Monday, July 27, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - July 27

Last week there was no menu planning for us. Monday was my birthday and Saturday was our anniversary, not to mention getting back from a week-long business trip; so last week was about slowly getting back into our routine.

We came back to find that some friends of ours had just welcomed their 4th child into the world (Congratulations, Rachel & Josh :-D), and of course the ladies from our church are helping to prepare meals, so that got me excited. Jeff and I tried a new recipe out this spring that quickly became a favorite, and when we shared some leftovers with Josh & Rachel they were fast fans, too. So I did not even have to think to hard about what I was going to be making. So, with Wednesday figured out (that is when we cook for them), I decided to leap into the rest of the week.

Breakfast: Kefir Smoothie and Scrambled eggs
Lunch: salad
Dinner: spaghetti a la Jeff (I had dinner planned, but I came home and Jeff said, "Can I make dinner?" I almost never say no to that)

To Do: Mill flour for bread / soak for Tuesday, Take Black Beans out of Freezer for burritos Tuesday. Buy Avocados for Wednesday (it's hard to find ripe avocados around here that aren't already too mushy, so I buy them green a few days ahead). Hardboil Eggs.

Breakfast: Kefir Smoothie / Soaked Oatmeal Breakfast
Lunch: Hard boiled eggs / fresh veggies
Dinner: Sweet Potato Burritos

To Do: Bake bread, slice cucumbers into vinegar, salt, and pepper & let it sit overnight.

Breakfast: Hardboiled Eggs / Kefir Smoothie
Lunch: Cucumber Sandwhiches (improvised version: also with tomatoes and lettuce on homemade whole wheat bread)
Dinner: Barley Burgers! I use hulled barley instead of pearl (more nutrients), and I soak it prior, turns out great :)

To Do: Soak Barley wednesday morning, for lunch wednesday mix butter with dill for cucumber sandwiches

Breakfast: Kefir Smoothie & Hardboiled eggs
Lunch: Chicken Salad sandwiches
Dinner: Date Night (Ruen Thai - one of my favs! No MSG, too :))

To Do: Make Granola

Friday -
Breakfast: Kefir Smoothie /granola / milk
Lunch: Hardboiled eggs, salad
Dinner - Leftovers (on my own cuz Jeff's working)

To Do: Soak pancake batter for morning, soak flour for Saturday bagel making

Breakfast: Eggs/Pancakes
Lunch: Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Dinner: Honey Garlic Chicken, mixed veggies, multigrain dinner rolls

Breakfast: Kefir Smoothies / granola
Lunch: Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Dinner: Quiche, (spinach bacon mushroom?)

And that's that. Find more menu planning ideas at Org Junkie.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Our Nutrition Journey (Part 2 - From Georgia Onward)

This is continuing from my previous post, Our Nutrition Journey (My History With Food), as a part of Fight Back Fridays.

When I moved down to GA in the summer of 2007, I moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. They baked all of their baked goods with flour freshly milled in their kitchen from whole wheat. I was a little hesitant to swing so drastically into the "health food" camp (which is really laughable, if you know me now), but I decided to at least try it. What I learned is that wheat bread made from freshly milled flour has a very surprising nutty flavor to it, not at all like the cardboard taste of store bought wheat. Whether Jen is making cookies, breads, or cakes; she does that with freshly milled whole wheat flour. The more I ate with them, the less I liked white bread. In fact, most things made with white bread just tasted empty. I decided that when I was no longer living with them, I was definitely investing in a grain mill of my own. Other than that, I did not have too much planned along the lines of healthy living. As far as I was concerned, all the wonderful benefits of freshly milled flour (and there are indeed many) would be the cure-all for my health.

