Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Coconut Butter

A friend recommended a fabulous blog to me, called Heather Eats Almond Butter. On the site was a recipe for coconut butter. I've been using coconut oil for a few years now (one brand I like is Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil), but I've never heard of coconut butter. I have read that it can cost upwards of $15 depending on where you live. I use it as a facial/body moisturizer and in my cooking. Two of my kids' favorites are on popcorn and in place of butter while making grilled cheese (it gives it a slightly sweet flavor).

Solid at room temperature but with a low melting temperature, coconut oil is primarily a saturated fat. However, it contains medium chain fatty acids and is considered one of the good fats.

I usually just use the coconut oil straight from the jar. This coconut butter recipe from Heather Eats Almond Butter uses finely shredded coconut. I found some organic shredded coconut from Harvest Health Foods for $3.50/lb.

Here's what to do:

Take approximately 12 oz. of organic shredded coconut and place in a food processor. You'll need to process it for about 15 minutes to make sure you really get all the oils out of the shreds - it will basically liquify. Pour into glass container and let set at room temperature. No refrigeration necessary.

Check out Heather's Web site for variations on coconut butter, including Chocolate Coconut Butter.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I'm currently doing a three-day raw food diet with my mom. I eat fairly healthy (on most days), but every once in a while, I can tell that my system has been overtaxed by the foods I eat (Friday Family Pizza Night, anyone?), the environment I live in and the natural stressors in my life.

I'm on day two right now and have drank my breakfast for the past two mornings. I find that it keeps me full and peps me up a bit more than the heavier granola or whole food bar that I usually eat.

This is a very basic recipe that I used for this juice, which changes each time I make it.

The basics:

6 stalks celery
4 medium apples
1 whole beets (including stems and leaves)
6 carrots
1 lemon
1-2 inches of fresh ginger (gives it an extra kick!)

Juice, drink and enjoy!

I've had a Breville juicer for just about a year now and I really love it. Easy clean-up and massive juicing power.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Here's a re-print of an article I did for Natural Awakenings - West Michigan magazine in April 2009. School lunches have gotten a bad rap, and rightfully so! But in many cases it's not through lack of effort or passion - it's through lack of money. 

The photo here is from Countryside Elementary (Byron Center Public Schools). Every elementary school has a full-service salad bar in the lunch room, and makes an effort to serve healthy food within their budget. 

Byron Center Public Schools Celebrates Michigan Week with Local Fare on the Lunch Menu
By Julie Hurley

It doesn’t sound like your typical school hot lunch fare: a Michigan cherry burger on a wholegrain bun, roasted asparagus, mixed fruit shortcake on an Awrey’s Biscuit and Peterson Farms apple slices, but it is what Byron Center Public Schools (BCPS) will be serving up to its students during Michigan Week, held May 17-21.  

These are just a few of the spotlighted local items on the BCPS hot lunch menu, which coincides with the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Detroit during the same week. Although the Kent County school already features as many locally sourced items as budget and time allow, this is the first year that they are publicly highlighting and featuring them for all to see.

Susan Meyer, Food Services Director for BCPS for the past 10 years, said that the school lunch program gets a worse rap than what they deserve.

“The West Michigan Food Services Director’s Group, which meets every month, began talking about this last fall,” she said. “We wanted to market our programs in a better light than what we had been receiving. We wanted to get out there and show everyone that we’re using local products as much as possible.”

The marketing committee from this group began working with Gordon Food Service to come up with products for the schools to choose from. They gave each district a template from which they could choose some or all items to feature on their menu.

“Close to 100 districts across the state, with a lot from west and northern Michigan, have chosen to participate in the program,” said Meyer. “It’s a good showing for the first year and it’s something we’re going to build upon for future years.”

Although the menu sounds basic enough, it’s not an easy thing to pull off in an oftentimes underequipped school kitchen.

“Take our fresh Michigan asparagus for example,” said Meyer. “Because many of our schools don’t have actual ovens, we’ll have to roast it in our central kitchen and then truck it out to each school. We have to time it correctly and not cook it too far ahead of time and risk it getting soggy. We want the kids to like it.”

Meyer, who has trained in culinary arts and has owned her own wedding and catering business, firmly believes in cooking foods in a healthful manner and preferably from scratch.

“No matter how badly we want to make food from scratch, it’s not financially possible,” said Meyer. “The lunch budget is all on it’s own. We don’t take from the general fund. Each year we have to make that budget and also try to make money to buy updated equipment when we can.”

Based on the national average for producing a lunch, BCPS and other public schools across the nation gets reimbursed up to $2.68 for free or reduced priced lunches served, which includes labor. Districts also receive $.25 per full-priced meal served to help offset food and labor costs.

