The struggle is already real

We have finally moved full-time onto our property! We are there. And, as my husband says, “it is one thing after another.” Moving was hard enough, but we also got a puppy. Maybe not the wisest decision ever. So, the dog has peed on the bed two nights in a row. It doesn’t sleep through the night. I am having to adjust my entire life and work schedule to try to take care of the dog. To top it off, we just got hot water last night, the gas keeps acting strange (works sometimes, doesn’t work sometimes), I have a completely new routine, and I haven’t figured out cooking. Now, I am coming to work mildly dirty and I cant find my work clothes.

#dirtyshoesdon'tcare

#dirtyshoesdon’tcare

The only light in the tunnel is that I found my sunglasses. Next week I have to be out of town for two days for work and orchestrating the dog and the kids and our new commute is like a symphony in progress. I have cried about it several times (just today). Oh and there was a coyote on one of the cars two nights ago.

There are some amazing things like the sweet face of the new puppy, all the stars in the sky, a sense of purpose, and the great view. But right now we are in the struggle phase, and I am not having fun. My husband looks miserable. The kids have been nonstop complaining about commutes and changes to schedules and sleeping arrangements. I know it is going to get easier and that this is the biggest change of our lives. I just wish it would get easier faster!

 

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How to choose your property

When we set out to buy property, it was overwhelming. How on Earth do we choose the right property that we are going to live on for the rest of our lives? How will we know we found the right one? There are so many things to think about and consider.

I told my husband when we first thought buying property might become a reality that I wanted a bathtub, a view, and a fireplace. Now, those are not helpful things in choosing a property. But that is what I knew I wanted.

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So we started really thinking about what we wanted on property. I read a thousand blogs (I don’t even think that is an exaggeration) and watched so many YouTube videos. We also called around to the county building department. AND, we talked to people who lived here in town and the surrounding areas.

One of my friends lives on 100 acres. When she moved onto her property, she didn’t have water or electricity or a house. I spent a lot of time talking to her about her experience when she first moved onto her property. She didn’t have a shower or a real toilet for more than year. I sat down and really started thinking about not having a shower or a real toilet. Is this something that I could live with? Ehhh. I’m not so sure.

Of course, another major consideration is money. What can we afford to do when? Our ultimate goal is to be 100% off grid. However we can’t put out the money for solar energy or a generator right off the bat. It is a very difficult process to try to prioritize your needs. We looked at many properties before we finally settled on ours. Here are our top considerations:

#1: Water

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Our number one concern was water. We live in the high desert of Colorado. Water can be expensive to have trucked in, and we weren’t sure we could afford a large cistern system right away. Drilling our own well was out of cost question. So, we wanted to find a property that already had water. We looked at several different properties. Ultimately, our property has a well. That fits our needs. We had the well tested prior to purchasing the property. It is a good well.

#2: County/City regulations

No lie. We spent hundreds of hours researching the cities and counties near our home to find out which had the cheapest and easiest building regulations. Unfortunately, because of our other desires, we ended up in a county that is a little more expensive and restrictive than we would have liked. We really made a compromise on this one. So, this was definitely our #2 consideration, but we ended up not getting what we wanted. My advice to you is to really research the county codes and the building permit cost. These are things that can really change the timeline and cost of your project and even the project itself. For us, we are going to end up spending more than $12,000 in permitting costs which is way more than we wanted to spend.

#3: The Road

We live in Colorado. The weather is not always perfect. We get snow, sleet, hail, rain. Accessing the property has to be a concern. More than that, I wanted to know if I could get off the property in the winter or would I always be snowed in? Then, we only have one four-wheel drive car. So, if the road is a dirt road, it has to be a well maintained dirt road. Considering the weather, your car, and the road conditions is really important. We found a property we loved, but the road was too rough, and we would have never been able to use the road for our needs.

#4: The commute

We definitely considered this. My husband says the commute shouldn’t matter. But the truth is that it matters a lot to me. We looked at properties that were about 45 minutes away, but our children still attend school in town and I have a job here. Our property we settled on is a brisk 17 minutes away. That is much more manageable. In order to get this commute, we had to compromise on some other issues.

#5: Other amenities

We eventually want to be off grid, but it isn’t financially feasible on the front end. We want to have access to electricity and to the internet. So we were willing to compromise on this point, but we didn’t have to.

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Happy Homesteader: Why we are moving to property

I have a life update! My life is taking a new direction. A drastic change. We are living in Colorado. This has been a huge adjustment. We are 3,000 miles away from our friends family. Here in Colorado, there are wide open spaces, mountains, crisp air, and cheap land.

For as long as Robert and I have been married, we have talked about wanting to have a piece of land to call our own. We spent so much time driving around Georgia, Florida, and Texas looking for a little piece of land to call our own. But, alas, we could never afford it and it was always just out of reach.

Even here, in Colorado, we just couldn’t pull the money together to buy land. But that didn’t stop us from dreaming. We watched YouTube videos, read blogs, watched documentaries, and kept hoping there would be a way.

Finally, something changed. A family member wanted to buy land. It worked out that we could buy the land together and both live on the property. It was a dream come true.

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A picture of our property and the one building that was already on the property.

The question still remains on why we are choosing to embark on this adventure. (And it already is an adventure). So here are the top five reasons we are starting this new phase in our lives!

1. To not pay a mortgage/rent payment. We want to live rent free. Building a home on our property is the easiest way for that to happen.

2. Being naked. Ok that is kind of a joke. But only kind of. We want freedom to do our own thing. We don’t want to be tied down by people telling us what we can do to our house or our yard. We want to be able to walk outside naked if we want to. We want the wide open spaces.

3. The environment. I feel like everything I do always comes back to this. But we want to be sustainable. Our property is not 100% off grid right now. We do have access to mainstream electricity. This is something we want to change in the future. But, we want to be sustainable. We want to have a garden, compost, reduce our garbage. Live off the land.

4. The view. This one isn’t so existential. I really want to see a beautiful view everyday. We have a panoramic view of the mountains. Everyday, I get to see that.

5. Family. We are going to live on the property with family. We get to be close to our family. We have been working on getting the property ready for 2 weekends and we have spent so much time with our kids working toward a common goal. It is amazing to have that opportunity.

For now, I am going to continue to think about food. I will continue to post about food. But I am going to focus on the “Live Well” part of this blog and write more about my homesteading experience.  Join me, it’ll be fun!

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Our first day on the property. We are so excited to get started!

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How to make a Flax Egg

Always wanted to make a really good egg replacer, but didn’t want to spend a fortune at the grocery store for those fancy brands?

