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Body & Soul by Bethany Hamilton

Green smoothie time!

Green smoothie time!

Got a teen girl? If so, I have a great book recommendation for you. Body and Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun and Fabulous Life by Bethany Hamilton is an easy read full of pictures–and so much more.

This book is about nutrition, exercise, and balance. The writers break down what it means to eat clean, and provide clear examples of great exercises you can do at home without any equipment. There is also a Christian theme, but not so intense that it would throw readers from different religions off.

As soon as I started reading  Body and Soul I immediate thought of a student athlete I know, and what a great pick this book would be for her. But once I saw all of the recipes I decided to keep Body and Soul for myself. I haven’t been this inspired to cook in a long time! I guess I’ll be buying an extra copy on Amazon when it’s released on May 6th.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®


Wonderbag Chicken with a Coconut Kick

I LOVE my Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker! Here’s something yummy I threw together tonight and cooked while we were at a Little League game.


  • 1 lb chicken filets
  • 2 eggs +  bread crumbs, salt and herbs to bread the chicken
  • coconut oil
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


(Don’t know how to “bread” something? Click here.)

Fry breaded chicken in coconut oil for about 10 minutes while you chop veggies. Don't know how to

Fry breaded chicken in coconut oil for about 10 minutes, five minutes on each side.

Chop 5 carrots, 1 onion, 1/2 bunch celery, and 1 bell pepper

Roughly chop veggies.

Dump veggies on top of chicken. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Test with thermometer to make sure the dial is way past 190 degrees.

Dump veggies on top of chicken. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Then, test with thermometer to make sure the dial is way past 190 degrees.

Add two cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Cover and bag up for 1-3 hours.

Add two cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Cover.

Wonderbag for 2-3 hours.

Wonderbag for 2-3 hours.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

This meal is sweet and spicy. You could take out the sweetness by using olive oil instead of coconut oil. Or, you could amp up the spiciness by adding chilies.

For more information about the Wonderbag, check out their website.


Gluten-Free Swiss Steak in the Wonderbag

My American freezer.

My American freezer.

Americans are infamous for their obscenely gigantic refrigerators and I’m no exception. My freezer is usually so packed that something falls out and hits me in the head every time I open it.

That’s a sharp contrast to the mission countries that Wonderbag serves; places where Wonderbags mean reduced deforestation and increased quality of life. Wonderbags can be the difference between a mom being raped on her way to gather extra firewood for dinner, or staying home to help her children with their school work.

That is very sobering.

My American kitchen is a world away. But I’ve found that Wonderbags can improve my quality of life too.

Wonderbag in action!

Wonderbag in action!

This year for Lent my family is trying to simply dinner and focus on family, and our Wonderbag is part of that plan. We are following an old-school/new-school meal plan:

  • Meatless Mondays
  • Taco Tuesdays
  • Wheat-less Wednesdays
  • Throwback Thursdays (leftovers)
  • Fish on Fridays
  • Souper Saturdays
  • Sunday Chicken Dinner

The beauty of this plan is that the kids know what to expect for dinner and I have a clue about what to cook. If I go grocery shopping on Friday, it works out great. We clear out the fridge Thursday night and have fresh fish on Friday.

Swiss Steak--Absolutely delicious but steam's getting in the way of my picture.

Swiss Steak–Absolutely delicious but steam’s getting in the way of my picture.

Today is Wheat-less-Wednesday and on the menu is Swiss Steak made from a bunch of things from my freezer and pantry. The picture doesn’t do it justice; this meal was so yummy my kids asked for seconds. It makes a really good meat, veggie, and gravy concoction that is excellent over rice.


  • 1-2 lbs cube steak
  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T Worchester sauce
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 packet organic ranch dressing mix
  • 1 cup shredded Italian cheese
  • rice (for serving with the Swiss Steak)


  • Sautee the butter, meat, mushrooms, onion, garlic and carrots in a Dutch oven until the meat is brown and the mushrooms have shrunk (about 15 minutes). The veggies will cook down and make a broth that will begin to boil.
  • Add in the seasoning and cheese.
  • Boil for 5 minutes.
  • Cover the bot and bag in your Wonderbag for 4+ hours.
  • Serve over rice.

For more information about Wonderbag and their mission to help the planet and improve the lives of women, please check out their video.


Here in America, Wonderbags can be purchased online through Amazon. Every time an American purchases a Wonderbag, a woman in Africa gets one too.

Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker with Recipe Cookbook, Red Batik


Does the Wonderbag work?

Wonderbag in action!

Wonderbag in action!