Meanwhile, my husband Jeff (then my friend) had a few appointments with his doctor regarding blood work less than positive results. When the implications of his current eating patterns (lots of soda and other refined sugars) became clear, his diet changed almost overnight! Cholesterol and blood sugar both were high, and the doctor was quite concerned, so all of the sudden, soda was entirely removed from Jeff's diet. The rest of this is basically just what he had recounted to me while all of this was going on. Jeff felt like he had more energy with all the sugar gone, so instead of just cutting out the sweets he switched to xylitol for a few things. That was great for uncooked foods, and it is supposed to cook up just the same as sugar, but somehow everything ended up fluffier when he used it.

When we were getting ready to get married, I was afraid I was going to have to try and convince Jeff that we should do the wheat. Little did I know that his mom had frequently made bread from scratch when he was growing up, and he preferred a heartier bread. He said to me once when we were talking about budgeting, groceries, and the like; "So, we're going to do the wheat, right?" So I ordered wheat right away when we got married, and just went around using other people's mills until we could afford our own. I knew several people who had mills, and all of them were people I enjoy spending time with, so that made it even better. It was not just a way for me to mill flour until we had our own mill, it was an opportunity snippets of quality time with people I like to be with.

We were largely drinking soy milk, because Jeff is allergic to (pasteurized) dairy. Sometimes (in order to not make a big deal of things in public and such) he would just eat/drink dairy anyway, but every time he got really I pretty much just stayed away from cheese and only cooked with soy milk. I was asking a friend for tips on milk substitutes that maybe were a little creamier, and she said, "He's even allergic to raw milk?" I totally did not understand the question. How could pasteurization affect an allergy? She explained to me that pasteurization kills an enzyme that makes casein and other proteins more digestible. I was partly excited about the concept, and partly in stunned disbelief. There was no way this sounded logical or truthful (but I really hoped it was). I stuck the idea on the back burner, not wanting to make an investment of any kind in something that might not work. Then, while we were hanging out with some family down here (aside: it's really complicated to say how exactly "family" is related. My sister in law's fun-loving family continuously grows by association, and we are included in that group. So I could say that it was my sister-in-law's sister Angie who offered us the milk, but that just sounds clumsy and way too dificult. It is easier and more accurate to just say my sister or my sister in law, that said, I'm just going to use sil for short), my sil Angie said, "I have some raw milk, do you want to try it?" I was excited, Jeff not so much. UNTIL...he tried it. Then he was astonished at how it tastes good, while pasteurized milk tastes not-so-good. Better yet, he did not get sick! So we switched.

In a fit of experimentation (those happen to me often, sometimes it works, sometimes it is not so pretty) I decided I wanted to try to make butter. My wonderful husband googled like crazy and found this incredible blog post, complete with step by step instructions and clear pictures. The butter making is not something we do all the time. We really do not enjoy the taste of our milk skimmed (and one of the benefits of raw milk is that there is no need to, health and fats wise), so we only make it when I can get cream from our farmer, too (as opposed to just milk). The experiment went well, though, and I decided to check out Lindsay's blog (see link a few lines back) to see what else she had in store.

Well, to my amazement she had all kinds of health tips, recipes, and more importantly, links to other blogs on the same topics. I began to learn about soaking grains and legumes. At first glance all I could think was, "That just seems like a lot of extra work!" But the more I thought about it, if we were going as far as to freshly mill our own flour immediately before baking to get more benefit from the flour, we were silly not to soak, when that would increase the nutritional benefit by so much! So, I started learning how to soak, but found that my off-the-cuff M.O. didn't really jive with something you needed to do 8-24 hours in advance. Then one day I accidentally stumbled onto a post on meal planning. After the meals were the steps needed to get ready for the next days meals, and I thought, "This is IT! This is how I can keep on top of things (more...not entirely, but more)."

Meal planning made things even easier, because it broke my cook time down into shorter segments. One for milling and soaking, and one for adding the final ingredients and baking. So I found it was much easer to soak grains and to plan ahead than it was for me to bake at all without soaking. This may not be the case for everyone else, but it was certainly the case for me. Once again when I thought Jeff would be weirded out by some new thing, he said, "I'm pretty sure my mom soaked her bread dough." So another smooth transition took place (Praise the Lord!).

