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Mashed cauliflower.

I think mashed cauliflower really came on the scene back when Atkins was so popular and low-carb was all the rage.  Following an Atkins and low-carb diet was the only way I had ever lost weight, prior to my newfound love of fitness, and I remember trying mashed cauliflower in an attempt to eat something resembling mashed potatoes.  I made mashed cauliflower at home and tried it at a restaurant, and both times I was pretty much majorly disappointed.

However!   
 That was back when I didn't really like cauliflower.  I went from never having eaten cauliflower to trying to cook it and whip it and thinking it was going to taste exactly like mashed potatoes only healthier!  Well, that's a fairly tall order, and I think it also holds the key to whether or not you're really going to like mashed cauliflower.  

In order to appreciate mashed cauliflower, it helps if you actually enjoy cauliflower.  Not rocket science, I know, but oddly enough, it took me a while to figure this out.

Now that I see mashed, or what I call "whipped," cauliflower as simply another way to prepare the tasty, cruciferous vegetable, as opposed to a desperate attempt to re-create mashed potatoes, I appreciate it on a whole new level.  And I truly enjoy it!!  This particular recipe blew me away.  I was literally licking it out of the blender.

The funny thing about this recipe is that I thought I had ruined it.  I thought I had undercoooked the cauliflower and after I (unsuccessfully) tried to mash it with the masher, I thought it was pretty much a lost cause.  And then Bob suggested I pulse it in the blender.  Well, that's what I did, and it turned out AMAZING!  Now the only thing I'm worried about is being able to recreate it, since the whole thing ended up being a little "fly by the seat of my pants."

This recipe from Faithfulness Farm was my inspiration, but I had to change it up a bit to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand.  I eyeballed everything in my recipe, which I think is a fine thing to do with a dish like this.  Just work with what you've got!

Olive Oil, Garlic & Cheese Whipped (pulsed?  blended?) Cauliflower

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:
  • a bag of precut cauliflower
  • salt & freshly cracked pepper
  • big squeeze from my tube of garlic paste (love that stuff!  You can get it in the produce department near the fresh hebs)
  • hefty drizzle extra virgin olive oil (maybe 1 tbsp or 1 and a half tbsp).
  • 1/4 c fat free half-n-half or milk of your choosing
  • 1/4 c grated cheese (I used whatever I had on hand -- I think it was shredded, part skim mozzarella but I could also see using Parmigan or Romano)
  • Salt & freshly cracked pepper

Directions: 

Use a large piece of aluminum foil to create a packet for your cauliflower.  Season with salt & pepper and add your big squeeze of garlic.  

Place packet in oven and bake for 45-55 minutes or until tender. 

Once you think it's done, remove everything from the packet (it will smell divine!) and put it into a blender.  Add your olive oil, half-n-half (or milk), and cheese.  Blend until desired consistency.  Mine was pretty smooth but still had enough tiny, tiny bit of cauliflower to give it a bit of texture and nice mouth-feel.  

Add more salt & pepper to taste.  

The original recipe says it can be made ahead and reheated in a 350°F oven until piping hot, and I am thinking about trying that this coming weekend.  We'll see!

If you want to be really fancy, you can reserve a few pieces of the cauliflower once it's come out of the oven and use them as garnish.  I would have topped this with chives if I had any :)

Seriously so good.  The above picture is using the last little bit that was left in the blender because I could not stop eating mine long enough to take a picture and then Bob went back for seconds.  I was all like, "we need to stop and take a picture before this thing gets devoured!"  Again, doesn't really taste like mashed potatoes, but what it does taste like is freaking awesome.
 
I've come to the conclusion that physical fitness plays a huge role in alleviating my day-to-day stress levels.  I love to start my day with a good workout, and the positive energy from that experience seems to lift me up and help me power through my day.  Whenever I don't have that workout, be it running or strength conditioning, at the start of the day, I'm always a bit more sluggish and sometimes downright grumpy.  Moreover, whenever life throws bumps into my path, I think I can handle them better if I've had some good fitness already or if I get the chance to burn off my stress later in the day.

