Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, gluten free, nut free, soy free

The Greek Dinner that Made My Family Sing Opa!

16864914_10155064092529116_1123159716396037580_nMy mom likes your run-of-the-mill shaved meat gyro, and we often get our annual Greek Festival lamb dinner for Mother’s Day each year, but for the most part, my family of four doesn’t really do Greek flavors. So when they asked to have the “Greek Turkey Burgers” I’d labeled for the freezer – for me to have as one-offs – I said sure; it was tame enough even for them.

Menu: Greek Turkey sliders with homemade tzatziki sauce, Greek lemon roasted potatoes, garlic refrigerator pickled cucumbers.

Start with the pickles because you need to make them at least a day ahead; a week is better. And they have so many more uses than just as part of this dinner, so don’t worry about them hanging around too long.

  • 2 thinly sliced hothouse cucumbers with peel on
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup room temparature water
  • 3-4 whole peeled and crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 t each salt and pepper

It’s hard to give measurements because it really depends on the size container you use. I re-use glass jars from things like spaghetti jars and jelly jars. The measurements above work for the spaghetti jar size. Pack all of that in the jar. If the liquid doesn’t quite fill the jar to the top, add more apple cider vinegar instead of water; it won’t be too much. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. Great as a stand-alone side, as an addition to a salad, chopped up as relish for egg or tuna salad, and as a burger or sandwich condiment.

It’s also best to make the tzatziki a day ahead to give the flavors time to settle together.

  • 1 16 oz container of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt of your choice
  • 1/2 hothouse cucumber, seeded and grated
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 t each, salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Usually, you can return the entire mixture to the original yogurt container for storage in the refrigerator.

On the day of dinner, set out any ingredients to thaw in the morning. Here’s what you’ll need to for cooking:

For the Greek lemon roasted potatoes:

  • 4-6 medium potatoes (yukon gold or russet work best)
  • 1/2 preferred cooking oil
  • 1/4 lemon juice (approx. 2 lemons juiced)
  • 2 T lemon pepper seasoning (we use Mrs. Dash for sodium control)
  • 1 t each, salt and pepper

For the Greek Turkey Burgers

  • 1 lb ground turkey (your choice to use turkey breast or blended turkey meat)
  • 1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with liquid squeezed out
  • 1 package of feta cheese (we like the tomato and basil seasoned kind)
  • 1 T lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1/2 t each, salt and pepper

Start with the potatoes. Preheat the oven to 350°F (for 90 minute potatoes) or 450°F (for 30 minute potatoes). Clean and chop into large 1.5 inch chunks if you’ve got at least 90 minutes or small .5 inch dices for a 30 minute dinner. Add in oil, lemon juice, and seasonings and mix well with your hands. Pour in a single layer in a foil liked baking sheet. Time for 60 minutes (for 90 minute potatoes) or 10 minutes (for 30 minute potatoes).

In the same bowl, combine turkey, spinach, feta, lemon pepper seasoning, salt and pepper. Divide mixture into 4-8 patties: 4 to fit standard hamburger buns or 8 to fit standard slider buns). Place on foil lined baking sheet and sprinkle a bit more lemon pepper seasoning on each patty. Add to oven when the first potato timer goes off. If you started on 350°F, increase oven temp to 450°F and time for 20 minutes. If you started on 450°F, time for 20 minutes more.

On a baking sheet, open hamburger or slider buns with the cut side facing up. Once the potatoes and burgers are finished, turn the oven to broil at 500°F and toast buns for approximately 2 minutes. Do not leave unattended and do not try to get something else done, or you’ll burn the buns – not a pleasant taste.

 

Assemble burgers by spooning tzatziki on both sides of the bun. And more tzatziki in a small bowl or dolloped on the plate makes a great dipping sauce for the potatoes.

My plate in the photo above shows some pickled asparagus because my family ate up the pickled cucumbers so quickly that I didn’t get any for my photo. Next time, sigh 🙂

Posted in Being Healthy, Children, Cooking

BuzzFeed Recipe Trial: 4-ingredient Chicken Bake

On January 29, 2016, I shared BuzzFeed recipe video below on my Facebook feed with a note to use the kale from my local CSA share to make this for Sunday dinner. And I did. And paired it with simple salt-and-pepper thin spaghetti noodles.

