Thursday, February 28, 2013

Healthy Vegan Donut Muffins

Blueberry filled, pixie dust and sugared donut muffins

Variations of these muffins are all over the internet. They go by the names French muffins, French Toast muffins and donut muffins. My kids insist they taste just like cake donuts. 
My eggless version is vegan, lightly sweetened, extra light, and healthified with the addition of flax meal and beneficial oil. I offer 5 choices of toppings and a filling option to match the offerings in any donut shop. 
They are faster and easier than driving to the donut shop, have far fewer calories, less fat, and less sugar than fried donuts. 
This recipe will get you started, but the options for toppings and fillings are endless. 

3/4 cup sugar
1 TBS flax meal
2 TBS water
1 1/2 cups flour (All Purpose or whole grain)
3 TSP baking powder
1/2 TSP salt
1/4 cup olive or coconut oil
3/4 cup Almond or other milk
1 TSP vanilla
dash of nutmeg

Butter substitute, powdered sugar, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, jelly, jam or preserves. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray, grease lightly or line with cupcake papers.
In a large bowl, stir together sugar, water, and flax meal until well combined. 
Add flour, baking powder, salt, oil, milk, vanilla and nutmeg all at once. Stir until just combined.  
Fill muffins cups half way. 
For filled muffins, fill muffin cups 1/4 full. Place a small spoonful of filling in the center of the batter. Continue filling muffin cup halfway. 
Bake 15 minutes for mini-muffins, 20 minutes for full-sized muffins. 
Remove from oven and add topping while still warm. 


Butter and Sugar
Rub the top of the warm muffin across a stick or tub of butter substitute. Dip lightly in sugar. 

Powdered sugar
Roll warm muffins in a bowl of powdered sugar.

Pixie Dust
Mix 3 parts powdered sugar with 1 part cinnamon. Roll warm muffins in the mixture. 

Cinnamon Sugar
Mix 3 parts sugar with 1 part cinnamon. Rub the top of the warm muffin across the tub or stick of butter substitute. Dip lightly in cinnamon sugar. 

Mix equal parts cocoa powder and powdered sugar. Rub the top of the warm muffin lightly across the tub or stick of butter substitute. Dip in cocoa-sugar mixture.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

11 ways to make your time work for you

"Organized" and "organization" have become some of the most used and most highly valued words in our modern vocabulary. In spite of my free-spirited nature, I'm good with organization. I want to give this topic a little general discussion before we get into specifics of how I run my household. 

First a little back ground. 
I am a homeschooling mom of 4 boys. We do not have a hectic lifestyle. In fact, right now, 3 boys are playing in the back yard, most of their school work is finished, their chores are done. The baby is playing in the playroom. I am sitting on the couch drinking my coffee. It's 9 am.
Muddy babies.

Everyone had a nice, home-cooked breakfast and soon, I will get up, and cook a hot lunch. We will finish school, little ones will take naps, we will play a game, I will cook dinner, D will come home, we will all sit down and have a nice family dinner. Then bedtime and evening time for the older boys and then couple time and/or alone time for D and me. 

Working diligently.

This is a typical day for us. One day a week, we sell homemade goods (most appearing in this blog) at a local farmer's market. Once a week we have Park Day with our home school group. In the spring and summer, there will be sports and arts and crafts classes. I shop twice a month and rarely make trips in between. For the most part, our lives are simple and smooth. 

My house is not immaculate. If you glance through the pictures on this blog, you can see that toys are strewn about the playroom, dishes are in the sink, clutter forever lives on the desk. I try to keep a certain level of cleanliness and tidiness, but I have 4 muddy little boys outside whatever room I'm cleaning, just waiting to get in and mess it all up. 

And that's ok. 

We live here. We are a real family. Our house is small, and it's old and it is in dire need of loving care and a major overhaul. We have been here 5 years and we are slowly rebuilding it from the subflooring on up ( I would say "the ground" but it doesn't actually sit on the ground). 

My handyman, fixing the roof.

My laundry is done, my dishes are washed (well, not yet, but I will wash them before I make lunch), my bathroom is scrubbed, my house is cute, my kids are educated, and our meals are hot and made from scratch. I sleep at night. I eat regular meals. I sit with my coffee everyday (sometimes at 2 pm, but still), I have time for myself and my interests. I have hobbies. I have no childcare outside of myself, my husband, and 2-3 weekends a year at grandma's house for the older 2. 

We live on a very tight budget. We are fixing up our house, raising a large family, and getting out of debt on one modest income. 

How do I manage everything?

I have a system. Actually I have many, many systems. I am organized. Our house is organized. I'm not a naturally organized person. I'm a flighty artist at heart. But, I like to get things done and flying by the seat of my pants is not going to cut it. 

