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Busted – that’s the Potomac River.  But rivers feed into oceans, so you get the idea!

As the holiday shopping season heats up, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of gift ideas that do double duty – hopefully, delighting the recipient and supporting environmental conservation through either their low planetary impact or their direct contribution to earth-friendly causes.  Here are some of my favorites…

Creative Conservation

  • Upcycled sunnies.  I’ve got a thing for great design, and I especially love great design that makes creative use of materials, so I’m predictably obsessed with Norton Point sunglasses.  They’re polarized, completely UV-blocking, and made from recycled ocean plastic!  I have a pair – “The Tide” – and was waxing poetic about them to my BFF, Rebecca, who said “I have a hard time imagining you wearing garbage on your face.”  But I assure you – they don’t look like garbage; they get more compliments than any of my other pairs of sunglasses.  I can’t get enough of them, and I’m hoping they come out with more designs soon!  (I love “The Whitecap Swell,” but I have a very similar-looking pair from goodr, and can’t justify spending the money for almost the same exact look.)
  • Jenga for ocean nerds.  I first spotted this Jenga game, made from recycled plastic fishing nets, in the National Aquarium gift shop, and I thought it was such a cool idea.  If we ever decide to add Jenga to our game closet, this is definitely the version I’m going for.
  • 4Ocean bracelets.  I looked at 4Ocean’s products for a long time before pulling the trigger and buying the whale bracelet, and I LOVE it.  The basic gist is that for every bracelet that is purchased, 4Ocean will pull a pound of trash from the ocean – and the bracelets themselves are made of recycled materials (glass beads and a string made from plastic water bottles) pulled from the beaches and waterways.  You can even get a subscription and receive additional bracelets – with corresponding good feelings – throughout the year.  I think these look especially cute stacked, so I’d love to add to my collection at some point.
  • A wetsuit yoga mat?!  If I didn’t already have a yoga mat that I love, I’d be so into this one, made from recycled wetsuits.

  • A recycled recycling truck.  Nugget has a fleet of vehicles – trucks, cars, buses, helicopters and airplanes, and even a submarine and a ferry boat – from Green Toys.  (He doesn’t actually have the recycling truck, but I love how meta that idea is.)  The products are made from recycled milk jugs, the packaging is all cardstock and recyclable, and with no small parts to choke on, they’re suitable for the youngest kids.  Ours have done bathtub and sandbox duty, driven over the tough terrain at the beach and playground, and served as snuggle buddies at night.  Yes – I’m serious.  Nugget went through a phase when he was about a year and a half old, in which he wouldn’t be caught dead with a stuffed friend and would instead fall asleep cuddled up with his Green Toys fire truck.

Low Impact Gifts

  • Experiences.  My high school BFF, Jenn, gifted our family tickets to the National Aquarium in Baltimore last Christmas.  We saved the tickets for a rainy spring day and enjoyed every minute of our aquarium visit.  The National Aquarium is on the pricey side (especially in an area where many museums, zoos and other experiences are free) so having the tickets bought and paid for took some of the heat off of our wallets and encouraged us to go.  And bonus – the tickets were delivered by email and my phone was scanned at the entrance, so the carbon footprint of the gift was literally nada.  The year before, my very generous mother-in-law gave us a gift certificate to the Inn at Little Washington – the dinner of a lifetime, and almost no packaging.  (I have an experience gift planned for Steve this year, and I think he’s going to love it.)

