Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pass the salad, please


Me & Salads.

If I'm honest, we don't go back very far.  I never really developed a strong penchant for salads until my 20s, and even then, calling it a "penchant" might be one vocab word too far.  I enjoy them on occasion -- usually when someone else makes them -- and I had some cravings for salad during my last pregnancy.  Methinks it was partially the salad dressings I craved as well!

It turns out, much of the goodness of salads can come from the dressings themselves; that is, if you make them yourselves using good quality ingredients.

Wait, back that train up.  Did I just say the dressing could be good?? As in, good for YOU?  Yes, yes I did.  You no longer have to feel guilty about using too much dressing as long as you take the time to carefully control the ingredients when you're making these guys.  The good guys.

I just made a great salad from Publix Apron's Simple Meals, and a great Italian dressing via Penniless Parenting.

Here's the Salad, straight from Publix's website (from the meal grilled fish with gremolata and spring salad with parmesan):

Spring Salad with Parmesan
1 bag spring mix salad blend (4–6 oz)
1 1/2 cups shaved Parmesan cheese
1 cup pine nuts (or slivered almonds)
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup Italian salad dressing 

  1. Place salad blend, cheese, and pine nuts in salad bowl. Cut tomatoes in half; add to salad.
  2. Add dressing; toss and serve.

And as for the salad dressing, hop on over to Penniless Parenting - Zesty Italian Dressing.  Use this in place of store-bought dressing and you can avoid all the preservatives and vegetables or soybean oil commonly used in store-bought salad dressings.

Then, consume - GUILT-free!

We enjoyed this next to some spaghetti with meat sauce the other night. Yum!

What's your favorite salad or salad dressing combination? Do you make your own dressings, and if so, how?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Silly Kids

Giggly Kids from Megan Ciampa on Vimeo.
Gabe crawling around & giggling, Mia running around, throwing balls and being silly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can you shop real food at a wholesale club and still save money?

For almost 4 years, we've had a membership at a local wholesale club.  We've used our membership for various things. In the beginning, it was certainly for gasoline, and various paper products.  We still use it for that today.  I previously used it on different food products like cereal, milk, juice or sports drinks, and other packaged or frozen snacks.  Throughout my gradual progression into real food, though, I obviously buy less and less or none of those products anymore.  We have kept our membership because we feel like the savings on bulk paper products and the gasoline was worth it, but I hadn't perused the store in quite a while until yesterday.  (Things had to get majorly simplified for me for a while after adding a 2nd kidlet.)
Shopping bulk also means bigger carts!
We went yesterday during the non-event of Tropical Storm Isaac here in southern Florida.  First of all, my kids were mesmerized. I don't know that Gabe has ever set foot inside BJ's, but he was entranced by the lights and all the items.  Mia thought all the displays were pretty interesting.

Once we got what we were looking for, we walked through the aisles checking out various products.  I was happy to see more natural or organic products stocked on their shelves.  I tried to capture both the product and the price in the picture on my smartphone (remember I was also pushing 2 kids in a cart), so hopefully you can view what it is and the price....

Honest Tea, 12 pack for $10.99
(Honey Green Tea; White Peach Tea;
Half Lemonade-Half Tea)

Applegate Farms nitrate-free
Center-Cut Bacon (3-12 oz packages bundled for $11.29)

Applegate Farms deli meats & cheese
2 packages bundled for $6.99

Daisy Sour Cream, 2 lbs for $2.99

Organic Butter (salted or unsalted),
2-1lb packages for $6.99

Brie, 12.3oz, $5.99 (this was for my friend Mo)

Organic juices, $3.49-$3.99

Organic lemonade, $3.29

32 oz. Grade A Maple Syrup, $13.29

Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate, 3lbs, $8.99

Huge bag of baking soda (13.8lbs), $6.69

Organic Basil 2.8oz, $3.49

2-pack (44oz. each) Heinz Organic Ketchup, $6.79
(might still contain MSG, but no High Fructose Corn Syrup)
Newman's Own Organic K-Cups, 80 for $39.99
Would I normally buy all of these? Maybe, maybe not.  But at least I know that these are an option should I ever want to buy some of these products in bulk and just down the road from my house.  I'm all for finding the best prices on items, but occasionally convenience and proximity to my home win out over lowest price.

