Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alone with a bunch of Strawberries

My wife is attending the Disney Social Media Mom's conference this week; she left on Wednesday. The youngest two kids are on spring break and at Disneyland too, and on Friday, their brother joined them.

Heather went to Costco on Monday and bought a big container of strawberries, so its just me and a bunch of strawberries that need to be eaten before they spoil. Usually, in our house of five, with snacks and school lunches, the strawberries would just disappear.  But with only two of us for half of the week, our consumption rate slowed significantly.

But I came up with a simple and quick way to make a strawberry smoothie!


I don't like watered down drinks and so a smoothie with ice just isn't as smooth, but sliced strawberries freeze quickly and provide that cold iciness and a banana provides the smoothness.

They don't look it from this picture, but those are frozen strawberries. I cored them and then sliced them, just before we sat down and they froze while we ate dinner.  The banana was in the freezer too, but they take a little longer to freeze - at least it was cold when I threw it in the blender.

I used some almond milk for liquid, but coconut milk would probably be a good choice too. Or if you're feeling really like clean eating, make your own almond milk.

Quick Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Makes about 2 16 ounce glasses

Ingredients
2 good handfuls of strawberries
1 banana
dash of vanilla extract
about 1 cup almond milk

Instructions

  1. Wash, core and slice the strawberries. Arrange on a plate and put in the freezer.
  2. Put a banana in the freezer.
  3. Let them freeze for 15 - 30 minutes.
  4. Once you're ready, scrape the strawberries into your blender. 
  5. Peel and slice the banana in 1/2" slices into the blender.
  6. Add a dash of vanilla extract and about 1 cup of almond milk.
  7. Blend until smooth.
  8. Divide the smoothie among your glasses and enjoy!



Sunday, April 06, 2014

Leftover egg whites? Make meringues and coconut macaroons!

Earlier in the week, my wife made mayonnaise from scratch and we had leftover egg whites. A bunch of them.  When we had left over egg whites before, one of my friends on Facebook suggested that I make meringues.  So, some quick Google searches led me to Elana's Pantry where I found both a meringue recipe and a coconut macaroon recipe. Her website has lots of gluten free, grain free, dairy free and paleo recipes, so its a great resource for my cooking adventures.


Both recipes are easy to make only require a few ingredients. The macaroons were quick to make and quick to bake. I'm an early riser, so they were prepared and baked before everybody else was awake.  My idea was to make them for dessert tonight.


While they were cooling on the counter, the rest of my family started to wake up. "I only made 10 macaroons, that's two for each of us for dessert.  If you eat them before, then there are less for you for dessert."

It's 5pm as I write this and four macaroons have been eaten, one of them even for breakfast.

It was kind of awesome because I made new friends on the internet today and inspired me to make the meringues too.
We traded some tweets, shared the links to Elana's pantry and after CrossFit, I made meringues too.  They're easy to make, egg whites and maple syrup, but they take two hours to bake, and then an hour to cool.


They're in the oven and I've already been asked twice by the kids if they really take two hours to bake. Hopefully, this will turn out well and help teach the kids patience and that paleo desserts can be good. With the kids on spring break, they usually turn their idleness into cookie baking. Like octupling  the cookie recipe.  Maybe my treats can satisfy them for a bit.

Heather kept thinking I was making French macarons with all the egg white beating I was doing.  Those take a little more work, but I might try this recipe sometime when I'm feeling a little more ambitious in my cooking!

So there's still an hour to go on the meringues. I think I'm going to go drizzle chocolate on the coconut macaroons!  I hope you had a good weekend!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Using YouTube videos to send a message

My kids got me a Google Chromecast for Christmas and its been really cool. It makes it so easy to get music, movies and videos into my living room. But its also created a new family activity where we'll all sit and share interesting YouTube videos with each other.

Last night, there was a new development in how we use Chromecast and communicate. We were sucked into watching the Justin Bieber deposition (he's kind of a douchebag) and didn't notice that our oldest had disappeared.  Suddenly our video was interrupted by this video.


