Friday, June 28, 2013

Our First Taste of Our "Crop"

We decided a couple of months ago to try our first "garden."  I have been wanting to build a container garden for quite some time, but Drew was not as much on board with the idea. The "realist" that he is saw a lot of work involved, whereas the practical optimist in me saw fresh vegetables and herbs and less trips to the grocery store for those items (as well as some money saved--can you tell that I can really be a "salesperson" sometimes?)  So, we compromised (after several sales pitches by yours truly) and used mostly pots that we had around the house, as well as a couple of "topsy turvy" planter kits that I bought on clearance at Ross ($2.99).  I love the topsy turvy containers.  The plants in those are extremely easy to take care of, bugs never seem to reach them, and you cannot over-water them.  They have grown rapidly with very easy care.

I will admit that I feel a little bit like a kid with the amount of excitement that I get "checking" the plants every day.  It is fun to watch the fruit or vegetable plants begin as a little sprout or seedling, grow flower blossoms and then morph each day a little bit into something that we enjoy eating.  Even though watering the plants daily is actually a task that has to be done, it is something I really enjoy.  Therefore, it never seems like a "chore."  And, it only takes a few minutes--a few minutes that I get to check the progress of our little plants!  It's so exciting.

Well, the day finally came yesterday--the day we got to taste our first tomatoes.  We have been enjoying our herbs very regularly.  There is nothing like the taste of fresh basil!  I have been putting it on a LOT of dishes. But, yesterday was our first taste of vegetables (or, I guess tomatoes or fruits.)  Besides a variety of tomatoes and several herbs, we are also growing red bell peppers and yellow squash.

Some of our cherry tomatoes from our topsy turvy planter.

Luke was excited to help make dinner...which even involved picking our own tomatoes.
Some of our "crop"
Rolling out the whole wheat pizza crust.   Click here for the very simple recipe.  The dough literally takes 5 minutes to prepare.

Brushing on the sauce.  We like our pizzas thin, so the dough recipe makes two pizzas.  We made one with tomato sauce base and the other with a lemon olive oil base.  They are both delicious~
Time for our toppings, including freshly picked lemon basil and cherry tomatoes from our garden.

Into the oven it goes for a few minutes.
And Voila!  Here is one of our pizzas which would soon be devoured.  Luke said it was his favorite pizza ever!  I think it had something to do with him being the chef!  :-)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Our Semi-Annual Date

Drew and I had a simply divine semi-annual date this past Saturday.  It happened to be our 5th wedding anniversary a week and a half ago and this past year has been quite a year.  So, we were thrilled when Drew's parents offered to come up and watch the kids for a day, while we enjoyed some quality time together sans kiddos.  We truly don't have enough quality time together without the kids.

Honestly, we have been so extremely busy lately that we didn't even plan anything for the day.  But, we did browse the web the evening before and got an idea of a few things we wanted to make sure we did while out together.

First, we decided to enjoy Austin like tourists do.  We visited several murals and snapped some photos while there.   We also checked out a downtown farmer's market.

Remember, we snapped a photo of this when while out with the kids a couple of weekends ago.  We found that this was sort of difficult to do with the kids.  So, we decided this would be a perfect thing to do together on our date.

We discovered this cool place with a lot of "art".

We were fairly close to whole foods downtown (the Huge Flagship Store), so we decided to stop by for a quick refreshment.  We sat down for a moment and drank some cherry limeade, and then I told Drew that I was needing to use the restroom.  I asked him, "Do you want to just meet me?"  I was pretty sure he mumbled, "sure."  Then, I headed to the restroom while he finished cleaning up the table area.  After I came out of the restroom, I searched for Drew, who I assumed would be waiting there outside the restroom.  Drew had my phone and his own phone in his pocket, because we decided to leave my purse in the car (and my phone wouldn't fit in my pocket).  I paced back and forth from the table where we were seated just minutes before (at the other end of the store), to the restroom several times--and without success.  After about 15 minutes of searching, I decided to head to the parking garage to see if he happened to decide to head to the car.  He wasn't there.  After 20 minutes of searching, I went to the service desk and said, "I know you probably haven't heard this request in about 20 years, but can you page someone for me?"  The nice lady at the desk told me that it happens more than you think.  So, over the loud speaker, she said, "Attention Whole Foods Customer, Drew, would you please meet your party at the self-checkout?  Drew, please meet your party at the self-checkout." I stood there like a little sad puppy who just wanted someone to adopt it.  People at the check-outs glanced over, and gave me little looks of pity.  I waited for about 10 more minutes, then I glanced over and finally saw Drew entering the store via escalator from the parking garage.  Oh my goodness!   Never was I so happy to see him but also so frustrated at the same time.  What a weird feeling!  Although the situation now seems pretty funny, at the time, I was just so upset at losing a good half-hour of our quality time together pacing back and forth looking for Drew.  It wasn't for about 15 minutes of good discussion later that we would be laughing about it.  Apparently, Drew thought I wanted to "meet him" at the car.  In my mind, he was meeting me at the bathroom.  When I entered the escalator to go to the car in the parking garage to look for him, he took the elevator to the store from the garage to look for me.  This is why he wasn't in the car when I searched for him there.  Either way, we decided that the moral of the story is that we would each have a phone before getting separated in a store again.  Now that we are laughing at the story, I decided it was a pretty funny situation on a "date" and a comical series of events to share.  We love each other so much and even in frustrating times like this we can tell what a huge blessing our relationship is to each other.
We had a pretty amazing rest of the day.  We did some shopping:

