Plant-based entertaining

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P1120877This last weekend, my second son was baptized. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful baptism and it’s always beautiful to have my family all together. Entertaining in our tiny, temporary campus home is always a bit of a trick but feeding all these people a tasty, healthy meal was a piece of cake.

I’ve had quite a few recipe requests, so here goes:

I was going for easy — as little prep as possible and totally customizable.

Post-baptism luncheon

Post-baptism luncheon

I’ve gotten really big on build-it-yourself meals. This way you can accommodate picky eaters, gluten-free eaters, and others with special dietary needs.

Taco salads fit the bill for just about any occasion. I made a rice and bean salad that could go in the taco salad or on the side and we had chips, salsa and guac, along with pita chips and hummus for non-salad-lovers and general snackage. I had some veggies to put out with the hummus but ran out of time/room. I don’t think there was any room left on plates either though, so that’s okay. My wonderful mother-in-law provided the yummy, gorgeous fruit plate!

Taco Salads

Rice and Bean salad (recipe below)
Crockpot beans (recipe below)
Chopped romaine
Mixed greens
Tortilla chips or corn tortilla strips
Sliced baby bell peppers
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped cilantro
Sliced green onions
Salsa (the tub from Costco with the yellow lid- can bespicy)
Guacamole (again, Costco pre-made)
Lime wedges (which stayed in the fridge, forgot to put them out)
And I put out Ranch dressing for the kids

This salad doesn’t need dressing. The bean broth, salsa and lime make a great dressing without adding any effort or extra calories. Add guacamole for a creamier version.

Rice and Bean Salad

Salad

3 cups cooked basmati rice
1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
4 green onions, sliced
1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

Dressing

1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (I usually leave it out)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix in a big bowl, chill for at least one hour (overnight is best) and enjoy on it’s own, on a salad or in a pita.

Tweaked ever so slightly from One Perfect Bite

Crockpot Beans

3 cups dry pinto beans, well rinsed
9 cups water
2-3 bay leaves

Cook on low for 6-8 hours

Then add:

Chili powder (lots, to taste)
Cumin (lots, to taste- almost equal to chili powder)
Garlic powder (or garlic salt)
Salt

Set to warm for another couple hours or high for a bit until flavor is absorbed. Keep beans in the fridge to use throughout the week.

Fruit and Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine in a large bowl:

1 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup of almond meal
1/2 cup mixed nuts, finely chopped (optional, but recommended)
1 cup dried fruit (I use 1/2 craisins, and 1/2 raisins)

Combine in small bowl:

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients and then drop onto parchment paper, a nonstick baking pan or a greased cookie sheet. These stick badly on a regular cookie sheet due to the lack of fat.

Bake for 15-20 minutes depending on your oven and the size of your cookies. Edges should be golden brown. These freeze really great and are perfect for school lunches and snacks

Slightly tweaked from these No Sugar Oat Drops

Brownie bites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients:

1 cup almond flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour for the gf ones)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup coconut sugar (or stevia)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 well mashed banana
4-5 ounces dark chocolate chips (I use the large ones)

 Directions:

Lightly grease your mini-muffin tin (nonstick might work?) or an 8×8 pan.

Mix dry ingredients (minus chocolate chips) in a large bowl and wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir. Add chocolate chips and then drop batter into muffin pan, even with the top or just over.

Bake for about 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Watch these closely the first time you make them- all ovens are different.

Leave out the chocolate chips for a totally guilt-free treat!

Tweaked from Healthy Pumpkin Brownies

Hope

P1120730I took this pic on a hard day in a place that has special significance for me and my family. I know that if we have faith and anchor ourselves as individuals and as a family to the rock of our Redeemer that our future will be bright and beautiful.

One more angel in heaven

I wish I could say I was excited about this baby right away but it took me a minute. This was our first surprise. Out of the blue, unexpected, unplanned. My first thoughts were all about the reasons it wasn’t going to work. I already have a baby! A higher needs baby who needs me. I still haven’t slept through a night since his birth. The new baby would be due three weeks after Allen starts PA school. Three weeks after we move into a new house in a new city. I would know no one and be too far away for family to help. I would be 7-8 months pregnant for Clayton’s palate surgery. This is a big one with lots of recovery and therapy attached. Yikes.

But all it took was a text to my midwife, Stephanie and her enthusiastic response to snap me out of it. She didn’t care that we just had a baby or that we couldn’t afford another one or that there were a variety of other complicated factors in our lives. She was excited for a new person to be coming to our family. Just like that my switch flipped. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, I make beautiful kids and if Heavenly Father had enough faith in me to send me another of His precious angels I could have faith in Him and His timing- Why not?

