Saturday, December 28, 2013

Austin Eats Food Tour

Since marrying Josh seven and a half years ago we have lived in Kansas City, Las Vegas, Wichita, and now Texas.  The longest stint was in Wichita and I met some great friends there!  I was blessed to find a group of friends who share my love of running, yoga and eating.  One of my most favorite memories from Wichita will forever be an evening about a week before I moved.  My friend Tammie moved to a new house on some land and we spent a great evening making veggie burgers together.  My friend Nicole had recently got certified to teach yoga (yay!) so we were treated to a private yoga session on some beautiful land overlooking water as the sun set.  It was a perfect evening.
I miss these girls lots and was so excited when two of them decided to come visit me in Texas!  We met in Austin and had a fabulous weekend of eating, running and yoga.  Like I said, we know what we like and we were in a prime location for all of the above.  Austin has lots of food, lots of running trails, and lots of yoga.  Jack. Pot.
I read about Austin Eats Food Tours online and when I found out Nicole and Tammie were coming to visit I looked into it more.  I was excited to find out they would be visiting during one of the bike tours offered.  We had a very fun afternoon riding bikes around Austin with our group (around 12 of us) and eating delicious food from popular, local eateries.
Picking out my bike. Pink, of course was my choice!  These are electric bikes, which are awesome because you can pedal like a normal bike, but you can also push a button and the motor pushes you on your way with no pedaling necessary. 
Our first stop was at The Blue Ox BBQ.  Our tour guide was kind enough to bring Tammie (my fellow veggie lover) and I  breakfast tacos to eat from a different place as this stop was the only one that didn't have a vegetarian alternative.  Everyone said the meat was delicious from here and seemed to really enjoy it.  I brought some meat home for Josh when our weekend was over and he agreed the meat was really good.  However, we are spoiled with amazing BBQ in KC and he can't find any BBQ sauce in Texas he likes. 
Our next stop was at Rios Brazillian CafĂ©.  We were served Chicken Stroganoff and Tammie and I got Mushroom and Spinach Stroganoff.  The highlight for me was the cheese bread that was made from yucca root flour.  Our tour guide shared with us these are packaged and sold at Whole Foods and they are gluten free.  I keep these on hand and pop them in the oven for Josh and I sometimes on spaghetti night.  I will definitely miss this gluten free bread option when we move.
Tammie got a sangria and was kind enough to share a few sips.  Definitely a winner!
The third stop on the tour was Hopps and Grain Brewery.  I don't like beer, but I tasted a few and others seemed to enjoy it.  The highlight of this stop was the fact that someone (not in our group) brought their kids and there was a baby crawling on the floor.  I mean, really?!  I don't know, we thought it was strange.
Middle pick on the left side you can see the babies.  Oh, and please notice Nicole's guns in the bottom right pic.  Get it, girl!
Next up was cupcakes at Sugar Circus Bakery.  I was excited they had pumpkin and it was delicious!  The excitement of this stop was when I tried a bite of Nicole's and realized there was walnuts in it...which I am allergic to.  So, I got to spit that out in front of everyone while trying not to be dramatic.  This poor older lady was very worried about me.  She followed me on her bike the next two stops to make sure I was okay.  Thankfully, no ingestion of any walnuts, no Epipen stab to the thigh needed, and the food tour was not ruined by yours truly. :)

By now, we were getting pretty full!  Knowing our last stop was pizza, I feel the next stop kind of got looked over as we all were really full, but wanting to make sure there was room for pizza.  We went to East Side King at the Grackle food truck.  If any of you watch Top Chef, Paul Qui won it a few years back and he has several East Side King locations in Texas.  I had not been to his food truck, only his brick and mortar location, which is right by the University of Texas.  While my food here was good, I much prefer the menu at the location by UT.  Everyone was served a Pork Katsura Sandwich, while Tammie and I had Eggplant Salad. 

The last stop was Detroit style pizza at Via 313.  This was, once again, a food truck.  I had never had Detroit style pizza and it was thin crust and I liked it.  I would definitely go back here again because they have gluten free pizza.  A lady in our group had it and shared a piece with me and it was great!

The three of us on our bikes getting ready to ride back to the bike shop.
The day after our food tour we went to a rooftop yoga class.  It was free (score!) because they were promoting an upcoming concert series in the area.  We attended the "rock" stage music and it was actually pretty awesome.  I didn't know any songs as I don't follow the Austin rock bands (shocking, I know) but it was a gorgeous day and beautiful setting.  Oh, and the yoga instructor was pretty easy on the eyes.  We enjoyed all aspects of this class, for sure!

