I. You. We Are Worth It!

“Respect your body. Eat well. Dance forever.”
― Eliza Gaynor Minden 

My nine-year-old step daughter Avalon never walks. She prances, glides, and pirouettes. Even when she runs, Avalon has the grace of a gazelle. Her little brother is her best pupil and she teaches him all of her latest dances. His jazz hands are exquisite!  😉

One of the best family purchases that we have recently made is a Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speaker (in the color red – of course). The sound quality is wonderful and it gives great ambiance to our family dinners. It is portable and easily moves room-to-room and this summer it will help with yard work and give spirit to our time in the pool and hot tub. Plus, it helps us MOVE MORE by dancing! In recent days Avie has taught me a couple of her dances and while it results in an uproar of laughter,  it is also helping me reach my step goals on my new Fit Bit Flex. The idea of spending hours at the gym on a treadmill or elliptical makes me shudder. But dancing with my step kids? Sign me up!

Can you see that dot of hot pink? Yep, that's Avalon. Watch...her...go! I think that she's my new personal trainer. She'll be shouting out cadences to me in no time!

Can you see that dot of hot pink? Yep, that’s Avalon. Watch…her…go!
I think that she’s my new personal trainer. She’ll be shouting out cadences to me in no time!

Buying a new activity monitor was a huge step for me. For months I have been grumbling about my lack of energy and the weight that crept on this winter. Now all that I can say is why did I not purchase one sooner? Last night my Fit Bit encouraged me to walk two miles after dinner so I could reach my step goal when before I would have had a hot cup of tea and relaxed. I have been using it to track my calories and water, and I will also be logging my weight every Sunday morning.

When I purchased my fitbit I made sure that I purchased a few extra bright colored bands. A girl must be fashionable too. ;)

When I purchased my fitbit I made sure that I purchased a few extra bright colored bands. A girl must be fashionable too. 😉

Speaking of weight – with reluctance I finally took the plunge and stepped on the scale. I really did not want to because I tend to get a tad bit obsessed by the number. However, I felt that it was time to be honest with myself and I need to have a measurable goal to stay accountable. I was semi-correct in my last post when I said I could tell from the way that my clothes fit that I had put on around fifteen pounds. Sadly, it is closer to twenty. The good news is that after a strong week of sticking to my healthy goals – I was able to take off 2.4 pounds. What a feeling of empowerment after many false starts and stops in the last few months. .

While I am a teacher and am fortunate that I have the ability to be on my feet and am able to walk around my classroom for most of the day, I have gotten out of my habit of walking during lunch and making sure that I move more during the day. That is an added benefit of my Fitbit since it encourages me to move at least 250 steps each hour (from 9-5). This means that I will definitely be walking during my lunch time and I will be taking a lap around the hallways in between classes (which serves double-duty since it is also a great way to monitor hallway activity). In the past it was all of these small little changes that helped me take weight off, and most importantly, keep it off (which I am determined to do again).

For the month of May I am building on the April goals that I shared a couple of posts ago. I am raising my water goal to 64 ounces a day, will continue to be moderate in my intake of starchy carbs, increase my consumption of vegetables, and I am replacing the 30 minutes of activity with 10,000 steps a day.

As far as exercise goes, I really do not have a viable excuse. The property on which we call home is stunningly beautiful and my Fitbit helped me compute that three times around our pasture is a mile. Not to mention that our four dogs guarantee that I have the best walking buddies around. Remi our German Shepherd does not let me out of his sight. ❤

Remi, Ollie, Louie, and Gracie help keep me motivated.

Remi, Ollie, Louie, and Gracie help keep me motivated. I will never tire of the view of our backyard/pasture.

I love to watch the world outside my door wake up.

I love to watch the world outside my door wake up.

The fresh air is intoxicating. I LOVE SPRING!

The fresh air is intoxicating. I LOVE SPRING!

In addition to the goals I already listed, I am also going to add breakfast into my routine. While I love green smoothies and believe in the power of breakfast – I do not always make time to do so for myself in the morning. I do a great job taking care of the others in my household, but I often put myself last.

Produce with Amy May Goals

I decided that I needed something different for breakfast and I found that our local Target now carries Vega plant-based protein powders and shake mixes. I bought the Vega Essentials vanilla shake mix and this morning threw it into my Vitamix with almond milk, frozen banana, spinach, pumpkin, and cinnamon. It was exactly what I needed and I cannot wait to create other flavor creations with what I have in the house. If you are looking for smoothie recipes, check out my smoothie tab.

I love the burst of plant-based Vegan protein this mix gives me.

I love the burst of plant-based Vegan protein this mix gives me.

