Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why Poor People Making Bad Decisions is a Dangerous Mindset

I am writing this post in response to two recent articles I have seen repeatedly being shared around the internet: This is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense, and The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor. I have taken some time to mull over the content of both articles and waited until the little one was with his dad to sit down and write so I get my thoughts down clearly.

Perhaps it is because I am older, and hopefully wiser. Perhaps it is because I was blessed with a mom, who even in the bleakest poverty, gave her children hope. Perhaps it was the influence of my depression era grandparents. Or maybe it is recognizing the blessings me and my boys received when I was struggling on my own for the first time. But the perspective I have of being poor is so different from Linda Tirado and John Cheese. Don't get me wrong. Being poor is a struggle, but both of these authors perpetuate a mindset about poverty that is dangerous and pervasive in our culture.

I know first hand what it is like being poor as a kid and an adult. I developed pneumonia from living in a damp, cold house way to small for my parents and siblings. My greatest fear was the bath tub falling through the rotten floor when I took a bath. My dad's pay check came through the mail and if it didn't arrive on time it was a challenge for mom to feed us. Often the cars we drove were junkers with doors that had to be held shut with twine or mufflers held up with coat hangers. It was difficult going to school as an adolescent and wearing cheap, outdated clothes. It seemed no matter how hard dad worked we were stuck.

I have also gone without as an adult. Most recently right after my husband moved out on us and left me struggling to get by with two boys. There were times I had to beg to keep the lights on. I had to get on food stamps to keep us fed. Every month was a struggle to pay rent and keep a roof over our heads. I sold what ever I could of value to get by. It felt like I was constantly asking for help. While I am still within the federal poverty guidelines and I still am walking a tight rope financially, I don't necessarily feel poor. In fact I feel quite blessed. Even as I pull on yet another pair of socks with holes in them or shrug off not feeling well because I don't have health insurance.

So, yeah, my credentials are real. I know poverty. It sucks when you can't pay your bills. But justifying poor people's bad decision making is perpetuating the problem. And here is why:

Spending money is about self control

Being poor doesn't justify a lack of self control when it comes to spending money. Far too many poor people do go out and blow their big tax return on things they don't necessarily need and it gives them only a moments reprieve from feeling poor. When you base your spending on making you feel better, if you are poor or not, it is a temporary high. If you are poor, the reality of your situation will come crashing down on you sooner than later. Spending an unexpected windfall is a modern mindset that my depression era grandparents would have shaken their heads at. Our modern disposable, consumerism behavior is detrimental when you are poor. 

I buy all our clothes from the thrift store. I don't remember the last time I purchased new clothes, especially for me. If I want to make a big purchase I postpone it. I really want to get rid of this awful, filthy recliner that gives off bad vibes because my ex loved to regularly take naps there and replace it with a new, colorful side chair. I found a chair I like but I have continued to postpone purchasing it because I can't really justify spending over $100 on a chair when I need new socks, underclothes, and glasses. Having the self control to postpone a purchase on something that falls more into the "want" category than "need" gives you time to assess if the choice is a smart one or not. 

I want to also be a good role model and teach my children that it is important to be able to wait for something they want, that it is ok to not get everything they want. I don't feel I am contributing any more to their happiness by gong on a spending spree with our tax refund and buying them all of the things they are "deprived" of. 

Eating Healthy is Cheaper

Really. It is the junk food that is expensive when you think about it. It contributes to increased health costs and is full of empty calories. While I agree there are "food deserts" in big cities where good quality fresh produce is hard to come by, I must say that the biggest barrier to eating healthy is education. I also think some "foods" should not be allowed as purchases through food stamps. Soda is my biggest complaint. Soda is not a food. I'm sorry if you are a big soda drinker, but it is diabetes in a bottle. 

I just listened to a wonderful story about a chef who gave up his high paying job in a fancy restaurant to work for a soup kitchen. Instead of prepared and highly processed foods he cooks up fresh ingredients, increasing the healthiness of the meals and decreasing the cost per meal. Don't have a lot of time? Use a slow cooker. I love mine. I've seen them sold at my local thrift store. When you get home tired after a long day at work your meal is ready for you. 

The point is, avoid over processed and prepackaged meals. Avoid empty calories and junk food. If you concentrate all your food dollars on nutritional value you will be able to eat healthy on a limited income. Eating poorly is, again, a byproduct of our society which has written that poor people don't deserve good food. Don't believe it. You deserve it as much as the next person. Maybe you can't afford the lobster or to eat out at the local trendy restaurant but you do deserve, and can afford, good food.

And if you didn't already know, some farmers markets take food stamps. You can also use food stamps to purchase seeds to grow a garden. Your local food stamp office should be able to direct you to farmers markets and gardening stores that accept SNAP benefits. 