“It’s not an easy thing to just buy natural foods, considering our financial restraints,” said Meyer. “The labor and time involved in the food prep drives the prices up even more. Not only that, but we don’t even have an oven in many of the school kitchens to cook raw, fresh foods, including chicken. We’d also have to cut back on the lunch choices at each school.”

This could be a big deal, especially at the high school, where there are over 20 lunch choices for the students.

“Our high school is one of the best high schools around; no one could complain about that,” said Meyer. “The kids can choose from veggie burgers, grab-n-go salads, made-to-order and sub sandwiches, among many others. The salad bar even has enough protein on it to forego a hot item like chicken nuggets.”

BCPS hasn’t raised prices of its lunches in four years, and depending on the budget the school may have to revisit the subject in the near future. If parents asked for more made-from-scratch and non-processed foods with the understanding that the cost would be higher for lunch, Meyer could take it to the BCPS Board of Education and raise prices with the School Board's approval.

With the recent spotlight shown upon the school lunch by television programs like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, many people are starting to take a closer look at the school hot lunch, including our nation’s decision-makers. The Healthy School Meals Act of 2010 (H.R. 4870) will “help schools offer plant-based vegetarian options if they choose to do so. It directs the USDA to conduct a pilot program to determine what healthful plant-based protein products children like and are easy to prepare for school breakfasts and lunches. Based on the findings of this pilot, the USDA is directed to then add such products to the commodities list, thus reducing significantly their cost.” (http://www.healthyschoollunches.org/legislative/hsma.cfm)

Research has shown that introducing just one low-fat plant-based meal a week can begin to correct a child’s poor nutrition. Since 2050 students take hot lunch each day at BCPS, this could make a significant difference in the health of the community.

Luckily BCPS is ahead of the curve. There’s a full salad bar at every school, including all elementary schools and it’s been a non-carbonated beverage school for the past seven years. It’s also one of only two schools in Kent County that does not have a contract with Coca-Cola. Even so, more changes do need to be made and she believes that everyone can begin to work in a more positive direction with what they already have.

“We need to teach kids to make healthy choices. Portion control is one of the big things many don’t teach. It’s simple: calories in, calories out,” said Meyer. “I believe in moderation. In leading by example, I try to help others understand that the food in people’s lives makes a difference. “

Friday, June 25, 2010

Homemade fresh pesto

My family loves pesto. In the past, I've bought the Kirkland brand of pesto from Costco, which was pretty good and decent in price. This summer, I've decided to make my own pesto from the basil from my garden. My husband's co-worker sent me this recipe, which I was hesitant to try at first because it contained heavy cream, but oh my ... it's really good.

I served this on toasted cibatta bread with grilled chicken, mozzarella, paremesan and fresh lettuce. Later in the week, I made some quinoa and used the leftover pesto as a sauce. It was fantastic!

Fresh Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 to 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts
3 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (add more if your pesto is too dry)
1 hot pepper (optional)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Put everything in a food processor and mix until you have a sauce thickness to your liking. Pour sauce into saucepan and heat until it's warmed through. While the sauce is heating, whip the heavy cream. Add 1 to 4 tablespoons of the cream to the sauce, depending on your taste (I used about 2 tablespoons). The sauce should remain somewhat thick.

Add to your favorite al dente pasta, toasted cibatta bread sandwiches, quinoa. Another great dish with pesto is cooked penne pasta, and lightly steamed veggies like broccoli, asparagus, shallots, carrots ... and whatever other favorite veggies you have on hand. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kale chips

I usually don't post two days in a row, but I had to share this stupidly simple recipe for kale chips. I used the kale that I'm growing in my garden for the first time.

This healthy snack was gobbled up by my kids and me within 15 minutes.

If you can, use organic kale. It's number eight on the Dirty Dozen list for pestacide use.

Preheat the oven to 350. Take one head of kale and remove leaves. Wash and dry thoroughly. In a large bowl, massage kale leaves with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with sea salt and spread out in one layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until crisp. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

The final result is a very light and crispy chip that tastes incredible. Be careful, though, the chips can be messy because of how flaky they are. My kids ate these straight off the cooled baking sheet and asked for more right away. We'll be having fun this summer experiementing with different flavors, like adding nutritional yeast, tahini, soy, chipotle, cajun, etc. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vegan tortilla soup

My husband and I are big fans of tortilla soup. I've tried to make it several times, but it never seemed to taste right. I finally found the winning recipe that my mom emailed me from a book called The 30-Minute Vegan: Over 175 Quick, Delicious, and Healthy Recipes for Everyday Cooking. Even if you're not vegan, there are plenty of flavorful and adaptable recipes that the whole family will love. For example, I add cooked chicken and shredded cheese to my husband's bowl to round his meal out. 

