Thursday, July 11, 2013

Questions Anyone?

While our summer has been busier than normal, with our camp commitment, summer still tends to be a more relaxed time for us, which allows us to enjoy things we never seem to have time for during the school year, like playdates.

When I first started teaching, I scoffed at the term, playdate.  I thought it was ridiculous that parents actually scheduled time for their kids to get together to informally play.  Well, fast forward 8 years, and now that I'm a mom, I not only participate in playdates, but love them.  The key is in finding a good individual or group, and we lucked out on our first attempt 4 years ago.  Now, I could write a whole blog post on the origin of our playgroup, but suffice it to say that there are 3 of us mommies, with a combined 7 kids, who have been getting together more or less regularly since before the kids could even sit up on their own.  We used to meet once a week, until I messed it up by going back to work full-time.  Now, even though we can go months without seeing our friends, we try to get together whenever we have a break from school, and as soon as we do, we quickly fall back into an easy comfortable rhythm.

So anyway, today we were meeting back up with our "old" friends for a playdate, and we enjoyed the added bonus of 3 additional moms and their respective kids.  You would think a house full of rambunctious kids would hardly be relaxing, but it managed to work.  My kids and I came right from a morning at camp, which meant that we arrived starving and ready for lunch.  Since we have gotten into the habit these days, we came prepared with our own food, knowing that most of what was served would not meet our more stringent guidelines.  Now, I try to be practical when visiting people and bringing my own food, as I hate offending anyone.  So if we travel to a home of someone we don't know well, we usually bring one real-food friendly dish to share and then just make do as best we can.  Today, however, we had the luxury of visiting a good friend who is not easily offended, and so I knew she wouldn't mind if we packed our own items.  It did, however, lead to a whole slew of questions about the way we eat.

It's funny, but whenever people ask us questions about our food transition, they tend to apologize, as if they were offending us by asking.  Meanwhile, I am always thrilled to answer any questions, because I appreciate the genuine interest.  I know that not everyone will agree with our views, which is totally fine, but I always find the conversations interesting.  So anyway, in the midst of this start-and-stop real food conversation, someone stated, "You should write a whole blog post about that because I had no idea".  We are still so new into this lifestyle, that I am always hesitant to give out facts, because the more that I read about food, the more I realize that there is so much that I don't know.  When I step back and look at it, though, I realize that I know so much more than I did when we first started out just a few months ago.  And if sharing our "knowledge" can help someone else, I am totally game.

Which leads me to this - What questions do you have about our real food lifestyle?  Please comment and share your thoughts, and assuming that I have any information on the topic, I will try to turn it into a decent future blog post.  Remember, there are no stupid questions! (I shouldn't say this, because I am a teacher, but I do honestly think there can be stupid questions.  However, I have faith in you, my awesome readers (all 3 of you) and I am happy to answer anything you ask, even if it seems obvious, so please fire away.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Real Food: Summer Camp Edition

Last week, I promised that I would give you a look into how we incorporated real food into our summer camp experience.  I still plan to follow through with that, but I have to take a brief moment to share a fabulous recipe with you that I discovered tonight.  Since we made the transition to real food several months back, I have found new recipes for most of my favorite foods, but I have struggled when it comes to burger and hot dog rolls.  We usually buy our sandwich bread from Great Harvest, but I had yet to find a roll recipe that came close to traditional rolls.  That is, until tonight.  These rolls from the My Humble Kitchen are fabulous, even without the butter on top or the freshly ground grains.  Try them and enjoy!

Okay, now for camp.  This is my first year running the summer camp program at our school.  We have two camps that run concurrently, one for preschool and one for elementary school students.  We feed a morning snack to the preschoolers each day, along with a morning snack and lunch to our older students.  After a brief internal debate, I decided that I wanted to try to keep all of the offered food as true to real foods as possible.  Of course, this was a lot more work than just giving the children the usual fare, but I felt that if we could pull it off, it would be worth it.  Now that we are nearing the end of camp, I can say that I feel our little experiment was a total success.  For the preschoolers, I tried to take advantage of all of the fresh summer produce.  We usually had two offerings each morning, one fruit, such as apples, peaches, raisins, or bananas, along with a grain such as air-popped popcorn, triscuits, or rice cakes.  The children appeared to enjoy the snacks, and there was not a single protest that we only served water, as opposed to juice.

