Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last night of October Unprocessed

After a loooooong day at work and a quick trip to the grocery store, I came home to make Halloween dinner. We always like to fill our tummies with warm, healthy food before we go out to trick-or-treat.

I pulled some beautiful chicken stock out of the crockpot, grabbed yesterday's crockpot chicken out of the fridge, mixed up some noodle dough, and made chicken noodle soup. Then chopped some apples and made some quick applesauce. Pulled out some broccoli slaw from a few nights ago. Unprocessed. Delicious.

The kiddos made it through about two blocks before wanting to turn around and come home. They happily passed out tiny lollipops, then picked out a few pieces of candy to eat and set the rest out for the Switch Witch. Wonder what she'll bring!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Crockpot chicken magic

It's amazing: in the morning, before we rush out of the house for work and school, I chop an onion coarsely and put it in the bottom of my crockpot. I throw in an organic, free range chicken, sprinkle it with pure salt, freshly ground pepper, and a little paprika. Put the lid on, set it on low for 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 hours (depending on the size of the chicken and when I expect to get home).

When we get home, the house smells amazing. I pull out the chicken and strip off the meat: 4 or 6 cups of gorgeous meat for soups or pasta or.....

I throw the scraps back in the crock, add in a carrot or two, a celery stalk, an onion, a couple of bay leaves, a bit of thyme (1/2 tsp maybe?), about a teaspoon of salt, some freshly ground pepper, and 8-12 cups of water. Set the crock back on low for 12 - 24 hours.

The next day, I strain the whole thing and have 12 or more cups if amazing chicken stock.

All this beautiful, healthy food for maybe 30 minutes of work spread out over two days. Magic.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Unprocessed October: Productive weekend

Cinnamon-roasted almonds, maple-almond-vanilla granola, whole wheat butterscotch blondies (this recipe with all white whole wheat flour, the lesser amount of sugar, and only a cup of chips), homemade chocolate sauce (based off of this recipe), toast bread (made with white whole wheat flour), and whole wheat hot dog buns for a backyard pretend camp-out. (The almonds and blondies were for a house-warming gifts...not that we didn't enjoy the leftovers. :-) And I added a jar of granola to the gift, too.)

Gave these applesauce-carrot whole wheat muffins a try. And discovered a bonus of my new Vitamix. The recipe called for unsweetened applesauce; I cored a large apple, cut it into a few chunks, and pureed it. Then I needed grated carrots, so I peeled a couple, cut them into chunks, and ran the blender on a lower speed. Sweet!

I finally got the little guy his own Planetbox, and we debuted it at the zoo today. The Planetboxes make packing lunches so much fun, and they make eating so much fun, too. The kids love opening them up and evaluating each compartment. Normally I don't get to see their response to their lunches (of course, since they're at school), so it was neat for me to get to see what they choose to eat first and how they go about tackling their lunches.

His: whole wheat pumpkin muffin (from the freezer), apple slices, pickle, pb & j on whole wheat toast bread, and a tiny piece of blondie bar

Hers: pistachios, cashews, apples and peanut butter, pickle, almond crackers, and a tiny piece of blondie bar

I posted this on the wonderfully supportive Unprocessed October 2013 Facebook group, about an unprocessed parenting win this weekend: I have been trying to be moderate in my expectations for my little ones (ages 5 & 6) following October Unprocessed. All of their packed lunches and dinners at home are unprocessed, but when grandparents give them a store-bought cookie or muffin or something, I haven't been freaking out. We talk a lot about food, but I don't want to be so hard core that they rebel whenever possible. I was rewarded today when we went to the zoo and they each received a package of fun-sized skittles. They were so excited! And then after eating a few, they decided they were done and threw away the rest. :-)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Happy Food Day, 2013

One of my favorite recent meals: turkey chili (made with dried beans), whole wheat skillet cornbread with corn kernels and served with local raw honey, broccoli slaw, green salad, and apple slices from the orchard.

So here's a funny little story for you.

On Wednesday, I had an absolutely horrible day. It started with a 20 minute temper tantrum from the little girl as we were trying to get out of the house (because she lost the race to see who could put on their shoes first). And my day at work made the temper tantrum seem fun.

By the time I got home, I told the hubby, "If ever there was a day for cheating on October Unprocessed, it would be today. I just want to go out to eat and have someone else make dinner and clean up." Hubby readily agreed. "Buuuuut," I continued, "today is national Food Day, and it is THE day to celebrate real food with a homemade meal. So I need to make dinner."

