It’s been awhile!

But I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining my absence- life has been hectic and we’ve had a lot to contend with, but summer is here and I wanted to share a quick nomato sauce recipe with you all. I’m actually putting together a full lasagna with this beautiful creamy sauce and a healthy helping of my dairy free zucchini cheese (made with that club… er giant zucchini below). The whole lasagna won’t be nightshade free, but if you leave out the eggplant and bell peppers, you won’t be missing anything, so don’t write this one off on that account.

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The nomato sauce was fast and easy and it’s so tasty so without further ado here’s a recipe for you!

  • 4 medium beets (see note at the end of the recipe if you’re working on cutting carbs and don’t think you should use this many root veggies in one go)
  • 3 large or 5 small carrots
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2-3 tsp mushroom powder (or substitute a few strong flavored mushrooms such as shitake or portobello)
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small onion
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic (more to taste
  • 1 small bunch of basil
  • 1-2 tsps Italian seasoning
  • 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 oz dairy and nut free pesto (if you’re good with nuts and dairy, regular is fine too)
  • nutritional yeast to taste
  • salt to taste

I started with a small onion and a few cloves of garlic sauteed in some extra virgin olive oil. I wanted to really infuse the sauce with the flavors that we know and love in lasagna and all Italian style dishes. I added a small amount of basil, roughly 2 oz of dairy and nut free pesto (from a local farm, but this recipe looks to be a fair substitute) and stirred that all up over low heat. My husband was in love with just that (and so happy when I told him this meal was for us).20170715_130902.jpg

While that was sauteeing, I steamed the beets, carrots, and zucchini (and you would add mushrooms here if you’re using fresh) in the chicken broth until soft. The mushrooms add an umami flavor that is missing without the tomatoes and you’ll be happy you used them, even if you don’t normally like mushrooms. Once they’re done, I threw them all in the blender, added a bit of salt and the apple cider vinegar, and pureed til smooth. Once that was mixed well, I poured it into the sauteed onion and spice mixture and let it simmer over very low heat. I added nutritional yeast to taste along with salt and called it good. (And when I say to taste, I probably added 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast).

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Once this was all done, I browned some ground beef with salt and pepper and mixed it all together for a meat sauce and let it simmer some more to blend all the flavors and cook it down a bit.

To complete my lasagna I layered 2 thinly sliced medium zucchini and 2 thinly sliced medium eggplants (could use 4 zucchini here and skip the eggplant if you’re nightshade free) in a casserole dish and alternated with veggie slice layers, sauce, and slices of my dairy free cheese. To dry the zucchini and eggplant out a bit prior to layering, I brined them in salt water for about 10 minutes and then sauteed them. Baking time should be shorter since you’re not cooking noodles and you’re precooking your zucchini. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes and then enjoy!

A few notes on beets. Different colors are more or less sweet. For a good balance, I often like to mix golden and red beets evenly when possible. For a sweeter sauce use all red like I did in this recipe. For a slightly more savory you can mix Chioggia and yellow. Adding in cauliflower in place of some of the beets can also cut the sweetness a bit if you’re watching your carbohydrate intake (and beets are definitely on the sweet side so if that’s a concern for you, using 2 beets and a cup or so of cauliflower florets plus the carrots and zucchini is definitely a good alternative).

 

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Allergy free Chocolate Cookies (paleo, vegan, gluten free, AIP option)

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I’m not going to bury the lede here, we’re just going to jump right into the cookies. It’s Friday, it’s 60 something degrees outside, it’s been a long and stressful week, and I’m going to eat my feelings today. There- that’s about as honest as I can get. But as a rule, eating my feelings involves chocolate and generally speaking chocolate is not compatible with my goal to be healthier. Now, there are dozens of recipes for coconut oil chocolate out there and I often go that route, but my poor husband can’t have coconut right now and I wanted something that he could enjoy along with me (because I’m nice and usually share my chocolate). I also needed it to be egg and dairy free for my youngest as well as low in sugar.

