Healthy Cooking Substitutions and Tweaks

I used to be a recipe devotee – I cooked recipes as they were written, no variance, no way.  I was not a confident cook, so I doubted my ability to vary the recipe and still have it taste good.

As I have cooked more and more food from scratch (an EASY way to keep meals healthy), I have grown more comfortable with my ability to substitute ingredients and amounts and have things work out well.  Here is an easy-to-reference list of substitutions and tweaks I use to make my recipes healthier.

  • Double the veggies in all recipes, always
  • 1C butter = 1C coconut oil, 1C applesauce, or 1C prune puree; can also sub a mashed avocado for half the butter
  • 1 egg = half a mashed banana, 1/4C applesauce, or 1T flaxseed mixed with 3t water
  • 1C sugar = 1 C mashed banana, 3/4C honey, or 3/4C maple syrup (might have to reduce other liquid amounts to compensate for the liquid state of the sweeteners)
  • 1C canola/veggie oil = 1C applesauce or 1C coconut oil
  • 1C mayo or sour cream = 1C greek yogurt
  • 1C ricotta cheese = 1C cottage cheese
  • 1C buttermilk = 1C plain milk with 2t white vinegar
  • 1C heavy cream = 1C whole milk
  • 1C bread crumbs = 1C rolled oats
  • 1C all purpose flour = 1C white whole wheat flour

Happy experimenting!

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At-Home Gel Manicure

I don’t know about you, but right about now, winter is awfully hard on my hands and feet.  The air is dry so my cuticles are a mess, and I always get some really dry patches in between my fingers.  Not to mention that I attend yoga classes regularly in the winter, and one of my yoga instructors goes around during savasana and rubs our feet with lavender oil, so I really feel like having my feet in good condition is mandatory.  I don’t want my instructor skeeved out by my feet!

I love, love, love going for a manicure and pedicure, but I don’t always have the time to spare.  Plus, it can get expensive.  Not to mention that my hands really take a beating and manicures don’t last long, usually chipping within two days of a manicure.  Gel manicures seemed like a total savior for a while, due to how long they last, but my inability to go back to the salon regularly make them a poor fit.  They grow out and look pretty terrible, and there’s no way to get the polish off my nails without destroying them.

I was super excited when I discovered at-home UV free gel manicures a few months ago.  The line I use is Revlon ColorStay Gel Envy, though there is also a Sally Hansen line.  (I bought Revlon because I liked the colors that were available.)  The Revlon line is super easy to use, and is exactly what I need.  These at-home gel manicures last about a week, and the polish is easy to remove with regular normal polish remover.  The brush is wider than normal nail polish, so it is really easy to apply.  The topcoat dries really fast, and has a nice shine like you would expect with a gel manicure.  It truly doesn’t chip on fingernails for about a week, longer on toes.

Here are the steps for an at-home gel manicure (I do mine while my kids play in the bathtub):

1.  Soak your hands (or feet) in a basin of warm water, with some epsom salts dissolved, for about five minutes.  For a pedicure, use a pumice stone or foot scrub to remove rough skin.
2.  Use a cuticle stick to push back any cuticles that need it, trimming loose skin as needed.  Trim and file nails at this time, as well.
3.  Wash and dry hands thoroughly, then apply gel nail polish in a thin, even coat.  Apply a second coat after waiting a minute or two.
4.  Wait another minute or two, then apply top coat in a thin, even coat.  Wait about five minutes, then apply a light hand lotion.

Undereye Concealer

A good undereye concealer is like a unicorn – always elusive.  Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of products to cover my sleep deprivation:  powders, creams, sticks.  You name it, I’ve tried it.  Nothing works the way I want it to.  Powders settle into my teeny tiny creases and make me look super old.  Creams look cakey and don’t actually hide that much.  I’ve since made peace with my eye circles, as they don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I was browsing the internets yesterday and came across this article from the Today Show, which seemed intriguing.  I have a variety of red lipsticks in my makeup kit, as they always come in “free gift” packages when I buy cosmetics, but rarely wear lipstick.  This morning, I broke out one of the tubes and gave this trick a try.  Here’s the result:

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This is pretty  much a miracle, people.  I haven’t seen this kind of coverage under my eyes, EVER.  Here’s how to do it:

1.  Cleanse your face.  Put on your eye cream (EYE CREAM, PEOPLE!  A little prevention now is worth it).  Then, dab red lipstick in dots all along the darkest, deepest part of your eye circle.  Blend with your ring finger.

2.  Gently pat concealer on top of the lipstick.  Blend, and add as necessary.

Super easy, super effective.  And green, because I didn’t have to buy any new products and am actually using some that I normally would have thrown away!

