Friday, November 28, 2014

Dairy-Free Eggnog {No-Cook, Paleo, Sugar Free, Low Carb}

Get ready for the quickly-approaching holidays with this super easy, no-cook, dairy free eggnog!

Last year I posted this tasty eggnog recipe that I made many times throughout the holiday season. My daughter and I both loved it! However, with my unpredictable episodes of lactose intolerance this year, I thought I'd have to skip this decadent favorite of mine.

But, luckily, there is coconut milk and coconut cream to save the day, making it possible to replicate the rich creaminess and flavor of the original recipe!

This recipe is very similar to the original. It still uses pasteurized liquid eggs to keep it quick, easy, and no-cook. Instead of whole milk, it uses full-fat canned coconut milk, And instead of heavy whipping cream, this recipe uses whipped coconut cream.

To maintain a totally sugar free version, use stevia as a sweetener. I've made this a few different ways: 10 drops liquid stevia; 2 tbsp powdered stevia; and a combination of stevia and maple syrup. I've found that powdered stevia isn't very consistent from brand to brand, so start with less, and add more to taste.

If you aren't concerned with sugar, use 1/4 cup of your sweetener of choice, adding more to taste. My favorite has been to use a combination 8 drops stevia with 1 tbsp maple syrup.

I've found that adding the prepared whipped coconut cream in after blending all the other ingredients provides a smoother texture than just adding coconut cream straight from the can right away.

Now, let's get started! You'll need:

1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 cup pasteurized liquid egg (like Redi-Egg)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp nutmeg
10 drops liquid stevia, or sweetener of choice (see note above)
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup whipped coconut cream

According to these instructions, whip up your coconut cream until smooth and set aside (the quick version is to whip canned coconut cream until smooth and creamy.)

Blend remaining ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

Add whipped coconut cream, and blend again.

Pour into cups, chill if desired, and sprinkle with nutmeg before serving.

This eggnog has a much 'cleaner' and 'fresher' flavor than traditional, store-bought eggnog, but is still quite filling and delicious!

I hope you all had a delicious and grateful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Apple "Nachos"

This hardly counts as a recipe; it's more of a tasty basic idea that you can adjust to make into your own delicious creation. I made this on the fly the other day during our weekly homeschool preschool days, and it was so good, we've been eating it regularly ever since!

This makes a tasty, light lunch, sweet snack, or a healthy dessert!

I've seen this idea floating around Pinterest here and there, so I admit this isn't some amazing, miraculous, unique idea of mine, but here's how I made my version:

You'll need:
-Apples (I used Honeycrisp, one small apple per child, two small or one large per adult)
-Almond Butter (sweeten with maple syrup, if desired)
-Caramel Sauce
-Full Fat Coconut Milk (sweeten with maple syrup or stevia and vanilla extract)
-Dark Chocolate Chips
-Raisins
-Pecans
-Cinnamon

Slice the apples in thin slices and arrange them evenly on a plate. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon. Mix the almond butter with maple syrup (if using) and plot a heaping spoonful in the middle. If your caramel sauce is refrigerated and thick (like the Trader Joe's one I use), warm a small bowl of it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, unitl it melts to a more liquid consistency. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the apples. Whip a small bowl of full-fat coconut milk with vanilla and your sweetener of choice (I used a few drops of liquid stevia.) Drizzle the coconut milk over the apples. Top the apples with a small handful of the chocolate chips, peans, and raisins. Enjoy!

This is like a raw pie on a plate! But better. Raw pie on a plate probably wouldn't be very appetizing, come to think of it.

You can make this healthier by omitting the caramel sauce and chocolate chips. It would still be absolutely delicious! This is a great way to get some fruit in your diet, if you get easily bored of raw apples and bananas on a daily basis.

These fall days are flying by. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means this is sure to be a busy week. Wishing you all a tasty, warm, thankful Thanksgiving this coming Thursday!

Monday, November 17, 2014

No-Drama Discipline {Book Review}

Image from Amazon

This is not a paid endorsement, nor was I asked to review this book. I read this book on my own and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it with you!

