Gimme a Boost!

Everywhere I look, people are coughing and sneezing.  My Facebook news feed is full of people talking about themselves or their loved ones getting sick.  It’s that time of year!  I haven’t gotten sick yet (knock on wood!), but plenty around me have — including my husband.  Here are the tips and tricks I’m practicing to give my immune system that extra “boost” to ward off sickness and chase it away once it has arrived.

1.  Avoid sugar and dairy

Sugar feeds on germs in your body and can actually help prolong or increase the life of your illness.  This can even include natural sugars, which is why drinking orange juice for vitamin C is actually a big fat myth.  The high sugar content in your OJ will actually feed the germs in your body and override any positive effects you get from the vitamin C.  It’s best to get your vitamin C elsewhere! (More on that in a sec)

2. Eat whole foods rich in vitamins

I have mixed feelings about supplements.  The reality is, most vitamin pills just end up being wasted money because you pee out the most important goodness that you’re wanting your body to absorb.  Truly, the best and most reliable source of getting in your vitamins and minerals should be by comsuming them naturally through whole, real foods.  However, will you still find some supplements on my counter?  Yep.  Getting my vitamins through food is my first priority, but yes, I still take a few pills just for extra measure. But when cold and flu season hits, it’s good to step up certain foods to get extra vitamins and minerals that are known to boost the immune system and ward off sickness. Here’s a short list of foods that will give you the most benefits for vitamins that are known to ward off illness: 

Vitamin C
Red and Green Hot Chili Peppers
Bell Peppers (yellow having the most vitamin C of all the colors)
Thyme
Kale
Spinach
Broccoli

Vitamin D
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Salmon
Eggs
Shiitake Mushrooms
Goat’s Milk

Zinc
Sesame Seeds
Roast Beef
Pumpkin and Squash Seeds
Peanuts
Garlic
Chickpeas

Vitamin A
Paprika
Sweet Potatoes
Carrots
Kale
Spinach
Butternut Squash

3.  Indulge in Nature’s Antibiotic

Garlic.  Garlic is absolutely fantastic and can provide so many health benefits.  Not only is it a great source of zinc, but it can also cleanse your body, ward of parasites, and act as a natural antibiotic.  It also helps lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, and is a great anti-viral and anti-bacterial wonder-food. 

When garlic is crushed or minced, it produces something called allicin which has antibiotic effects to it.  Garlic for medicinal purposes is best consumed raw, because many of its components that are healing are lost with heat and cooking.  Eat raw garlic as often as you can either from swallowing pieces of it like a pill, or from mincing it and downing it with some honey, creating a raw garlic spread for toast, or by crushing it and putting it into pill capusles.  But be careful because too much garlic on an empty stomach can cause a tummy ache!

4.  Stock Up On Herbal Immune Boosters

I believe that herbs are God’s gift to us through nature for not only creating culinary variety, but a vast array of natural medicines too.  Here are some natural herbs that I use for boosting the immune system:

Echinacea and Goldenseal
Echinacea is pretty common and has been known for a long time to be an anti-inflammatory and a great anti-viral herb for fighting the influenza.  Goldenseal also treats your respiratory tract and soothe your congestion and inflammation.  The two together have been known to create a powerful team and help boost the immune system.

Mullein
Mullein has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy.  The Native Americans used it to treat the croup, and it has been used for coughs and any respiratory issues.  It is a natural expectorant, reduces mucus production, and is often used in treating issues like bronchitis.  I do want to note, however, that it is NOT recommended to be taken by women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive.

Astragalus
Astragalus is a very common herb in traditional Chinese medicine that is used to boost the immune system, treat cold symptoms, and relieve upper respiratory infections.  This herb helps to increase your white blood cell count which is important when fighting off illness and infections, and it also helps increase your metabolism which promotes your body processing and ridding itself of toxins.  I should note that astragalus can interact with certain medications and shouldn’t be taken by anyone using immune suppressing medications.

