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Paleo…ish and a Cookbook

IMG_6298 copyBrussels Sprouts with Garlic and Bacon from The Paleo Chef 

Earlier this year, Sully and I decided to try the paleo diet. Mostly, we needed to cut the processed food out of our diet after the holidays. Basically, I ate all the cookies. We knew we couldn’t fully commit to any sort of extreme change, so we decided to do paleo…ish. The “ish” part means we have alcohol on occasion, we eat cheese every once in a while and have a cheat meal here and there. Particularly if we’re traveling. We’re going to enjoy ourselves and the local cuisine.

IMG_6395Wild Salmon with Artichoke Salad from The Paleo Chef

The hardest part of switching to paleo was feeling like we couldn’t eat anything but meat and a vegetable for dinner. It got sort of exhausting and bland after a few weeks. Enter The Paleo Chef by Pete Evans. Guys, this book is awesome. So many delicious meals with so much flavor! The meals all feel gourmet, but they’re super attainable for a weeknight dinner. Very few of the recipes have bizarre ingredients that require some hunting, which is a big bonus in my book! And, most are pretty quick to put together. Those Brussels Sprouts up there? Best thing I’ve eaten in weeks. Seriously, so much flavor! We both loved them.

IMG_6297 copyRoast Chicken Thighs with Garlic, Lemon and Herbs from The Paleo Chef

Things I love about this book:

  • Beautiful photos for almost every recipe. This is a deal breaker for me on cookbooks. I pretty much won’t buy a cookbook without pictures.
  • Hardly any recipes require special ingredients.
  • Almost all the recipes are quick, everyday recipes.
  • There’s a dessert section for entertaining, which is nice so you don’t have to derail your diet when you entertain.
  • Explanation for parts of the paleo diet, such as “activated nuts.”
  • Resources in the back for things like aioli, mayonnaise, almond milk, etc.
  • Recipes are in cups AND grams. Cooking in grams is so much easier (once you get a kitchen scale). You end up with more accurate measurements and a better outcome.

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The only negative about the book isn’t really a negative, but a preference. I’m not a big fan of organ meats or sardines, so there are maybe 5 recipes in the entire cookbook I’ll never make.

I really love this cookbook and have a running list of about 20 recipes from it I’d like to make in the next few weeks. I’m also thinking about gifting a copy to a few people because it’s such a great book!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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DIY Patio Furniture

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Since the weather here is glorious 99% of the time, we knew we wanted to have a nice patio area. It was 77 degrees out yesterday. In March. We enjoy being able to sit outside and have a bottle of wine after Molly goes to bed or to spend the afternoon outside lounging.

We debated buying a set, went back and forth for months and then finally settled on Sully building us a set.  Now, he’s never built anything before, so I was nervous it wouldn’t turn out well or the directions wouldn’t be thorough enough. So positive all the time, I know. Anyway, after many hours of work, driving 2 hours to buy lumber so he could get what he wanted and a deep cut that really should have gotten stitches, we have patio furniture.

He used Ana White plans for knock off Restoration Hardware Belvedere patio furniture, and he bought red cedar, which will turn grey as it ages.

He used this Ana White plan for the chairs. This plan from Old Paint Design for the table, and Old Paint Design for the loveseat as well.

We bought these Sunbrella cushions at Lowe’s. They don’t fit perfectly, but we weren’t willing to spend $1300 at Restoration Hardware for their cushions. The pillows are from Target.

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The total cost for the project is around $800, which sort of makes me want to vomit. But, had we bought it from Restoration Hardware, we would have spent well over $3,000. Because he bought red cedar, the furniture should last us at least 10 years, which is a lot longer than a cheaper set from somewhere else would last. So, in the long run, it’s an investment.

Breakdown:

  • Red Cedar: $370
  • Cushions: $380
  • Pillows: $50

He’s currently working on building this console table, though shorter than the plans to fit the space where we’re putting it, and these side tables to go next to our new couch being delivered in a few weeks. We’re working really hard to get rid of stuff we don’t love and slowly collect things we do love so we enjoy being home. We’re both itching to settle down and buy a house, but we know that’s not realistic with our moves every few years. So we’re trying to buy pieces we love to make the best of our house until we finally do settle into a more permanent home.

