Monday, August 23, 2010

Dining out - Orders custom made

As I was checking my e-mail yesterday, I read a message from a friend for a dinner invite. YAY! I love an opportunity to celebrate, but then it hit me....hmmmm dinner at a restaurant. I love dining out and many years ago, I dined at many (many) fine restaurants wherever I travelled. However, over the last 14 years I have become more aware of what my body has been telling in regards to food, and as I eliminated and narrowed things down, I have confirmed a few allergies and intolerances. Today, I am gluten intolerant, allergic to peanuts and eggs, and cannot digest pork. Simple list (and for health benefits I do not eat refined sugars, and am currently leaving out dairy and caffeine). And at home I have a wealth of healthy foods to choose from which are catered to the needs of me and my family. My boys are also gluten and lactose intolerant, and allergic to peanuts (not as much as I am, but it's still there). As a result of our unique dietary requirements, I have become a culinary wiz and the knowledge I have gained from reading labels, asking questions, and balancing our nutrition to make sure we are getting what we need out of our diet. It has been an amazing journey...I am a conscious eater and I love it.

Back to the pending dinner date. Before responding, I did an online search to find out more about the restaurant. And in my search I came across a great resource, Canadian Celiac Association. The Edmonton chapter has a full listing of restaurants with gluten friendly options. Now of course, I still need to be mindful of the other allergens that can be present, but it gives my family a window into enjoying fine dining. Regardless of what is on the menu, knowing what it is that you will eat and don't want to eat is a good place to start.

Be knowledgeable and informed

Even if you are not at a restaurant, when you are gathered in a social setting where there is food and refreshments, you always have a choice. Enjoying everything in moderation keeps the focus on spending time with family and friends, instead of only on the food. At a restaurant, go over the menu and see what it is you would like to order. Choice options that support the decision you have already made towards your nutrition and well-being and when it's time to order, feel free to ask question and also indicate your allergies/intolerances. A lot of restaurants actually prefer that you tell them in advance to ordering so they can inform you of options and also for legal purposes should an incident occur.

You always have a choice...don't be afraid to ask

Now that your server is informed, you can ask your questions towards customizing your order and supporting your healthful choices. Questions you can ask include...

Can this be grilled, steamed, or broiled instead of fried?

Is there any added butter or oil? (Good to ask for those that are lactose intolerant, even to butter, and knowing what oil they use, because it could be peanut oil)

Can the skin be removed? (not just for reducing fat content, but some people really don't like eating the skin)

Can the sauce or dressing come on the side? (you can either opt out of using the sauce or controlling the amount that is used)

Can I substitute the dressing for some slices of lemon and some vinegar instead? (You can dress your salad they way you want, especially if it is a simple side salad)

Can I substitute for a side salad, veggies, or baked potato instead of fries? (most restaurants already have this option, but if it's not listed, you can always ask)

If you have a menu to choose from, you have a choice. Your order is in fact the choices you are making for the meal you want to have. And for many years, millions of people around the world have made an order to their specifications. Especially if you are sitting down in a restaurant, know that as efficient as you want them to be in preparing your meal and the meals of others, it doesn't happen until you place an order.

What to look for to keep it healthy

The way that we eat in our home really focuses on eating foods that are closest to its natural state. We eat whole foods with little to no added ingredients. I prepare most of our meals from scratch, but we use few ingredients, so it makes it simple. If you toss a chicken breast in a skillet with some salt and pepper and maybe a few herbs, it is enough to make it delicious. Looking for menu items that do the same by keeping the preparation simple, helps to keep the guessing down and nutritional content up.

Looking for lean cuts of meat, lots of veggies, dishes that are not saucy or loaded with mayo, and those dishes where the individual ingredients are readily identifiable (which helps with picky eaters) can make your healthy choice a lot easier. Also choosing your beverage can make a difference to the healthfulness of your meal as well. I usually order hot water and lemon, avoiding soda. I feel satisfied before having my meal when I have water first, and I find that I can focus on enjoying the taste of my food more. If I choose to have an alcoholic based drink, I decide that in advance to going out.

Now that you have ordered a healthy meal suited to your specifications, you also want to keep in mind portion control. I haven't experienced a problem with that yet (where a meal was too big to eat on my own), however when we do go out as just a family I will tend to order a couple dishes and split it up between me and the boys. I tend to choose from sides or appetizers for the items (unless there is a complete dish that is easier to customize) and then I ask for extra plates and then put together our meals right at the table. It works the same if you are sharing a meal with some as well. Not only does it keep the portion size down, but allows for more variety in what you get to eat and can be more affordable too. You can also choose to eat half of your order (decide in advance to chowing down) and take half of it home. If you are at a social gathering, it is recommended to come back for seconds instead of loading up a plate high of food and not being able to finish it (overeating can compromise on enjoying the company of friends and family).

