Cody’s Chewy Chocolate Cherry Brownies

best brownies

This recipe started in one of those Kraft Food recipe magazines that they used to send out for free (Or at least I got them for free, now it seems they charge for them.)

Anyway, back when my kids were much littler and I was much more frazzled when it came to cooking time because there was always one kid on my hip and another under foot and every attempt to make dinner was interrupted by at least one emergency or crisis I was looking for fast, easy dinner ideas. Those magazines were perfect idea generators. I rarely followed the recipes because I don’t stock many kraft foods in our kitchen, but they were a great starting place when I was in a jam.

I remember flipping through one of them with my oldest kiddo on my lap and she spotted these cherry brownies and announced that we would be making them. RIGHT. NOW.

cherries for brownies

Getting the cherries ready.

At the time I’d never made brownies from scratch before, so for once in my life I decided to actually follow a recipe, even though this one uses instant chocolate pudding mix as its secret ingredient.

These are still my daughter’s favorite brownies and she requests them at least twice a year in a batch big enough to bring to school and share. I made them yesterday for her orchestra class to celebrate their first concert. And, of course, we kept a few for ourselves. How could we not?

Here’s what you need:
4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
¾ cup (1.5 sticks) butter
1 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 4 oz. package instant chocolate pudding
¾ cup chopped maraschino cherries
7 T. maraschino cherry juice
2 oz. cream cheese
½ cup powdered sugar

 What you do:
Preheat the oven to 350.

Grease & flour a 9×13 baking pan

Melt the chocolate & butter in large bowl. Allow this mix to cool to room temperature!

 

Let it cool, or you'll have brownie bricks instead of brownie bites!

Let it cool, or you’ll have brownie bricks instead of brownie bites!

Add sugar, mix well.
Blend in eggs & vanilla
Add flour & dry pudding mix – mix well.
Stir in ½ cup of the cherries and 1/3 cup of the reserved cherry juice.

cherry brownies

Great for a zombie party too!

Spread mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden toothpick somes out with fudge crumbs. Do not overbake!

brownie bites

I tried baking them in mini-muffin tins – not ideal, these brownies are WAY too chewy, gooey and I lost a few to the pan.
The upside is – now I have brownie crumbles to add to my next batch of ice cream!

Cool in the pan for at least 1 hour before cutting (2 hours is better, these brownies are super gooey!)

While the brownies are cooling:
Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar and remaining cherry juice until well blended.
Drizzle over cooled brownies. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup chopped cherries.
Cut into small squares and serve.

best brownies

The Cherry Garcia of Brownies.

Makes 3 dozen

Getting a jump on the holiday spirit

holiday spice muffin

Holiday season has officially begun in my house.

I was feeling a little sad because we were planning to run away from Thanksgiving this year and have other people take care of us over that holiday. Meanwhile I had all these homegrown pumpkins looking askance at me, begging to be turned into something wonderful. My husband was starting to ask when I would make the one pumpkin pie my family eats every year and the kids were starting to inquire about the pumpkin cheesecake we devour every holiday season.

I was eying a pumpkin ice cream recipe that I thought would taste excellent sandwiched between two oatmeal spice cookies…

pumpkins

My pumpkin patch

So, yesterday I decided to warm up the house with the smell of holidays – pumpkin and apple cider – by making my favorite apple cider pumpkin muffins. They were extra special this year because instead of using the usual canned pumpkin and store-bought cider, I had a homegrown pumpkin that I roasted myself along with homegrown and home-pressed apple cider to use.

I fired up the oven, mixed up the ingredients and waited while the house filled with the perfumes of good food on a cold day.

The holidays had arrived.

A few hours later I learned that our Thanksgiving plans were cancelled, the restaurant we had planned on going to had just closed its doors forever. We cancelled our hotel and started planning a Thanksgiving right here at home. (Anyone have any Elk or Venison they want to sell or trade?)

The best part is, now I get to swing into autumn/winter cooking guilt free!

So, about those apple cider pumpkin muffins –

holiday spice muffin

Breakfast, elevensies, lunch snack and dessert of champions.

Here’s the thing, my family is really not excited about pumpkin anything. They’ll eat their one pumpkin pie and one pumpkin cheesecake every year, but that’s sort of their limit.

I, on the other hand, could eat pumpkin everything forever.

This recipe balances the pumpkin so well with the apple cider that both of my daughters ended up eating two of them yesterday and brought two more to school in their lunches today.

My husband told me that yesterday he and my oldest were arguing over the flavors, he was sure I had made pumpkin muffins, she was sure they were apple, so they had to have an extra one to tease out the flavors before they realized they were both right.

These muffins have the perfect light and fluffy texture, the perfect not too sweet flavor with just a hint of those wonderful holiday spices I crave when the cold weather hits.

I got the original recipe years ago from the annual Winco Holiday recipe book that they put out in the bulk section every year around this time.

I’ve adapted it a little over the years, (It started as a bread recipe) but it’s been a hit from day one.

Here’s my incarnation –

small pumpkins for cooking

One small pie pumpkin!

What you need: (Makes 24 muffins)

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 small pie pumpkin (or 1 cup of canned pumpkin – NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup veggie oil
1/2 cup apple cider
2 eggs

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 pinch of salt

For the streusel topping:
3 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

What you do:

If you’re using a fresh pumpkin, the first step is to heat up the oven to 350, cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out (and save) the guts & seeds. Place each half of the pumpkin face down on a baking sheet and bake for 20-45 minutes (depending on the size of the pumpkin.) The pumpkin is done when the skin turns a rich roasted color and the flesh gives a little when you poke it with your finger.

roasted pumpkin

Rich, sweet, roasted Pumpkin

While the pumpkin is roasting, yo’re going to do 2 things:

First, clean the guts off the pumpkin seeds (I don’t rinse mine, I just pull the big chunks of goo off.) and spread the seeds on a small baking sheet. Sprinkle them with a seasoned salt, we highly recommend “Slap Ya Mama!”

pumpkin seeds

Best pumpkin seed seasoning!

Slide the baking sheet into the oven with the pumpkin and bake for about 10-15 minutes until the seeds are nicely dried and just a little tan.

roasted pumpkin seeds

Done to perfection!

Now you have something to snack on while you bake!

Next - get your streusel topping made up! (If you’re using canned pumpkin – start with this step because you want your streusel ready to go as soon as your batter is in the tins.)

Use your fingers to combine the butter pieces, flour, sugar and cinnamon into little crumbles. Set aside (preferably in the fridge!)

Allow the pumpkin to cool a little bit and then scoop the roasted flesh into your food processor and pulse it until you’ve got a smooth puree, use a spatula to scrape down the sides as needed.

scooping pumpkin

Scooping pumpkin flesh.