In my last post I shared how a couple of weeks ago I had my eyes checked and found myself getting fitted bifocals (difficult to stomach since I have never needed glasses before). My husband picked out the frames for me because I could not even look at myself in the mirror. I do not have to wear them all of the time but they are starting to grow on me. So much that I am already thinking of what I want my second pair to look like. 😉 As several of my friends pointed out, glasses can be a cute accessory (and the fact that my husband and I each have vision insurance is a wonderful benefit).

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I am thankful that each day (each hour, each meal etc.) gives us the opportunity for a fresh start. While I could beat myself up for putting my exercise on hold and not making myself a priority – the strides that I have made in the past few weeks is the empowerment that I need to set and meet healthy goals. Last year I made a couple huge lifestyle changes – not only did I marry an incredible man but I also became a step mom and started a new degree program at Northern Michigan University. While I am familiar with life in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I now live many miles away from town and (much to the surprise of my friends and family) I am adapting to “farm life”. As I learn how to mesh my healthy goals with a hectic lifestyle, I know that I will learn many important things on the way.

Speaking of my new lifestyle. If you have been following my farm activities, check out how BIG our ducks have gotten! They certainly are not babies anymore. Neither is Lukas! I cannot believe how much he has grown up since fall. His reading is soaring (thank you Mr. Sandell) and his two front teeth are starting to emerge.

Lukas and Daphne.

Lukas and Daphne.

I cannot believe how much Lukas has grown too! ❤

Thank you for being part of my healthy community. I would love to hear the goals that you are setting for yourself. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed small goals are a great way to achieve success. When we feel successful, it helps to create a snowball effect and we can build on our goals as we go. If you are not moving now, ten or fifteen minutes a day is over an hour of activity a week. Add in a couple of servings of fruit and vegetables a day, make sure you are hydrating yourself with plenty of water, and do not make the mistake of putting yourself last. We are worth it!

 

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Avalon’s Farm Fresh Crepes with Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce

Crepes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce by Produce with Amy“Eating habits are learned behaviors; they’re not intuitive. So what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood.”
-Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes
The trees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have taken on an ethereal glow and the school year has kicked into gear. It was Homecoming last week, at the district in which I teach, and my step kids Avalon and Lukas dressed up each day for Spirit Week. They were excited that their Grandpa Waldo came to visit and we went to the football game. Since I am the co-adviser for the junior class, John and I chaperoned the Homecoming dance. While I thoroughly enjoyed my summer holiday, it feels great to be back to my work routine. I have an incredible group of 9th and 8th grade students this year and I am also working on an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University (the program is a precursor to a Doctorate in Education – EdD). I am fortunate that my life is rich with opportunities and my heart is full of love and thankfulness.

The most precious gold

Some people drive miles to take a color tour and we just have to venture into the many acres that make  up our backyard.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was "Represent Your Favorite Sport" and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was “Represent Your Favorite Sport” and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

The kids have made a remarkable transition to a new school. They both adore their teachers, are thriving with an early bedtime (8-8:30), have made new friends, and are progressing well in their studies. Avalon was excited about having her first locker – and I confess that I may have gone a little overboard on buying her locker swag – but it was worth it to see how excited she was. I know that my mom would have done this for me when I was a little girl too – if they would have had cool locker accessories back then. 😉

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

Check out the size of Avalon's locker!

Check out the size of Avalon’s locker!

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

John and I work hard to create structure and we focus on quality family time. We try to prepare homemade meals (with many ingredients that we raise ourselves on our hobby farm) and we eat around the table as a family. This time is precious in the stories and laughs we share and in the values and manners we are trying to instill in Avalon and Lukas. Avalon often goes grocery shopping with me and enjoys the time we share in the kitchen. As a parent I feel it is my responsibility to teach her how to take care of herself, inside and out, and as Lukas gets older I hope he takes interest in learning his way around the kitchen as well.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

After attending the elementary school Open House, Avalon decided that she wants to earn a perfect attendance award. Therefore, I have been talking to the kids about staying healthy during the cold and flu season. Since we live in Michigan, winters are fierce and I believe in fortifying one’s immune system with whole foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and water. I admit that getting my family on board with healthy food has been a bit of a struggle but we have had many conversations about the difference between a snack (small portion of a healthy food) and a treat (sweets/dessert). I think that the key is balance and moderation – both of which I am working on encouraging in the coming months.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

It was a victory last week when Avalon requested raw veggies for her school snack. Granted, it may have been short lived – and the vegetables may have found their way into my lunch bag – but I believe firmly that baby steps build up to big things.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and LOVE them.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and they LOVE them.

