The mercury is finally climbing higher here in Chicagoland and nature can feel it too. Today’s view out my home office window is a budding tree and blooming daffodils. Finding the daffodils in this picture is sort of like playing Where’s Waldo, but they are there!
I had a great meeting yesterday with my Smart Eating for Kids partner in crime. We launched SEFK about 1.5 months ago and we’re just as excited as the day we first started talking about the idea. I’ve always been interested in nutrition, since before I formally studied it in school, but nutrition takes on a whole new meaning once you are feeding your own child. We’ve been so fortunate that Hailey doesn’t have any food allergies or intolerances and, for the most part, she is an adventurous and eager eater. But, even with those things on our side, there are challenges that crop up and SEFK is a place for me and my fellow contributors to share some of our research-based, tried and true strategies. You can also find SEFK on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.
Lunch today was a yummy turkey & co-jack sandwich along with a spinach salad drizzled with a little bit of EVOO and cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar. I used to think of vinegar as an unpleasant, acidic ingredient that only tasted good when incorporated in to a recipe…that was until I started tasting really good quality balsamic vinegars. The cinnamon pear balsamic is from a local shop we love called Oh Olive. When I bought it, they included a recipe for the most amazing sweet potato fries – warning: they are seriously addictive. Also on my lunch plate are some Spicy Chili Pepper Hummus Chips. I spotted these at the grocery store on Sunday and they sounded intriguing. The flavor has a bit of kick and I love that a single portion (about 30 chips) feels substantial, but only costs you 130 calories.
TIP OF THE DAY: Some nutrients are better absorbed by the body when they are eaten with a small amount of fat. This is especially true for nutrients called carotenoids found in red, yellow, organge and some dark green fruits and veggies. You’ll probably enjoy eating your salad even more when paired with a drizzle of good quality EVOO or regular dressing used sparingly – and you’ll certainly get more nutrients out of it.
You know that saying, “Don’t lose the forest for the trees?” I like it. It’s a good reminder to not lose sight of the bigger picture. But today, I’m turning the saying on its head. Yesterday, in a fairly casual e-mail to a friend, I admitted that I struggle with spells of paralyzing anxiety. And, when I say paralyzing anxiety, I’m not talking about an anxiety attack or some dramatic physical response to my dread, but simply a state of, “I know I can never get everything done that I want to get done, so why do anything?” All I can see is the daunting forest – I forget about the trees.
I have lists and lists of things I want to accomplish. Some are fairly finite (find a new dentist and book appointments for all of us) others require lots of time and our day-to-day life doesn’t depend on their completion (digitize and organize the entire music and photo collection). These are life examples, but the same holds true for work tasks too. Instead of focusing on the finite things that I know I can accomplish, I focus on the size of the list overall or a task that is so intimidating, I can rationalize not getting started. Then I find myself chasing deadlines and deluding myself into thinking that I get my best work done when I am under pressure.
This blog is really important to me. I have lines and lines of to-dos on my list to prove how much I think about it. However, oddly enough, I’ve been self-perpetuating extreme guilt over not crossing anything blog-related off that list for quite some time now. My e-mail admission seemed to help get me unstuck. Unstuck enough that instead of just making my morning smoothie and thinking about sharing it with you…I am. So, I’m proposing a Monday morning smoothie toast to keeping the momentum going…tree by tree.
Strawberry Spinach Smoothie
Into the blender: ½ c. Green Machine juice, 1 c. frozen/thawed organic strawberries, ¼ c. rolled oats, 1 Tbsp. chia seeds, 2 scoops EAS vanilla whey protein, 1 handful organic baby spinach, 1 c. crushed ice.
The big decision is right around the corner…which cookies to leave out for Santa?! Being that I drink tea every day, I’ve been pondering ways that I can incorporate tea into my cooking and baking. I was sifting through holiday recipes drinking Argo’s Masala Chai and an idea struck…Chai Sugar Cookies!
I started with a couple family recipes, pulled elements from each and then incorporated chai into both the cookies and the icing. I used a food processor to grind loose leaf Masala Chai (I removed bigger/tougher pieces first) to the consistency of fresh ground pepper and then added the tea with other dry ingredients. Then I steeped the loose leaf tea in warm milk for the icing. The tea and spices add a subtle warmth to the flavor of the cookie and the icing tastes like a concentrated version of a yummy chai latte.
The end result?…an unexpected treat for the big guy that might even get you an extra surprise in your stocking! How do you use tea in cooking or baking? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Masala Chai Sugar Cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground loose leaf chai
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ginger
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
- In a large bowl, wisk together the flour, chai, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; set aside.
