Cheap and easy almond milk

It’s finally fall!  Which means we are in the mood for cheap, healthy, easy afternoon snacks, and also fighting off our seasonal sniffles.  Which means more warm beverages and less dairy in this family.

Welcome homemade almond milk.  I started making it a few years ago but was turned off by the blanching and straining and how time-consuming the whole process was.  Then I realized that almond butter has already been processed in a way similar to cooking and grinding – could I use that?

I did.  It worked and I used this recipe for quite a while.  Then it separated into a thin white liquid and chunks at the bottom.  Great if I drank it in the first 5 minutes, but I wanted something I could save for a few days.  So I checked out a few other recipes, and looked at the ingredients on my favorite store-bought almond milk, and tried adding lecithin (an emulsifier) and tapioca (makes it creamier).

Since then, I have dropped the tapioca, but kept the lecithin.  I love how it now keeps it from separating, and allows for a super-creamy drink that will keep in the fridge for a few days as well.

Ingredients:

2 tbsps creamy almond butter

3 capsules lecithin (the outside of the capsule melts and blends into the liquid)

1.5 quarts warm water

 

  1. Heat one liter of water to about 100 degrees F.  Pour in a large blender such as a Vitamix.
  2. Add lecithin and almond butter
  3. Blend for 30 seconds on high until smooth and creamy
  4. Add last 2 cups (half a liter) of water
  5. Adjust flavor as desired with vanilla, cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice (my fave in the fall)
  6. Serve hot or cold.  Keeps in the fridge for at least 3 days – but my kids usually drink ours up within the first 24 hours!

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Here’s what I love about this recipe:

Cheap:  $0.42 for the almond butter, $.15 for the lecithin and it makes 1.5 liters. 
Healthy: almonds are rich in calcium, potassium, and healthy fats – making this a good beverage for getting those electrolytes pre or post-workout.  Lecithin supplements come primarily from soy or sunflower, but lecithin is naturally also in eggs and certain veggies.  One of lecithin’s key components is choline, which helps maintain healthy cell and brain function.  

Tasty!  I serve it hot or cold, with or without cinnamon, vanilla, and honey.  Hope you enjoy it too!

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Our Easter sunrise tradition

 On weekends I love to take an early morning run.  Wake up just before dawn, slip on my shoes, and head out into the cool, heavy air, down the dimly lit streets.  I hit the dirt path and lake area right when the light breaks over the horizon, filling the sky with pale pinks and yellows and oranges as the sun burns up the misty dew.

This Sunday I will skip the run for something even better.  We will celebrate as a family, as we have done for over a decade each Easter morning.  And as my family did when I was growing up as well.

Every year there is a steaming thermos of hot cocoa and a bag of bagels.  Fluffy cream cheese, raspberry jam, and wet wipes to clean little chins.  Sam and I will have our travel cups of coffee and a big blanket for sitting while we wait. And read.  And eat.

Then early in the morning, while it is still dark, we gather our family and walk to our spot.  Just as the women went to the tomb two thousand years ago.  The load is a bit heavy, and the dark is a bit troublesome – just as it was for them.  But we have hope and light hearts.  We know how this story ends.  They had heavy hearts and no headlamps.

We spread the blanket and sit down, just as the sky brightens.  We read  Mark 16, then Luke 24, and then John 20.  We read the story of the most magnificent Son Rise, so long ago, that rocked the world and forever changed that fate of humanity.  The rock, the angel, the empty tomb.  We pour cups of hot cocoa to warm us in the chilly air.  We pass out bagels; the hole in the middle reminding us of the empty tomb.  We spread them with both cream cheese and jam.  It’s best that way.  And the sun will rise.

Pack List:

  • blanket
  • headlamps
  • wet wipes, paper plates, napkins, knives to spread jam and cream cheese
  • sliced bagels
  • raspberry jam or fruit spread
  • whipped cream cheese
  • hot cocoa
  • Bible with post-it notes in John 20, Luke 24, and Mark 16

 

 

Why I celebrate Valentine’s (and a wheat-free Valentine’s day menu!)

  When I was a little girl we lived across the country from my grandma.  Yet each year at Valentine’s we received a little box from her with the same, predictable items in it:  tiny stuffed animal for each of us girls, a small box of chocolates, and her traditional, heart-shaped, pink-icing, double-layered lemony cookies.  I knew what was in that box each year, and each time it arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to open it.