HUGE hit! Takes maybe 5 minutes to layer in the casserole dish (line with aluminum foil to make clean up faster and easier too), and it turned out to be a GREAT way to HIDE VEGGIES from my guys because what they saw looked like pizza on top of chicken. They just thought it was all chicken-y cheesiness and AWESOME.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FBuzzFeedVideo%2Fvideos%2F1826534510820756%2F&show_text=0&width=560

I’ve made this several times since that first weekend dinner with the following variations:

  • frozen chicken with fresh toppings – little bit juicier in the bottom of the pan, but otherwise no difference; the breasts were small and thin, and took 45 minutes
  • cubed chicken breast and everything layered more like a casserole for more servings, and baked directly over cooked penne pasta in the casserole dish; same temp and time as original recipe
  • “Mexican” style using canned chopped chilis and pepper jack cheese, still using the sliced tomatoes
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Soy and Teriyaki Sauce Alternative – soy free, corn free, gluten free

I’ve got a growing group of friends who have straight up food allergies to corn, gluten, soy – and, Lord help me, all three! And that makes safe store-bought sauces that most think of as a single ingredient not nearly impossible but actually impossible.

Hibachi-at-home: steak, scallops, veggies (zucchini, carrot, onion, peas), rice.
Hibachi-at-home: steak, scallops, veggies (zucchini, carrot, onion, peas), rice – using this homemade soy sauce turned into teriyaki sauce.

Here’s my alternative to soy sauce when cooking for them – and now myself since I can control the sodium level so much more!

  • 1/4 cup strong beef or mushroom broth (use homemade or Pacific brand)
  • 1/4 cup organic apple cider vinegar (make your own with this recipe)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2 T molasses – be sure to get organic and check the label for corn syrup or corn-derived additives – I get mine raw from a local farm
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic – I recommend using a garlic press
  • 1/2-inch of fresh, finely minced ginger – I recommend using a cheese grater
  • 1/4 t finely ground pepper
  • kosher or sea salt – add in 1/4 t amounts until you achieve the soy sauce saltiness you like

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Did you know that Teriyaki Sauce is nothing more than a sweeter soy sauce? Add 1/2 to 3/4 cups of this soy-free soy sauce to a sauce pan with 1/2 cup corn-free brown sugar, combine well and simmer for 20 minutes.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Comforting Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Recently, I found myself craving something beefy and comforting, so I put out a call for ideas on Facebook. Boy, did my girlies come through for me. Beef Stroganoff. It has a rich history as a classic Russian dish. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got its own website! But essentially, this dish is beef cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Having spent a delicious month in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1993, I know that, at least at that time, most Russians didn’t have regular access to good cuts of beef, and I learned that both of my Russian families made their beef stroganoff about the same way: cooking down wild, handpicked mushrooms and onions, adding some beef in to brown, deglazing with some water (making a bit of broth), and cooking this for several hours on low, then adding in some sour cream at the end to thicken up the sauce.

Sounds like the perfect crock pot recipe to me, but I wanted something a little more compact since I’d be at work all day and wanted my family to be able to put dinner together themselves. So I settled on a casserole that achieves the same purpose and delivers 4 healthy servings an no leftovers to junk up the fridge.

Ingredients (in order of preparation)

  • 1/2 bag of egg noodles, cooked and drained (for gluten free and corn free, use Lehman’s Gluten Free Homestyle Egg Noodles)
  • 2 large green peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz sliced portabella mushrooms, chopped (alternatives: white button or baby bella)
  • 1 lb beef, chicken, or pork (cubed beef is traditional; ground is a great, less expensive alternative)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (for gluten free and corn free, use Pacific GF cream of mushroom soup or my homemade recipe)
  • 1 cup sour cream (or milk if you’re out of sour cream)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

You can see I’ve gone with a little help from the pantry rather than a totally-from-scratch recipe.

So I start with cooking the noodles. When they are drained, pour them into a casserole dish, lightly sprayed with cooking spray if you’re worried about sticking, which is not usually a problem.

Next I move on to the veggies…on medium heat and with 1 t of your favorite cooking oil, sweat the water out of the mushrooms and then add the peppers and onions for a quick saute; I’ve stopped cooking veggies in oil. I do these separate because I want to make sure they keep their crunch. If I put them in with the meat and sauce, they would cook down and have no texture left to liven up the casserole when it’s heated. Before they start getting brown, dump them in with the noodles and give it all a quick stir.

The last part is just as quick. We had some venison stew meat already cut up, so I tossed that into a pan with a little olive oil. When it gets just barely cooked through, dump in the cream of mushroom soup and sour cream, stir, and simmer for maybe 10 minutes, mostly to make sure the sauce comes together. Then dump this in with the noodles, peppers and onions, stir, and viola! Beef Stroganoff Casserole.

Now, certainly, you can pop this in the oven to finish and serve it up in about half an hour.

