“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” – Hippocrates
“Abs are made in the kitchen.”
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
Good health starts with cooking your own food. It’s near impossible to achieve lasting health, weight, and strength building goals without a little blood sweat and tears in the kitchen (unless you are one of the lucky few who can pay someone to cook for you, and that’s not many of us).
I smile every New Year, as the number one resolution on everyone’s list is to improve their health in some way – eating better, exercising more, smoking and drinking less, etc. Each New Year, we pick out a diet plan that seems to fit our lifestyle, and we go for it whole hog starting January 1. Most people last a few weeks, but the majority of us seem to lose our dedication by the end of the month. Life is just too hectic to stick to a strict plan, a plan that most likely involves more time spent in the kitchen preparing healthy food.
Even without starting a new healthy eating plan, most of us know that to be healthy, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat less sugar, bad fats, and refined and processed foods. But what we don’t always know how to do is COOK those healthy fruits and veggies, good fats, and healthy meats into fabulous meals three times a day. Rather than a new diet plan, what most of us really need is to a) come to the realization that we need to cook for ourselves most of the time and then b) find a strategy to do it while the rest of our life is going on.
Here’s the deal – life will ALWAYS be hectic, everyone is busy and no one wants to spend extra time in the kitchen (unless you are one of those who find it a creative and therapeutic outlet). The bottom line is that it is near impossible to achieve your health goals without cooking your own food. There is simply no other failsafe way to control what goes in your body.
I think it’s interesting how much time we all spend taking care of our exterior bodies – workouts, manicures, pedicures, facials, wraps, eyelashes, hair color, hair cuts, veins zapped, hair removed, botox, injections, and the list goes on. Why don’t we have the same awareness and desire to take care of the inside of our bodies? After all isn’t that what our bodies use for fuel, rebuilding, and repairing, eventually reflected in our outward appearance and also how our bodies function – our energy level, ability to focus, mood stabilization, sleep quality, etc.
While eating fast food and restaurant food might taste good and be convenient, it typically adds excess salt, seasonings, sugar, and unhealthy fats to your diet that you cannot control. And all those packaged convenience foods are also a substandard choice, as the ingredients are not fresh and usually include more salt, sugar, additives, colorings, and preservatives that are not present in a home cooked meal. Even the packages labeled “all natural” or “organic” are a step in the right direction but still include a healthier form of additives, sugar, salt, and still lack the nutrients in fresh food.
Your best bet to improve your overall health for the long term is to start cooking at home. In fact, if you choose one thing to do for yourself to be healthier, let it be preparing your own fresh food. If you are new to cooking or in general just really don’t like it, here are 10 tips that got me started:
1. Be prepared. Set aside time each week to grocery shop. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and meats, and line your pantry shelves with spices, condiments, oils, and healthy staples like canned coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and frozen berries. I find I do best when I plan to grocery shop at the same time each week. It becomes built into my weekly routine, and I always have healthy food ready to make into meals.
2. Make cooking a priority. Schedule time each day to prepare your meals. Your life will always be busy. Your life will always be hectic. You will always be going through something difficult or distracting. So do not use that as an excuse. In fact, when we are the busiest or having the most difficult time with life is when we need to feed our bodies with the best quality food. It is at those times that we especially need nutrients, so we can stay healthy and strong physically and emotionally.
3. Keep a clean kitchen. Remove the clutter from your counters, and wipe them down morning and night. A clean, uncluttered environment not only gives you the space you need, but it also creates a place of calm and order, which is inviting for cooking.
4. Buy high quality, fresh foods to use in your cooking. Why spend the time in the kitchen if you’re going to cook with a bunch of packages and poor quality ingredients. If you’re looking for shortcuts, buy pre-chopped fruits and veggies in the produce section. Check out the spice section for familiar spice blends to use like curry, chile powder, taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, etc. Condiments like infused vinegars, mustards, and coconut aminos are an excellent way to make your healthy food taste good. Just remember to look at the label and choose pure spices and condiments without additives.