Discipline. What a topic. It can be controversial at times with so many opposing views; attachment vs. non attachment, spanking vs. non spanking, gentle vs. authoritarian. I will say right now that I've always been in support of gentle discipline and attachment parenting for my family (however, this does NOT mean I judge you or your choice of discipline, should we differ in personal opinion.) But finding gentle forms of discipline that actually work can be tricky. 

When November entered toddlerhood, it quickly became apparent that I needed some tools in my discipline toolbox. I read (and gave up on) a few different books on the topic, but the one that really stood out as helpful and practical was The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp.

This book was terrific (again, this is my personal endorsement)! I read and re-read it numerous times, constantly refreshing myself on the tried-and-true techniques, and adding in new strategies as she outgrew others.

His tips about speaking toddler-ease to reflect back what your child is trying to communicate was so surprisingly helpful in taming tantrums. It was amazing to see how often simply letting November know she was heard and understood kept meltdowns at bay. They weren't always 100% effective, but the tips in that book became my main arsenal, and I used them often to great results.

If you have a toddler (or will have one), get that book; it will be a lifesaver! 

Of course, as children grow, they can outgrow disciplinary techniques. When this happens, I think many of us parents are left scratching our heads over how to deal with their newest behaviors (or, more likely, their misbehaviors.) What worked for the baby stage, doesn't quite cut it for the toddler stage. And what cut it for the toddler stage, may not help as much during the preschool stage.

It wasn't exactly that the Happiest Toddler techniques were no longer working; it was more that I needed to see what they looked like in a slightly matured form; I needed to see them adapt to my growing preschooler, who no longer responded as well to toddler-ease.

Enter, brain-science.

I recently started reading The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and was fascinated by the fusion of parenting and brain-science. I loved learning about how your interactions with your child can help shape their brain in positive ways. I felt like this book was onto something, although it didn't exactly provide a straightforward formula to implement in daily disciplinary scenarios. 

So when I found out these authors wrote a book on discipline from their brain-science perspective, I knew I had to read it! It's called No-Drama Discipline: the Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture your child's developing mind. I got my place in line for a hold on it from the local library, and read it all within days of receiving it. 

While I certainly don't have veteran experience trying every strategy in this book, I definitely resonate with the theory, and find their ideas to be practical. I also enjoy how much they emphasize that parenting perfection is NOT the goal, and isn't realistically attainable. They do encourage you to improve your parenting and discipline but to be real and honest with yourself when you make a parenting mistake, because even your mistakes can become valuable lessons. The authors even admit to their own parenting failures, which is refreshing. 

A quick summary:

The main underlying strategy in this book is to connect with your child first, and then redirect them and their behavior. This book has very similar concepts to the ones I was introduced to in The Happiest Toddler, only upgraded for use on young children, adolescents and teens, AND integrated with the brain-science that makes it all so compelling and convincing.

This book challenges us to change our common reactive state of mind when we approach discipline, to a more compassionate state of mind that focuses on connecting with your child first. Through connecting, we validate their feelings, let them feel heard and comforted no matter what big emotions they are going through, and no matter what behavior they are struggling with.

Once they calm down from their connection with us, after expressing themselves and feeling heard, and after we've reflected back to them what they've expressed, we can move on to redirection; talking them through what happened, and addressing their misbehavior. Children are much better able to calm down and listen, using the part of their brain that is receptive to absorbing these kinds of lessons, if approached this way. There's more to it than just that, but that is the main backbone to this book.

Now the real question: does it work?

I haven't had a chance to practice these strategies for more than a week, but I really like the results I've had so far. Here's what one particular experience was like, using what I'd learned:

It was time to leave for an outing, and we were running behind, so I was a little flustered. November was being fussy over the jacket I wanted her to wear. I had put the jacket on her before she noticed it wasn't the lightweight leopard print fleece sweater she'd become obsessed with and got super pouty once she realized this. I explained to her, as I rushed around to finish getting ready, that it was too cold for just a sweater, and if she wanted to wear it, she had to wear a heavier jacket over it. This rational explanation wasn't getting us anywhere, and she was getting fussier and fussier, refusing to finish getting ready.