  • Memberships.  We’re big on memberships in my family.  I’ve gifted Steve with an annual membership to the Buffalo Museum of Science when we lived on the tundra, and down in DC we renew our Mount Vernon membership, our Friends of the National Zoo subscription, and our America the Beautiful pass every year.  As with experiences, memberships are a great low-impact option – very little packaging, just a tiny membership card, and an entire year’s worth of enjoyment.
  • Support local businesses.  I’m a busy working mom, so I’ll be relying on Amazon to help me stock under the tree for Christmas morning, but I really love shopping locally.  Given where I live, I am spoiled by the opportunity to walk out my front door and have dozens of fabulous local businesses to support within just a few blocks.  We try to shop at our neighborhood children’s bookstore for every birthday party, and I’ve given plenty of handmade gifts purchased from the neighborhood farmers’ market (which includes craftspeople), the shops along King Street, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center (a favorite, because I can support local artists within walking distance of my house!).  The earth-friendly bonus to supporting my neighbors: less packaging, I can use my own bag, and I don’t have to burn any gas, whether my own or FedEx’s.
  • Gifts from your travels.  I won’t be doing this in 2018, because I wasn’t on the ball enough when we visited the Adirondacks, but in other years I’ve thought ahead and picked up holiday gifts while on vacation.  I’m there anyway, so it’s not burning any additional fuel, and I get the fun of including in my adventures those family and friends who weren’t on the vacation with me.

  • Make it yourself.  Once again, I probably won’t be doing this in 2018, but once upon a long time ago I had some spare time and I did an entirely handmade Christmas – I crocheted scarves for the women in my family, made homemade soaps and bath teas for my mom, and gave extended family members homemade rosemary and lemon-infused olive oil.  The gifts were a hit!  This year, I may try having the kids make something for their grandparents, but they’re not always in the mood to be cooperative, so we’ll see how that goes.  But in my experience, gifts from the kitchen are usually a hit – one year, I’d love to do preserved lemon in pretty glass jars for everyone – and they’re as low impact as farmers’ market ingredients and some of your time and love.
  • Green their laundry.  Lately I’ve been really focused on microfibers and microplastics.  I’d love to find the Guppyfriend under my tree – it would give me so much peace of mind to know that if my laundry is shedding microfibers, that I’m catching them and keeping them out of the Potomac and the Chesapeake.

Gifts that Give Back

  • Adopt an endangered animal.  Fun story: when Steve and I were on our second date, I told him about my friend Nicole, who had an adopted whale, and how much I had always wanted one.  A couple of months later, for my birthday, he surprised me with my very own humpback whale, a calf named Ember.  (Cue the collective awwwww.)  Years later, I added an orca to the family: J-51 Nova of the southern resident population.  Later I adopted L-119 Joy, also a southern resident orca, for Peanut’s class, and Steve and the kids adopted me J-26 Mike as a birthday gift.  The money for the adoption goes toward research and conservation efforts, and if you choose to adopt an orca through The Whale Museum, you can even choose an environmentally-friendly paperless subscription.
  • Donations.  I love gifting (and receiving!) donations to a good cause.  For the past few years, I’ve done donations to educational causes for Peanut’s teacher gifts – last year she gave three “a year of school for a Syrian boy” donations, one for each of her teachers.  For me, I set up a birthday fundraiser through Facebook, with proceeds going to The Center for Whale Research, the leading research and conservation organization dedicated to protecting my beloved SRKWs.  As with many experiences and endangered animal adoptions, donations can be paperless for the lowest impact possible, and there are so many great causes to support.
  • Reveal techie goods.  I’m obsessed with my Bluetooth earbuds from Reveal Shop.  For every purchase of their – beautifully-designed, cruelty-free and affordable – products, Reveal plants a tree.  I’m seriously considering adding this bamboo Bluetooth speaker and smartphone charger to my Christmas list this year.
  • Glassybaby for everyone.  I couldn’t make a sustainable/low-impact gift list without including glassybaby.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  In addition to their handmade uniqueness and gorgeous glow-from-within look, glassybaby is committed to giving back to causes including environmental and wildlife conservation – for every single glassybaby purchased, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to charity.  I love that they’re on a mission to make the world better, one light at a time.  (Note: glassybaby is based in the Pacific Northwest, so if you’re not local to one of their shops, this is a gift with a little bit of a carbon footprint.  But I think the company’s commitment to charitable giving makes it worth it nonetheless.)

What are your favorite eco-friendly gifts?

