Thursday, November 21, 2013

In denial

I'm getting a cold. I don't want to admit it, but I've got the pressure in my head and that little tickle at the back of my throat making me want to clear it all the time. So tonight may be an early night.

In the meantime, I'll keep drinking my water, shots of Emergen-C and tea until I feel like I've kicked it.

Tonight's dinner was black bean tacos with diced onions, avocado and salsa on corn tortillas. I had three of them. The kiddo had cheese nachos.

Water drinking 101 and some other random advice for today

This started out about some random things I was thinking and became a blog about how to drink a water. We'll start out with the random though.

After you blog about being exhausted, don't try to catch up on your DVRed shows; you'll just fall asleep and miss most of them. I always think maybe I can just close my eyes during the commercials, but we all know that just doesn't work.

If you find an item of clothing you love, buy a few of them. If you buy most of your clothes at thrift shops and you find an item you love...well it sucks to be you (or me, in this case). Thankfully the currently pair of pants I love this winter are from Kohls, so I'm stocking up in multiple colors. Last year's pair was from Goodwill and eventually the zipper broke. Yeah, I realize I probably could have found someone who could replace the zipper, but I would have ended up spending more than the jeans were worth and they probably would have sprouted holes as soon as I paid for the repair. :(

Don't drink a gallon of water on the day you have to sit for prolonged periods of time or won't have easy access to a bathroom. This should be obvious, but sometimes I forget. On second thought, maybe you should drink water on days you have to sit for a long time so you are required to get up and move/stretch your legs.

When I'm trying to drink more, I use a 20ish oz water bottle. I fill it up from the water cooler first thing in the morning at work. Then I make sure to finish it before I go to the bathroom and I refill it each time I go to the bathroom. I've been doing this for awhile, so I can drink 20+oz between each bathroom stop - I suggest a smaller (10-12 oz maybe) container if you are just starting to drink more water. Your bladder will adjust.

Also, and this you may not know, if you drink a gallon of water a day, you might want to add a small amount of salt to it (like 1/2 tsp per gallon) to avoid an electrolyte imbalance - yes, too much water can be a bad thing. You won't taste the salt, but your body will appreciate it. I keep a small container of Himalayan salt and a measuring spoon in my desk at work for this purpose.

Using a dry erase marker, put a tally on the side of your water bottle each time you fill it up during the day to track how much water you drink (I tally when I finish each bottle - I had 135 oz during the workday yesterday).

Two yummy snack ideas:
  • PB Yogurt - Plain nonfat Greek yogurt (I like Fage) + PB2 + honey + cinnamon. Great as a dip for apples. Or just eat it with a spoon. I'm guilty of both. 
  • Popcorn, roasted almonds and dark chocolate chips mixed together in a bowl. (I wait until the popcorn is cooled so the chocolate doesn't melt, but you might want the chocolate to melt). Do it.
That's all for now.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hump day exhaustion

I am happy to say day 3 of T25 is done. I could have sworn it was Thursday most of the day today, so I was disappointed to realize this afternoon it was only Wednesday. 

Today's workout – Total body circuit – was tough. I’m tired now and could probably go to bed, at barely 9 pm. Food was okay. Sweet potato quinoa salad was a little bland. I felt like it needed something – maybe more spice. For dinner I made some pasta with mushrooms, chicken, sun dried tomatoes, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It was all right, but I probably could have worked a little harder on getting the sauce balanced a little better.

Tomorrow on the docket are a simple lunch of turkey, bell pepper, avocado and crackers and I’m leaning towards bean tacos for dinner. I’ll probably make a quesadilla for the kidlet.

Short post because I’m exhausted. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two days down...

I got through my second day of T25 without any problems. Working out in the morning puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. I also drank a lot of water today and I think I must have been retaining water over the last few days (lots of sodium-filled snacks over the weekend) because my ring is fitting quite large today.

The chicken waldorf salad today was really good, but it would've been even better on a bed of greens. The quinoa patties were...not very patty-like. It's not the recipe's fault though - I had to leave out the egg so it wouldn't stick together. I think next time I'll include some mashed up beans or something to boost the protein even more and help it stick together.

I also took a full freezer inventory this evening. We have waaaay too much sausage. Five packages of chicken sausages (different varieties) and 2 full packages of regular smoked sausage. That's in addition to ground beef, ground meat substitute (which I realized was not gluten-free after I bought it), steak, chicken, tilapia and some turkey burgers.