Fast forward to my college/career single days, and I still liked Valentines.  My grandma had passed away, so now it meant watching chick flicks and eating raw cookie dough with my friends and waiting until February 15 when all the chocolate went on sale.

Now I have kids.  And they love cookies.  And I love to make our traditional cookies which have next to no nutrition benefits but are oh-so-good for my soul, because they remind me of the love I have received in the past and make for special memories with my kids now.

We will make those cookies tomorrow, together, as we laugh and talk about whatever is on our hearts.  I will make heart-shaped salmon-salad sandwiches for lunch, because my girls love everything hearts right now.  We will have a “treasure hunt” and find a box of chocolates.  And then we will close the day with our traditional “spaghetti” and meatballs dinner.

Last night my hubby and I celebrated at a little Italian restaurant back in the Houston suburbs that we found nearly ten years ago when we first moved here.  It reminds of of Tarentelli’s in New Jersey, where we celebrated our first Valentine’s together.  Today we also ate out,  so I’m looking forward to balancing out the high-carb, high-fat outings and traditional cookies with some protein and fiber tomorrow night.

We don’t typically follow a gluten-free diet, but  I have fallen in love with my Veggetti slicer and  I can’t wait to substitute the long curls of zucchini for traditional spaghetti.  We are cleaning out the freezer, and I have a package of venison and a package of wild pig that I can grind up for the meatballs.

So, my wheat-free, lower-carb plan for tomorrow:

  • zucchini spirals sauteed in olive oil
  • homemade meatballs and spaghetti sauce
  • green beans with olive oil, tarragon, and salt
  • salad of course!
  • fondue-style fresh fruit dipped in chocolate sauce (chocolate chips melted with cream)
  • rose bouquet centerpiece
  • background music (Luigi Boccherini or Yo Yo Ma)

I love simple traditions that tell my family how much they matter.  I love the reminder that comes each year to do something sweet for loved ones.  I love keeping it simple but fun, so that we can look forward to it year after year.

  
Happy healthy Valentines to you and yours!

 

 

Chia Seeds -Why and How to add them to your diet

Remember Chia Pets?  Yep – it’s the same seed, but now it’s considered more of a super food than playful decor.  Officially the Salvia Columbariae or Salvia Hispanica L. (there are a few types with varying c0lors and nutrition profiles), it is a plant in the mint family that grows throughout South America and up through California and Nevada as well.  Production is increasing, prices are dropping, availability is improving, and I can now even find a good-size bag at my Costco here in the Houston suburbs for under $10.

Similar to flaxseed, chia is famous for its rich content of Omega-3 fats – roughly half of the total fat content depending on where it is grown.  It also is rich in protein, fiber, trace minerals, and phytochemicals such as quercetin.  Also like flaxseed, it gels and thickens when mixed with liquid if it sits too long.  Unlike flax, it does not have to be ground first but can be eaten straight up in granola, smoothies, and baked goods.  The seeds also stay good for about 2=two years, so it’s OK to buy in bulk.

My family LOVES chia “jam;”  thawed frozen berries mixed with chia and a dash of honey or raw sugar all blended up for a smooth texture or allowed to get into a consistency like fruit spread.  The tiny seeds look and crunch like raspberry seeds this way.  I like them in my protein shakes, in yogurt, or even in muesli or granola in the morning.  a couple bites of yogurt with chia jam before a run is a great pre-workout snack for me.

Be aware that if you or your kids have texture issues (two of mine do) beware that they may not like the “slimy” consistency in their shakes or cereal.   Also, taking a big spoonful and swallowing it is not recommended for those with swallowing issues – they could potentially gel up in your throat.

Chia “jam:” 

  •  Two cups frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp honey or raw sugar if desired

(I sometimes add apples or pears for a little more texture)

  1. Cook fruit on stovetop or microwave until berries are just about boiling.

2.  Stir in chia seeds and sugar

3.  Allow to cool and gel for 5-10 minutes, then blend if desired.

 

  Add to whole wheat pancakes along with  yogurt, almonds, and flaxseed for a fiber and protein and antioxidant-rich breakfast!

Warmth. Cinnamon. Vanilla. On a cold afternoon…yum!

Has this latest arctic blast hit you like it has Houston?  Brrr!!!  We are NOT used to subfreezing temps.  Not that I’m complaining; the brisk weather does make me move a little faster when outside, but I also find that I want to curl up on the couch with a good book and cup of hot cocoa.

