Friday, January 30, 2009

Product Review: Milk Alternatives made from Rice, Soy, and Almond

Lately the Nature Family has been on a food odyssey. One of our nature kidz has had some allergic reactions and we've been hosting our own non-televised episode of the popular "Mystery Diagnosis" show.  Unfortunately, the most allergenic foods out there also happen to be Nature Kidz' most commonly eaten ones: dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream), wheat, nuts.  Let's just say that our food groups are: mac and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, and peanut butter sandwiches (thank goodness peas, broccoli, and most fruits fit in there too!).  

In order to eliminate dairy for a while (we will introduce it after a period of time to see if there is a reaction), I definitely needed an alternative.  I purchased the ones pictures above at Trader Joe's on the recommendation of another shopper whom I accosted while she was browsing the dairy alternative aisle.  I'm sure she felt thankful to escape when she did, as I peppered her with multiple questions, like: "is it good? Is it thick? Would you say it's more chocolatey or banana--y"?  

At any rate, here are our thoughts:
None of these "milks" have the thickness and creaminess of whole milk. All of them have their fair share of sugar.  All are lower in fat and calories than whole milk.  3 of the 4 come in shelf-stable packaging, which is convenient.

Vitasoy Chocolate Banana:  This dairy-free soy-based beverage is a favorite of mine.  I think it's delicious--it has a nice chocolate flavor and is great in a smoothie with a frozen banana and some ice.  However, Nature Kidz did not like it.  They found it "too banana-ish."  I guess they were expecting chocolate milk.

Vitasoy Strawberry Banana: Elder Nature Kid loves this stuff.  It helps that her favorite smoothie flavor is strawberry banana.  She drinks this one regularly, and she and I shared a smoothie made with frozen banana, ice, and honey and a good measure of this "filk" (faux milk) and it was really very good. Nature Kid the Youngest did not like it at all.  But then, she is a peanut-butter-and-chocolate smoothie lover.

Trader Joe's Vanilla Rice Drink:  This is an acceptable substitute for milk in cereal, but neither kid liked it at all straight. It just doesn't taste like milk, which is what they wanted.  But over cereal or mixed into things like oatmeal, it's a great substitute and a good price.

Almond Breeze Chocolate Almond Drink: This one is Nature Kid the Youngest's favorite.  She declared it "just right!"  It's got a nice rich chocolate flavor.  This one, of course, presents a problem if a person is allergic to almonds, but it's probably the best-tasting of the bunch and is very kid friendly.

Overall, the fact is that there is no really perfect substitute for milk in terms of taste and additives: though "natural," each of the drinks features here has a lot of sugar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Remember Home Made Play Dough?

The consumer in me had never really thought to make play dough, especially when there is Play-Doh at the stores and it's so cheap.  But we don't have any at home right now and I'm not sure the ingredients are all safe and natural, so I decided to make my own. It's incredibly easy, cheap, and fun. All it takes is a few ingredients and some cookie cutters and scissors (and even those are optional) and your kidz can have hours of fun!

I used my India Tree all natural food colors to color this batch, though you can use other natural colorants.  I don't like the flavor of these for food, but they are an excellent idea for decorating!  

Here's the recipe:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar

Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of coloring and knead until distributed evenly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Here it is: Mom'z Mealz (aka the Hippie Meal)

I wrote before about my plan for the faux happy meals.  Well, I finally got my ebay-purchased Happy Meal toys.  I found some 100% recycled paper bags at Target in two sizes: tote sized with handles and a smaller size to fit nuggets and fries.  I also created a little "logo" since we're obviously not creating real happy meals but, rather, Mom'z Mealz.

But here they are.  The ingredients:

Home made lemon-lime soda (see recipe on this blog)
Applegate farms all-natural chicken nuggets
Whole Foods' 365 Everyday brand Organic Shoestring potatoes, tossed in olive oil and baked
organic ketchup
steamed broccoli
small toy

The result?  Two very happy kidz, especially my 6 year old who really, really, really misses happy meals.  It's really all about the toy, anyway.  