Last week I shared the story of my Crock-Pot shooting out sparks that almost caught my hair on fire. I immediately dumped it in the trash and ordered a Wonderbag.

Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker with Recipe Cookbook, Red Batik

It’s been lots of dinners since then, and I’m ready to report. Does the Wonderbag work? Yes, definitely–but there is a learning curve.

Last night's dinner, chicken and apricot stew.

Last night’s dinner, chicken and apricot stew.

With a Crock-Pot you can dump a bunch of raw ingredients in, walk away and come back to a cooked dinner. With a Wonderbag, you need to start your pot on the stove, bring it to boiling, and then bag it all up.

Last night's dinner, chicken and apricot stew.

It’s better to Wonderbag with a full pot.

Here are some tricks I’ve learned:

  • It’s better to Wonderbag with a full pot. And yeah, I used “Wonderbag” as a verb. 😉
  • With my Le Creuset pot, I start heating up the pan and olive oil while I’m still chopping vegetables. That makes it all go faster.
  • It’s easier to use canned beans instead of dried beans.
  • Soaking lentils overnight helps.
  • The fastest way to make steel cut oats? Soak them overnight, boil them five minutes in the morning, and then Wonderbag them for 20 minutes.
  • The Wonderbag is great for making yogurt. It helps keep the pot at the right temperature overnight.
  • The Wonderbag website has a lot of great recipes, but they are often written for UK English speakers instead of American chefs. Egad! The metric system!!!

If you are interested in finding out more about Wonderbag and their mission to save the environment and help women all over the world (seriously!), then please check out their website.

In the meantime, if you are a Pinterest person, I’m making a new board: Wonderbag should be a verb.

Why I’m buying a Wonderbag

That's my Crock Pot in the trash.

That’s my Crock-Pot in the trash.

Today my Crock-Pot almost caught my hair on fire. I woke up early this morning, chopped up a nice beef stew, and plugged it in to cook. I didn’t notice that the cord was frayed–until sparks shot out past my hair, the wall sizzled, and the fuse blew.

I stood there a few moments panicking, frantically feeling my hair and checking the counter to make sure nothing was on fire. (Oh, and there might have been some loud shrieking.) 😉

I am still very rattled. I use my slow cooker all the time.

So today I’m ordering a Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker with Recipe Cookbook.

Have you ever heard of a Wonderbag? They are like the Toms Shoes of slow cookers. American women buy one for their homes, and somewhere far away, an African woman gets one too. Wonderbags are just starting to break into the American market. I first heard about them from a friend from England.

The Wonderbag goal is to help women, save fuel and save the planet.


Check out the Wonderbag website to be inspired. I’ll be posting about my new purchase in the future, so you can follow along to see how well it works.

In the meantime, please check the cord on your Crock-Pot!

Basic Cooking for Busy People

One of my good friends is a busy lawyer, married with no children. Since she’s never had a two-year-old screaming at her while she tried to make dinner, her cooking experience is a bit different than mine.

Recently my friend asked me for some tips and tricks for healthy eating. Rose, the blogger at Our Lady of Second Helpings, would be the true master for a question like that. But here are my favorite shortcuts. This isn’t how I cook all the time, just when I’m super stressed.

Tip 1: Prep for the Freezer

Buy a bunch of chicken cutlets in bulk, and then bag them with marinade for the freezer. One or two nights before you want to cook chicken, take the bag out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. Then you will be all ready to grill.

The George Foreman is your friend!

Special Note to Special People: In the above picture I’m showing Ziploc bags. But when I was pregnant, I never, ever marinated in plastic. I only used Pyrex. I also didn’t use my George Foreman when I was pregnant, because of the Teflon. Even today, I normally marinate things in glass. But not everyone is freaked out about plastic as I am.

Tip #2: Buy a Rice Cooker

Before you start grilling that chicken, add 1 cup brown rice and 2 and a half cups water to your rice cooker. Then turn it on. It’s sooooo easy! If you assemble a quick salad while the chicken is cooking, then you’ve got rice, chicken and salad ready to go in about twenty minutes. Boom! Dinner’s ready.

Tip #3: Prep Once, Eat Twice

On the right, you are seeing the stir fry we are eating tonight. On the left, you are seeing the stir fry that is going into the freezer. The meat is bagged in marinade. The vegetables are chopped and ready to go. Plus I’ve got that rice cooker, remember? Dinner will be done in 20 minutes, easy.

Tip #4: Buy a Vitamix

This is the sad one, because not everyone can afford something that costs $400. But we use our Vitamix every day to make green smoothies. Raw kale every morning? Yum!