In reading posts on soaking, I came across making your own kefir often. Now, for those of you who have no idea what it is, kefir (pronounced "kuhFEER"), it is a probiotic food. It is a lot like yogurt, except that is consistency is thinner (more like a smoothie), and it has more probiotic cultures. I was already familiar with kefir from my time in Boston. I had a housemate from Russia who taught me how to say it, and recommended it when I could not eat very much (I was dealing with stress, and have tended to take my stress out on my stomach. When I would get very anxious, I would be hungry, but would be creating so much extra acid that I was also nauseated. Kefir was the only thing I could drink when that happened, and I'd basically drink kefir and eat bread for two days until my stomach was okay again). Anyway, I had already started making yogurt, but I had no idea that you could make kefir! I was very excited about a) having it on hand again, and b) only spending just over $1 a quart, instead of $3 a quart.

The dictionary definition above lacks in one way, it only references 2 cultures. Yogurt generally has 2, but kefir usually has several. Lifeway Kefir (which I highly recommend if you can't / don't want to make your own or can't get raw milk anyway) has ten probiotic cultures in it. Homemade kefir from raw milk, I recently learned, can have as many as 28 probiotic cultures in it. The acid-culture environment of both kefir and yogurt makes the calcium in milk more absorbable (as well as a host of B Vitamins!), so I began to make kefir smoothies a part of my daily regimen (well, not much I do is planned, so it pretty much was my daily regimen). Every morning for breakfast I would make a kefir smoothie (and most mornings I would eat granola or a hard-boiled egg, too). Jeff eats the yogurt, but even sweetened, the kefir is a little too sharp-tasting for him. Sweetened with some sucanat and vanilla, I love to add it to a banana and a handful of strawberries. I have also started making our own cheeses and such. Mostly just Mozzarella and Riccotta. And straining some batches of yogurt to make "yogurt cheese" or basically, cream cheese.

We also, after much reading, switched over entirely from processed white and brown sugars to sucanat, in order to help out with Jeff's blood sugar, but also because mine had gotten a little weird. I had always tended toward being hypoglycemic, and recently had noticed that if I ate anything with too much processed sugar, I was suddenly quite lacking in energy, almost to the point of falling asleep. Knowing that reactive hypoglycemia such as that can be a precursor to diabetes (which I have a family history of), we decided to turn our little baby step of using xylitol sometimes into a leap of faith in using sucanat all the time.

I have read so many more wonderful ideas on so many blogs (such as the ones I've been linking to for Fight Back Fridays, Menu Planning Mondays, Real Food Wednesdays, and Gratituesdays - yes, they're not in order, because they didn't come to mind in order), and we've wanted to implement many more of them, but at the moment I've had to learn to be stop for a while and be content where we are. We have a small kitchen (a small apartment in general), with no room for a garden, so at this point we have had to say, "we will do this later." But I am very excited to say that with just those changes in place (raw milk, freshly milled flour, sucanat, and soaking) Jeff's recent labs were almost miraculously better, and my blood sugar is normal! Not only that, but we (who had previously been getting sick with head/chest colds 1-2 times a month) have not been sick in like six months!

Typing it up, it really sounds like a lot of changes; but adding them one step at a time was crucial! These changes, though have really affected us for the better. I was just getting to a point of getting bored with some of it (yes, it happens!), when Jeff came home and said his cholesterol had gone down 100 points in the last year (yes, if you're wondering, that is incredible to achieve with no medications), and that he was no longer borderline diabetic. Talk about news that motivates you. I regained my wind, so to speak, and haven't looked back. Our health is so much better than where it was, and REAL FOOD is largely at the root of it!

For more Fight Back Friday Posts, visit Food Renegade!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Real Food Wednesday - Happy Birthday, Mom!