5. Keep it simple. To begin with, choose recipes with few ingredients and fewer steps that include plenty of vegetables and a little meat and healthy fat. I love easy one-pot meals that combine veggies, a healthy meat, a little healthy fat, and lots of spices to make the meal taste good. If you don’t own a slow cooker or a steamer, invest in one. I use mine daily. I also have super sharp knives so I can prep produce efficiently.
6. Give yourself the freedom to be creative with your meals and the permission to fail. You don’t always have to rely on a recipe with numerous steps. Some of your originals will turn into family favorites while others will not. But taking the pressure off yourself to serve gourmet masterpieces every meal will increase your confidence and enjoyment in the process.
7. Record your favorite recipes as you go. Slowly build weekly meal plans with grocery lists of all the recipes that are hits with your family.
8. Cook in bulk, doubling a recipe so you can eat the leftovers throughout the week or freeze them for next week. I love to look in my fridge and see all the containers of fresh home-cooked food.
9. Have a positive attitude in the kitchen. Be thankful for your food, your kitchen in which to prepare it, and your loved ones with whom you share it. Just like everything else in life, your attitude in approaching it greatly impacts how much you enjoy the experience.
10. Create an atmosphere in the kitchen that inspires you. If you are one who isn’t fond of cooking, make the experience enjoyable. If you are one who has worked all day and just wants to relax, make the experience relaxing. Turn on music, light candles or adjust the lighting, focus on your breathing, use the time to be quiet and think, make yourself a pretty drink in a pretty glass. It doesn’t always have to be wine or a cocktail. My favorite is sparkling water with a couple of raspberries and lime in a stemmed glass. Or use your cooking time to catch up with your loved ones. Get your kids or your spouse in the kitchen with you to help or even just to visit. Put your phone on speaker and catch up with a friend while you prepare your food. Whatever makes the experience a good one for you and helps meet your needs at that moment – do it.
This spaghetti squash with sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples is one example of a simple meal that I came up with using a variety of fruits, veggies, spices, and a healthy meat option. It has been a repeat meal at our house many times this winter.
Spaghetti squash is a delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional pasta. Roasting a spaghetti squash is almost as easy as baking a potato. Almost. To roast a spaghetti squash, I first need to soften the tough outer exterior by placing it in the oven while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, I take out the squash and using a sharp knife, cut through the hard shell to halve the squash. Once cut in half, I scoop out the seeds, rub the insides of each half with a little olive oil, and place both halves cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast the squash for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I make sure not to over-bake, so the squash doesn’t become mushy.
Next, I prepare the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples. I start by quartering the Brussels sprouts, and blanching them in boiling water for about two minutes.
I transfer the Brussels sprouts to an ice bath and let them sit while I chop the onion and apples.
I buy turkey or chicken breakfast sausage from the meat counter at Whole Foods. It’s fresh, and I trust that it is high quality meat. I brown the ground turkey sausage with the onion in a little coconut oil in a large sauté pan until it is no longer pink.
After the turkey sausage is no longer pink, I add the blanched Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for about 7 minutes.
Next, I add the apples, sea salt, and thyme and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes more before lowering the heat to low.
It’s time to remove the spaghetti squash from the oven and fluff the squash “noodles” away from the shell using a fork. I place the squash “noodles” in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. Sometimes I add a little garlic or chile powder for additional flavor.
To serve, I layer the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples over the spaghetti squash on each plate. This recipe takes a bit longer and has a few more steps, so I choose a to make this one when I can look forward to spending some time in the kitchen.
- 1 spaghetti squash
- olive oil
- sea salt, to taste
- 1 pound breakfast sausage (I use chicken or turkey)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 bag Brussels sprouts, quartered
- ½ purple onion, cut into slivers
- 2 apples, cut into slivers
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place the whole spaghetti squash in the oven while it is preheating.
- After a few minutes, remove the spaghetti squash, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds.
- Place cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet, and rub a little olive oil over the inside of the squash.
- Bake for 45 minutes, and then fluff spaghetti squash “noodles” out of the shell with a fork.
- Transfer the “noodles” to a bowl, and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, blanch the Brussels sprouts in boiling water for two minutes, and then transfer to an ice bath.
- In a large saute pan, brown the sausage and onion in the coconut oil until no longer pink.
