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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Little condo in the valley

When I was little, I was obsessed with a huge fan of Little House On the Prairie. So much so that I went around in braids and my frontier dress and boots–and I’m pretty sure I may have asked my mother for a petticoat, a slate, and a lunch pail, but my parents had to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway… I read these books religiously and loved to imagine what it would be like to be Laura Ingalls (never mind that I never could have made a go of it in the 19th century; let’s just say that I like the convenience of modern plumbing and electricity too much). The books made an indelible impression on my young mind, and to this day, I can still recall random little vignettes from the books with ease. One such vignette was the chapter in the first book, Little House In the Big Woods, in which Ma Ingalls and the girls made butter.

I never forgot that passage, and so recently, when I learned from a friend that all it takes to make your own butter is some heavy whipping cream and plenty of arm muscle (or a Kitchenaid stand mixer with a whisk attachment; I happen to have the latter), I decided I was going to give it a go.

Homemade butter

The whisk attachment: your best friend in butter-making

Today, I set about channeling my inner Ma Ingalls and did just that. I made my own butter. It was ridiculously easy. Seriously. Two steps, folks:

  1.  Pour heavy cream (along with a pinch of salt–although that is optional) into the stand mixer.
  2. Whisk at high speed. And whisk and whisk and whisk until it looks like this picture below…
Homemade butter

Who needs a butter churn?

Look at that! Real, honest to goodness butter. No preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors, no scary hydrogenated anything. Just butter.

Homemade butter

Butter, all ready to go in the fridge

I may never buy butter again.

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Sweet nothings

By now, you may have already gathered that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I’m pretty sure my header image alone (mmm, s’mores toast…) gave it away, although I haven’t been shy about posting about my various baking adventures. Let’s just say I can appreciate a good cake or cookie :p. And chocolate? I believe I once said that if it were a man, I’d marry it and have lots of babies with it. That pretty much sums up my choco-love.

I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t have a sweet tooth growing up. In fact, while all the kids around me were salivating over candy and soda and ice cream, I just had no interest whatsoever in the stuff. You could wave a cake in front of me, and my reaction would be, “Eh.” Potato chips? French fries? Schnitzel (we lived in Germany as a kid; this was my go-to food)? Yes, please. That’s where I indulged myself. Oh, occasionally, I would have something sweet: I discovered Nutella while living in Germany, and loved having Nutella on brötchen; pastries were an occasional treat; chocolate-covered marzipan (DARK chocolate, of course–I always was more of a dark chocolate kind of gal) rocked my world; and I did enjoy a particularly good cake or torte once in a while. But I didn’t seek these things out, and if you threatened to take away these sweet treats for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.

It all changed when I became an adult and started working–and discovered Starbucks. A co-worker and I bonded over daily afternoon trips to Starbucks, where I would indulge in a frappuccino and scone. Yes, I said “and.” And yes, I said “daily.” I stupidly thought that because I (1) worked out a lot and (2) got everything fat-free (or at least with no whipped cream), that it was ok to eat this stuff on a daily basis.

Was it any wonder I gained 30 pounds with this kind of delusion? But the weight gain wasn’t the only lovely little souvenir I got from all of this; I also gained a sweet tooth that hadn’t existed before, and as I would later come to find out (with much regret), it’s a pesky thing to get rid of.

I became a full-fledged sugar addict.

Fast forward to 2005, when I joined Weight Watchers, and I learned (with horror) what real portions should look like, what ingredients were in the foods I was consuming. Eventually, I lost those 30 pounds (though I’ve since gained 10 of them back after I started running marathons–I’ll kick those 10 pounds to the curb eventually, that is the plan :p), but I still didn’t kick my sugar habit. In fact, my weight loss came strictly as a result of consuming fewer calories, but as much as I paid (close) attention to how much I was eating, I didn’t pay any attention at all to what I was eating.

