How to cook a pumpkin

The cool weather is here, Thanksgiving is next week, and then the great switch; fall decor is put away and the world will be decked out in red and green.

So what are you doing with that pumpkin? Yes, the decorative one, or the little pie pumpkin on your mantel.  We Americans think of this winter squash as decor or a jack-o-lantern, and  forget that it is just as edible as the acorn and butternut variety…unless it comes in a can.

Unless it’s rotten, consider cooking it!  Pumpkin is a powerhouse of vitamins A and C, potassium, and certain B vitamins; all nutrients that can support healthy immune function and energy levels this holiday season.

You have a few options, depending on the size, type, and if you want to roast the seeds.

  1. Place it in a roasting pan, prick a few holes (do this with all squash – it prevents the steam from building up and exploding in the oven) and bake at 350 for an hour or so until a fork goes in and out smoothly.  This works great for small pumpkins, but mine were to big.
  2. Cut pumpkin into pieces, remove seeds and strings, and place into a crockpot.  This may work well for smaller pumpkins, but mine was too big and it took more than the regular 4 hours.
IMG_4985
This is my least favorite method – it took over 4 hours on high and the pumpkin was not nearly as tender.
  1. Cut into pieces, remove seeds and strings, and place skin-side up in a roasting dish with a bit of water at the bottom.  I covered mine with foil. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until it is fork tender.  This method worked the best for us.
IMG_4986
ready to bake!

After the pumpkin is baked, allow it to cool, peel off the skin, and blend the edible part for use in soup, pie waffles… or to freeze for your next pumpkin recipe.


For the seeds, I rinsed and dried 3 cups of them, then stirred them up with a blend of 1 tbsp turbinado sugar, a couple shakes of pink salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a dash of cumin and coriander, and a dash of cayenne.  I baked them for 5 minutes, then stirred, then 7-9 minutes longer (I had 2 pans going at the same time and the bottom pan took longer in my convection oven.)

When they were slightly brown I pulled them out, then mixed 1 tbsp water, 1 tbsp butter,  1 tsp honey, and  1 tsp brown sugar.  I microwaved this until it boiled, then stirred it into the seeds.  Sweet and spicy snack or appetizer!

What are you cooking with pumpkin this season?

Advertisements

What do I do with all this candy?! And other thoughts on Halloween

carving pumpkins, candy treats and plastic
carving pumpkins, candy treats and plastic “tricks” for our little trick-or-treaters

Halloween is over, and the sugar season, er, I mean holidays, are upon us.  If you are like us, you have loads of candy calling to you and are trying to decide what to do with it.  Below are some of the options that we have done over the years.

  1.  Eat it all at once!  When we had one child who didn’t like trick-or-treating, and we gave away almost all our candy this was a viable option.
  2. Ration it.  Everybody gets one piece a day. I hate to waste food, and this has worked in the past; frequently by the time we get to December it’s only the stuff we don’t like and so we end up tossing it anyway.
  3. Toss it all, except the kind that bring you the most joy.  Having recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up I am most tempted to do this, but would probably receive a lot of kickback from the rest of the family for minimizing the stash.  Plus there’s quite a bit there that still brings us a lot of joy.
  4. Send it to a soldier.  Veteran’s Day is coming up, and being prior military, we know it can be rough on those who are far from home during the holidays.  Paired with cards from the kids, this can be a fun way to off-load it onto someone who will actually appreciate it.  (Check first though – some deployed gals and guys have more sedentary jobs and prefer healthier care packages).
  5. Repurpose it.  Last year I saved the pieces that have fun shapes and colors and we used them for our homemade gingerbread houses. The kids loved it, and I had a wider variety of candy for that craft too.   Chocolate bars can be saved to make delicious bar cookies later during the holiday season as well.
  6. the Peaceful Mom blog also has some great recommendations.
We will do a combination this year.  I’ll set aside some of the good stuff for the troops, and separate the fun stuff for gingerbread houses later.
 I’m letting each kid keep a little baggie of their 5 favorites that they can eat as they like.  We’ll ration out a piece or two a day for a week or so, and then start tossing the ones that don’t make the first week cut.
I don’t expect to turn Halloween into a healthy holiday.  Sure, we like to serve chili or another nutrient-dense dinner before collecting candy, and I do try to minimize how much we buy (do it last minute) and collect (go to houses where I want to see friends and neighbors, not just random strangers.)
We have also handed out non-candy items like pretzels (bust), Play-Doh (kids loved it but it’s expensive), and plastic bugs.  Bonus of these items is that if you over-buy you can save them for next year, birthday parties, or other fun giveaways.  Some kids just want candy though, so the last two years we have had a “trick” bucket full of gross plastic bugs or a “treat” bin with candy, where trick-or-treaters can choose which they prefer.  Both go equally fast, but boys seem especially fond of mixing up the rubber roaches in with their candy.  As healthier alternatives become more widespread with programs like the Teal Pumpkin Project I’m looking forward to seeing the changing face of Halloween over the next few years.
What did you do that worked well for Halloween this year?