The kids were with us all but three weeks this summer and we tried to take full advantage of the beautiful weather by swimming and playing outside. We dined al fresco as much as possible and I tried to make breakfasts special. Since we have free range hens, farm fresh fresh eggs are never in short supply so we often add them to our plates. (We also pay Avalon’s incredible math tutor LeeLa Heinzel with fresh eggs…how lucky we are to have her brilliant help.)

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

Avalon and I talk about places we would love to travel. While adventures in Italy and Greece are at the top of my list, Avalon often dreams about France. She read a book this spring about a little girl who travels to France and the beautiful, romantic description went straight to her heart. Therefore, I thought that crepes would be the perfect dish for Avalon to create and help her explore her culinary skills – and I was correct. The final product was marvelous and fit for a princess (and prince).

Crepes by Produce with Amy

Avalon wanted to include her pretty tea set into this post. John bought it for her when he was working in Texas for the Air Force. What a precious keepsake for her to cherish.

Here is how we created this marvelous dish:

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

CREPES:

We used the Basic Crepes Recipe by Martha Stewart. We had 2% milk, so we substituted that for the whole milk and added a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

We processed the batter in our Vitamix blender and made sure to let it rest in the refrigerator (we let ours sit for approximately 1/2 an hour and not the two hours that the recipe suggests).

Nutella is one of Avalon's favorite spreads.

Nutella is one of Avalon’s favorite spreads.

In spite of how thin the crepes are, they are surprisingly easy to handle and we were able to spread them with nutella and roll them up.

Add a couple of teaspoons of the yogurt sauce over the top of the crepes, dollops of whipped cream, and a few caramelized pecans. Serve with sliced fruit on the side.

 

 

 

 

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

FILLING:
*Nutella hazelnut spread (a teaspoon – or more – per crepe)IMG_3898

TOPPING:
*Fold 1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries into 1 cup of Honey Vanilla Greek Gods Yogurt (If you eat yogurt you HAVE to try the Greek Gods brands. My family chooses it over ice cream. Lukas and Avalon LOVE the black cherry flavor)
*After adding the yogurt berry sauce garnish with a couple dollops of whipped cream
*Sprinkle on a handful of caramelized pecans 

CARAMELIZED PECANS
*1 Tablespoon of butter

*1 Tablespoon of brown sugar 
–per 1/2 Cup of pecans–
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg

Melt butter and add sugar along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon (depending on how many pecans you are using. I usually make a large batch of pecans (4-5 cups) so I add a couple teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg). Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the pecans and stir to coat.

Spread the pecans out on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool. The nuts are indulgent and delicious and a few go a long way.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Pin this recipe HERE.

One of the beautiful things about crepes is that they are versatile. They can be a main course or serve as dessert and can be made sweet or savory (it is easy to make both to satisfy different tastes). One morning this summer Avalon and I divided the batter into two portions. We added fresh snipped chives from our garden to one batch and filled with ham and cheese for Lukas. The other batch we added cinnamon and vanilla extract and filled with fruit and drizzled with syrup for her. Lukas tends to be a purist when it comes to food and does not like extravagant flavors or condiments (not even ketchup) and Avalon is a little more experimental with flavors (and I think ketchup is her favorite food). As time progresses I hope that they both continue to try new things and I find that when they help prepare a meal – they are better eaters.

Princess Avalon

Princess Avalon

This recipe is Lukas approved! Look at the smear of Nutella on his face. :D

This recipe is Lukas approved!

I hope that you have access to farm fresh eggs like we do. If you do not raise your own hens, make sure that you support a local farmer. I never thought that I would have chickens, but as my friends and family would tell you, I have grown quite fond of them. They are sweet, gentle, and love to roam all over the farm. They have been feasting on the sweet apples that fall from our orchard and they wildly chase me to the compost pile to see what treats are in store for them.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Thank you to my friends for following my food journey and for the nuggets of advice and support that you give me. Your congratulations on our marriage and well wishes in my new role of being a mom and owning a hobby farm mean so much. My hope is that future posts will share gardening and canning tips as John and I follow our dream of growing more of our own food. It is exciting to have the opportunity to live in such a gorgeous place with plenty of land to plant, dream, and satisfy my passion for photography. I promise to keep sharing. Make sure you check out my Facebook page and Instagram (links on the upper right side of the page).

What delicious dishes are you preparing in your kitchen? How do you encourage your family to eat healthy? Have you tried any of my recipes? Avalon and I would love to hear from you!

For more kid friendly recipes, check out Avalon’s Kid Friendly Recipes

Our Vitamix really comes in handy.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.


Tea set

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We have been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to John's masculine cabin. Thankfully he loves the look of bright colors and my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the cabin needed a feminine touch.

