Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sorry, guys...

It has been a stressful and crazy last few months, and I'm not even talking about the holidays part of it.  In November we learned that we needed to move, so the last few months have been spent looking for a new place, purging belongings, packing packing packing, and everything else that goes along with moving.

I actually really enjoy going through every single inch of my house looking for things we no longer need to give away, sell, or donate.  I looove some organizing!  But this was even more than purging, we had to downsize.  Moving from a big house with a basement to a small apartment means a lot of stuff had to go.  We move in two days and I'm still not sure if we have downsized enough!  We will find out soon...

There is something sad about needed to let go of so many of your belongings, but at the same time, with each item gone comes a little thrill.  A chill of happiness and excitement.  To have less, so life can be more.  It is so easy to fill up all the square inches of space you have, and living in a small space really limits what stuff you can have in your space.  It is so freeing to just give it all away!  You can make someone very happy with those extra plates you hardly use, that extra set of kid table and chairs that you will no longer have room for(wait, why did we have TWO sets of kids table and chairs?!?  Oh, right, because we had room for it...).

I am excited for our move, but still daunted by all the packing to still be done.  I am really looking forward to living with less stuff, and I intend to keep it that way.  Nothing gets to live in my house unless it is absolutely needed or wanted.  There will probably still be some editing of belongings when we are all settled in, if we find that our couch is just too big for the space, or our table or what have you.  The Hubby is a bit worried about fitting all of our things in our new place, but I have to reassure him that we can still edit our "stuff" even further.  It is a process!

Now, I can't help but give a shout out to one of the best ways I have found to unload things you no longer need and meet your neighbors and make new friends at the same time.  It is called Buy Nothing.  They have Facebook groups based on your neighborhood.  The point is to create a hyper local gift economy.  It is amazing!  I spend time on FB just to look through and converse with the Buy Nothing group I am a part of.  I am almost more sad to leave this group than to leave my actual neighborhood!  So many neighbors I have met and become friendly with, all over sharing and giving of items that no longer serve the giver.  I had a yard sale last weekend, and I invited the Buy Nothing people to come and just have WHATEVER THEY WANTED, within reason.  So many neighbors showed up to peruse the offerings and to say goodbye to us, it was really wonderful.  I spent the first couple of hours of the sale just chatting with everyone while The Hubby tried to run the selling part of the sale!  What a guy!  But it went really well, and I can't help but believe that if we hadn't offered to give away basically anything, that our sale wouldn't have gone so well.  Our profit made the sale worth it two times over!  Not just the money, but getting to meet and talk with all the neighbors who came to send us off.

I encourage you to see if there is a Buy Nothing group for your neighborhood, and if not, consider starting one!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Make It From Scratch: Spice Blends

As a busy stay at home mom whose family members have food sensitivities (never mind a picky eater), I am cooking every meal, from scratch.  This can take up a lot of time, time that could be used doing other things like checking out Pinterest or Facebook, or even maybe a load of laundry.  The Hubby does like clean socks, for some reason....

A great time saver for me has been premixed spice blends that I can just add to that skillet of ground pork for breakfast sausage, or mix into a bowl of ground beef for meatballs.  Add in some quick cooking side dishes and cut up some fruit and the meal is on the table in 30 minutes.  Or brown up some taco meat, sprinkle in some taco seasoning, set out store bought salsa, some sliced avocado, leaf lettuce and you have lettuce wraps in only the time it takes to brown the meat.  Fast food, people!  The good kind!

Making your own spice blends is great not only for easy fast meals, but for controlling what kind of herbs and spices and salt go into your food.  Maybe you like taco meat, but want it spicy.  You can just add more chili powder to your taco meat spice blend.  You can mix up some ranch seasoning, and it will be dairy free for those of you who can't have dairy.  Maybe you are avoiding night shades; mixing up your own spice blends mean they will not have offending ingredients, you control what goes into them.

So the following recipes I would consider just a guideline for creating your own versions of the spice blends, tailor them to your preferences.

