Saturday, December 18, 2010

Libby's Test Kitchen: Fun with Gingerbread

To kick off my kids' Christmas vacation, we made gingerbread cookies.  I have never made them before so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I didn't have a recipe already, so I did a google search and found this one from GoodHousekeeping.  I chose this one because I've used GoodHousekeeping recipes all my life and this particular recipe has been triple tested in their test kitchen.  This recipe is different from other gingerbread recipes because the sugar is cooked in a saucepan first and then the butter and flour are added.  Cooking the ingredients first made this a more difficult recipe than most basic cookie recipes. The dough was a little dry when rolling it out, but it worked out well in the end.

 My kids helped use the cookie cutters to cut out all of the shapes.  They had fun taking turns picking out what shape goes next.  I ended up with far more gingerbread men and tree shapes, though. :-)  After the cookies were done, I made some basic icing with organic fair trade powdered sugar and milk.  I used food coloring for basic colors, red, blue, purple, yellow, and green.

Gingerbread People

I had fun decorating these cookies.  I haven't had much experience with decorating, so I don't have any tools to do it well.  I just used knives to put the icing on so it's not perfect but the kids really enjoyed seeing the end results.  I gave each of my children cookies of their own and they decorated them.  We had a lot of fun and these cookies were very tasty!
Here is a picture of all of the ones that I did:

Homemade Gingerbread Cookies
I'm including links to the organic, fair trade sweeteners that I used in the cookies because they are hard to find.  I usually have to go to Whole Foods to get them since my local grocery store does not carry fair trade sugar.

I wish I could send you some virtual cookies, but I can't, unless you want to pay shipping and handling!
Next time I will make my favorite Christmas cookies that are shaped like wreaths and candy canes.  Have a wonderful evening!
Libby, The Cooking Activist

Here are the pics of the cookies my kids made:
Gingerbread cookies my 2nd grader

Gingerbread cookies my 1st grader

Monday, November 29, 2010

Farmer's Market Quiche and Spinach Salad

Farmers market Spinach Salad and Quiche

I was able to go to the Green Market at Jacksonville Beach on Saturday.  It was a 50 minute drive from my house but it was well worth it!  I have been looking for farm fresh eggs ever since I started eating organic but I hadn't found any farmer's markets that sold them.  My search ended at the Green Market!  I was so excited!! I finally got my farm fresh eggs this past Saturday and the best way I could think to prepare them was in a quiche.  I had leftover pastry from my Thanksgiving pies and I made my favorite Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese Quiche.  My other purchases at the farmer's market were fresh spinach, tomatoes, and I used those to make a salad.  I also had some organic carrots in the fridge which I put in the salad too.  I made a yummy Honey Balsamic Dressing to go on the salad and it was wonderful!  My kids really enjoyed the quiche and most of the salad.  I'm really focusing on making sure that we eat plenty of fresh, raw veggies and fruits so we can be healthier and more satisfied.  My kids really enjoy eating raw fruits and veggies, that makes me so happy!  The next time you have salad, forget the iceburg lettuce, which has no nutrients, instead go for the spinach, kale, or romaine lettuce.  These will provide your salad with so many more vital nutrients and vitamins and a lot more flavor.

Since one quiche only uses 4 eggs, I had extra eggs, so for breakfast I made scrambled eggs and soft boiled eggs for everyone.  I found this lovely bakery fresh bread at Publix, it was whole grain with no soy, oils, preservatives, or additives.  It went well with the eggs and my kids really liked it .  I'm so glad that they love to eat whole grains, once you get used to eating whole wheat you won't even miss white bread.  I also found another bakery fresh loaf of whole wheat bread at Publix without soy and that is exciting to me since I usually have to make my own bread from scratch because all sandwich bread has soy in it.

Stay-tuned for more posts and pictures of food creations!!
Buy organic and support your local farmers!
Have a fantabulous day!

Friday, October 29, 2010

How I got to where I am journey, part 4

I'm sorry this has taken so long to write this next portion of my journey. A lot has been going on and I had taken a break from blogging to write a query/proposal for my cookbook. I'm still not done the proposal but I did query one agent and I have not heard back. I've read that new authors can query up to 40+ agents before they find one interested, so I still have a long road ahead.

Here are the links to parts one, two, and three...

I left off at the point when I was tentatively diagnosed with Celiac Disease. My doctor recommended that I go on a gluten-free diet to see what happens. Gluten is in wheat, rye, and barley, so I had to stop eating bread, anything made with flour, and pretty much everything that I had been used to eating. In adjusting to this, I starved! All I could eat was fruit and vegetables. I ate a lot of potatoes during this time, lol! I cooked potatoes every way possible, boiled, sauteed, baked, roasted, fried, potato cakes, french fries, mashed, au gratin..the list can go on and on! I had to figure out how to make things a new way. I had to read the labels on everything, which I wasn't used to doing. I began to do research on the internet about restaurants so I knew in advance where I could eat. It wasn't easy at all. I was heart-broken and despondent.