Once the pumpkin is cooled and mushed, you’re ready to start baking. Keep the oven at 350. If you have a convection oven, convect away.

Measure out a cup of pumpkin goo. (I actually used a little more this time, my pumpkin made just under 1 1/2 cups of goo, and I used it all. Maybe that’s why this batch was SO good!)

Mix the pumpkin, veggie oil, apple cider, brown sugar and eggs in a large bowl.

wet muffin mix

Mix up the wet ingredients first.

Add the dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, spices, salt) and mix to just combine. (Don’t over mix or your muffins will be tough & chewy instead of light and fluffy.)

Spoon 2 tablespoons of batter into your lined muffin tins.

Sprinkle each muffin with some of the streusel topping.

sweet streusel topping

sprinkled with goodness

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with little crumbs clinging to it.

Voila! A mostly healthy, very celebratory little snack!

delicious autumn muffins

I dare you to try to eat just one!

If you want to punch up the AWESOME of these tasty little treats, you can add 1/3 cup of finely chopped pecans (or walnuts) to the streusel topping. You can also add finely diced fresh apples or pears to the batter, this will change the consistency of the final muffin a little, but the flavor – YUM!!

If you’re feeling REALLY decadent, you could also skip the streusel topping and whip up a little eggnog cream cheese frosting instead and treat these muffins like cupcakes! Hey, it’s the holidays! Enjoy them!!

Bree’s Curried Pumpkin Soup

pumpkin soup

It’s pumpkin/winter squash season.

My family is not as excited about this as I am. While the rest of the world fought to have strawberries year round, I want pumpkin pie and pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin everything else year round.

But… Then I guess it wouldn’t be so special.

My family on the other hand thinks one pumpkin pie per year is more than enough.

So what’s a pumpkin lover to do?

Change their minds, of course. And this soup is just one of the many ways I’ve gotten my family to start loving winter squash as much as me! I invented this recipe a few years back to deal with some leftover squash, it has since become a fall/winter staple in our house.

pumpkin soup

Warm, sweet, spicy, exotic, nourishing goodness!

First, a quick note – for this recipe you can ABSOLUTELY substitute acorn squash, butternut squash, or any other winter squash that you LURVE. (EXCEPT spaghetti squash, that would just be weird.)

Also, this is part of my SNAP Challenge, Eating on a Budget series, so I will give you the price breakdown at the end of this post.

Note – this recipe is perfect for crockpots, or you can make it on the stove if you have the time.

And last before we get started, a confession – I only know how to make too much soup. When I look at this recipe it seems like something that could easily be halved in order to make a reasonable amount for a single family. But making a reasonable amount of soup is not my super power, so this is two meals worth of soup. I recommend freezing the leftovers to have on hand next time you’re short on both time and money, but I suppose you could also just cut this recipe in half and eat it all in one sitting, provided your family would eat the leftover cooked pumpkin some other way…

Here’s what you need:

1 small sugar pie pumpkin (or a small to medium acorn or butternut squash), about 2 lbs. (Do NOT, please, for the love of all that is good in this world, use canned pumpkin in this soup. Please.)
A 10 oz block of frozen/chopped spinach (You can use fresh, but it costs more and takes more time. If you use fresh, chop the spinach and sautee it with the garlic and onions that are coming.)
10 oz. of baby belle mushrooms (or your favorite variety of mushroom) sliced
1 medium to large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced (Or a tablespoon of Christopher Ranch crushed garlic, or a heavy teaspoon of dry garlic powder)
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or 2 tablespoons of Christopher Ranch crushed ginger, or 1 heaping teaspoon of dried, powdered ginger)
1 teaspoon of each: Coriander, cumin, tumeric, cardamom
1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, cayenne
(NOTE – If you are not a spice hoarder like I am, you can substitute with 1 tablespoon of garam masala or 1 tablespoon of curry powder, your soup will taste a little different, but that’s okay. You could also use a couple tablespoons of thai red curry paste if you wanted. This is a flexible recipe.)
4 cups of water or veggie stock or chicken stock (I usually do 4 cups of water and add 2 teaspoons or 2 cubes of stock because you don’t want to overpower the flavor of the pumpkin and spices!)
2 Tablespoons of lime juice (not limeade!!)
2 cans of coconut milk
Optional: Some cubed or shredded cooked chicken or pork. (I throw this in if I have leftovers that I need to use up, otherwise I make this dish vegan.)

Now, the instructions:

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the pumpkin halves on a cookies sheet and bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until the pumpkin has softened. (It’ll seep around the edges a bit.) (If you’re using an actual pumpkin you can reserve the seeds & wash the goop off them and roast them for a healthy snack! Waste not, want not!)

I highly recommend doing this the night before you want to make this soup to make it all easier the day you want to eat it.

Let the squash cool to room temperature. (Or refrigerate it over night right on the cookie tray, keeping it face down)

When it has cooled & you’re ready for soup, scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin and drop it into a blender.

pumpkin puree

We want a nice smooth puree.

Add 2-4 cups of water/stock, enough to get the blender to whir and liquify the pumpkin.

While it’s whirring, cut up the onion, garlic and mushrooms and sautee them in a pan with a little olive oil (or veggie oil) until the onions are translucent (about 3-5 minutes).

(Note: If you are in an exceptional hurry, you can skip this step. It changes the flavor a little, but that’s okay.)

Pour the pumpkin puree into the crockpot, use a spatula to get as much of the puree in as you can.

Add the sauteed onion, garlic and mushrooms.

sauteed onions in soup

When in doubt, more garlic.

(If you’re adding meat, throw in the cooked, chopped meat now too.)

Sprinkle on the spices, including the ginger.

yummy indian curry spices

The only thing better than the way these spices look together is the way they taste together!

Add the lime juice and stir.

Pull the spinach out of the freezer, set the package in a bowl or tupperware on the counter to thaw.

Set the crockpot to low and go do your thing for 4-8 hours. (When you come back the soup will look more like a thick paste, that’s okay.)

thick soup

Too thick for soup.

Just before serving, throw the spinach into the soup along with the 2 cans of coconut milk and stir to combine. If the soup seems too thick for your taste, add another cup of water or stock to it.

Coconut milk completes this dish.

Coconut milk completes this dish.

This soup is lovely on its own, or served with whole grain garlic bread. (But really, what isn’t good with garlic bread?)

So now, the cost breakdown:

If you buy them in season, right after Halloween, you can get a good pumpkin or squash for about $2
An onion is $1
Garlic $0.25
Mushrooms $3
Spices $1
Spinach $1
Lime juice $0.25
Veggie stock $0.50
Coconut Milk: $4
Garlic Bread: $2

For a grand total of $15 for 8 large servings! That’s $1.87 per serving. (Or, once again, still more than the SNAP Challenge allows.)

