Changing for the better, one bite and (deep) breath at a time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala

I love crockpot cooking.  Prep it, set it, and when you come home it's ready for go-time and makes your house smell like you cooked all day.  I also love Indian food, so this crockpot Indian chicken tikka masala recipe, adapted from Cooking Classy, was something I looked forward to making all week.

This recipe calls for canned tomato sauce.  I'm not a huge fan of canned foods, mainly because most of them have BPA (bisphenol-A) in the lining that can seep into food.  BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that is "linked to male infertility, diabetes, heart disease, aggressive behavior in children," etc. according to Rodale News, so I try to avoid it if possible.  However, sometimes it's inconvenient to make your own tomato sauce or tomato paste, so choosing BPA-free cans is a better option.  

Two brands that I regularly buy because they make BPA-free cans are Muir Glen and Eden Organics.  You can find them at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and potentially stores.

This recipe contains a decent amount of cream.  I bought organic pasture cream, which is made from milk from grass-fed cows, but that doesn't take away the heaviness of it.  You can use less cream than indicated or try adding more yogurt at the end, which is what I did.  However, since my husband isn't a huge yogurt fan, he didn't like the tanginess it added.  If I made this again, I would just use a little less cream than indicated (1/2-3/4 cup).

5 boneless, skinless organic chicken breast halves or chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces (about 3 lbs)

1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp freshly, finely grated ginger

1 jalapeno, stemmed, sliced in 
half and seeds removed - I omitted but used extra cayenne
1 (29 oz) can tomato puree (BPA-free brand)

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt 

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp Garam Masala

1 Tbsp cumin

1/2 Tbsp paprika

2 tsp salt, or to taste

3/4 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1-3 tsp cayenne pepper - tailor to your spicy preference

2 bay leaves

1 cup organic heavy cream

1/2 tbsp organic cornstarch

Prepared long grain brown rice or Basmati rice

Chopped cilantro, for serving
1 bag of organic frozen peas, optional


Assemble ingredients:

In a large mixing bowl combine chopped onions, minced garlic, grated ginger, sliced jalapeno, tomato puree, plain yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, Garam Masala, cumin, paprika, salt, cinnamon, pepper and cayenne pepper.  Stir until combine.  

Pour half of sauce mixture into a large slow cooker then add in diced chicken followed then cover chicken with remaining sauce.  Add in 2 bay leaves.  Cover slow cooker with lid and cook on low heat for 8 hours (or high for 4 hours).  

I added a bag of organic frozen peas about an hour before serving so they would heat through.  Bonus veggies - and color.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together heavy cream and cornstarch, pour mixture into slow cooker and gently stir.  Allow mixture to cook 20 minutes while you prepare the rice. 

Remove bay leaves and sliced jalapeno and serve warm over rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

I forgot to get cilantro so sprinkled with peanuts for some visual interest.

This dish is saucy and creamy, so it's best to serve with a crunchy, fresh salad.

YUM!  This was even better the next day when reheated over the stove.




Monday, August 20, 2012

An Organized Kitchen

I'll admit it: I have a problem with organization and cleanliness.  Being pregnant has brought my OCD to a whole new level.  (OK, I wasn't too bad before, but now I feel the urge to get uber-organized before things become chaotic!)  I am fully aware that I will not be able to, nor will I really want to, keep my house immaculate once baby arrives.   However, if I can at least feel organized and prepared now, at least it gives me a sense of control for what's to come!

I also think an organized kitchen makes me even more motivated to cook and prepare healthy meals at home.  I can easily tell what I have on hand, and I enjoy having quick access to my appliances, cooking tools, and pantry items.  Not surprisingly, I found some gadgets I didn't even remember I owned, and now I'm excited to put them to good use.

This project started two weekends ago and took about 30 hours in total.  I reorganized, cleaned, and pored through literally every drawer, closet, and space in my entire house.  It was exhausting, painful, and set me back a few hundred bucks, but it was so worth it.  (Plus, I found some great stuff to sell, so I might come out on top in the end!)  This was a project that I had put off for a long time, but Baby McNamee's pending arrival (22 weeks away!) gave me just the motivation I needed.

Here's what I started with in my pantry:


So much space was taken up by spices, plus there were a lot of things in the pantry that I really didn't use.   I also hated all of the plastic bags and how chintzy they looked.