Food’s on the table!

My mom used to say that every evening at dinner time.  All of us kids would come running from wherever we were in the house, wash our hands, and sit down to a family meal together where we laughed and talked.

And then came high school and busy schedules and the food was still on the table but we ate in shifts; sometimes alone, sometimes with one or two others.

Then I went to college.  For my first two years, I swam on the college team and we had about 15 minutes from the time we got to the dining hall until it closed.  Since we were famished after a long hard practice we gobbled up round one of food and rushed through the line for seconds before it was shut down.  I ate at the table in the dining hall, but much of my eating was also snacking on the run or late night pizza or popcorn or cookie dough (yep – raw from a tube) sitting around the floor with friends.

Fast forward a decade plus a few years, and I have kids of my own and really value sitting around the dinner table and eating with my family.  I can quote research articles on the psychological and physical health benefits;  manners, IQ, social skills, family connectedness, vegetable and nutrient intake, happiness are all associated with the family dinner table.

I have great memories of growing up with this wholesome, traditional habit,  and overall, we do sit down, at least the kids do, for breakfast and dinner.  Lunch is my favorite, because it is relaxed, just the girls and I, and we all do really sit down and chat and laugh over a simple meal.

Yet I see for myself and the families around me that food so often isn’t on the table with others, but rather a snack at the playground,goldfish crackers in the car, or sometimes just grabbing a piece of fruit from the bowl on the counter or a handful of pretzels from the pantry just because.  Why are we grazing like cattle rather than dining like humans?

We are what we eat, but we also eat what we are.  And when my family is stretched, over-committed, too busy to sit down and linger at a good meal, our diet shows it.  For the last two weeks we have been doing swim lessons every day after school, and while it has been great for improving swim skills, it’s been tough on the dinner-and-homework routine.

What are habits that get in the way of having a fun, social dinner where everyone eats and enjoys conversation?

1) munching because it’s fun and it tastes good rather than because we are hungry.  Because then nobody is really hungry for dinner, and I know my kids take a long. long. time to finish eating.

2) standing/walking around the kitchen and eating.  I keep getting onto my kids for this, but then I catch myself doing the same thing at snack time in particular, but also when I need to get a couple more condiments, napkins, or other items that should have been on the table when the meal began.

3) car snacks just to “tide us over.”  They make a mess!  That said, sometimes little tummies need food more frequently and there are some great alternatives out there.  I have found that praying together over our food, even when driving, changes the atmosphere enough to make it more satisfying.

4)  too many activities:  sometimes it’s a matter of priority; last week swim lessons were more important than a leisurely dinner for me, but usually I love to be able to sit down to good food and chat with my family at home rather than at a restaurant on the way home from practice.

Some other common dinner busters are technology and not knowing what to make for dinner until it’s too late.  My kids are too little for technology at the table.  We are also pretty good at avoiding the last minute fast-food syndrome since I’m pretty consistent about menu-planning now.