If you are ever in Austin I HIGHLY recommend taking a food tour.  There are walking tours, van tours, and occasionally the bike tours.  I think prices vary, but ours was $70 and we were fed plenty of food to keep us full for lunch and dinner.  Plus, we got to see some "in the know" local places to eat that otherwise we never would have known to visit.  We had a really fun trip together and I'm so grateful the two of them could come spend a long weekend with me!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wheat Belly

I have an amazing husband.  Seriously.  Last year I hinted that I would like an Elf on the Shelf even though it was just us.  I not so subtly asked him if he would find the Elf everyday if I hid it.  He politely turned me down and that was that.  Then, last weekend, his co-worker and her husband came over before we headed to a Christmas party and she brought me a present.  (That I know Josh helped her pick out)  :) I would like to introduce you ELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was so excited.  Seriously.  Josh and I spent the entire time at the Christmas party coming up with name ideas.
What pressure it is to name this thing!  There were two main criteria. 
1. We used the go to fill in the blank from the movie Elf.
"________ the Elf, what's your favorite color?  Some were immediately crossed off if they didn't flow with this phrase. 
2.  It had to be easy to pronounce for our future children.  After I named him I did realize I was probably taking away a fun thing for my children and perhaps someday we will change his name to whatever our kids want it to be.  So, maybe #2 was silly, but it was part of our decision process.
After much deliberation, our elf now has his magical powers to visit Santa each night and his name is Marky.  He is named after my favorite actor, Mark Wahlberg. 
Marky the Elf, what's your favorite color?  Flows from the lips quite nicely, I'd say.  As for kids?  They should be able to say Marky just fine!
I was caught off guard with this gift and I was not prepared for the creativity needed to do amazing things.  All the little kid ideas on Pinterest are great, but I don't have any of the necessary accessories to execute them.  No army men.  No Superman figurines.  No dollhouses.  Furthermore, I don't have any of the "junk food" needed to do fun food items.  No goldfish to make him fishing, no marshmallows to do numerous activities.  Yikes.  Pressure. was. on.  So, I looked up "adult" elf on the shelf ideas.  Whoops...shouldn't have done that.  You dirty, dirty, people!  No, I am NOT going to put my elf with a bunch of naked Barbies.  No, I am not going to have him puking or pooping.  I mean, really.  What would Santa (not to mention Jesus!) say?!  Shame on all of you! 
So, we're pretty much on our own and I think so far we've done great.  More importantly, we are having a blast!
The first day Marky joined us at the table for dinner and he was wearing a present for Josh.  That man likes a new ugly sweatshirt/sweater any day. 
Day 2 Marky joined me on my yoga mat.  He does a pretty amazing downward dog if you ask me!
I thought I would be the one hiding him each day, but to my surprise I woke up this morning to poor little Marky stuck in a mouse trap!  We check our garage every morning for a mouse and several days a week we are successful in murdering one.  So, this was especially funny and appropriate based on our daily hopes of never finding a mouse in the house.
Josh is on call this weekend and unfortunately had to work all day today.  Part of my day was spent doctoring up Marky and when Josh gets home he will find him in a cast from the mouse trap, his leg elevated and watching a Christmas movie. 

Maybe we are a little weird, but I think having an elf adds to the Christmas season and I say, just because we don't have kids doesn't mean we can't have one.  I was right.  We are having so much fun!

All that has absolutely nothing to do with Wheat Belly, but I felt I needed to start with something fun and lighthearted because it's downhill from here.  Wheat Belly.  Have you heard of it?
It's a great book!  I read nutrition related books all the time.  It's why I haven't gotten around to reading the final two books in the Divergent series. I tend to be drawn to nutrition books and I enjoy learning about all they have to say.  This one, I didn't find on my own, though.  Let me back up a bit...

A few years ago we had dinner at my grandparents house and my grandpa shared he had recently found out he has a genetic disease called Ataxia-6 Cerebellum.  As you age you begin to lose your balance frequently and as it progresses your speech starts to slur and you can be hard to understand.  He shared this because it is passed down.  That being said, my Dad has a 50/50 chance of getting it.  Obviously, if my Dad doesn't have it I'm in the clear.  If my Dad does have it, I then have a 50/50 chance.  When my grandpa first shared this I didn't think much of sense worrying until I find out if my dad has it.

Fast forward to this past October.  I went home to KC for my grandma's funeral.  After the service there was a luncheon at the church and I sat next to my grandpa's sister.  Turn out, she also has the disease.  She is in a wheelchair and I found her quite difficult to understand due to the effects the disease has on her speech.  It hit me that she wasn't that old, but her symptoms had aged her tremendously.  My grandpa on the other hand has done tons of research and while there is no medicine to help, he has learned that many people say if they adopt a gluten free diet their symptoms dramatically slow or improve.  My grandpa shared this with us a couple years ago when he switched to a gluten free diet and aside from me noticing all the weight he lost I again, didn't think much of it.  That is, until this luncheon in October.

