Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

Beans! Beans! They’re Good for Your Heart.

The more you eat them, the more you f…ight disease and signs of aging. Beans are one of nature’s most perfect foods. They are a rich with antioxidants and a good source of folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron and protein. They can replace meat in a vegetarian or vegan meal. (But be sure to add “good fat” to a meatless meal. Either by cooking drizzling with healthy fats or oils  – coconut oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, olive oil, butter or lard – or incorporate oily foods like avocado, olives or nuts into the meal. Good fats are friends and help the body absorb nutrients. Fats are also good for your brain, skin and hair.) It’s also a good idea to pair beans with brown rice or corn. Each lack one or more proteins, but together they are more complete.  Different types of beans have different health benefits. Oh and if you want to reduce flatulence, soak them over night, sprout them or get yourself some Beano.

brown rice and heritage mixed beans (cooked in homemade chicken stock, onion and garlic) with broccoli and pineapple-mango fruit salad (dressed with fresh squeezed orange juice, cilantro and chive blossoms and topped with avocado)

Beans are versatile and should not be overlooked or considered boring. For me at least, it’s just a matter of (1) taking the plunge and learning to cook them and (2) experimenting with recipes and combinations. Learning to cook with beans is like learning to cook with any other protein – chicken, fish, beef, etc. The possibilities are endless. I’m not sure why so many people turn their noses up to beans and only associate them with vegetarian or vegan eating. They should just be associated with healthy eating. And of course, you don’t have to substitute meat with beans. You can eat them together. I strongly suggest doing that. Yum!!

Here’s another reason to eat more beans – you get more bang for your buck. If the upfront costs of eating healthy is one of the things preventing you from doing so, then eat more beans. If you buy dried beans you can save a ton of money – especially if you buy from bulk bins. I also prefer dried over canned for a few reasons: (1) it’s cheaper (2) the lining in cans frequently contains BPA, a dangerous chemical with more evidence mounting against it every day; (3) canned beans are usually high in sodium; and (4) the texture (more bite, less mush) and taste is superior. That said, I do keep a couple cans of low sodium, organic beans in the pantry for last minute meal ideas. Dried beans take a little more planning.

Once you learn the basics, the rest is just experimental. I suggest soaking for at least 6 hours. They don’t have to soak overnight. Many times I forgot to soak the beans and changed my entire dinner plans before I realized this. As a matter of fact, they don’t have to be soaked at all. But they will have to cook longer and remember, soaking will reduce flatulence later. Your gut will thank you. Cook them in broth (for about an hour if you soaked them, 2 to 2 1/2 hours if you forgot). Tasting one or two beans at different times during cooking can help you get the texture you want. Once they are cooked, you can add whatever you want. As I said the possibilities are endless.  You can even take them out of the cooking stock just before they’re done and finish them in a saute pan with… anything. Use your imagination. I think I’ll try it sauteed with onions, garlic, tomato and basil next time (Italian style). Maybe even some red pepper flake…

The rest of this post is completely unrelated to beans. Just random pictures and words.

For Cinco de Mayo:

Pulled Pork and Goat Cheese Quesadilla (with brown rice and vegetables) - Click on the photo for the recipe.

Chorizo Fajitas with peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese and plain yogurt.

Suggestion: Buy good quality blocks of cheese and shred or grate it yourself. You'll be amazed at the difference. If you only use prepackaged shredded or grated cheese, you don't know what you're missing. Try it! It's also more cost effective. I give the job of grating and shredding cheese to my kids, who love it. Then I store the excess in a container instead of a bag to prevent sticking. In case you didn't know, cellulose is used in prepackaged shredded cheese to prevent caking.

Mmmm. Refreshing Mojito with fresh mint from my garden.

Grossly malformed strawberries thanks to TruGreen. We won't be eating these. Click on the photo to find out what happened.

African Basil, Red Russian Kale, Spring Onions - All from my garden, used to make an "international omelet" this morning.

African Basil - Pretty enough to be used (and is used) as an ornamental. Heartier in colder weather than other basil, which is why it is sometimes considered a perennial. Taste is described as less minty and more clove like.

Blueberries! Fingers crossed that I get to eat the ripe berries before the birds this year.

