Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gelatin

I think I already knew this in the back of my mind.  Maybe I forgot about it or chose to block it out.  But, it wasn't until a recent discussion with friends that I gave a second thought to where gelatin comes from.  I suppose ignorance is bliss. So, I did a little research and this is what I found out:

Gelatin is made from boiling the skin, cartilage, and bones of cows and pigs.  *Gasp*  I know.  It's disgusting. Basically, it's the leftovers from factory farming, which I'm completely against. And worst of all, it's in all kinds of things we use everyday:

  • Jell-O
  • gummy bears
  • make-up
  • medicine capsules
  • marshmallows
  • jelly
  • yogurt
  • rolls of film

I could be overreacting. Imagine that! I guess it all "boils down to" whether or not gelatin is harmful to our bodies.  I really don't know the answer. In researching the health risks, I actually found health benefits.  Gelatin supposedly strengthens skin, hair, and joints.

I'm going to continue researching this.  If you're like me and you're a little taken aback by all of this, here are some gelatin alternatives I've found:

Agar-Agar
This flavorless gelling agent, derived from cooked and pressed seaweed, is available flaked, powdered, or in bars. For best results, grind the agar-agar in a coffee grinder or food processor and then cook it, stirring it regularly until it dissolves. When used in a recipe, agar-agar sets in about an hour and doesn't require refrigeration to gel. For a firmer gel, add more agar-agar, and for a softer gel, add more liquid. And don't worry if you don't get it right the first time—you can fix a faux pas simply by reheating the gel. Here's a general guide on how to use agar in recipes:
• Substitute powdered agar-agar for gelatin using equal amounts.

• 1 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 tsp. of agar-agar powder.

• Set 2 cups of liquid using 2 tsp. of agar-agar powder, 2 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes, or one bar.

• Keep in mind that highly acidic ingredients, such as lemons, strawberries, oranges, and other citrus fruits, may require more agar-agar than the recipe calls for. Also, enzymes in fresh mangoes, papaya, and pineapple break down the gelling ability of the agar-agar so that it will not set. Cooking these fruits before adding them to a recipe, however, neutralizes the enzymes so that the agar-agar can set.


Carrageen
Also known as Irish moss, this seaweed, found in coastal waters near Ireland, France, and North America, is best when used for making softer gels and puddings. To prepare carrageen, rinse it thoroughly, and then soak it in water until it swells. Add the carrageen to the liquid you want to set, boil for 10 minutes, and remove the carrageen. One ounce of carrageen will gel 1 cup of liquid. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on gelatin, possible health risks, and alternatives.

Good News! There are gelatin-free gummy bears out there!

Jessica

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Are You Going to Do?

I think most of us are guilty of becoming disgruntled when the power goes out during a thunderstorm.  We complain that "there's nothing to eat" when it's time for our weekly trip to the grocery store. Or, we have "nothing to wear" when our closets are actually full of clothes.  This should be completely embarrassing for us to admit. But, we live in such a spoiled and self-centered dream world, that it doesn't even register with us that there are people who actually don't have electricity, food, or clothes.

My sister-in-law and her family recently participated in the Meals With Hope 5-Day Challenge. Do you think you could survive on rice and beans for 5 days, no electricity, running water, wearing clothes two days in a row, no shoes, and sleeping on the floor? Heidi gave me permission to share her family's story.

The 5-Day Challenge
by Heidi

This has been an enlightening week for me, participating in the Meals with HOPE 5-day Challenge. Although substituting rice and beans for my normal meals hasn't been particularly difficult (though for hubby and kids, it's been a different story), I was surprised to find that by eliminating snacks between meals, I would get so hungry at times that I felt like I was fasting!  It breaks my heart to think there are countless people in the world who live that way every day! I have become painfully aware of the luxury with which I am surrounded. 

I'm embarrassed to admit that most of the extra daily challenges we just couldn't do.  I tried to go without shoes one day, but didn't even make it a quarter of the way to the bus stop before I had to go back for flip flops.  I was going to wear the same clothes two days in a row, but just couldn't bear to put on that smelly shirt again.  Today we're supposed to go without running water, but I just couldn't make myself do it.  And I got voted down pretty strongly against sleeping on the floor as a family one night.  (Patrick claimed he wouldn't be able to sleep, and he had SOLs this week; Marty foresaw being in pain for days afterward...)  Only I went without electricity one evening (from sundown to dawn), and ended up doing dishes by candlelight.  Our collective wimpiness puts me to shame.  There are SO MANY in the world doing these things because they don't have any choice!  I'm not sure my 9-year-old son is getting it.

