Images & recipes © Christine Mercer-Vernon unless noted otherwise. Please play nice when sharing and give proper credit and link backs.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June Gardening Desktop Image

Widescreen format 1920 x 1080 pixels, click to download.

Whew! What a weekend.

We spent it like we do every year… working on outside projects.

Flower beds weeded and mulched. Well, almost, we have one more big bed to do but we ran out of mulch.

Decks almost done being stained.  Still a few more hours of work needed to complete.

But not today, it's tooooooooo hot.

So I decided to take some time and play, even though I should be catching up on work, to create a free June desktop image. Thought I'd go with a garden inspired design. Plenty of room for your icons.

Here's one without the calendar…

Widescreen format 1920 x 1080 pixels, click to download.
Is anyone actually using these?


I'll be back tomorrow, with a yummy fruit dip recipe, perfect for strawberries!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Store-bought to Homemade: Cookies

Someday I would love to be known for my art, but at this point in my life, my chocolate chip cookies seem to be my claim to fame.

Seriously, I am not allowed to attend a picnic or gathering without bringing them. I've tried to bring something else, let's just say, it doesn't go over well.

Funny thing is, I can't eat them, damn celiac. I haven't had one in 8 years. I don't even remember what they taste like. They smell good though.

My HE does not snack during the day, before bed he usually eats 1-2 chocolate chip cookies, occasionally he'll go for three, but not often.

That's all. Amazing isn't it? Now I'm not saying he eats the healthiest during the day, but he's not really a snacker.

So for years I bought cookies, usually Chips Ahoy, for him.

But when I started to transition us to a healthier,
real food diet, the cookies had to go.

The packaged one's anyway.

Cookies I make myself, and control the ingredients could stay. But...let's be honest, who has time to make homemade cookies every week?

Not me.

Ok, that's a lie. Every week I make a dozen fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, just so he isn't eating crappy packaged cookies filled with bad ingredients.

No kidding.

I'm such a good wife.

I did say fresh 'baked' right? Meaning I bake them every week, but that doesn't mean I mix them up from scratch every week!

Every 4-6 weeks, I mix up my Super Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies, I spent years perfecting the recipe, it makes about 7 dozen. (sorry this recipe is super secret, if I gave it out here I'm pretty sure I'd get death threats from family and friends, I guard this recipe well)

I use my super awesome, perfectly-sized cookie scoop and scoop little balls into a BPA free plastic container, leaving a slight space between each little ball of dough and separating each layer with parchment.

Then I seal it up and stick it in the freezer.

Any time we need cookies, I simply take them out and place them on my stoneware cookie sheet on top of the warming oven. About 15-20 minutes later they are defrosted and I pop them in the oven.

Usually, I get them out to bake while I'm making or cleaning up dinner.

Fresh baked cookies anytime. Homemade with local eggs,
organic ingredients and lots and lots of love.

Mixing and scooping takes me less than 30 minutes total, and that's including clean up. I get down to business and get it done! That's only 30 minutes every 4-6 weeks.

Not to mention the money saved. Even with organic ingredients and local bought eggs, it costs much less than buying about 5 packages of Chips Ahoy cookies each month at about $3-4 a package.

If your recipe only makes a few dozen, double it so you can freeze a good amount.

Since we eat healthy meals and HE doesn't snack, I have no problem with his daily cookie treats, as long as they are made by me. :]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What a difference one week makes...

container beets (damage on right from bad, bad squirrel)
Although it's rained almost every day, and my yard has now converted to a bog, my container garden is thriving.

I'm definitely going to miss a few of my yearly favorites from my rented garden plots, green beans and squashes in particular, but what I have growing in containers is going so well that I'm ok with it.

In the past week and a half I've completely filled my potato bags they've grown that fast!

Mesclun is actually getting big so I've been making salads like crazy, but my little mesclun bowl won't last long it's so tiny. (note to self - next year plant a bigger bowl)

Baby romaine is no longer baby and very crowded, so I've been thinning a little at a time adding the thinnings to my lunch salads.

dill, sage, and anise hysop (added to replace a fungus covered rosemary)

insane oregano!

new herb planter, savory, 2 new rosemary plants and my transplanted basil starts)
My herbs are doing fabulous. They are so easy to grow. You really can't do them wrong.  I've been hoping to start drying some but it's been so humid and wet here. I dried some mint a few weeks ago and it took forever.