The kiddo had a beef slider and a banana for dinner. I'm okay with this meal because it included more veggies than she realized. I mixed baby food (mixed vegetables) into the sliders. Scott had a hastily put together, but hot sandwich of leftover pork butt on french bread with honey mustard.

Tomorrow on the lunch menu is quinoa and sweet potato salad. Not sure yet what I'm going to take for snacks. The dinner plan is chicken piccata and steamed brussel sprouts. I'm not sure what I'll make for the rest of the family.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Focus and Go

I started my new fitness challenge today – T25. Twenty-five intense minutes 5 days a week and I’m attempting to do the meal plan this time too (I haven’t followed the meal plan in the past with fitness programs, including Insanity and P90X). I say attempting at the meal plan because the types of meal plans that come with these programs can be frustrating sometimes when I’m substituting half the meal due to my avoidance of dairy and gluten, but I’m going to try to eat many of the top 25 foods Shaun T suggests and create some meals on my own using the same ingredients in the meal plan (I can’t eat the same five dinner for 90 days). 

Here’s that top 25 that I’m working with:

Greek yogurt
Brown Rice
Sweet Potatoes
Bell Peppers
Garbanzo beans
Chicken Breast
Raw Almonds

Other than the yogurt (which I might have in small amounts), eggs and salmon (which I can’t stand); it’s a pretty solid list of foods that I can build meals from with minimal extras besides olive oil, vinegars, herbs and spices.
I got through today’s workout with minimal breaks and eat pretty well today. I had butternut squash soup for lunch and a small serving of pasta with red sauce and a big bowl of steamed lemon pepper green beans for dinner. I really wanted to get chips post-workout when I stopped to pick up granola bars for the kid, but I didn’t. I grabbed an itty-bitty bag of pistachios instead.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s meals because they are new recipes – chicken waldorf salad for lunch and quinoa patties for dinner. I'll let you know how they turn out. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I'm back...with a recipe

 Oh my goodness, where have I been? I haven’t posted anything here in ages.

Well, actually I can tell you where I’ve been. I’ve been training for, raising money for and completing a marathon! My first marathon and I tackled the hills of San Francisco for it. It really hogged up my time for a while there. But that’s done and I’m on to the next thing.

I’ve got about two months in which I’m not actively training for a specific event (my off-season, if you will) so I’m going to do Shaun T’s T25 program. Then in late January I will start training for my Ragnar Relay in June – 200 miles, 2 days, 12 people. We’re going to run from Madison, WI to Chicago.

And I also plan to complete about 3 triathlons next summer. 

But this is supposed to be about food. Last night I made a newish recipe. Growing up my mom used to make tamale casserole (I’ve also heard it called tamale pie). I loved it. It was one of two casseroles from my childhood that make me feel warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately it’ll take more time to figure out how to do the chicken enchilada casserole I love so much – the dairy-free part keeps getting in the way. 

But tamale casserole was totally doable, once I found the right vegan cornbread recipe. And I did it. I found it with the help of my good friend Google. I halved the recipe from Post Punk Kitchen. It’s moist with a crunchy crust and that golden yellow color and a little sweetness. Super yum.

This dish turned out just the way I remember it and got high marks from the family (including my uber picky one). 

Tamale Casserole

½ red bell pepper, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (optional)
½ onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground meat – I use turkey
1 can tomato sauce
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 tbsp chili powder
Salt & pepper to taste

Cornbread topping:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup soymilk (I actually used coconut)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat over to 350. Spray a 9x9 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Brown meat over medium high heat in a large pan with peppers, onion and garlic. Drain if necessary. Add tomato sauce, corn and chili powder. Reduce heat and let simmer while you prepare the topping.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and the vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt).

Add the oil and maple syrup to the milk mixture. Whisk with a wire whisk or a fork until it is foamy and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Pour the wet ingredient into the dry and mix together using a large wooden spoon or a firm spatula.

Pour filling into baking dish. Immediately pour cornbread topping over meat mixture. Spread to cover.

Bake 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve immediately.

Approximately 6 servings

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thank you, Kings Island!

Last year at this time I was just finally starting to feel comfortable going out to eat and learning about how to find food options at restaurant that met my restrictions. Going to amusement parks isn’t easy when you eat vegan or even just gluten-free. So I was excited but still weary when I saw this sign at a food kiosk at Kings Island.

It wasn’t even lunch time yet, but I went over to find out exactly what they were referring to when they said “All Gluten Free.” They told me the entire kiosk was gluten free. No chance of cross-contamination in the fryer. I had my first non-homemade chicken tenders in 1 1/2 years! They also had gluten-free beer. 

