Saturday, January 24

The Innovator's Hypothosis

I recently read The Innovator's Hypothosis. Although I gave it two stars on Amazon for poor execution (and don't recommend that you read it), it did get me thinking. 

The author's argument is that most companies are terrible at knowing (and guessing) what customers want. Just asking rarely works either - clients often don't know or can't articulate it until they see it. Research and statistics bear all of this out. His proposed solution is implementing a series of small, information gathering experiments done within well defined boundaries. In theory this should help refine ideas and improve decision making in short time-frames with limited investment.

Reading the book was a frustrating experience for several reasons, but it wasn't until thinking about it afterward that I figured out the real reason it didn't work. The author was so focused on the hype and logistics about experiments that he failed to focus on the core truth on which the book is based:  little things we can do right now are far more powerful and valuable than bigger, "better" things we can't do yet (or at all).

I know that is hardly rocket science, and in some ways its just common sense. But I also think there's a lot of value in reminding ourselves of it - and looking for ways to apply it - more often than we do. So for this week, I've written myself a sticky note and plastered it on my planner reminding myself to look at things with fresh eyes. Every time I am reminded of a long term goal or frustration, I'm going to stop and ask myself what I can do right now with what I already have to contribute to the desired result that goal/frustration represents. Will it get me anywhere? Who knows. But the idea won't stop kicking around my head, so I'm guessing my subconscious knows something it hasn't bothered to tell me yet!

Is there an area in your life that could be improved by some small, can-do-it-right-now actions this week?

Thursday, January 22

Nourished Kitchen: Book Review

So I'm one of those crazy people who has been known to read cookbooks like novels. I am also the weird type who sits plasters little sticky notes and scraps of paper between the pages of cookbooks marking everything that looks amazing. The number of little paper flags quickly becomes a visual measure of how good the book is. 

In that respect, the Nourished Kitchen cookbook rapidly achieved rock star status. Not only was it incredibly beautiful to look at and well laid out, but it was all real food! (Little paper flags abounded from start to finish.)

This book is chock full of recipes that perfectly balance unique with healthy and practical. Most of these recipes were new to me, or creative new spins on old standbys, but they are entirely based on standard ingredients that can be easily accessed - even for those of us with limited access to specialty items. If you've got a farmer's market or decently stocked grocery store nearby, you're all set! From unusual options like Skyr and Bone Marrow Custard to seasonal glories like Cider Braised Chicken or Melted Blueberries with Ginger and Orange, I cannot wait to cook my way through this book. The author's humble, friendly writing style was wonderfully refreshing as well.

If you're looking for some fresh ideas in real food or just some kitchen inspiration during the long, dark days of winter, I highly recommend this. [It's new on the market, but your library should have a copy!]  You can also check out the author's Nourished Kitchen blog for other great recipes and ideas.

Tuesday, January 20

GF Chocolate Chip Cake-Not-Bars

Photo From
When I saw a pin for these Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bars from Ambitious Kitchen, I was intrigued.

They use oat flour (which you can make fresh and cheaply yourself by pulsing oats in a blender) rather than any of the standard expensive (and sometimes questionably prepared) gluten-free flours. They also contain pumpkin which is (1) yummy and (2) nutrient-dense, without being pumpkin flavored, which lets you get more versatility/variety out of canned pumpkin!

Ambitious Kitchen pegs them at 128 calories a bar, which is pretty impressive, as well.

The Verdict:
As you can tell by the title of the post, we took to calling them "cake-not-bars" because they were titled as bars, but had the consistency of cake. Yay!

The oat flour makes them pleasantly dense and filling, and they're sweet enough to feel like a treat without being too rich or spiking your blood sugar. They also come together on short notice, and can easily be made in small or double batches. I found they held well just saran wrapped on the counter for nearly a week, as well. As an added bonus, they're both gluten free and vegan, which makes them a fantastic option for an office snack day or other event where you're trying to accommodate a wide variety of diets while still making something that's both yummy and real food!