So the answer is yes to the dinner invite and I am prepared to have a good time, custom-made.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Woah Zucchini!

Today we cut our first BIG zucchini out of the garden. And this being our first year for growing food in our garden, I am quite pleased. It is definitely coming with its share of learning opportunities as I work to maintain the health of the plants. We have tomatoes, squash, and zucchini in the same area of the garden and previous to the plants moving in, there used to be a sidewalk to the garage. I added soil from other areas of the yard evened out the area. I then sectioned it off and put the plants and seeds in. Hmmmmm....sounds pretty simple. The plants have grown quite huge regardless of all the things are are struggling with. The is a mildew that has started growing on the leaves of both the squash and the zucchini and spider mites have found the squash. I have taken to spraying the leaves with natural remedies and removing dead and consumed leaves from the plants to help it to survive until the end of season. I am so glad that this encouragement has helped the plant to produce such good fruit, or in this case zucchini.

Lessons I am learning from growing my own food.

Prepare the soil - Good food needs good food

If I want this zucchini to bring nourishment and nutrients to me, I want to feed it with the good nutrients I want to receive. I pretty much just used the soil that was there and considering there was a sidewalk there before, it was a gravel base that I was working with. I added topsoil and a couple bags of other soil I had picked up from the store. I also added bonemeal around the plants and watered the plants with rainwater. We have a compost pile on the go and in the spring when I turn it over, it should be ready to spread throughout the beds and provide more nourishments for the garden we will plant next year. The nutrients and good composition of the soil helps the plants not only to grow, and be healthy, but to produce a good yield as well. The plants grew big and abundantly, but their health can be improved on as well.

The same can be said for us. We need good food to become good food. We need to nourish ourselves from the inside out to produce good fruit in our lives. We can make sure that what we are putting into ourselves,(i.e. healthy food, good information and knowledge, positive influences, etc.) will help us to grow and produce a good harvest. We are a part of this world we are in, and others benefit from the fruit that we produce.

To reap an abundant crop it takes daily maintenance.

I admit, I wasn't out there in the garden everyday. If it rained, I stayed inside since I didn't have to water the garden. But a few days later I came to realize that something was going on with the squash plants. They had spider mites. If I had been out there on a more consistent basis and more watchful and observant of what kind of growth and details were going on, I would have easily noticed the spotty leaves and could tackle the situation as it began. I lost a few plants to spider mites, but now with the mildew that is growing on both the squash and zucchini plants, I am looking to remedy the spread before it takes over. I will be trying a solution of chamomile tea to spray the leaves with and hope that it works. I have already removed heavily affected leaves and dead leaves from the garden. The sooner I take action to go after these problems, the less work I will have to do to fight for the lives of these plants and we can still enjoy the harvest they are working so hard to produce. I can help to keep the plants healthy, by making sure they have enough water, check for pests or disease, keeping the plants fed and harvest the fruit as it is ready.

Taking daily, consistent action towards nurturing your growth helps us to keep moving forward in the same way. Focusing on staying healthy in all areas of our lives takes thought, and watchfulness followed with the right actions. Staying hydrated, taking in balanced nutrients, watching for negative influences, thoughts, and habits and removing or replacing them with positive thoughts, habits and influences. Also being watchful for disease and things that seem to be out of place or not inline with what you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes they are not negative things, but they could be things that are not productive to the goal you are going after. Keeping things in moderation and maintaining focus are good actions towards fruitful growth as well.

Share the good harvest, and more will come

The zucchini plants produced many little zucchinis and they would grow to a certain point and then start dying off. They would turn yellow at the end and then start shrinking back. If I could catch then just as they start to change colour, I could still have a good zucchini to eat. Also with cutting back the additional fruit and pruning some of the leaves, it helped the zucchini plant to put more energy into growing bigger fruits. The more I pruned, the bigger the fruits that were produced. Now again, the BIG ones are still growing bigger and bigger and the plant is producing more new shoots and leaves now as well.

