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January 30, 2014

10 ways food is changing my life

For quite some time I have been nurturing a love affair with food. It all sort of began when my youngest was diagnosed with food allergies and then later myself and over the last five years my love of nutritious, delicious food has become a large part of my every day life.  Food: it is most often on my mind and when it's not on mine, it is most certainly on the minds of my boys. I am usually asked what is for lunch at breakfast and what is for dinner at lunch. I keep an ongoing grocery list on my phone for my weekly shopping trips and an overflowing board of healthy recipes on Pinterest.
Not only do I love food because of all of the obvious reasons, the way flavor combinations taste and the way homemade baked goods smell and how great it feels to have a stocked pantry and refrigerator, there are other reasons why I love food and more importantly I love how it is changing my life.
1. Cooking and baking are an extension of creativity. I love being creative, and in fact it is something I need like the air I breathe. Without creativity, I become a sad creature. Over the years I have loved to paint, scrapbook, make collages and jewelry out of shells and other beach trinkets. I of course love to write and now my main outlet for creativity is cooking and baking, so today I combine my love of both. What used to be a monotonous chore when my kids were younger, picky and hard to cook for, has now blossomed into something rewarding and gratifying. Their view of food did not change over night, but through encouragement, reintroduction of foods they used to dislike and a complete lifestyle change, their palates have expanded, the list of healthy foods they love has grown and they feel the great effects of a nutritious diet as much as I do.

This is me drinking tea at work. A great testimony to how happy I have been lately. 
2. Food brings our family together. There is nothing like "breaking bread"; that time spent around the table talking, laughing, telling stories and just being a family. We eat almost every meal together, most certainly dinner as a foursome and over the years we have made this a special time to give thanks, talk about the important things going on in our lives and listen and value each other. The TV goes off, music goes on and we sit down each and every night collectively. It is something I cherish.

 Homemade, grain-free, fiber-filled bread.
 Sunday morning brunch with PB&J pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs with greens.
3. Food allows us to try new things. Yesterday I made eggs over easy or "dipping" eggs as we lovingly referred to them growing up. It was my 5-year old's first time trying them as he has had an egg allergy up until this year. While I was busy cleaning up I heard him exclaim, "I can't believe I have one more thing to get used to. I have to get used to the yellow part of these dipping eggs and then I know I will like it." What a proud Mommy moment! Instead of immediately proclaiming that he doesn't like them and refusing to eat them, he took the attitude I have been trying to teach them over the last two years that sometimes we need to get used to new things before they become something we enjoy. I kept thinking about that statement all throughout the day and how this doesn't just apply to food. What if we could walk around with an open mind and tell ourselves, "I just need to get used to that person and then I bet I will like them", or "I just need to get used to that job, situation, circumstance before I grow to understand it.  I have applied this same technique with new foods in my own life. When you come away from eating processed foods which are made to entice a certain chemical response in the body and mind, it can be hard to switch to eating raw carrots, apples, new vegetables and find the same feeling of satisfaction you have biting into, say, a doughnut or juicy cheeseburger. Overtime, however, my body and mind have formed a strong connection between the sweet taste of a green apple and the vitamins they provide and I find I crave healthy foods and no longer desire foods that do not sustain me.
Baked Tilapia and vegetables in parchment paper pouches with a side salad

4. Cooking is love made visible.  I recently saw a beautiful picture of that quote and sent it to my husband. He wrote back that he strongly agreed. Last year I learned that my love language is "Acts of Service." The way I am most comfortable expressing my love for others and having love expressed back to me is through giving and doing. After discovering this I fully understood how nurturing, cleaning, laundry, cooking and baking are all ways I show love to my family. I cook almost three meals per day for my boys when I can and if I cannot cook breakfast then they eat a low sugar cereal with almond milk. They know when I wake up early and put together a special pancake stack with bacon and fruit, that they are loved. At dinner, because of their Daddy's example, they will often say, "Mommy, you cook the best food," or "Thank you so much for cooking for us," and they are never short on compliments. I think it is really important for parents to model table side manners for our children. My husband never says he does not like something or refuses to try something. He just quietly brushes it aside if it is something he would prefer not to eat (such as tomatoes) and he always commends me for a dinner well made. With two boys looking to their father for an example and knowing how important it is that my children be risk takers with new foods, I so appreciate his daily effort to support me in this way. I love to love my family and food is one tool I use to express that love.

