Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Healthy Sooner Has a New Home!

NEWS FLASH!  I am excited to announce that The Healthy Sooner has a new, easy-to-remember web address:

If you have already bookmarked the old address, you will be automatically redirected.  Thanks to all of my readers for making this blog a success!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving and a Brussels Sprouts Recipe

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday!  Jay and I joined about 20 other family members at my aunt and uncle's house for am amazing feast.  Everything was beautiful, and the food was some of the best Thanksgiving fare I've had in years!
This was only round one:
And don't even get me started on the pies...holy cow!
My Brussels sprouts turned out quite tasty, and the recipe was simple enough that I'm sure I'll be preparing them this way many more times throughout the year.  
Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon (or 10 grinds) black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Remove any yellow or brown outer leaves on sprouts, cut off the stems and cut in half.
3. In a large bowl, toss the brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper together. Once all of the brussels sprouts are coated in oil, spread them into a 9- by 13-inch (or larger) baking dish or sheet tray to roast. Note: You may want to line your sheet tray with foil for easy cleanup because the caramelizing process leaves a sticky residue. Place in oven.
4. After 15 minutes, stir the brussels sprouts with a spatula or large spoon to even out the browning. After 30 minutes, stir in the maple syrup.
5. Continue to roast the brussels sprouts for about 15 more minutes, or until they are fork tender (about 45 minutes total roasting time).
6. Toss the roasted brussels sprouts with the walnuts and eat!

Later in the evening, we popped over to my stepsister's house to say hello to some friends and family who were eating over there. 

My little nephew, Ryder, is the cutest!
I made sure to call it an early night, because my mom and I had plans to start our annual Black Friday shopping adventure first thing in the morning.  I love searching through the ads every year and devising a detailed game plan...we don't mess around!  Even though most of the stores we went to had been open since the night before, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the items we wanted were still in stock.  We knew we wouldn't have a shot at the really big-ticket doorbuster items (and we weren't about to go out on Thanksgiving night to try), but we still scored tons of great deals and made a big dent in our Christmas shopping lists.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Banana Pumpkin Peanut Butter Soft Serve

I can't tell you how nice it is to be sitting at home in my pajamas blogging this morning instead of being at work!  Thanksgiving break could not come soon enough!

Last night, after another epic "Salad Tuesday" involving roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and avocado, I was craving a little something sweet.  I didn't feel the pressure to get in bed ridiculously early like I do on work nights, so I decided to whip up some banana soft serve.  

I have seen recipes for this sugar-free, vegan treat all over the web, and I've made it several times.  The basic version could not be easier.  You simply stick a frozen banana (or two or three) into a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.  The texture ends up almost identical to soft-serve frozen yogurt, and the banana is sweet enough that it really does taste like ice cream without adding extra sugar.  Some bloggers will squeeze in a bit of honey or agave nectar, but I don't think it's really necessary.

Last night, I decided to make the recipe a bit more interesting by adding in some other ingredients that I had on hand. 
I used:
1 frozen banana
1 heaping tablespoon canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon peanut butter
A hefty shake of cinnamon
After it was all blended up, I topped it with some of these Cacao Sweet Nibs.  Cacao is a Mayan superfood that is full of antioxidants and is known to be one of the highest dietary sources of magnesium.  
Did you notice the doggy photo bombs in the last two pictures?!  Too cute. 

The recipe made just enough for one person (although I'm sure I could have eaten more), and it really hit the spot.  

This morning I am headed to a doctors appointment and then plan to tackle the grocery store to pick up some ingredients I need for a couple of Thanksgiving side dishes. 

I am bringing a Brussels sprouts dish to my aunt's tomorrow, which I am going to base loosely off this recipe:

For a dinner with Jay's family on Saturday, I want to bring one of these:

I will let you know how it goes!  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Things I'm Loving Lately - Third Edition

We made it to Friday!  Here are a few things that I am loving this week!

Winter Weather
We are in the middle of our first ice/sleet/snow fall of the season, and I am surprised to say that (for the moment) I am loving this weather.  A huge cold front came through yesterday while I was at work, and, since I did not plan ahead, I ended up running around town with no jacket in below freezing temperatures and 30mph winds.  While the experience was awful, it really made me appreciate my cozy house once I finally made it here.  I got on my PJs, made a comforting dinner, poured some wine, and lit a fire.  It was awesome.
 Jay and I stayed in, relaxed, and spent a good portion of the evening cracking up at the dogs, who were acting even more hilarious than usual.  Wendy gathered up all of her "friends" from outside to protect them from the cold, and she spent the entire night proudly guarding her massive toy pile.  She was acting so adorable, and I took about a thousand pictures.
And I can't forget Oliver...he was being a goofball, too.
Today it really started to sleet while I was at work, so I am planning a repeat of last night.  It's only 4:45 and I am already in my PJs by the fire with a cup of tea writing this blog post.  Now if only we could get a snow day on Monday!