Yes, can you guess where he was. And what he had a shortage of. And his pleas for help unheard, as we watched how ridiculous Justin Bieber was.  We replenished him and all went back to watching videos.

Our daughter suggested we watch the Oculus preview. I'll link to it so you can watch it, it you want, but I don't recommend it.  It's creepy. Creepy like the back of my neck was all tingly and I was there, in my living room with the lights on. And it was just a 2 and a half minute preview.

Our oldest weighed in on his opinion about the movie with this clip. I am in wholehearted agreement. Not a movie that I'll be watching.



An interesting development in communication, wouldn't you say?  How do you use technology to communicate in your house?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Home Made Almond Milk

A few weeks ago, I saw a picture on Instagram of cold brew coffee and homemade almond milk. I wish I remembered exactly which picture, but it was a beautiful picture and really made me want to drink it.  It was also in the middle of the Whole Life Challenge and I'd drank nothing water, coffee and the occasional tea for about 4 weeks, so that added to the temptation. And it must have been quite a good picture, because it was pretty cold here in Seattle.

So, for the next few days, my Google searches were about how to make almond milk.  It is surprisingly easy!  And aside from some inactive soaking time, it is really quick.


All you need is a nut milk bag, available on Amazon for $7-10 and something to soak the nuts in.  It's basically a really fine mesh filter bag.

There are lots of almond milk recipes on the internet; they seem to vary in how much water you add to the nut milk after soaking and what kind of sweetener if any.  My wife's aunt changes out the water while the nuts are soaking. Some people use a food processor and some use a blender. But basically, its the same.

I've only tried sweetening my almond milk with honey and stevia and though I'm not a fan of stevia, the stevia was a better choice. But most of it, I drank unsweetened. It was nice to bring a small container to work and have that with my breakfast.

But best of all, its clean - no fake stuff, no chemical additives. Just nuts and water. Because it doesn't have the additives, it needs to be shaken before drinking and might not be as thick as commercial almond milk.  On my next batch, I'm going to try to add some coconut milk. It might add some sweetness and give it a thicker mouth feel.

On the downside, its not cheaper than the commercial stuff, at least for me to make it. With my nut supply and water ratio, it costs me about double what I can pay in the grocery store.  I get just over a pint with 1 cup of nuts and I don't have a cheaper nut supply than Costco. My wife's aunt, she has almond trees in her yard. It'll be pretty low cost for her. This is the trade off for eating clean though. Having raw nuts does give you some flexibility though, I was roasting nuts with all kinds of different seasonings and making milk. You can't do that with your container of roasted nuts!

Homemade Almond Milk
makes about 2 cups

Ingredients
1 cup raw almonds
water to cover nuts while soaking
2 cups water for blending
Something to sweeten the milk, optional. This could be stevia, honey, maple syrup, vanilla extract or ...

Directions

  1. Put the nuts in a container, cover with water and let soak for 24 - 48 hours. Change the water occasionally. The nuts will swell some. The longer you soak, the creamier the milk will be.
  2. After soaking, drain the nuts and place the nuts in a blender with 2 cups of fresh water.
  3. Blend the heck out of the nuts on the blender's highest speed. You want everything to be a relatively homogeneous slurry. It'll take a few minutes.
  4. Filter the nut milk through the nut milk bag into a container.  Squeeze the bag and get as much of the milk out as you can.  This is your finished product.  Some bags are designed to hang and let gravity do the work, but this part only takes a few minutes of squeezing.
  5. Mix in your sweetener, if you choose to be a little sweeter.
  6. Store your milk, covered, in the refrigerator. I'm told it will keep for a week, but I've never had enough to last that long!




Saturday, March 08, 2014

My Whole Life Challenge Experience

This weekend ends the Whole Life Challenge, an 8 week challenge to help make some positive lifestyle changes and provide a framework for some accountability. My CrossFit box, Cascade CrossFit, along with many others started this shortly after the beginning of the year and pushed our way through until now.