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As you may remember, instead of making resolutions or setting goals for 2014, I decided to set an intention (a la yoga class) and let that intention guide my decisions and actions this year.  My intention for 2014 is: A Better Life.  Basically, I want to take the already-pretty-great life I have going and make it even better.  Here’s how I’ve been working to create a better life for myself, hubby, and Peanut so far this year:

January

  • Started a new habit of drinking a glass of warm lemon water every morning.  This was an idea I saw in Giada’s Feel Good Food and I wanted to give it a try.  Lemon is great for the liver, and warm water is a little less shocking to the early-morning system than cold water is.  I’ve tried, in the past, to get into the habit of drinking a glass of water before I eat or drink anything else, and it’s finally stuck.  (The lemon flavor really helps – and that’s coming from someone who loves water and has no trouble getting 64 ounces every day.)  I keep lemon wedges in a Rubbermaid container in the fridge and every morning, the first thing I do when I get downstairs is pop one in a glass and fill it with some warm water.  It’s such a nice, gentle way to get going and I love that I get two cups’ worth of water in right away.
  • Experimented with a gluten-free lifestyle.  I sometimes feel a little silly trying out new eating philosophies – like, am I a sheep?  Am I succumbing to trends?  But I’ve been doing some reading about gluten sensitivities, and gluten was the only food that gave me trouble when I reintroduced it after my last Whole30, so I think it’s worthwhile exploring whether eating gluten-free might benefit me.  By asking these kinds of questions and looking for the answers, I am working on saying YES to myself and tuning out my worries about what others might think.  (Since going mostly gluten-free, I have fewer headaches and less digestive distress, and I’ve noticed other health improvements, so I think there might be something to it.  I also notice that I feel considerably worse when I am less disciplined about eating gluten-free.  I’m hoping to visit an allergist at some point and get some more concrete answers.)

February

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  • Ran my second half marathon!  Seriously, I’ll bet you’re all sick of hearing about it by this point, and I promise I’ll shut up eventually.  But this was a big thing for me this month.  I loved having the training time be something “just for me” and it meant a lot to me to know that I could chase after this big goal and achieve it.  Running definitely makes my life better in so many ways – it’s good for me, it’s something I can do for myself, and it lets me work to improve.  Now I’m looking to the next step, but more on that later.

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  • Started juicing.  I’ve been wanting a juicer for awhile, but neither the budget nor the kitchen cabinets have space for it at the moment.  So I decided to give juicing in my VitaMix another whirl.  I love the VitaMix for soups, smoothies and baby food, but the one and only time I’d tried to make juice it just didn’t turn out very well.  When I found out that our Stroller Strides instructor had been making fresh juices in a blender, though, I thought I’d better give it another whirl.  (<– See what I did there?)  I’ve come up with a formula for a fresh green juice that I really like, and I’ve been drinking a cup most mornings with my breakfast, and occasionally as an afternoon snack.  I love fresh juices, and I’m so glad I’ve found a way to make them inexpensively at home.  So far, I’m the only one who is really enjoying the homemade green juice.  Hubby says it “tastes better than it has any right to,” but he won’t drink a glass, and Peanut will occasionally take sips from me but she prefers to pirate my morning lemon water.  They’ll come around.

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  • Visited the Buffalo Botanical Gardens – twice!  Hubby planned a Valentine’s Day outing (actually, it was the Saturday after) to Night Lights at the Botanical Gardens – basically, a seasonal event in which the Gardens are kept open late and light shows play in each of the greenhouses.  We all loved the event, but Peanut particularly had a ball.  She discovered the koi pond and was completely entranced by the fish swimming around, and “Pond! Pond! Pond!” is pretty much all we’ve heard since.  So, since she loved it so much, we went back the very next weekend during the day.  Of course it was fun to see her big eyes take in the majesty that is the koi pond (LOLwut?), but I also found it to be a good winter survival tactic (a la my pal Katie).  Spending a couple of hours wandering around in the heated greenhouses, with the winter sun baking down through the glass ceilings, was absolute bliss.  It felt like summer for the afternoon.  You can read more about our Botanical Gardens adventures here, and I’m sure we’ll be going back many times – but especially in the winters.