10 weeks pregnant

10 weeks pregnant

So we started to plan. We did blood work and my always low progesterone was normal. No pills for me! That was a huge blessing. Things were good for about a week until one day in the middle of the day I started to bleed. Alot. For about 20 minutes I wondered if I was going to survive the episode but I knew my baby surely couldn’t. I continued bleeding, manageably, for the rest of the day and spent that and the next day in bed. My dear midwife held out hope. She’s seen a miracle or two and didn’t count our baby out just yet. I rested, cried and tested for a few days to see if my hormone levels were decreasing before I finally went for an ultrasound.

The first thing the tech saw was alot of blood. She wasn’t hopeful. I was with her. A minute later she gasped. “There’s a baby in there!” And a second later, “And it has a heartbeat!” That’s when I knew this kid was a fighter. If I wasn’t feeling grateful for this miracle of a pregnancy before, I definitely was after that experience.

We were cautiously excited. It was so fun to watch my belly grow so fast and so early! Apparently that’s what happens when you’re pregnant with your fifth baby right after you have your fourth. We took lots of pictures and thoroughly enjoyed it which I will always be grateful for.

I’ve never felt so great during a pregnancy. Not perfect, but for me, great! Again, we heard that beautiful heartbeat at our 12 week appointment and we began filling some friends and family in on the good news now that we knew that our baby was healthy and things were progressing well.

The next few weeks even the fatigue and little bit of nausea I was feeling eased up. I started rounding up some maternity clothes since cramming into my bigger pre-pregnancy clothes wasn’t working any more. And we set a date at 15 weeks to take our excited, anxious kids to find out whether we would be welcoming a boy or a girl to the family.

12 weeks pregnant, holding 12 week fetus model from my midwife

12 weeks pregnant, holding a 12 week fetus model from my midwife

About a week before the ultrasound, I started having some cramping and spotting. Not new for me this pregnancy but still upsetting because I had really started to think that I had healed and didn’t need to worry or “take it (so) easy” anymore. One night last week I had pains through the night that kept me up and gave me nightmares but then things died down for a bit though I kept lightly spotting. New Years Eve was hard. It was my son’s birthday and a big party day for my family. We played all day and night but I was hurting and spotting more. Later that night I curled up on my parents’ couch under a blanket in pain. Early the next morning (the day before the scheduled gender scan) I woke up in the early morning to bleeding. Not much, but not good. Between that and the cramping and aching in my low back my hopes weren’t high. I laid in bed not sleeping and making myself not call my midwife yet through the early morning hours of New Year’s Day until I eventually fell back asleep about when everyone was waking up.

I woke up in more pain, the bleeding continued and I had Allen call Stephanie. I so didn’t want to talk. We set up an appointment to check baby’s heartbeat. I could have waited until our ultrasound the next day but I wasn’t too keen on the idea of potentially traumatizing my kids for life if there was bad news.

Stephanie met us at her office on New Year’s Day just like any passionate birth professional who’s long since given up trying to celebrate holidays like a normal person would. This is why we love her. She searched and searched and searched but there was no heartbeat to be found. I was not surprised and I’m in awe at myself looking back and how calm I was. I didn’t freak out at all or get emotional. Something inside me knew not to expect anything. Still not ready to give up, Stephanie offered to go with me to the hospital for an ultrasound so that Allen could go home and be with the kids. Again, this is why we love her!

Last pictures- 14 weeks, 4 days

Last pictures- 14 weeks, 4 days

Off we went in the midwife-mobile to the Gateway hospital E.R. where we hung out, entertaining each other in the waiting room for over two hours. I was uncomfortable and hungry by this point but Stephanie kept a smile on my face. Allen finally rejoined us (thank you Cherise for taking my kids!) and we hung out a bit longer until it became clear that we would never get in.

So, we disturbed yet another family on their holiday and went over to Sunny Hyatt’s house for a quick peek. I’m so glad we did. I’m so grateful that it was in a peaceful, quiet, intimate environment that I got to see my baby. Again, I didn’t expect a heartbeat. I didn’t expect movement but seeing my little baby still was harder than I ever could have imagined. I’ve seen several babies on ultrasound now. They move, they breath, their little hearts beat in their chests. They kick and spin and are never still enough for the techs to get their measurements. They look alive. My baby didn’t. It’s chest was still. It’s arms were curled in together. It’s legs didn’t kick or flail. It broke my heart.

