Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {21}: Where Do We Go From Here?

Wow…..can you even believe today is the last day of October?!  How is that even possible?!  Here in the Northeast, we actually got snow this weekend.  Like, “over the ground lies a mantle of white” snow.  Insane.  I told my husband yesterday, “just put me in a coma and wake me up when it’s April!”  lol  Thankfully, most of it has already melted.  Whew!


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Anyway, I wanted to thank you all for sticking with me throughout this month!  It has been SO much fun to learn and share with all of you.  I’ve appreciated your honest input and your encouraging comments.  I’m so happy to read that many of you have made changes in your own diets as a result of this series.  Each time someone tells me they have changed even one thing in their pantry or fridge after reading one of my posts, it makes it all worthwhile.  :)  

Clearly, this is the last day of the series, but I’ll be blogging about clean eating even now and then, just like I did before.  I still have lots of eating goals for myself, and ways that I want to continue improving our diets. 

Some of those goals include:

- buying organic butter, and organic cheese when I can find it
- learning to soak my own grains
- learning about and eating more fermented foods
- making more and more of my own pantry staples (soaking beans instead of buying canned, making yogurt, making my own chicken stocks, etc.)


To finish out the series, I want to end with a quote from Day 1:

“There is nothing to regret about making better food choices.  It’s one of those rare instances in life where any choice you make on the side of clean eating is automatically a good choice.  I like those kinds of decisions. :)”

Let me encourage you to continually strive to improve your diet and food choices.  Start with one change, then move to another, and another.  Hopefully one day you will look around and realize that everything in your cupboards and fridge is a clean, whole, nourishing food.  That’s definitely the goal I’m working toward!


Thank you so much for reading the series! It’s been lots of fun. :)


P.S. I’d LOVE to know what your personal goals are, as far as eating is concerned!  What is something you’d like to try/cook/learn about? 

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {19}: Fridge and Freezer VLOG {Part 2}

As promised, here is the second part to my fridge/freezer vlog! 

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Again, remember that you are not going to see perfection here.  There are people waaaaay further down the clean eating line than me whose entire fridges are stocked with basically things they made themselves or grew in the garden.  I’m working my way up to that, but life is a balance. 

Hope you enjoy part two! 



A few clarifications (for part one and part two):

- Rachael Ray looks into people’s fridges, not their kitchens. Duh. :)

- When I said “if you’re going to buy one thing organic, buy spinach and lettuce,”  I was referring to organic produce as a whole.  I personally would choose to buy organic milk first as far as the whole realm of organic products is concerned. 

- Also, I ADORE my husband and I will happily tell the world that.  :) I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful to him when I was talking about the milk issue.  I hope that was clear.

- Spicy Black Bean Enchilada and Tuscan Veggie bake are the two Kashi entrees I really enjoy that I couldn’t think of off the top of my head.

- I just want to be clear that when I buy veggies in a steamer bag (like the corn) or when I buy the Kashi frozen entrees, I do not heat them in the microwave as indicated.  Really try to avoid heating plastic whenever possible (as in, never ever if you can help it); there are harmful chemicals in plastic that will be leached in to your food.  I just open the bag of veggies and put it in my steamer, or I pop out the frozen entrée and put it in a small frying pan with a little bit of water and cover it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {18}: Fridge and Freezer VLOG! {Part One}

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I finally did it!  I finally made a vlog. :) I’m definitely NOT  fan of watching myself on video (to put it mildly!), but I thought it would be a fun idea for you to see what’s in my fridge and freezer.  Oh, and guys?!  The original video was twenty-two minutes long.  Soooooo glad I found out about YouTube’s length policy after waiting SIX hours to upload that sucker.    Holy moly.  Thankfully my amazing husband was able to splice the video so you can view it in two parts now!  {First part is about 10 minutes; second part is about 12 or so. Apparently I have a lot to say! lol The second part will not be able to be viewed until tomorrow (which is Friday, depending on when you’re reading this). So check back for a second post then.}

Anyway, you will not see a perfectly clean fridge or freezer – far from it!  This is my real-life situation and the foods we’re currently eating.  And no, I didn’t have a chance to talk about everything in there, clearly.

Are you prepared for this?! lol  {Oh and yes, I look like a thug.  I explain that. :) }


A few clarifications (for part one and part two):

- Rachael Ray looks into people’s fridges, not their kitchens. Duh. :)

- When I said “if you’re going to buy one thing organic, buy spinach and lettuce,”  I was referring to organic produce as a whole.  I personally would choose to buy organic milk first as far as the whole realm of organic products is concerned.  

- Also, I ADORE my husband and I will happily tell the world that.  :) I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful to him when I was talking about the milk issue.  I hope that was clear. 

- Spicy Black Bean Enchilada and Tuscan Veggie bake are the two Kashi entrees I really enjoy that I couldn’t think of off the top of my head. 

- I just want to be clear that when I buy veggies in a steamer bag (like the corn) or when I buy the Kashi frozen entrees, I do not heat them in the microwave as indicated.  Really try to avoid heating plastic whenever possible (as in, never ever if you can help it); there are harmful chemicals in plastic that will be leached in to your food.  I just open the bag of veggies and put it in my steamer, or I pop out the frozen entrée and put it in a small frying pan with a little bit of water and cover it. 

I think that covers it!  :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {17}: Fats and Oils

Mmmmmm what an appetizing post title, right?  lol


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This post is going to be sorta bogus because I started half of this post this afternoon, when I had all sorts of nervous pent-up energy over our social worker coming to our house to discuss foster-care adoption.  I was typing up a storm.  The meeting went really well (tons more on that later), but I didn’t finish earlier and now it’s 10:37 and my head is about to hit the desk (yes, I’m 105 years old) and so what you’re gonna get is a way-too-short overview on what kind of cooking oil and fats to use that really shouldn’t count as an overview at all because it doesn’t do any of the topic justice and WOW I am tired.  Bear with me because only half of this was written when I was coherent and now I’ll be adding to it a little to help it make more sense, even though I shouldn’t be adding more in this state of mind.

Apparently I type very long, wordy sentences when I am tired?!  Also, I have no pictures because my camera died today and in all the excitement of the social worker coming I totally spaced on charging my battery.  Sorry.