A note on salt:  I use Redmond Real Salt, because it is delicious and I can easily buy it in bulk at my local hippie market.  If you are using a kosher salt, you will need to adjust accordingly.  If you use Morton's Kosher Salt, you might need to add a teeny bit more.  If you are using Diamond Kosher salt, you may need to double the amount of salt you put in.  If in doubt, err on the lesser side.  You can always add more salt to your food later, but you can't take it out!

Redmond Real Salt...see the pinkish color from all the delicious minerals?

The spice drawer

Spices for taco seasoning

Let's make taco seasoning first.  You will need salt, chili powder, paprika or smoked paprika (my preference), ground cumin, granulated onion, granulated garlic, ground coriander, and dried oregano.  Basically all you need is a bowl and a tablespoon measuring spoon.  Add one tablespoon of each spice and salt to a bowl, like this:


And stir it up.  That's it!  Use about 2 tablespoons of this mixture in every pound of ground meat, or rub it into a pork shoulder to braise for carnitas.  So easy!

Taco seasoning

 Okay, next let's make Italian sausage seasoning.  Add one tablespoon of each of the following to a small bowl: salt, pepper, dried parsley, dried sage, ground fennel, granulated onion, granulated garlic.  Again, use about 2 tablespoons of this mixture for every pound of ground meat.  We like this one with pork or beef.

Spices for Italian sausage seasoning

Since we have all our spices and herbs out, let's make some ranch dressing mix.  Stir together one tablespoon of each of the following: granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt, pepper, dried dill, and dried parsley.  Add one or two tablespoons of this to some sour cream or yogurt for some ranch dip, or sprinkle some on some cut up red potatoes to roast in the oven, and you have ranch potatoes!

Ranch mix!

 Okay, one more.  Let's make a breakfast sausage blend.  Stir together one tablespoon each of salt, dried rosemary, dried thyme, and dried sage.  Add one tablespoon of this to 2 pounds of ground pork, along with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.  Mix it up and form into patties, and cook them up in a saute pan for breakfast!  I have also just browned the sausage mix in the pan without making patties to save even more time; the kids still eat it.  It is their favorite breakfast meat, after bacon of course.

Breakfast sausage blend

So, there you have it.  A real time saver in the kitchen.   Just spend 10 minutes every few weeks to mix up some spice blends to use in your cooking, you will be very glad you did.  And you can easily make these blends your own.  And you can experiment with making your own blends, too.  Wouldn't that be fun for easy and inexpensive holiday gifts?  Your own signature spice blend!  Hmmm, actually that is a really good idea!  Noted!

Do you have any time saving tips in the kitchen like this?  I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A long hiatus...and classroom food policy

Well people, I guess an apology is in order...sort of.  I haven't been blogging for MONTHS now, and I must say I do miss it a little bit. 

I am absolutely that person with a lot of unfinished projects, the ones that take longer than a day or two to complete....I am all about the quick projects, the immediate results sort of things.  Blogging is not one of it had to take the back burner for awhile.  Not just from my losing interest, (though that certainly played a small part) but because I don't do so well with being accountable for things that don't really matter that much.  Also, I had ankle surgery at the beginning of summer, and am even now still recovering.  And my oldest child started kindergarten this year.  Let's see, what other excuses can I give you...?  I'm sure I can think of a few more....

Well, I am writing to let you know that I haven't given up completely, and I am beginning work on some more content, recipe testing and taking photos, etc.  It will take a little time, but you can start checking back soon for more posts.  I'm not making any promises, but know that I am dipping my toes back into the blogging world, and we will see what happens.

So as long as I have your attention, I thought I would share how pleased I am with my daughter's class policy on food/snacks in the classroom.  Due to her allergies/sensitivities, she has a special daily snack that I provide for her, some GF, EF, DF (gluten free, egg free, dairy free) pretzels.  The teacher labels the bag with her name, and knows that those are for her.  He didn't even bat an eye at that one, and he was the first to say he would label the bag.  Living in a big city, especially Seattle, I'm sure this was not the first or even the second child who had dietary restrictions in one of his classes.  The classroom also has a birthday treat/party policy.  They prefer healthy treats for classroom birthday celebrations, like fruit.  Wow, gotta love that!  I totally think that kids get enough (too much?) sugar, they don't need 25 extra cupcakes a year from classroom birthday parties.  Now if only my kid would eat some kind of fruit besides strawberries...

