Just in time for your holiday baking – Try my gluten free, graham cracker mini tart crusts. I made them so that I could make fabulous but still healthy mini tarts to take to work for a holiday pot luck. Of course they had to be healthy, but not taste “healthy and gluten free” if you know what I mean.
They were a hit! Even the people who pooh-pooh my brown bag lunches didn’t guess that they are made of exactly what I often eat- – Gluten free honey grahams, nuts, and sunflower butter. They all ate their cake tarts and had to admit that these are delicious. One of my sugar-junkie non- believers even said that he could eat these all day long. And, seriously, so can I. Let’s just say that I have to do a LOT of taste testing when I make these little cups filled with everything from fruit yogurt, diced poached pears or pumpkin pie desert topped with coconut whipped cream. YUM!
I’m calling these mini crusts “almost sugar free” because there is a little honey in the recipe and a little sugar in the purchased graham crackers. Since my recipe calls for a cup of pecans, it cuts way down on the graham crackers as well. You can certainly make the tart cups have even less sugar by substituting Stevia for honey. Speaking of substitutes, there is an excellent chart of baking substitutes found on Greatist. Click to see and print it out.
Before you get started, you will need an un-greased mini tart or cupcake baking pan and a food processor.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
6 gluten free honey graham crackers
1 cup pecans
1/8 cup coconut oil
1/8 cup sunflower butter
2 tbs honey (can substitute 2 packets Stevia or sweetener of your choice)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Into the food processor, toss the dry ingredients and whirl them until they are all crushed up. Add melted coconut oil and sunflower butter and process until smooth and pebbly.
Drop spoonfuls of the cracker mix into the baking pan. Use your fingers to press down into the cups and up along the sides.
Pop the pan into the oven and bake for fifteen minutes. When they come out of the oven, the cups will be a little raised and puffed up. Use a dowel or small jigger glass to push them back down so that they are nice and flat on the bottom. Cool and fill with whatever you like.
Les and I decided to give “Urban Camping” a go this past weekend. Urban camping is about choosing a campsite that is near or in a town or city.
We decided to camp at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Camping in Arizona is still kind of strange for us. Coming from Southern California, we are used to driving long distances past housing development after housing development just to get out of town, much less to get to an actual camping spot. We have lived in Arizona for thirteen years already and it still trips us out that we can step out our front door and hit a hiking trail. Being surrounded by this huge blue sky and so much unoccupied land is such a gift to be appreciated and, believe me, we do!.
Setting up camp: as usual Les was doing all the work while I goofed off taking selfies. Life is good. (grin)
At Dead Horse camp grounds there are a ton of camp loops ranging from citified (lots of shade trees and fully equipped with electricity and running water) all the way out to the farthest point where we chose. And even that site (tents only) had the most immaculate restrooms and showers we’ve ever seen at a state park. Les said that they were better than some of the hotels that we have stayed in and he is right!
This park is an exciting choice because, not only is there a lot of ground to cover, exploring abandoned shacks and ruins, but there is a wonderfully cool, shady lagoon to explore as well. You’ve got such a diverse eco-system within the park. You can hike from a high desert, to a cool lagoon to a shady marshland all in one day. Everywhere you look, the flora, birds and animals are plentiful.
Colorful and comical blue herons hang out at the dock of the lagoon where they steal fish from the buckets of unsuspecting anglers. This waterway is so peaceful and beautiful- an excellent destination if you just want to pack a lunch and go for a relaxing day hike. At the lagoon, there is also kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, and a ton of different hiking trails.
On our second day in the park, we trekked on down to Tavasci Marsh. It’s a fabulous hike down to a cool, wooded, marsh. It’s quite a surprise to find such an oasis in the middle of a dry Sonoran desert. One of the rewards to this hike is coming upon a fern covered wonderland. You can see how dense the fine, lacy ferns are in the photo at the upper right corner of this collage.
From the Marsh trail-head, you can look across and see the Tuzigoot Indian ruins in Clarkdale, AZ. Also an interesting site seeing destination best saved for another day.
This the easiest and best no-fail crock pot chicken ever! I make it every week on my cooking day and then we eat it for lunches and dinners throughout the week to come. It’s excellent sliced, shredded or cubed. I use it in soups, salads, enchiladas, tacos and casseroles. Les likes to slice the chicken for his brown bag lunch sandwiches.