At every mealtime and bedtime, I have prayed with the kids that we would have compassion for the people of this world who don't have enough, and that God would show us how we can help them.  I'll start by "giving the gap," between what I spent on our simple groceries this week and what I would normally spend, to a hunger relief organization.  We already sponsor a girl in Columbia, and we frequently pray for her as a family, but I'd like to get the kids even more involved.  I hope that this week has made a positive impression on my children, and that they will be enthusiastic and creative about helping those in need.

I hope this inspires you, not only to become more aware of those in need, but to do something about it!  Maybe you're not sure where to start.  My husband and I sponsor a little girl in Tanzania monthly through Compassion International.  Sponsorship allows children who are living in poverty to receive an education, to be healthy, to develop self-confidence and social skills, and to hear about the love God has for them.  We enjoy writing to our little girl and sending her stickers and pictures.

Our parents have always told us that there are "starving children in Africa."  But the truth is, there are people in need all around us. One in ten households in the United States are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.  That could mean someone in your neighborhood.

What are you going to do?

Psalm 22:9
The generous will themselves be blessed,
for they share their food with the poor.

1 John 3:18
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Jessica

Monday, May 16, 2011

30-Minute Meal

I'm no Rachael Ray, but I do have a 30-minute meal idea!  My sister-in-law called me to chat the other day, and shared a red lentil soup recipe with me. I made it for dinner tonight.  It was quick, simple, and delicious!

Heidi's Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
  • 6 cups of chicken broth ( I use "Not- Chick'n" broth.  It's better than any chicken broth I've ever had!)
  • 1 1/2 cups of red lentils ( They look orange and turn yellow when they're cooked.)
  • 1 small onion, chopped ( I also added 1/4 cup of carrots and 1/4 cup of celery, chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • fresh or dried parsley and croutons for garnish
Put the first five ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 30 minutes.  

My sister-in-law purees these ingredients with an immersion blender to make the soup nice and creamy, and then tops it off with parsley and croutons.  I decided not to puree mine, and it reminded me of the chicken and stars soup my mom used to give me as a child when I was sick. I loved it!

While that was simmering, my husband whipped up some homemade pesto to put on roasted vegetable sandwiches.  This is my favorite pesto recipe from Eating Well.

Basic Basil Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, (2-3 bunches)
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted (see Tip)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 large clove garlic, quartered
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preparation:

Place basil, walnuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, oil, water, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor; pulse a few times, then process until fairly smooth, or to the desired consistency, scraping down the sides occasionally.

 

Tip:

To toast walnuts: Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes.

Pesto is easy to make and so handy! You can put it on chicken, pasta, white pizza, sandwiches, and so much more!





What's your favorite 30-minute meal?

Jessica



 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Dainty Little Dinner

Have you ever had one of those days where you're running around, and then all the sudden realize it's 7 o' clock and you haven't had dinner? You don't want something too heavy because you'll be going to bed in a few hours. We had a day like that today, so this is what we made:


First, I cut the crust off of 4 slices of Hearty Wheat and Flax Bread, and then cut those slices in half.

On one side, I spread soft butter mixed with fresh chopped basil, salt, and pepper.

On the other side, I spread organic whipped cream cheese mixed with fresh chopped chives.



I filled the insides with cucumber and carrot slices and fresh spinach.


 And made these beautiful, dainty, little sandwiches!


They went perfectly with a bowl of hot potato-leek soup. And, were you wondering what I did with the bread scraps?  I cubed them, toasted them, and made croutons for the soup!


It was a perfect little dinner.


 And fresh strawberries make a sweet dessert.


To all you men out there...it's okay to be dainty sometimes. Embrace it.

Jessica


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Living Room Yoga

I just finished some morning yoga, something I hadn't done in a few weeks.  I'm not going to lie and say that it's something I do regularly or that I'm even good at it.  I'm not very flexible or coordinated, actually.  I've taken yoga in large classes, where everyone comes in their stretchy pants and is focusing on their "third eye." (Is that a practical joke?)  But, I find that the most relaxing place to do yoga is in my own living room.

Yoga, for me, is not about getting a great workout, but about taking a few moments to quiet down and rest in the presence of God.  How often do we really recognize our heartbeat, breath, and appreciate how beautifully we were created?  It is not a competition with others or a competition with yourself. It doesn't matter if you could twist into a pretzel yesterday and can barely do a forward bend today.  It doesn't matter if you're overweight, forgot to return your library books, or have piles of laundry to do later.  It's about accepting yourself and your body exactly where you are in that moment. God loves you no matter what you do, don't do, or forget to do.  Maybe when you start, all you can do is the corpse pose or the child's pose. While you're in corpse pose, rub your hands together to create heat and place your hands gently over your closed eyes.  It's so relaxing! Choose a Bible verse to meditate on while you're in your poses.

corpse pose

child's pose

Something else I have taken from yoga is the importance of good posture.  We all tend to get tired or nervous and hunch over. Roll those shoulders back and down and approach your day with confidence!  Starting your day with yoga makes you more aware of your body and helps you make good choices throughout the day...like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or eating fruit instead of candy.