That's all for now, thanks for hanging in there!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How To Handle People Who Don't "Get" Food Sensitivities

I remember reading an interview once in a literary magazine of a war veteran turned peace activist.  He had great success at actually being able to engage people on the street in meaningful conversations about war and peace, and in many cases was also able to change some minds.  He shared his secret to getting people to open up and talk about such a heated subject, one that many people approached on the street would not care to discuss with a stranger.

He would ask them what they believed and then listen to what they said.  He would ask them why they thought what they did, then listen to their answer without saying anything in opposition.  He would reflect back what they said, saying empathic things like, "yes, that must have been hard/uncomfortable/great", showing that person that he was listening to them, that he heard what they said.  Just taking the effort to really listen to what others had to say, without interrupting, making the conscious effort to understand another's point of view.  Only then could he state his case, tailored to the other person's beliefs, so that in turn that person could understand his point of view.

Imagine how powerful that is!  Imagine using this technique with your spouse, your teenager, your opinionated neighbor.  Perhaps some amazing conversations would take place, changing your relationships for the better.  But my goal today isn't to improve your marriage, though you can certainly try it out if you want.

If you or someone in your family suffers from food sensitivities, you have very likely already encountered a non-believer or three.  A person who scoffs at your predicament, constantly offers allergenic foods to you or your kid, and who says things like, "Oh, just one piece can't hurt!".  If you suffer from a life threatening allergy, one piece can certainly hurt or even end in tragedy.  It is therefore imperative that the severity of your allergy is understood and respected.  Those of us with non-life threatening food sensitivities would also appreciate the respect and understanding because we don't really care to have GI upset or migraines, we don't enjoy when our kids are bouncing off the walls or are clingy, whiny brats.  It isn't fun.

So let's try this technique next time we encounter someone who just doesn't "get" it.  Instead of citing several studies of why you don't eat certain foods, first ask this person what they believe about food sensitivities.  Maybe they will say it is just another fad diet, or that people have been eating wheat for hundreds of years with no problems, or just about anything else.  Then listen to what they say, because here is the important part: if you are listening, you can understand where they are coming from, and in turn understand them a bit better.  Maybe Grandma is just sad and upset that she can no longer give her beloved grand-kids her home made cookies with a tall glass of milk.  Perhaps your uncle is just a skeptic and has a low tolerance for anything new and different, especially when it comes to diets and food.  There are endless reasons that people will have for opposing pretty much any subject imaginable.

When it is your turn to speak, it is much more effective to cite personal experience, rather than scientific studies or similar evidence.  Most people don't care about that stuff; what really means something is another person's personal experience.  Personal anecdotes!  This is how I explain it to inquiring minds about Big Sis.  I describe some of her worst symptoms, then follow that with how those symptoms vanished after removing foods XYZ.  Most of the time they are amazed and curious; other times they don't believe me, say that it is just a coincidence.  To those people I say nothing more.  They are not in a place to hear any more on the topic.  Some people will never believe in food sensitivities, others will simply take a bit longer to believe it.

I encourage you to try this technique next time you are in conversation about your diet, or your kids' diet.  It has worked out well countless times for me, and I'm sure it will for you, too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Make It From Scratch: Ranch Dressing

One of the things I just gave up without a thought back when Big Sis was first diagnosed with food sensitivities was mayonnaise.  I just stopped eating it.  I was of the mind that there was no use moaning and crying over all the different foods we could no longer eat.  Just move on!  Eat something else!  Cut if off at the limb!  (I guess it is all or nothing with me sometimes.  Not always a good thing!)

It is very hard, though to recreate some salads and sauces and dressings without mayo.  They are just not quite the same without that flavorful, rich binder.  Sigh.  We now make our tuna salad with a vinegar and olive oil based dressing, and it is very good.  I have since discovered a recipe for AIP mayo that is out of this world, too.  Find it in this cookbook, by this author.

One of those foods I gave up on was creamy salad dressings and dairy based dips.  You know the ones!  Clam dip, onion dip, blue cheese dressing and ranch.  Oh, the ranch!  I guess I do miss blue cheese more, but there is absolutely no substitute for a stinky blue cheese.  Oh, well.