- Add the Brussels sprouts, and saute for about 7 minutes.
- Add the apples, thyme, and sea salt, and saute for 5 minutes more.
- Divide the spaghetti squash onto 4 plates, and top each dish of squash with ¼ of the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples mixture.
The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is next week! Even though I love this magical time of year, I can’t help but feel my anxiety level rise as my to-do list grows. And when my anxiety increases, my sleep decreases. For whatever reason, my body likes to deal with anxiety at night in the form of insomnia.
Until several years ago, I have not been a good sleeper. I have been tortured with insomnia on and off my whole life. And torture is a pretty accurate word to use when it’s 2am in the middle of your umpteenth sleepless night, and your mind is still on that hamster wheel. I used to describe the feeling in my brain as having a light switch on that I just couldn’t flip off. Insomnia is MISERABLE!
About ten years ago, when I was also going through the worst of my years of sickness, I was driven into such a craze from yet another night of no sleep, that I decided I needed a little help in the form of a pill to get some relief. My doctor did not immediately jump to Ambien (which is what I was hoping he’d prescribe me for a quick fix) but instead looked for the source of my night time wired mind. He explained that when a person is experiencing anxiety, it is common to motor through your day pretty unaffected and coping just fine, but the second your head hits the pillow, that switch in your mind flips on and your body deals with the anxiety at night. I left his office without a prescription for Ambien and instead began a three year relationship with Lexapro, a serotonin re-uptake drug. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that promotes a good mood and relaxation.
At first, I was so happy to be sleeping like a baby, that I was perfectly content taking my one little “sanity” pill each day. But after I had several months of better than average sleep under my belt, I was thinking a whole lot more clearly and became much less enthused about my magic fix. I loved how Lexapro took away any anxiety and insomnia I had been experiencing, but that’s not all it took away. I had no feelings. I had to force myself to do what I had previously been motivated to do during my days. I would be perfectly content sitting on the couch watching life happen around me with no care in the world. I didn’t like the feeling of not caring and not having an emotional attachment to pretty much anything. And then there’s the weight gain. I felt puffy and carried around an extra five pounds the three years the drug was in my system.
I made the decision to stop taking Lexapro after less than a year of starting it. Then began my two year yo-yo experience, as I tried to wean from myself from it. I began to research natural ways to boost my serotonin level because I believed that the cause of my chronic anxiety and insomnia was a chemical problem within my brain. I found that the body makes serotonin using the amino acid tryptophan. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, eggs, fish, and meat is the best way to ensure I’m getting enough tryptophan. But some people can still come up short and need a little boost. I decided to supplement with additional tryptophan. Except I didn’t start with tryptophan, I started with something called 5-HTP, which is what the body converts tryptophan into before making serotonin. I started off very slowly and worked up to several capsules per day until I started to feel relief. I was able to ditch Lexapro for good with the help of 5-HTP.
But to be honest, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my sleep. I still lay in bed awake for at least an hour trying to shut off my overactive mind. I went back to researching and even met with a holistic specialist who suggested I try L-tryptophan instead of 5-HTP because it works better for some people. And guess what, I was one of those people. For the last several years, I have experienced amazing sleep. I feel like a new person!!
A few other supplements that have also helped improve my sleep are GABA, melatonin, and liquid calcium and magnesium. GABA is also a neurotransmitter in your brain that calms you down for sleep at night. I’ve found that GABA wipes out my anxiety, so my mind can turn off. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep through the night. Magnesium is also needed for your body to relax, and because magnesium and calcium need to be taken together for both to absorb properly, I take a liquid calcium and magnesium supplement by Bluebonnet each night. I have found all three of these supplements have further helped improve my sleep quality, especially during stressful or hormonal times when I’m prone to anxiety.
The holidays are a busy and crazy time of year. If you aren’t sleeping well or are suffering from anxiety or insomnia, don’t let that sabotage the merriment and celebration of the season. I encourage you to ask your doctor or other professional about these natural supplements that have helped me sleep.
My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the side dishes. I plan to make this bacon and butternut squash “risotto” for my family this year.