We had lunch at a new food truck.  And then, we had dessert at a new homemade ice cream store.  Oh. My. Goodness. We had dessert.

Lick offers the most delicious ice cream I have eaten in my entire life.  Seriously.  Can you tell from my goofy face above?  This place sources its seasonal ingredients locally to create some pretty eclectic combinations, such as roasted beets and mint and goat cheese, thyme and honey.   But, they also have some of my favorite combinations, like dark chocolate with olive oil and sea salt, and caramel salt lick (with homemade caramels and a hint of sea salt).  My small homemade waffle cone was divided with these two amazing flavors.  Drew chose the fresh mint and chocolate chunk.  This place even offers dairy free and vegan options.  We. Will. Be. Back.  If you come to visit us from out of town, you will be coming with us to this place.

Then we did some more shopping and exploration of Austin.  This kind of stuff is normally tough to do with little ones.  Abbey normally takes two 2-hour naps per day.   On the weekends, we usually consolidate it to one nap, so we can do more fun things together as a family outside of our home.  But still, it is normally difficult to get in and out of the car with the kids as much as we did on Saturday.  So, this was a special treat.

We finished the day with a delicious dinner and headed home to say goodnight to the kids.  Having these dates (even when infrequent) always reminds me how awesome it is to be married to my best friend in the world.  I told Drew on Saturday that I couldn't have even created in my head a more amazing life partner than what God has blessed me with.  God always has a way of reminding me that His are better than mine.  Feeling SO BLESSED lately!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"10 Days of Real Food" Pledge Summary

We actually truly enjoyed our "10 days of real food" pledge.  Here is a summary of what we learned in this challenge.

1.  We spent around $25 per day during this challenge on our food (which was less than $2 per person per meal, plus snacks).  This included 3 delicious meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) using local and organic products as well as a lot of snacks (mainly fruit).  The first 5 days were more expensive than the last 5 days, because some of the purchases were actually staples (like whole grain flour, for example).   So, I would expect the cost to continually diminish with time.  I also planning on making more of our staples (like bread).  So, that will help reduce the cost even more.

2.  The biggest individually costly item was as we expected:  local meats.  However, a key part of this challenge was also to change our mindset of thinking the "main dish" has to always be the meat (or poultry or fish)  protein.  Instead, we began to treat the meat as a side.   According to Lisa's Real Food Blog Post titled, 'Becoming a Flexitarian": 

If you have been working hard to cut out processed foods and start eating organically and/or locally grown foods, does that mean you can still eat meat? The answer is…sometimes. According to Michael Pollan:

There are literally scores of studies demonstrating that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits reduces the risk of dying from all the Western diseases. In countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits and vegetables a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States. We also know that vegetarians are less susceptible to most of the Western diseases, and as a consequence live longer than the rest of us.
So becoming a vegetarian doesn’t exactly fit into your lifestyle? Not to worry, because you can still reap the same health benefits as a vegetarian if you, as Thomas Jefferson once said, treat meat as a “condiment for the vegetables.” If you cut back to less than one serving of meat per day you can consider yourself a “flexitarian” with a risk of heart disease and cancer that is equally as low as a vegetarian.

So, here are Lisa's tips when it comes to meats:

  • “The more meat there is in your diet – red meat especially – the greater your risk of heart disease and cancer.”
  • Ideally, you should purchase meat from a local source (check your farmers’ market), and if that is not possible go with organic.
  • You are what you eat eats too…some of our food animals, such as cows and sheep, are ruminants that evolved to eat grass; if they eat too many seeds they become sick, which is why grain-fed cattle have to be given antibiotics.”  So in the case of red meat look for beef from cattle that have been 100% grass-fed.
 Other things we learned during the challenge:

1.   If you eat a lot of packaged foods (that have more than 5 ingredients), you are likely consuming a LOT of soy and processed sugar.  When I really started examining every packaged ingredient closely, every one that had more than 5 ingredients had some form of soy (like soy lecithin) and usually a form of sugar (like evaporated cane juice, fructose, etc.).  The only packaged items we ate during the challenge were the breads we purchased from the local bakery (less than 5 ingredients, none of which were sugar), and occasionally chips (with just a couple of ingredients and not fried).  