When we talked about dairy and eggs, I told you a good keyword to look for was “pasteurized.”  Well when it comes to fats (specifically oils), some very important words to look for are “expeller-pressed” or “cold-pressed.”  The words are interchangeable so I’ll just be using the phrase “cold-pressed” here for the sake of typing.  These are your “golden ticket” phrases to look for when shopping. 

If an oil is NOT cold-pressed, it means that the oil has been extracted at high heat using a chemical called hexane, which is a by-product of petroleum.   Hexane is toxic, but it is routinely used in oil production because it is cheaper and faster than cold-pressing (literally squeezing the oils out, rather than extracting them).  Lovely, right?!

Additionally, you also need to be super careful about the oils you buy because odds are that most of the veggie oils in the supermarket are genetically modified (corn oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil can all fall under this category). 

Canola oil is really and truly not a good choice for you, although we’ve been led to believe that it is!  Saturated fats have been made out to be the enemy, but reality is that saturated fats break down much more slowly over heat (aka they are more “heat-stable”), so in reality they’re actually a better choice for you than a lot of unsaturated oils. 

Hear this: healthy fats are desperately needed by your body!  You don’t need to fear them, if you’re eating the right kinds.  Fats are nourishing and help your body complete countless functions each day.  You absolutely cannot survive and thrive without real, natural fats in your life. 

Oh and one more “hear this:”  margarine is really really really really really really reallllllllllllllllllllllly bad for you.  I have read about the processes they use to make margarine….believe me, it’s not something you want to put in your body.  Please don’t buy it!  (Butter tastes 1,000 times better anyway!)

Let’s keep going…

Every oil/cooking fat has something called a “flashpoint.”  The flashpoint is the point at which an oil can stand the heat – after that, it becomes carcinogenic (aka BAD for you).  Every oil’s flashpoint temperature is a little different, which is why certain oils should be heated and certain oils are much healthier for you when eaten cold.  I can’t possibly list every oil’s flashpoint here, so do a little research online to your favorite cooking oil and see where it lines up!

For more in-depth discussion of fats and oils, I definitely recommend Nina Planck’s book, Real Food: What to Eat and Why.  She has a great section that discusses this all in detail – I was planning to use many of her quotes that I typed up in this post…that is until our computer went up in smoke.    lol

Honestly, there is so much to say about fats and cooking that it really needs a more detailed post (and I will probably type out a second post in the future about it). 

For now, here’s what I personally use (but remember that I am learning all the time, as well!):

  • Butter *I hope to start using organic butter soon* (baking, sautéing)
  • Unrefined, extra-virgin, cold-pressed organic coconut oil (baking, occasional sautéing)
  • Expeller-pressed grapeseed oil (baking, sautéing, roasting)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (dressings, some sautéing)

I absolutely do NOT use any vegetable or canola oil *except* for the one bottle I keep in my house for the times when I have to make something for a family or church event and don’t want to use my expensive oils on that. 

Actually, I just realized that I do use canola oil pan spray sometimes for muffin tins/baking pans because it is SO much faster than personally oiling down each tin with butter (especially when you make as many mini muffins as I do!).  I would like to get one of those oil spritzers so I can use grapeseed oil instead of the canola spray. 

Again, there are about 20,874 more things that could be said about this…..but right now all I can think about is sleeeeeeeeeep. 


Goodnight!  And remember, fat is your friend. ;) Isn’t that a lovely thought?!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {16}: Autumn Salad

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OH my goodness do I have an awesome recipe for you today!  It has quickly moved up the ranks in our house to be one of our favorites. 

I originally found this recipe on the playground Pinterest, and since I really wanted to post it here, as well, I e-mailed the original poster, Madison from Espresso and Cream,  and she gave her permission to reprint it here.  Thanks so much, Madison! 

This salad could be a little on the pricier end, since it uses some ingredients that you might not normally have on hand.  I think it would be an AMAZING recipe for entertaining in the fall. 

This seriously covers all the flavor bases – crunchy, sweet, tangy, salty, you name it!  Mmmmmmmmmm it is SO good!  We had it for dinner last night and I just had the left-overs for lunch.  Delicious.

It’s not exactly clean…..sorta-clean-ish-kinda.  lol!  You can clean it up by buying organic produce, making sure your mix-ins don’t have any added chemicals or preservatives, using uncured, all-natural bacon, and using dressings that (although they have sugar!) don’t have anything artificial in them.  (There are a lot of scary salad dressings out there, people!) 

I would consider this a clean treat, so-to-speak.  Something I’m definitely not going to eat every day, but something that still doesn’t make me feel gross inside when I do eat it. 

I don’t even have to say “enjoy” because I already know that you will. ;)


Autumn Salad
{adapted from}

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6 to 8 cups chopped {organic!} romaine lettuce
2 medium pears, chopped
dried cranberries
slivered almonds
8 slices uncured, thick-cut bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
crumbled feta cheese feta cheese

3/4 C poppyseed salad dressing (I used Old Cape Cod brand)
1/4 C balsamic vinaigrette (I used Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette)

Place lettuce on plates and top with desired amount of toppings.  Combine dressings and whisk together.  Drizzle on top of salads.  



Linked to these parties:
Tasty Tuesday @ Beauty and Bedlam
Tasty Tuesdays @ 33 Shades of Green

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {15}: What to Do When Your Best Efforts Fail

After my post yesterday about snack foods (and kids, specifically), I just wanted to share from my heart about my own struggles with my son, Luke, who turned 2 in July. 

I am no psychologist, so I have no real way of explaining my son other than to share what happened in our lives and what I know about him now. 

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that we moved last August (2010) from Pennsylvania to Connecticut.  Luke was 13 months old when we moved.  Within 24 hours of moving in with my parents, he gave up basically all meat and vegetables.  My son, who previously would happily gobble up anything and everything we placed in front of him, suddenly turned into a terror at mealtime.  Food became a battle, textures became super scary, and many, many, many tears were shed at mealtime (by all 3 of us). 

I thought I had it bad then. 

