Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eating Well / Beauty From the Inside Out: Apple-Ginger Steel Cut Oatmeal Recipe

My children are SUPER-picky eaters, but one of the few items my son will eat is oatmeal, so when I spotted steel cut oats in the bulk bins at whole foods whilst on one of my lentil-restocking trips, I grabbed some.
I'm not crazy about how super-processed and sugar-laden the packaged quick oatmeal options are, so I figured I'd test-drive these instead, hoping (but doubting) they'd pass the super-picky-kid test.

Not having ever cooked (or eaten) steel cut oats before, I spent a fair amount of time (okay, *hours*) researching recipes and their reviews. I decided to start out with Alton Brown's recipe, since a) it had rave reviews, and b) his recipes have NEVER failed me.
I was okaaay with the results, but it didn't knock my socks off, or anything.
I wanted to build on it, and make it really interesting, and different. Which isn't easy for oatmeal.

After some trial and error, I came up with the recipe below. Since then, I have enjoyed it for breakfast every day for the past two weeks. It's healthy, has a ton of fiber, is the least refined of all the oat varieties, and I get to control the amount of sugar/additives. That's a big plus for a mom!
It does take longer to cook (45 minutes), but I just make it in advance, refrigerate, and re-heat a bowl-full every morning. Easy-peasy.

Incidentally, my son not only tried it, but LOVES it -- pretty impressive response from a kid who eschews just about everything.

Apple-Ginger Steel Cut Oatmeal

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup steel cut oats
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/8 cup crystallized ginger, minced (optional, OR substitute ¼ - ½ cup dried apricots, raisins, cherries, cranberries, etc.)
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
½ - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups boiling water
1 cup vanilla almond milk (or rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)*

In a large saucepot, melt the coconut oil and add the oats. Stir for 2 minutes to toast.
Add the boiling water, diced apple, ground flax seed, chia seeds, poppy seeds, and cinnamon. Reduce heat to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the almond milk and vanilla to the oatmeal. Stir gently to combine and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Spoon into a serving bowl, and serve (I pour an additional smidge of almond milk on top of mine, to thin it out a little bit).
*I tend to omit the brown sugar, as I find the fruit sweetens it enough for my liking.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Homemade Natural Deodorant

Yeeeears ago, I was a *huge* LUSH fanatic.
I had stockpiles of bath bombs, ever-present blocks of Rock Star and Coalface soaps, the occasional "treat" container of Cupcake mask... But of all of the LUSH products, there was one in particular that I could NOT be without... Aromacreme deodorant.
I LOVED how it smelled, I loved the natural, aluminum-free, paraben-free aspect, the texture... and it worked great, too.
Until it was discontinued.
It's been about 3 years since then, and I still miss it -- I can conjure up the olfactory recall of its heady, ylang ylang and cassie flower scent, just by thinking about it.
Sadly, I don't anticipate its return any time soon, so I figured I would try to make my own -- if not the scent, then at for least the creamy, natural texture.

Initially, I tried a recipe which consisted of three ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, and cornstarch. I added a few drops of lemon & lavender essential oils, because... well... I can't imagine using ANYTHING unscented. It's just not in my nature.
 So, as for the resulting product, I didn't really care for it. Its effectiveness wore off quickly, it "burned" my armpits (Aromacreme did too, but I loved the scent so much that I didn't care), and the coconut oil stained my clothes.

Months later, I found a different recipe on one of my favorite DIY/Natural Beauty blogs -- you can read the full article here:

I based my recipe on Crunchy Betty's:
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp beeswax pastilles/pellets
  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp unrefined shea butter
  • 4 tsp clay bentonite clay (I used Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay)
  • 20-25 drops essential oil (I used lemon, lemongrass, lavender, and a smidge of tea tree)
  • Deo container (a recycled store-bought deodorant container, an empty twist-up/push-up tube, or an airtight container)

 In a double-boiler (I place a large pyrex measuring cup inside a saucepan of water), melt the beeswax and coconut oil. Once melted, add the shea butter and stir until melted/incorporated, then immediately remove from heat (shea butter can become grainy if heated too long). Whisk in bentonite clay and essential oils until well-combined. Set mixture aside to cool for a few minutes, until it begins to set. Spoon the mixture into desired deodorant container, and place in the freezer until solidified (half an hour).