I took a deep breath, and decided to pause and connect with her, like I'd learned about. I knelt down below her eye level, gently put my hands on her shoulders, looked at her lovingly, and said, "You want to wear your leopard jacket, don't your?" She didn't say anything but she looked at me, and immediately became less pouty. Now that she wasn't fighting me, she seemed receptive to what I had to say. I then went on to calmly explain that we needed to dress super snuggly warm to go outside because it was soooo chilly. I told her she could wear her leopard sweater with her heavy jacket, or just her heavy green jacket. "What do you want to wear?" I asked. She sighed. "This jacket," she said quietly and walked over to the door to finish getting ready. 

Wow, I wasn't even expecting that good of a result! I gave her the choice to choose the thing she really wanted, yet after we connected, she ended up choosing what she had originally been fighting. Now, I doubt every situation will be this simple and effective, but I was pleased to see that I could easily start putting this into practice in real life situations. It was amazing to watch how even just the simple act of connection can turn things around!

Final verdict: it's a keeper.

Since this was a library book, I will definitely be buying my own copy of No-Drama Discipline so I can re-read it and highlight it to my heart's content. I look forward to trying out these strategies in more situations, and can't wait to share what I've learned with other parents. I hope you give this book a shot too!

What are your favorite toddler or preschooler discipline books?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Farm Preschool Scavenger Hunt {Homeschool Preschool Projects}

This is a fantastic fall activity to do with your little ones! Bundle up, pack a snack, and head to your local family farm for a fun scavenger hunt!

Seattle is blessed to be a city that is surrounded by such lush and beautiful landscape, which means an abundance of farms within driving distance. For this fun preschool project, we chose Fox Hollow Farms in Issaquah. (I love websites like Red Tricycle for lists of places like this!)

To make a preschool activity out of our fun outing, we decided to do a scavenger hunt. We visited the farm's website to scope out some ideas for some things the girls would encounter while at the farm. We picked a combination of generic farm items, as well as some things special to Fox Hollow, such as their ride-able kid's train! We drew simple pictures of each item we wanted them to find next to a number and empty square box...
As they found each item, we let them put a sticker in the box to mark it off. See how proud and excited they are?!
They had such a blast marking off their little 'treasure maps,' as we called them. It helped them learn what things and animals are common at a farm, and we talked about each one.
Aside from the scavenger hunt, this entire outing was so much fun! This particular farm has multiple petting areas, mini outdoor playhouses, corn 'pool', pony rides, train rides, pumpkin patch, hay maze, bouncy houses, and a beautiful stream. I think we adults had just as much fun as the girls, especially petting all the animals. And November got to ride her very first pony!
November really enjoys reflecting on our visit; talking about all the animals we saw, what the animals ate, what it was like to ride the pony, and everything we found on our scavenger hunt. I hope you have a farm this awesome in your area! If you do, you've got to check it out!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Downside of Dieting {for the obsessive eater} PART TWO

In part one you learned my story of food obsession, and why I gave up dieting in order to break free from the vicious cycle I was stuck in. Here I will share how the beast of dieting almost had me again...

I mentioned in a couple posts (initially here) that I'd been told I have high cholesterol, and how I've been working on my diet by eating closer to a paleo/low carb lifestyle. I think it's a great and healthy decision to improve ones diet and exercise habits, and I really enjoy the challenge of creating dietary-restricted recipes. There's just one problem...

My food obsession.

Food obsession takes what should be simply a healthy improvement and turns it into a fixation over perfection and on the things I can't have. In the past it has created over-consumption of the things I could have, as well as anxiety over my weight and commitment to my dieting lifestyle.

After I became a mother and shifted toward eating for nutrition, I realized I was finally free from my food obsession and vowed never to diet again. Over the course of the three years that I've been a mom, I admit my diet has grown lazy at times, and I've eaten more sugar this past year. So when my doctor told me I had high cholesterol, I knew I had to get my diet back in check.

