Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mel's Pantry

“Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry” ~Chinese Proverb

Even though I'm not a housewife, this quote really reminded me that unless I have my key ingredients on hand, I cannot create a "miracle" in the kitchen when I'm exhausted after a long day at work.  I've found that by keeping a well-stocked pantry, it helps alleviate the "what's for dinner" headache, and also saves us so much not having to eat out all the being able to stock up on an item when it's on sale for a fraction of the normal cost....and by eliminating the "I-had-to-run-to-the-store-to-get-milk-and-bread-and-spent-$50" catastrophe.

Source  a great blog post about Extreme Couponing turned hoarding 
Now when I say to keep a well-stocked pantry, I don't mean to get crazy and have so much stuff that you can't use it up in a reasonable amount of time. I don't want to see your house on "Doomsday Preppers" or "Hoarders."  Unless you own a hot dog stand in NYC, there is no need to have 14 gallons of mustard on hand.  Your children should not have to sleep with cases of olives and chili in their bed because you are out of storage space for your "stockpile."  Just because you have good coupons that you can stack with a good sale, does NOT mean you should buy 432 packages of spaghetti even if they come out to FREE, unless you plan on donating at least 400 packages to your local food pantry.  But if you find a really good sale, AND you can use the items before their expiration date AND you have the space to store them AND you have the extra money, then buy a dozen cans of your favorite tomato sauce or your favorite tuna.  It's all about finding a balance between becoming cost-effective and prepared, yet not greedy and wasteful. 

One thing that I find that is different from my pantry than many people's pantries, is that I choose to stock an almost completely organic, all-natural kitchen, free from artificial or unhealthy ingredients.  You will (almost) never find anything containing artificial sweeteners, MSG, HFCS, GMO, pesticides, or fake ingredients.  We eat butter, not margarine.  We eat eggs, not egg beaters.  We eat organic sugar and honey (in moderation) and not aspartame.  We eat bacon, rib eye steaks, and dark meat chicken in addition to chicken breasts and tofu.  We don't eat anything that's made to be "Sugar-free" or "fat free" unless it naturally happens to be that way.  We try to eat food in the closest form as it occurs in nature.  My rule of thumb is that if the ingredient list looks like a science experiment, if there are more than 5-10 items long, and it's something that my Great-Grandma wouldn't have eaten, I shouldn't eat it either.  While we tend to eat a very "clean" diet, we don't follow a specific way of eating, such as Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Weston A. Price, Vegan, Vegetarian, Low Fat/Carb/Sugar.  We take the best of all methods and combine them into something that works for us.  However, we are always changing, always evolving as we continue learning and growing and discovering how our bodies react.  Being diagnosed with food allergies has really made me read labels and clean up my diet more than I already had.  

Typical Trader Joe's Shopping Trip
I do most of my shopping at the local farmer's market, Trader Joes, Nugget Market, and sometimes Amazon Grocery.  I shop the sales and with coupons as much as possible to keep costs down.  I also try to grow some of my own produce and fresh herbs, can homemade tomato products, jams and jellies, and pickles, and freeze fresh produce when it's in season.

Home canned peppers and salsa
Home canned Jelly, pickles, and Relish

Trays of fresh, seasonal fruit make great ice cubes or smoothies in the winter months when fruit is out of season and expensive. 

Frozen edmame, a good, quick snack.  Frozen shredded zucchini from last year's "monsters" ready to be added to a soup, stew, or pasta sauce for an extra serving of veggies

I have a large pantry, a deep chest freezer in the garage, and have just added an extra fridge in the garage to store bulk produce for juicing and canning as well as large jars of fermented foods like kimchi.
Wild fish from Costco in individual portion sizes make for quick, weeknight dinners
Organic fruits and veggies
Organic, GF treats
Homemade Pasta Sauce and Organic Frozen Meal for a Quick Dinner 

The remainder of the ground beef from our 1/4 side
Still have lots of steaks and roasts left!

Kimchi and zucchini monsters
Strawberries ready to be made into jam
While I may not always have every single one of these ingredients on hand, I try to keep the majority of them around, because they tend to be the main ingredients in my "go-to" dinners.

Feed your dogs a spoonful of yogurt with their meal, it helps alleviate the stinky farts :) 
Leftovers make quick, healthy meals!
Ghee, coconut spread, and organic butter

Organic, grass fed beef hot dogs, wild cold smoked salmon, goat cheese, soy free dark chocolate

Healthy drinks
His and hers condiment shelves

More fresh fruits and veggies
Fresh fruits
Peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes

Use your inside freezer for things you use regularly
Freeze your brown bananas for smoothies and recipes

I love to cook, I love to entertain, AND I eat most meals at home due to food allergies, so I try to keep a well-rounded variety of everything on hand for a cooking binge, a last minute get together, and prevention of going out and eating something I shouldn't.

