Kids in the Kitchen -- Margaret Jane

Let me introduce you to Margaret Jane, or Maggie as she is most commonly known.  For those of you who don't personally know us, Maggie is a friend of ours, well her parents are the "actual" friends, she's a bonus to the friendship.  You see, my family and I have had the privilege of being her care-takers practically since she was born.  She is spunky to say the least and has certainly added another level of joy and laughter to our family. 

Look at that face!!  Can ya stand it?  No?  I didn't think so!  This girl is too much!!  For the past few years, she and I have hadmeetings about her upcoming birthday and what type of cookies she would like.  Needless to say, she wants pretty much every cookie she sees!!  Her birthday is months away but she is already talking about what cookies she wants.

The other day she told me that she wanted to be just like me when she grows up.........and bake cookies all day! lol Goodness girl, way to make me melt all over the floor!  She loves to help in the kitchen and usually teams up with my youngest daughter Julia to bake up all sorts of yummy treats! 

The other day she was really wanting to get into the kitchen and I had a lot of cookies to bake but thought maybe that I'd have some leftover dough that she could use.  She checked back throughout the day and we were both thrilled that I did have some left.  She was so excited to make her own cookies, she picked out the cutters that she wanted, pulled the chair over to the counter and got to work!  I added some sprinkles to the dough (which she thought was A W E S O M E!). 

The shirt says it all!! Also, I think that would be a cute message on a cookie!

This day Julia and Maggie made Loft house style sugar cookies.  I hate to admit this, but my girls LOVE the soft sugar cookies that you can get at the market in the bakery section.  I forced myself to try a bite the last time they brought some home and I honestly don't know what they love about them.  Anyway, I think that these will be a good replacement.  Maggie picked out the icing colors and sprinkles.  She was so proud of the large silver sprinkle. 

I've always believed that it's a good idea to get your kids in the kitchen when they are young!  It does take a bit more patience on mom's part but the rewards are well worth the struggle!  I'm glad that I get to help pass that on to Maggie and one day, Oliver <3

Do you let your little ones help in the kitchen? 

S I G H.......

On Wednesday I went to the doctor for my post diagnosis check up, which was supposed to happen back in November.  Thankfully I got a good report!  My numbers are going down, I've lost 20 pounds and aside from not implementing an exercise plan, I'm on the right track!  But as the nurse was going over my information she asked me a few questions.  One of them was "Do you ever have feelings of depression or hopelessness?"  I know I've been asked that question before, but this time was different. 

artwork by Jaysen

artwork by Jaysen

I answered yes.  I don't ever talk about it and honestly I've never thought much about it until recently.  I've never really thought it was much of an issue.  You see, a few years ago I experienced some strange sensations in my chest, neck, head, and arms.  I had no idea what brought them on because it happened while I was either reading to my children or spending time with friends.  I eventually went to the Emergency Room during one episode and was told after some testing, that it was due to stress.  I was so thankful that it wasn't something more......serious.  If you had asked me back then if I had felt stressed, my answer would have definitely been No. 

But one thing I didn't realize back then was that you don't necessarily have to be in a current state of stress for your body to feel it and to react in a stressed way and that stress was serious.  I was perfectly calm or seriously enjoying myself when my body reacted in these strange ways.  Years have passed since then, I eventually spoke with my doctor and agreed to start taking an anti-anxiety medicine.  I would rather not have needed to take the medicine but I knew that I needed something more to help with the stress.  Also, my dear friend Melissa, would not let me leave the doctor without acknowledging just how stressful my life actually was and without getting some sort of "help".  Thank you Miss!!

Fast forward to just a few hours ago.  As I was working around the kitchen, I let out a nice, deep sigh.  My son asked me what the sigh was for.  I'm not sure that he was prepared for the answer.  You see, packed inside that one solitary sigh, was a minefield of emotion, struggle and stress.  Ready to dive in?  Okay.......I'm in the middle of baking 6 dozen cookies, I'm trying to clean up from a lunch that I didn't have to make (holla), which led me to the sink that was getting quite full of the day's dishes, which led me to the fact that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded.  I should stop and unload it, re-load it and then wash the extra dishes, but......I need to get this baking done.  Oliver doesn't seem very happy at the moment, I should be out there with him and Maggie so that Joe can get his work done.  Jaysen (the one who asked me the loaded question) was busy working on a paper and Jessica was upstairs, but also has a work load that needs attention.  From there I thought, Joe should take the kids outside, they would love that, but I know that he won't want to do that, no one ever wants to go outside.  Why don't I ever want to take the kids outside?  Somehow, I jumped from that to wondering if I will ever open an actual bake shop, if we will ever move from NJ to AL.  Maybe I'm just letting my OCD get the best of me.  Why can't I just be content where I'm at?   Maybe something really is wrong with me......... 