John has been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to the cabin since it’s quite masculine. Thankfully, he loves the splash of bright colors that is inspired by my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the house needed a woman’s touch.

 

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little "crazy" but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her!

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little “crazy” but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her and thankful that I get to be such an important part of her life!

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Zucchini Noodle Soup

“Happiness must be grown in one’s own garden. ” 
― Mary Engelbreit

Zucchini Noodle Soup by Produce with AmyThe topic of last week’s Weight Watchers meeting was one after my own heart — “The Power of Produce”. My mom always tells me that she knew when I was growing up that I would become a vegetarian one day, because fruit and vegetables were always my first choice when it came to snacks and meals. However, I admit that when I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 – my methods of cooking vegetables were not always the healthiest. Long periods of time would pass without fresh produce in our house. Life was busy and my husband Mike and I would often go on a large grocery run once or twice a month. This resulted in limited options when fresh supplies ran low. Not to mention the obscene amount of produce that was tossed out because we did not make fruit and vegetables a priority like we do now. Currently I make at least one grocery trip a week (sometimes 2 or 3) and my cart is always full of fresh and frozen produce.

Last week at my WW meetings we discussed how bulking up meals with fruit and vegetables not only helps you stay full (due to the fiber, water, vitamin, and mineral content in produce) but it also has a psychological impact by visually making your plate look full. When I joined WW, I found that adding a side of raw carrots and celery to a sandwich made me feel more satisfied and did not make me feel deprived. Before I joined WW my husband and I always had rice, pasta, or potatoes as a side to dinner entrees and when I learned about the Points system, I started preparing 0 Points Plus vegetables instead.

Last summer I purchased a Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer to make vegetable noodles. While I am not a fan of kitchen gadgets, this is one that I recommend.

Last week at my Monday night meeting, my friend Wendy, shared that she bought a Veggetti. She said that her sister makes zucchini noodles daily and that she makes them into a soup with broth. What a great idea! While most of my soup recipes make 10-12 cups of soup (I like to have extra to freeze) in a post from the winter of 2013, I shared how I am known to assemble a bowl of spontaneous soup. After hearing about Wendy’s sister, I decided that I would make a bowl of Zucchini Noodle Soup.

Yesterday was the perfect day for healthy comfort food. I subbed a WW meeting in the morning and when I left the house it was 49 degrees. Spotty rain and gray skies made it a day of napping with our cats, taking a hot bath, reading, and soup. From start to finish this bowl of soup took fifteen minutes at most (including gathering and prepping the ingredients). I did not purchase special ingredients but selected what I had on hand.

ZUCCHINI NOODLE SOUP

  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup of spiralized zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
  • 5 fresh pea pods 
  • 3 thin slices of leek
  • 3 mushrooms sliced
  • 1 clove of finely minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped, fresh chives
  • 1/2 carrot peeled and chopped
I bought this chili sauce from Target. I love its heat - but be careful because it's spicy!

I bought this chili sauce from Target. I love its heat – but be careful because it’s spicy!

  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup of chopped, fresh tomato
  • 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro (if you do not like cilantro parsley works well)
  • Splash of soy sauce
  • Splash of rice vinegar

Saute the onion, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, carrots in the coconut oil for 3-4 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth, pea pods, tomatoes, and chili sauce.

Bring to a boil.

Add the zucchini and remove from the heat (I wanted the zucchini to be al dente).

Ladle into a bowl and add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and garnish with the cilantro.

Thank you to Wendy for the great idea of making Zucchini Noodle Soup! This week I am going to make a bowl each day for lunch or to eat with dinner.

Tonight I am planning to make an Italian version with the following ingredients:
Broth, zucchini noodles, onion, garlic, celery, fresh herbs from my garden (basil, oregano, and chives), 3 Tablespoons of marinara sauce (leftover in the refrigerator), mushrooms,  and red bell pepper.

I am also imagining a curry inspired soup with:
Broth, zucchini noodles, garlic, onion, 3 Tablespoons of light coconut milk (I have some in the freezer), sweet potato, chopped tomato, fresh ginger root, curry powder (to taste), a squeeze of lime juice, and fresh cilantro.

How about a Mexican inspired soup?:
Broth, zucchini noodles, garlic, onion, homemade taco seasoning, tomatoes, bell pepper, black beans, and top with fresh cilantro and cubed avocado.

Or a refreshing lemon dill:
Broth, zucchini noodles, garlic, onion, celery, fennel, fresh lemon juice and zest, spinach, and loads of fresh dill.

A lovely garden pea and mint:
Broth, zucchini noodles, garlic, onion, fresh garden peas (you could puree or leave whole), and fresh mint.