I will be keeping this recipe and highly recommend you give it a try!

Sunday, January 18

Eggplant Mini Pizzas

Eggplant pizzas, when expertly made
by EatGood4Life... mine were not this

The only thing that has really proven to be a challenge since I quit wheat mid-December has been pizza crust. Pizza Friday is sacrosanct around here, and after years of practice I'd perfected my pizza dough recipe. It was soaked, whole grain, almost fail-proof, and took seconds to throw together... and now I had to find something else.

One of the first things I tried was an eggplant pizzas recipe from EatGood4Life.  As you can see from the lovely photo (which is from the EatGood4Life site), they are slightly more than bitesize, and can be piled high with all your standard pizza topping goodness. (I used bacon and asparagus.)

The Verdict: 
These were cute, yummy, and easy.
But they were not pizza substitutes.
I will keep this recipe, as it would make a great party appetizer or a great light summer lunch. It's also an excellent way to get additional veggies into your diet. But it will not be what finds its way to our table on Pizza Fridays.

Notes: I found that the eggplant took a little longer to cook than the recipe suggested. Might just be my oven, but if you give these a try, definitely give yourself extra time just in case.

Friday, January 16

Coconut Oil Hair Mask

You've probably seen the DIY Hair Mask ideas floating around Pinterest and the interwebs in general. I have too, but I never bothered to try one until this past week. I dyed my hair a couple times last year, first for ComiCon and then because I really wanted to go purple for the summer.

(Tip: If you want an unnatural color like purple, unless you are naturally platinum blonde, get it professionally done and understand that it will not last!)

My hair doesn't like dye much in the first place (which is why I had been using henna-based coloring), and I a super simple method from Made2Style. An hour later, my hair felt amazing! So incredibly soft.
ended up completely frying it. When I got the layers cut in, I lost a lot of length that I very much want back. So, with my husband's encouragement, I finally made time to give a hair mask a try. I picked

I will definitely be adding this to my weekly routine. If you've been ignoring or skeptical of this idea, I highly recommend you give it a try - it's cheap, it's clean, and it works!

Wednesday, January 14

New Year, New Things

I thought after my post about what worked in 2014, it would made sense to follow up by noting some of the trends/themes that are already showing up as indicators of what 2015 might be like around here:

A long-neglected quilting project from 2014 that is finally
getting finished!
1. Addressing Long-Procrastinated Things
In December, I finally moved our dogs to a local vet. Since the new year, I've actually made the effort to acquaint myself with the local library system and order some library books. (Something I've been putting off since we moved, because it wasn't inherently user-friendly.)

I've also been doing some "binge quilting", piecing together my mountains of scrap fabric and sorting out backings for my unfinished quilt tops. I've given myself permission to just toss anything I really don't like, with the goal of working through all my back-stock one way or the other. I've got some gorgeous projects planned, but I won't be able to enjoy them until I've cleared the chaos first.

2. Dietary Shifts
As part of my Nutritional Therapist (NTP) training, I practiced a bunch of the (awesome) tests I'm learning on myself (and my very generous family). My classmates also practiced on me during our first workshop, and wow, did I learn a lot! Long a self-professed "starch based life-form", I spectacularly failed the Cocoa's Pulse Test for wheat and had to eliminate it from my diet. I've also started shifting our diet towards higher fat and protein ratios. It's an ongoing process for sure, but I'm already seeing big changes. 
 3. Clean, Sustainable, and Frugal 
This isn't a new trend around here, of course, but 2014 made me very aware of how easy it is to get pulled off course without realizing it. A couple prime examples:

Using canning jars instead of tupperware. We killed a bunch of tupperware last year. It was old and pretty cheap to begin with, but I was dreading replacing them because the clean, non-toxic pyrex-style stuff I felt comfortable getting instead was madly expensive. Then I discovered that canning jars are a great alternative! I can clearly see what's in every jar, they're easy to label (just write on the top in whiteboard marker) and rotate, and the vertical storage makes excellent use of fridge space! Although I still want to get a handful of the pyrex stuff for long-term freezer storage, using jars I already own for the bulk of my needs will save time, space, and tons of money! 