I've made it several times since the first try and it's always been a hit with the whole family. It also freezes well. I make two batches at a time to make sure I have plenty on hand. 

Mexican Tortilla Soup

1 tbs olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped into medium dice
1 Anaheim or Jalapeno Chile, seeded and sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes, preferable fire-roasted
1 15oz can black or pinto beans, drained
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 cups water or vegetable stock
2 tbs soy sauce
1/2 medium size avocado cubed
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

In a medium size pot, sauté the olive oil, onion, Anaheim pepper and garlic over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cumin, water and soy sauce. Cover and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes or so while you prepare the avocado and cilantro. 

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a handful of tortillas and a sprinkling of avocado and cilantro.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fresh tomatoes, basil and asparagus

Since the weather has warmed up, I've curiously found my appetite waning a bit. Curiously because I have a huge appetite and usually have food on my mind during most of my waking moments.

A couple of weeks ago, I had ordered some patio garden containers from VP Farms on 76th Street, and when I went to pick them up, I also bought a couple of heirloom tomatoes and fresh Michigan asparagus. They looked too good to sit on my countertop, so I sliced up the tomato and steamed the asparagus. My patio pots contained, among many other things, three gorgeous basil plants, so I plucked off a few leaves and sliced those up. A drizzle of olive oil, a few turns of freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese, and I had a very filling and simple - yet light - lunch.

My garden is now complete. I have four pots of lettuce (pictures coming soon), one large tomato pot, one pot of just basil (fresh pesto, anyone??), and a pot of cilantro, parsley and oregano. In the ground I have broccoli, collard greens, melon, beans, kale, cucumbers and snow peas. I have no idea what I'm doing with any of them, so we shall see what happens.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Grilled pesto and parmesan sandwich

I love sandwiches, and grilled sandwiches are some of my favorites. Here's a very simple recipe for a grilled pesto and parmesan sandwich that can be made in minutes.

2 slices whole grain bread (the crustier, the better!)
1-2 tablespoons of pesto
1 tablespoon shredded parmesan cheese
2-3 slices of tomato
1 small handful of flavorful lettuce
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or butter - please, no margarine!!)

Slather on the coconut oil and assemble sandwich, leaving out the lettuce. Place on griddle pan until the bread is browned on both sides. Add lettuce to the grilled sandwich and enjoy!

Variations: Try adding grilled chicken, portobello mushroom,

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Walnut, gorgonzola and cranberry salad made with lettuce from VP Farms in Caledonia

Spring is just around the corner! That means local farmers markets, roadside produce stands and greenhouses are going to start popping up all over the place. This is my favorite time of year!

One such place that opened a couple of weeks ago is VP Farms on 76th Street in Caledonia. Local home of the Vertical Garden Kit, VP Farms focuses on proving fresh fruits and vegetables as well as helping people grow their own using innovative methods of growing.

Since they also supply local restaurants with their produce, including The Green Well Gastro Pub and Bisto Bella Vita, picking up some fresh lettuce to make my favorite simple go-to salad from them is always a good bet.

Here's the recipe:

2 cups lettuce

1 tablespoon gorgonzola cheese

1 tablespoon cranberries

1-2 tablespoons raspberry balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon raw walnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil (I use a sprayer and spray the top layer of the salad)

Mix together and enjoy! This is a very versatile salad, and you can pretty much throw anything in there that you want. I've added: avocado, grilled tilapia, dulse flakes, sugar peas, red pepper slices, chicken - the possibilties are endless.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Walnut and avocado fettuccine

I'm always on the lookout for new recipes. When a friend told me she was doing a fast through her church that calls for avoiding meat, poultry, fish, dairy, caffeine, yeast, sugar and things with preservatives, I was very interested in whatever recipes she tried. She shared this very simple Avocado and Walnut Fettucini that was so delicious that I had it for lunch and dinner last night.

The original recipe calls for:

12 oz. whole wheat pasta
4 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/4 c lemon juice
10 sun dried tomatoes
1 cup chopped green peppers
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 diced avocados

Boil pasta according to directions. I found a great brand at Meijer that cooks up in just four minutes called Al Dente Pasta Co.'s Whole Wheat Blend Plus Flax Roasted Garlic Fettuccine.

While pasta is boiling, whisk oil, lemon and garlic together and add to a large serving bowl. Add remaining ingredients, then add pasta and toss well. That's it!

For the bowl pictured above, I omitted the green peppers because I didn't have any.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Caramel apple wrap recipe

My kids were famished after helping me clean the house, so I pulled something together I call the Caramel Apple Wrap. All of the ingredients (except for one) are healthy and combined make a very yummy snack for kids.