Maybe it doesn’t take much to make me happy, but knowing this option was available for dinner at the end of the long day made me happy! Thank you, Kings Island. You’ve done a good thing. 

It only took a year...but a new recipe is born

Last summer I got to spend some time with my sister out in Montana. We stopped at a co-op in Bozeman to pick up some food for camping in the Tetons. The co-op had a great deli area with several gluten-free and vegan salad options rather than the traditional potato and pasta salads that you find in most grocery store delis.

I got two that I really liked – a chipotle potato salad that I recreated last summer – and a curry quinoa salad.
I successfully made a similar quinoa salad this past week. It contained quinoa (obviously), shredded carrots, steamed edamame, red onion, craisins and an orange curry dressing. It would also be good with some chicken added as well, but I’m eating vegan for a few weeks.

Curry Quinoa Salad
2 cups water
1 cup rinsed quinoa
1 cup carrots, shredded
¼ cup red onion, diced
1 cup edamame, shelled and steamed
1/3 cup craisins
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup orange juice
½ tsp coriander
1 -2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
Bring water to boil
Add quinoa
Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for about 12-15  minutes. Liquid should be absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to rest while you prepare remaining ingredients.
Toss carrots, onion, craisins, and edamame together in a bowl.
Stir together olive oil, orange juice, coriander, curry powder and salt. Add quinoa to vegetables and toss with dressing. This salad is best if it is allowed to sit for a couple hours in the fridge before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's Summer!

Well, technically not quite like two days though. Memorial Day was a few weeks ago and the kids are out of school, so I'm going to go ahead and go with  IT'S SUMMER!

Summer to me these days means more time to work out. Train, train, train. Last summer I was training for the triathlon. This summer its a marathon and P90X. Annyka (the now 8yo kidlet) is at her dad's for two weeks at a time so I can be much more flexible with workouts - mornings at the Y, evenings at the pool, riding my bike to work, running downtown at sunrise...all options in the summer that are not viable when she's home. I miss her bunches and can't wait until she comes home this weekend, but I take advantage of the time I have when she's away.

But with all that working out, I have not been spending a ton of time in the kitchen. I did break down and join Pinterest - mainly as a way to keep track of those recipes I come across that I want to save for trying later. Several of my athlete friends are going Paleo so they post yummy things that I can eat. Anywho, I haven't come up with any earth-shattering new recipes lately. Plenty of veggies with pasta or rice and salads lately because it's fast and fresh. I made the Pioneer Woman's Asian Noodle Salad this weekend. I hadn't made that in a long time and I don't know why. It's very good. I only made half the dressing though and I thought it was plenty (in fact, I have some leftover dressing), oh and I made one small substitution - I used grapeseed oil in the dressing rather than olive oil because it doesn't have any taste to compete with the other ingredients.

So sorry for the boring update, but I'll come up with something good soon. Polenta with bruschetta is coming up on the horizon soon. I haven't quite pinned down the bruschetta recipe yet.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Everything must go!

You know when you're getting ready to either go on vacation or move and you want to get rid of your food before then? That's where I'm at now.

We're going on vacation (not moving). We're leaving on Thursday morning and it's liquidation time. Everything must go!

I practically forced Scott to eat a bag of grapes last night. I'll finish off the last of the carrots at lunch today and put a good dent in the spinach. The brussel sprouts are slated for annihilation at dinner tonight. I still have a small bag of snap peas to have a lunch tomorrow (at least that's the plan) and the last of the onions and bell peppers will hopefully make their way into fajitas on Wednesday night. And I'll down as many apples as I can between now and Thursday.

Yesterday we fired up the grill for dinner - chicken breasts - and I threw some tamari-sesame pork chops on to join the party as well. Those are now slated for tonight's dinner. I had big plans for meatballs this week as well, but with too much leftover chicken, that is going to fall by the wayside. I did, however, make, bake and freeze said meatballs last night for future use.

So here's the plan for the next three nights:
Monday - pork chop sandwiches (for those that eat such things), sauteed brussel sprouts and leftover rice salad from yesterday.
Tuesday - spaghetti with meat sauce, additional vegetables if we still have some that need to be eaten.
Wednesday - fajitas made with the already grilled chicken we have + sauteed bell pepper and onion add the half a can of black beans I have in the fridge and corn tortillas and dinner is DONE!.