“You Tall as Shit”

A little background: In college, I spent a lot of time working out and at the gym. Like 2 hours a day between the pool, running and the weight room. And, because it’s important for the story, I’m 5’9″.

If the girl who worked at the gym wasn’t four feet away and hadn’t confirmed that the whole thing had in fact happened, I’m not sure I would believe it happened. It goes a little something like this:

I’m using the leg press machine and this 6’3″ tall (maybe taller?) super buff black guy approaches me. Let’s note that I had headphones on and resting bitch face was out in full force (as always).

Him: “You tall as shit”

Me: Blank stares… “thanks” ??? More confused looks because, really?

Him: “You play ball here?”

Me: “Ha. No. I’m definitely not coordinated enough for that.”

Him: “Well Imma go play ball if you wanna come.”

Me: “I’m actually about to go swim, but thanks.”

Him: “Oh, you’re on the swim team?”

Me: “Ha. No. Just swimming for a workout”

So then he says something along the lines of “oh ok, see you around” and walks away, while I continue to blankly stare in confusion because is that an actual thing? Like is that a valid pickup line? Then, the girl who worked at the gym collecting IDs as you enter and I discussed if that did in fact just happen because he did in fact say “you tall as shit.” So yeah…

EpiPen Twins

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About a week ago, we noticed a rash on Molly’s back when we gave her a bath. We kept an eye on it for a few days, and after seeing it reappear within half an hour of her eating, we called her pediatrician. Sully took her in on Friday.

After discussing when it appears, the pediatrician prescribed an EpiPen Jr. for Molly, as well as prescription strength Benadryl in case she has a severe reaction. I’ve got an EpiPen for my allergy to wheat, so now we get to carry around four EpiPens in our diaper bag. We’re a bundle of fun, aren’t we? Honestly, this doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I sort of just assumed she’d have allergies and have been waiting for them to appear. Optimism as its finest?

In good news, we’re able to continue to feed her anything we want and continue to introduce new foods, but should just make a note of what seems to cause a reaction. She’s also been referred to an allergist who will run a blood test to give us an idea of what she’s allergic to. She may be reacting to environmental factors (such as stress or cold, apparently), so hopefully the blood test will tell us if there are certain foods we need to avoid for her.

If she is allergic to foods, at least there are cute products like these from Safe & Happy Family and these little allergy warning cards from Tiny Prints. Trying to be optimistic here.

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A sweet new friend dropped off a little care package for me on Friday after my surgery. The vagueness about my surgery/lack of mentioning it is because you don’t want to know, trust me. It’ll make you hurt. She and I met at a play group we attend every Thursday (also known as how I keep my sanity when Sully travels). I don’t think I’ve mentioned play group before, but it’s been really positive for us. It’s run by a nurse on base, so it’s a great resource for any questions I have that I don’t want to call the pediatrician’s office to ask. I’ve made friends with some of the moms there, and we get together for play dates and happy hour every once in a while.

And let’s just discuss this card for a moment. This is basically like the best thing I’ve ever received. Funny enough, the girl who gave me this grew up in the same town as me–though we went to different schools, and she and I bonded over our long, brutal recoveries after child birth.

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On Health

This post is kind of emotionally heavy, and truthfully, it’s basically a novel. I commend you if you manage to read through the whole thing. Honestly, it’s something I’ve never written too much about, other than a vague mention here or there. The most I’ve ever said about it was in this post, related to why we started using more “green” products around the house.

I mentioned in my post earlier this week that my endocrinologist thinks I may have a thyroid autoimmune disease. This basically means I have antibodies against my thyroid. Currently, my thyroid appears to be compensating, so I don’t need to take any medicine, but that could change. I read a really interesting article on The New Yorker about autoimmune diseases, and there were so many sentences in that article I could have written.