On the bright side, I actually started to get better! The pain went away and my appetite started to come back, which was too bad since I couldn't eat anything! I wanted to get off on the right foot with my new diet, so I started to make smoothies and started exercising. I love soy milk fruit smoothies and I was eating them everyday for breakfast. I started having bloating and fatigue and a few other symptoms persisted. I spoke with my sister on the phone about what was going on and when I mentioned about the smoothies she thought that maybe it was the soy causing the problems because she had the same symptoms whenever she ate soy. When I stopped eating gluten, I inadvertently cut out soy products as well. In processed foods, soy and gluten are in everything. A lot of the time, if a product is gluten-free it will still have soy in it. By avoiding gluten, whenever I ate soy certain symptoms would always be there. I felt better because I was eating a lot of fresh fruits, veggies, and meats but there were still some things that I hadn't given up that were full of soy.

On my next trip to the doctor, she went over the results from the endoscopy, biopsy and blood work that she did. The results of the biopsy showed that I did not have Celiac disease! I was so happy!! I told her about the problems that I was still having with soybeans and she recommended that I go back to eating gluten and avoid soy and we would redo the blood work and see what happens. The first thing I did...was to go and get a sandwich from Larry's Subs! I was so happy to have bread again!!! I think I ate bread every day for weeks after that!

I thought avoiding soy would be easier than avoiding gluten but I was in for a shock! Eating soy made me tired, irritable, gassy, bloated and it gave me stomach cramps, rashes, and diarrhea. Normally people with a soy allergy can still eat soybean oil and soy lecithin, so I continued eating foods with those things. Unfortunately I am not normal, because soybean oil and soy lecithin were making me sick but I didn't realize it. I felt so much better because I wasn't eating fast food anymore, my diet was much improved but the test results did not change. I got online and researched soy and I found out all the ways soy is in our food and we don't even realize it. There is a very long list of ingredients that I was still eating because they didn't necessarily cause a reaction but maybe they were messing up the blood work. I went on a very strict diet. I avoided anything that had anything to do with soy; chocolate, store-bought bread, most snacks, cereal, desserts, cookies, candy, soups, boxed rice, tuna...the list is really long!
I found out about GMO's in my research, I'll get into that with another blog post, though. Factory farmed animals are feed soybeans and I wondered, could that be causing me problems? I watched the movie Food Inc, which opened my eyes to the travesty that is factory farming and I started to look into organic food. Once I made the switch to organic meat, veggies, fruits, and bread, I started feeling so good. I hadn't felt that good in a very long time. I definitely think that there is a correlation to gmo soy, gmos in general, and how sick I had become.

I decided to start exercising. Up to this point, I could not sustain an adequate workout, my energy levels were terrible. I would get really bad stomach cramps whenever I did aerobics, and it was impossible to get into a regimen that way. I desperately wanted to get in shape. I had lost 18 pounds from being sick and I wanted to lose more by being healthy. Once I had transitioned to an all organic and homemade diet, my energy level started to improve and I didn't feel pain anymore when doing aerobics. I wanted to try running, to see if I could do it. I joined a running group of people that were training for the Be Her Freedom Run. I felt so good when I ran my first ½ mile, and I wanted to keep running. I started training and my body responded so well! I loved the strenuous workouts that I was doing and I was really happy that I was on the right track, healthwise. Now I am in a size 8/6 and I am so much stronger now than I'd ever been before. I feel as though this soy allergy has been a blessing because I learned so much about myself over the last 2 years and I have grown and matured in so many areas. I've taken control of my bad habits and I really want to make a difference in others lives. This is why I wanted to write a book and a blog, to get the word out about how bad 'normal' food is for us and that cooking healthy food is definitely worth the effort and it will make a big difference in your life.

Well that's all for now! I won't go so long next time without blogging!
Love, peace, and hair grease!! {sorry I couldn't resist:-)}


Monday, October 11, 2010

How to make the best cup of coffee...

This is the coffee I bought today...First Colony Coffee

I love coffee. I always have.  I used to drink WaWa coffee when I lived in NJ but since there isn't any WaWa coffee in Florida, my hubby and I started drinking Folgers coffee.  I'd always buy those International Delight non-dairy creamers because I thought they tasted good.  I never really thought about the ingredients before.  That's the thing about ingredients, these companies use natural chemicals and artificial chemicals to make products taste like food, but it really isn't food.  Here is a list of ingredients of the French Vanilla flavor:  Non-Dairy Product Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Palm Oil, Corn Syrup, Contains 2% Or Less Of The Following: Sodium Caseinate* (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Mono And Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Carrageenan, Salt. That really doesn't sound very appetizing now, does it?  When I was pregnant with my fourth baby, Eva, I couldn't drink that creamer anymore.  The taste became so repulsive to me and I had to find a new cream.  Guess what I decided to try...cream, from a cow!  It tasted so good!  Who'da thunk that real cream would taste better than fake cream?  It's probably because there are only 2 ingredients, milk and cream! This is the best tasting half and half creamer...Organic Valley Half and Half
 After I made the switch to half and half, the Folgers didn't taste very good.  We started trying different brands of coffee because the real cream brings out the flavors in the coffee while the fake stuff masks the flavors. Folgers really isn't that good compared to what I've been drinking lately.
Now I buy Organic Fair Trade Certified coffee and conventional coffee just doesn't compare.  I splurge on my coffee because it is worth the money.  Fair Trade Certified coffee says that farmers will be paid a fair price for their coffee because most conventional coffee farmers are not paid enough to take care of their families.  When people don't have enough money to take care of their families, the children suffer the most.  Children from very poor families are sold and bartered for money.  Families sometimes will knowingly sell their child to a trafficker or a brothel for money for food and basic needs.  So, when I go to the store I spend the extra $2-$4 to support the companies that take good care of the farmers who harvest the coffee.  Each of us can make a difference by taking our vote to the store.  Companies pay attention to which products are purchased and they make sure that consumers get what they want.  If we, as consumers, want Fair Trade coffee, that's what the companies will give us!  Here is a tip...don't ruin the organic coffee with toxic aspartame...use real organic Fair Trade Certified sugar, it will make a huge difference in the taste and you'll be actively participating in the fight against human trafficking.  All that with just one cup of coffee!  My morning cup of coffee never tasted so good!!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Organic Chicken Wings with Homemade FairTrade BBQ Sauce