Mental Health is a Priority

Unfortunately, depression and poverty are closely related. Tirado is correct about that. It can seem like taking the time to care for your mental well being is a luxury when you are poor, but it is as important as eating healthy foods. I keep a gratitude journal. I pray. I rant to a close friend. As a single mom it can be difficult to find time when I am not working to focus on "me time" because my four year old is usually right there with me. Any mom will understand the luxury of going to the bathroom alone. But many things that are good for my mental health involve things I can do with kids in tow. I had the day off yesterday and the art museum waived admission for the day so we went and rode the cool elevators for free. My four year old did slow down to look at the art too but we have taken advantage of many free days and he kept exclaiming in frustration "Mom, I've been here before!" when I pointed things out to him. We then took a walk along the river. Don't fall for the "poor people don't belong here" mentality. Baloney. It's free and open to the public. Check out your local museums on their free days. Go to the library. Take a walk in nature. 

I find the biggest influence on my mental health is showing gratitude for what I do have. Yeah, I have to put off buying new eye glasses a little longer, but I did pay all of the utilities this month. They cut my food stamps (a mixed blessing), but a good friend had us over for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. I drive an old car we nicknamed Rattletrap Car, after a children's book by the same name. I still owe over $600 for this car I purchased back in July for $800, but I'm grateful that the person selling it to me is working with me and that I was able to afford to get the inspection and registration up to date, as well as the title in my name. I am grateful that I have plenty of clothes in my closet, and so does my young son. I am grateful that I have a job I enjoy. Even if it doesn't pay enough or cover health insurance. I am grateful that I will be able to work extra hours in the coming weeks. I am grateful for my children, my family, my friends...

I have gone through depression. It numbs your whole world and sucks all the color out of it so that everything is grey and the simplest things seem like climbing dangerous mountains. It does make it hard to think about the future. When my ex left there were times when I was so scared, so depressed, that getting out of bed to face the day felt overwhelming. He wan't helping out financially and the rent was due. How was I going to keep a roof over our heads? I had to ask a friend to help us out with food. But when you feel like this you need to do two things: latch on to something that is so important to you that it is the driving force to life itself (for me it is my boys) and ask for help. There is help out there. If the first time you ask you don't get it, keep asking. Sometimes I had to ask and ask and ask, but my boys became the sole force moving me forward. I was not about to become homeless and succumb to despair. 

You Can and Should Make Goals for the Future

Poverty can feel like a dead end, but it is important not to fall into that trap. It is a hard cycle to break. Hard, but not impossible. Sometimes I do fear I will never experience what it would be like to not worry about having all my needs met or that I'll never be able to pay all those people back who have helped me out one way or another. I fear that I'll always have to struggle. But in spite of, or perhaps to spite those fears, I have made grand plans for my future. Not anything unreachable, and indeed pretty simple by some standards. I plan on getting to a place where I can save up to purchase about an acre of land and build a small 800-950 square foot house on it, as well as a small photography studio. I plan on having a small flock of chickens and a garden. This is my plan for me and my youngest son. I have the floor plan of the house I like posted on my refrigerator where I can see it every day. 

When you are already overworked and underpaid you look for something easy in your life and it can seem that eating over processed foods, not assessing your spending habits, and not tending to your health or your future are ways to make life a little easier, but in reality you are walking into the trap of a mythological mindset that is as dangerous to you as walking in front of a bus. You can make good, responsible choices that are moving you and your family forward, up, and out of poverty. It's not easy. Believe me, I've cried plenty of tears when I had to pay rent late, putting me deeper behind because of the late fee. I've thrown the cheap, over processed macaroni and fake cheese in front of my boys because it was cheap and easy to prepare and I was tired. I've pulled ten hour days at work and sold things I'd dearly like to have back just to make ends meet. But I'm not about to feel like a victim, nor am I gong to let myself feel poor in heart and soul. I have a future and I have choices, daily choices big and small, that impact that future. I'm not about to sideline that future because I'm "poor". 

Live simply. Live boldly. Be humble. Be grateful. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Homemade Holiday Advent Calendar

This is the third year I'll be using this Advent calendar. It is a simple calendar to put together. I purchased tiny envelopes from the craft store and, using a stencil, numbered them with black ink. Then I took clothespins and painted 12 white and 13 red. I have a never ending ball of twine in my craft supplies that I used to hang clothesline style and clipped the envelopes to the twine with the clothespins.