Canned goods, spices, and condiments

Mostly our "junk" food.  Keep junk on the top shelf. 

My "safe" shelves.  Nothing goes on these shelves that content my allergens.  That way when I'm exhausted, I don't even have to read the labels, I know it's good for me to eat.  

Bulk items like organic olive oil can save you lots of money

High protein snack, no cooking required

Even my poor dog has developed a grain allergy so I keep healthy, allergen friendly snacks on hand for her
After a couple weeks of taking wheat and corn out of her diet, she stopped scratching and chewing on herself and her "hot spots" disappeared. 

Just because you eat healthy, doesn't mean you can't have the occasional treat.  Plus, if you bring in treats to your coworkers, they (usually) end up being in a better mood the rest of the day!  

Come over, have a drink, relax, and let's chat over a meal.  

Always have cold beers waiting for friends

Spices, Seasonings

  • Bay Leaves*
  • Chili Powder*
  • Cayenne*
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander*
  • Cumin*
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Pepper Plant Dry Rub Seasoning*(I put this on everything from popcorn to pizza)
  • Whole Nutmeg
  • Oregano
  • Herbs de Provence 
  • Sage salt
  • Paprika* (regular and smoked)
  • Poultry Seasoning
  • Red Pepper Flakes*
  • Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper grinders
  • Red Hawaiian Sea Salt 
  • Sea Salt 
  • Liquid smoke


  • Cornstarch*
  • Almond Flour
  • Coconut Flour
  • Rice Flour
  • All Purpose Flour*
  • Pamela's Gluten Free Baking Mix*
  • Other assorted Gluten Free flours and baking mixes 
  • Baking soda and powder
  • Organic Mexican Vanilla Extract
  • Organic Sugar - Brown, Powdered, Cane (white)
  • Chips* (Chocolate, butterscotch and white)
  • Organic Blackstrap Molasses
  • Assorted (raw and dry roasted) nuts:  Almonds, Pecans, Walnuts, Peanuts*, Pistachios*
  • Shredded coconut, no sugar added
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Cupcake Papers
  • Cake decorating kit (colors, sprinkles, tips, bags, etc)
  • Assorted extracts (almond, coconut, etc)


  • Green Tobasco
  • Bone Daddy's Spitfire Sauce 
  • Pepper Plant  Hot Sauces: Original, Chunky Garlic, Chipotle, and Habaneros*
  • Siracha
  • Sweet Red Chili Sauce
  • Tomato Salsa and Salsa Verde * (Home canned)
  • Assorted Mustards*
  • Ketchup (Muir Glen)
  • Worcestershire Sauce*
  • Peanut Butter*
  • Almond Butter
  • Tahini
  • Mayonnaise*
  • Local Raw Honey
  • Organic Maple Syrup
  • Soy Sauce*, Gluten Free Soy Sauce* or Coconut Aminos
  • BBQ Sauce*
  • Assorted Vinegars: Red Wine*, Balsamic*, Raw Apple Cider Cider, Seasoned and Unseasoned Rice* 

Oils and Vinegars

  • Vinegars: Red Wine*, Balsamic*, Raw Apple Cider Cider, Seasoned and Unseasoned Rice*
  • Cold Pressed Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Garlic Oil 
  • Toasted Sesame Oil
  • Olive oil cooking spray*

    Canned Goods/Pantry

    • Chicken Stock*
    • Beef Stock*
    • Canned fish - Sardines in Olive Oil, Tuna in Water, and Anchovy Filets or Anchovy paste in a tube
    • Tomatoes* - Fire-Roasted , crushed, diced, sauce, and paste (Muir Glen is the only brand of tomato products I buy, they taste like summer.  I also can my own tomatoes.)
    • Canned Beans* - Black, Garbanzo, Pinto, Refried
    • Ortega Chilies (whole and diced)
    • Artichoke Hearts in Water
    • Pinapple chunks in 100% juice
    • Coconut Milk (Regular and Light)
    • Olives - Black, Green, and Kalmata*
    • Pasta - Brown Rice Spaghetti, Rice macaroni or other shapes, Linguini-style Stir-Fry rice noodles
    • Organic Corn Taco Shells
    • Rice - Brown, White, Sushi, and Arborio
    • Quinoa
    • Seaweed - Nori sheets (sushi) and wakame (miso soup)  
    • Almond/Rice/Coconut Milk