Improving my diet is a fabulous idea. However, being ON a diet is not, at least for me. Once I told myself I was on a paleo/low-carb diet, no matter how lax I was about it, the food obsession slowly started creeping back in.

It started with me simply going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths of the sweets I wasn't supposed to have (I told myself I could taste anything, as long as it was a sample from work or just a rare treat.) Then I started hovering over restricted items while shopping for groceries, obsessing over how badly I wanted to buy them, circling back over to them like a hungry vulture, unable to take my eyes off of them. I thought about them while in the check out line, wishing I would have gotten them. I thought about them when I ultimately did buy them, and how guilty I felt, but assured myself I would share them.

Finally, it tool yet another aha moment to wake me from my stupor. I was at work, snacking on a cup of forbidden chocolate covered coconut almonds I'd found stashed in the breakroom. I was also gulping down coffee (not forbidden) to keep me awake. I was perpetually tired from the sugar I'd had that day, nauseous and shaky from the over consumption of caffeine, yet I could not stop shoving those chocolates into my mouth. I suddenly realized the absurdity of eating something I wasn't even enjoying and recognized the eerily familiar feelings of food obsession.

I took a few moments to reflect on my circumstances, admitted I was once again heading back toward my mentally unhealthy relationship with food, fought the horrifying idea of giving up my diet, and finally said I was done. No more dieting. No restrictions. Done.

I felt flooded with relief, and without even thinking about it, I tossed the rest of the chocolates in the garbage and dumped out the rest of my coffee in the sink. I nourished myself with plenty of water, and in the next couple hours, my nausea was gone and my exhaustion was abating.

Just like that, I was once again free.

It's almost crazy how quickly just telling myself I was no longer dieting flipped my switch back to mentally healthy. I am not saying this will work for you or everyone else. There are people out there who absolutely MUST restrict a substance or food item due to allergies or substance abuse. I'm by no means offering this as an alternative solution in those cases.

This is more an offer of freedom for those of you who have the same food obsession issues I have, where the more you restrict, the more obsessed you get, and the less healthy you get; to those who have felt stuck and defeated when dieting.

There is freedom in letting go of the perfectionism of dieting. Sure, learn about the healthiest foods to eat, and the best ways to improve your lifestyle. But if a dieting identity traps you in a vicious cycle, get out. Let it go. You can eat whatever you want. You are free to choose. In my experience at least, I have learned that when I'm free to choose, I make better choices.

What about my cholesterol? How will I lower it without dieting?

Oddly enough, I'm eating pretty much the exact same way as I did a couple weeks ago when I called myself a proud paleo; I'm just not obsessed with a diet as an identity. I love learning about ways to eat healthier and improve my diet and lifestyle, and really resonate with the things I am learning about the benefits of paleo/low carb foods. So I'm taking that wisdom to encourage me to make better choices, without getting fixated on a specific diet.

This means if I want to go out to eat, I'm not going to feel my gut sink with guilt every time I take a bite of forbidden food; instead I'll be armed with wisdom to make better choices, yet offering myself grace no matter what I choose.

This means if I don't have the time or energy to go grocery shopping for dinner, I'm ok with eating what I have at home, even if it isn't ideal. I'm not going to freak out every time I eat mac n cheese made with white flour (however, I am limiting dairy, as the repercussions are physically uncomfortable and involve extended time on the toilet!)

I'm free to choose what I eat. And if I make a less than ideal choice here and there, I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I'll keep learning and creating new, healthy meals I enjoy cooking, constantly looking for ways to improve the health of the foods I eat without getting obsessed over it. Yes, staying healthy and fit and maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels (etc.) are extremely important, but going ON a diet is not the way I choose to get those results.

I will eat a healthy diet, but I will NOT diet. For me, there is a significant difference. A difference between mental health and mental turmoil; between freedom and dieting slavery.