Hubby said, "Seriously, what is more important: your mental health or some made-up holiday that takes place on an arbitrary day?"

"Food Day, of course," I answered, and proceeded to get out all of the ingredients to make our Food Day soup: butternut squash, corn, carrots, kale, quinoa, homemade chicken broth, organic cage-free chicken (original recipe from Cooking Light). I didn't have the energy to make any fancy sides, but we had fresh fruit, crackers and cheese that pass the kitchen test, and organic yogurt. I was surprised by how delicious the soup was; even the picky little ones loved it. Yay me!

At bedtime, the little girl asked me what day it was. "Thursday, October 24," I answered. "No it's not," my hubby broke in; "it's October 23rd."

Whaaaaaaaat?!? But Food Day is October 24th!!! Argh...I banged my head against my daughter's bed until finally she said, "Don't worry, Mom; in my imaginary land, Food Day is October 23rd."

So for the real Food Day, I didn't have any fresh veggies or local foods. But we did enjoy a homemade unprocessed dinner: whole wheat pancakes with frozen fruit, grapes and apples, cage-free organic scrambled eggs, whole wheat biscuits, and sausage gravy. Not quite as impressive, but equally delicious.

And still, a homemade, unprocessed meal, cooked with love and eaten around our family table...and that's what celebrating real food is really all about, isn't it?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Unprocessed October party (and a new project)

The little girl greeted our halfway mark through October with, "I HATE unprocessed month!!"

It's easy to see why when you think about what unprocessed month means to the kiddos. Our dinners are basically unprocessed anyway, so there aren't a lot of changes there, at least not ones they notice. And they don't really notice the lack of unprocessed treats in their lunches (Annie's bunnies or a Simply Fruit fruit stick) because they appeared so rarely.

What unprocessed means to them is: no Oatmeal Squares for snacks (I'm doing pretty well managing the no cereal rule this time!), no going out for pizza or Chinese once a week, no stopping at the local frozen yogurt shop, and no special candy treats when Mommy is around (although the various grandparents have indulged a couple of times, and I didn't say no when they were given tootsie pops at the homecoming parade).

We had a talk about how this month didn't really mean that you couldn't have *any* treats -- it just means that we think a little more about the kinds of foods we choose to put in our bodies -- and really, that's not a bad thing, is it?

For myself, I'm being strict, trying not to "cheat" my own rules at all, but I don't want to micromanage the kids to the point where all they want is processed foods or to where they hate talking about food choices. And I'm not harassing hubby when he chooses to order a pizza when I'm not home or sneak a pop during parent/teacher conferences. Everyone has to make this work for him/herself.

Nevertheless, I decided we needed an unprocessed party today, so I made a cake: I used this recipe from KAF, but subbed in whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose. At some point, I'd like to try honey or maple syrup in my cake, but today, I just went with white. It was a party after all. I made a simple vanilla bean ice cream, opting not to use my normal recipe which calls for both cream cheese and corn syrup.

The cake also assisted me with my new baking goal -- at this point, I can comfortably follow a recipe to make just about any bread, cake, pie, cookie, pastry, etc. (Not that I'm an expert or anything, but I don't feel like I have soooo much to learn anymore.) But my cakes and cupcakes never *look* good. So I bought myself a little starter decorating set (I had been using an old one of my dad's with very little success), and have decided to work on decorating. So this cake fit multiple bills.

The little girl declared, "That looks magnificent, Mommy! This is the best unprocessed party ever!"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Unprocessed October: Week one meals

Well, we've just about survived week one of October Unprocessed. I survived dinner at conferences (brought cheese and crackers that passed the kitchen test, and ate the family's stew when I got home), survived my first debate dinner (brought plain yogurt and homemade granola, an apple, and peanut butter), we survived a play intermission (brought our own snacks: fruit sticks and smoothie pouch that passed the kitchen test), and resisted a very tempting restaurant dinner invitation. Here's what we managed to eat during this busier-than-usual week:

Her: leftover whole wheat waffle, maple syrup, pistachios, apple slices, banana-chocolate-pb-kefir smoothie
Him: leftover whole wheat waffle, apple slices, homemade blueberry syrup,fruit-yogurt-kefir smoothie

Same thing

Her: pistachios, whole wheat banana chocolate chip muffin (without the added flavor, cinnamon chips, or walnuts; using all white whole wheat flour), apple slices, turkey roll-ups, banana-chocolate-pb-kefir smoothie
Him: whole wheat apple muffin (using all white whole wheat flour), apple slices, turkey roll-ups, fruit-yogurt-kefir smoothie

Her: banana-pb-chocolate-kefir smoothie, turkey roll-ups, energy bite (dates, chocolate chips, peanut butter, oats, and a little honey), apple slices, whole wheat banana chocolate chip muffin
Him: fruit-yogurt-kefir smoothie, whole wheat apple muffin, apple slices, turkey roll-ups

Hubby and I took leftovers from dinner for our lunches each day, along with a kefir smoothie and a piece of fruit. I didn't get a picture of Thursday's dinner because the kids ate early with Nana and hubby and I ate as we walked in the door from conferences; I made beef stew from ATK's slow cooker cookbook.