How to Make Jam

If you have never made jam before but have always wondered how, then this post is for you!  Or, if your daughter is currently obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and you want to seem like a hero, then go buy some fruit.

I am blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law who has taught me many things. How to can my own jam is one of them. I thought I would share what she has taught me, in case you want to give it a whirl.

Today at Whole Foods they had a special, one-day blueberry sale where they were selling 12 pints of organic blueberries for $19. That’s a really good deal! So today when Grammy took Jenna(2.5) to the beach, I made my family’s favorite low-sugar jam. My recipe includes:

  • 4 cups berries
  • 3 T low sugar Ball pectin
  • 3 t lemon juice
  • 1 cup apple or white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1) First you have to make sure that your kitchen is brand-spanking clean. Use disinfectant and bleach out the sink, just in case. Then wash your canning jars and bands on the absolute hottest setting your dishwasher has to offer. Some people sterilize their jars in boiling water, but Grammy said that the dishwasher will work too.

2) Next prepare your berries. You need 4 cups of fruit, gently mashed. You can’t use a food processor or blender, because this will completely ruin everything, and your jam won’t jell right. With blueberries I usually don’t mash them because my family likes jam a bit chunky.

3) You also need to prepare your work station. Once everything is boiling, you don’t want to have to hunt down sugar. I use brand new canning lids every time, but I reuse jars and bands. I keep the lids in warm water, so they are ready to go.

I have an actual, water bath canner (shown on the left), but you don’t need one of those. An extra-large soup kettle will work too. That’s what I used for my first few years of canning. On the right is a small pasta pot used to make jam. I only cook one batch at a time, because otherwise the pectin jelling process can get screwed up.

4) Bring 4 cups berries, 3 T low sugar pectin, 1 cup juice and your lemon juice (if using) to a boil. Stir constantly.

5) Once you have a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add your sugar. Continuing stirring and let boil for one minute. I usually let this boil for two minutes just be safe.

6) Fill your jars up to about 1/2 an inch at the top. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel. Do you see the “gimpy” jar on the bottom left? That one is not going to be canned. Safety first!

7) Put on the lids and screw on the bands. You might hear some popping sounds, and that’s normal. It’s okay if you don’t hear anything though.

8 ) Put your jars in your kettle and cover with a lid. Let the water heat up until it is boiling.

9) Boil for ten minutes with the lid on. I usually let it go a little bit longer, just to be safe. It is okay to hear the gentle clinking of glass. Canning jars are really strong, and I have never had one break. But if it is sounding totally crazy in there, turn down the heat a little bit. This is called “the water bath method”.

10) Take the lid off and leave the jars in there for about 15 minutes.

11) Take your jars out and put them in a safe place. They need to stay there and rest for at least 24 hours. Once again, you might hear some popping sounds but that’s normal. The heat pulls the seal in and you hear a “pop”.

This type of jam is shelf-stable for up to a year, but be sure to refrigerate after opening. It makes great teacher gifts, especially if you add a gift card with it! 🙂

P.S. More information about home canning can be found here.

Please Lord, help me at dinner!

Right now I’m reading Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, which is excellent. In addition to a bunch of other sage advice, she talks about the importance of having a nice family dinner at least once a week. Since she is writing a book of Jewish wisdom for parents, Dr. Mogel is talking about Shabbat. My own family is soooooooo far from lighting candles, saying blessings, and baking homemade bread that I can hardly tell you. 

Just getting my family to eat together at a regular dinner is a challenge for me. Like most families these days we are super busy. My kids are hungry at 4:30, my husband gets home from work around 6:30, and oh yeah, I have a major gluten sensitivity. That’s why I was excited to see on Simple Mom a link to a website called Natural Health at Home’s Whole Food Meal Plans. I haven’t spent any money yet, but I have downloaded the free trial week.

The weekly plan has five dinners, a weekend project, and two snacks built in. There is also a detailed shopping list that annotates which items you can purchase at Trader Joes. The other “weirder” ingredients like coconut flour can be ordered online or bought at P.C.C. or Whole Foods.

I did a major grocery shopping trip today which included all of the ingredients, plus stuff like shampoo, vitamins, watermelon and gum. My total cost was $190 for everything. Your total price could be a lot cheaper if you didn’t buy organic. Natural Health at Home also has an alternate Gluten Free/Dairy Free menu, so that could definitely be worth checking out if you are on a GF/CF diet.

Jenna helped me make the chocolate chip cookies this afternoon and I was pretty nervous because the batter looked bizarre.

The cookies themselves looked even stranger, but yowzer! They are so yummy! This recipe’s a keeper.