Baked Barbeque Organic Chicken I've just started making my own barbecue sauce.  My mom always makes her own but I've never tried her recipe, so I came up with my own.  It is loosely based on hers but all barbecue sauce has similar ingredients anyway.  So I used FairTrade certified sugar in this recipe and it came out really well.  My oldest son, Alex, never eats sauce on his chicken.  I always have to make some plain chicken for him, which I did this time, but once he tasted the sauce it was all over!  He loved it!  I was so excited.

Organic Fried ChickenI was also in the mood for fried chicken last night so I made some.  This is probably the healthiest fried chicken possible that still tastes like fried chicken.  I don't deep fry it, it's low in sodium, and cooked at a much lower temperature than traditional fried chicken.  I've also stopped making biscuits and macaroni and cheese with it so the meal has less calories and fat overall.  I usually serve it with green beans and maybe some fruit.  Last night I made some farfalle pasta with a little butter and Parmesan cheese to go with the chicken.  I still enjoy my favorites but I pair one favorite dish with healthier sides and I don't feel bad at all about having fried chicken, especially when I only buy organic chicken!

What are sugar beets?

I'd never heard of sugar beets until a few months ago but apparently they are genetically modified and already on the market.  I came across this story today...which is quite shocking...

Federal Court Finds USDA Broke The Law In Allowing Planting Of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

The USDA, according to the article, allowed the planting of GM sugar beets without running the appropriate testing for them to prove that they are safe for humans to eat and that they won't damage the environment.  These sugar beets have already been introduced commercially and Americans have been eating this "sugar" without knowing it.  Since GM foods are not required to be labeled, how can we avoid eating them?  Buy pure cane sugar, but make it Fair Trade cane sugar.  It's so amazing to me that yes we can avoid gmo's but if it's not Fair Trade Certified it is most likely harvested by slaves!  Did you know that gmo's are banned in Europe?  Most Americans don't even know what a GMO is!  Crazy!  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Organic turkey burgers and gravy

Turkey burgers and baked mashed potatoes smothered in gravy I found some organic ground turkey at publix yesterday!  It was humanely raised, no antibiotics, no growth hormones...very nice!  My kids loved these burgers, even the baby ate them, and Eva isn't a huge meat eater. I added some extra seasoning to them and the gravy came out very flavorful.  Turkey burger gravy usually doesn't taste as good as gravy from beef or pork because of the lack of fat but with the right seasoning it really worked well! I promised the kids mashed potatoes but I didn't want to peel the potatoes so I baked them in the oven first, scooped out the insides and then mashed them.  I was so surprised that Eva loved these!  She usually doesn't like mashed potatoes but she ate seconds, maybe it was because of the gravy.  I've been experimenting with this recipe and I found out that the bread crumbs make a big difference.  I've been buying soy-free regular bread crumbs which work really well for breading chicken and fish but not for meatballs and turkey burgers.  This time I used panko bread crumbs instead and oh, they tasted so much better!!  I love testing recipes, especially when they come out well!
On to my next cooking adventure!
Until next time,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Homemade Organic Pizza for dinner!

Organic Cheese Pizza  My Kids love cheese pizza...and now that I have learned how to make pizza from scratch using organic ingredients, pizza night comes with much less guilt!  Take-out pizza is loaded with fat and more fat, and this is much less fattening than take-out.  Have you ever read the ingredients on a box of frozen pizza? The ingredient list is full of chemicals, oils, and things that shouldn't qualify as food. This dough only has 4 ingredients and that's real cheese on that pie!  For the amount of money it costs to get good pizza (not Dominos, I said good pizza!) for a family of six, we could have homemade pizza 2-3 times a week!  Since I already have flour and yeast stocked all I have to buy is cheese, veggies, and meat, that's about 10 bucks for 4 pizzas.
Last night I also made pizza turnovers...

Pizza Turnover This one has organic tomato sauce, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and pepperoni.
I'm from NJ and the pizzerias up there make turnovers and panzarottis like this.  They are so good and I can't get them here in the South.

