Spicy Lentil Soup (Vegan and Gluten-free)

Hearty Coconut Lentil Soup with sweet potatoes and jalapeños. #Vegan and #glutenfree http://wp.me/p2UZoK-Dc via @blestbutstrest

Spicy Lentil Soup

©2016 Anita Strawn de Ojeda

You may have seen those bright orange lentils in the bulk section of your favorite health-food store or co-op grocery and wondered how in the world to prepare them.  Here’s a tasty answer that’s quick and easy (you can prepare it on the stove top or in a crock pot.
You’ll need:

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 white onion, diced small
2 jalapeños, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
1/4 c. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups orange lentils (picked over and rinsed)
2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes (I like the white-fleshed ones), peeled and cut into large chunks.
7 cups water
1 can of coconut milk (optional)

Crock Pot Method:
Turn the crock pot on high and add the oil and cumin seeds. Start chopping the the onions, garlic and jalapeños. Add each one to the crock pot in the order listed, and then add the spices. Cover with the lid and prepare the sweet potatoes (you can cut them into pretty big chunks (1″-2″). Add the lentil ands sweet potatoes and water (you may need slightly more water–make sure the lentil and sweet potatoes are covered). Cook on high for at least three hours.




National Nutrition Month Recipe Roundup

National Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month Recipe Roundup

Life isn’t about making giant changes and experiencing instant success.  It’s more about making incremental changes the eventually equal success with staying power. March was National Nutrition Month, and I asked some of my friends to share their favorite healthy recipes with you. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a spot where you can link up your favorite healthy (er) recipes.

Check out the links to #healthy (er) recipes at the #NutritionMonth Recipe Roundup! Click To Tweet

Breakfast Foods

Eva Krasova from Kidminds has an awesome recipe for green pancakes–if Dr. Seuss can have green eggs and ham, why not have green pancakes?

Amee from the Inspired Housewife has a plethora of healthy and gluten-free recipes.  These Healthy Egg Muffins are part of the 21-day fix plan.

If you like your eggs a little spicier, try this Zesty Egg Bake–it’s a crowd pleaser and perfect for brunch.


Here’s a Tasty Kale Salad from Hope, Heart, Home’s Susan Shipe. She has a Tasty Tuesday series you won’t want to miss.


Airman2 Mom’s Amanda Huffman’s Healthy Chicken Stirfry

Natalie from Messy Mom shared her Turkey Burger recipe.  She shares some great tips on make extra ahead of time and freezing the excess for a quick meal later on.

Magdaline from Momzcuisine shared a recipe for Wild Asparagus that looks amazing as well as a Greek rendition of Peas and Potatoes.

I loved this recipe from Julie, the Cancer Dietitian, for Sweet Potato Burritos.

You can find some of my favorite entree recipes right here on the blog.  I especially love this Spicy Enchilada recipe.

National Nutrition Month

This tasty entrée is all flavor, but gluten-free and vegan (unless you like cheese, and add a little to the top).


Patti from Total Health Science’s shares her friend’s Hot Ginger Tonic recipe.

LeeAnn Taylor shared her friend Julie’s Tried and True Green Smoothie Recipe.  Julie is a registered dietitian and specializes in oncology nutrition.  If you’re a caregiver to a cancer patient, you’ll want to check out her site for sure!

Sweet Treats

Lauren from Lauren’s Latest has a great recipe for Peanut Butter Energy Bites that don’t have any processed sweetners. Lauren also as a to-die-for Pumpkin Pecan Cobbler (which is really a lava cake).

Healthy (er) #brownies disguised as decadence--so good, no one will know! http://wp.me/p2UZoK-ax via @blestbutstrest #chocolate #mintI’ve discovered that you make make sweet things better for your family if you replace the whites with browns and halve the yellows.  In other words, replace the white flour with whole-wheat flour and the white sugar with brown sugar.  I replace half the butter or margarine in each recipe with applesauce.  No one is the wiser, and I feel better about serving fewer refined ingredients. If you don’t believe me, do a taste test with the brownie recipes.  Let me know what your family thinks!






Link up your favorite healthy (er) recipe here! I’m always looking for ways to tweak recipes and make them both yummy and nutritious.

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Nothing Says L-O-V-E Like Chocolate

one-bowl brownies
One-bowl Brownies

Healthier for your heart and made with love!

