Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Walking with Kids: How to Cross the Street

A nifty thing about where I live is that I'm within a mile--maybe a mile and a quarter--of just about everyplace I routinely visit:  the store, gym, school, library, farmers' market, post office.  For several of these destinations, when I calculate in the time I save by not strapping three kids into car seats, walking is almost faster than driving--and if not faster, certainly less stressful.

Today was a lovely, sunny, 50ish degrees late February afternoon, with most of our snow melted.  I've been obsessively reading the Katy Says blog at Aligned and Well lately.  This biomechanist turned wellness guru has convinced me that my kids and I need to be walking--a lot--to be healthy.

In January, she suggested the following resolution:
Identify one destination, a mile or less from your home or office, that you drive to at least 4 times a week. For me, it’s the post office. And my sister’s house. You just need to find one, and then resolve to never go there by car. This is your new on-foot destination.

So today, inspired by the weather, Katy, and a little cabin fever, I set off with my six year old, three-and-a-half year old, and 22 month old to the library--one of the mile and a quarter-ish destinations.  I took the stroller as back up (and to carry home books), but intended for all of us to walk as much as possible.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker
I quickly realized that if we are going to make walking a lifestyle, we're going to have to figure out how to safely cross the street.  Crossing the street may sound simple--unless you actually have three children around this age and have attempted to take them out unconfined by strollers or leashes, in which case you'll fully sympathize with my predicament.

By the end of our walk (45 minutes each way) here's the protocol with which we were having some success:

1)  Wait:  The six year old and three year old are allowed to scamper ahead of me, but must stay on the sidewalk (when there is one) or shoulder and stop and wait before reaching any intersection.  I meander along keeping pace with the two year old--who has excellent stamina, but no concept of moving in a direct line toward a destination.

2)  Together:  Everyone must be holding hands or holding on to a piece of the stroller as we cross the street.  The six year old and three year old were quick to grasp this.  The toddler resented this--preferring to walk freely--and decided to go boneless and thrash around in an attempt to escape hand-holding, which led to step three . . .

3)  Sing:  To the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" we sing . . .
Cross, cross, cross the street
Quickly cross the street

Cross, cross, cross the street
Quickly cross the street

The addition of the song helps the toddler tremendously, not only because it was fun, silly, and distracting, but because it defines the length of time for which he must be confined to hand-holding.  The song lasts briefly and then when it's done he's free to walk by my side again.  

Getting exercise together as a family is the holy grail of exercise in my book.  We still have a lot of kinks to sort out to making walking really smooth, but I was tickled that the toddler walked at least a mile of the 1.25 miles to the library .  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Natural Fabric Softener: Five Fabulous Tips

Looking for a cheap, easy way to reduce your family's chemical exposure?  Ditch the conventional fabric softener and replace it with these simple, natural tips to soften your fabrics.  

In trying to eliminate conventional chemical fabric softeners from my laundry routine, I encountered three hurdles:  

  • crunchy fabric
  • static
  • a reluctant husband.  

These five tips solved my problems, allowing me to soften my clothes naturally, without leaving harsh or toxic chemical residues in our clothing.   Our skin is our largest organ and it spends all day and night in contact with the fabrics we wash--eliminating commercial fabric softeners is a great baby-step toward reducing chemical exposure.

Tip 1:  Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash.  The vinegar helps resolve the crunchy issue by acting as a natural softener, relaxing the fibers of the fabric.    Using your machine's fabric softener dispenser makes this step simple.

Tip 2:  Dry synthetic fabrics and natural fabrics separately.  This is the first key to solving the static issue.  Static is created when dry fabrics rub against other dry fabrics.  Synthetic fabrics (such as polyester and nylon) dry much more quickly than natural fabrics (such as cotton).   Synthetics often dry in as little as 20-30 minutes and spend the next 30 minutes of their time in the dryer bouncing around creating static.

I usually wash my synthetic and natural fabrics in separate loads; however, if I don't have enough to make two full loads I wash them together and then just hang-dry one fabric type.