Have no fear! Use the Flax Egg. The great thing about the flax egg is that it can be used in savory and sweet dishes. Not only that but it is also super easy, super fast, and super cheap.

Method 1:

For 1 Egg–

2 TBSP Ground Flax Seed

3 TBSP Water

Mix it together with a fork and let it sit for 2 minutes until it is gooey.

 

 

 

Method 2: 

Use whole flax seeds.

Buy a coffee grinder that you plan to only use for spices.

Grind up said Flax Seeds.

Follow Method 1.

 

It is seriously that easy. I want to say as easy as pie, but pie isn’t easy, so easy as . . . smiling.

 

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Menu Planning Like a Boss

You can download my weekly menu plan here! I also made a video on how I made this menu plan, so visit my youtube channel to check that out!   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfRLJ11PwzDe4rE5Ut11DKQ

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Recipe Makeover: Delicious Gluten Free, Vegan Cookies (Monster cookies)

My daughter, as you may know if you have been reading this site for awhile is gluten free. My older daughter’s friend’s mother makes these monster cookies based off a recipe published by Bob’s Red Mill. They are gluten free, but they aren’t vegan. They are loaded with butter and sugar and eggs. But according to my children, they taste like crack cocaine, not that they know what that tastes like either. I bet it does, literally since sugar and the like are more addictive than cocaine. Anyway, off my high horse. I decided in this week’s batch cooking during a snow day (yes, we have ANOTHER snow day in Dallas) that I would attempt to recreate these little fan favorites. We shall transform these monster cookies and they shall become the belle of the ball. Let the transformation commence!

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Original Recipe published by Bob’s Red Mill
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You can find the recipe by clicking here

Ingredients

1 c. Peanut Butter
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 & 1/4 c. gluten free rolled oats
3/4 c. Gluten free all purpose baking flour
2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. peanuts
1 & 1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. raisins

Directions

In a large bowl, beat together the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine rolled oats, flour, xanthan gum, and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the peanuts, chocolate chips and raisins.
Drop by large spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° F for 10 to 12 minutes turning pan around at 5 minutes.


Ok, so that was it. These delicious monster cookies that literally disappear before your very eyes if my daughter brings home a batch. I actually made a batch sans eggs using egg replacer and earth balance, and they were amazing. Like OMG amazing. Of course they were. Did you see how much sugar and butter are in those things?! So, the quest began, and here it is. The monster cookies 2.0. But monsters are cool, so I’m not changing the name. Boogey monster cookies.

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Boogey Monster cookies
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Ingredients

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. mashed ripe banana
.5 c. maple syrup
.75 c. unrefined sugar
.5 c. milled flax seeds (or 6 TBSP. ground chia seeds)
4 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. rolled oats
1 c. all purpose gluten free flour
3 tsp. baking powder
.5 c. vegan chocolate chips

Directions

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I’m lazy. Super lazy. Ain’t nobody got time for dishes. So behold the wonder of one bowl cookies. Preheat oven to 350° F. Put some parchment paper on a cookie sheet. In a big ‘ol bowl, mash the bananas. Add the peanut butter, maple syrup, flax seed, and vanilla extract and stir until mixed. Add in the rest of the ingredients. The key is to distribute the baking powder, so I add that first and sprinkle it evenly over the wet ingredients. Mix until everything is wet. This is a very, very wet batter.

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Spoon onto  your baking sheet and flatten with the back of your spoon. They won’t spread out because of the oats, so you have to flatten them. Bake for 11-13 minutes. They will still look tan on top but be browning on the bottom. They will still be soft. They will firm up as they cool, I promise. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two and then transfer to a cooling rack. Don’t have a cooling rack? Just set them on a cool counter or plate.

 


I seriously believe cookies should be no fail and the only time ingredients should be mixed separately is if you are making a cake (or cupcakes) and they really matter because you are taking them to your kids’ school or a wedding or something. These cookies aren’t going to mess up. The best part . . . My daughter’s friend was over from across the street building snowmen in the yard. She said the cookies are amazing. She asked how I make everything taste so good. So yes, they still have sugar. A little bit. Quite frankly, you could cut the white sugar in half or probably eliminate it. I am going to work on the sugar and keep cutting it back. I will update the next time I make these on how less sugar works.  Anyway, these cookies are a win!

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Unbeatable, One Bowl, Oat Snack Cookies that you can’t mess up

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As you can see in the title, I can’t oversell these. I mean, they are awesome. Like you might flip out when you taste them, so make sure you have a cheer mat near by. You will be all like

Self, are you sure there isn’t butter and cream and sugar and stuff in these cookies?
No self, I’m sure, these are like the healthiest cookies ever.
Nah, self, there is maple syrup.
But like, self, did you do the math, there is like literally a teaspoon per cookie, yo.

Then you will start doing flips. I used to teach SAT prep classes. I would bring in these cookies because the kids always wanted to try something vegan. After everyone had tried one, I would have them do math problems to get the leftover cookies. It would be all out math war. They were very popular cookies. So, you could bring these to an Omni gathering at work or school and no one would be the wiser and everyone would gobble them up and ask for more.

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Even Pegacorns (Unicorn/Pegasus) Love Oat snacks

You can’t mess these cookies up. You just basically throw everything in the bowl. You cannot mess it up. If they are too runny, put them in a casserole dish and make bars.  If they aren’t moist enough, add more applesauce. If you undercook them, there is nothing in there that will hurt you and you can either throw them back in or they taste good a little raw. If you overcook them, they are a little crunchy, but still yummy. No problem. You can not mess them up. So even beginner bakers will love these cookies.

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Told Ya. One bowl wonders. P.S. Yes, I look tired. I was cooking all day. Sorry peeps 🙁

In other words, if you are new to vegan baking and are super nervous, then these cookies are for you.

As usual there is a helpful video here

http://youtu.be/tC7tpMJO9Ss

Unbeatable Oat Cookies

Ingredients

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups oat flour (you can make your own, so don’t let this stop you)
1/2 hemp seeds (alt. chia seeds, pumpkin seeds or no seeds)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
(alt. use pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon and nutmeg)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup apple sauce
non dairy chocolate chips to taste

Directions

This is a one bowl deal, so only dirty one bowl, don’t go getting fancy on me. Preheat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl put oats, oat flour*, hemp seeds, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and stir until mixed.

*If you don’t have oat flour, put some rolled oats or regular oats in your blender or food processor and blend until flour. Seriously, it is that easy.