Nothing says L-O-V-E like chocolate–especially gooey chocolate brownies.  In the amount of time it would take to drive to the store and buy a box of mix, you can whip up these healthier brownies.  The added bonus?  They don’t have as much fat as regular brownies and no one will ever know (they won’t know you’ve hidden whole-wheat flour in them, either). Try these one-bowl brownies today!

How do I know the ones you love will love this healthier version of brownies? My family raves about them, and I’m not just talking about my husband our two daughters, either. As a teacher at boarding schools for the last 14 years, I’ve had the privilege of having an extra ‘family’ each school year–students we ‘adopt’ for the school year so they can escape the dorm occasionally and have a home-cooked meal.  Over the years, the most requested dessert at our weekly or monthly faculty family dinners has been what the kids affectionately call ‘goo’–aka cinnamon pecan brownies.one-bowl brownies

Cinnamon Pecan Brownies

Pre-heat oven to 350˚
Makes 16 brownies

2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips (1 bag)
2 Tbs  butter
2 Tbs unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

1. Heat the oven to 350˚. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with aluminum foil (and spray the foil with non-stick spray).
2. Chop the nuts and set them aside.
3. Put the butter and applesauce in the bottom of a microwave-safe bowl, and pour 1 cup of chocolate chips on top of them. Microwave on high for one minute. Stir until smooth and then add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Next, add the eggs and stir until incorporated. Stir in the salt, cinnamon and flour until smooth. Fold in the pecans and the vanilla. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
4. Bake brownies at 350˚ for 23-25 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean).
5. Remove brownies from the oven and spread the remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips over the brownies and return to the oven for two minutes. If your family likes spicy, you can also sprinkle a dash of cayenne over the chocolate chips at this point :).
6. Remove from the oven and spread the melted chips until smooth, to form a frosting.
7. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (or, eat them hot and gooey with vanilla ice cream) to firm the chocolate, then cut into squares. Store at room temperature.

What about you?  Do you have any ‘tricks’ for hiding healthier ingredients in the things you bake?

Fitbit Charge HR Review: Accountability on Your Arm

Fitbit Charge HRIf you’ve ever tried to make long-term changes in your life—whether they are spiritual, emotional or physical, you’ve probably found that joining a group or having an accountability partner makes a big difference.

My last exercise accountability partner had pointy ears and insisted that I walk or run at least two times a day. Clancy (and later her daughter Bella), made sure that I achieved my 10,000 steps a day—regardless of the weather. I know you might not believe me when I say they insisted—but who can resist the big, soulful eyes of a German Shepherd that looks at your shoes, the door, and you. Over and over again until you capitulate.

Twelve years ago, I started off with a pedometer to keep me accountable for moving enough during the day. It worked wonders. Through healthy (er) eating and moving more (not to mention stressing less), I lost 40 lbs. I wore various pedometers for six or seven years, until I realized that the dogs were just as effective at helping me exercise no matter what (and I never had to replace their batteries).

Last May, Bella went to live with her rightful owner—my daughter—and for the first time since 2003 I didn’t have anything to keep me accountable. It’s easy to put off exercising when the weather hovers around 20 degrees and the sun doesn’t come up until after I arrive at work.

It’s hard for me to battle a slow metabolism with no incentives and no data. Sure I had a heart rate monitor and watch for a few years—but the chest strap wasn’t very comfortable and I only wore it for exercising (and sometimes forgot to put it on before I started exercising).

When I invested in an iPhone in November and discovered that it had a built-in pedometer, I started investigating other devices that would easily sync with the new phone and would provide the data and accountability that I sought.

I chose the Fitbit Charge HR—even though I knew I’d have to wait a few months for its projected February release. Whilst shopping around two weeks ago, I discovered that REI had them in their warehouse (but not their stores). Not even Amazon or Verizon had them yet. REI also offered a $20.00 in-store gift card for members (I’ve been a member since the 80s), free shipping and a $15.00 rebate at the end of the year. Not to mention, I’d be able to try it out before February! (The $20.00 gift card offer is available until January 29, 2015 and must be used on a store or online purchase by February 11, 2015)

I’ve had my Fitbit Charge HR for a week now—long enough to give it a decent review (I’m not receiving anything from anyone for my honest review and I have no affiliate links—I’d just like to review the product because I think it’s a great idea!).

• The device itself is unobtrusive and looks like a techy watch.
• It monitors your heart rate, the number of steps you’ve taken, the flights of stairs you’ve climbed, the distance you’ve walked, and, of course, the time.
• It has a feature for timing your ‘active’ workouts (you hold down the button on the side of the watch until a stopwatch appears)—which includes the minutes worked, the calories burned, the steps taken and your current heart rate.
• You can set the device up to buzz unobtrusively and display the caller’s ID when you have an incoming phone call.
• It is easy to recharge—simply plug in the provided charging cord to a USB charging unit (or your computer).

