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Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremonies Meal: Low-Carb Shepherd's Pie

We are having an impromptu gathering to watch the Opening Ceremonies for the Summer Olympics tonight.  I wanted a traditional British meal that would fit with our South Beach diet.  Cooking Light magazine has a selection of lightened up traditional British recipes, but none of them is exactly low carb.  But with a few modifications, I'll be making low carb Shepherd's Pie and I think it should be super yummy!

The Cooking Light Shepherd's Pie recipe uses packaged mashed potatoes and a little added sugar in the ground beef mixture.  For my version, I will prepare mashed cauliflower, and omit the added sugar. 

To prepare mashed cauliflower:

Steam one bunch of cauliflower (about 45 minutes or until desired doneness).  Puree cauliflower with approximately 1/4 cup of softened butter or butter substitute.   Add half and half or skim milk gradually until you get your desired consistency (probably about 2-4 Tbsp.).  Salt and pepper to taste.

Then I'll follow the Cooking Light recipe below, but use the cauliflower mash instead of potatoes and omit the sugar.

  • 2 cups prepared mashed potatoes (such as Simply Potatoes)
  • 3/4 pound ground sirloin
  • 3/4 cup picante sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) preshredded reduced-fat extrasharp cheddar cheese $


  1. Prepare mashed potatoes according to package directions; keep warm.
  2. Cook beef in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in picante sauce, water, cumin, sugar, salt, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).
  3. Remove from heat. Spoon mashed potatoes over meat mixture, and sprinkle with cheese. Cover and let stand 2 minutes or until cheese melts.
Note: Prepared mashed potatoes are found in the refrigerated section of larger grocers. They only need a few minutes in the microwave to reheat.

Here is how our version turned out, paired with sauteed green beans.

Enjoy the Olympics!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Quick Handmade Healthy Gift: Curried Lentil Soup in a Jar

We recently got a last minute invitation to celebrate the 21st birthday of a health-conscious vegan guy in our family, so I immediately thought of this recipe for Curried Lentil Soup in a mason jar I had seen on Good Housekeeping's website last year.

Since the ingredients are almost all pantry staples, and I always have extra jars on hand, it was a breeze to put this together quickly before the party.  The recipe gives instructions for two jars worth; I cut the recipe in half to make this. Isn't it gorgeous?!?!


8 ounces Red Lentils
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
3 Tablespoons Dried Onion
1 Tablespoon Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
8 ounces Green Lentils
1/2 cup Dried Apple Pieces (~1/2 inch each)
1 Tablespoon Parsley

Cooking Instructions

 Place soup mix in 3-quart saucepan with 7 cups water.  Heat to boiling on high.  Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Makes 8 cups soup.

To Make Jar:

Layer the ingredients in a quart mason jar in the order listed above.  Vacuum seal jar if desired.

I typed up the cooking instructions, along with what was in the jar (so he can make this over and over!) and attached them to the front and back of a piece of card stock.  Then I put a grommet through the card stock with my grommet tool and attached it to the jar with some kitchen string.

It turned out beautiful, and was simple, thoughtful, AND budget-friendly!

What are your favorite handmade gift ideas??

This post is linked up to the following link parties:

Tutorials & Tips Link Party @ Home Stories A to Z
Simply Sensational Tuesday @ Organizing Homelife 
One Project at a Time @ A Bowl Full of Lemons 
Home Decor and Organizing Party @ organize & decorate everything
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways @ Frugally Sustainable
Inspiration Board @ homework
Frugal "I Did It" Tuesday @ Off the Grid at -30 
Whatever Goes Wednesday @ Someday Crafts 
Home is Where the Heart is Wednesday @ Homestead Simple 
Hookin Up with HOH @ House of Hepworths
Delightfully Inspiring Thursday @ Delightful Order
Link Party Thursday @ Somewhat Simple
Fantabulous Friday @ Little Becky Homecky
Inspiration Friday @ At the Picket Fence
Potpourri Friday @ 2805
Flaunt it Friday @ Chic on a Shoestring Decorating
Weekend Bloggy Reading @ Serenity Now 
Simply Natural Saturdays @ The Pistachio Project
Overflowing with Creativity @ It's Overflowing 
The Sundae Scoop @ I Heart Nap Time 
Motivate Me Monday @ Keeping it Simple 
A Pinteresting Party @ Tutus and Tea Parties

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hummingbird Watching

This year we hung our hummingbird feeder slightly differently than in years past, and it has afforded us continuous enjoyment of the hummingbird pair that frequents our feeder.  We hung the feeder from a nail in the eave and used string and an S hook to drop the feeder down so it sits at about chest height in the stationary part of the sliding glass door.  This allows us to see the hummingbirds very well from right on the deck, as well as from our dining room table.  We can watch the hummingbirds enjoy a treat from inside or outside!