My favorite meals are often the simplest; a picnic together outside with the girls,relaxed Sunday night dinners with my the whole family, or even going out to eat with friends.  I hope my kids will always have fond memories of eating together, talking and laughing together, and coming around the table to just be together as a family.

oatmeal breakfast scones

oatmeal sconesA fresh scone, good jam, and a cup of tea.  To me, that is about the perfect way to start the day, and after trying this recipe, my kids seem to agree!

Somehow I ended up with a Canadian Lentils recipe book, and when I saw this recipe I knew I just had to try it.

I did tweak it a bit because following recipes exactly just isn’t my thing; and then I tried a few other variations, and I have a couple more in mind but so far I haven’t hit a bad variation yet so I’ll just share them all with you!

First, in order to make this quickly, you have to have red lentils on hand.  HEB sells them in the international isle.  I cook up a big batch, separate out what I want for this and the pumpkin bread recipe, and then add chicken stock, cumin, coriander, cilantro, and fresh spinach to the rest.  Served over rice it’s a cheap/quick/health/filling meal.  But I digress.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cooked red lentils (1/2 a cup works well too)

11/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole-grain white wheat flour (or regular whole wheat flour)ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup butter, cut into little pieces

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 1/2 cup milk with 1 tbsp vinegar mixed in (set aside to turn into “buttermilk”)

3/4 cup jam (I like E.D. Smith’s raspberry cherry apple from Costco)

1) mix vinegar and milk; set aside

2)preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3) combine dry ingredients in a bowl, blend with a fork

cute little helpers make it more fun!
cute little helpers make it more fun!  You can see the leftover lentils that I’m about to add…

4) Using a pastry cutter or food processor, combine butter and coconut oil with dry ingredients.

Add vanilla to “buttermilk”, then stir in the milk mixture and lentils until just blended.

FullSizeRender

5)  Divide in 2 parts.  Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet, lightly flour it, then make one giant rectangle, about 9×12.  Spread jam on top, then gently drop small pieces of the remainder on top of the jam until they are evenly spaced and you can lightly smoosh them together.  Sprinkle a tbsp of sugar on top if desired.

6) Place in oven and bake for about 35 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and middle starts to crack and look done.various ways to cut scones

7) Allow to cool at least for 10 minutes, then cut into thirds.  Alternate the angle you cut to make triangles, or just keep the knife straight for biscotti-style scones.  I prefer making 24 servings, 8 slices per third.

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!

Looking back at 2014 and ahead to the new year

Like so many, I like to take some time to review the year gone by as I make plans and goals for the new year.  The past 12 months have been full of activity as I backed off the blogging and spent my time homeschooling my younger two, shuttling my eldest to and from school and sports and cub scouts, and snatching those little moments of time to put my home together and spend quality time playing chess, reading books, and just enjoying life with these little ones.  As a family we traveled to Minnesota and learned about butchering chickens and canning pickles, we camped at Mustang Island, Colorado Bend, and finally Brazos Bend State Parks, and cheered on our little soccer and T-ball players.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my Moms in Prayer group that meets each Friday morning to pray for Pope Elementary, and our Wednesday morning Bible Study at Fairfield Baptist Church.  I have met so many lovely ladies and been so encouraged by our times of prayer and study!

This year has also been a year of transition.  For the first time since I became a mom, we don’t have a baby in the house.  Gone are the days of baby food, spit-up, bibs, and high chairs; we are in full swing with sports and video games and homework as the kids are all elementary and preschool now.  In some ways life is easier; not nursing a wee one every few hours and working around 2 naps has allowed more flexibility, but juggling the afternoon activities and figuring out an afternoon snack/homework/dinner routine has been a learning experience!  The way we eat definitely reflects our lifestyles, and I can see the drive-thru temptation now more than ever as we become more of a family on the go and less home-based.

2014 Favorite apps:  LoseIt (food log), goodreads (book list), food.com(formerly food on the table, a grocery sale app), and foodily (beautiful pictures and recipes by foodies).

2014 Favorite Foods:

Other than my standard faves of chicken, salmon, oats, eggs, and frozen veggies for quick and healthy meals, the foods below have taken a bit more space in my fridge and pantry this year more than ever before.

