Monday, August 17, 2009

Almond Milk And Raw Cacao Nibbles recipes

Hi all: I've been tweaking some of these recipes for myself, so here they are - to my family's taste. :)

Homemade Vanilla Almond Milk
Based off of Renee Loux Underkoffler's Cookbook: Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods
Makes 4 cups

1 cup soaked raw almonds (soaked 8 hours)
4 cups filtered water
Pinch of salt
1 T non-alcohol vanilla extract (very important if you don't want that alcohol taste!)
1 T raw honey (or to taste)

Blend all ingredients together til the almonds are a fine pulp and the pour through a strainer or into a nut bag and squeeze out the liquid. Enjoy! [It works so much better if we had a nut bag but still doable with a fine strainer.] I use some of the almond meal for the next recipe sometimes.

Raw Cacao Nibbles

(I like this name better than Raw Cacao Balls! ;) )
I really prefer the taste of the raw cacao, even over the dutch-processed chocolate powder. Plus, the raw cacao has more antioxidants in it - even more than some red wines! What's not to love? :)

8-10 oz of dates, pitted and soaked for a few hours
A few handfuls of raw almonds, soaked for a few hours (drain water)
A few handfuls of organic, unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 c. raw cacao powder (or to taste)
A few tbsp of the organic, unsweetened coconut flakes, in a bowl

First, food process the dates until it forms a paste, then toss in the rest of the ingredients and food process until it forms a ball and all ingredients are incorporated. Then take a rounded Tbsp of the ball and form smaller balls (or whatever shape you like). Optional: roll in unsweetened coconut flakes to coat. Super yummers!! You can store the nibbles in the fridge for a few days. Enjoy!

As with anything, enjoy in moderation! ;)

Yummy green smoothies!

It's been so great ever since we discovered these green smoothies - not only are they healthy for ya, they're easy and they help you use up your fruits and veggies! Anyhow, we've only been doing green smoothies for about a month and a half but I've learned a lot, so here's a bit of how WE do smoothies. :)

What's in our smoothies?
The simple answer is: whatever we have on hand. Really. :) So the smoothie is a bit different everyday. The kids usually take a sip and ask me 'What's in it today?' - haha! Oh, and we usually prefer organic fruits and vegetables, if possible and if we can afford it. But typically we have:

- fresh fruit (apples, pears, grapes, etc),
- greens (kale, baby spinach, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, etc),
- frozen fruit (mixed fruit, blueberries [esp if your kids don't like the green color! and for the antioxidants], berries, mangoes, etc),
- some kind of liquid (OJ, almond milk, coconut milk, etc)
- and sometimes, some extras (chia seeds, lucuma powder, agave nectar, etc).

And there is no special prep except to peel when necessary (citrus, non-organic fruits) and core. We also cut the fruit into smaller pieces, so it's easier for the blender to handle.

What blender do we have?
We have a Cuisinart SmartPower 7-speed that has a special 'Ice Crush' button. It's been doing a great job, though I do have to run it a while to get the smoothie a bit smoothier and less chunky. However, since we've been using it at least once a day, I think the motor is slowly dying. The Vitamix is on our wishlist! :) Anyone have a used one they want to sell? ;)

How much of the greens to add?
I think it all depends on your (and your families) taste bud. Typically, we use a handful or two of whatever greens I buy. [I have pretty small hands, though. :)] Now, the swiss chard seemed a bit bitter to me (but not to my family for some reason) so when I use that, I use less than a handful. It's always good to start with a little and then 'step it up a notch' when you think it still tastes good enough to drink a lot of it.