 2 ingredient pancakes (plus cinnamon and vanilla) with homemade blueberry "syrup"
Cinnamon puff cereal rolled in unsweetened shredded coconut 
5. Food is great for sharing!  If I could afford to host a dinner party every week I totally would! It is rewarding to cook a great meal for friends or family and invite them over to celebrate a special occasion or just for fun. I love being able to share new recipes our family loves or introduce them to nutritious foods they may have never tried before. This year we hosted "Friendsgiving" and I cooked a sustainably raised, pastured, organic turkey for the first time. For my sister's birthday we invited her family over for stuffed spinach and feta chicken, roasted butternut squash and salad plus wine and gluten free cupcakes. Another great and simple way to pass on your favorite foods is by sharing a meal with a family in need. There are many great ideas online about what you can cook for a family bringing home a new baby, battling sickness or suffering a tragedy. Relieving the burden for someone and providing a meal is one of the kindest and most caring things you can do. I have been the recipient of meals like that during hectic times in our lives and I promise you, it will always be appreciated!
Sweet potato, kale and turkey meatball soup in homemade chicken broth. Soul soup, as I call it, can be a great meal to deliver to a family in need. I have even sent soup to work for my husband's coworkers in the past.
6. Discovering all of your favorite take-out meals, healthier and homemade. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a super health freak and I still sometimes crave all of the things we used to get as take out more so because of the convenience it brought to my life.  Last week my husband stated that he could really go for some Kung Pao Chicken from the local Chinese food joint. Mmmmm. Chinese sounded so good at that moment and I really did not feel like cooking that particular evening, but as soon as I thought about all of the salt and fat and who know what else hiding in the delicious take out boxes, and imagined how terrible I could feel the next day, I shook my head no. That week I bought all the supplies needed to make my own version of Kung Pao, substituting brown rice for white, using low sugar ingredients and organic chicken. He was won over by the home cooked version and enjoyed it for lunch the next day. If we do eat out, we often choose Chipotle as this is the best option for our family. We can get behind what they try to do in the community with sustainable agriculture, supporting local farmers and using fresh and wholesome ingredients. Even then, I was excited to create my own version of the infamous Burrito Bowl using organic meats like ground turkey or shredded chicken, spinach, quinoa, soaked black beans, goat cheese and homemade salsa. It's always nice to have an option when needing a place to eat out in a pinch, but this was such a quick and easy meal to make that it is now a staple on busy weeknights.

"Knock-off " Burrito Bowls
Homemade Gyros with Greek salad and rice pilaf
Cauliflower pizza crust pizzas, our new favorite "take out" food.
7. Putting our money where our mouths are. We get to vote with our paycheck. Each time we shop at the grocery store or eat at restaurants, we are padding the wallets of the companies that we buy products from. For our family, this means paying attention to what type of ingredients are being used in our favorite foods like cereal, for instance, and I often spend time investigating the companies and what contributions they are making in society or whether they are hindering the sustainability movement that we support. We often take advantage of farmer's markets, getting to know where our produce and meats are coming from, whether the animals are being raised ethically, pastured versus caged, organic versus conventional and supporting local businesses when we can. We live in a town with great local restaurants and two farmer's markets each week during the farming season. Local produce is so much less expensive than produce in the grocery stores and the best part is that it is fresh! Last year we took part in a farm share where we were delivered a basket of produce each week. We are also part of a cooperative that participates in buying health items at discounted prices and other essential products from companies we feel happy supporting. These small changes make a difference in supporting a healthier, greener future for our children and planet. It is not the only avenue we must walk in our quest for social responsibility, but taking a deeper look at the food we put in our bodies is certainly a great place to start.
Stuffed peppers with peppers from our local community market 
8. Food is medicine. We have all heard this before, but the truth of this statement has become very relevant in my life as I heal a multitude of illnesses that I have struggled with for years. I admit this does take some investigation which takes time, but I find it fascinating all of the ways which food can help different ailments and all the vitamins and minerals food provides. We all know that eating a lot of oranges can help provide much needed Vitamin C for colds and flu's, but did you know that sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant, and they supply significant amounts of magnesium and selenium? Sunflower seeds also have Phytosterols which lower cholesterol. Everything we put in our body can have a healing or harming effect. Supporting my health with nutritious, whole foods has had a wonderful outcome on not only myself but the well being of my whole family.  This year alone we have been sick less often, I have not struggled with the seasonal depression I normally deal with in winter and I feel happier and less irritable, a major bonus when dealing with rowdy, growing boys! My youngest son, who exhibits behavioral changes when exposed to sugar and dyes in food, has been much calmer and happier since going off of refined sugars and processed foods. There is a great quote I often see floating around that says "We can pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later."

 Lunch: Stuffed lettuce wraps with tuna and avocado salad, roasted broccoli and fiber packed oatmeal cookies.