Note: I did not capture the prices on organic produce or dried fruits or nuts. Maybe next time!

These may not be the best prices on everything as compared to your traditional grocery store or natural health-foods store, but I know that there were some deals among those items, like the sour cream, the Brie, the basil spices, Grade A Maple Syrup, and the Applegate Farms products.  Compared to a very popular traditional grocery chain in Florida, and my local healthfood store, I know these were definitely better prices.
Also available are Newman's Own Organic K-Cups for $39.99, which can be used in Keurig Brewers.  That's a pretty good price considering you're not paying shipping ordering from the Keurig website.

What about you? Do any of these stick out as "deals" to you, or are you able to find many of these products at lower price at other stores?  If you are not part of a co-op or buying club, where do you purchase similar groceries?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Gabe sports a surfer-dude necklace

I get a lot of questions about Gabe's necklace. Say "boy" and "necklace" in the same sentence and unless you're from the Jersey Shore, you'll likely receive some weird looks.  Unless wearing necklaces is normal in your culture or community.  Please tell me if it is!  But yes, my little man of 9 months wears an amber necklace and has since he was two or three months old, when I decided to take the amber teething necklace plunge.

Why Amber?
Baltic Amber, which is sourced in eastern Europe near the Baltic Sea, has some amazing natural properties.  It's an immune booster.  It naturally reduces teething pain.  Baltic amber can calm a baby without resorting to drugs.  It contains anti-inflammatory and therapeutic properties, and is considered a natural analgesic.  
Baltic Amber has some of the highest concentrations of Succinic Acid found in nature, and this is what makes it so special (Source).

So how does it work?
"When baltic amber is worn on the skin, the skin's warmth releases trace amounts of healing oils from the amber. These oils contain succinic acid and are absorbed into the skin." (Source)

Baltic amber necklaces are also helpful for headaches, other dental pain, TMJ, and joint pain.  

There are usually a few common culprits that can keep a baby up at night or not sleeping well: it may be poor sleeping habits, a growth spurt, illness, or teething pain. Wearing an amber necklace can really help with that!

So, you just wear a necklace, and your teething nightmares are gone??
Wellll, maybe! It depends on the child, and it depends on the type of amber.  
"It is scientifically accepted that the darkest colored amber generally contains less succinic acid than lighter colors. The more cloudy or opaque amber is, the more succinic acid it contains (and usually the more cloudy amber is the nearer to the color white it becomes)," according to's website

Our testimonial
I originally had a different necklace for Gabe to wear, but I began to notice a rash around his neck. He wasn't drooling (because the amber also helps with all the drooling! another positive side effect), but he did spit up sometimes and I thought the rash may have come from spit up lingering in his little chubby neck folds, exacerbated by the necklace.  Turns out, the concentration of succinic acid in that particular necklace was a wee bit too much, which I learned by speaking to customer service at, so I ordered Gabe a different variety and voila, no joke, the rash went away, and we continued along.  

But, he did cut his first two bottom teeth, and I had no idea they were busting through.  No sleepless nights, no incessant finicky whining, no...nothing. Just two little white buds that popped through his gums one morning.

The amber teething necklaces are not a panacea, though. While I've never experienced an epidural, I would liken it to what I imagine it might feel like.  The pain is numbed, but you still know stuff is going on, and you can sense change or movement.  There are days or nights when I get the sense he is just uncomfortable, but thankfully those nights seem fewer and farther between, and he recently cut 4 teeth on TOP.  So, we've already had 6 of those teefers break through and he's pretty much been his happy contented self all long!