I struggle with anxiety, daily.  Anxiety coupled with hormones, coupled with a new diabetic diagnosis can and does lead to thoughts and feelings of depression.  If you add to that the wonderful fullness of my life (read stress) at any given moment, I could actually be considered a ticking time bomb.  Okay, maybe not quite, but lately it seems like just about anything can set me off into an anxiety ridden tizzy. 

Take today for instance.  I had to force myself out of bed.  I forced myself to get dressed today.  I forced myself to write in my gratitude journal that I haven't touched in a year.  I forced myself to read the Word.  I felt good after that.  The day was going fine.  Once I started to bake I could feel the annoyance coming on because there was no room to put anything.  But I talked myself down and just moved things out of my way.  I was still good.  Then, all of a sudden, it was too late.  I was on a downward spiral.  Now, it didn't stop me, or render me useless.  I was still working and baking, but I think that if Jaysen hadn't asked me what the sigh was about, that negative feeling would have continued and grown.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. An estimated 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. Only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment, even though the disorders are highly treatable.
— https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

My point in sharing this today is that you never know who is dealing with anxiety or depression.  Many of us hide it well. Some may actually be afraid of admitting their disorder, or may not even know that it is a disorder and not just normal stress.  Some are embarrassed and/or ashamed, therefore they would never even think about asking for help.   It seems that learning to listen to my body because of the diabetes is also causing me to focus on my emotional health as well.  I am trying to be more aware of my thoughts and feelings and I'm also trying to let those closest to me know how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking.  Recognizing those things that could be causing those feelings is essential to getting healthy.

artwork by Jaysen

artwork by Jaysen

If you think that you may suffer from anxiety disorders, do some research, talk to someone, get help.  I believe that if we can be more open and honest about our humanity, we can help one another.  We need to create an environment in our lives and online where we feel safe to express a struggle or a fear.  We all need to know that we are not alone in this or anything else that we may be struggling with.  The world is so full of hatred and judgement, let's make sure that we are not contributing to that by putting on blinders and pretending not to notice the suffering or by putting on a mask and pretending that we are not suffering. 

Please know, that this is a safe place.  How Sweet it will be to come together, share in our struggles and our joys and to be united.

Turkey Taco Quinoa Skillet

I wanted to pop in and share a recipe with you that I am loving!  It's taken us a few tries to get it just right (mainly because we had never cooked Quinoa before) but now that we have, I believe this will be in our regular rotation.  My daughter, Jessica, found it here at Spoonful of Flavor, which is packed with tons of delicious recipes!  

We had this meal 3 different ways last night; a few of us had it in a wrap, others had it in a bowl and someone else had it over Tostito's Scoops.  I love how we can have one dish and serve it three different ways.

Today, I decided to heat up the leftovers for lunch and added baby spinach to the wrap.  It was even better the second time.  I feel like this is such a tasty and versatile dish that you could easily have it for lunch, dinner or even as a dip at a party!  Plus you can freeze the leftovers and save them for a rainy day!

For the wraps we use whole wheat and the brand depends on what's on sale.  We've also exchanged sour cream for plain Greek yogurt.  There are so many little ways to help make a meal healthy or healthier.  The sour cream swap is just one of many!

If you decide to give it a try, let me know what you think!!  Also, feel free to share your favorite, healthy one pot meals with me here!!

Eating and diabetes

One of the very first things we did after I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, was revamp our meal planning.  Suddenly things like Four Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake were replaced with more natural, wholesome choices like Pan-Seared Cod in White Wine Tomato Basil Sauce and mashed potatoes made with olive oil and not whole milk and a stick of butter.  Pasta has turned to whole grain or vegetable and 12 grain bread has made it's way into the bread drawer.  Smoothies were already a regular breakfast item but I used milk (whole milk for a long time) and I only used fruit.  I began adding fresh greens to the fruit and no longer used milk, but a small amount of water instead.  My typical smoothie is baby spinach, a banana, strawberries, mangoes, about a tablespoon of peanut butter and a squeeze of honey.  I've tried a few different recipes from this smoothie recipe book but haven't found any that I totally love yet.  I am still trying to expand my palate and learn to try and like new things. 