I drilled my grandpa with questions a few days later at dinner and came home to Josh with many questions.  After discussing it and thinking about if for a week or so, I made the decision to quit eating gluten.  I know, crazy, right?!  My initial hesitation was due to my already "needy" dietary requirements.  I mean, you know when you have kids and people make those online sign-up sheets for meals.  There's that section for special requests/dietary needs.  Can you just imagine:

Vegetarian, low sugar, allergic to crab, lobster, walnuts, please don't bring any desserts, and one more thing...make it gluten free. 

Yikes.  I'm that girl.  BUT, it truly is for a medical reason.  No, not Celiac's disease, but I'm not just joining the bandwagon of Paleo/Gluten Free eating.  (Though, you should all read this book and at least cut back your gluten intake!)  I may have a potential medical reason for this, but after reading the book, so do all of you.

Let me explain.  Dr. Davis argues through various studies his beliefs as to why wheat is making all of us sick.  He blames wheat for obesity, diabetes, some cancers, migraines, high blood pressure, and yes, my super rare potential disease.  How is this?  Well, he says wheat attacks every one's body differently.  So, for the Celiac sufferer, it obviously attacks the intestines and causes severe stomach issues.  For others, it may cause headaches.  Others, possibly me, it can attack the brain. Obviously, intestinal issues present themselves immediately, where mine would be progressive and shown as I age. 

The whole "progression as I age" was my final deciding factor in my dietary decision.  You see, Josh tends to tease me for my vegetarian, organic, low sugar ways.  (Though secretly I know he doesn't think I'm crazy since he still partakes in Meatless Monday!)  Anyway, I kind of thought when I got home from KC and brought this up he would say I was nuts.  But, after hearing me out, he agreed, it wouldn't hurt anything to go ahead and cut wheat out of my diet as a precautionary measure since it is progressive and won't present itself until I'm older.  (In my case, initial balance issues can start as early as not very old!)  I debated about waiting to see if my Dad has it to then give it up, and at first that was my plan.  However, the more I read and the more discussions I had I realized it really would only benefit me to go ahead and start.  The same co-worker who gifted me with Marky also has Celiac's run in their family.  They have a little boy and they have done research that says if you do not expose your child to gluten their chances of developing an intolerance later in life significantly diminishes.  He is 1 1/2 and they abide by a gluten free diet for his sake.  We had them over for dinner and I brought it up with them and after a bit, her husband said something that make it all "click".  He said, "Trish, you run, you do yoga, you eat healthy and do everything to take care of your body.  If all it takes is to give up wheat to maybe help you not be in a wheelchair, why wouldn't you add that to the list?"  Good point. 

I'm not going to do a whole summary/review of the book.  It's good.  Read it.  You will learn a lot.  My grandpa read it.  My Dad read it (and has been gluten free since) and now I'm almost finished with it. Here are two main things I do want to share though so you don't think I'm totally insane.  First, Dr. Davis shows many studies that have been done that show your glycemic index rises MORE when you eat wheat than when you eat sugar.  Say what?!  I believe him and I find that it appalling that this information is not more mainstream.  What I don't completely agree with is his views on sugar.  He is super against wheat and not so much sugar.  I stand my ground and still think a diet low in sugar is the way to go.  It's not that he promotes sugar, but he's very clear in that wheat is worse than sugar and I'd prefer to keep them at the same level.  It's not my book, but just wanted to get that out there.  Second, you may be wondering why wheat is so bad.  I was the same way.  I mean, all the food people have been telling us to eat 100% whole grains to have a healthy diet.  I believed them and ate them frequently.  The beginning of the book shares how the wheat we eat today is MUCH different than the wheat our great grandparents ate.  Depressing, I know.  Here we go again.  Eating genetically modified food without even knowing it.  Here are a few excerpts from Wheat Belly about the wheat we eat now:

One of the practical difficulties solved during the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center's push to increase yield is that, when large quantities of nitrogen-rich fertilizer are applied to wheat fields, the seed head at the top of the plant grows to enormous proportions.  The top-heavy seed head, however, buckles the stalk.  Buckling kills the plant and makes harvesting problematic...Norman Borlaug, is credited with developing the exceptionally high-yielding dwarf wheat that was shorter and stockier, allowing the plant to maintain erect posture and resist buckling under the large seed head....Dwarf wheat today has essentially replaced most other strains of wheat in the United States and much of the world thanks to its extraordinary capacity for high yield.
-p. 24

Dr. Davis acknowledges he doesn't blame the farmers for adapting to this genetically modified wheat.  It grows faster, is shorter and easier to harvest.  However, he also states, "over the last 50 years, thousands of new strains of wheat have made it to the human commercial food supply without a single effort at safety testing."