So, again, where do we cut corners? And again, we can skip the garlic bread. If we used a spice mix like garam masala or a generic curry powder we could bring the cost of spices to $0.50, now we’re at $12.50 for 8 servings which is still a little on the high side. It’s also worth noting that without the bread, those servings won’t be as filling. If we needed to cut more corners, it would also be possible to use only 1 can of coconut milk and increase the amount of stock used to make up the difference. The soup wouldn’t be quite as rich and creamy, but it would come in at only $1.30 per serving.

As I take the SNAP Challenge (And seem to continually fail it) one of the things I am learning is that a cheap meal for me and my family is completely out of range for many families who are living through hard times. It certainly makes me more compassionate and extra grateful that my district voted yes to extend our mill levy tax to support human services. People out there are hurting, and those of us who can help, should. Everyone deserves to eat healthy food.

Great Meatballs of Fire!

meatballs and pasta

Okay, so I was just trying to create a catchy title, there’s no real fire, or heat, in these meatballs – which isn’t to say that you couldn’t grind up some fresh cayenne peppers and add a little heat, it’s just that I didn’t.

Second, this recipe is the first in my Food Stamp Challenge, Eating Well on a Budget series. I hope to fill this space up with yummy, affordable recipes all month long.

As part of this series, I’m going to try to not only give you the recipe, but also the cost of the ingredients and the final cost per serving at the end of the post so that you can see if this meal fits into your budget.

I came to this recipe because I had some leftover ricotta cheese that needed to be used up. I really wanted to be frivolous and make cupcakes, but with Halloween having just happened we already have so much sugar in our house that I just couldn’t bring myself to add more.

I dug through my cookbooks and recipe stacks looking for something else to do with ricotta and found a recipe for Pork Ricotta Meat Balls and thought – YES, with spaghetti! And garlic bread! And salad!

I forgot to take pictures yesterday when I was making it, so here it is reserved as lunch today, minus the garlic bread and salad.

meatballs and pasta

Home made meatballs over angel hair pasta.

It’s a simple recipe – BUT, it does take a long time. If time is something you are also budgeting tightly, you could absolutely crockpot this recipe if you had 45 minutes in the morning (or the night before) to get it to that stage.

Here’s what you need:

1 lb ground pork
4 slices of bread – with the crusts cut off
2 eggs – beaten
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
(If you want to add fire to your meatballs, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne or crushed hot red chilis)
Salt

Two 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I prefer fire roasted, but it’s your call)
5 cloves of garlic, smashed (or 2 teaspoons of powdered garlic, or one tablespoon of Christopher Ranch fresh garlic in the jar – whatever your garlic groove is)
1 tablespoon dried basil

Next – the hands on time consuming part:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Get out a large bowl, add the pork, ricotta, egg, and seasonings. In a food processor, pulse the bread into fine crumbs and add them to the mix.

Mash everything together (I prefer to use my clean hands for this, other people prefer to use a fork. Just make sure everything gets evenly distributed around.)

Then, start scooping meatballs – about the size of a large cookie and put them in a large roasting pan. This recipe should make about 24 meatballs.

Keep them nice and round as you drop them into the pan. They won’t spread out as you bake them, so it’s okay to put them pretty close together.

Pop your full pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the meatballs are firm and just beginning to brown.

While they are roasting, mix up the crushed tomatoes with the garlic and basil (I only had whole canned tomatoes on hand when I made this, so I threw them into the food processor and pulsed it a few times with the garlic and basil, that seemed to work.)

When the meatballs are done cooking you have a choice -

Add the tomato mixture to the pan, reduce the oven temperature to 325 and bake, uncovered, for 2 hours (I told you this recipe took a long time) until the tomato sauce thickens, turning the meatballs a couple of times during the cooking.

OR -

Put the meatballs into a large crockpot, add the tomato mix making sure it gets all around them and put the crock pot on low, covered but with a chopstick keeping the lid open just a little for steam to escape (We want the sauce to thicken, remember) and go about your other business for 4-8 hours.

OR -

Add the sauce to the meatballs, put it all in the fridge and then pull it out and bake it next time you’re going to be home for 2 hours.

But wait! We aren’t done yet, because meatballs and tomatoes do not make a balanced meal! (Even though technically we’re representing almost all of the major food groups in these.)

So, 30 minutes before you plan to sit down and eat dinner, get a pot of water boiling and cook up your favorite pasta. I ended up serving our meatballs over angel hair pasta (Which is great if you’re budgeting time and using the crockpot method because once the water is boiling the noodles cook in 3 minutes!) But I LOVE rainbow rotini too!

If you’re a fan of garlic bread (Who isn’t?) whip some of that up too. We usually use whatever whole grain bread we’ve got laying around (I think garlic bread is the best use of the heels from our loaves) spread a little butter over it, sprinkle on some garlic powder and a little more Italian seasoning if you like it that way, maybe a sprinkle of cheese and pop it into the oven.

While you’re waiting for everything to finish up, put together a salad.

Start with a big handful of chopped lettuce per person. Add some shredded carrots, or sliced cucumber, or baby corn or bell peppers or tomatoes or broccoli or mushrooms or whatever other veggies you and your family likes and that you have on hand. (On of my favorite salads is romaine lettuce, a handful of craisins, a handful of sliced almonds and some sliced cucumber. So yummy!)

When everything is hot and ready, put a scoop of pasta on the plate, top it with 1-3 meatballs (our kids could only eat one, the hubby and I each had 3) and some sauce. Sprinkle on a little parmasan cheese, serve with the garlic bread and the salad and voila!

So, here’s the thing about this meal – it’s really more like 2 or 3 meals.

I made 24 meatballs and my family only managed to eat 8 of them, so we still have 16 left, or two full meal’s worth!

The pasta and bread are both super cheap, especially if you’re using the heels of your bread loaves to make the garlic bread, so you can make those fresh another night or two.

And the salad, well, right now lettuce is on sale for a buck a head and we usually get two meals worth of salads out of each head.

Another alternative, if your family, like mine, is not super excited about eating leftovers night after night – make meatball sandwiches with the leftovers one night! You’ll have to go buy a loaf of (whole wheat) french bread, but that’s only $1.50. And I’d still want to serve it with a salad, to create a good, balanced meal.

