Sunday, March 25, 2012

How I threw a From-Scratch 5th Birthday Extravaganza

This weekend I threw my very first big birthday party for our Baby Girl who just turned 5. As far as she knew she had not had a birthday party that she could remember. In fact, when she first came to us, she thought a "birthday" was a cake. She had little concept of a birthday party.

So I was bound and determined to let her have a fun shindig that she would remember!

But going to the local fast food joint and ordering a tray of chicken nuggets and a grocery store cake is out of the question for my family. There is something in my genetic make-up that feels like I just want to make everything myself anyways, so I set out a couple weeks ago to plan so I wouldn't get too overwhelmed the day of the party.

A few things that helped me do it:
  1. I used Velvet Aroma to store all the recipes I would need in a birthday cookbook so everything would be in one place. This made grocery shopping super-easy. (menu below)
  2. I did some make-ahead preparations. Most baked goods can be frozen for a few weeks with little taste compromised. They just need to be stored in an air-tight container or plastic freezer bags with most of the air removed. (see menu below for what I did ahead)
  3. Family! My mom came down for the week and helped me plan and cook. She along with my grandparents and MIL and FIL helped with a lot of the details- like picking up baloons, mopping my floor!, etc. Without them I could not have done all of this, for sure!
  4. I picked one thing that I wanted to highlight: the cake (shown below). And the rest I tried to keep simple.
  5. For all the non-edibles, I tried to keep decorations and activities down to a minimal effort for me since I knew that I would spend so much time on the food. So I relied on Hobby Lobby (a Michaels type store) because they have good prices and good sales. And a huge variety, from decor to serving pieces.
  6. Some Costco and Sams stores have good deals on the things I would normally not buy. But after all, a birthday party is a special celebration, right? I bought these Izze drinks (concentrated fruit juice and carbonated water) and this brand of juice boxes (which we rarely give the kids juice boxes, but these are a fruit and veg mix, and very low in naturally occurring sugars). I also splurged on some non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, MSG-free potato chips as pictured above near the cake. My kids thought they were in heaven getting to eat as many chips as they wanted :) (I promise they get other kinds of treats in my home). These stores also have bulk fruit items that can be bought non-organic, like pineapple, already cut up or cored, saving time and not for much more money.

Here's the Menu for the Spread seen above:

  • Make-ahead Meatballs from Food Renegade- These were super easy to make ahead and freeze, and I made them GF by using Udi's bread heels I had saved up for bread crumbs! It helped too that I had some deer meat from by awesome brother who graciously gave us several pounds of spicy deer sausage and regular burger meat.
  • Organic Chicken Salad made using this egg-free recipe from Oh She Glows (originally for vegan chickpea salad- but worked really well with some freshly cooked chicken off the bone), with carrots and apples added in for extra umph.
  • Buffalo Chickpea Dip from Gluten Free in the City- this was the hit of the party. Everyone raved over it and had no idea it was dairy-free :) It also could be mixed together in my blender in advanced and baked off right before the party.
  • My Broccoli Mango Salad- I felt I needed a raw veggie side dish for some balance :)
  • Fruit, mostly bought pre-prepped and cut
  • Veggies for dipping
  • Chips and a bowl of nuts
  • And the coup de'gra, The Caramel Cake that I made with this recipe for chocolate swiss buttercream (which can be made a head a couple days and left at room temp). I will be posting the recipe later :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thoughts on Sugar and a Deconstructed Cookie Pie

If your just looking for a recipe- scroll down to the bottom, but if you enjoy TMI and a rant on sugar, then read on :)

Last week I was feeling full in the tummy area and so I went to the woman doctor to make sure I was not pregs. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved that news; however, I am still adjusting 6 months post- our family going from 2 to 5 overnight.

I was not (preggers, that is).

I was housing some pretty nasty cysts on my ovaries. 22 on one ovary to be exact. I didn't ask how many on the other. The doctor said I was most likely insulin resistant, or even pre-diabetic and he did some blood work to check that out so he could give the common PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome) diagnosis and we would go from there.

Pre-diabetic? Me?? I eat so well! How could I possibly be pre-diabetic? Turns out I am! All of this has lead me to discover that at times I am hypoglycemic (super low blood sugar) and I do actually have sugar spikes- even when I just eat a modest amount of dates and coconut sugar. What? I had no idea that my occasional splurge with dates, and even store bought vegan chocolate could do that to me, or rather, that my body responded that way to it!

When it comes down to it though, it makes sense. Although somewhat short-lived, my professional baking career was filled with filling my body with refined substances like white flour and refined cane or beet sugar. Daily. And you combine that with a family/ genetic predisposition then you get insulin resistance over time.

So I have shared my story and I guess I should have a point, right? Well here is what I'm feeling at the moment. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Now I do agree that not all sugars are created equally- there is not anything of worth in refined white cane or GMO beet sugar that fills the standard American diet. However, maple syrup is still sugar, so is coconut sugar, so is honey, so is brown rice syrup. And to a certain extent, they are in fact refined. They all are readily used by your body and quickly enter your bloodstream (some more quickly than others) or are processed by your liver to be turn into glucose to enter the bloodstream. And elevated blood sugar levels over time can lead to all sorts of problems from digestive issues to adrenal fatigue to a whole host of things.

If you come off of refined white sugar, only to replace a similar amount with maple syrup or high fructose agave, you are still eating just as many actual sugar molecules.

There. I said it. Now why would a sugar-free food blogger be downing all natural alternative sweeteners?

First, I'm really not. I just felt that it should be mentioned to those who think that they can lead a completely "healthier lifestyle" just by replacing their white sugar with a natural one. It just doesn't work that way. Even being grain-free for a while, which has helped balance out my blood sugar and insulin response, I still will have way too high blood sugar post a grain-free dessert sweetened with maple syrup. Now, many people make the healthy decision to switch to natural sugars and do it smartly and use much less actual sugar (molecules entering the body) and it ends up affecting their health in a positive way.

And often sugar is not the only or even the main culprit. For me, adrenal fatigue might be more of an issue than the evils of sugar. But sugar does affect the body when it isn't functioning properly. And when sugar is decreased it can open doors to a whole world of health.

Now, switching from refined/white/ GMO sugar to natural alternatives like honey, coconut sugar, dates, and maple syrup is definitely a step in the right direction. But we are far too reliant upon sugars from any source in this country. I guess that is my point. If I want to eat really radically to improve my specific health situation- I have to avoid any sweeteners... For a while.

Now, I'm not planning on going free of all sweeteners altogether in my recipes. Not only would some of you be disappointed, but so would my family! I just felt the need to do my part in spreading the word that sugar is sugar and we all need to be aware of how it affects us!

With that being said, here is a St. Patty's Day recipe that I hope you will enjoy that tastes great without any added sweeteners.

In the spirit of taking it easy, it's kind of a mix of some of my previous recipes here on the blog. I just used the crust recipe from this post and replaced the coconut flour with cocoa powder- no chocolate chips for me, but you can add some if you like :) I also used this peppermint shake recipe- no ice, but added 1/2 cup packed mint and 2 Tbsp frozen spinach for coloring and cocoa nibs for the chocolate "chips". I threw it in the ice cream maker to let it firm up a bit.** This recipe has about 3.6 grams of sugar per serving and almost as much fiber per serving. (Makes about 8 servings). Making it a nice low glycemic treat. source

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