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March

  • Started a new job!  Although it’s been tough to leave Peanut, she’s in good hands during the day and I know that me bringing in an income is a good thing for our family, and will definitely contribute to a better life for all of us (starting with enabling us to finally start looking for a permanent home, and it’ll feel great to be settled again).  It’s also good for me to get back out there in the legal community, and I’ve been lucky enough to find a position practicing my specialty with a well-regarded firm.  I couldn’t ask for a better situation and I think this is going to be a great thing for our family.
  • Taken several family walks, including one at Tifft Nature Preserve and one with Grandma and Grandpa at Chestnut Ridge (the same park we visited with Zan and Paul back in December).  Even though there was still snow on the ground for most of the month, we were so over the indoors.  It was good for all of us to get out and breathe some fresh air.

Have you set an intention for 2014?  How’s it going?

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So, as I mentioned in this post, I went on the Whole 30 again.  As it turned out, I didn’t finish this pass before giving it up as a bad job – I guess I just wasn’t committed enough this time around.  I gave myself a couple of nights off, some for good reasons (mother-in-law’s birthday; dinner at the home of new friends who I didn’t want to burden with my food demands) and some for not-so-good reasons (primarily, because I wasn’t feelin’ it).  As a result, I am definitely not seeing the same benefits as I’ve seen in the past when I’ve stuck religiously to the program through inconvenience and don’t-wannas.  But I’ll give it another try in April and do better next time.

Whenever I tell people about the Whole 30 – “no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no soy, no corn, no white potatoes, no preservatives, no alcohol” – I inevitably get the same question: “So what exactly do you eat?”  My answer is, always, “Really delicious food.”  I’ve found that the key to succeeding with the Whole 30 is focusing on what you can have, and that list is actually pretty long.  Meat and seafood is welcome (although I still avoid beef, pork and ham products as I have since I was 17), fruits and nuts (except peanuts) are encouraged, and vegetables are the cornerstone.  Still, it can sometimes be hard to envision, so I thought I’d show you a full day of eating on the Whole 30.

A couple of things to note: first, while on the Whole 30, I don’t count calories, nor do I worry about fat, protein or carbs.  I stick to the list of approved foods and let the chips fall where they may.  It always takes care of itself.  And second, please keep in mind that this is a fairly light day of eating.  I try my best to eat intuitively, to have something when I’m hungry and to stop eating when I am full.  I just wasn’t especially hungry on the day that I had planned to photograph my meals and snacks.  (Probably because I’d been too busy to work out for a couple of days prior to documentation day.  I’m always more hungry when I’m exercising a lot.)  I promise, if I’d felt hungrier, I’d have eaten more!  So, with that, here we go:

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Breakfast was a baked egg cup with a side of orange.  (I gave three of the orange slices you see here to Peanut.  She had her own breakfast but – as usual – was more interested in mine.  Oranges are delicious, so I can’t blame her.)  The egg cups are something I’ve been experimenting with as quick, easy, protein-packed breakfasts to have on hand for when I go back to work.  I don’t like to eat sweets in the morning – except for fruit, of course – and I’m not a cereal person (I’m hungry again in an hour), so I sometimes have trouble getting a breakfast together.  The egg cups are the perfect solution.  They’re filling – each cup is the equivalent of two eggs, plus some veggies (sautéed broccoli and onions in this case).  They’re also a delicious way to have my favorite breakfast (eggs) in quick and convenient form.  I’ll be sure to share a recipe soon!  Unpictured: a cup of Harney & Sons “Tower of London” tea, which is amazing.

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I didn’t have a morning snack – too busy chasing a goofy kid around to think about my stomach – so lunch was next and I did put a fairly good spread together.  On my plate: turkey sausage (it’s tough but you can find Whole 30 compliant sausages – this one is a turkey kielbasa from Garrett Valley, which I got at the local co-op), sliced kohlrabi, red bell peppers, and leftover Brussels sprouts.  I eat a lot of salad on the Whole 30, but sometimes I’m not feeling it and when I’m not, a “snack plate” like this is my go-to option.