At some point I also have to figure out what food I want to take on the plane with me on Thursday - airport food for people who don't eat gluten and dairy can be someone challenging (and expensive). I wanted to make some "almond joy" bars (still working on the recipe but it will involve dates, cocoa, almonds, & coconut) to take, but I haven't managed to get any dates to make them, so that probably won't happen with judo (twice) and a doctor's appointment on the schedule in the next three days. Plus I want to go get a spray tan. Wish me luck on the spray tan. It's my first time. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chicken Chili and Costumes

I made chicken chili last night but I was rushed and I didn't feel like the flavors came together very well.

I had to make a "costume" for my race tomorrow and my supplies were failing me. I'm doing an obstacle course race with a team tomorrow and we're supposed to be "game characters." Since the team captain originally wanted to do Street Fighter characters and we vetoed him, I'm pretty sure he meant we should be video game characters, but I don't like to do the expected all the time, so I went more old school. I wanted a BOARD game character. And I found one! I am going to be the Operation game guy. I modeled my costume after the guy on the board game cover - he's wearing red polka dot boxers on his bottom half.

So I got a pink (closest to skin colored I could find) T-shirt, painted red areas on it for each of my body parts that can be removed then each of those areas received a velcro piece. Then I cut the parts out of white felt and stuck them to the velcro. I couldn't find red polka dot boxers, but I did find black ones so I went with that. And since it will be cold tomorrow, I'll be wearing tights and a long-sleeved shirt under.

Anyway, I bought a fabric marker for the T-shirt and it was dried out when I opened it. So I took it back and approximately four seconds after I started the exchange process with customer service my child has to go to the immediately. Ugh. So we stop the process for a bathroom break, then make the exchange. Second marker is also defective. That when I switched to paint. But in the end a 5-minute trip took more like 20 minutes and I had less time for dinner. So that's making a long story longer.

I'm having leftovers of my soup for lunch and maybe it will be better.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pollen Sucks.

I look outside at green grass and blooming trees and want to be happy about it, but it’s hard to smile through the sneezing, bloody noses and swollen eyes. 

I look like I’ve been crying non-stop for four days. But I haven’t been. Just breathing in the poisonous pollen. I need to find some local bee pollen…you think I can rub it in my eyes? 

I ate relatively well yesterday:
                Breakfast – shakeology with almond milk and a banana
                Lunch – crunchmaster crackers (14 = 1 serving), 1 bell pepper (cut into strips), baby carrots (I didn’t count) and some snap peas, hummus and three slices of turkey from the deli.
                Snack – apple and chocolate almond milk
                Dinner – bell pepper and broccoli stir-fry with ginger quinoa.
Then I slipped up and finished a bag of Sriracha Lays. The good news is they are now gone so they can’t tempt me any longer. 

Today’s plan:
                Breakfast – cantaloupe and blueberries
                Snack – Shakeology with water
                Lunch – crunchmasters again, three slices of turkey, ½ avocado, an apple, two clementines.
                Snack – cashews and a banana
                Dinner – Mexican rice bowls: brown rice, black beans, corn, salsa, avocado and maybe chicken if               I feel like I need meat. 

Boring post. Sorry nothing super exciting to report.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Slump Busting

I’ve been in a slump. I haven’t been posting here. I haven’t been drinking enough water and I’ve been eating too much junk food – too much sodium, too much restaurant food. 

The last six weeks have been very stressful – some work, some family, some general life stuff. Annyka started judo twice a week, I got a new (to me) car, we redid the floors and paint in the main part of our house, spring break was in there (which wasn’t a break for me, but a shake-up in the routine nonetheless)…it’s been a little crazy. 

The final piece of the painting should be done today though. The new furniture can come in and things can get back to “normal.” So my health needs to get back on track too. 

I got up and drank two glasses of water right off the bat today. Also, for the next several weeks – until we go to San Francisco – I’m only eating foods that are on the top two tiers of Michi’s Ladder. I’ve already built a skeleton meal plan and done the shopping for the next week or so. 

Next week, I’m going to start P90X again. And I’m going to graduate this time! If you want to join me in your own fitness challenge, or would like more information about my meal plan, let me know.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chopped-worthy dinner dish

I feel like tonight’s dinner was almost Chopped worthy. It had a variety of ingredients that I wouldn’t normally think to combine but it worked. Here’s what went in it: 

Sweet potato puree
Gala apple
Frozen mire poix
Cajun seasoning
Almond milk
Brown rice
I made a sauce that I put over the rice. It was inspired by a soup recipe in a magazine, but I didn’t feel like soup, I wanted something a little heartier. 

First I made the brown rice. 