You could also turn the leftovers into an Italian Meatball Soup by tossing them into some chicken (or veggie) broth and adding a can of drained red beans, and a mix of whatever veggies you have on hand – some chopped green beans (fresh, frozen or canned & drained), some sliced carrots, celery, onion, chopped fresh or frozen spinach, bell pepper, diced zucchini… Oh man, just typing this makes me want to get out another crock pot and start simmering! So, look for that recipe later this week!!

And last, you could always freeze the leftover meatballs to have available for an emergency meal later in the month when you’re short on both time and money!

So – what does this meal cost:

Pork – $3
Ricotta – $3
Bread crumbs – $0.50
Eggs – $0.5
Herbs – $1
Tomatoes – $4
Parmesan – $1
Salad – $5
Pasta – $2
Garlic Bread – $2

$22 for the whole shebang, and that’s for 8-12 servings of awesome, or $2.75 to $1.85 per serving. (Which, for the record, is still almost twice as much as I’m allowed to spend per serving on the Food Stamp Challenge!! Think about that – seriously! I thought I had a total winner here, but this is twice as much as a family my size is allowed, even if we turn this into three meals!)

So, where could I cut corners? Well, I could skip the garlic bread, certainly. We’re already getting grains in the pasta. I could cut out the parmesan cheese, skimp on the salad and just chop up a $1 head of lettuce without adding any other veggies or toppings aside from a splash of cheap dressing.

That would bring it down to $16 for 8-12 servings, or $2 – $1.33 per serving, which if I made sure this was 3 meals, or 12 servings, would be cheap enough to qualify. And remember, the only reason I can even make it be 12 servings is because my kids are young and they don’t eat as much as me and my husband. Once our kids reach their teen years, this is 8 servings, not 12, and we are priced out of having this meal!!

So, since we made, and ate, this meal this week – that means we’ll have to cut corners somewhere else to keep up (down) with the Food Stamp Challenge!

Tomorrow’s meal – curried pumpkin soup! It’s another meal that’s guaranteed to produce leftovers, let’s see if I can bring it in under budget!

 

SNAP challenge, week one – epic fail!

SnapChallenge

Over the weekend my husband and I talked about taking the SNAP challenge for the month of November. We each had our own reasons for wanting to do it. I was interested in seeing how thrifty I could really be without compromising my family’s health. My husband was interested in seeing the weekly grocery bills come down.

We are both also very interested in instilling a sense of frugality and “waste not-want not” in our children. We want them to see how much we have, how blessed we are, and to be more compassionate for people who are struggling to have the things we take for granted – like enough food.

I had another reason for wanting to take the challenge. I am working on becoming a SNAP-Ed educator and in that role I will be helping other families learn how to shop, cook and eat healthy within the limited means that SNAP allows them. If I can’t do it for myself and my family, how can I possibly help other families to do it?

SnapChallenge

Can you eat healthy for only $30 per week?

So, the first step, I went online to see what kind of SNAP benefits a family of four could get.

It wasn’t much. For my family, if just one of us was working a full-time, minimum wage job we’d be grossing $1280 each month and our SNAP benefits would end up being about $520 a month, or $130 a week.

The last time I spent that little on groceries for the 4 of us we ended up having to go back to the grocery store half way through the week to pick up all the stuff I’d forgotten to buy.

Now, according to all of the SNAP sites I checked out, the expectation is that families/individuals receiving these benefits will spend 30% of their income on food – and this is an argument I hear a lot, that SNAP benefits are supposed to be supplemental, they are not supposed to be the actual amount that a family uses for groceries. And yes, if I added 30% of our imaginary minimum wage income ($384 per month) to the total, I’d end up with a very doable $216 to spend on groceries each week. We can eat healthy for that.

BUT – and this is the side everyone forgets, that would leave my family only $896 to cover rent, utilities, gas for the car to get to work, car maintenance, health care, clothing, and all the other necessities of life – not to mention the mandatory pay-check deductions like social security, worker’s compensation, taxes, etc. Looking online, I had a really hard time finding a 2 bedroom place to rent for under $1000 in my town, and we don’t live in an expensive area. Our utilities – phone, internet, electricity, water, etc. run upwards of $300 a month. I don’t drive much, but we’re still looking at $50 a month in gasoline at a minimum. Not to mention car insurance & registration. And yes, I am required to dress my children, myself and my spouse before we leave the house – so we need money for that too.

This also neglects that there are certain necessary, non-food items that are not covered by SNAP benefits – laundry detergent and other cleaning products, toilet paper, pet food, food storage items like ziplock bags and aluminum foil, medicine and vitamins… (So we force people to choose less nutritious items and then don’t help them get supplements, and then we blame individual choice for poor health.)

When you look at the whole picture it becomes easier to understand why people who are receiving SNAP benefits try not to exceed those benefits when they go grocery shopping.

Life is not cheap.

Taking this challenge has also made me even more supportive of free breakfast and free lunch programs at schools. For families receiving SNAP benefits, knowing their kids are receiving healthy meals twice a day at school leaves a little more money for family dinners. (Until summer comes around, then they’re stuck scrambling again, increasing my support for community gardening initiatives!!)

So, to play this scenario out, I wanted to limit myself to the $130 that a family of four could use. (It is worth noting that I am already cheating A LOT, because I am allowing myself the maximum benefit, rather than the average benefit for a family my size.)

There was another problem, my husband and I spent the summer growing and putting up bushels of food. Were we really going to forgo eating all that delicious bounty for a month?

My first thought was, “No, we’ll just figure out what those items would cost at the store and then we’ll deduct that from the amount I’m allowed to spend.”  It made sense. I took an exhaustive inventory of the food in our house so that I could make sure not to re-purchase anything we already had and so I could make a meal plan that used goods we already had on hand. Waste-not-want-not, right?

As I took the inventory and made our meal list for the week I realized that just using the stuff we hand on hand, if we really priced it out – would push us almost to the limits of our SNAP benefits, but I still needed a few key ingredients for a couple of dinners AND I needed to get breakfast and lunch foods.

I made up our grocery list, keeping mental track of what everything was going to cost as I wrote it out. It wasn’t looking good.

I looked over my list and saw that we were also out of dill weed ($6) and Italian seasoning ($3) and really, can we ask people to forgo seasoning in their food? Not to mention the proven health benefits that herbs and spices impart. We also needed honey ($9) which we cannot go without during cold season.

I got to the store, doing my best to be conscious about my purchases. I bought the sandwich meat that was on sale instead of the meat I actually wanted. I did the same with fruit for my kids’ lunches and the veggies I picked out for dinners. I got a ten pound bag of russet potatoes instead of the more expensive five-pound bag of red potatoes that I prefer. I bought the generic herbs rather than the ones from companies with clean human rights abuse records.