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I was still hungry after my snack plate, so I tossed together a fruit salad – half a banana, a few strawberries and a handful of raspberries.  Fruit is my favorite food and I could eat a fruit salad every single day and not get bored.

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Afternoon snack was another quick and easy one: half a small sweet potato topped with almond butter.  I make baked sweet potatoes (in the microwave, it’s actually quick and easy) ahead of time and keep them in the fridge to toss into stews or soups, blend into smoothies, or just snack on like this.  If you’ve already got the sweet potato cooked, it’s just a quick 3 minute blast in the microwave and you have a warm, filling snack.  I know it looks revolting, but I promise it tastes good.

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Dinner was late because I had a volunteer commitment in the evening.  (I tutor a basic literacy student for two hours each week.)  When I got home shortly after 8:00, I was starving and wanted something quick and easy, so salad was the clear answer.  I used Romaine lettuce (which I prefer to spring mix; I used to throw out an entire container of spring mix every week and finally it occurred to me, eureka, don’t buy it if you don’t like it – it’s hubby’s favorite salad mix, but I eat far more salad than he does, so now I buy my favorite lettuce instead), cucumber slices (I keep them in the fridge for snacking and tossing on salads), shredded chicken from a roast I made a few days ago, and a simple dressing of herb-infused olive oil and a flaky pink sea salt.  Perfectly yummy, filling from all that fiber and chicken, and on the table in a flash!  Followed that up with an unpictured cup of herbal tea to unwind before bed, and… it was good.  It was very, very good.

Have you ever done a Whole 30?  Are you curious or do you think it’s crazy?

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Last Friday I wrapped up my second Whole30.  For those who haven’t heard of the program, it’s basically 30 days of super-charged Paleo-style eating.  No grains, no sugar, no dairy, no legumes, no preservatives, no soy, no alcohol, no corn or white potatoes, no cheating.  As I said when explaining the program to my mom, it’s a little nutty, but you can be nutty for 30 days.  Here are some thoughts from the past 30 days:

Buddying Up

Both times I’ve completed the Whole30, I’ve done it with a buddy – my sister-in-law, Emma.  The first time we did the program, she was living with us and taking care of Peanut during the day.  This time, we kept in touch via motivating texts, emails and Instagram photos and exchanged recipes over the phone.  I’d definitely recommend doing the Whole30 with someone else.  Having a buddy to motivate me when it got hard – and it does get hard, but Emma and I cheered one another through those tough parts – was invaluable.  Hubby is supportive, but I don’t know that I could have gotten through it either time without knowing that Emma was in it with me.  When I was tempted to say, “Whatever, it’s just a little bit of preservative, what does it matter?” I remembered that she was sticking to the program and I needed to do the same.  Cheating on the Whole30 would have felt like cheating on Emma, and that pushed me to adhere to the program strictly.

Missing Halloween… Sort Of

Emma and I planned the timing of our Whole30 very carefully.  We started after my birthday (and weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake) and wrapped up well in advance of Thanksgiving.  It was important to me that I was free to really enjoy the heck out of my birthday, and neither of us wanted to miss out on Thanksgiving festivities.  But unfortunately, that meant that we kind of missed Halloween.  It wasn’t too awful.  I got to enjoy my favorite treat, roasted pumpkin seeds (see above) – I’m more of a salty girl than a sweet tooth.  But it was tough to miss out on the delicious-smelling cider donuts at the pumpkin patch, and I’ll admit to eating more of the Halloween candy that was still laying around after my Whole30 ended than I really meant to.  I’m packing the remainder of the candy up and sending it to work with hubby posthaste.