Fast forward to 9 months and 1 day later (oh yes, I counted), when we were finally able to close on our new house here and move out from living with my parents.   My son, bless his heart, was basically sad for about a week.  He cried a lot and it was hard to make him smile. We had just uprooted his living situation again, and this time we’d taken him away from his Nanny and Poppy and Uncle Josh, to boot.  Thankfully some friends came to visit us not long after we moved, and he was happy to see them and has been back to his happy-go-lucky self ever since. 

But he now no longer eats any form of eggs, yogurt, or applesauce, either.  And mealtimes are still super stress-inducing for me.  Our son frequently gags up food, gets terrified of new textures (this extends to textures he touches as well as textures he eats), and screams in literal fear when we even put a new food on his plate (not even asking him to eat it – just to look at it, as the child food experts say to do). 

I have a very, very, very limited selection of foods that I can feed my son.  We have tried EVERYTHING.  Seriously.  All the tricks that well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) friends and family have shared with us, we’ve done them.  To no avail.

The bottom line is, I cannot force my sweet boy to eat anything.  Anyone who tells you differently has either never had children or abuses their children (and yes, I’m being serious). 

We have actually tried to put bites of food in Luke’s mouth, thinking that if we just pop a new food in, he will be delighted with how good it tastes and realize that he does want to eat it (ha!).  Our intentions were sincere and loving, but it only resulted in gagging and more screaming and tears. 

He is still too young to understand most cause and effect situations when they’re not immediate, so the whole “just take one bite and then you can have xyz” approach doesn’t work AT ALL with him. 

We’ve tried every trick in the book, and not one of them work for our family.  (Although he does have an appointment on Thursday with his doctor to talk about the gagging and see if there is something there that can be helped, since he gags on food all the time, even food he loves.)

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  Because for a long time, I felt alone.  I feel like everywhere I go, I see kids blissfully eating whatever their parents place before them, or easily trying new foods at a restaurant.  Many times, I feel like the only mom I know who has to bring her child special food or else he won’t eat a thing, since new foods are terrifying to him and not exciting. 

Until two weeks ago, Chris and I had literally never met parents struggling with food to this degree with their children.  We had dinner at a family's house from our church.  They shared how their 3-year-old son has severe food and texture and gagging issues, as well.  Only recently has he understood that if he doesn’t eat what’s on his plate, there are no {healthy} snacks to be had later.  Even now, they still have to compromise with him because of his texture issues and fear of food.  He must simply put one bite of a new food in his mouth, and he’s allowed to spit it out if it’s too overwhelming to him or he doesn’t like it. 

He is a sweet, smart, hilariously cute little boy.  He’s just scared of new food, like my son.   His parents are intelligent and kind.  I seriously wanted to bawl my eyes out at their dinner table - here were normal, loving, healthy-food-eating parents who were going through THE EXACT same issue that we are. 

It’s impossible for me to not associate Luke’s two moves as a 1-year-old with his big issues with food.  I know a lot of child psychologists say that food is the one area of life that toddlers feel they can control, and when we up and moved our boy two times, I can see (although again, I don’t claim to be a psychologist) how throwing his life upside down might lead him to stress out big time about the food choices that are before him. 

This is an on-going, daily struggle in our house.  I cry quite frequently about it.  And I literally cried the other day when Luke ate one pea and one chopped piece of cooked carrot and tried an apple (although he gagged the whole thing up)…..because those were the first new foods he has tried in over 14 months. 

The only thing I can do is continually let him “look” at new foods on my plate (putting them on his plate makes him cry and sob so much that he then doesn’t want to eat the food that is on his plate already).  We try to make sure that the food he eats is of the best quality we can give him….whole grains, organic milk, organic fruits, etc. 

And honestly, when my son wants to try ANYTHING new, even if it’s not a healthy food, I encourage it, because that is earth-shattering for him. We make a ridiculously big deal out of him putting anything new into his mouth. 

So I guess I just wanted to end with two things: if you’re a mom (or dad!) of a kid with food issues, take heart.  I certainly do NOT have all the answers (or any answers at all, really), but I feel for what you’re going through.  I understand the embarrassment you feel at times, and the fear, and the just plain frustration of having to make special menu items on a daily basis.  You are not alone!  I pray frequently about this, and I encourage you to pray for your child and that the situation would change (and I am happy to pray for your little one, as well). 

Second, if you ARE blessed with a child who eats well (or if you don’t have kids yet and think you know all the answers, lol), try to show grace to those of us who do struggle with this.  (Although if you see a kid eating only twinkies and soda all day, feel free to judge. haha) But seriously, try not to assume you know what’s going on in a family.  Sometimes moms and dads struggle with all their hearts to change their child’s eating habits, and nothing works.  They’re not being lazy, or ignorant, or unconcerned with spoiling their child.  It’s hard and humiliating enough to be in their shoes without having to deal with little comments or “looks” from others. 

I read a great quote on a website that said something like, “You can’t control what your child chooses to eat, but you CAN control the food that is set before them.” 

If you’re dealing with a child (or children!) with food and texture issues like Luke, do your best to present that child with the best choices you possibly can.  That’s really all any of us in this situation can do. 

And feel free to e-mail me on the days you want to pull your hair out. :)


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {14}: Snacks & “Popcorn in a Bag” Recipe

I think one of the most important things you can do for the health of your family is to stop buying processed foods and snacks. 

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It drives me crazy, as a former elementary teacher, a mother, and just a human being to see the marketing that goes into so many icky snacks for kids.  Even Luke (who’s only 2!) falls prey to it – I’ll be pushing him around the store in the carriage, engrossed in my shopping list, and all of sudden he’ll get super excited and yell “George!” or “Cars!” and point to a brightly colored box, smack-dab in the middle of the shelf.   He’s actually cried before when I have to tell him “no” – and he doesn’t even know or care what’s inside the box!

I used to want to scream when I’d walk around school for my lunch duty and see kids eating cheez-in-a-can on crackers, or giant bags of Doritos, or those small, round, plastic bottles of colored juice/water for lunch.  Believe me when I say that those kids are NOT the kids who stay super-focused on their work when they get back to class.  