Grilled chicken, veggie hobo packets (potatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, bell pepper), pear slices

Homemade whole wheat fettuccini with broccoli, leftover grilled chicken, and mushrooms in a homemade alfredo sauce

Homemade chicken noodle soup with whole wheat noodles, grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade whole wheat bread, apple slices, and organic yogurt

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Unprocessed October: Challenge accepted!

Well, I’ve decided to bite the bullet: I signed up to participate in the real October Unprocessed challenge, even though it’s such a hectic time of year for us (debate practice on Mondays and Thursdays, debate tournaments most weekends, soccer on Monday, dance on Tuesdays, meetings before and after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I’m still in physical therapy once a week for my never-ending knee injury).

Looking back on our first attempt at an unprocessed month in April, it was fun to see how many things have just become a way of life for us; but there are definitely things we need to work on or go back to.

New ways of life since April:

1. Fresh noodles have become a way of life for us; we haven’t used store-bought spaghetti or fettucini in months.

2. I’ve been cooking batches of dried beans and keeping them in mason jars in the basement freezer, so we also haven’t used canned beans in months. Of course, we don’t use that many beans in the summer months, so this will be more challenging as we move into soup and chili season.

3. Desserts: Hubby and I used to have dessert every night after the kids went to bed. During our unprocessed April, we drifted out of the habit, and we’ve actually never returned. We’ll occasionally have a small dish of ice cream or a cookie, but it is not frequent. And the kids used to have popsicles every night after dinner, but now it’s pretty rare.

4. We have used the farmers market more than ever, and I’ve continued to look for organic fruits and veggies, and grass-fed / cage free / organic meats.

Unprocessed October goals:

1. Return to 100% whole wheat: We’re still using mostly whole wheat (100% in our noodles and most breads), but I’ve gone back to using some white flour (although I usually sub in ½ white whole wheat) in dessert recipes.

2. Demon foods: Recommit to skipping our demon foods: candy and chips for me, pop and chips for hubby, and hubby also wants to change the sides he orders at restaurants, if we do go out (choosing salads rather than fries or tots).

3. Snacks: I need to go back to making snacks, crackers, etc. I haven’t done much of that since we stopped the last challenge.

4. Eating out: We need to cut back on eating out / getting take-out again. We don’t go out often, never more than twice a week and usually not more than once a week, but we have taken to relying on take-out on stressful Tuesdays when I’m with the little girl at dance class until 7:00.

5. Canned foods: Be sure we’re avoiding canned veggies, beans, tomatoes, especially as we move into soup/chili season.

6. Cereal: One thing I realized last time was how bad cereals are; I would love to eliminate cereals from my kids’ diets. They are eating much less these days; it would be great to cut it out altogether.

7. Meat: Now that we’ve begun buying many more organic, grass-fed, cage-free, local, farmers market meats, I’m ready to commit to buying only these for the month. This will probably be our biggest change and challenge.

8. Lunches, my biggest challenge: I’m now making four lunches a day. Eek! I have to keep up with my freezer supplies, especially for emergency lunch situations.

9. Debate tournament dinners: Debate tournaments are notorious for dinners of bad pizza; I'm going to have to plan ahead to bring myself something unprocessed, in the midst of an already busy time.

Deliberate exceptions:

1. Last time, I did try making my own mayo and dressings. I wasn’t super excited by the results, so I’m going to continue to buy the most simple ketchup, mayo, mustard that I can find – making sure that ingredient lists are the same as when I make it myself.

2. I do use chocolate chips for special cookies or treats, but I recently found ones that fit the kitchen test. I would like to try making my own chocolate, just for fun, following this neat tutorial/recipe, via Eating Rules.

3. I'm not ready to completely eliminate white and brown sugars, but I'd like to get back to unprocessed sugars: maple syrup and honey, especially in our desserts.

So...let's see how it goes! Wish us luck! :)