Monday, July 23

Menu Idea Monday: Salt & Vinegar Roasted Potatoes

Photo from UmamiGirl, of course!
I've never been much of a potato chip person; they just don't hold much appeal for me. My salt addiction, however, is a well-documented fact (though my husband has done much to mitigate it over the last five years or so). Arthas and I have been known to have well salted steak fries for dinner occasionally while my husband is deployed. (Spoiled puppy that he is, he won't eat them unless you put ketchup on them first... he knows how they're supposed to be served!)

Steak fries not being cheap, I knew when I ran across a recipe for Salt & Vinegar Roasted Potatoes over at Umami Girl that I had to give them a try.

Yumminess! These decidedly satisfied a salt craving, but they were so rich and substantial that you didn't need very many to be completely sated. They're also quite healthy and cheap to make. Wins all around!

My Modifications:
For some reason, I couldn't get my hands on fingerling potatoes so I subbed regular sized potatoes and just increased the boiling/cooking times as needed. I don't stock malt vinegar, so I stuck with the standard white vinegar option.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

Unless for some reason you can't have potatoes, there's nothing to object to in here! Even people on a restricted salt diet should be able to pull these off - just make sure you use sea salt, as you'll need barely a sprinkle to get the amazing flavor.

Tuesday, July 17

Globequake by Wallace Henley

It's no secret that the world is changing; in fact, change has become the new constant. In the midst of chaos, collapse and uncertainty on all fronts – social, moral, political and physical – humanity is reaching out for something stable to anchor itself to. Enter author Wallace Henley with a clear-as-a-bell reminder that the kingdom of God is unshakable and the perfect anchor in our crazy times.

I give this book five stars for theological soundness. The author knows his Bible and provides consistent textural evidence of what it has to say about staying anchored. His arguments are logical, reasonable and without noticeable gaps.

I cannot offer the same praise for the format and writing style. The tone was more of a seminary lecture than the accessible chat-over-coffee format one might expect from a book purporting to offer encouragement, hope and practical strategies for holding ground amidst chaos. I saw the logic in his decision to break the conversation down by “sphere” but felt it gave the book a fragmented feel instead of providing the desired organization.

There was a lot of valid truth here, and it might be a good read for people in ministry who need to regularly speak knowledgeably to these concerns, but I would not recommend it to a friend for general reading.

Monday, July 16

Menu Idea Monday: Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

Photo from Chef in Training, of course!
One of the challenges of summer is enjoying a satisfying hot meal for dinner without turning on the oven and pumping unwanted heat into the house. (Especially if you don't have a grill, which we weren't allowed to for years in various apartments.) Today's recipe has a great solution: your crock pot!

Check out these Chicken Caesar Sandwiches from Chef in Training!

Cooking the chicken in the crock pot was easy and made it impressively juicy and delicious. Even with making my own burger buns, this was a simple meal and we both loved it. It would be a great and unique option for a potluck or summer get together, and would work just as well in wraps or over salad. 

My Modifications:
I skipped the parmesan cheese and the parsley and didn't miss them at all.

Dietary Mod Friendly?
You could cut the gluten from this just by using GF rolls or tossing the chicken over salad.
Avoiding other allergens will depend entirely on your ability to find an acceptable caesar dressing.

**Notes on Salad Dressing**

Salad dressing is a notoriously tricky product to buy. Most dressings - even those marketed as gourmet or healthy - contain nasty oils like canola or soy that are very bad for you. Others contain msg and other dangerous flavor additives. Always read the ingredient list, even if you've bought safe dressings from that brand before. Whenever possible, it's best to make your own, but when that's not feasible it's worth while to spend a couple extra bucks to buy the good stuff. I've had good luck with Brianna's brand dressings and occasionally with the store-brand gourmet- style bottles.

Monday, July 9

Menu Idea Monday: Turkey & Balsamic Onion Quesadillas

Photo from Eating Well, of course!
It's summer, and that generally calls for lighter meals than I usually make. I was on the prowl for something different when I found these Turkey & Balsamic Onion Quesadillas over at Eating Well.

These were fast, easy and delicious. Definitely a keeper!

My Modifications:
I tossed my onions in homemade balsamic dressing (a new recipe I love) and didn't drain them before piling onto the quesadillas. Next time I might sub goat cheese for the cheddar, just because I love the creaminess it gives quesadillas, but the results were plenty yummy as-is.  
Dietary Mod Friendly?
Quesadillas, like stir-fry, are the definition of flexibility. This could easily be adapted to fit any dietary needs or limitations!

Friday, July 6


I think, sometimes, that if science had been taught differently when I was in school I would have been fascinated by it. Math, too, for that matter.

For example, have you seen one of these? Appropriately called Kill A Watt, it's a nifty little device you plug into the wall and then plug any electric device into to find out how much energy said appliance is pulling. If you leave it there for several hours, it will give you an average pull, allowing you to extrapolate how much it costs to run a given appliance per day, month, year, etc.