I am open to any shortcuts I can find to save myself a little time in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. To make this side dish, I bought my butternut squash pre-chopped. I have found organic pre-chopped butternut squash at both Costco and Whole Foods. If you prefer to chop your own, here is a great tutorial on how to do it.
Next, I “riced” the cauliflower by putting the florets in my food processor and pulsing until they are pieces the size of rice. A head of cauliflower yields quite a few florets, so I processed several batches before finishing the entire head. Here is another method to “rice” cauliflower. I also diced a couple stalks of celery and about a fourth of a purple onion and set them aside.
I then chopped five pieces of uncured bacon and cooked them in a large pan over medium-high heat for about five minutes.
Next, I added the diced celery and onion and a half teaspoon of both salt and pepper to the pan and cooked it for another five minutes.
I added the butternut squash to the pan and cooked it for about seven minutes or until the cubes of squash became tender.
I added the “riced” cauliflower to the pan and cooked it for another seven minutes. And lastly, I stirred in chopped sage, pine nuts, and a little ghee for additional flavor. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein-free and lactose-free substitute for butter.
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 stalks celery
- ¼ purple onion
- 5 pieces of bacon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- handful of chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- Peel and cut up the butternut squash, or buy it pre-chopped. Set aside.
- “Rice” the cauliflower in a food processor and set aside.
- Dice the celery and onion and set aside.
- Cut up the bacon, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes in a large pan.
- Add the celery, onion, salt and pepper to the pan, and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the butternut squash to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes or until the squash is tender.
- Add the “riced” cauliflower to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes.
- Stir in the the sage, pine nuts, and ghee.
- Serve warm.
Why do you snack? The purpose of a snack is to provide a bridge between the larger meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A healthy snack keeps your metabolism revving along and gives you that precious energy to focus and stay busy and active without losing steam throughout your day. Ideally, healthy snacks are like mini well balanced meals (not just a carb load) complete with protein, fiber, and a little fat. If you are in weight loss mode, focus on foods with fiber, as they are filling but usually low in calories, making a small snack go a long way in keeping you satisfied.
Realistically, do you think about the nutrition aspect of your snacks? Most often I do not! Snacks in my world typically have nothing to do with hunger and have everything to do with me having a craving. Even though I know better than to reach for food when I have a craving, if I’m being honest, I’m still human and I do it. We all do at one time or another. The important thing is not to let cravings take over and allow food to become a stronghold in your life.
Sometimes you need to give in to your cravings, and sometimes your cravings can signal something else is going on in your life – you have another need (spiritual, physical, relational, or occupational) besides food that you should address. So how do you tell the difference between a craving that you should satisfy and a craving that needs to be met in another way besides food? I’ve learned a couple of questions to ask myself that have helped me distinguish the difference.
First, when you have a craving, ask yourself “What type of food am I craving right now?” If the answer is salty or sweet, your body might be sending you a message that it needs something. This is the type of craving that you want to satisfy with a healthy snack.
A craving for something salty can mean your body needs valuable trace minerals. Table salt, which is used in most processed foods today, has been refined and stripped of minerals, so it’s almost pure sodium chloride. But sea salt is a good unrefined choice to satisfy your craving, as it’s chalked full of trace minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, bromine, boron, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, and silicon. Choosing a snack seasoned with sea salt can satisfy this craving.
If you crave something sweet, your body is telling you that it needs energy. Before satisfying a sweet craving, make sure to evaluate your food choice so you don’t end up with another craving soon thereafter. Sugary, processed, wheat containing sweets offer little nutrients and break down really quickly in your digestive system, absorbing into your bloodstream at rapid speed. They spike your blood sugar and give you quick energy but then just as quickly as it shoots up, your blood sugar drops and you’re left with another sweet craving. Instead, choose sweet snacks that contain natural sugar like fruit or natural sweeteners like a little honey or maple syrup. And don’t forget the protein, fat, and fiber! Choose sweet snacks that are well balanced, so they give you lasting energy, as they satisfy your need for different types of nutrients. They are also broken down and absorbed at a slower pace, trickling into your bloodstream rather than flooding it, which keeps your sweet craving at bay longer.