This month I celebrate my seventh anniversary of reaching Lifetime status with Weight Watchers and I believe in the power of produce. I also believe in the power of a well stocked refrigerator, pantry, and fruit and vegetables bowls on the counter. Let your imagination and what you have on hand be your guide. If you make a spontaneous bowl of soup I would love to hear the combination that you create. Social networking allows us the opportunity to learn, share, and grow in healthy ideas together.

Please make sure to stop by my Facebook Page and give it a “like” and sign up for email updates of my posts. Follow me on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

If you want other soup ideas make sure you check out my Soup tab at the top of the page. .
In the next week I will be sharing my recipe for a raw zucchini noodle dish that features a lemon basil pesto and my favorite cold green soup (think savory green smoothie in a bowl).

Thank you for your comments, feedback, and support. As Produce with Amy nears the milestone of 100,000 views – I am thrilled and humbled.  I  feel thankful that there has been so much interest in my recipes. I love sharing my creativity and passion for healthy food. Thank you!

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Flowers from my garden.

Flowers from my garden.

 

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal“I stand holding the apple in both hands. It feels precious, like a heavy treasure. I lift it up and smell it. It has such an odour of outdoors on it I want to cry.” 
― Margaret AtwoodApplesOne of my favorite parts of fall is the selection of apples at the market. Since childhood I have had an affinity for crisp, tart, green apples. Some of my fondest memories stem from my best friend Kim’s front yard in Crystal Falls where several apple trees grew. Kim, the daredevil that she was, would scale the tree for the largest fruit for our feast. Of course, this sampling of apples always involved a salt shaker. Yes, there is nothing like the combination of sour apples with salt! 🙂

Last week I made a large Crock-pot of slow cooked apples and they were a marvelous treat to eat during the week. They turned out like a sweet and tart applesauce and I warmed them before eating. I can only imagine how good they would be with a large dollop of ice cream on top. The recipe that I came up with rendered eight cups so I was able to freeze quite a number of servings to enjoy over the next few weeks.

My recipe goes very light on the oatmeal so if you want to enjoy this recipe for breakfast you may want to add extra oatmeal and liquid (or you could leave out the oatmeal and mix the fruity deliciousness into a bowl of oatmeal). When I joined Weight Watchers I ate oatmeal every morning for the first few years and I think that I burnt myself out of oats. However, on occasion I do sometimes still enjoy a bowl. This recipe may just make me a fan of oatmeal again.

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealCranberriesSWEET & TART SLOW COOKER APPLES WITH CRANBERRIES, PUMPKIN, AND OATMEAL
*Printable shopping list and recipe below

  • 12 ounce bag of cranberries
  • 9 apples (I used five green and four red. The apples that I used were small)
  • 2 cups of oatmeal (I used old-fashioned oats but a lot of crock pot oatmeal recipes call for steel-cut oats)
  • 2 cups of milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar (you could 8substitute your favorite sweetener such as honey and maple sugar)
  • Zest and juice from one orange
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 ounces of raisins (next time I would probably leave the raisins out since they fell apart and I would add before serving)

Add all the ingredients to slow cooker and cook on high for 5 hours. As I said earlier, the texture was very much like applesauce. If you want the apples more firm you could cook for a shorter time period.

Printable shopping list and recipe: Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal
You cannot go wrong with seasonal ingredients. A couple hours in and the fragrance is intoxicating. Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealThis time of year I think it is important to come up with healthy versions of comfort food and this recipe really does the trick. While I am not a big fan of kitchen gadgets, one item that I do recommend is an apple slicer and corer. My mom bought this one for me a few years ago and it is essential for recipes that contain apples.
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Do not forgot to serve your apples in a pretty dish. Presentation can make all the difference.

Do not forgot to serve your apples in a pretty dish. Presentation can make all the difference.

Sweet Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealMike and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family and it felt spectacular to relax before the hustle-and-bustle of December. On Thanksgiving morning, before heading out-of-town, we were treated with a visit from some feathered friends. A group of cardinals (over seven) have taken residence in the large cedars in our backyard.

A friend shared that in recent years flocks of cardinals have moved into our northern location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The cardinals were joined by a huge flock of pigeons, chickadees, black birds, and a lone and brilliant blue jay. We were delighted to realize this morning that the cardinals were still in our backyard and we will continue to replenish our feeders with seed this winter. I could not help but be reminded by one of my favorite quotes by Louise Glück, “It’s a mistake to think of them as birds, they are so often messengers.” My friend Ann said that cardinals symbolize health, strength and vitality and Mike and I believe that they are helping usher in positive energy for 2014.