The neat thing about this count down calendar is that instead of little gifts or pieces of candy, they are filled with little notes describing activities that my son gets to do that day. Here is a list of some of the activities I use:

  • A trip to the Christmas display at our train museum
  • Leave holiday cards on the doors of our neighbors when we go on our evening walk
  • Make paper snowflakes and use them to decorate our windows
  • Purchase and deliver books to the children's shelter
  • Bake cookies and deliver to someone special
  • Go see the holiday lights
  • Make our annual trip to World Market to buy a new animal ornament to add to our tree
  • Enjoy hot chocolate and a holiday movie together
  • Buy blankets from the thrift store and hand them out to the homeless
  • Make holiday crafts (craft kits can be purchased about anywhere, or come up with your own).
The idea is to get the child excited about activities and giving, not just about Santa bringing a sleigh load of gifts. I do throw in a couple days where he gets to open a small gift, like a Lego figure or a craft kit, but there are only a couple of these. As you can see, there are plenty of creative activities you can include. Some may be very specific to your area, like build a snow fort (snow is scarce in south Texas) or visit a local museum or tourist attraction (here we have the Riverwalk and can take part in a tamale festival and La Gran Posada, a reenactment of the procession of Mary and Joseph).

What are some activities on your Advent calendar? 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Simplify the Holidays and End the Madness

On my way home from running errands today I passed a billboard advertising holiday loans for up to $5,000. I don't know about you, but to me this is absurd! The holidays have become about acquiring objects that friends and family may or may not be overjoyed to receive. And we expect stuff in return. Most of the time we go in debt to buy stuff because our collective conscience seems to think that if there aren't mountains of packages to rip open on Christmas morning it is somehow shameful. We don't want our children feeling like Tiny Tim or the poor kid at the orphanage after all.

The holidays are used as a status gauge. If we listen to our children roaming the halls at school after the holiday break we can hear them mirroring our societal lessons on what is important during the holidays. "What did you get for Christmas?" "You should see everything I got!" "Wow, I got a (insert latest expensive gadget)." "Oh, is that all you got?!" We are training them well.

I'd love to hear them say things like, "Hey, what did you do for Christmas?" "I got to spend time with my Grandparents." I got to hand out socks and cookies to the people in our local retirement home." "Oh, that's awesome! I got to build snow forts with my cousins and sing carols to all my neighbors." Because, folks, that's what the holidays are all about.

As you can probably guess, I will not be shopping on black Friday. There is nothing I, nor any of my loved ones, need bad enough for me to enter the fray. For those of you who say you enjoy pitching your tent with your family every year in front of Best Buy to get the door buster deal I say that isn't true joy. You are an adrenaline junkie and you can get your fix in healthier ways. Take a sky diving class or something. Your actions are reverberating though out society and encouraging Walmart to open its doors on Thanksgiving eve. Your need for stuff is a disease.

How do I intend to celebrate the holidays? How can you exit the madness and bring the holidays back to their center of peace and joy?

1. Keep your gift giving to your children simple.

Follow the guidelines; something to wear, something to read, something they want, and something they need. You are still giving them gifts, just with reason and care. You will not be scarring them for life if they compare notes with the kids back at school. Especially if you incorporate other aspects of a simple, joyous holiday. Not getting everything they want sets them up to appreciate what they do get while buying them everything on their list creates, in my opinion, spoiled brats who think they are entitled.

2. Get yourself and your kids involved in more giving.

And by giving I don't mean going out and buying things. Give your time. Give those books and toys they've outgrown to the local children's shelter. Bake cookies and hand them out to your neighbors. Perform random acts of kindness in your neighborhood or with family members. Anonymously leave a basket of food on the porch of a needy family. Get a group of friends and family together to sing carols at the retirement home. Doing these kinds of things is getting to the true essence of the holidays. This is what it is all about folks, whether you are Christian or not. 

3. Avoid the malls and the big box chains stores. 

Make all or most of your gifts. They don't have to be elaborate. Put together food baskets. If you are good at sewing, or knitting, or any type of crafting, make the most of it and give doing what you do best. That is pure joy, giving a bit of yourself to those you love. Buy used. Some great gifts can be found at second hand stores and antique shops. 

4. Be attentive and deliberate in your gift giving.

Don't just buy the latest gadget because it is all the rage. Don't buy bath products because it is an easy out for all the females on your list. If you don't know the person well enough to really know what they need or want then you probably should just hand them a card. If the person is on a tight budget, giving them a gift basket with the things they need but can't always afford is a gift that will be appreciated. Another bottle of hand lotion, not so much. Give from the heart, not the wallet. 