I choose freedom!

Have you ever experienced food obsession or the downside of dieting?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Downside of Dieting {for the obsessive eater} PART ONE

This may be a bit of an odd two-part series (read part two here), but I know if I'm experiencing this, someone else somewhere is experiencing this too, and just might need some encouragement or simply to hear that they're not alone.

I know I've felt alone at times, and wished I could talk to someone who could relate. Someone who would take me seriously, and offer wisdom. Someone who would believe me when I say...

I have an eating disorder.

It's not an eating disorder commonly recognized. I'm not a stick-thin anorexic. I'm not bulimic. I'm not overweight. Yet I am an over-eater. I'm food-obsessed. I have a food addiction.

I've struggled with food obsession, weight obsession, compulsive eating, and binge-eating to different degrees throughout my life, but never so much as after I started doing cleanses, and then later when I was strictly vegan. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with these lifestyle and diet improvements (they are fabulous! So much tasty food! Great health benefits!), there is something wrong with my brain when I restrict foods in general.

Here's my story:

I've never been someone who would be considered fat. I've always been petite yet curvy. I'm not a skinny stick, but I'm also not overweight. I'm NOT well-toned, I have a soft tummy and a jiggly ass, but I look relatively thin for the most part. However, I didn't realize that until very recently.

I had always thought I was fat.

As an adolescent, I didn't have a positive body-image. I always imagined I was fat and ugly, which peaked during my high school years. After high school I started getting into cleanses like the Master Cleanse, which were all the rage. I was so thrilled with my weight-loss results and would obsess over every pound lost, as well as every pound regained. A few years later, in my early-mid 20s, I went strictly vegan for weight loss. I told people it was for health but deep down weight loss was my one and only end game.

I'd even amp up my vegan lifestyle by attempting strictly raw diets. This was a fun challenge and would provide me with a nice chunk of weight loss, but it was always followed by gain when I would give up. I was on a roller coaster, and I was constantly fixated on the food I couldn't eat. Every failure I experienced gave me such terrible anxiety. I watched the scale like a hawk, which increased my anxiety. I soothed this anxiety by binge-eating the things I could eat on my diet.

I've always had a sweet tooth, and when I was on restricted diets, instead of eating a balanced selection of the things my lifestyle allowed me, I'd eat a minimum of real food and binge on the sweet treats my diet allowed. There was even a time where I realized the majority of my calories came from dessert foods. Did that stop me? Nope. I laughed it off, telling myself that as long as it's vegan (or raw), it's healthy and will help me lose weight.

I shake my head with shame at the memories of this obsessive version of my former self. I can't believe how silly I was. But it gets worse.

When I finally admitted I had a problem, I started reading books about food obsession (you can read my depressing post here, from my raw food blog, about the things I experienced at the time.) These books made me realize that my behavior was NOT normal or healthy, and was in fact a form of eating disorder. Yet it took more before I actually changed my behavior.

My aha moment happened one night when I was reading one of my books about food addiction. The subject stirred up some intense sweets cravings, so I took a break from my book to stock up on four packs of vegan peanut butter cups (with four large chocolates in each package.) I went back to reading a particularly distressing part in the book about how people awaken from food-binges the same way a drunk awakens from a drinking blackout, all the while chowing down on all four packages of chocolates and sobbing about the absurdity of my actions. I was so disgusted with myself, that afterward, I stood over the toilet and tried to make myself throw up.

That was it. That was my holy crap, this is not a joke moment.

I wanted so badly to lose weight (even though I didn't need to) and couldn't bear the thought of giving up my vegan lifestyle, but I knew I had to change something. I slowly started convincing myself that I could eat whatever I wanted, and that my dieting days were over. It wasn't sudden, but as time passed, I became calmer, less anxious, less obsessed and fixated over food.

I was on my way to food freedom.

Getting pregnant oddly enough opened the door the rest of the way to my freedom. Knowing I was growing a baby and needed to eat plenty of food really took my mind off restrictions and weight loss. I knew I would gain weight and made peace with that. Knowing I could eat what I wanted made me less anxious, and more able to make smart decisions about the food I did choose.