    • Assorted teas and coffees
    • Kombucha
    • Hansens Sodas
    • Santa Cruz Organic Juices and Lemonade
    • Wines - Red*, White, and Sparkling
    • Hard Alcohol - Vodka, White and Dark* Rum, Whiskey, and Scotch
    • Beer - Assorted for all tastes

    Frozen Foods

    • Organic Grass fed and finished beef - we bought a quarter of a cow from a local farm and got an assortment of ground beef, steaks and roasts
    • Organic Chicken (breast, thighs, drumsticks)
    • Organic whole pastured chicken for roasting and then making stock
    • Organic Pastured Bacon
    • Wild caught or sustaniably farmed seafood - salmon, mahi mahi, tilapia, shrimp, etc.
    • Organic Pastured Pork (chops, shoulder)
    • Organic Pork or chicken sausages
    • Shredded zucchini from last seasons harvest
    • Peas and corn
    • Edamame (whole or shelled)
    • Frozen fruits for making smoothies or as "ice cubes" for water or cocktails (berries, peaches, bananas, grapes, etc)

    Fresh Foods

    • Fresh Fruit - Apples, lemons*, limes*, avocados, tomatoes, bananas
    • Fresh Vegetables - Salad Greens, spinach, kale*, bok choy, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, radishes
    • Fresh herbs - cilantro* , basil, rosemary, thyme, mint
    • Raw, Organic, Grassfed Milk*
    • Ghee made from grass fed milk
    • Butter* - salted and unsalted
    • Farm Fresh Pastured Eggs*
    • Assorted cheeses* - Sharp cheddar, Parmesan, goat, manchego, etc.
    • Organic white miso*
    • Cold smoked salmon
    • Fermented foods - Kimchi, sauerkraut, sour pickles, etc. 
    • Any seasonal produce that catches my eye at the farmer's market!
    • Corn* and Brown Rice Tortillas (freeze if not using immediately)
    • Sprouted whole grain bread or traditional sourdough bread (no yeast)

    "Junk Food"

    • Annie's Mac n Cheese*  
    • Annie's or Cascade Farms Granola Bars*
    • Annie's Bunnies Crackers* 
    • Amy's Frozen meals and burritos*
    • Applegate all beef hot dogs
    • Organic Tortilla Chips*
    • Organic popcorn* (to air or stove pop) 
    • Pints of ice cream* or sorbet (small containers to prevent binging!)



    *****This list is my pre-allergy testing list.  I have marked the things that are taking a break from or limiting in my diet with an "*".  I do hope that they will eventually make them into my normal rotation one day soon.  For now, I feed these items to my hubby, family and friends and stick to things on my "safe" list.  

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Small Changes

    Today I had to take my car to get new brakes.  Instead of asking for a ride home from the shop or a friend like I normally would, I decided to walk home.  I live less than a mile away from the shop, and it only took 15 minutes to get home.  

    Six months ago, I wouldn't have had the energy to walk to the mailbox two houses down.

    Little changes like this eventually lead to big results! 

    Next time you need to go out think about this...

    Can you walk? 

    Can you ride your bike?

    Can you park at the end of the parking lot instead of by the door?

    Can you take the stairs instead of the elevator? 

    Little things like this can help all of us get more activity into our daily life.  

    Experts recommend 10,000 steps per day (5 miles) for a healthy, active lifestyle. 

    What do you do to add little bits of activity into your life? 

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    The summer of salsa continues...Grilled pineapple salsa

    Summer 2012.  

    The world has declared that this is the summer of the Olympic Games in London. 

    Two girls in California have declared it the summer of salsa.

    So far, Lo and I have made 

    and now, 


    Friday night, hubby and I had our Chevy's Fresh Mex, the At-Home Edition.  It's really difficult to eat out when you have such a restricted diet, so I attempt to make everything I'm craving at home.  We grilled up carne asada, veggies, pineapple, and wrapped everything up in a gluten free corn tortilla.  We grilled the entire 3lb tub of fresh pineapple we got at Costco, and since it was just the two of us, we had lots of leftovers.  

    I love all things pineapple.  Especially Pineapple Dole Whip.  It tastes best eaten at the Dole Plantation on Oahu, while seated next to a pineapple plant.  But going to the local Frozen Yogurt Shop will satisfy the cravings.  

    I texted Lo.  

    I just took a nap and had a dream....Of grilled pineapple salsa.  
    Dreams are about to become realities.  

    I started by chopping up all the leftover pineapple into tiny chunks. 

    Chopped up a fresh red spring onion, bottom and tops.  

    Got out my gloves, and diced up a jalapeño.  

    Chopped up some cilantro and fresh mint leaves.  

    Juiced a couple limes. 