I chopped one peeled gala apple and combined it with a little bit of olive oil and two cloves of minced garlic. If I hadn’t already browned my chorizo a couple nights ago, I would have put the apples and garlic in with the chorizo. However, since the sausage was already done, I sautéed apples and garlic for just a little bit, then added about half a bag of frozen mire poix and some Cajun seasoning. 

Then I added the browned chorizo and sweet potato. I had some cubes of frozen sweet potato puree in the freezer leftover from when I made chili a couple weeks ago. I threw four cubes in the pot with the apple and veggies. I tossed in a couple tablespoons of almond milk to the sauce. 

I brought everything to a simmer and let it thicken a little bit. Then I spooned it over the brown rice. 

It turned out pretty yummy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Breakfast casserole...GF and vegan

I love other bloggers that post gluten-free recipes. They make me happy. A friend - thanks, Dee - posted a gluten-free oatmeal casserole on Facebook. I'm not saying it is the same as a hashbrown casserole with eggs and cheese and sausage and all that jazz, but it's got to be better for me, right!?

So I tired it out. I followed the recipe closely this time, but next time I'll make a few changes. Here the blog that had the original recipe is below. The recipe I will post will include the changes I will make next time. I baked this, then put it in the fridge. Each day for the past few days, I've cut a piece and warmed it up in the microwave. It only takes about 1 minute, 30 seconds to be warm and yummy.

Baked Oatmeal Casserole
2 cups gluten free oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup fruit - I made it with mixed berries last time, I want to try it with diced apples or diced peaches
2 cups almond milk
1 "flax egg" (1 tbsp flax meal + 3 tbsp water. Mix together then let sit about 5 minutes until it gels a bit)
3 tbsp melted vegan "butter" or coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375. Spray casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Mix dry ingredients together. Place the oat mixture in the casserole dish. Mix wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Pour wet ingredients over the oats. Bake for about 35-40 minutes.

Sprinkle with chocolate chips before serving if you prefer.

I thought the chocolate and bananas in the original recipe were too overpowering. I think this would be awesome with apples and butterscotch chips though....

The mother grain

Quinoa...have you tried it yet? It's good stuff. I tried quinoa for the first time a little over a year ago and now we always have it in the house.

Quinoa is technically a seed rather than an actual grain, but you can use it in just about any recipe that calls for rice or oats. It has a nutritional profile that is very close to milk - with more protein than other grains. I have friends that use it in place of meat in tacos. Since quinoa takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it or mix it with, you can make it just about any way you want.

I had a bag of sugar snap peas and baby carrots in the fridge that I hadn't figured out what to do with. I've been eating out a lot the last several days so I felt like I needed to stick to the veggies today.

So for breakfast, I had GF baked oatmeal, Shakeology with a banana for lunch, an apple for a snack and for dinner I made a Asian quinoa salad with a cup of miso soup.

Asian Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 ready to steam bag sugar snap peas and baby carrots (or other veggies of your choice)
3 tbsp tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Bring water and quinoa to boil in a medium sized pot. Reduce heat to low and cover for about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and leave covered about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam veggies and mix with tamari, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Add quinoa and toss. I tossed some sliced scallions on top and added some sriracha for heat as well. I bet the leftovers will be even better for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rough week...good weekend

This past week was a tough one. A week ago, last Sunday night, something with the steering broke on my van. That's bad enough, but toss in the fact that we've only had one working vehicle that we can use for the last several months. In both of our names we actually own several vehicles - two mini vans, a cargo van, a two-seater convertible, a 15-ft box truck...but only one of those mini vans is operational in such a way that it can be used for the family.

So anyway, we had a crazy busy week with me going to Chicago on Friday, Annyka having a judo trial on Wednesday and the normal getting to school and work each day to deal with. Did I mention I've also been nursing a muscle strain in my back all week?

I did get to take my little trip to Chicago though and see a good friend who lives across the country now and got some rest. Plus I was also able to purchase another vehicle so hopefully this week will be a little better - I have two doctors appointments, we have judo and a spring music performance.

So I only cooked once all week last week. Thursday night I had enough time to make tomato soup.

I came across a recipe for an easy tomato soup and decided to try it. Of course I doctored it up a little bit. The rest of the fam got garlic bread as well. I think I'm going to make some pasta to have with the soup tonight.