I stocked up on baskets and stainless steel storage canisters at Home Goods.  I checked out similar baskets at Target yesterday, and they were at least 2-3 times the price.  Places like Marshall's Home Goods, Ross, and TJ Maxx often have great deals on baskets, which tend to be unexpectedly expensive.

My bounty, all spread out:

I also bought door-mounted spice racks and a few other surprises at the Container Store, my new favorite place.  Finally, I bought some spring-loaded tension curtain rods at Bed Bath and Beyond to use in my appliance closet.

After clearing everything out of my pantry, deciding what I truly wanted to keep, and wiping down each shelf, it was time to start organizing.  I mounted the spice racks (2) on the back of the door and organized the spices by brand.

I'm pretty sure the spice rack was my favorite part of this entire project.  It makes life so much easier now that I can see every spice I own!  I even combined duplicates to make additional room.

Here are a few "after" shots of the new and improved pantry.  Top shelf pictured: butter and olive oil, baking products, rice cakes/bread crumbs/croutons, and chips/snacks/crackers.  Middle shelf pictured: more baking supplies, beans and canned goods in the middle, and oils, vinegars, sauces, and other cooking products in the far right.  Bottom shelf pictured: flour, sugar, brown sugar, brown rice, and dried beans.

The very top shelf houses dog treats and teeth cleaning products on the left and beverages (champagne, tea, soda water, bottled water) on the right.  The second shelf down has a pail of root veggies (onions, potatoes), little canisters of favorite products (cashews, peanuts, cocoa nibs, and dried fruit) in the middle, a vase full of Lara bars, and Cheerios for Greg to the right.


I also reorganized my kitchen gadgets with a new rubber-bottom drawer organizer.  My spatulas, larger spoons, and tongs hang out in an upright cylindrical canister on the counter.

I found an extra drawer that was almost empty and filled it with measuring spoons and cups, plus my trusty mallet (great for pounding meat and poultry).

Special scoopers, wine bottle openers, toppers, pour spouts, and bag clips.

While I was at it, I tackled the fridge.  Plastic drawers help keep smaller items organized.

It's amazing how many condiments you can accrue over time.  I tossed what I really don't need (and probably shouldn't have, given how long they had been in there) to make plenty of space for what I really do use regularly.

Post-purge, my freezer is strikingly empty.  I really only have some organic turkey burgers, berries, and frozen Ezekiel bread.  Oh, and some homemade raw fudge.  Gotta step up my game in the frozen department.

Not even my supplement cabinet was spared from a thorough cleaning:

Fortunately, all of my pots/pans, glassware, silverware, vases and plates/bowls were up to par and were saved from the crazy cleaning tornado that was, er, me.

I also tackled my "appliance closet," which used to be a mess of tons of kitchen items.  I cleared out what I didn't use often and stored them in the garage cabinets.  What's left is just what I use regularly.  Notice the platters on the first shelf up from the bottom?  They're standing on their sides, which saves space, because I installed some spring-loaded tension curtain rods as dividers.  They were cheap, easy, and didn't require any tools!


This shelf, from the Container Store, allowed me to store place mats, cloth napkins and napkin rings without the usual squishing.

In the top center basket I stored extra stand mixer and food processor attachments, plus the parts that create my mandolin.  Baskets make it easy to keep little items together in one (perfectly tidy) place.

Last weekend I finished the upstairs master cleanse.  Since guest room 2 is now nursery central, our other (only) guest room is home to my entertainment platters and other serving ware:

The other side of the guest closet became my "office" storage.  Notice my favorite organizing purchase of all time - the gift wrap caddy!

Check out the other side of this hang-able, yet stand alone caddy.  For $49 from the Container Store, it makes me excited - yes, excited - to gift wrap!

I used the same pantry principles to organize the linen closet:

I hope that organizing your home brings you as much satisfaction as my big projects have brought to me.  If you're going to do it, I recommend starting small, picking up some great tools, and getting creative with how you store and display your goods.

Now that I'm all cleaned out, I can't wait to use all of my appliances and gadgets that I can finally access so easily!  I even discovered a brand new, in-the-box Cuisinart double boiler, a wedding present I had no idea I owned.  Did someone say chocolate fondue?



Monday, August 13, 2012

Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

This is an easy snack recipe that is full of fiber and protein and adds a little spice to your afternoon (or breakfast?).  I had wanted to make it ever since I saw it in an issue of Whole Living (my favorite magazine), and when my sister sent me the recipe I remembered how awesome it looked.  The recipe below is inspired from the original.

