You should be doing these things right now!

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Hello, friends! Tis the season to be… Stressed out, frantically busy, exhausted, out of gas, and definitely no time to recharge the batteries. I find this time of year to be the most difficult. I feel stressed because I want to get the perfect gifts for my loved ones that reflects how much I love them, frantically busy as I decorate the house, buy the gifts, wrap them, bake cookies, plan, shop for and make the Christmas Eve meal, spend meaningful time with the kids, go out of town to visit family, and all the holiday obligations. This year it’s even more difficult because we are going through renovations on our new house. Life in the “Reno Zone” is difficult and stressful, which adds to the holiday burnout. 

My college student readers are going through similar experiences with studying for finals, writing papers, completing projects, giving presentations and finishing their semesters strong. My conclusion is that we are all STRESSED OUT these days. 

My goal with this post is to help give you ideas about how to de-stress and take care of yourself during timeframes when you have precious little time in which to do this. You can do little things that don’t take long, but will help you recharge your batteries and give you the energy to finish this year strong. I’ve got so many ideas for you that I will split it into two posts. Here we go!

  

  
 1. Take a replenishing salt bath– my new passion is bathing. There is nothing more luxurious than laying in the bathtub with the lights dim and soothing music playing. Here’s a way to take it up a notch, add bath salts, in particular pink Himalayan sea salts. Salt baths have been utilized for thousands of years as a way to detoxify the body, and salt in the bath actually ADDS moisture to your skin. Himalayan salts are also high in minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, calcium and chloride which can be absorbed while in the salt bath. If buying pink Himalayan salt and adding it to your bath seems like too much work, there are ready made products out there that do the work for you. One product I like in particular is from a company called Me! Bath. They have “bath ice creams” that are all natural and contain oils, minerals, fragrances and salt, so you just have to drop one into your bath tub and get in for a nice, relaxing soak. Ahhhhh!

  
2. Glass of wine– This one works well in combination with number one, because having a glass of wine while soaking in the bath makes it even better. Wine (in moderation) is one of the healthiest ways to wind down after a long day. It contains potent antioxidants that are heart healthy and protect from many heinous diseases. Champagne is getting good press these days because it contains polyphenols that help lower blood pressure, natural trace elements that help boost your mood, and at 78 calories per 4 ounce pour it’s one of the least caloric alcoholic drinks in which you can indulge- in moderation of course. 

  
3. Listen to your favorite music– again works well in combination with the first two items on the list. Music helps you focus because it causes changes to the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory, makes you feel more cheerful due to the release of dopamine caused by listening to certain songs, and can calm you down by listening to soothing music during stressful events due to decreased cortisol levels . I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed and listened to one of my favorite playlists on my iPod which cheered me up immediately. Music can also rev you up and give you the energy you need to complete a challenging paper or project, because listening to up tempo music actually helps you use oxygen more efficiently, which can also get you through a tough workout as well. 

 LOL, Danielle took this picture of me while I was sleeping and cuddling with my Chewbacca! 
4. Cuddling with loved ones, furry and non– I’ve written about this in a previous post but think it bares repeating, physical touch, in particular hugging, is one of the best things we can do for good health. When you hug a loved one your body releases oxytocin, which is a neuropeptide which makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding. Hugs can also lower blood pressure. This happens because sensory receptors on the skin trigger the vagus nerve which is responsible for lowering blood pressure among other things. Hugs can be a potent destresser because when we hug we immediately reduce the amount of stress hormone cortisol produced in our bodies, which releases tension and sends calming messages to the brain. There is nothing more soothing to me than cuddling up with my pups and loved ones. Truly one of the best things in life!

 This is a picture I took at my local nail salon that serves wine while getting a manicure or pedicure. That’s a win-win to me! 
These are some of my favorite ways to recharge during busy times. What are yours? Living a calm, stress free life is a goal I’m always striving for, it will help you live longer and healthier too. So please my friends, luxuriate in the bath, drink a glass of wine or champagne, listen to music and hug your loved ones. Doing these things will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 

No Sugar, No Gluten- Nothing but Happiness!