Where can you buy these?
I'm not being asked to promote these necklaces, so I have no personal incentive if you buy, but I personally purchased from but know there are other reputable companies out there as well.  Just make sure it is authentic Baltic Amber.  It will do you and your baby no good if they are sporting a cute necklace made out of PLASTIC! It must be amber!

Free Tip: Keep tabs on if you want to order; they often run deals on amber teething necklaces (or hazelwood) and you can get the necklaces for almost 50% off.  Or if you find a legitimate website, google "Coupon codes + [name of website]" and you might be able to buy it for even less! #doublewin

Have you used amber teething necklaces? What has been your experience with teething? What's worked, what's not?

Thursday, August 16, 2012


If I'm lucky, I may one day be this kind of mom to my kids...steak n' shake or not...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mexican food // Spicy Black Bean & Cheese Enchiladas

I'm not going to lie, Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines. I don't know all the ins and outs of authentic Mexican (I rely on M√≥nica for that), but if someone shouts, "Let's go to Chipotle" or Moe's or Tijuana Flats, I'm game. I love queso, salsa, nachos, guacamole, tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.  Yum, yum, yum.

However, going out to eat at one of these establishments isn't always feasible, easy on your pocketbook, or necessarily good for your health. While certain eateries like Moe's & Chipotle are doing much to provide quality sources for their foods (no GMOs; MSG; or antibiotics in the meat; grass-fed steak, etc.), you can make optimal versions of these dishes at home as well.

One of my favorites is enchiladas. I have two excellent recipes for enchiladas that I've recently real-foodified.  Here's my mom's version of Spicy Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas:

Spicy Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

2/3 C. water
1 pkg. dry enchilada mix (or, preferably, make your own!)*
2 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained & rinsed (preferably cooked, soaked beans)**
1 C. sour cream, divided
8 (8-oz.) tortillas (I used Ezekiel Food for Life Sprouted Tortillas-pkg of 6)
1 (10-oz.) can enchilada sauce (make your own following Martha Stewart's recipe & divide the sauce in half, freeze the rest for another recipe)***
1 C (4-oz.) finely shredded Cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. sliced green onion

Preheat oven to 375°.  Stir water and dry enchilada mix together in a 10-inch skillet. Add the beans. Cook over medium to high heat until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and stir 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the sour cream. Place approximately 1/2 cup of the bean mixture on the center of each tortilla.  Add a bit of the enchilada sauce on top of the beans, top with a tablespoon of cheese and roll up.
Place the rolled tortillas, seam sides down, in a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the enchiladas.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 3 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of green onions.  

You can make this recipe easier on yourself by:
*Making the dry enchilada mix ahead of time.  You could even make several batches and package them up separately for future meals.
**Having cooked soaked beans already prepared. If they're frozen, you can thaw them for a bit in the fridge, although they do warm up pretty easily in the skillet.
***Making the enchilada sauce ahead of time.  Martha's recipe makes two servings, so save the remaining 10-11oz and freeze.

If you are gluten-free or avoiding flour, then substitute cornstarch (or possibly arrowroot powder, although I've not done that before) for the flour in the recipes.

If you try to make everything from scratch as you are making this recipe, expect to be in the kitchen at least an hour. ;)  However, the outcome might be well worth it.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Food you can USE // White Chili Recipe

One of our favorite meals around here is White Chili. It doesn't matter if it's the "dead of winter" (a laughable phrase here in Florida), or the intense heat of summer, we tend to enjoy it all year long. It is easy to enjoy it too, as it has some pretty simple ingredients.  I used to make this all from canned and premixed ingredients, but now I've upped my game and I use homemade or from-scratch ingredients when I can.

If you've tinkered in real food for a while, then you know that roasting a chicken and making stock from the bones renders several benefits.  The collagen in the broth (from the bone stock) helps several systems and functions in your body, and the broth helps your digestive tract. Not only is it good for helping you when you're sick, it's also great for keeping you from getting sick. Win-Win.