What about the 'extras'? Tell me more about those.
I like to put chia seeds in my smoothie for a protein boost and for a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids (mainly ALAs). Plus, the way they plump up when you put them in water is so neat - a good 'experiment' to do with the kids. :) Agave is simply a sweetener derived from the cactus plant. It has a low-gylcemic index and has no other taste except sweet. [Baking with it and cooking with it has been great.] I use it when there are a lot of citrus fruits in the smoothie and none of them are sweet. :) I've try to use just a bit to cut the tartness and the kids are pretty good with it, though my main point is to get the kids to drink it, so I make it just sweet enough for them. Lucuma is another sweetener and it's derived from the lucuma fruit. Some say it has a maple syrupy flavor but I haven't put enough in to tell. It does thicken the smoothie a bit if you put enough. I've tried honey in the past and have used raw honey when I could but I found that when it hits the cold smoothie, it is really hard to get it dispersed evenly to sweeten the entire smoothie and then I end up with honey globs on the side of the container. Maybe diluting it with some water first? I'm thinking about some green powders next but we'll see. :)

Any tips?
Here's what has worked great for us, esp if you don't have a high powdered blender. Put the fresh fruit, greens and liquid in first and blend them together. Then add the frozen fruit and the extras. It should blend a bit easier than putting it all in there or putting the frozen stuff on the bottom. Trust me on this one. :) Also, this order helps you put more frozen fruit in there because the volume is reduced after the fruits and greens are blended up. Actually, when you start putting more greens in, you can leave out the greens and just blend up the fresh fruits with the liquid before putting the greens in. Then blend up the greens and lastly, the frozen fruit. Hope that made sense. :)

After you finish divvying up the smoothie, rinse the blender before the smoothie dries on it. After it dries, it's much harder to clean off. The same goes for the cups and straws. Right after we're finished, we rinse everything off.

For the kiddies, I try to give them a fun straw to make it more fun to drink. I also try to put more of the fruits they like or ask them for their input once in a while. "Would you like blueberries or mangoes today?" We also play the 'Guess what's in the smoothie' game. :) We also alternate with the chocolate shake. [See below.]

Sometimes, when I blend the hydrated chia seed in there, it tastes a bit bitter to me (again, only to me). So I end up just mixing it in gently with a spoon after I finish making the smoothie and before I serve it.

If you find that your smoothie separates pretty quickly after making it (and you don't like that), try putting in more frozen fruit or more hydrated chia seeds.

Regarding prices for things, I would call around to see what your local health food store charges for the extras and then factor in gas (if it's far, taxes, shipping, etc) and figure out what's best for you. Or purchase a greater quantity with a green smoothie friend! :)

Any favorite non-green smoothie recipes?
I'll share one for now. This is a recipe based on the Chocolate Shake by Sarma Melngailis and Matthew Kenney.

Chocolate Shake
3 frozen bananas (mine are in chunks)
2 cups almond milk
3 T raw cacao powder (we're thinking maybe 4 next time)
1 t non-alcohol vanilla extract (or else it'll taste a bit like alcohol)
pinch of salt
small squirt of agave
cinnamon, to taste (option)

Blend everything together. Enjoy! It is soooo good! :)

Do I feel any different after drinking these almost daily for over a month?
I would definitely say that I've been feeling more energetic and have been wanting to eat healthier. Kev actually feels the same! :) Oh, and we've been more regular. Haha! Now, some might say that's all psychological but even if it is, I'm all for it. ;)

Hope this helps! And some of you reading this might have been drinking these smoothies longer than I have and have more tips to share. Please do! And feel free to post any questions or email me at :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Our NYC mini-vacation

We took a mini-vacation to NYC last Wednesday to Friday and it was such a blast! Even though we were unsure how it would go with all 5 of us sleeping in the same space, how to 'do' subways with 3 little ones in tow, how to find parking in the city, etc - it worked out well. :) Thanks to Auntie Celine for allowing us to stay in her gorgeous apartment in Gramercy Park! Anyhow, here's what we did:

We decided to drive into the city instead of doing a bus or train because of all the stuff we had to take with us to make the trip possible (pack-n-play, clothes, double stroller, snacks, toys [in case we got stuck in traffic], etc). Our first stop was the American Museum of Natural History for our Aidan, our dino-lover. Finding street parking was impossible and some of the street signs were so ambiguous that we ended up doing garage parking. Kev had found some coupons online for Central Parking, which made it more affordable. So definitely check for parking garage coupons if you're going to drive in. We also had a great map of the city and a new GPS, which didn't get us lost like the old one did and spoke the walking directions in a fun British accent! :) The kids lasted almost 3 hours before they were clamoring for food - I was really impressed! The museum's gem section is always fun and the hall of Ocean Life was really stunning! Cara got tired of being in the Ergo after her nap, so I let her roam a bit. There's something about her that makes random people come up and want to play with her - haha! I think in the span of 15 minutes, 5 groups stopped to say hi - she was like another exhibit! :D Anyhow, a great place to nurse is the section between all the dinosaurs exhibits where they show a short film. It's dark and you get to watch a short film while nursing. :) Anyhow, after the museum, we hit the famous Shake Shack, which was super close to the museum. By 3:30, there was no line, so we were able to enjoy burgers, hotdogs, fries and shakes pretty quickly after we ordered. It's true - it was all pretty tasty. I would say it's on par with In and Out and the like. After our tummies were happy, we decided to get settled into the apartment in Gramercy Park. It took a while just to get our car, which was ok except the kiddies were getting tired. Then, we had to fight a bit of traffic and all the pedestrians to get to the apt. When we finally got there, we tried to find some street parking so we can unload without getting towed but couldn't find a space. Finally, we ended up parking in half a spot and put on our hazards so Kev could go back and forth with our stuff while I watched the kids and the car. Then, while I settled into the apt with the kiddies, Kev drove to the nearest parking garage that we had coupons for. Phew! The kids had fun exploring the apt and playing with some old toys I dug up from their collection. Then our friends, Sarah and Darren came over for a dinner of delicious Bravo Pizza. Truly, NYC pizza can't be beat! And their fresh mozzarella pie was really well done! :) We also had a great time chatting it up. :) And because the kids were really tired out from little to no naps, they went to bed without too much trouble. We also brought along our new Sleepmate for Cara since she goes to bed earlier than the rest of us and it really helped her to sleep through all the noise. Praise Jesus!
Dinos galore!

Getting to touch some real fossils

Yay, no line at Shake Shack!

We started off the day slow because that's the only way to start any day when you're on vacation. :) We first went to Central Park and played at the Heckscher Playground. That playground is really well planned out. There was lots of do and we all had fun. :) The kiddies also made some friends, which made it more fun. Aidan even met a little boy named Jake who loved Transformers as much as he did and Aidan is still talking about inviting Jake over! Because he was with his nanny, we didn't get a chance to say thanks to his parents for teaching Jake how to share so well - so if you're reading this, thanks for doing such a great job! :) Anyhow, it was also very interesting to see the nanny culture in NYC. I saw more nannies with kids than I saw parents with their kids - I wondering if it's the culture or if it's how you can afford to live in NYC. No judgements, though. We even made friends with a few nannies that we got to talk to. :) We then met up with Naoko and Gregory (and their little Sakura) - our friends from PA that just moved to NYC. We walked to Joe's Shanghai for lunch and man, gotta love their xiao long bao! :) Then, we walked to the big ToysRus in Times Square. Jana got to ride on that big ferris wheel and Aidan got to peruse the Transformers. :) After that, we were on the hunt for some bubble tea. On the way to K-town for some, we had some Red Mango ( I had their regular with mochi, blueberries and mango and Kev had their Wildberry Hibiscus tea which was really good), some Jamba Juice, and finally some Korean bubble tea with yummy pastry. Deeeelish! Then we parted ways and we went back home to have a relaxing evening....

Atop a rock at the park

We are Chinese, you know...;)

Cara sat here to catch all the action

Ready, steady, go!