First, my part II on our nutrition journey is going to have to wait until this Friday, since my business trip last week took me to a place where (unexpectedly) our hotel did not have free wi-fi! Jeff and I enjoyed our trip to the desert, where we got to catch up with some family I haven't seen in a while, and enjoyed a cute (predominantly shark-themed) aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The tradeshow for work (the reason for our trip) went very well, as well. Vegas is not really a city I would recommend for a vacation, though, unless you're wanting to spend most/all of your time outside the city at sites like th Grand Canyon and Lake Mead, especially if you have kids - largely due to the large quantity of nearly nude billboards and such the like.

Anyway...onto today's topic.

In the spirit of Real Food Wednesday, and in honor of my mom's birthday I wanted to share a little bit about why Real Food is worth the time and effort (at least to me).

My mother has never been one of those women who was always looking for something faster when it came to time in the kitchen. As a teen it sometimes frustrated me, because there were not a lot of ready-made snacking materials in our kitchen. Our kitchen was full of ingredients, not (what I now consider disgusting) processed food products. But come meal time, I was certainly not disappointed. My mom made the most incredible foods from scratch - something many of my friends were a bit jealous of.

And of course, the best part about all of that was the opportunity I had to grow up on a chair that was pulled up to the counter. I can entirely attribute my love of cooking to the quality time I spent watching my mom invest her time and her talents into our family. Fast food is, well, fast; but it can never make you feel more loved. Looking at all the time and energy my mom poured into making balanced, creative, and home-cooked meals for us - it is impossible to feel anything but loved!

I'm going to admit something here to make a point - I watched an infomercial the other day (it doesn't happen often, I swear). It was for the Bullet Express, and they were touting that all these meals could be made in minutes, instead of the long amount of time it usually takes. I was immediately grateful that my mom did not opt for such quick fixes. I learned so much from her. I learned that feeding your family is worth time and effort, especially since you get so much more than just a well-fed family. You get a family who knows they are worth your time, knows that they are loved. You give little girls a chance to feel grown up, and to learn how to invest time into the families they will have one day. You get a family who knows that really good things are worth the wait.

Now we both share tips for healthier, more whole foods. Anytime I learn anything knew in the kitchen, she's the first person I call, and she's always telling me new things she's picked up. I'm so grateful for my relationship with my mom, and definitely for all the bonding time I got with her while I was growing up, standing on that chair in the kitchen.

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop. Visit for more great links :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Big Answer

Nicole (and everyone else reading along),

My response on the whole soaking thing was getting a little lengthy for a comment, and I also wanted to give credit where credit is due, so I decided to make a post of it.

Soaking the oatmeal does a couple things, it breaks down something called phytic acid, present in many grains and legumes, that keeps you from absorbing the full amount of nutrients in the grains, and it softens the oatmeal and makes it MUCH faster to cook. I get my soaked oatmeal recipe from this blog (She actually has a TON of great resources, and it is through her blog that I stumbled upon some of these others on my left margin). What I love about the soaked method is that I have about 2 minutes of prep the morning before (usually I rinse out the jar I soaked the previous batch in, toss in more oats, the water, 1 T ground almonds, 2 T ground wheat, and 1 T whey, and let it sit in the cupboard till the next morning), and then maybe 10 minutes of cook time that morning. It's a very fast breakfast!

She has basic soaking methods for several types of grains and beans here. At first read it looks like a lot of extra work, but to be entirely honest, I have found that it makes things much faster the day I actually do the baking. It also forces me to plan ahead. I'm not generally great with juggling all the planning, so both the meal plans on Mondays and the soaking have really been tools I have used to help keep things organized.

Anyway, that's pretty much a nutshell view of soaking, and of the meal planning motivation :) Hope that answered your question!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Nutrition Journey (Part 1 - My history with Food)

Off and on in my past, I have gone back and forth on nutrition. My Sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed with gall stones. They run in my family, so even though I was neither fat nor forty (they talk about risk factors for gall stones being "The Three F's: Forty, Fat, and Female." No offense meant here, just referring to the three F's), it was not a complete surprise. Also, I was a complete junk food / fast food / "easy" food addict.