Add in the apple sauce, maple syrup, and chocolate chips. Mix until all the ingredients are mixed together and the batter is moist.

Form into cookie ball shapes, and place on the cookie sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes or until firm and slightly crispy. Cool on a wire rack. (Don’t have a wire rack? Don’t worry, just cool them on your counter.)

Put them in a freezer safe container and throw them in the freezer . . . if you don’t eat them all before then!

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Beans, beans . . . The musical fruit? Batch cooking Pinto Beans

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When I was a kid my grandpa would sing this little song

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
the more you eat
The more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel.
So eat your beans at every meal!

And we loved to eat our beans. For our family, that meant, putting some pinto beans on the stove with a big ‘ol ham hock and having at it. Well, I’m vegan now, but I still love me some pinto beans, and you don’t even miss the ham hock. For serious. Because of the magical ingredient . . . liquid smoke. They are so yummy.

One of the funniest memories I have, although it wasn’t funny at the time, is of my dad burning some pinto beans.

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Me (Middle) and my mom and dad last summer.

He had hurt his back, it was the dead of winter, a log fell off the fire and was burning our brand new carpet and the beans were going up in flames. Looking back on it now, it is something straight out of National Lampoons, then it wasn’t so funny. But my dad is hilarious and can do no wrong (my mom just screamed, “what am I, chopped liver?”) so it is so funny now.

Now to the beans of it all. My bean making method is traditional and therefore controversial. There is a new group of cooks who say you need not soak or quick soak your beans. They throw their beans in pressure cookers and say presoaking is for babies. But, you know what, I cry a lot, so call me a baby. I presoak. I like it like that. I quick soak. I like it like that too. Trust me, my beans are the bomb worthy of the name musical fruit, so put that in your pressure cooker and well cook it.

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You can find my delightful how to video here:

http://youtu.be/MswtU1ykLfo

 

Batch Cooking Pinto Beans

Ingredients

5 cups pinto beans
3 veggie low sodium broth/ bouillon cubes
3-4 TBS. no salt seasoning
6 dashes liquid smoke
water

Directions

1. Take 5 cups of pinto beans and rinse in cold water. Put in large pot. Cover with water. Make sure water is covering beans by double (the water is twice as high as the beans).
2. Bring the water and beans to a rolling boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Then turn the heat off, and let the beans sit for 2 hours.
3. Drain the beans and rinse them in cold water and put them back in the pot. Cover the beans with water and make sure the water is at least six inches above the beans. Keep checking them throughout the cooking process to ensure the water hasn’t been absorbed or evaporated.  If it has, add more liquid.
4. Add the broth cubes, seasoning, and liquid smoke.
5. Bring the water and beans and seasoning to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let them simmer for 2-3 hours or until the beans are soft and creamy tasting.
6. Drain the beans and rinse them in cold water. There will still be seasoning on them, and you aren’t trying to rinse of the seasoning. I just run cold water over them for a few seconds.
7. Scoop them into freezer safe ziplocks or containers. I use 3 cup servings based on my large family, but you can portion them out based on the size of your family.
8. To reheat, either thaw on the counter or in the fridge. You can also just put them in a pan with a bit of water or broth and soften them up. Enjoy!

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Oil Free Hummus (It is what you’ve been waiting for)!

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The number one recipe people request is an oil free hummus. Well in my world, we call that party hummus or just plain delicious. But there is something weird and off about oil free hummus. It is in the consistency. There is something missing in the taste. And well, let’s be frank, I haven’t recreated oil laden hummus here. It can’t be done.

hummus photo 2But this hummus is pretty darn delicious. You can add a few spices or a some add ons like jalapenos or red peppers and it is even better. After the first batch, you won’t miss the stuff from Costco. Ok, I’m a liar. You won’t miss it very much. And that is a step in the right direction.

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You can even feed this hummus to regular folks who don’t follow your whole foods, plant based (do they call it your hippie eatin lifestyle like they do in Texas?). Everyone will love it. So let’s quit the chatter and start the hummus party in your mouth.

 

As usual, you can watch a hilarious and informative video here:

http://youtu.be/0jf3hPg9jek

 

Roasted Garlic (Oil Optional)

Ingredients

1 head of garlic
1 tsp of olive oil (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°. (If you are doing this while multi-tasking, 350° works just fine). Cut the top of the head of garlic off. Drizzle oil over the garlic if using. Wrap garlic in foil and roast until tender, about 35 minutes.

Oil Free, Salt Free (Low fat) Hummus

Ingredients

6 cups of chickpeas (4 cans if using cans)
2 TBSP Tahini (optional for a lower fat version)
1 head of roasted garlic (alternative 3-4 cloves non-roasted garlic)
Juice of 6 limes or 2-3 lemons
1 tsp. chipotle seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. no salt seasoning
2 c. vegetable broth or water
pepper to taste
(optional ingredients: roasted red peppers, jalapeno, nutritional yeast)

Directions

In a large food processor combine all the ingredients except the water or broth. Run the food processor on low while slowly adding in the water or broth. You will see the hummus start to “loosen” up and mix together. Add enough liquid so it is smooth. You may need to occasionally scrape down the sides.

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Vegan Marinara Sauce — Batch Cooking (Oil free, Salt Free)

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Everyone has a favorite marinara sauce. I like to say you have a favorite you buy in a bottle and favorite you make at home. The problem is the bottle one usually has tons of oil, salt, and sugar (even high fructose corn syrup), and sometimes when you become vegan making your homemade sauce becomes a real challenge.

Then there is that ever present problem of having to let it simmer on the stove all day long. You have to watch it and taste it and baby it like a child, and well, let’s face it, it never turns out like grandmas. Well fear no more. I have the solution for you.

It is a salt free (well no added salt), oil free, crock pot version of the classic. It is so easy to make. And it is seriously yummy. I will say, I am not a fan of marinara. My mom doesn’t like it, so we didn’t eat it a lot growing up. I’m super picky about which ones I like. This one is so tasty. It really is a crowd pleaser. My husband fancies himself a marinara aficionado and it even passes muster with him. What is even better is that it freezes really well. It reheats well. It works on pasta and pizza and even on eggplant and potatoes. It is just great.

