Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fast food, just not the bad kind...

The Dormition Fast is coming up! It starts on the 1st for Eastern  Christians on the Gregorian or Revised Julian calendars and for those on the old calender, they have a little more time. They start on the 13th. Eastern Christians fasting restricts the kinds of foods that people are eating and it is especially challenging for those who want real foods and eschew soy. The restricted foods are meat, poultry, fish, bone broths, eggs, dairy, olive oil and wine. The diet is more or less vegan; the more being it permits honey and shellfish and the less being that olive oil and wine are verbotten. This means that almost all plant foods can be eaten but since they are low in iron (non-heme plant sources are hard to absorb) and are incomplete proteins, it can be hard to meet your nutritional needs. Also, the foods that are avoided are delicious and eating vegan is hard, especially for weeks on end. Today I wanted to talk about different ways of meeting your nutritional and yumminess needs while keeping fasts. First, I want to remind you that I have a lot of fast friendly recipes and nutritional information all under the label Freaky Friday. If you have not read through all the information there, you should.

What will you eat?

I would recommend not making a full menu right away. This can be an exercise in frustration. The first thing that you need to figure out are simply foods that your family likes and what meal category these fall in. I work hard to keep a mix of grain/carb based foods and other foods. It is okay to add in foods that need olive oil but keep those ones starred so that you remember these are not the foods that you can turn to everyday but make sure that you find plenty of other recipes that don't have it.

If I were making a list of breakfast foods (the hardest catagory to make low-carb), I might include: peanut rice, chia pudding, peanut butter toast, granola cake made with almond milk, oatmeal, "scrambled" chickpeas either plain or in breakfast burritos (recipe coming), pancakes (recipe coming), almond milk yogurt either plain or in smoothies, and date balls (which are super portable).

Go through all three meals and make sure that you cover all the meals and include snacks and make sure that you include at least one portable option in each. Once you have this list, then you generate a list of basic ingredients that you need for each food. Once you have this list, then you will be able to work backwards to create a meal based on what is in the pantry. Make sure that if you are not a weekly meal planner, that you at least plan for the next day. That way you can make sure to soak the grains, nuts, and beans that you will need the next day. Do not go to bed without starting something soaking!! You should also make sure to check if the next day is an oil and wine day. There is nothing so disheartening like missing one of those! For those on the Revised Julian (and even the Gregorian with some basic adjustments), you need the Daily Readings App from The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Get it HERE and flip them a small donation.

How can you substitute for foods you can't eat?

You will need to substitute for some common ingredients when you are cooking. Here are some great tips for helping you do just that:

How to Replace Eggs
How to Replace Dairy
Adding Flavor Using Spices
PDF On Combining Plant Proteins
All About Lentils

What are the best vegan cookbooks out there?

There are a lot of vegan cookbooks and I have a lot at this point but they are not all created equally. There are some that are good but the prep is just too much and then there are some that are good but so devoid of protein that the recipes are anything but filling. I have narrowed it down to my three favorite cookbooks and I can tell you why we love them so much.

If you buy only one vegan cookbook, it should be Isa Does It. It covers planning, meal prep, has beautiful photography that makes you feel like eating (it is totally an issue, you know it) and the recipes are amazing. She covers gluten-free and soy free diet options which gives you ready options to meet your needs. Our favorite recipes are scrambled chickpeas, nachos, coconut French toast, and rosemary chocolate-chip cookies but you can't go wrong. Pick any random recipe and its yumminess is guaranteed! It is a workhorse and you will not be sorry that you spent the money on it. I buy it as a gift for others. For reals!

Beans are cheap and a great source of protein but a lot of times people resort to just boiled beans, which kinda suck. The Great Vegan Bean Book covers the gamete from muffins at breakfast, to goat cheese substitutes, and even an amazing black bean chocolate cookie that you would not believe. Our favorites are those chocolate cookies, the almond parm, the goat cheese like spread, and, like the whole book is our favorite. You can see my review HERE.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, from the author of Isa Does It, is only about cupcakes but all kinds of cupcakes and all vegan. It does not matter what you need (chocolate, vanilla, gourmet, gluten-free) she has a recipe for it. I think the best part of the book is that most of the ingredients are pretty mainstream and found in any kitchen. You can just roll out with your skills. I make all the birthday cupcakes from this book and have even brought the vegan cupcakes to events we had to go to during fast periods. You know what happened? People raved about them and I never even told them that they were vegan. That is how good they are.