Enter “clean eating.” I read Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet, and that opened my eyes. I realized that I may have finally gotten to the size I wanted to be, but I wasn’t really eating in a healthy way at all. Veggies? Um, no. Fruit? Yes, if it’s smothered in chocolate or some other sugary substance. Whole grains? No, sir!

Needless to say, I overhauled that part of my life and while I eat largely unprocessed or minimally processed foods now, I am… yes, wait for it… still a sugar addict.

So I’ve decided to do something about it. I’ve decided to challenge myself to a 28 day sugar detox. I’m not going to lie, the thought of it kinda scares the bejeezus out of me. I mean, I’ve been a sugar addict for 15 years. I’m pretty sure people who’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol for that long of a time period would have some serious withdrawal symptoms. So, I’m going to be kind to myself and not beat myself up if I experience setbacks, nor will I go for 100% compliance here. I am going to allow myself a teaspoon of sucanat (and yes, I will measure out that teaspoon!) in my morning oatmeal, and a teaspoon of honey or fig butter in my usual afternoon snack of greek yogurt. But other than that, I’m going to avoid all foods with added sugars, and I’m definitely on a moratorium from cakes, cookies, muffins, and the like. Oh boy.

They say that after 28 days, any changes you make will become habit, and that if you can stay away from sugar for that long, your tolerance for sweets will drastically drop. I sure hope so. I’d love nothing more than to get back to the days of my childhood when I could look at a cake and shrug my shoulders, saying, “Eh.” Most importantly, I’d love to be able to walk away from the cake and know that I’m not really missing anything by not having it–and know that if I did decide to have a piece it wouldn’t lead me to ruin and undo all of the good work I did trying to detox from that evil stuff sugar. One piece would be one piece, and then I would be able to go on for the next few weeks (or maybe even months) without having another one.

That is the goal. We shall see if that’s the end result of this little experiment :).

Brought to you by the letters “T” and “J”

By now, I think it’s quite obvious what a big fan I am of Trader Joe’s (I think the multiple posts referencing it in some way might be a giveaway, no?). And one of the reasons I love it so is that every time I go there, there’s always a new goody for me to discover. Sometimes two or three, if I’m lucky :).

Yesterday was that kind of a day. I went in for a few things (my list consisted of four items: butternut squash, butter, heavy whipping cream, and chocolate chips). I came out with two bags’ worth of stuff.

From what I understand, this is a common occurrence, but I digress.

I just happened upon some new items that I hadn’t noticed before (they may have been there for ages, but they didn’t jump out at me until just yesterday), so of course I HAD to get them, and of course I HAD to share them with you.

New discoveries

New discoveries!

 

Cold-pressed Extra Virgin Spanish Olive Oil

I first tasted Spanish olive oil on a trip to Spain a few years ago (imagine that, of all places ;)). I immediately noticed the difference in flavor from its Italian cousin; it was more subtle, less peppery, even a little more buttery. I brought a bottle of it home with me on my trip, and when it ran out, I decided I had to get my fix somehow. Trader Joe’s stocked Spanish olive oil, but it wasn’t the cold-pressed kind, and I prefer cold-pressed, so I went back to regular olive oil–until yesterday, when I saw that they now carried organic, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from Spain! Score!

Grapeseed oil

I’ve read a lot over the years about the benefits of grapeseed oil and how it should be incorporated more into the diet. I never really found it all that easily, until yesterday, so when I saw it sitting on the shelf beside my newly discovered cold-pressed extra virgin Spanish olive oil, I knew I had to give it a try.

Tricolor quinoa

If you’ve never tried quinoa, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a great alternative to grains such as brown rice or couscous, and it’s fairly high in protein, so it’s especially great for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve been eating quinoa for years now, but I usually get either the yellow or the red variety, and yesterday,  I came across a tricolor quinoa package–all my favorite types of quinoa in one! Makes for a colorful and nutritious dish. I can’t wait to make my quinoa tabboleh with it :).

Hmm, now I wonder what awaits me on my next trip to Trader Joe’s…