{And then there was one girl who would literally come in with spinach salad with vinaigrette, sliced fruit, and veggies and dip.  I wanted to give her mom a big high-five! lol}

BELIEVE ME, if you’ve been buying not-so-great snacks for your kids, I have complete compassion for what you might be about to go through when you pull the plug.  Seriously.  Our government has done a deplorable job of regulating what is allowed to be sold as food and what shouldn’t be seen outside of a laboratory.  But at the end of the day, we are the only ones who are responsible for what we decide to eat. 

So…you know what you need to do, right? ;)

Start looking through your pantry and cupboards – take out anything that has an artificial color in it (things like Red 40, etc.).  Take out anything that has preservatives in it, and anything that has “artificial flavor” on it as well.  Remove anything that has MSG or autolyzed yeast extract or hydrolyzed protein in it (all code names for flavor additives).  If it has high fructose corn syrup in it, remove that, too.  Working through this list is a great start to cleaning up your snack cabinet! 

If you’re left with anything, hooray!  :)  And if not one thing is left, well….that’s why you’re reading this post tonight. lol

Start with changing one snack at a time…..then one more snack….then another, and another.  One day you will open that cupboard and realize that you can pronounce every single ingredient on every single item – and not one of them will make your kids hyperactive or their tongues turn blue. ;)

Here’s a list of what we snack on in our house (most of our snacks would be considered “whole” foods but not necessarily “clean” yet – if you’re confused about the difference, feel free to ask in the comments or e-mail me!):

Homemade trail mix  (cranberries, dried fruit, raisins, assorted nuts and seeds, and  chocolate chips) {just check the labels on the nuts and dried fruits; a lot of them have icky additives}

Popcorn in a bag {see below!}


Peanut butter sandwiches or PB-crackers



Homemade baked goods (muffins, banana breads, etc.)

Cheese and crackers

Veggies and homemade dip {my personal fave}


Annie’s snack products (my son loves the cheddar bunnies)

Kashi products (we love their oatmeal cookies, crackers, and cereals)


Again, please hear me when I say that we are not perfect!  My husband LOVES the Keebler Grasshopper cookies (like Thin Mints), so when they are on sale, I buy them for him.  And all summer long we had marshmallows in the cupboard because you know what?  We like marshmallows over a campfire in the backyard.  :)  It’s okay to make small compromises like that.  We are all human.  

But overall, strive to have the healthiest snacks that you can on a regular basis.  You’ll feel so much better, I promise. 

What do you snack on at your house? Please share - I’m always up for new ideas!


Popcorn in a Bag
{from Food Matters by Mark Bittman}

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Place 1/4 C popcorn kernels and a few shakes of salt in a brown paper bag.  Fold the top of the bag over and place in microwave; press the “Popcorn” button.  Remove when the pops are more than a few seconds apart.  (Watch for the steam when you open the bag!)

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Eat plain or top with anything you like; I personally like mine with a little melted butter, salt, chili powder, and parmesan cheese (although I learned after my Spaghetti Dinner Overhaul post, thanks to my friend Erin, that my parmesan cheese had preservatives in it!  So sad.  I will survive…somehow. :)

Don’t forget to recycle the brown bag when you're finished!  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It’s Coming!

I want to be a blogger who keeps her word (sounds corny, I know, but I mean it!).  Sorry about the post I promised about clean snack foods yesterday.  I’ve had a busy weekend and I’m home for just a bit between two events today – and laundry and family time are taking precedence.  :)  I will have that post up sometime before Monday morning!  Hope you all are enjoying your weekend so far!  God has given us a seriously beautiful autumn in CT this year and I am so thankful for it. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {13}: Taco Dinner Overhaul

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a post about clean and healthy snack options, but I wanted to do one more post like yesterday’s where I do an overhaul to a typical American dinner.  Today we’re all about tacos.  YUM. 

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I can’t say that I’ve ever been unhappy when the menu includes Mexican food – anyone else relate? :)  That said, when we went to Mexico on our honeymoon, I was surprised to find that the food is not nearly as spicy as we make it up here.  Well, spicy or not, when mama has Mexican she is a happy camper. ;)

So let’s start again with a typical taco night:

Feedlot beef
Taco seasoning with fillers and preservatives
Taco shells or tortillas loaded with genetically-modified corn and preservatives

Sour cream
Shredded lettuce

Pretty typical, right? Give or take a few things like guacamole, olives, and beans depending on the family.

Let’s clean it up!

1. Feedlot beef

We talked about this yesterday, but it’s worth repeating: if you can’t buy quality beef, don’t buy it.  There’s a couple of ways around this:  either buy the good stuff and don’t have tacos that often, or you can also stretch the beef with beans in the skillet (which is budget and health friendly).  I personally like to add chopped onion to my taco meat, as well. 

2. Taco seasoning

I bought packets of taco seasoning for years and never thought twice about it.  Those suckers have some really unhealthy things in them:  

{clearly, my source is Amazon}

The ingredient list, taken right from Amazon's website: contains partially-hydrogenated oil, MSG, and TWO preservatives. 


I’ll give you the recipe for homemade taco seasoning at the bottom.  It’s delicious and you can keep it pre-mixed in your pantry if you want to!

3.  Preservative-laden tortillas and taco shells

Remember, when you buy plain corn or something with corn in it, you can basically bet your life that it’s been genetically modified, unless it’s labeled as organic.  Additionally, the last time I looked at crispy taco shells in the store, they were all packed with TBHQ (a preservative).  Gross.  Here's the ingredient list of a famous soft tortilla brand (click picture to enlarge):

Icky.  Your body is too good for that! :)  Last week I re-posted a super-easy and delicious tortilla recipe.  If you don’t have time to make homemade tortillas, make taco salads instead!  You can top the salads with broken tortilla chips (I bought a fairly large bag of Archer Farms organic tortilla chips – no GMOs! – at Target yesterday for $2.99.  To me, that’s a great price. ) 

4.  Salsa

Every so often, I am lucky to find organic salsa on sale for the price (or even cheaper!) of regular salsa.  (Local friends: “Nature’s Promise” by Stop & Shop.)  I don’t stress too much about this, since thankfully salsa seems to be made with pretty much whole ingredients (at least the brands I buy).   Organic is a plus, but since tomatoes aren’t on the Dirty Dozen list, it’s not too big of a deal to me.