The holidays don't have to be madness. No one should go into debt to "give". Let's take the holidays back from the black Friday mentality and really experience joy with our families. It really is simple. Just a slight tweak in mindset. Who's with me?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cooking with Kids: Broccoli Cheese Quiche

My four year old son loves cooking in the kitchen with me. He loves measuring, stirring, and can crack an egg better than some adults. Last Christmas I bought him the book Salad People by Mollie Katzen and it has turned out to be one of the most used gifts I have given him. The most used recipe is the broccoli cheese quiche. It is ultra simple, yummy, and nutritious. A great beginner recipe for a chef in training. In fact, he made it for dinner last night. I think it turned out beautiful. We even have left overs for tonight.

Broccoli Cheese Quiche 

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli (we use organic frozen broccoli slightly thawed in micorwave)
  • 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell (store bought is fine)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and finely minced
  • 4 shakes paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Steam fresh broccoli until just tender or thaw frozen broccoli in microwave for 1 minute. Sprinkle cheese into the crust, then spread broccoli evenly over cheese. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until smooth. Add milk, salt, and scallions. Whisk until blended and poor over broccoli and cheese. Dust the top with paprika and bake in center of oven for 40 minutes or until solid in the center. Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature. 

Serves 4-6.
Adapted from Salad People And More Real Recipes by Mollie Katzen


                                                                Salad People

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Epic Homemade Halloween Costumes

I have never liked buying costumes for the kids. It just seems part of the taking on a whole new persona for an evening of fun and candy collecting is to really make it your own. Sometimes the costume making is very last minute, like the time my oldest son decided to be Steve from Minecraft. It took some time measuring out the pixel squares and painting them, but his costume looked awesome! It was a bit cumbersome to wear and since this was before Minecraft had become really popular he only had one person know who he was. Steve hangs in my garage to this day.

We get a lot of our materials for homemade costumes from things lying around the house, recycled cardboard, and thrift stores. Although some costumes have taken a lot of time, most take little time and cost very little to make.

Every year we try to top the costume worn the year before, but sometimes this can be difficult. Like this epic Spartan costume that won my son first place in the school costume contest, uhm, wow, five years ago. It involved lots of foil, black fabric, and cardboard. The helmet is actually crafted around a hard hat and was quite heavy. His shield is actually a plastic trash can lid covered in foil with the Spartan upside down V added to it. The photo isn't the greatest, but it was an awesome costume. The helmet sits on a shelf in the garage if anyone wants to borrow it!

Then there was the headless costume that gave his little brother a scare. It got a lot of attention around the neighborhood as the kids went trick or treating. It's actually an easy costume to make. We got the instructions from a book but there are several tutorials around the web. The pants actually come up under his arms. 

The little one's first homemade costume was a cow. He was going through a phase of mooing everywhere. I just took brown jersey pants and a matching brown hoodie and painted spots on them. I cut hooves out of black foam and twisted little paper horns covered in masking tape. Then I crafted a tail out of wire. Some people confused him for a puppy, but that's ok. He was so stinkin' cute either way. 

Last year little one was Puss In Boots. This costume came together after he started wearing my western boots around the house, clunking everywhere because they were way too big. About this same time he watched the movie Puss In Boots. It was also fairly easy to put together. Black fabric for the cape, a store bought hat with a large feather. orange pullover, and some make up. He had a blast walking the neighborhood in this costume and nearly everyone got it. 

This year the little one wants to go as Dr. Who. Should be pretty easy to do though I wonder how many people in our neighborhood will get it. I told him I was going as River Song. She is one of my favorite Dr. Who characters because she kicks butt. Nothing scares her. Little one wants me to go as the Tardis. Who knows. There is still time.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Doughnut Muffins

This yummy recipe was originally posted to my old blog, but thought I'd bring it over here where it rightfully belongs. The recipe makes a large batch, so if it's just you and the dog you might want to cut the recipe in half or freeze part of the muffins for later. Maybe not the healthiest with all that butter, but they are step up from fried doughnuts. It has actually been a while since I've mixed some up. Just might have to have the little one help me make a batch tonight when he gets home from his dad's house.

Recipe from by Kathleen Stewart of Downtown Bakery and Creamery.

