Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Taco Soup-- revisited

I've made many taco soups in my lifetime.  Many recipes.  Many delicious dinners.  As I work to clean up my diet I search for foods that work better with my body I have modified my taco soup recipe again.  The feature this time around is the home made taco seasoning blend.  This makes a world of difference for me.  No additives, no junk--better for me.  I also added more veggies to the mix.  I don't do so well with corn or legumes, so I replaced those with some easy for me to digest veggies.  I missed eating the soup with some salt and crunch so I added a bit of fresh shredded lettuce.  That crunch helped me feel like I'm not missing out.  Feel free to add some corn chips, beans or frozen corn to your own mix.  Maybe garnish with some fresh avocado and cilantro.  YUM

Happy Eating

No Grain Taco Soup
1 lb cooked ground meat (I have done shredded chicken and ground beef.  Both great!)
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped veggies (I like a mix of carrots, celery, and bell peppers)
1/4 cup your favorite taco seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons lime juice (or lemon, whatever you have)
2 cans (14.75 oz) petite diced tomatoes
32 oz beef broth

In a large stock pot, combine cooked meat with onion, garlic and veggies.  If using quick cooking veggies like zucchini, reserve those for later.  Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes until onions start to soften.  Add in the taco seasoning, salt, lime juice, tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in any quick cooking veggies.  Simmer 3 more minutes.
Serve with your favorite taco toppings, cheese, lettuce, chips, sour cream or avocado.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taco Seasoning

I hate reading labels and not knowing what things are on the ingredient list.  I have been trying to eat so clean, it is frustrating to feel set back but what I don't know.  So I make my own seasoning mixes.  This one is a FAVORITE.  Really.  I make it en-masse... a couple cups at a time-- this is the paired down recipe.  If you like it, I'll post the expanded version.  It is that popular.  I use it to season my taco meat, make my taco soup, and even flavor my sweet potato chips and baked sweet potato with it.  It is a staple at my house.

I like to combine sweet and smoked paprika to get a smokey, good flavor.  If you don't have smoked paprika, don't sweat it, just use regular paprika and it will still taste great.  Not sure if you will like smoked paprika, come over and smell it... you won't regret it.  For full disclosure, I adapted this recipe from Against All Grains.

Taco Seasoning
2 1/2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons cumin
1 Tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a jar.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hormones- A Balancing Act

Fair warning, another, more than you ever needed to know about Erica post... but the more I have learned about me and how my body works the more I want to share, so you can understand your body.  I hope you have an "ahha" moment or two...

Hormones- female ones- have been the bane of my existence for 25+ years... I came to maturity early and I have endured the gauntlet of PMS symptoms: anxiety, anger, rage, bloating, weight gain (5 pounds most months), headaches, cravings.  The symptoms start a couple days after ovulation and are my buddies until 12  hours before my period starts.  Really, I know my period will start soon when I no longer feel like I need to throw hatches at walls, or for the safety and sanity of my family, lock myself up in a padded room.

Photo Credit
I've seen multiple doctors over the years and the treatments vary with each professional.  Blood work was always within the range of normal, but my symptoms were so off that they were willing to try something, anything.  They started with anti-depressants; then we added contraceptives, then added more progesterone supplementation.  Still I experienced so much angst and so much turmoil each month.  I even had a doctor suggest that we remove the whole female reproductive unit and start over with hormone replacement therapy.

With the threat of major surgery looming in my mind, I started paying a lot of attention to my body... and reading, and researching and learning more.  The more I learned the more I saw that I was just out of balance.  Hormones are meant to balance one another out.  If one is too high you won't feel so good, and your body will  be out of sorts.  If the proportion of estrogen to progesterone is too high your body will experience anxiety, tenderness of the breasts, bloating, and weight gain (um me!).  If the proportion of estrogen to progesterone is too low you may experience hot flashes, forgetfulness, depression or fatigue.