Heads up, people, those are affiliate links which means that I would get a small referral fee if you buy, even though the price will stay the same for you. I would like it if you did buy from me but if you do not want to, I wanted to make sure to give you a warning. I will be doing bulk cooking on Saturday for the fast and I will let you know what our favorite recipes are so that if you are feeling skittish, you can lean on me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thinking about school....

Eli in his Finnish Folk Dance Costume
What are talking about on the blog this August?

School time is coming and so are some fasting periods and all this makes me think about the food that I need to be cooking and prepping. It also has me thinking about all the back-to-school type posts that will be coming up.

We home school, and this means that I need quick breakfast ideas (regular and fasting ones) as well as quick lunch ideas so that we can keep this train on track. Because it comes up quite a bit, I will also be talking about schedules and how we find our groove and the materials that I use. I am a organization nut and every fall I make a new planner for the year. I spend a ton of time on it and I print out cool pages from MS Publisher and I have all kinds of tabs and pockets.This year, I am not going to do all that. I bought a planner. I am so flipping excited about it. Have you ever gone over and looked at all those gorgeous planner and stationary products at Erin Condren? That is a referral link and if you click over, register, then buy something,  I will get credit there that I can spend on more fabu stuff. You won't believe how awesome the Life Planner and Teacher Lesson Planners are.

The Life Planner is almost too good to be true, but then I decided to check out the Lesson Planner. I am not a school teacher per se, but a home school mom. I watched the video and then I was all over it.

I was like, what? Really? Notes and taps and color coordinating organization awesomeness AND a way to keep tabs on the home school scene in my kitchen? I am in love.

Now this reminds me also that there a lot of people who do not home school an they need to feed their kids lunch everyday. I hear ya! I will be talking about school lunches and giving some ideas, recipes, links, and looking for your most awesome tips. I very seldom need to pack lunches, so my ideas might not be the best ones from the uber active mama with school agers.

Cristina and Veronica waiting for the kids' folk dance performance to start.
Having young ones you need to keep occupied is a big deal, so I will be tacking that issue, as well. That is never easy and I know how hard it is. I have been homeschooling for a long time now and the changing ages and needs of the little ones always keeps me on my toes.

We will also be talking about dinner, because whether or not you have kids and no matter how they are educated, people gots to eat every day. It is a bad habit I picked up, and a common one, so I am told. So, this means that we will be talking about getting it on the table and how to go about that.

Claudia teasing me that she will be all smiles during the performance.
A big fasting period is coming up and I need to be ready for it. So this week, I am doing some bulk cooking to be ready for it. I will be writing about what we are eating and how to make sure that we are ready for two weeks of fasting for the Dormition. There will be a camping trip with 4-H during this time, so I get to figure out real food, soy-free, vegan food for a camping trip. I have my thinking cap on already!

I think I have it all covered. Do I? Something I missed?

Yes! Cheese! I will be covering making haloumi cheese! Now I think I have it covered.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sophia and her pearly whites...

I love this photo! My oldest daughter, Maria, saw this and laughed, she said that Sophia is so happy that she almost looks angry. But what you cannot see is her poor quality teeth. I spent some time in the intensive care unit after her delivery because of a serious surgical complication. After I was out and home, I went back because of substantial blood clots in both lungs. My insurance would not cover less risky drugs so I took Warfarin to resolve the clots. Months and months of drugs to get my clots dissolved was brutal on my gut health and my calcium stores and she is paying the price.