Our baby stopped growing a couple of weeks ago. At about 13 weeks. We had some options. We could wait it out and deliver at home, take a medication to help speed things along or schedule a D&C. We decided to wait it out.

The next couple of days were painful. Cramping and bleeding steadily increased and finally, last night on the 3rd of January I delivered our little one. It was a boy! He was 3 1/4 inches long from crown to rump and he was just perfect. Perfect little fingers and toes. Just still.

Last pictures- 14 weeks, 4 days

Last pictures- 14 weeks, 4 days

Then the bleeding picked up. And up and up until I knew it was time to go in to the hospital. They were fantastic and did everything they could to help me avoid surgery but finally I had just lost too much blood and things were getting a little scary. Right at midnight I went in for surgery. I woke up hooked up to a bag of blood. By morning I’d gone through another. But after the surgery, the transfusion and some more fluids I was feeling much more myself.

I have been incredibly blessed by visits from friends who love me, dinners delivered to my doorstep, treats, hugs and more messages than I can even respond to. I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I am so grateful to have four beautiful little boys to come home and cuddle with. I’m so grateful for an amazing husband who took care of me, my kids, the house and even threw a birthday party himself while I was in the hospital. I’m grateful for my parents giving up so much time to be with me and take care of my family. And I’m grateful for the amazing hospital staff who gave me the VIP treatment my whole stay and helped me skip the four hour wait in the lobby. Things could not have possibly gone better and I don’t know what I ever did to deserve so much good in my life.  Thank you!

We’re very sad not to get to meet this little person right now. I’m sure there will be hard days and I’m not looking forward to the kid’s due date but we have peace about it. I’m excited to get back to running. That’s been on hold with all my complications this past few months. I get to enjoy baby that I have without worrying about him becoming a big brother so soon. We can focus all our attention on him this April when it comes time for his palate surgery. But more than anything I have faith in Heavenly Father and his plan for our family. I trust him and know that he wants me to be happy and that he will make our family whole. I am so grateful for that knowledge and for my loving Savior who has been with me every step of the way. He has been true to His words:

John 14:18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
& 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

So, how much weight have you lost now? My response

I hit a big milestone a month ago and I never mentioned it because another even bigger milestone looms just around the corner. The big one. Or rather, the big one-oh-oh. Well, as it turns out that one might just take me a while. And that’s okay.

Just to show how very okay I am with it I’m going to brag about my last big accomplishment. Indulge me.

Late February this year my husband and I watched a movie that changed our family forever. We’d been working on getting our family eating healthier for years and were well on our way. There were lots of good foods in our diet including green smoothies, whole grains and other nutritious foods. But we couldn’t let go of the bad stuff. We couldn’t figure out where to draw the line.

So when we saw Forks Over Knives and over the next day or so underwent a huge change of hearts and minds (read more about our process here) it gave us just what we’d been looking for. We are diet haters. We don’t believe in dieting to get the weight off and then learning how to eat to maintain. We don’t get into diet trends and gimmicks. We’ve always been really snooty about it which is really funny coming from two fat people.

What this gave us was a healthy, doable, livable, lifetime way of eating that we could feel good about. A way of eating that we felt would improve our children’s lives and life-expectancies. A way to reverse the damage we’d done by so many years of dietary abuse. A diet based on healthful, delicious foods we craved.

I got into this not thinking about the scale (hoping but not dwelling). But the scale has done things this last year that I never would have thought possible. Ever.

[Find a couple more “before” pics here.]

I had a baby last December. In August I hit 100 pounds down from my delivery weight. That was pretty awesome. On October 6th I hit 90 pounds down from my “starting weight” from February. And later that month I hit a really comfy place that apparently I’m destined to be for the time being:
94 pounds down.

Ninety-four pounds! It’s obnoxiously close to a much bigger sounding number and it’s kind of an odd number to land on but I’ll take it. It feels good. I feel a little guilty when people congratulate me and tell me what a great job I’m doing and how hard I must have worked because all I’ve really done is changed the food we’re eating (except that it has allowed us to become more active).

I still snack, I still splurge, I still eat too much and I do “cheat” from time to time. I feel like the weight loss is a side affect of something I’m doing for my family and isn’t mine to celebrate. But this week I’m taking ownership for my accomplishment. I have done something great. And it has taken time, hard work and dedication, whatever my motivation. I have changed my life and my families’ lives and I did have a choice. I didn’t have to do it. So, today I’m proud. Tomorrow I’ll get over myself.