What I Really Missed

Everyone, it seems, has one thing that’s tougher than anything else to give up.  I’m okay abstaining from sugar (it’s actually easier for me to completely avoid sugar than it is to eat it in moderation), and I’m not a big drinker anyway so it’s not hard to stay away from alcohol.  (I do enjoy wine, but it’s not something that I’ve ever had trouble avoiding if I needed to, especially if there was a good reason – like pregnancy.)  Avoiding all grains is a little harder, but I typically stay away from “junk grains” like white rice and sandwich bread anyway, and save my carbs for really good stuff, like fresh kalamata olive bread from an artisan bakery, which is worth every carb and don’t ever let anyone tell you different.  But for me, the absolute toughest thing to avoid during the Whole30 was dairy.  I’m not a big milk drinker, but I love my plain Greek yogurt and my sharp cheddar cheese.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to eat cheese, of all things, than at the end of this Whole30.  (I’m eating cheese as I type this.  Mmmmmmm, cheese.)

Working Out on the Whole30

On Day 2 (which is typically my toughest day, when I get what I call the “lettuce hangover” where I want to destroy everything green) Peanut and I went for a three mile run in her jogging stroller.  It wasn’t the easiest run, between a bulky jogging stroller, a disgruntled baby, and a queasy tummy, but we got ‘er done.  And from there, it got easier.  Slacking on workouts isn’t an option at the moment, because I’m getting ready for a five mile turkey trot and ideally, I’d like to finish it without embarrassing myself.  Eating clean made my workouts feel easier and I felt my speed increasing run by run, much more so than it does when I’m not as strict about eating whole foods.  (I’m still not fast, but I’m faster than I was.)  They do say that you should really take it easy in the first week, and I did, but then I cranked it up and I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to achieve my goals for the turkey trot and a 5K that I have scheduled for a few weeks after, thanks in large part to eating so well during training.

Lessons Learned

I’ve done the Whole30 before so I didn’t expect that this one would have anything new to teach me, but it did.  The main thing I learned is this: I need to stick with something long-term and not slack as soon as I see results.  It’s harder for me to moderate than it is to just avoid problematic foods.  I’m not saying that I need to abstain entirely and forever from sugar or grains, but I’m going to commit to making those foods count when I eat them.  Going forward, I’m going to make a real effort to only eat sugar or white flour if it’s really worth it to me.  (Kalamata olive bread?  Worth it.  Sandwich bread from the grocery store?  Not worth it.  Fabulous dark chocolate from my co-op, or my mother-in-law’s homemade pies?  Worth it.  Leftover Halloween candy?  Ugh, not worth it.)  I also had a good reminder that, as I said above, eating clean really helps me feel better when I’m running.  Since I have some big running goals for 2014 and 2015, that’s something to keep in mind.

Would I Do It Again?

You betcha!  Emma and I have talked about making the Whole30 a regular thing.  I think that 2-3 times per year would be about my sweet spot.  We both felt sorely in need of this “nutritional reset” (as the program dubs itself) this time, and I’m sure that we will want it again in another six months or so.  It’s well worth the headaches in the grocery store and the additional planning to feel as wonderful as we feel after a few weeks of strict Whole30 eating.

Have you ever done a Whole30?  Would you, or do you think it’s insane?

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Big news, fellow foodies: a certain little lady is starting her gustatory journeys!  Peanut is now six months old (four months adjusted) and her pediatrician has given us the go-ahead to start introducing solid foods.  Even though we’ve known for awhile that we’d be beginning the solid food journey around now, it still snuck up on me.  The decision to start now is based on a few things: Peanut’s age is the primary factor (our pediatrician starts most kids at 4 months, but our little preemie is starting at 6 months/4 months adjusted), but the doctor also took into account our report that Peanut has been staring at our food lately.  She watches me cook and watches all three of us eat with a “you’re holding out on me” expression on her face.  Yep, she’s interested all right.  Interested, and developmentally ready, so we’re charging forward.

Now comes the part that many of you are going to say is crazy: I’ve decided to make all of her food from scratch.

Oh you are, are you?  And with what free time do you plan to do this?