- Using a mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and salt.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Be careful not to overmix or your cookies will be tough.
- Divide the dough into quarters, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one segment of dough at a time, roll the dough on a floured working surface to ¼ inch thick. Using lightly floured cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes and place cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets. (Note: you can sprinkle with sugar before baking or decorate with icing once cooled…or enjoy the cookies plain)
- Bake 8-10 minutes until the edges just begin to turn golden brown. Watch closely!
- Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- ½ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon loose leaf chai
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- Warm the milk until steamy, but not bubbling. Steep the tea in the milk for 5-6 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Add 1 teaspoon of the cooled chai milk to the confectioners sugar and stir thouroughly. If icing is not at the desired consistency, add an additional ½ teaspoon milk and stir again. It is very easy to make icing too thin, so start with a little milk and add more to your liking.
- Frost cookies using a knife or pastry brush. Top with decorative sugar if desired.
- Use remaining milk to make a chai latte to enjoy with your cookies!
It’s apple picking season! A couple weeks ago, I took Hailey apple picking at Apple Holler in Sturtevant, WI. We took a tractor ride to the orchards and picked collected Gala, Golden Delicious, Jonathan and Honey Crisp apples. I say collected instead of picked because by the time we arrived at 3:00 pm the open section of the orchard was picked clean, but they had plenty of harvested apples to choose from in crates. Unfortunately, due to heat and drought earlier this year, the apple crop was much smaller and the growers need to carefully manage which orchards they open for picking and when they open them to the public.
We were slowly but surely making a dent in our haul and apples can keep for up to three weeks in the refrigerator. However, I was starting to fear for the quality of the ones that were left, so I decided to bake an apple crostata for this weekend’s Purdue Homecoming tailgate (Boiler Up!). I spotted the inspiration for this recipe in a Food & Wine San Pelligrino ad, but I ultimately decided to make Ina Garten’s version after looking around at other recipes. I simplified it further by using a premade pie crust because I haven’t yet found the time to perfect the art of pie crust. (I could only find 9-inch premade pie crusts and the recipe called for a 12 inch crust. I forgot to scale back the apples and topping so I had some left over.)
The final product was delicious and bursting with the favors of fall. And, best of all I love that a day of apple-picking fun was extended to a house filled with scrumptious smells and lip-smacking kudos from hungry tailgaters.
Anyone have any recommendations on making a perfect pie crust?
I was lucky enough to have #WineWednesday plans with the great folks from Montes Wines of Chile. Winemaker Aurelio Montes is touring the US to launch a selection of new wines that will be available across the US within the next month or so. They hosted a wine tasting Tweet-Up at the South Loop Binny’s and it was a blast. I lost count of exactly how many wines we tried, but I think it was around eight or so and they were from the spectrum of various labels of Montes Wines including Montes, Montes Alpha, Outer Limits and Kaiken.
For me, one of the most unique wines of the night was the Montes Carmenere. Carmenere grapes are unique to Chile and, for a number of years, the wine made from them was mistakingly labeled as a merlot until a grape scientist identified them as carmenere. Montes offers both carmenere blends and carmenere-only wines and I really enjoyed the ripe berry taste, vanilla notes and smooth finish on all the carmenere wines I tasted. I even got a signed bottle of the Montes Alpha Camenere to pair with a yet-to-be-dreamed-up dinner.
In addition to tasting fabulous wine and enjoying lovely company of some new Tweeps, it was also really interesting to learn about the Montes family, how the 2010 earthquake in Chile impacted production and the unique stories behind some of their labels. For example, their Outer Limits offerings come from grapes that are grown in vinyards that were considered “out of the limits” where grapes were traditionally grown and they’ve paired with acclaimed British cartoonist Ralph Steadman to design the labels on their Twins and Cherub wines which depict adorable drunk cherubs!
Next time you are searching for something new to sip, keep your eye open for something from the Montes family. You won’t be dissapointed. Also, see what others are saying about Montes Wines at #MontesAngels. Cheers!
…so says the sign that hangs on the wall at my Grandpa’s house. As I read it I smell chocolate chip cookies baking, I see an iced oatmeal cake waiting to be sliced and there’s candy from the Easter Bunny in every corner. All this begs the question, how do indulgence and wellness fit together on a holiday?
