Saturday, September 28, 2013

Toddler Construction Party (on a budget!)

I in no way consider myself a "Pinterest Mom", and I am sure I could have done more with the same budget to make the decor, foods, etc more adorable and detailed. However, I require practice in all of those areas, so here is what I got with my skillset ;-)

This year I really wanted to stick to a theme for my son's second birthday. As you may know, parties alone can be pricey and throw in a theme and you might double the cost! However, there are some ways to avoid breaking the bank on a party.

Decoration was the easiest part for me - construction colors are basically yellow, orange and black. Streamers, balloons, whatever; easy to find in those colors. We also ordered 12 cheapo plastic "hard hats" as part of our party favors, they were on sale for ~$5!  A little bit of caution tape and we were good to go.

Since Nathan is still quite young, activities were simple fun things he enjoys doing - coloring and building with blocks. We printed out some construction vehicles coloring pages (loads of free designs you can find online), and for our blocks we designated a couple of "Construction Zone" areas for building.

The food was the most fun part. I was inspired by many Internet queries of "construction party foods". Here is what we ended up with:

Traffic cones - orange rice crispy treats shaped like cones
Spare tires - chocolate mini donuts
Boulders - whoppers
Mud and Dirt - Chocolate pudding with crushed oreos.
Construction signs - square sugar cookies frosted orange (we tried writing on them with drawing icing for cakes - I'd advice against this though as they never dried completely and looked silly like that)
Lunch break - "real" food; sandwiches, veggies, fruit, chips
Cupcakes - frosted orange with tiny little toothpick road signs on them

Originally, I had all these grand, expensive, unnecessary ideas for his party. I saw all of the cute ideas many people had posted to various blogs, and I wanted to do MORE. I think by nature, people tend to be competitive. That is the case for myself, at least. Anyway, I knew I couldn't possibly do all of the little things I first wanted to, and so I trimmed my list down. I prioritized everything, and cut down quite a few extras. We didn't need individual sandboxes to dig around in (what a mess, anyhow). We didn't need each child to have a little construction vest ($5 each? Yeesh). And I rather liked how my homemade cake ended up looking, and it was much less costly than a professional cake. I guess the important thing to consider when keeping to a budget - figure out what you MUST do, and figure out what you don't mind skipping. Things like decorations especially seem like unnecessary costs. And here I go getting long-winded again. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

KETO: Chicken Lazone and Pumpkin Spice Sauce

Chicken Lazone

There was a time for a while that we were purchasing chicken every single week as our main dinner protein. We would rotate between buffalo-flavored chicken, spicy peanut chicken, plain soy chicken, barbecue chicken, and whatever else we came up with. We got sick of it all. That's when we found this recipe! Absolutely delicious. This got us through our uncreative grocery habits and onto more exciting meals yet again.

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2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 pieces) *
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
Mix the seasonings in a small bowl. Rub this mixture on the chicken pieces to coat them well. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 4 minutes per side.
Add the cream to the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the chicken is done, stirring the sauce occasionally and flipping the chicken over halfway through the cooking time. If you're using chicken thighs, this will take another 5 minutes per side. When the chicken is done, and the sauce has reduced and thickened, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, stir it into the sauce. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.
Makes 3-6 servings
* Gina used 4 whole boneless chicken breasts.
Per Thigh: 222 Calories; 19g Fat; 10g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 2g Net Carbs
Per 2 Thighs: 443 Calories; 38g Fat; 21g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 3g Net Carbs

Sugar-free pumpkin spice sauce

Like every year, around the time that it starts getting chilly outside I start craving pumpkin. Who doesn't? Well I tried a new pumpkin spice recipe this year and made two versions of it - one with Truvia and one with honey. I prefer the one with honey! I used little enough that my daily carb counts are down (2 TBS in the entire batch) and I don't get that artificial sweetener taste leftover. Also, this is super easy to make. I made this solely for coffee, but it can be used on many other things as well.

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Sugar-Free Pumpkin Spice Syrup {For Lattes and More}
Yields about 3/4 cup of syrup
1 cup water
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 pinch salt
2 packets stevia*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*Here is a guideline on how sweet 1 packet of stevia is:  the amount of stevia in 1 packet measures 1/2 teaspoon, which is about as sweet as 2 to 3 teaspoons of regular sugar.
Whisk together all ingredients except vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, then turn heat down to simmer and cook until thickened to your desired consistency (for me this usually takes about 20 to 25 minutes), whisking occasionally. Turn off heat and stir in the vanilla.
Store the syrup in the fridge and use it to make pumpkin spice lattes, or a as a dessert sauce for topping oatmeal, pudding, ice cream, pie, etc. Once chilled, I find it’s best to re-heat it briefly before using again.

Have you tried these recipes? What did you think?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Clean KETO after One Week

Last week, after a long plateau and a few attempts and overcoming it, we decided to go clean with our ketogenic diet. Looking at our daily intake, this was the only flaw we could find - artificial sweeteners. Sure, we might be slightly off in our macros on some days, but the overall trend is good. But those sweeteners - we hadn't realized just how big a part of our diet they had become. Diet soda, gum, low-carb tortillas, low-carb yogurt, basically any substitution for a "regular"(carby) food had a lot of added sweetener.

So we quit the sweeteners for one week as a testing week. And it was great!

I lost an inch around my hips. I felt fantastic. It actually was pretty easy after the first few days.

How has this changed my daily diet? I now actually prefer coffee without sweetener (still can't do black though, blegh). I don't often eat those low-carb tortillas I had come to rely on. I really enjoy sparkling water. And I don't automatically crave something sweet at the end of the day!

So, this is highly recommended. If you're like me, maybe it's not likely that you'll quit sweeteners for life. And that's OK by me - the important thing is making improvements and moving toward a healthier goal. For me, I will be avoiding an overabundance of sweeteners. Either way, I suggest you take a week off of them just to try it out. It is definitely worthwhile.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Clean KETO

If you have been following the low-carb diet for some time, and have plateaued despite your attempts at finding the perfect combination of Intermittent Fasting, following your macros, fat fasting and exercise, you should look into the amount of sweeteners you are consuming. Even the "good" ones may be holding on to excess water, and keeping you from your goals! This is what happened to me, and it took me entirely too long to try and actually cut out sweeteners. Full post on plateaus here: Low Carb Diets and Plateaus

Original Post:My husband and I have recently (this past month or so) decided to go with ongoing low-carb/ketogenic eating. This entire back-and-forth, losing some, gaining it back, losing it again, is exhausting. This is a sustainable lifestyle - provided you take the proper precautions and know what you are doing. And we feel great on it!

While it is to be expected as we approach our goal shapes, our slowdown in progress has really come to a halt. In fact, for several day I have felt outright bloated and almost like I was gaining weight. So we have decided to cut out all artificial sweeteners this week as well. That means no diet soda, no sweetener in the coffee, no low-carb tortillas, no gum! And more I forgot, I'm sure.

I will try to update at the end of the week to see if this full-on clean keto helps our stall in weight loss.
Update here: Clean Keto after One Week
Take care!