Pizza Turnover This one was very cheesy!!  This has pepperoni and mushrooms.  When I need a taste of home, I love to make these!  It has taken a lot of practice to get them to cook right!  I burned my mouth eating this one hot out of the oven.
This recipe is going into my cookbook, so sorry everyone but you'll have to buy the book for this one!  I worked hard to get the recipe just right!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Kids Love Chicken Nuggets!

Homemade Organic Chicken Nuggets

I make these about once a week or once every other week.  I use organic chicken and soy-free bread crumbs from Whole Foods.  We use different kinds of dipping sauces and they taste so good!  These are so much better than McDonald's chicken nuggets.  These come from happy chickens without hormones or antibiotics.  I've been working hard this week writing the proposal for my cookbook.  I never realized that so much goes into getting published and the process is really exciting to me.  I'll be querying agents starting next week, so wish me luck or pray for me!

I ran my first race!!

Here is a picture of me right before the race. I don't like taking pictures but I feel I need to have proof that I was actually there.
Me before the race

The race was to raise money for organizations around Jacksonville that offer counseling and options for pregnant women.

Run For Their Lives 5K

I am part of The Malinka Project and we have been training since June and we intend on running in one race a month to help raise money and awareness for causes in the City of Jacksonville. Our next race will be the Race For The Cure in October.  In November we will be running in the Be Her Freedom Run, which is a 5 mile race to benefit the A21 Campaign, an organization that fights human trafficking in Greece and Eastern Europe.
Running is my new passion!  I'm so excited about getting fit and healthy!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Organic Sausage and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Sausage, noodles, and broccoli

1 package of organic sausage chopped into bite-size pieces, keilbasa, smoked sausage, andouille, chorizo, italian, etc.
1/2 small package fresh organic button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1/2 package of organic egg noodles, regular or whole wheat
2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 package of frozen organic broccoli or 1 bunch of chopped fresh organic broccoli
1 clove minced garlic
black pepper
Organic Parmesan Cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, medium heat.  Place the sausage in the pan and cook it until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, stir and cook until the mushrooms soften and the sausage is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  While the mushrooms and sausage are cooking, fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to a boil.  Cook the noodles in the boiling water for the length it says on the package, approximately 7 minutes.  Drain the noodles, place in the skillet once the sausage and mushrooms are fully cooked and add the butter.  Turn the heat to low or turn it off completely but let the skillet stay on the burner so the butter melts.  Add the pepper to taste.  While you boil and cook the noodles, fill a smaller pot with water and bring to a boil.  Once the water boils add the broccoli for 1 minute and then drain.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skilllet and add the minced garlic.  Cook the garlic for 30 seconds and then add the broccoli and stir-fry the broccoli.  Cook the broccoli to your liking, firm or soft and serve it with the noodles, sausage, and mushrooms.  Serve with parmesan cheese(optional).
Serves 4.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I've been thinking...

I was thinking about how much my perspective has changed from 3 years ago.  Back then, I never would have wondered about where sugar or coffee comes from.  I believed the pictures on the packages of the happy farmer, the pristine landscapes, and the overall good feelings that come from those thoughtful marketing execs and their misleading slogans/jingles.  In reality, so many products come from the hands of slaves and forced laborers.

I started thinking about how through time, man has enslaved others to get stuff done.  I've read about how the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians to get those pyramids built.  I have ancestors that were slaves here in America.  The British were in the slavery business as well as most European nations.  The thing is, I always thought of slavery as something that happened a long time ago, way before I was born.  Slavery was something that was archaic and was only to be read about in history books because no one would enslave others now, right?

Another thing that has changed from 3 years ago is buying organic food.  I wasn't really sure what the difference between conventional and organic products were back then.  Every time I bake cookies now, I make sure the sugar I buy is Fair Trade/organic sugar.  Children and adult slaves are used to harvest sugar, coffee, chocolate, and cotton, just to name a few.  Child slaves are used in fields to harvest food and in factories to make toys, clothes, and other textiles.  When I buy my children toys, I never used to think, hey maybe a child slave made that toy. Maybe a child worked 10 hours in one day, with little food, no safety procedures, on little to no pay so this toy could entertain my kids.

I've read all about how slaves were beaten and mistreated and either not paid or paid as little as possible, in the history books.  It's crazy to think that people are still being treated in this way so that I can bake some cookies or put toys under the tree at Christmas.  So, yes organic products are a little more expensive and yes cooking from scratch is time-consuming but cutting back on some things to help someone else in the world have a better life is worth the sacrifice.  My kids are learning that just because the package makes a product look wonderful, doesn't mean that it is.  The story behind the product is what is important.  I am teaching them how to care about the world around them, that things aren't always as they seem and not to judge a book by it's cover.  If organic shopping can do that much for my kids, imagine what changes can take place in the world if everyone decided to make a change and demand products free from slave labor.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Psalm 88 - A prayer for help in despondency

Today is August 21st.  The A21 Campaign asks those who want to help fight against the sex slave trade to fast on the the 21st of every month. is a group, from my church, that gets the message out about fasting. Along with fasting, prayer and reading the bible are important as well.  My fast today consists of drinking only liquids and smoothies and spending time praying and reading my bible.  My church has a daily devotional and Psalm 88 was the reading from a few days ago.  I didn't read it until today and it really goes along well with what we are fasting and praying for.