Twenty-five minutes before our dinner of Copper River salmon, sautéed greens and quinoa hit the table, I was sound asleep on the couch while my kids jumped on me and watched Martha Speaks. (Day 1 was supposed to be rice, but I messed up.) It was all delicious, but as you might imagine my children mainly ate the blueberries and chocolate milk. That’s par for the course around here.

Tomorrow night we have soup and zucchini muffins on the menu. Sunday night, it’s a traditional roasted chicken dinner. Maybe we will even get out a table cloth and light a few candles.   I’m Methodist and not Jewish Dr. Mogel, but I’m trying.  🙂

GF/CF Cakes that 2 Year Olds Can Bake

Jenna(2.5) and I had fun today baking this yummy orange marmalade cake from Michael Cox’s book Gluten Free, More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Your Family Will Love.

Cooking is a fabulous learning activity to do with children. This was a really good recipe to try with a two year old, because it only called for four different ingredients: eggs, oranges, sugar, and almonds (plus marmalade for the top). I simplified the instructions a bit by using my Vitamix, which meant that it took less than ten minutes to prepare even with Jenna’s help.

The math skills we worked on were: counting, adding, and following directions.

I’ve checked out a bunch of gluten free cookbooks from the library and Gluten Free is the first one I’ve found that doesn’t use a lot of “freaky” ingredients. The author developed most of the recipes for his bed and breakfast in Spain, where he didn’t have access to Xanthan Gum and other unusual items I’m finding in most GF products.

Michael Cox’s recipes use whole foods that you would find at any grocery store.

Last night I made the chocolate walnut cake, and added a raspberry strawberry sauce on top. It was so delicious that my kids were licking the plates, and my husband had three servings! Again, I used my Vitamix, which meant that I could just dump in eggs, cocoa powder, sugar and whole walnuts, and…Voila! GF/CF cake batter in under five minutes. My only problem was that I got a bit, er..um… “distracted” during the baking process and ended up burning the edges. Otherwise my Marianne pan would have made a really pretty well for the raspberry sauce. I had to cut away the burnt sides, but the inside was still delicious.


I emailed Michael Cox and he said to go ahead and share the recipes!  He also said that he has a third book ready to go, but is in the process of looking for a publisher.  I hope he finds one.

Chocolate Walnut Cake:

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cup superfine sugar (I just used regular sugar)
  • 2 1/2 cups ground walnuts (I used whole walnuts)

I put everything in my Vitamix, but you might be able to do this in a food processor, or just buy ground walnut flour if you can find it.  You pour it into a greased cake pan and bake at 3:75 for an hour.  But I would check it after 25 minutes.

For the raspberry sauce I just microwaved frozen raspberries and strawberries for two minutes, and then blended them in my Vitamix.  Again, a blender or food processor might work too.

Orange and Almond Cake

(The real recipe calls for boiling two oranges for two hours.  With my Vitamix, I could just use one raw whole orange instead. So here’s my version:)

  • 1 peeled orange
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4 cup almond flour (I used whole almonds)

Same instructions as before, except for this time he had you bake it at 350 for 50-60 minutes.  I watched the oven really carefully this time, and at the 40 minute mark it was ready to come out.

Dinner in a Pumpkin

(This picture doesn’t look too appetizing, but that’s because these babies aren’t cooked yet.  This recipe actually turns out pretty yummy and both of my kids like this meal a lot.)

Here’s a fun fall-themed dinner to eat after taking your little ones to a pumpkin farm. This year, I actually purchased our eating pumpkins at the store so that I could make this meal before we went to the pumpkin patch. When we came home all worn out, all I had to do was stick these in the oven.

Dinner in a Pumpkin


  • 1 package organic ground beef
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 pieces celery
  • 1 bell pepper
  • half an onion
  • a package of mushrooms
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 T of soy sauce


Preheat the oven to 350. Cook the meat and veggies on the stove until the ground beef is all the way cooked as measured by a meat thermometer. Then mix in the soup, rice, and soy sauce. Stuff the pumpkins and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes with the pumpkin lid on.

Note: I like to use small sugar pie pumpkins for this. Big pumpkins will also work, but it takes a lot longer than one and a half hours to cook.  You could also try making this vegetarian by upping the rice and deleting the meat.

The Bieroch Book (and my Russo-German past)

This weekend the kids and I made a favorite food from my grandma’s Russo- German side of the family called Bieroch.  My grandma’s father and grandparents were Germans whose ancestors lived along the Volga River in Russia for three generations, but never lost their German heritage. 