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No sugar, gluten free amazingly easy and yummy banana nut muffins! P.S. It's already been consumed as I write this!

No sugar, gluten free amazingly easy and yummy banana nut muffin slathered with sweet, creamy butter! P.S. It’s already been consumed as I write this!

Hello my friends! How have you been lately? As for me, it seems my girls have been home more often these days, and in two weeks they’ll be home for the summer which will make me the happiest Mom on the planet! There’s nothing I like better than to have my chickadees back in the nest. I also love to cook for them when they’re home, and they beg for me to cook as often as I can because they’re homemade meal deprived college students.

They are desperately grateful for anything I make them to eat, but we are especially happy sitting in our pajamas eating breakfast and sipping our coffee/tea together. I would have to say that breakfast is my favorite meal to make, no matter what it is I’m cooking. I guess because I have the best memories of my mom making pancakes and bacon on the weekends, and my dad making waffles, eggs, and bacon.

If you’ve read my blog in the past you know that I have pretty much cut sugar completely out of my diet because sugar is a toxic poison to the body, and since my youngest has a gluten allergy and the rest of us seem to do better without it too, I don’t use gluten in my cooking either. That makes sweet breakfast foods particularly challenging. I mean, I do lots of eggs, bacon and sausage which covers the protein end of the breakfast, but sometimes in the morning you just want a muffin, doughnut, waffle or pancake, ya know?!

I ran across a really cool recipe for a gluten free, no sugar muffin that sounded intriguing because it contained no flour or any weird ingredients. Sometimes with gluten free baking the recipes call for obscure flours or strange ingredients like xanthan gum. Who has that sitting around in their pantry? Not me for sure. Plus, I’m not much into baking so another reason I really like the recipe is that it was simple and I had all the ingredients. So I decided to give it a try and my family LOVED them! You can’t tell they are gluten free or sugar free, and I’m not even sure how they are actually muffins since they contain no flour, but they’re so good! I made some adjustments that work better for my family, and I think they’re easy and delicious so I’d like to share them with you now.

Here are the ingredients!

Here are the ingredients!

Easy Peasy Banana Nut “muffins”

  • 1/2 cup all natural almond butter
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup organic honey
  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or pecans
Sprayed- got it!

Sprayed- got it!

Preheat oven to 375 and spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Throw everything in there!

Throw everything in there!

Add all ingredients to a high speed blender and blend it up until batter is smooth and creamy. I had to use the tool that came with my blender to tamp all the ingredients down by opening the clear plastic part in the center of the blender lid and smushing everything down until it blended.

Now just pop them into the oven and wait to smell the amazing aromas that will begin to emanate!

Now just pop them into the oven and wait to smell the amazing aromas that will begin to emanate!

Pour the batter into the muffin tins to about 3/4 full and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tines of a fork when inserted into the muffins come out clean.

Makes 9 muffins but they don't last long at my house!

Makes 9 muffins but they don’t last long at my house!

The muffins are loaded with fiber from the oats, flaxseed, apple, banana, nuts and nut butter. They also have protein from the nuts, flaxseed, and nut butter, and tons of vitamins and antioxidants from the fruit. As far as I can calculate they have approximately 120 calories per muffin. That’s a great bang for my caloric buck!

When I’m serving these muffins or any other sweet baked good for breakfast I always make sure I serve plenty of protein with it. Usually I will make scrambled eggs and bacon with these muffins. If I’m making pancakes or waffles I make fried eggs and bacon or sausage (because I like to break my fried egg yolk all over my pancakes and waffles, and eat them all together). Protein is key to give you energy for your busy day!

Anyway, there you go my friends! I hope you try them and if you do I know you’ll like them! They’ll help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

Healthy, Easy, Delicious Christmas “Baking”!

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Dark chocolate bark!

Dark chocolate bark!

