Pumpkin Spice Granola

Pumpkin Spice Granola #autumn #pumpkineverything Granola claims a colorful and circuitous history, strangely intertwined with religion, health nuts, and hippies. Odd, but familiar bedfellows, indeed. Starting with Sylvester Graham (yes, of graham cracker fame), ending up with the hippies of the ’60s, and continuing on to the modern nutrition-conscious housewives of today, it satisfies the need for a quick and healthy breakfast for bleary-eyed mornings. Pumpkin Spice Granola #autumn #pumpkineverything

There are many wonderful things about granola, not the least if which is its adaptability to the contents of your pantry, your dietary needs and desires, and even to the season and its produce. Using a background of a variety of grains and seeds, the fruits of the season can shine in their limelight and create a wide variety of pleasing tastes and textures.

And, of course, pumpkin is the star of the harvest season, and deserves its chance to hog the spotlight. When combined with the usual spices, and some honey, it creates the perfect dressing for granola, made even better by the addition of dried cranberries and apples. Autumn in a delicious handful.

Pumpkin Spice Granola #autumn #pumpkineverything

Pumpkin Spice Granola #autumn #pumpkineverything


Autumn Shepherd’s Pie

Autumn Shepherd's Pie #acornsquash #squash #autumnrecipes

So the weather outside today felt more like summer than autumn but I was still in the mood for my autumnal version of the perennial classic, Shepherd’s Pie. I had some acorn squash that I was looking forward to cooking up, and Shepherd’s Pie was the perfect use for it.

It’s a simple meal, but both my DH and I love Shepherd’s Pie. I especially love changing it up a little, as I did tonight. Enjoy!


This post was originally published in Oct 2009.

What’s in your Lunchbox? Quick and Easy Lunches

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What's in Your Lunchbox? #backtoschool #lunchAs a teacher, I saw a LOT of lunchboxes through the years… and their contents, which occasionally amazed and astounded me. And not necessarily in a good way. To be perfectly frank and honest, the initial thought that popped into my head when observing my students’ lunchbox contents was often, “What were his/her parents thinking?!?!?!” Sometimes I came to the conclusion that they weren’t. Other students impressed me, though, with the contents of their lunchboxes, and those parents I mentally congratulated. I understand it’s difficult to provide a well-balanced, easily portable, easily eaten, well-liked, not-likely-to-be-traded lunch for a picky pupil every. single. weekday. Throw in that most parents barely have time to think about such a lunch, let alone actually create it, and one can easily understand how a child ended up with a lunchbox full of random odds and ends mostly full of sugar, bad fats, and far-from-complex carbs.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve already conquered the Lunchbox War, congratulations to you: Well Done! If you’ve been defeated though, or hardly begun to fight, I’ve come up with a few tips to save you Time, Effort, Money… and most importantly, your child’s HEALTH.

Today we’ll start with Time and Effort, probably the biggest obstacles in the fight for the healthy lunchbox. Most parents know what should ideally go in the lunchbox, but many are too discouraged by the amount of time and effort it would take to make it happen. Maybe these ideas will help you surmount those obstacles and lead you to a better lunchbox this school year.

Quick and Easy Lunches #backtoschool #lunchQuick & Easy Lunches

Create a flexible but reliable menu.

Develop a basic framework you can use every day that will save you from having to think too much. For example, plan on variations of the following in each lunch:

  • -Main Dish (sandwich, soup, leftovers, etc.)
  • -Drink (water’s always good!)
  • -Yogurt or Cheese
  • -2 Fruits or Veggies
  • -Small Dessert or Snack

This is a proven formula that will give them enough to eat every day, but is easily varied by including different main dishes, fruits, vegetables, and snacks.

Adapt this formula for your own child, one that is easy for you and enjoyed by him or her. It’s easy to change up, but the basic formula stays the same so you don’t have to think too much about what goes in the lunchbox.

Involve your child(ren).