Thyme
Thyme in its different forms is known as one of the best all-over body cleaning herbs and is a great immune booster.  Thyme can be used as a cooking herb, made into an essential oil, tincture, tea, or used in baths and aromatherapy.  Thyme tea is often given to people with pneumonia for relief.  It is great for fighting infections in the digestive and respiratory tracts which is why it is commonly used for illnesses like the cold, flu, coughs, and asthma. 

Other herbs and such good for relief:
Honey
Lemon
Peppermint
Licorice
Ginger
Marshmallow

5.  The Common Sense Stuff

A tired, ragged body is going to function just as word down as it feels.  Getting plenty of sleep and rest is essential for letting your body play it’s A game and keeping the immune system high.  Make sure to allow yourself plenty of sleep each night so your body can re-charge from its busy days.  Handwashing is also commonly known as the number one disease fighting prevention.  ALWAYS wash those hands!  And because frequent hand washing can dry out the skin, it’s just as important to moisturize them afterwards so you can prevent cracks, which also leave you vulnerable to germs and bacteria creeping in as well.  Finally, drinking lots and lots of pure, filtered water is also important because it keeps you hydrated and keeps your body flushed of toxins and chemicals that can build up from the environment. 

A bit of a disclaimer:

I am not a doctor and I am not a certified-anything.  This post (and my entire blog, for that matter) is meant for educational purposes but I cannot diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease as I am not formally trained or certified in medicine or herbs.  All of this information I have gathered from books, online resources, personal experience, and the wisdom of people more educated than me whom I trust.  It should be noted that you should seek medical counsel from your practitioner before using any herbal remedies, especially since some natural herbs can interact with each other and with various medications.  Always do your own research and use the treatments you personally feel most comfortable using at your own discretion and risk.

Recipe: grown-up mac and cheese

One of my favorite comfort foods is macaroni and cheese.  Of course, I grew up with the traditional blue box, which isn’t the most healthy or natural thing in the world, but sometimes nostalgia matters!  However, as I grew up, I discovered that there’s more to mac and cheese than just powdered cheddar — there’s all kinds of ways to dress up one of your favorite childhood meals.  Yesterday was a stressful day, so I was in the mood for some grown-up mac and cheese.

Blue Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

1 bag or family size box of pasta of your choice
4 tbs butter
3 tbs thickener of your choice (I use rice flour or potato starch)
2 tsp powdered garlic
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
blue cheese crumbles for on top

Method:

In a large sauce pan, prepare your pasta of choice.  Meanwhile, in another medium sized sauce pan, melt your butter on low-med heat.  Once butter is melted, stir in your thickener, garlic, salt, and pepper till you make a paste.  Add your heavy cream and milk and turn up the heat and stir till your sauce begins to thicken a bit.  Add your cheddar and parmesean cheese and stir over the heat till the cheese is melted and blended into the sauce.  Continue to thicken until your sauce is the desired consistency.  Rinse and drain your pasta and mix into your prepared cheese sauce.  Serve macaroni and cheese into bowls and crumble your desired amount of blue cheese on top.  Serve and enjoy!

This recipe can be gluten free depending on your choice of flour thickener and pasta, it is egg free, soy free, and vegetarian.

Recipe: beef and wild rice soup

This recipe literally came off the top of my head as I was making it.  As I was contemplating what to make for dinner for my flu-ridden husband, I thought, “something simple but satisfying.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  It’s the product of looking around the kitchen and utilizing what we already had, even thought I wasn’t savvy enough to make a menu plan this week!

The main ingredients that caught my eye:

No, that’s obviously not applesauce in the Mott’s jar.  It’s homemade beef stock left over from a chuck roast I made last week.  (More on stocks and such later in another post…) I try to use stocks and broths whenever I can because of the added nutritional value it provides.  And call me a wino, but I’ve been pretty interested in cooking with wine lately.