We don’t eat much meat because it is generally too expensive to buy, but when I find chicken breasts or fish on sale, you can bet that I will be stocking up and freezing it. This is an economical way to fix chicken breasts since you can get many, many delicious meals from one pot. An added bonus is that you don’t even have to defrost the chicken- just throw it in the pot and get busy doing something else. The chicken turns out great whether it is frozen or fresh. The steps are easy, simple and fast. Don’t blink- I’m gonna give you all of the directions right here, right now.
I use only boneless, skinless chicken breasts. But the directions are the same now matter if you use a whole chicken with skin or not.
Wash your chicken and pat it dry. If frozen- skip this step.
Pop your chicken into the crock pot.
Pour 1/2 cup chicken stock all around the chicken.
Drizzle the top of the chicken with olive oil.
Liberally sprinkle with Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime seasoning (or any spice of your choice)
I also liberally sprinkle with garlic powder. (Have I told you how much I LOVE garlic?)
Cover and cook on high for four hours or on low for eight hours.
I LOVE Greek yogurt with a little honey, nuts, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. I also like it with mixed fresh fruit. But I do NOT like the store bought fruity versions of yogurt that are supposed to be sooo healthy. You know, the kind with fruit sauce in it and lots of sugar. If it’s fat-free, then it’s sugar-high. If it’s sugar-free, then it has an awful artificial sweetener in it. Plus the fruit usually looks like some kind of pureed something. I don’t know what, but it’s not pretty fruit anyway.
I spent a good deal of my youth picking fruit in the orchards of Silicon Valley. Yep, there used to be a ton of orchards and way less silicon back then. How times have changed. Anyway, back to the story- I KNOW what the over-ripe, mildewed fruit looks like that is set aside for large companies to make jams and jellies and canned stuff. Did you know that, in canned goods, the companies bleach the offending coloration and mildew off of the produce and then they add color back in? I’m not kidding. That’s why all of the carrots and peas look suspiciously the same color and shade when you open a can. Work a few summers in the fruit and vegetable biz and you will know far more than you ever wanted to know about processed food. So now you know why I want to make my own fruit sauces.
OK, back to the homemade fruit sauce. I’ve been wondering how I can make it with no sugar – or even very little sugar. I already know how to make a great sauce with two cups of sugar in the boil. It thickens up very nicely with all of that sugar. But I wondered if there was some other, low cal and body friendly type of thickener that I could use.
There is! It’s called Pomona’s Universal Pectin. The box claims that it jells with low amounts of any sweetener. I decided to give it a try. It turns out that I gave it a lot of tries. I experimented with both mixed berries and pears. With both kinds of fruit, I used either Stevia, honey, or Wax Orchards Fruit Sweet. In different batches, of course. The Stevia is no- cal and the other two sweeteners have calories. The Wax Orchard and the honey have about the same amount of calories per teaspoon, but the Fruit Sweet is twice as sweet as honey so you use only half the amount and are, in effect, eating half the calories. It is organic, natural and made with the juice of fruits and it’s delicious. I highly recommend it as a sweetener.
With this pectin, you can make jam, jelly, fruit sauce or syrup. This time I want fruit sauce instead of jam for my yogurt so, I’m using one part fruit to one and a half cups water.
The box of Pomona’s comes with a small packet of calcium and a larger packet of pectin. With low or no sugar, the pectin needs some of the calcium to work. So, before you do anything, prepare your calcium water. To do this, combine ½ teaspoon calcium powder with ½ cup water in a small, clear jar with a lid. Shake well. Extra calcium water should be stored in the refrigerator for future use.
1/2 tsp Pomona’s fruit pectin powder for low sweetener amounts
1 tsp calcium water (powder and instructions included in the Pomona’s pectin box)
Whichever sweetener you like. For the sugar free version, I used four small packets of Stevia. If you don’t mind a little sugar, then Honey, maple syrup, Agave or Wax Orchards Fruit Sweet work great too.
Tip: You can use this pectin to make fruit syrups, sauces, jams or jellies. To make a syrup you use way less pectin then to make a sauce and so on with Jam using the most pectin. The instructions in the Pomona’s packet are for thicker jellies and jams so measure out accordingly. My syrup takes only 1/4 the amount listed in the Pomona’s recipes.And my sauce is only 1/2 the amount.
To get started on the sauce, choose about a cup of berries and rinse them off. I make small batches that I know will be used up in a week’s time but you can definitely double or triple the recipe if you like.