I know, I know, it sounds nuts.  I don’t have a lot of spare time on my hands, it’s true, and do I really want to spend it making baby food?  Well… yes, I do.  I have a lot of reasons for wanting to make Peanut’s food from scratch, not least of which is my desire to fill her little tummy with healthy, fresh options without preservatives.  I think her food will taste better if it’s freshly prepared from ingredients chosen by her picky mama, and she’ll learn to eat fresh, whole foods from day one.  It’s also cheaper (those little jars add up, especially if you buy organic – I want Peanut to eat all organic at least for the first couple of years of her life, and it will cost me a lot less if I DIY) and better for the environment, because I’ll be able to reuse her jars and buy produce without packaging.

There’s another part of my reasoning which is, admittedly, a little bit selfish.  You see, I had to let go of a lot of things when Peanut was born two months early.  A full pregnancy, for one.  The experience of being oh-so-pregnant, which I know isn’t the most pleasant, but I didn’t have it, so.  A baby shower – mine was cancelled; I spent the day in the NICU instead.  Taking the baby home from the hospital immediately – I got to spend the next seven weeks commuting to the NICU instead, coming home to a house that seemed so empty every night.  Cloth diapering – it was something I really wanted to do, but it just seemed too overwhelming with everything else we had going on when Peanut came home from the hospital.  And there was other stuff too – like the way I have had to feed Peanut in her early days; it hasn’t been what I expected, and that’s all that I’m going to say about that.  The last of my pregnancy “expectations” was that I would make Peanut’s food from scratch and… I just don’t want to let go of this too.  I want one thing to go as planned.

So when we got the green light to start Peanut on solids, I was psyched.  I immediately started researching the best foods to start babies on – I knew I wanted to do a vegetable, not rice cereal, which doesn’t have any added nutrition for her (the only benefit is iron, but she gets plenty of that from formula), and I decided to go with sweet potato.  I looked at dedicated baby food makers like the Beaba Babycook and decided to use what I already have in my kitchen (a pot, a food processer, and a Vitamix) and see how that goes, and I stocked up on OXO Tot puree cubes and silicone spoons, plus two cookbooks that should take Peanut into her toddler years.

I’m so excited for this step!  I hope that my making Peanut’s purees (we’re also going to dabble in a bit of baby-led weaning, at the pediatrician’s advice, but I’m planning to wait to start that until she’s bigger) will set her up for a lifetime of enjoying fresh, healthy foods.  Next week – sweet potatoes, a recipe, and some hilarious photos.

Let the wild rumpus start!

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(Well, this concludes my series on kitchen essentials for the healthy lifestyle!  If you’re just catching up, read about my favorite ingredients from the pantry, fridge and freezer.)

I’ve been a home cooking enthusiast for several years now, and I’ve accumulated quite a collection of tools of the trade in that time.  And while I love my pie plates and cookie cutters, I find myself reaching far more often for the tools that make it a little easier for me to prepare healthy meals for hubby and me.  Some are pricey and others are cheap, but they’ve all been invaluable to me.

Citrus Press.  This is my favorite low-budget kitchen tool.  I asked Santa for one a few Christmases ago and I’ve used it at least three times a week – and usually more – since I got it.  I have this one from Williams-Sonoma, and it’s an amazing item.  Great quality and incredibly well-made, it squeezes half a lemon, lime or orange with next to no effort on my part, is dishwasher safe, and looks as good as the day I unwrapped it.  If you only buy one non-essential kitchen gadget, make it this one!

Microplane.  I think this is the best zester on the market.  I have a couple including this rasp, which I use for grating Parmesan and citrus, as well as a citrus-specific rasp.  I don’t use it as much as the citrus press above, but I do my fair share of zesting and this baby has seen a lot of action.

Oil Mister.  I got this from Santa too, and it’s wonderful for spraying just a fine mist of olive oil.  I can sometimes have a heavy hand with oil, so this keeps me honest.