This is easier and saves more time than you might think, especially if you have a formula like I described above. Even a kindergartener can help out with his/her lunch if they know what goes in it. In fact, I would say that from first grade up, if mom or dad takes care of the main meal (and kids can even help with this, depending on age and what it is), the child can take care of the rest. Post a checklist on the fridge, pictorial if necessary, that clearly shows what items should go in the lunchbox every day. Place those items at an accessible level, and make it your child’s responsibility to put all those items in their lunchbox every day. If you’re not comfortable leaving it entirely up to them, all you have to do is instruct them to leave it open until you check it for accuracy. Inspect each lunchbox quickly,  correct where necessary, zip it up and off they go!

Fill the lunchbox the night before.

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Make lunch the night before, and then your morning routine will be slightly less hectic. Every  night after dinner, when we clean up the dining room and kitchen, we make lunches for the next day. The lunches go into the fridge with all the leftovers and are ready for to grab the next morning. If you don’t have enough room to store their actual lunch boxes in the fridge overnight, place a large plastic box of some kind on one of the shelves, and put all the lunch contents in it every night. In the morning, just grab the contents and transfer them to the individual lunch boxes. This will still save plenty of coveted morning prep time.

Corral lunchbox items in the fridge and pantry.

This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. Collect all the yogurt cups, cheese sticks, and other refrigerated lunchbox items in one big plastic container on a shelf in the fridge, or designate one of the meat/produce drawers as “lunchbox drawer”. In the pantry, place all the shelf-stable items, such as snacks (healthy ones of course!), juice boxes, fruit cups and other lunch munchies in a designated, clearly labeled, easily accessible container.

Invest in some inexpensive, time-saving tools, like an apple slicer or an orange peeler.

Tupperware Citrus Fruit Veggie Peelers set of 2 SoldCalphalon Easy Grip Apple Slicer
The apple slicer is an incredible invention that will allow you to slice up an apple for your child(ren) in seconds and is a lot easier than pulling out a paring knife and cutting board. It will make the apple easier for your children to eat, especially if they are younger. Apples will brown when exposed to air, so you can either dowse them in a bit of lemon juice and water or just pack them in an airtight container to reduce the browning.

The orange peeler is especially useful for elementary-aged children as it can safely be packed with their lunch and allow them to peel their own oranges, clementines or tangerines by themselves at school. If you’re not comfortable with packing the peeler, simply use it to slice through the peel before putting the citrus in the lunchbox, so at least they have a starting point and they can peel easily from there.

Quick and Easy Lunches #backtoschool #lunchWhat about that main dish?

It’s easy enough to figure out the side items: yogurt cups, cheese sticks, fresh fruit or fruit cups, etc. But what about the main dish? This is usually the biggest quandary when it comes to lunch-packing time. A little forethought and preparation goes a long way to help.

If your child has access to a microwave, make use of it!

Of course, not every school or classroom has the capability of reheating a child’s lunch, which is a bummer. Also, many people prefer to avoid overuse of a microwave. If that’s the case, refer to the next tip:

Invest in a thermos or other insulated container.

Thermos Stainless King SK3000MB4 Food Jar, Midnight Blue
Even though both schools where I have worked had ready access to microwaves for all the student lunches, some parents still opted to use a Thermos or similar container instead. And it worked great! If the food goes in hot, it keeps its temperature long enough to be deliciously warm at lunch time. This opens up SO many time- and effort-saving options for filling up those lunchboxes. Read on to see how!

Cook a double batch for dinner and send the leftovers for lunch.

I do this all. the. time. In fact, we eat leftovers for lunch more often than anything else. Usually, the lunch version is simplified, in other words, doesn’t necessarily include all of the sides, sauces, etc. Also, for small children, the food needs to be easily eaten, which means some foods will have to be cut up for them in advance. Plan your dinners ahead of time, determine which ones will easily translate into lunch, and voila! Your lunch the next day is instantly ready at the same time as dinner!

Make big batches and freeze the extra.