Particularly this: One of the hardest things about being chronically ill is that most people find what you’re going through incomprehensible—if they believe you are going through it. In your loneliness, your preoccupation with an enduring new reality, you want to be understood in a way that you can’t be.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism when I was 15. It’s very rare to get that diagnosis at such a young age. I started getting sick frequently during my senior year of high school, and it only got worse as I started college. College was really hard for me. I felt very isolated. No one really understood me or what I was going through. I was “the sick girl” and no one wanted to be friends with her. It was exhausting for me, and I’m sure it was exhausting to be around me, frankly.

I would sleep for 16 hours a day because no matter what I was constantly fatigued. I gained 20 pounds in less than 3 months. No one could explain how or why–maybe the constant steroids I had to take to control my unidentified illnesses–chronic sinus infections, joint pain, brain fog, high fevers, unexplained swollen lymph nodes all over my body, constant fatigue, and general malaise all the time. I was sick of feeling fat, so I stopped eating anything processed and followed a strict diet. I lost all the weight and was finally feeling somewhat better. But, I continued to get sick. I would have a week where I felt sort of OK after taking steroids for a few weeks, and then I’d be back at the doctor trying to figure out what was wrong with me. There was usually no diagnosis other than some sort of infection no one could find the source of.

During my second year of college, I nearly went into anaphylactic shock from eating whole wheat crackers in the library one day while I was studying. I was promptly tested for food allergies, and we found out I was allergic to wheat, soy, melon, stone fruits, and an assortment of other foods. I also started getting allergy shots to deal with my environmental allergies–three shots twice a week.

After I started eating gluten free, I stopped having chronic sinus infections. That took care of some of the discomfort and general ill feelings, but it didn’t resolve them all. My weight plummeted, and I lost 10 pounds in less than 2 months. My doctor ran test after test, and he couldn’t find anything. One day, he told me to stop exercising and eat cookies because he was at a loss for what other advice to give me. Eventually me weight issue resolved itself, but without explanation.

The author of the article talked about losing her sense of self: It wasn’t just that I suffered brain fog (a usual autoimmune symptom); and it wasn’t just the “loss of self” that sociologists talk about in connection with chronic illness, where everything you know about yourself disappears, and you have to build a different life. It was that I no longer had the sense that I was a distinct person.

I don’t know how to explain how I felt in college. I already said isolated because truly no one understood what I was going through, but I sort of lost my will to live. I cared enough to continue to do well enough in my classes to not destroy any hopes of a future, but I wasn’t really sure a future was worth it. I felt like I was dying, and I didn’t really care. I was never suicidal though. I became very apathetic. My doctor put me on antidepressants to help me cope with all the medical issues I was going through, which made me numb to everything. There are about 6 months of college that I don’t remember. I mean, sure I could vaguely tell you some things, but there are entire months sort of just missing. I forgot I went on a trip to Texas during that time. Do you forget flying 3 states away? I was just going through the motions. The trip to Germany my family took during that time? A giant fog. I remember bits and pieces. It’s truly disappointing. I have more vivid memories of the times that came after I stopped the drugs.

I then had a CT with contrast dye to determine the cause of my night sweats, rapid weight lost and swollen glands. The lymph nodes in my neck were so swollen, you could easily see them when looking at me straight on. They were about the size of grapes. My doctor was concerned I had lymphoma based on my symptoms, but the CT only found a thyroid cyst.

I was referred to an infectious disease specialist, who thought I had HIV (despite having ZERO risk factors). To quote him, “I think you just have HIV.” Because that’s something you’d say “just have” about. No. Needless to say, I never went back to him after that appointment, but nothing was found in all of his tests. He ran an ANA test to see if I had any autoimmune diseases, but nothing showed up.

I was then referred to Mayo Clinic in Florida as a last resort. At Mayo clinic, they ran an assortment of tests, including a repeat of the ANA. Again, no autoimmune disorders found. They did, however, decide that the inhaled cortisone steroid inhaler I was using was triple the dose appropriate for someone my size. I had to wean myself from the inhaler over the course of the next three months. The doctor there also decided based on my lung capacity that he didn’t think I even had asthma. Once I stopped the inhaler, I was able to breath fine during exercise and didn’t need any inhaler. I also had a thyroid biopsy done on the cyst, which fortunately revealed it was benign.