Vitamix.  Okay, this isn’t exactly a budget item, but if you have been saving your pennies for a new blender, I can’t say enough good things about my Vitamix.  Before I got it, I had a regular blender which worked okay, but the Vitamix makes all other blenders look like dinosaurs.  It whips me up a smoothie in mere moments, and there are no chunks of ice to contend with.  It also makes a perfectly velvety pureed soup.  I can’t remember how I lived without my Vita.

Measuring Cups and Spoons.  If you’re practicing portion control, then measuring cups and spoons are absolutely essential.  Before I started measuring portions, I really had no idea what an appropriate serving size looked like.  But a cup of pasta or a teaspoon of oil are no-brainers with the right measuring devices.  I love these All-Clad cups and spoons, because they look like miniature pots.  Heh, fun.

What cook’s tools do you use to support your healthy lifestyle?

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(Since we’re all on the healthy eating bandwagon… for awhile, anyway… I’m doing a series on my favorite kitchen essentials for healthy cooking.  Catch up on Part I – pantry – and Part II – fridge – if you’d like to!)

The freezer is another contraption that no kitchen is complete without, and when used well it can be a fantastic arsenal for the healthy cook.  I love to stock mine with plenty of raw materials and – like with the pantry – there’s almost nothing that feels better than knowing I have a full freezer at my fingertips.  Here are my freezer essentials for healthy cooking:

Frozen Seafood.  We eat fish a couple of nights per week, because I love it, and I always have a few varieties on hand in the freezer.  I’ve usually got a big bag of shrimp (shelled, if I can get them) and a couple of bags of salmon fillets and tilapia fillets.  We buy our frozen fish from Costco, so we get them in huge quantities that last us several weeks and the quality is great too.  My favorite thing about the Costco fillets is that they are generally evenly cut and the same size, which means they all finish cooking at the same time, and there are no thin bits that are overcooked while the center remains raw (a pet peeve of mine).  I start to panic when we get low!

Frozen edamame.  With the shells, these make for a fun appetizer.  But shelled, they’re an incredibly versatile protein source!  I toss them in soups, defrost them and add them to salads, or saute them up for stir-fries and goddess bowls.  If I have a night where I don’t know what else to make, odds are I’m going to reach for edamame.

Frozen greens.  They’ve come a long way from the disgusting frozen spinach of your youth.  Whole Foods stocks frozen kale, frozen collards, and frozen green mixes and I always have a bit on hand.  My favorite is the frozen kale.  I’m always throwing it into soups and stews, or heating it up to toss with pasta and chicken or veggie sausage.  It’s great to have on hand for those days when you’re out of the fresh stuff.

Frozen berries.  Another Costco purchase, I have a gigantic bag of these in my freezer and it has seen me through many a breakfast smoothie.  I love to make my smoothies without ice, using just frozen berries – they cool the smoothie down without watering it down like ice cubes do.  And they’re a fun dessert too, just slightly defrosted in a bowl with a drizzle of milk.

Parmesan cheese rinds.  Whenever I finish a wedge of Parm, I stick the rind in a plastic baggie that I keep in the freezer for use later.  I make a big pot of vegetable soup many weeks, just to get rid of any aging vegetables from my crisper, and the Parmesan rind takes it from hum-drum to hum-dinger!  (Sorry.)  Just remember to fish it out before you eat…

Orange and Lemon Peels.  This is my favorite tip.  Whenever I’m using a lemon or orange for a dish or a snack, but not zesting it, I take a minute to peel the zest off in big strips, using a vegetable peeler (and carefully avoiding the bitter pith).  Since I use a lemon or orange almost every day, but don’t always zest it for a recipe, I’ve amassed a huge collection of strips of zest in baggies in my freezer.  They’re on hand for whenever I want to chop them up for adding to a side or dessert and they make me feel so gourmet.  I love looking at my little baggies of zest, ready and waiting for anytime I want to fancy up a recipe!

What ingredients do you keep in your freezer for healthy cooking?  Spill!  (Your secrets, that is, not the ingredients themselves please.)

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