Then I watched my body some more... and read some more.  Things started falling into place.  Those days where I just am not okay with a child giving me a hug, or sleeping on my side because my ladies are UNTOUCHABLE.  Estrogen out of proportion with progesterone.  That crazy, anxious, can't sit still feeling I get after some hanky-panky, while I watch my hunney sleep contentedly.  ESTROGEN (ovaries produce more estrogen in response to rhythmic contraction of the uterus- read orgasm or labor and delivery-- add onto that the huge drop in progesterone production lost by loosing the placenta and no wonder I was a huge mess after the birth of each child!)  That big sigh and I almost feel normal feeling, 12 hours before Aunt Flow comes to visit?  The required drop in estrogen for menses to begin.

So what is the answer?  I'm not sure what your answer will be but I found one that works for me and my high estrogen. 

Indole-3-carbinol or I3C for short.  I3C is a compound found in leafy greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.  What does it do?  I3C helps with the metabolization of estrogen.  Here is the super simplified, almost sciencey version of how it works.

Your liver helps the reproductive system by breaking down excess hormones and flushing them out of the system.  I3C hooks up with estrogen in the body and tells  the liver to metabolize it.  Estrogen levels drop and get back to a better ratio with progesterone.

I help my body by taking I3C as a supplement and by increasing my intake of I3C rich foods during the luteal phase of my cycle (last two weeks).  If I feel that super-charged anxiety after a good time with my man, I take a bit then too.  There are lots of supplement brands that make I3C pills, so go with a brand you trust.

Really I have felt so much more peace and so much less rage since I started supplementing with I3C.. maybe that is just understanding where my body is and what I can do to support and nourish it.  Now go take care of yourself!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forgiving Aunt Flow- A TMI kind of Post

I have a love/hate relationship with my aunt... She visits me regularly and I often look forward to her arrival (if only for confirmation that my attempts at planing parenthood are working), but she always leaves me chafed, irritated, bloated, sore,... well I could go on for days-- because she stays for days.

After 27 plus years of visits- you would think I would be accustomed to my monthly visitor... What a blessing that my body works as it was designed to!  What a gift!  If only tampons and pads and stained panties were as much of a treasure.  For some reason as my body has aged my flow has changed too.  Tampons that used to be absorbent and fool proof (baring the teenage mishaps) now fail frequently and tear that tender skin as I attempt to extricate them from my body.  Those pads- that thankfully are no longer the size of two by fours or held on by belts-- bravely attempt to capture and subdue the raging tide, but wings and super dry mesh are no match for my Aunt Flow.  I know flow mutation is a sign of aging, Peri-menaupause, hormone imbalance, what have you...but really... Flow, Florence, Auntie, can a girl get a break?!?

Then my world was rocked... And I mean rocked hard, like I was 19 slam-dancing at a 90's mosh pit.  It was so awesome!  My world would never be the same... in a good way.  Flow and I are now reconciled, friends on great terms and every month when she leaves, I am almost sad.  Almost...What changed my world.  Two words... DIVA CUP.

This is the Diva Brand
Have you heard of menstrual cups?  Little, reusable, silicone, well for lack of a better word, cups that you insert in the vagina.  They collect the clots, clumps, and dangles along with the good old traditional red flow.  You pull it out, dump the collection in the toilet, wipe the cup down and reinsert it and you are good to go.  No fumbling with toilet paper mummies and awkwardly placed feminine waste recipticales.  No flushing $$ down the toilet each month with every failed tampon blunder.  Plus I am reducing my footprint on the environment... But mostly, I am not chaffed, irritated, sweating profusely down there.  I don't spend a week, laying with my legs spread, trying to air dry my he-haws and kill the moss that no doubt took root.  Flow's visit is a joy.  And if I am really honest, I'll have to whisper this one... I get happy sense of glee each time I empty the cup and can see how full it is.  I almost want to break out a piece of paper and start collecting data to graph and compare flow day to day, month to month.

Another change has occurred in my flow too.  I don't have scientific data to back up my hypothesis, but my periods are shorter.  Flow used to visit for at least 5 day; constant, never really changing, heavy flow.  Now I have 2 heavy days followed by 3 days of practically NOTHING!  My thought is that the cup creates a mini-vacuum internally, creating negative pressure and sucking that flow out instead of just waiting on gravity.  Again, no science; no proof of concept.  Just shorter periods.

There are tons of brands too.  Diva, Luna, Moon.  All have different measurements and different features, but all work with the same premise.  Catch the flow before it exits the vagina.  Don't confuse these cups with Instead... a great cup like product that worked great before I had babies, but never afterwords... (another fun story for another time and place).