Meatless Dinners… Every Other Day

A few nights ago we had a vegetarian dinner: roasted potatoes, pea puree with avocado and Trader Joe’s Organic Succotash (frozen mix of corn, edamame and red peppers).  I thought this would be a good time to break the news to the girls that we were going to eat meat free dinners every other day. You may have guessed that the kids (particularly Haleigh) were less than thrilled. Maybe I should let her watch an episode of “Kill It, Cook It, Eat It.” She’s an animal lover, but still a child who can’t resist things that taste good, no matter how it got on her plate or how it might negatively affect her health. Then there’s the the fact that eating less meat means she will have to eat more vegetables…

Brian is okay with it, but said he’d draw the line at vegan. Good. Because I do too. So we’ll see how it goes. I myself am going to try and avoid meat altogether on those days, but won’t try to persuade the kids and Brian to the same. My breakfasts and lunches are fairly meat free already, so it won’t really be that difficult for me.

I’m not going to be a stickler about it either. I mean if something comes up and plans change (we’re not eating at home or I have to make a last minute change) I’m not going to make things difficult for myself. And I don’t plan on avoiding all animal products (like dairy, eggs, lard, etc.). The main reason for this decision is that while it’s great that we’re eating pastured and grass fed meat, we’re still eating too much of it, in my opinion.

I’ve been studying a diet known as the WAP diet, which is based on the research of Dr. Weston A. Price. He was a dentist and during the 1930’s he studied nutrition to find answers to problems such as dental deformities and tooth decay. A lot of his research is still used for general nutrition today. There is even a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing his nutritional findings, the Weston A. Price Foundation.

He found that eating the things our ancestors ate leads to a healthy life (and nicer teeth) and eating a more modern diet of processed foods was not. (I know. Duh, right?)

The diet endorses the consumption of large quantities of nutrient dense meat, fat and bone broths – and to tell you the truth, a lot of the evidence is pretty compelling and has led to even more research and evidence. You probably already know that I don’t believe natural fat is a bad thing. Fats like olive oil, coconut oil (watch this clip from the Dr. Oz Show), lard, tallow and butter are good, real fats. However, I do avoid overly processed and genetically modified oils like Canola oil, vegetable oil, shortening and margarine. I won’t go into why America has the good fats and the bad fats mixed up, but you can read this long, but informative article from Men’s Health or do your own research. There’s plenty of information and evidence refuting this misconception, but people tend to overlook it because it is ingrained in our brains that fat is bad. It’s not.

Real fat is good for us and I don’t avoid it at all. As a matter of fact, I try to make sure there is some fat in every meal. If I’m not eating meat which already contains good fat, then I’ll add a little real butter, cream or milk, coconut oil, lard, tallow or olive oil. Fat lubricates organs (especially the brain, heart and skin). The brain especially needs fat to be healthy. The good fats help with nutrient absorption (which is why I add oil or butter to veggies), digestion, weight loss (it’s true – it satisfying and it takes longer to digest, so you eat less) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol).   I think America’s fear of fat is a bit unreasonable.

There are some good things in the WAP diet. It basically suggests eating food the way our ancestors did – natural and whole. Some good advice from the diet includes regularly consuming nutrient dense broths. They are nourishing, and I’m trying to do this as often as possible. For centuries traditional meals have included a soup or broth course at the start of a meal. Everyone’s probably heard by now that drinking a glass of water before a meal helps fill you up so you eat less. I think broth does the same thing, but has the bonus of added nutrients. Fermented foods are also recommended in the WAP diet. They provide us with probiotics which are important for proper digestive function, a cornerstone of good health.

That said, my problem with this philosophy (or at least with what the proponents seem to be suggesting) is that it focuses so heavily on consuming meat and fat that the importance of fruits and vegetables feels lost to me. I believe there should still be a nutritional balance, which includes more vegetables than meat. So just like all the other diets I’ve studied (veganism, vegetarianism, low carb, high protein, etc.), it offers some good advice, but again – no balance. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a lot, including to trust my gut when it comes to food. We eat a little meat, fat and carbs, a moderate amount of dairy and seafood and lots of fruits and vegetables.

So forget “meatless Mondays”. We’ll be eating meatless dinners about every other day. More beans. More veggies and fruits. More uncommon foods like quinoa and tofu. Mostly homemade whole wheat pastas and breads to keep our carb count low. (Pasta and breads are processed foods, and when you are the one “processing” them you really learn to appreciate the work that goes into making them and probably won’t over indulge. Same goes with snack foods and desserts. Vowing to only consume what you are willing to make from scratch yourself will virtually end over consumption. Slow food, as opposed to “fast food”.) Wish me luck…

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