I am a work in progress. And I’d like to take a time machine to 1871. That’s all.

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It feels like it has been a million years since I’ve had – count them – TWO whole hours by myself to sit down and give my favorite little blog some love and attention. I have shipped my sweet little people back off to school (by ship, I mean they are a half a mile away expanding their minds for six hours a day).

This is really great news for me, because my head cannot hold all the fun food thoughts and ideas that come and go throughout the day. I have wished I could remember them in the few minutes a week I gazed adoringly at my computer this summer.

But I am a work in progress, and progress we shall make!

Everywhere I look, I see things I would like to do better, would like to learn more about, would like to try. It can be maddening. Luckily my hope is to live long and prosper, so I have time to explore all the things I can imagine plus more.

One of the things I will remember most about this summer is reading “Little House in the Big Woods” to my six-year-old. We cuddled up at night and I would read a chapter or two. She loved Laura’s story of homesteading in 1871 – her chores, her dog Jack, Pa’s fiddle, and her rag doll. Yes, yes, that’s all very sweet and fun.

But for me, I couldn’t help but be completely enthralled and fascinated by Ma and Pa and all they did to eat (and avoid bears, but that’s only because bears freak me out). Ma and Pa were so connected to the land and the rhythms of the seasons. They had such reverence and understanding of the animals. I can’t forget the image of Pa “hunting” by sitting up in a tree on a moon lit night NOT shooting a bear because the woods were so peaceful that he forgot all about the gun.

Ma and Pa’s foresight, planning, and plain old hard work is inspiring. It makes my meal planning, lame ol’ herb garden, Community Supported Agriculture subscription, and beef share seem like whoppy-freakin-doo.

And the way they celebrated maple syrup season (with big parties), finding honey (with all-you-could-eat-buffets), and buying a candy from the town store (never to eat it, because it was too pretty and special), made me realize that my own culture’s preoccupation with sugar comes from these roots. We just have too much of the sugar and not enough of the planning and hard work for the other 99% of the food we should be eating. It’s hard to celebrate a piece of candy when you get 35 in a bag and you get a bag every few days — or whatever our sugar of choice looks like.

Anywho… I’m rambling because it was awesome, thought-provoking and in many ways I’d love to see the world a little closer to the 1871-Wisconsin-Big Woods version, instead of the one we’ve managed to create. I could do without the bears, but I’d throw a sweet Maple Syrup Party. And you’d all be invited.

Like I said, I’m a work in progress and if you are too then I think you’ll enjoy the future of the Lean.Green.Kitchen. Thanks for being a part of the progress.


Kids Clean Up! Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Welcome to the first of many of a new segment we call Kids Clean Up! It is here that I research, attempt and review clean recipes for all the foods our kids are begging for that are full of gross chemicals, additives, colorings, flavorings, fake food products.

Up first is a tasty item that my kids ask for all the time. They want to be like everyone else and have chocolate milk. I have to admit, I very fondly remember squeezing the chocolate sauce bottle into my milk as a kid. Pouring it in until my mom hollered “that’s too much!” Then stirring it up until the white milk turned that pretty tan color. When I asked my kids if they’d like to help me make chocolate syrup for chocolate milk, they about fell over. It was worth getting off the couch!

I also chose chocolate syrup because it’s a pretty easy clean recipe, and I don’t want to psych any of us out with labor intensive duties right off the bat. We’ll save that irritation for making clean Twinkies some other time. And chocolate syrup is so versatile! I mean we are going to need this component to tackle banana splits one of these days.

The ingredient list for the classic Hershey’s Syrup – “Genuine” Chocolate Flavor is well, gross. Ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Cocoa, Sugar, Contains 2% or less of Potassium Sorbate, Salt, Mono- and Diglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 60, Vanillin, Artificial Flavor


So let’s not eat that any more, okay?? I chose to try the clean recipe “Real Food Chocolate Syrup” from Hands On Learning 4 All because it is do-able with a short ingredient list. But did it work? Was it good? And did the kids approve?

Chocolate Syrup Ingredients

Recipe: Clean Chocolate Syrup

Just cocoa powder, maple syrup and vanilla thinned with a little water! [For exact measurements the Hands On Learning 4 All people have requested that you click onto their site (you can do that through the recipe link).]

