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my favorite things – part two

Welcome to Part Two of my favorite things!  I hope you enjoy.

Coconut

Mmmm…coconut!  Coconuts provide a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished populations around the world for generations.  Each part of the coconut can be used!  Coconut is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.  The meat, milk and oil do have fat, but once again, they are the good fat.  The type that your body uses to survive.

I love coconut!  I use unsweetened shredded coconut in my baking and sprinked on meals.  The oil is wonderful for baking as well!

Honey

Raw, unprocessed honey has been shown to be an antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing property for our bodies.  It has powerful healing attributes that promote healing for cuts and scrapes.  It also works wonders on dry skin!

My favorite way to use honey is as an energy booster while on my long distance runs.  It has just the right amount of sugar to give you that extra push for the last few miles.  Plus, it is much more natural and healthier for you than all the energy gels out there.

Honey is also wonderful mixed in tea, used in place of sugar in baking, drizzled in stirfry’s and so much more!

Almond Butter

When choosing a nut butter, make sure to look at the ingredient list!  Many on store shelves contain high fructose corn syrup and a lot of sugar.  Choose all natural nut butters.  My favorite is almond butter – made up purely of almonds!

I enjoy almond butter the most, but any natural nut butters are delicious.  They provide you with healthy fats that will keep you satisfied for a long time.  It has been shown that people who eat nuts or nut butter often consume fewer calories throughout the day because they keep you satisfied.

Check out my info on almonds in Part One!

Hemp Seeds

Hemp is everywhere these days!  Hemp seeds, hemp milk, hemp protein powder…I love it all.  Hemp seeds are very high in soluable protein which makes them easy to digest.  They also contain all of the 9 essential amino acids that your body needs.  Essential amino acids are ones that the body cannot produce on its own.

Hemp protein powder is just ground hemp seeds.  I prefer hemp protein powder over others because of the way it makes me feel.  It does not cause bloating or gas as others do.

Add a tablespoon or two of hemp powder to your smoothie in the morning, or sprinkle some hemp seeds on your salads for a nutty crunch!

Quinoa

Quinoa is the seed of a plant, but many people think of it and use it as a grain in place of rice, pasta, etc.  Like hemp, quinoa is a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs.  It also contains high levels of iron and magnesium, which will help your body feel more alert and will decrease your changes of developing hypertension or heart disease.

I absolutely love quinoa!  We cook with it a lot by adding it to stirfry’s, making quinoa burgers, adding it to salads and using it as a breakfast cereal.   You cannot go wrong.  Cook a big pot on Sunday night and eat it throughout the week!

Sea Salt

Too much salt is not good for anyone, but a little salt added to your baking and cooking will not cause you much harm.  Adding salt to your food can immensly add to the flavor, but season properly.  Only use what you need!  By cooking your own meals, you can control how much salt you are adding to a dish.  Restaurants and frozen meals use way to much salt!

The grayer the salt the better…and sea salt is much better for you than table salt.  Gray salt is minimally processed, while table salt is highly processed!

Bananas

Bananas could easily be my favorite food.  I love them in smoothies, oatmeal, spread with nut butter, eaten plain and on-the-go!  I love them for breakfast, with lunch, as a snack and sauteed with a little brown sugar for dessert.  I eat at least one banana almost everyday.

Luckily, bananas are good for you!  They contain tons of potassium, which helps to prevent high blood pressure, cramping (side-stitches) and restore your electrolyte balance.  They also help your body to absorb calcium.

I buy bananas in bulk.  I keep some on the counter to grab and go, but also keep a container in my freezer with frozen bananas for smoothies!

Pepitas

One of my favorite parts of the fall is carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds!  I sprinkle a little salt on top and pop them in the oven until slightly crispy – yum!  Well, you don’t have to wait until halloween rolls around to enjoy pumpkin seeds, just buy some pepitas.

Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are a nutritional powerhouse.  They contain high levels of magnesium, iron, protein and zinc amongst other things.  They also contain anti-inflamatory properties and can help to lower your cholesterol.