Tip 3:  Stop over-drying your laundry.  This is the second key to solving the static issue.  As mentioned above, static is created when dry fabrics rub against one another.   I discovered that I was routinely setting the timer on my dryer for longer than necessary; dialing it back reduces static and saves energy--bonus!

Tip 4:  Use motion to relax fabric fibers.  Here's the second key to solve the crunchy issue.  Motion keeps the fibers from drying in a single, stiff position, which is what makes them feel crunchy.  Even for clothes I'm going to line-dry, a quick 5 minute tumble in the dyer first makes for softer clothes.

No dryer?  For clothes I don't want exposed to any dryer heat, I find it helpful to briskly, vigorously, shake and snap the clothes before hanging them to dry.

Tip 5:  Be Gradual.   If your family (ahem--husband) is used to fluffy-soft, highly-scented, chemically softened fabrics, making a gradual transition may be more successful.  I started out using liquid fabric softener and my first shift was to dryer sheets.  Then I started cutting the drying sheets in half and finally in quarters.

My husband still occasionally waxes nostalgic about the good ol' days when his towels smelled like a chemist's idea of a spring meadow, but going gradually staved off the laundry coup he started when I tried to go cold-turkey.

Often, we associate clean with chemical perfumes from our cleaning products, but that's not the true smell of clean.  Clean laundry should smell neutral.  

What strategies have helped you conquer crunchy fabric and static without using chemicals?  Any tips to add?

I shared this post at Homemaking Hints at Heavenly Homemakers.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicken Divan: Creamy, Dairy-free Deliciousness

This dish provided a  huge breakthrough for my veggie-resistant picky, dairy-free son.  The broccoli is very tender, the sauce is very creamy and it is all very yummy.  Alas, it does require a ridiculous number of steps and way too many pots and pans. 

We typically serve this dish over rice. 

Chicken Divan
1 lb chicken breasts
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/8-1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8-1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2lb - 1 lb fresh broccoli (we go heavy on the broccoli)
Chicken Sauce (see below)
Milk-Free Bread Crumbs 
Italian seasoning (to taste)
Paprika (to taste)

1) Begin rice if you wish to serve this over rice.

2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3)  Steam broccoli.  (We do this in a double boiler). 

4)  Cut chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes.  Sauté in a little olive oil over medium heat.  Season with garlic and onion powder (I just sprinkle this willy-nilly, so I'm guessing on the measurements).

5)  Prepare Chicken Sauce (see below).  

6)   Assemble the dish:  Arrange broccoli in an 8 x 11 inch casserole dish and pour half of the Chicken Sauce over it.  Cover with chicken pieces.  Pour remaining sauce over chicken and top with a heavy sprinkling of breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs with paprika and Italian herb seasoning.   

7)  Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.   

Yield: 4 servings

Chicken Sauce
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoon sherry

1)  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add flour.  Blend well.   

2)  Slowly pour in 2 cups chicken broth.  Add salt and pepper, stirring constantly.   

3)  When the mixture boils, spoon out 2 tablespoons of the broth mixture and whisk with the egg yolk.  Add the egg mixture to the broth mixture and stir constantly until well blended.  

4)   Add the sherry and cook on low heat, stirring constantly for 10 minutes.

Convinced your kids that broccoli is okay?  Check out this spin on a kid-friendly nugget:  Broccoli Beef Bites.  

This post shared at Allergy Free Wednesdays.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Food Foraging in the Technology Age

I have been avoiding reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for three years now.   I feared it would be an expensive book and, indeed, it has turned out to be.  On the bright side, I have a huge reader's-crush on Michael Pollan and can't recommend the book highly enough. 

It's been about three years since we begin transitioning to a traditional, real, whole food diet.  All this time I've known that we should replace our grocery-store meat with meat from critters that have eaten a healthy, traditional diet, but the cost was a huge barrier.

A friend and a relative each kindly sold us some grass-fed beef, but our pork and chicken continue to come from Walmart.

This incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking book traces four meals from start to finish:  from the corn fields of Iowa to a MacDonald's hamburger; from big-business organics to a Whole Foods-purchased dinner; from a revolutionary beyond-organic farm to a locally sourced fresh meal; from woods and streets near Pollan's home to a freshly foraged meal. 

Here's what I've known for three years that should have pushed me to start buying better meat:
1)  Animals fed a traditional diet (i.e. grass for cows, chickens who have access to scratch for bugs, etc) are healthier.  The meat they become is healthier.

2)  Animals fed a traditional diet have a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.  Animals fed too much corn and soy based food have a much higher level of omega 6 fatty acids.  Because of this, we Americans are getting far too many Omega 6s and not nearly enough Omega 3s (compared to a traditional diet) contributing to a host of health issues.

What Michael Pollan made come alive for me--as only an excellent writer can:
1)  Animals raised for mass markets are treated cruelly, routinely.  The book is not a gruesome blow-by-blow recounting of animal cruelty, but with a few well-chosen details he makes vivid the lot in life for these sorts of animals:  treatment we would never tolerate if we were witness to it, but because we are so removed from our food sources, we turn a blind eye . . . while we buy Christmas presents for our dogs and cats.

2)  Many of these animals are being fed corn (not a traditional part of their diet).  The corn is being subsidized by the government, which is part of what makes it affordable to feed this unnatural food to these critters.  As I read about the corn subsidies, it suddenly clicked that this is a huge part of why grocery store meat seems so much less expensive than healthier alternatives:  way back in the chain, the corn is subsidized, which in turn means at the critters to which the corn is fed are subsidized too.  So . . . we're all essentially on food stamps.   The government is subsidizing every American's grocery bill.  No wonder we're in such a financial mess as a nation.

I think I've always had a vague feeling that people selling grass-fed beef and pastured chickens were selling their products at exploitative prices.  I've realized now that I'm just conditioned to such low prices for meat because of the underlying government subsidies.

Modern Food Foraging
I've resolved not to buy meat at the grocery store any longer.  I'm not sure I'll be able to make a clean break, but I've been scrambling to find meat sources that are local, traditionally-raised critters who have led happy lives before my freezer stash runs out.

I've been scouring internet sites (like, calling real-food-eating friends, interrogating the owner of the local feed store, researching my neighborhood covenants to figure out if I may have a few laying hens in my back yard, and eying the chubby quail that skitter around the neighborhood. 

I may not have a bow and arrow slung across my back or a hand-woven bug-bag around my neck, but with cell phone in hand and high speed internet, I've been foraging like the snow-bound technology-age girl I am.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Simple Roasted Cabbage that My Picky Kids Loved

By happy accident, this roasted cabbage was ready 10 minutes before the rest of our dinner last night.   By the time the rest of the meal was ready, the entire half-a-head we had roasted was eaten, the bowls were picked clean, and my twenty-month-old, three-year-old, and six-year-old had each asked for a second helping.

Roasted Cabbage
1/2 head of cabbage 
1 Tablespoons olive oil (approximately)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Grease a baking dish.
Cut cabbage into chunks and arrange in dish.  (I cut it into four pyramids and then separated the top of each pyramid to make a total of 8 chunks.)

Drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, flipping each chunk after 15 minutes.
Serve, adding salt and pepper as desired.

All my favorite bloggers have been talking about roasting veggies lately.  It's not a preparation method I've used much, but I'm getting on board quickly.  It's simple, delicious, versatile and a great fit for the hardy vegetables I associate with winter. 

My thanks to cleaneatingchelsy for inspiring me to try this cooking technique with cabbage.

Check out these other roasted vegetable recipes:
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Carrots
Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

This post was shared at Simple Life Thursday hosted by GNOWFLGLINS.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Creamy, Satisfying, Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

A few weeks ago we had a bit of a blizzard.  There's nothing like a nice arctic wind and swirling snow to get a good craving going for some comfort food.

