Herbs and spices were a nuisance to me in my early cooking days. I mean, why would anyone need any shaker-capped bottle other than salt, pepper and garlic powder? What I have learned is that unless your parents were the sort who made everything from scratch and their own garden, like me you probably did not grow up with a familiarity of natural, uninhibited flavors of food. So when you begin your journey of lifestyle changes for your health, what you may discover is herbs and spices help quite a bit when your palate is adjusting to natural foods. And, of course, many of those herbs and spices also provide health benefits. I have been incorporating so many wonderful new friends from my herb garden these past few months, and today’s harvest consisted mainly of three kinds of thyme that have nearly choked my ornamental pepper plant because I haven’t trimmed them in so long. The fragrance was so beautiful that I trimmed some other herbs and ended up putting several of them in colorful mason jars in my kitchen sink window sill. I also did some research on how to put them to non-culinary use. Here are some interesting tidbits:
Rosemary can be brewed with nettle and horsetail as a tea and then used as a rinse for strengthening hair.
Lavender placed by your bed side can help promote sleep.
Moths and flies hate the smell of pepper, oregano and sage.
Thyme is so powerful that pregnant women and those with thyroid conditions should use with caution, but ointments and oils made from it contain properties that are rumored to aid in respiratory issues, cough symptoms and even as antibacterial treatment.
You’ve got to start somewhere. Do you have a little coffee with your large cup of sugar and cream? Do you have an XL side of fries with your grilled chicken sandwich? Do you drown your spinach salad in Ranch dressing and a massive layer of croutons? Anyone who is telling you your lifestyle change (not a diet — diets are temporary and defeating) has to happen all-or-nothing is lying to you. Start small. Switch out Ranch for olive oil and vinegar. Gradually decrease your sugar and cream in your coffee until you can drink it black, and maybe some day you can even graduate to tea instead. Get a side salad instead of fries, and later you can move on to no side at all. I love my eggs in the morning, but I prefer them fried in butter or scrambled with a handful of shredded cheese and on a plate full of greasy, crispy bacon. So my husband and I started small with smoothies in the morning. Nothing unhealthy has to be added to these bad boys in order for them to taste amazing. You just have to research the best combinations and experiment if you’re picky. Our favorite is pictured above: 1 cup liquid egg whites, 1 T almond butter, 1 frozen banana, 1 T ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup almond milk. Egg whites in anything but fried in a pan with whatever you can find to hide the bland and watery texture sounds unappealing to most, but in this smoothie you cannot taste them at all. The balance here is perfect and filling: protein, good fat, fiber and healthy sweetness. Start small. Switch to one healthier option each week until you can look in your fridge and not want to hide all the bad stuff when your fitness friends come over.
Using food as fuel is a choice. Adult-ing is no joke. We have so many decisions to make every day, not only for ourselves but for each person in our care. Paying bills is an option, but if you don’t you can lose necessities like cars and homes. You can survive without those things, but day-to-day life could be difficult. You can opt out of eating well, but it means sacrificing long term health as well as short term benefits like energy and quality sleep. Today after a late morning errand the kids wanted to go out for lunch. We had healthier options at home. My adult free will wanted to take them for food, so I could tackle some To Do List items. I made the best decision I could for me and my family, and as a short term benefit we will feel good this afternoon. What will you use your free will to accomplish for your health today? Pictured above: Avocado Toast with Tuna, Tomato and just enough grass-fed cheddar cheese.
The kids were at Nana and Papaw’s last night, so I made a pretty impressive dinner for my man from my new cook book purchase, Whole Grains For a New Generation. Heartstrings, Monsters, Dorks — our kids. They are the reasons we work so hard. The reasons we worry. The reasons we rejoice at the blessings God has given us, even through struggles. But sometimes alone time with my husband is my tonic for a rough week. He grounds me. He calms me. He strengthens me. More times than we want to admit in that alone time we jump off the deep end — overeating, no exercise, too much wine, etc. Last night we rewarded our hard work with an elegant, GOODTRITIOUS meal. Sweet-Spiced Roast Chicken with Barley and Apricots, and a spinach and romaine salad on the side. Man, did it hit the spot. After we ate we felt energized, fueled and confident about our smart dinner decision. Shouldn’t we feel good after we eat, instead of bloated, tired and groaning from an upset stomach? Let food be your medicine, your tonic. Reward yourself with health. You deserve it.