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Speaking a positive and healthy New Year, did you start the December Green Smoothie Challenge today? If not, it is not to late to join. Mid-week I will be posting a shopping list and recipes for Week #2. If you decide to make this recipe, buy an extra-large can of pumpkin because the second week’s recipes will contain pumpkin.

Here is a photo of Sunday Energizer smoothie that I enjoyed this morning. I love the zing that the fresh ginger brings to my glass.

Day #1 Sunday Energizer

Pin this recipe here.

You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page and join the healthy conversation.

In January I will be celebrating the one year anniversary of launching my blog and I am so thankful for all the support of my readers. I love shopping in the grocery store and having someone say, “hey, I really love your recipes and your blog.” It is hard to believe that last year at this time I was nervous about putting myself out there and I wondered if people would be interested in what I had to say. Thank you for making 2013 so full of light and I am excited to continue sharing this healthy journey with others!

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal Appreciation

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.”
― Deepak Chopra

In two weeks I celebrate my seven-year anniversary of walking through the doors of the Weight Watchers center in Marquette, Michigan to become a member. I shared the story of my journey in a post on my birthday in June (click here to read).

Daily, I think about how thankful I am to have embraced a healthy lifestyle and to be given the opportunity to be a Weight Watchers leader and help others maximize their health and find success in weight management.

When I started Produce with Amy I was nervous and unsure if anyone would even read my posts. I am grateful for the continued support and messages that I receive from those who are following my blog and those who stumble on my Facebook page or find my recipes on Pinterest. If you are reading this now I would like to thank you! While writing helps keep me accountable to my own goals, I love the way the Internet can erase the miles and that my posts from the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan can reach people across the country and across the globe. I am constantly using my blog as an authentic and real world example of writing with my high school students. It makes me giggle when they roll their eyes and tell me, “Mrs. Laitinen, my mom reads your blog and last night we had green smoothies.” How cool is that?

There's my name. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame! :)

There’s my name on the very bottom. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame. 🙂 Thank you, Florine!

In July, I was THRILLED to be contacted by Weight Watchers Marketing Manager, Donna DeMarco, to see if I would be interested in writing an article for the THINLINE publication. THINLINE is given out at all of the meetings within our WW franchise. (Read my piece on page 24 entitled Inner Spark.) Ms. DeMarco said that both her and Florine Mark are fans of my blog. I cannot think of a bigger compliment and I am so thankful.

Earlier today I shared my recipe for an exotic and elegant, Fruited Chia Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette. I am equally excited to share a more classic salad and dressing recipe that I know will be a big hit with many because what is better than a Greek salad? I have never been to Greece but it is a destination that occupies the top of my bucket list. Even though my heritage is mainly of Finnish and Swedish descent, I am asked often if I am Greek.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette Greek Vinaigrette DressingGREEK VINAIGRETTE DRESSING13

  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard (I have also used spicy brown mustard)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon red onion (you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Blend well. When this dressing is blended, it does get frothy but will separate when stored in the refrigerator. It could also be mixed with a whisk if you want a more rustic texture.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteWhen making Mason Jar Salads  put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar.

MEDITERRANEAN MASON JAR SALADS
I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars. (I made six salads)

  • 3 Tablespoons of Greek Vinaigrette 
  • Sliced cucumber (I used two cucumbers)
  • Chopped green bell pepper (I used two peppers)
  • Beets (I love beets in Greek salad. I used my mom’s pickled beets but you could roast your own or buy them prepared in a can or jar)
  • Artichoke hearts (I bought them from the olive bar in our local grocery store. You can also buy them canned or in a jar)
  • Orzo pasta salad (recipe to follow)
  • Pepperoncini (I divided this jar between the salads ~ 4-5 peppers per jar)
  • Kalamata olives (I used 5 olives per jar)
  • Feta Cheese (even though I try to remain dairy-free I did end up putting 2 Tablespoons of feta in the salads.)
  • Chopped romaine lettuce

Orzo SaladORZO PASTA SALAD 

  • One cup of white beans
  • Two cups of cooked orzo pasta
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (I was still able to pick fresh tomatoes from my garden)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon each of fresh oregano, mint, and dill (if you are using dried you can use one teaspoon)
  • Handful of fresh parsley (you can substitute a couple teaspoons of dried)Orzo Pasta Salad
  • 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix well. This also serves as a great side or main dish. If serving on its own you can add olives, artichokes, peppers, feta cheese, and even chopped kale, spinach, or your favorite green.

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteSo far, for this school year, I have made a different kind of Mason Jar Salad each week. They stay fresh and are a great way to make sure you are getting a variety of fruit and vegetables into your meal plan. Many of my Weight Watchers members love them and say that the jarred salads inspire them to make more vibrant selections and that they end up throwing away less produce. The bottom line is that Mason jar salads can be better on our waistline and on our pocketbook. I hope you enjoy this recipe and if you try this salad, or any of my other recipes, please let me know. I wish you a healthy and energy packed week!