Hmm...and we wonder why Celiac's disease is on the rise, child allergies are rising, there are more infertility clinics than ever before...the list goes on and on and I buy into it.  At least, enough to continue reading and researching.  Again, remember, the main point of this book.  Wheat we eat today is not the same wheat that "naturally" grows.

I could write and write about the book, but you should just read it yourself.  :)  My official "last meal" was on my 30th birthday at the beginning of November.  I had already cut down on my wheat intake for about a month, but I ate one last pizza for my birthday lunch and that was that.  It's been over a month and I'm still going strong. I've only had one time that I wanted to cheat.  I made some chili and cinnamon rolls.  I made Josh some lovely, full of gluten, gorgeous cinnamon rolls.  Then, I made me some gluten free, all crackly cinnamon rolls and they were yucky.  I drooled as I watched him devour his.  However, I survived and live to tell the story so I suppose it wasn't all bad.  Actually, it's been easier than I anticipated.  I think part of that is because a year or so ago I realized that I was eating too much pasta/carbs in response to giving up meat and I made and effort to cut back.  So, I already had balanced a bit, and now, I just eliminate it altogether.  At home it's much easier than when we eat out.  I do my best, and I'm so thankful I don't get sick immediately if I happen to eat some gluten.  For example, when we go out for Mexican I make sure to choose corn tortillas and I get veggies with salsa, but do I really know if there's no gluten?  Nope, I don't, but we don't eat out THAT much and I still say if I do my best it's better than not even trying.  Let's be clear on one thing, too.  If I go to Chicago, I AM going to eat some Mama Depandi's Pasta and that's just that. 

If all I have to do is give up wheat in order to keep Josh from having to push me in a wheelchair because my balance is so bad I'm all about it.  If in a few years we discover my Dad is Ataxia free, then we will celebrate!  (Testing is super expensive so we are just waiting to see if symptoms develop)  In the meantime, after reading this book, I certainly know I will not have hurt a thing, rather, I will have only helped myself, by giving up gluten in my life.  I realize I also could give up gluten and still end up in a wheelchair.  However, my grandpa is an example of someone who appears to have definitely slowed the progression by altering his diet.  He's in his seventies and you would never know a thing by hearing him talk or watching him walk.

Oh, and if you're wondering.  Yes, I'm more confused than ever on how I will ever feed my children. 

*I feel I should add that I'm not saying gluten free is for everyone.  I think it's worth reading about and educating yourself, but as always, it's about balance...  maybe just make an effort to reduce your gluten and see how you feel!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Homemade Vegetable Broth

I got spoiled this summer not working.  I'm not going to lie, it was GLORIOUS.  I know everyone is different and some people get bored if they are home a lot.  That's not me!  When people ask, "Wouldn't you get bored not working?" I have to mask my shock.  Capital N, capital O. NO!  Never have I been bored.  My list of things "to do" is forever growing.  It may not be important stuff, but it's fun stuff and it keeps me plenty busy.  What do I do, you ask?  Well, let's just look at the past two Mondays I've had off work. 

Last week, I went to Dallas.  (2 hours away)  I found out about a display at a resort hotel called ICE.  I mentioned it to Josh and he politely declined so I took advantage of my day off and made the trip myself.  Totally, totally worth it!  Here's the description on the website:

Join Clara and her Nutcracker Prince for a magical adventure in more than 2 MILLION POUNDS of hand-carved ice sculptures and slides! Relive your favorite scenes from the classic ballet, accompanied by the original Tchaikovsky score and featuring thrilling rides down our most extravagant slides ever!

You must know my mom and I go to the Nutcracker ballet every year and I look forward to it so much.  I may not have made the drive if it wasn't Nutcracker themed this year.  But, come on, 2 million pounds of ice....I was intrigued.  So, I pulled out my hat and gloves, purchased my first Peppermint Mocha and away I went.  Pictures do no justice, but here are a few I took.