In a separate bowl, add one half teaspoon of pectin powder and your sweetener. Stir to mix well. In my experiments, I used four packets of the Stevia, or four tablespoons of the honey or two tablespoons of Fruit Sweet. Set aside. (The fruit sweet turned out to be my favorite.)
To a sauce pan, add the berries and one and a half cups of water plus one teaspoon of calcium water. Bring to a roiling boil.
Add the sweetener with the pectin, stirring constantly to dissolve the sweet/ pectin mix. Continue stirring for another minute or so.
Transfer the sauce to a glass jar and cool in the refrigerator. When the sauce has cooled, it will be jelled. Stir it up and you are ready for a treat.
Pictured is a sugar-free pear simple syrup, mixed berry simple syrup, green tea with the berry syrup, yogurt and mixed berry sauce and a bowl of the jelled sauce itself. All of it made very easily with the Pomona’s Pectin.
The sun is just coming up and I need to get a move on with my new day. It’s my day off and I’m feeling a little sluggish about getting up. I REALLY want to sleep in, but I have too much to do today. I know! I’ll make a raspberry green tea frappe. Well, a really good fake RGTF anyway.
I used to be so hooked on the Starbucks version of this drink that I HAD to have one every Sunday morning. Not only did it have full whipped cream, but I always got it with the full fat milk as well. Who knows how many calories are packed into those things. The Starbucks drink also costs a small fortune. Since I want to retire in a couple of years I’m trying to watch my pennies. So I came up with this healthy alternative to the Starbucks yummy-licious drink. This frappe tastes so much like the original that I kind of wonder if Starbucks is putting matcha into their green tea frappe. Nah…probably not, but try this and you’ll see. It’s delicious!
Yummy Alternative to Starbuck's raspberry green tea frappe
Into my blender I throw three tablespoons of organic matcha powder, one cup of French Vanilla Coconut Creamer, one jigger my unsweetened homemade raspberry syrup and one packet of Stevia. Then I will add a cup of ice and blend it all until it is smooth like a frappe. Fast, easy, sweet and fabulous. Just the incentive that I need to get out of bed and get busy.
This latest recipe is due to the fact that I LOVE raspberry syrup in my Starbucks green tea frappes. Since I am giving up sugary Starbucks frappes in lieu of more healthy and less expensive drinks, I wondered if I could make a sugarless simple syrup to pour into my own green tea. It works! Follow the instructions below and you too will have a delicious syrup to keep on hand for whenever you need a flavor boost for your drinks. Just a bit of the berry juice makes a beautifully flavored water too.
Into a small pot, add about a cup of raspberries to two cups of water. Any berry mix , including frozen berries, works great. Bring to a roiling boil and stir until you see that the berries are breaking down and the water is getting really saturated with berry juice. This will only take about five to ten minutes. If I am going to use the berries for something pretty like a parfait, I only boil for about five minutes. The delicate raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries will break down really fast. If I want all of the juice out of them for a stronger flavor and I don’t care if the berries break down a lot, then I boil them for a bit longer – like ten minutes or so.
Strain the berries to separate the juice from them
If You are going to make jam with the berries, pour off about a cup of juice to keep for your drink mixer. Stir in a packet of Stevia (or sweetener of your choice). I’m not kidding when I say that a little Stevia goes a long way so start with a small amount and then add to taste. Store in the refrigerator until you make your next cup of tea or sparkling water. I only make enough to last a week. I know for a fact that it will keep at least that long when stored in the fridge. (In the photo above, I have added the berries back to my juice in preparation for making sugarless jam. That post will be up next.)
Simple deliciousness. Green tea laced with homemade, organic and sugar free mixed berry syrup.
Tomorrow I’m going to post the second batch of goodness with the boiled berries. I’ll tell you how to make jam with a very tiny amount of sweetener. ANY sweetener. You no longer need a full two cups of sugar in the pot.
If you have boiled a longer time and the berries are no longer pretty, they still have a lot of good fiber left. Don’t throw the pulp away! Transfer the cooked berry pulp to your blender so that you can make a smoothie when you are cleaning up the kitchen. Don’t forget to throw in some protein powder. You’ve gotta have some energy to clean.
Have You Had Your Brain Checked Lately? I have just had my brain kick me in the pants and it’s appalling! Three things happened recently that have completely changed my thinking on food and nutrition and the effects on the brain.