Take a whole grain wrap and spread with 1-2 tablespoons of raw honey and 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter (make your own, learn how to here!). Add 1/2 of a sliced apple and sprinkle with 10 or so chocolate chips. Then wrap and sprinkle with cinnamon.

My kids downed these within 15 minutes, and said that they were "Deee-licious!

How a raw food diet changed my eating habits in 14 days

On Jan. 16 I began a 14-Day Raw Food Challenge that was created by a husband/wife team that I freelance for. Week 1 consisted of blended soups and smoothies and week 2 consisted of adding a raw chewable meal for dinner. I didn't make it through all the recipes and I did cheat here and there, but I learned a lot about hunger and mindless eating. I used to think I was hungry all the time, so I'd find myself mindlessly eating all the time, mostly on processed foods (from the health food store, of course!). Once I started fueling my body with the nutrients it needed, I noticed that my hunger regulated itself and I didn't mindlessly eat. I lost a couple of pounds (that are still gone!) and I feel healthy and light.

I look at food in a different light now, including what I feed my kids. They need to eat more vegetables, so I try and make meals appealing with a lot of variety. For dinner the other night, I wanted them to have a spinach salad, so I pulled one together using organic croutons, strawberries and blueberries, some shredded cabbage and some parmesan cheese. I used a bit of ranch dressing and the kids ate it up! No, it wasn't raw, but both kids happily gobbled up a cup of spinach and a half a cup of cabbage in one sitting. That is success to me!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Turn those stinky socks into a cold/flu remedy!

Although I usually share my experiences with food and young children here, I couldn’t resist sharing this natural remedy for the cold/flu. If you have kids, you know how they seem to be a germ magnet. I spoke with Lisa Miller of Lisa Miller Wellness and she shared a simple remedy you can do at home with your child to help ease the yuckiness of the cold or flu.

It’s called “Magic” Sock Therapy. And, no, the “magic” of the socks aren’t their stinkiness – make sure to use a clean pair of white cotton socks. Submerge them under really hot water for a few minutes and then wring them out. Put them over your child’s feet and then cover up with some wool socks.

After the socks cool off, repeat the above steps (using the same pair of cotton socks) for one to five hours, or until you’re well. The socks pull congestion through your head, down your body and through your feet. Make sure to bundle up well with some warm clothing and/or a blanket, because as the socks cool off, you’ll start to get chilly.

You can use this on yourself as well, and Lisa advised that it was best to do at night.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Protect your brain with this granola recipe and start the new year out right

I recently read a book called Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children, by Carol Simontacchi. This book is an amazing and scary read. Amazon.com says "according to [author and] certified clinical nutritionist Carol Simontacci, the food industries that give us packaged, processed, artifically flavored, chemical-ridden, artifically colored, nutrient-stripped psuedo foods such as sodas, processed soups, sugared cereals, and fiberless bread 'wontonly destroy our bodies and our brains, all in the name of profit.' We Americans (adults and children) eat 200 pounds of sugar and artificial sweeteners each year ... The reason, according to the author, is that we're starving our brains with lack of nutrition."

Not only does this contribute to obesity, but it also causes mood swings, depression, violent behavior, ADD/ADHD and anxiety, among many other things. If you have a New Year's Resolution to eat healthier, or if you have an unexplained health issue, you might want to pick up a copy of this book. It may lead to an "ah-ha!" moment for you and start you on the path to wellness.

Thankfully, the author does not just leave the reader hanging with the scary statistics. She also offers up some healthful recipes that are heavy on flavor and nutrition and low in sugar and artificial anything. One of my favorites is a homemade granola recipe to help fill the nutritional void that many of us experience.

I've personally made this more than several times. It's great for breakfast with a little bit of rice milk or as an afternoon snack.

Granola with Fruit and Nuts:
4c rolled oats
2c oat bran
1c raw sesame seeds
2c raw sunflower seeds
1c unsweetened coconut flakes
1c almonds, chopped
1c walnuts, chopped
1c raisins
1c dried apricots, diced
1c dried papaya or figs, diced
1/2c olive oil
1/4c honey

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large roasting pan, mix together the oats and oat bran, seeds, flakes and nuts. Over a low flame, heat the oil and honey together until the mixture is very thin and easily poured. Drizzle the oil and honey mixture over the dry ingredients, mixing constantly, until all the pieces are coated evenly. Bake the granola, stirring thoroughly every 15 minutes or so, until lightly browned, 45-60 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the fruit. When the granola is baked and cooled slightly, mix the fruit with the granola and stir thoroughly to mix. After the granola is completely cooled, store in food storage bags or plastic containers in the refrigerator.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.