The lower school camp was a bit more work, since lunch was involved.  Each day, we basically had a main offering, that the children could personalize to their own liking.  Some of our lunches included a pasta bar, individual pizzas, panini sandwiches, quesadillas, and tacos.  All of our lunches were made with organic ingredients and whole grains.  I was pleasantly surprised how often the children complimented the whole grain pasta, bread, and pizza crust.  We supplemented our main course with salad, smoothies, and fresh fruit.  For drinks, we served water and chocolate milk, which was our one concession to a sweet treat.  In my idealistic mind, perhaps one of our campers went home and requested more fresh produce or whole grains in their diets.  If not, at least they ate well while they were in our care. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Produce Bounty

Okay, first of all, my apologies for falling out of the blogosphere for nearly two months.  Work was crazy, and it was all I could do to just keep my head above the water.  The good news is that the old job is wrapping up and then I have about 7 weeks before the new job kicks in, which gives me some time to get my life back on track.

The other good news is that while I haven't been blogging about it, we have certainly been keeping up with our real food diet.  In fact, we are now three months in and doing great.  I'm finding at this point, it's much easier to stay on track because we are so much more knowledgeable.  That doesn't mean that we still don't have questions, or make mistakes, but that we have figured out the daily routine pretty well by now, so it's not as stressful as it was at first, when we were learning everything on the fly.  Plus, with all of the seasonal summer fruits and veggies that are now in the markets, we have a much larger variety to choose from.  Take, for example, some of our meals over the past week.

We joined a CSA this year, which means that every Tuesday we receive a big box of seasonal produce.  This week, our box included cabbage, beets, snow peas, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, onions, and broccoli.  Upon arriving home Tuesday night, I decided to scrap our original dinner plans and take advantage of some of these beautiful veggies that had been harvested just hours before.  We sliced the zucchini and yellow squash, and the broccoli, along with some mushrooms that I had in the fridge, and threw them into a skillet with a little olive oil.  After sauteeing for a few minutes, we added some whole wheat fusilli pasta and a little garlic and tossed it all until it was warm.  We scooped it onto a plate, grated a little fresh Parmesan on top, and sat down to a simple, easy dinner.  For dessert, we enjoyed freshly picked peaches with a little whipped cream on top. 

On Wednesday, we put together what became one of my favorite dinners thus far.  I mentioned that when we started this journey, I relied heavily on several great blogs on the internet.  I have visited Lisa Leake's 100 Days of Real Food more than any other site, and on Wednesday, we used three of her recipes to create an excellent meal.  We started with the beautiful tomatoes from our CSA, along with fresh basil from a plant I recently purchased, and made caprese panini sandwiches.  On the side of the sandwiches, we enjoyed zucchini and kale chips.  The dinner was wonderful, and it felt great knowing that we were indulging in such a fresh, vegetarian meal.

In addition to all of our veggies from our CSA and the local farmer's markets, we have also been making weekly trips to a local farm to pick fresh fruit.  We've been eating the fruit fresh, along with mixing it into numerous recipes, some new, and some adapted favorites.  The apricot ginger jam the I attempted last week smelled and tasted amazing, but unfortunately it never really set, so it has more of a sauce consistency.  Tonight, however, I had two successes when I made a batch of raspberry jam and also managed to adapt one of my favorite recipes for blueberry buckle to become real food friendly.  Check back in the next post for those recipes, along with a recap of how I managed to feed real food to 45 campers over the past three weeks. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two Week Round-up

I may have been AWOL for a couple of weeks, but fear not, our real food eating is still going strong!

Last weekend, I spent a couple of days away in Washington, DC for a race.  I am thrilled to say that during my first trip away from home, I managed to stick to real foods.  It took some planning ahead, but with that in place, it really wasn't all that hard.  I brought one meal, plus many snacks, with me on the trip and I took good advantage of the in-room mini fridge.  I also researched several restaurants ahead of time, so that even when I ate out, I was able to stick with real foods.  It felt good to enjoy some time away from home, while still eating healthy whole food.  That being said, I did splurge when I got home with a rule-breaking chocolate milkshake.  Everyone should allow themselves some exceptions on occasion. :)

This week, we marked one month of eating real food in our house.  It feels good to know that we've hit a milestone, even a small one.  Even more significantly, we went all-in today when my husband decided to purge the freezer and the pantry of any food that doesn't meet our guidelines.  While we've largely been avoiding those foods for several weeks, it was still a bit sobering to look at the pantry and see all of the empty space on the shelves.  It feels good, however, to know that we've rid ourselves of temptation.  We've truly committed to this lifestyle now. 