For the muffins:

12 oz. (24 Tbs.) unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature

1-3/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 lb. 11 oz. (6 cups) all-purpose flour

1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1-3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1-2/3 cups milk

1/4 cup buttermilk

For dipping:

8 oz. (16 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more as needed

2 cups sugar

2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

To make the muffins

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. In a stand mixer or a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until just mixed in. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Combine the milk and buttermilk. With a wooden spoon, mix a quarter of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Then mix in a third of the milk mixture. Continue mixing in the remaining dry and wet ingredients alternately, ending with the dry. Mix until well combined and smooth, but don't overmix. Grease and flour a standard-size muffin tin. Scoop enough batter into each tin so that the top of the batter is even with the rim of the cup, about 1/2 cup. (A #16 ice-cream scoop gives you the perfect amount.) Bake the muffins until firm to the touch, 30 to 35 min.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Ethics of What You Eat; Thoughts on Healthy, Sustainable Eating

I have been mulling over this post for a while now. With so much at stake and so much wrong with our food system in the US, food choices are important to the health of our bodies as well as the health of our environment. I have friends who are vegan and friends who are outright carnivores. Each has his or her own reasons for eating the way they do based on history and personal beliefs. I am not out to preach to the choir or entice anyone to drastically change their diet. I'm just asking that we think about what we put in our mouths and its impact on the larger picture.

It's not that vegans are crazy extremists or meat eaters are evil (though you'd think so according to the memes floating around Facebook). It's that we have become disconnected from our food sources. The modern hunter is no longer motivated by his family's hungry stomachs. Those living in cities no longer buy their food from open markets directly from the farmers. City governments put strict ordinances in place that have limited gardening and raising small livestock. Family farms have been overrun by by larger corporate farms. Sustainable farming has been replaced with chemicals and genetically engineered crops militantly pushed on us by companies like the ominous Monsanto.

I eat animal products. I will probably continue to do so, but with intention and care. In one scene from the classic Lion King, Simba's father is explaining the circle of life to him. As we eat the antelope, one day we become the grass that they eat. Of course, I don't think an antelope is going to be munching on me anytime soon. I'm not going to die on the African savanna that I know of. But I do think, as many native cultures used to do, we should acknowledge where our food comes from and be grateful for the life that sustains us.

As Luckily, here in Texas I can still buy raw milk straight from the farmer. He also sells eggs, though it is my goal to own a small flock of chickens. I buy organic and local when I can. San Antonio is also in the middle of the food revolution, with at least three large vibrant farmers markets and many smaller ones. I have purchased local pork, ground buffalo, grass fed beef and local cheeses from the Saturday market at the Pearl Brewery. It is more expensive and I can't always afford it. And that is perhaps the biggest obstacle for access to local, sustainable food for the lower class.

One of the biggest threats to our diet and our society's neglect of its health is the convenience factor. I am guilty of this myself. It is more convenient to go shopping at the local supermarket, throw some premixed, over packaged meal into our carts, take it home and throw it in the microwave than grow the ingredients in your back yard and cook them up yourself. But you also loose control of what goes into your food, how its grown, and how fresh it is.

Of course, we are also a society in love with advertising. And we buy all the weird new food products regardless of how unhealthy they are. Our supermarkets are filled with isle after isle of unhealthy eye candy. But I heard a little tip on keeping grocery shopping healthy by shopping mainly on the perimeter of the store. Think about it. What is on the perimeter? Fresh produce, the meat counter, dairy, the bakery. Individual ingredients instead of prepackaged "meals".

I feel like I am rambling all over the place on this issue, but it is big and it impacts every one of us. We are all aware of how diet contributes to overall health. We know that high chemical use is not only bad for us and the food we eat but also for the environment as a whole. We have been aware of them for a long time, yet continue to give our power over to food manufacturers and chemical companies. We continue with our convenience foods despite many ingredients causing cancer and diabetes, among other health concerns.

But there is one simple answer to taking down this system of ill health and replacing it with sustainability. Buy or grow real ingredients. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or all out carnivore, know where your food comes from. Encourage urban homesteading. Buy organic when you can. Avoid prepackaged. Avoid fast food restaurants. Slow down with your food. Enjoy it, appreciate it, know it. What you put in your mouth really does make a difference.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gluten Free Banana Breakfast Muffins

This is a healthy and delicious way to use up those overripe bananas and also makes a good breakfast on the run. Unfortunately, with just the two of us, the little one and I couldn't eat them fast enough and I ended up sadly throwing out the last few because they are so moist they got moldy. Lesson learned the hard way. Next time I will throw most of them in the freezer. Always better to grab one from the freezer and toss it in the microwave for about 30 seconds to thaw than to have to discard moldy muffins. But in a larger household these should go so fast you don't have to worry about them going bad.

Like I have mentioned before, our household isn't really gluten free, but I believe it is important not to eat  solely a wheat based diet, but a diet of mixed grains. I also know several of my friends are gluten intolerant, or who have children who are.

As a note, these contain ground flax seed, which are naturally gluten free but are sometimes packaged in facilities that also process wheat. If there is any doubt of how the flax was processed and in what type of facility you can just skip adding it. Especially if someone in your family is very sensitive to gluten.