    Added some cumin.  (It really is one of my favorite spices)

    Gave it a stir, a taste, and then covered it and started  it's required siesta in the fridge.  

    When dinnertime came around, I seared some jumbo sized scallops, and served them on top of this salsa.  


    Sweet, but not too sweet.  Spicy, but not too spicy.  A wonderful balance of flavors, complimenting the scallops perfectly.

    As good as any fancy restaurant.
    And way, way cheaper. 

    Grilled Pineapple Salsa

    3 cups grilled pineapple, chopped
    1 red onion, diced
    1 jalapeño, diced
    1/4 cilantro leaves, chopped
    1 tbl mint leaves, chopped
    juice of 2 limes

    Mix all together in a glass bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Accidental Exercise: Squats

    I don't know about you, but I don't like going to the gym. Hate it really. I don't like feeling like a hamster in a wheel while I'm on a treadmill. It's so boring and I get bored easily. When I get bored, I lose interest.  When things are no longer interesting to me, I quit and move on to something more interesting.  Like naps.  Or surfing.  Internet surfing that is.  
    No way am I jumping in the ocean to become shark bait.  

    I have found that the easiest way for me to get exercise outside of the gym is what I like to call "accidental exercise."  It's the side effect of doing things you would normal do in your day-to-day routine that normally wouldn't be considered exercise, but the next day makes you feel like you completed a triathlon.  

    Daisy May.  Loves to dig and run away when you call her.  

    A few weeks ago, I got some accidental exercise when I had to sprint down the street to chase after Daisy when she dug out under the fence.  I got in some running, and also got some cardio.  My heart was pumping faster in 30 seconds than after an hour on the elliptical.  Dachshunds run so fast despite their short, stubby little legs.   

    Last week, our other dog Sasha came in the house with a foxtail stuck to her side.  For those of you with dogs, you know just how dangerous foxtails can be for you little four-legged friend.  Those things can get stuck in ears, up noses, and in paws, causing pain, infections, and even hearing loss.  

    One of the giant piles of weeds.  YUCK!

    I knew that the weeds that I had been avoiding, had to come out ASAP.  

    Early Sunday morning, Dave and I got busy working on the weeds. There were some pretty stubborn weeds out there.  In just a couple weeks, they had gotten so big and their roots had gotten so deep that I would grab them with both hands at the base and pull and I would lose my balance and fall backwards.
    (And then my hubby would come up and yank it out with one hand and no effort at all...jerk) 

    After a few hours, we were hot, sweaty, and dirty.  We had finally pulled all the weeds out of the yard.  It was starting to look better.  We threw all the weeds in the green bin, and it was filled up to the top.  We showered and went about our normal Sunday activities of preparing for the work week.  

    Monday morning, the alarm goes off, and I sluggishly roll out of bed.  I was in quite a bit of pain, but that's sadly pretty normal for me.  I've had two significant back injuries in the past 10 years, as well as the inflammation that's most likely caused by my food allergies.  I just take a hot shower, and usually that helps me get loosened up for the day.  

    I got to work, and I still wasn't feeling that great.  It hurt to walk up the stairs.  I started thinking.  What did I eat this weekend that could have caused this pain?  Right now my focus is on my food, but I couldn't pinpoint eating anything I shouldn't have.   

    As the day went by, I was still hurting.  I took some motrin.  It barely touched the pain.  My calves, my quads, and my hamstrings really hurting.  My shoulders were sore.  My arms were weak. What caused this pain?  I felt like I ran a marathon. 

    And then it hit me.  

    I pulled weeds.

    All Sunday morning, I had been going meticulously around the yard. Up and down.  Yanking out all those stubborn weeds.  Squatting down to grab each one.  Using my knees instead of my back, so I wouldn't get injured.  Pulling with all my strength to get out some of those monsters.  

    I didn't realize it, but I had given myself a full body workout, without stepping foot in the gym.  I had accomplished a task that desperately needed to be done.  And I "worked out" for hours longer than I would have even spent in the gym.  

    According to My Fitness Pal, the average 150lb person will burn this many calories for basic household chores.    

    Cooking for 30 minutes - 68 calories
    Gardening for 60 minutes - 272 calories
    Light housework for 60 minutes - 170 calories
    Mowing lawn for 30 minutes - 187
    Walking the dog for 30 minutes - 112 
    Moving boxes for 30 minutes - 238 calories

    So next time you find yourself dreading going to the gym, look around the house and find some chores that need to be done.  I'll bet you will work out longer and harder than if you had just begrudgingly jumped on a treadmill.  

    And your chores will be done. 