Her teeth are fragile, none have broken, but the enamel is thin and cracked in a few places. I was told that this was a risk to breastfeeding while on blood thinners but that her permanent teeth should be fine. Blood thinners inhibit the body's ability to absorb and use calcium which is an acceptable trade-off when the alternative would have meant my death. Since only her baby teeth are affected, we felt that the benefits of breastfeeding would be worth the sacrifice as well. Every time I look at her teeth close up, it is a bitter reminder of the year of my life that I spent sick and in and out of the hospital. We are still paying the price for that day.

I am a big believer in complimentary medicine and that backing off the major interventions while we try more moderate approaches. This practice has served us well, you read about how we sped up the healing in one child's broken arm HERE. With Sophia, this has to be a constant battle where in we are always diligent to make sure that she has what she needs to build better teeth. I bought the Weston A. Price Foundation recommended book Cure Tooth Decay as soon as it came out, before Sophia had any teeth at all yet. I really thought that we would somehow dodge this bullet, but we didn't. She has bad teeth. I knew that what we needed was to get on track and stay on track. This book really surprised me as it looked a lot like the protocols established by Dr. Weston A. Price, DDS, in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

It involves properly fermented grains, bone broth, raw milk, and cod liver oil. That is it. We have been adding in xylitol in mouth rinse, toothpaste as a sweetener. You should know that it is toxic to dogs, so keep that in mind. But since grains give some trouble, if I am sweetening them, I use xylitol to protect the teeth as much as I can.

The raw milk is a critical part of this process. It does amazing things for the teeth. I am convinced that just seeing what I have in other children that if Sophia were not drinking raw milk, she would be far worse. Her teeth are considerably worse than her siblings, but according to the dentist, they are really not so bad. He has seen far, far worse teeth in children who drink soda than my own preschooler. By the way, for fun you might want to try the experiment where in your kids get to dissolve a tooth in soda. It is pretty cool and has a good effect on kids. You can see where we did it once HERE.

Do you follow this protocol for your teeth? What have you found?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Solving dinner dilemmas...

Struggling with dinner is just one of those things that all people go through. Some of us have more to think about, or have fewer resources, and struggle more than others. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I am thinking that I need to spend some time really concentrating on it. There are a few things that are on my mind lately and some things people have been asking me about and these are ripe for blogging.

We have been working very hard to follow very strictly the Eastern Christian Fasting restrictions as a family and without using any soy and reducing our grains. It is very easy to fill up carbs with the lists of foods that are out (meat, poultry, fish with backbones, olive oil, wine, and dairy) and it can be hard to get enough protein. Year round, we fast like this on Wednesdays and Fridays but there are four fasting periods through the year which are between two and seven weeks long which means that we need to constantly keep it in mind. A friend has kids who just won't eat beans and my kids are lentil resistant and I know that grains and nuts are out for some families. I am working on putting together some recipes and dividing them by meal type. I think that it needs to be hyper indexed to accommodate available ingredients, i.e. I need to find things that use the 25# of garbanzos I bought!

As an aside, please no emails about how you have the best bean or lentil recipe that I could modify. I bet you do get tons of compliments. I bet that involves olive oil or bacon or meat or cheese something fabulous that makes it not suitable for fasting and you will tell me to leave it out. It will not be the same. Also, my dad was Mexican. I can cook some beans. It is just that when you fast for long periods, you need to find ways of hiding the fact that the protein is beans or lentils again just to keep the kids from squawking about it all the time. But, if you have a vegan bean recipe with no soy or olive oil that is awesome, I am totally ready for it.

Oh, and a friend who is on GAPS with her husband and four kids recently started a blog (like yesterday) and I was thinking that I can ask her for a guest post about her journey. Let's be honest for a second and remember that GAPS freaks people out hard core. But, it is doable, people do it all the time. Not that it is easy, mind you, but it can be done. I think that if people heard more about how and why to start and how to maintain the rhythm, it might help them be less afraid. What do you think?

Another thing that is on my mind lately, is tooth health and diet. I have a friend whose son has terrible teeth and she needs a major diet overhaul and she is a bit nervous about it. I also have a daughter like that. I had a large volume of blood clots in both lungs and was on blood thinners until she was four months old. Now her teeth are a wreck. I need to be really intensive about her diet because I need her permanent teeth to form properly.