That said, there are days when it's just not possible to work out.  Additionally, there are other things I enjoy about my life besides feelin' the burn and gettin' my sweat on.

I realized the other day that I am truly, genuinely in a good place right now, and I want to embrace that and appreciate every moment of it, because I know that life is full of ups and downs, and I've got to really live in the moments of the "ups" because the "downs" are inevitably coming. Maybe that sounds really negative, and that's not my intention here.  I think it's just me pausing to recognize that I am really happy and trying to take a moment to reflect on how thankful I am right now that so much of my life at this moment feels So Right.  And if I can pause now and be thankful, maybe later down the road or whenever my mood shifts, I can draw from this well of gratitude and remember all of those things I have to be thankful for.

This is not to say that everything in my life is perfect, because that's totally unrealistic.  And there are moments throughout the day where I get upset or something doesn't go my way, or things just aren't so great.  I still worry about the people I love and the things they are dealing with.

But there is a lot in my life that I am enjoying and I have a lot to be thankful for.

So here's a little list!  And it's a nice thing to think about, especially on days when I can't get my spiritual and emotional form of anti-anxiety medication (aka -- my workout!):
  • I'm loving our Keurig right now, and I'm loving our coffee, my new flavored creamer (sugar-free caramel, yum!), and my evening teas.  This may seem silly or superficial, but it has had a pretty big impact on my life.  I know the flavored creamer is probably processed poison, but it'll be a looooong time before I ever give it up.  I figure, I don't have many vices: I don't gamble, I don't do drugs, I don't do a lot of things to excess, so maybe my flavored creamer is my vice, along with all the caffeine from the coffee!  I would say the coffee and the cream are a bit excessive, but I do have a 12:00 noon cut off point.  No coffee after noon.  There's only so much damage I can do before noon, right?!  Anyway, I look forward to getting up in the morning, because I'm looking forward to my coffee.  I also am already thinking about and looking forward to my evening tea.  I feel a little like I'm turning into an old woman, but I have seriously fallen in love with the warm, relaxing beverage.  It's so soothing, and it has become a part of my evening ritual.  I used to think I wouldn't be able to fall asleep if I didn't have a glass of wine or a beer, and now I actually feel like any alcohol has the *opposite* effect and can prevent me from having a full night of sleep.  Now I'm much more reliant on my evening tea as part of my wind-down process.  
  • I love packing my lunch each day.  I have gotten into the routine of packing up my dinner leftovers into my nice little lunch container, and I enjoy eating my lunch at my desk.  Sometimes I use this time to write a blog post, but often I'll work while I eat.  I truly look forward to my lunch each day, and I know that I am saving money by packing my lunch, and the food is always really yummy (and pretty healthy, too)!
  • I love it when I'm top of things and the house is (relatively) clean and organized.  There's something so special about winding down in the evening, with the great room clear of clutter, the carpets looking fairly well-vacuumed, the kitchen counters and table clear, and knowing that the laundry is clean, folded, and put away.  The truth is, it's not often that all of the things on that list are completed, but it is *such* a good feeling when all of those little chores are done.  Usually the laundry is what ends up at the end of the list.  We often get held up at the "folding and putting away" stage, but these days whenever I am tempted to just let the laundry sit in the dryer or basket, I remind myself of how great it feels when it's all done and put away, and I get my butt in gear and get it done. 
  • Did I say how much I love my coffee and tea?
  • I love cooking, baking, and preparing healthy foods my myself and my family.  There is just something about providing nourishment for my family that brings me a huge sense of peace.  If life gets crazy and we find ourselves getting carry-out, going out to eat, or getting pizza too often in one week, I can feel the anxiety start to creep up on me.  It really does bring me a lot of happiness, fulfillment, and peace to be able to feed them and to give them some fairly decent choices, health-wise.  I've really been enjoying making baked, sweet treats and finding healthier alternatives for the whole family.  One thing I noticed is that as we phase out a lot of processed foods and processed and refined sugars, my palate is really changing, and I'm tasting food in a whole new way.  Sweet vegetables (such as red pepper) taste sweeter, and fresh fruit can just blow me away with its sweetness.  Finding ways to make healthier alternatives for sweet treats has opened up a new world of possibilities, and we are all having a lot of fun exploring the new foods.  I love to get the kids in the kitchen with me, and they're enjoying the new recipes.  Sure, sometimes all of my kitchen "helpers" can get exasperating when they are begging to eat all of the ingredients and fighting over who gets to pour what when, but I love to see them get excited about food prep, and I know it has contributed to some of their willingness to try new foods.