Click here to Pin this recipe on Pinterest.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salads anddressings. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette

Sunflowers from my garden.

Sunflowers from my garden.

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.” ~Amy Lowell

The first day of fall. Transition. We have arrived at the half-way point of September which makes me acutely aware that changes are coming. Even though I was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I am never ready for the cold weather to arrive. In the mornings our house has been chilly but Mike and I cling to our stubbornness and refuse to turn the furnace on. Mike uses the phrases my parents tossed around: put on a sweatercover up with a blanket, you can’t even see your breath yet!  Monday morning he met my whine with, Do some yoga, you’ll warm up! 

I have long said that living in the U.P. gives one bragging rights and not only do we dread the heat bill, but there seems to be an unofficial contest to see who can wait the longest to turn on the heat (I know from Facebook posts that some of my Yooper friends have already lost the contest). In the same spirit of endurance the flower boxes on the front of our house still brandish geraniums and last weekend I painted my toenails with plum nail polish since I refuse to put my sandals away.

Phoebe enjoys a joyful afternoon drive.

Our sweet Phoebe enjoys a joyful autumn afternoon ride.

As the weather cools, I know that I have to be mindful of my meals and come up with healthy versions of comfort food. While I would love to wax poetic about spiced pumpkin lattes and the cinnamon tinged aroma of baking apples, I know that for myself fall translates to food and exercise related challenges. Last weekend I searched through my Weight Watchers eTools account and took a peek at my weekly weigh-ins for the last few years during autumn. I found a trend. While I started out August strong, for the past three years during November (right around Thanksgiving) I stumbled with my weight management and gained a few pounds. While I do contribute this challenge to the hectic school year and lack of energy to workout (A.K.A. excuses), I know that the weather and my mood greatly contributes to this as well. Last January (2013) I started Produce with Amy as an extra incentive to get back on track. I started drinking a daily green smoothie, made time to work out, and tried my best to stay faithful to a plant-based meal plan. This year I am determined to keep my motivation high and focus on activity and making sure that I do not get into a food rut.

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salads

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salads

One thing that is really helping me stay on track with my weight management is making Mason jar salads on the weekend to bring to work for lunch during the week. I can fill a one quart jar with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, berries, grains, seeds, pasta, nuts, and protein. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh for up to a week and I only have to prep once for a week of lunches.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to conduct an experiment. I set a timer and prepped our lunches before bed. I made Mike’s sandwich, cut up and packaged vegetables for snacks, portioned out raw nuts, filled our water bottles, and blended up my two green smoothies (one for breakfast and one for my 1/2 hour commute home). I was shocked to see that this process took me twenty-three minutes. While I often use the excuse that I “do not have time for exercise” I decided that if I prep our lunches and make my smoothies before bed that I am making precious time in the morning for myself to workout.

This year I will embrace the cold weather induced transition into sweater dresses, tights, boots, and scarves, but I will NOT welcome wearing extra pounds this winter. Mason jar salads are helping me transition back into my full-time work schedule and I refuse to use a mountainous pile of grading, exhausting days of lecturing and managing large classroom rosters, and early mornings be an excuse to not stay committed to my weight management goals. I CAN and I WILL stay grounded, balanced, and committed to my healthy routines.

For my Mason Jar Salads this week I decided to take advantage of seasonal produce. I have witnessed tons of pumpkin and apple recipes posted on social networking sites so I decided to create my own healthy recipe. I thought that pumpkin would make a unique salad dressing and would give the salad a fall flair. 11 PUMPKIN VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing as you go)
  • 3/4 cup of pumpkin (I used canned but your own freshly baked or roasted would work as well)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest 
  • 3 green onions (you could use regular onion)
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger root 
  • 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could also use honey)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blend dressing until smooth. The combination of sweet, savory, tart, and spicy ingredients in this dressing really make a pleasing combination.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

When making Mason Jar Salads  put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

APPLE-A-DAY MASON JAR SALADS I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars. (I made five salads)

  • 3 Tablespoons of Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing (I also sprinkled a little extra raw apple cider vinegar on top of the vinaigrette since I like my dressing tart)
  • Carrots (I used four carrots)
  • Granny Smith apple wedges (2 apples)
  • Pink Lady apple wedges (or your favorite variety of red apple. I used two apples.)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds (you could use toasted pumpkin seeds. Sunflower seeds would work as well as nuts)
  • Dried cranberries
  • Chopped green onions (I used both the white and the green part of the onion.)
  • Chopped cabbage (cabbage works well in Mason jar salads and it stays crunchy and fresh. I used green cabbage but purple would be a colorful and healthy too)
  • Romaine lettuce

Thinly sliced fennel would be excellent in this salad as well as pears. Pin the recipe here.