May be time to invest in a dehydrator or give the oven method a try. I plan on drying a lot of herbs this year and making my own herb blends for winter cooking.

This year I expanded my herb pots and have planted quite a variety:

  • Sweet & Genovese Basil (sweet in container above, genovese is in one of my flower beds)
  • Savory (new)
  • Tarragon (new)
  • Anise Hysop (new)
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon Balm (in flowerbed)
  • Peppermint - two varieties (in flowerbed and everywhere else it decides to spread)
  • Oregano
  • Marjoram
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Thyme - 3 varieties
  • Dill
  • Sage
  • Stevia
  • Lemon Grass

1-San Marzano, 2 Roma Tomato

Tomatoes are growing well. Last year I did not have much luck with them in containers. Major issues with blossom end rot. Hopefully this year will not repeat.

My hanging tomato plant is doing well...

hanging tomato planter, San Marzano Tomato

Snow peas
pickling cucumbers
And today I transplanted my hardened off pickling cucumbers I grew from seed. Last year I did not have much luck with them in containers but this year I got them in much earlier and I decided to give the Miracle Gro Organic a shot again, even though I don't like how chunky it is. I'm also concerned it had an off smell. I guess we'll see. If these fail, I'm early enough I can run and buy some plants.

Just as an official tally, my container veggies are:

Snow Peas
Russet Potatoes - 2 bags (5 seed potatoes)
5 Pickling Cucumbers
2 San Marzano Plum Tomatoes
2 Roma Plum Tomatoes
Mesclun 'bowl'
Baby Romaine

Once the beets and snow peas are done, I replant them with some summer lettuces.

I've also located a patch of wild black raspberries in the woods behind the garage that I've never noticed before. Unfortunately it's completely surrounded by poison ivy - my arch enemy.

Hoping I can persuade HE to rip out the poison as he seems immune to it.

Look what is also growing in my yard, in their own little 'container'...

four baby robins

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Berry Berry Banana Popsicles

When I saw it was going to be in the 80's and humid all week, I decided we were going to need popsicles to get through it.

Ice cream can quickly become too frequent around here in the summer so I try and make up a fresh batch of fruit popsicles each weekend to keep healthy cool treats within reach.

Aim to use fresh fruit, although I used frozen organic strawberries since local berries aren't available yet, just be sure to defrost them first.

If your kiddos don't mind seeds, blackberries and raspberries are great in popsicles, but my jelly bean strongly dislikes seeds in hers.  I find it odd, because she loves them in smoothies???

Again, no big measurements here....

For fun, I thought I'd participate in one of my favorite blogs Real Food Wednesday, be sure to check out her post for links to lots of great Real Food Recipes.

Berry Berry Banana Popsicles
[printer friendly]

  • 2 Ripe Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • ...or any fruit combination you desire, aim for the sweetest fruits you have on hand, if using frozen, defrost them first
  • Kefir or Almond Milk
  • Popsicle Molds

Break bananas apart and place in blender, add in other fruits to equal an overfull 2 cups.

Pour enough Kefir over to just come below the top of the fruit.

If you are using almond milk, use about half until you see how well the fruit is going to blend. You are going to want a pretty thick consistency, so add a little at a time.

Blend on a lower Puree type setting. If the fruit isn't moving or is getting stuck, add a little more Kefir/almond milk a little at a time to just get it moving.

Once the fruit is really smoothing out, go ahead and turn up to your highest setting to really whip it to a smooth consistency. I blend it for a good full minute or as long as it takes to make it smooth and creamy.

Pour into molds and freeze for a few hours. I usually like mine to freeze overnight. But hey, if they are still smoothie like in the center, that's like a bonus yum, right?

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Food & Fitness Journey...

Recognize this potato?  We grew it last year. 'He' eventually became a rather delicious batch of potato cheese soup.

Poor guy.

Food is a weird thing around here. Our food journey has taken many abrupt and unplanned turns. Each one has been welcomed and usually brought some sort of great relief with it.

I could break this into several posts, but decided to just get it done. To understand how we eat you need the story of how we got there. I think as this blog continues to develop will make more sense with this information.

Food and fitness have been eye-opening and educational for me. A journey that continues each day.

I would never tell anyone what they should eat, but I also have no problem defending my food choices either, with correct information, not presumption.