I know you're busy and that finding time for yoga can be difficult.  One of my favorite dvds is "15 Minute Results Yoga with Rodney Yee and Mariel Hemingway."  You can choose between upper body, lower body, abs, and full body workouts. Perfect for beginners! And you can do it right in your own home!

Psalm 139:13-18
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I wish you a day full of peace, restfulness, and an awareness of God's love for you!
Jessica

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meatless Monday

Do you think you could give up meat one day a week?  Meatless Monday is a movement that is quickly spreading across the United States.  But, believe it or not, the movement actually began during World War I, when American families were urged to cut back on meat to aid the war effort.


I know you must be thinking that it's easy for me to ask you to do this. I am a vegetarian, after all.  But, if my meat-loving husband can do it, you can too! Here are some reasons why I hope you'll give it a try:

America is fighting another kind of war...a war against chronic, preventable diseases. 70% of healthcare in the United States is spent on treating these preventable diseases. Cutting back on your intake of meat reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Giving up meat one day a week will also reduce your carbon footprint.  The meat industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation!  In addition, you will help save water.  More water is required to care for livestock than to water crops.

Are you wondering what you'll eat? Don't worry. You can have wonderful, healthy, and filling meals without eating meat. To give you an idea, here are some pictures of one of our Meatless Monday dinners.

Meat-Free Taco Salad

 I started with some fresh vegetables, straight from my mom's garden.  I love fresh, organic vegetables- dirt, bugs (which sent me into a screaming frenzy), and all! I chopped them up into a salad (not the bugs).

 We grated some New York Extra-Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack.

 Made some fresh guacamole! It's easy!

We put it all together with some refried beans, black beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, salsa, and  tortilla chips.  Voila! We have a quick and easy, meat-free taco salad!

Guacamole Recipe

  • Scoop out an avacado and put it in a bowl. Mash it up with a fork.
  • Add a teaspoon of each of these: crushed garlic, chili powder, and cumin.
  • Sprinkle in some salt and pepper.  Add a squirt of lime juice. Stir together.
  • Top it off with some diced tomatoes and green onions.
So, are you going to join in on the war effort against preventable diseases? Please leave comments and let me know if you decide to go meat-free on Mondays.  I would also love for you to share some of your meat-free recipe ideas!

Happy Monday to all of you!
Jessica





Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eating Healthy on a Budget

My husband doesn't usually address me by my name when he starts a conversation with me.  He just starts talking and assumes I know he's talking to me and not himself.  On the rare occasion when I hear my name, I know I've probably done something I shouldn't have!

Let me take you back a couple of years ago when I heard from the other room, "Jessica!"  Uh oh.  "You spent $600 on groceries this month?!"  Yikes!  And, there was nowhere to hide in that tiny, little, one bedroom apartment!  Maybe you can relate. Trying to stay on a grocery budget and buy healthy food can seem difficult.  I'm here to help.  It's taken me four years to figure it out, but I can finally say that my husband and I eat healthy, whole food (not processed) for around $50-$70 per week.

The first thing you're going to need is a notebook. It's time to make a menu! Turn to the first page and list the days of the week. Then, if you know you're having dinner at a friend's house one night, put it on your menu, so you don't plan food for that night.

Start looking through your freezer and pantry! What do you already have that you can put together to make a meal? We all overstock or forget about food in the freezer. Choose a day to have that meal and make a note that you already have some of the ingredients at home. Once you've done that, start looking through your favorite cookbooks, magazines, and food blogs for recipes.  Try to plan meals that have similar ingredients, just space them out on your menu.  For instance, maybe you're having soup that calls for fresh basil and you're not going to use it all for that recipe.  You could make a margherita pizza another day to use up the rest of the basil.

Sample Menu:

Monday: soup
Tuesday: hamburgers (ground beef and hamburger buns in freezer)
Wednesday: spaghetti dinner at church
Thursday: tacos
Friday: margherita pizza
Saturday: chicken, rice, and roasted broccoli.
Sunday: Going out to eat for Mother's Day.

Now that you have your menu, make a grocery list based on your menu.  You can add bread for sandwiches, but the idea is to eat your dinner leftovers for your lunches! You'll probably need a box of cereal and a gallon of milk too.