My husband loves clam chowder, so we decided to gamble and try adapting a recipe to make a non-dairy clam chowder.   The results were bowl-licking fantastic.  The recipe is simple and doesn't require any exotic ingredients.

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder
8 oz bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 (10 ounce) cans chopped clams in juice (strain out clams, reserve juice)*
1 cup coconut milk **
2 bay leaves
1 pound baby red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a cast iron skillet, cook bacon until crispy.   Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon fat.

2.  In a large pot, heat the reserved 2 tablespoons of bacon fat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and celery and saute until softened.  

3.  Stir in the flour.

4.  Add the chicken stock, the juice from the clams (reserve clams for step 7), coconut milk, bay leaves, and potatoes.  Stir to combine.

5.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.

6.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until potatoes are tender. 

7.  Add clams and bacon, cook 2 more minutes.

8.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

I was a little worried that the coconut milk would make this chowder sweet, but the saltiness of the bacon offsets it perfectly.  You could feed this to a crowd and never have anyone guess it was dairy-free.  This recipe is based on Dave Lieberman's New England Clam Chowder.

This post shared at Simple Lives Thursday #83  , Sunday Night Soups, Heart and Soul, Allergy Free Wednesday, and Friday Food Flicks.

*Canned clams are probably not the ideal real food choice--in part because the cans are likely lined with BPAs; however, they are the only form in which clams are available locally and seemed a reasonable compromise for comfort food in a blizzard.

**Be sure to get full-fat coconut milk, not a coconut milk beverage.  Coconut milk is typically found in the Asian food section.  The Native Forest brand is canned in BPA-free cans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Valentines' Day Golden Rule

Fellow parents:

I'd like to propose a Valentines' day version of the golden rule.  As you tape that tootsie-pop sucker to 23 Valentine cards to share with your child's classmates or help your child sign his name 23 times to that Sponge Bob "Dig'n Dip," just think . . . What if every child gives as much candy as my child is giving?  How much candy will my child come home with?  

Give candy unto others mothers' children as you would have them give unto your children.  

Does any mom really want to deal with almost a pound of candy Valentines' evening?  It's about love, folks, not high fructose corn syrup.

This posted submitted as an industrial food "Ewwwww" to Friday Food Flicks.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three Real-Food Valentine Celebration Tips for Real Kids

 I woke up this morning thinking about Valentine's day.  How do I create a sense of occasion without turning the day into the marathon-o'-sugar that was Christmas this year?  

Here's what I've come up with so far:

1.  Serve heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast.  I'll use a favorite whole-grain pancake recipe and a cookie cutter or a heart-shaped pancake ring to make a fun start to the day.
Fox Run Egg/Pancake Ring Available at Amazon
This recipe for Cranberry Oatmeal Pancakes from Tammy's Recipes might be fun to make heart-shaped.

Photo from Tammy's Recipes

2.  Serve Heart-Shaped Mini-Muffins as a Snack.    My kids have been loving the basic muffin recipe from the GNOWFLGLINS  blog with zucchini as an add in.  Yum!  I'm thinking this heart pan (available at Amazon) will be perfect. 

3.  Make Heart-Shaped Crayons to Attach to Valentines.  Since I'm going to get a pan heart-shaped pan, I plan to put it to use to make these crayons I've seen all over Pinterst lately:

This picture from

Last year I think I was the only one of 24 preschool parents who did not attach candy to the valentines my son exchanged.  My plan to resist the candy peer-pressure, but avoid looking like a grinch this year?  Attach these colorful heart-crayons to our valentine cards instead.

My kids love a project, so making them will create a sense of occasion for my own children; sharing these instead of candy will keep us from contributing to the collective sugar over-load.  Does any preschooler really need to come home from school on February 14th with 23 pieces of candy? 

How do you create a sense of occasion for your kids without getting overwhelmed by the sugar-craziness?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If Banana Bread Married a Bowl of Oatmeal . . .

If banana bread married a bowl of oatmeal, this fruit-sweetened cookie would be their tasty offspring.