Hi friends! I’ll admit something to you right now, I don’t really like to bake. As you know, I LOVE to cook, so it’s somewhat a conundrum that I don’t like to bake, but I don’t. I think it has something to do with the precision required to bake. I mean, you have to measure EVERYTHING because if you don’t, your cakes, cookies or breads will turn into flat, hard hockey pucks. When I cook I employ a more “free form” method, where I throw in a little of this and a little of that, depending on my mood and ingredient availability. You can’t do that with baking, which is one of the main reasons I don’t bake. Also, I don’t like to use sugar and I especially try not to eat sugar, and it seems that most baking is very sugar oriented. At Christmas time though I like to do a little baking with my girls. They like to do it and it’s a nice Christmas tradition, so I employ a method I like to call “faux baking” or “fake and bake”. It’s where I don’t actually do any traditional baking, but we manage to make something tasty and somewhat healthy, and have some fun in the process.

This year we made dark chocolate bark. It’s called bark because it resembles the bark of a tree, and it can be topped with any kind of toppings you’d like- there’s that free form thing that I enjoy so much. I used 60% dark chocolate which is a chocolate that is mostly cacao, therefore, it has less sugar than milk chocolate or other forms of dark chocolate with lower amounts of cacao. I don’t like to use more than 70% cacao because it is so bitter that it does not taste good to eat in my opinion. And remember dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals so eating this treat is actually protecting your body. It’s a dessert that is actually good for you- you can’t say that about too many other desserts! The toppings that we chose were coconut, chopped walnuts and pecans, and dried cherries, all healthy toppings too. The sky’s the limit as far as the toppings go, you can use peppermint candies, dried fruit of any kind, peanut butter, raisins, sliced almonds, etc etc etc. Just remember that the toppings should be healthy too so that you can keep the overall dessert healthy. You get the picture. Here are my step by step instructions for making the bark, it’s so easy you’ll be shocked!

First, chop the chocolate!

First, chop the chocolate!

1. I used 4 large bars of Ghirardelli dark chocolate with 60% cacao. The next step is to get someone to chop the chocolate into smallish pieces- Danielle was my somewhat willing volunteer for this endeavor. If you don’t want to chop, just break it into hunks and put it in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

2. The next thing you need to do is to get the chocolate melted. There are two ways to do this. The harder way is to “temper” the chocolate by slowly melting it over a bowl of water heated to between 110-120 degrees. This prevents the chocolate from getting those whitish spots on it that you’ve probably seen on homemade chocolate baked goods. However, since this chocolate dish is covered with toppings you won’t notice the white spots so I say melt the chocolate in the microwave. Do this on low heat for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between times until it’s totally melted. Easy peasy!

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

3. Take a large piece of parchment paper and spread the chocolate with a rubber spatula to about 1/2 inch of thickness on it. I put a cutting board underneath it to hold the weight of the chocolate and enable me to move the chocolate to other areas of my kitchen.

Now add the toppings!

Now add the toppings!

4. Next is the fun part, adding the toppings! As I said we used coconut, chopped pecans and walnuts, and chopped dried cherries. Just add them right on top of the melted chocolate and put the entire thing into the fridge for an hour to cool and harden.

Voila! They couldn't wait to sample the finished product! :)

Voila! They couldn’t wait to sample the finished product! 🙂

5. The easy and fun finish to this dessert is to break up the bark into bite sized pieces and enjoy or share with friends and family. We sure had fun making this dessert- and eating it!

By the way, there is very little bark left in my house at this moment, it was consumed by my hungry college students! So that’s it, folks, an easy, healthy and delicious cheater Christmas dessert that looks like you spent hours on it. In reality, though it took probably 30 minutes from beginning to end, which left us with lots of time to spend watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Christmas Vacation”! Let me know if you have a “fake and bake” healthy Christmas dessert that you enjoy making. You should definitely make this one though, because eating it won’t weigh you down, and it’s super speedy to make. Making this bark recipe will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!