Except I did that yesterday.  And the day before.  And with January diet resolutions and what not, I can’t drink gallons of hot cocoa every day and still fit into my new Christmas clothes.

Enter my super-simple low-calorie, dairy and gluten free, cinnamon/vanilla almond milk that is pretty much amazing and needs an amazing name to match (any creative minds out there?).

ingredients
ingredients

For the ingredients, I used

1 tbsp of almond butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 capsules lecithin (helps the almond butter dissolve, plus it’s a good source of choline for the nervous system)

4 cups warm to hot water

put all ingredients in blender and blend for 1 minute or until white and frothy.

IMG_3028serve in four cups and top with a dash of cinnamon.  My kids guzzled this down with their afternoon snack.  Next time I think I might try chai or pumpkin pie spice… Enjoy!

“I love winter” hot cocoa

ingredients
ingredients

One of my favorite things to do on a cold winter morning is to sit in front of the fireplace with cups of hot cocoa and read Bible stories to the kids.  I won’t pretend this is healthy, but it is a delicious way to warm up these cold winter mornings when spring seems to elude us and the freezing temps come back again and again.

I love the convenience of hot cocoa mixes, but then I looked at the ingredients.  Artificial flavors and colors?  hydrogenated oils?  I can do better than that.

So I started mixing my own, but it didn’t seem to dissolve as well, and I don’t have much patience at 6:15 in the morning.

Then I visited The Chocolate Bar and had their European hot cocoa.  It was like a taste of heaven.  Smooth.  Rich.  Wow.  I asked them how they did it, and they said they used real chocolate, not just powder.  The secret ingredient.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup chocolate chips (I love the Kirkland brand)

1/4 cup cocoa powder (HEB’s is the best)

1/4 cup sugar (I like evaporated cane juice, but white or coconut also work)

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp sea salt

almost 2 cups milk

Place chocolate chips in a microwave proof bowl, and add enough milk to bring it to the 1/2 cup line.  Melt the chips and stir.  Add cocoa and sugar, stir.  Add remaining ingredients, then fill up to the 2 cup line with milk.  This is your concentrated hot cocoa mix.  I dilute it 1 part to 2 parts milk for the kids, or enjoy it straight and rich in a little espresso cup.  When serving, it mixes beautifully with cold milk that can be heated to the desired temperature.  Then topped with whipped cream or marshmallows or a dash of peppermint extract.  

Enjoy!

Pfeffernusse; a traditional cookie comes back

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This year I simplified things for Christmas. We sent out fewer cards, put out only the decorations our family loves, and dropped a lot of my favorite traditional foods for reasons of health (do we need 12 types of cookies?) and time. We kept two types of cookies though; gingerbread men because the kids love them, and pfeffernusse (I say peppernuts) because they bring back sweet memories of making them with my grandma when I was little.  At the time I enjoyed making them more than eating them; why take a low-sugar, bite-size cookie when you are surrounded by an array of decadent sweets? Now as an adult I kind of prefer them. Really.  So much that we named our dog after them.

Besides being tasty, these tiny little gems are packed with healthy spices like ginger and cloves, and they are perfectly portion controlled so I can eat one bite or grab a handful, depending on the mood.  They are also the perfect cookie to make with kids, especially kids like mine who like to play with the dough.

prepping
prepping

blending up the dry ingredients
whisking the dry ingredients

First step: Pour into a large mixing bowl

2 cups whole grain white wheat flour
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of cloves
and stir well with a whisk.

Next, beat the wet ingredients until well-blended:

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either use the measuring cup for oil THEN molasses, or spray your cup with cooking spray; otherwise the molasses sticks like crazy to the cup.

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 egg

Now mix the wet and dry together, beating slowly.  The dough is thick!

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pour wet into dry ingredients and blend
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all blended up!

Now roll up the dough into a nice little ball, cover in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for a couple hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then roll out the dough until it is in little logs about the width of your thumb.

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rolling out the dough

Now slice the logs (we just use butter knives) into even-sized little bites. They look a bit like tootsie rolls cut in half at this point.

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cutting into little square “pillows”

Now put those little bite-size wonders on a cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on how crunchy or soft you like them.
After they cool, put 1/4 cup powdered sugar in a bag and shake them up to coat them in a fine dusting of sweetness.

Yum!