So I spend a lot of time reading books [some of my favorites are listed on the right side of this blog], as well as educating myself with current happenings in the food 'industry' [that word makes me gag].

I grew up eating pretty healthy. We had a garden, raised chickens, my dad hunted. I can't say we relied heavily on processed or prepared foods very often. We ate a pretty meat and potatoes sort of existence.

When we were out playing my siblings and I would just snack on something from the garden or apple trees, or berry bushes if we got hungry.

When I became an independent young adult I went bonkers for fast food and donuts and tons of junk I never really ate much of before.

Early to late 20's I started to adapt a media driven 'healthier diet'. But really, it wasn't that great. Refined carbs and sugared up yogurts and pre-packaged diet foods. Yuck.

My pretty lean figure seemed to disappear more and more the healthier I ate. So I joined a gym and became a fitness nut. Loved it, so I became an instructor. Ate 'healthy' and lost a ton of weight. While I was in great shape, it was always such hard work, but I was determined. I struggled with endurance, but kept pushing.

Then all kinds of weird stuff went wrong.

I started training for a natural body building competition, followed my program and diet to the letter, and then my body went haywire and kind of shut down. I gained 20 lbs in one month. I all but freaked out.

I felt horrible, weak, sick, fatigued all the time, headaches, lost all muscle endurance. Very bizarre things started going wrong and continued for years. Doctors got to the point that they were convinced I was depressed and kept trying to treat me for that since no other tests came back with an answer.

But weird things continued. The scariest was after working out on a Friday, I began to notice swelling in my biceps.  24 hours later my entire upper body was swollen to twice it's size. A trip to the ER yielded nothing and they sent me home!

The next day I visited my doctor who called in several other doctors and everyone poked and prodded me, and discussed me like I wasn't there. Grrr...

A few blood tests later, I received a frantic call at work from my doctor telling me to do as little as possible and start drinking a LOT of water. Apparently, my CK (creatine kinase) levels were over 48,000 signifying sever muscle damage. I was on the verge of renal failure.

More tests. Nothing.

I became frustrated, but I kept going to doctors.  Eventually, a new physician took me very seriously and was convinced I had something auto-immune going on.

Her persistence finally paid off when I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

First abrupt turn.

Complete diet change, much relief to almost all of my symptoms. Except the muscle weakness, fatigue, and these weird hypoglycemic events which continued on for almost another 8 years.

The gluten free diet wasn't so bad. We modified our diet to be more whole foods based, but processed foods were still a big part of our diet.

Fast forward 8 years to the birth of my daughter. Still dealing with the muscle weakness, fatigue and blood sugar problems, immediately after giving birth I had an almost complete muscle shutdown.

I could barely walk across the room and stairs were torture. My muscles would burn sooo bad just climbing a few steps.  I thought I was just in need of some gym time, even though I taught fitness classes right up to the night I went into labor. I couldn't even sit up, I had to roll over onto my stomach.

My doctor said my stomach muscles were just weak from being stretched out... it would take some time. Seriously? I could NOT sit up!

Fast forward another 3 years. After a lot of determination, and hard work I had regained some of my fitness strength, but endurance was almost non-existent. I had a rough week where I could sense something wasn't right and had been visiting a new, thankfully persistent, doctor weekly trying to figure out what was wrong.  Within 24 hours he witness my muscle strength decrease so much I couldn't even push his hand away. No joke.

I was scared.

He went into super-doctor mode and begged a local and very respected neurologist to find the earliest possible time to see me.  And he did, he made a special time for me to visit him during rounds.

My life changed after that.

He believed me and was sure he knew what was wrong. First possible diagnosis was Myasthenia Gravis. Somewhat frightening, but further testing revealed not MG. Thank goodness!

I went thru an excruciating EMG, that he ended before he was finished because it was conclusive that something was wrong with my muscles. Next up muscle biopsy.

Finally, after 15 years of doctors and just thinking that
I was 'out of shape' an answer!

I have a rare genetic disease called a Mitochondrial Myopathy.  There are around 2500 genes that can be defective and cause a Mitochondrial disease, very few are named because it's so difficult to identify what gene is defective, so they are grouped into different categories.

Myopathy, meaning mine affects the muscles and organs which derive energy from mitochondrial cells. Energy processes begin in the mitochondria.

It's hereditary and is passed from female to female in my family. Yes, I worry about my daughter.

Second abrupt turn.