All in all, it was a good experience. I stick to a pretty clean, paleo lifestyle and do CrossFit regularly, so the workout and mobility daily challenge wasn't that tough. I played by the advanced nutrition rules, which were really, really strict - no sweetener other than Stevia and the anti-caking agents in lots of spices were excluded, too.

But the things I liked the best from this challenge were the Life Style Challenges.  The early ones were slam dunks, too: drink half your body weight in ounces in water and  get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. I know what it takes for me to be effective and stick to a pretty good schedule; in fact, my kids poke fun of me for having a bed time. After starting CrossFit, I carry a water bottle with me everywhere I go, so that was easy.

But then it started changing up a bit.  We had to practice mindfulness for 10 minutes a day. I had meditated as part of a Hapkido class when I was a kid, but never had done it as an adult.  And it was awesome.  Ten minutes of time to clear my mind just wasn't enough. It helped me deal with a bunch of external stresses in my life.

The challenge changed to 10 minutes of meaningful reading. I would regularly read before going to bed to help draw my day to a close, but nothing that I would call meaningful. A good friend of mine had given me Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life's Difficulties , by Ajahn Brahm a few years ago and after the meditation, reading his Buddhist tales seemed to follow well. And again, it was well timed. Several of the parables had direct connection to my life right now.

The challenge started with a benchmark workout. You can do any workout as long as you can score it. We did Rankel at the start and after the challenge, 20 minutes As Many Rounds As Possible 6 225 pound dead lifts, 7 burpee pullups, 10 53 pound kettlebell swings and a 200 meter run. After the challenge, I got 17 more reps, almost a full round more.

At the beginning of the challenge, I would eat Lara Bars before and after working out. To help control costs, I started making my own Awesome Bars. This is something that I know I'll keep up with, I enjoy cooking and making my own food. I also have made almond milk from raw almonds, twice (more to come on my blog for that later).

It was a good experience. I can make a commitment to some pretty strict rules and live with them. I learned more about meditating and its something I want to continue. I learned how much I have going through my head and recognize the benefits of the clarity that mindfulness provides.  I learned how to make some nutritious and clean snacks.

Would I do it again? I don't think so. I'm coming from a pretty good starting point and have been making great progress with my strength and fitness. In the last 8 days, I've had 3 PRs (CrossFit Open 14.2, Overhead Squat max weight and the re-test of Rankel). Some of that is due to the challenge and some of that is due to the lifestyle I've already implemented.

If you're a person who likes to compete against others, do things for points and need to implement some healthy lifestyle changes, the Whole Life Challenge is a really good thing. The community is helpful and supportive and the guys that run it are involved. What really matters is what you take from the challenge and how you go on living your life.

Did you compete in the Whole Life Challenge? What did you think? What habits are going to stick?

I did not receive compensation for this post; however, I was given a free entry into the challenge. I wasn't actually even asked to write this post, but its all my honest opinion. Get out there, challenge yourself and see what happens.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Snoqualmie Ice Cream Scoop Shop is Back

I got to spend Wednesday evening at the Pre-Grand Opening event for the Snoqualmie Ice Cream scoop shop and let me tell you it was awesome.  Their ice cream on its own is already great and they've added boozy milkshakes, new sundaes and flatbreads to their menu. If you're lucky enough to live in the Seattle area, you should go check out their new scoop shop some time.


Snoqualmie Ice Cream is a super-premium ice cream made here in Washington, with real ingredients. They grow a lot of their own fruit and have 400 chickens on their property.  From their scoop shop, you can see into one of their test kitchens. I was impressed, the ingredients on their shelves looked just like the ingredients in my pantry; real food not processed, industrial flavorings. Check out the picture below and count how many you have in your pantry!


We got to try little samplers of every shake on the menu board in the first picture and they were all really good. My favorite was the Espresso Chocolate Stout milk shake, but the Candied Bourbon Sundae was right behind.  And when they weren't bringing around samples or flat breads, we got to taste ice cream!  Now that is a great Wednesday night dinner, if you ask me!