Gluten Free Banana Muffins

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
3/4 cup sugar or other sweetener
1 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line with muffin liners (silicone or foil liners work best, muffins may stick to paper liners). Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then process in batches in a blender or food processor until oats are smooth. Divide batter among muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

(Vegan) Orange Creamsicles

I have about three different posts I want to share with you right now but I decided to share this one with you first because it is about a gazillion degrees outside here in Texas and will be for the foreseeable future. Everything is parched. My back yard has deep cracks in the soil that I swear are about ready to open up and swallow me while I'm hanging out the laundry. Our car, affectionately known as The Rattletrap Car, has no air conditioning and going anywhere during the day is pure torture, especially for the little one in his car seat. We did get a brief bit of rain yesterday, but the scorching sun is back with a passion today.

In order to cool things down a bit, I give you nice, frosty orange creamsicles. I loved orange creamsicles growing up. Especially the official creamsicle with the vanilla ice cream center. These are just as tasty and much healthier, with no artificial colors or flavors and, for my vegan friends, using coconut milk instead of dairy. My little Ben loves them. I've got to admit, so do I.

(Vegan) Orange Creamsicles

  • 1 cup orange juice (use orange juice concentrate for stronger flavor)
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 3 Tbsp honey (for the vegan version us agave nectar or your favorite sweetner) 
  • 1/4 tsp. orange extract
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Pour into popsicle molds, add sticks and freeze. Run popsicles under warm water to release from mold when ready to serve. Try not to eat more than one!

While you are waiting for your orange creamsicles to freeze, enjoy this clip of the old cowboy song/poem, Hell in Texas. The first time I heard Hell in Texas it was performed as a spoken word piece by cowboy poet John Jay Kulm in Tacoma, Washington. Proof you need a sense of humor to endure Texas summers. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Homemade Kefir and the Health Benefits of Probiotics in Your Diet

Kefir is cultured milk. It is thought to have originated in the Caucasus Mountain region and has been around for hundreds of years. I have purchased kefir from the grocery off and on for some time and try to include some kind of food that incorporates probiotics into my diet, but my effort has been inconsistent. I looked into making my own kefir some time ago, but with everything else going on in my life it just wasn't a priority. Recently I read an article that got me looking into making kefir at home once again. The article talked about a study done by UCLA on the benefits of probiotics in your diet. What they found just blew me away. They determined that there is a powerful gut-brain connection. A healthy intestinal flora balance is shown to make a positive impact on sensory processing and emotion. I have dealt with depression in the past, and to hear that adding probiotics to my diet may help combat it was enough incentive to take a second look into making kefir from home. To top that off, my daughter pointed me to an article that shows probiotics and a healthy gut are important to the surivival of cancer patients dealing with chemotherapy. 

Kefir is actually really easy to make. The steps are clearly outlined at this website: It is an excellent web site and will tell you all you need to know about making your own kefir. Kefir grains look like mini cauliflower (see pic below). I was lucky to have someone from a natural parenting group give me some grains (thank you, Monica!), but you can purchase them from if you can't find them locally at your health food store. 

Taste wise, I am finding it to my liking to leave the kefir grains in the raw milk for 24 hours. Any more than that seems too strong. If you don't like the taste straight up, blend in some fruit or stir it into fruit juice or smoothies. While you may be able to make it from regular whole milk, it is preferred to use organic raw milk. I am lucky enough to have a couple sources of certified raw milk in my area. 

Most importantly, what is the correct way to pronouce "kefir" anyway? I have heard it pronounced two ways, KEE-fuhr and keh-FEER. Turns out the correct way to say it is keh-FEER. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reducing Food Waste in your Household

The amount of food wasted in America is staggering. As this infographic shows, a report from the NRDC found that around 40% of food produced in the US is wasted. While some of this waste is at the production and shipping level, we as consumers are guilty of wasting tons of food too, and that also means a hit to our wallets. We might as well be throwing money out the window. But with a conscious effort you can greatly reduce food waste and perhaps even eliminate the fridge haunted with unrecognizable new subspecies that evolved out of the forgotten organic strawberries at the bottom of your produce drawer.

Utilize Your Freezer

Many food items may be frozen to prolong their shelf life. Keeping freezer labels and containers on hand make it easier to freeze foods that are in danger of not being used up before they go bad. Some of the things I throw in my freezer are ripe bananas I'm not going to eat before they go mushy. I use these in smoothies. I open up a jar of spaghetti sauce and only use part of it to make a nice homemade pizza. Instead of sticking it in the refrigerator where it will be forgotten I take a sharpie marker, write the date on it, and stick the jar in the freezer. Same with broths and canned pumpkin. Other items that can be frozen include cookie dough, leftover pancakes and waffles, pasta, homemade pies, breads, and excess mashed potatoes. You can even freeze milk and buttermilk, though I've never tried it. 