Finally, I am excited to say that I came up with my first original "real food" recipes today.  I've enjoyed cooking and baking for years, but I tend to stick to tried and true recipes.  Eating only real foods, however, has forced me to be a bit more creative, and so today I threw caution to the wind to try out a few new recipes.  The first was a simple popsicle recipe.  Our school has been offering the children ice pops more frequently with the warmer weather, and my children have strongly been refusing and settling for the less-appealing snacks their mom has been sending in.  In an attempt to allow them to still feel like they are indulging, while sticking with our healthier foods, I made them some homemade popsicles today that they can take to school.  Here's our simple recipe:

Banana Mango Popsicles

2 bananas
2 mangoes
1-2 tbsp honey

1.  Chop bananas and mangoes and place in a blender.
2.  Add honey to taste and blend.
3.  Spoon mixture into preferred popsicle molds and freeze.

We went to a farmers market this weekend, where we enjoyed purchasing some of the new local produce that is currently coming into season in our area.  I was excited to find rhubarb for the first time, and I happily purchased a bunch of it.  I made a batch of strawberry rhubarb muffins, but I still had three stalks of rhubarb left, so I went searching online for additional ideas.  None of the healthy recipes were really appealing to me, so I took a recipe from one of my favorite bakers, Martha Stewart, and modified it to meet our real food guidelines.  Here's my recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumb Bars, modified from an original Martha recipe:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumb Bars


For streusel:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup honey

For cake:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1-1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1 tbsp honey
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter & flour an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan.  
2.  Mix butter, flour, & honey to make streusel.  Use pastry blender or two knives to cut cold butter into flour & honey until crumbs form.
3.  In large bowl, use an electric or hand mixer to beat butter and honey until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.  With mixer on low, beat in vanilla.  Add 3/4 cup flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low.  Spread mixture evenly in bottom of baking pan.
4.  In medium bowl, combine rhubarb, berries, 1 tbsp honey, and 1/4 cup flour.  Spread fruit mixture over the cake batter in pan.  Top evenly with streusel.
5.  Bake until cake tester comes out clean, approximately 42-45 minutes.  Let cool in pan.  Cut into 16 squares.  Eat plain or topped with homemade whipped cream.

Modified from Martha's recipe at

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Helpful Links

I've had another busy week in the kitchen, and have been excited to discover some delicious new recipes.  Fortunately for me, many people have embarked on this food journey prior to my family, which means that I have been able to take advantage of their hard work.  In order to try to make thinks a bit easier for any of you who want to experiment with this lifestyle, here are links to some of the foods we've been eating.

Lisa over at 100 Days of Real Food has created a great site that has really guided me through this journey.  In addition to the wealth of knowledge that her site provides, she also has a whole store of recipes.  Some of the ones we've tried most recently include whole wheat crepes, breakfast cookies, chicken in whole cooker, chicken stock, chocolate sauce, cinnamon raisin bread, Mara's peanut Thai pasta, refried beans in slow cooker, whole-wheat tortillas, and toaster pastries.  Her veggie burger recipe also has great flavor!

We've had a few misses trying to find a good whole wheat hamburger bun recipe, but I am happy to say that we hit the jackpot the other evening.  I tried the recipe from My Kitchen Addiction and loved it!  The buns were easier to make, looked pretty, and tasted great!

Snacks have been a challenge, as we have to provide several each day for the kids at school, so I've been continually hunting for new recipes there.  I modified one of my favorite granola bar recipes from Sweet Girl Confections to fit our real food guidelines.  I took out the brown sugar, added in peanut butter, and subtracted the pumpkin seeds, since they were not a big hit with the four year olds.  We've been making a batch of these almost weekly.  We also tried out a graham cracker recipe today from Big Life Little Garden .  The initial taste tests were promising, so hopefully the kids continue to enjoy these. 

My kids started tball a few weeks ago and we were in charge of snacks for the first game.  I wanted to stick to a healthy snack, but still make something that the other children might actually eat.  We opted for apple slices and soft pretzel bites using the recipe from Once a Month Mom .

Hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do.  Thanks again to all of the great bloggers who have come before.  If you have any delicious real food recipes, please share them in the comments below.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Incredible In-laws

Okay, I know we are still getting acquainted here, but one thing you should know is that I'm one of those rare and lucky people who actually enjoys spending time with her in-laws.   They are wonderful people and I truly feel that I am fortunate to have married into their family.  That being said, however, thinking about my in-laws and our real food transition has been stressing me out a bit. 

See, the problem with liking them is that we spend a lot of time with them.  Which was never a problem until we switched to real foods.  My mother-in-law is actually quite a healthy eater herself, but my father-in-law, bless his heart, is not.  The man avoids most fruits and all veggies, and doesn't consider a meal to be complete unless it contains some sort of animal product.  As a result, while we always have salad and fruit on the table at my in-laws, there is also a lot of meat, along with convenient sides like Stouffer's mac & cheese or Bob Evans mashed potatoes.  Plus, my children have gotten into the habit of enjoying ice cream with sprinkles at the end of most of their meals there.  In the past, I've always let it go, figuring that it's nice for the grandparents to be able to spoil their grandkids a bit.  With our new food attitude, however, I knew something had to change.

We usually eat at my in-laws twice a week, which seems too often to just ignore our guidelines.  And yet, while I am trying to be consistent for the sake of my family, I am very aware of not wanting to "put anyone out".  Over the past few years, I've gradually come to the mindset that this is the best way to eat for our family.  I know, however, that many people do not understand or agree with our choice, and I'm not trying to change that.  So I've been faced with how to sensitively approach the topic so as to change our eating habits without making my in-laws feel offended or uncomfortable.  At just two weeks into this transition, we had started by basically letting it go, with the plan that my husband would talk to his parents in the next day or two to try to work out a system.  Our goal, with their permission, was to stock some staple items, such as whole wheat pasta, all-beef hot dogs, and grass-fed ground beef in their pantry and freezer, so that we could easily substitute items when needed. 

Imagine my surprise and pleasure, then, when we arrived today for lunch after church to find the following menu: baked chicken, brown rice, salad, and mixed strawberries & watermelon.  The chicken was free-range, the salad greens organic.  My mother-in-law had purchased organic milk for the kids to drink, along with organic yogurt and organic frozen fruit to make smoothies as a special treat.  I was honestly blown away.  As I am the one who does the majority of the shopping in our household, I know firsthand how much more expensive it is to buy organic produce & dairy, and humanely-raised meat.  I am so touched that my mother-in-law went out of her way to purchase all these items just to make us feel more comfortable at her home.  It's just one more example of how kind and generous my in-laws are.  It has also allowed me to feel more confident that we may actually be able to sustain this change. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another First

Wading into the real food waters is allowing us to experience a lot of firsts.  Tonight we had another one - our first restaurant experience where we actually tried to follow real food guidelines.  We've been out to restaurants twice before since we started eating real foods.  The first time, though, was a day after we started and so I convinced myself that it was too soon to worry about it.  The second time was last weekend, when I took my husband out to dinner for his birthday.  We had already planned the restaurant several weeks in advance, before real foods were on our agenda, and it was not a very real food-friendly place.  So we viewed it as a last hurrah of sorts, and ordered all of the junk that we used to love diving into.  While I was excited at the time, I felt both guilty and sick for the remainder of the evening, which was not worth the trade off.

So tonight, when we went out with a group of friends from church, we figured we were out of excuses.  I attempted to do my research, scouting the menu ahead of time to determine possible options.  Of course, it's hard when you don't have a list of ingredients to refer to.  It was also tricky knowing that most people would be ordering appetizers to share, since they tend to be one of the least healthy options on the menu.  We made a plan, though, and I am happy to say that we stuck to it.  We ordered hummus, subbing in fresh veggies in place of the pita bread.  We also got a cheese plate with local cheeses, and chose to eat them with the offered apples, as opposed to the cracker variety that came as an accompaniment.  I'm not sure if everything was 100% real food, but I feel confident that we did a pretty darn good job for a first attempt.  The only thing that was really hard for me to pass on were the nachos.  I may need to try to find a brand of tortilla chips soon, so I can make my own at home.  Once we got home, we enjoyed a simple taco bake for dinner.  Would it have been easier to eat the free, prepared appetizers tonight?  Of course.  After our homemade meal, however, I feel both satisfied and content, knowing that I'm giving myself the best fuel possible before my long run tomorrow morning.