When we first moved to Frisco, Texas from Snoqualmie, Washington, our kids were 1 ½ and 3 ½. We had a teeny tiny little backyard in our first house with not even one tree or shrub, no outdoor grill, pretty much nothing but a slab of concrete and a few chairs. But Rob and I would sit outside in the ridiculously hot summer evenings just watching our kids run around in circles. Because we could. It was our summer to “thaw” and enjoy being outside with no jackets, no goose bumps, no chance of rain. I don’t think we complained about the heat once that summer because we were so happy to have the sunshine. Now we did make a pretty big trade off for that sunshine; we lost the mountains and water and evergreen trees and crisp clean air of the Northwest. Texas is home now and I love it, but I hop on a plane and travel to a beautiful part of the world any chance I get.
Moving into our second home here, we now have a pool and an outdoor grill, so we spend many summer nights outside together as a family. This routine provides such a good way to wind down and relax at the end of the day. As my kids get older and their sports and social lives expand, we have fewer and fewer nights when all four of us are at home together, so we have to make more of an effort to plan family time.
Typically, our nights at home are the most relaxing time of my week. This weekend, however, I had a hard time winding down. It occurred to me that it’s because school has now started and with school comes a higher level of stress. Gone are the lazy days of summer and back are the worries of being a middle school parent…homework, grades, social circles, social media, sports team tryouts, service opportunities, a faster pace of life…it’s all resuming, and I could feel my body revving up in response.
I make it a priority to take good care of my body with food and exercise, so I can live my life feeling good, but what about stress? Am I making it a priority to keep it in check? Stress can sabotage all of my good intentions and efforts to keep my body healthy. In particular, there’s this important little hormone called cortisol – our fight or flight hormone – that can get stuck in the permanent “on” or high state. While cortisol at a normal level helps us meet the challenges of every day, too much of a good things isn’t so good. High cortisol levels trigger our bodies to always be in a state of emergency. Our bodies then do anything and everything to turn on the life saving strategies, going into survival mode. Adrenal levels are elevated, metabolism slows and we store extra weight around the middle, sleep is difficult to come by, and we feel stressed out and anxious all of the time.
A few cortisol lowering tips I will be incorporating into my life as school is back in full swing and I feel my stress level rising…
- Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. No peace is like the Lord’s. I am on my knees daily asking for it.
- Write down everything that is on your mind in your journal. In your head, picture placing each of those worries on a tray and handing them over to God. Then let it go and trust. Someone in college gave me that tip, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
- Take time out to breathe. Slow and deep breathing works wonders to reduce anxiety and stress in the body. I breathe in for a count of 7, hold for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 8 and repeat it several times.
- Spend time with people you love and those who make you laugh. For me, this is my family. They are my favorite people in the world.
- Watch your caffeine intake as it stimulates your adrenal glands as well.
- Drink water. Lots of it. Pure, clean water. Even slight dehydration is stressful on your body.
- Watch your sugar intake and focus on those low glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar stable. High blood sugar is super stressful on your body.
- Increase your omega 3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, flax seeds, etc.), as they lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation in your body.
- Give yourself permission to take a time out, and do something that relaxes you. I like to read, listen to music, or take a hot bath.
Another reason our family nights spent in our backyard help me relax is that my husband does the cooking. He’s come a long way with his grilling skills – we’ve traded those hockey puck hard burgers for fall-apart-in-your mouth grilled salmon. His latest favorite to make is these jerk chicken and mango skewers. Jerk is a spice rub or marinade from Jamaica that actually originated in Africa and is known for being spicy hot with a little bit of sweetness.
To make the skewers, Rob started with one pound of pasture raised chicken breasts.
He cut them into cubes the right size to thread on a skewer.
To make the jerk chicken marinade, he chopped a purple onion and minced two cloves of garlic. In a medium sized bowl, he combined the onion and garlic along with the juice of 4 limes, tamari, maple syrup, olive oil, and lots of spices: sea salt, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, allspice, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Freshly grated nutmeg is the best.