These may not seem like big sacrifices, and on the surface, they aren’t. I mean, does anyone really have a right to eat pastrami when turkey is on sale? Does it really matter what kind of potatoes my family eats? (On the other hand, shouldn’t we all be able to buy food that is not harvested or processed by child labor?)

I made sure to stick firm and fast to my grocery list, but I knew I was at $100 before I even left the produce and deli department.

I only had to purchase one thing of meat this week because we overcooked last week and I had a bunch of leftovers to repurpose. But still, it cost $20 to buy the chicken wings my family had asked for, the one meal they got to choose this week, the only meal that isn’t based around food we already had on hand.

By the time I got to the checkout lane, I knew I was well over the $130 limit.

Sure enough, my total came out to $207. If I subtract the $32 in non-SNAP covered items (toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish soap), I’m at $176, or $46 over our limit.

AND, remember, I am still using a ton of food I already had in the house when I cook this week.

It is clear that I am not as adept at being thrifty as I’d like to think.

We are going to try again next week. The hope is that we will be able to reduce the bill by enough next week to make up for the amount we went over this week, and that at the end of the month, the average spent each week will keep us under the $520 our family is “allowed” to spend. At this point, I think the only way to really manage that is to skip an entire week of grocery shopping. But it might also be possible if I limit myself to shopping for the weekly necessities – bread, eggs, milk, cheese, sandwich meat, fruit – limiting myself to $50 per week for these items and relying on our pantry and freezer to fill in the rest, deducting those items from our allowance.

I’m also going to try to be better about finding and using coupons. That said, if you’ve ever had to do that, you might have noticed that there are hardly ever coupons for fruits, veggies, minimally processed meats… Coupons are put out by companies to purchase customer loyalty and it turns out that the broccoli lobby doesn’t exist…

I’ll keep you posted in this space. And if any of you have any tips or tricks for keeping your grocery bill low while still shopping primarily around the edges of the store – fruit, veggies, whole grains, meats, etc. and skipping the processed food aisles – drop them in the comments. We’re going to need all the help we can get!

SNAP challenge

Take the challenge, and let us know how it goes for you.

Wishing you all love, health and the ability to eat well within your budget!

Counting Blessings, Sharing Blessings

garden bounty

It’s been a long, wonderful summer filled with intense learning and amazing food and new discoveries.

We more than doubled our garden size this year from 3 large garden beds to 6 beds, plus a squash field and some hollowed out logs for edible herbs and flowers. Oh, and we still planted our edible front yard for all the neighbors to enjoy.

The funny thing is, our edible front yard has done its job so well that in the past two years we’ve inspired nearly all of our neighbors to start their own wee gardens, it doesn’t hurt that our new February survival tactic is to put seeds in dirt under fluorescent lights and start sprouting so that come spring we have wagons full of extra tomato and hot pepper seedlings to share…

winter sprouting

Surviving February

The point is we’ve been successful and so this year our neighbors didn’t need our front yard the way they have in previous years, which meant, more food for us! A blessing and a curse.

However, I am proud to report that after tonight I will have successfully used EVERY SINGLE TOMATO, including the green ones. They have all been eaten, turned into salsa or marinara or chutney and canned or frozen.

I had used all of the hot peppers, but then October decided to go warm and mild and they have continued to produce, so in addition to the regular tomato based salsa, I’ve now crafted three different types of hot sauce using Thai chilis, habenero chilis and cayenne peppers.And I’m looking down the blender barrel at another batch or two before the snows come and close the garden for the season.

I’ve pulled all our carrots and used most of them.

We still have beets in the ground, and in the fridge, and canned in the pantry. But, that is my fault. No one in my family but me likes the damn things, and I accidentally planted two batches, when I only needed 1/4 of a batch. Oops. Live and learn. (And ask your friends to PLEASE stop by and pick up some beets!)

Speaking of learning – here are some lessons from this year’s garden.

1. Baker Creek Seeds are WONDERFUL! BUT, pay attention to whether you can grow what you want in your area. I did get a few that were not designed for my climate/altitude and because I am a lazy gardener, they struggled.

baker creek seeds

All the lovely seeds.

2. Okra is a silly plant best left to people who are willing to grow acres of it. I planted 5 plants and it took a whole season of careful harvesting & storing to get enough for a single batch of gumbo.

3. As always, we should have planted more Jalapenos. It turns out there is no such thing as too many jalapeno plants.

4. And, as always, we planted too many tomatoes. But… When we’re still cracking open jars of home-made salsa in January, I doubt we’ll be upset about this.

overstocked

A well stocked pantry.

5. Next year, more carrots, more potatoes, more midget melons.

6. We need a cider press. That is definitely the top ticket item for next year.

7. Canning is expensive, but if I get all my jars back, or if people donate theirs to my cause (hint) it’ll all be worth it!

Last, the biggest thing I learned is that I really want to share more of what I know with people.

I love cooking and I love sharing food.

More than that, I love sharing real food, simple, yet delicious food. Food that the average person can make at home without too much stress or a pair of tweezers.

So, in the vein of sharing blessings… I am thinking about embarking on a new path with Kitchen Bravada and I’d love to feel you out.

I’d like to offer a new range of services and I want to hear what you think – are these services you’d like, what would you pay for them, are there related services I’m forgetting but that you wish I’d consider?

1. Getting Started with Rocky Mountain Urban Gardening

Face it, not all plants do well here, and some plants do great if you can just get the setup right. Others (mint, I’m looking at you) should NEVER be planted unless you want them to take over. I’d love to help people get started. Between me and my husband (though he doesn’t know I’ve just volunteered him) we can do everything from building garden beds to designing edible landscaping to planting rocky mountain friendly varieties of your favorite fruits and veggies and teaching you when to harvest and how to harvest your crops to get the most out of them.

2. Eating the Harvest

So you’ve got a garden and it’s producing food – now what? How do you turn raw veggies into delicious meals? I’d love to come over and introduce you to new recipes, new techniques, flavor combinations, dishes and styles. Let me help you broaden your palate and get creative in the kitchen with your garden bounty!

3. Preserving the Harvest

garden bounty

Too much good food. Is that even a thing?

Once you’ve gotten into gardening you’ll learn that everything tends to come in at once, in abundance. So what do you do when faced with gallons of tomatoes, mountains of zucchini, buckets of carrots, bushels of beans – all at once!?! I want to come to your house and help you survey your bounty and show you the best methods for preserving each food for later use. From pickling to canning to freezing to drying, different foods prefer different preservation methods. Let me come over and show you how to get the  most from your garden.

