Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Getting started with snacks

Ordinarily Monday is my grocery shopping day. But this past Monday was a very rainy day, and there wasn't anything I was in dire need of, so, I decided to bake instead. First items.... granola bars and cookies.

Ansel has a real 'thing' for granola bars. He requests "bars" with a strong Jersey-like accent which is tremendously endearing and makes it very hard to say no. If you DO say no, his new go-to line is, "But I'm SO hungry," and shoots you this sad, puppy dog look and you just can't say no. So the least I could do was make a healthy, affordable bar option for him. And heck, for the rest of us! I saw Alton Brown make granola bars on his show once, and ever since then I've had it in the back of my head to try his recipe. So that's what I did.

Alton Brown's Granola Bar Recipe

Now, one must always(in my opinion) start with a tidy kitchen. My smallest helper was happy to pitch in.

All of the dry ingredients have to be toasted. This was great because Ansel was able to help with all of it, and he had a blast spreading it on the cookie sheet. This is oats, raw sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and almonds. The recipe called for sliced, but we had slivered. Close enough!
I should have taken a picture of this sooner, but you mix the sugars and wet ingredients and combine on the stove. It only took a minute or two and smelled really good! I used a berry mix for fruit. I think it would be easy to sub in chocolate chips, but things might get a little gooey.

Everything gets spread into a pan(recipe called for 9x9 but I had 8x8) and baked.

And while things bake, you start to clean up!

Finished product! Basically, you let the granola cool after you pull it out of the oven. It took several hours to no longer be warm. Then cut into bars. This made a dozen generous sized bars for us.

I was still feeling like baking, and since the kitchen was already a bit messy, we decided to launch straight into cookies. Oatmeal chocolate chip was our first undertaking. I have a fair bit of cookie making experience. Oatmeal has always been a favorite, and I try to justify that it's almost, sort of, a little bit like eating oatmal. Somewhere deep down, right? But we also have a lot of oats we've had a while that I want to use so I don't have to worry about them going bad. I followed the basic Quaker oatmeal recipe.

Quaker Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Mmmm.... butter! I love butter, and I am not afraid of it. I don't go out of my way to consume it in huge quantities, but I don't avoid it. I never use margarine. And I almost always use salted butter, unless a recipe specifically calls for unsalted butter.

Cookie dough well on its way. I used a full cup of milk chocolate chips. Note: I use Hershey's chocolate chips, not Nestle. I do not use any Nestle products of any kind(unless I slip up and don't realize that a product is owned by Nestle. I'll get into that eventually.).

I have a thing for parchment paper. It's not 'green' and I know that. But.... it makes everything come out better. And sometimes it saves my food from being burned or sticking, so it reduces food waste? Maybe? But you'll notice lots of parchment paper. (Also see granola cooling to the right).

Cookies in the oven. I don't know if baking on two tiers like this is exactly correct, but I do it because I'm impatient.

My dogs were not happy that they were being terribly neglected while I baked and baked and baked. Their crates are in the area that should be a breakfast room, except it's much too small to be a breakfast room, and putting a table in the place it should go(under the light) would obstruct traffic from getting out the back door or into the master bedroom. Can you say poor planning?
This is Ellie, our husky mix, shooting me pathetic looks.

And Teddy, our mastiff/St. Bernard mix puppy was so perturbed he couldn't even bother himself to move when I got down in his face with the camera.

He is ever so excited about the finished product. I mean, seriously, he is THRILLED!

And this is how much one batch is. I would, generally, give each kid two cookies at a time for a snack or dessert. And this would last us a week. Except, I ended up sending some with the husband to work for something they were doing there, so I may be making cookies again over the weekend. Only time will tell!

I store cookies in a glass cookie jar on the counter, back out of easy reach of small hands. If I bake up a batch and it's just a ridiculous amount, I freeze some in freezer Ziploc bags. Most cookies freeze and thaw very well.

Stocking up

Back in the day, I was a coupon queen. I had a mega-sized binder filled with organized coupons for every product imaginable. I combined coupons and sales and stocked up on huge quantities of products for very low cost, and in some cases for free! I had toiletries, canned foods, frozen items, paper products, all sorts of things. And I had so many of them that I had to get creative about storing them. We stored breakfast cereal in the top shelf of the closet in the master bedroom(I think at our peak we had about 60 boxes!). We had a large linen closet entirely dedicated to bathroom items. I also stored lots of canned goods in the unfinished basement of our house. We never ran out of anything. And our grocery bills were much lower than the national average, despite living in a very expensive area of the country.