He submerged the chicken cubes in the jerk sauce and marinated them in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
We cut chunks of mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion to add to the skewers. He alternated threading the mango, red bell pepper, onion, and marinated chicken cubes onto eight skewers.
He grilled them for about 6 minutes, flipped them over, and grilled them for 6 minutes more.
For a side, one idea is to “rice” a head of cauliflower in a food processor. Heat the remaining jerk sauce in a medium sauce pan and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then add the “riced” cauliflower to the sauce pan and cook for a few minutes more. Serve the skewers with the cauliflower “rice”.
- 1 pound pasture raised chicken breasts
- 3 mangos
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 purple onion
- ½ purple onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ - 1 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- juice of 4 limes
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ tablespoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
- Cut chicken breasts into cubes and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine diced onion, minced garlic, and the remaining ingredients to make a jerk marinade.
- Marinate the chicken breast cubes in the jerk marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- Cut mango, red bell pepper, and purple onion into chunks.
- Alternate threading the mango, red bell pepper, purple onion, and chicken cubes onto 8 skewers.
- Grill over medium heat for 6 minutes. Flip, and grill for 6 minutes more.
Summer means stone fruit season – peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries. Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a juicy nectarine during the summer? I will be sad to see them leave, as I am every year; the season only lasts from June to September. Probably the most coveted of all the stone fruits in my house is the cherry. I can only find them in the grocery store for a few weeks of the summer, so a bowl of freshly washed cherries lasts no more than a couple days with my crew.
So what a better way to get in the healthy stuff…like those GREEN foods…than to pair them with sweet cherries that everyone enjoys. Kind of makes this dish taste a little bit like dessert rather than Brussels sprouts, at least that was my intention even though I’m not sure my kids were quite sold (it’s really hard to hide Brussels sprouts from kids!). But I’m sold! The juicy sweetness of the cherries cuts right through any bitterness of the greens. I could make a whole meal out of this recipe.
I started with a bag of Brussels sprouts – washed em and quartered em.
Then I washed and pitted two cups of fresh cherries. This was probably the most time consuming part of preparing this recipe, but I became more efficient at it once I got started.
Cherries are only available for a few weeks out of the year at our local Whole Foods, so I buy at LOT during those weeks. When I’m shopping for produce, often times I have a list based on recipes I want to make that week or I have a list of wants and favorites from my family. But mostly, I look for those red “Local” signs and plan meals around what’s fresh and in season.
Three reasons I try to eat local seasonal produce:
- Eating foods that are fresh ensures your body is getting food with the most potent nutrients. Nutrients are quite sensitive, especially to time and heat. So buying local produce means you feed your body food that hasn’t had to travel from the other side of the globe. I also try to eat a good portion of my fruits and vegetables raw because those precious nutrients and enzymes are also heat sensitive.
- Our bodies need different things during different seasons of the year, and nature provides the nutrients and types of foods we need to stay strong, energized, and healthy year round. In the cold winter, we need heavier foods with fat and protein, so we crave warm stews and meats. As the earth thaws and comes to life during spring, our bodies crave to cleanse and renew, and we desire all those bitter leafy greens, salads, and lighter, brothy soups. Summer comes and it’s hot; we need energy to endure the long days, and we crave those cooling and refreshing fruits and vegetables that grow so abundantly this time of year.
- Food that has been grown out of season or travels a long way uses more valuable energy than food that is grown in season and has traveled from a local farm. Plus, what a better way to support local farmers than to buy what they grow!
The third step is to stir together the melted coconut oil, cherry balsamic vinegar (plain balsamic vinegar will do), sea salt, pepper, and thyme in a small bowl or pitcher.
I spread out the Brussels sprouts and cherries on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzled the coconut oil mixture over them. Using my hands, I tossed the Brussels sprouts and cherries in the mixture.
I roasted them for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees, removing them from the oven halfway through to toss them.
Lastly, I sprinkled some toasted chopped pecans on the top.
- 1 bag Brussels sprouts, quartered
- 2 cups cherries, halved and pitted
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons cherry balsamic vinegar (or plain balsamic vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup chopped toasted pecans
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Spread out Brussels sprouts and cherries on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- In a small bowl or pitcher, stir together coconut oil, vinegar, thyme, sea salt, and pepper.