The Definition of Fitness

What do you think of when you think of someone who is “fit”?

My definition of “fit” has changed over the years.  When I was as a teenager in the 90s, “fit” meant someone who was good at sports.  The jocks, the people who played sports year-round, were “fit”.  It didn’t matter that some of them ate cheeseburgers for lunch every day and partied hard on the weekends – “fitness” was defined, in my mind, by success in high school sports.

As a young adult, my definition of “fitness” changed.  Since very few people in college played sports on a team anymore, my teenage definition didn’t work.  Instead, the “fit” people were the skinny people – because if you were healthy, you were thin, right?  Being “fit” meant wearing the smallest size jeans possible, the skinniest girl in the club.  Exercise was all about becoming the tiniest person possible, and nutrition focused on the same.  Not health, merely size.

During the years that my children were small, my definition of “fitness” evolved yet again.  Bombarded by magazine covers proclaiming that celebrities had “gotten their bodies back” just a few weeks after pregnancy made me believe that the speedy elimination of my pregnancy pounds defined my fitness.  I was one of the lucky ones for whom breastfeeding took off pregnancy weight quickly, but I still worked hard to “get that body back”.  I began to run long distances, and defined my fitness by how far I could run, and how fast.  Once again, my definition of fitness was dictated by those around me, by what I looked like compared to others, and my pre-pregnancy self.

A little over a year ago, I started to rethink my definition of “fitness”.  I could run pretty far, at a decent pace, but I didn’t feel good.  I had a hard time sleeping.  My back was sore a lot.  I felt sluggish and I wasn’t terribly productive.  When I held the bike for my kids to learn to ride, I was toast after two blocks – the weight and posture were incredibly painful.  It was about this time that I changed my definition of fitness yet again, and this time, it comes from within.

Fitness, today, means strength and flexibility.  It means I am the best version of myself that I can be.  I am not defined by external things like weight, distance or size.  I can carry my 8 year old in one arm and my 6 year old in the other.  I can hold a plank pose for a long time.  I can run beside the bike while my daughter learns to ride, for as long as I need to.  I fall asleep quickly and wake up without any pain.  I have become a MORNING PERSON (eek), which is something I never thought I would be.  I do PiYo several times a week, and I can’t emphasize enough the transformation in all aspects of my life.  I sleep better.  My back doesn’t hurt.  My muscles are lean and strong.  When I run, I feel stronger.  My mind is clear.  I have more energy.  I feel like eating healthy foods, rather than viewing them as something to tolerate.  I haven’t weighed myself in months.  My clothes fit better.  I feel like a teenager again.

Find your fitness.  Feel good from inside.  Find your happy.

Red Food on Valentine's Day

My children have their “friendship celebrations” at school for Valentine’s Day today, as Feb 14 falls on a Saturday this year.  I love, love, love that they have this opportunity to celebrate friendship and tell their classmates how important and special they are.  Every year, my kids come home and inspect every single Valentine with love and care.

What don’t I love?  The fact that red is the color of Valentine’s Day, and that my kids come home with tons of red candy and treats.  I hate that my children have been given fun goodies and treats that they can’t have, because that makes me the bad gal.

Neither of my children have been diagnosed with an allergy or any other condition involving food dyes.  However, over time, we have noticed that one child reacts poorly when he has red food dye.  His body moves without stopping.  He doesn’t listen.  He is literally bouncing off all the surfaces in my house.  He gets upset for no reason, and his feelings snowball into absolute hysteria and he canNOT get control of himself.  He starts hitting and crying and acting completely wild.

So, yeah.  We avoid red dye like crazy around here, which actually isn’t too hard to do because we don’t eat a lot of processed food.  We are really careful about the things we do buy, however, because red dye is no fun in our house.  The thing is, we are far from alone.  Parents across the country are speaking up about the reactions their children have to red dye.

Want some fun alternatives to treats with red dye for Valentine’s Day?  Even if your children don’t have these sensitivities, lots of other children do.  Here are some fun ideas!

Strawberry Popcorn:  Pop some popcorn on the stove, and dust it with crushed freeze dried strawberries.

Valentine’s Cupcakes:  Make cupcakes and frosting as you usually would, but use beet juice for color.

Valentine’s Cookies:  Make sugar cookies in heart shapes, then make frosting but use beet juice for color.

Pink Pancakes with Valentine Syrup:  Puree 2 C of strawberries, then add 1/2 to pancake batter before cooking for a fun Valentine’s Day color.  Add maple syrup to the remaining 1 C of berries  and stir to make a fun syrup for the top!