Like I mentioned in my last post, I also freeze my fresh ginger. It seems like my ginger always shrivels up or starts growing before I can use it all up. I also find that grating frozen ginger is a lot easier than grating the fresh root.

Dry It Out, Preserve It

Make homemade banana chips, dried apples, etc. You can also make fruit leather from home. While it is more efficient, you don't need a food dehydrator. You can use your oven at a low temperature. Here is a good link to making dried cherries, but all fruit can be dried using the same procedure. The time involved may very depending on the juiciness of the fruit. How to Dry Fruit in the Oven

If you have an excess of herbs growing in your garden or you bought fresh from the store or local farmers market and can't use it all up you can dry it and use it later simply by tying a string around the plant cuttings like tying a tiny bouquet. Then simply hang upside down in a warm dry place until the herbs have dried. To keep the leaves clean and dust free you may place a paper bag over the bundle before tying.

Know how to Store it Properly

Store onions, potatoes, and winter squash in a cool, dark, dry place. Produce like cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and beets should be stored in a cold, moist environment. I will even take carrot sticks and place them in a container with cold water to keep them crisp. If you don't eat them quickly, you will need to change out the water periodically. Cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant can actually be stored in a cool spot in your kitchen and should not be refrigerated long term.

Buy Only What You Need

I know sometimes it is tempting to buy the larger can of whole olives because they are cheaper per ounce, but if I only need enough sliced olives to put on a homemade pizza and I stick those left over olives in my refrigerator they are in danger of getting lost at the back behind the milk and juice. I will find them sometime later stewing in their brine and end up tossing them because of their questionable state. So I buy the small can of sliced olives, use them up, and recycle the can. I have saved nothing if I buy the larger, cheaper by the ounce, can if I end up throwing a third of them away. That goes with any ingredient you use infrequently. If you can't freeze it or somehow preserve it after using what you need, then avoid the larger quantities no matter how cheap it may seem.


About the only things you can't compost are dairy products, raw eggs, and meat products. Anything else is a go, fruit rinds, eggshells, coffee grounds, your wilted salad, moldy bread. Many urban backyards now have compost bins and a lot of cities are even incorporating compost centers and picking up grass clippings and food waste. There are many plans on the internet for DIY compost bins or you can pick one up at your local gardening or hardware store. 

Leftover Night

When we start having a build up of leftovers in the fridge we have leftover night (remember that scene in The Incredibles?). Just like Mrs. Incredible, I pull out all the options and everyone chooses what they want for dinner. On to the plate and into the microwave it goes. Voila! I don't have to cook, everyone is fed, and I have kept our food waste down.

What are ways you reduce food waste in your family?

copyright Disney Pixar  2004

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Best Homemade Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Ha, ha! Yes, another ice cream recipe! After all it is summer. And this one is heavenly! While it took me three days to put it together, it was well worth it. I made the raspberry sauce one day, the base the very next day, and finally put it all together the third day. Obviously, it doesn't have to take you three days to make.  You could make the raspberry sauce and the base early in the day or the night before to give it time to cool.  In less time than it took for me to make it the raspberry cheesecake ice cream was gone. Sorry about the lousy photo. We ate it all up before I could take the time to set up a nicer picture.Yup, I'll be making this one again.

I've modified it from the original recipe to make it more healthy, replacing the corn syrup with agave nectar and corn starch with tapioca starch or flour. Make sure you use the finer ground tapioca starch and not the pearled tapioca or you will have lumpy ice cream. I also dropped the addition of raspberry extract as I felt it really didn't need it. 

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Raspberry Sauce

  • 3 1/2 - 4 C fresh raspberries, washed and patted dry
  • 1/2 C sugar, raw or white
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 Tbsp agave nectar
  • 1 Tbsp tapioca starch
Stir all ingredients together in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir. Boil gently for about 2 minutes or the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and run through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Cool sauce before using in ice cream.

Ice Cream Base
  • 1 C sugar, raw or white
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 C whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp agave nectar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tbsp tapioca starch
  • 2 Tbsp softened cream cheese
Stir together all ingredients except the cream cheese in a 4 quart saucepan and bring to a boil Continue cooking until mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in cream cheese and pour into ice cream freezer container. Refrigerate overnight or until cold. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. 