So what does that have to do with my food journey.  Everything really.  It is very difficult for me to lose weight. I cannot do an hour of cardio, my body simply cannot keep a continuous supply of glucose available. Therefore, I must eat to provide my body with the best nutrition possible but also be very careful of excess calories as well as non-nutritional foods, otherwise I quickly gain weight, even if I am eating within my daily caloric needs.

Also, the less excess weight I carry, the easier it is for my muscles.

It's a bitch. While long exercise sessions are out for me, especially since I run the risk of cannibalizing muscle tissue, short, very intense workouts are not if done with care. Since high intensity exercise and anaerobic exercise use different metabolic energy systems my body works perfect with them, as long as I listen to my body.

I train in short periods of time, but with very high intensity intervals and body weight strength exercises interspersed with short recovery periods. It's actually pretty awesome and you see more results with shorter workouts. No complaints there. Such a shame I can't workout for hours on end.

Boo-hoo... Ok, I'm totally kidding there.

On a serious note, I'm pretty lucky that my career in fitness happened, it gave me a lot of knowledge to enable me to design a safe and effective exercise program for myself. My doctors have even learned quite a bit from me on effective workouts and supplements for those with MM. I'm quite the successful case. :]

With all that in mind, my research into whole healthy foods led me to information on big agriculture and what all the ingredients in processed food are really made of (frightening, seriously, pick something and research it), GMOs (more horrifying), as well as the toxic chemicals that are used to grow our food.

my typical lunch. this salad rocked.
So I started researching whole foods, which led to books on Paleo Diets, and Vegetarian and Vegan and Raw food diets. And one of my favorite authors Michael Pollan.

And we kind of ended up somewhere in the middle. Real food... organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed/pastured meat, poultry, and dairy. I try to keep grains at a minimum opting for buckwheat, almond and coconut flours instead. Occasionally oats, but only if they are soaked first. Sugar is used with discretion and mostly for treats.

And fats, we definitely eat fats, I cook with good old fashioned lard and butter. And you know what, we haven't gained a single pound. And we feel great and satiated after a meal.

Kind of like how people ate in the old days, but without the grains.

My daughter functions very well eating like this. Soy is a problem, but that's another post.

My HE, well, he eats what I feed him without complaint. He tries when he is not at home, but well... he's a work in progress. :] There's some things he just won't give up. Maybe someday, I don't push him, it has to be his decision.


My real food diet has helped me feel amazing.
I think clearer, I'm more focused, I feel better, I have no cravings
and don't even snack between meals anymore, at all.
I feel satisfied after each meal. I eat less without trying.

Real food is pretty awesome and powerful. Because I know better how to fuel my body, especially to deal with how my muscles use and require glucose to function at different levels of intensity, I feel better than I have in 15 years. And see improvement in my muscles every month. I have limitations, sure, but I don't let them hold me back.

Transitioning my family to a real, whole foods diet has taken a lot of work and a bit of a learning curve, but I did it and get better at it all the time. Anyone can do it if they want to.

If I can find a path to fitness and find a way to work out hard, and do pushups and crazy stuff like that... you can to.  I love to say to my fitness class when they are pushing through tough workouts... if I can do it.. you can do it!

My Recipe Journals...

Like most avid cooks, I have a deep, unending love for recipes. I'll cut them out of magazines, print them off the internet, gather favorites from friends and family, and scribble my own creations on scraps of soon-to-be-lost paper.

Then, I'm never able to find the one I'm searching for because it's stuffed in my giant unorganized binder of recipes.

Last year I sat down over the course of an entire week (seriously, I had THAT many recipes) and decided to de-clutter my collection.

I thought about how I wanted to contain them, and most importantly,
how I would like to pass them down to the Jelly Bean.

I came up with these adorable square little journals. Each has three pocket dividers. With a pencil, glue stick and scissors, I got down to business.

My goal was to keep all of my favorite and handed down recipes, then clean out the rest of my recipes with these rules:

  1. Will I ACTUALLY ever make this recipe?
  2. Are the ingredients whole foods or does it contain processed packaged food items? (if the latter, it got tossed)
  3. Are the ingredients easy to find?
No matter how delicious the recipe sounded, if the likelihood of me ever making it was slim, it got tossed.