We found the recipe makes a little over a cup of syrup. Two teaspoons of syrup in 8 – 12oz of milk was the right amount for our chocolate milk. Any kind of milk can be flavored (rice, almond, soy, coconut)! My only recommendation would be to serve it chilled.

CLEAN CHOCOLATE SYRUP IS A GO!! This recipe is a total winner! It was absolutely as good (better?!) than the Hershey’s original (if memory serves) and SO easy to make. This is a great place to get some nasty chemicals out of your kids’ little bodies and still allow them a treat.

ADULT MAKEOVER: You could kick this syrup up a notch by adding in a few drops of almond extract or peppermint extract. Just think of the cocktail/mocktail possibilities of clean chocolate syrup.


What’s next? So many things to choose from! I’ve got a clean “Magic Shell” recipe queued up for this weekend – if it works, I will be a rock star mama around here for a while. I think in honor of summer we might take on s’mores soon. That’s going to be more work, but we get to learn to make marshmallows, and that is just RAD!

Feel free to let me know the foods your kids are begging for, so we can clean them up!

Weekly Tip: Evaluate Your Primary vs Secondary Eating


It’s Michael Pollan’s COOKED week here at the Lean.Green.Kitchen. All posts this week will be inspired by something I pulled out of this book.  Hopefully we can celebrate at the end of the week that I have actually finished the book!


I’m knee-deep in Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and really enjoying it.  One new concept I read fascinated me and made me evaluate my own habits. I wanted to share it with all of you. It’s a human behavior called “secondary eating” and is defined as eating or drinking while doing something else.

A USDA study published in 2011 showed that Americans now spend on average 78 minutes a day engaging in secondary eating, including while watching television, while engaging in paid work and while traveling in a car. This is interesting, but not that shocking, right? Eating dessert in front of the tube, lunch at the desk or snacks in the car is pretty common. I was, however, shocked to learn that this number of minutes is now more than “primary eating.” Primary eating defined as the meal times when we sit down with the goal of eating a meal.

Pollan says, “Since 1977, we’ve [Americans] added roughly half a meal’s worth of food to our daily intake, most of it in the form of secondary eating.” And food eaten during times of secondary eating is rarely nutrient rich and health building.

So this week’s tip is to put a little consciousness into how much time you spend eating and identify if it is primary or secondary eating. By increasing your primary eating and decreasing your secondary eating you bring more awareness to the act of consuming food, allowing you to assess if/when your body has eaten what it needs. You also most likely will reduce the amount of snacks, “convenience” food, and late night treats that are being consumed without you really even paying much attention.

If you are in the mood for a delicious chocolate chip cookie, for example, then by all means find (make!!) the best tasting cookie and sit down and enjoy every crumb. Then go about your business. Where is the value in inhaling ten cookies while watching TV and not really even processing that you’ve eaten them?

I know from experience that there are a million reasons to have lunch at your desk while at work. But perhaps we should really evaluate if making lunch secondary is truly necessary most of the time and if it really serves you best to cram down a few bites while not stopping your day. Only you know the answer to this, but make sure that you’ve put thought into the pros and cons of eating like this long-term.

Snacks in the car can save the day – especially with little ones and especially well thought out snacks that support your health goals. They can also sabotage meals (and eating plans) if haphazard and chosen under hunger stress. Every food corporation out there would like you to eat their snack in your car. And they have added salt, sugar and fat to help their processed food product taste best. They have also colored it with food dyes, packaged it and put it everywhere that is easy to get to when you are out of time. If you are consistently secondary eating in the car, you can make your entire day better just by planning ahead and choosing snacks that support your body and health goals.

So evaluate your primary and secondary eating and decide it there are any changes you could make to improve your health and your life. Then tell me all about it!



Food for Thought: Enjoy a Food Tour

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If someone were to custom design an activity for me, the result would be the Local Roots Food Tour of Sacramento that my family experienced this past weekend. Special time with my husband, parents, brother and sis-in-law – check. Gentle stroll with gorgeous weather through the beautiful tree-lined streets of Sacramento – check. Great stories and history (including food history) of the area – check.  Oh yes, and lots of eating stops in local restaurants (and a bakery and a coffee shop) – check, check, check!