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To see the video click the link below:

Oil free, Salt free, Crock Pot Batch Marinara (um that needs a better name)

Ingredients

84 ounces of crushed tomatoes (that is three of the big cans)
1- 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 of the small cans of tomatoes paste
8 cloves of garlic
2 TBSP dried basil (or one bunch of fresh)
1 medium diced onion
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. chipotle seasoning (or red pepper flakes)
4 diced carrots
4 diced celery stalks
1/2 zucchini
1/2 yellow squash
2 mushrooms sliced
1 handful of spinach

Directions

In a large crockpot set to low heat, add in the tomatoes. Then add in the rest of the ingredients and stir. Put on the lid and let cook for 8-10 hours.

Once the mixture has cooked. Let cool for at least 30 minutes (if you can wait). Mix in a blender in batches for about 10 seconds to get a finer consistency. This really helps meld the flavors and is key to making this sauce freeze well and taste delicious.

Add to glass jars (or another type of freezer safe container). If using glass jars, make sure to let the sauce cool completely before putting it in the freezer. To reheat, is best to defrost in the freezer to prevent breakage of the jars. Just reheat on stove top.
Enjoy!

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Tofu Scramble Breakfast Burrito (Batch Cooking)

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As part of our batch cooking series, I bring to you . . . Tofu Scramble. My husband loves tofu scramble. Like in a major way. This is great make ahead food. It is perfect for breakfasts. It is yummy for lunch. It is even perfect for breakfast for dinner. Oh yeah, awesome for camping, and it heats up great on a camp stove or on a fire. The best part is that these babies freeze well. My tip is to wrap them in parchment paper instead of foil and then pop them in a freezer bag or freezer container. Then you can just pop them straight in the microwave and reheat them for about 45 seconds. Badda bing . . . breakfast is done. tofuimage1

 

To see the video on how to make these click below

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tofu Scramble for Batch Cooking ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ingredients

2 blocks of Tofu (I use mori-nu firm, but any firm will do)

6 TBS. nutritional yeast
2 TBS spicy mustard
1 small onion diced (alt. 2 tsp. onion powder)
1 bell pepper (optional)
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
6ish dashes of liquid smoke
1/2 tsp. turmeric
4 pinches black
salt veggies of choice (I generally use mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes but anything on hand is good)
Salsa or hot sauce to taste
20 tortillas
parchment paper or foil

Directions

Start with a medium to large sized sauté pan on medium heat. Dry (with no water or oil) sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft. Add in the tofu and crumble it. Add in the spices and stir to coat all the tofu. Add in your veggies of choice and cook until heated through. Once the mix is cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to place a spoonful down the center of your tortilla shell (we use fajita size flour shells, but corn shells work as well). Add salsa or hot sauce to taste. Wrap it up without tucking in the ends. Wrap the burritos in parchment paper or foil and place in a freezer safe bag or container.

To reheat, place the burrito in the microwave or in the stove. If microwaving remove from foil first (if using foil) and start with 45 seconds. If reheating for camping, use foil if reheating in a camp fire. If using a stove top, remove all wrapping and reheat in pan on stove top. Makes about 20 small burritos.

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Cheap Vegan Taco Tuesday (on Sunday) 70 cents per portion (Cheapamole recipe)

Over here at Live, Eat, Be Well it is everybody’s favorite day: Taco Tuesday . . . only its Sunday, but still . . . TACOS! Who doesn’t love a good taco? We love ours piled high with goodies like tomatoes and guacamole. But let’s face it avocados are expensive. Not only that but they are also really high in fat content, so you can’t eat 10 of them in one sitting. Or at least, I can’t. At the store this week, the big avocados were 1.20 per avocado. That could sky rocket the cost of meal as well as skyrocket the fat content.IMG_2211

“But, Heather, they are so yummy,” you say. I am totally with you. IMG_2212More than you could ever know. In fact, right behind oranges, I would say the lovely little avocado is my favorite food. So, when we are vegan on the cheap, we have to find an alternative. So what is on the menu for Taco Tuesday (on Sunday)?

Oat taco filling (from Oatrageous Oatmeals cookbook): It has all sorts of yummy stuff like steel cut oats and kidney beans.
Assortment of taco shells (meaning flour or corn)
Topping selection: Tomatoes, lettuce, onion
And FAKEAMOLE aka CHEAPAMOLE aka fake, cheap guacamole.IMG_2210

Fake guacamole? I can hear your skepticism, but trust me, just go with it. It is an avocado free guacamole-ish topping/dip. It tastes wonderful and is cheap and is low in fat. (Well practically fat-free). So it is a totally doable option.

Here is the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyFJKGfxteA&feature=youtu.be

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Recipe: Faka-cheapa-mole
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Ingredients:
2 Garlic Cloves (minced)
1.5 cups frozen peas (thawed)
4 ounces canned diced green chilies (alternative: jalapeno or cayenne pepper)
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp. Cumin
2 TBSP onion (or to taste) (diced)
One small tomato (diced)
1/4 cup of cilantro (optional, to taste)

Instructions:
In a food processor (you can use your blender, but you may need to add some water, so I think the food processor works better), combine garlic, peas, green chilies. Process until smooth. Scrap down the side of the processor, add lime juice cumin. Process again until mixed well and smooth. Finally add in the onions and cilantro. I like to add this into the food processor, but you can optionally just mix them in with a spoon. If adding to the processor, pulse until well mixed in (just a few pulses). Dump out into a bowl and let it cool its heels in the fridge for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, stir in tomatoes, and eat!

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Grocery Planning (One Week Menu Plan) $147 (including some staples)

Grocery shopping can be stressful. Creating a grocery budget can just about send you into a full blown panic attack. Don’t ever look at the receipt, am I right? No, of course not. You can make grocery shopping fun and cheap with just a little bit of planning.

The first thing you want to do is review the ads for the best sales. What is on sale for cheap? Figure that out and then plan your weekly menu. Find my menu below. I spent $147 for all the groceries for this menu plus a few extras. You can watch  my grocery haul video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGNs7geSOjg&feature=youtu.be

 

And here is our menu for the whole week. As you can see, you can eat yummy food for cheap.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Mom/Dad Pre-Breakfast Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice Apple/Ginger   Shot; Green Juice
Breakfast Grapefruit   Juice/ Pancakes Oatmeal Smoothie Oatmeal Smoothie Oatmeal Smoothie
Dad Lunch Sandwiches Beans/Rice;   Lettuce Boat; Fruit; Treat Beans/Rice;   Lettuce Boat Fruit; Treat Enchiladas;   Fruit; Treat Beans/Rice; Lettuce Boats; Fruit; Treat Beans/Rice;   Lettuce Boats; Fruit; Treat Baked   Potatoes
Mom Lunch Sandwiches Soup Soup Enchiladas Soup Soup Baked   Potatoes
Kids Lunch Sandwiches Sandwiches Mac-N-Cheese Mac-N-Cheese Rice/Veggies Rice/Veggies Baked   Potatoes
Dinner Oat   Taco with fakeamole Very   Veggie Burgers; Fries; Salad Enchiladas;   Salad Mac-N-Cheese;   Sauteed Greens Tofu   and Rice; Steamed Veggies Pita   Pizza; Salad Nachos
Snacks Muffins Muffins Muffins Snackles Snackles Snackles Treat   (open)
Other Snacks Brownies Hummus Chickpea   Salad
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I can’t have a party… It’s too expensive (Cheap Vegan Party Menu)