Sizing: Because there were no comparable models available to try on, I had problems choosing the correct size. The Fitbit Charge HR only comes in two sizes: Small size fits wrists 5.5 – 6.5 in. in circumference; Large size fits wrists 6.3 – 7.6 in. in circumference (there is no Medium size). I measured my wrist and decided that the small would do. What they don’t mention is that they suggest wearing the Fitbit Charge HR at a different place on your wrist according to your activity level (2-3 finger widths from the wrist bone for intense exercise and one finger width away from the wrist bone for normal wear). The safety strap does not fit under and hook into the security loop on the largest setting, thus I’m worried that the watch might come off during vigorous exercise if I’m trying to wear the device correctly.
Brightness of Display: The display is difficult to see when I am outside in bright sunlight or wearing polarized glasses (and I do the majority of my exercising outside).
Heart rate zones—allegedly, the device will show lines underneath the heart symbol on the display to let one know if one is working in the fat burning zone, the cardio zone or the peak zone. Due to the problem with the display brightness (and I admit, the small size of the display—I’m getting old!), I haven’t been able to tell if this feature works or not. UPDATE–When I check the app on my phone whilst exercising, the lines do show up and are easy to see.

Setting up your Fitbit Charge HR

I’m not a complete technology geek, nor am I unaware of how technology works. I’m sort of your middle-of-the-road user who knows how to find solutions (usually) and can generally make technology work for me. That being said, the instructions included in the box about gave me a heart attack.

I encountered a tiny flyer with “Log on to www.fitbit.com/setup” in several languages. That’s all. When I went to the website, I discovered that the program was NOT compatible with my Macintosh computer’s OS system!

It took me ten minutes to figure out that I would need to download the free Fitbit App from the Apple store in order to set up my Fitbit Charge HR device. Once I downloaded the app, the set up process took less than five minutes.

I also signed up for a free trial of Fitbit’s health coach—I’ll write more on this later, once I’ve had an opportunity to figure it out.

Some of the features (such as setting ‘gentle, silent alarms’ can only be set up from the online account. Other features can be controlled by the app. I spend five or ten minutes a day getting to know the device better and trying to figure out all of its features.

Pros of the Fitbit app/online program:
• The device tracks your sleep! I find this very cool, because I could easily get sucked into my computer and spend hours commenting on blogs and living vicariously through Facebook. The sleep feature serves as an accountability partner.
• You can keep track of all that you eat by either entering items or scanning bar codes of items. I’ve never used a calorie tracker before, so I’ve been having fun with this one. My daughters use My Fitness Pal, and if you go to the Fitbit.com website, you will find instructions for integrating the Fitbit with other apps such as Weight Watchers, Run Keeper, My Fitness Pal, Spark People and others.
• I’m a real sucker for games and challenges, so I find that I eat less when I actually keep track of what I’m eating in comparison with the amount of calories I expend throughout the day.
• You can log your water intake (I’ve recently stopped drinking as much water as I normally do due to my work schedule of teaching almost four hours of classes with no break).
• If you’d like additional competition (um, accountability), you can join challenges or hook up with your friends.
• You can scan food labels to enter the calorie counts of packaged foods (although you might get some odd looks when you walk up to the butter tub in the school cafeteria and scan it).

Cons of the Fitbit app/online program:
• At this time, Fitbit does NOT integrate with Nike+ Run (one I’ve used for five or six years), nor the iPhone Health app (although you can purchase an app that purportedly solves this: Sync Solver for Fitbit for $1.99 from the app store).
• It would be nice to enter calories for items that I cook or bake at home. It’s possible that I just haven’t figured it out yet—but I have to approximate when I enter home cooked foods.

Overall, I’d say that the Fitbit Charge HR and the program far outshine my chest strap and watch. It provides more data than the iPhone Health app, and I enjoy getting congratulatory emails and alerts when I reach my different goals for the day. There’s something about sharing one’s accomplishments with other like-minded friends that builds community.

As with all things technology related, you have to be willing to put in a little time to figure out the product—but the wonderful array of data and the accountability are definitely worth it!

UPDATE:  I was able to exchange my small FitBit Charge HR at REI for a large one.  They have wonderful customer service!