Lists, charts, calendars. Blah.
I am at home full time now, but, over the years, I have worked outside the home, taken my children to work with me, worked from home, for a short time, we had no home, been a full time student with a child, and sent my kid to daycare. I have walked in a lot of shoes. Maybe yours. Whoever you are, I'm sure you'd like to make more of your time.

First, let's talk about what organization is NOT.

#1. Organization is not a virtue. 
We talk about organization as if it is something to aspire to. It isn't. 
I have heard so many times, "I wish I were more organized." "I can't do ... because I'm not organized enough." "Wow, you are so organized!" 
Ya'll. I did not just wake up one day and find lists had magically appeared on my walls while I slept. I needed to learn a better way to handle my life, so I learned. You can, too. 
Being organized does NOT make you a better person. It does not mean your life is perfect or easy. It is a tool and a skill that makes things work better for you. 
That is all. 
Don't give it more power than it deserves.

#2. Organization is not about being pretty. 
It can be pretty. But it isn't always. Sometimes it looks a mess. But it's a mess with a purpose and a plan. 
All those pictures on Pinterest are lovely. But that isn't always realistic. I know. Some of those pictures are mine. I carefully fold and stack everything for those pictures and I crop out the parts I don't want you see. I lock my kids out of the room for a few minutes so that I don't have little hands in the frame, or messing up my perfect arrangement of whatever. 
Real organization is work. And work is sometimes messy. Life is messy. That's a fact. No matter how many lists and shelves and baskets you have. Nothing stays perfect for long. 
Pretty is important. But practical is essential.

NOT pretty. But very practical.

#3. Organization does not have to be expensive. 
It sure can be. But you do not need a bathtub full of money to organize your house and especially your life. 
The Pins on Pinterest that irritate me the most (well, actually the ones about being skinny irritate me the MOST, but that's a different post) are the hyper-expensive, super lavish, extra fabulous organizational posts. You know the ones. The closets that are bigger than my bedroom. The kitchens with built-in everything. The custom-crafted whatever. 
That's nice. And if I were having a house built with a sizable budget, I'd be ALL OVER those things. 
But I'm not. And probably, neither are you. 
Our budget for most projects is close to $0, and certainly under 3 digits.
My favorite posts are the ones that show you how to organize using cereal boxes, or soup cans, or free printables. Because ANYONE can do that. Anyone.  

Cereal boxes covered in children's artwork. 

#4 Organization is not a hobby.
It's a tool. It should SAVE you time and energy. If your system is TAKING more time than it is GIVING you, you are doing it wrong. 

Now, let's get started. Here are my tips. 

#1. Think it through. 
You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint. You can't run a house without a plan. 
Identify your trouble spots. 

Laundry piled to the ceiling? Dishes overflowing the sink? No family dinners because no one can find the table under all the detritus? Hitting the drive-thru 4 times a week because there's no food/no time/no plan for dinner? 

Make a list. Prioritize it. Start with one thing that makes you the craziest. Research how other people are SUCCESSFULLY handling it. (Tip for life: Don't take advice from people who failed at whatever challenge you are facing.) 

Make a REALISTIC plan. One that makes sense to you. One that fits your life. Not the one that fits the life you wish you had, or the one that fits the life you think you should have. Those plans are for someone else. They will fail you. (Notice I said THE PLANS will fail, not that YOU will fail. There's a big difference there). 

Follow the plan. Either it will work or it won't. Adjust it as needed, but DO NOT QUIT. 

#2 One step at a time. 
I can guarantee failure, 100%, if you try to tackle everything at once. I promise. It will not work. It cannot work. It's not possible. 

Address ONE problem. Make a step-by-step plan. Take it one step at time. Baby steps if you need them. Just keep chugging. 

It feels overwhelming at first, but it will snowball. Once you get the laundry under control, it will free up so much time, energy and mental anguish, dealing with the dishes will be far more do-able. By the time you get to the 45th item on your list, it will be a breeze. Don't think about #45. Deal with #1. Only #1. 

It may take you all day to accomplish a single goal. But it will be done, eventually. 

When my first baby was born, I started dinner first thing in the morning. I knew it might take all day to make dinner, so I started early. The most important thing I needed was a hot, home cooked meal on the table. That was often the only thing I did all day (besides nourishing and caring for my baby), but that one thing always got done. 

#3 Don't quit. 
Quitters never win and winners never quit. Don't be a giver upper. One foot in front of the other. 
If it becomes apparent that something isn't working, make adjustments. But don't give up. 
My systems are in a constant state of flux. My kids are growing, my life is changing. We add things and we outgrow things. But the bones of the operation remain. I might move the chairs around the table, but I don't serve dinner on the floor. 

#4 Do not wait until you "have time".
You will never have time. There will always be something more important, more interesting, more relaxing, more enjoyable than folding laundry. Fold the laundry anyway. Do it now. Or better yet, make a schedule, and fold the laundry during laundry-folding-time. 