But I needed this as a make-ahead. And here are the instructions I’ll leave for the family to follow tomorrow:

To have dinner ready to eat by 6:30 pm, start at 5:45 pm

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Take the casserole out of the fridge and stir slowly and carefully
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil
  • Put the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes
  • Take the foil cover off and put in for another 15 minutes

As I’ve got Harris Teeter brown and serve rolls to go with mine, I’ll add the rolls during the final cook since they take 12-15 minutes. My folks will also be cooking up some sauteed squash and onion to go with this casserole.

For 8 nutritional servings or for 6 fuller servings, double the noodle, beef, and soup quantities; I also fully double the veggies, but that can be too much for many. Do not double the sour cream; there’s no need.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Basic Granola (technique and recipe)

My mom is diabetic. And even though her dad was diabetic her whole life, and she was raised essentially on a diabetic diet (as it existed in the 60s and 70s), she’s got very diabetic-unfriendly eating habits.

img_11401But one good choice she craves and sticks to is granola. The oats are a great carb choice for diabetics, a slow digesting carbohydrate whether eaten cooked or raw. She loves oatmeal during the winter months, but really needs to have the sweet bite to it. She loves yogurt, but really needs to have a sweet bite to it. She really (psychologically) needs the sweet or she feels like she’s deprived.

But she won’t buy granola from the store because it’s saturated in various sugars: brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, and more.

Thus is born our experiment, beginning with what I consider Basic Granola.

And like so many “recipes,” this is a system, not a by-the-numbers or it’s wrong kind of food.

So here’s my system – which tracks pretty closely with the vast majority of granola “recipes”:

  1. 1.5 cups oats
  2. 1 cup nuts – mix as many as you like into the blend, but only 1 cup total
  3. 1 cup dried fruit – mix as many as you like into the blend, but only 1 cup total

Yep, it’s that simple.

Now, for the recipe people, here’s exactly what’s in my Basic Granola pictured here:

  • 1.5 cups rolled oats (Publix brand, no need to go fancy)
  • 1T dried ground cinnamon (Publix brand)
  • 1t dried ground nutmeg (Publix brand)
  • 1t salt (Morton’s)
  • 1 cup water

Mix these five items together in a bowl, cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

Prep your nuts; I used what I already had in the cupboard:

  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds (Publix organic unsalted from the produce section)
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds (Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts)
  • 1.3 cup slivered almonds (Mariana from the Publix produce section)

Prep your binding; because my granola places emphasis on being diabetic friendly, I have limited sugar to a functional role and eliminated all granular sweeteners – natural or artificial:

  • 1/3 cup honey (from a local farm near me)
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted butter (Pompeiian Grapeseed Oil)

When you’re ready to bake, mix the nuts and the binding into the softened oat mixture. Spray or grease a medium or large cookie sheet with at least a little lip, spread the mixture in a thin layer in the sheet. Bake at 250° for 1 hour and 15 minutes; increase heat to 300° for 20-40 minutes more. The longer time is especially useful in high-humidity climates or times of year.

As your mixture sits to cool, it will harden into the crunchy texture most people are looking for, so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t harden while still in the oven. It won’t, and you’ll risk overcooking or burning your granola.

Serving Ideas: the standard serving is 1/4 cup

  • cooked oatmeal topper (tip: prepare half of an oatmeal serving and add 1/2 cup granola to finish out the meal)
  • yogurt mix-in
  • ice cream topper
  • fruit pie topping (instead of crust)
  • blend into smoothie for an oatmeal smoothie
  • sweet potato casserole topping
  • roasted root veggies topping

My mom is really happy with this batch and can’t wait for my Christmas blend using pistachios and dried cherries.

Posted in Being Healthy, Current Events

I tried THINX period panties and…

CeCe's THINX Panties
2 of the 3 pair of THINX I purchased; I’m wearing the 3rd pair now.

I’m keeping them. And getting some more!

NOTE: The following account of my trial of THINX is completely unsolicited and unpaid; I paid regular price out of my pocket for these period panties and have had no communication with THINX other than the purchase transaction.

Here’s why I tried them:

Aside from performance, I’m always looking for a more sustainable way to manage hygiene, and these are reusable with no solid waste to cause biodegradability concerns.

That comes with the added benefit of being more cost effective in the long run; I estimate it will take 2 months per pair of panties for the cost equivalency of my current disposable method.

And then there’s the education and supply mission of the company: for every pair I purchase, they donate a pair to a woman in a country where period products are simply not available, where girls are banished to a shed for their week a month, missing school, work, income opportunities, etc. Like Tom’s shoes in that way.