 Out of that, dinner was born:

Beef and Wild Rice Soup

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 1/2 cups shredded, cooked beef
2 1/2 cups beef stock, fat included
2/3 cups red wine
2 cups water
1 tsp powdered garlic
2 tsp thyme
1 1/2 tsp basil
salt
pepper

Method:

Cook up your brown and wild rice as normal.  Meanwhile use this time to chop up your vegetables or cook up your meat if you don’t have leftovers like I happened to.  Once your rice is about halfway cooked, add in the vegetables and 1/2 cup of your water and let the rice and veggies cook fully.  Once cooked, add in your beef, beef stock, red wine, remaining water, and spices.  Stir and bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for about 10 minutes.  This recipe made about 4-5 main course servings for me.  I think I could have salted it more than I did and/or added more spices, but it was still delicious and everyone who ate it seemed pleased!

This recipe is gluten free, egg free, and soy free.

 

 

 

Tips to de-stress your life

(image via Pinterest)

I am forgetful.  I am unorganized.  I am a procrastinator. I get easily overwhelmed. 

And what do those four traits make me?  A very stressed out, frazzled person.  If those traits aren’t bridled and tamed, that is.  New Year’s is around the corner, and I don’t believe in resolutions.  I believe in refinements!  I know that the tools to live a peaceful, calm, less stressed life are within me or available to me.  The trick is refining my routines to do little things that can mount up to a big difference.  Here are little things I’ve gathered from other people or from refining my own experiences that I’m currently using to de-frazzle my own life.

1.  Free your brain

Yes, that’s right.  You don’t have to let your brain carry the weight of so much responsibility!  My father calls his planner his “brain.”  Every little appointment, meeting, even when a bill needs to be paid, he writes it down in his planner.  That way he can forget about, he says.  Great idea! I’ve started doing this and it helps, but it requires consistency.  First, you have to write down something as soon as it comes to your attention or is scheduled.  Then, it needs to become a daily habit to look at your brain and see what’s scheduled.  I look at mine in the morning to see what’s ahead for today, and glance at it once at night so I can anticipate what’s coming tomorrow.  That way you don’t have to rack your brain for when that presentation is scheduled — it’s written down.

2.  Be a strategic menu planner

Making menus is not only good for your budget, but it keeps you from asking the question, “So, what do you want for dinner?” over and over.  No more scouring the fridge to see what you can put together with what’s on hand.  If you make a weekly menu, you’ll know what you need at the grocery store, you’ll know what you’re eating each night, and you can plan shorter meal prep times around busier days and more elaborate meals when you know your time will allow. People eat multiple times a day — food preparation, eating, and clean up takes time, so you’d be amazed at how vital having well thought out food menus can effect your overall quality of the day.

3. Get set up the night before

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run out the door late because I can’t find my keys or the brown shoes I want to wear with my skirt were hiding under the couch.  Taking a half hour each night to prepare for the next day will help you walk out of your house with a stress-free confidence and the only thing you’ll be leaving behind is that nagging feeling of “Did I forget something?”  Plan out your clothing the night before and iron it if need be.  Pack your lunch before and have it sitting in the fridge.  Set your keys, purse, wallet, and whatever else you’ll need for the day in the same place every night so that it’s all there and waiting for you to grab without searching for each item. 

4.  Turn your responsibilities into appointments

You wouldn’t just not go to a doctor’s appointment or a work meeting, would you?  Of course not! (At least, I hope not!)  Sometimes it’s easy to let the dishes go or bypass the vacuuming because you don’t h-a-v-e to do it.  However, I’ve found that if I actually schedule my responsibilities such as bill paying, laundry, and other chores into my daily or weekly routine, they’re much more likely to get done.  This way, you can expect them and anticipate them and you’ll also have the freedom to arrange your responsibilities in a way that spreads them out so they don’t seem overwhelming as they pile up from procrastination.  Little appointments every day will go a long way in taking care of all your home life responsibilities.  Treat them as REAL appointments.  Write them in your brain err, planner, and keep your personal appointments! And when you’re done? You can forget about them. 

5. Take some time, every day, that is just for you.

If you have to make this a scheduled appointment to make it happen, then do it!  But every day, even if it’s just a half hour, should be completely dedicated to you and something that relaxes you.  Whether it be sitting in silence, reading a book, sipping some coffee or tea, or taking a walk, meditating, whatever speaks to your spirit and fills you up with contentment and peace, make sure you do it every single day, even if you have to schedule out when that is.  The key is to do something that relaxes you and frees your mind of worry, stress, or anxiety. 