Babywearing love

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I’ve worn all my babies in carriers. My first was a clingy baby and my Snugli saved my life (and his) but it wasn’t the perfect answer- or comfortable to wear all the time. When my second was born only 13 months after the first, I had to have my hands free to chase a toddler! So I got my first ring sling. With number two I learned to nurse in the sling; hands-free. Freedom! My third lived in the sling all day and I learned to wrap him for more adventurous activities.

With my fourth, it’s different. I wear him for convenience like all the other boys but babywearing has taken on an entirely different meaning to me this time around. Due to Clayton’s cleft lip and palate I’ve been unable to nurse him. Breastfeeding is more than just a feeding method. With a new baby whose life revolves around food, breastfeeding is a parenting method. I couldn’t nurse my baby to bond, to sleep, for comfort or closeness. So I did what I could: I wore my baby. All the time.

From birth to about 5 months Clayton lived in the sling. He curled up against my chest, lulled by my heartbeat and the sound of my breathing. Just like before birth. Just like a breastfed baby. He even attended the birth of his friend in the sling!

From 5 to 7 months he lived in the wrap. Perched up on my back he took in my world. The familiar rhythms of my body putting him to sleep quickly or keeping him content.

At 10 months he is more independent. He wants to crawl, cruise and explore. But any time you find us out and about, Clayton is likely still on my back in his happy place.

I might feed my baby with a bottle — my feeding method had to change — but thanks to the blessing of babywearing, I get to mother the way I always have.

Happy International Babywearing Week!

A couple of old articles I wrote about babywearing:
A beginner’s guide to babywearing options (Raising Arizona Kids)
7 reasons to wear your baby (SheKnows)

Stuff. Who needs it?

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We got rid of most of our stuff before we moved into this tiny house here on the campus of the college my husband attends. We parted with most of the kids’ toys, barely used wedding gifts, unfinished craft projects and furniture we loved. It hurt. But it felt great at the same time. Shedding stuff feels good. Like removing a constricting band from around my chest- I breathe deeper.

But there are always more bands. Always more stuff. And we didn’t live here long before I felt buried. We crammed as much as we could into this house but it quickly became clear that we’d have to get rid of more than half of what we brought. We didn’t. It’s been making me crazy!

I carry my stuff. Each “thing” occupies a place in my mind as well as my home. It weighs on my soul.

A few months ago I finally lost it. I started gutting. I got rid of things I know I’ll need (“someday”). I got rid of things I love to look at because they remind me of the people who gifted them. I got rid of clothing that could be worn by a future child. Things I paid good money for. Things I scrimped and saved for.

I didn’t take the time to photograph the items and post online. I don’t have a place for them to go while they wait for new homes. I would have to continue to trip over them. To walk around them. To be cluttered by them physically and mentally. Nope. Off to Goodwill they went.

I was ruthless. And it felt good! Months later, I’ve been focusing on getting my husband through his 20 credit course load, feeding my family healthy, whole foods and caring for a high needs baby. Once again I feel buried. I’m in much better shape. Nothing’s hiding in the storage unit in the carport. There are no more linen closet avalanches. But there is surface clutter and it makes me itchy. This week I’m back at it. This stuff is gone! No more stacking, stuffing and piling. Gone!

Who’s with me? How much clutter can we clear this week?

 

Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

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Jack: Me and Clayton and William and Chris are kings. And you and Dad are servants. ‘Cuz you serve us food.

 Me: Yep, that sounds about right.

Imagine my delight today when that wasn’t entirely the case!

I spend a lot of time and energy making my kids healthy, tasty treats. I don’t by crackers, fruit snacks or even yogurt but I still want them to have snacks they can get excited about. But it can be exhausting when I already feel like I’m in the kitchen all day making three meals from scratch with variations for each kid (yeah, bad mommy).

William has been wanting these chocolate chip banana oat bars for a while now so I had him help me in the kitchen and it we breezed right through it! He mashed bananas, fetched and mixed ingredients and helped clean up. It was awesome! If you have an 8-year-old, I highly recommend enlisting their help with after-school snack making. The bars turned out great! These are a truly delicious treat. Oh, happiness.

I will send you to the original recipe because it’s just about perfect but we did sub applesauce in for the yogurt to make them plant-strong (vegan).

Healthy Banana Oat Snack Bars from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.

Ode to Chase

I love my siblings. It’s hard having a lot of kids. And my parents have a LOT of kids. But one of the things that keeps me going as my family expands is how much I love my siblings. I wouldn’t trade a single one of them for growing up with a nicer wardrobe, ski trips, or more time at the beach. Not even more time and attention from Mom and Dad.  The older we get, the more I appreciate and value my sibs’ places in my life. I know my boys will feel the same way.