#5 Do not wait until life is easier. 
Life is never easy. Work is work, and life is full of work. In fact, the more crazy and hectic your life is, the more desperately you need a plan.  
Take a deep breath and jump in. We make more work for ourselves by trying to avoid it. 
When you have to dig through the laundry to find your kid a pair of pants (like I did this morning), don't just move the clothes from one pile to another. Fold as you go. Then, put it away. Now. Not later. Now. Protect your work. You might just fold 3 items, but those 3 items are done. Put them away so they don't end up back on the floor in the pile to be folded again. And again. And again. 

#6 Less is more. 
The more stuff you have, the more stuff can pile up. Get rid of the stuff. "Have nothing in your homes that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful," William Morris. 
KNOW to be useful. Not think might be useful someday. 
Just because it's beautiful, doesn't mean you have to own it forever. You do not have bring everything that you see and like into your home.  
If you aren't using it on a regular basis, if you don't love it, ditch it. You won't miss it and your life will be lighter. Someone else will use it and love it. 

I loved this statue, so I took a picture of it. I get to enjoy the image and I never have to dust it.
#7 De-crazy your life. 
We complain all the time about our hectic schedules. It's the modern-day dilemma. How can we be everywhere all the time? 
Who makes our schedules?
We do. We do it to ourselves. 
Why are we so overscheduled? Why are we so busy that we can't feed ourselves and our families healthy meals and make sure everyone is getting enough sleep?
Busy=valuable. If we are busy, we must be important, worthwhile human beings.
Stop doing this to yourself. Yes, you have to work. Yes, some things are unavoidable. Some obligations are worthwhile, or necessary. 
But I'm SURE that there are some obligations that you could drop. Trim it down. Give that time back to yourself and your family. 
Find more time for this, and lose some time in the car.

#8 No one has more time than you do. 
"You must have a lot of time on your hands." I hear this all the time. Stop saying it. It's insulting. The unspoken message is "I have more important things to do than you. That's why you can accomplish all the things that I'm not."
This whole line of thinking is BS. Everyone has 24 hours every day. I don't sit on my ass all day playing and having a great time. I work very hard to get my life in order. I'm sure you are working very hard as well. We just aren't working at the same things in the same ways. Let's stop judging each other and deal with our own affairs. 
If you find yourself saying, "I don't have time for that," ask yourself why? Why don't you have time for that? 
Is it because you don't want to do it? Great. Don't do it. Problem solved. 
Is it because you are spending your time elsewhere? Is that where you want to spend your time? Great. Problem solved again. You're doing great here ;)
Is it something you really WOULD like to be doing, but you just can't squeeze one more blasted item into your bulging to-do list without snapping? Uh oh. Sounds like you have a problem. You might want to look at the rest of this list and make a change or 2. 

#9 Streamline your process.
When you make your plan (Step #1), cut it down to the basics. Don't color code your closet unless you really think that is going to help you choose an outfit in the morning. It may look nice, but it isn't worth the extra work if it isn't going to pay off.
Plan your time. Map out your route, combine errands, rearrange your work space so that you have ready access to the things you need most often. Save yourself precious seconds. Those seconds add up to your life. How many hours of your life have been spent moving laundry from one pile to another? Take those hours back. 

#10 Be kind to yourself. 
Change isn't going to happen all at once. You won't be able to revamp your entire life in one day. Or 30 days. Or a year, maybe. Take it day by day, moment by moment. Be patient with yourself.
If you are going through a difficult time-illness, pregnancy, new baby, job change, a move- you are going to have to let some things go. Focus on the important things and don't waste your precious energy on things that aren't essential right now. 
Take time for yourself. Make sure that you are eating well and regularly. Carve out time for exercise, relaxation, quiet time to reflect on what is going well and what needs improvement. Time spent on yourself is NOT wasted. It is highly valuable. Use it. 
Be realistic about your own capabilities. Some people are high-energy multitaskers. Some people move at a slower pace. Know who you are and work WITH yourself, not against yourself. A large degree of honesty and humility is necessary here. 

#11 Enlist help. 
The world does not actually rest on your shoulders alone. Everyone in a home MUST contribute in some way. Children can be trained to do chores. Spouses can give a hand wherever possible. Even if it's just respecting your space so you can take a bubble bath. Your children and your spouse love you. They will be willing to help take care of you if you ask. I promise. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 
If you have a friend, mother, mother-in-law, neighbor or other kind soul who is willing to help you in any way, take them up on it. Let them give you the gift of service. Give them the gift of usefulness and time with your children. Everyone will benefit. 

I hope that everyone who reads this takes something helpful away from it. 
Future posts will detail the routines, schedules and systems that I mentioned. Please come back and read those posts later.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chocolate almond butter smoothie

Oh my yum. This is so good, I had to share. It's packed full of good-for-you, too. 