Slowly as time passed after college I stopped getting sick as frequently. I was able to function like a normal person–though I still didn’t have answers. Last year, when I was pregnant, a routine thyroid panel revealed that I was now hyperthyroid instead of hypothyroid. I stopped my medication I’d been on since I was 15–as I wasn’t gaining any weight during my pregnancy–and that seemed to do the trick. My levels evened out, I started to gain weight and I felt fine. I had my routine thyroid screen this January after meeting with an endocrinologist here. Based on my history, he wanted to run an additional test for thyroid antibodies. So, now I may have more answers to some of the “why” in terms of all my unexplained illnesses.

Sometimes, I’m convinced that my mostly organic food, limited processed food and all “green” cleaners play a huge part in feeling better. The environment I live in is “cleaner” and there’s less to impede my immune system from doing its job. Truthfully, knowing that exercise and a healthy diet were in some way related to me not feeling like I was dying motivates me to continue to take care of myself. I still have days where I feel about 60%. My joints hurt, I’m exhausted and I just feel “off.” But, I feel like I conquered the worst of it. Maybe it’s just a changed perception of reality and accepting that I’ll never be 100% again, but sometimes I think I’m “better.” Since I never had the thyroid antibody test done before this year, there’s no data to compare it to. Perhaps this has always been what was making me sick, but no one identified it.

Needless to say, I’ve been to a few doctors appointments. It was hard to read the article, because in so many ways, I felt as though I’d written parts of it. While I wasn’t dealing with a terminal illness, the chronic illness was hard for me. Without answers, I felt truly hopeless. It’s always hard for me when people talk fondly of college because I spent college in survival mode. When I finished college at 20, I’d been through so much. I didn’t have many positive associations with college, and I was really just ready to close that chapter of my life. I keep in touch with one friend from college. The “friends” that I had abandoned me one-by-one as I got sicker and sicker. It was hard to feel alone and misunderstood. Truthfully, I know it was hard to be friends with me because I was constantly so sick and run down, and it made college harder for me. It’s something I look back on with disappointment. But, I’m so thankful with where life has taken me.

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Weekend Drinking

This is actually only the second Valentine’s Day Sully and I have been able to spend together. He’s been out to sea for all of them except 2012. I’ve never been particularly concerned with Valentine’s Day. It just seems like a silly excuse for consumerism and over-indulgence.

Anyway, we’ve had some stuff going on in our lives–my fun medical stuff, which now might include an autoimmune disorder that my thyroid is compensating for, so let’s just hope it keeps doing that, (winner over here) and Sully traveling pretty much every week. I thought it would be nice to have a date night. We still haven’t found a babysitter–it’s hard to leave your kid with a stranger. So, date night at home it was!

We’re members at two wineries in Napa Valley, and we are terrible at drinking the wine they ship us. We keep saying, “well, maybe we should save that one,” which leads to you having 3 bottles of champagne that are 9-10 years old and a bunch of wines that are “too nice” to drink for no apparent reason. The wine fridge is overflowing at this point, and I just got kind of sick of not opening the “good bottles.” If we keep saving it for “later,” when does later come? Plus, there’s no promise of tomorrow. And they keep shipping booze, so we have to drink them sometime.

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Friday night, we opened our 2006 J. Schram by Schramsberg. Schramsberg holds a special spot in our hearts. It’s the very first wine tour we did when we visited Napa Valley for our wedding, and we loved it so much we switched our wedding champagne to their 2007 Blanc de Noir. We joined their wine club as our anniversary gift to each other this year, and it’s been a great choice! I made chocolate covered strawberries, and we had smoked salmon, salami, cheese, crackers and a gluten free baguette with oil and vinegar. We, of course, had our date outside on the patio since it was in the 70s still at 5pm, and Molly sat in her exersaucer next to the table.

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Saturday, we planned a little day date to Napa (with Molly). It was a glorious 75 degrees out. We went to Grgich Hills Estate for a wine and chocolate tasting they had set up for the weekend. It was fun to try some of the wines paired with chocolates we would never think to serve together. We’re also members there, and their wines never disappoint. They’re affordable, organic and the winery has a great atmosphere.