  • baby spinach – sauteed with garlic or blended up in a smoothie, it is so mild and versatile and nutritious.
  • chia seeds – in yogurt, smoothies, or pretty much any beverage they add a nice protein and fiber punch
  • coconut oil – I use it as a butter or oil substitute in pastry crust, granola, and cookies.  It also works great for my hands when they dry out from frequent washing, and doesn’t leave a weird residue on food like lotion does.
  • almond flour – another benefit of the paleo movement, this grain-free “flour” is rich in Vitamin E and fiber, and works great in granola, press-in crusts. or just sprinkled over waffles or yogurt in the morning.
  • tea – as I cut down on my coffee intake, I am loving P&G black tea as well as a wide blend of botanicals like nettle, red raspberry leaf, and alfalfa to boost the health benefits of herbal teas.  Hot tea in the winter and cold in the summer makes for a great afternoon break.
  • Braggs apple cider vinegar – Sometimes as a salad dressing, but more often I’ll have a tablespoon with water and a dash of juice.  Warning –  this is another energizing drink that takes a little getting used to.  .
  • Kirkland Semi-Sweet chocolate chips – what’s not to love about 4.5lbs of good chocolate? 🙂

Favorite workout program:  www.suzannebowenfitness.com.  This has done wonders for my back and posture.  I also run and bike weather and time permitting.  That often means a jog with the dog on a leash, my 3yo in the stroller, and one or two kids on bikes alongside.   I will be continuing this regimen in 2015 for sure!

2014 Diet Books I read:

Trim Healthy Mama was recommended by so many friends that I reserved it from the library, and as number 16 on the waiting list, I patiently waited my turn.  I can see why this book is so popular.  Finally, a simple way to eat a balanced diet  while living a normal life and feeding a hungry husband and growing children!  The separation of Energizing and Satisfying and Fuel Pull meals is an ingenious way to curb appetite and enjoy real food from all the food groups.  The book has quite a few good recipes and tips for budget-friendly healthy eating.  I don’t necessarily agree with their explanation on why separating carbs and fats at meals works, or with the push towards stevia, but I do enjoy their ideas on using almond flour, glucomannan, making lunches for husbands, and incorporating sprints and strength-building exercises into the SAHM day.

Wheat Belly was recommended to me by a sales rep I respect, as well as a friend who has seen major changes since incorporating it into his lifestyle.  Once again, I question the science behind his recommendations, particularly the way he generalizes the results from his personal experiments to society at large instead of relying on the gold standard of a clinical trial, but he makes some very good points about the quality of our food supply and the dangers of eating too many refined carbs.  I completely agree with him in the importance of boosting veggies and quality proteins in the diet, but I’m not convinced to totally give up my home-made bread yet.

The Swift Diet was by far my favorite diet book this year.  I heard Kathie Swift speak at a nutrition conference and loved her point of view on traditional dietetics training versus what people today need to improve their diets and their lives.  This book delves deep into the science behind the microbiome (the microbes living inside of that help and hurt us), and has practical applications for improving digestion and changing unhealthy eating behaviors.  She does it all in an easy-to-read, engaging way that includes stories from her own life and clients’ lives.  She offers a moderate elimination diet plan for those that have IBS or other digestive problem at the end, and spends a good chunk of it on the mind-gut connection which is often a missing piece in science-based diet books.

OK, Bread and Wine isn’t a diet book.  But it is a great book on hospitality; preparing and enjoying good meals with good friends and the role that food can play in forming bonds and memories.  I loved her points on balancing feasting and fasting, time-consuming weekend meals with friends compared to 15-minute dinners on a weeknight, and the stories and recipes she writes for all the above.  Not every meal has to be a 5-course to be good, but lighting a couple candles, laughing over good memories, and developing deeper relationships over something as simple as lentil stew can make table time a happy time.

What books and apps should I check out for 2015?  I’m also interested in other workout programs that are cheap and effective – please comment with what you loved last year and are trying out this year.

Have a happy, healthy year in 2015!

“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

IMG_1664

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:

IMG_1642
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!

IMG_1645
pour wet into dry ingredients and blend
IMG_1644
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.

IMG_1655
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.

IMG_1660
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!