That information, of course, allows you to make smart choices about what to replace and when. For example, we plugged in the monstrous fridge that came with our house and found out that it would be in our best interest to replace it sooner rather than later! On the other hand, our equally ancient chest freezer is barely pulling anything so there's no point in replacing it until it dies a natural death.
When we were apartment dwellers, there was depressingly little we could do about our electric bills. The best we could hope for was to plastic the windows over in the winter and set the thermostat to the most restrained temperatures feasible.

Now that's we're homeowners, we're turning keen eyes to a push for efficiency in our home. Because really, who doesn't like efficiency? It's green, it's responsible, and in the long run it frees up time and money for other projects. Did you know that it's more cost effective and financially smart to put up to $100,000 into improvements on your property than to invest a penny in the stock market?

I'll be honest and say that number blew my mind. It also gave me fresh motivation to dig into an exploration of what is available to us and a good use of our efforts. Summer is an ideal time to evaluate and increase the energy-smartness of your home/property. The warm (and hopefully dry) weather allows outside projects and spillover space for messy indoor projects. It's a particularly good time to tackle winter preparations (like insulating walls or fireplace cleaning/ repairs) since most of the world won't start thinking about them until fall at which point the waiting lists abruptly get long and more expensive. 

If you don't already have some efficiency-improving projects on your summer list, might I encourage you to pick at least one to try for? Even simple steps can make a big difference!

Where you have seen the biggest bang for your buck in home efficiency improvements?

Thursday, July 5

Food Blogging, In Perspective

I share recipes and gorgeous photos from food blogs often - at least weekly, now that I'm doing Menu Idea Mondays. But lately I've felt the need to put a disclaimer up here, because reading the comments on some of the food blogs I follow has made me very aware of some misconceptions floating around the community of amateur real-foodies. So here for your consideration are three crucial truths we lose sight of at our peril:

(1)  Food is a bio-individual situation and geography counts - a lot. (I.e: what works for someone else won't necessarily work for you).

While there are a handful of concrete truths in the food world, there are vast differences in what individual people and families need from their diets. Access to real food also varies wildly from place to place, impacting everything from what can be grown and what can be legally purchased to how much you'll have to pay to get it!

Comparing yourself to someone else's patterns and standards is pointless and potentially very damaging. Do what's best for you with what is available to you. Give yourself credit for the effort, celebrate the successes, and accept that things that are simply out of reach for you right now.
(2) Real food is always a journey, not a destination. 

Everyone is working on something - even the people who look like they've got it all under control. A little energy invested in solid progress where you are is one hundred times better than energy wasted on despair, frustration or self-doubt.

(3) Relationships are always paramount.

The people you love are always more important than your food goals. Sometimes, a little tough love is necessary - like when cutting allergens out of a child's diet against their will for their own safety.  But other times, we let ourselves make battles out of things we shouldn't or let our anxiety over feeding our families spill over into other areas of life.

Fight hard to keep your relationships strong, and take time to step back and reorient yourself when you need to. A healthy approach to real food will make your family stronger and happier - and that's what it's really all about.

Keep these simple truths in mind while navigating the world of food blogs and you'll be happier, less stressed and more successful in your real food journey!

Tuesday, July 3


I like cookbooks. The ladies at the library circulation desk joke that they gain weight checking out my books just by looking at the cover photos. Like everything else, cookbooks run the gamut from amazing to terrible. But there is one topic on which cookbooks consistently disappoint: snacks.

Eating a clean, healthy diet does not eliminate the need for snacks. In fact, it sometimes makes them all the more crucial! But my definition of practical snack food includes essential criteria that most snack cookbooks do not: portable and storable. (Quick and relatively inexpensive are kind of important, too.)

Think about it. If you're headed out the door for a long, busy day on the road, are you really going to reach for a popcicle? Potato skins? How about some mini-burgers?

Of course not! You're going to grab a granola bar, a bag of pretzels or something else that won't lose texture, go bad or melt all over your vehicle!

Unfortunately, foodie websites often fail on this front as well. I've tried snack treats made from lentils, homemade crackers, protein balls, and a half dozen granola bar recipes. A few have worked out well, but most have been relegated to the "no thanks" pile.

The ones that do work often still rank low on the core criteria - few of them hold well (making it hard to ensure you'll have them on hand when needed), some don't travel well, and the best ones are usually expensive.

After lots of trial, error and frustration, here are a few things I've found to resolve the travel-friendly snack dilemma:

KIND bars - Although I usually try to stay away from pre-packaged food, these can sometimes be a life-saver.  Individually wrapped and very shelf stable they can thrown in a purse or backpack and will hold up to the travel and temperatures until you're ready to eat them. They aren't cheap, but they're fairly priced for the quality and value - especially if you buy them by the box instead of individually. Keeping a box in the cabinet is a worthwhile investment for crazy days. Note: not all flavors are created equal! Some will be GF, soy-free and low sugar fruit-and-nut combinations. Others will have bad-for-you soy crispies. Make sure you read the labels and choose wisely!