Fair warning... there is a learning curve with using this device...(fun times... for another post)  But just like those oh my, I wish I could forget moments when I learned how to use a tampon, and failed miserably, you may have a moment or two with the menstrual cup.  It took me one cycle to get the hang of it.  Six months later, there is NO WAY I would go back.

Want to try it?  I'll walk you through the process and give you all the pointers I can!

Chicken Saag-- a delicious way to eat your greens!

 I have a passion for Indian food.  I love the fact that my favorite local Indian restaurant proudly labels gluten free and vegan menu choices, and the spicy food makes my tongue tingle!  So yummy to eat food full of spice that is creamy and delicious and fits within my dietary restrictions!

My sister introduced me to Chicken Saag the last time we ate out together.  This creamy, spinach based curry packed all the flavor of a Tiki Masala, with the hint of sweetness spinach brings to the party.  The mama, how can I get more veggies into my kids, part of me rejoiced!  A whole serving or two of veggies just in a delicious sauce!!!!

My whole foods, plant based eating friend likes to eat the sauce (no chicken) with veggies or spread on a pita.  So much deliciousness.

I adapted this Rachel Ray recipe to suit my family's needs.  Happy Eating my friends!!!

Chicken Saag
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast cut into cubes
1/4 cup salt (for brine)
1 cup water (for brine)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons tumeric
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes
2 lbs fresh spinach (or frozen, thawed and wrung out)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided

Marinate the chicken in the salt and the water for 20 minutes.  Pre-heat oven to 425.  Drain liquid from the chicken. Spread chicken pieces on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

In a hot skillet saute onion, ginger and garlic in the olive oil.  Add spices, tomatoes, and spinach to the skillet, stir together and cook until spinach wilts.  I tend to add the spinach a little at a time so I don't overfill the skillet.  Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Cook until spinach is totally wilted and soft.

Transfer the hot spinach mixture into a food processor or blender (or you could use an immersion blender). Process the mixture until it is smooth and soft.  Add chicken stock to reach your desired thickness.  I like mine really thick, so I tend to stop with about1 cup of stock.  The liquid amount can also vary based on the moisture content of the spinach you use.

Put the spinach mixture back in the skillet and add in the baked chicken.  Cook for 2 minutes more. Serve over rice or with your favorite rice substitute.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spinach Life Hack

I learned this trick just the other day and it CHANGED MY LIFE!!!  Really.  I eat spinach like it is going out of style, but no matter how much I eat I can never seem to finish the ginormous, feed the entire neighborhood sized bag (that also happens to be the cheapest per oz at my big club store) before it goes bad.  As soon as those first leaves start to ooze, all bets are called off.  I can pick around the first few and close my eyes as I shove them in the blender, but my stomach is revolting.

Solution #1: In my brilliance I thought, I can puree a whole bag with a bit of water, freeze it in ice cubes and pull out some 4-5 cubes each time I make a smoothie.  Great concept.  A couple fatal flaws... the ice cube trays are now dyed green... and I can't get them clean-- an issue for my kids who don't like green tinted ice or any appearance of vegetable in anything that will touch food they will put into their mouths...  Another fatal flaw... The ice makes the smoothie super cold and very slushy... it ruins the creamy factor and getting those cubes fully pureed is a chore.  It will do the job, but it isn't my favorite.

Solution #2: Eat more spinach.  Good in theory.  Hide spinach in meatloaf or soup, juice the bad boys, or heck make chicken saag (heaven!!!)  But even with me pushing spinach in most meals, some still goes bad, and I am left feeling like a failed, wasteful homemaker- my pioneer ancestors are rolling over in their graves.

Then the heavens opened and I learned this trick:  Just freeze the whole darn bag.  (pregnant pause for dramatic effect)  Really it works.  It is like a Christmas miracle every time I make a smoothie.

Fresh spinach, frozen in the bag is just like fresh spinach in the bag, but colder.  It breaks apart in leaf size bits and I can grab it by the handful and shove it down into my blender.  It doesn't congeal together in one big mass.  It doesn't even develop those nasty ice crystals that form on fruit in the freezer. It is malleable and movable.  It really is miraculous.