Of course, I am old enough to have already heard all of the reasons that I needed to clean up my act. I knew that I had to start exercising again and that I had to revise my unhealthy diet, plus I knew that I needed to start taking supplements again.
Years ago, I stopped exercising because I am lazy did not have time. I stopped taking supplements because I figured that they were costing way too much and I no longer wanted to spend the money on them. My diet turned to ice cream and pizza because I didn’t want to spend the money on “healthy” food either. It costs too much (I told myself) to buy organic this and organic that.
My night job is very physical with lots of lifting, pulling, walking and moving heavy items. To compound the physical effects of my job, you can add in lots of stress to boot. It’s well know that a graveyard shift adds to the chaos going on within a person’s body. Needless to say, I felt tired and sore all of the time. I felt old with new wrinkles appearing daily. I had high blood pressure and was over weight. OK, I’m still overweight, but that is changing. In general- I was not feeling so great.
I knew that I needed to STOP with the Diet Cokes already. I needed to stop living in la-la land and wake up to the harm that I was doing with artificial sweeteners. And with four or five cups of coffee a night? Oi! Oh, have I mentioned that I did not eat anything green? For most of my adult life? And I was a sugar addict. I would live on candy and ice cream alone if I could. Oh, OK and throw in a pepperoni pizza or two and a couple huge dinners of Mexican food WITHOUT the green cilantro, of course.
So back to what prompted my recent, radical look at myself – back to the three things that have changed my eating and exercising habits and for GOOD!
The first thing that happened a couple of months ago is that I started having panic attacks at work. My first attack came out of the blue and even landed me in the ER since I seriously could not breath. I passed out at work and I didn’t know what the heck was wrong. Don’t worry – the docs said that it was nothing more than a panic attack closing up my wind pipes. Nice. Then the attacks started coming on more frequently. I even yelled at my bosses a couple of times while in the gripping pain of trying to ward off an attack. NOT a good career move! But, it woke me up to the fact that something was horribly wrong. I do not yell. I am not a screaming, tantrum throwing type of person. In fact, you could even say that I am generally reserved and would NEVER yell at my bosses or anyone else for that matter. This was so not me. This was not right.
The second thing happened at home. I got out the can opener to open a can of tuna and suddenly I could not, for the life of me, remember how to use it. I was struck completely dumb by this thing that I was holding in my hands- this thing that I have used my whole life- well, not the same opener, but you get the idea. It was like I had never seen a can opener – ever! I was horrified but also embarrassed so I covered it up by asking my husband to open the can since my hands hurt. He didn’t think anything strange of it because I have arthritis and my hands often hurt. I snapped out of my stupor as soon as I saw him use the opener, but it scared the buh-jeebers out of me. This was not an “oh, Sandy is so ditsy” sort of time. This was NOT my normal brain behavior.
The third thing that was pivotal in my transformation was a book. I listen to books on my MP3 at work so I go through a lot of different and random types of material. I downloaded a book from the library called Use Your Brain to Change Your Age by Dr. Amen. I figured that I was looking and feeling old so maybe there was some type of voo-doo shortcut to erase these wrinkles mentally. Well, I found out that there is and there isn’t. The Doctor’s premise is that if you feed your brain healthy food, then your brain and your body will function better. You will loose excess weight and you will feel better and it will show on your features. hmmmm…. All true, but I already knew all of that stuff and I probably wouldn’t start exercising any time soon. Boy, was I wrong! As I listened to the book’s reader (who has a very compelling voice by the way) I actually learned stuff that I truly did not know about the brain and it’s functions. It was so interesting that I forgot to pooh-pooh all of the good information that I was getting.
Believe me, it was an ah-ha moment when Dr Amen pointed out that scientists who work for the large food corporations are not doing it for your culinary entertainment. They are working for employers who are trying to get you “hooked” into thinking that you are not full and that you need to keep eating such and such processed product. Here I had been wondering why it has been so hard to control my appetite lately. I didn’t seem to have a “Full” switch anymore. Even as I was eating I was thinking about what else there was to eat.
A second “ah-ha” moment came for me when the doctor pointed out that you have to stop letting your inner child run free. Guilty. There was not a whole lot of food when we were growing up and certainly no candy, cokes or chips. I remember telling myself, even as a child, that when I was grown and in charge, I was not going to deny myself any of that stuff. And I didn’t.