My brother heard about this and gave the meals a new name: "Hippie Meals."  I love it.  I will incorporate it into the "logo" I made.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Product Review: Tom's All Natural Cookie Dough (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip)

Dadz Rating: Solid B. 
Kidz Rating: Kid 1: A- "Yummy! So chewy, just right!" Kid 2: B+ --"kinda thick"

I found this brand of cookie dough at my local Super Target; it looked promising as the only ingredients were things I could pronounce and had, myself, put in cookie recipes, like unbleached flour, peanut butter, butter, sugar, and the like.  There was not one mystery ingredient.  A visit to the brand's website provides more information: Tom's Cookies was originally a small San Francisco, CA bakery that has blossomed into a pretty big business (it must be if it's selling its wares at Target!).   

The packaging really does draw this Nature Mom in--its folksy and has that endearing, mom-and-pop feel of companies like Ben & Jerry's.  It certainly was easy to prepare: the website says to cook for 20 minutes at 325; the packaging said 15-18 minutes.  Well, I burned the first batch of 6 and it only came with 12!  The second time I cooked the dough (already formed and waiting to be baked) I shortened baking time to 12 minutes.  They were a little undercooked inside but on the verge of overcooking on the bottoms.  Not good.  

Would I recommend these? Well, that's a tough call.  $4.99 for 12 cookies in a cute box seems like a lot, especially when 20 minutes and a 9x13 pan is all you need for some awesome homemade bar cookies out of stuff you probably already have at home.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My moment of genius

My kidz miss happy meals.  What can I say, there have been times that our family have relied on fast food.  And happy meals, well, they're like crack for kids.  Deep fried "food," soda, and toys.  What more could they want?

Well, I'm not going there any more.  It's not part of our plan.  But still, the 6 year old keeps asking.

So tonight, while chatting on Facebook with my sister in law, I hit upon a possible solution.  The faux happy meal.  Ok, it won't be the actual real thing, but it will come a close second.

I mentioned that at a doctor's office, 6 year old Nature Kid had become obsessed with a toy: a little white dalmation in a red car.  I flipped it over to see where it was from and of course, it said: "Disney. Made for McD Corp." on it.  Of course, the 2 biggest American addictions for kids: Disney and McDonald's.  She mentioned I could probably find the toy on Ebay.

And voila.  One instant message led to another, and I decided I could try it.  I went on Ebay and just won myself about 8 genuine Happy Meal toys of varying types (they have tons and tons on there, new in their packaging, from as far back as the 90s).  My 6 year old adores animals, especially dogs.  My 9 year old likes the Madame Alexander dolls and McD's has periodically done a series of Happy Meal toys featuring those.  Once they arrive I will plan a special "picnic" night at home (since it will probably be too cold for a real picnic, we can spread a blanket on the floor).  I'll bake some of our all natural chicken nuggets (there are a couple of brands my kids like that are more McNuggety than others), some thin "fries," and home made sprite (see my recipe).  I will put it all in brown paper bags and include a toy and voila! A fun "fast food" night I can truly feel okay about.

As I said to my sister in law, I feel like a genius.  Or maybe a sucker. 

But when it all comes together, I'll post a picture.  And their reactions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

One Word: Yummy

Zevia natural sodas.  Available at Whole Foods, $5.99/6-pack

I confess. I am a diet cola-holic.  I'm so bad I'm not even loyal to Coke or Pepsi; either will do in a pinch.  This is not a particularly good thing for my attempts at leading a more natural life.

Enter Zevia natural cola.  This stuff is so good.  It's sweetened with stevia, an all-natural sweetener that's the latest thing in the zero-calorie sweetener market.  It's natural, though.  And wow.  I actually prefer Zevia cola to Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.  I was at Whole Foods (gosh, that place really needs to channel me some advertising money) recently and they had put out samples of the stuff and had a stack of $2 off coupons.  They sure know how to rope in the cheapskates like me--free stuff AND coupons!  And it worked.  I tried a couple of the flavors and they were really good, but cola is really the only soda I drink.  If you're a root beer fan, or an orange soda fan, you just might like Zevia's versions.