Happy New Year’s! 2015 is going to be epic. I can feel it in my bones. It is going to be the year of the VEGAN! So, I just did my shopping for our New Year’s Eve party tonight. It is just going to be a family affair. Most of what we are making will last us tonight and tomorrow, but I am just going to cost it out as one party. It is going to be so much FUN. We are doing finger foods and playing games. When the games are done, we are doing an 80’s movie night marathon! I’m so excited (just in case all my exclamation points didn’t suggest that).

Here is the menu:

P1010318A veggie platter with celery, carrots, cucumber, radishes.
Vegan Caesar dip. P1010339
A olive and pickle tray with black and green olives and pickles.P1010315
Homemade chips and a sour cream dip.
Homemade chips with salsa.
Baked homemade fries.
Virgin bloody Mary’s.

But Heather, you say, that sounds a little rich for my blood. Trust me. I got enough food to feed 10 people, but it will be our party food and probably some leftover stuff for tomorrow. The grand total is $35.00. Yep. That is correct. $35.00. That makes it $7/per person including drinks. The best part is that is it will carry over to tomorrow. Yeah! Let’s ring that New Year’s bell with an inexpensive, cruelty free treat.

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New Series for 2015! Cheap Vegan.

I am a member of many vegan facebook groups. One of the recurrent themes is about cost and grocery bills. After my daughter’s 16th birthday and Christmas, our own food budget was feeling a pinch. I have been feeding our family of 5 and sometimes 6 on about $10 a day . . . add in some staples and we are talking $100 a week. We are eating delicious foods. For the start of 2015, I am going to post at least one of our meals a day with a per portion cost. I will do portions because then you can see how many people it feeds. For example, if it is 4 portions, that means I made it for 4 people. Sometimes there are leftovers, and I will note that as well. Then I am going to do a What I eat in a day video once per week with the cost break down. I’m going to do that for all of January. I’ll start with a teaser meal from today. Today we had a delicious lunch that consisted of a salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, green onion, radishes) with Quick 6 salad dressing (homemade), two tacos with corn tortilla shells, refried beans, sweet potato, tomatoes, hot sauce. It was $1.11 per portion for 3 portions.

dindin1  You should totally eat this because it is delicious. And until tomorrow. . . Live, eat, and be well.

 

P.S. Here is a link to the dressing. In our family, we use orange juice and half the miso.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0GrSr63wt8

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My year of transformation: Day 1.

I wrote 9-8-2014 on the front of a blue journal because that is the day I died (figuratively, of course). I will never be that person again. I am going to be someone new. I have been watching a cheesy TV show about transforming your life. At first it was kinda fun to watch. The more I watched it, the more I thought, “wow, I really want to hike that mountain or visit that place or do that.” The people on the show kept saying that it was time to stop existing and start living. The more they said it, the more I started to cry. Every episode turned into heart wrenching sobs. That is not a normal reaction to a TV show. I am never going to be on a TV show that transforms your life. I have to do that for myself. I have to be the one to make the change. Maybe no one will ever know that I have made the change, but I will know. CAM00153

So, how am I going to make the change? I have no freaking idea. That is the truth. Today, day one, I found out that my child is struggling in school. She has never had a problem, and I feel deeply responsible. I just thought, I will never be a good mom, a good person, a success. But that is the thinking that got me into this. So, I figured out what I can do. It may not solve the problem, but I made some new house rules, I went and got her a workbook and some flashcards, and I talked to her about it. Even if it doesn’t solve the problem, I took a step. I realized that this is how I am going to transform my life. What I try may not always work, but I can try things and try to solve the problem and one step at a time, the problem will be solved.

CAM00163 (1)

Me on Day One!

There are so many things I want to do: lose weight, finish my dissertation, find my dream job, publish a book, have an organized house. But the problem I find myself in is that I always try to do everything at once and then when I get overwhelmed or fail, I just give up. But not this time. I am going to see this through.

So, that begs the question what I am going to do first. Well, my sleeping pattern really messes up my life. I realized that it messes with my work schedule, my eating schedule, my fitness. Every aspect of my life is touched by my sleeping issues. So, that is definitely first on my list. I am going to start going to bed at 10 pm and waking up at 6 am. That is my plan. Of course, I have a day this week that totally throws that off because of a family situation where I will have to get up at 4 am. Usually, I would just say, “I’ll start after that.” But I’m not going to say that this time. I am going to stick to it. 10 pm seems so early to me. Like insane in the membrane early, but it is something that I can do. I think it will take about a week or two to retrain my mind and body to this new sleeping schedule.

The other thing I am starting with is journaling. A few years ago I took this leadership class, and the woman who led the class said the most important thing you can do is journal every morning for 3 pages even if you just throw them away right after. I never took up the habit. Then I was reading an article the other day where the author said the number one thing successful people have in common is journaling. I know that is probably true. So, I am going to start journaling. Today I got to half a page before I just couldn’t keep going. Tomorrow I am going to try to get to a whole page, and by next week work my way up to three pages. Baby steps folks, baby steps.

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Can dancing change your life?

I have never gone out dancing without my husband. I’ve just never gone out by myself. He doesn’t dance, and I love to dance. I am not a good dancer. In fact, I’m down right bad. But I love it. I love to just move your body to the beat. It makes me so happy. So, when my friend asked me to go out dancing on Saturday night, Robert said, “you should go, I’ll stay home with the kids.” It was so much fun. I spent 15 bucks and had a great time.

So, what does all this matter? Saturday night made me have this strange realization (times two) and I want to share them with you.

dancing

Realization One

So, I have always loved dancing. We go out dancing maybe six times per year. The thing I always hated about going dancing was just getting winded and sore and not being able to keep up. I hated to go and just feel out of breath and tired. It was embarrassing. I think it kept me from really enjoying it as frequently as I would have liked to.