There is only one downfall to fresh bagged, then frozen spinach-- it takes a bit longer for the cell membranes and fiber to break up in the blender.  I increase my blend time 30-45 seconds and I give the blender an extra shake to move all the bits around.  Problem solved!

Can't wait for big club store shopping day... time to load up on spinach!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Chocolate "Health" Shake

I am a chocolate fan.  I am a chocolate lover.... You might call me a choco-holic.  Going off sugar was crazy hard, because that meant forgoing my favorite treat.  But then I found a way to eat my chocolate and feel no guilt about it.

Hello, Chocolate "Health" Shake.  Unsweetened cocoa powder gives this shake its chocolate punch; banana and spinach sweeten up the party; peanut butter makes it creamy; and the spinach helps with fiber, phyto-nutrients, and really gives this shake the healthy stamp of approval.

The appearance of this shake is not for the faint of heart.  It is a green-brown sludge- a harrowing combination in the nightmares of mothers world wide.  But if you can close your eyes and take a gulp, you are in for a treat!

Fair warning... I like dark chocolate-- I eat the 80% and 90% dark and think it tastes great.  I also want as much green goodness as I can shove into my body... You might want to start low and baby step up the cocoa powder and the greens to suit your taste palate.  I'll provide both variations for your consumption pleasure.

Baby Steps Chocolate "Health" Smoothie

1 whole frozen banana
1 cup compacted spinach
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2-1 cup water (milk would be creamier... but I don't drink milk so I can't say how it tastes)

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Start low with the liquid and add more if the shake is too thick to blend (I like it as thick as possible).... Blend, blend and blend some more-- unblended spinach bits are the worst-- about one minute or until all the spinach bits are incorporated. (frozen spinach will take longer to blend-- next week I'll teach you how to freeze your spinach for smoothies)

Enjoy.  Makes one serving

Dark Chocolate "Health" Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
2-3 cups compacted spinach (as much as I can shove in the mini blender)
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2-1 cup water (or other liquid)

(I halved the banana and doubled the cocoa so this is dark and delicious--be warned.) Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend, blend and blend some more.  Shake the container to get the spinach loosened from the sides and all the yumminess mixing together.  Blend, blend and blend some more.  (this can take up to two minutes)
Drink right from the blender or pour into a cup.  Serves one.

100% Fruit Jam

I'm not the only one in my family with dietary restrictions... Recently my 12 year old joined me in my "crazy" lifestyle... he does no processed food, dyes, or sugar. (My restrictions include no dairy, sugar or grain-- so he has it "easy" with so many more options available)  But sugar is in everything... how do you make kid food happy with no sugar?  PB& PB sandwiches?  Not so yummy.

Inspired by my desire to have some normalcy for him, I created this 100% fruit jam.  It is thick and spreads like a traditional home made jam and is fantastic on pancakes, bread, or just by the spoonful.  This jam is a combination of mixed berries and pineapple.  The berries give sweetness and color, and the pineapple pushes the sweetness farther while the fiber gives the jam the thick consistency.  Bonus?  This jam is no cook, no mess, 5 minutes from start to finish!

100% Fruit Jam

1 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup drained, canned pineapple chunks

Defrost frozen mixed berries in the microwave- a bit of liquid will leak out of the berries, this is normal.  Drain those pineapple chunks well.  Combine pineapple and thawed berries in a small blender.  Blend together until it reaches a smooth and consistent texture (about 30-40 seconds).

Spoon jam into a jar and refrigerate.  It will thicken as it sits.  Keep refrigerated.

I'm Back

The last few years have taken a toll on my body...  Want the recap?  Diagnosed with lupus.  Diet revolution.  Embrace change.  Enroll in university.  Teach more exercise.  Lupus flare.  "Bed rest" for 6 months.  Finally having enough energy to cook, think, and dream again. Phew!  It has been a tough year!!! But I am feeling good; thinking, planning, dreaming-- not sleeping half the day!!!  I feel great!  So welcome back to triharderlivebetter!  I may not be doing much triathloning, or much exercising yet, but I have learned so much and have lots to share.

In the next few weeks, I'll share some recipes I have mastered for making my diet  lifestyle work for me and my family, and some things I have learned about balancing health, hormones and happiness.