Keeping Christmas Simple {a Sandwich Spread Story}

Super Simple Sandwich Spread http://www.simplyjesusministries.com/thoughts/keeping-christmas-simple-super-simple-sandwich-spreadYou would’t think there would be much of a story about a sandwich spread, but any party-appropriate dish lovingly known as ‘goop’ should have a story, right?  For the rest of the story and a super simple recipe, hop on over to Tobi’s place where I’m a guest on her blog today.

Tobi recently wrote a guest post for our Caregiver Connections Series about taking care of a parent with dementia.  This month, Tobi is hosting a series of guest posts for her “Christmas With Friends” series–drop on over and spend some time getting to know Tobi and her friends!

Don’t forget in all the hustle and bustle of Christmas that the keeping Christmas simple and ‘for reals‘ is the most important thing of all.  After all, it’s not about the decorations and the light and the gifts under the tree–it’s about the simplicity of salvation. If you’d like ideas for helping a caregiver out this Christmas, here’s a short story and a list of things a caregiver would appreciate.

Take time today to slow down and ponder.  To breathe deeply and love intentionally.  You won’t regret it!

Pumpkin Spice Waffles

If you love all things pumpkin, crisp mornings and a hearty breakfast, you’ll love these pumpkin spice waffles.  Made with things like whole-wheat flour, flaxseeds and pumpkin puree, one waffle will make your stomach sigh with contentment from breakfast to lunch.

You can make your own pumpkin puree from those leftover jack-o-lanterns, or buy canned pumpkin–either way, you’ll love these waffles–and not just because they’re good for you!

(This is not a sponsored post–I add the links because I believe in the products)

#PSL lovers, you'll love these pumpkin spice #waffles! http://wp.me/p2UZoK-z9Pumpkin Spice Waffles
©2014 Anita Ojeda
Yields 6 Belgian Waffles

Mix the following ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
3 cups whole-wheat flour (I prefer non GMO flour such as Prairie Gold by Wheat Montana)
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (optional–but why not?!)
2 Tbs. baking powder
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Make a well in the dry ingredients and then add:
1/8 cup canola oil
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

Mix well until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients. Slowly add about two cups of water–until the batter reaches the perfect consistency for your waffle maker–my husband describes it as ‘runny but thick.’ The amount of water you need will depend on the consistency of your pumpkin puree. Enjoy!

We always use a spritz of cooking spray on both sides of the waffle iron (even though it’s a non-stick surface).

What's YOUR favorite way to eat pumpkin? Here's an amazing pumpkin spice waffle!… Click To Tweet

What's YOUR favorite way to eat pumpkin? Try these pumpkin spice waffles! http://wp.me/p2UZoK-z9 via @blestbutstrest

Oatmeal Zingers

Oatmeal ZingersLooking for a cookie recipe for your chocolate-hating friends (yeah, those people DO exist!)? This oatmeal cookie recipe has half the fat of regular cookies and is chock-full of yummy things like dried cranberries, pecans and oats.

#Oatmealcookies--only with a zing! Click To Tweet

Preheat oven to 350˚

1 c. butter or coconut butter
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 c unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
1 Tbs. baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 c whole-wheat flour
6 c whole rolled oats
1/4 c. orange zest (grate the peel of a large orange using the smallest holes on your grater)
1/4 c. flax meal (optional–it never hurts to add more good things to a cookie!)
1 1/2 cups of chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups of dried cranberries, chopped into smaller pieces

Beat the butter or coconut butter until it is fluffy. Add the brown sugar and the applesauce and beat for another minute. Add the eggs, baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract and beat for a minute. Mix in the flour, oats, flax meal, and orange zest and beat again until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in the pecans and dried cranberries.

Place by tablespoon (or, if you’d like giant cookies, use a 1/2 cup ice-cream scoop) on a lightly greased/non-stick or Silpat-covered cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.

©2014 Anita Ojeda

Pair Peaches With Jalapeños for an Unforgettable Pie

jalapeño peach pieJalapeños and peaches? In the same pie? Absolutely! The trick is making the jalapeños just a little sweet before adding them to the peaches–the results? Unforgettable!

Even if you’re not a fan of all things spicy, you’ll enjoy the fiesta of flavors.