The second question to ask yourself when you have a craving is “What do I really need right now?” Many times the answer is not food. Because you feel in your body and also put food into your body, without even realizing it, you can try to cope with your feelings by eating. Common emotions that lead to cravings are anger, frustration, anxiousness, boredom, loneliness, and needing comfort.
When you crave crunchy foods, you tend to be feeling frustrated or angry. There’s something about the noise and the act of chomping that eases those emotions.
When you crave something creamy, you may be needing comfort. Creamy foods are soothing and relaxing.
By asking yourself “What do I really need right now?”, you can examine the deeper root of the craving and appropriately satisfy it. Many cravings are tied to other areas of your life besides food. When you take time to make sure all of you is properly nourished – spiritual, physical, relational, occupational – you will find your cravings lessen and you are on the road to healthy snacking.
These barbeque zucchini chips are one example of a healthy snack choice, providing an energy boost with a naturally sweet food plus some needed nutrients to help you make it through your day. Pair them with a few nuts and seeds, a rolled up slice of turkey, a hard boiled egg, or a piece of smoked salmon to add a little protein.
To start, I made a simple barbecue spice blend with chili powder, sea salt, coconut sugar (maple sugar works well too), paprika, garlic, cumin, mustard, and black pepper.
Next, I cut three zucchinis into 1/8 inch slices.
Next, I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and placed the slices on parchment lined baking sheets. I sprayed a little olive oil over the slices with my olive oil mister and then sprinkled the barbecue spice blend on the zucchini slices and baked them for 40 minutes. I removed them from the oven and flipped the slices. Then I sprayed a little more olive oil on the other side and sprinkled on more of the spice blend. I baked them for about 20 more minutes, watching closely to make sure not to over bake. After 20 minutes, I removed several of the chips from the baking sheet that were good and crispy and returned the rest to the oven to bake for about 5 more minutes.
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1-2 tablespoon coconut sugar, to taste
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon mustard
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 zucchini
- olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- To make a barbecue spice blend, combine chili powder, coconut sugar, sea salt, garlic, paprika, cumin, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl.
- Thinly slice the zucchinis into ⅛ inch slices.
- Mist the olive oil over the zucchini slices, sprinkle the spice blend over the zucchini slices, and bake for 40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, flip the slices, mist a little olive oil on the other side, and sprinkle the splice blend over the other side too.
- Bake for 20 minutes more, watching closely not to overbake.
Boy, October came and went before I had time to blink twice. I always think I am prepared for the frenzy that is fall, but looking back, I never am. The culmination of crazy for my family is always the first weekend of November, as both of my children’s birthdays fall at this time…one day apart.
- November 3rd, 3:42am – Kayley’s 14th birthday
- November 4th, 4:30am – Ben’s 12th birthday
Two years and one day separates them. Wow. I’m always excited but never ready for them to turn another year older. Kayley is frighteningly close to learning to drive – yikes! – and only one more year before we are officially the parents of two teenagers – yikes again!
We’ve tried every which way to celebrate their birthdays so that they each will feel special. And man, when they were small, I would break my back trying to do it. But in the last few years, we’ve settled into a nice tradition that both the birthday girl and birthday boy seem to be happy with. We pick one night for our family to celebrate together (with separate celebrations with friends for each plus a few extra little surprises on their actual days). Most years, our family consists of my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend. The kids pick a location for dinner or a meal for me to make, I bake 2 cakes of their choosing, we sing to them both, and they open their presents together. But this year is the first year we’ve celebrated with just the four of us – grandparents are enjoying two weeks in Italy, and my brother is getting MARRIED in Bora Bora! Congratulations Cam and Brandi! We love you!!