Then Dr. Amen wrote that what you are denying yourself when you are self indulgent with food is good health and good looks in both body and brain. It’s like he was speaking directly to me and my inner child. BINGO!
Prior to listening to Dr. Amen’s book, I just thought that none of the “healthy food” looked good to me. But, for some reason, the info in the book went straight to my brain and I became really interested in changing my habits. (It’s that audio book reader, I tell you). With all of this brain information combined with my new fear of Alzheimer’s, I really had to take a good look at how badly I have been treating my brain. Ive been carelessly feeding it with a huge surplus of fake sweeteners, Diet Cokes, Coffee, and a major overload of junk food. In short, I was feeding my brain with a LOT of fake food and fake drinks.
All of that changed after listening to Dr. Amen’s book. In just a month on my new regime, I have lost nine pounds without even trying. My focus isn’t even on losing weight anymore. It’s on cooking good food that will support me and the life that I want. I eat until I am satisfied and that’s it. I am trying to eat “clean” and organic. I eat a light meal every two to three hours. Now, suddenly, I do have an “off” switch for appetite.
I’ve also started to exercise and take vitamins and supplements. My niece turned me on to Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. My niece is a busy working, single mom with a toddler to run after. She convinced me that if she has twenty minutes a day then so do I. Really, the Jillian Michael’s DVD is fast and not boring at all. And it does get results.
I am EASILY losing weight just by making my diet consist of more than 60 percent vegetables every day. Now that I am exploring cooking “real foods” I’ve come up with a really good recipe for Organic Edamame spaghetti.
I now realize that I am a sugar addict so I don’t have any processed cane sugar anymore. There is no such thing as “in moderation” for me and cane sugar. I will have a bit of organic honey or Stevia here and there, but I don’t have the awful cravings for sugar anymore. I cannot honestly say that I have given up caffeine altogether yet, but I’m working on it. I’m down to one cup of coffee before work. And even that is often decaf or I forgo the coffee altogether.
In place of my chemical soup called Diet Coke, I drink a lot of water, juice and green tea. I’m preparing my healthy breakfasts and lunches so that I can grab and go. And I’m having a blast trying to come up with new ways for old favorites. Like pumpkin pie. Hint: You use coconut milk for the topping instead of cream and it’s really good. I’ll be posting that soon. 🙂
I promise you, this display cabinet only cost us $28.00 from start to finish. Les Gains, my husband, makes things. Lots and lots of little things. If he does not have a guitar in his hands, then you will find him in his studio creating fabulous little treasures.
Above is a crowd of funny little guys that Les made with resin. He first sculpts figures out of modeling clay, then he makes molds, then pours resin into the molds. When the resin has set up, Les unmolds them and then paints each figure. THEN he assembles his elements into really cool little sculptures. As much as I am fascinated by his work, a lot of little things spread all over the house drives me nuts. I like to group small things together to form a larger display unit.
Several years ago, I bought two of these cabinets from IKEA. The photo on the left shows the cabinet with the clear glass door open. Sporting adjustable shelves, it is perfect for small collectibles. Generally, Les works small. Most of his items range in height from 1″ to 9″.
As prolific as he is, the IKEA cabinets were full in no time at all. I needed a larger display shelf that would compliment the style of the old cabinet and our eclectic home decor.
So, off we went on yet another mission. Seeking cheap building materials, Les and I scoured junk yards and thrift stores. We finally found exactly what we needed at Khules, a salvage store in Prescott.
From the salvage yard, we bought a large galvanized utility box. Probably some type of electrical junction box? After finding the box, the rest was easy to assemble.
This photo shows the larger, finished box and a close up on the right so that you can see the side detail. It’s easy to make – just follow our step-by-steps listed here.
(after a thorough cleaning) Drill holes into the sides of the box. You will need two sets of holes on each side of the box for each shelf.
Cut 2 rods for each shelf that extend past the sides of the box. Thread them into the holes cross ways.
Cut plastic shelves to fit inside the cabinet. I also bound the edges with copper tape and used an antiquing solution to age the tape.
Finally, we got little caps to finish off the raw edges of the rods that stuck out of the cabinet sides. The whole assembly only cost only $28.00
Here are a few of Les’ sculptures. He solders, shapes wire, polymer clay, resin and found objects to make wonderfully detailed figures.