Try adding a tablespoon to your smoothies, salads, trail mix or sauteed veggies!

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are the seeds of the cacao fruit.  Once removed from their pods, the beans taste like a bitter rich dark chocolate.  To get to the chocolate bars we eat today, those cacao beans are highly processed and mixed with a lot of sugar (and milk to make milk chocolate).  Check out more here.

Dark chocolate is the least processed, but make sure that you are buying chocolate that does not have many other ingredients added to it.  Most good, high quality dark chocolate is minimally processed, but you might need to pay a little more for it.  The darker the chocolate, the better.  Many bars only contain 50% cocoa or less!  Look for bars with a higher cocoa content.

Dark chocolate is my downfall.  I just love it!  The darker the better!  I read all of the ingredients before purchasing a bar, and try to buy organic when I can.  However, a little added sugar isn’t going to kill you!  (P.s…the Trader Joes dark chocolate bar pictured above is one of my favorites!)

Almond Milk

We all know by now that I love almonds…and almond milk is no different.  Almond milk is a healthy milk alternative.  It does not contain nearly as much protein as cow’s or soy milk, but I prefer the taste…and get my protein in other ways.  I prefer the Pacific Natural Foods brand because it does not contain any soy products.

There are hundreds of articles out there talking about why some milk substitutes are better than others, but I won’t bore you.  I just prefer the taste of almond milk over others!  I am planning to try to make my own one of these days.

Use almond milk as you would use any milk product – in cereal, oatmeal, smoothies or with cookies!

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That wraps up my favorite things.  I hope you enjoyed the small sampling of some of my favorites!

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freshly made yogurt

Another one of my Christmas toys was a yogurt maker!  As I’ve said before, I really try and prefer to eat healthy foods without any additives or preservatives.  Unfortunately, most of the yogurt that we see in the dairy aisle today all contain additives, and most importantly, loads of sugar!  I love yogurt, so I have continued to eat all of the added sugar, but recently I have been trying to stick to the basics by eating greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt (if you get the plain kind) does not contain any added sugar.  I love greek yogurt as a snack with a little honey or jam – YUM!

Even though I aim to eat more natural foods, I still 100% believe that you can eat anything that you want, as long as it is in moderation.  No one is perfect (I certainty am not!), but personally I feel better when I eat healthy the majority of the time and still allow myself to have treats every so often!  If you deprive yourself, you will just want that chocolate bar or donut even more.  I definitely eat some kind of chocolate everyday!

My yogurt maker will allow me to avoid buying yogurt all together and make my own!  The maker that I received comes with individual jars to cook the yogurt in, which is perfect for grabbing when I am running out the door to work.  You can cook it plain, add a flavor to the mix, or add flavors to the individual jars to come out with 7 different types!  I’ll most likely be keeping mine plain.

All you need to make yogurt is pasteurized milk (of your choice) and a starter, which can be a container of a plain yogurt that you enjoy (or from your last batch of freshly made yogurt) or starter cultures that you buy.  You then heat the milk on the stovetop (this will ultimately create a creamier yogurt), add the starter once it cools to room temp and pour the mixture into each jar in the yogurt ‘oven’.  The yogurt will ‘cook’ for 8-12 hours depending on the type of milk you use.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, here goes my first shot:

My Very Own Homemade Yogurt

1.  Thoroughly clean each of the yogurt jars and allow to dry.

2.  Heat 42 ounces (specific to my yogurt maker) on the stovetop until it boils.  I am using 1% milk this time because it is what I have in my fridge!  Next time, I will definitely use a creamier milk, like 2%.

3.  Remove saucepan from heat and let sit until the milk reaches room temperature.

4.  Once milk has cooled, pour it into a pitcher.

5.  Add yogurt starter to the milk and stir until it dissolves.

6.  Pour the room temp mixture into the 7 glass jars of the yogurt maker.

7.  Place the jars (without lids) into the yogurt maker and place the cover on top.

8.  Plug in the unit and switch the ‘ON’ button.  Set the unit to the desired length of time (most likely 10-11 hours for 1% milk).  My 1% milk took 10 hours!