Here’s what I chose as my trial kit:

For starters, I got 3 pair (best discount) of the hiphugger style to try; it’s one of two styles designed for “heavy days”. If I don’t like them (doesn’t seem like that will be the case), I simply send them back for a refund – even if I’ve used them.

I ordered the 2x, which is currently their largest size. For sizing comparison, I wear a 22 or 24 in pants without stretch, 20 in pants with stretch.

Here’s my period profile:

So that you can judge how THINX would perform for you, it’s necessary for me to disclose my period profile. I’m a 100% free-bleeder, using pads exclusively.

My period lasts almost exactly 5 days:

  • First 12 hours: comparable to spotting
  • Next 24 hours: what I consider regular, using 1 pad per 12 hours
  • Next 24 hours: what I consider heavy, using 1 pad per 6 hours largely due to clotting – really tricky for the overnight
  • Next 48 hours: return to regular, sometimes with a 4-6 hour period with no bleeding at all
  • Next 12 hours: spotting through completion

THINX has attempted to give guidance on how long you’ll be able to wear a particular pair, but as they only use standard tampon size as their guide, those of us who free-bleed (especially those who have only ever free-bled and not used tampons at all) have no frame of reference. I will attempt to provide that below, even specifying the brand and size of pad I typically use during different phases of my period.

Here’s how they performed:

Day 1: since I started midday, and my first day is just spotting, I used a pad. No sense in wasting one of my three precious pairs of THINX on spotting IMO.

Day 2: roughly 9 am – 11 pm – regular flow

Today is my regular flow day on the front end, and I’ve been wearing the first pair since about 9 am. The only time I feel wetness is when I pull them up after going to the bathroom. It’s a fleeting coldness more than wetness that lasts less than 15 seconds. I’ve also paid particular attention to smell, and so far, I’ve had to put my nose within 12 inches of the panties to smell anything at all and even then it’s faint. No leakage at all, and again, I’ve had one pair on for almost 12 hours now.

I’m not at my heaviest flow yet. That will start overnight tonight and continue through tomorrow, so I’ll let you know on that. For reference, during my heavy flow, I use two long, overnight Always pads as the same time with an overlap right in the middle. And I clot pretty significantly during that 24 hours.

Day 2 Overnight: roughly 11 pm – 10:30 am – Transition from regular into heavy

The overnight went great. It wasn’t until the morning wake up when I get a little restless that the panties slipped and sagged in the butt, allowing 1 small leak onto the bedsheets. The panties are comfy, but I didn’t really register that the material is much more slippery, silky almost, than my regular cotton panties. So they slide easily. In addition, I’m a side sleeper and it was easy to see how the side (around the leg toward the outer hip where there’s no absorption planned) has more blood than the front panel (where there is absorption planned). This likely won’t be a problem for back sleepers as that’s where the full coverage absorption is in the hiphugger panty.

Day 3: roughly 11 am – 3 pm – Heavy day

This day was the truest test. I deliberately checked frequently (went to the bathroom) and tried to keep them on as long as possible to really test capacity. Just as when I wear pads during heavy days, the THINX filled quickly and started slipping off, creating the same saggy butt problem as I experienced when first waking up. It’s the same problem babies have with a full diaper. I had 1 leak while sitting, but to be fair, it was right as the panties hit capacity, not any kind of deficit in the design or concept.

They lasted 5 hours, just shy of my double-pad 6 hour stretch, so I consider that a huge win for capacity.

With only one pair left to test, I switched to regular panties with double pad because first pair were not yet dry to wear (not surprising, just noting). I’ll address my laundering experience below.

At this point, I estimate the capacity to be as follows: 2 regular tampons (THINX estimate) = 4-5 hours on heaviest day = 1 tampon per 2.5 hours.

This is pretty consistent with other accounts of THINX performance by both paid and unpaid trials. (Reminder: my trial is completely unpaid; I paid regular price out of my pocket for these period panties and have had no communication with THINX other than the purchase transaction.)

Day 4: are they dry yet?

I mentioned laundering earlier, and it is actually the part of the THINX concept that elicited the most varied criticism, with users reporting anywhere from 24 hours to 4 days for the washed panties to dry enough to be worn. So here’s what happened with mine:

The first pair I wore (day 2), I rinsed in the sink (as instructed before washing) and hung them to dry; I didn’t wash them immediately because I really wanted to find out about the drying. I’d read that the panties took up to 4 days to dry, so there would practically no way to wear a pair twice in one cycle. Thankfully, I can confirm that roughly 36 hours after rinsing (they were thoroughly soaked) the first pair is completely dry. I suspect that, as with the “feeling of wetness” issue, the panties dried in an air conditioned setting were simply cold, not actually wet.