    Sisterwives & The Summer of Salsa

    Yes, it's true. 
    We are like the Sister-wives of Roasted Corn Salsa. 
    You see we just can't get enough.
    I made it first, she made it better, we both declared love and then we declared that this will be:
    The Summer of Salsa.
    "Mel, it makes me so happy." 
    "Lo, it makes me happier."
    "I could sit here and stare at it all day long."
    "Me too."
    "Let's stare at it together."

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Ceviche's Long-Lost Distant Cousin....Roasted Corn and Jalapeño Salsa with Shrimp

    When Lo made this Salsa the other day, I knew I had to try it.  It didn't have anything on my "NO" list, and only had a couple things on my self imposed "avoid for optimal results" list.
    (I can eat them occasionally as long as they don't end up in my regular rotation.)  

    Don't you just want to grab a spoon and dig in???

    I am currently in the "reintroduction" phase of my elimination diet, and am on a strict schedule to try new foods.  Every 72 hours, I try one of my "NO" foods and see how I react.  I am starting at the bottom of my list and working my way, adding back foods that were on my "Low Reaction" list.

    This Saturday, my food to try was the spice "cumin".  It is one of my favorite spices.  I love it's earthy, nutty aroma.  Since cumin is an ingredient used in Mexican cooking, I decided that it would be a great addition to Lo's salsa.  We were having some friends over to watch the UFC fights on Saturday night, so I wanted to be able to enjoy one of the snacks that I made for everyone to enjoy.  I also added a tub of wild, baby shrimp and instantly had a giant bowl full of summery, salsa-y goodness.  

    I texted Lo and told her how I had improved her recipe.  

    Shut the front door!!!

    It's fantastic!  

    I have Emma and I'm on my way somewhere else, but I'm taking a detour to your place first.

    It's taking a siesta in the fridge right now. 

    (as per your instructions)

    It needs to wake up when I arrive.  Vamanos muchachos!!!!!!

    Lo arrived, hungry and ready to chow down on some salsa, so we didn't answer the door (apparently the doorbell is really hard to hear when you have 15 people over watching the fights) and we left her on the front porch for a few minutes while we started scarfing down the salsa.  When we finally decided to let Lo in, she came in and said I'm just here for the salsa, that's it. Lo and I hovered around the salsa, munching away.  My hubby called her a food slut, then tried to get in on the action.  He got an evil glare and a "Back off."  When we finally let him try it, he couldn't stay away.  

    A little bit of paradise in a jar
    I did have one extra special secret ingredient when I made this salsa.  I have this minor little addiction to a store called Home Goods.  Seriously, there needs to be a support group.  I find myself going in there way too often to browse and always find some little treasure.  One of my favorite parts of the store is the little section with all the gourmet foods, oils, and seasonings.  With as much as I cook, I could go crazy just in that little area!  I found this little gem a couple months back, and have been dying to try it.  It really added a depth of flavor that ordinary salt doesn't.  If you can ever find it, or something similar, buy it.  You won't be sorry! 

    Roasted Corn and Jalapeño Salsa with Shrimp

    2 cups of frozen corn - thawed (or about 4 ears worth cut from the cob)
    2 small jalapeños - seeded and diced 
    1 basket of cherry tomatoes - chopped  OR 2 large tomatoes - seeded and diced
    1 medium red onion - diced
    2 medium sized cucumbers - peeled, seeded, and diced
    2 medium avocados - chopped
    1 can of black beans - rinsed
    2 lbs cooked baby shrimp - rinsed
    1 bunch of cilantro - chopped
    1-2 tbl sea salt
    2 tsp cumin
    3 limes

    Coat a skillet with some olive oil spray and turned it on high.  Add corn and stir constantly until the kernels start to look a little charred, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from skillet to a large, glass bowl.

    Add the jalapeños to the skillet and toast, about 2 minutes.  

    Remember to not touch your face or eyes or any other sensitive body parts when you handle jalapeños.  It HURTS.  I always wear disposable gloves to keep the burn off my hands.  Remember to take out all the membranes and the seeds, unless you want it ultra spicy.

    Wild baby shrimp
    from Costco

    Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, avocados, beans, shrimp, and cilantro.  Stir until combined.  Add salt and cumin.  Squeeze lime juice over the top.  Give a final stir, cover, and chill for about 2 hours.

    Serve with chips as a dip, or on on top of a salad with your favorite dressing. Or just grab a fork and try not to eat the entire bowl. 

    Because it does have shrimp in it, please be careful when you serve it, especially if you are outdoors at a BBQ.  Don't keep it at room temperature too long.  I would suggest keeping the serving bowl on ice, or use a small dish on the table that you replenish often and keep the majority in the fridge.