I did not want to have my gall bladder out, and I was pretty adamant about that. I had learned throughout the diagnosing process that the job of the gall bladder is to secrete bile into the stomach, to aid in the digestion of meat-based fats and proteins. I figured that if my gall bladder was taken out, either my diet would have to change drastically, or I would be ill all the time. A friend of mine had suggested that I do a liver cleanse...but I read the packet of information he gave me and could not stomach the idea of drinking all that oil and salt, or the enemas that went along with it.

So, what could I do? More than the tiniest bit of fat or meat in my diet and I was in a lot of pain, not to mention that if I did enough damage and had a severe enough attack, gall stones could actually be lethal! So, I decided to go vegetarian. I was not entirely sure that I was prepared to do that for the rest of my life, but at least until I could decide between the liver cleanse and surgery.

I should also mention that I had major issues keeping weight on. For all of high school and thus far into college, I was about 15 lbs underweight. I ate a tremendous amount of food, I just never gained any weight. It was certainly not my parents' fault; my mom cooked wonderful, scratch-made, nutritious meals at home. But I had an obsession with sugar. Recently I learned that refined sugar has to leach minerals from your system in order to be properly digested, so my current theory is that I was undernourished - not because of a lack in nutrients - but because of an over abundance of sugar!

As a vegetarian, I actually gained weight. Not in a frightening or unhealthy weight, but for the first time in quite some time, my weight was actually within the range for my height and age. I was pretty excited about that, so even though barely 2 months into vegetarianism I was healed of my gall stones (went forward for prayer after church, had a scan of my abdomen done later on a hospital visit and the scan found NO gall stones), I continued as a vegetarian for almost a year. On top of that, I started working very hard to cut refined sugars out of my diet and drink at least 8 cups of water every day. I felt so much better than I had during my first year of college. I was much less tired, got sick less often, and had more focus just from changing those two things! My "health kick" only lasted until the spring, though. Easter candy on sale is a horrible thing! Just a little indulgence and it was back into the downward spiral of sugar addiction. (Apparently, I'm a slow learner).

I bounced back and forth between healthy periods and much less healthy for the next 5 years. Exercised sometimes, most of the time I did not, though. Through the rest of college to a few years of living on my own I rode a food roller coaster. What made it most difficult to stick with healthy choices was that, somewhere along the way, I developed a major issue with compulsive overeating. It did not present in obvious weight gain (I stayed roughly the same weight from my junior year of college until I was about 3 years out from college, and that was within my healthy bmi/weight range). But, as I was dealing with some personal issues - largely centered around anxiety - food became an easy outlet. Not just any food, but the sweetest, most disgusting junk food I could get my hands on. I'll not go into too much detail on compulsive overeating here, but suffice it to say that it definitely invaded every endeavor of mine to clean up my diet. And nothing I tried to get a handle on my eating worked, until...

Discussing the concept of Christian stewardship with some friends, we dwelled on the fact that our body is one of many resources God has given us. If we are to be a good steward of our resources, we need to be good stewards of our bodies. That realization saved my neck! Somehow, in that, came the grace to break off the bondage of overeating. I think that part of it was that, instead of trying "not to" overeat, I was making a positive effort, aimed at obeying Christ. It was not, "How should I not eat?" but instead, "What can I eat to take good care of myself?"

That was not an easy period of transition, but it was the beginning of a change in perspective. It completely changed the way I look at food, and my reasons for eating. Ocassionally I still struggle there, but God always gives the grace to remember why we eat the way we eat, what I really want to put in my body (and how much), and how to be a good steward of my body for the Lord's glory.

More on where my journey went from here (and how it merged with Jeff's when we met) next Friday! This post is a part of Fight Back Fridays, hosted by Food Renegade.