Meal prep! When I have time on Sundays I will prepare food for a couple days which takes the burden off of me when I am home with the boys without my husband's help. Salad, zucchini patties, snacks, stuffed peppers, green smoothies and chia breakfast pudding with blueberries.
9. Growing our own food. Many people I know and love are already growing their own food. Seeing a garden in the average backyard is pretty common where I live, but until this year, I have been a bit afraid and unsure of where to begin. I have managed to grow herbs in pots but I am not much of a green thumb. My desire to save money and have my own source of vegetables is really great this year, so with the help of some veteran garden growers, I am going to make the leap into home growing! My hope is that I will learn the ropes of outdoor gardening and someday have an indoor hydroponics garden in my basement for winter produce as well. Next month I will plant my seeds, grow my seedlings inside and be ready to start my spring, summer and autumn garden in my own backyard. This is an incredible way to take health into your own hands, get outside in the sunshine, and involve children in caring for and tending to a garden. I have heard that when you involve children in the care of a garden the same way you involve children in the kitchen while cooking, they are willing and eager to try new foods.

10. Food helps my self esteem. I don't mean that eating makes me feel emotionally better although I do recognize the contentment chocolate can bring to a woman (haha!), but instead that cooking and providing nutritious meals for my family contributes to a great sense of self worth. As moms, many of us hold the responsibility of preparing many if not all of the meals, and this can be a great weight to carry on top of all of the other motherly things we do! I remember in the past just NOT wanting to cook dinner and it mostly stemmed from not knowing what to make that would please my whole family coupled with exhaustion at having little ones running around. Now that my boys are older and a little less demanding (except when it comes to food), and with some great guidelines in place, I have regained great pleasure in cooking and baking again. When I first took things like grains including wheat out of my diet it was hard to know what to eat. Slowly I learned that I could alternate typical flour with almond meal or coconut flour and my baking options expanded.

Homemade birthday cheesecake with almond crust, stevia and blueberry topping. Who says you can't "cheat" and be healthy?

Raw honey and stevia replaced refined sugars, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and sweet potato noodles on my vegetable spiralizer replaced carb laden pastas, almond milk replaced store bought cow's milk, homemade sunflower seed or almond butter for peanut butter, coconut oil for processed cooking oils, fresh vegetables and fruits for unhealthy snacks, etc. The options are really endless and the healthy foods that are available, even in the closest grocery store are plentiful. Now that I am maintaining a higher level of health, I don't suffer so tremendously if I have an occasional cheat. I still love chips, particularly the salt and vinegar variety or an occasional glass of wine, but researching and making the connection between my health symptoms and the foods I eat has been life changing in so many ways. I have freedom that I have never known before. Although I love food, I am no longer a victim of poor dietary choices. I like to think of myself as one of the many voyagers into the new world of sustainable eating.  If it were not for the arduous journey of food allergies when my boys were younger and my own past suffering, I would have never stumbled upon all of the great information about healthy sustenance. But as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."


For those who are reading this post and do not know where to begin, I offer some links and tips to help you begin your journey. Clean eating is the first term I ever "googled" and there are so many resources online. We are in the age of information and I find that the Internet and library are great places to go for healthy eating tips and recipes. I was surprised at how many cookbooks for sensitive eating and whole food/clean eating our local library has on hand.

Tips for eating healthy on a budget:
My very part-time job provides the finances for all the food in our house. Eating healthier does cost a bit more money, but for us it was not an option to buy convenience, prepackaged foods any longer. I found that cutting back in other areas of our life helped us save money, for instance not eating out, cutting our entertainment budget (we tend to like to stay home anyway),  hand making Christmas gifts, budgeting and formulating a weekly meal plan. Here are some additional resources:

Turning your unhealthy favorite foods into healthy ones:

How to convince yourself that you really like fruits and vegetables:
For me this was mind over matter and still is! When I first tried coconut water, which is beneficial in so many ways, I really could not stand the taste, yet I had researched all the reasons I should be drinking it to prevent dehyration and so I kept trying it. It was obvious that my body really needed it but my mind just couldn't make the connection at first. After a few days of persistently trying and telling myself that I liked it, I loved it, I needed it, etc, I grew to actually like it! My oldest son saw me do this as well, and he attempted it himself. He found that after about the fifth time of drinking coconut water, he loved it! It's amazing how powerful the mind can be!

Finally, my personal top 5 tips to remember..

1. Eating healthy is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle change. When we tell ourselves that we are dieting, we tend to think about all of the foods we cannot eat, but changing your life to include healthier options is really more about gaining than losing! Keep a list of all of the things you believe you will gain and focus on that list every day, especially the first two weeks when cravings get the best of you.