Roomba Vacuuming Robot
This one's a biggie. After reading a blog post that raved and raved about the Roomba, Jay and I impulsively purchased a refurbished model from Amazon last week.  This was actually our second impulse vacuum buy of the year...a few months ago we bought a Dyson Animal.  We obviously have a thing for vacuums, but with two doggies running in and out all the time, our passion is justified.  Keeping the house clean is a constant battle, so when we heard that there was a robot that could effectively do it for us, we just couldn't resist.
 We have used little "Roomie" a couple times now, and I can already tell it will be worth every penny.  The other day, I noticed that the dogs had tracked in a bunch of dead grass, so I simply pushed the start button on the Roomba and it drove around and around until every speck of dirt was gone. When it was satisfied with its work, it drove itself back to the home base and hopped right back on the charger.  I love that it is small enough to go under low tables and couches, so it picks up lots of dirt that the regular vacuum can't even reach.  AND you can even set it to run at night while you sleep, so you wake up to a sparkling clean house without lifting a finger.  This thing is the best.
The dogs aren't too sure what to think, but they had better get used to it!

Pomegranates must be in season, because I have seen them all over the grocery stores lately for cheap!  I bought a couple recently, and they have been SO good!  I really forgot how delicious pomegranate seeds are, not to mention they are one of the healthiest foods you can eat.  They are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and potassium, and they are a great source of fiber.
To get the seeds out, I just cut the pomegranate in half or into fourths, and then sort of start to turn each piece inside out into a bowl of water.  Just roughly pop the seeds out and don't worry if some of the rind falls into the bowl.  The seeds will sink and the rinds will float to the top, so you can easily just fish them out at the end.  Drain the water and enjoy your seeds!

Calbee Snapea Crisps
My current snack obsession - I cannot stop eating these!  They taste like a pea pod and a cheese puff all rolled into one.  The first ingredient is whole green peas, and they contain less fat, less sodium, and more fiber than regular potato chips.

Fox Cocktail Shaker
Jay and I recently bought a new little bar cabinet at Target, and when we spotted this fox cocktail shaker we joked that we needed it to complete the look.  We weren't serious at the time, but somehow we couldn't stop making references to that shaker over and over after we got home (and singing "What Does the Fox Say").  I decided that we really did need it, so I ordered it online.  Now it makes me smile every time I look at it!
Have a great weekend everyone!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pumpkin Banana Bean Bars

Hello everyone!  Hope you are having a great weekend!  We kicked off the weekend early at a trivia night to raise money for the Oklahoma Children's Hospital on Thursday.  Our table may not have won first place, but we had a great time!
The rest of the weekend has been pretty laid back so far.  I did some shopping yesterday and couldn't resist picking up a few new holiday decorations.  This is our first year in this house, and my head is spinning with ideas.  I can't wait to decorate!

I also made a yummy new recipe that I saw in a "Forks Over Knives" newsletter for pumpkin bean bars.  They are vegan, gluten free, and full of plant-based ingredients.  It does feel a little strange dumping a whole can of beans into a dessert, but I promise you will not taste them at all!
Pumpkin Banana Bean Bars
Serves 9
• 15 ounces white beans (I used Great Northern)
• ½ cup canned pure pumpkin
• 2 whole bananas
• 3½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I just used cinnamon)
• ¼ cup pure maple syrup
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons peanut butter
• ½ cup instant oats
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Drain and rinse beans. Combine all ingredients except oats in a food processor, blending until smooth and creamy. Stir in oats then transfer to a square baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the center is firm to the touch. Allow to completely cool before slicing or eating (the bars firm as they cool). The pumpkin flavor also intensifies the next day (make in advanced if possible).
Note: If you only have rolled oats, send them through your food processor first to chop them up so they are smaller and more granulated like instant oats.
I also added about a half cup of chocolate chips, making them even more delicious! These bars would be a much healthier option to bring along to an upcoming Thanksgiving dinner...I would eat one over pumpkin pie any day!

I'm off to enjoy a lazy Sunday morning before heading to a baby shower brunch and then hitting the grocery store. See you later!

Monday, November 11, 2013

DIY Natural Daily Shower Cleaner

I try to do little things throughout the week to keep the house clean so that I don't have tons of cleaning to do on the weekend, but keeping up with it all can be easier said than done.  

Our house has an all-glass shower in the master bathroom, which I love the look of but do not love to care for.  If you don't clean it on a very regular basis, the glass gets all spotty and cloudy and pink stuff starts growing in the corners (soap scum maybe?).  
We recently let the shower go a little (or a lot) too long without giving it a good cleaning, and, as a result, Jay was in there the better part of an hour scrubbing and scrubbing until it looked new again.  What a guy for taking on that job.  

We have found that the best way to keep the shower looking sparkly for longer is to spray everything down with a daily shower cleaner after using it, and then quickly squeegee the glass.  It only takes an extra minute or so, and it really makes a big difference.  The main problem with that system, however, is that once you spray everything down, you have to stand in a small enclosed space and breath in chemicals while you squeegee.  That's obviously not ideal.  