I divided my books:
  • Sweets, treats, and desserts
  • Appetizers, Side dishes/salads, Meals
  • Homemade (jams, jellies, condiments, healthy snacks and treats)

While this may not seem like it's the most organized way to deal with recipes, my goal was to contain them, and create a working journal of my best loved recipes. I wanted space to write notes and make alterations and craft something that my daughter would cherish someday.

I keep articles and references for foods that I use in cooking. Some lift and flip out to reveal more goodies underneath. It's very multi-layered.

In the pocket folders I keep handwritten notes for recipes I'm not quite ready to commit to, and other recipes that I'd like to try, but if they are not used within the season they are intended, they get tossed. I try to keep clutter out of these books.

One thing I make a point to do, is identify where the recipe came from, friends, family, etc.. Their names are added to the title of the recipe.

I love the personal connection each time I make it.

I even have a few pages that the Jelly Bean drew pictures on, I dated them and enjoy looking back at them.

In addition, I keep a binder where I keep articles and important references that I cannot cut down to keep in my little recipe books.

All recipes that I hand write, are written in pencil, so I can make changes or update them as I desire. Making little personal notes about taste are added along side each recipe as well, so I know each time I make something if I need to tweak it, or it if is perfect as is.

One of these days I'll get around to adding the little stick on tabs I bought to make finding frequently used recipes much easier.

But for now, it's really quite fun to flip through, stumble across a recipe I haven't made in a while, and get excited to cook... with my Jelly Bean.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Special Day: Richard M. Nixon County Park

Yay for Special Day!

I look forward to Friday afternoons all week, and so does the Jelly Bean. She was telling her preschool friends this morning all about it. Too cute. I hope she looks back on these little excursions, the way I surely will, with very fond memories of just me and her time.

The day started with sun, but it was brief, it wasn't long until the rain set back in. I'm so done with rain.

This meant that our usual outside adventures were cancelled, so we needed a drier, inside activity today... Nixon Park Environmental Education Center popped into my head so off we went.

I've never been there before, and was really surprised at the size of it. The park also connects to William H. Kain Park (Lake Redmond and Lake Williams).

This is a great park for the nature lover. Bird watching is a huge passion at this park and when we were going outside to walk (in a brief moment of sunshine) several of the park employees were outside trying to identify an elusive bird high up in the tree canopy.

The exhibits inside were fabulous! I was really surprised. I really need to spend some time looking at their butterfly and insect collection without the Jelly Bean in tow... can we say short attention span. This is just one corner of it, they showcase collections from around the world.

If you get squeamish with taxidermy this might not be the place for you. They have quite a collection. I was only able to photograph a small portion of it as the Jelly Bean was on a mission (she knew ice cream was our next stop).

I loved, loved, loved all of the hands on exhibits for the kids, especially since all I ever say is 'don't touch' every time we are out somewhere. They had several animal pelts and they were so amazing to touch.

The main exhibit room (photos above) was very large and the displays wrapped the entire room, showcasing animals from around the world, as well as some really great murals! Lots of information to read, and plenty of hands on items for the kids to touch.

There were even skulls (exhibits after my own heart)...

I loved all of the educational information, but did not have much time to read a lot of it... I'm sure you can guess why at this point. :]

This slice of a tree is from a 320 year old oak.
Arrows mark important happenings that occurred over the tree's lifetime.

There were also some live animal aquariums with some turtles and snakes. Beautiful snakes (my brother would have enjoyed them)... an Eastern Milk Snake, a Copperhead (venomous) and this pretty Corn Snake...

But the exhibit that captivated me the most was the live honey bee hive...

Amazing! You could feel and hear the buzzing through the glass. You can't see it, but at the bottom it's also see through and leads to an outside entrance. My heart was racing as I'm completely frightened of bees.

One more walk through the halls and we headed outside...

Outside is beautiful. There is a lovely stream that winds through the park, with plenty of trails (the longest is only 1.25 miles) for walking and observing wildlife.

And it wasn't hard to observe wildlife when it was looking right back at us...

This park is all about nature and observing it and we loved it.

We're coming back to walk the trails when the ground dries out some. Everything is too waterlogged and muddy right now.

Since we were just a few short miles from Perrydell Farm, we decided to stop in for some homemade ice cream.

In my opinion, they have the best peanut butter ripple ice cream in York.  

So we ended our afternoon, hanging out on the Perrydell porch, eating ice cream made from milk from the cows right out back. Now that's a special day.
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