Are there things that are worrying you? Things that we can work out together? Let me know, I would love to help. If you have some great ideas, I would love to hear about them, too!

Last thing! I have my latest post up at CafeMom, you can read HERE all about the magic of the first time baby clearly recognizes you. It is an awesome moment. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thinking about the future...

I am definitely not pregnant, so nobody needs to ask, but a lot of my thinking involves babies right now. I am thinking about babies a lot because I am writing about baby's first over at CafeMom right now. It is a fun gig because I am moving beyond the baby stage with my youngest and it is a little bit sad. Claudia is now sixteen months and is pretty much a toddler now with her first steps a few months behind her and some distinguishable language cropping up. HERE I write about baby's first smile, which is total critical to mom's well-being. I also wrote about my son Greg and his first well baby visit, which is akin to my Big Fat Greek Wedding moment, you can see it HERE. I have some more to come and I will make sure that I link to them as they come up. Come on over and pay me a visit!

By the way, that photo there was taken with my new big girl camera (which I have no clue how to use yet) and it looks wonky because it is on a hill which sloped down towards the left side of the shot. I wanted to capture the long evening shadows but I think I just made it look like I was sea sick. The color is off and it looks like the horizon is tilted. I have a book now and I am working through it. I am honestly thinking of getting the Great Courses DVD on photography. I know, kinda silly, but really. If it helps, that's good, right? What do you think? Please, I really want some input! I am also thinking I need to invest in Photoshop Lightroom so I can fix things, you know. Not just throw them at you. But that will need until I get paid for my articles. Do any of you use Lightroom?

Also, the closet is going very, very well. It is the first piece in my multi-stage process of making more room in the house. There are a lot of people in this house and since I write from home and the kids are home-schooled, we are all together, all the time. We need to find some distance. The girls have a new closet in front of the old one and it takes up no real estate. That old closet was combined with the linen closet to make a huge storage closet. It is evening and the lighting is bad so tomorrow I take real photos. Plus, really, how do you photograph a small seven and a half foot square room from a narrow hallway? Do you need a fishbowl lens like they use in National Geographic for shooting things like Japanese hotel rooms? I was standing in the bathroom across the hall trying to shoot this from the sink and the kids were all like, "Close the door when you use the bathroom!" And I am using the bathroom but more like a perch, so, I need to keep the door open.

The rooms are all arranged for maximum floor space for playing, and I will be so glad for it when winter comes. The boys also have a new flat topped vintage chest for their games. This is one that can be used as a surface to play games on. I have also bought a cubby system for holding my yarn, yay!

Clearly Fabulous Shot of Junk Piled onto Things and Not Put Away, Yet.
It is a little bit frustrating that each piece must wait for the next to go in so that I can reorganize each closet and each room. I have to empty the space out, which means piling it in the another room, and then getting the closets or shelves done. Before we go to bed, I have to get all that stuff just re-piled. But give me another month and it will be sweet. Next we are tackling the mudroom and getting some kitchen cabinets in there for storage and a closet rod for hanging all the coats. Having twelve people here all the time (since, *weep*, Joseph is at college) means that there are no less than two dozen of anything to organize. Two dozen coats, two dozen light jackets, two dozen sweaters, a scant dozen pairs of snow pants; then there are the scores of hats, gloves, balaclavas, mittens, leather chopper mittens, boots and other shoes. Oh, but then there are the basic tools that need to be kept in the house and the cleaning supplies and ironing board and washer and dryer and...well. There is a lot of stuff to keep organized. I love organizing. I am totally up to the challenge.

Last thing, I think we should do Haloumi cheese the first week of August. I will make it, photo it, and then I will write up the post. People keep asking about cheese and I think we should keep making it. I like making it, I like eating it, and I want other people to like cheesemaking, too. This is a basic, easy cheese. We can move onto harder cheese later. Thoughts? What have you wanted to make?
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