Typing this up so late, I'm watching the 700 club, which I almost NEVER watch (nothing against it or anything, just not really up my alley), because it just happened to be on. They just had a whole segment on a family that is "going green to save money." They talked about the great things this family does to save money that are also earth friendly (and mentioned that as being a good steward of the planet), and that got me totally psyched. I know many Christians who are into healthy and earth friendly living, but in Christian media I hear so very little about it! Not only that, this family made their own detergents (like we do!), and ate a diet that focused on rooting out processed foods and eating things that were raw and natural. How cool is that??

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Real Food Wednesday - Baked Chicken with Apples and Barley

Recently I learned a good bit about the health benefits of barley, and I thought, "Well, this is great, but I have no idea what to cook barley in or with, I need to get some ideas!" Thankfully, I stumbled onto this website (linked to just a sentence back), and it had a host of ideas (most of which I still have yet to try. An instant favorite, this recipe has a hint of Indian flavor (aka curry), and plays to my love of fruited chicken!

I did soak my barley, first, which isn't mentioned in the recipe. From what I've read, barley does not require a long soak time, just 6-8 hours (which is perfect for me because I can set it to soak in the morning and whip up dinner when I get home from work!). I soak the barley in a 1:2 (barley:water) ratio and added 2 T of whey. I then drained and rinsed the barley, and it was ready to go. It calls for pearl barley, but I used just plain ole' hulled barley and it came out just fine (amazing, actually). We make our own chicken stock on a fairly regular basis so I did not use any store-bought broth or reconstitute bouillon cubes (soooo hard to find w/o MSG, anyway), I simply diluted our stock 1:1 (stock/water), since it is much darker/stronger than soup broth.

OK, without further ado, here is the recipe for Baked Chicken with Apples and Barley. It came to us at just the right time, when we were trying to add variety to our recipe repertoire! I think it has to go into the rotation for the week after our Vegas trip...I will be wanting a nice home cooked meal when I get back!! Ooh! I just realized I want this for my BIRTHDAY dinner! That's our first whole day back! :)

Find more Real Food Wednesday posts here at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gratituesday - Joy No Matter What

Today was your average Tuesday. Work was good (though strangely enough the day seemed a little longer today than yesterday), and I came home to find that my husband had put his day off to good use, helping with some of the housework that I can't get done while I'm at work (OK, he helped with quite a bit). But between work and home was...the prayer room.

While I was in the prayer room tonight God was pressing on my heart the importance of joy, even when things do not seem all that conducive to joy. There were several people on my heart in various tough places, and as I prayed about their circumstances, I heard the Lord say, "Pray for their joy."

Scripture tells us to be joyful in all things, worry for nothing, be gentle toward all, and pray with gratitude in our hearts (Philippians 4), and again to be joyful always, and to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances, not putting out the Spirit's fire (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Not just for my friends and my family, but I so need to hear that, too! Not just to be passively resigned to whatever God has for me at this point in my life, but to relish every single second of the life He's given, rejoicing in ALL things.

As I started meditating on that, this song by Nichole Nordeman came to mind, and I thought I'd share it. When I first heard this song I was somewhat confused by it, because it almost seemed like, "I'll pray for these things, but..." But upon my second listen (ooooh so long ago, we're up way past millionth now) I realized it was more like, "God, I know that only You can change my circumstances, but I'll still praise You, even if they stay the same." Or, as Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him (Job 13:15)."

(Nichole Nordeman)

Send some rain, would You send some rain
'Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade
Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud
Let the sky grow dark and send some mercy down
Surely You can see that we are thirsty and afraid

But maybe not, not today
Maybe You'll provide in other ways
And if that's the case

We give thanks to You, with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
And how to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never grant us rain

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups and fill them up again tonight
And would You wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roof
Let us slumber safe from danger's view this time

But maybe not, not today
Maybe You'll provide in other ways
And if that's the case...