The recipe shown above is adapted from the National Zoo.  I just think hummingbirds are so amazing and beautiful!  And I love to photograph them!!  :) 

UPDATE: After posting this on Facebook, an Ornithologist friend reminded me that it is also important to clean the feeders often.   I should have mentioned that I take mine apart and boil all the parts every time I refill it.  She cleans hers by scrubbing all the parts with soap and water at least once a week. 

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!  I can't believe how quickly it is flying by!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Organized Diapering Part 1: Why we chose Cloth Diapers

We have used cloth diapers for both girls, which is awesome on many levels.  First, I have only purchased a pack or two of disposable diapers in each size for travel or back-ups, so I estimate we've saved ourselves thousands of dollars.  I have no empirical evidence, but it just seems to me that a soft cloth diaper has got to be more comfortable than a disposable.  And I am happy to be doing a small part to reduce waste in landfills.  On a side note, all children should be required to take a field trip to the dump to see just how much stuff ends up there forever - it really makes you think about what you throw away!!

Anyway, back to diapering...  With our second daughter, we have noticed that we have the diapering system down to a science.  This, along with other experience from the first child, really made those first few months go smoothly, so I thought I would share.

Before the first baby Alyssa, we got 22 Tiny Tush one-size diapers, which are actually still made in the USA!  They cost about $17 each at the time, and we were able to register for them through a local store, Eco in Chico, so we got some help with the up-front costs.  I just looked up the website to get the link, and the style we chose (linked above) are now only $13 each through the website because they've come out with a 2.0 version (they are currently still $18 on  We elected to get all snaps because I just can't imagine that velcro could maintain its stickyness after all the washing, especially through multiple children!  As shown in the instruction card below, the rows of snaps along the front make the size adjustable. 
Since we knew we'd re-use them for future siblings, we kept the colors neutral and split between butter yellow and sage green.  This was a nice number, but in the early months, I would need to wash them a bit often for my taste (more on this in a minute), so we decided to expand to 28 diapers for the second baby Zoe (we just purchased six more).  The one-size diapers are rated to fit between 8 and 35 pounds.  Alyssa was well over 8 at birth, but Zoe started wearing them at just under 8 pounds and they worked fine.  Alyssa potty trained between 18 months and 2 years, and still wore them at night for another six months or so and we weren't close to outgrowing them. 

My daughter in a Tiny Tush diaper at 18 days old
With both girls, we used disposables until the cord stump came off for two reasons.  First, by this time the meconium is long gone (no one wants to try to clean that tarry stuff out!).  Also, the one-size cloth diapers are a bit large and bulky on a newborn (although they totally work without any more leaking than you might expect with a disposable), so it is difficult to fold them in a way that doesn't catch on the cord stump as it dries (it falls off in 4-5 days or so anyway).  If you give birth in a hospital, the hospital supplies you with diapers until you discharge and sends you home with a bunch too, so you still only need a package or two...

You should probably skip this paragraph if looking at poop bother you (but no, I won't be showing you any!).  :)  The other reason I will always be glad that we used cloth diapers from the start is that having to separate the poop from the diaper into the toilet before washing affords you an opportunity to acquaint yourself with what is a "normal" poop for your child in a way that you might not if you just fold the whole thing up and toss the disposable.  At about 3 weeks old, I started to notice little tiny flecks of reddish black in Alyssa's poop, which turned out to be blood.  The saga of trying to diagnose the problem is the subject of another post, focused on being your child's own advocate and learning that doctors don't know everything.  In the end, because I absolutely refused to stop breast feeding, we found out that Alyssa had an intolerance to milk protein (as well as soy protein, since the two have very similar biochemical structures) and we were able to correct the problem by me eliminating dairy and soy from my diet.  I really believe that since Alyssa didn't have any other symptoms (yet) besides the little tiny flecks of blood in her poop, we may not have noticed until much later if we hadn't used cloth diapers...  Alyssa outgrew the intolerance by the age of one (YAY!).

There are two things to know about cloth diapering (at least these types of cloth diapers)...

First, we were advised by Eco in Chico to use a particular type of soap in washing the diapers and were warned that "normal" detergents might destroy the leak-proof part of the covers over time.  That suggested soap was Charlie's Soap.  I know at least one person to whom the cover destruction happened after using the Costco brand Free & Clear soap, so I have always used the suggested soap for all of our laundry.  Switching back-and-forth and only using the suggested soap for diapers is said not to work because "normal" detergents leave residues in the washer.  I probably will never go back to "normal" detergents after using Charlie's Soap anyway because I happen to love it!  It ends up being a bit more expensive than "normal" detergent, but I am very chemical-conscious, and I buy it in a 4-gallon bucket that lasts well over a year, so I don't mind any small additional cost.  I'm able to get the 4-gallon size through another eco-conscious local store, Cathy's Sew & Vac. I think now there are several options for laundry soap that will work safely, but I've never investigated those.