A few years ago, I started going to Zumba every day. I was so excited when we went out dancing and I could actually dance through two or three songs. I felt so empowered.

Now, you all know, I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like to. I just haven’t been doing enough. Well, I was so worried about going dancing this weekend because my friend is in the fitness industry, and I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I almost said no because I was so nervous about it.

Well, guess what happened? I danced for three hours straight. I mean, really danced. It was glorious. I thought I would wake up ready to die the next day. But I didn’t. I was barely even sore. I am convinced it is because I have such an improved diet. I think my clean diet helped me have more energy, faster recovery. I am so proud of myself. But what I got out of this dance adventure is that I can do it. I can work out and improve my fitness. I don’t need to feel embarrassed or worried or ashamed. I can do it.

Eating healthy has really changed my body and my life.

Realization Two

I would never go out to get hit on. I am married and deeply love my husband. However, on Saturday night, I got hit on 8 times. EIGHT! By eight different people. Every time I go out, I am always comparing myself. I always feel like my friends’ fat wingman. Not Saturday. I was there with a beautiful girl who is a fitness instructor. I was not the fat wingman. I still don’t feel like the prettiest girl in the room, but I felt so wonderful to know that people do find me attractive, and I am not always second fiddle. It felt really good. What I got out of it was that I need to just stop looking in the mirror and finding something I don’t like when plainly there is plenty to like.

So . . . dancing . . . it does wonders for the  soul.

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10 Best Kitchen Utensils

I find the utensils you have in your kitchen can be super awesome in helping cook delicious meals. But I’ve also found that all you really need is a knife and bowl. That being said, I love my kitchen utensils. I classify them in two categories: cheap items that you can just purchase on a whim and expensive items that take a bit more savings. This list is in no particular order. Check out my shop for more information on where to purchase each of these items.

Expensive Items

1. Vitamix

Vitamix

Vitamixs are expensive. No doubt about it. But it is totally worth saving up for. I mean . . . totally. I use this machine everyday, multiple times a day. It is great. You can make banana ice cream, hummus, smoothies, soups, dressings, sauces, love. I mean anything you can think of. The great thing about a high speed blender is that is pulverizes everything, so no strawberry seeds to worry about. Greens are made smooth. Frozen things . . . no problem. If you can’t afford a Vitamix, the Ninja blender gets the job done (just not as well).

 

 

 

 

2. Cuisinart

food processor

I thought after I purchased my Vitamix that I would never use my food processor again. Boy was I wrong. Food processors are great for a whole host of things that the blender just doesn’t quite master. It is great when you are making things chunky (like a chunky applesauce). It is also much better for making things like bean or tempeh burgers, and I even prefer it for some dips. You may want to experiment with different recipes and see which ones work best in which machine. The food processor also has the cool chopping and grating attachments. I really don’t use them that often, but when I am making a lot of chopped vegetables (especially around the holidays), I use it all the time.

 

 

 

3. Dehydrator

dehydrator

I also thought I would never use a dehydrator. Nobody’s got time for that. I had this old Ronco food dehydrator. I tried it out a few times. Man did it suck. Nothing got evenly dehydrated. Everything stuck to the trays. I just hated it. I was constantly rotating the trays. It was quite awful. Then I saw some youtube videos and they used the Excalibur. It was way out of my price range, of course. I told my husband about my desire to try a different kind of food dehydrator, and he was on the hunt. He found one on ebay (the really expensive one for the price of the cheap one) that was missing a tray. He bought it for my birthday. I love it. I made apples, bananas, pears, crackers. The best part is that when I find fruit on sale, I can purchase it and freeze some and dehydrate some. This works like magic.

 

 

4. Knife set

knives

One thing I learned from a good friend of mine is–always invest in a good knife set. He told me that when I was really young, and I always took it to heart. Now that being said, the knife set you see pictured, is the knife set I actually own. It only cost about $40. The reason I like it is that it is dishwasher safe and sharpenable (is that a word?) So, I like them because they aren’t bank breaking and I can sharpen it as often as need be. Having good knives makes food preparation so much easier. And ease of use is a huge factor in how often we cook.

 

 

5. Juicer

juicer

I don’t use my juicer everyday, but I’m glad I have it. I have the one that is pictured and it cost about 100 bucks or so. I like it because when I find a good deal on items, I can juice them. You can make green juice ice cubes to throw in soups or make some amazing apple juice. It works good enough, and I like having it around. My husband works outside, and in the summer in Texas he gets terrible leg cramps. So, he likes to take a green juice to work with him. It works wonders on helping him keep his electrolytes balanced. So, this is a handy tool to have around.

 

 

 

Inexpensive Items

6. Citrus juicer

citrus

I do use my citrus juicer everyday. It gets orange juice out like nobody’s business. It works better for oranges than a regular juicer. It is used often. It is also great if you find a deal on lemons or limes and want to juice a bunch of those at once.

 

 

 

 

7. Spiralizer

spiral

This little tool is cool, but a luxury. I like it because you can make curly fries (albeit really thin fries). You can also make curly carrots for salads. But, of course, the best is making zucchini pasta. When you have an overrun of zucchini from your garden, then pasta is on the menu and this makes a delicious zucchini pasta that is perfect for those hot summer days.

 

 

 

 

8. Citrus press

press

I love this freaking thing. I use it a hundred times a day. It is probably my all time favorite kitchen tool. It is amazing. It catches all the seeds. It squeeze out all the juice. You don’t get your hands dirty and you don’t have to fish out the seeds! yippee all around.

 

 

 

9. Zester

zester

I don’t use this tool everyday, but I love it. When I make juice or squeeze lemons, I zest them first. Then I put the zest in my dehydrator. It is great to add that lemon, orange, lime flavor to all sorts of dishes and salad dressings. It also grates garlic really easily as well as other things like who nutmeg, etc. I really like this tool and am glad to have one.

 

 

 

 

10. Cool bowls

bowls

If you want to eat your food, you will want more of it. I love to have pretty plates and bowls to eat from because they are so fun. It is essential to have some mixing bowls. I prefer glass or ceramic bowls over metal bowls. I love to eat from wooden bowls, but they also aren’t ideal for mixing. Invest in a good set. I’ve had my set since I was 22. That means I’ve had them for a really long time.

 

 

 

If you are considering purchasing any of these items, please consider purchasing them from the links I provide in my shop (http://liveeatbewell.com/RipeTomato/?page_id=97). I receive a portion of the proceeds from each item purchased from my links, and we might as well keep it in the family.