Whenever you cook up basic staples like noodles and rice, cook extra and freeze the extra. You can even pour spaghetti sauce over them before freezing for an instant meal, in which case you should freeze them in individual containers. The noodles and rice can be used for dinners OR even for quick lunches when you don’t have leftovers or sandwich options available. Also, extra shredded chicken, beef and pork can be used as sandwich fillers or noodles/rice/potato toppers for delicious lunches.

Make use of the crock pot.

Cook Chicken Noodle Soup (this is where some pre-cooked noodles will come in handy!), Homemade Spaghetti-os (this only gives you 7 hrs max, so it’s perfect if you’re late to bed, early to rise), or Chili in the crock pot overnight and your main dish is ready  in the morning! This concept is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your fridge and pantry: cook just about anything (cooking times vary, so keep that in mind) overnight, place it in an insulated container (or re-heat at lunch) for a delicious, fresh, hot lunch!

Always keep sandwich items available.

This is an area where I frequently fail. The idea is to keep some kind of bread, as well as sandwich filler items (lunch meat, tuna, eggs for egg salad, etc.) available at all times, so that when lunchbox-filling-time comes and there are no leftovers or other hot food available, you still have easy options without resorting to cans or packages of processed food.

Currently, I pretty much exclusively make sourdough bread, but one thing that has really helped in the past to have fresh bread available almost all the time is the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method, and its companion, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a DayArtisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home BakingWith this method, you can keep bread dough in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or longer in the freezer. Pull it out and bake it whenever you need fresh bread. Loaf or sandwich bread requires a 60-90 minute resting time, but flat breads, like pita for example, require no little-to-no resting time and are baked up in half an hour or less. The only prep is mixing the ingredients and storing them in the fridge once every two weeks (depending on how often you bake up the dough). No kneading, punching down, or extra risings necessary.

I hope this gives you some great ideas for lunchboxes this school year! I’d love to hear any ideas you have or things you like to do when it comes to lunchbox time.

Next Post: Saving Money

 This post was originally published in 2010. 

DIY Coffee Shop Drink: Maple Pecan Latte

Maple Pecan Latte #diycoffeeshop #natural #norefinedsugarI have a serious confession to make.

*Deep breath.*

Ok. Here goes.

The truth is. I’m addicted to fancy coffee shop coffee.

{insert shocked emoticon}

I know, right? The fact that it’s crazy expensive and that I would never consider spending that much money on anything else so trivial and transient does not deter me. The fact that it’s hardly good for me does not deter me. The fact that it doesn’t satisfy me as much as I think it will does not deter me. NOTHING deters me!

So I put myself on a coffee shop fast. I did it earlier this year in January, and it actually really helped! But then I fell off the wagon and I’m back to my usual tricks again.

{insert tragically sad emoticon}

So another coffee shop fast for me.

Thank goodness I have this amazing little diy coffee shop trick up my sleeve. It makes withdrawal so much easier. 

Maple Pecan Latte #diycoffeeshop #natural #norefinedsugar

Maple Pecan Latte #diycoffeeshop #natural #norefinedsugarAre you also addicted to coffee shop drinks? Try my other DIY Coffee Drink recipes: 

Chocolate Orange Coffee #diycoffeeshop

Chocolate Orange Coffee

Lavender Sy Lavender Iced Coffee #diycoff Lavender Iced Coffee #diycoffeeshop

Lavender Iced Coffee #diycoffeeshop


Cold Brewed Coffee #diycoffeeshop

Cold Brewed Coffee #diycoffeeshop

Brazilian Chocolate #diycoffeeshop

Brazilian Chocolate #diycoffeeshop


5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

5 Fresh Ways to Use Fresh Mint #garden #mint #cleaneatingGot a mint plant (or two) that’s going crazy? Not sure what to do with it?