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After Grgich, we headed to Alpha Omega, where they apparently comp tasting for military members. Alpha Omega has really great red wines, though slightly pricier at $80+ per bottle. We enjoyed tasting on the patio by the fountain.  Molly enjoyed the fountain while attempting to steal our wine glasses. Also, baby sunglasses? THE BEST. We rounded out the day at Black Stallion, which has free tastings for military as well, so basically we tasted $185 of wine for free on Saturday. And that my friends is how you afford Napa ha. Truly, it was unintentional. We wanted to try the wineries, and we always check if they offer a military discount as we’re paying, just in case. It’s definitely not a determining factor in picking where we’ll taste.

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Side note: We got a few dirty glares from people about Molly, and we got a lot of “how cute” accompanied by smiles. All the wineries we went to are “family friendly” (and Alpha Omega is actually dog friendly!! Walter is coming next time). But, I know some people think you can’t/shouldn’t take your kid to a winery. Our theory is A) She’s well behaved and quiet. B) If she’s not, we leave immediately as to not disrupt the experience for others. (This is key) C) We make sure we’re going to places that are family friendly. D) We think taking her to wineries now will help her understand what is and isn’t appropriate behavior/volume level in public places and will help her develop into a polite, well behaved kid. I know not everyone will agree with that, but I don’t agree with not living because you have a kid. And, we’re not dumb enough to take her to the movies or somewhere else equally inappropriate.

Immaculate Gluten Free Double Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

Maybe this is just me, but when it comes to trying new gluten free baking mixes, I’m skeptical, hesitant and nervous. Perhaps it’s that they typically cost $5 for a box, and I haven’t always had the best luck. I tend to stick to mixes I know turn out well to spare myself from disappointment.

1-2-3 Gluten Free is still my absolute favorite brand for yellow cake mix and pound cake mix. Bob’s Red Mill seems to make the best gluten free pizza crust mix. Cup-4-Cup seems to be the best substitute in non-gluten free recipes. Cookies? Still undecided. I’ve had some good cookie mixes here and there, but I’ve never been so persuaded to label something as “the best” in my book. I like to keep my cookie options open. Plus, cookies aren’t really my thing. I’d pick cake over a cookie any day. And brownies over a cookie any day.

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To get to the point here, when I saw the Immaculate brand double chocolate chip cookie mix, I was interested. They sounded sort of like brownies, and Immaculate’s refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough is pretty fabulous. So, I bought them and figured worst case scenario I’d waste some money.

They ended up being delicious! I thought I’d share so anybody else who is gluten free knows these don’t taste like cardboard. They remind me of brownies, soft on the inside with a little bit of crunch on the edges. It’s like the best of both worlds in terms of brownies. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m conflicted when it comes to brownies. I mean, the center ones? So soft and gooey. But, I just don’t know that you can beat the crunch of the corner pieces.

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The mix is sold at Target. I found it at our commissary as well. But let’s all just remember that a cookie is still a cookie. Despite it being gluten free, it’s not healthy.

Any gluten free baking mixes I should know about?

PS Immaculate has no idea who I am. I just like cookies and thought I’d share a successful cookie mix!

Favorite Baby Feeding Supplies

I always planned to make baby food once we had a kid. I just like knowing what goes into the food our baby eats, and I knew we’d save a lot of money if I made food because we want to feed her organic as often as we can. So, I thought I’d share some of our favorite items for feeding Molly.

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Beaba 1st State Spoons: ($20) We started with these spoons because they are soft, flexible silicone. We thought they’d be less intrusive than hard plastic while we were trying to get her used to the idea of eating food. She did really well with these until we transitioned her to a harder plastic spoon. I honestly think she took to eating so easily because these spoons.

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Beaba 2nd Stage Spoons: ($7) We partly went for these because the idea of metal on teeth (she’s got 2 little guys on the bottom) sort of made me cringe really hard. I figured a little longer with plastic was a good idea for her to get used to/biting plastic hurts less than metal. She does great with these spoons. They’re a little deeper than the 1st stage spoons, so it helps feed her faster (because some days she wants the food right now, mom, right now!) She can hold these better because of the short, fat handle too.