Led by the ever charming Joelle, my party of six and eight other lovely strangers enjoyed four hours of chatting about the local food scene and even better, sampling it. Joelle took good care of us, told us all sorts of ghost stories and encouraged our love of good food. I’ll never drive by Biba’s again without a glance at the upstairs windows…

Beginning with fancy french toast at Cafe Bernardo and ending with carnitas and infused tequila at Centro, the day was an ode to the vision and dedication that the Paragary family has brought to the Sacramento dining scene over the past 30 years. This included a private tour of the wholesale bakery that provides every piece of bread, bun, pasta and dessert to the 12+ Paragary restaurants in Sacramento. Shout out to Laurel, the bakery’s head honcho and a fellow ARC hospitality management alum.  She is clearly an awesome human – I could tell in the twenty minutes we spent in her world.

In addition to the Paragary-fest, we also throughly enjoyed a presentation by Reuben at Coffee Works where we learned how to roast the green beans in their antique coffee roaster and turn them into the silky, bigger dark beans that everyone loves. We appreciated their commitment to fair trade in the coffee bean market and small batch roasting that you don’t find at that “other” coffee shop referred to in-house as “Darth Vader.” Young Reuben restores my faith in the next generation with his humor, warmth, competence and commitment to his job.

At Formoli’s Bistro we enjoyed a refreshing mizuna greens salad with strawberries and goat cheese and a lightly creamed soup with green beans and almonds – both were of the highest quality and highlighted the essence of the ingredients. Aimol Formoli, a co-owner and the head chef, is truly committed to using quality, local produce and it shows in the menu.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the fact that an ice cream treat exists that my family didn’t know about previous to the tour! After a lovely walk through the edge of the Fabulous 40s (I think we were actually on 38th), we walked right near McKinley Park and ended up at La Bombe Ice Cream Parlor.  Using local Gunther’s Ice Cream, La Bombe creates their signature European inspired treat – Les Bombe Glacees. Picture layers of ice cream, cookie wafers and jams and syrups; these little domed creations are, well, the bomb.

This was my second food tour with Local Roots Food Tour, and both times I have been filled with gratitude for two things: 1. That I live in a town with such a rich history (including food history) and 2. That a group like the Local Roots Food Tour company exists to share it with me and others. Each time I “tour” around Sacramento – a place I have lived all my life – I learn something, make a connection, and appreciate this place all the more.

I’m adding “Experience Food Tours When Ever (and Where Ever) Possible” to my bucket list, because it is an activity custom-made for me. Have you ever experienced a food tour? Tell me all about it!



Local Roots Food Tours

Cafe Bernardo

Paragarys Bakery

Coffee Works

Formolis Bistro

La Bombe Ice Cream Parlor

Centro Cocina Mexicana

Food for Thought: A Tragic Love Story with Sugar

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**This post is part one of many posts to come regarding sugar.  It is my biggest “real food” challenge, and I’ve found that I am not alone. There is so much to talk about regarding the way sugar interacts with our lives. Let me be clear, I’m not telling anyone what to do.  I’m sharing my experiences, the information I’ve found to be helpful. I hope to build a community here at Lean.Green.Kitchen where we can all be supported in our real (good) food efforts.  No more, no less.  You get to play around with all this food out in the world to find what works best for your body and makes sense for your life.  You’ll find no judgement from me.

This blog post started out as a book review, but I realized that the whole point of the book was not to be reviewed, but to be used as knowledge in our quest for health. And it is time to start talking about sugar. So this is where I ended up…


We all have that friend who doesn’t like sweets.  You know, the one who has no problem saying no to the cake at kids’ birthday parties, the box of Girl Scout Cookies they bought just to be supportive, the donuts in the break room.  Maybe you are that person, you lucky dog.  If so, you can stop reading, or maybe you should keep reading to better understand what is going on with the rest of us.

Most of us surrounded by the American diet can’t get enough sugar.  It’s the caregivers addiction, as we can continue to function in society while still consuming massive quantities of the stuff. Sugar is in everything and it’s cheap and convenient so we can go about our day and have no awareness of how much we have ingested from our morning meal through our late night snacks.  Many of us provide our children with a “small treat” after most meals and snacks (most of the meals and snacks are already fully loaded with added sugar!)

Some of us have heard the warnings, seen the infographics on Facebook, and watched the TV news show specials.  Maybe we’ve taken the big step of knocking soda out of our diet and cleaned up the kids’ after school snacks. Or even cut out the white stuff, finding substitutes of “natural” sweeteners like organic cane juice, agave, and honey.  Is it enough?