9.  Once the 10 hours is up (add actual length of time here), check the yogurt to make sure the yogurt is set.  It may take a few tries at making your yogurt until you receive the consistency and tartness that you desire.

10. After the yogurt is set, add the lids and place the individual jars in the fridge for 2-3 hours until chilled.

11. Once chilled, enjoy!

YUM!  It seems like a long process, but the steps of the process are very easy.  I think that it is important to make sure the yogurt is really at room temperature before adding the starter, and the mixture into the yogurt maker.  I read some reviews from people who did not have good results their first time.  But, I seemed to have a lot of luck my first time!

My yogurt was a little tart, which plain yogurt usually is, but it was also a little thinner than I prefer.  I enjoy greek yogurt over regular yogurt, so next time I will use different milk and I think it will help!

I’ve been enjoying my little jars of homemade yogurt all week!

I love it for breakfast with fresh blueberries, granola and a squeeze of honey.

But, I also love it for dessert with raspberry jam, shredded coconut and cacao nibs!

Next up, I’m going to try making some tzatziki for a more savory way to use yogurt.

breakfast cookies & nut butter

Just another Sunday over here in Boston!  Lots of time spent in the kitchen trying out new things!

My first creation of the day was a breakfast cookie that I had been dying to try.  They are all the rage with food bloggers out there, so I decided to try it out.  I kind of did a combination of the cookies I have seen on my favorite blogs, so here is goes.

The cookie is actually a perfect breakfast with ample fat, protein and carbs in the mix.  You mix all of the ingredients together, put the mixture onto a plate to form a cookie shape, and pop it in the microwave.

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookie


Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup oatmeal (I used rolled oats)
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter of choice (I used banana raisin!)
  • 1 scoop Amazing Grass Chocolate Mix (or protein powder)
  • 1/8 cup Almond Milk (regular milk would work as well)
  • 1/2 mashed banana
  • small handful raisins

Directions:

  1. Mix oatmeal, protein powder and nut butter of choice together in a small bowl until it creates a clumpy mix.
  2. Stir in almond butter and mashed banana until well combined.
  3. Add in mix-ins of choice! I chose raisins here to work with the banana raisin PB that I chose, but other great mix-ins would work as well.
  4. Put mixture onto small plate and form into cookie shape.
  5. Pop in microwave for 4 minutes, or until it springs back like a fresh baked cookie! 🙂
  6. Top with whatever you want: more nut butter, banana, jam, etc.
  7. Enjoy!

This process didn’t take any longer than a regular bowl of oats!  It was a nice change to my normal breakfast.  I felt like I was eating something completely sinful, but it wasn’t!

Cookie formed before cooking

And, after being cooked!

And, with my toppings of choice – scoop of banana PB, 1/2 banana and sprinkle of raisins!

Next up, I whipped up another batch of nut butter.

While eating my chocolate almond butter this week, I found it to become drier as the week went on.  I was not sure if this was just due to it being more natural or not, but today I figured out that it was due to the fact that I had used my small food processor!  The large one is much more powerful, and turned my hazelnuts and pecans into a smooth and creamy nut butter!

Nut butter is so easy to make!  Just throw all of your ingredients into the food processor and blend.  Keep blending until they become smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes.

Today, I used hazelnuts and pecans.  I roasted them for 2 minutes, and then let them cool before blending because I had read that they blend easier this way.  They definitely did, but by toasting them you do lose some of the nutrients.

Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan Hazelnut Butter


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon cacao powder
  • 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions:

  • Toast hazelnuts and pecans for 2 minutes, let cool.

  • Add nuts to food processor and blend until all chopped.

  • Add cacao powder, nibs, honey and cinnamon and blend.

  • Blend until creates a smooth and creamy nut butter.

This came out much better than my almond butter!  It tastes great, with just a hint of spice from the cinnamon!