I went looking for cassava flour cookies because cassava flour is a good grain free option for baking and found many chocolate chip recipes, but I have no chocolate chips and no real desire to either make my own or go to the store that’s so far away for them (joys of living in the country- everything is at least a 15 mile drive). So. I found this recipe for refrigerator cookies from Gabriella at Beyond the Bite, a super talented teen chef whose recipes are just amazing. I’ve been following her for about a year now and I’m always in awe of her stuff. So even tho I wanted chocolate, this seemed like a good starting point.

I modified the flour and fat amounts to account for the cacao powder, added some orange extract for a Milano cookie flavor, and now it’s just a matter of getting these beauties in my mouth. The best part is, if you need to avoid chocolate, you can still make these. You can use carob powder in place of the cacao and still have super tasty treat.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Cassava Flour Chocolate Orange Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups cassava flour
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder (or carob powder to make these AIP friendly)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup palm oil shortening
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp orange extract (I use Frontier brand organic alcohol free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (Frontier brand again)

Place all your ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined. The dough will be soft and fluffy.

Put your dough on parchment paper or plastic wrap and form a log about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across. Wrap up well and place in the freezer to chill for 2 hours.

When you get it out of the freezer, let it sit for 5 minutes or so to warm up enough to slice. If you leave it in longer than 2 hours, no worries, because I did that and 5 minutes was still enough to thaw it for me.

Slice it in 1/4 inch or so thick slices and place on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes and then remove to cool. These cookies will be slightly firm, but will set up more as they cool.

 

Grain free, AIP “cornbread” without the Coconut (vegan options)

One of the many reasons we’re generally grain free around my house is my littlest one’s sensitivities. She doesn’t do well with eggs, dairy, corn, soy, or wheat so that in combination with our other issues is a good reason to keep the family grain free most of the time since it’s a real chore to find something that is free of all of those that is also ready made. Every so often tho, I just miss things like cornbread, and I want her to have what we’re having because she’s reached an age when she knows if she doesn’t get to eat the same foods we are (and ask in the sweetest, most plaintive, tones for ‘By, by’).

Today is one such day- I’m making a big pot of chili for dinner and the combination of chili and cornbread is just ingrained in me, but we mostly do without. Last night tho, as I was putting little one to bed, an idea came to me and I got very excited. It seems that my shower time ideas that I used to get before children have moved to nap and bedtime when my mind is still. Last night, the idea that came to me, was cassava flour “cornbread.” I had purchased some cassava flour from Amazon that ended up being very coarse when I received it. I used it to make some tortillas and was immediately put in mind of cornmeal because of the texture. It even tasted like corn when we ate the tortillas for dinner that evening and I filed that information away for the time when I knew I would need it.

As I lay there last night, I pulled that information back out and turned it over in my brain figuring through it til I had a plan and the end result was this recipe. I used a few different traditional recipes for cornbread as a jumping off point and now the final product is in the oven cooking.

To start, you’re going to need to have the coarsely ground cassava flour I linked above because this just won’t work with finely ground flour. It’s reasonably priced for this type of flour and ships quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cassava flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder (recipe for grain free baking powder here because store bought contains corn)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon gelatin + 3 tablespoons water (Or to make this vegan, 1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons water)
  • 1 tablespoon xylitol, honey, or maple syrup or skip the sweetener all together since the cassava has a lightly sweet flavor on its own
  • 1/4 cup lard (or coconut oil, avocado oil, palm shortening)
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk to keep this AIP or other dairy free milk if you don’t tolerate coconut
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl (or get crazy and mix them in a box- you do you 😉 ) and then add in the liquid ingredients. Stir everything well til you have a nice thick … dough? Batter doesn’t seem accurate here, because it’s a very thick consistency that is pliable and mold-able. I plan to try my hand at baked corn dogs with this stuff because I know I can wrap it around a hotdog and it will stay put. So we’ll call it a dough.