5.  Sour Cream and Cheese

Again, I shared that I haven’t switched all my dairy over to organic yet – just my milk, yogurt and eggs.  This is such a crapshoot for me because I read in one of Jillian Michaels’ books (I believe it was Master Your Metabolism?)that the fat is where the pesticides reside in an animal – so avoid full-fat dairy products when you’re eating non-organic.  Jillian Michaels 'Master Your Metabolism' Book (Hardback)However, reduced-and fat-free dairy products tend to be loaded with junk and fillers (sour cream included) so I usually just buy whole-fat sour cream.  Honestly, this type of stuff could drive you bonkers!  I tend to see it like this:  unless they’re organic, even the lower-fat versions have pesticides in them, plus they have fillers.  At least the full-fat versions are whole foods, even though they have pesticides as well.  Depressing, right?!  Cheeses and other dairy products are the next big area I’ll be working on in my own life. 

6.  Shredded lettuce and tomatoes

Do your best to always buy organic lettuce, and remember, when it comes to greens, the darker the better!  If you can’t find or afford organic tomatoes, at least try to wash them thoroughly. 


Okay, so let’s look at our cleaned-up taco night!

Grass-fed beef (with or without beans for filler!)
Homemade taco seasoning (recipe below)
Homemade tortillas

All-natural salsa (organic is a bonus!)
Full-fat sour cream and cheese (preferably organic, but you might be like me and have a hard time finding this)
Organic lettuce
Thoroughly washed tomatoes (organic is a bonus!)

That looks a lot more appetizing, doesn’t it?  I’m totally starving now.  lol

What do YOU think about the full-fat/reduced-fat debate?  I’m curious to know what you do in your own house. 




Homemade Taco Seasoning*

1 tsp. of each of the following:

garlic powder
onion powder
sea salt
chili powder

Use as you would a normal packet of taco seasoning!

*I usually am good about writing down my source for things but this one I just jotted down and don’t currently have the source for – if it was you, let me know! haha

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {12}: Spaghetti Dinner Overhaul

One of my favorite magazines is Redbook, and thanks to one of the deal blogs that I read, I was able to snag a free subscription a few months ago! Besides the fact that I actually really like the magazine, it’s also just so nice to have something other than bills and junk mail in your mailbox, isn’t it?!

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{Click here to see the other posts in this series.}

One of the neat things they do each month is take a typical (very high-calorie) restaurant meal, tweak it, and make it something you can make at home and for a lot less calories.

That’s kinda what I’m going to do today, except with a common American dinner: spaghetti. We’re gonna clean it up, step-by-step, and hopefully get your creative juices flowing with ways that you can make changes in your own dinner menus.

I feel pretty confident that most of us have spaghetti nights with at least some frequency, right?

Let’s take a typical American spaghetti-night menu:

Jarred sauce
Feedlot meat of some kind (either in the sauce or meatballs)
White pasta
Jarred parmesan cheese

Salad of iceberg lettuce and maybe some other raw veggies
Store-bought dressings; maybe Italian?

Frozen garlic bread, cooked at home in the oven

Sounds pretty standard to me! Maybe this is what you actually had for dinner tonight! lol I think a lot of people serve this with confidence, because you’re hitting a lot of the food groups with a meal that almost anyone would eat.

However, there’s a lot of room for improvement here! Let’s break it down, one by one.

1. Jarred sauce: Look for brands that don’t have anything artificial in them and preferably ones with low amounts of sugar. (If you can’t pronounce it, that’s usually - but not always - a bad sign.) I personally buy either Newman’s Own or Francesco Rinaldi’s “ToBe” line (I stock up when there’s a sale!).


I am part Italian but yes, I buy jarred sauce. I’d rather be blogging than making homemade sauce! haha

2. Feedlot Meat: My advice is that if you can’t currently afford to buy good-quality meat, just don’t add it. Spaghetti is so filling, I promise you won’t miss it! I rarely, if ever, make spaghetti with meat. Sometimes I will add maybe half a pound of grass-fed ground beef, just to add to the flavor. Meatballs are a rare treat here because of the expense.

3. White pasta: Start with a brand that is half whole-wheat (Barilla makes this in an orange box), and then switch over to all whole-wheat.


Personally, I think angel hair is a good transition pasta since it’s so thin anyway and the denseness isn’t noticed as much.

4. Jarred parmesan: Yup, I still buy this. Very convenient. Remember, I still don’t eat organic cheeses. I’m working on it. :)

5. Iceberg lettuce salad: Remember, I would encourage you to buy organic lettuce and spinach - they get contaminated very easily! Go half-and-half at first and then try to switch completely over to dark greens. The darker the green, the better for you!

6. Store-bought dressings: It is shocking to me how much junk is in regular dressings! Stop and look at the labels next time you go to the store – or open your fridge door!

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I bet you will find lots of ingredients that you can’t pronounce! It’s crazy. Try making your own dressing or looking for brands with better ingredients, such as Newman’s Own (buy on sale; it can be pricy!).

7. Garlic bread: In my humble opinion, you don’t really need the garlic bread. Carbs served with more carbs doesn’t really make sense to me. :)
BUT, it is a nice treat sometimes. Want to know a ghetto version of making garlic bread? All-natural, whole-wheat hamburger buns. Toast for a few minutes in the toaster. Lay out on a cookie sheet. Top each half with melted butter, shredded mozzarella, garlic powder, and a little Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Broil in the oven until the cheese melts. There you go. :)

So let’s look at our cleaned-up dinner, shall we? This is basically how spaghetti night looks in my house. It’s not a perfect dinner, but it’s a big improvement on the first one!

All-natural jarred sauce (organic is a plus but don’t stress!)
Whole-wheat pasta
Jarred parmesan cheese ;)

Organic romaine/spinach topped with a variety of raw veggies
Homemade dressing or all-natural store bought

Ghetto garlic bread (haha) or none at all

Remember, friends, this is A JOURNEY. If you served dinner tonight that looked a lot like the first one I described, don’t worry, we can still be friends. (hahaha!) But seriously, take it one day or week at a time!