6. Don’t unnecessarily weigh your body down

Most of us lead busy, demanding lives.  Whether you’re a stay at home mom, you work in a fast paced restaurant, you travel for a living, or you’re in a high stress office job, your body and spirit has enough on its plate to carry as it is.  Don’t load up your plate (literally and figuratively!) with junk that will only drag you down.  This means eating real, whole, healthy {un}refined foods that will give you the energy you need to keep going.  Caffeine, sugar, empty calories, and refined carbs are going to slow down your body, make you lethargic, and keep you from thinking as clearly and sharply as you otherwise could.  Eating healthfully is vital to reducing your stress and making your mind and body feel better, which will in turn help you get through the day with ease and a sense of being centered and balanced.  The same goes for staying well hydrated as you run around in your life.

7.  Sleep

This is a universal truth that most people think doesn’t apply to them.  If you wake up groggy and tired, you’re going to stay groggy and tired your whole day.  You won’t think clearly, you won’t have energy, and trying to get through your day under these conditions is only going to stress you out and put you in a bad mood.  Feeling rested equals feeling prepared.  Just because you’re not a toddler anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need a bedtime.  If you have to schedule yourself a bedtime to make sure it happens, then do it.  But to make your waking hours count, then you really do need to dedicate some of the 24 in a day (preferrably at least 8 of them) to a good night’s sleep.

8.  Wind down and relax

After going about your daily responsibilities, taking care of work, cleaning up the house, paying the bills, taking care of the family…. you cannot just crash and burn.  Living is like exercise.  You don’t run on the treadmill and just pull the stop button.  That would be disasterous and bad for your body!  You have to slow down, cool down, and gradually decrease.  This is the same for your day, especially if you live a high powered go-go-go kind of life.  Right before bed, calm down.  Relax.  Unwind.  If this has to double up as your bit of you-time every day from tip number five, then so be it.  But make sure that you don’t just hit the “off switch” right before landing on the pillow.  You need some time to decompress, to process the day’s events, do some deep breathing, and free your mind of all you’ve been thinking about.  This will put your body in a better place to prepare for sleep and repairing itself for a new day.

9.  Extend yourself some grace

All the above ideas are great, but no one is perfect.  Also, no one can predict exactly how the day will go.  We can plan it out, we can try to get something done, but unforeseen things will pop up.  You’ll have to detour and for one reason or another, something just might not get done.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  Life is a journey, and even in its messy state, it is beautiful.  Enjoy the journey and when things don’t go as planned, remember that you can try again tomorrow.  Most worries don’t have as terrible consequences as we think they’ll have.  Be gentle with yourself and extend grace if you don’t finish everything or accomplish all of your goals and simply start again tomorrow.  Be happy for what did accomplish and be accomodating for what didn’t.  Life will go on.

Recipe: creamy white wine sauce over pasta

Do you want to look like you’ve pulled off a fancy meal with very little work?  I know I do! Please.  Who wouldn’t want that?!

My go-to dinner guest meal when I’m in a hurry or being just plain lazy is a white cream sauce with pasta and chicken along with a vegetable on the side.  It feels classy with a glass of wine, if you plate it right, it looks elegant, and requires very little actual work.  Also?  It’s delicious.  Even better, right?  *wink*  This recipe is pretty versatile.  It’s my favorite version that a lot of people compliment.  But feel free to switch it up, make it your own, and tell me how it went!

Creamy White Wine Sauce

Ingredients:

3 tbs butter
3 tbs potato starch (or thickener of your choice)
1 tbs finely ground powdered garlic (mine is very potent. You may want more or the same depending on your taste)
2 tbs oregano
salt
pepper
3 tbs olive oil (I used my tuscan herb infused olive oil for a bit of extra flavor)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
2/3 cup white wine (I used chardonnay — what I had on hand.)