- Drizzle coconut oil mixture over Brussels sprouts and cherries, and toss with your hands to coat evenly.
- Roast for 30 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Remove halfway through cooking time and toss.
- Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with pecans, and toss before serving.
Have you noticed how heavy a watermelon is? Watermelons are filled with water making them the heaviest melon out there. 92% of a watermelon is water, so it’s not surprising that they are extremely good for hydrating. This Texas heat and humidity in August is brutal, and for a girl like me who likes to stay active despite the extreme temperature, watermelon is a favorite.
Gatorade and other sports drinks are loaded with sugar, artificial flavors and colors, and other fake stuff, so I’d much rather snack on hydrating foods and find natural ways to replenish fluid loss. One of my rules of thumb is to always stay ahead of the game when it comes to hydration. I’ve found that once I’m dehydrated, I’m done for – my energy is zapped. There’s just no catching up when it’s 102 degrees and humid. I have a 3-day tennis tournament this weekend, and even though it’s only Tuesday, I’m already working on building my hydration by drinking A LOT and preparing meals like this watermelon gazpacho.
Before I get into all the reasons you should add watermelon to your summer diet, I want to stop and brag on my daughter for a second. I am a happy mama because of so many of the choices she is making lately. Even though Rob and I are what many would call healthnut-exercise junkies, we do not push it on our kids. Neither of us were into food or fitness from birth, in fact we grew up to be sugar-loving non-gym goers. It wasn’t until we hit 30 and got a taste of just how good our bodies feel when we eat right and exercise that we became so passionate about it. We have definitely educated our kids about proper nutrition, and they see the way we choose to eat and take care of our bodies, but we don’t require them or force them to eat like we do. (Of course, we would love it if they did! But forcing them can backfire.) However, because we are the ones who buy the food, we don’t keep junk or sodas in the house, so that does cut down on the trash our kids consume. Many people ask me “Do you let your kids drink soda?” My answer is “Yes.” When they are somewhere that a soda is offered, yes, they are allowed to drink it. Do I cringe inside every time, yes, I do, but again, the decision to care about what they put into their bodies has to be theirs, we believe. We can only lead by example and show them just how rewarding it is to fuel your body properly.
With all that said, back to Kayley. This summer, she came home from camp, and after thinking about it and mulling it over with a good friend who happens to be a non-soda drinker, she decided she was done with sodas. She has not had even ONE soda all summer. And that’s not all. She has decided she cares about what she puts in her body and has drastically cut back any junk and has joined Rob and I at the gym. She has clearly made the connection that when she eats junk, she feels like junk and plays her sport like junk. Kayley, from birth, has been kind of like Rob and I were from birth, which is a sugar-holic. So, Rob and I are extremely happy for her that at the age of 13, she is making healthy choices for her body. And feeling good is influencing other areas of her life too. I about fell over after walking into her clean room and spotted her neatly made bed on a Sunday afternoon. Just had to take a break from watermelon to share.
Back to watermelons. Watermelons are not only hydrating, they are also energizing. The 92% water along with the high fiber, high electrolyte, and high natural sugar content serves as an excellent natural invigorator. Watermelons provide 20% of your vitamin C for the day plus plenty of vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium. And, that bright red color gives away the high amount of the powerful antioxidant lycopene found in this refreshing fruit.
I am instantly a fan of any recipe I can make in a blender, as like everyone else, I’m busy! I don’t typically have time for meals that require a long preparation when it comes to everyday lunches and dinners. I also don’t care to be in my kitchen cleaning a million dirty pots and pans, so a one pot or one blender recipe is my cup of tea. This watermelon gazpacho is a sweet twist on the traditional gazpacho, making it one that is also kid approved.
To start, I cut up about 8 cups of watermelon and added it to my large Vitamix blender. I then cut up several other phytonutrient packed veggies – tomato, purple onion, cucumber, red bell pepper, garlic, red chile pepper, and basil leaves – and added those to the Vitamix as well. Finally, I added a little red wine vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt for added flavor before blending. I saved about half a cup of cut up veggies to float on top as a garnish.