If it takes you 3 months from start to finish, so be it.

Personally, I would probably take out the meat first (or clean it up!), then the organic/darker lettuce, then the pasta, then the rest. Don’t change all at once unless you want to feel like a crazy woman.

Repeat after me: one day at a time. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {11}: Cream of *Anything* Soup Recipe

I’m going to share a recipe today that will hopefully help a lot of you that have started the clean foods journey and have been looking for a way to keep cooking your recipes that require cream of _______ soup. 

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{Click here to see the other posts in this series.}

This recipe is a life-saver!  My friend Lindsay found it for me and passed it on, and I’m so glad she did. 

I mentioned before that we are able to get grass-fed beef from my husband’s uncle, who raises cattle.  I love putting a roast in the crockpot in the morning and letting the house smell good and then getting to enjoy it that evening! 

My standard way of cooking roast, back in the good ol’ days, was to douse it with cream of mushroom soup, then sprinkle onion soup mix on top.  Well, in case you haven’t looked lately, those two food items aren’t exactly on the top of anyone’s clean foods list.  Icky fillers, unpronounceable chemicals, and MSG, to name just a few reasons to dislike them. 

However……the taste?  On a roast?  SO good. 

So I was thrilled when Lindsay shared this recipe with me.  I actually make mine plain – as in, I don’t sauté bits of mushrooms or celery to add to it.  For me, the roast is enough of a flavor – I just want that extra thickness that helps make the gravy so good!  Feel free to experiment though! 

Don’t you just love foods that have 5 ingredients or less?!

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First, melt butter in a saucepan. 

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Whisk in flour and stir vigorously. 

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Remove from heat and add milk, salt, and pepper.

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Return to heat and stir until thickened.  (Also? How does the Pioneer Woman do it?!  It’s SO hard to cook and take pictures!)

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Dump on top of your roast – and enjoy! :)

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Cream of Anything Soup {Printable Version}

2 T butter
2 T flour
1 C milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

In heavy saucepan, melt butter.  Sprinkle in flour and stir to incorporate.  Cook over medium-low for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Slowly whisk in milk (remove from heat to do it).  Add salt and pepper.  Return to heat and allow to bubble and thicken, again stirring constantly.  Can use in a recipe immediately or store in fridge for later use. 

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I doubled it this time so I have an extra on hand!  (Keep it in the fridge, obviously.)  I just make mine plain because I really only use it for roasts – like I said, I just like the thickness it adds to gravy.  But you can totally add other flavors as needed! 

Hope this helps someone else as much as it helped me! :)


Linked to these parties:
Tuesday @ Beauty and Bedlam
Tasty Tuesdays @ 33 Shades of Green

Monday, October 17, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {10}: Do ONE Thing.

{For all of you who couldn’t sleep all weekend because you were going to get to watch a video of me today (ha!) I’m postponing it til next week for a variety of reasons.  Sorry!}

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Today’s post is short and sweet. 

We’ve been talking about clean eating for about 18 years 2 weeks now. 

We’re halfway through our month, and I have a challenge for you. 

The challenge is for you to make ONE significant, not-going-back change in your diet, TODAY. 

Maybe you will finally stop putting Splenda in  your coffee and replace it with sugar instead (white sugar isn’t exactly a health food, but it’s better than the chemical mix you’re currently eating).  And I promise you won’t die or get fat when you switch over (I’ve been there!).  Honest.

Maybe today you will go to the store and buy organic milk for the first time. 

Maybe today you will decide to start buying natural peanut butter instead of the regular stuff (I promise when you make your kids PB&J they will never notice the difference once all the jelly is slathered on). 

Maybe today you will pick up that loaf of wheat bread instead of your usual white.

Maybe today is the day you finally stop buying that super sugary multi-colored cereal that you’ve always felt a little guilty about anyway.  

Maybe today you stop buying the Aunt Jemima and pay for that bottle of real maple syrup. 

Maybe today you make the choice to buy the more expensive meat, because you know it’s in the best interest of your body, your family, and the world. 

I challenge you to make that ONE change – and don’t look back! 

What’s ONE thing – small or big - that you can do TODAY towards your goal of cleaner eating?

To see the other posts in this series, click here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {9}: 2 Weeks of Menus {Part Two}

Well, since Part One of this post was such a ROUSING success, (hahaha) I figured I would just keep going!  (Honestly, I did want to pop on and give you the next two weeks of menus since I told you that I would yesterday.) 

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Please, all, try to contain your excitement…since clearly by the plethora of comments this is thrilling each and every one of you. ;)

Same “rules” apply!

Week Three

Sunday – Breakfast for Dinner! (Best-Ever pancakes, eggs, and bacon)

Monday – Cajun*-rubbed, grilled salmon
Chipotle-Lime* rice
Mixed steamed veggies

Tuesday – Round Roast in crockpot
Brown rice with gravy
Steamed broccoli topped with parmesan cheese,
Garlic Grapeseed Oil* and California Garlic Pepper Blend*

Wednesday – Italian Pasta & Bean Soup {Woman’s Day; Oct. 2011}
Cheese and Crackers

Thursday – Monday: college reunion in Ohio


Week Four

Tuesday – Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce {All You; Sept. 2011}
Spinach-Cuke-Feta Toss with Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette

Wednesday – Broccoli Cheese Soup that was SO bad I had to throw it out- we bought grinders instead! ha!

Thursday – Crockpot Salsa Chicken
Homemade Tortillas
Organic corn

Friday – Alfredo Bake (whole-wheat elbows, Alfredo Extraordinaire*, and cooked bacon pieces, topped with bread crumbs and baked 

Saturday – Birthday dinner for friend at a restaurant

Sunday – Invited over to dinner by a  couple from church


There you go! :)

If all goes well, I should be back on Monday with a VLOG!  Fun times. :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {8}: 2 Weeks of Menus {Part One}

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For the last four weeks, I’ve written down every dinner we’ve eaten at our house, exactly as they happened.  I wanted to give you a peek into what a regular family might eat on a daily basis.  Most are clean, some are not, and other times you’ll notice that we ate out or were invited over to someone’s house (keeping it real!). 