I pressed it into a baking pan with a lip, but I think it would work better in muffin form. 25 minutes gave me a soft bread that was almost like polenta in texture, and absolutely perfect to serve with our chili, but I think muffins would be even better because they’d have more surface area exposed for crisping up a bit. Picture coming soon!

 

Cheesecake!!

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Many exclamation points are needed for this post, because, cheesecake!!! These recipes are dairy, egg, corn, soy, wheat, nut, nightshade, gluten, grain, legume, and refined sugar free. Made with agar agar, they are vegan. Holy moly! The only thing I haven’t worked out avoiding just yet is coconut. So, if coconut is a problem, then I’m sad to say I haven’t fixed that. Yet. Haven’t fixed it yet. But give me some time. I have some ideas in mind that involve a tropical fruit I haven’t played with yet.

I thought of this recipe while laying my little one down for her nap the other day. I was contemplating the amazingness that is the summer squash/zucchini cheese and wishing it would magically turn into cream cheese so that I could make cheesecake out of it. And then I thought, why not? I should be able to mimic that sweet tart salty goodness if I’m careful and the crust is actually the easy part. And so as soon as I got her to sleep, I got up, prepared my squash, and  started eyeballing and dumping things into my Vitamix, preparing for the moment she woke up so that I could make some noise in the kitchen. I kept a mental list running (no lard, palm shortening instead, 3 cap fulls of lemon extract, etc.) in order to have a better jumping off point when I had more time, and because I wanted to be able to replicate my results in case a miracle occurred.

It’s a good thing I did, because a miracle did happen! The end result was a delicious confection that was very lightly sweet and reminiscent of key lime cheesecake. While the end result is smoother than a true cheese cake,  and the vegan version is more like a creamy mousse or pudding (the texture is hard to describe, but I know there’s an equivalent out there), the taste and mouth feel was so satisfying! So I started again the next day, with my goal being a neutral base that was perfect for topping with berries, chocolate, fruit, or any other topping my heart desired. And it worked. So my recipe that I’m sharing today is the result of those experiments. I am still in the testing phase, but my family can only eat so much sugar in one week (well they’d eat more and so would I, but I won’t let us.)

So, without further ado, here is that recipe. I have plans for more variations, but for now, I’ll get you started with the citrus, the chocolate, and the basic plain cheesecake. Enjoy!

Dairy Free Cheesecake:

Filling:

  • 6 cups squash
  • ½ cup gelatin or 2 tbsp + 1 tsp agar agar
  • ½ can coconut milk
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp palm shortening

Crust:

  • 1 cup cassava flour
  • 4 tbsp palm shortening
  • ½ coconut flour
  • ½ dried coconut
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350. Peel and slice squash and remove seeds. Steam for for 5 minutes or til soft. If using agar agar, add to liquid before steaming. While squash is cooking, mix all the ingredients for the crust in a bowl til a dough forms. It will be a little sticky, but mostly smooth. Line a 9 inch spring-form pan with parchment paper and press the crust into the base. You can also use a pie pan, if you don’t have a spring-form pan. Bake the crust in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes til lightly golden brown.

Directions for Gelatin:

Once the squash is tender, remove it from water and place in the blender. Add coconut milk, maple syrup, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, and palm shortening and any flavor variations to blender and blend on high til smooth. Be careful to hold the lid on tightly in order to keep the steam from the squash from pushing it off. After your mixture is smooth, turn speed down to medium and slowly pour the gelatin powder into the blender and allow it to run a bit longer to ensure everything is fully incorporated.

Directions for Agar Agar:

Once the squash is done, pour water and squash into blender. Add coconut milk, maple syrup, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, palm shortening, and any flavor variations to blender and blend on high til smooth. Be careful to hold the lid on tightly in order to keep the steam from the squash from pushing it off. Once the mixture is smooth, you are done with the blending.

For both:

Pour the squash mixture onto your crust and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to cool completely and set up. This will probably take 3-4 hours. Serve cold.