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Beaba Freezer Trays: ($20) We have two of these for freezing the foods I make. I usually fill them about half way when I make food because I know that’s closer to the portion she’ll eat than a full one. Each pod is 2 oz.

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Vitamix 750: ($649) Sully got me this for our anniversary/my birthday 2 years ago when he was out to sea for both. To quote him “And you can make baby food.” So he bought it knowing I’d use it for a lot of things. Honestly, this this is magic. First, it has a clean setting. It cleans itself. Magic. But, essentially, you just put the cooked fruits or veggies with a tiny bit of water in and turn it up to 10 for a few seconds and you’re golden. But, really you just need something that will finely blend food. You want your baby food to be very smooth until they can swallow bigger pieces.

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Multipot with Steamer Basket: ($100) Basically you just need a steamer basket, not specifically this pot. I really do love this line of pots and pans though. Ours have held up really nicely. To maintain the nutritional qualities of foods you’re making, you really want to steam or bake anything you can without anything added. If you cook something in water, you should use the water used to cook it in the food, as nutrients will have leached out into the water.

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Happy Bellies Organic Oat Cereal: ($3.50 at Target) We chose to start with oat after hearing about arsenic in rice cereal. While the AAP basically says rice cereal is still fine, I felt more comfortable doing oat cereal. You just want to start with single grain cereal and mix it with breastmilk or formula. And, the reason you start with cereal is because exclusively breastfed babies’ iron stores are depleted by 6 months, so you need iron fortified cereal to replenish those levels. DHA is great for brain development.

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Libbey Glass Bowls with Lids: ($13) We wanted something glass to reheat any of the foods we make for Molly that are frozen because chemicals leach out of plastic when it is heated. These are great because they have lids. We typically defrost the food in one of these and then serve her out of another one so we can have half for the next feeding without contaminating it with saliva/germs.

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Evenflo ModTot High Chair: ($80) We got this for $60 right around Christmas. My main requirement for a high chair was easy to clean. So, that eliminated basically everything with fabric. This folds up relatively small. It’s slightly difficult to move, but we don’t move it often. We also liked how high it is because we have a pub height table. Molly fits in it well, and she’ll continue to fit in it for a lot longer. It has great back support, which was particularly helpful when she couldn’t quite support herself at first.

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Pulled Pork Nachos & Patio Furniture

Last night, we sat on our patio and enjoyed pulled pork nachos off of the outdoor new coffee table Sully built. In shorts. In February. At 5 pm. I could really get used to California winter. It’s sort of the most glorious thing ever. Our highs have been in the mid 60s, though last week it was 77 one day.

Since we have such glorious weather and Sully has way more free time, I tasked him with building some patio furniture. He’s been interested in building furniture, but never had time in Washington. We found some plans online, and he’s been working on furniture for the past few days. So far, the coffee table is done, and the chairs are in progress in our garage. He bought red cedar, and it smells glorious. It’ll age well and is supposed to survive outside nicely. I’ll share the full set when it’s done with details on the plans.

Here’s his table: table

But, let’s be serious and admit that you’re really here for the pulled pork nachos. I have no shame in admitting that I usually skip straight to the food pictures and recipe. I don’t judge you for doing the same.

We had pulled pork nachos as Lagunitas Brewing Company the first time we went. Then, we went back when my sister and her husband visited at Christmas, and, basically, I only agreed to go for the nachos. That whole brewery + gluten allergy thing really doesn’t work out in my favor, especially because I actually enjoy beer. Oddly enough, breweries usually have an exceptional gluten free menu. Perhaps because they know what gluten is? Anyway, I had to recreate these at home because Lagunitas is an hour and a half away…and I need nachos. Now.

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Pulled Pork Nachos

  • 2 cups pulled pork (more is also totally acceptable in our house)
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 oz can of sliced black olives
  • 2 oz jarred jalapeños

Layer half of chips on an oven safe dish. Top with half the cheese, half the pork, half the olives and half the jalapeños. Broil at 450 until the cheese is melted. Lightly drizzle half the barbecue sauce and half the sour cream over top. Then, layer the rest of the chips, cheese, pork, olive and jalapeños and broil at 450 until the cheese is melted. Drizzle the rest of the barbecue sauce and sour cream over top and enjoy!