I tried my hand at raising herbs this past spring, and much to the surprise of this black-thumb-turned-green they have grown into beautiful, fragrant plants. Now they are so big I have been searching for recipes to use them all up and to learn how to dry my lavender, so I can tie it all up in pretty twine and pat myself on the back for not spending $10 on it at a craft store. I picked some basil yesterday for homemade pesto, which I will probably make my family sick of over the coming weeks because it turned out so delectable. I decided to also post recipes for the other pantry/fridge staples I make at home, because I have yet to find brands I am OK with feeding to my family and brands they like that don’t contain all the yummy chemicals, sodium and sugar. Spaghetti sauce is a big one in my house, and while I haven’t yet been able to grow enough of a supply of tomatoes to keep a pantry full of homemade tomato sauce I have found some acceptable canned purees that I love. BBQ sauce is also critical, because my kids will eat their weight in chicken legs and wings cooked in it. Ranch dressing and ketchup are so easy I have made them just for specific meals, and the kids kept requesting it so much I had to make bigger batches. My apologies for this post happening so late that I crossed the I- should-be-in-bed-right-now line of Tuesday morning. Enjoy.
Did you know that you don’t have to starve or deprive yourself when you make the decision to care for your health? That’s not a sarcastic question. I honestly didn’t know until recently. I spent years living on fad diets, and at family functions I would walk in angry as I smelled the counter top full of desserts, fried whatevers and other foods that please my palate but literally no other part of my body. Then I would end up gorging myself the next day on whatever I could get my hands on, because I convinced myself the only way I could survive was to give up. What I have learned lately is the moderation and balance is what prevents me from being a fair-weather dieter — someone who is only successful at eating healthy when every natural life environment is conducive to sticking with it. The moderation means I can attend a party and know that I can have one or two bites of my husband’s slice of cake without eating two more large corner pieces when no one is looking. The balance means I can have a small serving of Annie’s Shells and Aged Cheddar when my kids request it for dinner, but it would be a lot better for my body – and my family – if I added extra lean ground turkey and broccoli to it. Start small, one meal at a time. It gets easier. I promise. And your body will thank you for it.
My mom has an ageless Betty Crocker cookbook I used in some of my very first lessons in how to follow a recipe. I loved baking as a kid, and Betty and my mom were the perfect team to teach me. So, my husband and I were trekking around Waco last weekend, and in an antique store sitting on a counter all alone in the room full of teapots and cast iron skillets was the Recipes on Parade Quick and Easy Dishes cookbook, published in glorious 1969. I had to have it when I turned the first page and saw a favorite recipe from Patricia Nixon. I have known people who have emotional issues with food because food brings back bad memories. I am thankful I have the memories of cooking with my mom to push me to seek therapy in cooking now for my family. I decided to go through this book, revamp the entries to fit our cleaner-eating lifestyle, and publish the new creations on my blog. Thanks, Betty.
It’s summer, and it happens to be a day when I could sleep in with the kids. Jillian finally had her chance to kick my behind last night, so I slept well and had loads of energy this morning. I made pancakes from scratch (no Bisquick allowed in our house) and bacon — NOT of the uncured, tasteless, or turkey variety (although our kids are starting to get use to those). I had two pieces of each. Why not a spinach smoothie or quinoa oatmeal? Because this week has been stressful, and we all wanted a treat. Not a reward, not a crutch, a treat. We ate in moderation. My kids won’t spend half the day in the bathroom from an upset stomach, and none of us needed a nap afterward. We will eat a light and veggie-filled lunch, because the balance is critical, and I won’t feel deprived and end up eating a helmet full of cheesy chicken nachos at the baseball game Friday night.
Met my back-in-those-being-stupid-years-we-wish-we-could-forget friend for breakfast this morning and was reminded of all God has made beautiful in our lives. I was mad at myself for standing Jillian up last night, but then I was able to button these shorts that haven’t been pulled over my thighs in two years. We rescheduled for tonight. As I sit singing harmonies with C next to me on the back porch I know everything will be more than ok, because we all woke up with our health today. Let’s do this.
My cozy covers and heatlamp husband may have served me better than the emotional roller coaster of today, but if I opted for a day in bed I would have missed T’s volleyball camp. Her determination gave me life, for that and for her I am grateful. I also managed to stay on the diet wagon one more day, and Jillian Michaels and I have an appointment later where she plans to kill me. High-fives all around.