions (Daniel calls me "crunchy" and this book is super crunchy)

100 Days of Real Food (this is another great cookbook to help you get started)

Trina Holden (she also has a couple cookbooks; I recently added them to my cookbook collection)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My First Carcassonne [Board Game Review]

Hi, hello, and welcome again, my friends, to another board game. This one is going to be a special one, because it is the first game we have played that was specifically designed for kids and one that the girls got for Christmas this year - My First Carcassonne.

My First Carcassonne is a game for 2-4 players age 4+ and should take no more than 20 minutes. This is game that the junior version of Carassonne, which I previously reviewed here. My First Carcassonne is very similar to its parent, in that on your turn you draw a tile and place it on the table/floor/playing surface. Unlike its parent, every tile has the exact same edges - all roads. Once a road is completed, and by that I mean it starts and ends at a building or makes a complete loop back to the same tile, you place one of your 8 meeples on the road if your color person is on that road. (See the below picture.) The game ends either when one person places all 8 meeples on the board, or play all the tiles, in which case the winner(s) is (are) whoever placed the most meeples on the board.
As you can see in the picture above, the tiles all have roads at each side, but each tile has different things on it. We've found that the 20-minute playing time is the perfect length of a game for the girls. Any longer, and I think they would lose interest in it. Naomi, 3 years and 2 months old, does not understand the goal of the game. She likes drawing a tile, putting it on the board next to her, and placing a meeple. When we play, I try to explain that this road is not finished or that this one is because it starts here and ends there. She's still too young to grasp the gameplay right now, but I know that she will get it as we play more. Nyla, now 4 and a half, does somewhat understand how the game works. We try to coach her some on where to put her tiles, and why she should put it where we tell her. I try not to coach her too much, because I want her to explore and discover the game for herself. I think that as we play more, I will tell her why I am putting tiles where I am, and hopefully she will begin to understand more. So while the game box does say for ages 4+, you do have to take care to explain things clearly. 

In short, we really like this game and look forward to playing it more with the girls. I asked Nyla if she liked this game. "Yeah, because I do. It's fun."

Have a great day!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Last Great Game [Book Review]

Hello again, readers of the blog. As part of my "year of FOCUS" in 2015, I am wanting to read at least one book every month. I started off early this year by knocking out a book the week after Christmas. With that, I'd thought I would share my thoughts on the book and why you should read it. As always, no one paid me to write this review, and if they had, I would be writing more than 1 review every 6 months.

As you can guess, I am a big sports fan, especially when it comes to college basketball, and even more especially when it comes to the University of Kentucky. Living in Memphis, this is not a popular school, though in my defense I have been a fan for over 20 years now...

Which brings me to this book - The Last Great Game, the story of the 1992 NCAA tournament regional final between Duke and Kentucky, called by many the greatest college game ever. It was the first game I really remember watching from start to finish, and, sadly, the first (and only) game I ever cried over when it ended.

Gene Wojciechowski clearly did a lot of research for this book, interviewing the coaches, players, and even athletic directors involved in the game. The back story is what honestly makes the game that much better: Duke, a perennial Final Four team from the last 80's an early 90's that never could win the title; and Kentucky, a once-proud program stripped of its dignity by, well, not following NCAA law and getting caught. With a rag-tag group of Kentuckians and a star recruit Jamal Mashburn, Rick Pitino led his team from NCAA purgatory (and postseason bans) to one of the best teams in the country with a pressing defense and run-and-gun offense. Duke, meanwhile, was led its iconic Coach K and its star big man Voldemort Christian Laettner. It had been to 4 straight Final Fours, only to have their hopes dashed without a title. This book dives into the seasons of both teams leading up to this instant classic. Once you see the behind-the-scenes look, you'll have deeper appreciation for just how great the game really was. Even if you don't know the game, you've seen "the shot," which is only replayed every March, much to my chagrin. When reading the book, I found myself having a greater appreciation for the coaches, because both Duke and UK faced adversity during the year that could have easily derailed the teams. What you find is a great look at what goes on behind the curtain as 18- to 21-year olds get thrust into the spotlight of the national stage. What you see are two coaches who know what buttons to press and how to get maximum effort out of every player. Gene does a great job at diving into the players' backgrounds, personalities, and motivations to succeed.

This was a great, fun, easy read, even if the ending is terrible... ok, ok, I'll try to let it go. In all seriousness, this really was a great book to read. I enjoyed every chapter and every story. If you have a sports fan in your life, chances are they know this game, so buy them the book to see the story behind the game.

Thanks for stopping by!