It’s a busy time for our family, and now that the weekend is over, I’m beat. Whenever I start feeling this way, it is time for me to cleanse. I try to detox once every season, and I find that after the whirlwind that is September and October, I have a couple of short down weeks at the beginning of November, after the kids’ birthdays and before Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities begin, when I can hunker down and focus on me. Here are a few of the indications that I need to detox…
- I don’t feel like myself
- I feel tired
- My temper is short for no reason
- I feel overwhelmed
- I’m not sleeping well
- I feel “puffy”
- A little too much sugar (even natural sugar) has seeped into my diet
- My self-control with food is slipping
- We are eating out at restaurants too much
- I just need a good re-boot or re-start to get me back on track
- I need a week to get my life back in order
Cleansing is so much more than just cleaning out my insides. It is a mental and spiritual detox too. After a week of cleansing, I feel like a new person. Not only does my energy bounce back, but I feel really good “in my skin”. I sleep better, and I have a better, more positive outlook on life. When I cleanse, I take time out from EVERYTHING because it is so much more than food; it’s like hitting the reset button on my life. I will fill you in next week on how my week of detoxing goes…
This carrot ginger soup is an example of a meal I will be eating this week. The inspiration came from the Vitamix carrot ginger tofu recipe. I don’t eat tofu, so I made some simple adjustments to the recipe to come up with a comforting winner. And it’s beyond easy to make. I don’t do hard while cleansing. Everything I will be preparing this week will be a breeze.
To start, I soaked a third of a cup of raw cashews in a 5.4 ounce can of Native Forest Coconut Cream in my large Vitamix container. The healthy fat in cashews and coconut helps you absorb the fat soluble carotenoids in the carrots. Plus, fat makes everything taste better, bringing out the natural flavors in the veggies. Most of us grew up fearing the fat, but good fats are not only beneficial for your body, but they are also absolutely necessary for good health, especially brain health as the type of fat in coconuts has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. In addition, coconuts are packed with vitamins C, E, Bs, and magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, and selenium.
While the cashews were soaking in coconut cream, I steamed a one-pound bag of organic baby carrots, a small purple onion (peeled and cut up), and about 8 cloves of garlic (peeled) for about 30 minutes in my George Foreman electric steamer. I love this appliance. I can prepare freshly steamed veggies in minutes. Carrots are naturally sweet vegetables. I choose to steam them over roasting them for this recipe, so less of their natural sugar will caramelize and they won’t be as sweet. The high fiber and nutrient content of carrots makes them a good cleansing food, and the sulfur-rich onion and garlic provide a key component for liver detoxification plus lots of other valuable vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.
I added 4 cups of chicken broth (either homemade or organic, free range from a box), sea salt, pepper, and about a 1 ½ to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped) to the Vitamix with the cashews and coconut cream.
I added the steamed carrots, onion, and garlic to the Vitamix and firmly secured the lid. I placed a towel over the top to avoid getting burned by any splatter and turned on the Vitamix on low first, and then moving to high. I blended the ingredients into a soup for about one minute and then transferred it to a medium saucepan to thoroughly heat the soup over medium heat. I plan to enjoy this carrot ginger soup with a simple green salad.
- 1 pound bag of organic baby carrots
- 1 small purple onion, peeled and cut up
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- ⅓ cup raw cashews
- 1 5.4 ounce can Native Forest coconut cream
- 4 cups homemade or organic chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1½ to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- Soak the cashews in the coconut cream in the large Vitamix container.
- Steam the carrots, onion, and garlic for at least 30 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth, salt, pepper, and ginger to the Vitamix container.
- Add the steamed carrots, onion, and garlic to the Vitamix container.
- Firmly secure the lid on the Vitamix, and cover with a towel to avoid injury.
- Turn on the Vitamix on low, then moving to high, and puree the ingredients into a soup for about one minute.
- Transfer to a medium saucepan and heat thoroughly over medium heat.
“Mom, this is the best salad you have ever made…” says my 11 year old. This summer, while spending his days on the golf course followed by swimming at the pool at our nearby country club, Ben developed a love for Caesar salads. Traditional chicken Caesar salad usurped his usual order of chicken strips with honey mustard and fries – he made a step in the right direction in my book by adding in some greens.
But chicken Caesar salad is not gluten free, so to make his new favorite at home, I decided to come up with my own gluten, grain, and dairy free version. Ben gives this recipe two thumbs up (he and his two friends walked into the kitchen right after I made this salad, and the three of them quickly polished it off), and so do I because not only is it made with healthy whole food ingredients, but it was super easy to make when in a pinch for time.
And most evenings, I am just that – pinched for time. To make life a little easier, I picked up a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods to use for the salad. Their chickens are pasture fed and gluten free and $2 cheaper on Wednesdays.