2. Do not give up. There are really no mistakes in this journey; if you fall off the horse, just get back on. So you caved and gave into that doughnut at work? Be mindful of your lunch choices. New recipe did not turn out? (I get this, it can be frustrating especially if you bought special ingredients for it!) Try a different recipe next time or try the same recipe again. There is no right or wrong way of transforming your health if you are willing to keep trying!

3. Be patient. This is a journey and not a destination (cliche right?!) No one arrives at great health overnight. Our bodies first go through a detoxing period and you may feel worse before you feel better. This is to be expected. Don't give up on vegetables if you end up in the restroom more often. We have to be patient as our bodies adjust to this new healthy way of eating. It was a very long journey to get to where I am and it involved a lot of trial and error. Give yourself time!

4. No one has the perfect solution for you except YOU. Each of us is formulated perfectly unique, our genes, body structures, taste buds, chemistry, etc. The paleo diet might suit one person fine but an all vegan diet is better for the next. When I began learning about candida and healing chronic yeast issues, there was competing information everywhere and it left me with my head spinning! Some said to cut out all sugar including fruit while others said to eat only fruit! If I tried to adopt one specific way of eating, I often failed. So I came up with what worked best for me and my family, picking and choosing a little of each with the help of a nutritionist and alternative doctor. Even today I try things that I believe will be beneficial but due to sensitivities, end up making me bloated. Don't get frustrated if Jane's perfect diet does not work for you. Which leads me to the last tip...

5. Listen to your body, it will provide you with the answers. When I began to adopt a healthier way of eating, becoming more in tune with my body by paying attention to food cravings, symptoms, hunger pains, etc., I found all the wisdom I needed by listening to what it was saying. For instance, before I drank enough water, I never felt thirsty, so I just assumed that my body was getting enough. It wasn't until I realized how dehydrated I was, after drinking 16 ounces of water when I first woke up each morning, that I became more sensitive to the feeling of thirst throughout the day. The more I feed my body what it needs, the more it tells me what is working and what is not. It is easy to ignore our bodies cues, but they are there for a purpose, so listen closely and you will discover what is best for you!

Many blessings for good health and wellness!!

January 27, 2014

Winter Musings

Winter arrives and seems to overstay it's welcome most years, too cold for the things that many find enjoyable. Yet, when your eyes are tuned to the Universe's high definition channel, winter brings opportunity and serenity that goes widely unnoticed during other seasons. Spring with it's cleaning, organizing, planting, and new beginnings. Summer with it's outside activity, parks, pools and travel. Autumn with it's crisp reminder that warm days will soon be gone, bonfires, bike rides and watching the leaves change color. But winter, it gives way to quiet time, reflection and prayer, days spent inside, huddled up close with loved ones sharing a blanket, tea, good books, music, hugs, crackling fires. For people like myself that get lost in the velocity of every day life, winter is the final present waiting to be unwrapped and noticed amid all of the sparkly ones. It is unpretentious and reserved, yet it commands the use of our imagination and master seeking skills to uncover the hidden treasures.
I love the stillness of the morning after the plows have left our cul-de-sac street cleared for the hard working rebounders; serene and nonviolent in my corner of the world. Sometimes there are birds or squirrels meandering about, but mostly there is just me and the vastness of white. I have taken to staring out the back doors, noting the plants that stay strong beneath the heavy drifts of snow, or the ones who slowly succumb to the frigid elements and rest easy until spring's rebirth calls it from it's wintry grave.

These are things I once took for granted, too bitter at the bitterness of winter to admire all it's beauty and grace. This year, the year of gratitude, I welcome the snow, the two-hour delays which allow the mornings to idle instead of hastening us to the bus stop. I like the way my 5-year old finds comfort in the warmth of my arms on the couch and he is content to listen to me read his big brother's chapter books or school me in Super Mario on the Wii.
Winter through a child's eyes will transform the heart. Their small bodies, recirculating heat quickly and efficiently so they can stay face down in the snow for long periods of time, admiring who knows what in the depths of that chilled snow drift and the millions of snow games they can come up with: heart reform. The way the act of throwing powder up into the air so that it clings to their eyelashes and tickles their noses makes them laugh hysterically while I shiver with the camera: a course in deliverance.

I'm surprised to find myself, a loather of cold, so changed by a few days spent outside with my camera surrounded by the magnanimous energy of my children. It may be because I know this season, just like all the others, is fleeting and my attitude about it will shape what direction it takes. It may be because for once in my life I am not afraid of being by myself, and I in fact welcome it as much as I welcome the return of my boys as they walk through the door after school. It may be because for some reason, perhaps with better nutrition, I have not been pulled under by the deep, heavy blanket of seasonal depression and for that I am grateful.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” -Lewis Caroll

Stay warm and safe till spring's renewal, friends.