The best part?  It's super easy.  Oh, and I couldn't get my husband to stop eating them, so they pass the test.


One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (try Fig brand or Eden Organics)
1 T. vegetable oil (I used melted pasture butter, but grapeseed oil would work)
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground hot paprika
1/4 tsp. ground garlic (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt


Preheat oven to 425.  Toss chickpeas with oil/butter and spices until evenly coated.  

Spread on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast, shaking pan occasionally, until chickpeas are golden and crunchy, about 30 minutes. 

Let cool completely.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Nutrition in the First Trimester

We are so excited to be expecting our first baby around January 22nd, 2013!  

It's amazing how quickly my pregnancy has gone already now that I'm almost 16 weeks, and yet when I think back to the first trimester, I remember how long the nausea-filled days seemed then.   I wanted to share how I coped through the first 3 months, having had learned a considerable amount through personal trial and error.  I wrote a more comprehensive post about preparing for pregnancy that talks about the importance of certain nutrients if you want to check out here.  (By the way, this was the most popular post of all time on my blog.  I think babies are on the brain for lots of people!)

First, I'll start with the supplements I'm taking.  The Prepping for Pregnancy post explain why each are so important:
3 Seroyal Pregna Vite (1 with each meal) - I also recommend Thorne Basic Prenatal and Innate Response Baby and Me Trimester I and II, but I personally tolerate Pregna Vite best
2 Nordic Naturals ProDHA Strawberry
1 Seroyal HMF Forte probiotic
2-4 Protocol Calcium/Magnesium/Vitamin D

Make it a point to look at the label of your prenatal vitamin.  Just because it's a prescription product or provided in a sample bag from your doc doesn't mean it is free of artificial dyes, hydrogenated oils, and other additives.  I recommend the products listed above because the are free from all of that yuckiness.

I am pretty vitamin D deficient again, despite having had bumped my serum levels to an optimal 57 ng/mL last year, so I also take some extra vitamin D a few times a week.

Let's review what you (unfortunately) should avoid during pregnancy:

- Deli meats, unless they're heated to 165 internally - they may be contaminated with the listeria bacterium, and pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract it than others

- Imported soft cheeses and unpasteurized cheese - again, potential listeria risk; I eat soft cheese if I know it's pasteurized and made domestically (and most feta and goat cheese is)

- High mercury shellfish and raw fish - avoid shark, king mackerel, and tile fish, and unfortunately most sushi is out.  On the bright side, eel is considered lower in mercury, so I get cooked eel rolls when I go out for sushi.  Eat up to 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week, such as wild salmon and chunk light tuna.

- Alcohol - there's always some debate on this, but I would hate to wonder whether my drinking alcohol caused something down the road.  I have had a sip of really good wine just to get some of its flavor, but I doubt I'd ever have an entire drink until after the little one is born.  If I really want a drink at a bar, I get a mixed juice "mocktail."

- Artificial sweeteners - this one is my own recommendations, but I think it's extremely important.  Try to kick the diet soda habit, since your teeny, vulnerable baby is also receiving these chemicals.

- Caffeine - you can still do up to 200 mg, but I avoid it all together because it's a stimulant and diuretic.  (Yup, bummer.)

For more on what to avoid, check out this site by the American Pregnancy Association.

First trimester can be hard for women because they may experience nausea, vomiting, food aversions, and sensitivity to smell, all at a time where most people are still trying to not share the news of their pregnancy just yet.  Some don't have very many issues, while others require medical intervention just to get through the first stage of pregnancy.

I personally had a heck of a time with nausea and was pretty uncomfortable from weeks 5 through 13 or 14, but fortunately I could keep most food down.  I did become extremely particular about what I wanted to eat.  Imagine what you feel like when you're sick: you only want certain foods, and most things still you even nauseous, although slightly better than you felt before eating.  

Here are some things I personally found helpful:

- Not getting too hungry.  I ate something every 2-3 hours and often split up my lunch into two separate meals.  I also tried not to eat too much at once, since this made the nausea even worse.  My stash at work:

- Eating protein with breakfast and each snack.  Even though I wasn't quite craving a hard boiled egg or string cheese when my stomach was churning, I felt so much better when I had protein-rich foods. With that being said, I always had saltines from Whole Foods (they don't have partially hydrogenated oils like the name brand ones do) in my desk and purse.