ToyRus - debating the ferris wheel
Finally got some bubble tea

But, wait, there's more! :) While Kev hung out with the kiddies back at the apt, I grabbed some takeout for us from Pure Food & Wine - this raw food restaurant that is supposed to be the best in NYC. Instead of getting food from the restaurant, I headed around the corner to their takeout section. [I also got to meet this guy who told me he was a raw food guru who gave me recommendations on what to order.] We got the Spicy Thai Lettuce Wraps, Falafel with Tabhouli, their Zucchini and Tomato Lasagna and a pint of the Almond Buttercup raw ice cream. Wow! We didn't really know what to expect because we just got into raw food but almost all the entrees were surprisingly good. It was especially interesting to taste the 'cheese' sauces that were made of nut purees and the cream base of the ice cream that was a mixture of coconut meat and nut puree. [Sorry no pic of the ice cream - we ate it too fast! Ha!] Even though we were full from this meal, it was this light kind of full but not the 'lead in your stomach' kind of full. All in all, a great experience!

Lettuce Wraps

Falafel w/ Tabhouli

Zucchini Tomato Lasagna

We slept in a bit and woke up around 9am and called my cousin Jeff to see where he wanted to meet up. We had to exchange something at the ToyRus, so we ended up meeting there. [Side note: schlepping a double up and down the stairs for the subway is NOT fun but doable, esp if you have a hubby in tow. Now, if your child falls asleep in the stroller and you need to take the subway, I hope you meet some nice people to help you get the thing up and down the subway stairs!] Then we walked around and ended up at Pigalle for lunch. The food was great - we had juicy burgers and crab salad w/avocadoes - the service was very good and I loved the open air seating (their entire wall had doors that opened up so you were inside but could still enjoy the beautiful weather that day!). After that, Jeff went to run errands and we got ready to head back to NJ. We stopped by the Union Square Farmers market and had a little look around. We picked up some purple heirloom peppers and white heirloom peppers and some super yummy juice from Red Jacket Orchards as presents. [The Black currant apple is a favorite!] We had one more stop before we went home: Edgewater, NJ - to meet up with our old friends: Yulin & Win and Erica (and their new baby, Madeline). We went to Mitsuwa for some yummy udon, rolls and mochi. They also lived along the Hudson, so we got to take a really relaxing stroll along the river to and from the store (this was before that sad accident).

Jana sleeping in

Aidan sleeping in...haha Lunch with Jeff

Union Square Famer's Market

A stroll along the Hudson
Japanese yummies

Anyhow, I'm sure we could have done more but what we really wanted was a relaxing vacation where the kids could have fun and explore and the adults could catch up with old friends - so we were really happy. :) We wouldn't mind going back again sometime...anyone wanna join us?

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's new with us...

So, another update for y'all...:)

Our boxes corner
1. We are finally NJ resident once again. We just can't stay away...haha! Anyhow, the move went well (used Wade Odeall Wade again!) and we are nearly all unpacked. There are still pictures yet to be hung but I'm actually not sure if I'll hang them all up. Because most of the walls are painted, it actually looks pretty good already (no white, empty spaces). Plus, we're likely moving again in a year (we're looking to buy this time around) so I'm less motivated. So, maybe no pics of our home this time...we'll see. ;) And I'm again flabbergasted at how different the DMVs are from state to state. In both FL and PA, the process was rather quick and painless...but not so here in NJ. But at least it's done. Phew! We even got our old license numbers back - cool, eh?

2. Remember our stint with Aidan and Jana sharing a room? Welp, after almost a week of really poor sleep due to the kids fighting and not listening (ok, it was mainly Jana causing issues), we decided to keep them separate and work on Jana staying in her own bed. So, we'll let you know how that goes. She's a bit more persistent, if you know what I mean. Even with the Supernanny method, she's still trying to get out of her bed, even during naps. Sigh. I know it'll get better.