End result: I've been using/test-driving this version of natural deodorant for the past 2-3 weeks, and I LOVE it! There was a slight burning initially, but just for the first day or 2, and I haven't experienced it since. The bentonite clay seems to work wonderfully, and I haven't noticed any oiliness/staining, as with the first recipe I tried.

I think I've found a winner... if only I could duplicate the scent of Aromacreme.
I'll be working on that soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eating Well: Greek Lentil Soup Recipe

2 years ago, I had a freelance stint making cupcakes every month for about one year. LOTS of cupcakes -- about 4-5 dozen at the end of every month, which (of course) involved a lot of testing. And leftovers. And late-night snacking. And about 20+ extra pounds (did I mention a LOT of "testing"?).
It wasn't the cupcakes so much as the frosting. I LOVE buttercream frosting. The cupcake part was merely a vehicle to shovel in more buttercream frosting -- aside from that, I couldn't care less about the cupcake.


So this year, I've been on a bit of a healthier eating kick, and have really started to take a liking to whole grains, vegan/vegetarian recipes, dried beans, brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, and... lentils.

Until recently, I've never found lentils to be all that exciting, taste-wise. Even my culinary hero Alton Brown's recipe -- while yummy enough -- wasn't enough to pique my interest more than cooking it once in a blue moon (usually when the fridge grew emptier and I started looking to my stash of bulk goods for an inexpensive meal, using ingredients I already had on hand).

I found a few recipes that looked promising -- I *love* Mediterranean food, and thanks to my herb garden, always have a healthy stash of oregano, parsley, and rosemary available, and after a few trials, ended up muddling a few recipes together to make THE most scrumptious lentil soup I have ever had.
Seriously -- since the beginning of this year, I've made a big pot of this soup a zillion times. As soon as we run out, I make another batch. Inexplicably, we're not even tired of it yet!
This soup offers excellent nutrition, great flavor, and gives me a boost of energy that few meals have given me before. I've even eaten it for breakfast when I've been a little sleepier than usual -- it worked better than a cup of coffee would have, and the burst of energy lasted a lot longer.

Here's my recipe -- enjoy!

Caroline’s Greek Lentil Soup

1 lb dried lentils, picked over and rinsed (I used a kitchen scale, & used a combination of brown/green lentils, black beluga lentils, red lentils, and french green lentils)
1/2 cup pearl barley and/or 1/2 cup bulgur wheat (I personally like to use both: 1/2 c barley, + 1/4 cup bulgur wheat)
1 onion, minced
5-8 garlic cloves, quartered
4 medium carrots, grated fine
1 stalk celery, diced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 large bay leaves
2 tsp rosemary (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
1 tsp oregano (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 quarts chicken stock (or water for a vegan version)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar)

In a large pot, cover lentils with boiling water and allow to boil for 10 minutes.
Drain lentils of this ‘first boiling’ (this process makes the lentils easier to digest).
Put lentils back into pot.
Add barley, bulgur wheat (if using), onion, celery, garlic, carrots, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Pour 3 quarts of chicken stock (or water) over lentils, bring to a boil.
When mixture boils, decrease temperature to leave the lentils cooking at a simmer and cook, covered, for 90 minutes.
Add olive oil and vinegar and simmer 30 minutes longer.
Taste. Add more herbs/S&P if you wish (I like to use dried AND fresh herbs for both a punch of flavor, and for their herbalism-based beneficial properties).
If the lentils are still too firm to the bite, allow to cook until they are tender and soup has thickened (soup will continue to thicken as it cools).

Greek Lentil Soup (with homemade naan/pita bread)