Those are some of the big picture things that I'm loving in life right now.  Nothing super crazy or special, but these are things for which I am thankful on a daily basis.  I'm thankful for the ability to provide food for my family; I'm thankful when my little universe is ordered (or at least when I'm enjoying the illusion of order).  I'm thankful for my little rituals, like my morning coffee and my evening tea and packing my lunch.

Check out my "Things I love" page to see a longer list of the "little things" in life that make me happy.  I'm going to work to keep adding to that list whenever I think of awesome things that make me smile :)
 
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Bob has a deadline this week, so I am keeping things pretty simple.  Falling back on some trusty favorites, plus Taylor has been begging for Philly Cheese Peppers!

  • This past Saturday: Beef Mole Fajitas, with avacado (yum!)
  • Sunday: Grilled, mesquite-marinated pork tenderloin, baked sweet potato rounds, roasted mixed veggies
  • Monday: Philly Cheese Peppers
  • Tuesday: Chicken Parm Zucchini Gondolas
  • Wednesday: Fish Night, with Mac-n-cheese, and Brussels sprouts
  • Thursday: Spaghetti w. sauteed turkey sausage
  • Friday: Pizza & Movie Night

 
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Something I have been struggling with lately is the issue of my children's nutrition.  For myself, as a mother, the feeding of my children has probably been my Number 1 challenge.  With Taylor, I struggled with feeding him since day 1.  Things went a little better with Stephen, but even though he tries more food and the eating is less stressful, he's always been a small fry, so we have been concerned about him getting *enough* food.

Add to all of these concerns my recent changes in my own fitness, nutrition, and daily diet (i.e., what I eat every day), and I've got a lot to think about.  I've been working really hard to cut out processed foods; some of those foods are the only things my kids will eat.  As I become more convinced that processed foods are not as good for us, I am less inclined to feed them to my boys; however, I am very conscious of the fact that they need to eat something.  Plus, I'm sitting here thinking, what do their little bodies need, nutritionally?  First and foremost, I need to be giving them what they need to grow and flourish.

To say all of this is a challenge is an understatement.  I am struggling.  A goal for me is to become more knowledgeable about children's nutrition and to put that knowledge into practice with my family.

Of course I've talked to the pediatrician about this, but haven't gotten an abundance of information.  I probably need a good book or two.  It might help to talk to someone who really specializes in this sort of thing.

For now, I'm doing what is easiest: I'm searching the Interwebs.

Here are some links I found that are at least providing some good, preliminary information:


Here are a few things I'm learning or figuring out for myself:
  • You've got to be careful not to overthink this stuff, which is something I often do.
  • We're already doing a lot of the things that are recommended: we offer the kids a ton of variety, including at least one thing we know they like at each meal; we keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, and they love fresh fruit; we let them pick out produce at the grocery store; we let them help prepare foods in the kitchen (which they love!); we try to keep dinner a pleasant and stress-free time; we don't argue or pressure them to eat...the list goes on.
  • One thing we are seeing from all of this -- Even though it has been a glacial process (meaning, it has taken a long damn time!), they are getting better about trying new foods and even eating and liking healthier foods.  Taylor has especially made a lot of progress.  It has taken years (years!!), but it is happening.  For instance, the other night, I was slicing green pepper, and he kept coming back to the counter and snacking on the green pepper slices.  This past weekend, I made kale chips and offered him one.  He took it, ate it, declared that it was "yummy!" and asked for more.  He has also done a better job of trying new foods, even if he then decides it's not for him.  I try to not make too big of a deal of any of these things.  I just try to act like it's all his choice and it's cool if he does and cool if he doesn't.  Inside my head I'm like, "Oh my freaking lord he just ate a kale chip!!  My son just ate kale!!"  But I keep that all on the inside :)


So there are some positive things happening.  But it is still a struggle every day, and it can be so frustrating, because I have so many fun, delicious, healthy things I can make them that they just totally turn their noses at because it's "new."  