Unfortunately, since my computer (um, literally) went up in smoke last week, I temporarily don’t have a lot of the pictures of the meals that I prepared.  So this post is going to be a little balder than I planned. :) But that’s okay, I’m sure you all have lovely imaginations and can work your way through it. 

I’ve provided links where I can (if I got the recipe off the internet).  Some of them I’ve found via Pinterest (you can follow my Clean Eating and Recipes board if you’re not already doing so to see when I post new things!). 

Three things to note:

1.  So you don’t get annoyed by a zillion asterisks, assume that our food is the way I’ve been describing healthy food to be over the past two weeks.  So if I post about chicken, it’s veggie-fed and hormone-and antibiotic-free, if I post about fish, it’s wild-caught, etc., etc. 

2.  I pretty much tweaked every single one of these recipes.  I’m not posting the modifications I made under each one; please feel free to comment if you’d like to know how I changed it and I will happily answer you in the comment section. 

3.  Some of the recipes were made using ingredients from my company, Wildtree.  It was kind-of a fine line because I want to keep eating and experimenting with the products so I can learn more about them, but I also didn’t want to alienate those of you who don’t have all those products available to you, either.  I tried to find a good balance between being a good blogger and a good representative. :) If it has an asterisk, that means it’s a Wildtree product.   (P.S. If anyone is interested in purchasing any of these products, by all means feel free to message me at jessicawildtreerep{at}gmail{dot}com.  I just don’t feel comfortable stating my last name on my blog. :)

Here we go! :)

Week One

Sunday – Meatless Lasagna (using the recipe on the back of the Healthy Harvest box, below)
Cucumber/Spinach/Feta tossed with Garlic Grapeseed Oil* and Garlic Galore Seasoning Blend*


Monday – BBQ Chicken Drumsticks in the Crockpot (the sauce is definitely not clean! haha)
Organic corn
Alexia Organic Fries (frozen foods section)

Tuesday – Hamburger-Vegetable Soup topped with whole-wheat Saltines and shredded cheddar cheese
Best Bread Machine Bread topped with Wildly Blueberry Jam*


Wednesday – Roast Beef Melts & Baby Carrots

Thursday – Stir-fry veggies (frozen foods section) tossed with Pacific Fusion Sauce*  over brown rice

Friday – Five Guys (my husband’s pick for his b-day!)

Saturday – Engagement Dinner for my brother at a restaurant

Week Two

Sunday – Picnic food at my parents’ house; my mom cooked (I didn’t have to cook for 3 straight nights! Awesome.)

Monday – Lasagna (I froze half the pan from last week and thawed it out)
Salad topped with Caesar Dressing*

Tuesday – Salsa, Chicken, and Black Bean Soup topped with crushed tortillas, sour cream, and cheddar cheese


Wednesday Autumn Salad (highly recommend!!)
Best Bread Machine Bread


Thursday – Pan-Seared Flounder
Leftover Alexia Fries
Steamed broccoli tossed with Garlic Grapeseed Oil*, California Style Garlic Pepper Blend*, and parmesan cheese

Friday – Steak Tips sautéed with Rancher Steak Rub* and Garlic Grapeseed Oil*
Caesar salad* (leftover dressing!)
Sautéed mushrooms

Saturday – Family BBQ (I brought two Wildtree products; Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Hot Chili Pepper and Garlic Dip with crackers)


Tomorrow I’ll be back with two more weeks of recipes!  Please don’t hesitate to ask about any of the recipes…especially the bean soup. ;)

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {7}: Dairy and Eggs

If there’s one thing I want you to remember from this post, it’s the word “pastured.”  Because when it comes to dairy and eggs (and meats, for that matter), that word is like gold. 

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Pastured means that cows and chickens are doing what they’re supposed to do:  grazing around, getting fresh air and exercise, and eating the food they were designed by God to eat. 

Pastured is good – both for animals and for you and your family. 


Of course, that word is often elusive in the grocery store and almost always means your product will be more expensive. 

But it’s worth it. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Vote with your food dollars?”  It means that if you believe in a  concept, like organic food, put your money where your mouth is and pay (aka “vote”) for that better product. 

At my local grocery store, the organic store-brand half-and-half is $1.99.  It sits right next to the Organic Valley half-and-half, which is pastured, and sells for $2.99. 

It kinda kills me a little each time I buy it that I could be saving a dollar.  (Some of you are like, “A dollar?  Who cares?!” and I’m sure others of you are horrified that I spend that much on creamer. lol)

But I’ve had a shift in my thinking about this.  Because I want Organic Valley to thrive.  I want them to make so much money that they can buy more pasture, and have more happy cows, so that I can get more of my clean half-and-half. 

If nobody buys the pastured half-and-half, and nobody votes with their food dollars, then eventually Organic Valley will go out of business…and we, as consumers, will be left with less choices. 

You guys, I’m not a millionaire.  I’m certainly not rich.  I’m probably barely in the middle class!  lol

But don’t you want a future where the next generation has access to affordable organic foods?  I sure do.  We have to do our part now, however small that might be, to show the small companies (and the big companies!) what is important to us. 

Here’s an interesting quote I found: “In 2008, a study by Newcastle University in the UK, published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, found that organic grazing cows produced milk with higher content of fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins as compared to conventional cows that were fed grains and were kept indoors.” {source} 

Let me caution you to be aware that just because a food is labeled organic does not mean it is a) necessarily healthy for you (there’s a lot of organic junk food out there!) or that b) the animals are being raised the way that God designed. 

Organic milk, unless it says “pasture-raised”, does not necessarily mean that the cows are eating grass as they should be.  It can just mean that they’re getting fed non-GMO, non-pesticide corn…in a feedlot. 

For this reason, I always buy Stonyfield products, because they are a New England-based company (which, for me, is “local”), and they are the only major brand I’ve found that tells you that their cows are pastured. 



Believe me, if a product is pastured, that company wants you to know (because it cost them more!) and they WILL tell you on the label. 



(Ideally, you want cows that graze during the growing season and then are also fed hay in the winter.  But this is the best I can find so far in my area.)