To solve that problem, I decided to mix up my own daily shower cleaner so that I could spray away without worry.  I figured a vinegar mixture would work well since vinegar is a disinfectant and makes a good natural glass cleaner.  I also saw online that some people added tea tree oil to the mix, which is a natural anti fungal and also covers up some of the vinegar scent.  

I ended up using the following:

4 cups water
2/3 cup vinegar
10 drops (approximately) tea tree oil

Just combine the ingredients in a spray bottle, shake it up, and store in the shower to spray down after each use.

So far it seems to be working great.  I'm sure we will still have to give the shower a good scrub-down occasionally, but for now everything looks clean and shiny!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

15 Minute Body-Weight Pyramid Workout

Our workout group has been meeting for a while now on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, so when our trainer had to cancel this week we were all at a loss for what to do with ourselves.  It is hard to motivate yourself to exercise on your own when you are used to having someone there to do it for you!  A bunch of us were really missing the class, so this afternoon we decided to go ahead and meet and just do our own thing.  At least we could help motivate each other!

We hunkered down right in the middle of the hallway and ended up getting in a pretty good workout.  We started with a warm-up round of burpees, push-ups, crunches, squats, and a plank hold.  We followed that with a pyramid workout that I put together a couple weeks ago after doing something similar in class.  It is speedy, requires no equipment, and will definitely get your heart rate up!
 Here we are doing our thing.
We finished off the day with some walking lunges and stretches and were out the door by 4.  That's the best feeling!  

Now I'm off to go mom and I are headed to Fort Worth right after work tomorrow to go cheer on Jay's volleyball team in the championship!  See you soon!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Four Ingredient No-Bake Chocolate Brownie Balls

I wanted to pop in and share the recipe that I made last night using the pitted dates from Aldi.  I absolutely love to whip up this dessert because it only requires four ingredients and takes just minutes to make.  It also has zero added sugar AND is vegan and gluten-free.  It doesn't get much better than this people!  I originally saw the recipe here and have made it several times since.

2 cups walnuts
1 cup packed dates
4 tbsp cocoa powder
Shredded unsweetened coconut

Process walnuts in food processor.  Add in the dates and cocoa powder and process again until you form a "dough."  If you need more moisture, you can always add in a few more dates or a tiny splash of water.  Roll dough into balls.  Throw into a zip-lock bag with the coconut and shake to coat.  Store in the refrigerator.
Then just try not to eat them all in one sitting.  I may or may not have had some after dinner last night and again for breakfast this morning.  Hey, at least they're healthy!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Best Groceries to Buy at Aldi

Aldi is great.  In fact, I used to shop there just about every weekend.  You may have to bring your own bags and pay a quarter to unlock your cart, but it's worth it because the groceries are insanely cheap!

Over the past few years, however, as I became more and more concerned with the ingredients, origin, and quality of the food I was eating, I began shopping at Aldi a lot less.  Many of the items they sell are processed and full of unnatural ingredients, and they are lacking in organic produce and meat options.

When Sprouts came to town, I actually almost stopped going to Aldi all together.  But then my mom started telling me about some hard-to-pass-up deals and even some new organic items that she had found there.  I hate to miss out on a bargain, so I have since added Aldi back into my grocery rotation.  While there is no way I could do all of my shopping there (not even close), they do have several great products that make it worth the trip.  Plus, their inventory is always changing, so you never know what sorts of interesting things you might stumble across.

This morning, Jay and I did a big Aldi run to stock up on all of things that they do best.

Here's a list of some of the best things to buy there (in our opinion):

Canned Pumpkin - Today was just $.89/can! But they only carry it in the fall, so be sure to stock up if you see it!

Fresh Grated Parmesan - $1.99 for a tub that costs close to $5 at other health food stores.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - $2.99 for a 17 oz. bottle.

Fair Trade Dark Roast Coffee - just $3.99 for a 12 oz. package.

Spices - Red pepper flakes, cinnamon, oregano, paprika, parsley, and more are all just $.99 for a big container.  They also have vanilla extract for super cheap!

Hummus - in all different flavors and made from real ingredients for just $1.99.

100% pure maple syrup - I bought two of these today.  $3.99 for 8.5 ounces.

Old Fashioned Oats - A big canister for $2.29

Canned Beans and Veggies - Although we usually try to cook up a batch of dry beans for the week on Sundays, it is always nice to have some cans on-hand for back-up.  The beans at Aldi are just $.59!

Household Essentials and Paper Goods - You can't beat the prices on toilet paper, tissue, plastic wrap, foil, etc.

Here's what we ended up with today:

We got lots of the usual staples, plus a few new finds, such as:
Organic Pumpkin Flax Granola for $2.89.
 Instant Brown Rice for $1.49.  It's nice to have in a pinch!
 Premium Raspberry Fruit Spread made with real fruit and natural ingredients for $1.69.
 California Dates for $1.99 (so I can make gluten-free chocolate walnut truffles)!
We also picked up a big bag of sweet potatoes (conventional, but at least they are on the "Clean 15"), a package of organic spinach (which I was surprised/pleased to find!), and some tortilla chips.   Overall, I would say the Aldi run was a success!

Hope you are enjoying your extra hour today!