You can find it here on Amazon

It's got a ton of different smoothie recipes and a lot of good information on how to make a healthy lifestyle change instead of jumping on the next diet fad to hit the shelves.  Although we haven't tried very many recipes from the book, I would still recommend it if you are wanting to make a change or, like me, are stuck in a rut with the same smoothie ingredients. 

Another thing that I've changed is how often I have coffee.  I would typically have a cup or two every morning, usually before I would even have breakfast, which meant that I didn't eat until mid morning, if I had breakfast at all.  Skipping meals is a big no-no for diabetics.  Now I only have coffee on the weekends and am finding that I typically can't even finish one cup.  While I love the taste and the feel of a good mug in my hand, I'm not loving the affect the coffee is having on my body.  I still struggle with the old routine from life before Type 2.  I have to make sure that I eat or drink a healthy breakfast before I get my cuppa joe!   I'm definitely learning to listen to my body.  If we slow down enough and pay a bit of attention, I believe our bodies will tell us everything that we need to know about what it wants and needs and what it doesn't.

As far as other foods, we've added a good variety of nuts to our snack list.  A mix of almonds, pistachios, peanuts and dark chocolate chips are a quick and easy snack to assemble and grab on the go!  Fruit and nut bars are always on the shopping list as well.

I think that these are my favorite!  Their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip are the two that we typically buy.  They are gluten free, vegan, dairy free and kosher, made with 100% real food.  1 bar is the equivalent to 1/4 cup of fruit and they are a great source of fiber.  I linked you to the official website for LaraBar but you can find them on Amazon, Target, and Shop Rite.  Another snack bar that I like is made by Curate.  There are no artificial flavors or colors, they're non-gmo, gluten free and have a 4 grams of protein.  To be honest though, we've really only been buying the Lara Bars.

I think that I'll save dinners for another post!  Just know that we eat more chicken and fish.  Avocado's are a staple.  Salads full of fresh, dark, leafy greens happen often and usually include chicken, peppers, feta cheese (which I adore now), fresh rosemary, sometimes fresh dill, avocado or even cooked sweet potatoes.  I used to only eat iceburg lettuce, what a fool!  I had no idea that there were such delicious healthy choices out there!  I mean, I knew they were there, I saw them, I just had no interest in trying them.  Instead of regular salad dressing, we've been using greek yogurt dip.  Usually a creamy ranch flavor but it only has 60 calories per serving, which is 2 tablespoons, and I don't even think we use that much. 

We typically have ice cream on Friday nights and I've not been very good at keeping my portions low.  I told Jessica the other day that I think I'm going to go down to having it only once a month and on the nights that they all have ice cream, I'll blend up some frozen fruit for a sorbet type dish.  Then, as I was looking around on Pinterest, I came across a pin for Healthy Chocolate Nice Cream.  I decided to give it a try the other day and I think it's going to be a hit!!  In the blog post the author shares a link to 10 other Nice Cream recipes!  I can't wait to give them a try!

Tell me, what are your favorite healthy go to snacks?  I'm always looking for something new to try these days!!

Is there anything better than a classic?

Who doesn't L O V E classic chocolate chip cookies?  They're one of my all time favorite cookies.  At one point in my life they were my go-to baking item.  I made them ALL OF THE TIME!!  Like, literally, all of the time.  I knew the recipe like the back of my hand and, whatever the occasion, you could bet that my chocolate chip cookies would be there.  Once, before a women's event at church, I was asked if my cookies were going to be there. 

It's been quite a long time since chocolate chip cookies were a staple in my life, but they are still my favorite cookie.  I have always used the Toll House recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag and was rarely disappointed with it.   Since there are so many recipes on Pinterest for "the best" chocolate chip cookie or a variation from the classic, I thought it would be fun to try a few different recipes and share my thoughts with you.

First up, I found this recipe for Chewy Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies on Pinterest a few weeks ago and convinced my daughter, Julia, to make them!

As you can see, they were pretty!  I love a pretty cookie - but let's face it, beauty is only skin deep.   If they can't back themselves up with an out-of-this-world taste, I'm out!  It's gotta look good A N D taste good!!

Luckily, they tasted as good as they looked!  However, they didn't have a strong brown sugar taste even though it called for more brown sugar than the Toll House recipe.

They were perfect for dipping in a glass of cold milk; they kept their shape and didn't crumble; and they had a nice thick, almost cake like, consistency.

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Overall, I'd say we'd give them a 4/5 chocolate-chip-rating! 

Okay, now it's your turn!  If you have a favorite chocolate chip recipe, please share it with me and I'll try it out and rate it on the blog!!