Ditching the Trifexis: In December, it hit the news that pet owners have been alleging that their dogs died from taking Trifexis. When I looked into it, I was appalled to find out that the product contains two known pesticides! I refuse to feed my furry babies pesticides, let alone pay to do so. We promptly agreed to take our dogs off of the meds. I've done my homework on (genuinely effective) natural alternatives, and guess what? They're not only safer, they're cheaper!! 

Beauty Products: When I got my hair cut and professionally dyed, I let them talk me into salon-grade shampoo and conditioner, because it was supposed to protect the color. It totally didn't, and actually worked less well than the organic shampoo bar and cider vinegar rinse I'd been using! As soon as the bottles are gone, I'm back to my cleaner, more sustainable, and more frugal bar & rinse!

Based on these trends, I'm challenging myself reexamine what I do and why this year. I hope to continue making this a year where I finish or let go of old projects, clean up and clean out toxins and excess, and find more unexpected ways to make our health and our home thrive.

Monday, January 12

What Worked For Me In 2014

I've seen several different posts of this style around the interwebs and really enjoyed them. I know we're nearly halfway through January, but I wanted to do one of my own anyway! I tried a lot of things in 2014, some of which worked, and some of which didn't. Here are a handful of the things that really did:

1. Life Editing & Customized Storage
This is an excellent example of the kinds of awesome things
my husband made for me. Getting the dogs' water bowl off
the floor has eliminated the slopping all over our beautiful
hardwood and made it so much faster to sweep/mop!
In 2014, we did some serious "editing" of our stuff. We tossed or donated a ton of stuff, and the house feels noticeably cleaner and calmer. In conjunction with those efforts, my amazingly handy and creative husband created a ton of customized storage and solutions for me! All year, he patiently listened to my ideas about what I wanted to better organize our home, and then disappeared into his workshop and returned with shiny things! Drawer dividers (that revolutionized my kitchen), custom shelving, beautiful wood storage boxes - his ingenuity has streamlined daily tasks and made a huge difference.

2. Working From Home
In September I officially made working from home the new normal. I only went into the office for deadline days or other special circumstances. It worked out to be a God-send on multiple fronts.

3. Rolling Menus
I'm all about meal planning. (I know, massive understatement.) But last year I largely shifted from day-based meal planning to prepping a bunch of meals on the weekend (or a free weekday) and making a list of available pre-prepped and no-prep meal options for the week. Each day I'd pick which one to make based on what actually cropped up. It worked surprisingly well, and I'm rolling it into 2015.

4. Glider Coffee
For my birthday, my husband bought me a beautiful glider. We parked it squarely in view of the garden and the forest. After dinner or on weekend mornings, we'd take our drinks outside to enjoy the fresh air and quiet, and it was awesome! (The dogs were especially fond of this practice, as it meant a dramatic increase in frisbee time for them. They were quite offended on nights we couldn't go out and relax for at least a few minutes!)

5. Nutrition Training!
I've been looking at the Nutritional Therapy Practitioner certification course for several years. This past summer, the timing finally seemed right and I signed up. It has been a time and effort-intensive program, but has drastically exceeded my already high expectations. I'm only halfway through, and it has already changed my life.

6. A Layered Haircut
Near the end of the year, I got layers cut into my hair. Although I lost a little more length than I wanted (because the ends were so damaged and had to come off), I love the layers! They give my hair some shape and give me more flexibility in hairstyles. I don't feel like I have to come up with some kind of twist or braid or something to look put together, but I can still do twists and braids when I want.

That's a peek at what worked best for me in 2014. I look forward to finding some equally great changes/solutions in 2015!