Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Berry Picking

Earlier this year we were lucky enough to get a second freezer for our garage.  As soon as we plugged it in I knew that it was destined to be filled with berries!  My husband and I really like to have frozen berries in the house to whip up smoothies on the weekends.  The price of a bag of berries, however, can be a bit staggering.  So, when June rolled around I started looking for the signs that the local berries were ripening.  

A few weeks ago I was able to meet some friends at a lovely little family run organic farm and pick strawberries.  In a fairly short span I had collected about 9 pounds of sweet and juicy berries.  During that same period of time my toddler had a great time picking his own berries and stuffing them in his mouth as fast as possible.  He ate red ones, green ones, leaves, dirt and everything that didn't make it in his mouth was smeared allover the rest of him.  It was a really great way to spend a sunny day.

Right on the heels of strawberry season come raspberries!  The weather has been uncooperative so when the weekend forecast was for sun I decided to seize the opportunity and make it a family affair.  Saturday the three of us got packed up and went to visit another lovely family run organic farm not too far away.  Picking raspberries was certainly cushy compared to strawberries.  For one this farm had lush grass growing between all the rows so, no dust.  These canes were nice and tall so they shaded themselves and if you were unable to bend, or just didn't want to, there were plenty available without bending or kneeling.  The best part, the berries there were enormous and delicious!  My husband and I picked while our son played, picked, and sampled happily around us.

I didn't realize until we arrived at the farm, my husband had never been to a u-pick farm before.  He was thrilled to have the opportunity to be directly involved in bringing the food, we would eventually eat, from the farm to our table.  Growing up my mother grew some fruits and vegetables in our yard and we got to pick berries in the summer to make jam.  I forget that many kids who grow up in the city or suburbs only see food in grocery stores.  I get so excited thinking about all of the wonderful lessons we are teaching our son when we try new things as a family.

After both trips I arrived home eager to get my berries frozen as soon as possible.  I froze berries for the first time last summer and it is pretty easy but there are a few steps to avoid creating a solid lump of squished and unidentifiable fruit.

First they need to be washed. Gently.  I like to fill my largest plastic bowl (I think it is a 16 cupper) with cool water and a squirt of produce wash.  Then I fill my colander about 1/3 of the way with berries and dunk them in so the water can swish around them but they stay contained.  Then I gently rinse them to get all the bubbles and any remaining dirt and leaves off.

Next remove any stems, (the strawberry stems just pinched off) and blot off any excess water by setting the berries on paper or dish towels.

Place the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet or any pan that will fit in your freezer. I  like to cover the pan with a sheet of parchment paper if I have it.  The paper helps move them from the pan once they are frozen. If you need to freeze your berries in batches, only wash as many as you can freeze at one time so avoid over handling them.  

Leave the berries in the freezer at least until they have firmed up, a few hours, up to over night. Once they are frozen the berries can be transferred to gallon sized zip top bags.  Now they are ready to grab for any recipe or just for a little burst of summer flavor whenever you get a craving.

If you live in the Puget Sound area check out to find local farms open for u-pick, farm stands or other fun activities.  For those out of the area please share any resources you know of in the comments!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Post Vacation Reality Check

Last week we went on a family vacation.  It was a lot of fun relaxing and spending time with my extended family.  I tried to make healthy choices for my meals and get outside and play often.  Still when I stepped on the scale the morning after getting home I was greeted with a higher number than when I left.  AARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!  I stomped out of the bathroom, grumbling as I unpacked my suitcase but then I stopped.  Here again is a moment to get stuck or keep moving forward.  So I gained weight.  Part of it was due to eating more salt than I am used to so a few days of rehydrating should help.  I also had allowed myself to get a killer sunburn on my legs and they were very swollen while my body recovered from the abuse.  I had some additional swelling from a killer fall (while jogging on a hiking trail) resulting in a very large and colorful bruise on my hip.  That on top of drinking more alcohol than usual, sampling an array of sweets, and yes I gained some weight.  So it is what it is.  I tried deconstructing my week to see where I fell off the rails but I really feel like I did quite well over all.  My husband and I made sure to supply the house with colorful fruits and veggies for snacking and most days I had as close to my normal breakfast as possible.  In the evenings I tried to eat lightly and have a small amount of dessert if not skip it all together.  I really feel comfortable with the choices I made. 

The first morning of the trip a group of us went outlet shopping.  I had the best time popping in and out of the clothing stores.  My family has been taking this trip every other year for about 18 years.  During that time I have spent many a shopping day picking through the slim selection of double and triple extra large items.  This year I combed the racks for bargains not sizes.  I scored cute clothes left and right and not only were the sizes lacking X's quite a few of them were mediums!  I still have to pinch myself when I think that there are medium sized clothes in my closet.  I almost get a little teary eyed.

The day of the hike was another highlight of the week.  Growing up my parents tried to take us kids hiking several times during the summer.  I would always feel nervous anticipating being winded, tired, hot and generally uncomfortable.  Now when I set out on a hike I feel excited to see new scenery, breath fresh air, and feel my body move the way it is supposed to.  This hike did not disappoint.  The trail was easy and the views were so pretty.  I hiked the first half with my son on my back and didn't even notice the extra weight.  At the turn around point I knew that I could have gone on much further but we were not prepared for more than a few miles.  It is such a liberating feeling to get out in nature and work my body only to finish and feel good instead of pain and discomfort.  