We give thanks to You, with gratitude
For lessons learned to hunger after You
And that a starry sky offers a better view
If not roof is overhead
And if we never taste our bread

Oh the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

So grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight

But maybe not, not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that's the case

We give thanks to You, with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in You
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
And if You never grant us peace
But, Jesus, would You, please

For more Gratituesday posts, check out Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

So, a few of last weeks meals get to be recycled, because - true to form - a lot of last week got switched up. Don't get me wrong, it got switched up in very good way. We went out for a potluck type dinner with several friends for the evening of the 4th, went to the fireworks on Thursday and needed a quicker dinner, etc.

Today was pretty amazing. Work was good (and also really flew by. I got a lot of work done, and I felt very good about what I accomplished.

Headed to the prayer room for some alone time with God this evening after work, and that was a pretty fantastic time. I have struggled often with knowing exactly how to draw near to God in that place of intimacy that sometimes comes so easily. But today it was like God just (lovingly) wopped me upside the head, and I realized that many of those other times, God had given me some sort of song. Something that particularly spoke to what was going on in that moment in my walk with God. And so tonight in the prayer room, I prayed of course, but I did much of it in song. I just sang to Him anything that came to mind that reflected the state of my heart (or where I wanted my heart to be), and spent time between songs listening. It was really beautiful. And it was some of the most incredible time I've had in the prayer room in the last year.

OK, without further adue, here is the menu plan for this week.

Monday (happened already)
Breakfast - Kefir smoothie
Lunch - Grits and eggs
Dinner - Chicken sauteed with garlic, mashed sweet potatoes (mmmm), and steamed spinach.

Breakfast - Kefir Smoothie / Soaked whole wheat banana muffins (just soaked my usual banana bread recipe, and added the egg, baking powder/soda, and banana this evening before popping them in the oven)
Lunch - Salads / sandwiches
Dinner - Breakfast for dinner (my favorite!!) soaked whole wheat and banana pancakes (again, just put everything except leavening ingredients together w/ 1 T kefir last night, added all the leavening today & refrigerated), bacon

To Do: soak pancake batter (done), bake bread for sandwiches(in the oven now)

Breakfast - Kefir Smoothie / Soaked whole wheat banana muffins
Lunch - sandwiches, salad
Dinner - barley burgers

To Do: Soak Barley (wednesday morning)

Breakfast - (you guessed it) Kefir smoothies (breakfast of champions) if there are still muffins left over, we'll have those too.
Lunch - leftover Barley Burgers
Dinner - spaghetti -just for my husband (special request :-P), whole wheat garlic bread (mmmm)

To Do: Make Spaghetti Sauce (Wenesday night - I like it better when it sits for a day in the fridge)

Breakfast - We love our kefir! Granola, too
Lunch - sandwiches
Dinner - I'm on my own...probably leftover barley burgers. The recipe makes like 8 and there are only 2 of us!

Breakfast - Scrambled Eggs & Bacon, whole wheat toast
Lunch - Carrots & Celery, Grilled PB & Banana, Kefir
Dinner - Leftover spaghetti & more whole wheat garlic bread

Sunday - Warner Robbins for the day
Meals with Mom Buller
EARLY Breakfast of kefir smoothie (definitely the only thing I can eat before 6 in the morning)

Next week's meal planning is nuts. There is Monday, and that is all. Tuesday morning early we leave for Vegas for my business trip. I'm really excited about going. I'll get to see some family I haven't seen in ages, spend some quality time with the husby, and of course meet and greet customers I have thus far only known by phone while I'm on the tradeshow floor. It'll be a good trip, and we'll be gone until Sunday night. All our meals will be at the Imperial Palace buffet, so I'm not sure what kind of good healthy options they'll have. I am, however, going to pack 2 big bags of homemade granola in my suitcase, and buy kefir while I'm there. I'd love to just buy raw milk and make kefir in my room, but I'm going to have to settle for pasteurized. I tried to make contact with a dairy out there, but didn't get any feedback. At least I'll have my probiotics, though! (I'm really trying to think positively on the digestive front.)