I started them drying in the bathroom overnight, hung from a hook in the shower where they didn’t touch the wall or anything. In the morning, I moved them to a hanger and hung them from the door jamb so they could continue to benefit from full circulation. By 8 am this morning, they are completely dry and ready to wear again.

For comparison, the two other pair stayed in the bathroom and are still quite wet. It should be no surprise that hanging dry in the least humid room of the house will speed up the drying, but it was worth the comparison.

So after a brief switch back to pads during the heaviest phase of my cycle (since all three pair were in rinse, clean and dry mode), I’m back in the first pair and also back to a regular day and expect to be able to wear one pair for the day.

Here’s what I’ll try during my next cycle (September):

I want to test the hiphuggers a little further during my heavy days/nights, especially the sagging and leakage to see if it was/is a result of capacity or if the panties just won’t stay put. So in September I’ll be using pads in THINX during the heavy phase.

This is pre-emptive of simply purchasing the only fuller coverage panty available from THINX.

Here’s what I really want to do when my budget allows:

I intend to purchase six more pairs

  • three pairs of the high waist for the heaviest day and for overnights
  • three pairs of the hiphuggers to round out the set

That should allow me to get through my entire cycle without having to worry about laundering and drying when it’s not convenient.

Costing It Out:

The site runs a special discount when you purchase three pairs that basically makes is $100 for a 3/pack. With the basic economy pack of pads coming in a $7 and lasting (me, at least) 2 months, that’s $3.50/mo in pads. At that rate, it will take 7 years and 2 months to break even on the panty investment ($300/3.50/12).

I don’t necessarily foresee a need to replace the panties before then if they’re only being used 12 times a year (assuming I get my full 9-pair collection) – that’s roughly 85 times over that period.

In that same amount of time, I would NOT be using and disposing of approximately 1,600 pads.

Special Shout Out to a Man

I doubt I would have the candor or even simply the idea to be this open and natural about my own period or the process of managing a period if I hadn’t had one specific man-friend many years ago ask as part of the sexual history part of our getting-to-know-you. Thank you to the unique men who recognize that physical processes and activities are not shameful, are part of a shared life with a female partner, and respect that many choices result from those conversations.

Posted in Being Healthy, Content Marketing, Housekeeping

First Attempt at Comprehensive Database of Household Cleaning Products

healthy cleaningThe Environmental Working Group has been teasing us for about six months about their new Guide to Healthy Cleaning. EWG scientists have examined in the laboratory and rated for safety over 2000 household cleaning products, from laundry detergent to bathroom cleaner to air freshener. And, yes, some of these include the professional products used by the elite cleaning companies around the country.

So how does this new guide and database add value to the professional cleaning industry?

VALIDATION: Many in the cleaning industry have been citing medical and chemical studies that suggest the effect of cleaning products on the increased frequency and severity of many mutagenic diseases such as cancer and reproductive disabilities.

CONSUMER AWARENESS: The more a consumer feels he/she has control over purchasing and lifestyle decisions, the better decisions that consumer can make. One of those “better” decisions is to trust and employ the cleaning company who’s been saying this all along!

CHEMICAL FREE CLEANING: We’ve been advancing the study of safety and efficacy of many cleaning products and equipment toward the development of Chemical Free Cleaning…where no one would need a database like this because the only ingredient is tap water!

REFERENCES: When you search for a specific product or product line, not only do you get EWG’s safety ratings; you’ll also see a list of the ingredients and the various regulatory and/or scientific sources that list their effect on humans. These range from surface irritation to reproductive interruptions to known cancer effects.

CAVEAT: Just because the data revealed through the guide came largely from the science laboratory doesn’t mean that the recommendations come from cleaning professionals. We’ve already spotted a few recommendations that do more to advance home cleaning myths than scientifically validated cleaning or disinfecting methodologies. Here are two reminders just about vinegar…or maybe some new information for those who haven’t yet taken the IICRC House Cleaning Technician Certification class:

Vinegar doesn’t clean or disinfect: vinegar’s use in the cleaning procedure was born of the need to rinse clean the residue left from an alkaline cleaning solution, which is more commonly needed than an acidic cleanser. Vinegar’s acidity neutralized and rinsed clean the residue, leaving a nice, clear shine. Thus was born the legend of the vinegar cleaner.

Vinegar as a disinfectant is based on scientific supposition, not any actual disinfection studies; to be a preservative, vinegar must have some positive effect on keeping bacteria at bay, but as yet, no studies have shown that it actually sanitizes or disinfects to the level of making your counter safe from chicken juice bacteria.

Originally published June 10, 2013 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.