4. Eating Healthy for Less

I just wrote a BIG LONG post about this over on my ranty-pants site. I made a wish over there, but then I realized I could take steps toward realizing it right here with you all. I want to come to your home and spend some time with you. I want to learn what you like to eat, what you wish you were eating, what’s holding you back (money, time, kitchen skills, lack of equipment…) and then I want to dive in and help you. I want to create a plan with you and help you make your shopping list and go to the store with you and then I want to come home and show you how to turn good ingredients into GREAT food that your whole family will enjoy.

I want to be The Food Whisperer (Because somehow in our culture people who are good at things whisper… I don’t know. I don’t make the rules.) But that’s the idea. I want to come over and spend some time just consulting and then go home and think it over and come back and create a customized plan that fits your needs AND your available resources. (Because it won’t work if I come up with a plan that requires more time than you have, or more money than you have or skills that are too far beyond what you’re comfortable with in the kitchen.) And then I want to spend a day with you getting started, and then come back and follow-up and teach you some more tricks. I imagine this being something where I spend one day a week with you for a month and then maybe another follow-up once a month for the next three months. Something like that. I’m brainstorming, help me out. What do YOU think would work best?

If these ideas sound good to you, sound like things you wish someone would come help you with – please, let me know in the comments.

Here are the big questions –

1. Do these sound like services you’d like to use? Is there anything you’d change about them?

2. If so, how much would you be willing to pay for them? (If that is different from what you would be able to pay, feel free to note that. I understand that sometimes services are worth more than we can afford, personally I suspect this is one of those things for most people.)

3. For those who are able, would you be willing to pay more if you knew that a percentage of your payment went into a scholarship fund to help people in need access healthier food options and education?

4. Did I miss anything?

Kitchen Meditations and Wildflower Jelly

wildflower jelly

It’s been a really stressful summer, as evidenced by the fact that my last real post was WAY back in April.

The last month or so I’ve been meaning to get back to this blog and share my new kitchen creations with everyone, but I’ve been so darn busy keeping up with the garden, and with my girlgoyels getting back to school, and all the other usual life madness that this piece just hasn’t made the list.

But, I love food and I love writing and I love stories – so here I am, back at last.

To talk a little about how I found my peace again after losing it pretty hard.

It started with making time for a daily walk through my garden. Barefoot. Even over the prickly weeds.

earthing in the garden

Barefoot gardener

Getting my hands into the bushes, brambles and delicious produce.

Bringing in the daily harvest, and celebrating it with a quick picture, even when looking at it felt overwhelming because it was all just SO MUCH!

garden bounty

Too much good food. Is that even a thing?

And then, breaking it down – seeing what could be stored for a day or two and what needed to be processed, preserved or eaten right away.

overstocked

A well stocked pantry.

This year I really felt like in tending my garden, I was tending myself.

I was learning to see what I had in abundance and how to use it effectively to get the most from it.

I was learning to see that some days I had a lot of one thing, and not enough of something else, but that with a little patience, the other pieces of the recipe would come around just in time to make the perfect meal. (Or salsa. Mostly salsa.)

I was learning about pacing myself.

In the meantime I was learning a ton about food preservation techniques, from the very old school fermentation to canning and freezing.

I was learning how to use salt and sugar to preserve foods, how to use heat and cold to keep foods safe. And I was learning what foods liked which methods best.

I have learned patience, as I wait, toe tapping, for six long weeks before I try my first ever home-grown, home-made dill pickles. And another six weeks before I try my curried yellow squash relish/chutney.

trusting pickles

My 7th batch, and I haven’t even tried the first batch to know if they are good! That’s a lot of faith!

I have learned trust as I brewed my first edible wildflower infusion for jelly and wondered whether it would really be deliciously edible or just a wasteful novelty. (Spoiler – It is hands down the BEST thing I created all summer and I’ve already made a second batch, ever so different from the first as all batches will be when you are dealing with nature’s whims.)

I have learned to enjoy the time I spend with myself in the kitchen, thinking up new ways to enjoy old foods, like pickling eggplants and limes… or adding hot peppers to sweet fruit jams.

I’ve learned to follow my instincts and let my curiosity guide me as I experiment with new flavor combinations and stretch past the tired trends driving so many kitchens.

And now, after a month of experimentation and preservation, I feel whole again. I feel full. I am ready to share myself, my kitchen, my food and my stories.

So…

I suppose I should start with the most meditative and perfect thing I learned to make this summer – that wildflower jelly.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

Wildflower Jelly is a long process. It begins early in the spring, or even the fall before you wish to make the jelly.

First, you have to do the research – NOT ALL FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE. Some WILL KILL YOU. Others will just make you REALLY sick and uncomfortable. Also – be aware of your allergies when selecting flowers.

Second, if you’re me, after you do the research you have to decide which flowers you want to plant and grow – this way you can be sure that they remain free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals that you don’t want in your jelly! You can also be sure that you won’t mis-identify these plants in the wild. I planted a whole slew of wildflowers this spring, and I’m planning even more for next year.

Third – the harvest. This, for me might be the best part of the process. Harvesting wildflowers for jelly is such a meditative, connecting, grounding moment. Yes, it makes me go all foo-foo.

I have edible flowers growing throughout my garden and yard.

I usually start harvesting with the borage, because I love the way those tiny blue flowers come off in my hand. More often than not they remain intact, which makes them perfect for sprinkling in the bottom of the jars as garnish. (I use a second, fresh, harvest for this task.)

borage in jars

A sprinkle of fresh borage

Then I move to my sunflower forest and select the brightest petals from the healthiest looking flowers. After that I meander over to my rose-bush and my snapdragons. Sometimes I sprinkle in some cinnamon basil flower heads for kick. Next I add in some wild dandelions, my Calendula, some chamomile, a little bee balm if it’s in bloom… I dig through my unruly honeysuckle and find any available flowers hiding in the foliage…

Last I go out front and see if I have any Hibiscus flowers that are just starting to wilt. They add bright red color and a delightful tartness to my jelly.

edible hibiscus flower

Add a flourish to your jelly with this beautiful edible flower!

I’ve heard that my scarlet bean flowers are edible, but they don’t have the kind of flavor I want in my jelly, they would be better served atop a fresh garden salad sprinkled in with some fresh chive flowers…

scarlet beans and flowers

Scarlet beans are my favorite crop.

When I have three packed cups of mixed flowers and petals, I take them inside and boil up some water. I pour an equal amount of boiling water over my flowers, cover with a mesh splatter guard and let them steep for 24 hours.

wildflowers for jelly

A small sample of the flowers that go into my jelly. Each batch is unique.

The next day I pour the infusion through a fine mesh strainer, squeezing the petals to get the most bang for my watery buck.