Valentine Smoothies:  Blend 2 C liquid (coconut milk, almond milk, regular milk) with one banana, 1/2 C raspberries, 1/2 C strawberries, and a 2 scoops of vanilla protein powder.

Green Cleaning

We keep our cleaning products under our sink, as I am sure many of you do.  When my first child was born, that area was PACKED.  It seems like we had a special cleaner for every job in the house – wood cleaner, countertop cleaner, sink cleaner, window cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, bathroom cleaner, floor cleaner . . . plus some more I can’t remember.  This doesn’t include all the laundry products we had, which included special detergents and fabric softeners.

These days we get the job done with just a few products, and frankly, most of our cleaning is done with only two.  Those two are vinegar and baking soda.  They clean better than most of the products you buy at the store, and are far cheaper.  An added bonus is that they are free of aerosols, chemicals and fragrances that can be irritating to to breathe.

How do I use these products?  My standard go-to is a big spray bottle filled halfway with regular white vinegar, and topped off with tap water.  This bottle is used to clean everything in my kitchen and bathroom.  For example, after dinner, I walk around my kitchen spraying every surface with vinegar solution.  Then, I use a clean cloth to wipe everything down.  Vinegar has natural antimicrobial properties that will kill most types of germs (I admit I do keep a bottle of sanitizing spray on hand for special occasions, like raw chicken goo).  The same goes for the bathroom – I go in, spray everything down, and wipe it from top to bottom.  The vinegar spray takes care of 99% of my issues.  Once again, if I suspect some germs are lurking about, I might give the light switch, the toilet and the faucets a spritz of sanitizer, just to be safe.

The few areas that require some extra love, like the ring around the tub, stubborn stains in the sink, and tile grout, get a dose of baking soda paste, which easily takes off the mess.  Simply add a bit of water to a small bowl of baking soda, then use a cloth to apply and wipe.  To clean drains, pour some baking soda into the drain, then drizzle vinegar (slooowly) above the drain.  Remember the volcano you made in elementary school?  This is your big chance to relive that glory.  It is SO much fun to clean your drains this way, and effective too!

My floors are washed with a mixture of vinegar and water.  I have no idea what the percentage is, as I simply dump in a bucket and go.  Sometimes I add a dab of dish soap if my floors are really muddy or if my kids have been baking.  This mixture works for all my floors, no problem.

In the laundry, I have one container of eco-friendly detergent on hand, and another big bottle of vinegar.  I have hard water, and have found that my clothes can be a bit stiff because I no longer use fabric softener.  (If you want to know why, click here.)  Instead, I pour vinegar into the fabric softener compartment of my washing machine.  This bit of vinegar, which goes into the tub at the very end of the washing cycle, softens my clothes naturally.  Then, I use dryer balls in the dryer to speed drying and keep my clothes soft.

The last discovery about vinegar for cleaning is a recent one, and very exciting.  As I mentioned, we have hard water.  For years, I have bemoaned the white crusty marks left behind on our bathroom countertops by hard water puddles.  Nothing I tried could take them off – not even harsh cleaners.  This summer, on a whim, I used a cotton ball of apple cider vinegar on the crust.  To my surprise and delight, some of it came off.  After several days of applying ACV in the morning, the hard water crust around my faucet handles was gone.  As a preventative, I put a bit around my faucet handles each morning.

So, my cleaning supply expenses have been greatly reduced by these changes, and I feel really good about the change.  I am not afraid of chemical burns on my hands or bleach spots on my clothes from the products I use, and the products don’t make me cough.  Our laundry is clean and soft, and even our hard water spots are gone!

Give green cleaning a try and see how much you can save, and how clean your house can be!

In Control

I cannot count how many times I have heard people say that they wish they could change their life.  I think it is easy for us to feel like we are victims – inconsiderate spouses, uninspiring work, unfulfilled dreams.

You know what?  You aren’t a victim.

The ONLY thing that is actually 100% totally in your control is. . . you.  The choices you make each day are completely yours, as are the consequences of those actions.  Each day, the choices we make define our future – what we eat, who we spend time with, how we choose to spend our time.

If you are unhappy in your life, it is time to take action.  Do not be afraid to make changes – you only get this one life, and this one body, and this one shot.  There are no “do overs”.  Do not let your life go by while you are asleep.  Each day is a new chance, a new opportunity.  If you have unfulfilled dreams, now is the time – not tomorrow, TODAY.

I’m seizing the day and making my life the one I’ve dreamed of, every day.  Are you?