We are just missing missionary Jesse here.

I feel so blessed that everyone is nearby for now. It probably won’t last forever but I hope it does. Chase is one who talks about making his escape from the Arizona desert. I tell him he can’t. Life would be far too boring without him. I mean it.

Chase is fun! He is funny and I find myself always keeping one eye on him to make sure I don’t miss whatever crazy comes next. Chase says what we’re all thinking and too polite to say. What you see is what you get. Chase doesn’t put on airs for anybody.

He is great with the kids. Chase is a kid. Which makes him a great uncle.

It’s been so awesome to see him become a father himself. He’s a natural. He loves his son.

As much as Chase loves his son, he loves his wife more. He is ridiculous about it. If you are around this cute couple for as long as 90 seconds you can see for yourself. Chase loves his wife.

And what’s not to love? Kim’s adorable! We all love her. One of the best things about Chase is that he comes with Kim.

Chase is there when you him. He’s supportive and open minded about all my crazy ideas. He’s all the entertainment we need for any family gathering. Chase, don’t leave us! (For long, anyway.)

We love you.

Happy birthday, little brother!!!

Whole grain pantry: Breakfast cereal bar

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There is life beyond wheat! I get alot of questions about getting started with whole grains. Whole grains are a great way to add variety and nutrition to a whole foods, plant-based (or any) diet. They are cheap and easy to find and use but they can be a bit intimidating until you’ve learned to work with them.

For the sake of simplicity, I usually recommend that the best way to experiment and become familiar with different grains is breakfast.

These are a handful of my favorite ways to use grains in the morning:

Overnight oats (an upcoming post)
Breakfast cookie
6-grain or 9-grain hot cereal or bars (another upcoming post)
Muesli (I like Cynthia Lair’s recipe in Feeding the Whole Family)
Millet and Amaranth Porridge
Quinoa with fruit
Rice pudding (A simpler version will be coming to the blog at some point)
Apple Crisp

But on morning’s when there’s no time to fuss over the stove (or if you’re surviving an Arizona summer like us and need to keep it cool) this cold breakfast cereal bar is a quick, easy and nutrient dense solution.

Can you tell we’re big on reusing Costco-sized containers?

You can use whatever pre-prepped grains you like but when we shop for cereals we are looking for sugar-free, animal-free and a very short ingredient list.

Cold breakfast cereal bar

Combine all (or a few) of the following cereals:
Puffed rice
Puffed millet
Puffed kamut (We mix these three and store in a large container)
Raw oats
Uncle Sam Cereal
Shredded Wheat ‘n Bran
Grape Nuts

Top with any of the following:
Bananas
Strawberries
Blackberries
Blueberries
Peaches
Mango

We love a mixture of bananas and berries or just peaches with our cereal. Serve with unsweetened rice milk or your favorite milk. Have fun with it!

Sugar-free fresh fruit jam

Chia seeds are awesome. Yes, chia, as in the classic Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia Pet. I’ve been adding them to my overnight oats for the last year or two for added nutrition but what I didn’t know is that chia seeds are magic!

Chia seeds are packed with Omega-3s and are a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron. As a bonus for dieters, chia helps you feel fuller longer after eating. But one one of my two most recently discovered favorite uses for chia is as a gel thickener in homemade fruit jams!

We are cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup free, so finding “j” for my kids’ pb&j sandwiches is both challenging and expensive. I’d been working on coming up with a homemade solution to this problem when I came across these Healthy Strawberry Oat Bars with Homemade Fruit Jam (which are fantastic, by the way, with a couple of sugar-free tweaks).

It’s amazingly easy. You just cut up or blend whatever fruit is on sale, heat, add chia and some sweetener if you want it and you have a healthy homemade jam. Not to mention you just turned your kids’ favorite (corn syrup/sugar candy-fest) sandwich into a super nutritious meal!

Homemade Chia Jam

2 Cups of diced or coarsely blended fruit
1 T chia seeds
Pure maple or agave syrup to taste (optional)

1. Heat fruit in a saucepan until it begins to sweat.

2. Add chia seeds and cook, stirring, on low-med heat for about 10 minutes.

3. Stir in sweetener and let cool.

Serve with peanut butter or almond butter on bread, plain in a pita for a picky eater, or over banana ice cream (frozen bananas blended until creamy). Be creative!

Note: Chia seeds look kinda nasty with some fruits like these peaches. In which case you can grind seeds in the food processor and get the same effect.

Add arrowroot powder if needed for extra thickening but be sure to mix it with water first to avoid clumping.