- Ginger, ginger, GINGER!  Candied ginger, ginger chews, and ginger tea were life savers until I realized that I could add some "oomph" with ginger extract supplements.  I took one with each meal after it was cleared by my OB office, and it was an immense help.

- Preggie Pop Drops.  I didn't actually give these a try until I was 10 or 11 weeks along, but their vitamin B6 and essential oil blend really helped.  I bought mine at Buybuy Baby, where I will eventually register.

- Lemons.  I would slice them up and sniff or even suck on them at work.  They really seemed to help cut through the nausea between snacks.  Bonus: when I smelled something strong, such as steamed mussels at a seafood restaurant, I would try to smell the lemon in my water.

- Experimenting with different types of foods.  You'll never know what you will crave, so be open minded to trying new things.  I drank pickle juice (seriously) and craved bagels, eggs, and garbanzo beans.  As long as it's safe for you to eat, just go with it.  The nausea hopefully won't last forever, and it's important to get nutrients into your system.

- ACUPUNCTURE.  By far, more than anything, acupuncture helped me the most.  I didn't figure this out until 9 or 10 weeks, and I was so mad that I waited that long to try it for nausea!  I'm a huge proponent of this ancient Asian healing modality, and it made a world of difference.  I go to Joshuah Kim at Holy Hill Acupuncture.  He was my best friend for weeks.

As much as I wanted to drink green juices and eat as wholesomely as possible for the sake of my baby, I couldn't stomach the thought of certain favorite healthy foods.  My normal rice protein shakes sounded horrible, and some nights all I wanted was Pad Thai from Ling and Louie's.  I still don't like certain foods because they remind me of the time I was so nauseous (white fish and homemade Twix bars come to mind), but I'm eating much more normally and with very few symptoms now.  However, don't freak out if you can only eat toast with butter and scrambled eggs for a few weeks.  It will soon pass, and it's much better than forcing down food that won't stay put.

A word about weight: 

In the first trimester, caloric needs really don't increase, although I found myself eating much more often than normal due to the nausea.  Practitioners recommend gaining 0-5 pounds those first 3 months.  I personally gained about 4 or 5, but I'm not freaking out about my weight.  I normally never weigh myself but did invest in a scale so I can check it out once a week.  I mainly want to make sure I don't have a very sudden weight increase, which could be indicative of preeclampsia.  As of now, I'm tracking at about 1 pound a week weight gain and at this rate will gain approximately 30 pounds.  For those who start with a normal BMI pre-pregnancy, 25-35 is the target range.  However, if I gain more, I'm not going to worry.  I trust my body to tell me what it needs, gain the weight it should, and grow and expand like it will.  It's exciting to know that my body can create life, and that's so much more important than still fitting in my jeans.

About fertility:
Every woman's body is very different, and your genetics, physiology, environment, intake, and stress levels all influence your chances of getting pregnant.  We were very fortunate to conceive right away, and I do think that although I have really strong genetics in this area, I also tried to prep my body as best as possible for success.  Here's what I think helps:

- Acupuncture.  Again, it's a godsend.  I did it once a week the month before we started trying and every other week once we did.  It took about 5 weeks to get pregnant, and I contribute this mainly to acupuncture.

- Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid.  I took fish oil, ate clean fish and flaxseeds/chia/walnuts/hemp for omega-3s, plus organic pasture butter and grass-fed beef for CLA.  Omega-3s are critical for brain development, and CLAs have been found to help with fertility.

- Maintain an optimal weight.  I purposefully gained a few pounds to ensure regular cycles, since I have a history of being very sensitive to irregularity when my weight is slightly lower.  Once I hit a certain weight (literally 2 or 3 pounds up), I was on a 28-day plan.  If you have problems with your periods, check with your provider to see if you are at the right weight for you.

- Manage stress.  I am the last person to say I'm great at stress management, but I have been very conscientious about sleeping enough, breathing deeply, and laying around doing nothing.  Again, acupuncture really helps with stress too.

If you find that you need help with the first trimester or any point of your pregnancy or pregnancy-planning, let me know.  I love working with women at this stage of their life because they're so excited and motivated to be the best mamas they can, and now I have a few personal tips and tidbits to help them even more!

How did you survive the first trimester?