After I gave birth, I maintained this same healthy relationship with food; eating when hungry to nourish my nursing mama's body, eating as much as I felt hungry for, allowing myself as many treats as I desired (yet only desiring and consuming a modest amount.) I had a new appreciation, love and reverence for my body, no matter what my weight. Being busy with a baby and then toddler kept the food obsession out of my mind. I didn't have time to overeat! I hardly had time to eat! I finally felt the freedom of eating solely for nutrition.

I've carried this freedom with me ever since then, with only minor episodes of food obsession.

Until recently.

In part two, I'll explain my most recent episode of food-obsession and what I did about it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fall Handprint-Leaf Tree {Homeschool Preschool Projects}

This is a fun little art project that we did to learn about the changing of the leaves in fall! November has become a pro at recognizing colors, and even recognizes the less 'flashy' colors like brown and gray. We have so much fun talking about the colors that we see when on walks or drives.

This is a great project to do after a chilly fall nature walk. Bundle up, head outside, and check out what is happening to the trees! Check out the leaves on the ground and the colors you see.

When we did this on our homeschool preschool day, we explained that the leaves fall off the trees during the fall until they are totally naked. We watched the Yo Gabba Gabba fall song a few times, talked about all the different colors of leaves, and then started our art project.

This project works best on the biggest paper you can find, so their handprint-leaves have plenty of room to look awesome. If you only have printer paper, consider taping four sheets together into one larger sheet!

Next, draw a basic tree with naked branches for your child, or, if your child is old enough, have him/her draw it! Next, let your child get creative and color the tree however they want.

November isn't super into coloring things in entirely quite yet, and usually asks for my help, which is ok! Just let your child decide how they want it to look! If your child is older, encourage them to think of the colors they see on the tree bark outside.

Next is the fun (and messy) part! Pick out some lovely, non-toxic paint in the colors of fall leaves. We did red, orange, yellow, and green. Help your child cover their palm and fingers with paint (we simply painted a layer of paint on their hands with a large paintbrush.) Then, let them stamp their hand onto the tree and/or falling onto the ground! They will love seeing their cute little hand prints as leaves!

This activity really stuck with November. She now loves talking about the leaves she sees swirling in the wind, falling on the ground, and the ones remaining in the trees.

How do you like to teach your family about fall?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Warm Kale Salad {with bacon, pomegranate seeds, and spiced pumpkin seeds}

This is a nice comfort-food salad for these cold, rainy fall days. On days like today, it's hard to crave something healthy like a green smoothie or a raw salad. This salad may not be the healthiest (depending on your diet/personal philosophy), but it sure gets a good dose of hearty greens in your body. You can make a heaping portion and eat it as a main dish, or serve it with something else, like spaghetti squash tossed in brown butter and sage.

Warm Kale Salad 
{Paleo, low carb, dairy free, gluten free}
serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

This cozy salad includes bacon, kale, pomegranate seeds, and Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (or plain pumpkin seeds.) I love keeping my home cooking quick and simple, but if you want to get fancy, add some garlic and shallots. Feel free to use any other hearty, leafy green you prefer! It doesn't need any seasoning, besides a dash of pepper, and perhaps a tiny pinch of salt (the bacon provides plenty of salty flavor), but I do love it tossed in a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt. It adds a yummy tang and a nice creamy texture. I don't actually do much measuring when I make this; I just add as much of each ingredient that I think my daughter and I will eat in one meal.

You will need:
4-6 strips of bacon, chopped in large chunks
3-4 large handfuls of kale
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (or plain pumpkin seeds)

In a frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Turn off heat and remove cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and lay out over a paper towel to drain. Drain any excess bacon fat, reserving about 2 tbsp in the pan. Toss the kale in the pan, massaging the bacon grease into the leaves until it wilts a bit. Add a pinch of pepper and any other seasonings you desire. Toss with the bacon, pomegranate seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!