Time to start shopping! Let me first say that you don't have to buy everything organic!  Buy generic brands when possible. There are now generic brands that carry organic products.  Check your labels.  I have found a can of name brand kidney beans that contains high fructose corn syrup. Why? I'm just as baffled as you are!  I'd rather buy the store brand that contains beans, water, and salt.  Look for products with the least amount of chemicals and preservatives. If you can't read it, you probably don't want to eat it.  There are some important foods to splurge on and get organic...milk, grass-fed beef,  free-range, no hormones added chicken, grass-fed or raw cheese. You can wash most fruits and vegetables yourself, so I wouldn't try to buy all organic produce.

Here are some tips to think about while you're shopping:

1. Stick to your list!

2. Don't buy a bunch of junk food for snacks.  Buy a bag of apples. Buy celery to dip in peanut butter. Buy baby carrots to dip in ranch.  Buy ingredients to bake your own batch of cookies.  You don't need a box of cookies that contain hydrogenated oils.

3. You don't need soda or a bunch of juices.  I rarely buy juice.  I drink water with lemon or make my own tea, sweeten it with honey, and add some ice cubes.  Trust me, you'll survive!

4. Don't buy extra food just because it's on sale!  Stick to buying what you need for the week, not month.  When you buy for the month, food starts going to waste.  When you throw produce in the trash, you're throwing your money in the trash.  When you have frostbitten food in the freezer, you have frostbitten money.  When you have stale, moldy bread, that's your stale, moldy money.

I hope this helps you reduce your grocery bill and eat healthy food at the same time.  It's really as simple as planning and sticking to your list. 

If you have questions or more suggestions on how to save money, please leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you!

Jessica

Friday, May 6, 2011

Parabens

Most of us girls spend quite a bit of time making sure we have the best looking skin, hair, and makeup. Who doesn't want voluminous hair, porcelain skin, and glossy lips? That's how they look on magazine covers, right?

Well, there's a chance this "beauty" is coming at a high price...our health. Many of these cosmetic products contain antimicrobial preservatives called parabens, which keep bacteria, fungus, and mold from growing in your favorite eyeshadow. Products containing parabens generally have a longer shelf life and are less expensive than natural products.  However, there was a study done in 2004 that found parabens in breast tumors, "intact (not changed or metabolized.)" This does not prove that parabens cause breast cancer, but it's enough evidence for me to run from them like they're the plague!

Parabens can be found in shampoo, lotion, makeup, shaving cream, deodorant, sunscreen, and in some food. As you're scanning the ingredients on the back of your bottles, beware that they don't always start with "p."  Parabens can come in the form of methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, benzylparaben, ethylparaben, and isobutylparaben. You have to be careful because even products that claim to be "natural" sometimes contain parabens.

You've probably already pulled out your lip gloss and shampoo to investigate, haven't you?  It can be pretty overwhelming when you start spotting parabens in all your favorite products.  So, now what?  Well, I want to share some of my favorite paraben-free products with you. They probably cost a little more than regular drug-store cosmetics.  But, if you're already buying shampoo from your salon or makeup from the Dillard's counter, this might actually be a great way for you to save money! You can find these products in Ulta, Target, and even Walmart now!

Yes to Carrots is one of my favorite lines of skin care.  I love the Body Moisturizing Lotion.  It makes my skin feel so smooth.  I even use it on my face!
Here are some more of my favorite Yes to Carrots products:
Facial Towelettes to take your makeup off before bed.

Lip Butter that makes your lips feel silky smooth!
Shampoo and Conditioner also comes in cucumber and tomato! 
Burt's Bees is another one of my favorite companies.  I love their lip shimmer sticks and "Super Shiny" lip gloss.
And, I cannot wait to try their new tinted lip balm!
Even Neutrogena has recently come out with a new "Naturals" line.  I have tried the Purifying Pore Scrub and it works great without over-drying.

I hope this helps you in your quest for paraben-free products.  And remember, you don't need to look like the girl on the cover of the magazine. You're beautiful just the way you are!  She's not real anyway...


Song of Solomon 4:7
You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.


Jessica

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bon Appetit!

If you've seen the movie Julie and Julia, you know the scene where the characters Julie and Eric Powell are scarfing down bruschetta like it's nobody's business.  Not just any bruschetta...Julia Child's recipe!  Just hearing the sounds they make while devouring it makes you want to run into the kitchen and start cooking!  Julie and Julia is one of my favorite movies.  It not only inspired me to start blogging, but to start cooking more often and to try new recipes.  Here is my own personal bruschetta recipe.  It is truly delicious, just like in the movie!