(Well that is actually a little bit of a fib: see at the end of the hike we were on a wide flat dirt path and I asked my sister if she wanted to jog back to the car with me.  We started down the trail and after a short distance I caught my toe on a rock and went down in a spectacular fashion. My shirt and pants were coated in fine dust and my hands and arms were a bit skinned.  I also smacked my left hip really good and could feel it stiffen up right away.  I shook it off and was mostly okay but it was a little jarring and the bruise to my hip was pretty stunning two days later.  I also found out that from a couple hundred feet behind us my dad saw me go down and immediately asked "where are that boy's parents, you shouldn't run on a hiking trail."  Thanks Dad.)

This week my goal is to recover from my vacation injuries and get my body back to normal.  I have no desire to erase my vacation, just to use it as a way to celebrate my success and continue to learn as I move forward.  At the end of the day getting away from it all and being with people I love will always be the most important part of the trip.

Photo Gallery:

Delicious whole grain waffles my dad made.
He asked if they were good enough to make it into the blog.
Yep they sure were!
The craziest, most painful sunburn ever!
A view from the trail along the Deshutes River in central Oregon.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Forgive Me (and you)

Sometimes we just need to hear it from someone else before we can say it to ourselves.  I forgive you.  Whatever it is that happened that has caused you to stop treating yourself in a healthy way, I forgive you.

The other day in a moment of midday weakness I ate more ice cream than I intended.  It doesn't matter if it was a bite more or a carton more.  After I caught myself and put it away I had a choice to make, do I let this moment derail me for the rest of the day, week or month OR do I forgive my indiscretion and take back the control that I just lost?

I frequently hear people lamenting their ability to loose weight and get healthy.  The common refrain is, "I'll just start again (day of the week)" or "I am waiting until after (life event)."  I have learned that starting again has to be immediate.  If I shrug my shoulders and adopt a 'who cares' attitude I am the one who has to deal with it later.  I do make mistakes - regularly.  Success isn't never failing it is never getting back up and continuing.  When I accept my short comings, take a deep breath, and figure out how to move forward, then, I really feel like a winner.

The afternoon with the ice cream I had to first get involved with a task that would keep both my brain and hands occupied.  I find myself drawn to overeating most often when I am bored or tired.  Those times can lead me to wallowing both emotionally and physically.  Activity is my best cure for wallowing.  If I get up and engage in something I usually perk up and stop fixating on what is in my fridge.  Once I have perked up it is easier to plan the rest of my day around my slip up.  Additionally if I stop and think about it I often haven't messed up that badly.  I also never punish myself by skipping dinner and only eating carrot sticks for the rest of the day.  Self punishment isn't going to help me achieve my long term goals anymore than letting myself wallow.

Don't wait to be good to yourself and don't use your slips as proof that you are incapable of changing your situation.  Take those moments as an opportunity to learn, grow, and be victorious over whatever obstacles you might be facing.  You have what it takes to get where you want to go, so, start now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I am going out on a limb here are posting about desserts two weeks in a row.  I hope no one minds terribly, I will keep it short and sweet!

I love to have a s'more (or several) on the Fourth of July.  There is something about the combo of graham cracker, chocolate and gooey marshmallow that just makes me think, "God Bless America."  Another highlight of s'mores, compared to many other traditional picnic treats they are not going to throw you off the conscientious eater wagon (as long as you stop after a few and don't continue on eating the rest of the chocolate bars on the side).

This year we are not going to be sitting around a campfire but I still want to capture that essence in a few nostalgic bites. Thus we are having Indoor S'mores!  Okay so forgive me if this is blasphemous but they are a really close second to the campfire version.  I experimented with making a batch the other night and was handsomely rewarded.  These can be made a few at a time or a larger batch to feed a crowd.  As always adjust to suit your taste and have fun!!

Our Lady Of Second Helpings' Indoor S'mores
suggested recipe - serves 4

4 graham crackers broken into 8 squares
4 Tb. Nutella (or other nut butter spread for non-chocolate eaters)
8 marshmallows
*optional banana, strawberry or other small fruit slices

Place oven rack to the height 1 level below the highest.
Set oven to broil and allow to heat while preparing the s'mores.
Break 4 large graham crackers into 8 squares and place on a baking sheet
Spread the center of each square with 1 Tb of Nutella or other nut butter spread
Place a single marshmallow in on each graham square.
*If including fruit place a single slice between the marshmallow and the Nutella

Once assembled and oven is heated, place the tray of s'mores in the oven. DO NOT LEAVE THE KITCHEN!  (I had to toss the first batch).
They will only need to cook for around 2 to 3 minutes depending on your oven temperature.  Keep a close watch on them through the door and check after 1 and then 2 minutes to gage their done-ness.  Once they start to brown they may smoke a tiny bit, remove from the oven immediately.  Let them sit to cool just a moment and then serve 'em up!

I feel pretty confident that you can increase the recipe for a crowd by filling a sheet pan but without altering the cooking time.

***Follow up note.  I made two sheet pans of indoor s'mores for dessert on a rainy night during my family reunion.  One pan had Nutella and peanut butter and they were all gobbled up with gusto!