Variations:

  • For chocolate add 2 to 3 tbsp raw cacao
  • For citrus add 3 tbsp lime juice, 1 tsp lemon extract, and 1 tsp orange extract

Dairy Free Cheese

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Who wants a quick recipe?! I made this zucchini cheese the other day (and shared about it on my Facebook page), but I’m never one to leave well enough alone and I have not been impressed with carrots in dairy free cheese because the flavor is too strong for my tastes. So. I looked in the fridge and saw some beautiful little red sweet peppers from a local farm hanging out on the shelf and said to myself, “Self, that’s a great way to get some orange color.” I added two of these to my pot, roughly the equivalent of half a small red bell pepper. The flavor they added was perfect.
So without further ado, here’s the recipe:
-4 cups summer squash or zucchini peeled with the seeds scooped out if you’re using more mature squash (great way to use those clubs that hide under the leaves til they’re gigantic)
-2 to 3 small sweet peppers or half a red bell pepper
-1 1/2 tsp salt
-2 tsp onion powder
-1 clove garlic
-3 to 4 tsp ACV
-3 to 4 tbsp fat (I used lard, but coconut oil works, and so would avocado oil or a good olive oil)
-1/2 cup nutritional yeast (adds the cheesy flavor you’re going to love)
-1/2 plus 1/8th cup grassfed gelatin (I use Great Lakes brand because I can find it locally)
Steam your veggies til soft (5 minutes or so). Combine with the spices, salt, vinegar, fat, and nutritional yeast in a blender and carefully blend on high. Your squash is hot so be aware that the steam can push open the top, not to mention burn you. Learn from my mistakes! Once your mix is well pureed, turn blender speed down to low and slowly pour your gelatin in as the blender incorporates it.
Now, line a bread pan or smaller casserole dish with parchment paper and pour your cheese sauce into it. Let it set up in the fridge (think good old jello here) for several hours and then you can use it for just about anything. I added some jalapeno to a second batch and made spicy cheese and oh my heavens was it tasty! My next experiment with this recipe is already in the works and let me tell you, it is going to be good. Repeat after me. Cheesecake. Dairy free, egg free, grain free, nut free, cheesecake. Mmm-hmm.

Make your own: Mustard

Yesterday as we sat down to a dinner of cowboy burgers and sweet and white potato fries with no mayo deviled eggs, I reached for the Boar’s Head deli style mustard that was out on the table. I love a good, spicy mustard, and this stuff really delivers. Being the concerned consumer that I am, however, I couldn’t resist a refresher course on the ingredients. They’re fairly benign (select mustard seeds, vinegar, salt, horseradish, spices, white wine), but I tend to read between the lines and here what I saw was white vinegar probably from “sun-ripened grains” also known as GMO corn, and spices which cover a wide range of mystery ingredients. For those avoiding nightshades, it might cover paprika which is in two of my other mustards, but it might also hide flavor enhancers. Needless to say, I wasn’t super impressed so I decided to make my own. 

I’ve made mustard in the past, but it has been several years so I decided to just wing it and see how things went. However, because I love my readers, I decided to record my findings in case any one else wanted a recipe. This is a big deal folks, so you’re welcome.

First, the ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mustard seeds (I used a mix of yellow and brown because it’s what I had on  hand)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 14 black peppercorns (or 1/8th of a tsp ground black pepper)
  • 1/2 cup horseradish powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric (optional, mostly for color)
  • 1 tsp smoked salt (or regular if you don’t have smoked)

Supplies:

  • Something to store your mustard in (recycled jar, bowl with lid, etc.)
  • Blender, mortar and pestle, coffee grinder

A note about mixing this. I am spoiled and have a Vitamix blender, but you don’t need one to make this. In fact, you don’t have to grind the mustard really at all, it will just be a bumpier consistency. I’m going to assume tho, that you have a blender or coffee grinder or mortar and pestle or a hammer and board (well maybe not a hammer and board… that would require a lot of work) in your kitchen that will let you smash the mustard seeds a bit. If you’re working with a standard blender, may I suggest using a small mouth canning jar instead of your blender jar? They are usually threaded the same which was an amazing discovery for me when I first learned this. A pint size jar would be about perfect for this if you have one. If not, the regular blender will do.