With pruning or refinement and continually giving from our fruits, can we reap a bigger harvest? If we grow more and give more can we receive more? My life has proven that in many ways, and I see it in the lives of those around me too. I am surrounded by people who give with what they have (their talent) and from what they have and people seem to be eager to give them more. But I have also seen the opposite, where those who take from the harvest of others, don't give from what they can produce and has left them with less in the end. There is a market out there full of the good harvest of others and we are consumers and producers in that market. What we produce, we are giving to others, and what we receive in return may very well be dependent on what it is we are giving. It is good to good to give and makes you a better receiver the more you give what is good. All I know is that I have never held a zucchini that big from my own garden and I gave it to our friends to enjoy. It was the first of the big fruits out of our garden and there is more to come and more to enjoy. Guess it's a good thing that I love zucchinis.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We have a new visitor

Welcome to our home, Bartleby! He is a bearded dragon lizard and we get the privilege of hanging out with him for a couple weeks as his family is away. I must say, that at first I was a bit apprehensive to the idea. Why? Because he is someone else's pet. But I moved into trusting that I can care for and enjoy the loved ones of others and even after just one day, I can see why people would have lizards as pets. I find it fascinating to think about how this creature is so different from how we are made. And of course explaining and discussing the differences with my sons makes it that more fun. It also helps us to really appreciate how it is that we are made. That we are animals that produce our own heat to stay warm, that we can think and compare, and relate how we are made different from other creatures (although I know my dog would look at me with the look of wonder sometimes when I would do things that were not "dog-like").

We are glad to have this opportunity to learn more about bearded dragons (would I have thought of researching it before now?), about ourselves, and get the chance to know new people as well. And his family was right...he is kinda cute ;)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Clear the clutter, simplify your life

This weekend we are having our first garage sale. Why is it our first? Well it's the first time that we have had all our stuff in one space at one time in a garage. We have moved quite a few times over the last 10 years, and for the most part, they were quick moves for one reason or another. But in the process of quick moves, and having items in storage we lost access to a lot of things we need on hand. Clothes, tools, books, supplies, and so we went out and bought more. Which lead to more stuff and a lot of duplicates. When you have all this stuff, it feels like it's sapping your energy and thought as you continue to search for what you already have....somewhere. So we have a lot of stuff that can go to good homes and over the last year after our most recent move, we have been organizing and finding all these things we have lost. A lot of it came in handy as we had moved into a space we could use them (for example, having a garage that we can use the tools in), but there are things that were uncovered that we no longer needed. Clothes that I have grown out of or more specifically, that were now too big for me to wear. Those items need a good home. A lot of baby items that our son had grown out of and lots more. Most of which we had already donated or given away, but as we continue to unpack and sort, we can continue to simplify our things to what we really need and organize in a way that will lead to less frustration, less duplication, and less energy wasted.

If you have in your life more than you need to use, than it tends to become clutter. How are ways to reduce clutter in the main areas of your home and life.

Clear your mind

Many things can clutter our minds and I have found that if they are not things that will help you to grow, then they need to go. Even if you are blessed with the understanding that you can grow from any situation, you can still gain more optimal growth in establishing a more positive environment to live with. Negativity from other people, from yourself, and even from memories associated with objects feel heavy and are not very change your thoughts to positive ones, help your relationships to be more positive and encouraging, and spend your time with positive, forward-focused people that help you to grow.

Be more efficient and wallet-friendly

This summer we have really focused on simplifying our lives and we started the process first last year by minimizing our expenses. A few things we did to reduce our expenses...

We reduced our cell phone bill by negotiating new options in our plan.
We switched internet providers and pay about half of what we were before.
We cut the cable (the kids like watching movies in repeat anyhow when they get TV time)
We swapped most of our light bulbs to more energy efficient options and turn the lights off when we are done in a room.
We cut our natural gas consumption by only washing our clothes in cold water, and keeping the heat down to comfortable "enough". (wear a sweater, warmer clothing, and slippers)
We reduced our water consumption by collecting rain water for the garden, wear clothes more than once (if they are clean), and not running the water while we wash dishes, hands or brush teeth.
I walk the boys to school and I walk to work. (or work from home)
I continue to make tweaks to our grocery bill and nutrition by purchasing whole foods and less processed foods while planning and prepping ahead in the week so nothing gets wasted.

Next project...

Working on organizing our papers, incoming mail, and office materials. I'll be looking into tips and suggestions that work best for us. Identifying how you find and use things really help. I like having a place for everything and knowing I can go to that place to take something out that I need. My hubby on the other hand needs to see it on display to remember where it is, especially stuff needing immediate attention (i.e. bills). We have started by organizing some stuff into bins and labelling them, but we still have a ways to go. One thing we are good at is keeping the extra papers that come into the house to a minimum. As soon as it comes in, it is designated a home or goes to the recycling bin. Every time I touch a paper that is on the "roam" in our home, I make sure it finds a good spot. I review it and decide if it is needed, and then put it in its place.

We are always looking for ways to improve on our environment, and with less clutter we can enjoy more room to breathe, think, and grow.