I have my yogurt maker going right now…it should take about 9-10 hours!  I’ll be back with a post for that once it is done and I can try some. 🙂

tea & honey

The fall is my favorite time of the year.  I love to smell the crisp, cool air and see the leaves all changing colors.  I love when I can go outside with only a sweater or a light jacket.  I love apple picking and carving jack o’ lanterns.  I love hot apple cider and apple pie.  I love bundling up under lots and lots of covers.  And, I love sitting on my couch under a blanket with a nice hot cup of tea!

Tea is one of my most favorite things because there is such a history behind each different type of tea leaf.  There is black tea, white tea, green tea, herbal tea, red tea – and varieties of tea within each of those categories.  It’s unbelievable how good tea is harvested and how each individual list is cared for.  And, of course, it tastes good!

Tea is almost like wine, in that you have to try numerous different types until you find the one you love!  I love trying different types and brands of tea, but my favorite is black tea.  It is so fun to see how each one tastes differently.  I do have some favorites, but am always searching out something better.

I have a pretty decent tea collection at home, if you can call it that :-).  It takes up an entire shelf of a cabinet!  I do have a lot of popular brands which you can buy at the grocery store (because I always want to try something new!).  However, my favorite tea is the loose leaf I buy from local tea shops.  When travelling, I also seek out tea shops in new neighborhoods to try them out.  Small tea shops are great!  I purchased a bunch of empty tea canisters to store my tea away from light and moisture.

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I picked up two of the teas below at a local farmers market!

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I prefer loose leaf tea to tea bags, but tea bags are great for tea on the go.  Although, when I have time, I usually make my own ‘tea bags’ using my loose tea, and tea-sacs.

 

Tips for Tea Lovers

It is important to take care of your tea, so below are some of my tips for purchasing and storing tea!

Purchasing tea – it is important to purchase whole tea leaves in order to get the best flavor from a tea.  Most companies mass produce tea bags and do not care about the quality of leaves that they are putting into those bags!  Many tea bags that you would purchase in a grocery store have the dust or fannings of tea, not the actual leaves.  Tea is ranked in different categories, with dust being the lowest.  Dust is the small particles that are left over after the tea is processed, thus being the cheapest form of ‘tea’.

Storing tea –  Loose leaf tea does not like light, and keeps much better stored away from light and moisture.  If you store your tea correctly, it can last for up to a year!

Brewing tea – it is important to only steep your tea for a certain amount of time.  If you steep too long, the tea will taste bitter!  The guide below shows some basic timeframes:

  • Black tea: 3-5 minutes
  • Green tea: 2-3 minutes
  • White tea: 1-2 minutes
  • Herbal tea: 5-7 minutes

 

A few of my favorite tea sites:

Windsor Tea Shop – adorable little tearoom

Tea Gschwender – their Oriental Moon tea is wonderful

Tealuxe – love the Lady Londonderry

 

My absolute favorite tea was found through a friend of mine.  It is a black tea with both fruity and floral notes.  I actually prefer fruitier teas, even though tea conoseauers would say it is a sin to add any flavor to a tea :-).  This delicious tea that I found is by Mariage Freres of France, called Marco Polo.

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Normally, I buy the loose leaf, but my tea shop on had the tea bags this time.  But, I didn’t mind because they come in a gorgeous box and each baggie is individually hand tied in muslin.

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How cute are they?!  I am such a girl :-).

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I just enjoyed a mug of this delicious tea this afternoon, with just a bit of honey.  In the mornings, I normally drink my tea black, but I love to add honey as a treat!  Because of my enormous tea collection, it would only be fitting to have a big collection of honey as well :-).

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I like all types of honey, but I prefer something all natural made right from the honeycomb and not with any additives like those honey bears in the grocery store!  I try to purchase local items to eat, so I always look for honey at farmers markets in order to support our local farmers!

I bought some delicious honey on our honeymoon in Mykonos, Greece.  There was an entire honey shop with honey made from all different things.  They type we bought was made from a fir tree!  How cool!  It definitely has a different, heavier and nuttier taste.  It’s wonderful on cheese and crackers, and in tea, of course!

I’m off to my couch with my cup of tea!