Method:

Melt butter over med heat in a sauce pan.  Stir in the potato starch, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper (salt and pepper use to taste).  This will create a paste.  Add in your olive oil and let the flavors infuse for a minute.  Pour in the heavy cream and whole milk and turn the heat up just a bit and stir till the sauce starts to thicken a bit.  At that point, add the parmesean cheese and continue to stir.  Your sauce should become very thick — this as a dense gravy.  At that point, stir in the white wine, which will thin out the sauce back to the consistency of a white wine sauce.  Turn the heat down to low, just enough to keep the sauce heated, but don’t allow it to boil or “cook.” 

Serve over a pasta of your choice (I used quinoa fettuccine noodles), and/or if you’re not vegetarian, the pasta pairs very well with herbed chicken.  Since I had leftover shredded chicken, I decided to use up what I already had cooked, so I topped the pasta with the chicken.  It tasted quite good! 

This recipe is gluten free (depending on your pasta choice), is egg free, soy free, and vegetarian if you omit any meat

By the way, I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday season!  New Year’s is coming, so be on the lookout for my tips and ideas on the infamous “resolutions!”

recipe: fluffy gluten free pancakes

Well hello!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas season full of joy and blessings! This was my husband’s and my very first Christmas together. Ever! (Yes, we got married less than a year from knowing one another!) I wanted Christmas morning to be special for the two of us, so I made a yummy breakfast. Cheesy eggs, bacon, and gluten free pancakes with local, real maple syrup.

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These pancakes are a one size fits all, in my opinion! You can make them gluten free, or if you don’t need to, add whole wheat flour! With dairy substitutes, this pancake can become vegan. Either way, they should end up nice and fluffy.

Fluffy Gluten Free Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 2/3 cups flour of your choice (I used brown rice flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (this is a guess, I just threw some in!)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk or you’re vegan, use this substitute below, which is what I had to do:

1 1/4 cup milk of your choice (I use organic whole milk)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 egg or egg substitute
3 tbs olive oil

Method:

If making a buttermilk substitute, whisk together the milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside. Combine all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add in all the wet ingredients and blend together well. Pour batter onto a greased skillet over medium heat. Flip when you see bubbles and the bottom seems firm. These pancakes should turn out golden brown and be quite fluffy, unlike a lot of other gluten free pancake recipes I’ve tried!

Try mixing in cocoa nibs or cinnamon or different fruits! These pancakes could really get dressed up!

This recipe is gluten free, soy free, vegetarian, and can be made egg free and vegan with the appropriate substitutes.

Recipe: sweet potato harvest pancakes

I love pancakes! Who doesn’t love pancakes? They’re so versatile.  You can put all sorts of things in them or on them or with them to switch it up.  Also, pancakes are like a good pair of jeans — they go with everything!  Eeer…. well…. almost. 

A huge thanks to blogger Summer Harms for posting her recipe for butternut pancakes the other day!  I adapted it to make a sweet potato version of my own!  You can find her original recipe HERE.  I’ll post below what I did. 

Sweet Potato Harvest Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
pinch of salt

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a blender or mixing bowl with a hand mixer. Grease a cast iron pan with coconut oil or butter and bring to low-ish medium heat. Not too hot, now. Use a large spoon to pour small dollops of batter (not much bigger than coin-size) in the pan. Wait to try to flip until bubbles appear on top and pancake is clearly a cohesive cake. (She’s serious about that.  Don’t try to flip too soon like I did or you’ll destory the pancake!) Enjoy immediately or place on a cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until ready to eat. Or toast them when ready!

(this photo from Summer Harms)

My half recipe made about 8 pancakes, if you make her full recipe that would be, well, 16.  You can use sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or pumpkin in this recipe! Also, a variety of spices would mix up the flavors as well.  As with grain free recipes, this one can tend to be on the eggy side.  I made it once and it didn’t seem too eggy, I made it a second time and I noticed it more.  But they’re very very very good, especially with pure maple syrup on them! I’d like to test this out and see how they would fare with some coconut flour in them.

This recipe is gluten free, grain free, soy free, nut free, and vegetarian.