Eating ice cream is a way to replenish your glycogen stores, right? We were out of sweet potatoes at home, so I needed to get my carbs somehow. Even if it wasn't paleo.  Yeah, so I cheated that night. I lost the day's nutrition points for the Whole Life Challenge.

But it was worth it.  Lavender ice cream, with its fragrant taste. Bourbon ice cream made with Maker's Mark. Basil ice cream. My tastes run towards savory, but the Salted Caramel and Mukilteo Mudd are delicous too!

If getting to Maltby, Washington (which they should probably rename to Malty) to the scoop shop isn't hoing to happen, you can find Snoqualmie Ice Cream in stores in the Western states. If you don't live in a Western state, maybe you should move.

This was not a compensated post and I was entirely sober when i wrote this; the sugar and alcohol had worn off. It is all my own opinion and tastes. Enjoy your treats.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dinner with Chef and Story Teller Russell Lowell

Thursday night, I was invited to dinner with Chef Russell Lowell at his restaurant, Russell's.  Dinner with a great North West chef at the Best Independent Restaurant winner of the Washington Wine Awards? In a rustic, yet elegant former barn?  I'm in. You don't have to ask twice.



The restaurant is comfortable, yet elegant at the same time. Beautiful place settings and not too crowded would make it a great dinner for prom or anniversary or a nice business dinner.  I was looking forward to the dinner, because everything looked great from the New Bedford Sea Scallops in beurre blanc to the Seared Duck. I'm participating in the Whole Life Challenge and I decided that this was going to be worth the points lost.



Dinner was filled with fun conversations with Meeghan Black (yes, from Gardening with Ciscoe) and T'Chani Hill and local wine maker Kevin Lantz (and yes, his Viogner was served at dinner). I lucked out and the perfectly seared scallops were served as the appetizer and followed by a wonderful, beet salad special. Goat cheese, candied walnuts and a delightful vinaigrette topped off peppery arugula and beets. Definitely worth the cheats.



I've always been afraid to buy duck and prepare it, I think I'm fearful of messing up the investment, so when we got our choice from the menu for dinner, the seared duck was an easy choice.  The duck was served with a savory roasted shallot glace, perfectly complimenting the duck.  Heather ordered the rack of lamb, which we rarely make at home, because I think its too gamey. She shared a taste of the nicely crusted, but still red on the inside lamb, and if every lamb tasted that good, you could make a lamb believer out of me.   Chef Russell supports Washington farms and vine yards and this lamb came from Eastern Washington - far better than the Australian lamb I've had before.

Chef Russell got up and spoke during dinner. I'm beginning to really enjoy listening to chefs speak, because they always have some of the most interesting tales to tell. And Chef Russell has definitely got a personality!

I enjoy sitting at breakfast on Sundays, reading a cookbook, both for inspiration and for the beautiful photography. Chef Russell has a cookbook coming out in May and it's going to be one of those read it for the stories as well as the recipes.  I can't retell the story he told (I wouldn't do it justice) us from the book, but it involves Hollywood celebrities, pugilism close calls, road kill, funeral wakes and great white sharks.  If you've got an experience that involves all of those, you've got to put it in a book.  I look forward to getting my hands on it when it comes out.

And dessert... I cheated for sure. I was torn between the creme brulee and the chocolate gateau. Winemaker Kevin Lantz, who eats frequently at Russells' strongly recommended the gateau, so I went with that.  Rich, dark chocolate cake, still gooey and molten on the inside, was served with creme Anglaise and a berry coulis. I was in heaven.

It was a wonderful evening, with new friends, great food and excellent stories.

Special thanks go to Heather for letting me use her photographs and to Karie Engels for putting this all together. I was not compensated for this post, but I got a wonderful dinner and night out. Everything I write is, as always, my own opinion. And if you've got something great, I'd be happy to check it out and write about it too!