I hear ya! Mint is famous for flourishing whether or not you want it to, which can be good (Hey, it’s yummy! And good for you!) and bad (There’s only so much mint one person can handle at a time.). It’s kind of tricky trying to find different ways to use fresh mint when it’s coming out of your ears. I’ve done all the usual things with my fresh mint so far:

All of those things get old, though, after a while, so I put myself on a mission to find some fun and creative ways to use my mint plant. I’m looking forward to trying out these five fresh ideas for my fresh mint!

5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

  1. Fresh Mint Iced Coffee – You know me, I’m always up for a good cuppa joe. So much the better if it’s made with an unexpected twist and an unusual ingredient. (Remember my Lavender Iced Coffee?)
  2. I never in my life would have thought to put fresh mint into cookies or cupcakes, but these bloggers totally went there! I’d like to try some Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies or Fresh Mint Chocolate Cupcakes!
  3. And while I’m baking, I think I shall have to whip up some Cranberry Mint Scones, which not only use fresh mint, but fresh cranberries, too! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
  4. It’s admittedly not that odd for baked goods to incorporate a fresh mint flavor, but savory foods? This Moroccan Spiced Potato Pizza doesn’t have any cheese… but it does have fresh mint!
  5. Another yummy-sounding savory option is this Honey Mint Glazed Chicken. I’m sort of wishing I hadn’t already prepped all my chicken in marinades before putting it in the freezer!


Better than the Box – Chocolate Pudding

This post was originally published in 2009.  Better Than the Box Chocolate Pudding One of my main goals on this blog is to prove to anyone who doesn’t believe me that cooking healthy foods from scratch is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Too many people think that cooking is either a great mystery they could never solve, or so time-consuming they would always be stuck in the kitchen. Instead, they rely on boxes (or bags or jars, or packages, you get the idea) that are quick and easy, but expensive and chock-full of unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients.

There’s a better way!

You don’t have to be a gourmet and spend hours over your creations in order to serve healthy delicious meals to your family. So throw away the box and make something from scratch for a change. If I can do it, you can do it!

For example, chocolate pudding. For a long time, I never even ate pudding because I didn’t want to use the mix found in a box, but I thought that home-made pudding was too time-consuming and difficult. Then my diet was forcibly changed because of my son’s allergies: there were so many foods I couldn’t eat, that I began to think outside the box (literally!) for foods that I could eat. I thought I had kissed chocolate good-bye for a while, until I found an allergen-free recipe for chocolate pudding. And I realized that it was so quick and easy, I could make it any time I needed a chocolate fix.

Once I discovered that, I branched out and made all kinds of pudding: butterscotch, vanilla, coconut, etc. I used them to make trifles and parfaits for desserts to serve to guests. And the best part was, it was every bit as easy as using a box!

But not as QUICK, you say. Almost as quick, I say. It took me approximately 10 minutes, start to finish. Anybody can find 10 minutes in their day to fix themselves a chocolate treat!

I thought home-made pudding was hard, but it’s actually quite EASY. What makes it difficult is using an egg, because the egg(s) has to be tempered, or gradually heated so that it doesn’t cook before it’s thoroughly mixed in. That problem is easily avoided by not using an egg! You’ll find most pudding recipes require an egg, but as I discovered, vegans and food-allergic folks know that pudding without an egg is every bit as good. An egg adds richness to pudding. So if you want your pudding a little richer, go ahead and fuss with the egg. But if you just want some pudding, forget the egg. You won’t miss it!

It’s CHEAPer than buying the box. I bet you don’t believe me because those boxes are pretty cheap. Aside from the milk (which is not included in the box anyway), the ingredients in this chocolate pudding cost less than $0.40, even if you don’t buy them on sale.

It may not be HEALTHY, but it’s certainly healthier than what’s in that box. Have you ever looked at the ingredients? Sugar, modified food starch, cocoa, disodium phosphate, natural & artificial flavors, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, monoglyceride, diglycerides, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Artificial Colors, citric acid, BHA. Yum. I don’t even know why they need all those food colorings, because, as Matthew McConaughey says in “The Wedding Planner”, “Chocolate’s already brown.”

Have I convinced you yet?