Bruschetta
In a bowl, mix together equal amounts of the following, chopped:
  • fresh tomatoes
  • yellow and/or orange bell peppers
  • red onion (you might like less onion)
Next, chop up a handful of fresh basil leaves and add to the bowl.  An easy way to chop basil is to stack a few leaves at a time, roll them up, and then chop through the roll.  Much easier than chopping individual leaves. 

Finally, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, mix, and pile it on top of some fresh baguette slices that you've toasted in a frying pan with olive oil.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

People often ask me what I cook and where I get my recipes.  The Food Network web-site is a great place to search for recipes by your favorite TV chefs.  But, I want to share with you my favorite go-to cookbooks.

The first one is called Good Housekeeping Family Vegetarian Cooking. I love it because the recipes are easy to make and it contains a flexible vegetarian section for people who like meat.  Here are some links to my favorite recipes from this book:
  • Vegetable Noodle Soup p. 239 (could not find a link)

My second favorite cookbook is one that was actually handed out to me for free at Costco one day while I was shopping. It's called In the Kitchen the Costco Way. I like free!  And speaking of free, you would not believe how excited I was to find the entire cookbook online to share with you!!! Be sure to check out the Cheesy Garden Veggie Quesadilla Triangles on p. 17.  They're a little time consuming, but the Cilantro Lime Sour Cream Dipping Sauce makes it all worth it!

I hope you will enjoy these recipes. Let me know if you need ideas for substitutions. And, don't forget to try my bruschetta! 

As Julia Child would say,
     "Bon Appetit!"

           Jessica

Monday, May 2, 2011

Food Revolution

Cereal and salsa. Sounds like a healthy lunch, doesn't it? As a teacher, I am appalled, not only by what is sold and marketed to kids in their schools, but by what their parents are sending for their lunches! Sorry parents, but cereal and salsa just doesn't cut it. That is why I am encouraging you to watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC.  Jamie is my hero!  He is a chef who is going into school systems in the United States and trying to transform school lunches.  Not only that, but he is also educating parents and the community on how to make fresh, home cooked meals. The more you involve your children in the growing and preparation of food, the more vegetables they will eat. I hope you'll watch and support Jamie. We need to put an end to childhood obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

You can help make a difference by signing Jamie's petition to get better food in schools! You can also find a local Food Revolution group in your area. All of my Hampton Roads friends, please join the Hampton Roads, VA Food Revolution facebook page!

Here are some of my favorite moments from both seasons 1 and 2:

 
Jamie showing kids how chicken nuggets are made. 
(Season 1: Huntington, West Virginia)

 
Jamie's flash mob encouraging students at Marshall University to cook. (Season 1: Huntington, West Virginia)

Jamie giving a demonstration on the amount of sugar added to one week's worth of flavored milk in the Los Angeles Unified School District. (Season 2)

Please join me in watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution tomorrow (May 3, 2011) at 8/7c on ABC!

Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Jessica

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pity Party

Okay, I know this is getting a bit personal.  You didn’t know I’d be talking about my under-arms, did you?  Let me first say that this is going to be one of those “take it or leave it” topics. This isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s more food for thought than anything. 

Here’s something you may not know about me; I don’t wear anti-perspirant.  I do wear deodorant.  There is a difference. An anti-perspirant is what keeps you from sweating.  Deodorant is what keeps you smelling like flowers.  The reason I don’t use an anti-perspirant is because I don’t particularly want aluminum compounds closing my sweat glands.  Did you know that your deodorant/anti-perspirant stick probably contains aluminum? Check the label.  There has been research associating Alzheimer’s disease with aluminum. Sweating is our body’s way of staying cool and releasing toxins.  So, where do those toxins go if your sweat glands are closed? I’ve read that they are recycled and absorbed back into the body and burden other organs. 

There are companies who make aluminum-free deodorant, such as Tom’s of Maine, Jason, and Trader Joe’s.  I have tried Tom’s of Maine.  I like the unscented stick.  I do not like the apricot stick.  I think it smells like B.O. and that’s not what we’re going for!  I am currently trying the Trader Joe’s brand, which contains cotton fibers to absorb moisture.

Now, all of this is coming from a person who doesn’t sweat that much.  I know that no one wants to walk around with soaking wet under-arms!  If you are thinking about trying it, maybe you could get an aluminum-free stick to wear around the house. Let me know if you decide to join my pit-y party!

I’m laughing just imagining some of your reactions to this blog.  After all, I could be like Julia Roberts...she doesn’t use anything at all!  She just freshens up with a little soap and water every now and then. How natural!

Jessica