3. Speaking of sleep, Cara has been waking up earlier these days (ok, it's only 7:30am but I'm used to her waking us up around 8am) and it's no fun b/c we've been putting the kids down later at night since we're still on vacation mode (Kev doesn't start work wil the last week of Aug) and want the other kids to sleep in more. So, we're working on helping her sleep longer - curtains, white noise, etc. We'll see what happens. She's cut 2 teeth since we've moved and still drooling up a storm, so maybe it's that? Or maybe that she started crawling and sitting up by herself and feeding herself all within the last 2 weeks, so maybe it's that? But seeing her get more mobile and active is so fun! :)

4. Ever since we saw this show on how there is high levels of pharmaceuticals in our water from ppl flushing meds down the toilet and factory waste, I've been kinda concerned about the quality of our water. In that TV segment, you see frogs (which are really susceptible to changes in the water supply since they're soaked in water for most of their lives and breathe through their skin) born with missing legs, extra legs, male frogs with eggs, etc - it's really disturbing. And they are not yet testing for those meds because they had no idea it would build up in the water to this level. At the same time, I read this post about how Berkey Water filters filter out a lot of undesirable things (microbes, pathogens, heavy metals, etc) but leave in good things (calcium, etc), I was really intrigued. I've always had a Brita but I know they really don't do much. So, we went and got ourselves the Royal Berkey and I am IN LOVE! :) Even Kev really likes it! We even did the food coloring test and poured in purple water and out came clear, delicious water! Anyhow, if you're interested, you can find it here - Royal Berkey
. Now I feel really good drinking the water, esp since the kids and I drink so much of it everyday! Plus, it tastes great! :) [I love this filter so much, I even became an affiliate for them! Hehe!]

The green smoothie before being smoothified
The dessert green smoothie
5. We've also been trying to eat healthier lately and started to drink a glass of green smoothie everyday and eat more greens. When, Aidan [who has never had an allergy in his life and is rarely sick, even when school is in session] got an allergic reaction to some peppers and apples, I started thinking I might need to do something different. So, I tried the organic version of certain fruits and vegetables and he hasn't had one since! I used to not "believe" in organic fruits and vegetables bacause the alternative pesticides that are being used on them are not tested, but because of what happened to Aidan, I'm starting to think there might be something to it. Anyhow, back to smoothies. So, besides from fresh fruits and frozen fruits, I add kale or swiss chard (and sometimes some dairy if I want to make it more of a dessert) and voila! a yummy drink that is good for you! Plus, the hubby and kids will drink it no problem, which is a must! And since drinking it, I think Jana's ezcema-like symptoms is getting better!! :) It also makes me fuller, which is helpful in losing some weight. :) So, any thoughts on Vita-mix or Blend-tec blender? I've been using my Cuisinart from my wedding registry and I think it's dying from all this use. I'm definitely leaning towards Vita-mix because of the better warranty but just curious if anyone had any thoughts.

Aidan's cool bike
Jana's Princess trike
6. The kids finally got bikes/trikes! We've been holding off getting them because we've been moving so much but since Aidan is now 5, we thought it was time. They got riding right away and Aidan is already talking about getting the training wheels off! :) They're also using chopsticks! Our good friend, Lois, recommended these awesome training chopsticks that really work! I think the brand is Edison or something like that...

7. Lately, I've also gotten into some raw foods and have some on the way to try. Let's see, we have: chia seeds (smoothies and maybe breakfast), raw cacao powder (gonna whip up some chocolate shakes and making some more raw fudge balls!), brewer's yeast (for cara's yogurt) and lucuma powder (super nutritious, natural sweetener - different from agave, another fave). Will let you know when we get it and try it out. Can't wait! :)

A scene from Aidan's party
8. Aidan celebrated his 5th birthday with some friends and family this past Saturday! We had a little get together of subs and wings and the kiddies played water games in the backyard. Praise God for beautiful weather and for the gift of friends. We had a great time! Some pics here.

Alrighty, I should get to bed...g'night!

Jackie, Aidan, Cara, Jana and Kevin :)