January 23, 2014

365 Grateful - My year of gratitude

Inspired by a beautiful video I watched at the beginning of January, I decided to use my iPhone to capture a photo each day in 2014, documenting something I am grateful for. It seemed like the obvious choice because I constantly have my phone and often use it to take photos when my DSLR is put away, however I had no idea in 3 short weeks how quickly this simple project would not only change my attitude, but change my outlook on life.
After a long couple months of debilitating illness, feeling hopeful yet frustrated by my condition, the only intention I made for this new year is to continue evolving and reaching towards greater health each day, uncovering optimal wellness through whole, nutritious foods, discovering how to stay balanced in mind, body and spirit and continually growing in my spiritual walk. It is a simple resolution to keep trying, even when I make mistakes. It doesn't have a finish line and only requires an open-minded, positive attitude. Being on a special diet, restricting the foods that are not beneficial to my body has created a jump start in my heath and in my mind. I feel stronger each day, happier and more clear-headed. I am excited to cook and eat foods that fuel my body and my spirit. I experience less emotional ups and downs. I feel confident in myself in ways I have never felt before. 
There are those times in the journey of life where I find myself trudging along in the mud, the future shaky and my spirit weak. Yet it is in those times where I uncover the biggest sense of "alrightness"; this Knowing that all is well because it always has been and always will be. My journey, all the moments of my past, have been helpful to me. The hard ones, where I plod along waiting for the proverbial fog to lift; the easy ones where life seems so effortless; all of those times have led me to now, this very moment of stillness and joy. 
And this year, 2014, I choose to rest my spirit deep in the gift of Gratitude.
I hope if I only learn one lesson in my thirties, it's to love and accept the challenges I am faced with because without them I would certainly take for granted the blessings. It's so easy to seek out what is wrong but what is eternally more rewarding is unearthing the little things that are so right.
When it is freezing outside, in the midst of this crazy polar vortex, it's noticing the way the snow shimmers in the only light for miles around. It's saying thank you for the warm coat, the warm car, the warm body to curl up next to in the heat of the house.

When the home is a mess and everything feels undone and there is so much to do, it's the way he rests in your arms, his weight shifting deep into your curves and he feels safe. He isn't thinking about anything else in that moment except how loved he feels and there is nothing more important than holding him and stroking the soft blonde wisps of hair.
When all your efforts, all the conversations with them about how great vegetables are and how each type of food works in their body and how sugar can overload the system and the preaching and the "just try new things, I bet you'll love them," finally pay off and they devour the meals and say "Mommy you are the best cooker in the world." The millionth "When will dinner be ready?" because they know that cooking is love made visible and they can't wait to dig in and let their bodies get to work. Their palates are daily expanding and the oldest loves spicy foods and sushi and the youngest just realized he loves mushrooms AND tomatoes. This, to me, is more valuable than any diamond in the world.
It's the daily goodness of love and forgiveness. It's saying I am not going to judge so and so for the way she does such and such and I am not going to raise my voice when instead I can take a deep breath and try not to misunderstand.
It's saying thank you to the man who gets up every morning while you stay in your pajamas and braves the winter frost and shovels the driveway and tucks those boys into bed and never fails to cuddle them twice and who knows that he only has twenty something odd more years until retirement and he'll work hard every single day until that final workday comes. It's never letting a day go by where you don't appreciate that kind of love and commitment.
In the day to day, when the kids are crazy and life keeps moving and the bills pile up; when the leaves change colors and then fall, flowers bloom and then the sun turns so hot you sweat off all your makeup; when the TV is up too loud and the milk spills; when the boys are fighting and screaming and then hugging and making up; when you cry out of frustration and giggle at the same silly jokes; when you are let down and lifted up, angry and happy, frightened and excited; when it hurts to laugh but you do any way; when you say I am not going to make the same mistakes that he or she did and decide to feel the feelings and not numb them; when you get up out of bed every morning and live your life with intention and seek and never stop searching for something to be grateful for; when you look closely for just one thing (or how about the One) that makes you say thank you, you will find hundreds of blessings.
"Temporary is my time
Ain't nothin' on this world that's mine
Except the will I found to carry on.
Free is not your right to choose
It's answering what's asked of you
To give the love you find until it's gone."

-The Avett Brothers, Ill with Want

Say it with me: thank you. Those two words can change your life if you let them.