2.  All of our digestive systems were very happy with us during the challenge.  I think just about every health-related book or article I read states that you are only as healthy as your digestive system.  So, following this type of diet long term would likely result in a healthy digestive system (and thus, healthy body).  

3.  We felt more full and more satisfied after meals than we had ever before.  I am thinking that it is due to the consumption of only whole grains (no refined grains) and more fiber (via increased consumption of fruits and veggies).  Also, Drew and I have a theory that all of the man-made and processed stuff has the effect of making one desire more of it---it is addicting and yet unsatisfying long-term.  

4.  We didn't crave sweets at all by the end of the challenge. Our theory is that this was also due to cutting out refined sugars.  We believe that, like other processed ingredients, the refined sugars are addicting and yet unsatisfying--basically just wasted calories.  One's body craves nourishment (which is not provided by sugar), yet the processed and refined sugars tell the brain that it needs a lot more of those to feel satisfied.  So, the craving for sugar increases.  It is a vicious circle.   

5.  You really have to do lots of planning ahead of time to cook every single meal at home (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks).  We used to eat out about once a week or so.  Not to eat out for 10 days straight was a challenge that was pretty easily met by proper planning.

Are we going to continue this way of eating long-term?

Yes, we are, with some modifications.  First, we understand special events or occasions happen.  We love to celebrate them!  So, when we are outside of our home, we plan to relax our normal diet.  This means we will allow the occasional sweet treat, etc.  We also plan to splurge about once every two weeks (if we haven't already had a special event treat).  Otherwise, we really have found no reason to buy the products that we previously purchased prior to the challenge.  So, to qualify the answer to the question above:  yes, we plan on eating this way 99% of the time when at home.  We don't have a good reason not to now that we know how to do so.  After all, I care a TON about the health of these people:

By participating in this challenge, we learned a lot.  I am one who learns by doing.  And, that is what this challenge did--it required me to put into practice everything that I had read about and desired to incorporate into our lifestyle.  I wasn't sure that we would be able to stick to it.  But, I found that the key was PLANNING!  The challenge really developed some critical skills and I am so happy we decided to do it!  I would encourage everyone to give it a try and see how you feel at the end of the process. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Days 6-10 of our Real Food Pledge

In case folks were bored with my blog posts devoted to each day of our challenge, I have decided to summarize the challenge in just two more blog posts.

It has been a while since my last post regarding the 10-day pledge.  Yes, we did finish the challenge.  It was an excellent experience, and we learned a lot that we have decided to incorporate into our lifestyle ongoing.  Actually, that is the topic of the next real food challenge blog post.  I will also include in the next post how much the challenge cost us.  But, for this blog post, I will just include the remaining menu (days 6-10).

On Saturday, we went to a farmer's market and to whole foods to pick up groceries for the rest of our pledge days.  We were low on granola, so I had to add some of those recipe ingredients to the list with the rest of the recipes' ingredients.

One other note:  last week was extremely busy for us, so I didn't get around to taking photos of the meals with our nice camera.   I took some with my phone, but the color is off, and the meals do not look nearly as appetizing as they tasted.

Day 6, Saturday (June 8):
Breakfast:  Granola and fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (using one of Lisa's sandwich ideas, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, or Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Paninis) and fruit (along with salad)
coconut chicken satay with peanut thai pasta

Thoughts:  Of course, the satay was delicious, but the peanut thai pasta was amazing.  Yummy!

Day 7, Sunday (June 9)
Breakfast:  Granola and fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (using one of Lisa's sandwich ideas, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, or Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Paninis) (or leftovers from previous evening's dinner) and fruit (along with salad)
Chicken Enchiladas using whole grain corn tortillas and steamed veggies

Thoughts:  This was a delicious and simple recipe.  Another plus was that it made two 8x8 dishes.  So, we froze the other dish (and actually ate it this past Saturday for a quick and easy dinner).

Day 8, Monday (June 10)
Breakfast:  Granola and fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (using one of Lisa's sandwich ideas, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, or Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Paninis) (or leftovers from previous evening's dinner) and fruit (along with salad)
Simple Spaghetti with salad on side

Thoughts:.  This recipe was adapted from a Williams-Sonoma Italian cookbook, so I knew it would be tasty.  Making my own tomato sauce didn't take that long, but it was a bit of work.  My hands got a little pruney from squeezing the tomato seeds out of the 20 tomato halves. The recipe called for prosciutto or pancetta, but we substituted a little local grass-fed ground beef to make a meat sauce.   I think it would be delicious with the pancetta though.