Once it’s reached the right consistency, remove from the heat and add the 100% chocolate bar and vanilla. At this point, you can get creative and try adding different things. For example, chocolate chips instead of the chocolate bar. Or different flavorings instead of vanilla. I have also used a mixture of coffee and milk to make a mocha pudding. Mmmm, that was yummy.

Pour the pudding into serving dishes and place in refrigerator to cool. If you plan on serving to guests, you may want to consider placing some plastic wrap tightly on the surface of the pudding while it cools to prevent a skin from forming. I don’t bother when it’s just for myself, or if I’m going to stir it up and use it in something else. Garnish as desired:

Better Than the Box Chocolate Pudding Sharing at Try a New Recipe Tuesday


A Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal

**This post was originally published in 2009.  Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermeal Summertiiiiimmmeee… and the livin’ is eeeaaasssyyyy…

Fish are jumpin’ … and the cotton is high…

And I don’t feel like cookin’….

Oh wait, that’s not part of the song. But it should be! Who wants to cook on a hot summer day? Not me! So I decided NOT to cook today, but I still felt like I should feed my family, so I compromised: Cold Plates!

An Easy No-Cook Summer Meal

This is one of those ideas that’s just so brilliant, I wonder why I didn’t think of it sooner! All one has to do is assemble a variety of cold, fresh foods, make it pretty and put it on the table. Presto, Change-o, Dinner! Simple as that.

I used some cold ham slices as the main portion of the meal and augmented them with some scoops of tuna salad. Then I added in some various fresh fruits and veggies, some cheese for my DH, and some pickles. A dollop of honey mustard served as a dipping sauce for the ham. Usually, bread of some sort is served with a cold plate, but I had none, so I offered crackers on the side.

The nice thing about these cold plates is that I could customize them to our different dietary needs. Here’s my plate with strawberries and unpeeled apples and apricots:

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermeal
Here’s DH’s plate with cheese and peeled apples instead:

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermealEven our Certain Little Someone had his own cold plate (not that he ate it all! He was mostly interested in the watermelon and sweet potato fries!):

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermealSharing at Grounded & Surrounded, Tasty Tuesday

Fruit Punch Ice Pops

Fruit Punch Ice Pops #summercampathome #frozen #summertreatOh the dog days of summer! Great for lying in the shade on a sultry day and enjoying an ice pop and hoping it helps cool you down.

Just not those nasty ones that are full of food dyes, fake colors, nasty sugars, and other assorted ickyness. They’re so easy to make yourself that there’s no need to resort to such.

Fruit Punch Ice Pops #summercampathome #frozen #summertreatHonestly? Making an ice pop is simply a matter of freezing juice in a lickable format. So if you have popsicle molds and juice, you’re in business. Even if you don’t have popsicle molds, you can make do with cups and craft sticks. The juice is kind of essential, though, no getting out of that one.

I have these Zoku Mini Pop molds which I actually bought at Michaels’ with a 40% off coupon, but you can also get them from Amazon with free shipping if you have Prime. They’re the perfect size for little mouths and quick snacks!

Fruit Punch Ice Pops #summercampathome #frozen #summertreatThe Boyz created this recipe together as a Summer Camp at Home activity: they each chose 2 kinds of fruit and I determined the quantities. It turned out to taste exactly like fruit punch!

Fruit Punch Ice Pops #summercampathome #frozen #summertreat

Sharing at Grounded & Surrounded, Try a New Recipe Tuesday, and Tasty Tuesday

Copycat Panera Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

This post was originally published in June, 2009.  Copycat Panera Apple Chicken Salad I haven’t blogged in a few days because we went up to Lancaster, PA to visit with some family and have a short mini-vacation. Vacations are always fun, but, especially when it’s such a short vacation, it’s sometimes hard to get back home and go back to the daily grind. So I decided to bring some of my vacation home with me.