I can remember my own mother saying "You love everything in this dish.  Just try it!"  Now I find myself saying the same exact thing.

They're not dying, they're not starving, they're not overweight, they're not underweight.  

It's just something I think about and want to learn more about, and as I continue to learn, I will share my discoveries!


 
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A week ago, I had a horrible day.  The weather was awful: cold, semi-icy rain was pummeling my body (of course I didn't remember my winter jacket with hood, nor did I remember to bring a hat).  I, against all better judgement, decided to take *both* boys to their well-check appointments at the same time, wherein they turned into deranged monkeys and climbed the walls, making noise the entire time I tried (emphasis on tried) to talk to the doctor.

Needless to say, by the time I got into my office, I was exhausted and seriously grumpy.  I started to cheer up, talking to my friend, Sam, because she is the kind of person that just cheers you up by talking to her.  Then a lady (an angel, perhaps?) came in with Doubletree cookies.  You know the kind, with the chocolate chips and the walnuts.  And I said, "Oh, these were just what I needed!"  Sam and I split one, because they were huge, and I really did feel like it was just what the doctor ordered.

One or two days later, and I've got a sick kid at home.  Bob stayed home with him long enough for me to get the gym and have a workout with my fabulous trainer (still working on my chin up goal!).  Knowing that I was going to be home all day with a sick child, I definitely left the house feeling heavy with stress.  We had a great session, though, and my trainer left me with a few really positive messages that lifted my spirits.

As I went home, I felt myself grow lighter.  I let the post-workout endorphins flow through my body, feeling recharged, reenergized, renewed.  Again I felt like it was just what the doctor ordered, and it got me to thinking about the two different situations I faced that week.  In one instance, I felt like the cookie was kind of the thing that saved my day, and then in this other instance, I was starting out my day nipping the stress in the bud and refreshing my somewhat frazzled mind.  That morning workout felt as if I was creating something from within that was actively calming my spirit and would also serve as a bastion against the stressors of the day.

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I'm not trying to say that one form of relaxation is any better or worse than the other.  I think there is a time and a place for both a good workout and for chocolate.  And I couldn't help but feel that no matter how awesome my morning workout made me feel, there was always the chance that life would throw some challenges my way that might have me turning to a chocolate-y treat by late afternoon or evening.  I mean, 10 minutes with either of my boys can take me from being totally at peace with the world to wanting to run screaming from the room.  I feel comfortable admitting that I can both love my boys and be driven totally bonkers by them at the same time.

All of that said, I do think that the physical activity has given me some very positive ways to deal with my stress and that the good vibes I get have had a deeper and longer lasting effect than something that seems to come more from the outside (such as a cookie, chocolate, massage, etc.).  The thing is, though, I have to have that physical activity every single day, and on the days when I don't get it, it also tends to have a pretty big effect on my mood.  So there's that side of things, and I have to be mindful to find lots of ways (constructive, affirming ways) to deal with stress.  Still working on that!  I should start a tab on this site that is just a running list of constructive, life-affirming ways of dealing with stress that include things you can do easily, on the cheap, from home, etc.

So those are my current thoughts on these ideas of dealing with stress, both externally and internally.  I don't have any major epiphanies, but it's nice to just think things through here.  And the pics in this post are just some of my pics that I thought sort of mirrored how I was feeling as I thought through these issues.

 
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The plan for the week!