Maybe you have kids who will only eat vegetables if they are dipped in ranch dressing.  Maybe you have kids like mine who were so little when they had to give up eggs and dairy that they do not even understand the awesome-ness of ranch dressing, so refuse to even taste your lovingly recreated allergen friendly version.  Maybe someday.  I try not to take that sort of thing personally...

That just means we don't have to share our dip.  More dip for us!  Full of win!

The trick to make your homemade ranch nice and creamy and thick is to use a nice fatty coconut milk, and emulsify it with additional melted coconut oil.  What this extra coconut oil does is become solid when it is chilled, so your dressing thickens up and is perfect for dipping or drizzling all over your salad.  Creamy goodness, people!

 Ranch Dressing
Dairy free, egg free, AIP friendly

1 can full fat coconut milk, or about 2 cups
2 teaspoons granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted


Pour your coconut milk into a medium bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients except the coconut oil.  Whisk well. 

Slowly pour the melted coconut oil into the dressing while whisking at the same time.  You are trying to emulsify the two together, like a vinaigrette or making mayo or hollandaise.  Once it is all incorporated, pour your dressing into a suitable storage container, cover it, and place it in the fridge to chill and thicken up.

The coconut oil will harden as it chills, giving your dressing a nice creamy consistency.  It's like magic!

Everything but the coconut oil whisked together

Slowly adding the coconut oil

 You may have mixed results if your coconut oil is thin, or very thick already.  Maybe when you mix all the ingredients together, your dressing will already be thick enough for your tastes and you won't need to add any coconut oil at all.  If your coconut milk is on the thin side, you may find you need to add more coconut oil and chill it again.  If you find your dressing is too thick, you can thin it with more coconut milk or some water.  Add one tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you like.

Dairy and egg free AIP friendly ranch dressing!

Now we can snack with dip!
Dippy time!

Cooking isn't really a science, and it is more forgiving, quite unlike baking.  You may need to adjust things here and there to get the results and flavor you want.  I think that is the most important thing I learned in culinary school; taste your food, and if it doesn't taste right, change it!  Add more this or that, maybe it needs some acid like vinegar or lemon, etc.  This is the part of cooking that takes practice and as you practice you get more confident and the next thing you know you are creating your own recipes and really enjoying cooking more.  So get in there and give it a go!  You will be glad you did. 

And check out an AIP recipe roundtable by clicking the link below!

Phoenix Helix Recipe Roundtable

Friday, May 9, 2014

DIY Pintuck Duvet Cover

I saw this great tutorial for a pintuck duvet cover a few months ago and I knew I had to make it.  I have always loved how they look, all fluffy and girly but not too girly, and not too "busy", like a print would be.  I don't care for prints very much in large doses.  I love color and decorating with color, but I love my bed to be white, with color as accents.  So a DIY white pintuck duvet was just perfect!  And in my price range, the most important part of all!

Here is where I found the tutorial, and I followed it exactly, more or less.  From the only home decorating blog I really follow, because her writing is so hilarious!

Here is how mine turned out:

Love it!

A sea of pintucks

Crisp white bed=happiness

I ordered two king size flat sheets from Amazon, basically the only ones I could find that weren't a million bucks.  IKEA doesn't carry them anymore, or I would have gotten them there.  In hindsight this worked out better since the sheets I got were better quality and so the duvet is just plain nicer.  I got plastic snaps from the craft/fabric store, and spreading the work out over many weeks kept this monotonous project manageable.  I sometimes have trouble finishing large projects that take more than a day or two to finish; if you are a crafter or love to sew, I know you have about 20 projects "in progress", too.  I may even have some that are over 10 years "in progress".......

I am super happy I finally finished it because my current duvet cover has been ripped so many times it was time to retire it.  The only tricky part of this project was sewing the two sheets together.  The pintucked top and the flat sheet of the bottom were not the same size after all the tucks were put in, so I had to cut the bottom sheet down to size.  I also had to make more tucks on the side as I sewed the two pieces together, so the finished cover would not be a weird amoeba shape.