Easy Tomato Soup

1 24-oz jar of tomato-based pasta sauce
24-oz of chicken broth
1 15-oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
8 oz baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
10 oz baby spinach, torn
olive oil

In a large pot, saute the onion in a little olive oil until transparent. Add garlic and saute for about a minute. Add mushrooms and spinach. Stir for about a minute. Add pasta sauce, broth and beans. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Family Date Night: Iozzo's

Scott and I have decided to start instituting family date night in our family. One of our first family date nights was for my birthday at Fogo da Chao. The kids were well behaved and didn’t mention farting or spill anything during dinner – with two elementary-aged kids that is considered a success.
About every two months, we plan to take the kids to a new restaurant. We’ll dress up, make reservations and we make sure they understand this is an event to be on your best behavior. They will learn how to use good manners and we hope to encourage them to try new foods at the same time. Scott and I both tend to enjoy locally-owned and often ethnic restaurants  so this weekend we went to Iozzo’s Italian Garden on South Meridian in Indianapolis.
Italian seemed safe since we know our kids love pasta with tomato sauce. One kiddo ended up with pizza, the other with chicken tenders. Sigh. But they still tried a few new things regardless. Wilson had some clams, both tried edible flowers that were used as garnish – which Wilson loved – and Annyka had some grilled vegetables. I’m not sure what was so great about it, but the salad was amazing. It was a simple salad – mixed artisan greens, tomato and cucumber slices and house-made balsamic vinaigrette. I don’t know of the mixed greens were especially good or if it was the dressing, but it was delicious.
One of the ways I often judge a restaurant is on their approach to allergens – specifically gluten-free dining. Iozzo’s was great. I had noted when I made the reservation that one person in our group was gluten-free. They asked about it before I had a chance to say anything and the server was well-versed in what he needed to point out on the menu. They had quinoa pasta and they let me know that all sauces were GF. I had the Chicken Diavlo. It was very spicy and I love the sauce that seemed to be made from fresh tomatoes. Next time I may have to try one of their fish dishes though – they specialize in Southern Italian seafood.
We have a list of other restaurants we would like the kids to experience:
            Machu Picchu (Latin American)
            Abyssinia  (Ethiopian)
            Barcelona Tapas (Spanish)
            India Garden
            Tata Cuban Café
            Greek Islands
            Saffron Café (Moroccan)
I can’t wait for April’s family date night! We’ll probably be celebrating two 8th birthdays that evening!

It's a sweet potato fiesta!

Do you eat sweet potatoes? I’m not sure I’d ever had a sweet potato until a few years ago. I grew up having russet baked potatoes frequently, but not sweet potatoes. Recently I’ve been trying to eat more of this orange variety. I don’t like them as much as regular potatoes, but the nutritioinal benefits can’t be denied – They have tons of vitamin C, calcium, folate, potassium, and beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A). At least one scientific group considers the sweet potato the most nutritious vegetable.
In addition, another reason sweet taters are so great is because they are a low-glycemic food. That seems a little weird to me considering the fact that glycemic stems from a word for sugar and this is the sweet version of the potato. But it’s true – sweet potatoes do not spike your blood sugar the way white potatoes do. The energy provided by a sweet potato will last longer than the quick energy you will get from a russet potato.  
I have a few friends who will eat a half of a sweet potato, with a little coconut oil and cinnamon, as a dessert to satisfy their sweet tooth.
This past week, I chose to have sweet potatoes with a tex-mex flair. I had originally planned to just bake my potatoes whole, but we ended up getting home later than planned, so instead I made them a little differently – cubed and roasted. I tossed them with homemade taco seasoning and them topped them with a black bean salad once they were done.
Fiesta Sweet Potatoes
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 batch of homemade taco seasoning – see below
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp lime juice
½ cup whole corn kernals
1 tomato, diced (or ½ cup mild salsa)
¼ medium onion, diced
Salt, to taste

Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil. Set aside about 1 tsp of taco seasoning for the bean salad. Toss the oil coated potatoes with the rest of the taco seasoning. Spread potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. Potatoes should be easily pierced with a fork and will browned around the edges.
While potatoes are roasting, combine beans, lime juice, corn, tomato, onion and remaining taco seasoning.
Once potatoes are done, top each serving with bean salad. Add salt IF needed. The salt in the taco seasoning may be enough.  A little sour cream or guacamole may be good with this as well, but I didn’t have any handy.

Taco Seasoning
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp dried oregano
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Himalayan salt
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp chipotle pepper powder
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or spice shaker.
Most taco seasoning recipes call for chili powder and paprika, but I replace those two with chipotle pepper powder. Chipotle powder is smokier than regular chili powder, but it is also spicier. If you’d like the smokiness without the heat, try smoked paprika instead of the chipotle powder.