  • Past Saturday: Indian take-out
  • Sunday: Smoked boneless country-style pork ribs, sweet potato rounds, steamed green beans
  • Monday: Moroccan chicken and sweet potato stew, rice
  • Tuesday: Baked Chicken with sauteed zucchini & squash
  • Wednesday: Fish tacos with rainbow slaw
  • Thursday: Spaghetti primavera
  • Friday: Pizza and family movie night

 
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I am not a sugar addict, but I must admit I do have a small sweet tooth, and I love love love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  I often enjoy a small piece of chocolate after lunch and after dinner.  My go-to sweet treat is often a mini Reese's Peanut Butter cup, although lately I have been eating the leftover cheapie chocolate I bought for the boys' Christmas stockings.

I feel guilty every time I eat the cheap bits of chocolate, because I know that if I'm really going to splurge on a sweet treat, it should be something really good that I am truly enjoying.  

I've also been interested in eating something that it a little less processed.  I've heard about the Newman's Own Organic Chocolate Peanut Butter cups, but they are so pricey, and they are pretty big (I don't think they make minis) and still have a fair number of calories, fat, etc.

So, I embarked on a journey to make my own (healthier) chocolate PB treats.  What I ended up with is an amazingly delicious sweet treat that you can enjoy without one gram of guilt!!

These Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Balls  (CPBP) are based off of this recipe, but I made one modification involving Chocolate PB2 to make it even less caloric.

Ingredients:
  • 1 mixed cup of Chocolate PB2 (I estimated this used about 4 tbsp of the powder -- you can find the PB2 in the Health/Organics section of the grocery store -- it has 85% less calories than regular peanut butter!)
  • 1 cup Natural creamy (or crunchy if you prefer) peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (I was just shy of a half a cup)
  • 2 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
  • sea salt, to taste (I used my Kosher salt, and it really makes all the difference!  I used just a dash of it, but it adds an awesome crunch and taste to the balls)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used 2 tsp because I always double the vanilla)
  • If you find the mixture is too thick, you can add a little water.  I did not need to add any water, since the PB2 makes it a little on the gooey-er side.  It was just the right consistency for me.
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (I used a mix between dark and milk chocolate)


Directions:
  1. Mix up your PB2.
  2. Mix all ingredients (except for chocolate) in a bowl.
  3. Roll mixture into balls (about 1 tbsp in size, maybe a little smaller).  I made 66 balls.  Place in a dish and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
  4. Once balls are chilled, melt your chocolate (I melted mine in the microwave using 15 second increments until it was just melted).
  5. Dip your balls in the chocolate.  Since these balls are pretty rich, I only dipped one side of the balls in the chocolate.  This also left a nice clean side for putting it back in the dish.
  6. I put these back in the fridge and then ended up transferring them into two small freezer bags (I basically had a single layer of balls in each bag) and putting them into the freezer.  They are sooooo awesome fresh out of the freezer, but they are also good after they've been sitting out for awhile.


I used caloriecount.com to calculate the calories on these and 1 ball has 27 calories, 1.7 g. of fat, 2.4 g. of carbs, and 1.1 g. of protein.  That's about half the calories, half the carbs, more than half the fat, and almost the same amount of protein as the original recipe.  An actual Reese's Pieces Mini PB Cup has 44 calories, 2.6 g. of fat, 5 g. of carbs, and .8 g. of protein.

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I'm super excited about the meals for this week.  And I'm definitely going to be writing about some new discoveries I made this weekend.  Can't wait to share!

But first, this week's menu:
  • Saturday (last night): Baked mahi mahi with pineapple and mixed mini peppers, edamame, brown rice
  • Sunday: Beef Short Ribs (yum!), mashed cauliflower, broccolini
  • Monday: Smoky Stuffed Peppers with leftover brown rice
  • Tuesday: Zucchini Lasagna with whole wheat English muffins
  • Wednesday: Tilapia or or salmon, green beans,mac-n-cheese
  • Thursday: Baked chicken, squash & zucchini, leftover mac-n-cheese
  • Friday: Leftovers OR Pizza (my vote