Preheat the oven to 425. Make the whole-wheat pie crust first, so that it can be chilling in the refrigerator while you prepare the pie fillings


Whole Wheat Pie Crust

2 c. whole wheat flour (I prefer Wheat Montana’s Prairie Gold)
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. butter
1 small egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. vinegar
1/4 c. cold water

Pie Crust Instructions:

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar and salt.  With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mix together the egg, vinegar and water, then add to the flour mixture.  Mix until the dough is moist enough to form a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.  Divide the dough in half.  On a lightly floured surface (I put a little flour on some waxed paper) roll one half into a 12-inch circle. Press dough into a deep pie dish. Roll out the top crust (and place it in the refrigerator if it seems to fragile to handle).

Jalapeño-peach Filling:

2 jalapeños–diced very small (if you’re not sure about the heat, use just one)
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar.

Heat the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan and when it’s melted, add the chopped jalapeños. Sauté for three minutes and then add the brown sugar. Allow the mixture to bubble (it will seem dry at first, but keep stirring it) for about five minutes. ADD

6 cups of well-drained canned peaches–I haven’t tried this recipe with fresh peaches because I can’t afford them 😉
1 c. brown sugar
1/8 c. peach juice (save it when you drain the peaches) or water
3 Tbs. corn starch

Add the peaches and brown sugar to the jalapeño mixture and give it a stir. Mix the peach juice (or water) with the cornstarch until it forms a paste, then add it to the peaches and jalapeño mixture and mix well.

Bring the filling mixture to a slow bubble, stirring every once in awhile (you’re goal is to allow it to get hot enough to thicken before you put it in the pie).

I used this time to roll out the pie crust.

When the filling has thickened, pour it into the prepared pie crust and cover with the top crust. Trim the edges and crimp the sides together. Make sure you add some decorative vent-holes with a fork–because the filling is already hot!

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes (or until the pie crust looks golden).

Enjoy (it’s even better with a small scoop of vanilla ice-cream)

@2014 Anita Strawn de Ojeda

Zesty Egg Bake

Zesty Egg Bake

This quick and easy recipe works well wether you’re serving a brunch or just want something different to go along with your potatoes at breakfast.

Preheat oven to 350˚
Serves 6
Lightly grease an 8X8 baking dish

1 tsp. butter
1 jalapeño, chopped in small pieces
Melt the butter in a small frying pan and sauté the jalapeño and allow it to cool whilst you prepare the other ingredients. Or, if you want to save time, just use a can of diced green chilies or jalapeños).
12 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
Whisk the eggs, salt and baking powder together in a medium-sized bowl.
1 3/4 cup of grated cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and jack cheeses)
3/4 cup low fat cottage cheese
The sautéed jalapeños

Mix well and then pour into the lightly greased baking dish. Bake for 45-50 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Serve hot with your favorite salsa.

Taco Tuesday for Vegetarians (Vegans and Those Who Must Eat Gluten-free)

Even meat-eaters love this recipe!

Even meat eaters love this recipe!

Looking for a quick vegetarian taco Tuesday recipe? Here’s a quick and easy taco recipe that even the meat eaters in your family will love (I know, I’ve tried it on non-vegetarian, teenage boys). The best part about this recipe is that you can easily freeze the leftovers and have them for next Tuesday!

I’ve also discovered the delights of ‘cook at home’ corn tortillas (I’ve found them at Costco and Wal Mart). These babies don’t have any added fat and you don’t have to baptize them in hot oil to make them soft and easy to eat–just cook them on a dry skillet and keep them warm in a tortilla warmer.

Serves 6-12–depending on how many boys you have at the table 😉

Vegetarian Taco ‘Meat’
©2014 Anita Ojeda

2 cups taco-flavored TVP (texturized vegetable protein)*
1 Tbs. oregano
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
2 cups boiling water
Mix the first four ingredients together and then pour the boiling water on top. Allow the water to soak into the TVP whilst you prepare the other ingredients.

2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup. chopped carrots
1-2 jalapeños, chopped (it all depends on how spicy you like your food)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped

Heat the olive oil in frying pan and then add the carrots, garlic, onion and zucchini (I put the carrots in, and then chop the next ingredient on the list whilst the first one starts sautéing). When the carrots are soft, add another teaspoon of olive oil and then add the taco meat mixture. Mix well and allow the taco meat to brown whilst you prepare the corn tortillas.

Serve with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and your other favorite toppings. If you’re vegan, omit the cheese.

*Taco-flavored TVP can be purchased in the “survival food” section of our local Wal Mart. You can also purchase it from stores such as Win-Co and Smith’s that have bulk food sections, or online from Andy’s Market

If you’d like to know why I eat the way I do, read my Healthy (er) Choices Manifesto.