You might not be able to find pastured eggs near where you live.  I am so thankful to live just a short drive from a farm where I can see those chickens pecking their little hearts out in a big old open field of grass. 


My eggs even come with HAY on them sometimes.  (I kinda love this.)  I pay $4 a dozen for these babies…..but they’re worth every delicious, deep-golden yolk.  (And the peace of mind that they most likely will never give me salmonella poisoning, since they’re  not standing in inches of their own poop all day long. BONUS!) I have talked to this farmer personally at the farmer’s market and when I see him at the farm.  I love knowing that he’s doing something good for the environment – and I’m happy to give him my money. :)



Veering on the other end of the spectrum from pastured animals, I can’t stress enough how really, really, reeeeealllllllly icky regular cow’s milk is for you. 

Remember when I talked about meats and mentioned how the animals were treated all day?  The same goes for dairy cows. 

Regular (as in non-organic) dairy cows are fed genetically-modified, pesticide-laden corn, which makes them super sick, since cows are called “ruminants” – meaning God only designed them to eat grasses.  The cows, since they are sick all the time, need to be treated frequently with antibiotics to clear up the infection they never should have had in the first place.   Many cows are additionally often given artificial hormones to increase milk production; some are milked as often as THREE TIMES a day. 

So here’s another bottom line for you:  when you drink regular milk, you’re ingesting an antibiotic, hormone, pesticide, GMO, corn-laden drink.  

Appetizing, no? 


So let’s break down the better and good list for the final time, although this time I’m going to break it down into three categories:

Best: Raw pastured milk*
Better: Organic pastured milk
Good: Organic milk

Honestly, I can’t in good conscience advocate anyone drinking non-organic milk, especially at the rate most of us drink it.  It’s just that bad for you. 


Best: Pastured
Better: Organic
Good: Vegetarian-fed (this is a bare-minimum requirement)

Please, please, please don’t ever buy eggs that don’t meet at least one of those three criteria! (Otherwise they’re fed ground-up animal parts, and that’s just really, really gross.)


*Again, this got so long that I had to cut out huge parts of the discussion.   There are many people who claim that pasteurization kills crucial elements inside milk and that it is actually detrimental to it.  Personally, any texture other than skim milk makes me want to gag, so although I believe that these findings are correct, I can’t wrap my brain around drinking thick, whole milk (since raw milk doesn’t come in skim, haha).  On a chemical level, though, you do absorb more nutrients when you ingest fat with the milk.  My husband claims that skim milk isn’t even milk at all. lol  I am working on it! First I need to get up the courage to drink 1%.  :)

You guys, please don’t walk away from this thinking that I’m a perfect eater.  I’m definitely not.  I don’t buy pastured (or even organic!!) butter or cheese.  I’ve honestly never seen organic cheese in the grocery store, and the organic butter is about 6 or 7 dollars a pound.   I am a work in progress, just like all of you. :)


I’d love to know: do you have any options for pastured milk or eggs where you live?  What about butter and cheese?  What do you always buy organic, and what areas do you have to still make changes in (like me)? Remember, I am always more than happy to answer any questions you might have!

Monday, October 10, 2011

31 Days to a Cleaner Diet {6}: Crockpot Salsa Chicken and Easy Homemade Tortillas

Oh my word, you guys.  This recipe?  LIFE-CHANGING.  I promise you will love it (I mean, assuming you already love Mexican food).  And if you don’t love Mexican food, well……my brain doesn’t know how to process that information.  ;)

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Seriously, it  Unfortunately I can’t credit anyone for the chicken recipe, because I got it years ago when I was pregnant and on the boards of  Someone put out a call for easy dinners, someone else suggested this, and the rest was history. 

One pot, whole foods, super simple, easy cleanup, totally delicious dinner?!  I’M IN. 

You’re gonna thank me later. ;)


Crockpot Salsa Chicken {Printable Version}
4 chicken breasts, fresh OR frozen
1 can black beans or kidney beans, undrained
2 C chunky salsa
Salt, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper to taste 

Place chicken in the bottom of the crockpot and pour beans and salsa on top.  Cook on low for 4 hours. {If you want to use fresh chicken, cook on high for 2 hours.} Remove chicken to a plate and shred; return to crockpot and stir.  Add all, some, or none of the spices (I’d say I do about 1/2 tsp of each, maybe?).  Serve over rice or in homemade tortillas (recipe below). 

Oh, and try as hard as you can not to rub your face in the crockpot bowl.   :) (You think I’m kidding…)

*I originally was going to serve (organic) steamed corn as a side with this, but I decided to just dump it in with everything else, which is why you see it in the picture.


Easy Homemade Tortillas {Printable Version}
{Adapted from The Happy Housewife}

I actually posted these once before, but I’m just typing it out here for your convenience (clicking on the link will give you more detailed pictures and explanation).  Call it one-stop shopping. :)

2 C unbleached white flour**
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 T butter, softened
3/4 C warm water

Preheat griddle to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter. Gradually add water and mix until a smooth dough is formed.  If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour.  Roll dough into 1 1/2 – 2 inch balls.  Set on a plate and cover.  Let rest for 10 minutes.  Roll tortillas into a circle, as thin or thick as you’d like.  {Avoid using too much flour when rolling them out; you don’t want the tortilla to get gritty.}  Place tortillas on griddle and cook until the tortillas look white or start to bubble a little (it’s hard to explain but you’ll notice the change – and if you don’t, it’s not like you’re cooking raw eggs so it’s not gonna kill you!  You’ll figure it out. ;)  Flip and repeat. 

Makes about 10 tortillas.

These are super chewy and DELICIOUS.  The flavor is very mild, which is a good thing – you want the filling to be the star here. 

You will love them, I promise. 

Enjoy your Mexican dinner! :)

**As I mentioned yesterday, there are sometimes when I do cook with white flour.  I experimented with wheat flour with these, and they were horrible.  If you have success with whole wheat, though, let me know!   Compared to the ingredient list of the ones you’d buy in the store, you’re still coming out way, way ahead.

Linked to these parties:
Tuesday @ Beauty and Bedlam
Tasty Tuesdays @ 33 Shades of Green
Crockpot Party @ Just a Girl