Now, I bought a box of stevia once and tried it in my coffee and it was awful--just nasty.  I did a little research on it tonight and it seems that this can be the case when the stevia used is not the best--there can be an aftertaste.  Well, Zevia is super good and just plain sweet.  In fact, it seems to me that it tastes more like regular Pepsi than Diet Pepsi does.  I love it.  Plus, I've just learned that the cans they use for packaging are recycled.  It's good for the eco-conscience, too.

Of course, there is the matter of the price.  Ouch.  And we're not exactly living in carefree times.  But I think I might be able to cut back on total soda consumption in order to afford this stuff.  It's just that good.  Try it.  You'll like it.

To learn more about Stevia, try Dr. Mercola's site.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I have been doing research on low- and zero-VOC paints.  We're going to paint our kidz' room and we wanted to go with the healthiest paint products possible.  With a little internet research we discovered the Common Ground Green Building Center and from there, the AFM Brand of zero-VOC paints.  AFM's "Safecoat" brand of paints offers an amazing collection of gorgeous colors with their Ayurveda line, the colors grouped by personality type using Ayurvedic philosophy. An excerpt:

Pitta individuals may develop occasional inflammatory conditions. They have a general tendency to a moderate, athletic frame with a muscular body mass, and a sharp, energetic personality. Cooling therapy may lower a tendency toward irritability. Balance may be derived by colors that cool, moderate, and soothe.

Under each type is a selection of colors with names like "Revive" and "Fire" and "Memory" (think I'll paint my room in that color). How cool.  How trendy.  How earth-friendly.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Home Made "Sprite" (Lemon-Lime Soda)

KIDZ Rating: A
MOMZ Rating: A

I got this recipe from the Feingold handbook and it's soooo good! Here's a great way to make the occasional treat of soda without any artificial flavors, colors, or nasty high-fructose corn syrup.  It's really quite yummy and you can take it to its healthiest level by using organic fruit and sugar.  It's very simple.  This recipe makes about 14oz or so, or about 2 servings of the drink; there will be leftover simple syrup to use for later batches.

1/4 cup Simple Syrup (see below)
12 oz seltzer water
3T lemon juice
1 1/2 T lime juice (I squeezed my own for the freshest taste possible)

Combine and pour over ice in glasses.

Simple Syrup:  combine 2C sugar (I used organic) and 1C water in pan.  Cook on low heat, stirring often until sugar is dissolved and mixture is clear.  Store extra in refrigerator.

Another recipe from Feingold is for vanilla soda: combine 1/4 C. simple syrup, 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla. and 12 oz seltzer water.  We haven't tried this yet but will soon!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Resolving to Stay Green in 2009

If you're a mom like me, looking for simple but effective ways we can individually make the world a better place, we can start with our mailboxes.  Once again I was overwhelmed this holiday season with catalogs.  And while I don't necessarily mind catalogs now and then, it never ceases to amaze me how I end up on a dozen mailing lists after making a purchase from just one retailer. 

But as it is the new year and time for resolutions, I've resolved to have less filler for my recycle bin.  One way you can do this is by going to Catalog Choice online.  For even more ideas about reducing junk mail, from stopping delivery of unwanted phone books to how to hire a service to do the work for you, try Ecocycle.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Humble Pine Cone

I brought some big pine cones when we moved from Florida.  Our home there had a number of long-leaf pines on the property which produced some really nice, 8-12 inch tall pine cones every year.  I discovered these in our attic when searching for holiday decorations, and realized that they would probably serve a better purpose as a craft and feeder for birds than just sitting around in my attic.

The peanut-butter-and-birdseed pine cone is an old, tried and true activity for kidz.  But, like many things in my crazy busy old life, it isn't something I'd done with my kidz in a number of years.  What better way to spend a cold winter's day?

If you've never made one, it's simple: just spread peanut butter (we used Whole Foods' 365 every day brand peanut butter, which is quite a bargain) on the pine cone, then pour bird seed (purchased at the local grocery or hardware store) over it--the seed should stick.  Kidz who are okay with messy hands can mash the seeds into the peanut butter.  Then just hang the pine cones from tree branches.  

My nature kidz loved doing this and also loved pouring the excess seed onto our deck and watching the winter birds snack--blue birds, cardinals, and more came right into the yard and onto the deck.