I measure the liquid to the nearest cup (My goal is three to four cups of “flower juice” if I come up short, I top off my infusion with a little filtered water to get me where I need to be.) and pour it into my jelly pan. (Any large heavy bottomed pot will do.)

Next, I add two boxes, or one 4.7 oz jar of pectin to the infusion, sprinkling it over as evenly as I can to help prevent clumping. I also add 1/8 cup bottled lemon juice per cup of wildflower infusion. (Bottled juice has a consistent acidity which makes it better for this purpose than fresh squeezed lemon juice.)

I bring this mixture up to a rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred away. Then, I add 6 cups of sugar – or two cups of sugar for every cup of flower infusion – all at once.

Keeping the heat up, I stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the new jelly/syrup reaches a full boil again. I quickly set the timer for 1 minute and keep stirring until it goes off.

Then I kill the heat and begin to ladle the jelly into my prepared jars.

One of the things I learned last year is that jelly making is a very scientific process – it relies on the perfect combination of four factors – sugar, pectin, acidity and heat. Flowers have none of these things, so this jelly relies on you being willing to accept your flower infusion as the flavor enhancer to the other required ingredients.

This jelly is SO precious that I like to use small 4oz jars for it because they remind me to savor it and use it as a special treat.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

That said, this recipe makes more than a dozen jars, so I usually put the leftovers into the larger 1/2 pint jars which are the ones I keep for my family to use while I sell or gift the smaller jars.

This is a LOVELY gift, sure to bring smiles.

To can this jelly, use a waterbath canner and process for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude – add 5 minutes for every 5,000 feet).

A pot of Jam

flavors of jam

When I was 11, my parents took me and my sister to France for a 5 week, 1,000 mile bike ride.

It was, to say the least, epic.

One of my favorite parts about the trip was breakfast – not just because I woke up STARVING every morning, but because even though we ordered the exact same thing every single morning for 5 weeks – it always came out a little different.

See, none of us actually spoke French. My sister had a semester or so under her belt, but that just got us to the town library, and to a bathroom.

Breakfast, food in general really, that was a whole other box of frogs.

So, every morning we would ride to the nearest cafe and order “Pain de la confiture” or, bread with jam. It was the only thing we knew how to ask for.

And everywhere we went we got that town’s, that cafe’s jam. It wasn’t like America where no matter where you go, you get the same little basket of Smuckers jam in single serving plastic trays and the standard 4 flavors – Strawberry, Orange Marmalade, Grape Jelly and Blackberry.

Nope, every morning we would wait to see what kind of jam we got, and how it was presented.

Sometimes we got a wee bowl of jam with a spoon. Sometimes it came in a jar.Some places served jelly, some served a runny home-made jam, some offered a chunky conserve.

Every now and then we would get mass-produced packets – but that was exceedingly rare.

And the flavors!! We got berry jam, apricot jam, apple jelly, wine jelly, all kinds of jams and jellies that I can’t even name.

I’ve been thinking about those breakfasts a lot this week and last as I’ve ramped up my own jam production, trying to catch the best of the season and trap it in jars for when winter hits.

flavors of jam

So many flavors.
So much deliciousness!

In the past two weeks I’ve made strawberry jam, with a twist of citrus, vanilla rhubarb jam, spiced pear jam, cherry cayenne jam, and hand-harvested wildflower jelly.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

That all gets added to my existing collection of ginger peach jam, mint jalapeno jelly, bourbon pumpkin butter and lime ginger marmalade.

jam for sale

Today’s Flavors

I love knowing that every morning for breakfast I can sit down and open a new pot of jam and have a new flavor and texture experience.

pear and strawberry jam

Some days I just can’t decide.

It brings me back to my first summer in France and the joyful surprise each morning brought with my “Pain de la confiture.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite food memories, and the ways they shape the food you seek or create now.

The Best Dairy Free, Gluten Free Cobbler

dairy free gluten free cobbler topping

This post is dedicated to my friend “Binky Toes” who was lamenting her lack of a good gluten-free cobbler the other night.

Last year my husband was living gluten and dairy free. He was trying to resolve some digestive issues and had been told by his doctor that eliminating those foods from his diet might help.

He went gluten-free first, and while it definitely upped the grocery bill, it did seem to help him. Then he went dairy free as well. That one was a bit harder, at least for me. I live for cheese. And yogurt. And ice cream. And… But again, it made him feel better, so it was worth it.

accommodating his restricted diet during dessert was a challenge. I love baking (with real butter and cream) and finding a good gluten-free flour substitute really is a challenge. A blend that works for pizza dough won’t work for pie crust and what works for pie won’t work for cakes… Mixing your own blend is still the best option for most things. It took some doing, but by the end of his year of special eating, we had a few things down.

This cobbler recipe is one that we loved so much we still use it, even though we don’t have to anymore.

It’s an adaptation of my mom’s cobbler recipe, the one I ate and LOVED as a child. We served this as a special occasion weekend breakfast dish. And then again as a dessert with ice cream. Some people would probably say it’s more of a crumble than a cobbler. I say it’s delicious, so hush up and eat it.

First – use whatever fruit fits your mood or the season. I LOVE peach cobbler, apple cobbler, apple blueberry cobbler, mixed berry cobbler… Cobbler is the bomb. Especially if you love pie but are scared of making pie crusts. Cobbler is my go-to answer for too much good fruit.

Millions of peaches!

Millions of peaches!

So, preheat your oven to 350 and get cooking!

For a 9×9 baking pan, you’ll need around 8 peaches or 6 apples or lots of berries… You’ll want to slice or dice them up to your preferred size.

cut peaches

Just peachy

For fruits that seep a lot, add a tablespoon or so of instant tapioca and stir it in. Add a sprinkle of sugar. (I prefer brown sugar in my cobblers, but white sugar, honey, agave – it all works.) I also like to spice up my apples (and my peaches) with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger & clove.

spiced peaches

Sugar & Spice and everything nice!

The real magic of a cobbler is the topping.

For a gluten-free, dairy free cobbler topping to cover a 9×9 pan of fruit you’ll need:

4 Tablespoons of good coconut oil (Solid at room temperature.)
1/2 cup brown sugar. I prefer Dark brown 100% pure cane sugar.
1/2 cup of your favorite gluten-free flour blend (your own, or we liked King Arthur’s Gluten free multi purpose flour the best, though we did wish it came in a bigger box.)
1/2 cup of almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill has the goods.)

Mash and clump these ingredients together. You should end up with clumps about the size of peas.

Last, add 1/2 cup of gluten-free oats OR 1/2 cup of hulled raw hemp seeds! (Added nutrition, low carb, high protein, and AWESOME flavor!)