Popcorn - If you pop your own at home (in a pot, not a microwave), popcorn is a cheap, filling, low-calorie snack that's fast and easy to whip up. It can also be made ahead and taken with you if you're planning a road trip or day out. Toss it with whatever toppings you like and store in an airtight container. It won't last forever, but it will hold well in any temperature and if you end up having to throw any out you'll only have lost a few pennies worth of investment.

Carrot sticks - (May sub baby carrots.) These hold relatively well, though extended exposure to hot weather may cause them to deteriorate noticeably. They're crunchy, healthy, and can be paired with a little container of your favorite dressing or nut butter for added boost.

Nuts/ trail mix - The key to using this snack effectively is portioning! Nuts are easy to overeat; they're nutritionally dense, so we really only need a handful at a time. But since they're small and quick to eat, most of us will consume much more than that before the chemical trigger in our brain registers that we're full.  Ditto with dried fruit. Portioning your trail mix out into mini containers and intentionally eating it slowly will give you maximum bang for your buck and prevent this from becoming an expensive habit!

Beverages - This may seem like an odd thing to put on a snack list, but the reality is that most of us can't properly differentiate between hunger and thirst. We want something and automatically reach for food when in fact our body is often craving water. Drinking sufficient water (or an alternative healthy option like kombucha or water kefir) will reduce our desire for unnecessary munching and prevent the unhappy side effects of dehydration (which even in mild forms can cause cloudy thinking and headaches or contribute to skin problems).

Side Notes: 

Some of you are wondering why fresh fruit didn't make this list, and it really comes down to two simple reasons. (1) It doesn't hold well. (2) In cold climates, fruit can be extremely expensive for much of the year and hard to keep available for random snacking. 

Small coolers (think lunchbox size or just a little bigger) can usually be picked up second hand or at an end-of-season sale for under ten bucks. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the road or at events it can be very worthwhile to stash one in your vehicle, pre-stocked with a few snack items. Rotate or restock it weekly and you'll always have a quick healthy food option available when you need it!

Monday, July 2

Free Entertainment

I've never been one to read the classics (LotR notwithstanding). Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway - I want to prescribe them all Prozac and move on! But I am a voracious reader, and truly appreciate good writing. When you've seen the magic that is an intricately woven novel with characters so realistic you can't help but weep for them, you can start to find yourself a little accidentally condescending when you come across rubbish disguised as popular literature.

Twilight was a great example of the kind of book that makes fans gush and book snobs start popping Excedrin. But now, there's Fifty Shades of Grey. Some intelligent, insightful bloggers have chosen to address with the subject matter in well crafted, articulate posts; they're well worth reading if you're looking edification or a philosophical discussion. 

If you're looking for simple entertainment, however, might I suggest another course? There are over 7,000 reviews for FSoG on, and over 1,000 of them give the book only a single star. If you click on the 1 Star link, it will pull up for you all the single star reviews - and they are some of the funniest reading I have done in ages!

Articulate, smart and hysterical, reviewers share everything from the Kindle word counts they did of agonizingly repetitive phrases (such as the highly imaginative "oh crap") to the way they stopped halfway through the book to Google the author's age (average guess was 14).

If you're looking for something to lift your spirits (proof that there ARE still people who recognize and appreciate good writing) and make you laugh, consider checking out the 1 star review page... it's leagues better (and cheaper) than the actual book and won't make you want to scrub your brain afterwards!  

Menu Idea Monday: Samosas

Yummy picture from Deli Cooks, of course.
Being a huge fan of empanadas and toasted ravioli, I knew as soon as I saw the picture that I'd have to try my hand at making samosas. The recipe I used was from the Deli Cooks blog.

The verdict?

I can't say these were quick to make because you have to boil the potatoes and allow them to cool, but active prep time was minimal.

The end result was healthy, delicious and snack-able! Other than the crust, these are entirely allergen free which is great news since the crust is to swap out for other things!

I subbed wonton wrappers that I happened to have on hand instead of the empanada dough (which is essentially pie crust), but you could sub any variation on pie crust, pasta dough or wrapper that fits your diet with no problem - making this an everybody friendly recipe!

The taste reminded me of potato pancakes, but these were a lot neater to make and cooked up correctly (which latkes so rarely seem to do for me). No need to fry them - grease the bottom of a baking dish with oil, line up your samosas, drizzle with a little oil and bake until golden and crispy! Flip halfway through for best results and plan on 10 to 15 minutes cook time depending on how big you made them.

These are a keeper, and I expect they'll make a great pairing with any number of dipping sauces the next time I need appetizers!