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My top 10 Foods for Weight Loss

It seems that as Americans, we are obsessed with weight loss. And is it really any wonder? Our population is growing and growing. In some demographics the rate is as high as 49% (CDC). I too have been one of those people who has tried every fad diet, every pill, every strange concoction. But nothing ever seemed to work or at least work for very long. Over the last 18 months, I have lost 36 pounds, and I continue to loose weight.

But how can I possibly do that with no fad diet? I do it through abundance and because I am a vegan. I don’t eat processed foods. That is so hard for many of us because processed foods are inexpensive. Next week, I am going to talk about how to get more fruits and veggies out of a smaller budget. But for now, I want to talk about the top 10 foods for weight loss.

1. No sodium seasoning (I use Spike or the Costco Brand)

Don’t add salt to your food. Plain and simple. Salt makes you retain water. It makes your blood pressure raise. High salt intake has nosaltbeen linked with osteoporosis and with stomach cancer. It is really not great to take a salt shaker and pour it on your food. Many of our foods already have salt in them, so it isn’t necessary to pour salt on them as well. For more information about salt, visit http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/salt/

What can you do instead? Use a no salt added seasoning. These are really tasty and there are many varieties available at every grocery store. Find the one that you like or make your own. If you think you can live without that salty taste, remember your taste buds replace themselves every 1o days. In no time you will be amazed at how good your food tastes without the salt and how much you don’t need it any more.

Personal story about salt intake: Recently, I put my husband on a no salt added diet for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days, I told him he could eat anything he wanted with as much salt as he wanted. He immediately picked up a bag of chips. He ate one chip and said, “I can’t eat this, it is too salty.” He said he felt sad that he no longer wanted to eat his favorite chips, but he was glad he realized how much salt is in processed foods.

2. Oranges

Oranges are my personal favorite food. They taste so good. They can satisfy a sweet tooth or a sour tooth. The sweet and tangy orange, tangerine, or clementine can make you feel satisfied. Plus they are usually pretty inexpensive. Oranges are also a good orangessource of vitamin C. So not only are you satisfying your craving for something sweet and sour, you are also getting a punch of this awesome vitamin. One large orange has nearly 100 mcg of vitamin C. And studies have shown that 500 mcg daily can have a huge impact on your health from helping your immune system to reducing wrinkles. Check out what WebMD has to say about oranges.

 

 

3. Kale

kale

Kale has recently become a superstar recipe. And no wonder… it is chalked full of good nutrients. And we all know you should be eating more leafy greens. CLICK HERE for hundreds of videos on why you should choose kale. Among them are boosting your immune system, reducing your risk for lung cancer, decreasing the visibility of wrinkles, the list goes on.

But I’ve also heard a lot of people say they don’t like the taste or texture of kale.  For me and my family, we eat it on the regular and we really enjoy it. You can steam it, saute it, or put it in a smoothie. My family enjoys massaged kale salad. Simply put your favorite salad dressing on a bunch of destemmed kale and massage it for about 5 minutes. Yummy!

4. Vegetable Broth

veggiebrothVegetable broth may seem like a strange addition to the list. But it is really awesome because it can help you stop using oil. You have to be careful to get a low sodium brand or you can just make your own, but broth can be an excellent weight loss tool.

First, vegetable broth adds lots of flavor to food. If you want to mash a potato but don’t want to add all the fat from milks and margarine, then you can mash it with some vegetable broth, and it will be lovely and creamy.

Don’t want to use oil to saute? Then you can saute your onions and other goodies in a just a little bit of vegetable broth. It is great to add to soups and other dishes. But it is low in calories. You can just sip on some broth if you need something warm in the afternoon. It adds a lot of flavor for minimal calories.

5. Tomatoes

tomatoTomatoes are delicious. That is why you should eat them. No, I kid. Tomatoes are great because they can keep you on track. Eat tomato sauce on top of potatoes or pasta; eat salsa with veggies or potato sticks; make your own ketchup or barbecue sauce.  If you are trying to reduce your fat and salt intake, then tomatoes are your best friend. Not only are the low in fat, but they taste salty so they don’t need a lot of extra salt and they can help add that salty punch in foods.

Tomatoes also reduce inflammation and  have anti inflammatory properties. Tomatoes are also inexpensive, easy to grow, and can add so many different flavors to any meal.

6.  Chia Seeds

chia seedOmega 3’s are important. Many Americans and people around the world get their Omega 3’s from … fish oil. Don’t do that. Fish are increasingly becoming contaminated by radiation from Fukishima in Japan. Not only that but many are harvested or raised inhumanely. They are high levels of toxins and antibiotics. They are just overall not the health food people have been led to think they are.  (CLICK HERE for more information on fish).

So if you aren’t getting Omegas from fish, where should you get them? Why not give Chia seeds a a try? Yes, they used to be grown on the top of weird shapes to produce funny little plant statues. Those same Chias are a superfood. Not only are they high in Omega 3’s but they also are super filling. They make you feel full longer. They can be used to thicken anything and make a delicious pudding. Here is one of my favorite puddings by Dreena Burton. (CLICK HERE).

7. Water

waterDrink WATER. Just Drink IT. “Oh but water doesn’t taste good,” you say. Ok, fine. Then add a few drops of flavored stevia or dilute some juice. Squeeze in a lemon. Or just chug it. But no matter what you do, drink water. If your pee isn’t clear every time you pee (which should be at least 8 times a day), then you are dehydrated. Water helps you flush toxins. It nourishes your cells. Some studies have even shown that it makes school children smarter!

How much water do you need? At a minimum, you should halve your weight, and drink that in ounces. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should be drinking 80 ounces of water. But do it even better and everyone try to drink 2 liters a day or more. Your body will thank you.

8. Bananas

bananaB-A-N-A-N-A-S. Bananas are the best. No, you aren’t going to overdose on potassium (unless you eat like 10,000 in 30 minutes). Bananas are a great source of vitamins including magnesium which many Americans are deficient in. It has cancer fighting properties, they are yummy, they are cheap. Bananas are really the food of the gods. Some days, I eat as many as 10 bananas in one day! (To be honest, I’ve eaten as many as 20). They are portable since they have their own container (their skin). You can eat them on the go. They aren’t a weird food since most people eat bananas, so you can eat them pretty much anywhere without fear of judgement.

Need more reasons? They have been shown to reduce the effects of hangovers and morning sickness. They even have been shown to help in fever reduction. CLICK HERE for 25 more reasons to eat bananas.

Side Note: Bananas should be spotted in order to be ripe and for you to get the full health benefits.