Day 9, Tuesday (June 11)
Breakfast:  Granola and fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (using one of Lisa's sandwich ideas, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, or Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Paninis) (or leftovers from previous evening's dinner) and fruit (along with salad)
DinnerLemon Butter Chicken & Lemon Butter fish (black sole from the farmer's market) with herbed quinoa and veggie pancakes
Thoughts:  I modified the chicken recipe to use whole wheat flour, but didn't have to do much else to it.  The quinoa was delicious.  A lot of the recipe reviews said it was way too "lemony" as written, so I chose to modify it slightly by reducing the amount of lemon juice in the dressing.  I also really enjoyed the veggie pancakes.  Abbey absolutely loved them. It turned out to be a great kids dish!

Day 10, Wednesday (June 12)

Breakfast:  Granola and fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (using one of Lisa's sandwich ideas, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, or Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Paninis) (or leftovers from previous evening's dinner) and fruit (along with salad)
Grilled meat and veggie foil packets with potato skins

Thoughts:   Make sure to line the foil with parchment paper so that the aluminum doesn't leach into the food.  It also works best if cooked at lower temperatures (if on the grill, less than 400 degrees).  I used yukon gold potatoes and sweet potatoes for the potato skins.  I ended up scooping a bit of the potato out and mixing it with the toppings, and then put it back into the table before putting it onto the saute pan.  It made it like a twice-baked potato. For the sweet potatoes, I mixed them with cinnamon, butter and honey. That made them like dessert.  I should have made more of those because they were a huge hit!

I didn't find any of the recipes difficult or too time consuming.  Making the tomato sauce on Monday was a bit annoying, but it wasn't difficult.  It was also fun to try a lot of new meals.   Stay tuned for a summary post later this week, where I will explain what we learned form this challenge, what aspects we are going to incorporate ongoing into our normal lifestyle, and how much this whole pledge cost us.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Outdoor Photo Location Scouting Adventures

We had some fun this weekend checking out some new locations for outdoor family portraits.  My favorite location is starting to become a mess of dead foliage, so I needed some new options.  We made sure to stop by nearby parks and such as well so we could let the kids have some fun along the way.

I love this old building.
This old shed made for a cool backdrop as well.
We found some cool old train cars that had been graffitied.
Then, we found a playscape for Abbey and Luke to have some fun.

I love their faces here!
On Sunday, we visited our neighborhood community center for some photos.  I was practicing shooting in complete manual mode, which I found was extremely difficult with children moving into different lighting situations (shade, bright sun, part sun).  But, it was great practice at improving upon a hobby.


Drew held onto Abbey, because we were pretty sure that otherwise she would have jumped in.

Sorry for 3 similar pictures in a row--I just love Abbey and Drew in all 3 of these!

I think this would be a pretty location for a family portrait.

Tomorrow, I will post a summary of our "Real Food Pledge" completion (Days 6-10).  Yes---we did finish it, I just haven't had a chance to post anything about it.  :-)  We loved the challenge and will be incorporating the principles into our normal lifestyle.

Father's Day Weekend (Oh, and our 5th Anniversary!)

It was a pretty big weekend, with our 5th wedding anniversary and father's day packed in there.  I am feeling so blessed to have Drew as my hubby and father to our children.  I truly could not have dreamed of a more perfect partner for myself and father for our kids.  He is kind, loving, funny, athletic, loves adventures (like I do), and of course, handsome.  There are many other wonderful adjectives as well for him.  But, he also just balances me out so perfectly and is my best friend.  He knows I love fun adventures (as does he) every weekend, and he knows I am a planner.  He is more laid back, so it works out very well when he comes home on Friday from work and I have an agenda for our fun weekend together.

On Friday night (our anniversary), Luke had a VBS carnival, so we went to that.  After the kids went down for bed, we watched a movie together.  It was nice to have some peaceful alone time with my hubby.

But then, we had some adventures in store for the weekend.  On Saturday morning, we visited a farm that is within Austin (just on the east side of town).  Boggy Creek Farm has a market day every Saturday, so we thought we'd check out their offering of fresh, local and organic meats, cheeses, veggies and fruits.

checking out the chickens
Here is a little raw, unedited video of Luke and Abbey checking out the chickens.

After we left the farm (empty handed simply because we couldn't decide what to buy), we went down the street to a cool, new local restaurant to eat.   We called that our anniversary lunch.  :-)  And, we even made a stop to do something "touristy":

Of course, we later found some parks along the way to stop and let the kids play.  As quickly as Luke dashes around a playscape, it is often difficult to capture a good photo of him, but I caught one of Drew:

We also included some outdoor family photo location scouting into our weekend.  I am going to snap some photos of a family that we are friends with on Wednesday.  So, I wanted to scout out some good locations, since my favorite place (which had tall grass and beautiful wildflowers) is starting to die out with the heat.  We had fun with that and made sure we played at every location we visited.   See my next post for some photos of our fun adventures with photo location scouting.