Kid-Friendly Introduction Strategy:   First, let me say, if you have children, I'd avoid calling this a cookie.  Unless you've kept your kids on some sort of real-foods utopian compound, they are likely to hear "cookie" and start salivating for sugar.  With a cookie in mind, these may disappoint.  As a portable sub for a bowl of oatmeal:  perfect.

We call them oat circles and my kids eat them with breakfast or as an afternoon snack.  They are based on a recipe that was all over Pinterest a few months ago. 

Banana Oat Circles
1 1/2 cups soaked and dehydrated steel cut oats OR rolled oats
1 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup almond meal*
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup dried fruit **

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (optional)

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2)  Combine the dry ingredients, stirring well.  

3)  In a separate bowl, combine the  bananas, coconut oil, vanilla and eggs.  

4)  Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well. 

5)  Scoop onto cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.  

6)  Store in an air tight container for two days.  For extended storage, keep in the freezer and defrost as needed (they defrost quickly).  Because of the low sugar content and high banana content, they seem to go bad fairly quickly at room temperature. 

Shared at Hearth and Soul Blog Hop.

*  I grind almonds in a small coffee mill which I use for grinding everything but coffee.

** I like to use at least two kinds of fruit:  peaches, apricots, cranberries, cherries, and apples have all worked well.  I've also found it handy to use kitchen shears to cut my large home-dried fruit into smaller pieces as I like lots of tinier pieces.  

Soaked and Dried Steel Cut Oats

Why on earth would one bother to soak and dry steel cut oats?
Oats, like most grains, contain phytic acid which can inhibit the absorption of the minerals contained in the grains--bummer.  If I'm eating the grain, I'd like to suck up all the nutrients possible.  Some traditional preparation methods--like an overnight soak in warm water with an acidic medium can help reduce phytic acid in some grains.

In the case of oats which are low in phytase (the enzyme which, once activated by the warmth and acid, helps break down the phytic acid), Amanda Rose suggests that you get much better phytic acid reduction by doing a complimentary soak:  add a small amount of a freshly ground grain that is high in phytase to your oats when soaking them .

Complimentary soaking works well for a bowl of oatmeal, but what's a girl to do if she wants to make an oatmeal cookie? 
Inspired by the process recommended by many traditional foodies for reducing phytic acid in nuts, I've opted to do a complimentary soak and then dehydrate the oats, leaving me with an oat that--theoretically--has less phytic acid and, therefore, more available nutrients.

Soaked and Dried Steel Cut Oats
4 cups steel cut oats
4 cups warm water
1/2 cup freshly ground wheat, spelt, rye, or buckwheat*
1/2 cup lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

1.  Combine all ingredients. Let sit in a warm spot (I like my oven with just the light turned on) for 12-24 hours.

2.  Dump the soaking water; rinse the oats well.  Let the oats sit in a strainer for 10-30 minutes to allow any excess water to drip off.

3.  Spread the oats evenly on fruit leather trays and dehydrate for 4-12 hours.  The length of time will depend on the temperature you select and your dehydrator.   Alternately, spread the oats on a cookie sheet, place in an oven set to its lowest temperature until dry. 

 After all that work . . . ?
 The final product looks a lot like the steel cut oats you started out with, but the texture is different.  They remind me a bit of Grapenuts--a little more chewy and less crunchy.

I have only recently begun to experiment with these, but so far I've had success substituting them in recipes in place of rolled oats.

Using these does change the texture somewhat, but my picky children and husband gave the thumbs up to a pear-plum crisp topping made with these in place of rolled oats, as well as some sweet energy bites made with these.  Steel cut oats are a less processed food than rolled oats, so I will opt to use them whenever possible.

Check out the recipe for Banana Oat Circles to put these steel cut oats to use.

*I keep a little coffee mill on hand just for this purpose (cheap, from Walmart); apparently freshly ground is important as it has higher phytase content--which really makes one wonder if soaking wheat flour that is NOT freshly ground does one any good at all, which is why, I often choose just not to sweat this whole soaking thing.