The most tedious part of making this salad is removing the chicken meat from the chicken carcass. Kayley and I have gotten quite speedy at this process after volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house where our main job was to remove the meat from 5 birds and chop it for sliders. Our first chicken was a mess…we were s-l-o-w and wasted a good deal of the chicken. But then we got in a rhythm and discovered the best way to do it was just to dig in with our fingers and pull off anything that resembled meat and set it aside to chop later.
I have a big stockpot that I put any part that is not meat – the skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, etc., so I can make a large batch of bone broth to use in making a soup for dinner the next day. Real bone broth is soooooooo much better than the boxed or canned version. And it’s one of the most healing foods for your body, as it’s chocked full of gelatin, collagen, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamino glycans, and lots of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Homemade bone broth is good for healing your gut lining and building strong bones and joints, and it’s beautifying too – nourishing your skin, hair, and nails. After pulling off all the meat, I placed the entire carcass in the pot with the rest of the shrapnel I’d already pulled off, filled the pot with purified water and a splash of apple cider vinegar (helps to leach out the minerals and goodness from the bones), and let it simmer on the stove for the next day.
Now for the romaine lettuce…the morning before serving the salad, I cut off the end of the head of romaine and thoroughly washed the leaves. I like to lay the washed leaves out on a stream of paper towels and then roll up the paper towels with the leaves inside. I lay the rolled up leaves in the refrigerator to crisp throughout the day. Romaine lettuce is definitely my kids’ favorite green because it’s crisp and refreshing without the bitter taste of some of the other greens. And it’s one of my favorites to use because they will actually eat it, getting in a serving of those nutrient dense leafy greens which are the most lacking in most of our diets.
When ready to make the salad, I chopped the romaine and placed it in a medium sized salad bowl.
Next…on to the dressing. I used my Vitamix to make the Caesar dressing with olive oil, water, 2 egg yolks, 2 cloves of minced garlic, juice of 1 lemon, salt, pepper, and some pine nuts as a substitution for Parmesan. The dressing initially tastes pretty salty but once on the salad it’s delicious.
The only thing left to do is to layer the romaine lettuce, chopped chicken, another sprinkle of pine nuts, and fresh cracked pepper in a salad bowl. I drizzled on about half of the dressing and tossed the salad. After tasting, I drizzled on a little more dressing and tossed the salad again. Perfect. I saved the remaining dressing in the fridge where it will be good for about 3 -5 days.
- 1-2 heads romaine lettuce, depending on the size of the head
- 1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and chopped
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup water
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Tear off leaves of romaine lettuce, and wash. Lay flat on a stream of paper towels, and roll up leaves inside paper towels. Let crisp in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Remove meat from a rotisserie chicken and chop. Set aside.
- Remove lettuce from the refrigerator, and chop.
- In a medium sized salad bowl, layer chopped romaine lettuce, chopped chicken, ¼ cup pine nuts, and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
- In a Vitamix or other blender, blend together garlic, ¼ cup pine nuts, egg yolks, olive oil, water, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper.
- Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste and add more dressing if desired.
- Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator.
- Save the remaining dressing in the refrigerator for 3 – 5 days for another use.
When we first moved to Frisco, Texas from Snoqualmie, Washington, our kids were 1 ½ and 3 ½. We had a teeny tiny little backyard in our first house with not even one tree or shrub, no outdoor grill, pretty much nothing but a slab of concrete and a few chairs. But Rob and I would sit outside in the ridiculously hot summer evenings just watching our kids run around in circles. Because we could. It was our summer to “thaw” and enjoy being outside with no jackets, no goose bumps, no chance of rain. I don’t think we complained about the heat once that summer because we were so happy to have the sunshine. Now we did make a pretty big trade off for that sunshine; we lost the mountains and water and evergreen trees and crisp clean air of the Northwest. Texas is home now and I love it, but I hop on a plane and travel to a beautiful part of the world any chance I get.
Moving into our second home here, we now have a pool and an outdoor grill, so we spend many summer nights outside together as a family. This routine provides such a good way to wind down and relax at the end of the day. As my kids get older and their sports and social lives expand, we have fewer and fewer nights when all four of us are at home together, so we have to make more of an effort to plan family time.