You might also know that soaking and cooking dry beans is also highly encouraged in traditional food prep, for lots of reasons. If you soak and cook your own white beans, then they will be ready to use in this recipe (instead of using canned).

And if you still have leftover chicken from roasting a chicken, you can throw it in this chili!  I love using something from the beginning to the end and feeling like I really got some use out of it.  Sometimes food bloggers say things like, "Roast a chicken for dinner, make stock overnight with the bones, then throw the leftover chicken in enchiladas or a chicken pot pie," as if it were really intuitive.  That intuition for me is gradually growing, but for a newbie, I could see how that would not be intuitive. But in this recipe, all you really need is your leftover chicken, diced up (and estimate at what 1lb is).

Here's the recipe, courtesy of my friend Angie (my notes are italicized):

White Chili

1 lb chicken, cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil - I omit this or sub coconut oil

2 cans (15 ½ oz) northern white beans, drained - or 2-3 cups of soaked, cooked white beans
1 can chicken broth - 14-15oz homemade chicken stock
2 (4 oz) cans chopped green chilies - canned food is usually not recommended because of BPA, but I haven't found a better substitute - has anyone else?

1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
8 oz sour cream - I use Daisy brand, available at most grocery stores
½ cup whipping cream - I use fresh, raw/low-temp pasteurized cream if available

Cook chicken with onion, garlic powder and oil until chicken is cooked
thoroughly. Combine the rest of the ingredients (which includes the chicken) except the
creams in a medium stock pot. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer. Continue
to simmer for 30 minutes. Add the creams. Stir all together. Serve with tortilla chips
and sprinkle with cheese.
Serves: 6


Friday, August 3, 2012

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Somehow, and I really haven't figured this one out yet, but somehow, we've crept up to 9 months. Today, my little baby boy is 66% of the way through his first year and has almost matched his time time in the womb with his time outside the womb (38 weeks).  It just keeps on zoomin'.

Because of the time of the year, I am reminded about what I was up to about this time last year. It's just how I do.  We were still prepping for this baby boy.  We were still hunting for clothes and things that he would make his own, that would somehow define "Gabe." Now that he's been here so long (!), he no longer needs definition.  He's just such a sweet, happy, cuddly little boy. I'm not sure I want him to grow up.

Mia, on the other hand, well, she is growing up a bit too fast too.  She's always hung out on the small side, but I do declare her limbs seem to be growing at an incredibly fast rate as far as I can tell.  Whenever I check on her sleeping in her room, I see more of a little girl and much much less of a baby. I also realize I need to stop calling her a toddler.  She is NOT a toddler anymore. She's a little girl.

She is also picking up more conversational tidbits and types of humor in her daily dialogues.  "Mommy, I really want you to do this, okay?" (Wonder where she heard that line??)  She even did a mashup of "be careful little hands what you do" with "if you're happy and you know it."  Girl's got a melodic brain, that's fo' sure.  And I love that she's just a little bit silly.

I have a friend who is constantly reminding me to enjoy these times with them as they're little, because it goes by too fast.  As they get older and become more and more independent, Greg and I have been able to enjoy a few more outings with just the two of us, but it's just a tad bizarre to realize Mia is already the older sister telling the babysitter or family member where things are, or how we do things, and Gabe is the little guy falling asleep on someone else at bedtime. It's just a tad bittersweet.

It's Olympic time and we've been watching some of the events with Mia, which has prompted some gymnastic-like moves from her, and a new wardrobe ensemble.

Monday morning, while Greg was getting ready for work, Mia appeared in our room donning this outfit saying she was doing gymnastics.  The imagination is already flowing and it's crazy to see what they pick up on and how inventive they become to make something happen.
(She also called the rainbow rice above "pepper" and pretended she was mashing potatoes. Methinks just a few Paula Deen episodes have influenced these pretend-moments.)

There are definitely some days that drive me up the wall, when I think we've completely lost our marbles (and in many cases, we probably have), but we're zooming on through. Fakin' it...till we make it.