But..... We compromised some healthful choices in order to do this. I did make an effort to not go crazy with a lot of truly "junk" foods. But we were absolutely eating a lot of processed foods. And we were eating a lot of meat(my husband's number one vice!). I do think we ate better than most, but I certainly wasn't losing any weight. And I found that my kids just wanted to push more and more towards the junk and the sweet stuff. Something needed to change.

So when we moved to Georgia, I stopped using coupons. And I found our natural foods store, and started doing the bulk of our shopping there. For the first time, we could afford to buy organic produce, and some other organic items. I would love to get to the point that we could buy all hormone free, organic, natural, etc. but we're just not quite to that point yet. We're gradually making our way!

In preparation to make these changes, I started pricing and purchasing the basic goods I'd need for baking and cooking. One of the first things I decided to tackle was snack foods and desserts. We don't eat dessert often, but I do like to have some dessert options on hand for when we decide to treat ourselves. We have two growing boys(Kadin is 8 and Ansel is 3), so snacks are a must! The boys are already really good about snacking on fruit(we go through about 15 pounds of apples a WEEK!), but also enjoy cookies and crackers and things along those lines. I decided we would make all of these from scratch at home.

Dry goods were relatively easy to acquire. Our natural foods store sells bulk loose goods in self-serve containers. I was able to nab some awesome(to me!) deals, like organic cane sugar for 89 cents a pound! Where I could justify the added price, I bought organic. Where it was a signficant price difference, I went with natural items, but not organic. Some day we'll get there! I'm setting up a cabinet of dry baking goods so everything is easily accessible. Convenience will be a big part of making the whole foods lifestyle work for me.

I think nuts and other baking 'extras' will be a bit slower to build up. They're pricey, and buying lots at one time would send our grocery costs through the roof. So each week, I'm trying to add a few more here and there. I store nuts in the freezer in labeled bags.

These pictures were taken on Monday, and I actually ended up buying significantly more yesterday, so those pictures will be coming soon. I typically go grocery shopping on Mondays, and aim to only go once a week. There is some fluctuation to this, but I hope to streamline as soon as possible, while not being too rigid. Our grocery shopping this week was bumped to Tuesday because of bad weather on Monday. This is probably the story of my life..... Regimented without rigidity. Maybe that will be my new tagline!

Who we are and what we're doing

I'm Nicole, and I'm kick-starting my family's move towards completely whole foods, and mostly whole living. We've been trying to be mostly healthy for years now, but our commitment has waned at times. My husband and I each have our 'junk' vices, which are not the same, so it means we have double the amount of junk floating around! And when life got busy, we'd end up eating out or making crappy, easy to fix foods. Our older son also saw enough commercial tv to know that there's an endless wealth of kid foods with cartoon characters on the packages and fun commercials that exist to entice little ones. So I caved into that more often than I should have.

(Our family at a wedding the weekend after my husband started chemotherapy.)

And then, in the midst of an already difficult time, we got the devastating news that my husband(at only 42 years old) had cancer. This led to us moving from our home in Virginia to Georgia for employment and insurance reasons, and going into survival mode. We did our best to get through it all in one piece, and made some concessions along the way. We all got a loss less active, and we gave in to a lot of convenience items.

(My husband and kids mid-way through the chemotherapy process.)

And now we're on the other side! In the first week of December 2009 my husband was declared to be cancer free! There's still going to be a lot of monitoring, and I think we'll always be a little bit wary that something could be there, but now is the time for us to make strides to be a healthier family. I want more for us, especially for our children.

My husband has a leg up on me, as he's always been a physically active person. His weight often fluctuates, but he has an easy time of losing pounds once he puts his mind to do it. I, on the other hand, have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager. Having children has exacerbated the problem, and I find it embarrassing to even acknowledge the significance of the issue. But I'm hoping that this outlet will help me to feel better about accepting it. I have no reason to be embarrassed so long as I am actively working to resolve it.

I expect a bumpy journey. We all have our vices. But we're taking charge of it, starting..... well, starting this past Monday! (post of that to follow as soon as I can manage it!)