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.
Let me tell you about jicama. Like cauliflower, jicama is wonderful to use in recipes because it’s so versatile. First of all, what exactly is jicama?? Jicama is a sweet, root vegetable or tuber, sometimes called the “Mexican potato” and looks similar to a turnip or radish. It is technically a legume but because it is not the seed but the root, it does not have the anti-nutrients or carbohydrates of beans. Its crisp white flesh can be eaten raw and is often added to salads, slaws, and garnishes, as it lends a refreshing taste and crunchy texture. Kind of reminds me of a water chestnut. Besides being so versatile in recipes, I love that jicama is mainly fiber, so it’s very low in calories (40 calories for a cup!), and because it is a veggie, you know it is packed with good nutrients too – especially vitamin C.
I don’t really eat many beans or legumes. Peanut butter is my one weakness, I will admit. I find beans difficult to digest and not a good protein source for my body. Plus, being little seeds, they contain anti-nutrients that wreak havoc on my gut. If you do choose to eat beans, soaking them overnight and slow cooking them throughout the day will help get rid of those anti-nutrients as well as make them easier to digest.
Besides peanut butter, I must also admit that chickpeas in the form of hummus have been know to be a weakness of mine – such a creamy and tasty snack – and you know how I feel about creamy foods. They’re my favorites. I’ve tried to substitute other fibrous foods for chickpeas in making homemade hummus like sweet potatoes and beets, but I think this jicama hummus will be my new go-to recipe. It most closely resembles the real deal.
I started by washing and peeling the jicama. It was so slippery that I found it difficult, and the end result wasn’t all that pretty. But, the peel is gone and that is what I wanted.
Next, I chopped the jicama into chunks and placed it in my food processor. I processed until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides several times.
I added the juice of a lemon and an avocado, peel removed and cut into chunks. The avocado brings the creaminess lacking in the jicama by itself, and the lemon cuts the sweet taste of the jicama while also helping the avocado stay a pretty green.
I processed until smooth and wow – what a brilliant green color resulted!
Next, I added garlic. I am a garlic girl, so I added a bunch of it. Garlic may make your mouth taste bad afterwards, but the good it does for your body is worth it. The sulfur compounds in garlic are needed for the liver detoxification process, and the sulfer compound allicin, which is responsible for the strong smell and flavor of garlic, is one of the most potent antioxidants. Plus, garlic is a known antibiotic and cancer fighter, especially when eaten raw.
I added a few tablespoons tahini to achieve the robust flavor of traditional hummus, and processed until smooth and creamy. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds.
Lastly, while the hummus was processing, I drizzled in the olive oil and gradually added the sea salt and cumin. A little drizzle of olive oil for garnish and a sprinkle of paprika, and voila! I dipped cucumber slices in the jicama hummus, but any chopped veggie or gluten free chip would be delicious. I also plan to use this hummus as a spread and condiment with our dinner.
- 1 jicama
- 1 lemon
- 1 avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 – 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- paprika and olive oil for garnish
- Wash and peel jicama, and cut into chunks.
- Place jicama chunks in a food processor, and process until smooth.
- Add juice from the lemon and the avocado, and process until smooth and creamy.
- Add minced garlic and tahini, and process until smooth.
- While processing, drizzle in olive oil, and sprinkle in sea salt and cumin.
- Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of paprika before serving.
As far as I know, fried okra is mostly a Southern thing. And since I do live in Texas, I happen to like it. Okra comes in season right about now, so cartons of local organic okra are on display at the grocery store. But I’m not big into frying my foods, which other than pickled is the only way I’ve eaten okra. I don’t even own a fryer, and I don’t pan fry much either. So I decide to give baking okra a try – and turns out it’s pretty darn good!!
Okra is a green pod of a vegetable with lots of little white seeds tucked inside. Also known as gumbo pods, okra is a very low calorie vegetable at 30 calories per serving and contains lots of fiber and vitamin A, actually the highest amount of the antioxidants beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein. Okra also provides vitamins B, C, and K and minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, and manganese. Honestly, I was surprised to learn how healthy these little green pods are – I’d kind of written them off as a pretty empty food. I’m happy to report that is not the case.