This is from

Psalm 88

 1 O LORD, God of my salvation,

         I have cried out day and night before You.
 2 Let my prayer come before You;
         Incline Your ear to my cry. 
 3 For my soul is full of troubles,
         And my life draws near to the grave.
 4 I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
         I am like a man who has no strength,
 5 Adrift among the dead,
         Like the slain who lie in the grave, 
         Whom You remember no more, 
         And who are cut off from Your hand. 
 6 You have laid me in the lowest pit,
         In darkness, in the depths.
 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
         And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.  Selah  
 8 You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
         You have made me an abomination to them; 
         I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
 9 My eye wastes away because of affliction.
         LORD, I have called daily upon You; 
         I have stretched out my hands to You.
 10 Will You work wonders for the dead?
         Shall the dead arise and praise You?  Selah  
 11 Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
         Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
 12 Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?
         And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 
 13 But to You I have cried out, O LORD,
         And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
 14 LORD, why do You cast off my soul?
         Why do You hide Your face from me?
 15 I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
         I suffer Your terrors; 
         I am distraught.
 16 Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
         Your terrors have cut me off.
 17 They came around me all day long like water;
         They engulfed me altogether.
 18 Loved one and friend You have put far from me,
         And my acquaintances into darkness.

As I read this psalm, the most obvious things about the psalm are the sad tone and the way it ends.  Usually psalms that begin sad or despondent are resolved on a happier ending.  The Psalmist is crying out to God to rescue him from the depths of his despair and the Lord is not coming to help.  As evidenced in the bible, the Lord hears the cries of those in need, so I thought, why isn't help coming?  Maybe, God has sent out a cry to His followers to help but no one is listening or paying attention to God's calling and therefore, there isn't anyone to help the Psalmist out of trouble.  This made me think of a story that Christine Caine shared with us during one of her messages at Shine 2010.  A girl that was rescued from the slave trade had been on a tragic journey.  She was put into a shipping container with about 30 girls, some of the girls died in the container.  They were then placed in dinghies to sail illegally into another country and some of the girls drowned.  I think out of the 30 girls, only 6 survived, which they were then beaten and raped repeatedly and forced to service tons of men.  Once this particular girl was rescued, Christine told her of the work that her and countless others were doing to help people just like her and the girl's response was "why didn't you come sooner?"

While reading this psalm, I was imagining that these are the cries that God hears from the women and children that are sex slaves right now.  This is the focus of my fast, that we respond to God's call for warriors who are willing to stand and fight against the brutality, the depravity, and senseless violence against human beings.  God needs us.  We are His hands and His feet in this world.  We are His heart and His body.  We are His soul and His face.
"All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me; 
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns; 
For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation."  Psalm 118:10-14

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Better Than Bisquick Pancakes

I came up with the name for this recipe because I  used to love Bisquick pancake mix.  When I would prepare pancakes from scratch, they never tasted as good.  I used to buy the kind that you add oil and an egg to because I thought that was a little bit healthier, right?  Probably not.  Now that I found that I am allergic to soy and I gave up processed  food, I have created a yummy pancake recipe that tastes better than any pancake mix.  Maybe it tastes so much better because I know what is in them and there are no chemicals or toxins involved.  I make these maybe once a month because they are so rich.  So here is the recipe, my kids love them and you won't need much syrup because they are already sweet.  Instead of pouring maple syrup over them, we dip the pancakes in syrup so we use less syrup (real maple syrup is not cheap).

Whole wheat pancakes

Better Than Bisquick Pancakes (not a low-fat meal)

2 cups all-purpose flour (use 1 cup organic whole wheat flour to add fiber)
2 Tablespoons sugar (I use Fair Trade raw cane sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder (Rumford brand states on the label that the corn starch is non-gmo)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 dashes sea salt
2 ½ cups organic buttermilk (it's the buttermilk that makes these taste so good)
2 organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted organic butter
1 tablespoon flax meal (optional, for added fiber)
Cooking oil (almond oil or organic canola oil work well)
Real Maple syrup (avoid the chemical laden pancake syrups, they are awful)

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix together.  Set aside.
In another bowl, mix buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.
Melt butter in the microwave, 30 seconds.  Stir to melt it.
Pour wet ingredients into dry.  Mix until combined, do not over mix.  Add melted butter and mix together, lightly.  Heat a skillet or griddle, brush lightly with oil.  Once the pan is hot, using a large spoon, scoop batter into pan and let one side brown lightly.  Using a spatula, carefully turn pancake over and lightly brown the other side.  Once cooked, place on a plate in a warm oven to keep the pancakes warm while they all cook.
Serve with maple syrup or fresh fruit and whipped cream*(good for dessert).
Makes enough 4-inch pancakes for 6 people, about 24 pancakes.  You can ½ the recipe for 12 pancakes.  Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated in a skillet or on a griddle.
Add 1 cup blueberries to batter, serve by itself, no syrup.
Add 1 cup chocolate chips, to batter, serve by itself, no syrup.
Sift confectioners sugar over pancakes, with fresh berries or bananas.
Use whatever combination that you like.
*For whipped cream:  1 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, whip with a wire whisk or with a mixer until light a fluffy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How I got to where I am journey, part 3...