In a blender pitcher, combine:
2 TBS flax meal
3 TBS coconut milk
handful leafy greens
heaping TBS almond butter
3 TBS chocolate syrup
Cover with almond milk. 
Whizz it up till it's smooth. 
Add ice cubes.
Whizz it up again.
Drink. Sigh. Drink some more. Congratulate yourself on making healthy choices. 

Sprouting seeds tutorial

Sprouting seeds is an easy and affordable way to add nutrients to your diet and multiply your food dollars. 

Sprouts are packed with nutrition. A sprout is an entire plant, in a tiny little package.

 Any seed or bean that can be eaten, can be sprouted. Each sprout has it's own unique flavor. You can purchase special sprouting seed mixtures, buy individual varieties of sprouting seeds, or sprout regular dried beans, raw seeds, and whole grains you have in your pantry or find in the grocery store. 

Seed mixtures can be purchased locally for about $5 a pound. Dried beans and lentils run a little over a dollar a pound. A tablespoon of seeds will produce a bowlful of sprouts. It's hard to find a better value. 

Sprouting is a deceptively simple process that requires very little equipment. I use a jar with a mesh lid, like the one pictured in the above link. The top cost less than $5 at a local health food store and fits on any size wide-mouthed mason jar. There are other methods, but this is the one I'll be detailing in this post.

What not to sprout:

Garden seeds.
Garden seeds are often treated with chemicals to enhance shelf life and improve viability. They are are not a food source, and should never be eaten. 

Cooked, roasted, or refined nuts, grains and seeds. 
Cooking and roasting kills the germ. The seed is no longer viable. The refining process removes the germ, because it will become rancid before the rest of the grain. Oats, pearled barley, split peas, and brown rice that you find in the grocery store will not sprout. Some grains, which are left completely whole, will sprout. If in doubt, look for a germ, or try it and see what happens. Either it will sprout, or it won't. 

Non-food seeds.
If it isn't edible as a plant, it won't be edible as a sprout. Don't eat things that are not food. You wouldn't eat an orange tree or a daisy flower. Don't eat their sprouts either. 

Now, let's get started. 

Put your seeds in the jar. Just use a little. They are going to need lots of room. Fill it with water. Place the mesh lid. Let the seeds soak overnight. Soaking is not necessary, but it does speed the process considerably. 

These guys are about 2-3 days old. Let's pretend that they aren't. They are considerably larger than when I started them already. A tablespoon or 2 is enough to begin with. This is a sample of a mixture I got from a friend. I dumped the whole bunch in there, but I should have split it in 2 batches. 

Good morning! Pour out the soaking water. You will notice your seeds are looking right plump. Rinse with fresh cold water. Hot water will damage the sprouts.

Please ignore my ugly sink and dishes. We live here and we are in the (painfully slow) process of redoing the kitchen. 

Swirl it around. 

Pour it out right through the mesh lid. There is no need to remove the lid at all until you are ready to eat your sprouts. 

Turn your jar on it's side and roll it around a bit to spread the seeds out. The more space and air they get, the bigger and more robust their sprouts will be. 

Wait. Repeat the rinsing process every morning and every evening until your sprouts are ready to eat. I like to let mine green a little bit. You can choose to stop the process sooner if you like. Depending on the type of seed, degree of desired growth, and ambient temperature, your sprouts will need a couple of days to a week to reach optimum sproutiness. 

You can see in this picture that some of the seeds are starting to sprout a tiny bit. In swirling and trying to take pictures at the same time, I broke some  of the sprouts :( They are extremely delicate. Be gentle with them. 

Once your seeds are adequately sprouted, place them (still in the jar if you like) in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. The cold temp will slow or halt the growing process. Eat them promptly. If you wait too long you will have microgreens, and then plants. Even in the fridge, life stops for no man. Or woman. 

Now you have sprouts. Great! What do you do with them? You have some options.

1. Eat them! Sprouts make a yummy snack all by themselves. My kids will down a batch of sprouts in seconds. 

2. Put them in a sandwich or on a salad. They taste great raw, combined with other foods. Radish and mustard sprouts are spicy, dark greens sprouts are tangy, alfalfa and broccoli sprouts have a rich, almost grassy flavor, sunflower sprouts taste creamy. 

3. Stir fry them. Cooking does alter the enzymes in the sprouts, so go easy on the heat. But my absolute FAVORITE sprout dish is Pad Thai. They cook fast, so add them at the end, and don't over cook them. 

4. Cook the heck out of them. Obviously, this isn't ideal, but if you really want to  add them to heavily cooked dish, stew, soup, or whatever, go ahead. They will add nutrients and flavor to any dish.

Wasn't that easy? I was stunned how simple sprouting could be. Now I'm hooked. You will be, too.