The first step in baking okra is to get the pecan crust ready. I combined a cup of toasted pecans, a cup of coconut flour, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne in the food processor and processed until a homogenous grainy mixture formed.
I transferred the pecan mixture to a large plate, and dredged each whole okra in the mixture, pressing down on each piece so as much coating as possible would stick. I then placed the coated pieces of okra in a greased baking pan.
I baked the okra for about 30 – 35 minutes, until they were good and crispy, and then let them cool before removing from the pan, so the pecan crust wouldn’t fall off immediately. These passed the taste test – in fact, I think they turned out delicious! I have to say I am surprised at how much I like them! Pecan crusted baked okra makes an easy, healthy, and tasty appetizer, snack, or side dish for the summer.
- 1 pound okra
- 1 cup toasted pecans
- 1 cup coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- pinch of cayenne
- coconut oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine pecans, coconut flour, sea salt, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor, and process together until an even grainy mixture forms.
- Transfer pecan mixture to a plate, and roll each piece of okra in the mixture, pressing the mixture into each piece of okra to coat.
- Grease a baking pan with coconut oil, and place each coated piece of okra in the baking pan.
- Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until crispy.
- Cool slightly before removing from the pan and serving.
Memorial Day is our opportunity to set aside time to honor and thank all of those who died protecting and serving our country. What a sacrifice! I am truly grateful and honor you today.
In addition to remembering our military personnel that gave their lives, Memorial Day marks the beginning of SUMMER! No school…sunshine…swimming…barbeque! We’re officially opening our grill for the season, and we’ll be having this sweet potato salad, a paleo alternative to traditional potato salad, with our meal tonight.
Sweet potatoes are a super nutritious, starchy carbohydrate that are a welcome part of my diet. I’m pretty active, and since I don’t really eat any grains, I need another good source of carbs, and my preference is to get them through a variety of veggies. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they satisfy your sweet tooth, but the natural sugars they contain are wrapped up in a nice fibrous package, so the sugars are slowly released into your blood stream rather than quickly spiking your blood sugar like sweeteners and grains do. Sweet potatoes can be added to so many things – I like to throw a cooked sweet potato in when making bread. Most sweet potatoes are a rich orange color, which is your clue that they contain a good source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that is the precursor to vitamin A. Sweet potatoes also offer plenty of B and C vitamins and lots of minerals like iron, magnesium, and potassium.
The first step in making sweet potato salad is to peel and cube the sweet potatoes and then boil the cubes until they are tender when pricked with a fork. I let them drain and cool on a paper towel lined plate before adding them to a medium sized bowl.
In addition to sweet potatoes, I added some soaked raisins, diced celery, and diced purple onion to this salad.
I’m big into using nuts as a dairy free and vegan way to achieve a creamy texture for soups, sauces, and dressings. To get the creamy texture without the mayonnaise used in traditional potato salad, I combined Marcona almonds, honey, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar in the food processor and processed them with spices until creamy. I went for a Moroccan flavor in the dressing for this sweet potato salad by choosing the spices ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper.
My mouth is watering looking at this sweet potato salad! I am even happier than expected with this recipe! So flavorful and different and delicious! I’ve got a few salmon fillets marinating to throw on the grill later on, and the sweet potato salad is chilling in the fridge to go with. Now to figure out something green to round out the meal. And then of course there’s dessert…hmmm…
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- ½ purple onion, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- ½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water and soaking water discarded
- 2 tablespoons Marcona almonds
- ½ tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Boil cubes of sweet potato until tender when pricked with a fork.
- Drain on a paper towel until cool.
- Combine sweet potato, onion, celery, and raisins in a medium bowl.
- In a food processor, combine almonds, honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, water, and spices, and process until smooth and creamy.
- Pour dressing over sweet potato mixture and gently fold into the salad until the ingredients are coated with the dressing.
- Refrigerate before serving.