I finally got a chance to sit down and start typing again!   I wanted to post a blog everyday or at least every other day but my kids keep me very busy. Here is a link to part 1 and part 2.

DISCLAIMER:  Read at your own risk.  Contains graphic descriptions that may ruin your appetite.

 To pick up from where I left off last time, I had just started back to work and I was under a lot of stress.  I had fallen back into my old pattern of eating, not for health but for emotional satisfaction.  I've always felt a connection to happy memories from certain foods and also some foods just make me happy. Instant gratification actually makes me feel worse in the long run.  I was eating out everyday, eating junk food, desserts, candy, and fast food.  I was just trying to make it through the day and I wasn't watching what I was eating.    I'd always had digestive problems and I would experience episodes every once in a while.  About once a year, I would have a really bad episode and would be out of work for a few days.  Usually I would experience watery stools, an upset stomach, mild stomach cramps, gas, and bloating.  Over the counter medication, like Immodium AD would not work so I would go to my doctor and he always prescribed the same things every year.  I would have watery bowels for 4-5 days until I took the medication and started to eat again.  I would always put myself on the B.R.A.T. diet, which is bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast/bread.  I was never sure what caused the episodes but they usually happened after eating a lot of fried food and spicy food.  I was told about 10 years ago that I had irritable bowel syndrome or IBS but there were never any tests done to confirm it. In February my troubles were just beginning.

This particular episode, in February, was really bad.  I woke up in the middle of the night, vomiting.  My stomach emptied itself and at the same time I was having diarrhea.  I was having intestinal cramping which rivaled child birth pains and I thought I was dying!  I ended up laying in bed with a trash can by my head and I think I woke up every hour to run to the toilet. It was a Friday night because I remember the next day when I called my doctor the office was closed and he didn't have an after hours call service.  Every time I tried to sip water, I vomited.  I couldn't keep down the Immodium AD and all I had was some expired prescription medication.  I wanted to go to the hospital because I couldn't eat or drink anything all day.  I finally decided to try the expired pills but I had to keep it down for at least 20 minutes to give it chance to dissolve and get into my system.   I chose to dry swallow the pills and they didn't come right back out so I just laid down and waited.  Thankfully, it worked!  By dinnertime the cramping had subsided and I was able to sip Gatorade to try to replenish all the fluid I lost.  It was a good thing that it was Saturday because my husband was home and he was able to take care of the kids.  I was not in the condition to take care of anyone that day.  I continued to take the expired meds because they were helping and I was able to eat and drink the next day.  It took about one week to fully recuperate from that episode although I did go to work on Monday and I never went to see the doctor.  I was mad at him because I couldn't get in touch with him over the weekend.

The next month, March, I got sick again. It wasn't as bad as the first time as far as the vomiting, but the cramping was just as bad.  Again I had watery stools that kept me up all night, I vomited the contents of my stomach, and the cramping was so painful. I had some more symptoms that I didn't have last time.  I developed a fever, a cough, and congestion.  I went to the doctor this time and he said I had bronchitis.  I'd never had that before and I was wondering how I had gotten so sick!  He gave me new prescriptions for the cramping and diarrhea medication as well as antibiotics and cough syrup for the bronchitis.  I told him about what happened the previous month and that I had wanted to go the hospital from the pain and nonstop vomiting.  He just looked at me like I was crazy and told me I had a stomach flu/virus.  Funny thing was that no one at work or at my house had any stomach bugs.  I was wondering why I was the only one sick when usually those things spread through family members and co-workers.  So, I took a few days off from work to rest.

I wanted to change whatever I was doing to cause these episodes.  I was still under tremendous stress at work and at home.  I had to make some changes.  I made some decisions that were very hard and not everyone agreed with or understood why I did what I did. Sometimes God requires us to make tough decisions, we have to rely on His guidance and wisdom and not on our own.  I put in my notice at work, my last day would be June 5th, which was the end of the school year.  My husband and I decided that it would be best if I stayed at home.  I tried to eat healthier, like I had back in 2007 but the added fiber only made things worse.  Everything seemed to upset my stomach and sure enough, in April, I had another episode.  I woke up in the middle of the night vomiting, cramping, and having diarrhea.  I took my new medicine as soon as the vomiting stopped and the episode didn't last as long.  I thought, maybe if I start exercising again I'll feel better.  I'd been wanting to start running, so I bought a pair of running sneakers and my friend Christine and I jogged together a couple of times.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to exercise for long because I found out I was pregnant and I was experiencing a miscarriage. What normally should have taken 6 weeks ended up being a 13 week ordeal.  I ended up in emergency surgery for a suspected ectopic pregnanacy.  I ended up missing more work and I returned 1 week before graduation.  2009 was turning out to be the worst year ever!  I was an emotional wreck and I had to say goodbye to my students and co-workers at the end of graduation night.  My strength came from God, I had nothing left by this point.  The day after graduation was an immense relief!  Even though I had my 4 kids home with me, it was still better than being at work and I was able to de-stress over the next 2 months.