I really want to go see Food, Inc., but it is not in our area for very long, and Atlanta is a long drive for a week night (couldn't make it over the weekend.) It'll be in Asheville, NC on the 17 of July, which is the closest it gets to us once it leaves ATL, but we'll be in Vegas.

Then I come back to my BIRTHDAY WEEK! My Birthday is Monday, July 20th. Sooooo exciting! I'm turning 27, and I'm actually starting to feel like an adult these days, so I'm kind of excited about that.

Check out more Menu Plan Monday posts here at Organizing Junkie!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fun in the Kitchen!

Hello All,

First of all, there is a new post over at Bee Beautiful, which is long overdue! Head over that way for your Fabulous Friday skin care tip. I have to say it felt a little strange typing up a "Fabulous Friday" post, since I have the day off and ultimately it feels like a Saturday. Already today I've had an incredible workout (longer than usual because I was not pressed for time), a casual morning, gotten some laundry done, gotten to watch a movie with Jeff while he was home on a break (put in extra hours last night bringing his consumers to the fireworks), washed a few loads of dishes, and started making ricotta cheese.

The cheese is largely because I had some whey to use up after making mozzarella the other day. Now, I use Ricki Carroll's 30 minute mozzarella from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co., so technically I shouldn't be able to make ricotta from that. HOWEVER, let me tell you a trick that can be used to easily convert this mozzarella whey into ricotta cheese.

The 30-min recipe cannot be reused to make ricotta because the whey is not cultured. So, I have added 1/2 a cup to 1 c of whey from my yogurt straining process. Here is how. First, after making the cheese, I strain all the whey into my GINORMOUS stock pot after making mozz. The whey I have leftover is still somewhat milky, even after yielding a pound of cheese. Not only that, but I also almost always have just a little shy of a gallon of whey leftover anyway. OK, so then I funnel all of that whey back into a newly cleaned gallon jug, and add the yogurt whey. Then I screw on the cap and let it sit on the counter, until the gallon starts to bulge a bit (you can tell the culture is definitely in the process that way, kind of like when air gets in the bag for Amish Friendship Bread (which I am also currently making "brewing"). This may take several hours (4-6?). When I did this the other day, some of our plans changed and I didn't have time to make ricotta then. Rather than waste all that whey, I just stuck it in the fridge. 2 days later I'm still able to make ricotta from it! [note: This is from raw milk. The mozzarella process is entirely raw, never getting above 110 degrees. For that reason, I do not know if it will work to add the yogurt whey to the mozz whey if you are using pasteurized milk. I've never done it and I'm not prepared to say it wouldn't help you grow harmful bacteria instead.]

So now, I just follow the ricotta making instructions you can find here, at Heavenly Homemakers. The only reasons that I don't use her mozzarella instructions are time and a lack of space in our kitchen. I would love to make a cultured mozzarella instead, so hopefully when we finally have a house with a bigger kitchen (and perhaps we have more time on our hands) that will be one of my first projects. The only thing I do differently from her ricotta recipe is generally to let the heated whey sit for half an hour (or so, if it seems more time will be needed, see below).

Now, sadly, making the ricotta this way (from the whey that has culture added, that is) is only about 66% fool-proof. Every third batch or so, the curd that separates from the why is too fine and goes through the cloth I use (I use a pillowcase, haha). If this happens to you, don't be discouraged. Try heating it all the way up to 185, and letting it sit for longer. Sometimes that works quite well. If you still have no success....maybe you should make the cultured mozzarella first (instead of the quick way), or just make your ricotta from milk! To make it from milk it is basically the same, except that in the beginning you'll be adding a teaspoon and a half of citric acid, vinegar, or lemon juice to the milk before heating it up. You can find good ricotta recipes all over the web. I have used this one, again from Ricki Carroll's collection, this one I have not used but it looked really good.

That's all for today, folks!