Sunday, October 27, 2013

Healthy Halloween

I love Halloween. I love costumes and parties and trick-or-treating. I don't love the junk food (for me or for my kids). Here are a few things we do at our house to try to keep the fun of Halloween without making it a gluttonous excuse to eat a bunch of crap (and to keep Mommy from feeling like a heroin addict sweating and shaking as I obsess over the bags of candy in the pantry).

1. Pass out non-candy treats -- you might get egged by some pissed-off 12 year olds who wanted full-size Snickers bars, but the cause is worth it. Check out the dollar section in Target or Michael's, the favor section at a party supply store, or a discount store like Big Lots or Dollar Tree. Here are a few ideas:
    • Halloween erasers/pencils
    • Stickers 
    • Glow bracelets (our choice to hand out this year; my kids are actually excited about it!)
    • Small packs of sugar-free gum
    • Goodie bag trinkets like kazoos, whistles, toy rings
    • Temporary tattoos

2. The Halloween Witch -- I read about this in a parenting magazine when Makayla was a baby and we've done it every year since she started trick-or-treating. At the end of the evening, the kids each get to eat 2 pieces of candy on-the-spot. They then pick out 5 more pieces to keep. The rest go in a bag on the porch for the Halloween Witch. *She* takes the candy away and leaves a small present in it's place. For example, last year the kids agreed on a dvd they wanted. The first couple of years I sent the Halloween Witch candy with my husband to his office but then I felt bad for his co-workers who then had to fight the temptation. I've heard about donating it to soldiers or firefighters but I kinda' want them to be fit and ready to protect or save me if it is necessary, so I'd rather not load them up with high-calorie, sugary treats. The bottom-line for me is that if I shouldn't eat it, and I don't want my kids eating it, I shouldn't be passing it off to other people. So the last couple of years (this is difficult for me) I've thrown it in the trash. And I throw it in the big trash can and dump something gross on top so I don't get tempted to pull a Costanza and take something "off the top".

3. Healthy Halloween Party Food -- I've never actually made any of these, but they look awfully cute and they are much healthier alternatives to most of the fare you'd see at a party for kids! Let me know if you try any and love them. And if you try one and get a complete pinterest fail you definitely need to share!
    • Green Meanies -- cute monster mouths made with apples, peanut butter and almond slivers
    • Banana Ghost Pop -- Shredded coconut and bananas make a fun treat. Or you can dip a frozen banana half in white chocolate and add the mini chocoate chips for the eyes and mouth
    • Witch's Brooms and Clementine Pumpkins -- pretzels and string cheese; clementines and celery -- easy and so cute on a platter
    • Spider Deviled Eggs -- gotta' have some protein
    • Ghastly Pear Ghosts -- I never would have thought of this but when you see it, the shape of the pears are just perfect! And pears are in season (unlike strawberries which I saw in a lot of posts).
    • A bowl of no-sugar added red fruit juice with an ice "hand" in it. You take a latex glove, fill it with water, tie a knot in the opening and then freeze it. When it's totally solid you peel the glove off and put it in the bowl. My Mom did this at a party when I was a kid and I still remember it!
I hope these ideas help! How do you keep Halloween healthy in your house?

Cauliflower "Couscous"

I was very skeptical when I read about cauliflower "rice". I don't despise cauliflower as my mom does but it's not my favorite vegetable. I especially doubted claims that it could fool my brain into thinking I was getting something like rice. But my diet is fairly limited due to some health issues and I am desperate for variety, so I thought it was worth a shot. I read a bunch of recipes online and decided to experiment. I was so happy with my first try that I took some to a family gathering. Having the women in my family taste something I made is a huge step for me as they all cook really well and me, well, the gene seems to have skipped me. The last time I asked my professionally trained chef-grandmother to try something, it was a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free muffin. She gagged, spit it out and asked how I could possibly eat something so vile. She is not afraid to tell me the truth. So I knew I hit the jackpot when she said, "This is pretty good!". Then my kids tried it and they both loved it! Victory dance :) Best of all, it is pretty quick and easy to make AND is still good reheated! 

I decided to go very basic in the seasoning so I could get a sense of how else it could be used. Just some salt and pepper this time but I think the options are almost endless. The coconut oil gives this a bit of a sweet, nutty flavor which counters the cauliflower taste well. The texture is firm and would work well on it's own or under a stir fry.  

One head of cauliflower
3 Tbs Coconut oil
1/2 a large Sweet Yellow Onion

Cut up the raw cauliflower and place in a food processor. "Pulse" until the cauliflower is shredded and set aside in a bowl . Mine looked more like couscous than rice. I had to do it in batches to do the whole head.

Finely chop the onion in the food processor. Mine was almost a pulp because I didn't want chunks of onion.

Put 2 Tbs. of coconunt oil in a large skillet set to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it is translucent and slightly browned.