So. Pour your spices into your blender, jar, mortar, or end container if you’re not grinding anything. Blend or grind to your desired consistency. I left my seeds mostly coarsely ground with lots of whole mustard seeds because I love the little pops they make when I chew them with my burgers. Most home blenders and the mortar and pestle method are going to leave you with large bits as well so keep that in mind as you go at this. You’re not going to end up with smooth yellow French’s mustard here, but rather something grainy and rustic and delicious.

Once your dry spices are mostly ground, add your liquid (vinegar) and blend a bit longer. If you used a canning jar, you can store it in the same container you made it in which is why I love this method. I tend to hoard all kinds of jars, but particularly anything with threads that match my canning jars since lids tend to disappear quite frequently. This is the end of your project now. You just need to store your mustard in whatever container you chose. It does need to be water tight since you are dealing with a semi-liquid product here, but beyond that, it’s up to you. If you left your mustard seeds whole, let this soak in the fridge for about 24 hours to really get the flavors to blend. It will get stronger the longer it soaks. If you ground your seeds a bit, a couple of hours will be plenty for the mustard to really start to set up and get good. I tried mine from this morning on my lunch burger and was really happy with the end result. 

How does your garden grow?

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One of my favorite ways to save money on produce is to grow my own garden. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but if it is, it’s a great way to get some healthy produce into your diet on the cheap.

I am beyond blessed to have a builder for a husband, but even if that’s not an option, 5 gallon buckets will allow you to grow a huge variety of vegetables and even some small fruits like strawberries on your own. IMG_20160506_211828.jpg

This picture is 3 angles of one of my raspberry plants. These are a new addition to our garden space this year. I have planted 3 varieties that should provide us with berries through the entire spring to fall fruiting season when they start producing. I also added 5 blackberry plants that aren’t pictured, 2 apple trees, and a peach.

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This beautiful bouquet showcases a variety of salad greens that were either planted by my daughter (3) or that self-seeded last fall. There are 3 or so types of lettuce, a little sprig of fennel from the herb garden (sounds so grand, but my herbs are planted right alongside everything else in those beds in the top picture), some green garlic leaves, and some kale.

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Because we’re in the country, we have an abundance of wild chives or onions (depending on who you talk to) and I love to collect the scapes from them for use in pestos and any recipe that calls for garlic. They can be a little tough, but if they’re chopped finely enough, they’re a really tasty treat.

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My irises are purely food for my soul, but I am never one to devalue that aspect of gardening. These were a gift from a friend and it has made my heart so happy to see them blooming cheerfully away for the past few weeks.

So if you have the chance, why don’t you consider a garden?

 

Out and About: Strawberry Patch

Sometimes, you just have to go pick strawberries. If the conditions are right, it is a beautiful and relaxing experience.

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It can be so zen and picturesque

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Bonding moments abound

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Tho sometimes it gets a bit more stressful when you have to tell the toddler no more strawberries til you pay for them (for the umpteenth time! 😀 )

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But in the end you come home with some really unique treasures like Cyrano de Berrygerac here.

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We picked these at our local U-Pick, Fahrmeier Farms. Check them out if you’re local, you won’t be sorry you did!

To Eat or Not to Eat

So after a 2 week hiatus (family trip to Texas anyone?!) I’m back to give you my take on another fat related question. This one is also from Sarah M. and I think it’s a really important topic to address.

Does using oil to sauté and cook veggies completely defeat the health benefits of eating veggies?