I decided to bring home with me some yummy food I ate while on vacation. Of course, I couldn’t actually bring back the food itself, since it would have gotten quite yucky waiting to be put in my fridge (ew!) so I just brought back the ideaof the food I enjoyed so I could recreate it at home.The first dish I enjoyed was the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad at Panera. What I like about their chicken salad is that the apples are dried, not fresh.  Not your leathery, smushy kind of dried, but more like an apple chip dried. The combination of the sweet crunchy apple blended so perfectly with the other flavors in the salad, that it was super delicious!Unfortunately, the only dried apples I had on hand at home were the leathery, smushy variety which simply would not do for my purposes. So I set out to make myself some apple chips.

Copycat Panera Apple Chicken Salad

First, I cored an apple and sliced off the ends. I could have peeled it as well, but I opted to leave the peel on for color. Besides, the peel was left on in the Panera salad, and since I was attempting to recreate my vacation, I had to follow it as closely as possible.

Copycat Panera Apple Chicken Salad
Then I sliced the apple into thin, even slices (unfortunately, some of them I sliced a little TOO thin) and soaked them in lemon water for a few minutes, to limit browning. This step is not necessary unless you want them to be as white as possible.

drying apple chips in ovenThen I lined a baking sheet with wax paper, greased the wax paper and laid the apple slices out in a single layer, with plenty of room between slices. I put this in my oven, on the lowest setting possible (which happens to be 200 on my cheap-o apartment oven) for about 45 minutes. It would have been better to use a lower setting for a longer period of time, but alas and alack, that was not possible for me!

And here are the apple chips, ready to be put into my Apple Chicken Salad.

 Copycat Panera Apple Chicken Salad

Sharing at Mommy MondayTry a New Recipe Tuesday, and Tasty Tuesday 

Something From Nothing: Bread Crumbs from Stale Bread

Something from Nothing: bread crumbs from stale breadWait! Before you throw it away, think for a second. Can you use it for something else? Frugality is not only saving your money when purchasing, it is saving your money by getting everything out of what you have already purchased. I read somewhere that the frugal person’s motto was the same as the environmentalist’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. If we all followed that motto, we’d save a lot of resources, in our homes and around the world.

For starters, what about that stale bread? Or those end slices no one wants to eat? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away!

Here are just a few ideas of what you can do with stale bread:

  • -bread pudding
  • -croutons
  • -stuffing
  • -french toast
  • -grilled/toasted sandwiches
  • -and my personal favorite, bread crumbs

How to Make Bread Crumbs

Whenever I have stale bread, or leftover chunks or pieces, I never throw them away. Instead, I use it to make bread crumbs. If I don’t have time at the moment, I bag them and put them in the freezer until I do. Some people keep a bag in their freezer for just such a purpose; every time they have some extra bread, they throw it in there and make a big batch of bread crumbs when they’ve collected enough.

Bread crumbs can be used for a variety of purposes, the main one being to bread meat such as chicken or fish before baking it. This adds flavor and texture. Bread crumbs are also used in meat loaf, or as a topping for a casserole or cooked vegetables. They also add nice crunch and a pretty touch sprinkled on thick soups, such as potato or chowders.

There are about as many different ways and methods of making bread crumbs as there are uses for them, but this is what I do:

Easy Bread Crumbs
Rip the bread into chunks and place in a food processor. Process until fine. Add spices to your liking (I like to use Italian spices such as oregano, basil, parsley, etc.), even grated parmesan cheese or garlic or onion powder, and pulse once or twice in the processor to blend it together. Spread in a fine layer on a cookie sheet and leave in a warm oven until very dry. I like to leave it in there for quite some time – half an hour or so – just to be sure all the moisture is gone so I can store it longer. Cool the bread crumbs and store in a tightly covered container (I reuse an applesauce jar for this purpose) in the cupboard. Alternatively, you can store it in a plastic bag in the freezer.

For meat loaf and some other uses, you may want soft bread crumbs. In this case, all you need to do is pulse the bread chunks in the food processor a couple times until you have coarse crumbs. Keep those crumbs in the freezer until your next meat loaf!