- 8 cups cubed watermelon
- 1 tomato
- 1 cucumber
- ½ purple onion
- ½ red bell pepper
- 1 red chile pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- large handful basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Cut watermelon, cucumber, tomato, red bell pepper, onion, and chile pepper into chunks.
- Reserve about ½ cup of the cut up veggies for a garnish, and add the rest to a large blender.
- Peel 2 cloves of garlic, and add to the blender.
- Add basil leaves, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt to the blender.
- Puree into a soup.
- Pour into soup bowls, and garnish with cut up veggies.
- Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator.
“…Tea, a drink with jam and bread…” One of the most common questions people ask me is “Don’t you miss bread?” or “How do you live without it?”. When I first cut gluten out of my diet, I did miss it! A lot! I would say for the first 9 months, I would stick to a gluten free diet for a few days, maybe a week at a time, but then I would inevitably fall off the wagon. I repeated this cycle countless times my first year of being “gluten free”, and it was only because I knew the stuff wasn’t good for my body that I finally had the will power to permanently ditch it. My determination to finally feel good so I could get the most out of my life (because really, you can only do that if you feel good!) kept me climbing back on that gluten free wagon. I would say at about the 9-month mark, I turned a corner. I craved it less, I became more dedicated, and I stopped my gluten free yo-yo diet.
So back to the question “Do you miss bread?”. At first, yes, (hence the cycle I just mentioned) so much so that for the next couple of years, I became obsessed with creating foods that resembled my gluten filled favorites. This helped me transition I believe. But…those breads and baked goods I was cooking up were filled with sugar and gluten free grains, which also have a high glycemic index and can be quite processed.
It wasn’t until I started caring more about the quality of food I was putting in my body and what that food could do for me that I really began to feel awesome. I focused on all of those whole foods that I could eat in their natural package – fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and high quality eggs, lean meats, and fish. Think this way of eating sounds restricting? Heck no!! A whole new world opened up to me and I finally started feeling REALLY good.
Considering that I don’t really eat eat bread (outside of those yummy paleo treats like banana nut muffins), you might find it strange that I would make jam because after all, isn’t jam made for spreading on bread? While it’s true that I don’t have my jam with bread, I can still find many ways to enjoy it. Think of jam as another condiment to make all of those whole foods taste good. Just a few things to spread this jam on:
- A slice of banana with nut butter
- A stick of celery with nut butter
- A slice of turkey, and then roll it up
- Stir into plain Greek yogurt
- Add to smoothies
- Blend with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make a sweet salad dressing
- Spread on a piece of chicken or fish and bake
How do you enjoy homemade jam? Please share!
This recipe is seriously the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. Almost no prep time, no cook or bake time, and made with only 3 healthy whole food ingredients. It’s berry season, and large cartons of organic berries are on sale at the grocery. I chose strawberries because they are my kids’ favorite berry but a pound of any berry would work in this recipe. After washing and trimming the tops off of the strawberries, I added them to the Vitamix.
Next, to thicken the jam, I added a couple tablespoons of chia seeds to the Vitamix. I love these little energy packed guys and find myself throwing them into something new every day. Chia seeds provide so much soluble fiber – good for your cholesterol levels, your heart, your digestion, and your gut environment – so go ahead and sprinkle them on anything you can think of!
I drizzled a couple tablespoons of honey (although you could substitute a dropper of liquid stevia to avoid the natural sugar) to sweeten the jam. Depending on the level of your sweet tooth, you may want to add more or less honey. The last step is to blend the three ingredients for at least 30 seconds. I stored it in the fridge overnight to let those chia seeds plump up so the concoction thickens like jam. And that’s it folks – healthy homemade jam doesn’t get much easier than that!
- 1 pound strawberries
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Wash and trim the tops off the strawberries.
- Combine strawberries, chia seeds, and honey in the blender, and blend for at least 30 seconds.
- Pour into a glass container, and store in the refrigerator overnight before serving.