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I’m a big fan of healthy fats in our diets. It’s important for all kinds of hormone building and function and helps us to feel satiated (full and satisfied) when eating. For this question though, we’re looking at how it affects our veggies. Long story short, it makes them better for us.Fat soluble (1)

Short story long, most vegetables contain a wide array of vitamins, falling into both the water and fat soluble categories. Fat soluble meaning they require fat to be absorbed by our bodies. Meaning cooking in fat or eating with fat is an excellent way for our bodies to absorb them. So get out there and enjoy some healthy fats with your healthy veggies!

Proteins: How can I eat meat when I can’t afford perfect?

This question is near and dear to my heart, because it was really the number one sticking point for both myself and my husband when we started on our real food journey. I could cut back or give up dairy, because my husband wasn’t supposed to be eating it, and that made buying small amounts of higher quality dairy products manageable. Meat, however, was not so easy. At the time that we really started making changes, Aldi hadn’t begun their Never any ever campaign, and our membership was with Sam’s Club rather than Costco which meant nothing particularly healthy food wise. So I learned to find other options. One thing I began doing was buying in bulk, but that’s not always feasible if you’re on a tight budget. While buying at $3 a pound from the farmer is an amazing savings, if you have to buy 300 to 400 lbs at once that takes some planning. Even today that often leaves me scratching my head and saying, “Do I want meat now or should I just be vegetarian til we can save for the next butcher date?” Vegetarian is not my style so I had to figure out what would work best when I couldn’t afford to buy from the farm. Turns out, the Standard American Diet has one thing right when it comes to meat.

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My younger daughter with a local farm’s pet goat

If you’re going to buy cheaper cuts of meat that may have been treated with antibiotics, fed large amounts of grains, and generally not raised in the fashion that nature intended, (and sometimes that’s all you can do and there’s no judgement on you for that- all judgement goes to the CAFO’s that do this to animals) then you’re best bet is to buy as lean as you can. Remember the other day I talked about healthy fats and fats to avoid? No? Well you should probably go read up on that, but to summarize, animals (and humans) store toxins in fat as a way to quarantine them from the rest of the body when it is unable to flush them out of its systems in the normal detoxification process. Animals in the aforementioned conditions come into contact with a lot of toxins so it stands to reason that their fat will also be toxic. So buying skinless breasts and thighs, lean ground beef, and steering clear of the bacon is your best bet when it comes to choosing meats on the budget end of the spectrum.
I have found too, that certain cuts tend to be cheaper, particularly when buying poultry. Organic drumsticks in bulk at Costco run about $1.99 a pound and the bones make excellent broth. Whole organic chickens are $2.49 a pound which lets you get everything all at once (my husband is a white meat fan so I do this more often than not). When you compare this to boneless skinless breasts ($5.99/lb) and thighs ($4.99/lb) the little bit of extra work it takes to cut a whole bird into parts  with some good kitchen shears seems a lot more worthwhile. Since bone broth is such a huge part of a good, healing, diet, nothing here will truly go to waste and you can use broth to cook veggies, rice, soups, gravies, etc.The list of uses is pretty lengthy and your body will thank you for it.

One last thing on this subject and I’ll close for the evening. When we started our healing journey, there was an extreme feeling of lack in all that we did. We couldn’t have bread, couldn’t have sugar, couldn’t pizza, pasta, Dr. Pepper; you name it, we couldn’t have it. We couldn’t afford to eat healthy, but we didn’t have a choice. Then, little by little, I began to notice that by not eating the bread, the sugar, the pizza, pasta, Dr. Pepper, et al, there was suddenly more room in the budget for the better quality foods that we weren’t able to afford. We weren’t eating out at Applebee’s once a week and spending $100 on date nights between there and the movies. Instead we were cooking at home and the budget kept fitting in more and more things we should be eating as the junk was thrown out. Then too, our appetites were changing as our bodies began to be nourished, and suddenly we were eating less as satiation signals that had long ago begun to malfunction started to come back online. Now all of this changed dramatically when we added pregnancy and children to the mix, and our budget is back to generally tight, but sometimes you’ll be surprised what changes and fits when your life shifts toward a more intentional mindset. And that’s really what real, whole food is all about, even if that was never your expectation.