9.  Maple syrup

mapleMaple syrup is my favorite thing. Make sure you get real maple syrup. The real deal. It is more expensive, but it is worth it. Maple syrup is for more than topping pancakes. It is a great sweet replacement for sugar. You can use it in desserts instead of sugar. You can put it on oatmeal or over other grains like quinoa. You can use it with inexpensive things like bananas as a dip. I add it whenever I need something sweet. I put it in salad dressings and have even used it in marinara sauce.

Now if you are looking for something healthy as well as yummy, choose date sugar or just plain ol’ dates. But for me, I find that maple syrup is good. It is natural. It helps you get rid of that sweet tooth need for refined sugars. And so I love it.

10. Nutritional Yeast

nutyeastWeird ingredient alert! I bet some of you have never heard of nutritional yeast. Even if you have, you probably have never used it. But have no fear, nutritional yeast is awesome. It is not like bakers yeast used in bread products. It is not like brewer’s yeast used in alcohol products. It is just a non active yeast (always labeled nutritional yeast). The first reason you should add it in to your diet is that most nutritional yeasts are fortified with vitamin B12. Yeah, we get to eat our B12.

Ok, but more importantly, nutritional yeast can help you get off the cheese. Cheese is bad. It is yucky. It is addictive and full of hormones, antibiotics, disease, calories, and fat. Cheese is the number one source of saturated fat in the American Diet. But Nutritional Yeast can give food a lovely cheeseyish flavor. Does it taste like cheese? No. But you can make some really tasty sauces (CLICK HERE) for my favorite. These sauces can help you remember the yummy creamy flavor of cheese without cheese.

Remember it only takes 10 days to change your taste buds, so give it 10 days, and feel better and be skinnier.

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Reflections on Motherhood. My daughter turns 15.

Today, my oldest child turns 15. Fifteen. I don’t even know how that is possible. For some reason, this birthday is hitting me hard. Maybe because she is going to start learning to drive. Maybe because I offered to keep her out of school, and she decided to go to school to be with her friends on her birthday. I’m not sure.

I thought I would share her and my story with you. It is deeply personal, but maybe it will touch some of you who experienced or are experiencing something similar.

maggie blog

I got pregnant with Maggie when I was just 19. It wasn’t a very good situation, and I was in no way prepared for motherhood. During my entire pregnancy, I didn’t really bond with her. I didn’t feel like I knew this person, and I was so scared that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually have her. See, up until Maggie, I had never really held a baby. I had never changed a diaper. I had never experienced any of that. I had always said I didn’t want kids, and I meant it.

I was petrified of labor. And then she was born. It was a six hour labor with no drugs. She came into this world clean and absolutely quiet. I can still remember the doctor holding her up as if it just happened. I can remember her face and the way she looked. But most of all I remember how I felt. I was one of those people who instantly bonded with my child. I understand that doesn’t happen for everyone. But for me, I just felt like, “Oh my god, I’m a mother.” I loved her so much. I knew that I wanted to spend my entire life loving her and trying to to the right thing by her.

But I was very young (20 when she was born). I was also very poor and very inexperienced. I know these things have deeply shaped the person she has become. I have not always been a perfect mother. There are things I regret so much and wish I could take back. There were times I resented her because I couldn’t go out and do the things my friends were doing. Or because I didn’t have extra money. But now, I know that was so stupid. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now that I am 35, I can honestly say, I no longer care that I didn’t do what my friends did when they were 20 because I have Maggie. What could ever be better than that?

When she was little, we were so poor. We used to share a frozen dinner at night. I can remember my co workers bringing me in food because they knew that I wasn’t going to eat that day so that Maggie could eat. I worked two jobs, and my boss was so amazing. I worked overnight at the newspaper, and he let me bring in a play pen so she could be with me while I worked. What would I have done without him? I am so thankful for that kindness.

But Maggie was very, very sick as a child. She was born with a suppressed immune system. So, she was in the hospital a lot until the age of 6 when she started to outgrow it. This meant she couldn’t go to daycare a lot. Luckily, I had professors who loved me and were deeply compassionate to me, and they let me bring her to class. Maybe that is why she is so smart or so mature. She was always around adults.

Once, when she was 18 months old, the doctor told me that she didn’t think Maggie was going to live. We were in the hospital and Maggie was very sick with meningitis. The doctor told me that I needed to start preparing myself that Maggie may never recover. I sat by her bed all day and all night–every day– for three weeks (21 days exactly). Then she opened her eyes, rolled over, and said, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” I have never in my life heard sweeter or more precious words than that. I can still remember the joy I felt when she woke up and spoke to me.

There were other joys too. In fact, almost everything about her has been a joy. When she was 12, she entered the dreaded teenage years. She got snarky and a huge attitude. She started doing and saying things that I wasn’t proud of. I couldn’t believe that this was my Maggie. I just kept thinking, “Please, not Maggie. Don’t let her turn into one of those teenagers.” And then, she didn’t. It was a short lived few months of fighting and meanness. But then, she just stopped. I hope I had something to do with that.

I learned how to be a parent with Maggie. That means, I have made some pretty big mistakes. For which I hope she can forgive me when she gets older. There were times I yelled about stupid stuff. Times when I put my needs before hers. Times when I wasn’t paying attention. But we have grown together. I think I will always feel so close to her because we grew up together. I always joke that I don’t get a lot of people because I have never been an adult without having a child.

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What does that mean for her? It means that she is 15 and she tells me everyday before she gets out of the car to go to school that she loves me. It means that when she sees me out in public, even if she is with her friends, she will hug me and say hi to me. What 15 year old do you know who does that? It means that we dance in the car and in the living room. But it also means that she had to be more mature. That she grew up too fast. It means that she didn’t have the same life as her younger sisters.

And that’s the breaks. I tell her that sometimes it is hard being born first. And sometimes it is hard being born to a mother who didn’t even know how to change your diaper. And it is hard never having known your biological father. These things totally suck. But what we got out of it is a relationship in which I love her more than anything. I know I have put some unrealistic expectations on her. When I realize that I’m doing it, I try to change. But I don’t know, I’ve never had a teenager before. There is a learning curve. And most of all, I want her to not grow up to be like me and to have my life. So, I push her to be better. Sometimes, I know, I push too hard because the truth is, she is already so much better than I am. And nothing could make me happier or prouder.

I hope when she grows up, she will know that everything, every decision, every mistake, I have always done with love in my heart and because I wanted what was best for her.

So happy birthday to my smart, capable, compassionate, interesting, beautiful daughter.

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