I had a trip scheduled at the end of July for my birthday.  I was going to NJ to see my two best friends for a four day weekend with no children!  I managed to keep from getting sick in June and July, which was great!  I got on the plane and flew to Philly.  My best friend, Heidi, picked me up from Philadelphia International Airport but my joy in being in Philly was short-lived.  Before we got to the Walt Whitman Bridge, I had found out that my grandmother died in the night.  I named my daughter Eva after her.  Katherleen Eva Rowswell was 96 when she died.  My mom and I cried on the phone, she had just gotten back from visiting Grandma, in England and now she had to go back for the funeral.  Since I was in NJ, I ate everything that I couldn't get in Florida, all the things that reminded me of happier times.  I am an emotional eater and I love to eat bad food.  I ate cheesesteaks, Wawa hoagies, panzarottis, and pizza.  It all tasted so good.  Little did I know that this would be the last time I would enjoy these foods.  After the four days were over, I flew back home.  Sure enough, by the end of the week I was sick.  This time was different.  It was bad.  The stomach cramps, the vomiting, the diarrhea, were 10x worse than before.  All I could do was lay face-down on the bathroom floor.  It was 3am, everyone was asleep and I wanted to go to the emergency room.  I couldn't move.  I couldn't call out to my husband.  I couldn't reach my medication, which was downstairs in the kitchen.  So I just laid there.  I forced myself up to vomit or sit on the toilet and then laid right back down.  I was sweating and I felt like I was burning up.  I think the pain lasted for 3 hours, time was a blur but I remember that pain like it happened last night.  I knew that this was not normal, it was not IBS, this was something like I had never experienced before and I never wanted to experience it ever again. When I  was finally able to get up off of the floor, I crawled into bed.  It was around 6am.

I called my doctor as soon as his office opened that morning and I went in to see him.  He told me that it was a stomach virus.  Again, no one in the house was sick.  He assured me that I would feel better in 3 days.  I asked him to refer me to a GI specialist.  I called the GI specialist and could only get an appointment 6 weeks away.  When I finally went to go see her, I was still sick!  I had lost 10 pounds, my stomach was still a mess.  I was hardly able to eat and I was having abdominal pain.  I don't know of any stomach virus that lasts indefinitely.  She agreed that it was not a virus and immediately scheduled me for blood work and a ct scan.  I was relieved that she believed me when I said something was wrong.  I had the ct scan a few days later and I had the blood work done,too.  When I went back to see her for the results, she told me that I did not have any inflammation of the bowels which ruled out several diseases.  The blood work however showed that I could have Celiac Disease.

I have to end right here for today.  Reliving all of that has tired me out!  I need a break and hopefully I'll be able to continue in a few days.  I've learned that through our trials and tribulations we become stronger.  God has been by my side through the worst and He is the only reason why I made it through to the other side to be able to share my story with you.
"The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
  My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; shield and the horn of my   salvation, my stronghold.  I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies."  Psalm 18:2-3

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Wild Caught fish fillet with potatoes and asparagus. An organic, soy-free, and GMO-free recipe.


Recently I have been trying to become more aware of where my food comes from and I have learned two things: wild-caught fish is better for the environment, and farmed fish are given antibiotics, which can be harmful to humans.  I am allergic to soy so I cannot eat fried food from restaurants anymore since most eateries use vegetable(soybean) oil for frying food.  That means no more french fries or any of those delightful fried goodies for me.  It works out to be much healthier for me though, which is a good thing.  I occasionally splurge and make fries from scratch and they are worth the effort!

My mom always made fish like this when I was growing up.  I love fish cooked this way!

12 ounces of wild-caught fish.  I used frozen Whole Market Sole from Whole Foods but you can use whitefish, flounder, talapia, or a similar fish.
1 cup of soy-free bread crumbs.  You can use panko bread crumbs or 365 brand of bread crumbs from Whole Foods Market.
1 organic egg
1 tablespoon organic milk
Organic canola oil or almond oil
1/4 tsp Seasoned Salt (without MSG)
1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning.  If you need to avoid sodium use garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper instead.
Organic Russet or Idaho potatoes.  2 small potatoes per person or 1 large potato per person.
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
One bag frozen organic asparagus or 1/2 pound fresh organic asparagus.
1 garlic clove
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wash and peel the potatoes.  Chop them into steak fries, shoestring, or cubes.  Place the potatoes in a large pot and fill the pot with water until the potatoes are just covered.  Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high and simmer until the potatoes start to soften.  You should be able to pierce a piece with a fork but you don't want them to get too soft.  After about 5-8 minutes, drain the water and keep the potatoes in the pot.  Heat a frying pan or skillet with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of oil on medium heat. You may need to turn the heat down if they cook to fast or the oil gets too hot. Once the oil is hot, place as many pieces as will fit in a single layer.  The goal is not to deep fry your food.  Lightly cooking at a lower temperature is much better than deep frying food.  The potatoes shouldn't be covered with oil, you need just enough to cook one side of the french fry.  The potatoes may stick when you put them in the oil so gently move them around a little when you put them in.  Flip the fries to cook evenly once one side begins to brown. It can take up to 10 minutes per each batch of potatoes but keep an eye on them because over-cooking makes them crunchy and hard - you want them lightly browned.  As each batch of fries are cooked, remove them from the oil into a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up the oil.  Immediately upon removing them from the oil, lightly toss them with some sea salt and black pepper, or any other seasoning that you wish.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the egg and milk in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork, until mixed.  In another bowl, place the bread crumbs and seasonings.  Remove the fish from the packaging and using one piece at a time, dip completely in the egg and then place in the bread crumbs.  Make sure each piece is covered well and set aside.  Heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Turn the heat down a bit and place the fish in the pan.  You may need to cook it in batches depending on how big the pan is.  It only takes 2-3 minutes per side, once the bottom starts to brown, flip the fish and cook the other side.  If it gets too dark too quickly, turn the heat down. Once the fish is cooked, remove it from the pan and place on paper towels to soak up the oil.