The Russo-Germans were invited over to Russia by Catherine the Great to help settle frontier land.  One of the deals Catherine made with them was that they would never have to serve in the Russian army.  In 1874 Tsar Alexander reneged on that promise, and in order to avoid conscription, whole towns of Russo-Germans left Russia for the United States.  Most of them settled in the Midwest where they brought seeds of Winter Wheat with them.  This type of wheat grew really well in the Great Plains, and led to a wheat boom/bubble economy in the Midwest that precipitated the Dust Bowl.  There is a really interesting book about this by Timothy Egan called The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, which I will include a link to at the end of this post.

Although it is never a good idea to generalize an entire population, the Russo-Germans had a reputation for being incredibly hard working, tidy, thrifty, and family oriented.  If you judge by my grandma’s family, they also placed a high value on education and training.  Three of my grandma’s nine siblings graduated from college, and my great-grandpa served on the local school board. 

During World War I and World War II many Russo-Germans were persecuted by their Midwestern neighbors for being of German descent, but this did not stop many of them from fighting bravely in the American army.  My grandma still has letters my great uncle Herman wrote her from the European front where he died.  He is buried in Arlington cemetery. 

Growing up, it was always frustrating to me to meet other kids from German-American backgrounds.  The foods our grandmas cooked were never the same things!  Now I understand that Russo-Germans have their own genre of cooking, including butter-ball soup, bump bread (made from cooked down watermelon rinds), and bieroch.

Nobody in my family likes butter-ball soup, and I’m not about to cook down watermelons, thank you very much.  But bieroch is something we all enjoy!  Usually it takes a lot of work to make, but I have developed a “cheaters version” using the crock-pot and bread machine, that is actually pretty easy.  This weekend the kids and I a big batch of bieroch together, and put about four dinners worth away in the freezer after feasting on it Saturday night.

Of course, me being me I’ve got to make a homemade book about our Bieroch experience for Jenna(26m)!  (For more information on the how and why of homemade books please see here.) 

I invite you to give bieroch making a try.  It’s really yummy and freezes well.  The filling includes hamburger, sausage, onions, cabbage, Worchester sauce and any spice you like.  For the dough, just use your favorite dinner roll recipe. Let them rise for 45 minutes after you form them, then bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes.  (There is an official recipe at the top of this post in the hyperlink for Bieroch.)

The Bieroch Book


Jenna helped Mommy

make bieroch.


Mommy cooked meat, cabbage,

onions and spices in the crock pot.


The bieroch filling cooked

for a long time.


Jenna helped make the

dough in the bread machine.


Mommy rolled out the dough.


Bruce helped fill the bieroch.


This is how you wrap up bieroch.


Soon the bieroch were

ready for the oven.


Then the bieroch was

ready to eat!

Cooking with Two Year Olds

I know I sound like a broken record, but cooking with your children is one of the best ways to teach them math.  Jenna(26m) and I made brownies together and practiced counting and adding. 

We also reviewed bigger vs smaller and more vs less.  My goal with her is to do at least one cooking project each week.  This week we made two things; brownies and homemade bread.  I don’t have any pictures of the bread, but it was really easy thanks to our bread machine!

Kids in the Kitchen

For a special family dinner with my folks last  weekend I put Bruce to work making the lemon cake in the bread machine, and making spinach/artichoke dip in our Vitamix.

If I hadn’t have been running around like a crazy person trying to get the rest of the dinner put together, I could have incorporated Jenna’s “help” into the action too.  But at least my patience lasted along to help facilitate Bruce’s contribution, which turned out quite well.

Bruce’s lemon cake with chocolate fondue.

I don’t know if any of you have a bread machine but they are a great way to have kids help cook.  All a small child has to do is dump in the ingredients, and then the machine does all of the rest.  It makes cooking with kids a lot less messy.

I’d love to hear other people’s ideas about kids participating in cooking.  I’m always looking for new tips!

Kids in the Kitchen

Five minutes into any cooking activity with my childnren, I am invariably checking my sanity and asking myself, “What was I thinking?”  But as a teacher, I know that cooking is one of the best ways for children to learn math skills such as counting, adding, dividing, and working with fractions.  Here’s our picture from this morning as Bruce and Jenna baked chocolate chip cookies.  And here’s the after picture too!

Kids in the Kitchen


Here’s a picture from yesterday morning, when Bruce made a recipe for kids from the Rachel Ray Everday magazine.  It was called “Topsy Turvy Egg bake”, and was supposed to take 3o minutes to make.  An hour later, it was ready for the oven.    I tried to find it online, but couldn’t.  Her magazine is pretty cool thought.  http://www.rachaelraymag.com/