EVERYTHING in these pics is carved from ice and colored.  It was breathtaking.  I seriously might make a destination trip to Dallas every year to take this in.
Yes, I was borderline the creepy lady with no children, there alone just walking along.  Whatever.  I don't care.  It was awesome.  Plus, I totally refrained from going down the ice slide which would have been super fun, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
That brings me to today and my day off work.  I had a really rough day considering my biggest concern was where to hang our stocking since we don't have a fireplace in Texas.  I know, tragic.  Anyway, I started my day by entering a contest that you should too!  One of the blogs I follow, Mix and Match Mama announced they are giving away a $500 Nordstrom gift card.  That's right.  Go enter and then come back.  It should go without saying that if you win, you will buy me something.
Later in the morning, I went and visited Sunfood Farms, a farm I've been getting veggies from every week.  You all know I love me some veggies!  I was so incredibly excited to find Marty and his wife, Tammie.  They have a garden in Rogers, TX, which is about 20 minutes from me.  Normally, I meet them here in town each week and pick up my box, but they offered a visit to the garden anytime so I took them up on it this week because the weather today was absolutely incredible.  I had a blast!  In a perfect world I will develop a green thumb magically and someday have a beautiful garden.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy learning all about it and pick the produce of others. :)  Huge thanks for Marty for spending a couple hours showing me around and answering all my questions.
Picture on the right is spinach.  I picked some myself and enjoyed a delicious salad for dinner tonight.  The level of excitement that gave me was ridiculous. 
Top left pic is where it all begins.  Good old compost of manure.  Soil in Texas isn't ideal so that's what Marty uses for prime growth.  He has thermometers in all the piles and he had me look at one.  It was over 100 degrees in there!  I was shocked.  Pretty amazing to see it from start to finish.  Picture on the right is kale.  One of my favorite things to eat now.  He had me guess the bottom pic.  I wasn't even close.  It's garlic!  It's not ready yet, but I can't wait for some of that!
So, that was my morning.  Pretty awesome stuff if you ask me.  I think I made it worth Marty's time too.  I was pulling carrots and I got so excited each time I got a "big" one.  He just laughed and said he couldn't believe the joy I was getting out of it.  I've said it's the little things in life.  That's all I need.  Plus, he gave me beets.  I LOVE beets.  Josh always makes fun of me when I eat them and says, "Who eats beets?"  Well, for one, I do.  They are delicious.  Plus, they always make me think of this:
Dwight owned a beet farm on The Office.  I rest my case.
Okay, enough of proving my point.  We can all agree, I keep myself productively busy when I'm at home.  Although, Josh may beg to differ.  He opened the fridge when he got home from work and said it looked like Jurassic Park in there with all my greens. I got him purple carrots and that was his response.  I mean, really?!  Anyway, on to the recipe.  It's an easy one!  As almost always, credit to my mama for this idea.  She read about it online somewhere and then I gave it a try.  Why I never thought of this I have no idea. 
Homemade vegetable broth is genius.  It minimizes waste, allows you to control the salt, and saves you money.  All you need is a crockpot and some scraps.  That's right.  Start saving your veggie scraps.  I thought it would take me awhile to collect a whole bag full, but it only took a week.  If you don't cook with a lot of fresh food it will take you longer, but it's still worth saving.  Simply start a gallon freezer bag with leftover scraps and keep it in your freezer.  Keep adding to it and when it's full you're ready to make your broth. 
My bag had onion skins, carrots (that were going bad I didn't get through), celery tops, cob from corn, spinach, garlic peels, potato skins, bell peeper tops, kale scraps, the greens from some beets and more!  You'd be surprised at all you toss in the trash when you start to save.  Once your bag is full, empty the contents into your crockpot.  (Make sure you wash your vegetables before you add them to your freezer bag.  For example-I usually don't wash onions or garlic before I peel them, but now I do so the skins are clean)
Then, fill the crockpot with water.  Turn it on low and leave it all day, overnight, whatever you want.  Just walk away.  I started mine about 9 p.m. and finally got around to dealing with it mid morning the next day.  You aren't going to hurt it by letting it simmer.
Here it is after many hours of soaking.  The thing at the top is my tea sachet from my tea pot.  I don't have a strainer so I use it as needed.  You say ghetto, I say innovative.  Anyway, simply remove the veggies and strain your broth and place in containers or freezer bags.  I measured mine out for a couple recipes I have.  I did a 3 C. bag, a 4 C. bag and a 3 1/2 C. bag.  I got 10 cups of broth, but I added a bit of water to get the exact measurements I wanted.
I've already used some of this for a batch of soup and I already have enough veggies to make some more so I plan to do that tomorrow.  I didn't add any salt to my crockpot, but you absolutely could if that's important to you.  I'd rather just add to taste in my soup or whatever recipe I'm making to control it more. 
Easiest recipe I will ever share with you!  Who doesn't want to save money, save on salt intake and not waste food.  You're welcome.  Now, you can use that money to buy something even if you don't win that Nordy's giftcard!  Enjoy!