Add the cauliflower and the last Tbs. of coconut oil. Stir continuously for about 10 minutes and then cover with a lid for a few more minutes. I like mine with a bit of "bite" but if you like yours softer you may need to cook it longer. I finished it off with some fresh ground peppercorn medley and Himalayan salt.

If you are trying to lose weight and are reducing your fat intake, you could make this in a non-stick pan and reduce the amount of oil (probably by at least half).

I have a few variations I will be sharing soon so if you like this recipe be sure to check back for more!

Enjoy! Please let me know what you think after you try it!

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good God I Miss Sourdough Bread: My Gluten-Free Journey

I'm sure all of you have heard about going "gluten-free". You may have heard it's just a fad. You may have heard that all you have to do is eliminate gluten and you'll get a flat belly. You may have heard that it can actually hurt you to eliminate gluten. You may have heard that you can solve your child's behavior problems by eliminating gluten. I'm not here to give a universal opinion on whether or not YOU should eliminate gluten from your diet or your child's. I'm simply going to share my personal experience in this post. In the second installment, I will share the pros and cons as well as what I would do differently if I was starting all over again.

Five years ago I went to a new doctor. When I signed in at the front desk, they handed me a very detailed 4-page questionnaire to fill out. I was ready to check "no" to virtually every question and write down the few surgeries I had. But this form was different. It didn't just ask if I had diabetes or had ever had a stroke. It asked how often I experienced headaches (daily), how much they affected my life (greatly). It asked how often I experienced bloating or intestinal distress (when did I NOT?), and how much it affected my life (significantly). It asked about my allergies and asthma. It asked about my level of energy and moods. It asked how often I felt irritable (ooooohhhh, should I answer this one or call my husband for HIS answer?). It was redefining "healthy" for me as I answered the questions. I started to realize that lack of major illness did not necessarily mean that I was "healthy".

When I met with the doctor, she said that many of the symptoms I was experiencing could be caused by a gluten sensitivity. She didn't reccomend any tests, but she did suggest that I eliminate gluten from my diet for a couple of months to see if it changed how I felt. It was really difficult. I LOVE me some gluten. But within a couple of weeks I was feeling significantly better. My headaches disappeared completely. A couple of months later I got a little headache and I couldn't even remember where I put the Excedrin. I wasn't running to the bathroom several times a day. I wasn't avoiding social situations because of "intestinal distress" that could clear a room. I had more energy. I felt less irritable. I felt like I could think more clearly (it was just like a Claritin commercial). I definitely felt the difference. The first couple of times I ate gluten again (either by accident or because I just said, "screw it, I really want that pizza") I felt all of those symptoms come back. It got to the point where it was pretty easy to say "no" because I felt so crappy when I let myself give in. Five years later I've identified other, more subtle side-effects of eating gluten. The most surprising to me was the dry skin/eczema I would get around my nostrils and on the sides of my chin. It started in my early 20s and I didn't even realize it had gone away at first. It wasn't until 3 years into my gluten-free journey that I realized that every time I ate gluten, the dry skin would come back about 48 hours later. I never would have thought there would be those sorts of connections between what I ate and very specific changes in so many parts of my body.

A couple of years after going gluten-free I started having severe, debilitating headaches again. I was also having some increased intestinal distress. I went through neurological testing, CAT scans, an MRI, and some kind of crazy probe that went up into my sinuses. Everything was coming up clear. Then, at the ENT's office, I noticed a poster advertising a test for food sensitivities. I told him about my gluten issue and asked if some other sensitivies could be causing my problems. We did the test and it turns out I am also sensitive to egg yolks, egg whites, all dairy, and almonds. Your body can develop these sensitivities over time. With no gluten, I was eating a lot of these other foods which may have contributed to developing a sensitivity to them. Within a couple of weeks of cutting out these other foods I felt much better again.

The testing also helped me to understand the actual process of what was happening in my body. When most of us think of food allergies, we think of hives or anaphylactic reactions. It turns out there is another type of allergy that results from different antibodies. These non-IgE allergies are more likely to have a delayed onset and have a wider variability in symptoms. This is why it is often so difficult to make the connection between the food and the symptoms. When you eat shrimp and break out in hives 30 minutes later, it's not hard to figure out what's happening. When you eat bread and 18 hours later you feel foggy headed and have diarrhea, it's a lot harder to connect the dots.

Going gluten-free is not easy. Luckily there are many quality products widely available in stores and there are great resources on the web. But a lot of gluten-free stuff is high-calorie crap. In the next post, Good God I Miss Sourdough Part Two, I'll share some of the most difficult aspects of going gluten-free as well as a few of my favorite resources. I hope that sharing my experiences can help you if you decide that going gluten-free is something you'd like to try.

Please share your experiences if you've cut gluten or other foods out of your diet and feel that it has made a positive difference in your health. Your story might help someone make a positive change in his or her own life!