All in all I am very very happy with the result.  I never thought I would have such a gorgeous duvet cover that I made myself!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Make It From Scratch: Roasted Peppers


Who hasn't bought a jar of roasted peppers before, to put in a new recipe you were trying out, or to just slap on a burger or a sandwich.  Maybe you were going to make some roasted pepper and tomato soup, or a summery salad.  Have you ever made a hummus with some roasted peppers thrown in?  So good!

Making your own roasted peppers has several benefits, one being cost.  If you can get those peppers cheaply, it is much cheaper to make your own.  Here in Seattle, I only buy fresh peppers when they are about 1.25 or 2.00 per pepper.  Then I buy the heaviest ones I can find to give me the most pepper for my money.  Maybe where you live that is expensive for a pepper and you are lucky because now you have no excuse not to make your own roasted peppers.

Another benefit of making your own is that you know what the ingredients are.  Just peppers!  Some jarred peppers may contain oils you don't want to consume. In our case, you never know where soybean oil may be lurking (Big Sis has a soy sensitivity).

Also, they just taste amazing roasted fresh!

Not really a recipe here, but a method to follow.  Roast as many or as few as you like at once.  I always figure I may as well do a bunch and then I can have roasted pepper on everything that week.  Yum!

So here are two ways to roast a pepper.  First, on a gas stove, and second, under your broiler.

To roast your peppers on a gas stove, turn the heat to medium and place your washed peppers directly on the burners.  We are pretty much just charring the skin all over the pepper, and as it is being charred, it is lightly cooking the pepper itself.

Place your peppers directly on the stove

mmm, char.....

The time it takes for each side to char will vary, so check your blackening peppers every 5 minutes or so to see how they are doing.  You can see below that I am using long tongs to turn and flip my peppers to get the skin evenly blackened.  Mine took about 25 minutes to char all over.

turn that pepper
looking nice and charred

Once your peppers are pretty well blackened all over, place them into a large bowl.  They do not need to be completely black, but about 90% is great.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or a lid, and let them cool enough to handle.  I usually give them 30 minutes or longer, due to having small demanding children keeping me from getting back to the kitchen...

wrap the bowl tightly in plastic

After your peppers have cooled they are ready to peel and seed.  The reason we cover them in a bowl is to use the steam from the hot peppers to loosen the skin so it comes right off.

let's skin it!
 First use a small paring knife to cut around the stem, then pull it out.  Cut the pepper into 3 or 4 pieces, and scrape out the seeds.  I had to put a paper towel down to absorb all the liquid that had been inside the pepper.

pop the top

pepper time!

Now you can lay the pieces out and just rub the skin right off!  It should come off very easily.  If it doesn't, you didn't blacken your pepper enough.

the skin comes right off!
pile of roasted peppers!
And it is as easy as that!  I also tried another method to roast peppers, for our readers who do not have a gas range.

To roast peppers under the broiler, you stem and seed them first, lay them out on a tray, and place them under your preheated broiler.

broil it
It is important to check your peppers frequently, because broilers are very hot and cook food quickly.  My peppers were nice and charred after about 12 minutes.  If you have an electric broiler, it will probably take longer.

nice and charred
As with peppers roasted over an open flame, place your broiled peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Leave them to cool, about 20-30 minutes.


Now all you have to do is pull the charred skin off and you have roasted peppers!

the skin comes right off!

a freshly peeled pepper


jar of summery yum!

After trying out both methods I was surprised to find that I preferred broiling my peppers.  It was less messy to peel them, and actually took half the cooking time.  Kind of a no-brainer, if you will.  But it is still fun to burn food on purpose!

If you aren't sure what to do with your freshly roasted peppers, here are some ideas:

burger or sandwich topping
make soup or hummus with them
slice up to go with an antipasto platter for a party
slice up for a pizza topping
chop up to put into a salad
great as a crostini topping with a cheese and prosciutto

There are endless ways to use these peppers, and I'm sure you will love them. 

I still have many ideas for this series, but if you have an idea or a request please let me know and I will see if I can make it happen.  Anything that you currently buy that you want to see if you can make from scratch with healthier and cheaper results is what we are looking for.

So what recipe do you want me to do next?  Popsicles, ranch dressing, or your own spice blends?  Let me know in the comments!