For the asparagus:  If you are using fresh asparagus, fill a pot halfway with fresh water and bring to a boil.  Snap or cut the bottoms of the asparagus and then place the asparagus in the boiling water.  Blanch them for 1 minute.  If you are using frozen asparagus, boil them until no longer frozen - you don't need to cut the bottoms.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet the fish was cooked in and place 1 minced clove of garlic in the oil for 30 seconds before adding the asparagus.  Sauté until lightly browned and tender. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.  Serve with the fish and fries.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Smoothies: Post-Workout Treat

Smoothie, originally uploaded by The Cooking Activist.
On Saturday mornings I train with a group of people for the upcoming fundraising race, The Be Her Freedom Run. This run benefits the A21Campaign organization that fights human trafficking on the ground. They rescue girls and children from the sex slave trade in Europe. The BHFR is hosted by Celebration Church and last year was the first year for the run.

This group of people, who are fellow members of Celebration Church, call themselves The Malinka Project. My friend Laura is the reason this project exists, it's her heart and her project. Basically, she wanted to get a group of people together that were passionate about the A21 Campaign's cause and train together and motivate each other to run the 4.7 miles of the BHFR. I joined the Malinka Project because I want to run the race and I want to train with people that are just as passionate about ending human trafficking as I. Becoming a part of this group has been an incredible blessing and I am thankful to have met Laura and experienced her passion and fire for this project.

Now that I am officially "in training", I need to make sure that I am eating properly to support my body so that it can operate at it's best. It is hard to run if you don't give your body the right fuel. Smoothies are an excellent way to recover after a tough workout. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, a smoothie is a really good option. I am reminded of the movie Rocky every time I have a smoothie. Just once, I want to add a raw egg to the blender and to see how it tastes! I think it would be pretty gross:-) Be mindful if you buy a smoothie from a store because they add sugar, sometimes a lot of sugar . The new McDonald's smoothies have 44 - 70 grams of sugar! That is about the same as soda!

So here are 2 recipes, one is my favorite and the other is for my husband. He is training for a 150 mile bike race and he burns tons of calories while riding. Today he burned 1800 calories during a 40 mile bike ride! He doesn't need to lose weight so I made him a Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie to replenish those calories. The easiest way to add or subtract calories is with nut and seed butters, peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower, etc.
I buy my organic frozen fruit at Whole Foods Market.

If you want to lose weight:
Strawberry Banana Smoothie(my favorite)
Makes 32 ounces, approx 500 calories - 2 servings
½ frozen banana
5 frozen organic strawberries
10 pieces of frozen organic fruit - pick 2: strawberries, peaches, pineapples, mangos, handful(½ cup equals 5 pieces of fruit) of berries(blueberries, raspberries, etc)
1 tablespoon cashew butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup of whole milk
1 cup of 100% cranberry raspberry juice, no added sweeteners or replacement sweeteners
5 pieces of ice

Put all of the ingredients into the blender. Blend until smooth. Add more juice if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency. Pour into a cup and enjoy. You can place half in the freezer for about 30 minutes so it stays frozen while you drink the rest. My kids love this smoothie.

If you want to maintain or gain weight:
Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
Makes 48 ounces, approx. 1230 calories
2 frozen bananas
2 cups of frozen fruit: peaches and strawberries or any combo you want
3 heaping spoonfuls (6 standard tablespoons) of peanut butter or your favorite nut butter adjust the peanut butter to taste.
1 cup of whole milk or alternate form of dairy: almond, coconut, hemp milk
2 cups of 100% juice, no added sweeteners…
Ice if you want
Add 1 tsp of vanilla for flavor if you want

Add everything to blender except 1 cup of the juice. Blend and add juice as necessary until smoothie is at the desired consistency. Pour in a cup and drink after a long run, bike ride, or when large amounts of calories are burned. This has a lot of peanut butter because of the protein and calories.

Be careful when buying fruits. You should know which to buy organic and which don't have to be organic. Here is a link to a slide-show for more information.