In reality, the answer is in your hands – how indulgent do you want to be? Depending on where you are on your health journey, you may want to allow yourself fewer indulgences than someone else. The MOST important thing on special days is that you take the time to enjoy every minute with the people you love. If part of that enjoyment comes from eating delectable foods that evoke memories and make the day complete, then by all means do so.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind will help you enjoy the day even more:
- Start your day with a nutritious breakfast. I’ve heard too many people say they skip breakfast to “save room/calories” for the big meal, but this is setting yourself up for an afternoon of grazing on snacks until the actual meal comes out. Fill up at breakfast with a protein food (eggs, yogurt, nuts), a whole grain food (oatmeal, whole grain bread) and fruit so you don’t spoil your appetite for the big show!
- Research shows that you get the most enjoyment out of the first x bites of food. Serve yourself a small portion of delectable dishes and decide after enjoying a few bites if you really want more.
- There’s no need to fit in a strenuous workout on a day that you could be spending time with friends and family, but why not suggest that the whole gang go for a stroll around the block to help digest your meal?
And, of course, don’t forget that a holiday lasts a day…not a week. Wake up tomorrow and put a little extra focus on wellness without one bit of guilt that you truly enjoyed today.
Ever since I tasted Ceylon cinnamon at The Spice House in February, I have been dreaming of adding it to hot chocolate. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that I haven’t had one spare moment to make hot chocolate in the past two months, but it isn’t that much of a stretch. At the end of February, we moved from our downtown condo to a house in the ‘burbs. The move has been fantastic for our family, but the month of February was spent packing and moving and the month of March was spent unpacking and getting used to a new routine. (I’m visualizing you playing me a tune on the world’s smallest violin…)
Anyway, back to the topic at hand…summer is fast approaching (yay!) and I know I’m not going to be in a hot chocolate sort of mood much longer, so I took advantage of the chill in the air today as a good excuse to finally make my dream a reality. I made mine from scratch using Rademaker Dutch Processed Cocoa that we received in a gift basket of goodies from Holland. I followed the directions on the box, but added the Ceylon cinnamon when I made the chocolate paste and before adding the milk. I also frothed my milk using a Bodum milk frother.
2 tsp cocoa
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
8 oz warm milk (frothing optional)
Combine cocoa, sugar and cinnamon in a large mug. Slowly add milk until a thick past is formed. Add the rest of the milk and stir until well mixed. Sprinkle additional cinnamon on top if desired.
I know you can’t smell this picture, but if you could you’d smell rich chocolate, sweet oranges, a hint of cinnamon spice and the sweetness of warm milk. This was well worth the two-month wait and fully lived up to my expectations. I doubt I’ll be waiting until there’s snow on the ground again to make this!
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories 165 , Total Fat 4g, Carbohydrate 48g, Protein 10g (Note: used 1% milk)
Thanks to the fabulous Brooke, I kicked off February (and now the rebirth of this blog!) with an evening of tasting olive oils, balsamic vinegars, spices and wine. I mean, is there a better way to spend an evening? Brooke organized a foodie networking tour in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood that included stops at Old Town Oil, The Spice House and O’Briens. My fellow foodie-tourists included a great mix of dietitians, chefs and people who love good food.
This blog is a place to examine and discuss health, taste, wellness, indulgence, nutrition and all-things-yummy. The tour, Olive Oil, Spices & Wine…Oh My!, was all those things rolled up into one with a shiny bow on top!
The evening started at Old Town Oil where the knowledgable staff gave great tips on how to select oilve oils and pair them with balsamic vinegars to make tasty dressings and marinades.
One of my favorite pairings was the Garlic EVOO and OTO Reserve balsamic vinegar. Another really refreshing and tasty combo was the Blood Orange EVOO and Peach white balsamic vinegar.
We moved over to The Spice House where owners Tom and Patty Erd gave a interesting and informative presentation about the history of the spice trade and where various spices come from. Have you had any spices in your drawer or cabinet for more than a year? If so, it is time to toss them out. Whole spices can last for longer than a year, but anything ground won’t be fresh beyond a year.
Here’s me with two different types of cinnamon. Did you know cinnamon is the bark of a tree? The one in my left hand is Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka and it has a strong citrus aroma. The one in my right hand is Saigon cinnamon (I think…too much info to absorb at once!)
This is my haul from the night. I purchased some items, others were given as part of the tour and I won the bottle of wine for participating in the networking scavenger hunt! From Old Town Oil I have Garlic EVOO, OTO Reserve balsamic, Lemon EVOO and Pomegranate balsamic. From The Spice House I have Florida Seasoned Pepper, California Seasoned Pepper, Little Italy Herbs, Salt Free Cajun, Sunny Spain Seasoning, Bridgeport Seasoning and Ceylon Cinnamon. The door prize wine is Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling. and I also got a bag of Skinny Pop popcorn to try. (I think I’ll be sprinkling some of the Bridgeport seasoning on it!)