“All Natural” and Other Food Marketing Terms

There are a lot of hot words and phrases in food marketing.

No sugar added. Gluten Free. Vegan. No artificial sweeteners. All Natural. Organic. Low fat. 

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But, a lot of people really don’t know what they mean. There’s a grey area in food marketing where terms aren’t defined, nor are they regulated. All Natural is the best example of this. What does “all natural” mean? To me, it should mean grown from the earth with no added ingredients and not genetically modified.

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Organic: Made/grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizer. Organic foods also cannot be genetically modified. BUT, “Organic” actually only means made with 95% organic material. This applies to “organic” crackers, cereal, etc. An “organic” apple is 100% organic. Organic produce will start with a 9. For example, bananas are 4011 and organic bananas are 94011. These items may include the USDA organic seal.

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100% Organic: This is definitely not genetically modified. The food product only has organic ingredients, as opposed to an “organic” food that has 95% organic ingredients. These items may contain the USDA seal.

Made with Organic Ingredients: Not genetically modified. Must be at least 70% organic ingredients (but less than 95% or it would be “organic”), and up to 30% can be conventional ingredients. It should be noted that products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list the organic ingredients, but may not use the term “made with organic ingredients.” These items cannot display the USDA seal. Here’s a good resource from the USDA that explains organic labeling.

All Natural or 100% Natural: This has NO MEANING. The USDA (regulates meat, poultry and eggs) does not define this term. The FDA does not define this term. There is no regulation over the use of this term by food companies. Essentially, you might as well slap it on all foods.

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Gluten Free: As of August 2013, all foods labeled “gluten free” must meet FDA guidelines. This includes being under 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Only foods that are naturally gluten free or do not contain a gluten containing ingredient may be labeled gluten free. This does make it safer for consumers who must eat gluten free.

Natural Sweetener: This often includes things like Stevia products. I personally wouldn’t put that in my “natural” category, but again natural isn’t a term defined by the USDA or FDA. Mayo Clinic has a great chart showing the different types of sweeteners and categories of sweeteners.

Artifical Sweetener: These are the ones you typically think of. Apsartame, Saccharin, Sucralose (Sweet’N Low, Equal, etc.)

Non-GMO: These items are not genetically modified. Genetic modification uses biotechnology to change the genes of a plant. Call me crazy, but this reminds me of stem cell research. And when you think farmer, you tend to think conservative old man (just me?), so they’re OK with playing God with food, but not with things that could cure cancer. Riddle me that. I don’t like GMO, if you hadn’t noticed. If you want to avoid GMO foods, but non-GMO food or organics. Organic foods cannot be genetically modified!

Low Sodium: To be labeled low sodium, a food must have less than 5% of the Daily Value (DV) of sodium. The DV for sodium is no more than 2400 mg (meaning eat no more than 2400 mg of sodium a day). So, to be considered a low sodium food, it must be less than 120 mg of sodium per serving. However, pay attention to what is considered a serving. It might be a lot less of something than you think.

Low Fat: 3 grams or less of fat per serving.

Here’s some information from the USDA on labeling

Here’s a great article from eatright.org, the dietetic association’s website, on some other terms on labels such as low cholesterol, high fiber and fat free (which doesn’t always mean totally free of fat).

Here’s another great resource from cancer.org that explains food terms like free, low, high in, lean, light, etc.

Side note: Genetic modification is a post for another day. A large GMO seed provider, which has threatened to sue states that try to label GMOs on food, has a lot of ads in magazines geared toward the food shopper of the house that basically claim there won’t be enough food by 2050, but organic crops (non-GMO) actually have a better yield long term. OMG GMO is a great documentary that discusses GMOs and sustainability, as well as food supply in terms of longevity. I have a hard time trusting that GMO foods, which have been around for less than 30 years, are just safe with no long term consequences.