If your ice cream maker has an opening to add ingredients while it is running, add the raspberry sauce to the ice cream when it is nearly frozen, being sure to get the sauce swirled evenly throughout the base. If you do not have this option you may add the raspberry sauce at the very beginning of the freezing process or swirl it into the mixture by hand after it is frozen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tummy Soothing Banana Ginger Smoothie

I unfortunately started off the first several days of my summer break with a stomach ailment. I'm not sure if it was a tummy bug or food poisoning, but either way it was no fun. A day of bloating so bad I looked pregnant again, followed by two days of fatigue and diarrhea. When I have any sort of stomach discomfort I like to bring out the ginger. One of my favorite tummy tonics is ginger beer. I have been meaning to try making my own but for now I usually buy Reeds Extra Ginger Jamaican Ginger Brew. This stuff helped ease morning sickness with the little and is my go to drink when illness hits. As far as my budget goes it is a bit on the expensive side but well worth it. 

I needed something with a bit of calories and energy to get me through this last bout of illness so I concocted up this smoothie using ingredients to give energy and calm an upset stomach. It seemed to do the trick and was yummy as well. No need to wait until you are experiencing an upset stomach to try it. Ginger is a great addition to your diet anytime as it has many known health benefits including acting as a natural antibiotic and easing inflammation. It may even be beneficial in killing cancer cells.

Banana Ginger Smoothie

1 ripe banana
1 heaping Tbsp almond butter
2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp local raw honey
1+ tsp grated fresh ginger. The more the better.
1 C cold chamomile tea or water

Blend together until smooth and drink up! 

** Really cool and useful tip on storing ginger root: If you are like me you never get around to using the whole root before it either starts growing, molds, or shrivels up on you. Simply plop it in the freezer and it will keep for a long time. It is also easier to grate. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Natural Homemade Toothpaste.

I am on a quest to find the best homemade toothpaste for a four year old. Natural toothpaste for children is expensive and the mainstream toothpastes marketed for kids is just plain scary. I mean, who in their right mind thought it was cool to make sparkly toothpaste? I don't even want to know what they put in it to make it sparkly. Other ingredients that scare me are artificial sweeteners and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. 

I have been on a coconut oil kick lately. I use it daily as a moisturizer. It doesn't cause breakouts and is absorbed quickly by my skin. It also serves as a natural sunscreen for everyday exposure, though if you are going to have a fun day at the beach a stronger sunscreen might be a good bet. 

Anyway, I came across a toothpaste recipe using coconut oil and decided to mix some up for the little one. Of course, I gave it a try first and realized this is a great adult toothpaste and will probably replace my Tom's of Maine toothpaste, especially after I read that it contained Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. It is nice and minty and leaves my mouth feeling really clean, however the baking soda gives it a little too much grit and a salty taste that the little one will not like. I also need to use another flavor, perhaps orange, because he does not like mint. So, as a natural, inexpensive adult toothpaste I give this a thumbs up. In the mean time I am still searching for something a little more kid friendly.

Coconut oil Toothpaste

6 Tbsp Coconut oil
6 Tbsp baking soda
2 packs Stevia powder
25 drops peppermint or cinnamon essential oil

Blend together coconut oil and baking soda. Add essential oil and stevia. Mix well. It can be stored in a small jar with a screw on lid. To use, simply dip toothbrush in to coat. 

If mixture gets too warm the baking soda will settle to the bottom as the oils separate. Simply stir it up again and it is ready to use. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

I'm Back with Pineapple Coconut Ice Cream.

I had to take a leave of absence while I took care of some things I needed to do but I am ready to share with you again! I thought it would be a great way to begin the summer by dusting off the ice cream maker and trying out a new recipe. The little one and I recently shared a pint of Haagan Dazs pineapple coconut ice cream that was absolutely yummy, so I thought I'd try making my own batch.

Overall, this is a great recipe but I will probably tweak it a little bit just for our tastes. If I add the coconut flakes next time, I will probably cut it in half and I may try crushed pineapple instead of the tidbits just to get a more even pineapple flavor throughout. If you love a chunky ice cream, add the whole cup of coconut flakes. Otherwise, if you like a creamier, less chewy ice cream then you might want to omit the coconut flakes altogether. Either way, it is still a trip to a tropical island and who can say no to that? Especially on a hot summer day! It would be delicious served over grilled pineapple.

Pineapple Coconut Ice Cream

  • 1 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1 14oz Can Cream of Coconut (found in the alcohol isle)
  • 2 Cups Heavy Cream or half and half for a bit less fat
  • 1 Cup Sweet toasted coconut flakes (optional)
  • 1 8oz Can pineapple tidbits, drained and pat dry with a paper towel.
Combine cream of coconut with the milk and mix together well. Stir in the cream, pineapple, and, if desired,toasted coconut flakes. Pour everything into the canister of your ice cream maker and freeze following manufacturers guidelines.

Easy and delicious!

Stay tuned later this week for a homemade toothpaste recipe, and more...