Typically, our nights at home are the most relaxing time of my week. This weekend, however, I had a hard time winding down. It occurred to me that it’s because school has now started and with school comes a higher level of stress. Gone are the lazy days of summer and back are the worries of being a middle school parent…homework, grades, social circles, social media, sports team tryouts, service opportunities, a faster pace of life…it’s all resuming, and I could feel my body revving up in response.
I make it a priority to take good care of my body with food and exercise, so I can live my life feeling good, but what about stress? Am I making it a priority to keep it in check? Stress can sabotage all of my good intentions and efforts to keep my body healthy. In particular, there’s this important little hormone called cortisol – our fight or flight hormone – that can get stuck in the permanent “on” or high state. While cortisol at a normal level helps us meet the challenges of every day, too much of a good things isn’t so good. High cortisol levels trigger our bodies to always be in a state of emergency. Our bodies then do anything and everything to turn on the life saving strategies, going into survival mode. Adrenal levels are elevated, metabolism slows and we store extra weight around the middle, sleep is difficult to come by, and we feel stressed out and anxious all of the time.
A few cortisol lowering tips I will be incorporating into my life as school is back in full swing and I feel my stress level rising…
- Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. No peace is like the Lord’s. I am on my knees daily asking for it.
- Write down everything that is on your mind in your journal. In your head, picture placing each of those worries on a tray and handing them over to God. Then let it go and trust. Someone in college gave me that tip, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
- Take time out to breathe. Slow and deep breathing works wonders to reduce anxiety and stress in the body. I breathe in for a count of 7, hold for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 8 and repeat it several times.
- Spend time with people you love and those who make you laugh. For me, this is my family. They are my favorite people in the world.
- Watch your caffeine intake as it stimulates your adrenal glands as well.
- Drink water. Lots of it. Pure, clean water. Even slight dehydration is stressful on your body.
- Watch your sugar intake and focus on those low glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar stable. High blood sugar is super stressful on your body.
- Increase your omega 3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, flax seeds, etc.), as they lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation in your body.
- Give yourself permission to take a time out, and do something that relaxes you. I like to read, listen to music, or take a hot bath.
Another reason our family nights spent in our backyard help me relax is that my husband does the cooking. He’s come a long way with his grilling skills – we’ve traded those hockey puck hard burgers for fall-apart-in-your mouth grilled salmon. His latest favorite to make is these jerk chicken and mango skewers. Jerk is a spice rub or marinade from Jamaica that actually originated in Africa and is known for being spicy hot with a little bit of sweetness.
To make the skewers, Rob started with one pound of pasture raised chicken breasts.
He cut them into cubes the right size to thread on a skewer.
To make the jerk chicken marinade, he chopped a purple onion and minced two cloves of garlic. In a medium sized bowl, he combined the onion and garlic along with the juice of 4 limes, tamari, maple syrup, olive oil, and lots of spices: sea salt, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, allspice, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Freshly grated nutmeg is the best.
He submerged the chicken cubes in the jerk sauce and marinated them in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
We cut chunks of mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion to add to the skewers. He alternated threading the mango, red bell pepper, onion, and marinated chicken cubes onto eight skewers.
He grilled them for about 6 minutes, flipped them over, and grilled them for 6 minutes more.
For a side, one idea is to “rice” a head of cauliflower in a food processor. Heat the remaining jerk sauce in a medium sauce pan and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then add the “riced” cauliflower to the sauce pan and cook for a few minutes more. Serve the skewers with the cauliflower “rice”.
- 1 pound pasture raised chicken breasts
- 3 mangos
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 purple onion
- ½ purple onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ – 1 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- juice of 4 limes
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ tablespoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
- Cut chicken breasts into cubes and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine diced onion, minced garlic, and the remaining ingredients to make a jerk marinade.
- Marinate the chicken breast cubes in the jerk marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- Cut mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion into chunks.
- Alternate threading the mango, red bell pepper, purple onion, and chicken cubes onto 8 skewers.
- Grill over medium heat for 6 minutes. Flip, and grill for 6 minutes more.