THE RELATIONSHIP - Sugar and I met early in life and I’m sure it was love at first bite. The first few decades of our relationship I had no concept of the problems brewing. I’ve always been super active and had access to healthy foods that, thinking back, probably provided some protection from the amounts of sugar I was consuming. At the same time, like others looking back at bad relationships, I wonder how that sugar load may have taken its toll without my even realizing it. Acne, allergies, lethargy, PMS, anxiety… would they have been such issues if I had found a clean lifestyle earlier? Over the past five years I have become fascinated with food and nutrients and the complexities of individual bodies and what fuels them. This has motivated me over the years to use myself as a guinea pig to tweak what I eat to see what happens. And to look sugar square in the eye.

THE BREAKUP – Reading Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, gave me the information/motivation I needed for my love affair with sugar (that was already on the rocks) to go through a tragic breakup. The book makes it clear that fructose is a toxin that the body can’t handle over a certain dose (and it’s a very small dose especially when there’s no fiber around to help). And fructose includes even those unrefined (or less refined) sugars that I’d been playing with for a while. It’s a messy break-up (which makes sense, because it was a messy relationship in the first place) because we are still forced to see each other, and I still have feelings for sugar, and we still hang out a little… sometimes.

CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? – Today, I don’t stress too much about taking in a small amount of sugar a day. Lustig shares that 50g of fructose per day is the threshold for toxicity in the body.  That works out to a very small amount of maple syrup or honey each day to sweeten things up. Honey and maple syrup are my sweeteners of choice because they have minerals and micronutrients, and are truly unrefined. I also find I can eat them both and not be craving more and more sugar, like when I consume white sugar. A tiny handful of dark chocolate chips sometimes top my bowl of strawberries after dinner. And I also make my body work a little overtime for a “real” special treat every once in a while at social events or for a family fun night.

In order to not go over my daily maximum grams of sugar (I aim to keep it under 50g), I do not drink any soda or juice. Lustig shares that fruit without its fiber is processed by the body just like sugar – though with some nutrients along for the ride. And almost every processed food is out as well.  Check out some labels, they put sweeteners in practically every processed food.  And it is all those grams, day after day that are making our population sick.  Some people are getting really sick and need lots of extra care.  Other people are functioning, but nowhere near their best.  To me, that’s the real tragedy.  How much more tired, depressed, stressed, unhappy with our bodies, overly medicated we are because our bodies are constantly working overtime to process this toxic load? It’s not worth it anymore for me.


You can read Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease if you’d like.  In fact I think it should be required reading in every high school health class.  But let’s face it, most of us have a long list of books we’d like to read and if you add this to the list, you might get to it by the holidays.  And then this will not be the kind of book you want to read during the holidays and – boom – you aren’t reading it until next January.  That’s too long to wait for the simple (though possibly painful) and clear conclusions to Lustig’s work. So here’s the abridged version of what you could do today to make your life better and longer and healthier.

  1. Eat real food. Cut out as much processed food as you possibly can from your daily life.
  2. Consume the smallest amount of foods with added sweeteners (that includes all of them!) that you can.
  3. Consume foods that have fiber.
  4. Consume foods that have micronutrients.
  5. Exercise to build muscle.
  6. Eat/exercise for health, not for weight loss. Unhealthy people come in all body shapes and sizes.

There is so much more to this book, including:

  • a full explanation of Lustig’s motto of “a calorie is not a calorie.”
  • scientific details of the many different hormonal pathways that lead to obesity and chronic disease.
  • thoughtful testimony of how blaming obese people for their weight is really unfair and damaging and not accurate.
  • the reason he feels sugar should be seen as an addictive substance.

He ends the book with possible public health solutions to our nation’s obesity and related disease epidemic and then shares how unlikely it is that any of them will be implemented. His voice is like a good doctor’s (he’s a pediatric endocrinologist), full of compassion and expertise, with a strong commitment to empowering people’s real lives with his scientific research results.

You get the feeling Robert Lustig will do whatever it takes to get out this information and he’s especially fighting for today’s children.  I couldn’t appreciate it more. And I want to be a part of getting his word out. It just might change this tragic story that is unfolding across the United States right now. We could all do with clarifying our relationship with sugar.


Robert Lustig Resource Links:

Still Believe ‘A Calorie Is a Calorie?’ (Huffington Post Article)

Sugar: The Bitter Truth (90 minute You Tube video)

The Skinny on Obesity (Seven short You Tube videos)

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (Book)