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

I have been bringing Mason Jar Salads to work each day and they help fuel me through a busy day. In the past I have struggled with the temptation of working through lunch and I am finding that these salads are so satisfying and delicious that I look forward to making time to sit down and eat. The abundance of nutrients in the fruit and vegetables will help boost my immune system during the cold and flu season.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my salad tab.You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing.

 

Garden Fiesta Mason Jar Salad

Yesterday I harvested tomatoes from my garden.

Yesterday I harvested tomatoes from my garden.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” ~Lewis Grizzard

I have a confession to make. Yesterday, I bought a bag of tortilla chips. The prospect of the fresh salsa and guacamole that I was making today for my latest Mason jar salad was too tempting. As you may know from previous posts, tortilla chips are my weakness. While I grew up having a sweet tooth, I must say that fresh fruit has replaced chocolate coated sugary treats for me. Yet, I love the salty crunch of tortilla chips. The decision to buy the tortilla chips was not on impulse. It was a well thought out purchase and I will portion out each serving and carefully track in my Weight Watchers eTools account.

With week #2 of the school year in the rear view mirror I was faced with some serious self-reflection. The first week I struggled with making time to eat the lunch and snacks that I packed for work and I did much better last week. In the morning I made an extra green smoothie to sip on during my 1/2 hour commute home and this worked marvelously. However, I REALLY struggled with getting to bed early enough to wake up with the energy to exercise. My goal this week will be to get to bed between 10:00 and 10:30 and be up by 4:45-5:00. Eventually, I would like to be to bed even earlier. Baby steps.

Mason Jar Salads are the perfect lunch to take to work. I love that I can make them on Saturday or Sunday and the last one that I eat on Friday tastes just as fresh as the first. This week I wanted to make sure that my salad was hearty enough to fuel me through an intense teenager-filled-day (all my classes, with the exception of one, have over thirty students with one class roster at thirty-six).

(Click on the photo to see a larger version)

(Click on the photo to see a larger version)

When I stopped eating meat, beans became my protein staple. I found Mexican food very easy to work into a plant-based meal plan (thus, began my tortilla chip obsession). I decided that one of my go-to salads could easily be converted to a Mason Jar Salad.

Garden Fiesta Jarred Salad

GARDEN FIESTA MASON JAR SALAD
I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars:

  •  Snappy Salsa (I added extra lime juice and used 1/2 a cup. Make sure you include the juice.)1
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil (per jar to make sure I get my WW recommended daily serving of healthy oil)
  • Yellow, orange, and green bell pepper strips
  • White beans (1/4 cup)
  • Black beans (1/4 cup)
  • Spicy Brown Rice (1/2 a cup)
  • Guacamole (1/4 cup. I added extra lime juice and left out the sour cream)
  • Black olives (5 per jar)
  • Fresh mango
  • Fresh pineapple (sadly the pineapple that I purchased was not very ripe)
  • Romaine lettuce

Pin this recipe here.

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I love the crunch and nutritional boost that bell peppers provide. They are high in Vitamin C which is so important for our immune systems.

I love the crunch and nutritional boost that bell peppers provide. They are high in Vitamin C which is so important for our immune systems this time of year.

Since I consider the Mason Jar Salads a meal, and not just a side item, I do not go skimpy on the protein and other ingredients and my jar salads are usually 7-10 Points Plus value. I do have pint-sized jars that I use to make dinner/side salads and those are usually only a couple of Points Plus each. Easily the Mason Jar Salads can be tweaked to meet your specifications.

It is amazing how much produce you can stuff inside a one quart jar and it FILLS a large dinner plate. Jarred salads are a fantastic way to meet your fruit and vegetable Good Health Guidelines.

This summer I made a plated version of this salad with homemade Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette Dressing. This dressing would be a great addition to this Mason Jar Salad but I thought that the juicy salsa and creamy guacamole would suffice.
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If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes.You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Now that my blog is written and I earned a sticker on the calendar for the Fall Forward Healthy Lifestyle Challenge (It is not too late to join) I am going to have a mid-day snack of salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips. 😉 I hope you are spending your Sunday exactly as you wish ~ relaxing, watching football, or maybe checking off your own to-do list and recharging for another busy week. Remember that food is fuel and make sure you fill your plate (or jar) with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. I promise to keep the Mason Jar Salad recipes coming!
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