The second thing to know about cloth diapering is that the bulk of the cloth diapers will affect the size of clothing your child wears.  Bottoms will fit at about a size larger than tops, at least until the 2T-3T sizes.  And in our experience for 18 month or smaller clothing, fitted bottoms like jeans are just not comfortable for the child, or they would have to be such a larger size that they'd be way too long.  We have used almost all stretchy bottoms, skirts, and dresses.  Not at all a big deal, but something to think about.

I ended up having much more to say about cloth diapering that I had anticipated, so in the next post on this topic I will show you our diapering system specifically.

Please know that while I welcome the opportunity to be involved in the official review of products, the manufacturers of the products I have discussed today have no idea that I exist, and these opinions are 100% my own and I have in no way been compensated or provided with complimentary test products. :)

This post has been linked up to the following link parties:

Weekend Bloggy Reading @ Serenity Now 
Frugal Friday @ Life As Mom 
Simply Natural Saturdays @ The Pistachio Project 
The Sundae Scoop @ I Heart Nap Time 
The Sunday Showcase @ Under the Table and Dreaming 
Mom's Monday Mingle @ Naptime Review 
Make It Pretty Monday @ The Dedicated House
Simply Sensational Tuesday @ Organizing Homelife
Tutorials & Tips @ Home Stories A to Z 
Home Decor & Organizing Party @ organize & decorate everything 
Frugal "I Did It" Tuesday @ Off the Grid at -30 
Thursday Mommy-Brain Mixer @ Two in Diapers

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!!

I took this picture at fleet week in San Francisco back in 2007, and I still love it.  I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable 4th of July!! 

Organizing for Weight Loss

My husband and I are both determined to shed a few pounds.  Both of us eat fairly healthily, but over the past few years and two pregnancies, our portion sizes have crept up and, especially in my case, the sweet tooth that sets in after the kids are off to bed (and I'm apparently too tired for willpower) is AWFUL!  And seeing things like this all over Pinterest doesn't help! :)

{Source via Pinterest}

We know ourselves well enough to know that in order to focus on weight loss for a little while, we need a diet with structure and clear rules, but counting every little thing is also difficult and gets annoying (which for us means we are more likely to abandon the rules).  We've both had success on the Atkins diet in the past, before we had kids, but I also wanted a more balanced option that has a maintenance phase (or back to "normal") that is well-aligned with the conscious choices we already make for our kids (such as minimizing refined sugars and processed foods).  Our compromise is the South Beach Diet.

I was actually excited to start, since one of the goals of the induction phase (phase 1) discussed in the South Beach diet book is the elimination of cravings, and that is my biggest challenge.  Plus, since I recently stopped breastfeeding my youngest, I'm choosing to take a more empowered attitude to reclaim my body rather than be saddened by the thought of no longer breastfeeding, perhaps forever (since we aren't sure we're going to have any more...). 

In order to succeed in any diet, it is important to organize yourself, your pantry, and your shopping lists accordingly.  This is the first time we are dieting and feeding children at the same time, so there is no way to eliminate fruits and starches from the house altogether for this first phase during which we eliminate them entirely.  The answer is to stock the fridge with plenty of veggie choices and be prepared, especially with diet-approved snacks (like celery sticks, string cheese, and nuts). 

It is more important than ever to plan out meals when sticking to a diet plan.  I still use my Excel meal planner and shopping list system for planning, with a few modifications.  I have also started planning breakfasts because for the first phase of South Beach the breakfasts all involve eggs.  Luckily it is super easy to make omelets and scrambles with different combinations of vegetables for very different meals that all utilize eggs.  At the same time, for the inevitable night where dinner prep gets started too late to go with the planned meal, I am determined to have enough salad fixings on hand at all times that we can always throw together a yummy salad (without getting bored with the same old salads over and over).

Thankfully my system of washing, cutting, jarring and vacuum packing lettuce makes salad making quick and easy during the week.  I continue to expand my veggie prep to include chopped versions of other veggies ready to go vacuum sealed in jars as well.  I will report on how long they seem to last, although we are plowing through veggies these days (which can't be a bad thing!), so it is difficult to really gauge how long they'll really last, but I'll try to do some experiments! 

I am thrilled to report that just over 2 weeks in and my habit of craving sweets at night is gone, but I still want something sweet and chocolate here and there (I'm still a woman!).  I am not a dark chocolate lover, so I was happy to find this No Sugar Added milk chocolate bar at Trader Joe's.  Just one or two little squares is a satisfying treat.

And thankfully I can also find things like this Low Carb Caramel Machiatto Tiramisu on Pinterest that I can't wait to try!!

{Source via Pinterest}

I will use this outlet to spotlight diet-friendly recipes and meal ideas that can translate to any healthy lifestyle, as well as ideas for fitting exercise into a crazy schedule.  Be sure to let me know if you have ideas or questions along the way!

This post is linked up to the following link parties:

Weekend Bloggy Reading @ Serenity Now
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