Toss together and sprinkle over the top of your fruit.

dairy free gluten free cobbler topping

Sweet, crumbley, cobblery yumness!

Bake at 350 for about 25/30 minutes or until the top is brown and crispy and the fruit is bubbling under the crust.

I’d show you a picture, but we ate it too fast and I didn’t get one. Sorry.

Generally, you should let it cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, but we have NEVER once had the will power to do that.

Enjoy!

P.S. Ice cream helps with the tongue blisters. And we fell in LOVE with Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream while my husband was on his restricted diet. We still splurge and buy a pint every now and again. (Though… My daughter got an ice cream maker for her birthday this year, so expect to see us experimenting and creating more of our own flavors this year!)

 

Mercurial Spring Moods Meet Their Match

avocados

February is a hard month for me. Spring isn’t quite here, but I am so very done with winter.

Then March comes and reminds me that it is not, in fact, a miracle month. If anything it is even moodier than February, at least in terms of weather. So far just this week we’ve had 70 degrees, bike riding in shorts and a tank top. Then snow. Then sun. Then rain. Then sleet. Then snow again. Today is freezing. But only until about noon, when I should be able to strip down and take a sun filled bike ride again.

With all those external changes and the complete inability to really plan or be consistent with my exercise routine, it’s no wonder I get a little moody myself.

This year though, I discovered something that feels miraculous. I am a MUCH better, more stable, more motivated, productive and clear thinking person if I eat an avocado every day.

avocados

An avocado a day keeps the grumpies at bay!

This morning I dove into some research to see if I had discovered something that only applied to me, or if just perhaps I had discovered something that might help others who are battling with their own mercurial spring moods.

It turns out, eating avocado for a mood boost is not psychosomatic. It’s real. It’s tested and researched and scientifically confirmed.

Eating avocado really can help uplift and stabilize your moods.

My first google search brought me to a slew of articles that simply listed Avocado as a “Good Mood Food” (Say that 10 times REAL fast!)

Many of them listed Serotonin as the active chemical responsible for the happy glow that avocados bestow on those who eat them. But, I couldn’t find any sources in these fluff articles. So I dug deeper, and I’m glad I did because there’s more to it than that initial shot of serotonin.

Sure, serotonin is a “happy drug”, but how does that explain a whole day of mood stability? It doesn’t.

Here’s what does:

Avocados are high in healthy fats. Fats that help us absorb other fat soluble nutrients from the foods we eat with them. They also contain a number of beneficial fat soluble nutrients all on their own. (For those of us who enjoy them with just a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lime.) Among these vitamins – The B vitamin family. Known for lowering stress & balancing moods.

Also… Avocados are high in fiber. Fiber plays a couple of important roles in our body that can affect our mood. First, as it passes through us, it helps clean out our guts, scraping away some of the junk we’ve put into ourselves. It also helps balance our absorption of sugar so that we don’t get those spikes and crashes.

Avocados also have a high amount of protein – for a fruit. This, along with those good fats and high fiber, helps make the energy we get from eating an avocado last longer. Again helping us to avoid crazy highs and lows.

Studies have shown that the effects of eating an avocado last up to 24 hours. So, eating one a day really can help keep you stabilized.

So, knowing that I’m not making this up and wanting to spread the joy that I’ve been feeling, here are some of the ways I’ve been enjoying getting my daily dose of avocado:

Almost every morning lately I’ve been enjoying an Avocado Sihn to Bo (A Vietnamese shake)

avocado smoothie

Because Avocados are a fruit!

I had my first one at a Vietnamese restaurant in Broomfield right next to my favorite Asian market.

That one was just avocado and vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, but not quite breakfast/healthy snack food.

So, when I got home I started playing with the blender.

I tossed in half an avocado, some R.W. Knudsen pineapple/coconut juice a squeeze of fresh lime and hit liquify.

easy avocado eating

Easy breakfast in a glass

It was pretty darn good. At least the sip I got before my daughter stole it and drank it all was good…

Sometimes I add mango, banana (only half of one though or it takes over), greek yogurt. If I want extra protein but not the dairy, I’ll add some of my husband’s hemp milk. (Shhh, don’t tell! It’s his precious!)

I haven’t found a combination I didn’t like yet. The avocado makes the smoothie fluffy and creamy, like a fruit mousse. And the while the fruit juice does give me an initial burst of energy, the fats in the avocado do seem to prevent any sort of crash from coming.

If you’re not a smoothie drinker, slice half an avocado and put it on your morning bagel. Add some smoked salmon for an extra mood & flavor boost. (Or bacon if you don’t mind being sacrilegious.)

guacamole on tostadas

Loaded Tostadas!

For lunch I like to just slice up an avocado and put it on my sandwich, or mash it into guacamole, add a scoop of my favorite salsa and eat it with chips or on a tostada. Alternately, I’ll make myself a giant salad and top it with half an avocado and some sunflower seeds.

I’m a big fan of snacking. I’d rather eat 5 good snacks a day than 3 full meals. So, for a great afternoon snack, take half an avocado, fill the seed pit with Cholula and then dive in with your spoon! It’s creamy, sweet and spicy. And… GREAT for you!

My step-mother-in-law (Ah, modern families!) taught me to fill the seed cavity with cottage cheese. She’d sprinkle it with pepper – I go back to Cholula. When in doubt – Cholula.

If you prefer your avocado with dinner, make fresh mango avocado salsa and serve it with easy grilled fish tacos.

fish tacos

Fish, avocado, mango… It’s everything delicious in one meal.

For the salsa, take one firm avocado, cube it and put it in a large bowl. Add one peeled and cubed firm mango. Dice one small red onion, crush two cloves of fresh garlic, squeeze one lime, chop one bunch of cilantro, sprinkle on a dash of salt and pepper. If you like it spicy, you can also dice up some jalapenos and add them in. When tomatoes are in season, I’ll add one dice roma tomato as well.

For the fish – take your favorite white fish – skinless, boneless fillets. We often use tilapia because it is cheap and cooks fast, but cod works just as well. We’ve also tried salmon, which changes the flavor considerably but is still yummy.

Marinate it in:

1 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, lime zest, fresh crushed garlic. Add a dash of pepper.

I broil my fish under the broiler for 3-5 minutes on each side or until done. (The time variance is due to varying thicknesses and densities of your fish choices.)

Serve on small corn tortillas with a side of black beans & spanish rice or just lettuce and avocado mango salsa.

fish tacos family style

It’s a family style Fish Taco Feast!

Not a fan of fish tacos? No worries, try rolling your avocado into some fresh, delicious sushi!

However you do it, getting that avocado, or even half an avocado, per day can really help you, and those around you, keep smiling!